Tuesday, 27 April 2010
LED ZEPPELIN: Led Zeppelin III
(#85: 7 November 1970, 3 weeks; 12 December 1970, 1 week)
Track listing: Immigrant Song/Friends/Celebration Day/Since I’ve Been Loving You/Out On The Tiles/Gallows Pole/Tangerine/That’s The Way/Bron-Y-Aur Stomp/Hats Off To (Roy) Harper
The brief sleevenote speaks of “painting a somewhat forgotten picture of true completeness which acted as an incentive to some of these musical statements” and it is easy to forget that we are now but a dozen years away from South Pacific. Easy, that is, until the unmistakable melody from “Bali Ha’I” returns, resurrected and terrible, at the beginning of “Immigrant Song,” over a riff funky enough to satisfy Sly Stone and a beat so sharp Genghis Khan could have honed his fiercest sabres against it. Rampaging out of a beginning which sounds like a gravedigger attempting to reverse time, and life, the number has remained one of Zeppelin’s signature rockers, but its disturbances outweigh its undeniable power. Plant delivers his words, typically, at half the speed of the band; at the end of the line “we are your overlords,” he turns the “lords” into a multisyllabic bouillabase which engender doubt as to what exactly his gods’ hammers are bringing to the newly conquered land. The South Pacific reference is pertinent since in the original musical the air is sung as a regretful farewell, their object knowing that he will perhaps never see these sirens again, that everything will be swept away in war, blood and confusion. The tone of conquest, too, is ambivalent; Plant concludes, after the overlords have overrun the land, “So now you’d better stop and rebuild your ruins/For peace and trust can win the day/Despite all your losing.” Meanwhile, Page breaks up the song’s F# mode with G minor “jazz” chords which become increasingly frequent, like a Morse code mule endeavouring to remember Mark Twain. “Our only goal will be the Western shore” – since the West is where the sun is fated to set.
Of course, “Immigrant Song” can also be read as a declaration of victory from a band who were indeed conquering all; commercially, Zeppelin were 1970’s largest-grossing and largest-selling act worldwide and essentially ruled. But they utilised this rule, not to tread down all other hopefuls, but to expand their own ideas of the universe. This puzzled many at the time, who looked through Zarcon’s rotating wheel cover expecting even firmer and harder rock.
But “Friends” immediately takes off from what “Immigrant Song” implied; Incredible String Band acoustic guitar and bongos provide a slightly deceptive introduction, at the “black night” of the line “Black night still there shining,” John Paul Jones’ ominously keening Eastern strings enter the picture and convert the song into full bitonality. Plant is singing a variant on “Nature Boy” (“The greatest thing you ever can do now/Is trade a smile with someone who’s blue now”). His repeated “It’s very eeeeeeee-asy”s are scathing and hurting; Jeff Buckley was at this stage four years old. The strings finally become dominant in the song – anticipating not just “Kashmir” but also Massive Attack – and Jones’ alien Moog materialises from the undercarriage to slow the song down to a terrible finality.
The Moog segues into a backwards growl which roars “Celebration Day” into being. Over Page’s aggressive guitar cotton-picking, Plant wanders, like the hard-rained-on traveller, through a devastated world of weeping women wondering why their doors have been broken down by their alleged protectors; the irony of the tag “We’re in the Promised Land” is underscored by two descending half-tone chords. Interestingly both voice and guitar seem to follow the Beatles’ White Album example, both melodically and harmonically, while bass and drums appear more inspired by the Stones (for instance, Bonham’s Watts-esque foursquare rhetorical snare crashes). Plant’s concluding “My,” however, screeches on forever; “My, my, my, I’m so happy” – but what is this destination that’s coming up on the horizon? “You will wring your hands and moan.” There are, as yet, virtually no “baby” imprecations on this record.
