Thursday, July 27, 2023

So I will heal

Thirty years on, Big Dipper's "Faith Healer" never fails to excite and intrigue me

When I'm feeling brave I like to revisit a song that meant a lot to me when I was in my late teens or early twenties. Half afraid of the cringe factor, I'm eager to see if the song still resonates for me, or whether it's hopelessly dated, a soundtrack for a life I'm no longer living.

Big Dipper (above) formed in the mid-1980s in Boston, Massachusetts when guitarist and vocalist Gary Waleik, a former member of Volcano Suns, got together with guitarist and vocalist Bill Goffrier, late of Wichita, Kansas' the Embarrassment, to bullshit and jam on Sunday evenings on their front porch in the Allston neighborhood. Waleik soon invited bassist Steve Michener, another ex-Volcano Sun, and drummer Jeff Oliphant to hang out. Their first release was Boo-Boo, a six-song EP on Homestead Records in 1987. At the time I was a DJ at WMUC, the radio station at the University of Maryland, and though I hadn't paid a whole lot of attention to Volcano Suns, I was caught up in the hype when Boo-Boo arrived. 

My copy of the EP (which I bought years later) includes a tongue-in-cheek press release, which in presenting the Big Dipper origin story fully captures the band's sense of humor. After those "hootenanny" porch parties became too big for the porch, the neighbors started to complain, that old story:

Also included with the EP was a one-sheet with recording and contact information, "thanks you's," and the like, and this photo of the band in car, above which runs the copy, "Welcome to our first record. We hope that you enjoy these 6 big songs. 6 distinct thrill sensations. 6 poetic/scientific romps through the psyche. See ya soon."


The irony is thick, and funny as hell. In retrospect, it's that phrase "poetic/scientific romps through the psyche" that to me best describes Big Dipper's smart, nervy, idiosyncratic sound, particularly on "Faith Healer," the lead track from Boo-Boo, a song that sent me when I first heard it and still sends me over thirty years later. 

The tune begins with cheery D, C, and G chords bouncing atop a lively rhythm. This'll be fun, you think, turning up the song—and then the song falls apart and reconstructs in an instant. Things get strange and disconcerting very quickly, as new, unsettling chord changes and nervous, syncopated guitar lines start throwing elbows, churning up the surface of the song. It's as if a strange energy has entered and everyone's suddenly on alert. When the singer arrives, crying out his lines near the top of his range, the impression is that he's just trying to keep his head above water without going under.

The story's urgent. It's also mysterious. There's no establishing shot, as it were, but it's clear that he's at some sort of fair or carnival. He's entered a tent, entreating a faith healer therein for help, or for saving, that he desperately needs:

Shoving me so I will heal
While I am so weak I kneel
Begging she admire me
But she says "her work's not free," and he's only got ten bucks, so he heads to the next tent where a palm reader is plying her trade. "This will be a ten well spent," he says to himself, and then implores the fortune teller to
Grab my hand and with an effort
to read between the lines like you do
The chorus returns and we're back to those bright opening chords, but things sound complicated now, and the lyrics spell out the dilemma: "Dealing with the faith healer and trusting in the palm reader." Economics versus hope, business up against faith, and the tension's unresolved by song's end. 

In the more obscure second verse, the singer tries to connect with the palm reader ("Now is the time, we must get down when the healer's not around"), ecstatic in the wordlessness between them, yet he cools on her so quickly that it startles. "You're wonderful," he says to her, "but nothing new. The faith healer can do this, too." This?—what, fuck him? Rip him off? Or bullshit him? The faith healer sees through it all, anyway, and arrives "with a warrant" to close down the palm reader. After all, he sneers, "She's been around," and he "sees through you."

The arrangement is tightly-wound and agitated, the playing headlong, and the singer, searching, maneuvers among all of these discoveries and disappointments. He departs the tents no wiser, but probably more cynical. Maybe that's the same thing.


