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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Forever Young # 28: "At the Root of It All"

Song:  Wonderin’
Album:  Everybody’s Rockin’
Released:  August, 1983

Ever since its birth in the 50s, Rock and Roll has proven to be an extremely fluid genre, morphing with the times and as a consequence, built to last.  I’m not familiar enough with other musical genera’s to qualify this as unique, but I’m willing to make an educated guess that it is.  This shape changing ability is one of the most powerful aspects of the Rock and Roll brand, and anyone with an interest and an open mind can connect themselves through the generations.  The music unifies those of us who love it, no matter your age, but at the same time it allows each of our eras to stand out as a significant contribution to the whole. 

Nothing proves the morphing nature of Rock and Roll more than the changes that took place in the art form from the 50s to the 60s.  Compare a song like Jail House Rock to one like Gimme Shelter and that transformation can only be deemed profound.  Don McLean lamented these changes in his song American Pie, going so far as to suggest that there was a discernable loss of innocence in the process.  I’d agree with this assessment, but only because both R&R and Mclean were coming of age during this period.  The 60s demonstrated that the music could mature in mind-boggling ways.  The rebelliousness of the era simply conspired to emphasize this over a natural expanse of time (youth to adulthood).

The amazing take home message here, however, is that there really was no disconnect; no history of the new leaving the old in the dust.  On the contrary, connections are rampant from 50s to 60 icons.  Keith Richards was awestruck and greatly inspired by Chuck Berry (to the point of putting up with Berry’s renowned temperament by recording and performing with him in the completely uncharacteristic role of lackey).  Lou Reed took his queues from Dion.  Dylan was blown away by Elvis Presley.  Paul McCartney got his groove from Buddy Holly.  The list goes on and on.  For a kid taking the genre in for the first time in the 70s - one step removed so to speak - these connection can be difficult to discern.  To these ears, 50s Rock and Roll sounds rudimentary and a bit too polished.  Why such accolades from the 60s musicians I so admire toward their predecessors?

I thought long and hard about this over the past few weeks while listening to Neil Young’s throwback rockabilly album, ‘Everybody’s Rockin’.  It’s an abbreviated disc, clocking in and out in 30 minutes, with short drive-it-home songs, the way things were done in the 50s.  It showcases Young and his once off band, the Shocking Pinks channeling Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis in admirable fashion.  Neil Young had actually intended this as a concept album, and was in the process of adding several more songs when the chord was cut on the production by Young’s record company owner, David Geffen.  Geffen was outraged that Young was continuing along a path of not producing ‘classic rock albums’, exemplified in the previous release, ‘Trans’ (see Forever Young # 26 ‘A Trans-formation’).  ** Geffen by the way would never get his wish throughout the entire life of the 8-album contract.

I decided to zero in on Young’s intention of a concept album.  A concept about what?  Most of the songs that appear on ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ are love lost laments, including covers of Rainin’ in My Heart, Bright Lights, Big City and Mystery Train, along with originals Cry, Cry, Cry, and this weeks’ Forever Young entry Wonderin’  ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a6A6oTFdcw ).  There’s also a finger-pointing call out to the radio station payola scams of the day (Payola Blues) and several light-hearted efforts, including the upbeat Kinda Fonda Wanda (lyrically reminiscent of the Who’s Mary-Anne With the Shaky Hands). All in all, there’s nothing particularly revealing here in terms of concept. 

So, I honed in on those 2 songs that did not make the album:  Get Gone and Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me.  Both tracks eventually appear on Young’s ‘Lucky 13’ compilation album, a collection of his best works from the off-kilter Geffen era.   Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me did not add much to the big picture, other than one line that stuck: “When I make a promise you can bet that it’s true”.  Get Gone however, pulled it all together for me.  Get Gone is a cautionary tale about a band that starts out authentic but eventually sells out to the ‘city slicker’, ultimately leading to a fiery plane crash “a little low on fuel “ while on a big tour. 

I thought more about American Pie and what 50s music meant to Neil Young’s generation.  I thought about youth and idealism and honesty and truth and innocence and young love.  I thought about roots.  And then it hit home.  ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ was meant to be a roots album, not just in the obvious musical style of the songs, but in all meaning of the term.  I’m sure of it.  And I do believe that Young’s explorations throughout the 80s were centered on this notion of rekindling with which you once were at the root of it all:  The days when everything was an experiment and nothing was old hat.  The days of feeling helpless.

Wonderin’ is one of Neil Young’s hidden gems.  The song was written well over a decade before ‘Everyboy’s Rockin’ release in 1983, and was modified somewhat to better fit the rockabilly style of the album.  Young’s vocals are appropriately plaintive here.  He sounds exactly like someone who has been wandering the streets all night, talking to himself, past the point of craziness, wondering if a loving relationship is still intact. The video is apropos; the juxtaposition of Neil Young’s disheveled, unshaven all-nighter appearance to the Shocking Pinks suave look and feel makes all the more clear the state of affairs.  I get a kick out of Young’s demeanor.  It’s so…..gonzo.

Neil Young once stated that he put his all into ‘Everybody’s Rockin’ and the subsequent tour.  I believe him.  I’ve watched several clips of shows during this period, and Young and company were definitely into it.  At the time there were not many examples of 60s and 70s rock stars tracing themselves back to earlier eras.  John Lennon released ‘Rock n’ Roll’ in 1975, which was a recognition of his influences, and Joe Jackson did the same with’ Jumpin’ Jive’ in 1981.  Since these forays, there have been many more efforts along these lines. 

The closest I come to identifying with 50s music is the early Beatles and Stones.  But both bands were already a step removed from Long Tall Sally when they began penning their own songs.   There was already something new in the air in 1963.  Other than the occasional tribute like ‘Everybody’s Rockin’, it’s really all about building on that early foundation.  For 60 years running, Rock and Roll has proven that it can keep adding bricks.  I may not fully identify with the earliest form of the music I love, but there is no mistaking the recognition of it as the simpler sound of such. 

But roots?  Well, we can all identify with that concept.  60s musicians were lucky.  They got to take a young art form and advance it through its formative years.  They did this in brilliant fashion.  But none of them ever forgot where they came from. 

-          Pete

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