Posts Tagged ‘Rare Earth’

Stuck In My Head: Feelin’ Alright

9 March 2011

I always thought that the plate spinners who showed up during the entertainment section of late night talk shows were a great metaphor for personal happiness. Total happiness is when all those plates are spinning. Got a good job that you like? That’s one plate spinning. In a great relationship? There’s another. If something really factors into your overall happiness, it’s a plate to spin. Most people can keep a couple of plates spinning, but there are usually a few others that are wobbling and threatening to crash to the ground. Life is tough that way. The car needs a new clutch – wobble. An uncle dies – wobble. That tax bill is higher than expected – wobble. Any number of things can start those plates a’wobblin’.

Over the last 6 months, I finally seem to have all my plates spinning. I love my job, I’m happily married, and life is good. I work in one of the best cities in the world, with interesting people who appreciate what I do. I keep finding incredible LPs that I’d never considered owning. Last week I picked up Rare Earth’s 1969 album Get Ready, with no expectations whatsoever. The P told me a while back that this Detroit band had backed Rodriguez on his cult classic album Cold Fact, so I’d been on the lookout for their records. I found Get Ready in the bargain bin, and it was worth every nickel I paid. Their version of Dave Mason’s ‘Feelin’ Alright’ (popularized by Traffic) is worth the price of admission alone.

‘Feelin’ Alright’ features a wokka wokka rhythm and dirty Detroit guitar sound in the mold of Dennis Coffey. Mid-song, guitarist Rod Richards coolly says “Yeah, excuse me while I play my axe…”, before launching into the kind of solo that will have Hendrix fans drooling. Holy guitar strings! John Small of WKNR-FM Detroit dropped some classic liner notes on this one, including: “What explains Rare Earth’s charisma? Appearance – for one. Each cat stands handsomely tall as if from a fashion rack at Carnaby.” ‘Feelin’ Alright’ stands tall too – it’s the sound of all my plates spinning at top speed…

Listen: Feelin’ Alright

Masterpiece: Odelay

21 May 2010

[Today: The new pollution…]

For a few years in the late-60s, the critical establishment was fixated on finding the “New Dylan”. Quite a few singer-songwriters had this unwelcome sash hung around their neck, including Tim Buckley, David Blue, Tim Hardin, Tom Paxton and John Prine. Of course, that game was rigged from the get-go, as Dylan transcended folk-singing the way Muhammad Ali transcended boxing – both were undeniably talented individuals who were in the right place at the right time to be generational spokesmen. You can’t replicate a Dylan or an Ali, you can only hope to see glimmers of the reflections of their brilliance. Ali’s genius for braggadocio and rhymes was reflected in hip-hop, while the spirit of Dylan was re-born in the nonsensically profound songs of a weird kid from Los Angeles.

When Beck Hansen started gaining traction in the mid-90s, hardly anyone was being compared to Bob Dylan for the simple reason that Dylan hadn’t been particularly prolific or interesting for nearly a decade. But Beck was a goofy artist who combined bluegrass, rap, metal and folk into a strange brew that sounded like nothing so much as an updated version of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ or ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’. Beck was never going to write a serious anthem like ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ or ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ but when it came to trippy, seemingly stream-of-conscious wordplay, he was at least Dylan’s equal. And like Dylan, Beck took some effort to shroud details of his personal history – he revealed that he was raised in a trailer park, but only later did it come out that his grandfather was a famous Fluxus artist and his mother a part of the Warhol scene.

His 1994 debut album, Mellow Gold, was a surprise hit behind the smash single ‘Loser’, but with his sophomore effort (so named because it faced interminable delays before release), Beck created an ambitious pastiche of sounds that was as much of a signpost of its times as Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde. Produced by the Dust Brothers, Odelay is as sonically dense and nearly as sample-heavy as that duo’s earlier production masterpiece, the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. Simultaneously ramshackle and polished, this album took 18 solid months of work to assemble, and features samples from musicians as diverse as Them, Mandrill, Edgar Winter, Dick Hyman, Rare Earth and Franz Schubert. Beck matches this kaleidoscopic aural atmosphere with a candy-colored rainbow of lyrical invention that is both ridiculous and sublime.

“When I first got into Delta blues I could hear the hip hop beats in the music,” he told Mojo in early 1997. “It would just be Son House playing a slide guitar by himself, but there was this implied hip hop beat in everything he was playing. Mance Lipscomb, too, had a lot of funk in him. I remember thinking it would be great some day to experiment with that.” With songs like ‘Jack-Ass’ and ‘Where It’s At’, Beck hop-scotched from genre to genre and connected the dots between a century of musical stylings…

Listen: Hotwax

Listen: Jack-Ass

Listen: Where It’s At