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” is the record’s big blues setpiece, very carefully paced with guitar, drums and Jones on Hammond organ and bass pedal. Page begins with carefully selected single notes before suddenly bursting out into pain unspecified, provoking a delighted “Oh!” from Plant. Suddenly – especially with the use of the organ – we are back in 1964; Plant’s humbly accusatory “I don’t think that’s right” returns us firmly to the smokestack-filled world of Eric Burdon, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and the old Yardbirds. Well, reasonably firmly, since Plant wastes little time on taking the template back out again; his vocals here are arguably more remarkable than Page's solo work, since at times he's capable of taking the human voice as far out as Jeff Buckley's father (compare with, for example, "Monterey" on the latter's contemporaneous Starsailor). Four "away"s are answered by a roar of "LAAAAWDD!!" and a hiccuping downhill slide of "DRAG DRAG DOWN!" (to which latter Bonham immediately responds). In contrast, Page as an improvising guitarist is formalist, little short of impenetrable - what is he thinking? Unlike Clapton, he keeps his cards close to his chest as he casually runs through the three Kings (BB, Albert and Freddie). Plant screeches Page's main solo to an end and the drums drop out, although this interlude does not last long before Bonham's snare hammers its way back into, and in some ways through, the picture; Plant scribbles words like “seven” and “every” into pictures as abstract as the record’s cover, and his unearthly whine of “LOSE lose lose” ushers in a supercharged arserocket of a climax, Bonham’s snare as deliberately dramatic as Wolfit. Then the whole cools down and the lament closes down with a wheeze of hissing cymbal and funereal organ.
“Out On The Tiles” steams in on a monolith of a riff – wasn’t there supposed to be no hard rock on this record? – which appears to exist independently of the rest of the song and group. Plant’s vocal verges on the androgynous – witness the labial confusion stirred up between the nouns “woman” and “man” – and Bonham’s triple snare/floor tom figures will eventually set the scene for “When The Levee Breaks.” In many ways, as Lena suggested, this represents a kind of feminisation of hard rock; although Bonham’s original lyric, involving such tropes as “rubbers” and “scrubbers,” was appropriately and swiftly cleaned up, Plant’s exultation is difficult to pin down to Percyism alone; his is a cry of welcome, encompassing both genders and a panoply of emotions and responses.
Side two concentrates on the work Page and Plant did while holed up at the semi-derelict cottage in the shadow of Snowdonia; bereft of running water or electricity, they were obliged to work on songs acoustically, derive inspiration from the hues of the air surrounding them, as well as from the likes of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and the then virtually unknown John Fahey (the latter at the time was Plant’s main musical passion). Although it is this side which caused the consternation at the time – what is all this folk stuff, chaps? We’re waiting for you to, um, ROCK – it is a very cunning sequence which managed to widen their general appeal as well as their overall musical template, and while the songs largely depend on acoustics, their power is not the type which can safely be contained in any box. “Gallows Pole,” derived from the traditional folk ballad “The Maid I Saved From The Gallows,” remains an extraordinary piece of work; superficially similar to Fairport workouts of the period (such as “A Sailor’s Tale”; the silver, the gold, the mandolin), its gradual build-up from contemplation to hideous celebration conceals something far more sinister. To start with, the maid is now a man, and his nearest and dearest are even less helpful as they arrive to watch him hang. Drums and banjo take up the central body of the song, which accordingly turns heavier in texture and intent. Plant turns and fondles the word “pole” into so many failed thesaurus/synonym entries that it is indecent; he is practically harassing, if not actually whipping, the pole itself as well as the word. The strange “ah-hah” backing vocals also suggest that the ending here is unlikely to be a happy one. Swarbrick-esque violin comes in and the tune works towards its stomping, omniphonic climax (Plant even ad libs “Seesaw, Margery Daw” at one point here) as it is revealed that the cackling hangman, having accepted all of the bribes offered, has gone ahead and hung the man anyway; this is arguably one step beyond the devilry of the Stones (“But now I laugh and pull so hard/And see you swinging on the gallows pole”). All the while, threads intertwine and repeat; this is folk music as imagined by Steve Reich.
“Tangerine,” a subdued, brief love song originating from Page’s Yardbird days, is the album’s least demonstrative track but also points the way forward to the next album most forcibly. Acoustic guitar and sonorous violin again conjure a prophecy of R.E.M. and the song’s general structure and performance point very directly towards the “Stairway” to come, even utilising the same bridge of triples (Lena compares this to “someone ringing a doorbell”). Page’s solo is distant, and a pedal steel makes the first of several surprising appearances.
