Apr 022007

I’m listening to today’s tasty Thrifty Music selection, Deep Purple’s “Rat Bat Blue”, and I’m struck by the thought that kick-ass rock guitar riffs may preclude intelligent lyrics. Does Rock Guitar Heroics require thinking with one’s dick? And you know what I’m talking about, SmartyPants – not Tom Verlaine or some other “brainy” guitarist. I’m talking about practitioners of Hot Licks from the late-60s Age of the Guitar Hero and beyond: Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, King Crimson, Aerosmith, Frank Marino’s Mahogany Rush

What’s the best lyric any of these fierce riff-driven artists has produced, “The Wind Cries Mary”? Name a mighty guitarist, and then name a song lyric associated with this artist that’s stupid, funny, or plain silly. I challenge you, and I shall determine which suggestions do not qualify.

I look forward to your responses.


  23 Responses to “Do Kick-Ass Rock Guitar Riffs Preclude Intelligent Lyrics?”

  1. saturnismine

    that outfit the bassist is wearing is the most intelligent lyric i’ve ever smelled.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    I always wince when I hear the well intentioned, feel-good, pop-psych, AA platitudes of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Crossfire.”

  3. I twitch at the idea of raving about the intelligence of any lyric – it’s an emotional, rather than an intellectual, form.

    That said, and mindful that i’m speaking relatively, Don’t Fear the Reaper?

  4. Mr. Moderator

    “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and probably other BOC songs are good suggestions. Didn’t they have a svengali and/or sci-fi author writer their lyrics?

    Don’t think I’m looking for outright intellectual and poetic brilliance, Rick. I find that anything that moves the slightest past “Baby, when you shake that sweet thing…” variety in hard rock is a welcome relief. Emotion is a big part of what I find missing in most hard rock – the lyrics usually sound like the stuff teenage boys and construction workers say to each other while horny and sitting outside on a spring day. For all their big talk, most hard rock lyrics not only sound stupid, they sound devoid of any feeling.

    It’s why I’ve learned to find Zeppelin’s Tolkein/hippie-dippy side relatively refreshing. At least there’s an occasional sense that Robert Plant actually likes the women who are shaking their sweet things. It sounds like he actually makes love to a human now and then.

  5. meanstom

    Don’t the lyrics of bands like Metallica try to deal with ‘issues’? What about Rage Against the Machine. They sing about Native Americans and other causes. Are their guitar parts ‘kick-ass’ enough for qualification?

  6. The Back Office

    Hey. Gerry Todd here. Couldn’t sit back and not compliment you on a terrific video find. Check out that state of the art technology at about 5:43. FanTAStic! And how about those lovely ladies, huh? That craaazy gal on bass should be arrested for that outfit.

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Oh my! I was so distracted by trying to decide which Wilson sister was hotter taht I missed the truly hot chick on bass. Thanks for that tip.

    I must say, the guy playing the Tele, with the short, curly bangs, is a thing of beauty as well. His holstering work during the synth solo is sterling.

    Finally, I’m getting hungry looking at those copper fudge-mixing kettles next to the drummer’s set!

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    Say, I don’t want to spoil the party or anything, but where exactly is the “riff” in this song?

  9. I have a question accompanied by a special plea that you dispense with all RTH humor in its many – usually appreciated – forms in answering the question.

    Please name one single thing that is appealing about this song/performance. Put aside the hotness of the Wilson sisters because I don’t even see that in this clip. Seriously, I’d like to know any aspect of this that anyone finds appealing in a positive way. Is there an RTH rock crime on the books that this performance isn’t guilty of?

    Even their logo sucks.

  10. Mr. Moderator

    So the focus turns to that Heart video. Full disclosure: I heard the song on the radio driving home and couldn’t stop laughing throughout it, so that’s my main reason for putting it up there AND, in my mind, it justifies the most appealing aspect of the song. I hated this song so much as a kid it wasn’t funny. Now I laugh at it and enjoy how silly it is and how sincerely it’s performed. It’s like seeing the Big Bully in school taken down in the middle of assembly. You ain’ so bad, Big Bully! It’s like Matt Dillon’s character in My Bodyguard getting his comeuppance.

    All that said, beside the appeal of the Wilson sisters and the horrible fashions, I do like their production and guitar tone. Of all the sub-Zeppelin bands during those times, they were among the best of the bunch, and I know that’s not saying much.

    But really, for me, it’s about the laughter. Does anyone remember the laughter?

  11. Basically, Ann sells this song. She’s almost effortless in this clip.

    I’ve always liked “Magic Man” less than “Crazy for You” and “Barracuda” which at least have promising guitar riffs before the songs wear out their welcome.

    A friend of mine was briefly obsessed with “Magic Man” after hearing it used in The Virgin Suicides, and he even admitted that the song falls apart during the long synth workout.

    Ugh, this drum solo blows.

    The bit where the musicians get a bar to show off really made me wish I was hearing “Re-make/Re-model” instead.