I didn't need a laying-on of hands or a session with a local palmistry enthusiast in my early-twenties, though I was searching for something. At times breathlessly depressed, walking in a fog, I resolved to see a counselor on campus; he was a soft-spoken, well-meaning graduate student in the Psychology Department fulfilling his field hours toward his degree, I guess, His overall, Leftist explanation for my depression was the vacuousness of then-President Reagan's "Morning In Amercia" campaign. That I could buy, but it didn't explain everything. My blues were bottomless, manifesting mostly as an intense self-consciousness, a suffocating, second by second preoccupation with myself that walled me off from everyone, a lousy, ill-fitting coat I couldn't shake off. (My metaphors here indicate just how difficult, still, it is to define what I was trapped in.) Some moments I felt helpless, staring at an endless, darkening abyss of myself that I couldn't imagine living with. 
I tried going back to the Catholic Church, and prayer, one sweltering summer night walking in a feverish trance two and a half miles to Holy Cross Hospital, where I was born, to sit in the cool chapel and beg for deliverance from myself. I lost myself in books, poetry, and art (and beer), a splintering relationship with my girlfriend J., but mostly music, where I found my confusion articulated and then blasted away, if temporarily, by the noise. Difficult ecstasies: the Windbreakers' "Nation of Two," the Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action," the Primitons' "Don't Go Away," Elvis Costello and the Attractions' "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head," among many other songs from that era, soundtracked my gray days and, in different ways, shot flashes of redemptive light through them. I strove to live by a stoic, three-chord philosophy. Fortunately for me these depressive episodes eventually revolved, though they were destined to return.

And "Faith Healer" cut deep. At twenty-one, I missed (or, melodramatically, willfully ignored) the humor in this surreal narrative. What I heard was the very real desperation of someone searching for answers to questions so enormous that they threatened to erase him. I was searching one tent after another, weak on my knees. If the song spoke to my anxieties, however obliquely, the music helped me to shake off those anxieties, however temporarily. During one particular passage—the eighth through twelfth bars in each verse—the song feels as if it compacts so tightly that it might blow up, or anyway threaten to. The same occurs in the Buzzcocks' sublime "What Do I Get?" during the post-chorus lines:
I only get sleepless nights
Alone here in my half-empty bed
For you, things seem to turn out right
I wish they'd only happen to me instead
My blues weren't quite so frustrated or ego-driven s that, but I responded (I respond) so intensely to that passage it felt as if rock and roll, in thrilling chord changes, and ferocious playing and singing, had the capacity to translate for me my wordless interior, in the process cleansing, or draining, me of darkness. Helping me to press re-set, if for a moment. 

I couldn't avoid "Faith Healer" in 1987. If I were to hear the song for the first time now I imagine that I'd still love it, but I wouldn't need it. The manic energy you carry around as a twenty-something comes in contact with music and the music's zapped, its chromosomes forever altered in a way only you can hear. I wear different energy now and, though music is as vital and as nourishing to me now as it was when I was in my twenties, I don't feel very often as if I'm listening along a cliff edge anymore, thank goodness. For many years in DeKalb a palm reader operated out of a dingy storefront up the road from me, next to a video game joint. They've since closed shop, and I'd never felt the need to seek their services, yet the black silhouette of an upraised hand on the front door beckoned me, curiously. I wonder if my twenty-year old self would've felt wandered in, what he'd have found. 

I still grasp for answers in the dark. If the weeks-long anxiety attack I endured during the summer of 2020 is any indication, I'll be dropped to my knees on occasion still, unnerved when I least expect, or want, it. Now I know that the remarkable "Faith Healer" will be there for me if I need it.

Image of "Palm Reading Palmistry Gypsy fortune Teller Vintage Gothic Halloween Poster" via RedBubble

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Just how I feel

Can a song shake off the clichés of its era through sincerity and delivery?

In July of 2002 I was day drinking at the Greenpoint Tavern (RIP) in Brooklyn. The previous week my buddy Steve and I had hit the Siren Music Festival out at Coney Island—a long, fun day drinking at Ruby's with the Fleshtones' drummer Bill Milhizer, soaking up the sun and breezes, and catching a hell of a lineup including the Donnas, the Mooney Suzuki, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. At dusk Steve and I, both drunk and sunburned, took the Q train back to Bedford Avenue, the subway barely crawling in the godawful heat. Everyone around us in that packed car looked like members of the Strokes. Gazing back two decades later, it was an Of The Era day.

At the Tavern I'd struck up a conversation with a younger guy to my left. He too had been at Coney Island. We traded stories about the bands we'd dug, and he was scornfully dismissive of the Mooney Suzuki. I'd seen the band a year earlier at CBGB where they'd raised the proverbial roof in an epic show, and I'd got off on their set at Siren Festival, too. Meh, said my new friend. "I hate all that corny stuff, all that 'I climbed a mountain with my guitar, I came back down with this band!' crap. So corny." Yeah, I laughed, and then trailed off. Suddenly I didn't feel like engaging, comparing hipster bonafides with this guy who was already several foamy 32-ounce Buds into his afternoon. Yeah, the Mooney Suzuki was kind of corny. And I loved it.

