Sunday, April 25, 2021

Bo Diddley vs. Cosmic Mind

Re-reading the Summer 2020 issue of Ugly Things (which, like every UT, is a must-read) I was taken with Tom Campbell's article on the Paisleys, a late-60s Minneapolis-via-Canada psych band whose live shows, musical output, and general worldview were, one can say, of the era. (Campbell's article is reprinted at MinniePaulMusic here.) "To put it cruelly," Richie Unterberger wrote in Allmusic, "the Paisleys were exactly the kind of band roasted by the Mothers of Invention so unmercifully on We're Only in It for the Money." To many, the band is irredeemably dated. 

The Paisleys aren't entirely my cup of (dosed) tea either, yet I was struck by their song "Diddley," from their only album, Cosmic Mind At Play, released on the Peace label in 1970. The song gives the impression of a scruffy garage-rock loner who sees the light while tripping and wanders, smiling, into the nearest Be-In, a graphic example of how horizons were expanding in the Woodstock Era yet old-school rock and roll still exerted an influence of sorts. "'Diddley' is based on that rhythm that Bo Diddley would have come out with," bassist and vocalist Richard Timm told Campbell, "that one-chord jam." Drummer Bob Belknap insists that he didn’t play the Diddley drum pattern on the recording: "I made up my own drumming to it." Be that as it may, Belknap's still deeply indebted to the Bo Beat, which the band peaceably utilizes to sing about shallow identities and true essences. 

"I've got a few things on my mind, I'd like to say if you don't mind," the singer begins, gently. The color of your soul, he wonders, "Is it pure and free to flow?"
I'd really like to know what you are
Why you keep your face inside a jar
We're all just actors in a play
I hope to see you smiling every day
The band balletically dances behind the vocal, a Manzerak-style organ substituting for Bo's guitar and a high-fret bass line playfully syncopating, while layering the soundscape with shimmering harmonies. Halfway through, the song somewhat predictably evolves/devolves into a freakout of sorts, as a mock car salesman hocks his wares before reverb-laden swooshes and sensual moaning intrude and the glorious chorus returns. It's quite a tune, one that wouldn't have been imagined a year or two before. 

Benevolently trippy, the song's got a Pop Bubblegum vibe, also. Meanwhile, where was Bo? Singing about the times, too, in his own way. "Bo Diddley 1969" was co-written and produced by Layng Martine Jr. and Richie Cordell, the latter a songwriter and producer for the Roulette, Buddah, and Super K labels. Cordell had written or co-written killer material for Tommy James and the Shondells, among others, and wrote the great "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" with Joey Levine for Crazy Elephant. What could Richie do for Bo? Let him boast about being back in the driver's seat, the implication being that he had to mildly shove more than a few stoned hippies out of the way to resume the wheel. ("Ain't nobody gonna pass me by!") Back and feeling fine, winked at by his spunky female backing singers, Bo isn't doing anything all that new on this single, yet it too is a product of its era, illustrating both the historic reemergence of roots rock and roll after the psychedelics wore off and Bubblegum's stubborn insistence on the eternal, blissy pleasures of the two-and-a-half minute, AM-radio nugget. 

At the end of a tumultuous decade, Bo rightfully bops again atop his trademark beat while the Paisleys climb aboard to see just how far into the cosmic giggle they might ride it. Bring on the Seventies.

1 comment:

Rev. bIGhIG said...

MUst of missed this one1