  12. mwall

    One of the things I found interesting about grunge (even as I didn’t like that much of it) was its attempt to match up hard-driving guitars with not-as-stupid lyrics. Soundgarden and Nirvana do a good job of that, although I certainly wouldn’t make any case for the greatness of their lyrics. I’d say Pearl Jam too but I don’t really like what they came up with.

    Yeah, Blue Oyster cult was considered the thinking man’s hard rock at the time, and I think for good reason. Their lyrics often have some irony, for instance, which is usually beyond the range of 70s hard rock.

    Heart has slightly more convincing lyrics than many 70s hard rockers simply because their mix of aggressive femininity just isn’t as rock bottom cliched, not that they don’t have their share of wince-worthy moments.

    Is there a place for the “intelligently dumb” lyric here that deserves a mention? Some of the Black Sabbath lyrics on vol 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or Sabotage are quite good, even as their legendary stupidity never goes away. And what about Motorhead? There’s a down-to-earth working classness that rises above macho cliches to some small extent. Phil Lynott’s lyrics too, while undeniably macho, also have a working man’s street cred about them sometimes that takes them above pure posturing.

  13. Mr. Moderator

    All great suggestions to buck this trend, Mark. Thanks! I don’t think of most of the grunge bands as successful in terms of their guitar firepower, but I know what you mean. And you actually made a valid point about the lyrics of Heart. They, like Led Zeppelin, actually sing of having made love to another human.

  14. Would the riff in “Go Down Gamblin'” by Blood Sweat & Tears be a good example? I love the fuzzyness in that song, but the lyrics are all about poker and then there’s that corny horn breakdown that is always in the heart of a B,S & Ts mix. David Clayton-Thomas vocals are fun in a Beefheart kind of 70s cheese way, and there’s always a pretty meaty bass line.

    “Down in a crap game, I’ve been losing at roulette
    Cards are bound to break me, but I ain’t busted yet
    ‘Cause I’ve been called a natural lover by that lady over there
    Honey, I’m just a natural gambler but I try to do my share”

    Just say yes to the natural loving of Blood, Sweat & Tears. I’m going to go shoot some craps down on the street corner and if anyone needs me, I’ll be by the basketball hoops yellin’ at some kids.

  15. hrrundivbakshi

    Mr. Mod, now’s your chance — no, now’s the time for you to fulfill your *obligation* — to come clean about your feelings on BS&T.

  16. Uh-oh – what have I done?!!!

  17. BigSteve

    Cheap Trick lyrics are pretty clever. And actually I think Hendrix was often a fine lyricist.

  18. Mr. Moderator

    I don’t think Cheap Trick qualifies as Hard Rock. They’re more power pop with hard rock elements, no? Hendrix obviously is beyond the straight hard rock genre, but I threw him out there just in case. I like plenty of his lyrics within the context of his music. He’s got some style and humor that’s not stupid.

    Sally C, you’ve done nothing more than make me think of the band that had produced perhaps the two worst songs in rock: “And When I Die” (I think that’s the title) and “Spinning Wheel”. Some day, perhaps, I’ll spend a weekend revisiting those two numbers and report back!

  19. general slocum

    Damn, Mod! Spinning Wheel? Worst wha? That song kicks ass! His pronunciations alone are like Burroughs played at speed 16! What a killer set of riffs. Even the *trumpet* rocks in that one. Listen to Jimmy McGriff’s version to hear how it rocks without the lyrics.

    Also, I’m with Steve on Hendrix. He’s one of my favorite lyricists. Isn’t this whole question related to the idea that when playing a hard riff, the urge is commonly to make a face somewhere between anger, “straining at stool” as Elvis’ coroner used to say, and trying to figure out how to tell if your pencil is really a #2 pencil or not. Pig-ignorant difficulty is right at home. Nobody truly bad-ass enough to play a truly bad-ass riff is going to have it supposed they spend their down time with books! Literacy is for pussies, you know. That’s why what mean muthahfuckahs chain to their belts is their wallet, and not, say, a Jane Austen novel.

  20. That’s why what mean muthahfuckahs chain to their belts is their wallet, and not, say, a Jane Austen novel.

    Making me laugh – so funny general!

    “Big horns, saucy vocals and classic pop sound made them suspect to the free-love generation.”

    Are Blood, Sweat & Tears “suspect” to you Mr. Mod? 😉

    And When I Die… “hey hey heeey here come the DEVIL!” ha ha ha, yeah – that’s pretty bad. I’m still down with some Blood, Sweat & Tears though. Call it an occasional “guilty pleasure”. I don’t think I would ever think to make anyone a mix tape of it though. Beefheart would by far be more enjoyable.

  21. And speaking of Heart, Magic Man was totally playing on the jukebox as I was leaving and it made me sing it in my head all the way home. Okay, I was walking and singing it too.

  22. Mr. Moderator

    The more I think about how good Ann Wilson is on this song, the more I’m remembering some pop album the two of them put out under a different name about 5 years ago. Does anyone remember what I’m talking about? Has anyone heard it?

  23. I like Heart’s drummer. There, I said it. I think he’s the most Bonham-like clone drummer out there. Him or the drummer from Billy Squire

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube