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Monday, October 22, 2012

Bo Diddley: Bo Diddley


1) I Can Tell; 2) Mr. Khrushchev; 3) Diddling; 4) Give Me A Break (Man); 5) Who May Your Lover Be; 6) Bo's Bounce; 7) You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover; 8) Babes In The Woods; 9) Sad Sack; 10) Mama Don't Allow No Twistin'; 11) You All Green; 12) Bo's Twist.

In early 1962, Bo Diddley finished up the «roleplaying trilogy» with Bo Diddley Is A Twister, an album that has never been released on CD and which I have not been able to locate — and I assume that there must have been a good reason, because Bo Diddley might certainly be a lover, or even a gunslinger, by nature, but a twister only by temporary trade. (Actually, the few tracks I have heard are anything but generic twist — for Bo to sound like Chubby Checker, he should have had brain surgery).

Anyway, that record is probably best left forgotten, but he did rebound later on in the year, with a second self-titled album that housed his last single of any major importance — Willie Dixon's ʽYou Can't Judge A Book By The Coverʼ, maybe the catchiest song in the entire history of bo­did­dley­ism, hiding a macho substance ("I look like a farmer, but I'm a lover" — agriculturalists all over the world, take arms) behind an innocently happy blues-pop melody. So happy, in fact, that even the Monkees ended up co­vering it — there is a hilarious version on Live 1967 that does a good job of linking their «commercial act» to the «authentic rock'n'roll» legacy.

The other memorable highlight was ʽI Can Tellʼ, just as catchy and surprisingly «moody» for Bo — normally, his slow-moving numbers are dismissable, but the sexy build-up to the chorus bark ("grrr-I know you don't lorrrve me no more!") is so diligently crafted this time that even Muddy could use a hint. Covered that same year in an unnecessarily sped up and vastly inferior version by Johnny Kidd, and God knows who else.

Sandwiched in between the two classics, as usual, is a bunch of total filler mixed with some tasty, if rather under-realized ideas. ʽMr. Khrushchevʼ is at least priceless for substituting the ubiquitous "Hey, Bo Diddley!" with the much fresher — and highly relevant for 1962 — "Hey, Khrush­chev!" (unfortunately, Nikita Sergeyevich's personal reaction to the summons remains strictly hid­den by his biographers). ʽBabes In The Woodsʼ has a stupid title and even sillier backup vo­cals, but the muttering-stuttering gimmick in the chorus still sticks with you, love it or hate it.

Overall, there is lots of purely instrumental stuff on the record, which is good — even if, at this point, new rhythms almost completely cease to appear, each such track is still a good chance to say something individual without resorting to lyrical and vocal silliness. ʽGive Me A Break (Man)ʼ is like a condensed two-minute instrumen­tal variation on ʽYou Can't Judge A Bookʼ — faster, louder, and I bet Jimi himself must have learned a lot from that guitar rumble (his typical arrangement of ʽKilling Floorʼ at least is cer­tainly based on those patterns). The new ʽDiddlingʼ (not the same as on Gunslinger) is surprisingly mean and lean for the usually happy Bo, and ʽSad Sackʼ continues Bo's experiments with different sorts of scraping, scratching, and sliding guitar noi­ses —another small step on the way to turn the guitar into a talking ap­paratus.

Thus, one more modest thumbs up here: two highlights and next to no lowlights is just enough for a Bo Diddley record circa 1962 to be recommendable. (Of course, you can also just get the highlights on compilations, but some of these have the nerve to omit ʽI Can Tellʼ, so be wary).

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