Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Totally Not Getting Old, Part IV.

170. Françoise Hardy “Les Temps de L’Amour”
(Jacques Dutronc/L. Morrise/Andre Michel Salvet)
Available on The Vogue Years

She’s done this and that over the years, from collaborations with Serge Gainsbourg to slick MOR recordings, but when she first burst into public notice in 1962, she was one of the most important artists of her time. Rejecting the fluffy-headed half-imbecile image that pop stars worldwide conform to, she took famous intellectuals as her role models, and was something very like the French version of Bob Dylan, at least as far as wild popularity combined with public inscrutability went. She was unhappy on the Sixties pop circuit, preferring to sit quietly and read rather than party endlessly with Dr. Robert. This song is one of her earliest, and is notable not only for its Bo Diddley backbeat (tougher than the average yeh-yeh), but for its cool expectation of sophisticated, adult romance. She was eighteen years old at the time.

169. The Wailers “Duppy Conqueror”
(Bob Marley/Lee Perry)
Available on Soul Shakedown

I have no idea what a Duppy Conqueror is; I don’t even know if it’s a conqueror who is duppy or if it’s someone who conquers duppies. But I know Bob Marley is one, because he said so. The legend begins here: Marley reaching out soulfully, building a cloud of myth and spiritual bluster around himself which reverberates to this day. Not that the frat boys who like Marley because, dude, ganja is like a sacrament in Rastafarianism, would recognize it, but this is reggae, reggae like we know it today, the rocksteady beat slowed down to almost a crawl, Lee Perry’s production swirling and clunking rootlessly, while Marley emotes in his instantly-recognizable nasal voice. “Yes, me friend, me good friend . . .” The rest of the Wailers mostly just moan softly in the background. He wouldn’t record his first album for two more years, and wouldn’t become a superstar for five. But this right here is all you need to know. The kid’s going places.

168. Mingus “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me”
(Charles Mingus)
Available on Oh Yeah

Mingus always vocalized, expressing the music of his soul not just with his fingers but with his throat and lips as well. It would get picked up by the microphones recording the instruments, and added a ghostly, otherworldly presence to his music. But on the Oh Yeah LP, he actually had a mike in front of him for the first time. He also played piano rather than bass, the instrument for which he’s best known. He’s a fine barrelhouse pianist, and a more-than-fine blues singer, with a rich, ravaged voice and (duh) expert timing. The song, despite the title, isn’t any kind of folky protest song; it’s stream-of-consciousness gospel, with labrynthine solos from reeds master Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and the kind of swinging stomp better appreciated by rhythm & blues fans than by jazz heads. Well, whatever: it stills rocks.

167. Manfred Mann “The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)”
(Bob Dylan)
Available on All Manner of Menn

Yeah, it’s a Dylan song, but it doesn’t sound like a Dylan song. They pulled off the same trick that Hendrix did with “All Along the Watchtower” and made it their own, which is trickier to do than you’d think; mostly people just add more instruments and better production, but you can still hear Dylan’s voice singing it better. This is some kind of mutant Swinging London Philly Soul, with the flute riffs and stomping rhythms, like the Zombies but with balls. Manfred Mann was an r&b band whose b-sides were straight jazz; pretty soon after this they switched to all-out jazz, then they did the pseudo-progressive thing and hit with “Blinded by the Light” (I like it, but I know I’m in the minority). They were a bunch of real musicians, is what I’m saying, and it seems like it takes some real musicians to transform a Dylan song, even a Big Pink acetate with the Band sleepwalking through the accompaniment.

166. The Toys “A Lover’s Concerto”
(Sandy Linzer/Denny Randell)
Available on Girl Group Greats

So you know how Procol Harum gets all this attention for basing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” off some Bach thing? And how the Nice Featuring Keith Emerson beat them to it by blending rock and classical on their first album? Well, screw all that rockist crap, because these girls did it Really, Truly First, and they didn’t need any godawful pretentious “sixteen vestal virgins” lyrics either, just the usual love stuff, if in a slightly classier mode than usual. The music being bitten is S. Bach’s “Minuet in G,” but the best part is the way the singers veer sharp on every key change, undercutting any lingering whiff of pretentiousness with a we’re-just-goofing-around grin. It’s actually a bitch to sing, because it doesn’t have any of the breathing space that you normally get in pop music, but they make it sound easy. The Supremes“I Hear a Symphony” was a reply to this, and a lesser work, as response records usually are.