“That’s The Way” is perhaps the album’s most remarkable track, a long meditation on ecology and the state of the world. Again, acoustic guitar and pedal steel set up the song’s arrangement, as Plant ranges out from an elegy for “the boy next door” before expanding to cite his generation’s would-be accusers: “You’re gonna let your hair hang down!” he sings with immense sorrow. The “town” of the succeeding “dark side of town” merges seamlessly with Page’s steel; the “be” of “ought to be” is an irretrievable weep. In Plant’s vocal there is some gesturing in the direction of Jagger – “Yeah, yea-eah” “Ooo-woo-woo” – but the impression is not dissimilar to that of “Slim Slow Slider,” the epitaph which ended Astral Weeks; he sees her disappearing and knows that no one, least of all he, can ever hope to get her back. But then he turns his attention to the wider world; his “fish that lay in dirty water dying” is a startling counterpoint to the “fish full of mercury” of whom Marvin Gaye would lament only a few months later. Everything shimmers towards a collective, aqueous (as in drowning?) climax before ebbing out towards an unfathomable sea. Bass and tambourine join in at the end, and Page’s pedal steel swirls in a manner (along with the song’s subject matter) which once more points the way towards R.E.M. and in particular the Reckoning album; hear those Stipe-like wordless chorales which herald the song’s regretful end.
“Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” sees a resolved Plant, walking his dog out in the woods and feeling entirely contented. Page picks his folky way and there are “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” foot stomping rhythms and handclaps. Page has a brief but expansive cadenza before the band lunges back in; I note that, despite the nimble acousticity of the song – there are even castanets - Plant is still delivering what is essentially a hard rock vocal.
Finally, and most strangely, a backwards flip of bottleneck noise tosses us into “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper,” which could be said to be as much a tribute to the 1966 of “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.” Like Beefheart’s “China Pig,” this is a dissolute improvisation on the blues – specifically Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” which is extensively quoted throughout – with tape gaps, varispeed antics and Plant’s galactic field holler coming at us via a Leslie cabinet. “I AIN’T NO MONKEY!” he bellows before gargling the consonants into Gertrude Stein land (“NNNNNN!!!”). Plant concludes by considering the merits of picking up his shotgun and shooting his babe while Page’s loops ricochet all around him like premature bullets.
While of necessity a transitional record, Led Zeppelin III nonetheless baffled and perhaps unloaded some of the more hardcore rock heads of the period – huh? Where’s “Whole Lotta Love”? – who may simply have transferred their loyalties to Sabbath and/or Purple. In retrospect, however, it seems if anything louder, more forthright, than its predecessor, while simultaneously widening out its scope of feelings and approaches to attract whole new groups of listeners; the mellow progressive rock fans who realised that there was more to Zeppelin than their (admittedly titanic) bombast, and even a fair number of female followers – only on the last-named track does Plant go mentalist with the “baby”s. It is clear, however, that the Welsh retreat was needed for the “true completeness” that this record desired, and that the album’s subsequent stream of influence would flow more unpredictably, but in the end wider, than anyone at the time could have assumed, not least towards Zeppelin’s next unarguable peak.
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Motown Chartbusters Volume 4
(#84: 31 October 1970, 1 week)
Track listing: I Want You Back (Jackson 5)/The Onion Song (Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell)/I Can’t Help Myself (Four Tops)/Up The Ladder To The Roof (The Supremes)/I Can’t Get Next To You (The Temptations)/Too Busy Thinking About My Baby (Marvin Gaye)/Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday (Stevie Wonder)/Someday We’ll Be Together (Diana Ross & The Supremes)/A B C (Jackson 5)/Never Had A Dream Come True (Stevie Wonder)/Farewell Is A Lonely Sound (Jimmy Ruffin)/Do What You Gotta Do (Four Tops)/I Second That Emotion (Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations)/Cloud Nine (The Temptations)/What Does It Take (To Win Your Love) (Jr Walker & The All Stars)/Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand) (Diana Ross)
