Prairie Rose

An ode to Texas, from one of the least Texan people who’ve ever lived. Bryan Ferry, a former working class stiff who’s made refinement a cornerstone of his image, would hardly set foot in a prairie or consider writing a song about one, were he not in a relationship with a Texan. This is, of course, a tribute to Jerry Hall, one of the most glamorous human beings to have ever come out of the great Lone Star State, and an inspiration for a great many great songs in her time. Bryan Ferry’s concept of country living may have leaned towards well-pruned gardens rather than cowboys and rattlesnakes, but he couldn’t resist the poetic appeal of the lonely desert moon. Never mind that, according to Hall, he was befuddled and embarrassed by her colorful use of southern slang and boisterous country-gal ways, and decidedly not into leg wrasslin’. Unsurprisingly, poetry aside, Ferry didn’t actually want to hang out on a Texas horse ranch, and Hall eventually left him for somebody a little bit less self-consciously urbane. But the poet got some of his best songs and the model some of her most iconic images, and that makes the failed relationship an artistic triumph.

Painless Persuasion Vs. the Meathawk Immaculate

You can tell by the title that this is a T. Rex song. You may also guess that the seriousness of the song is inverse to the lengthiness of the title. And, if you’ve spent time listening to the Zinc Alloy album, you can hear Marc Bolan’s hubris. Bolan was, musically, trying out bold new directions, incorporating elements R&B into his usual electric boogie, making ‘blue eyed soul’ into a thing. But lyrically and conceptually he was just throwing random things off the top of his head. It’s like he thought he could continue to produce gibberish and still remain a glittery teen idol. But you can’t sustain a high roll like that very easily. It’s frustrating to think the roll T. Rex could have ridden if Bolan had just had a little more discipline, put more thought into his ideas, had some cohesion to his image. Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow  – A Creamed Cage In August; it was groundbreaking music, but the entire album looked, to the browsing record buyer, like a lazy toss-off, another bloated ego project with the band’s name once again changed, the title a crib from Ziggy, and the songs obvious nonsense. Bolan shot himself in the foot when he could’ve been ahead of the curve, thus alienating his fans and allowing David Bowie to once again zoom in and steal his thunder.

Out of the Blue

If I were you I would stay for a little while / If you were me, would  you walk out in style?

The 70’s really were weird. In what other era would the artistic insanity of Roxy Music be able to flower? They remain unquantifiable in style, only nominally under the umbrella of glam rock, as much for their posturing experimentation as their shiny epaulets. There has, since then, developed the Bryan Ferry style, which has hard boundaries and is, sartorially at least, easy enough to emulate. Nobody emulates Roxy Music, because there is no formula for Roxy Music, no constraints, no boundaries, nothing to point to except boundless idiosyncrasy. All you can do is watch and say “wow, that happened.”

Only Solitaire

Maybe you’ve figured out that I’ll post just about anything by me favorite bands, even if it’s less than two minutes long. (Also even if it’s substandard, but that doesn’t apply here.) I’ve read that this particular wisp of angst was written by Ian Anderson in mockery of the futile and essentially pretentious practice of criticism. Jethro Tull had not been getting very glowing reviews, apparently, and Anderson was irked. Or, supposedly was. I’ve also read that this song is nothing more than a rejected Thick as a Brick fragment. Either way, it’s a toss-off joke on a guy whose feelings of importance far outweigh his place in the world. It’s got a lot more wordplay in those few lines than most people manage in years, and it far outweighs the importance of whatever poor reviews the album may have got.

Old Dirt Road

Keep on keepin’ on, John…

I would call this song autumnal in spirit. It’s got an emotional palette of resigned wistfulness that, and a lovely melody. The lyrics make no sense because they were co-written relay style with Harry Nilsson. Harry also provides backing vocals. Also Nicky Hopkins and Jesse Ed Davis really shine here. John Lennon’s legacy is such that low-key songs like this one get overshadowed by more dramatic material, but this is a reminder that among everything else, he was really great at contemplative low-key ballads. Without a political message, an intense emotion or an experimental new direction. Just a really nice song with a pretty piano bit.

Oh Very Young

Cat Stevens always identified way too much with the older side of the generation gap. At a time when the gap was a thing of considerable contention, Stevens wrote songs not of rebellion but of sympathy towards the mature and responsible. Even his love songs take the position of weary and older. Perhaps it’s his peaceable nature and knack for empathy, perhaps he was always an old soul. But now that he actually is a crotchety old man, he’s one of the few who can revive his old hits without an uncomfortable disconnect between the spirit of the song and the reality of the singer (and it’s a great thing that he’d decided to finally do so, after so many years.) His music has really weathered well in a way that more youth-specific music has not. Anybody can enjoy Cat Stevens at any time in their life. Unlike, let’s just say, The Sex Pistols, whose output is so tailored to the needs of angry twenty-somethings that any fan has to grapple with either the fact that the men who made the music are either dead or too old to live their own message, or the discomfort of admitting that they’re just too old for this shit themselves. Or My Generation, a song that was timely for a year or two and now presents a conundrum for both its creators and its fans; whose generation is it about now? Although today The Gap is just a place to buy reasonably priced sweaters, there’s still a chafe between the olds and the youngs. In fact, that chafe and discomfort is more pronounced today than it has been in decades, as politically active youth reject their Boomer grandparents’ ongoing delusion that their can’t-we-all-get-along humanist utopia has been achieved. (But we have a black President! Don’t we all bleed red? White men matter too! etc etc) Political strife and differences in values aside, there still will always be the philosophical aspect of contemplating the condition of being old vs. the condition of being young. It’s pat but true to say that not every young person makes it, but every old one has been there. That is the matter that remains interesting and relevant regardless of where you are in your own life or how your particular real-world context colors your experience.

Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)

And then there’s John Lennon, who was the biggest emo kid who ever lived. That’s a slight exaggeration; Lennon did write about things other than his feels. Nobody wrote a better song about going to the circus than John Lennon. But nobody wrote about their feels better than John Lennon either. When John sang about his feels, you damn well felt the feels. This is far from being the most raw that he could get, but it’s still pretty affecting. It is not the voice of a man who’s loving his life, and indeed it was written and recording during some pretty dark times. It’s also a sad but true fact that, like many creatives, John Lennon produced some of his best work when he was at his lowest. But what’s suffering through a little trial separation when it benefits your creative juices?