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Monday, October 1, 2012

Bo Diddley: In The Spotlight


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.

18 comments:

  1. Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley... I'll say much shorter than George: Bo Diddley was pure crap.

    Well, to be honest, he was not alone in that. A lot of other widely acknowledged stars of the 50's and early 60's are crap too: Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis. I don't even mention Elvis Presley, because I simply do not listen to performers.

    But! There were awesome, fabulous artists of that era, who stay somewhat in the shadow. Charlie Rich, The Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, to name a few. Nobody cares about them nowadays. What a shame. These artists actually opened my eyes on American rock music, showed that it could be great and "the Beatles revolution" was not as radical as I thought it to be.

    And I think that there music was so much better than generic rock'n'roll because of country influence. Pure country could be very dull (look at Hank Williams, for example), but that early blend of country and rock'n'roll was magnificent and captivating. Those were the days...

    Oh, that was long. Sorry. :) And thank you.

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    1. ...Is there some secret competition on who could write the most eye-rolling comment in this blog?

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    2. People need to express their opinion from time to time.

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    3. As I can also express that that opinion is one of the most retarded things that I have read in a while.

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    4. Thank you, but why do you think so?
      In any case I am sorry if I offended any of your favourite artists.

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  2. It's not really Bo's merit that the bass sounds so nice, is it? I'd say the producer is to be praised. The guitar effect is fun of course, but just a gimmick after all. The riff is solid, but not that different from Little Richard's Lucille. So while the song is enjoyable indeed it's not spectacular or special.

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    1. It's not Bo's merit, necessarily, but he wasn't praising Bo when talking about that song, just the song. Are we to only talk about the artist's own contributions to the music under his name? Will I be unable to mention the great bassline in "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" since it was written by Nameless Motown Writer #548, or the string arrangements in any given Frank Sinatra song?

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    2. Why would you care about my answers? If you don't, why ask them?

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    3. What? I do not understand this post. They were rhetorical questions, just like the one you asked in your first post.

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  3. It's kind of comical that, out of all the forgotten second tier rockers of the 1950's, Bo Diddley whips up so much controversy on this site. I can only reinforce the general opinion that, of all Bo's catalog, you basically need the first album and a secondary compilation to mop up the later hits.

    As an artiste, he was essentially the MC Hammer of his day. Snappy, gimmick laden numbers, plenty of self-referential boasting, and a taste for the ladies. Of course, the times being what they were, he was required to exhibit quite a bit more natural talent and skill than Hammer, and let's not forget that. But let's not also elevate him above his station. He did his part to advance the cause of rock and roll during the lean years of the later 50's-early 60's, essentially keeping the throne warm for the oncoming British groups. And that's a wrap on Bo.

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    1. Exactly my point. Bo Diddley was always second rate, well behind Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and especially Chuck Berry.

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    2. Agreed, Bo Diddley was a second rate artist, but he was fine. I don't see any reason to think of him as "pure crap" or to praise him to the heavens.

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  4. @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?)

    Well, I allways thought that he just scratches the strings with a pick (at least that is how I used to emulate it). First he goes down from bridge to head and than he goes back - this time pressing strings to the fingerboard, so you can hear all the semitones. Actually, you can learn how to do that in no time, even if you never played a guitar before. And it is impossible to break any strings in a process.

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  5. "Road Runner" features a generic riff (Lucille, please), a generic vocal melody (tons of Blues songs show it, go and listen to at least half of Robert Johnson songs) and generic lyrics "I'm a road runner honey, baby baby come on take my hand baby". How such a mediocre song can be considered a "classic" is beyond my comprehension.

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  6. "Road Runner" se compone de un riff genérico (idéntico al de "Lucille", por ejemplo), una melodía vocal ultra genérica (miles de canciones blues la tienen, la mitad del repertorio de Robert Johnson para empezar) y una letra genérica y facilona. Cómo una canción tan mediocre puede considerarse un "clásico" se escapa a mi comprensión.

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  7. None of you people like rock & roll much, do you? Go back to your Moody Blues CDs.

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    1. Rock & roll is a 50's invention that reached perfection in the 60's. Anything that Bo Diddley pioneered, Jimi Hendrix trumped in spades. That's really the end of the story.

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  8. Malx, I like the MC Hammer comparison, that was funny. I also like the "second tier rocker" categorization, it fits, but for all his rep rep a-rep repetetion and gimmickry, Bo was an important bridge not just between Elvis and the Beatles, but I think he could be considered a crossover artist, in that he streamlined multiple sounds, and much like his custom-shaped instruments, combined them into a workable, danceable formula for wider pop audience.

    And I just have to say, he WAS the first rocker to have women in his band, not just singing backgrounds but actually PLAYING rock guitar, something that is still in the minority today (Out of the thousands of rock acts out there, I can think of maybe half a dozen women guitar players who have even a little of Bo's name recognition). Again, maybe not REVOLUTIONARY, but still worthy of note.

    Final thought for Mr. Anonymous: I like the Moody Blues AND Rock and Roll, thankyaveramuch.

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