That downward zipping piano, perversely reminiscent of the blinds swiftly being pulled up to reveal the shiniest, yellowest sunshine you ever saw. Every beat and breath in its intended place and yet it sounded as spontaneous as pop had ever sounded. The angles between the differing percussion instruments and the different voices, but always ensuring that voice at the front, so unmissable, between the sitar guitars and the snap of stringy funk, the seven-note bass comedown of the most elegant flight of stairs royalty could ever wish to ascend. After the darkest of winters – “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” “Suspicious Minds,” the first Stevie Wonder tune mentioned above – it did seem like the brightest and most auspicious of openings to a new age, an altered time. Such unruffled youth! Such precocious James Brown brightness, the most audacious damn-you kid since “Fingertips Part 2.” And yet he’s already singing about something, or someone, he’s lost. “When I had you to myself,” sings the eleven-year-old Michael Jackson, “I didn’t want you around.” What a strange beginning to such a bright pop song; he is already paranoid (“These pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd”) about losing his future, and when it is abruptly snatched from him he boldly, though probably hopelessly, fights to retrieve it. But still, those first two lines; are we looking at Phil and Ronnie Spector at so early an age? The song, though not Michael, pleads “Let me live again,” and another 1969 song shared that sentiment; “Love Is All I Have To Give,” co-written and produced by Spector for The Checkmates Ltd, a purposely otiose arch of Brooklyn Gotterdammerung, marching forward in slow, solemn groom like Queen Victoria’s coach and horses in 1901; Bobby Stevens and Sonny Charles aim to out-holler each other in their respective pain and yet the track lacks a centre – it is all heavy flotilla, rose petals cast adrift, very My Bloody Valentine. A curious violin coda rides over Stevens’ fading craving; if Spector wanted the sixties to end, he constructed its heaviest possible cortege.
But The Corporation – the team of Motown songwriting regulars who spent six months, or was it two years, getting “I Want You Back” absolutely, supremely perfect before even recording it – wanted to begin the seventies more than they wanted the sixties to finish, and so lightness was the key. Thus the zip-open Coke can aura of pumping, sunny reassurance, thus the devil-doesn’t-care table-tennis interplay between the brothers and James Jamerson’s bass. But Michael rides the sharpest needle of hurt (“All I NEEEEED!!,” “BAYBEH!” “I WANT YOU BAAAACK!” “GOOOO-OHOHOH-OH-OWH!!”), he takes the hardest punches, he makes damn sure he’s the Jackson you’re going to remember, above and beyond all the others. “Every street you walk on/I leave tear stains on the ground,” the child mourns. Jackie and Jermaine provide a peremptory Greek chorus: “Spare me of this cause/Gimme back what I lost.” Can it – or he – ever be found again?
He makes a darn good attempt at doing so; “ABC,” which begins side two as surely and irreversibly as “I Want You Back” started off side one. Now he’s more confident, easier on the ascent, and the song – so deviously delicious a Sheffield group of future consequence would name themselves after it – finds him attacking the Young JB crown (although really he sounds more like a trainee Levi Stubbs – speak about an old man trapped in a young kid’s body!) with nearly frightening assurance. The song plays like a Temptations for juniors, as demonstrated by the percussion break, nearly identical to “I Can’t Get Next To You,” but for now Michael has no worries, tosses the vowels and consonants around with his brothers like orange Frisbees. But then: “T-T-Teacher’s gonna show you! How to get an A!” Wait a minute – isn’t he still only eleven? What has he learned that he can already teach? Should we already be concerned?
The Jackson 5 were Motown’s future, and Motown, as it embarked upon the seventies, would do everything to ensure the reality of this. They needed a big Future; about to leave Detroit for LA, not really sure where they were heading, they had to have new, fresher mascots. Tony Blackburn’s jolly sleevenote makes deliberate light of all this (“T.T.T. – Tremendous Tamla Talent”); as he says, Motown were celebrating their tenth anniversary, but the fourth volume of their Chartbusters series sometimes makes one wonder what they had left to celebrate.
Everywhere on the record there are dreams, losses, disillusions, some cursory and not-so-cursory attempts to fight back, to resurrect. Even “I Can’t Help Myself” makes a return appearance, having taken five years to make the UK top ten, and the also previously noted take on “I Second That Emotion” already looks like forlorn nostalgia. Most of Volume 4 is concerned with 1970 nowness and the colours and shapes which tomorrow might form if Gordy weren’t so careful.
