You may not know her name, but I guarantee you’ve heard her voice. When acts as diverse as Graham Nash, Peter Gabriel and KLF are in need of a soulful vocal, PP Arnold has been a top choice. Her voice has graced dozens of songs & albums for over 50 years, though she’s never had a hit under her own name in the US. On this episode, we take a brief look at her career and examine a great lost track, featuring Eric Clapton and the Derek & The Dominos band, recorded in 1970 but didn’t see the light of day until 47 years later.

“Medicated Goo” (Steve Winwood, Jimmy Miller) Copyright 1969 Island Music Ltd, Universal/Island Music Ltd.,F-S-Music Ltd., Kobalt Music Copyrights SARL

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TRANSCRIPT:

Well, hello there! Come on in, don’t be shy. It’s good to have you here. You’ve found your way to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. My name is Brad Page, and each edition of this podcast, I come to you via the Pantheon Podcast Network with another one of my favorite songs to explore and examine, as we attempt to understand what goes into making a great song.

I’m going to start by playing eight short clips from eight different artists, spanning five decades of music. What is it that all of these songs have in common? Let’s start with:

  • Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High”
  • The classic 70’s band Humble Pie
  • Nick Drake
  • New Orleans legend Dr. John
  • Roger Waters from Pink Floyd
  • and then there’s Oasis
  • KLF
  • and Peter Gabriel

All of those songs featured the voice of a woman named P. P. Arnold. She was an American soul artist transplanted to London in the 1960’s, where she was able to carve out a career, though she never cracked the charts in the US.

On this episode, we’re talking about P. P. Arnold and her version of a song called “Medicated Goo”.

Patricia Anne Cole was born in Los Angeles in 1946. She started singing in public when she was just four years old. She came from a family of gospel singers. She got pregnant very young and got married, and may never have pursued a career in the music business; she already had her hands full working two jobs, but a friend convinced her to audition for the gig as one of the Ikettes, the backing singers for Ike and Tina Turner. When she returned home late after that audition, her abusive husband hit her. That was enough for Patricia. She grabbed her two kids, handed them over to her mother and hit the road with Ike & Tina Turner.

In 1965, the Rolling Stones booked Ike & Tina Turner as their opening act for their UK tour. And that’s what brought Patricia to England. She quit the Ikettes in 1966 and stayed in London. Mick Jagger took a liking to Pat. In fact, they supposedly had a fling. But it was the Rolling Stones piano player Ian Stewart who recommended Pat to producer Glenn Johns, who then introduced her to Andrew Oldham, who signed her to his record label, Immediate Records.

It was around this time when her stage name had been changed to “PP Arnold”, a name she didn’t really like. I mean, who wants to be called PP? But it stuck. And she still goes by PP Arnold today.

She wasn’t the first black artist to discover more opportunity and better treatment overseas than in her home country. Actually, the fact that she was a real Black American singer in the gospel tradition, in a country filled with a lot of pretenders and wannabes, may have helped her career. She was a rarity. The real thing.

She released a couple of singles on the Immediate label that didn’t really get off the ground. But in 1967 she had her first hit in England with a song written by Cat Stevens: “The First Cut Is The Deepest”.

She toured opening for the Small Faces. She had an ongoing affair with Steve Marriott for a while, and he wrote the song “Tin Soldier” originally for her, but then decided to keep it for the Small Faces, though she did contribute significant backing vocals to that song. We covered “Tin Soldier” in detail back on Episode 54– if you haven’t heard that episode, go back and check it out.

She recorded a duet with Rod Stewart called “Come Home Baby” that was produced by Mick Jagger, with a band that included Keith Richards, Keith Emerson, Ron Wood and Nicky Hopkins. How’s that for a lineup?

She released her second album, “Kafunta”, in 1968, which featured string arrangements by John Paul Jones. That album was a mix of originals and cover songs, including her version of “Angel of the Morning”. It was Merrilee Rush who had the big hit with that song in the US, but in England, it was PP Arnold’s version that was the hit.

By the end of the 1960’s, Immediate Records imploded. She tried working on a new album with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees producing, but the project fell apart and only a couple of songs were released. The rest went into the vault.

When Eric Clapton went on tour with Delaney and Bonnie, PP Arnold was tapped to open the show. She put together a killer band for that tour that included Steve Howe on guitar and Tony Ashton on keyboards. After the tour, she went back into the studio with Eric Clapton producing and Delaney and Bonnie’s backing band, who Clapton was about to turn into Derek and the Dominos. She cut three tracks with Eric Clapton, but they too weren’t released and those went into the vault too.

Her time in the spotlight seemed to have passed. She did some musical theater and started picking up work as a session vocalist and a backing singer on tours. She moved back to Los Angeles in the mid ‘70’s, and after her daughter was killed in a car accident, she withdrew from public life for a while. And who could blame her?

Eventually she moved back to England. Throughout the ‘80’s & ‘90’s, she continued working as a session vocalist, cutting many tracks, including the ones we heard at the top of the show. In 2001, all of her recordings for Immediate Records were compiled and released on one CD called “The First Cut: The Immediate Anthology”. That’s a great place to start if you’d like to hear all of her early work.

And finally in 2017, after decades of legal wrangling, her recordings with Barry Gibb and those tracks cut with Eric Clapton were finally released– almost 50 years after they were recorded. That album was called “The Turning Tide”, and the song that opens the album is “Medicated Goo”.

“Medicated Goo” was written by Steve Winwood and Jimmy Miller, and originally recorded and released by Traffic as a single in December 1968.

P. P. Arnold’s version was recorded in 1970. It was produced by Eric Clapton and performed by the Derek and The Dominos crew. Check out this band: Eric Clapton on guitar, Carl Radle on bass, Bobby Whitlock on keyboards, Jim Gordon on drums, Bobby Keys on saxophone, Jim Price on trumpet, and Bobby Whitlock and Rita Coolidge on backing vocals. The song opens with the bass and the piano in the center channel, one guitar track on the right doubling the bass part, and another guitar on the left playing some licks. Let’s listen to some of those guitar licks.

Carl Radle and Jim Gordon were a pretty legendary rhythm section. Let’s listen to the groove they’re laying down on the bass and drums.

Now let’s bring in the piano and the organ and see what they add.

And then we’ll bring back the guitar parts. One in the left, one in the right.

All right, let’s hear it in the final mix with the vocals.

Here’s the second verse. This is where the horn section comes in. They’re playing a simple part, but it really adds a lot.

Love how the backing vocals join in for just that one line there. That’s great.

Here’s the next chorus, and this time let’s focus on the vocals, starting with PP Arnold’s lead vocal.

Now let’s listen to just the backing vocals.

After that chorus, they break it down, sort of a repeat of the introduction.

That leads into the third verse. And yes, I get that this song is basically just one chord progression repeated through the whole thing. That may bug some people, but not me. If it’s a good groove, a great feel, and the band is hot, they can work the same part all night, it’s fine with me. Let’s bring up her vocals again for this verse.

And let’s bring up all of the vocals for a minute.

Here’s one last break before the final choruses. I like the piano licks in the background and the way the organ swirls in at the end as they hit the chorus again.

There’s a nice little guitar lick that Eric Clapton plays there. I love how Pat sings that line. And there’s another cool little guitar lick from Clapton in there, too.

“Medicated Goo” by P. P. Arnold

“The Turning Tide” album, which finally brought to light all of these tracks that she originally recorded in 1969 and 1970, came out in 2017, and in 2019 she released her first album of new material in over 50 years. It’s called “The New Adventures of PP Arnold”.

This is a woman who’s seen it all, done it all, and lived to tell the tale. She is a survivor.

Thanks for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. New episodes come out on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so I’ll see you back here on the Pantheon Podcast Network in about two weeks. Until then, you’ll find all of our previous episodes on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, or on your favorite podcast app.

Your reviews and comments are always welcome. And do me a favor– go tell a friend about this show. Your help in spreading the word is better than any advertising.

Remember to support the artists you love by buying their music, especially independent artists like PP Arnold, who count on fans like us. And thanks again for listening to this PP Arnold episode on that good old fashioned “Medicated Goo”.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
PP Arnold
https://www.pparnold.com/

Medicated Goo (Traffic song)
https://www.discogs.com/Traffic-Medicated-Goo/master/367906

Ike and Tina Turner
https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/ike-and-tina-turner

The Rolling Stones
https://www.rollingstones.com/

Immediate Records
https://www.discogs.com/label/

Immediate
6— Cat Stevens
https://catstevens.com/

Small Faces
https://www.thesmallfaces.com/

Rod Stewart
https://www.rodstewart.com/

John Paul Jones
http://www.johnpauljones.com/

Eric Clapton
https://www.ericclapton.com/

Derek and the Dominoes
https://www.discogs.com/artist/

New Adventures of PP Arnold (album)
https://www.pparnold.com/discography/the-new-adventures-of

Television came out of the CBGB’s scene in New York (in fact, they were the first rock band to play the legendary club), but they never fit the “Punk” or “New Wave” label. They were unique, which is why their debut album Marquee Moon sounds timeless, as fresh today as the day it was released in 1977. Fronted by two great guitarists– the mercurial Richard Lloyd and the enigmatic Tom Verlaine, who also provided unorthodox vocals and most of the songwriting– Television would influence generations of bands that followed. Though they never achieved commercial success, Marquee Moon regularly appears on virtually every “Greatest Albums Of All Time” list. On this episode, we explore the track that opens the album, “See No Evil“.

“See No Evil” (Verlaine) Copyright 1977 Double Exposure Music Ltd. ASCAP

TRANSCRIPT:

Hello once again, fellow music travelers. My name is Brad Page, and this is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, coming to you on the Pantheon Podcast Network. Each episode of this show, I pick a favorite song and try to get a handle on why it’s such a great song; what is it about this song that draws me in? Hopefully you find something in each of these songs, too. We don’t get deep into technical details or music theory, I’d rather talk about the arrangement, the performances, the production, and the emotional effect of the song. Our journey on this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast brings us to the band Television and the song “See No Evil”.