165. The Fugs “Slum Goddess”
(Ken Weaver)
Available on The Fugs First Album

Am I crazy, or does the opening line echo Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud”? They were overqualified junkie beatniks operating out of Greenwich Village, so I wouldn’t be surprised; but the rest of the song might have given poor old William a heart attack. It makes perfect sense that Harry Smith (of the course-of-civilization-changing Anthology of American Folk Music) co-produced the album: while this is (technically) rock & roll, its spirit is closer to the hollers, stomps, hoedowns, lecherous blues ramblings, and grinning-death-and-judgement prophecies that he collected and injected pure into the live and wriggling vein of American culture in the 50’s. It’s also a classic of underground rock, amplified and with a middle finger raised to square society, but also possessed of a ragged, carefree spirit that was the furthest thing from the Velvet Underground’s tight-assed cool. The yang-dang-doodle, if you will, to Lou Reed’s yin.

164. Frank Sinatra “Wave”
(Antonio Carlos Jobim)
Available on Sinatra & Company

Let’s get this straight, first: Sinatra and Jobim recorded the song during the sessions for the 1969 Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim album, but it was inexplicably left off the album and stuck as filler onto the 1971 Sinatra & Company album. Got it? If Pitchfork can include an unreleased Brian Wilson demo, this counts as a 60’s song in my book. Okay, on to the song: God, it’s gorgeous. Impeccably arranged bossa nova, it was already one of Jobim’s greatest compositions (and his 1967 album of the same name is flawless). But now it has lyrics, and with the greatest male singer of the twentieth century (yeah, I said it) delivering them in his most relaxed, tender mode, using his rarely-unveiled bottom register to hit those notes at the end of each verse . . . God, it’s gorgeous. No song containing the phrase “the fundamental loneliness” should be so beautiful — it’s damn near unearthly.

163. The Red Krayola “Hurricane Fighter Plane”
(Frederick Barthelme/Steve Cunningham/Mayo Thompson)
Available on Parable of the Arable Land

This is a fairly average post-punk song, taking rattling percussion cues from Public Image, Ltd., doomy organ rollouts from Echo & the Bunnymen and the Sound, a lockstepped krautrock bassline from the the Slits, and a vocal performance that recalls early Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, with traces of Mark E. Smith of the Fall. It cuts off abruptly at the end, either to segue into the next doomy song or to hold up a mirror of disorientation and meaninglessness to society. The lyrics are a pretty obvious blend of Joy Division and Human League, a techno-military fantasy that grows in paranoia and delusion, which I’ve gotta say was pretty commonplace by the early 1980’s. Wait, what? 1967? Holy shit.

162. The Sir Douglas Quintet “Mendocino”
(Doug Sahm)
Available on Mendocino

Sahm starts out for all the world sounding like the frontman of an Amerindie band in 1987 thanking the fans for their support, but then the Farfisa kicks in and it’s a groovy Tex-Mex ballad. The Sir Douglas Quintet is one of the most unjustly-unknown bands of the Sixties, a hard-luck garage-rock outfit that boasted one of the most talented songwriters in the country, whose eclectic mixture of country, soul, rock & roll, and norteña (as common on this side of the Rio Grande as the other) proved to have staying power when it was adopted by the wave of Texas singer-songwriters that came to prominence in the 70s (Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Guy Clark). They recorded sporadically on local labels, had some regional success and two national almost-hits, then crumbled away as easily as sunbaked desert mud. Alt-country, hell. They should’ve been as big as the Stones.

161. The Yardbirds “Over Under Sideways Down”
(Jeff Beck/Chris Dreja/Jim McCarty/Keith Relf/Paul Samwell-Smith)
Available on Roger the Engineer

Beck’s guitar sounds like a muzzein’s call to prayer, and then the bass starts walking and it’s a free-for-all straight out of Chuck Berry’s playbook. Well, until the harpsichord power chords, the Gregorian breakdowns, the cossack-dance shouts, and the Delta blues harmonica all get their turn. Lyrically, it’s about These Crazy Times We Live In, but that’s hardly the point, and anyway the music makes it much more concisely, as the modal riff swirls upward and the drums double-kick into the next fugue-like section. The chorus is straight Swinging-London, the riffing is proto-Motörhead, and it all clicks smoothly into place as a fine pop single, over and out in 2:21. And these, remember, are the also-rans.

Next: 160-151. >>

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