Saturday, 11 January 2014

Re-imagining The Beatles #6 - Spooky Tooth

Record collecting has always been a thrilling journey of discovery for me. Back when I was waiting for my voice to break I would devour every word in Sounds and Kerrang, hoping to find out more about the music that got my adrenaline pumping. If an artist that I loved mentioned their musical influences in an interview, I just had to find out for myself what that music sounded like. So many of my contemporaries listened only to current music and were happily ignorant of what had gone before, but for me, gaining an understanding of the bands that had inspired Black Sabbath, ELO or Queen made me appreciate their music all the more. I wanted my record collection to be an aural and visual incarnation of all those Pete Frame rock family trees with their numerous, sometimes surprising, links between bands. No link between two groups was too tenuous to whet my musical appetite. Very little has changed for me in that regard. Of course, it's easier to find music that shares musical DNA with my favourite artists now, whether through Amazon recommendations based on my purchases, Last FM playlists, fan forums, or a thousand other Google-enabled explorations. In some ways the ease of discovery has taken away much of the mystery and excitement that was part and parcel of unearthing new music (or, more specifically, old, yet-to-be-heard music), but the pay off is the sheer volume of discoveries falling into my lap.

So, how do these cogitations tie in with the subject of today's post? Well, I'm getting to that. As a thirteen year-old I was completely obsessed with Judas Priest, to the extent that I nicked my schoolfriend's little sister's copy of Jackie magazine for a single paragraph recounting the ridiculous story of the mighty Priest fighting rednecks in a bar with baguettes as weapons. (Jackie headline: 'Use Your Loaf'. Predictably.) And so it will hardly come as a surprise to you that when I found out that one of my favourite tracks on Priest's Stained Class LP was a cover, I had to hear the Spooky Tooth original.

 Of course, I then became aware of the links between Spooky Tooth and Humble Pie, Art, Roxy Music, Widowmaker yada, yada, yada... prompting yet more purchases. The Spooky Two LP, featuring the original version of Better by You, Better Than Me, left me wanting more: cue the The Last Puff album with its cover of I Am the Walrus

As Beatles tunes go,  I Am the Walrus doesn't strike me as the easiest or most obvious choice of cover, but the Tooth's reworking of Lennon's Edward Lear-alike lysergic nursery rhyme, succeeds in steering it into Vanilla Fudge territory with the tune just about emerging, albeit bone-weary and leaden-footed, from the sonic bog. The half-heartedly celebratory 'whooos' that follow the 'I am the Eggman' line of the original are dispensed with here. What elevates this version of the song is the fleeting moment when a chorus of female voices, like guiding nymphs leading us out of the wilderness, breaks through the murk with songbird clarity. No sooner do we hear them than they're gone, but their appearance completely alters the mood of the song, transforming a Mogadon-fuelled funereal dirge into a statement of defiance and hope. God, don't you just love it when music talks to you like that!

No comments:

Post a Comment