Posts Tagged ‘Eric Clapton’

The power trio of guitar, bass, and drums emerged in rock ’n’ roll in the late 1960s. The pioneers were The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Grand Funk Railroad. Their guitarists, Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Mark Farner, were like the great New York centerfielders of the 1950s. Hendrix was Willie Mays. Clapton was Mickey Mantle. And Farner was – Duke Snyder?

No, sorry, that’s where the comparison breaks down. The Duke’s talents were pitched below Mantle’s and Mays’, but he was still an exceptional ballplayer for many years. You can compare his best years to his colleagues and his stats suffer only because they were gods and he wasn’t. No way does Mark Farner belong in the same league as Hendrix and Clapton. (To be fair, that’s a league you can fit in one bus.)

But Farner performed a vital function the other two couldn’t. If you formed a band in 1967 or 1971, how could you hope to grow up to be Hendrix or Clapton? But Mark Farner – he made it sound easy, or at least he made it sound as if anyone could do that. (And they did. Bad Company, Mountain, Foghat, AC/DC, Bon Jovi…there’s a long list.)

Grand Funk Railroad (they shortened the name later in the ’70s, then re-enlarged it) started out playing hard, heavy, messy rock with really stupid lyrics. Their first two albums are like ’60s garage rock recorded 100 times louder. Grand Funk never rose to the level of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or Van Halen, but they filled auditoriums for years – particularly in Omaha, where they met those “four young chiquitas” they poignantly describe in their super explosive smash hit explosion, “We’re An American Band.”

The album I liked was Closer to Home (1970), with their signature song, “I’m Your Captain.” Playing the record this evening after all these decades makes me realize that by 1970 they were losing their way. This is the album where they abandoned their basic formula and brought in keyboards, strings, and ocean noises. Artists should be free to experiment but these boys weren’t artists, they were making party music – sort of a smash-mouth equivalent of K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

Yes, Closer to Home sold a bunch of copies, and We’re An American Band (1973) sold even more. They deserved the money – they were sincere and they toured constantly. But their true selves were back there in the beginning: On Time (1969) and Grand Funk (1970). The songs were mostly crud (“Heartbreaker” is a phenomenal hard-blues workout) and I can barely bring myself to pay attention to the lyrics, but just listen to a track or two. Anybody could do that.

Bonus: I give Grand Funk points for the first known use of “dudes” in a pop song, in “We’re An American Band”:
They said, ‘Come on dudes, let’s get it on!’
And we proceeded to tear that hotel down

Psych! No bonus: I’m deducting those points for recording the lite-rock hit “Some Kind of Wonderful” and for covering Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion.” Yes, I know that “loco” is train-related but did we really need our heavy-metal forefathers recording songs you could skip rope to?

Thus ends “Sins of the ’70s Week”
I considered putting The Bee-Gees on trial, but I will never apologize for disco.

A railroad runs through it
After all the steam I’ve generated in this blog about my novel, you may be wondering why I haven’t issued any bulletins in awhile. I had some derailments this winter but I believe I’m almost right on the rails. That’s enough transportation metaphors. I’ll report back when I’ve hit my next milestone, and thank you for your patience…or indifference…or maybe you were just enjoying the silence!

Meanwhile: Here’s my latest video. That makes two, and that means I have a channel.

 

Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac
Various artists
2014

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were hard-working members of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. When they decided to form their own band (everyone who worked for John Mayall in the 1960s formed his own band), they discovered that their true skills were not playing the drums and the bass, respectively. The one thing they did better than anything was finding talent.

They started off by recruiting guitarist Peter Green. Peter Green is one of our unsung Jewish guitar heroes, the guy who was hired to replace Eric Clapton when Clapton left the Blues Breakers to form Cream. (What a résumé entry: “Replaced Eric Clapton while maintaining band productivity.”)

Green took Fleetwood Mac in a blues-rock direction, naturally, but Fleetwood and McVie were looking for something more lucrative. They got rid of Green and hired two singer-songwriters, Robert Welch and Christine Perfect, who began the band’s transition from blues to pop. (Perfect later married McVie.)

Fleetwood and McVie eventually ditched Welch and brought in two more singer-songwriters, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. That, as Ruk the android declared on a memorable episode of classic Star Trek, was the equation. In the mid-’70s there was no band bigger than Fleetwood Mac. Everywhere I went, everyone seemed to have Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977) in the plastic crates that held their records. I owned Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. Yes, it’s true. I spent money on Fleetwood Mac records, I didn’t change stations when Fleetwood Mac songs came on the radio, and I put coins in jukeboxes so I could hear really dumb stuff like “Monday Morning” and “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” You can understand why I’m a snob today. I have much to atone for.

