Stuck in the Middle of Stealers Wheel

Gerry Rafferty’s music makes me smile. His lyrics make me smile. His voice is warm and soothing, making me believe, as the title of the last song on Ferguslie Park says, everything will turn out fine. I know Joe Egan is part of Stealers Wheel, but I can’t dredge up feelings about his contributions. Maybe it just needs more attention.

Stuck in the Middle with You, their one huge hit from their eponymous first album, seems to annoy some folks. Puzzling. Slide guitar doesn’t make it to pop music much, and this has it in spades. Slick, slippery, wiggly slide. From the opening chords on acoustic guitar, the no-nonsense bass, silly-serious hand-claps, through vocal harmonies, multiple electric guitars snapping, and some of the subtlest drumming in a pop song (cowbell! before cowbell was, well, whatever) it bounces perkily through really strange lyrics I still love, nearly 40 years later.

The slide guitars (plural; there are, briefly, two) shimmer over another electric guitar playing a noodley little lead, and two rhythm guitars, one electric, one acoustic. One benefit of an endless stream of top-notch studio musicians instead of a regular band is you get a wide variety of ace performances on every instrument.

Lyrically, I’ve always thought this was another guy at the party Randy Newman’s momma told him not to come to.

When I bought Feguslie Park long after its release, I rediscovered Star, which somehow sneaked onto San Diego radio while I still lived there. But the real killer here is Blind Faith; something about the earnest search for just the right memories of happier-but-harder times always felt like a journey I wanted to finish.

All three Stealers Wheel albums are available on CD these days. Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty are master songwriters (their first album was produced by the illustrious team of Lieber and Stoller) and delicious performers. Even their wistful sad songs feel good.

The Salvador Dali-esque covers don’t disturb me as much as they should. Animalised faces, disemboweled lizards, faces in the ground; I suspect even Dali would find them strangely disconnected from the bright cheerful music within. Perhaps another case of production decisions made by someone other than the artist?

Little Debbie, Little Debbie

TTwang should be a genre all to itself. I’m a sucker for twang. Play way back by the bridge, turn the reverb up to some kind of tape-slap setting, and it might not even matter what the words are.

Of course, if the words are about oatmeal pies, pointy boots, quarters and Little Debbie, that’s just fine, too.

I blame Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS) for psychobilly; rockabilly was usually pretty friendly and happy. SCOTS took it to the edge, and many have taken it right over. None for me, thank you. I like my musical energy to be positive.

“Walk Like a Camel” is just plain silly, if you squint your ears and block out external nonsense. Of course, Little Debbie’s ‘special outfit’ probably isn’t a flannel sleeper, but at least there’s nothing here requiring explanation to the four-year-old.


Charlie Cheney’s Music Exam (Filters)

And one more show with Charlie. Too much information. No; not here. That’s what the show is about.

It used to be that you’d read Rolling Stone or get music suggestions from the DJ on the radio. But now that there’s far too much music even to hear it all on the radio, let alone discuss, how do you filter out all the noise and zero in on the music you’ve never heard of, but want to hear?

Charlie Cheney’s Music Exam (Social Networks)

Two more shows with Charlie (it’s been two weeks; it’s a weekly show. Coincidence, or design?)

On the December 8th show we talked about social networks. In this one, you get to hear me completely blindsided because I hadn’t gotten Charlie’s email telling me what we were talking about so I hadn’t done my homework. I realize I don’t really sound like a blathering idiot. I only felt like one. (My fault, not Charlie’s. Charlie is a gracious and entertaining host.)

As always, no autoplay, please. Click the little button. Yes, that one, the pointy triangle thing.

I Guess I’m Floating, Too

Perhaps not, but it would be fun.

Daughter Rush keeps sending me fun new music. She finds some of it through some terribly not confused people at a blog called I Guess I’m Floating.

Severely eclectic tastes, subtle humour, and the occasional typo. (Dent May is so fun, but his ‘diddys’ are really ditties. Ah, well.)

I’m tempted to follow them meself, but it’s another excuse for Rush and I to connect, so I’ll leave it to her.

For now.

Hubcap Diamond Star Halo

Searches are down here at the ranch, but this one is one of those snippets that’ll drive you mad if you don’t know where to find it.

Of course, if you’re really old and paid attention, you know that ‘hubcap diamond star halo’ is a line from the T. Rex song “Bang a Gong” which was covered by the incomparable Robert Palmer (working with the Duran Duran boys as Power Station.)

A review at Amazon calls T. Rex “one of the most influential rock acts of the ’70s.” Either I wasn’t paying attention, or that’s fairly hyperbolic (and I’ve been told more than once that I’m given to hyperbole, so I know whereof I speak. Probably.) Although, if Bowie and Rod Stewart were at his funeral (Bolan was killed in a car crash on 16 September 1977, two weeks before his 30th birthday) perhaps I should give it a think.

Robert Palmer probably wasn’t as influential as he should have been, though he lived almost a quarter-century longer than Bolan.

Like a Mattress Balances on a Bottle of Wine

I have managed to go an entire year without writing about Bob Dylan. I managed to go 40 years without hearing Blonde on Blonde, other than the bits played on the radio.

I’ve written about Dylan’s word play in an earlier post. The lyrics of Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat aren’t as disorienting as, for instance, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (on the same album, but ooh I love the live version on Hard Rain.) But it’s still Dylan. Not quite nonsense, but certainly not sensible.

I can’t hear the second verse without laughing:

 Well, you look so pretty in it Honey, can I jump on it sometime? Yes, I just wanna see If it's really that expensive kind You know it balances on your head Just like a mattress balances On a bottle of wine Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

A traditional 12-bar blues, it opens with Dylan himself playing a lead of sorts. It reminds me why Robbie Robertson played all the other leads on the song. Kenny Buttrey’s drumming is very non-traditional; cymbal accents in jazzy places a straight blues player might not have thought of, and an almost burlesque kick drum roll at the end of each chorus-less verse. The Wikipedia article talks about the near-agony of getting a final version recorded.

It all finishes up, lyrically, with a poke at her new boyfriend:

 You might think he loves you for your money But I know what he really loves you for It's your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Makes me want one of my very own.

Opening Pandora’s Box

Lately I’ve been listening to Pandora a lot. A demonstration of the value of The Music Genome Project®, Pandora allows you to create your own radio station based on a single artist or even a single song.

Using a database of 400 different aspects of descriptions of music, it matches up music in their files with the artist or song you’ve chosen as the seed for your station. The consistency is impressive.

But that’s also the drawback.

You’ll be introduced to new artists, certainly (it’s how I discovered the chewy goodness of Maggi, Pierce and E.J. But since every song is carefully chosen to match existing criteria, you won’t stumble across gems which are fundamentally different from what you’re already listening to.

I keep making new stations (you can have as many as you want) and seeing how far I can stretch it before it breaks. From the perspective of “if you like X, you’ll probably like Y” I haven’t found anything better.

Charlie Cheney’s Music Exam (Tribes)

No, this won’t be on the test.

Musician and musical entrepreneur Charlie Cheney is doing an online radio show and for some reason decided he should talk to me a lot. We’ll be foisting this nonsense on an unsuspecting world every Monday evening for the foreseeable future. Check Charlie’s BlogTalkRadio page for the schedule, time, archives, and all that blather. And call in! Call and actually talk to us during the show! Your very own voice will appear right here in these podcasts! You’ll be as famous as I am!

Maybe that doesn’t mean as much as it could, huh?

Since I hate noises automatically starting on web pages, you’ll have to click the ‘Play’ button below to listen.