Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Songs Were Perfect, Don't Change Them

I'm a somewhat anxious and easily distracted person, so when I have my iPod on shuffle, I usually can't listen to two or three songs in a row without thumbing for the next selection, trying to find the perfect drug. Sometimes it takes ten or 20 tries.

But if I'm feeling calm, as during a long Easter Tuesday drive to downtown LA this week, the miraculous little machine makes playlists that end up making perfect sense.

As I pulled out of Yorba Linda, it opened the set with a great morning song, the Who's "The Kids Are Alright," which I first heard on the Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy compilation of the band's still fresh-sounding pre-Tommy hits.

Next up was John Fogerty's "Somebody Help Me," a road song about a guy (probably kind of an old guy) looking all over for his girl (or his fellow AARP member).

From Revival, the song's definitely got a groove. Fogerty's Credence Clearwater Revival was a roots band before the term existed. Among those inspiring CCR was a true original, Bo Diddley, whose "You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care)," released in 1959, has the distinctive Bo beat (famously appropriated by Buddy Holly) plus the purest-sounding harp playing that side of Cream's Jack Bruce's on "Train Time" on Wheels Of Fire a decade later. Bet Bruce learned to play harp listening to Bo's song. No guitar at all on this cut, as far as I could hear.

The Stones' "Under My Thumb" has an equally spare arrangement and one of Mick Jagger's more sneeringly misogynist lyrics. As I drove through the Puente Hills, this cut from 1966's Aftermath evoked the ongoing debate with my friend Andy about whether the pre- or post-Exile Stones are preferable. I'm in the latter camp, but this is a great song, and an ironic one for anyone who's seen "Gimme Shelter." The Stones were playing it at Altamont in 1969 when the Hells Angels started a fight that eventually led to the stabbing death of a concertgoer. As the battle swirls and Jagger sings "Baby it's alright" over and over, a song about dominance becomes a desperate, unavailing plea for calm.

But enough rock and blues, because the mighty iPod then served up Neil Young's "Old Man," one of my high school songs, from 1972's Harvest. It was inspired by the caretaker on the newly rich Young's new ranch in Canada. Funny thing about the insinuating power of music. I don't think I'd heard the studio version of this song in years. While I usually can't remember what I had for breakfast, I remembered exactly when the banjo comes in before the first chorus.

Cracker has no doubt listened to a lot of Neil Young albums -- Bo Diddley ones, too. Their "Take Me Down To The Infirmary" is so rootsy that it sounds like it could've been written in 1935:
I know the whiskey won't soothe my soul
And the morphine won't heal my heart
But if you take me down to the infirmary
I won't have to sleep or drink alone.
Much as I love Patty Larkin, her dark and dense "Normal," from Red=Luck, sort of broke the mood. But bringing the set to a close (because afterward, I started thumbing that playwheel again) was a charming song by Amy Rigby (shown here) called "Don't Ever Change," not the Beatles' version but her own, which has a Resurrection bonus in each verse and chorus:
I saw my baby sitting there at the breakfast table
His hair a mess and he forgot to shave
And I wished that he would get up, make it all better
Stop drinking so much, learn how to behave

Then the radio was playing a Chuck Berry song
And he was looking at me asking what was wrong
I made a list of the things I could say
But he gave me a wink and it all went away, I told him

Hey, I love you, you're perfect, don't ever change

Here she is, performing the song last year with Wreckless Eric.

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