May 202008

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been listening to John Entwistle‘s Smash Your Head Against the Wall, an album I hadn’t heard since high school or college days and thought I should own. So a few weeks ago I rectified that situation. The purchase verified why I didn’t spend my precious extra cash on that album all those years ago, but now I’m a hard-working adult with the extra cash to occasionally risk $7.99 on what would have been a good, scratchy, $1-used bin pickup circa 1980. This is one of those albums that could only have been made by a bassist in a hugely successful band in the early ’70s. It’s no Who’s Next, but it’s got enough of what’s cool about early ’70s Who to make the album better than something I might pick up by, I don’t know, Head East, or some other cutout bin orphan from that period. But all this is not why I write of this album and include the following tracks for those of you who’ve never heard it.

John Entwistle, “Heaven and Hell”

John Entwistle, “Ted End”

John Entwistle, “You’re Mine”

The real reason I bring up this album is because the following bonus track, a cover of Neil Young‘s “Cinnamon Girl”

John Entwistle, “Cinnamon Girl”

Entwistle’s use of handclaps during the song’s main instrumental theme follows from Young’s version. In terms of Young’s music, specifically, the handclaps strike me are a surprisingly effective unexpected overdub on this song. I usually think of handclaps as being useful in a song with a dance beat, whether a ’60s pop recording – from Motown to bubblegum to Beat group song – to range of ’70s dance styles – whether a funk track, a Grand Funk-type rocker, a glam single, or a pogo-ready punk song. I don’t associate Neil Young’s music with dancing and much in the way of rhythmic overdubs. Does he even use tambourine on his recordings? Could that Crazy Horse drummer have kept a regular enough beat for a percussionist to follow?

The real thing I want to discuss is 1) whether the use of handclaps on Young’s version of “Cinnamon Girl” is unexpected for you and 2) whether there are instances of other artists using unexpected, for them, overdubs in a surprisingly effective way.

I look forward to your complex responses to my simple, direct thoughts.


  10 Responses to “Surprisingly Effective Unexpected Overdubs”

  1. BigSteve

    In category 2, I’d suggest the female back-up singers (‘The Blackberries’) on Captian Beefheart’s Clear Spot album. Ordinarily you’d say that chick singers and Beefheart wouldn’t go together, but it works.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Can I just point out that that’s one fucked-up cover? I mean… huh? Entwistle’s face, behind a clear plastic death mask, framed by an x-ray of a human torso? Why? Who designed it?

  3. …and the period at the end of the title. Wrong.

  4. BigSteve

    There’s a period at the end of the artist’s name too.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    All these years I’ve NEVER thought of that being an x-ray of a human torso!!! I’ve always seen it as an image of a Pharaoh in a casket. Entwistle was one weird dude. The album is as creepy and clunky as the cover.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    My enduring memory of John Entwistle:

    Well, that and him saying “WHAT’S FOR TEA, DAUGHTER?”

  7. alexmagic

    The sleigh bells that turn up on Steely Dan’s “Charlie Freak” end up playing a huge part in turning it into an incredibly bleak Christmas-sounding song.

    I haven’t had a chance to listen to the songs yet, but holy shit that Entwistle album cover really is creepy. I didn’t get the sarcophagus vibe at all, though I guess I can see it now. The wikipedia entry on it claims that’s not only an x-ray of lungs, but an x-ray of the lungs of a cancer patient. If somebody I knew came up with something that looked like that, I think I might stop taking their phone calls and start finding excuses not to hang out anymore.

  8. How about the horns on “Can’t hardly wait”? Adding an element of slickness to the scrappy sound of the Replacements was a bold move, and I think it paid off here.

  9. trolleyvox

    How about the horns on “Can’t hardly wait”? Adding an element of slickness to the scrappy sound of the Replacements was a bold move, and I think it paid off here.

    I think this might be one of those cases of differing expectations. For those of us who heard this tune shred live, who loved the version on the Shit Hits the Fans cassette, the slick horns and production was a real come down at the time. It felt lame, neutered compared with what they were capable of with this song. This version is an era-dividing line for the Replacements to me between the scrappy balls-out excitement of the early years and the later years of unsuccessfully going for a hit record. Some recent comments by Westerberg point to some regret on his part for going in that direction, especially after Bob Stinson left the band, that trying to play the hit record game was kind of was their downfall.

  10. I can see how you, and other longtime fans, feel that way. Maybe it’s best to think of them as two very different approaches. For me, the era dividing line might’ve been the accordion on “swinging party”. Nonetheless, I think if you take that production of the song without a dose of context/preconceived notions, the horns do work.

    Another one that works for me is the string arrangement on Peter Case’s “Small Town Spree”. Van Dyke Parks, what can you say?

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