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Monday, December 3, 2012

Bo Diddley: 500% More Man

BO DIDDLEY: 500% MORE MAN (1965)

1) 500% More Man; 2) Let Me Pass; 3) Stop My Monkey; 4) Greasy Spoon; 5) Tonight Is Ours; 6) Root Hoot; 7) Hey Red Riding Hood; 8) Let The Kids Dance; 9) He's So Mad; 10) Soul Food; 11) Corn Bread; 12) Somebody Beat Me.

«500% more self-plagiarizing», to be more precise. Even if nobody was buying Bo's records any longer, that still did not stop the man from putting out two whole LPs in 1965 — and, to be fair, seemingly enjoying every minute of it, although by now he seems to be making his fourth or fifth circle around the same old tree.

The title track, as can be easily guessed, is yet another remake of ʽI'm A Manʼ, out here to reas­sert our hero's reliable virility in an age of quickly changing trends and fads. Other than the reas­suring lyrics ("more man than you ever seen", "I'm still round here, baby, and I let the good time roll", etc.), the only reasons to ever listen to this track had only been there in 1965; today, with the man finally gone for good, listening to ʽ500% More Manʼ instead of the original would be a strange occupation indeed.

The other tracks are... well, two things of note: first, The Cookies — Bo's backing band of high-pitched cat-girls — are present on almost every number, which seems more likely to give us a headache than a feeling of awe and wonder, particularly since most of the backing vocals are so goddamn repetitive (I mean, how could a man not go mad if every goddamn bar on ʽHe's So Madʼ is stuffed with the robotic chant of "oh yeaaah... he's so mad... oh yeaaah... he's so mad"?). It only gets completely intolerable once, when they follow Bo up on a sweet ballad (ʽTonight Is Oursʼ), delivered with the usual clumsiness, but overall, the girls definitely overstate their value on this album, which should have been called 500% More Cookies — with a special disclaimer for those with cholesterol troubles.

On the other hand, there are some really good guitar parts on the record, too. ʽLet Me Passʼ, once the old school ʽDiddley Daddyʼ introduction is over, sees an attempt to merge the gap between Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, by having Bo play more Berry licks than on Two Guitars (where each player was more like an «intruder» in the other one's groove). A whole series of other tunes, conceived in the standard blues idiom, features variegated bluesy lead lines and solos, which could perhaps be appreciated better if not for the Cookies — who finally shut up on ʽCorn Breadʼ, one of the finest blues shuffles in Bo's repertoire, even though that is not saying very much: Bo will probably never be counted among the blues giants, not only because of limited playing technique, but chiefly because of the lightweight joking attitude. Yet in many ways, lightweight joking blues shuffles may be preferable to those that take themselves too seriously — a properly executed «guitar fart» disrupting a generic chord progression can go a long way.

For the record, that trademark Bo Diddley humor, ambiguous as it is, is very much alive: you get Bo retelling the story of Little Red Riding Hood (he makes for quite a credible big bad wolf), drawing on the spirit of The Coasters in a tragic story of fucking it up in Las Vegas (ʽSomebody Beat Meʼ), complaining about being jinxed by his woman (ʽRoot Hootʼ), in short — pretending to still live life to its fullest. Somehow, it all manages to wind me up a little stronger than Hey! Good Lookin', but only by a brief margin — unless I do a good job convincing myself that, at this point, I am mostly listening to Bo Diddley for the comedy routine, the endless rewrites drag my attention down anyway. Well, it does have this surge in 12-bar blues and Chuck Berry influ­ence, so I guess it at least enables us to move on without a proper thumbs down ritual.

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