These are three songs that have nothing to do with one another, at least not intentionally, but which I ran into recently for various reasons and felt like posting and writing about.
I’ve been upgrading my Who collection, since for years that band’s catalog was a complete mess, served for a long time by ultracheapo Musicians’ Cemetery of America (Zappa’s name for the MCA label) bargain reissues. Perhaps because it was a dubious collection in the first place, Magic Bus has yet to see such treatment (you might recall that the cover led potential buyers to believe it was a live album…), yet I was shocked to read that it’s still the only place one can readily buy John Entwistle’s amusing (and slightly scary) track “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” So I’m posting it, at least until someone over at MCA wises up and includes it somewhere in the band’s discography (other than on an album worth buying primarily for this track alone).
Back before he was a gigajillionaire, before he was dashing off Broadway-esque slabs of soundtrack cheese more cartoonish than the movies they accompany, before he could demand that each day someone build him a solid-gold piano to be melted down each night and dumped in the Nile (since he bought the damned river, he can do what he wants with it, right?), and before he was bloody Sir Elton John*, the former Reginald Kenneth Dwight was just an interesting, quirky songwriter. He had a few good years wherein the quality of his songwriting meshed with the vast sacks of money in his bank vault, but sometime in the late ’70s he seems to have lost it almost completely. Back in 1969, though, he was still figuring out what sort of writer and performer he was going to be. On Empty Sky, his first solo album (and first work with lyricist Bernie Taupin), he managed at various places to sound like a piano-based garden psychedelicist, a budding folk/prog artist (a couple tracks almost sound like songs that would slot neatly between the contemporaneous early work of Genesis and that band’s Trespass album), a sappy romantic, or a sophisticated, somewhat jazzy/bluesy rocker. That last Elton John is the one we hear on “Sails,” a song whose rhythm track and piano sound reminds me of early Steely Dan (whose first album wouldn’t come out for another couple of years).
Pulling my head out of the Wayback Machine, all the way to, oh, Fall of 2005 or so**, here’s Franz Ferdinand’s cover of Air’s “Sexy Boy.” The most remarkable thing about this track, for me, is that the band seems to be channeling the Fall – the translation of the song’s essential musical material to a riff, the clangorous drum production, the effects on the vocal, the general tone of that vocal, even the insouciant, nearly satirical “whoo”s – pretty much all of it drawn directly from the pages of the Fall songbook. And the Fall has covered such a bizarre and broad range of tracks, if they had covered Air it wouldn’t have surprised me. (I mean, before Heads Roll I couldn’t have begun to imagine them covering the Move’s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” – but once I heard it, it somehow made sense.)
* Two addenda to the peeve menagerie: when non-British people, particularly the US press, feel compelled to refer to “Sir Paul McCartney,” “Sir Elton John,” etc. Hey – you know we had this little revolution a few hundred years back partly to get away from all that nobility bullshit. Sheesh. And also: what is the point of that annoying sticky piece of plastic sealing the top of new CDs? Are people really that worried that they’re not buying a new CD (as if someone couldn’t fake the sticky plastic if need be)? Isn’t the (also somewhat annoying, but easily removable) plastic wrap around the whole package sufficient to assure buyers they’re not buying a CD Jim Bob has already sneezed on?
** I assure you, I did not realize that was a pun until I was proofreading this before posting. I hereby humbly apologize to all and sundry who might have been injured by my carelessness.