I've written before at No Such Thing As Was about the thin line between invention and imitation. For decades I've been vaguely embarrassed by how much an "unoriginal" song can move me, how it can nourish, while meanwhile I keep an eye on those who are far braver than I (as I see it) in pursuing and embracing more original or unorthodox music. In 2002 had I a choice between seeing only the Mooney Suzuki or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, my instinct would've been to head, beer in hand, for the Suzuki. (At the Siren Festival I was cool to the Yeahs's arty, excitable performance, though I've come a long way in appreciating them.) I know: no guilty pleasures. And yet, I sometimes worry about my capacity for absorbing avant-garde or otherwise unorthodox music—even when it sounds like rock and roll!—so helplessly attracted am I to the three-chord, hook-laden, riff-shaking wonders of the world.


I've been thinking about my ol' Brooklyn drinking buddy after the Third Power's "Persecution" recently came up on shuffle. A classic power trio, the Third Power—pictured epically at top, left to right, bassist and lead vocalist Jem Targal, drummer Jim Craig, guitarist Drew Abbott—formed in the late 1960s in Farmington Hills, Michigan, a half hour drive from Detroit. Popular on the local circuit, another in the long line of Big In Detroit rock and roll bands, the Third Power shared epochal stages with epochal bands in that loud, heady era, and shacked up and partied fabulously in an era-defining communal farmhouse home. Their gigging, noise, and a locally-issued 45 landed them a contract with Vanguard, a somewhat odd sonic marriage given the label's predominantly classical, jazz, folk, and blues artists (though the Third Power had folk leanings; listen to the delicate "Crystalline Chandelier"). Sam Charters, the esteemed blues and jazz historian, produced the album; he'd had a long history in production as well as writing, and had helmed the boards for Detroit neighbors The Frost's debut album, also issued on Vanguard. 

In the event, the band cut a full-length record, Believe, which Vanguard released in 1970 but distributed and promoted anemically. The album landed at number 194 on the Billboard charts, but swiftly disappeared, and the band called it quits shortly thereafter—a story so common and eternal it feels Biblical. In the June 20, 1970 issue of Billboard, Fred Kirby, in a "Talent In Action" review of the band's gig at the legendary Ungano's in New York City, sounds hopeful. He describes the Third Power as "a promising young blues-rock trio" with "a top-notch lead vocalist" and "capable guitarmanship [sic]." "With more experience," he concludes guardedly, "this unit should be able to develop more individuality. The makings are there." Alas.

"The Third Power sounded different from other rock trios of the time such as Cream or The Jimi Hendrix Experience," Willy Wilson remarks in the liner notes of the 2016 reissue of Believe.

The music tended to be more melodic and layered and didn’t focus upon one musician but on the band as a whole. “I remember when Drew brought copies of Fresh Cream and Are You Experienced to our practices,” says Jem. "We were blown away. It was cool to see power trios that had the same energy as us. We were all like,"Hey, we can do this! We can do this on our own terms!"

A couple tracks on the under-appreciated Believe betray the era's propensity for down-home jamming and "Free Bird"-styled over earnestness, but several reflect the band's boldness. For a "power trio" the Third Power sure traded in mellow tones. "Passing By" is lovely and evocative, gently stringing together a sonic reverie, the startling "Lost In A Daydream" builds from folk stirrings to an aggressive, Who-like attack. Targal's powerful, graceful voice, which in fact puts me in mind of Pete Townshend's pretty high register, often lifts the band's songs, especially in the pleading, soaring "Won't Beg Anymore."

But I also want put forth here the argument that individuality is overrated. "Persecution" is very much a song of its times, little in the arrangement suggesting maverick, mold-breaking visionaries at work. It's basic anthemic blues-rock with a "social message," hard to distinguish from other like tracks from the era. Then why do I love it so, and listen to it more often than the album's quieter, more accomplished cuts? Well, for one, I'm an unapologetic eighth-note junkie, for whom Anti-Virtuosity is a creed. But more than that I'm a sucker for the era's guitar-forward, late-psychedelic, Rock Will Save Us ethos, which—is corny. As indulgent excesses and broken promises accumulated throughout the 1970s, such plugged-in glory began to look and sound trite, the heartfelt assurances that a song, in communion with a beatific crowd (and the right drugs), will unites us as One rang hollow, stinking of naiveté. And yet with certain songs, certain bands, and at certain shows I feel the tug of those promises, however momentarily, however, yes, naively, my sober recognition of the promises' limitations failing to decelerate the moments of bliss, thankfully.

