If neither Bobby Dylan or Timothy Leary has been able to guide you to the enlightenment you seek, your quest is surely doomed. Who else could you possibly look to? Pete Townsend, for his part, was all into Eastern mysticism at this time, and it influenced his songwriting. (Although, you have to give it to him, not nauseatingly so.) The seeker, therefore, is probably himself, and probably partly a portrait of others who know they’re missing something but aren’t sure what that something is or where to find it. That thirst is a pretty common condition, which leads different people down different paths: to the nearest church, to schools and libraries, to psychedelic drugs, into the woods, or, if they’re a particular combination of over-privileged and gullible, into the arms of huckster gurus. (Townsend’s guru Meher Baba, was, as far as I know, the real deal, not a charlatan.) They’re all different ways to somehow understand the world a little bit better and learn how to be a better person. Which is about as simple and direct a message as will fit into the simple and direct medium of a three-minute rock song.
What rock music has always needed is more bouzouki. Just step away from the three-guitar format and let some other instruments take the spotlight. Obviously, I enjoy diversification, which rock’n’roll sometimes needs a good shot of. Up steps Cat Stevens with his Greek heritage and bouzouki. Stevens liked to inject his music with touches of Greekiness, including singing in the language, using instruments not usually heard on the Top of the Pops, and the occasional cultural reference. It never made his songs any less accessible, but it definitely made his seem deeper and more interesting than other folky singer-songwriters around him. Win-win!
Led Zeppelin represents the appeal of rock and roll at its most base, a transporting assault on the senses. It’s an art form that has, obviously, the capacity to be thought-provoking, but if it doesn’t first make you feel, it’s not doing its job. That’s what the essence of a good rock song is all about, and you can see that it doesn’t take a lot of props to present a memorable spectacle. Led Zeppelin on stage in their prime made some of our most iconic cultural images, and they didn’t need pyrotechnics or catwalks to do it. It’s all about the energy and attitude, killer riffs, and a nice ass. That might sound like a pretty simple formula, but a lot of people have tried following it and didn’t come close to capturing the magic. You can have the biggest hair and the tightest pants, but you also need to have good songs. A sexy image is the icing on top of the musicianship and songwriting, that’s what makes an iconic group. So the formula is actually not so simple, even for the basics. Good music is ineffable, I guess. There’s no formula for why putting Led Zeppelin IV on the record player is still the quintessential rock fan experience.
This is the song I proffer to people who say they don’t like the Grateful Dead as an example of their thoughtful songwriting and concise musicianship. Not everyone enjoys folk songs with mandolins, of course, or lyrics with Biblical references, but overall it’s pretty hard to resist. Most people who don’t like the Dead aren’t objecting to the music, and I can count myself among those who don’t enjoy the cultish aspect of their fandom. Weird cultural baggage aside, the music holds up well enough; American Beauty is just about a perfect album. Does it make you want to take off on a stoned road trip in a Volkswagen camper van? Maybe not, but it does have that magical something that just shifts your cosmic vibes back into alignment.
This leaves me no choice but to put on Electric Warrior and then continue listening to T. Rex until it’s time to go to work. T. Rex just makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Marc Bolan has a legacy with a lot of impact, and we can talk about all of the ways his work is important and influential in the world. I can talk about all of the ways it’s important and influential to me personally. But really, it just makes me happy, and it’s supposed to do that, and that’s part of the legacy. I think I’m getting sentimental.
At last! Something you all are already familiar with. I could listen to The Doors all day. I could listen to them every day. Maybe not all day every day, but let’s just say I could listen to them a lot. Being a Doors fan has cycled in and out of fashion, depending on whether portentous songwriting and psychedelic experimentation and demon-god rock star swagger are being done or not (they’re currently not), but it doesn’t matter. Things that are truly classic don’t wax and wane. It doesn’t matter if you think this is deeply profound or if you think it’s just noodly cocktail jazz dressed up in leather trousers. If you think that you and Jim Morrison are like-minded intellectuals for sharing a Heidegger reference across decades, then great. Jim is surely smiling down on you from heaven – or up from the depths, what have you. He’s thrilled to see that there’s still people who appreciate his literary references. If you only enjoy the song because it’s fun to get high to, that’s fine too. It’s an outstanding song for getting high. (That’s a real fresh take, I know.) That was probably very much a part of the original intention. It’s got something for everybody. Shallow or deep.
Well, there’s one kind of blues I’ve never had to have. All the other kinds, yes, this one, no. Ahahahaha haha ha *weeping* “Always play to win, always seem to lose” is very true, though. Terry Reid was on it when he wrote that. Reid is one of those underrated talents who never quite got off the sidelines and into the spotlight, but some of his songs have had lives of their own. This one has been around the block. Marianne Faithfull recorded it in 1971, for an album that wouldn’t be released until the mid-80’s. Faithfull was dead on her feet in 1971, and she sounded it, but her song choice couldn’t be more apropos. She lived the blues. Every shade of the blues. However much I love her interpretation of things, in this case, I think it’s a little wobbly. There’s really only one definitive take of this song, and no, it’s not the original. The Raconteurs took it and blew it up. That’s likely where you’ve heard it, and you probably didn’t know it’s not a Jack White original. White is a great songwriter, of course, but he’s a great interpreter too, and when he does a cover, it’s always both unexpected and totally perfect. This duet with Brendan Benson is that, and one of the Raconteurs’ highlights.