BO DIDDLEY: IN THE SPOTLIGHT (1960)
1) Road Runner; 2) Story Of Bo Diddley; 3) Scuttle Bug; 4) Signifying Blues; 5) Let Me In; 6) Limber; 7) Love Me; 8) Craw-Dad; 9) Walkin' And Talkin'; 10) Travelin' West; 11) Deed And Deed I Do; 12) Live My Life.
Frankly speaking, only one song on this album is in an undeniable spotlight — a grim contrast with Bo's fabulous run of highlights two years ago. ʽRoad Runnerʼ not only features one of the most famous special effects in guitar world history (how many guitar strings have been killed by ardent teenagers trying to master it?), it is also quite a serious milestone in the development of the hard rock sound — just listen to that low bass grumble; whoever had a sound like that in the 1950s? No wonder all the Brit bands loved the song like crazy, particularly the Animals, who were among the lucky few to actually understand how Bo does the «speeding up» trick, and the Who — Pete Townshend loved to capitalize on the heaviness of that riff in his live shows (and you can even see him doing a silly duck walk to it in The Kids Are Alright as late as 1975).
ʽRoad Runnerʼ is probably the last one of Bo's «seminal» classics, and the best of all of his «masculinity-asserting» tunes (ʽI'm A Manʼ is, after all, a bit too blunt, too slow, and certainly not as inventive). Unfortunately, the rest of In A Spotlight never even begins to come close. For instance, the only other track here that was a single is ʽWalkin' And Talkinʼ, which begins like an uninspired, slowed-down rip-off of The Coasters' ʽAlong Came Jonesʼ, with comparable melodies, waa-oohs, and even lyrics — before going into a rather boring chorus that Leiber and Stoller would probably find way below their level of acceptability.
And most of the album tracks either go on to show the formulae digging in, or represent half-hearted, usually failed experiments. The main charm of ʽThe Story Of Bo Diddleyʼ is in its bright, tinkly, adventurous piano part. ʽSignifying Bluesʼ is basically just ʽSay Man Vol. 3ʼ. ʽCraw-Dadʼ is a local variation on the Diddley beat, completely forgettable. ʽLive My Lifeʼ is a bastard brother of ʽBefore You Accuse Meʼ... you get my drift.
The «experiments» are at least occasionally intriguing: ʽScuttle Bugʼ, for instance, is mostly a piano-driven instrumental shuffle, a little New Orleanian in spirit, as if Fats Domino decided to move to the colder climate of Chicago all of a sudden. ʽLimberʼ shows a sudden interest in the ʽBanana Boat Songʼ, but Bo Diddley and the Caribbean do not mesh well together — the man is just too fussy by nature to achieve the proper level of relaxation. And ʽLove Meʼ is Bo's first excourse into the world of «deep soul»... if only he weren't so vocally challenged for the purpose. (Sam Cooke would probably throw up on the spot).
Of course, it is still fun to see him try, and Bo Diddley's failures can sometimes be more exciting and involving than other people's successes. But it is the album's structure that deals it the worst blow of all — like I said, few things can withstand the force of ʽRoad Runnerʼ, and even fewer when they catch our hero in a general state of creative confusion. The only other song here to feature an original melody, a sense of completeness, and an aura of freshness, is ʽDeed And Deed I Doʼ, a nice mix of folk-pop and twangy surf, but it is (almost literally) child's play next to the opening monster. No album with ʽRoad Runnerʼ on it deserves being humiliated with a thumbs down, but know that you are more or less safe if you just own it on a compilation. Well, on second thought, get ʽScuttle Bugʼ, too, for all the nice piano work.