(In 1992, the Clintons used “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” as their campaign theme song. Fleetwood Mac immediately reformed and went on tour. I will never forgive the Clintons for this.)

By the early 1980s I’d shaken off Fleetwood Mac the way a dog shakes off water after a swim. I came to believe that the final word on Fleetwood Mac was sung by The Rotters in their insightful single, “Sit on My Face, Stevie Nicks.” But then I encountered this tribute CD. Once again, I’ve been proven wrong. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

Just Tell Me That You Want Me (this terrific title is a line from one of their worst songs, “Tusk”) is a collection of talent so deep that Beck isn’t even mentioned on the cover. He’s buried in the credits. Most of the interpretations are sincere, some are quite imaginative, and only a few are duds. Just Tell Me That You Want Me scores far higher than I expected.

What’s good
You can tell who the muscle was out there because 10 of these 17 songs were written by Stevie Nicks. For my money, the finest performance is turned in by Marianne Faithfull on Nicks’ “Angel.” Ms. Faithfull can turn any fluffy pop song into the King James Bible and as usual she doesn’t disappoint. Bill Frisell, another huge talent not noted in the advertising, plays guitar. He spends the last minute and a half of the song ascending into heaven. I rate this disc a Buy for “Angel” alone.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top provides the vocals on Peter Green’s “Oh Well.” You can hear the ghost of John Lee Hooker in his growls. The New Pornographers turn Christine McVie’s “Think About Me” into a fun Beatles romp. The Crystal Ark, a band I’ve never heard of, convert Lindsey Buckingham’s unlistenable “Tusk” into something I almost like. Two names I’m learning about, Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, create a beautiful cover of Nicks’ “Storms.” St. Vincent, a name you can’t avoid hearing these days, turns “Sisters of the Moon” (Nicks again) into a hard, almost dirty rocker. I never thought I’d connect adjectives such as “hard” and “dirty” with Fleetwood Mac.

Another band I don’t know, Best Coast, was assigned Nicks’ “Rhiannon,” Fleetwood Mac’s signature song. Though Best Coast stays close to the original, I’m highlighting this track because their singer, Bethany Cosentino, sings like a female Johnny Cash.

Of course, you can’t discuss Fleetwood Mac without complaining about something. For one thing, the cheap paper CD holder was designed to spill the CD out of its sleeve and onto the floor of your car just as you’re changing lanes. But I have something bigger in mind.

Robert Welch: Fleetwood footnote
Robert Welch was not an unappreciated genius and I’m not launching a crusade on his behalf. In 1994 he re-recorded his Greatest Hits and managed to de-improve all of them. But he wrote the only two original Fleetwood Mac songs I still like: “Future Games” and “Bermuda Triangle,” so I feel I should say something in his defense.

“Bermuda Triangle” is the closest this band ever came to a dance number. It would’ve been a perfect song for The B-52s, who would’ve injected 10ccs of humor. (Welch believed he was warning the public about a hazard to navigation.) This song is not covered on Just Tell Me That You Want Me.

“Future Games” is. I know that not all who wander are lost, but the boys in the band were lost in the dreamy, meandering “Future Games.” Still, this 8-minute song pre-dates Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon by a year and Pink Floyd acknowledges it as an influence. With better editing (or fewer recreational drugs?), “Future Games” could’ve been one of the decade’s classics. It’s good, OK?

In their cover, MGMT sings the lyrics through a vocoder to produce a computer-like voice. An old computer. Like Matthew Broderick/Ally Sheedy WarGames old computer. Neil Young tried this in 1982 with Trans and got nowhere, and he’s a god. Even Gary Numan, who is a computer, never tried to sing like one. MGMT made a huge mistake and I’m glad this record’s producers stuck this thing at the end so it’s easy to skip.

Don’t stop thinking about Fleetwood Mac
A tribute CD should show you an old band in a new light. Just Tell Me That You Want Me, like Various Artists for the Masses, the Depeche Mode tribute, accomplishes this mission. Despite “Future Games” and a couple of other miscues (“Silver Springs” sounds as if it was recorded in the bathroom of a bus station), let me just tell you: You want this CD.

Tomorrow night, Sins of the ’70s Week continues with: Chicago. Colour my world, dudes!