Thursday, September 14, 2006

Still Chooglin', Part V.

160. Caetano Veloso “Trópicalia”
(Caetano Veloso)
Available on Caetano Veloso [1968]

The opening track on the album that declared a revolution in Brazilian popular music. Veloso actually borrowed the “Trópicalia” title from an art installation that was causing controversy at the time in Rio, but within a year he, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, and a host of peripherally-related artists would be defined as the trópicalia movement, which was as much political as musical, and much more rebellious, dangerous, and liberating than anything the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan could possibly have attempted, no matter how many drug busts and Greil Marcus books they can boast. Psychedelic production (but more Sgt. Pepper’s than Piper at the Gates of Dawn) is used as a middle finger to the political dictatorship which wanted the clean-cut, moneyed, and vaguely Euro sound of bossa nova to represent Brazil to the world; the lyrics are impressionistic and self-consciously myth-making, but viva mulata-ta-ta-ta-ta” needs no translating: Veloso was criticizing the government’s racist attitudes towards the indigenous and mestizo people that are the majority of Brazil’s population, and calling for real Latinamerican unity. We’re not used to artists mixing the political and the personal so seamlessly in the States (which is one reason Dylan abdicated); we’ve still got a ways to go before we can catch up to what Veloso was doing way back when.

159. Pink Floyd “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”
(Roger Waters)
Available on A Saucerful of Secrets

I know, I know: 60s Floyd is all about Syd Barrett’s oracular madness, and we can grudgingly accept Waters Floyd in the 70s (but stop sometime before The Wall). But for my money, Floyd never bettered this unformed chunk of spacey transcendentalism, which sounds like a Kid A b-side, only spooky instead of whingey. Vibes, bits of found sound (particularly what sounds like seagulls), and swelling electronic chords brood over a Cannish beat on the toms, and Waters murmurs what could be an increasingly-insane Major Tom’s internal monologue picking up where David Bowie left off. No, it doesn’t have Syd’s gift for complex melody or startlingly original ideas, but Waters compensates for his deficiencies by clinging bulldog-like to what he can do. If only he’d stayed so humble.

158. Evie Sands “Anyway That You Want Me”
(Chip Taylor)
Available on Anyway That You Want Me

Chip Taylor’s second-greatest female protégé of the 60s, Evie Sands was forgotten for decades until Belle & Sebastian dusted her off and invited her to open for them in the early Oughts. The song is a sweet variant on any number of Goffin/King, Holland/Dozier/Holland, and Mann/Weill sentiments (and the melody totally recycles “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”), but it’s her performance that really sells it. A hippy chick for the pop audience (and not in that totally fake showbiz way that Cher was), she wields a degree of control and actorly precision here that’s usually only heard in jazz singers, nightclub chanteuses, and Dusty Springfield. Anyway, the single did only okay, and the album flopped, and everyone involved moved on to the next thing.

157. Aretha Franklin “Chain of Fools”
(Don Covay)
Available on Lady Soul

The thing you always hear about is Aretha’s voice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s impressive — one of the three or four great voices of the century — but you never hear about how well the Sweet Inspirations backed her and played off her and set her up to look good. And it’s the Sweet Inspirations, really, who make this song what it is (well, them and Duck Dunn on the ride cymbal). Not just the “chain, chain, chain” hook, either, or even the “chaieeaieeaieeaieeaieen, chain of fools” part. But listen to their snap and discipline during the verses; they’re practically MG’s, that’s how tight they are. Aretha sometimes did too well covering songs by male soul singers; Don Covay is only remembered for his own “See-Saw” today (and who remembers Otis’s version of “Respect”?). Then again, I’m sure he didn’t mind the royalties.

156. Mickey Newbury “San Francisco Mabel Joy”
(Mickey Newbury)
Available on ’Frisco Mabel Joy

Newbury is sometimes lumped in with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings as one of the country outlaws who stood Nashville on its ear in the late 60s and early 70s; but he was really a singer-songwriter who happened to work in the country mode most of the time. He was still shaking off the remnants of psychedelic overproduction when he recorded this song (the thunderclap and the watery background vocals are vestigial traces), but his songwriting was not only mature, it was Blood on the Tracks mature: sudden time-jumps in the narrative require you to fill in pieces yourself, as stark images and memorable phrases like “gray rock federal prison” and “merchant-mad marine” carve poetry out of what would otherwise be sheer melodrama. How did he get the bullet wound? It doesn’t matter; Mabel Joy is looking for the Waycross, Georgia farm boy.

