Friday, February 07, 2014

Mo' things we like

1) Peter Green's original Fleetwood Mac stood head, shoulders, and maybe even nipples above the rest of their Brit blues cohort, and that wasn't just because of Mick Fleetwood's extreme height. Sure, Fleetwood and John McVie were one of the most pedestrian riddim sections in Britain (but adaptable enough to shift from blooze to soft rock when Green flipped himself out of the band a la Syd Barrett, setting the stage for a progression of frontpeople that culminated in the popular, money-making Menlo-Atherton High School incarnation of the band). And Jeremy Spencer (who followed Green into acid-fueled religious cultism) wasn't much more than a gifted mimic, his specialties being Elmore James and various '50s rockers.

But Green, born Peter Greenbaum in London's tough Bethnal Green 'hood, 1946, was really something special. Unlike most whiteboy bluesmen, he intuitively understood that the key to great blues was singing and songwriting (for proof positive of the former, dig Greeny's cover of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad"), although he possessed a unique touch and tone on guitar (the latter of which I remember reading somewhere came from having incorrectly reinstalled the pickups in his Les Paul so the longer pole pieces were on the fatter strings).

With John Mayall, in whose band he replaced "God" Clapton, his minor-key instrumental "The Supernatural" proved that he was tapped into something deeper than the average B.B. King-aping English kid, and with Fleetwood Mac, the string of singles from "Albatross" (like a more spiritual take on Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk") through "Man of the World" (on which he declared, "I just wish I'd never been born") and "Oh Well" (which formally predicted MC5's "Future Now" and lyrically carried the greatest put-down since "Positively Fourth Street": "Don't ask me what I think of you / I might not give the answers that you want me to"), culminating with "The Green Manalishi" (the great evil was money, not acid) charted the disintegration of a personality in real time.

Green's Mac lasted 32 months, just eight more than Cream, but some folks (myself included) will tell you that his musical legacy was a lot more enduring even if he'd never played another note. (In fact he came back in the late '70s and again in the '90s.) And the second side of the '71 UK Greatest Hits is the best late-night record I know of besides Mayall's Turning Point. So there.

2) I bought Wilco (The Album) because my buddy Nick's widow told me he thought they were the greatest band of their generation (it takes something like that to get me to buy new(er) music these days). What strikes me the most is how much like Lennon Jeff Tweedy sounds (and one of the songs even has the "My Sweet Lord" descending-glissando slide fill). Nels Cline is audibly in evidence, although definitely a sideman here (although I'm glad he's got a good regular income now). I'm still wondering what the Wilco song was that they used to play on the grocery store muzak when I was still working, but I'm not going to buy all their albums to find out. It's pretty funny that these guys, the Flaming Lips, and M. Ward are the only new/"mainstream" things I've listened to for the last 20 years.

ADDENDUM: I recently picked up a 3CD of the first three UK Fleetwood Mac LPs. The "dog and dustbin" debut was probably the best album of the whole Brit blues development. Peter Green covering Howlin' Wolf is a very different proposition from Mick Jagger doing "Little Red Rooster" or Keith Relf doing "Smokestack Lightning," and I'd forgotten about his harp playing. Mr. Wonderful suffered from too many Elmore James covers; I prefer the U.S. English Rose, where the Danny Kirwan songs at least provide some variety. Listening to the Pious Bird of Good Omen comp, my sweetie mistook "Need Your Love So Bad" for Ray Charles -- a fair cop. And Greeny actually had the balls to cover the greatest of all Chicago blues records -- the Leroy Foster version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" -- as "Ramblin' Pony." Whew!

The Wilco song from the Central Market muzak was "Hate It Here" from Sky Blue Sky, which I got in a "deluxe" version that came with a DVD of them playing several of the songs in their practice space, along with commentary from Tweedy. My favorite song o' the moment is "Impossible Germany," in which Nels sounds like Tom Verlaine sitting in with the Allman Brothers. I remember a few years ago, I was very high on Nels' Initiate album until the new Jeff Beck arrived to completely erase its memory with versions of "Over the Rainbow" and "Nessun Dorma." The things Nels plays on "Impossible Germany" and "Side With the Seeds" and "Either Way" are so memorable because they're organic parts of strong songs. I'm limiting myself to two listens to Sky Blue Sky a day, to avoid burnout (a nasty habit I have, most recently with Chris Butler's Easy Life and most memorably with Brian Wilson's Smile), but really, for the time being, I could listen to nothing else.


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