Whatever brightness there is on the record, getting past the Jacksons, seems almost ironical and sometimes savage. Consider Marvin’s two tracks; has he ever sounded so happy, so carefree, as on “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”? His field holler of “YEEEAAAH!,” as assuredly skyborne as the lightest of larks, gives way to an Oriental violin arrangement which anticipates Chic, and then he breaks free in the third verse, ooohing and slurring, improvising, playing with his joy (even if that “Grapevine” voodoo hint remains present). Similarly, “The Onion Song” admits that the world is in a bit of a state but he and “Tammi” sound brightly determined to fix things (“Hey world! We got a great big job to do!” sings Gaye, the scoutmaster. “KNOCK! ON! EVERY! DOOR!” he exclaims like the reddest of doorstepping canvassers).
But the references to “the face people like to wear” cast a shadow over the song, and the inverted commas around that “Tammi” are because “Tammi Terrell” on this record was actually the song’s co-writer Valerie Simpson, Tammi by this time being too ill to go into the studio; by the time this album came out, she was gone and Marvin was in pieces before starting to reassemble the pieces in a provocative (to Berry Gordy) way.
Then there were the new Temptations, as new as Whitfield was set on making them. When “Cloud Nine” hit the American airwaves and stores in the late summer of 1969, there was no response – nothing happened for a fortnight. And then, suddenly and belatedly, the track exploded. THIS was the Temptations? That sinister, hissing, rattlesnake percussion, the chattering teeth riposte between ride cymbal and Wah-Wah Watson’s Hendrix-flooded guitar? “Love Child” told from the defeated male perspective, Dennis Edwards detailing exactly where he’s gone and how and why he’s done it, Eddie Kendricks hurtling in with startling exclamation mark ad libs (“Every MAN, every MAN is free!” he screams, as though never more shackled). Then the almost sneered line, reappearing a generation later on Primal Scream’s “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” (and “Cloud Nine” already recognised the threat of that proposition): “I’m gonna love the life I live/And I’m gonna live the life I love” – even if it destroys him. Frightening, weightless and anything but reassuring, “Cloud Nine” was a bomb hurled into the backyard of Motown’s own complacency; it couldn’t have happened without Sly Stone or Hendrix, but it took the Ed Sullivan-friendly Temptations to shock the wider audience into paying attention. Much of that ferocity carried over into “I Can’t Get Next To You,” a US number one; its intro of shouts, applause and blues piano glances back at black pop’s own history before virulently swiping into the now.
Everything here is staccato, heartbeat-tense, deep, flailing; Whitfield gets the group to take the blues/”Voodoo Chile” mythology – they are gods, they can overrule nature – to pierce the bleeding core of their central pain; they can’t be loved, or even accepted. The song stops and starts like a violently drunk tramcar but never loses sight of its central, ultra-harsh thrust. The “XYZ” to “ABC” if society wasn’t so careful.
Even the album’s more ostensibly harmless tracks carry something of the political about them. Jimmy Ruffin’s “Farewell Is A Lonely Sound” is at first sight simply another in the singer’s long line of forlorn ballads, but its details are so meticulously plotted – you can smell the train station, you can see the carriage he’s getting into, catch him turning his face away from her so she can’t see him cry – that you sense there’s something more complex going on. Indeed, the song’s central lament, “You wonder why you must leave the one that you love,” makes you wonder – well, why IS he going? “I’ll be back,” he proclaims, not entirely convincingly, and in the America of 1969 there can be only one reason why he’s leaving; he’s being drafted, sent to fight.
It’s the same story with Junior Walker’s “What Does It Take”; when he’s not letting his alto do the talking, his voice slips and slides desperately through the song’s conduits; four “I tried”s, the last being a sob, the hugely disappointed “I thought you understood,” and that implies an entire history of wilful misunderstanding.
Then there are the Four Tops, singing the only song on this record not to come from within Motown. Nina Simone had already had a number two hit in Britain with her reading of “Do What You Gotta Do” – it was a double A-side with “I Ain’t Got…I Got Life” – and through both her and Roberta Flack’s readings it’s clear that Jimmy Webb’s song is being performed as a regretful mother letting her stepchild go. The Four Tops take on the unenviable task of masculinising the song and Stubbs in particular can scarcely restrain his pain; his shouts of “Make it in a HURRY!” and “Make you feel NO GOOD!” are maybe the most shocking sonics on the record. He finds it so hard to go on that Lawrence Payton takes on the first half of the last verse before Stubbs returns, damaged but still, if only just, keeping his countenance at the spectre of “that dappled dream of yours” – and he makes “dappled” sound like “devil.” He knows he’s losing her – that line “I’ve loved you better than your own kin did” is one of the record’s most profound – but he is presenting a terrifying ghost to her, his “come on back and see me when you can”s already poisoned by the impossibility of “when you can” ever being imagined, let alone happening.