155. Creedence Clearwater Revival “Lodi”
(John Fogerty)
Available on Green River

Every travelling entertainer, whether touring musicians, comedians working the clubs, or vaudevillians in the days before YouTube and America’s Got Talent, can relate. Stuck in some dinkwater town, hustled out of the cash that would let you get out (or the bus broke down, or the manager disappeared with the door money, or the drummer spent it all on hookers and blow), facing the same surly crowds night after night just trying to scrape enough together to get the hell out; it’s an archetypal Jungian nightmare, only made palatable by Fogerty’s impossible-to-hate scratchy country-soul voice and the rest of the band’s gently rocking backwoods honky-tonk. Lodi, by the way, is a town in New Jersey. Glenn Danzig and the Misfits grew up there. After learning that, I’ve never heard this song the same way.

154. Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs “Wooly Bully”
(Domingo Samudio)
Available on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era

The second-most-famous garage-rock song, after “Louie Louie.” But where that has been covered endlessly and become part of the basic DNA of rock & roll, “Wooly Bully” remains a singularity, a freak without precedent or (much) following. “Uno, dos, one two tres quatro” remains a deal-breaker for many people; some think it’s hokey and others just don’t like brown people. Not that there’s much that’s Hispanic about the song: the gibberish is well and truly gibberish, and the unbridled velocity of the thing is unmistakably American. But as God is my witness, it’s funkier than “Louie Louie,” and Sam the Sham’s, er, singing is a significant part of the great American tradition of freakish voices, from Emmett Miller and Al Jolson to Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. It’s fitting that he ended up as a street-corner preacher, somehow: there’s already something sincere and unnerving at work here, even if it is a song about a cat.

153. Esther Phillips “Release Me”
(Eddie Miller/Dub Williams/Robert Yount)
Available on Beg, Scream & Shout!: The Big Ol’ Box of 60’s Soul

What, pray tell, is “soul” about this song? Aside from her voice, I mean, which is lived-in, raspy at all the right edges, and finds all the microtones it can in the song’s corners. But everything else, from the tinkling, hopelessly unfunky production to the overbearing whitebread choir to the poor-poor-pitiful-me lyrics, is prime countrypolitan Nashville. Few black singers took the lead Ray Charles offered them with his Modern Sounds in Country & Western record, but this song may be the finest fruit of that counterintuitive cross-pollination. She out-Clines Patsy, that’s for sure, and although she went on to do straight soul, pop, and jazz records with better credentials and more passion, she never really made a better record.

152. The Zombies “Time of the Season”
(Rod Argent)
Available on Odessey and Oracle

It doesn’t really belong on Odessy; it’s neither crystalline and perfect nor blissfully happy; rather, it’s spooked, watchful, and mistrustful, the off-center time signature keying us up from the first bar. The time of the season might be that when love runs high, but other things are running high, too; the most memorable line is the inherently suspicious “who’s your daddy?” (Questions for further discussion: Did Argent know about the underworld pimp origins of the phrase? What role has it played in the song’s popularity? Who gives a shit?) The moody organ solo is less pop (try the organ solo in “Never My Love” for that) and more soul-jazz, but without any celebratory feel at all: it’s just driving the precarious, unbalanced point of the song home further. And so the Zombies, with their last single, finally lived up to their horror-camp name.

151. Frank Zappa “Peaches en Regalia”
(Frank Zappa)
Available on Hot Rats

There are three reasons this song is on the list. 1) It doesn’t have any of the incredibly dumb and/or obscene lyrics Zappa loved to smear on his songs without regard for aesthetic appropriateness. The man was a musician, not a writer — and yes, I understand the ideological underpinnings of his modus operandi, but frankly he made a better Varèse than a Rimbaud. 2) I mean duh, Frank Zappa is awesome, and despite what I just said, I mean the stuff with the Mothers too; it’s just that it’s on such a different plane from most pop music that it simply doesn’t fit in with the rest of it, even in catch-all lists like this one. 3) It sounds at first like Muzak, but it’s the most intelligent Muzak ever.

Next: 150-141. >>

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...there’s already something sincere and unnerving at work here, even if it is a song about a cat.

"Matty told Hatty,/'That's the thing to do./
Get you someone really/To pull the wool with you.'"

You're right; it IS a song about a cat....