29/09/2019: “Blue Valentines” by Tom Waits

Tom Waits makes incredibly depressing music, for the most part. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t astoundingly beautiful.

His own distinctive, crusty tones sound like they’ve been doused with cheap whiskey and cigar smoke for a decade or 3. The whiskey comparisons come out a lot with critics, although some content themselves with the rather less dramatic “gravelly” adjective.

His tremulous, breathless singing voice is the counterpart to a melodious and sweet guitar here, which plays a sugary little jazz part.

The lyrics are intensely poetic, tinged with a liberal splash of darkness. They speak less to forlorn heartbreak as to bitter regret. As is common with Tom Waits lyrics, the subject matter is gritty, dealing with the sort of outcast who has no romance in them. In other words, real outcasts who get trodden down and ignored by society.

The song is the title track of the brilliant Blue Valentine album, which came out in 1978.

29/06/2019: “Getting Nasty” by Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm

Ike Turner was one of the central figures behind the evolution of rock n roll from blues. His 1951 hit, “Rocket 88”, is widely considered the first rock n roll song.

This song is a bit different from the style he normally pursued, incorporating a lot more funkiness than the fast paced rock n roll he was known for.

Billy Preston plays the piano superbly on this, using a some simple chord progressions to jam and groove effortlessly. It’s infectious without being too superficial.

The bassline echoes the piano, and you can almost feel the band’s synergy, working together so smoothly. The drums have a little step to them, reinforcing that wonderful jive feeling.

The whoops and shouts in the background contribute to that; it really does come across as a quick session of friends. In fairness, it was laid down in a studio session in his free time while touring.

The song was released in 1969, on the album A Black Man’s Soul.

10/06/2019: “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters is probably best known as the main influence on the Rolling Stones. The Blues legend inspired that British band more than any other when they were an unknown Rock ‘n’ Roll band trying to emulate the Blues and R’n’B sounds from the U.S.A.

The sound is not really so discernible in their later stuff, but their first album owes a great musical debt to the Blues, and especially Muddy Waters.

“Mannish Boy” is a sort of cover version of the Bo Diddley track, “I’m A Man”, which was released in the same year (1955) and features much of the same rhythm and lyrics. That, however, was derived in large part from the 1954 song that Willie Dixon wrote and Muddy Waters performed called “Hoochie Coochie Man”.

The song makes excellent use of the striking stop-time rhythm, which answers Waters’ singing in a chorus of harmonica and guitar chords.

The song has a great rolling feel to it, driven resolutely onward by the interplay between the stop-time rhythm and the main beat.

The track has been included in the Blues Hall Of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll, and Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

04/01/2019: “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin

This song was the last song Janis Joplin recorded before her untimely death aged 27, October the 4th 1970.

It was done in one take after the session musicians left for the night!

It wasn’t a song that had a lot of time behind it by all accounts. In fact, it was allegedly strung together by Joplin and Bob Neuwirth in a bar on August the 8th, and performed an hour later.

The lyrics were based on a poem by Martin McClure, who said it was the only poem he ever wrote that ended up making him any money.

Funny, considering the subject of the song. “Mercedes Benz” is hippy anti-consumerism writ large. There’s more than a hint of irony; Joplin owned a now very famous Porsche herself, so the song is self aware.

The thrust of the song is that money won’t buy happiness and that wanting a load of new things  all the time will make you unhappy. It’s a biting attack on the rampant consumerism of the 60s, making it easy to understand how the song became a counterculture anthem.

There’s a host of covers, and an remixed version with instruments released in 2003, but to be honest I can’t imagine the song being better than it is with any sort of backing track, be it country, blues, rock or soul.

The unadorned voice of Janis Joplin with its rustic, scraping Southern drawl is perfect to deliver such simple, homely wisdom. It crackles and pops like a dusty old 45, but the warmth and feeling is astounding.

The song was released posthumously in 1971 on the album Pearl.

That album was number one in the U.S.A and is 4 x platinum, making a load of money for somebody. C’est la vie…

 

31/12/2018: “On The Road Again” by Canned Heat

“On The Road Again” has an impressive lineage. It’s to be expected, given singer Alan Wilson’s deep knowledge and involvement with the blues world.

The song started out in 1928, with “Big Road Blues” by Tommy Johnson. Johnson also inspired the name “Canned Heat”, with his song “Canned Heat Blues”, which is about drinking Sterno (a type of methylated spirit) out of desperation to get drunk. It’s very old school southern blues.

Then, in 1953, “On The Road Again” was written by Floyd Jones. It’s more modern, and more lonesome.

In 1967, Canned Heat recorded their first version, which was about 7 minutes long, before a second version, the most famous.

It’s a good psychedelic boogie, with a riff based around one chord, and a number of distinguishing features. Alan Wilson uses the Indian instrument called the Tambura, which is like a sitar. It was relatively common among psychedelic bands of the time. It is used to create a metallic droning noise in the background.

The other feature is the excellent use of the harmonica. It is used sparingly but effectively in the verses, and comes into its own in solos.

Then there Wilson’s vocals. He delivers them in a distinctive falsetto, which helps them to stand out from the turbulent river of instruments below.

The song was released on Boogie With Canned Heat in 1968, and released as a single shortly after, reaching number 8 in the U.K. and number 16 in the U.S.

It’s a perfect “journeying” song!

12/07/2018: “I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After

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That first guitar riff is a killer one, for sure. The solo playing is pretty good as well. What’s more, the drums are a lot more interesting than many rock songs, with a breakbeat.

The singing is also good, although I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say with the lyrics.

“I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you” is the sort of empty statement that makes counter culture songs like this a bit weak in terms of the political content.

He seems to suggest that any attempt to fix the world is a bit pointless.

The song itself is great though, going from a contemplative acoustic blues vibe to a full throated psychedelic rock one.

The song was on the 1971 album Space In Time, but was also released as a single.

Pretty cool stuff.

30/05/2018: “Money” by Pink Floyd

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Pink Floyd certainly have their share of grandiose projects; 20 minute long songs, ambient stuff, wild musings.

But the particular aspect of Pink Floyd embodied by a song like “Money” is much more pop orientated, and far catchier. It’s not really like their other stuff at all.

“Money” is on the legendary 1973 album, The Dark Side Of The Moon. The song begins with the ultra-catchy bassline, and a the sound of a very musical cash register!

The track is quite a chilled one, but by Pink Floyd standards it zips along at a fair pace.

The off kilter feel of the song is partly down to the use of a non-standard 7/4 time signature, apart from the brilliant guitar solo, which is done in a normal 4/4 time.

A lovely bluesy song!