[Music]

A couple of years ago, back on Episode 39 of this podcast, we explored a song by Richard Lloyd, one of the guitarists in Television, and we talked about Television quite a bit then. But last year– in fact, one year ago this month– we lost Tom Verlaine, the other guitarist and primary singer and songwriter for television. He passed away on January 28, 2023. So, I wanted to revisit Television and dive into one of their classic songs.

Television was one of the first, if not the first, so-called punk band to play the legendary CBGB’s club in New York City, and were critical in launching the punk and new wave movement that changed music history. Television was founded in late 1973 when two friends, Richard Myers and Tom Miller, who had run away to New York City in the 60’s, met a guitarist named Richard Lloyd, and they recruited a drummer, Billy Ficca. Billy had played with Myers and Miller before, in a band called Neon Boys, but they never went anywhere. Myers and Miller were actually more successful writing and publishing their own poetry. By the time Television came together, guitarist Miller had changed his name to Tom Verlaine, and Myers, on bass, became Richard Hell. This kind of self-invention is an essential element in the sound and the approach of Television. This was the era of glitter and glam, of long hair and Led Zeppelin. But Television, largely driven by the aesthetic of Richard Hell, wore their hair short and dressed in tattered clothes. Legend has it that Malcolm McLaren was inspired by Richard Hell’s look and brought that image back to England, and the Sex Pistols who he managed.

Patty Smith was there for Television’s early gigs at CBGB’s and as a writer and a critic for magazines like Cream, she was an early booster of Television and the whole CBGB scene, publicizing the sights and the sounds and helping to create the mythology that was the New York punk scene of the 1970’s.

In 1974, the band went into the studio to lay down some demos with Brian Eno producing. But Verlaine was not happy with the results, and no record label signed the band. So they returned to CBGB’s, playing two sets a night. These Eno demo tapes have never been officially released and remain among the most legendary, infamous bootlegs, much like the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany.

Television’s steady gigs at CBGB’s tightened them up and refined their sound. But tensions grew between Verlaine and Hell, as Verlane became more and more the focus of the band, and Hell quit the band in April 1975. It was a pretty acrimonious split. He was replaced by Fred Smith, who’d been playing bass with Blondie.

The band got tighter, better, and some songs got longer, with extended dueling guitars between Verlaine and Lloyd. This interplay is one of the most important elements in Television sound, right up there with Verlaine’s lyrics and idiosyncratic voice. Bands with two distinctive lead guitarists were not new, but Television brought the guitar solo into a punk and new wave context in a unique way. And it’s the thing that I love the most about this band.

Finally, around 1976, Television signed a recording contract with Electra Records. By this point, the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads and Patty Smith had already released albums, even though Television had been on the scene first. They hit the studio in November ‘76 with producer Andy Johns, whose resume includes albums by Led Zeppelin and the Stones. Andy Johns has worked on some of the greatest records of all time. Verlane said they chose Andy Johns because he got decent rock and roll sounds without messing with the arrangements.

The first television album, “Marquee Moon”, was recorded in three weeks. The band wanted to keep the sound stripped down and minimal. No horns or strings, no synthesizers, no acoustic guitars. They wanted to capture their live sound, but they had spent months before rehearsing for the record, and they were ready.

Their debut album, “Marquee Moon”, is widely considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time. An incredibly influential album, even though sales-wise it was considered a flop. It sold less than 80,000 copies in the US and didn’t even crack the Billboard Top 200. But today, look at any list of the greatest albums of all time and you’re guaranteed to find Television’s “Marquee Moon” on that list somewhere. It’s just another example where sales and charts are no indication of greatness.

The album opens with the song “See No Evil”. “See No Evil” was written by Tom Verlaine and performed by Billy Ficca on drums, Fred Smith on bass, Richard Lloyd on guitar, and Tom Verlaine on guitar and lead vocals. It was produced by Andy Johns and Tom Verlaine.

The track begins with Verlaine’s guitar on the left. The bass comes in with a few notes high up on the neck, and then the drums join in, along with Richard Lloyd’s guitar on the right.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the guitars here, because there’s two very different approaches happening: Tom Verlaine’s guitar is about as straightforward as you can get. It’s one guitar track, no overdubs or doubling of parts. Just Tom on his 1958 Fender jazz master, probably playing through a Music Man 410HD amplifier.

Lloyd, on the other hand, is playing multiple parts, doubled, tripled or more. Most likely, he’s playing his Fender 1961 Stratocaster through a Fender Super Reverb amp. So, you’ve got this mix of simplicity and complexity going on. Let’s hear that intro again.

This is where Tom Verlaine’s vocals come in for the first verse. Verlane’s vocals are easily the most punky thing about the band. If they had had a different, more traditional singer, they might not have even been lumped in with punk or new wave. Underneath the vocal, the band keeps churning, especially Richard Lloyd’s guitar and Billy Ficca’s drums, both giving the song the sound of a repetitive, unstoppable machine. Remember, this is the first song on their first album, and the first thing we hear out of Tom Verlaine’s mouth is “What I want, I want now” — quite a statement of purpose from a young band breaking new ground.

That delivers us to the first chorus. As the backing vocals repeat, “I see no”, Verlaine sings over the top, “I understand all destructive urges, it seems so perfect”. And then the band builds to a climax on “I see no evil”.

I love that chorus. There’s just so much great stuff going on there. Let’s listen to the bass and drums first. Listening to them by themselves, you might get the impression of a disco song. This was New York in 1976. Disco was at its peak and hadn’t worn out its welcome yet.  That sound was in the air everywhere in New York City at that time, and a little bit of that flavor made its way into this track.

Add the guitars back in and they bring the edgier rock and roll elements again. Listen to the contrasts between the guitars. Verlaine’s guitar on the left plays big slashing chords, bringing the aggression, while Richard Lloyd’s guitar is playing arpeggios on the right, adding a sense of suspended tension, waiting to be resolved by that final walk down the scale to return to the verse melody.

And here we have the second verse. Let’s talk about Verlaine’s lyrics for a minute. Rarely anything literal, his lyrics move from really clever wordplay to indecipherable phrases. This verse has a little of both. It begins, “I get ideas, I get a notion, I want a nice little boat made out of ocean”. I like that one.

Then it continues. “I get your point. You’re so sharp”. That’s great. And then he sings “Getting good reactions with your Bebo talk”. Now, if you have any idea what “Bebo talk” means, please let me know. I think maybe only Tom Verlaine understood that line.

Now, if I had to guess, I would say that he was singing “when your people talk” there. But according to the official lyric sheet that comes with the album, it’s “Bebo talk”, so your guess is as good as mine.

There’s a nice, tasteful little drum fill there by Billy Ficca, and that gets us into the next chorus.

This time. Let’s bring up the vocals on the chorus.

That scream at the end there is great. That leads right into a guitar solo by Richard Lloyd. Both Verlaine and Lloyd were excellent soloists with their own distinctive style. On some Television tracks, they trade lines or play off of each other, but on this song, Richard Lloyd takes the solo by himself. He’s overdubbed this solo. You can hear his multi layered, repetitive pattern continuing to play in the right channel while the solo sits on top, in the middle. He begins with a melodically climbing pattern.

He tosses off some rapid-fire licks there, and then plays a descending phrase that has a middle eastern feel to it. I really like this bit a lot.

Again, some pretty flashy playing there at the end. As guitarists, both Lloyd and Verlaine were in a whole other league compared to most of the bands on the CBGB scene.

Let’s bring up the bass and the drums on this final verse.

Verlaine concludes this verse by returning to the opening lines, “what I want, I want now and it’s a whole lot more than anyhow”. And then he adds, “get it?” to drive the point home.,

Now as we reach the end of the song, they kind of merge the verse and the chorus together. Here’s what the guitars, bass and drums start playing. On top of that, you have one voice repeating “I see no evil”, while at the same time, another voice sings variations on “I’m running wild with the one I love. Pull down the future with the one you love”. It’s a somewhat chaotic but exuberant call to action. It’s a great way to end the song, and to open one of the most essential albums in rock history.

The bass is really grooving during this part. There’s also a guitar playing a nice little descending part in there, too.

Television – “See No Evil”.

Many critics raved after the release of the “Marquis Moon” album, the band toured both the US and the UK. They were more successful overseas, but in the US, outside of New York, they were relegated to playing clubs and college towns. Verlaine believed that the band were just too closely identified with that New York scene and that the punk label hurt them.

The band was broke. At one point, they had to sell all of their equipment just to survive, and Richard Lloyd was developing a serious heroin habit. The band recorded their second album, “Adventure”, released in April 1978. The album doesn’t really capture the magic of that first record. For one thing, Richard Lloyd had been hospitalized for weeks due to a heart condition caused by his drug abuse, and so his participation on that second album was limited.

At any rate, the second record fared no better than the first, and by July 1978, Television called it quits. Years later, a few reunions would follow, and they even recorded one final album in 1992.

As I mentioned at the top of the show, Tom Verlaine passed away one year ago, on January 28, 2023. He was 73 at the time of this recording. Billy Ficca, Fred Smith, and Richard Lloyd are still with us.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. I will be back in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, catch up on all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com. Or you can also find us on any podcast, app or service– Amazon, Google, Apple, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Yada yada yada, this podcast is available on all of them.

It always helps us out if you write a review and post it wherever it is that you listen to the show. And please, if you’d like to support this podcast, tell someone about it. Share it with your friends. That’s the best advertising we could ever possibly have.

On behalf of everyone here at the Pantheon podcast Network, I thank you for supporting all of our shows, and thanks for listening to this episode on “See No Evil” by Television.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Television (band)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_(band)

CBGB’s club
https://www.cbgb.com/

Tom Verlaine
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Verlaine

Richard Lloyd
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Lloyd_(guitarist)

Marquee Moon (album)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquee_Moon

Andy Johns (producer)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Johns

Fender guitars
https://www.fender.com/

Music Man amplifiers
https://www.music-man.com/

Richard Hell
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Hell

Malcolm McLaren
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_McLaren

Patty Smith
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patti_Smith

It’s never a recipe for making great art when you’re under pressure to deliver an album to a rival record label due to contractual obligations… though Jimi Hendrix was never satisfied with the result, the Band Of Gypsys album became a very influential album and remains a favorite among Jimi fans and guitar players of all stripes. On this episode, we journey back to New Years 1970 to explore “Message of Love” from this legendary album.

“Message Of Love” (Jimi Hendrix) Copyright 1970 Experience Hendrix LLC

 — Hey, I was just thinkin’… now would be as great time for you to check out the other Rock Podcasts on the Pantheon Podcasts network!

TRANSCRIPT:

Greetings to all, here on the third stone from the sun and beyond. This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast beaming across the cosmos on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode of the show, I pick a song and we explore it together, listening to all the nuances that make it one of my favorite songs. You don’t need any musical skill, knowledge or experience here– just a love for music and a little curiosity.

Well, here we are at the start of a brand new year, and I was trying to think of an appropriate subject for a January 1st episode. I thought, “we’ve talked about a lot of guitar players on this show…” I love guitar players. But I realized that, after over 140 shows, we’ve still never talked about one of the most important guitarists of all time. So let’s rectify that. It’s about time we talked about Jimi Hendrix.

Of course, Jimi Hendrix is a legend, with a legacy of some really important and influential records. It’d be tempting to pick a song like “Purple Haze” or “Voodoo Child”, “All Along The Watchtower”, or his version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Those are all historically important tracks. But I wanted to do something different.

So, I chose a song from very late in his career when Jimi was at a turning point in his career– at a crossroads, to use a cliche. So, we’re going back to a New Year’s Eve over 50 years ago, when 1969 gave way to 1970, with Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys ringing in the new year at the Fillmore East, playing “Message Of Love”.

[Music]

Everybody knows that Jimi Hendrix is a legend, an icon. There are literally dozens of books written about him; there are documentaries. So I’m not going to go over a detailed history of Hendrix, but to understand how Jimi Hendrix ended up playing at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve, first we have to go back to his early years in New York City.

Jimi Hendrix was a working musician, paying his dues and playing as a sideman to people like the Isley Brothers and Little Richard. In 1965, he ended up as a guitarist in Curtis Knight’s band, playing cover songs on the New York and New Jersey circuit. Jimi eventually grew tired of that and formed his own band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames.

It was during a stint playing in Greenwich Village, New York, when he was“discovered” by Chas Chandler, former bassist for The Animals, who was transitioning into being a manager. Chandler brought Jimi over to England, and they put together the Jimi Hendrix experience with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. And the rest, as they say, is history.

 Now here’s where things get messy. Back in ‘65, when he was playing with Curtis Knight, Jimmy had signed an exclusive recording contract with a guy named Ed Chaplin. Jimi had also signed a contract with producer Juggie Murray. But hey, look, Jimi was a struggling musician, just trying to find some success– any success. He was a guitar player, not a lawyer, and he was naive. He’d sign anything if he thought it could help him at the time.

But now, with the Jimi Hendrix Experience having hit records on the Warner Brothers label, Ed Chaplin came a calling in 1967 with his contract from two years earlier, and he sued.

Hendrix had made some recordings with Curtis Knight back in ‘65. Those records are not very good, but Chaplin licensed them to Capitol Records, who then released two albums worth of that stuff. In fact, at one point, you had the legit Warner Brothers records competing against the Capitol stuff at the same time.

Here’s a song from the Curtis Knight sessions; it’s an instrumental called “Knock Yourself Out”, which Jimi got a co-writing credit on.

{music]

Eventually, a settlement was arranged with an agreement that Ed Chaplin and Capitol Records would get the rights to one Jimi Hendrix album. Hendrix had just finished recording “Electric Ladyland”, which was a double album, so it was agreed that the next album would be given to Capitol.

But things in the Hendrix camp were tough. First, Chas Chandler had left the fold, and not long after, Noel Redding quit.  Jimi brought in his old army buddy, Billy Cox, to play bass. Then Jimi rounded up a bunch more musicians, adding additional percussionists and a second guitar player. He called the band “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows”, and this was the band that played at Woodstock.

[Music]

But a month later, Jimmy broke up that band. It just wasn’t working for him.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on. He still owes one album to Capitol, and Jimi didn’t even have a band. So, Jimi, Billy Cox, and drummer-vocalist Buddy Miles put together a band. They made a deal with promoter Bill Graham to play four shows at the Fillmore East in New York: two shows on New Year’s Eve, and two shows on New Year’s Day, 1970. All four shows would be recorded, and they would release the best tracks as a single live album to fulfill the Capitol Records contract.

Before the show, Jimi, Buddy and Billy, calling themselves “Band of Gypsys”, worked up a set consisting mostly of new material, including “Machine Gun”, one of Jimi’s most incredible guitar performances.

Both Buddy and Billy were veterans of R&B bands, and they brought a funkier, soulful groove to the songs that the Jimi Hendrix Experience just never had. Buddy was also a great singer, too. His lead vocals are featured on two songs on the “Band of Gypsys” album. Buddy introduces this track on the record.

[Music]

The song starts off with a chromatically ascending riff before kicking off into the main riff of the song.

[Music]

Let’s just hear Jimi’s guitar on that riff.

[Music]

Behind that, Billy Cox is playing a pretty busy bass part over a pretty simple drumbeat, laid down by Buddy Miles. Let’s hear their parts.

[Music]

They only play through that riff twice before starting the first verse, which is a variation on the main riff, simplified a bit to leave room for the vocals.

[Music]

I really like the backing vocals there. One of the things about Jimi’s previous band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was that they didn’t have a strong vocalist in the band to back up Jimi. Buddy Miles was a powerhouse singer, and he adds a lot. And with Billy Cox chipping in, these backing vocals were kind of a whole new sound for Jimi.

[Music]

After a few lines of the verse, we get a new short riff with Jimi and Billy playing the same part together mostly. And that brings us back to the verse riff.

[Music]

And that brings us to another new riff. This one’s a little more rapid fire, with Jimi and Billy doubling the part, and Buddy scat singing the riff with them.

[Music]

Now here we have a somewhat quieter or gentler part. Jimi is playing some of those chords he was famous for; as much as he’s thought of as an incredible lead guitarist– and he was– he was also a killer rhythm player.

[Music]

Jimi’s rhythm guitar playing is as identifiable as his lead playing. Let’s hear this part again without the vocals, so that we can hear a little more of his guitar.

[Music]

The verse riff, the backing vocals come back in, but this time, Jimi’s just going to vamp a bit around the riff. At this point, Jimi is going to crank up the volume and play a solo, and I think now is as good a time as any to talk about Jimi’s guitar sound. Though he played other guitars, Jimi was primarily associated with the Fender Stratocaster. As a left-handed player, he would take a right-handed Strat, flip it upside-down and restring it, and that’s what he was playing this night with the Band Of Gypsys.

Now, playing the guitar upside-down like that meant that things like the volume & tone controls and the vibrato arm were in a different position than they would be if you were playing it normally. And Jimi was able to take advantage of that, particularly with the vibrato or whammy bar.

Jimi also pretty consistently used Marshall amplifiers, I think typically Super 100’s, but don’t quote me on that. But that was the standard beginning and end of his signal chain: a Fender Strat into a Marshall amp. But what went between his amp and guitar? That’s another story that changed frequently.

Jimi was always looking for new sounds, and he would explore any new effects gadget that came his way. Guitar effects pedals were still a relatively new thing in the late 60’s. Jimi was friends with a guy named Roger Mayer, an electrical engineer who had worked for the British Navy. He started building effects devices for guitars, like fuzz pedals, and one of the earliest units he built was the Octavia, which takes the input signal from the guitar and generates that sound one octave higher, then mixes it back in with the original guitar sound, and adds distortion or fuzz. Like most guitar pedals, it would sit on the floor between your guitar and amp, with a button you’d press with your foot to turn it on and off.

Jimi first used the Octavia on the solo for “Purple Haze” in 1967. Roger Mayer would continue to tweak and modify the Octavia for Hendrix. And Jimi was using one of those later versions for this Band Of Gypsys show.

You can hear the Octavia most notably on the song “Who Knows” from this show. Jimi was also using a fuzz pedal built by Roger Mayer. It was either a Fuzz Face or an Axis Fuzz, depending on what you read. He had two other effects pedals on stage this night: a Vox wah-wah pedal, which you can hear on the song “Changes”:

[Music]

And he was using a Univibe, a new and pretty innovative pedal for its time. It’s a little tough to explain what a Univibe actually sounds like– it’s a cross between phasing, a chorus sound, and vibrato, but you can hear it in action on the song “Machine Gun”.

[Music]

Now, there is one other thing to take into account regarding Jimi’s guitar sound, and that’s the order in which the effects are plugged into each other. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference in the sound. For example, a wah-wah pedal plugged into a fuzz pedal sounds significantly different than the other way around, a fuzz pedal plugged into a wah. This can lead to endless rounds of debate and conjecture, but luckily, we have some photographs from this show that pretty clearly show the sequence of his pedals that night:

His guitar is plugged into a Vox wah-wah pedal, which is plugged into the Octavia, which is plugged into the Fuzz Face, that’s plugged into the Univibe, and then that is finally plugged into his Marshall amplifier. Wah pedal, Octavia, Fuzz pedal, Univibe.

Okay, so back to “Message Of Love”. At this point, the fuzz is really going to kick in, and Jimi’s going to go for his first solo.

[Music]

And now, Jimi’s going to step on that wah-wah pedal.

[Music]

Now Jimi’s gonna hit a harmonic and quickly bend it down with the whammy bar, then turn off the wah pedal for the rest of the solo.

[Music]

You can hear them slow the tempo down there.

[Music]

The band is going to break, and then Jimi is going to do a little scat singing, this time singing along to his guitar part.

[Music]

They’re gonna build it back up here. Jimi and Buddy are gonna add some vocals.

[Music]

It sounds a little rough coming back into the riff there. I can’t imagine they had more than a handful of rehearsals before these shows, so there’s bound to be some rough spots. But that’s what makes this a truly great live album. There’s a real “edge of your seat” energy to this record. They didn’t go back and fix up every mistake– this is how it really went down that night, New Year’s 1975.

Jimmy’s gonna cut loose with the second solo. Let’s focus in on Jimmy’s guitar.

[Music]

They bring back that chromatic climb from the beginning of the song to wrap it all up. Jimi’s just messing around with the whammy bar and some feedback.

[Music]

The Band of Gypsys – “Message Of Love”

The song has also been credited as “Message To Love”, but on all the versions of “Band of Gypsys” that I have, it’s referred to as “Message Of Love”. So that’s what I’m sticking with.

The “Band of Gypsys” album was commercially very successful. Critics didn’t necessarily love it, and Hendrix himself was never satisfied with it; he felt it was rushed and it didn’t sound great, and if it wasn’t for the contractual obligations, he wouldn’t have released it. Not that it mattered. By the time the album was released, the band had already broken up.

But the album has gone on to be very influential, paving the way for future funk rock acts. And it was an important touchstone, particularly for black artists making their mark in the rock world, like Living Color and Lenny Kravitz. And it remains one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix records, and just favorite guitar records in general.

Thanks for joining me for this musical journey on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. As always, I’ll be back in about two weeks with another new episode. Until then, get your fix of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast by listening to any of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, or find us on your favorite podcast app.

You can keep in touch with us on Facebook, just look for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast to find our page. And please support the show by sharing it with your friends and just telling somebody about it.

On behalf of the Pantheon Network of podcasts, I gently remind you to support the artists that you love by buying their music, and I’ll see you back here next time. Thanks for listening to this episode on Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys. Happy New Year, everyone.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Jimi Hendrix
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix

Band of Gypsys
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band_of_Gypsys

Message of Love
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Message_of_Love

Fillmore East
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fillmore_East

Fender Stratocaster
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fender_Stratocaster

Marshall amplifier
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Amplification

Octavia pedal
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavia_(effect)

Fuzz Face
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzz_Face

Univibe
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Univibe

Wah-wah pedal
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wah-wah_pedal

Billy Cox
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Cox

Buddy Miles
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_Miles

This year’s Bonus Holiday Episode features a lost Soul classic: Clarence Reid’s “Winter Man”. We’ll just kick back and listen to this vintage soul nugget, as well as saying thanks to all of you for listening. Happy Holidays!

“Winter Man” (Clarence Reid) Copyright 1974 Sherlyn Pub, Inc.

Spirit had big ambitions for their 4th album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, but when the album was released, it didn’t fare well on the charts, and even received some bad reviews. In the end, though, the band was proven right. “Twelve Dreams…” would go on to become their best-selling album, and critical opinion of the album has shifted so much that it’s often included on “Best Albums of the 1970’s” lists. On this episode, we explore one of the signature tracks from this album, “Mr. Skin”.

“Mr. Skin” (Jay Ferguson) Copyright Hollenbeck Music

— Remember to follow this show, so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

Time to get down to business, people. This is Brad Page from the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, coming to you via the Pantheon Network of podcasts. Each episode, I pick one of my favorite songs and we put it under the musical microscope, looking at all the details of the performances, the arrangement and the production that make it a great song.

On this edition, we’re looking at an often-overlooked band that did some great work in the late ‘60’s. Their roots grew out of a band called the Red Roosters, which featured Mark Andes on bass, Jay Ferguson on vocals, and a young guitarist named Randy Wolf, who had played with Jimi Hendrix for a while. It was Hendrix who started calling him “Randy California”, because there were two guys named Randy in the band; Jimi called the other guy “Randy Texas”. Andes, Ferguson and California were joined by keyboard player John Locke and a drummer named Ed Cassidy, who also happened to be Randy’s stepfather. He was a good 20 years older than the rest of the group and had quite a bit of experience as a jazz drummer. Spirit was signed to Ode Records by producer and label chief Lou Adler, and they released their first self-titled album in 1968, and it did pretty well on the charts. It featured a song called “Fresh Garbage” that got some airplay.

[Music]

The album also included the song “Taurus” that decades later would be at the center of a controversy and a lawsuit when representatives of Spirit sued Led Zeppelin, saying that Led Zeppelin got the idea for Stairway to Heaven from Taurus.

[Music]

Followed in December ‘68, which featured the song “I Got A Line On You”, which became their biggest hit.

[Music]

Their third album was released in September 1969, and by 1970 they set about recording their fourth album, called “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus”. That album is a concept album of sorts; each of the twelve songs represents a different dream. Not sure who Dr. Sardonicus is, but “Mr. Sardonicus” was the name of a 1961 horror movie about a man with his face contorted into a terrifying grin, sort of like the Joker.

The band put everything they had into this album. It was going to be their big statement, the ultimate Spirit album. It was certainly the most challenging album for them to record so far. They spent a lot of time and a lot of money making that album. But when the album was released, it landed with a thud. It peaked at #63 on the charts, and dropped off pretty quickly. It got some bad reviews, too. It basically drove the band apart. But the thing is, over time, the album sold slowly but steadily. Eventually it would become the band’s biggest selling album, going Gold by 1976, and over the years, critical assessment of the album has grown too, as the album often turns up on the “Best Albums of the ‘70’s” lists. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to the song “Mr. Skin”.

The album was produced by David Briggs, who’s mostly known for his work with Neil Young. “Mr. Skin” was written by Jay Ferguson, and it’s the song that closes out Side One of the album.

Drummer Ed Cassidy was about 47 years old when this album was made, old enough to be the father of everyone else in the band. And in fact, as I said before, he was actually Randy California’s stepfather. While the rest of the band looked like your typical long-haired rock stars, Ed Cassidy used to shave his head, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Skin” from the rest of the band. So Cassidy was the initial inspiration for the lyrics, but Jay Ferguson says the overall theme of the song was about “sex in America”.

The song opens with a keyboard part that’s then doubled on guitar. It has a very calliope-like feel, almost like circus music. Then Jay Ferguson enters on vocals, which are nicely punctuated with a bass fill that sounds like it’s doubled on keyboards.

[Music]

Notice how he uses Oh’s the first two times, and then Ooh’s on the third and fourth times. Also, harmony vocals are added on the second and fourth passes.

[Music]

Now we’ve hit the main riff of the song. A horn section is added. The album doesn’t list who the horn players were, but David Blumberg is credited for the horn arrangements.

Jay Ferguson had said that the song was influenced by the music of Sly and the Family Stone, which probably explains the sound of that intro. Sly used circus like sounds on songs like Life. Let’s pick it back up where the riff enters.

[Music]

That’s some pretty active cowbell playing there. The vocals come in next, and they’re structured as a call and response with Ferguson’s lead vocal, then the band responding with what’s essentially the chorus of the song.

[Music]

Okay, let’s explore this section a bit. This is basically a variation on the introduction of the song. Here’s what the band is playing.

[Music]

The vocal line plays off that pretty nicely.

[Music]

I really like the sound of Mark Andes’ bass, especially on the riff. It’s punchy and powerful. Let’s bring that up in the mix.

[Music]

I love how the horn section hammers away at that riff along with the band. It creates a pretty massive sound.

[Music]

And there’s a key change here.

[Music]

Saxophone solo. As I said before, the horn players are not credited on this album, so I don’t know who played this part, but you can definitely feel the Sly Stone influence here. And before we leave this section, I want to call out the groove that the bass and drums are playing here. Once again, great bass sound section.

[Music]

Next up is a short interlude featuring Randy California’s guitar. Randy’s guitar playing is not prominent in this song at all, but Randy was a driving force in this band. He wrote six of the twelve songs on this album, and co-wrote the 7th. He’s a huge presence on this record, but like all good players, he knew when to hold back, to let others shine and to do what’s best for the individual song.

This little section, though, shows a bit of what he picked up from Jimi Hendrix.

[Music]

One thing we have talked about yet is Ed Cassidy’s drum part. It’s a key element of the song and it’s not necessarily what you’d expect the drum beat to be. So let’s bring that up in the mix.

[Music]

The sax and the trumpet battle it out over the long fade, and they slowly increase the reverb effect as the song fades.

[Music]

Spirit – “Mr. Skin”

After the lukewarm reception of this album, the band set out on tour to promote the record. But the fractures were there, and on the eve of a Japanese tour, things just fell apart, and as a result, Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson left the group and they started a new band called “JoJo Gunn”. We may listen to a JoJo Gunn song here at some point.

Randy California left the band shortly after, and though the group would come and go with various members, they never again came close to creating something as acclaimed or as influential as the “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” album.

Ed Cassidy, the oldest member of the group, passed away in 2012 at age 89.

Keyboard player John Locke died in 2006, age 62.

Randy California was swimming in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii with his twelve-year-old son, when a rip current pulled them out to sea. Randy was able to push his son into the shore, but Randy never made it. He drowned on January 2, 1997. He was only 45 years old.

Mark Andes and Jay Ferguson still with us today.

Thanks for joining me for this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. New episodes come out on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so I’ll see you again in about two weeks with another new episode. Until then, keep in touch with us on Facebook, leave your comments or reviews on Podchaser.com, and catch up with all of our previous episodes on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

And if you’d like to support the show, here’s the best thing you can do: tell a friend about the show.

We are part of the Pantheon family of podcasts, along with a ton of other great music-related shows. Be sure to check them all out. And I thank you once again for listening to this episode on Spirit and “Mr. Skin”.

Pete Townshend’s 3rd solo album was a divisive record; many critics called it pretentious, over-thought, and an “ambitious failure”.  But it contains at least two Townshend masterpieces, including “The Sea Refuses No River”, a song with deep spiritual meaning to Townshend.  This episode, we explore this eloquent, graceful classic.

“The Sea Refuses No River” (Pete Townshend) Copyright 1982 Eel Pie Publishing Limited

— This show is part of the Pantheon podcast network — THE place for music junkies, geeks, nerds, diehards and fans!

TRANSCRIPT:

Music can inspire, music can unite; it can challenge, it can enlighten, it can heal. Here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, we don’t take music for granted. On this podcast, we take an in depth look at an individual song to discover what goes into making a song work. I’m your host, Brad Page, here the Pantheon Podcast Network where each episode, we explore the arrangements, the performances and the production that make a song great.

On today’s edition of the show, we’re taking a look at a song by a man who I think is one of the greatest songwriters in history. A man who is not only one of the most electric live performers you’d ever see, but a brilliant composer, writer, and a visionary, and one of my favorite guitar players, too. This is Pete Townshend with “The Sea Refuses No River”.

Pete Townshend is, of course, the primary songwriter, guitarist and sometimes vocalist for The Who, one of the greatest and most important bands of all time. But by 1982, their legendary drummer, Keith Moon, had died. The band was struggling to find a place in the post punk, new wave landscape, and Townshend was disillusioned with, well, everything. He had left his family the year before and went on a binge of drugs and alcohol. He eventually cleaned himself up and went back to his family.

While all of this was going on, he was working on his third solo album, which he named “All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes”. He would later say he should have won the “Stupid Title of the Year Award” for that one.

Considering everything that was going on in his life, it’s no wonder that the songs on this album are deeply introspective. And though they incorporate sounds and approaches that were contemporary at the time, none of the songs were recorded with rock or pop radio or MTV in mind.

When he played the finished album to his record company, they were dismayed. They didn’t hear any hits. But Townshend wasn’t writing for hits. He was pursuing the path he’d started on his last solo album, “Empty Glass”, and the previous album by The Who, “Face Dances”.

He was always literate, but these songs were the most wordy he’d ever written. It’s Townshend at his most poetic. To many fans and critics, it was a bit much. It was considered to be pretentious– like, really pretentious. And some tracks are more successful than others. But I think when these songs really work, it’s magical when the music and the lyrics gel really come together. I think these songs have real emotional impact, and on this track, a spiritual impact, too.

The album features a huge band and some great players, including Tony Butler on bass, Mark Brzezicki on drums; both of those guys played with Big Country. Simon Phillips also plays drums on this record. Honestly, I’m not sure which one of them plays drums on this track. You’ve also got Virginia Astley on keyboards, John Lewis on synthesizer, Peter Hope Evans on harmonica– he plays a big part in this song. Jody Linscott on percussion, Poli Palmer on tuned percussion. Chris Stanton plays some additional keyboards. And Pete Townshend plays all the guitars, some keyboards and the lead vocals. The brass arrangement was by Anne Odell.

The album was produced by Chris Thomas and the song was written by Pete Townshend and Alan Rogan. It’s one of the few songs I can think of where Townshend shares a writing credit.

Okay, let’s get into the song. Peter Hope Evans harmonica is the focal point, and John “Poli” Palmer, who was in the band Family, is adding some accents on something like a Glockenspiel.

[Music]

There’s also a nice bass part going on underneath, played by Tony Butler from the band Big Country. Then there’s a short drum fill and we’re into the first verse.

[Music]

There’s a guitar in there playing choppy staccato chords, followed by a sustaining ringing chord. That is classic Pete Townshend -style guitar playing.

[Music]

The verses open on a minor chord, which gives it a darker feel. But then after a couple of lines, it shifts to a more buoyant melody.

[Music]

And right before the next part of the verse, there’s some guitar feedback that fades in. Let’s listen to the rest of that verse.

[Music]

The music sort of pauses for a breath there. And then we’re into the first chorus.

[Music]

“The sea refuses no river”. Townshend found the quote in the Oxford Book of Proverbs. Actually, I read that Pete’s daughter found it and he really liked it and wrote the song based around it. He’s using it as a spiritual metaphor. Every river, no matter how pure and clean, or dirty and contaminated, every river ends up in the same sea. You can call it the afterlife, you could call it heaven, call it space or the universe… no matter how great or how flawed you are, we all end up in the same place. We’re all individual drops that make up that ocean. It’s a beautiful idea, and I think it’s one of Townsend’s most powerful vocals. It’s a great performance. You can really feel the passion in his voice.

The harmonica melody returns…
[Music]

I like the drum part here. Let’s bring up the drums in the mix.
[Music]

“The sea refuses no river, we’re polluted now but in our hearts, still clean.” As I said, this is one of Pete’s best vocal performances. He really delivers on this song. So let’s bring the vocals to the front for this chorus.

[Music]

This leads us into the guitar solo section, played by Pete Townshend, over some great instrumental backing by the band.

[Music]

The bass and drums are laying down a nice groove here. Let’s check that out.

[Music]

That leads directly into a series of big, crashing chords. Dramatic, almost orchestral. This is the kind of big moment that Townshend and The Who did better than anyone else.

[Music]

More guitar from Pete. Nice use of feedback.

[Music]

Let’s hear what the bass and drums are doing under this section.

[Music]

For the next verse, they reel it in dynamically. After that dramatic buildup from the solo, they get a little softer for the next few lines.

[Music]

Compared to the previous sections, the instrumentation here is very sparse. Just guitar and drums, maybe some piano in the background.

[Music]

Let’s hear the instrumental tracks under the vocals. With more of the band playing here, check out the way the bass and the drums are playing off of each other and how all the other instruments are layering their simple individual parts. That, when it’s all put together, provides a really lush surrounding for the vocals. This is a great arrangement.

Now let’s add the vocals back in and listen to how it all works together.

[Music]

And from there we head into the last two choruses.

[Music]

Pete’s vocals reach their apex here. I love the way he sings this.

[Music]

You can hear Pete play some harmonics on his guitar and wiggle them a bit with his whammy bar. Then he’s going to hit a few heavy chords—Who-style– that kick off the final chorus.

There’s a nice little guitar fill there, followed immediately by a bass guitar lick. It’s just another example of the band interplay here and what great players they are.

[Music]

Pete Townshend “The Sea Refuses No River”

Townshend has released a handful of solo albums; the last one was Psycho Derelict in 1993 and of course, a dozen classic albums with The Who.


Whether with The Who or solo, I think all of these albums are worth listening to. There are few, if any, artists whose work is more significant or as meaningful as Pete Townshend.

Thanks for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. We are part of the Pantheon Podcast Network, where you’ll find a ton of other shows, all dedicated to the artists, the records and the history of the music we love.

This show will be back in about two weeks with another new episode. You can hear all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com or on your favorite source for listening to podcasts. You can keep in touch with us on Facebook, just look for the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. You can post reviews or comments on podchaser.com, and if you really want to support the show, tell people about it. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Thanks again. And remember, as Pete Townshend says, “Whether starving or ill, or strung out on some pill, just because you own the land, there’s no unique hand that plugs the dam. The sea refuses no river.”

[Music]

When it comes to boundaries, Fanny faced them all: racial, gender & sexual discrimination were all obstacles that stood in their way. Fanny may be forgotten by many today, but they were one of the most important all-female bands in rock history, paving the way for groups like The Go-Go’s, Bangles, and The Runaways. It’s time to acknowledge the groundbreaking history made by these 4 women and the great music they left behind.

“Cat Fever” (Nickey Barclay) Copyright 1971

— There’s never been a better time than right now to follow this show, so you never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, check out the other fine Rock Podcasts on the Pantheon Podcast network!

TRANSCRIPT:
Welcome, my friends, to the “I’m In Love With That Song” Podcast, your conduit to the greatest songs in rock history, at least as I see it. My name is Brad Page; I’m your host here on the Pantheon Podcast Network, where each episode of the show I pick one of my favorite songs and we examine it together as we try to grasp what makes a song great.

Before the Go Go’s, before the Bangles, before The Runaways, there was Fanny, the first all female band to release an album on a major label. They were pioneers, groundbreakers and hold a special, important place in rock history. Yet 99% of people have never heard of them.

Well, on this edition of the podcast, we’re going to listen to Fanny. This is a song from their second album, “Charity Ball”, released in 1971. It’s a song called “Cat Fever”.

There were other all-female bands before Fanny: Goldie and the Gingerbreads were one; the Pleasure Seekers, which featured Susie Quattro and her sisters. But Fanny was the first to release a full album on a major label, not just singles. And I think more importantly, they were the first to present themselves as a real rock band. Not a novelty, not as sex objects, not as a gimmick–
to paraphrase Classic Rock magazine, not as jailbait fantasy– but as real musicians.

If you’d like to learn more about Fanny, there is an excellent documentary called “Fanny: Rhe Right
To Rock” that came out in 2021. It’s available on Amazon now. I really recommend it. That’s probably your best introduction to Fanny, but I’ll cover some of the basics here.

June and Jean Millington were born in the Philippines to an American father and a Filipina mother. They moved to California in 1961. June was about 13 years old then. Jean was 12.

Being biracial, they faced their share of racism and prejudice, and music became both a refuge and a path to acceptance for the two sisters. June began playing guitar and Jean picked up the bass. By the time they were 15-16, they had formed a band, the Sveltes, and started gigging regularly.

Lots of band members came and went, but one who stuck around the longest was another girl of Filipina descent, Brie Berry. Members continued to come and go, and even the Millington sisters left for a while, and the band morphed into Wild Honey, featuring Alice DeBuhr on drums. Eventually, June and Jean rejoined Wild Honey and they moved to LA to try to find a recording contract.

They were spotted one night at the Troubadour by the secretary for producer Richard Perry and he
signed them to Reprise Records.

There was one piece of the puzzle missing, though. They were looking for a keyboard player with a good voice… and they found one in Nikki Barkley. She added a harder edge to the band. In fact, even though Nikki was the piano player, her songs tended to rock the hardest. She really added a lot to the band.

They released their first album, the self titled “Fanny” album, in December 1970, produced by Richard
Perry. Here’s a song from that album. It’s called “Seven Roads”.

A year and a half later they released their second album, “Charity Ball” in July 1971, also produced by Richard Perry. This is my personal favorite Fanny album, I think it’s their strongest collection of songs with great performances from all four members. This is a track from that album, it’s called “Place In The Country”.

About six months after that, their third album came out in February 1972 called “Fanny Hill”. This one was recorded in Abbey Road Studios. Again produced by Richard Perry and engineered by the legendary Geogg Emmerich. It’s another strong album. In fact, some people say that this is their best LP. Here’s a song from “Fanny Hill” called “Borrowed Time”.

In February 1973, a year after that last album, they released album number four, “Mother’s Pride”, this time produced by Todd Rungren. Here’s one from that album– this one’s called “I’m Satisfied”.

Through all of this the band was always working hard, but in many ways treading water. They were actually a little bit more successful in the UK than the US, but they had yet to have a bona fide hit. The record company and management put pressure on them to be more glam, to sex it up– something that no one in the band was really comfortable with, especially June. And later that year, in 1973, June quit and shortly after, Alice left too. Jean and Nikki kept on going, though, and they brought in Patty Quattro on guitar, susie Quattro’s older sister, and Brie Brant, now Brie Howard after her second marriage, who had played drums for Fanny way back before their first album, rejoined the band as their drummer.

They signed a new deal with Casablanca Records and released their fifth and final album, 1974’s “Rock and Roll Survivors”. They released the song “Butterboy” as a single and it actually reached number 29 on the US charts, their biggest success so far. But by then it was too late. The band had already broken up.

There are a bunch of great Fanny songs that I could have picked for this episode, but I chose this one because I think this shows off the strengths of all four band members. So let’s go back to 1971 and their second album, “Charity Ball”. This song is called “Cat Fever”.

It was written by Nikki Barkley, produced by Richard Perry and it features Nikki Barkley on keyboards, june Millington on guitar, jean Millington on bass and Alice Debur on drums. June, Jean and Nikki would all take lead vocals depending on the song; on this track, Nikki handles the lead vocal and June and Jean sing backup.

The song begins with one of the girls, probably Nikki calling out “fever!” in the right channel and then the piano kicks things off.

[Music]

Before we get into the verse, let’s break that down a little bit. Nikki Barkley’s piano part is the driving force of the song and Une & Jean play variations of that same riff on guitar and bass. June’s guitar is panned more to the left, while Nikki’s piano is weighted to the right, and Alice is just powering forward on drums.

I love Jean’s sliding bass notes and the interplay with the drums there.

[Music]

That brings us into the first verse and Nikki’s lead vocal

[Music]

Let’S listen to the instrumentation behind the vocal during the verse here. It’s Nikki’s piano that is really propelling the song. June is playing some simple power chords in the right channel, leaving plenty of room for the keyboards and the vocal without stepping on any of it. But she does throw in a few nice accents occasionally.

[Music]

Now for the next section, the groove shifts into double time.

[Music]

We’ve talked about standard or regular time versus double-time versus half-time on this podcast before, but it’s probably worth a quick explanation again. The change is most noticeable when you’re listening to the drums and it’s probably easiest to explain if we look at the drum parts.

This song has a tempo of around 140 beats per minute. That’s fairly fast, actually.

Here’s the drum beat of this song in what would consider the standard or regular time.

[Music]

And here’s the part that they play at double-time.

[Music]

It feels faster, but it’s not. They maintain the same tempo, 140 beats per minute, but you’re hearing the snare drum and the kick drum twice as often, so it feels faster. Double-time can give you the sense of a runaway train sometimes. It’s a great dramatic effect in a song and Fanny uses it really well here. Let’s go back and listen to the verse again for that transition between regular time and double time.

[Music]

Before we move on, I want to talk about Nikki Barkley’s voice. I really like her voice. And there are certain words or phrases where she just spits them out with this mix of attitude and playfulness that I just really like. Listen in particular to the way she delivers the word “claim”:

[Music]

Here comes the second verse. I think this is either Nikki and Jean singing together or Nikki doubled her vocal part. I’m not sure which, but let’s listen to this verse.

[Music]

I like the lyrics there. “It isn’t whether you can play guitar, believe me– it’s whether you make the
News”

[Music]

After the riff there, June is going to take a guitar solo. I think she might be playing slide on the first couple of phrases and then she tosses in some tasty “chicken picking” licks. June was a pretty versatile guitar player.

[Music]

And now Nikki’s gonna let it rip on the piano before they hit the third and final verse.

[Music]

They come out of that solo section into an extended buildup. June plays a nice ascending guitar like here, building some expectation before they launch into that third verse.

[Music]

Let’s go back and listen to the bass and the drums during this part of the verse because Jean and Alice are really laying down a nice groove here.

[Music]

Nice little drum fill here by Alice.

[Music]

And that brings us to the last lines of the last verse. “Because I believe I’m gonna fade away, they’ll be coming for me any day, there’s nothing more I can do or say.”

[Music]

Nice bit of vocal harmonizing there.

[Music]

Let’s play it through to the end.

[Music]

They are all jamming together great here– the guitar licks, the piano part, the bass and the drums. You can tell what a great live band they were.

[Music]

Fanny – “Cat Fever”

Fanny were groundbreakers and an important band, and not just because they were an “all girl” band. Jean and June Millington were Filipino women in a field severely lacking in any women of color. And both June and Alice DeBuhr were gay at a time when there were very few out musicians, and so, like many, they were kind of forced to hide who they really were.

Nothing about being in Fanny was easy. But they all survived it.

June Millington would continue to play and perform. In 1987, she founded the Institute for Musical Arts in Goshen, Massachusetts, a nonprofit teaching and performing center with a recording studio. Its mission is to support women and girls in the music business.

Alice de Burr worked behind the scenes in the marketing department for various record labels, and she was very involved in the reissues of all the Fanny albums on the Real Gone music label that came out a few years ago.

After leaving Fanny, Nikki Barclay released one solo album in 1976 and then pretty much quit the music business. I don’t know all the details, but she basically doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with Fanny, and she declined to participate in the recent reunions and in the documentary.

That documentary which I mentioned before, is called “Fanny: The Right to Rock”. They had finished recording a sort of comeback album called “Fanny Walked the Earth” and were just about to finish filming the documentary and go on tour when Jean Millington had a stroke.

Though Jean hadn’t been as active in the music business as her sister, she never stopped playing bass. But the stroke affected the right side of her body and she’s unable to use her right hand. So for now, at least, her wonderful bass playing has been silenced. But those Fanny albums are still out there, yhe documentary is out there, the music is still there to experience and celebrate.

If you want to hear more, go on YouTube right now. Go on YouTube and search for Fanny and watch two of the clips from their performances on “Beat Club”. Watch them play “Blind Alley” and their version of “Ain’t That Peculiar”. They are fantastic. Like many bands from this era, their studio albums never captured just how great they were live, and these two clips will knock you out.

Thanks for joining me on this episode, I hope you enjoyed it. There’s more coming. Another edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song: podcast will be here in about two weeks, right here on the Pantheon Podcast network, and all of our previous shows are available on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com or in your favorite podcast app. Just search for us.

If you’d like to support the show. A, positive review is always helpful, but it’s even better if you share this show with your friends and tell people about it. You are clearly a smart discerning listener, so your recommendation carries a lot of weight. I thank you in advance.

I’ll meet you back here soon. Until then, go explore the catalog of Fanny and great songs like “Cat Fever”.

Welcome to our 2nd Sort-Of-Annual Halloween episode! This time we’re exploring the gory details of “D.O.A.” by Bloodrock, one of the most gruesome songs to ever make the charts. In predictable fashion, a song almost designed to get banned from radio & freak out your parents in the ’70’s, the song became a Top 40 hit.

“D.O.A.” (Rutledge-Hill-Grundy-Taylor-Pickens-Cobb) Copyright 1970 Ledgefield Music BMI

— Don’t be spooked by all the other great shows on the Pantheon podcast network — check them out! And don’t forget to follow our show so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

I’m Brad Page and this is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network.

It’s time for our special Halloween edition of the podcast where we explore the terrifying tunes, creepy compositions and sinister singles in celebration of all Hallows Eve.

This time we’re traveling back to 1971 for Bloodrock and their chilling performance of “D.O.A.”

Songs about horrible accidents and death were not unheard of on the pop charts; singles like “Leader of the Pack” and “Deadman’s Curve” date back to the early 60s and those were big hits.

But unlike those songs, there is no romanticism or sentimentality in “DOA”. Bloodrock tries to one up the gloom and horror aspects of bands like Black Sabbath with this gruesome tale of a terrible plane crash.

The band that would become Bloodrock came from Fort Worth, Texas. They performed under a few different names. They were led by Jim Rutledge, who was their drummer and their lead vocalist. In 1969, Terry Knight became their manager. Knight is mostly famous– or infamous is more like it– for managing Grand Funk Railroad. Knight was the one that changed their name to Bloodrock and signed them to Capitol Records. They released their first album, simply called “Bloodrock” in 1970.

Terry Knight convinced Jim Rutledge to quit playing drums and become their lead singer out-front. So by the time the band recorded their second album, 1970, Bloodrock was a six-piece band, including Lee Pickens and Nick Taylor, both on guitars, Stevie Hill on keyboards, Ed Grundy on bass, their new drummer,
Rick Cobb, and Jim Rutledge on Lee vocals.

The new album was called “Bloodrock 2” and “DOA” was the featured track on the album. The album version clocks in at 8 1/2 minutes; it was later edited down to 4minutes and 32 seconds, losing almost half of its original length, and issued as a single in 1971.

Though the song was banned by many radio stations, it still managed to reach #36 on the charts. All six band members share writing credit on the song, but the lyrics were inspired by a real-life experience from lead guitarist Lee Pickens. When he was about 17 years old, he actually witnessed a plane crash.
They took that and turned it into a fictional account with the song telling the story of the immediate aftermath of a plane crash. The song is sung from the first person perspective of one of the victims.

Now, I am almost always preferential to the album version of songs as those usually represent the original intent, the way the song was meant to be heard, and I usually prefer the album versions anyway. But I gotta say, at eight minutes and 30 seconds, that’s pretty excessive for this song. So on this episode, we’re just gonna go with the single version.

So here’s how that version begins with Stevie Hill’s organ part.

[Music]

Sounds ominous, right? That’s because he’s playing a tritone, which for hundreds of years was called “Diabolus in Musica”– the “Devil’s Interval”.

This very distinct sound is created when you play a flatted fifth note. It doesn’t matter what key you’re in, just take the fifth note of that scale and play it flat; in other words, a half-step lower, or if you’re a guitar player, that would be one fret lower. And that note, in relationship to the root note of the scale, creates a very unsettling mood, almost disturbing… so disturbing, in fact, that for centuries the use of the flatted fifth
was frowned upon by the church.

In more enlightened times, it was used in classical music and in jazz in various ways, but it’s really earned its Devil’s Interval reputation in Heavy Metal. One of the earliest and still the best uses of the Devil’s Interval was in “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath. Check it out:

[Music]

So what you have here is the root note in this case, a G, followed by an octave, another G, then a D flat, your demonic flatted fifth.

[Music]

That’s so great. It’s really just two notes, but in relationship to each other, those two notes create such a feeling.

[Music]

Okay, back to Blood Rock and “DOA”. Let’s hear how they’re doing it.So first, let’s focus on the bass notes. We’re in the key of C, so the first note is a C.

[Music]

And that is followed by a G flat. There’s your flatted fifth. Let’s hear those two notes in sequence.

[Music]

From there, it goes to a D, and then right after that, to an A flat. And that A flat in relationship to the D is, you guessed it, a flatted fifth. So in essence, we’re getting double the devil’s interval here.

[Music]

Now over the top of that, he’s playing a two note pattern that, when you think about it, emulates the sound of an ambulance or police siren. Let’s hear all that together again.

[Music]

Here’s the first verse.

[Music]

Here’s the first verse.

[Music]

The imagery doesn’t get any more pleasant from here. You have to say that one thing that bugs me is that there’s no rhyme in that verse. There’s like four verses in this song, and two of them rhyme, two of them don’t. I’m just kind of picky about that kind of thing.

Anyway, at the break there, we hear an actual siren overdubbed along with that subliminal two note organ part. Let’s pick it back up into the second verse.

[Music]

Now, did you notice that transition? As we said before, the original version of this song is over eight minutes long, and they edited it way down to get it into this four and a half minute single version. And you can clearly hear and edit there right before the vocal comes in.

[Music]

That’s a pretty sloppy edit. Let’s play through the second verse.

[Music]

And that brings us to the chorus.

[Music]

There are those police sirens again. One of the excuses that radio stations gave for banning the song was that they said drivers listening to the song in their cars could be confused or disoriented by the sirens. But that sounds pretty lame to me. I think they just didn’t like the lyrics.

Here’s the third verse.

[Music]

Notice how the little hi-hat accent first appears in the left and then on the right.

[Music]

Let’s bring up the vocals here.

[Music]

There’s a pretty nice bass part under the chorus. Let’s bring that up a bit.

[Music]

And the reappearance of those sirens usher us into the final verse. There continue to be some pretty clunky edits leading into each of these verses. On this one you can hear that the beginning of the crash symbol hit is clipped off.

[Music]

So pretty effective use of the harmony vocals on the chorus. Let’s bring up the vocals one more time.

[Music]

And here at the end we get some classic tape manipulation to bring it all down.

[Music]

Bloodrock – “D.O.A.”

Call it shock rock, exploitation, call it cheesy, but back in the day the song was pretty extreme. I’ve read that Goldmine magazine actually called it the worst song ever to be released on vinyl. Though I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but it was certainly controversial. But it managed to crack the Top 40 and the
“Bloodrock 2” album has sold over half a million copies.

Then, as today… controversy sells.

Thanks for joining us for this Halloween edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. I’ll be back in about two weeks with another new episode. Until then, keep in touch with us on Facebook. Leave comments or reviews on podchaser.com and catch up with all of our previous episodes on our website. lovethatsongpodcast.com or wherever you listen to podcasts. And do me a favor: tell a friend about our show. That is the best thing you can do to support this podcast.

We are part of the Pantheon family of podcasts, along with plenty of other great music related shows. Thanks for listening to this episode on “D.O.A” by Bloodrock.

Trick or treat…

[Music]

Bettye LaVette is the epitome of perseverance. She cut her first record in 1962 at the age of 16, but it took over 40 years before she received the recognition and respect she deserved. In between, she weathered every injustice that the music business threw at her. But she never gave up, she never stopped working, she never stopped singing… in fact, she just got better. Bettye is more than just a singer; she’s an interpreter who can transform any song into something new & special. On this episode, we focus on a track from her 2007 album The Scene of the Crime, and trace the path that brought her to this album– one of my all-time favorites.

“I Still Want To Be Your Baby (Take Me As I Am)” (Eddie Hinton) Copyright Eddie Hinton Music (BMI) 

TRANSCRIPT:

So let me ask you a question: You have your favorite songs, right? What is it about those songs that you love? What makes those songs so great? Well, these are the questions that we try to answer here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast.

I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode I pick one of my favorite songs and we listen to it together trying to understand what goes into creating a great song. No musical knowledge is required here, we don’t delve into music theory or technical jargon. All you need are your ears and just a little bit of curiosity.

If I had to pick just a handful of women’s voices for my desert island collection, it would have to include Aretha Franklin, of course, Mavis Staples… and Bettye LaVette.

Many people don’t know Bettye LaVette, but she’s one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever heard. On this episode, we’ll be listening to Bettye and a song called “I Still Want to Be Your Baby.”

The story of Bettye LaVette is a story of perseverance, of determination, and survival. Bettye LaVette was born Bettye Jo Haskins in January 1946. She grew up in Detroit, and when she was 16 years old, she recorded her first single, a song called “My Man He’s A Lovin’ Man” in 1962. It made it to the top 10 on the R&B charts.

[Music]

Her next couple of singles didn’t do as well, but she made it back onto the R&B charts in 1965 with “Let Me Down Easy.”

[Music]

She continued to record singles for various small labels. She recorded in Memphis with the Dixie Flyers and the Memphis Horns, and reached number 25 on the R&B charts with a song called “He Made A Woman Out of Me”, despite the fact that it was banned on some stations because it was deemed a little too sexual for some folks. I love this track, though.

[Music]

They were planning a full album for Bettye, but the deal fell apart due to conflicts between the producer and the label. Bettye picked herself up and managed to sign a deal with Atlantic Records in 1972. She headed down to the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama and finally got to record her first full album with the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section.

That album was going to be called “Child of the 70s.” It was mastered and prepared for release. There was even a publicity tour scheduled. But at the last minute, the album was shelved. The label called Bettye and said, “We’ve decided not to go forward with this project. Please return your plane tickets.”

You can imagine how devastating that must have been. To this day, nobody really knows why the record was shelved. But Bettye picked herself up again and went back to work.

A few more unsuccessful singles were released. In 1978, she recorded a disco single called “Doin the Best I Can,” which actually became a pretty big disco hit, but Bettye had signed away all of her rights to the song so she didn’t make a penny from it.

She wasn’t going to give up, though. She’d find a way to survive. In 1979, she joined the Broadway cast of “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” and she stayed in that production for four years. She kept recording records here and there all through the 80s and 90s, but none of them got much attention.

Then, a record collector in France had been searching for the master tapes of that 1972 album, “Child of the 70s.” In 1999, he found them. He licensed the recordings from Atlantic and released the album himself. 28 years after it was recorded, Bettye’s first album was finally released. And then people started to pay attention.

Between 2000 and 2006, the crowds grew bigger at Bettye’s shows, the records sold more copies, and the critics raved. Then, in 2007, she returned to the Muscle Shull Studio, now 35 years after her last sessions there to record her next album, and it’s a masterpiece.

Her record label reached out to Patterson Hood and asked him if he was interested in producing Bettye’s album. Patterson is a member of the Drive-by-Truckers, and he’s also the son of David Hood, the bass player from that legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Patterson jumped at the chance to work with Bettye, and he set up the sessions at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios.

Patterson lined up a stellar group of musicians, including the rest of the Drive-by-Truckers, along with some of the original Muscle Shoals players. He even got his dad to come in and play on a few tracks.

They called the album “The Scene of the Crime”, acknowledging that she was returning to the place where her ill-fated child of the 70s album was recorded.

The album opens with this song, “I Still Want to Be Your Baby”. And right off the bat, Bettyee establishes who she is with this track. She’s tough, she is who she is, she’ll love you and stick with you through the good times in the bad– but don’t try to change her.

What makes her version all the more interesting is that this song was written by a man, from a man’s perspective. Eddie Hinton wrote this song. He was another one of the legendary players at Fame Studios; he was their go-to lead guitarist. He was also a songwriter.

Eddie Hinton died in 1995 before this album was recorded, so he wasn’t around to play on the record. Otherwise, I bet he would have been there and would have approved wholeheartedly of Bettyee’s interpretation.

The song opens with two guitars, one in the left channel playing a simple riff, the other is in the middle only playing half of the riff an octave lower.

