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Thursday, August 28, 2008

GMVW # 34: "The Written Word"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 34:  The Written Word
Song:  Success Story by The Who
(Songwriter: John Entwistle)
August 28, 2008

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a desk drawer in or near the kitchen for quick-access to personal belongings.  Going back to my teen years in Franklin, the routine was; come in from a night on the town; keys, Swiss Army knife and wallet into the drawer; a conversation with old faithful Nicky by the wood stove; and off to bed.  I still have a drawer near the kitchen.  Occasionally I clean it out, throwing away some stuff, putting other stuff in storage (i.e. concert ticket stubs, letters, homemade cards from the kids).  Yet some things remain in that drawer year after year after year:  There’s an old watch I will probably never wear; a pair of John Lennon style sunglasses; a harmonica; a few cigars; a key to my first car; an old license; a Globe article on the team by team growth of the NHL (good trivia); Charlotte’s Baptism candle; an address list of all Smith-side cousins; a guitar pick; and, relative to this week Gem, a web-site print-out of the lyrics to all the songs on the Who’s 1976 album ‘Who By Numbers’. 

Albums often come without written lyrics.  When this was the case in the days before the WEB (as it was with ‘Who By Numbers’), one was left to his/her own devices when it came to interpretation.  This often resulted in hopeless or hilarious translations.  Cousin Jack may recall ‘Gypsy’s Tramps and Thieves’ lyrics “We’d hear it from the people of the town, they’d call us…” translated by me to “We are here for the people of the town named Cole”.   ** No worries, this is not this weeks Gem. **.  Yet, I was not the only one that struggled to understand a musician’s lyrics.  Ron Wood stated that when he prepared the first time to tour with the Rolling Stones, he got to read lyrics to many of their songs on a TelePrompTer as Mick and the boys broke him in.  Wood got a hoot out of the lyrics, many of which were completely different than what he had assumed for years.

Now it’s as simple as typing the song name in Google to get the lyrics to anything.  A few bands lamented this (R.E.M.), but I found it fantastic.  Before finding the words on the WEB, I had known that the ‘Who By Numbers’ must have had intriguing lyrics, the music was too solid to expect anything less, and when I finally got to read them in their entirety, I was not disappointed (I mostly had to fill in the gaps to what I already knew, or in ‘By Numbers’ case, connect the dots!). 

Most of the songs on ‘Who By Numbers’, like most of the songs in the Who’s entire catalog, were Pete Townshend songs.  This week’s Gem, however, was the sole John Entwistle contribution to the album, ‘Success Story’.  Entwistle (the Ox) always struggled to connect with the feel of a Who album with his one or two song contributions.  Sometimes he succeeded (his songs on ‘Who Are You’ fit perfectly with the rest of that album), and others he did not (he stayed clear of contributing anything to ‘Quadrophenia’).  ‘Success Story’ fit the rest of ‘Who By Numbers’ more lyrically than musically, as Entwistle, much like Townshend , wrote about the down side of fame and fortune. 

A few other comments on Entwistle….aside from John Lennon, The Ox’s passing was probably the hardest blow for me in the context of the loss of someone I never knew personally (the closest I came was a hand shake, eye contact, and a nod of mutual understanding).  The night of the news, I went out with Mac and Kurt. We convinced the bartender in one Boston pub to play ‘Live at Leeds’ loudly from beginning to end.  The next night I went out with Mac again and we caught a tribute event at a night club.  A number of bands played Who music thru the night.  

Mac and I also caught the Who on their first tour without Entwistle.  Townshend stated one of the hardest things he ever went through was looking over to an empty space when the Who played live for the first time without Entwistle (his ‘replacement’, Pino Palladino stands back in the mix and does an admirable, self-styled job).  Aside from being the best rock bass guitar player of all time, Entwistle was the anchor for the Who on stage (everyone else was a tattered sail flailing in the wind).  He was also a great backup singer (along with Towshend, which is a highly underrated aspect of the Who’s performances), brass instrument player, and when the Who needed a high vocal (‘The Punk and the Godfather’ refrain) or low (Boris the Spider), Entwistle was the one to do it.  I had a chance to see John Entwistle solo at least 5 times.  One of these shows, at Mama Kin in Boston, remains the best club show I ever saw.

The video is a goof, but gives a bit of insight into the Ox’s persona.  I’ve also included several other Enwistle-centric videos.  Below the videos are the full lyrics to ‘Success Story’ as accessed off the WEB.  Though not quite as profound as the lyrics of Towshend’s songs from the same album, nonetheless, they were equally as captivating to me when I read them the first time.  The video, which was made for the ‘Kids Are Alright’ movie, doesn’t quite make it through the entire song…. too many other songs to fit into the movie I guess.

- Pete

Gem of the week: Success Story

The Who at Woodstock:  A clip which showcases Entwistle's backing vocals (in this case high notes).  Don't confuse with Townshend's backing vocals, as he and Daltrey get more camera time than the Ox:

Entwistle's isolated bass during 'Wont Get Fooled Again':

The Who wrote this song, 'Old Red Wine, in rememberance of the Ox:

Lyrics to Success Story

Friday night, I'm on my way home
They oughta make work a crime
I'm home for the weekend
I'm gonna make the most of my time
There's a rock and roll singer on the television
Giving up his music, gonna take up religion
Deserted rock and roll
To try to save his soul

Saturday night, gotta gig with the band
Playing the electric guitar
Someday I'm gonna make it
Gonna be a super-duper-star
Get a flashy car
And a house for my Ma
The big break better happen soon
'Cause I'm pushing twenty-one

Just like Cinderella
When she couldn't go to the ball
A voice said, "I'm your fairy manager
You shall play the Carnegie Hall"
I gotta give up my day job
To become a heartthrob
I may go far if I smash my guitar

Away for the weekend
I've gotta play some one-night stands
Six for the tax man, and one for the band
Back in the studio to make our latest number one
Take two-hundred-and-seventy-six
You know, this used to be fun

Monday morning, I just got home
Six and the birds are singing
I need a drink and my clothes are wet
Ooh, and my ears are still ringing
There's a rock and roll singer boppin' on the TV
He used to be a preacher, but now he sings in a major key
Amended his decision to the new religion

Old Red Wine


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About the Video: From the ‘Kid’s Are Alright’ movie.

Video Rating: 1

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