"Persecution" begins with deceptive acoustic finger-picking—we feel that we're headed down a pastoral lane into Zeppelinham—before an electric guitar churns up a fat, funky groove. The singer—Abbot in this case; it's his tune—complains about friends of his coming around and calling him names, lecturing him that he shouldn't be playing "those silly games." He shrugs them off before stepping down into the song's chief complaint: "persecution, disillusion, yeah." It's hard to tell whether it's a question or a simple stating of facts, and the laments pile up: his friends don't like the way he plays guitar, doesn't think he'll get very far, but he couldn't care less, he's gonna pick up his guitar and play. As rebellion goes, especially in 1970, especially coming out of rough-and-tumble Detroit, it's pretty mild stuff, yet Abbot's sincerity is charmingly winning. He really believes that his guitar playing will raise a middle finger to mistreatment and blow off the shackles of disenchantment—and his fiery guitar solos only raise the stakes. After a breakdown to catch his breath, he digs deeper—

People tell me they've led a life free from care
Well, I look back at mine and it just doesn't seem fair
What'd I ever do to deserve such a deal?
Is there no one who can't see me and just how I feel?

—howling the final lines as his band whips up a like storm behind him. He's just gonna sing his song, a sonic battle waged that no persecution could withstand.


Then the song ends and life returns, where your options are to play the song again and convince yourself of its truisms, or move forward broken-hearted. Or, a third option: snort and roll your eyes at the whole damn thing. But I don't believe that sincere gesture has an expiration date. On that sweaty June 2001 night at CBGB Mooney Suzuki enacted the Third Power's promises—with more beery grins and less seriousness, perhaps—for song after song, until I believed that they maybe were the answer. To what, I wasn't so sure. I never fully connected with the Mooney Suzuki on their albums, on which their backward-looking, MC5/Grand Funk-inspired showmanship feels more contrived. No, the momentary stay under stage lights, the noise filling my chest in a loud, dark venue, be it the Grande Ballroom, the Bowery, a small college town on a Wednesday night—that's where such promises feel like the opposite of corny.

Bottom photo of the Third Power by Tom Wright

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Saying what's left to be said

These are just a few of my favorite songs with "rock and roll" in the title

The term "rock and roll" will be eternally defined in as many ways as there are fans. I've collected some of my favorite definitions down the years; I'll let Wikipedia do the heavy lifting. Ah, the tyranny of taxonomy! The dilemma evokes Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's infamous definition of pornography in 1964: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced... [b]ut I know it when I see it." 

And I know it when I hear it. So, of course, does every musician who's ever fallen in love with the noise and been inspired to write a song in tribute. Here are five—no, six—of my favorite tunes with "rock and roll," variously spelled, in the title, randomly selected and ordered. There are a lot of songs to choose from; add spelling variations and there are countless more. I ignored the well-worn and overplayed (you know them all) and went for tunes of the, well, rockin' variety that have always moved me, for one reason or another. (Tomorrow this list will surely change.)

The Beat, "Rock N Roll Girl," The Beat (1979)

The mythical, unobtainable rock and roll girl, who television has assured the singer really does exist. Yet he looks for her at "the local disco show" and she's a chimera on the dance floor, calls her on the phone yet she doesn't answer. He pines for "an easier way to meet the girls of today," because he really wants to talk, but what can he say? That old problem. Back home, alone, he'll turn up his favorite rock and roll songs and once again wish her into existence. Whether she's myth, someone he's only imagined, the high standards of which are impossible to maintain, the song doesn't resolve: our only choice is to play it again. Thankfully, to paraphrase Pete Townshend, the song rocks so hard and the chorus is so rousing that he can dance all over his problems, forget about them for two minutes and twenty seconds.