Both guitars are slathered in reverb. This is not fancy digital studio reverb. This is the sound of a real tube-driven guitar amp with its built-in spring reverb. You can really hear that distinctive spring reverb sound on these guitars. And the guitar in the middle also has some tremolo effect on it, set at a relatively fast speed. Let’s listen.

[Music]

After that four-bar intro, the rest of the band jumps in. There’s a third guitar in the mix, panned a little to the right. There are three guitar players on this album, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and John Neff, all members of the Drive by Truckers. And I’m not sure who’s playing which parts, but just keep in mind that there are three distinct guitar parts on this song.

The rest of the band includes Shana Tucker on bass and Brad Morgan on drums, also from the Drive by Truckers. So you’ve got the whole Drive by Truckers band backing Bettye on this track. Also on keyboards is none other than Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham.

Let’s pick it back up from the intro.

[Music]

Bettye LaVette was 61 when she made this record. And I think she’s never sung better. This is not the voice of a young diva. This is the voice of a woman, a woman who’s lived, who’s loved, been hurt, and who’s learned.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in hearing a 20-year-old singing this song. “I’ve been this way too long to change now.” That would just sound ridiculous coming out of the mouth of someone that young. Here, Bettye’s singing, it’s pitch perfect, but the ragged edges of her voice adds gravitas. It rings true. Feels real.

Whatever abilities may diminish with age, the experience that comes with growing older can more than make up for it. As great as Bettyee’s performances from the 60s and 70s were, I think she’s an even better singer now. Here’s the first verse.

[Music]

The guitars are playing behind the verses actually pretty atmospheric. Let’s listen to a little bit of that.

[Music]

And that takes us into the next chorus.

[Music]

I love her phrasing on that last line:

[Music]

Here’s the second verse, and this is where Spooner Oldham joins in on the electric piano. Listen for that.

[Music]

This is the closest thing we get to a guitar solo in this song, and I like the interplay between the rhythm guitars here.

[Music]

Let’s bring Bettye’s vocals up in the mix for this last verse.

[Music]

That guitar refrain returns, and Bettye does some improvising.

[Music]

All three guitars begin to play off and around each other:

[Music]

You can really hear that tremolo on the guitar here at the end.

[Music]

Bettyee LaVette – “I Still Want To Be Your Baby”

Bettyee doesn’t play an instrument, and she doesn’t write songs. Bettyee does one thing, and she does it better than almost anyone else: she interprets songs. In 2008, she appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors for The Who, and sang a version of “Love, Reign O’er Me” that brought the house down. It was a show-stopping moment.

Bettyee’s continued to make records, including “Blackbirds” in 2020, where she recorded her version of songs by the great black women artists that inspired her. And just last month, September 2023, she released her latest album, Simply Called “LaVette”, that’s a return to the rootsy, bluesy and Americana sounds of this track. It’s probably my favorite album of the year.

Bettyew is 77 years old, a living legend, and still going strong, doing some of her best work today.

Thanks for checking out this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. If you’d like to know more, or share your thoughts, find us on Facebook or on Podchaser, where you can leave a review, rate us, and tell us what you think. And don’t forget to follow the show so that you never miss an episode.
We are part of the Pantheon podcast family– lots of great music-related shows to be found there, so check them out.

We’ll be back in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, go support Bettye LaVette by buying a few of her albums. You will not regret it.

[Music]

Keyboardist Barry Andrews was out and new guitarist Dave Gregory came onboard for XTC’s 3rd album, Drums And Wires, as the band’s sound palette expanded. Written & sung by bassist Colin Moulding, “Making Plans For Nigel” became XTC’s first big hit. This episode, we explore the production, performance and the origin of this XTC classic.

“Making Plans For Nigel” (Colin Moulding) Copyright 1979 EMI Virgin Records Ltd

Remember to follow this show, so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome, friends. There’s no thugs in our house, so come on in and join us here at the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network. My name is Brad Page and each episode of this show, I pick a favorite song and we explore it together, discovering all the elements that go into making it a great song. We don’t get into music theory here, so don’t worry if you’re not a musician or technically inclined. All that’s required here is a desire to listen.

This time, we’re exploring a song from one of the most creative bands ever. This is “Making plans for Nigel” by XTC.

Guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist Colin Molding started working together in the early 70’s. Both were singers and songwriters. Along with drummer Terry Chambers, they played in various bands with various names. By 1976, keyboard player Barry Andrews joined the band, and they changed their name to XTC.

They released their first album, “White Music”, in January 1978. And then, less than a year later, they released their second album called “Go To” in October 78. Two months later, Barry Andrews quit. He would go on to work with Robert Fripp and form the band Shriekback. But XTC decided to go into a different direction. They recruited a guitarist, a guy named Dave Gregory, who they knew from back in their hometown of Swindon.

They set to work on their third album, “Drums and Wires”. “Drums and Wires” earned its name due to the increased focus on drums and guitar sounds. The album was produced by Steve Lillywhite and engineered by Hugh Padgam, who were both the architects behind the gated, reverb drum sound that would pretty much define the sound of the 1980s.

Andy Partridge was the primary songwriter in XTC. He wrote eight of the twelve songs on the album. The other four tracks were Colin Molding songs. “Making Plans For Nigel” was one of Colin’s.

By this time, Colin was getting a little tired of the more quirky, angular stuff the band had been doing. And with the addition of Dave Gregory on guitar, he was able to push the band in a more pop direction. Not necessarily more commercial, just more accessible.

The fact is the band had all kinds of influences and with Barry Andrews’ departure, they could explore and incorporate sounds and styles beyond just the punk and new wave approach.

When Colin first presented “Making Plans For Nigel” to the band, he was strumming it on a nylon string classical guitar, and that wasn’t going to cut it for XTC. Andy Partridge contributed a lot to the arrangement of the song, and he worked with drummer Terry Chambers on the drum part. Influenced by the sounds of Devo, Andy referred to it as an “upside down drum part”, where Terry was moving a conventional rhythm around to different drums on the drum set.

Colin is following the tom pattern on his bass. Dave Gregory is playing staccato spiky chords on his guitar, while Andy is playing a two-note riff over the top.

You can hear a slow flanging effect on the drums. Terry is playing an insistent pattern on the floor tom instead of the hi-hat or symbol, as a drummer would typically do. In fact, he’s playing the hi-hat along with the bass drum. And just before the rest of the band kicks in, one of the guitars sounds like it’s momentarily stepping on a wah-wah pedal.

Again, that’s Dave Gregory’s guitar playing chords panned somewhat to the left and Andy playing that two-note bit on the right. Here comes Colin’s vocal:

Andy has to inject some weirdness… he just can’t help himself. So he adds that odd little backing vocal part.

The lyrics tell the tale of a boy with overbearing parents who’ve already mapped out the path of his life. It’s a song about parental domination. Colin said he chose the name “Nigel” because he knew a few Nigels at school, and thought the name fit the song. But the lyrics are somewhat autobiographical. Colin’s dad did not approve of him being in a band and wanted Colin to cut his hair. Back in those days, you could get expelled from school for having long hair and sure enough, Colin was expelled for refusing to cut his hair.

The song isn’t really a depiction of Colin’s life, he just used that as a starting point. But Colin did say that there’s “a bit of Nigel in myself”. There’s probably a little Nigel in many of us.

And some more quirky backing vocals from Andy there. Doubled on guitar, I think.

Little bit of a guitar fill there from Andy.

There’s a voice whispering, we’re only making plans for Nigel behind the lead vocal. Check it out.

Colin imagined Nigel working in middle management, so he gave him a corporate job at British Steel, more or less at random. Turned out to be a good choice because a month after the album was released, 100,000 union steel workers went on strike.

The British Steel Company was upset enough by the song that they found four of their employees named Nigel and had them tell the press just how great it was to work for British steel. And, as usual, this kind of publicity only helped XTC to sell more records.

They used a keyboard to create that metallic, industrial crashing sound that, along with the unique drum pattern, give the song a mechanized production line feel that matches the corporate industry conformity of the lyrics.

Now we’ve reached the bridge; Andy adds his distinctive harmony vocals here.

Andy is going to add a background vocal here, singing the line “In his work” with kind of a howling delivery that makes you wonder just how happy Nigel really is with his work.

That last time, Andy sings “In his world”. And then they repeat the main verse.

Let’s focus in on the drum part, and listen again to the way Terry Chambers plays the floor tom like it was the hi hat and uses the hi hat for accents.

And there’s another short guitar break played by Andy.

They repeat the verse again, but with different harmonies that add a sense of urgency to it. this time.

Andy adds a new high pitched vocal to that part.

Lyrically, the song is never sung from Nigel’s perspective. The whole song is sung from the perspective of Nigel’s overbearing parents. Nigel never gets to share his thoughts or feelings in his own song.

Another reference to British Steel. Here, the song breaks as they repeat the word “Steel” with that heavy echo. I imagine this was influenced by the reggae dub sound.

The rhythm guitars get a little busier here at the end.

“Making Plans For Nigel” – XTC

When the record company heard “Making Plans For Nigel”, they wanted it to be the first single from the album, and it turned out to be their first big hit, at least in the UK.

XTC is often compared to the Beatles, and I think that’s an apt comparison, at least in the sense that there was a certain tension between the two primary songwriters; there was a constant evolution from album to album; that no two records are the same; and that they were always exploring new sounds and new approaches to making records. Their songs were always smart, always clever and they knew their way around to catchy melody.

The fact that XTC never got the attention they deserved, especially in America, is just one of those frustrating things about the music business. But it doesn’t change the fact that as far as I’m concerned, they made some of the greatest albums ever.

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We are part of the Pantheon network of podcasts, where you can find a ton of other music related shows, so give some of those shows a listen. New episodes of this show are released on the first and the 15th of every month, so I’ll see you back here in about two weeks.

Until then, thanks again for listening to this episode on “Making Plans For Nigel” by XTC.