Shaun Murphy/Little Feat: It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry
Forgive my repetitious returns to the same musicians: last week it was Dylan, and more than once before, I have brought you Little Feat. Indulge me, if you will, to hear my reasons (besides the fact that I just happen to like their sounds).
While I deeply respect Dylan, there’s not many of his vocals that hit the spot for me (Nashville Skyline and Slow Train Coming may have come closest to my preferences). Highway 61 Revisted, the 1965 album this song appeared on, is not one of my preferences in terms of Dylan vocals. However, as noted last week in “The Bard”, for me, it is his lyrics . There isn’t much to laugh about in the lyrics here – quite the opposite. The Laugh of the week is clearly limited to the title. Overall the words strike me as being rather bleak. Yet, there are people who find clear sexual reference:
If I die on top of the hill
And if I don’t make it
You know my baby will
is a supposed reference to “petit mort”? For my part, rather than search for meaning, it is the juxtaposition of words and images they convey: “Ride a mail train/Can’t by a thrill”.
The song structure is basic blues, and many of the version you’ll hear veer to the lugubrious: slow and true to the train - both of the title and of the blues themselves. However, and the reason I link first to the version I have chosen is because of the way Ms Shaun Murphy does her thing. For about 15 years, she did vocals with Little Feat before she moved on to her own band. (Do check the last of the videos at this link) Also see this link to download the full set of songs from this London concert in 2004. On her website, I am delighted to see that Bonnie Raitt has good words for her: they've got very similar musical energies. Finally, here are links to other versions/other musicians doing the song
(All mp3s here courtesy of the Internet Archive ... for more)