Sleater-Kinney, "You're No Rock N' Roll Fun," All Hands On The Bad One (2000)

Anyway, he's got a better shot than this dude, whose "head's always up in the clouds" as he's writing his songs. He's no fun, he's "like a party that's over before it's begun"—just one of many devastating similes S-K launch at this loser scenester:

You're no walk in the park
More like a shot in the dark
With clues left for no one
You're no rock n' roll fun
Like a piece of art
That no one can touch
He won't get laid, in other words. They'd rather hang with the boys who "know how to get down," how to fill their Christmas socks "with whiskey drinks and chocolate bars." The kicker: they won't flock to him even if his song's on the jukebox! So much for that empty promise. Besides, he likes to party with the lights on. She counters: "Come on, I like the dark!" He wants to hear the same boring songs; she wants a different song, this killer tune, probably, that rightfully shames the death of the party.

The Frost, "Rock & Roll Music," single (1969)

Within years of its inception, rock and roll mythology inspired songwriters to celebrated the genre in meta songs. (The urtext being The Book of Chuck Berry.) By the late 1960s, such commemoration had taken a self-serious turn, and I can't decide which camp the Frost's '69 single lands in, Fun or Grandiloquent. Recorded live at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit as like-spirited bands the MC5 and the Stooges were in ascension, having lifted off from the same stage, the song is of its era, but that era is complex, the sense of mid-decade "innocent fun" having been given darker dimension by drug use and social activism. This wasn't your older sister's rock and roll music, this was something else, a sonic wave washing away the public pool with its Copertone and blaring transistor radios and heralding a new epoch in which the (considerably louder) music is "all that you take to your head" and is "saying what's left to be said," which is that "you need to be free." All noble goals, if wincingly naive now—hell, even just a few years after the single came out, when proto punks were rolling their eyes at heavy-lidded, spacey Woodstock Era pledges. I hold a soft spot in my heart for such rock and roll idealism, however foolish. Truth be told, there are still plenty of nights when I'm in front of the stereo or a stage and this exhilarating Dick Wagner- and Gordy Garris-led exhortation feels pretty damn meaningful.

Ramones, "Rock 'N' Roll High School," single (1979)

Then along came punk rock, when the guarantees of early rock and roll were deconsecrated and thrown back as irony. "I don't care about history" was, of course, a misnomer: Joey Ramone was among those in the late-1970s who still believed passionately in, and spoke honestly about his love for, pre-Beatles and mid-60s righteousness dressed as a kind of sonic purity. Ramones' take on teenage rebellion looks both backward and directly at its times, celebrating an earlier era's kicks, chicks, and square teachers with eighth notes, ripped jeans, and loud guitars. Fun, oh baby, fun! I prefer this single version, cleanly yet punchily produced by the great Ed Stasium, remixed by Phil Spector before the latter overspent his time and goodwill on the song later for End Of The Century.

The Shazam, "Rockin' And Rollin' (With My) Rock N' Roll Rock N' Roller," Tomorrow The World (2002)

If you've never listened to the late, lamented Shazam out of Nashville, Tennessee, you ought to redress that. Torch bearers of loud power pop in the Who/Cheap Trick/Red Kross tradition, the band released five albums between 1994 and 2009, each chock full of Hans Rotenberry's witty, hooky, crunchy tunes. Marvel at "Gettin' Higher" from Tomorrow The World, an album that kicks off with this winner that trades a mid-60s pop sensibility for a lean, Stones cum AC/DC-riffing groove, a guaranteed show-opener evoking arena rock in its weed-and-sweat bliss. I'm not sure at the dawn of the 21st century it was possible to write a song about everything being awright 'cause I'm gonna rock my blues away tonight! without navigating through several layers of camp and twisting the title into the post-modern joke it is. Here's the thing: the song could collapse under its own reference-laden sarcasm and studied irony if it wasn't so damn fun, blasting away the satire with power chords—the whole point of the song, really. (Around the same time, the Mooney Suzuki were mining similar territory before they lost the plot.) Play it loud and move around with it—if you have to imagine that no one's watching you, so be it.