But perhaps the album’s two key songs are the pair from Stevie Wonder. Usually overlooked in his history – caught midway between boy Wonder and gaining his ultimate 21st birthday freedom – both songs are necessarily transitional ones (and Wonder only has a co-writer credit on one of them, “Never Had A Dream Come True”). But “Yester-You,” one of the last number two singles in sixties Britain, is a dark song indeed, double-bluffing its exuberant major key shuffle. “I had a dream,” he sings sadly, before turning to face the fourth wall, “So did you.” His voice is a troubled rivulet of tears – “Ruuuuuules,” bleeding into “Yester-foooools” – and sometimes raging (“WHAT WE HAD!”), at other times flowing into the River Styx in so much deathly pain (his one-breath hurting roll of “thememoryof”).
Perhaps the record’s most grievous moment comes when he grimly intones about the time “when we could feel the wheel of life turn our way.” But “Never Had A Dream Come True” sees him staging a fightback. “True love is no sin,” he sings with vague, shaking confidence. “Therefore, men are men, not machines.” His life is routine shit and he knows it just as deeply as that other Detroit working-class hero Bob Seger – the lines “I work just to please the boss/Think I might as well get lost in my dreams” could have sprung straight out of one of Bob’s anthems – but he knows he’s right to hold onto these dreams, as per his striking inversion of slavery in the line “But I’m glad I’m chained to my dreams.” As the song strolls out into the future, he warns us, “Keep on dreamin’, sing along with me…keep on dreamin’.”
Finally, and most visibly, there is Diana Ross, already without the Supremes – “Someday We’ll Be Together” was originally planned to be her debut solo single and thus neither Wilson nor Birdsong appear on it, but the decade/era-closing farewell pressed the right poignancy buttons. Indeed, for about the only time on a Supremes record that didn’t involve teaming up with the Temptations, a prominent male voice is heard, that of the song’s co-writer Johnny Bristol, singing along, encouraging Diana from his control booth, except that the mikes had been left on, and when Gordy heard the result he opted to keep Bristol’s exhortations in the final mix. One would scarcely know, in fact, that this wasn’t a Supremes performance, so complete and natural is the interplay (even though the other two voices are markedly further away from Diana than before) – five “I KNOW”s answered by three “YOU”s, then two more strident “I KNOW”s and finally four “never”s responded to and resolved by a final, longer, more resonant “never.”
And, to close the record – once again, the sequencing must have been absolutely and politically deliberate – Diana, this time completely on her own, goes back to gospel and sums up the record’s disparate themes; there are the quiet verse/loud chorus alternations, her pained, exasperated “WHY DON’T YOU?” before the chorus sinks back down to restraint. But then knitting needle snares boil the song up to a euphoric, if desperate, climax; now Diana is demanding that we all reach out and touch each other, in the knowledge that we’ll still all be there. “Make this world a better place,” she sings, “…if you can,” thus making the theme of “Do What You Gotta Do” universal. That thing called “home” might not be there anymore, or if it is it looks different to the point of unrecognisability, but even if it isn’t we have to push on, build a better and less destructible one. And all the time, there’s young Michael, watching and intently listening and absorbing. “Bye bye,” Blackburn signs off. “Mind how you go” – and I think of Danny Baker’s 1981 NME interview with Michael, which Baker ends by telling him, good-naturedly, to “mind how you go,” only to be answered by an unexpectedly eager Michael. “Thank you,” he says. “I will mind how I go.” Shiny, yellow sunshine – do we have, will he have, the strength to welcome it?
