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Monday, September 17, 2012

Bo Diddley: Go Bo Diddley


1) Crackin' Up; 2) I'm Sorry; 3) Bo's Guitar; 4) Willie And Lillie; 5) You Don't Love Me (You Don't Care); 6) Say Man; 7) The Great Grandfather; 8) Oh Yeah; 9) Don't Let It Go; 10) Little Girl; 11) Dearest Darling; 12) The Clock Strikes Twelve.

There was literally no way that any second, or third, or fourth LP of Bo's could have the same impact or be as consistent as the first. Go Bo Diddley isn't exactly «scraping the barrels»: its bulk consists of new singles that the man released in late 1958 / 1959, and it actually shows him trying out some new styles and directions. But not all of these new ones should have been tried, and some of the old ones should have been left on the shelf as well.

Bad news first. ʽI'm Sorryʼ transparently proves that doo-wop, of all things, is completely incom­patible with Bo's style of doing stuff — awfully produced, with almost parodic back vocals rising out of coal pits, and Bo himself sounding completely out of his pattern. Elvis, perhaps, could be slick enough to sing doo-wop; Bo Diddley trying to be «The Cardinals» is more like the Sex Pis­tols trying to be «Van Der Graaf Generator». ʽLittle Girlʼ seems to intrude on the turf of New Orleanian barroom bluesmen like Professor Longhair, and Bo doesn't quite master the sort of nonchalant drunken swagger that it takes to make these things loveable (just go for the real thing instead — the Professor has a great knack for getting you all sauced up without a single physical drop of the stuff). Then there's the rehashing: ʽOh Yeahʼ is a response to Muddy's ʽMannish Boyʼ which was a response to Bo's ʽI'm A Manʼ which was a response to Muddy's ʽHoochie Coochie Manʼ... well, you get the point.

The most oddball selection is ʽThe Clock Strikes Twelveʼ, which starts out as one more variation on the same subject, completely instrumental this time, with Bo playing the violin — original as hell, but it's safe to say that Jascha Heifetz probably wouldn't be impressed. Still, for a few mo­ments out there, I am ashamed — or thrilled? — to say, I couldn't actually understand if it really was a violin, or if it was a particularly inventive part blown by Little Walter on his harmonica. I am not sure if this counts as a positive recommendation, it's just the way it is.

But in between the clear-cut failures and the odd, controversial moments there are still plenty of unassailable highlights. ʽCrackin' Upʼ, later «informally» covered by the Stones and formally by Paul McCartney in 1988, is the man's finest Latin-groove-based number, with an incredibly cat­chy guitar loop firmly ensuring that misogyny will live forever (actually, the lyrics aren't strictly misogynist — «frustrated husband»-ist would be more accurate). ʽYou Don't Love Meʼ is the ever-on-the-watchout Bo stealing the carpet from under the feet of Slim Harpo — it's a variation on ʽGot Love If You Want Itʼ that, in terms of sharpness, energy, and professionalism, destroys the original completely, although it did not help Bo expropriate the original: British bands like the Kinks and the Yardbirds still got stuck covering Slim Harpo. And ʽSay Manʼ, with Bo and his maracas shaker Jerome Green trading off stupid jokes and friendly mutual insults to a samba beat, is yet another first — a mixture of time-honored «Afro-American comedy» and new-fangled R&B that all the white kids around the world must have been really thrilled to hear. (That said, the jokes themselves are really, really dumb. They probably should have hired some of Louis Jordan's songwriters instead).

Much less known — and lacking on most of the short compilations — are such clever little nug­gets as the instrumental ʽBo's Guitarʼ, which combines a distant variation on the «Diddley beat» with shards of surfing-style melodies (Bo the Omnivorous must have been intensely listening to Duane Eddy's earliest recordings), and ʽThe Great Grandfatherʼ, Bo's take on something really archaic — ye olde Negro working song, a style he tackles with much more convincing force and spirit than doo-wop. Maybe his moans and groans that bookend the verses aren't nearly as authen­tic as, say, Leadbelly's, but «authentic» is a relative term; for a hard-working black guy on the 1950s Chicago scene, you couldn't expect any better.

For some reason, they also reissued ʽDearest Darlingʼ from Bo Diddley — by mistake, perhaps — but in the end, Go Bo Diddley does not have even a single clear example of the «Diddley beat», even if ʽBo's Guitarʼ and ʽSay Manʼ come somewhat close. Instead, we get a smatter of diversity that, in sheer objective terms, might even beat the debut, with the subjective exception that not everything works so well this time. Most things do, though, confirming Diddley's reputa­tion as «the man who wanted to do everything» and somehow got pigeonholed into one single, simple formula anyway. Well, that is why we are here to try and remedy this with a single, simple thumbs up.

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