The Soft Boys, "Rock & Roll Toilet," Invisible Hits (1983)

Then there's...this. Another Stones-y riff, allegedly played with the band members on their wrong instruments. (Here's the tighter version.) A hilarious, sardonic counter to the Shazam's wry wink, "Rock & Roll Toilet" is vintage Robyn Hitchcock: peculiar and witty, trippy and earthy. Whenever Hitchcock and his band go there, you want to follow, in this case down into a metaphor. I think. (The folks at the Genius lyrics annotation site seem stumped, also.) In the first verse the singer's trapped in the titular joint with two "jerks," and then Jah walks in, performing "his works"; in the second, the jerks are now "a coupla clones" with "eggs as smooth as polished stones." And so on. Robyn snarls, metaphors pile up, redolent: 
Rock 'n' roll toilet's my alibi, my lullaby, my sacrify
Rock 'n' roll toilet's my pair of boots, my only chutes, my open wounds
Things alter in the middle, a psychedelic kaleidoscope during which we're invited to look at the "beautiful patterns that form on the wall," to stick out our fingers "to trace them." Oddly lovely, even gentle, the passage suggests that the song's graphic observations originate in one hell of a trip, and the singer hasn't come down yet. No matter, the song rocks hard, the dirty harmonica, slashing guitars, and chugging rhythm section muscling the singer's hallucinations out of the way, in the process making a highly subjective few minutes feel true and universal as, fantastically, the best rock and roll always does.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

It's getting hairy

Bob Seger could've sung the phonebook and "Down Home" would've still grooved

I've lately been obsessing over the Bob Seger System's "Down Home" from Ramblin' Gamblin' Man, released in 1969. Notable chiefly for the sublime strut of the title track and for "2 + 2 = ?," one of the most powerful Vietnam protest songs of the era, Ramblin' Gamblin' Man, Seger's first for Capitol, is an uneven album. On the rocking stuff, his band—Dan Honaker on bass and vocals and Pep Perrine on drums and vocals—is white hot, no more so than on "Down Home," a riff, a grunt of a song powered by a bare-bones arrangement and a propulsive performance. Essentially a blues tune, it's made graphic by angry stop-starts and a characteristically fierce, howling vocal from Seger, whose slides into and out of his screech still startles me.

"Down Home"'s a story song, but the story's muddled. In a proto-Springsteen vein, Seger spins yarn but it's full of holes, though the narrative absences are intriguing. There are a lot of characters for a two and a half-minute song: Chicago Green, a naive girl "famous for her childlike mind," her Aunt Mary, her troublemaker boyfriend Little Willy (so-named four years before the Sweet hit), and her cousin Eddie, "who's unsteady on the levee." Willy's an asshole; he likes "kicking trippy hippies in the head with his hobnail shoe," while Eddie's a two-bit criminal who's "pitching for pennies, rockin' for bennies." He lands in jail. Well, Chicago bails out Eddie, "which tripped out Willy"—he starts shouting and raising hell—so Chicago and Eddie

wandered off somewhere
They couldn't find their way home
Any road home
Oh, and there's also the singer, who's somehow involved in all of this, and, according to the Genius lyric site anyway, a guy named "Jason" who's in love with Chicago, according to Aunt Mary. Got all that? The impression trying to piece together the story is of falling asleep while watching a late-60s biker/road/noir flick; upon waking you remember some characters and some names, but blinking at the screen at 3 a.m. you realize that a lot of what they did and why they did it is lost. Gotta watch again.

None of this matters a lick. The song is so raw and so rawly played—fellow Detroit-area native Michael Erlewine, who later founded AllMusic, plays a dirty harmonica—that they words are incidental, a half-recollected dream that the music inspired. Seger's guitar riff is so sinuously nasty it gives the impression of a downed power line shooting off sparks while folks run for cover. Honaker's bass is alert and funky, in syncopation with the riff, all of it tied firmly to the dirt at the musicians' feet by Perrine's stunningly forceful drumming, his snare in particular the sound of jail doors slamming shut (particularly on the vinyl version). When someone in the studio finds a shaker just in time for the last verse, the song leaps into a higher, even more dangerous gear. My pulse quickens, that's for sure.

Meanwhile, Seger howls and growls the story, crooning in the early verses to set the scene, such as it is. He and co-producer Punch Andrews play some tricks with the production, panning his vocal across the stereo spectrum on certain lines in a lame attempt at mood or emphasis, or maybe a trippy evocation simulating where Willy and Eddie's heads are at—either way it gently dates the song. Yet that and the muddled story are muscled out of the way, and out of mattering, by the tune itself, so rocking, so grooving that Seger could've sung the Wayne County phonebook and the song still would've moved. In the event, it's fun to try and fill in the blanks and spaces of the storylines, wondering on how each character is best served by a stomping, bad ass blues like this. Sadly, there's no live footage I could find of the System playing the song live during their brief career.

It goes without saying: play loud.

Photo of Bob Seger System circa 1969 via Psychedelicized