Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Dancing The Night Away"

Pub rock.
C'mon, you know. Dr Feelgood. Eddie & the Hot Rods. Brinsley Schwartz. Ducks Deluxe. Kursaal Flyers.
No? You don't? Then you can't be just the wrong side of 50 years of age, then. And from north London.
If ever a musical genre belonged to a particular place and time, it was pub rock. A scruffy rebellion against the (somewhat) cheesy low-rent camp of glam rock, and not quite marginal enough for those who became punks. We're probably talking about a two-year phenomenon from 1973 to 1975, before Malcolm MacLaren found a way to splice the whole New Yorks Dolls/Suicide/Television strand with simplified pub rock, and a lead singer to sell it to the masses.
Punk historians (and there are a few of them) claim that punk was all about tearing down the self-important bloated carcasses of prog rock and disco, but really, that process was begun with bands like Dr Feelgood, who hooked themselves all the way back to the R&B era, and gave it a wax-job of 1970s depression. Lee Brilleaux, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds probably did more to puncture the egos of the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer than John Lydon ever did.
Listen to the track, possibly the finest piece of airbrushed pub rock there was. A gorgeous riff, a positively glam-rock chantalong chorus, and yete, and yet, you can't shake the impression that this was born in the back rooms at the Hope & Anchor one fuggy night in October.
While the Feelgoods and even Ian Dury were busy being forensically authentic (and I use that term with reverence) pub rockers, the Motors were all about being chart-friendly, casting one envious eye at the sort of teen adulation their forebears had enjoyed, rather than the cynical, faux-grudging acceptance that was about to become the hallmark of punk. And they clearly absorbed all the right lessons. This is a power pop classic, with just enough grit to keep it honest.
Such a good song, in fact, that Cheap Trick were driven to cover it. And if that's not a seal of approval I don't know what is.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

"Fooled Around And Fell In Love"

One of the pitfalls of being a Rock Snob is that you really think you know it all. And when you combine that with a gadfly mind in which every field of your knowledge is an inch deep and a mile wide, there is so much scope for error.
For example, if someone were to bring up the topic of the mid sixties flourish of progressive music, I'd jump right in and start yammering on about obscure releases on the Harvest label, not having done the requisite research to know that Harvest was only launched in 1969, or that prog rock really only took off around the same time. More than once I've wished I could crawl into a hole and die as my utter amateurism was ruthlessly exposed. There may actually be some bands or genres where I know my stuff, but as time and experience have passed, I've learned to be circumspect about claiming any expertise. Still doesn't stop me from making a total fool of myself from time to time.
This song has always been familiar to me: it's a staple on radio in the States, it's got a fantastic white soul vocal, a fantastic guitar solo, and it just swings oerfectly. I love the fact that it starts as if it's going to be something vaguely middle of the road, something easy, until the voice joins in and we're taken to another plane. The harmonies, the Hammond organ, it's all perfect.
So for the last 35 years I've always thought that Elvin Bishop was one of the great lost vocal talents of our times. On this record he sounds like Paul Rodgers' long-lost twin brother; just like Rodgers, he pushes his voice just to the point where it's about to fall apart, but no further, in exactly the way Rod Stewart didn't. Not that I dislike Stewart's voice - but they're different instruments.
Back to the Rock Snobbism. Imagine my surprise when in preparing to blog this song, I discover that Elvin Bishop's the guitarist, and that Mickey Thomas is the singer. You getting some heat from the screen as you're reading this? That's nothing to the heat coming off my cheeks, let me tell you.
Anyway, I put two and two together and went off in search of my copy of Jefferson Starship's "Freedom At Point Zero" album, where Mickey Thomas sings on "Jane" and Lord, his voice is just as good there. Maybe he's been to the requisite hard rock singer school where they teach you to reach those really high notes (think Ian Gillan on "Child in Time" from the "Made in Japan" album - dogs will come running), and maybe he's lost a little of the soul that he has on "Fooled Around", but it is so clearly the same voice. And you can also see how Mickey Thomas made such a good replacement for Grace Slick.
Sorry. I'm meant to be blogging a song, but it seems now that I'm doing a Mickey Thomas appreciation. Take a look at his page on Allmusic.com and look at the artists he's performed with. Perversely, I sort of wish he'd tarted himself around a bit more; there are so many songs I can imagine he'd have sung so well.