Friday, April 5, 2013

                             LAUGHTER: RACE WITH THE DEVIL

                                                The Gun:  Race With the Devil


Something a little more fun, this time…… I well remember watching this on Top of the Pops as an eleven year old, held in awe by the sheer power of it, revelling at the guitar and the speed of the soloing, at least to my innocent ears, to the size of the singer’s hair and to the mention of the devil. Such a potent mix of sound and imagery was enough to have my mother asking what I was smiling at. And looking worried. I never understood why this was their sole chart botherer, as surely these were the four horsemen of the apocalypse, or three of them perhaps. Mind you, and to this day, I have never heard any other of their work, even as the brothers Gurvitz, for it was they, as Gun. They later hooked up with Ginger Baker as the Baker Gurvitz Army, another gap in my listening history, of which there are arguably
So, apart from me smiling at the fireside 45 years ago, what can this possibly have to do with laughter? Listen, dear reader, listen: maniacal laughter occurring twice in the song, as an alternative, I guess, to a more conventional middle eight. It sounds a little, um, forced and, even, feeble, in the harsh light of today, but back in the 60s I found this every bit as thrilling as Christopher Price baring his fangs in various and assorted Hammer Draculas. In fact, I loved it. 1968 was actually very fertile for maniacal laughter, it being round about the same time as Arthur Brown was cackling madly as the God of Hellfire in his similarly sole hit record. (Maybe he was the missing fourth horseman?)
Trivia merchants may now be champing at their bits, eager to remind of the Judas Priest cover version of several years later, a shabby patch on the original, primarily as it replaces the laughter with a slightly incongruous guitar motif. So that couldn’t possibly have any place within this strand.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Laughter: Big Yellow Taxi

Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi

I’m guessing that if you think of Joni Mitchell, you don’t usually think of fun and laughing. Her music, as a whole, is pretty serious, confessional and introspective, even somber. And yet, there she is, at the end of “Big Yellow Taxi,” a fun song, but still with a serious message about environmental issues and personal loss, giggling infectiously after showing off her remarkable vocal range. I have to believe that it wasn’t planned, but that after going way up high, then dropping down low during this take, she amused herself and laughed. I like to think that she heard the tape and realized that the giggle, even if it was an imperfection, was natural and genuine, and that she decided to release it in that form. The song stands out, even on the incredible album that it is from—Ladies of the Canyon has a number of truly classic Joni songs, including that other laugh riot, “The Circle Game.”

When we were dating, my wife was surprised that I liked Joni Mitchell. But it is impossible to deny her talents as a singer, songwriter and connoisseur of music. My tastes, as any reader of my posts to this blog can attest, are pretty broad, but as my wife and I were getting to know each other, she recognized that I liked music that was little harder than she did. Luckily, however, there was significant overlap, enough that we generally were able to make it work. No, she doesn’t love all of the punk, or alt-country or prog rock that I enjoy, but we have found a big area of common ground. And in a family where listening to music is of the utmost importance, it has been critical to our sanity and our relationship. (We are approaching our 25th anniversary, so I guess it has been working out pretty well.)

I’m one of those guys who loves to skip around on the radio looking for a better song, and that makes my wife crazy. We have a rule that you can’t change the station if someone says not to, and that has also kept the peace during car rides. But now that we have satellite radio in one of our cars, I have a problem. There is a station on Sirius XM called “The Bridge,” which bills itself as “the softer side of rock. Stress-free music from Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison and Elton John. Nothing too hard, just great mellow rock.” My wife loves this station—it hits, as she says, her “sweet spot.” And I’m OK with some Jackson Browne, I love Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison, and can tolerate the occasional Elton John song. But once we land on The Bridge, it is almost impossible for me to convince my wife to let me try another station. I call it the Roach Motel of satellite radio--you can get in, but you can’t ever get out. Worse, every time we turn on the station, it seems like they are playing The Little River Band, and I want to poke something sharp into my ears to make it stop. (On long car rides, we now listen to my iPod, with a curated playlist of songs that I think she will like, although I do sneak in some stuff outside her comfort zone because, well, that’s the way I am.)

I can take mellow rock, but only in moderation—I need something harder and harsher to mix it up. But I have to say, classic Joni is almost always welcome. As is a good laugh.

Sunday, March 31, 2013



The tragedy of life is rich with pathos masked in a comic garb, the “brave face” smiling and laughing to hide the heartbreak. Veritably tears of a clown. Eddi Reader, erstwhile Eurythmics backing singer and Fairground Attraction  frontperson, has long maintained a grasp of this truth, her canon full of bittersweet paeans of loss, often arising from the pen of longtime collaborator Boo Hewerdine, with whom she has also often performed
I have long enjoyed her nuanced style, always on the edge of counterpoint to the lyric, something she even manages with her repeated journeys back into the works of Robert Burns, her national poet, which I strongly commend to you.
For some reason this song always makes me think of the pointless sham of emoticons, inserted within all too many an e mail or text to make up for the one dimensionalism of the correspondence. All too often, unfortunately, that facility is then abused as reason to then take less effort in the verbal content and context. Simply, you can say whatever you like, however offensive or aggressive, as, by the simple addition of a smiley face, the recipient will “know” it is but a funny joke, undoubtedly folding up in mirth.  Or not, but the sender can retain their clear conscience and integrity. Or not. I have to say I am unsure whether this is so unsubtle as to deface the name of irony, then so often  invoked as an additional get-out clause. That seems the true irony of it, but it seems akin to having to wave fingered inverted commas around a spoken statement. Or, as in this song, so as to lighten the pain of a breaking heart, by adding “joke”, as a preconceived afterthought.
I’m mindful that this, my 2nd posting, seems similarly lugubrious to the last, with deathly serious subject matter, sung by women who, one suspects, might occasionally seem painted as difficult, thus perhaps eradicating any sense of laughter from the thread, bar its title. For this I make no apology: just as the devil does indeed seem to have the best tunes, so too is melancholy far more emotive a trigger than is comedy. For this reason neither I, nor, I will wager, will anyone be putting up the Laughing Policeman.;-)


Laughter: 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)