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
PINK FLOYD: Atom Heart Mother
(#83: 24 October 1970, 1 week)
Track listing: Atom Heart Mother: a) Father’s Shout; b) Breast Milky; c) Mother Fore; d) Funky Dung; e) Mind Your Throats Please; f) Remergence/If/Summer ‘68/Fat Old Sun/Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast: a) Rise and Shine; b) Sunny Side Up; c) Morning Glory
At Tate Modern there is currently on display a group of audiovisual works by the late Brazilian artist Lucia Nogueira. Primarily a sculptor, she nevertheless worked across a range of fields, and her main work on show is a multiple TV diary of quiet, blowsy days in the fields and on the coast of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Nothing much happens but we are invited to contemplate the near-stillness, wonder how closely this overlaps with stasis or simply peace, and question the relevance or irrelevance of the kites and other subtly awkward paraphernalia which appear to exist both in and of themselves and beyond the earthly needs of the east Scottish-English border. There is monochrome greenness, and an uncommonly lucid sense of contentment, about these rovings.
Similarly, the overwhelming impression gleaned by Atom Heart Mother is one of hard-won peace, although it displays its tightrope tentacles of impermanence more soundly than Nogueira. The notion of cover star Lulubelle III, and the complete lack of artist or other information without venturing into the gatefold sleeve, may have been inspired as a kind of antitode to Warhol’s cow wallpaper – also, coincidentally, on show at Tate Modern – but its apparent intent was to create the blankest yet brightest of empty spaces, ready to be filled in, the least psychedelic album cover ever created. Being Pink Floyd, however, it could not have helped but be the most psychedelic album cover ever created, and the existence of a three-piece suite with the word “Psychedelic” in its title at album’s end did not dispel this possible double irony.
There are vaguely sinister in-jokes in the Hipgnosis design – the cows veering menacingly towards us on the rear may be a simple pun on “group shot,” but the 1994 CD remastering and repackaging of the record joins a few more vowels to their attendant consonants; now there are pictures of pig stools, resembling a concentration camp, a snorkelling diver (that aqueous release/return to womb scenario again), a hard-hatted man climbing up to the top of nobody’s idea of a fat old sun (an atomic plant which could erase everything else seen and heard on the record), a psychedelic breakfast sculpture reminiscent of the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss (they too are to be seen at Tate Modern), and a pair of apparently genuine recipes as “Breakfast Tips” for Alan, one of which describes a “Traditional Bedouin Wedding Feast” involving the successive stuffings of chicken into lamb into goat into camel, and the other of which, in German, gives a recipe for a cow brain delicacy as an alternative to scrambled eggs.
Of Pink Floyd themselves there is as little as possible on Atom Heart Mother – that title, pointing back to their blues roots or preparing to breathe their natural last? – but then they wanted the freedom from being “Pink Floyd,” to employ and address as many musical styles as they felt able and willing to do. The members’ attitude to the record over the years has been ambivalent; sometimes they laughingly dismiss it, at other times they solemnly praise it.
As with most of the rest of Floyd’s work, you are invited to make of it what you can. Alternatively you may listen to the fifty-two minutes of Atom Heart Mother – or forever, if you have the LP edition and listen to Alan’s tap dripping for eternity in its locked groove – and wonder exactly from what, or whom, Pink Floyd were hiding, or running away. They are perhaps the most elusive act in this tale; they only directly appear five times, and none of the number ones is immediately obvious. Moreover, their two most famous albums – three, if you count the first one, as you must - make no appearance in this list at all. Somehow they simultaneously place themselves above and below such inconvenient matters as record rankings, and possibly life itself.
But then a record such as Atom Heart Mother could only have reached number one in a time when all options, both aesthetic and political, were open; I am uncertain whether it is quite as unlike anything we’ve previously documented in this tale as I sometimes thought, but at the same time there really is nothing like it anywhere in this story. This was the age when the jazz, R&B, classical and Mod/psychedelia strands of British music were colliding and colluding in fluorescent colours, frequently with the equivalent American strands, thanks to Miles Davis, Carla Bley, Christian Wolff and other honest brokers; AMM once shared management with Syd Barrett’s Floyd and more than once supported them in concert, and the Keith Rowe influence can be heard directly on the more outré moments of “Interstellar Overdrive,” especially the full-length version to be found on the Tonite Let’s Make Love In London soundtrack album.
That influence, together with the more general influence of Pepper, spoke directly to Bley, and the Phantom Music moments on Escalator Over The Hill in particular owe virtually everything to both. Thanks to enthusiastic youngsters undetained by the noose of tradition such as Robert Wyatt and Keith Tippett, the scenes crashed into each other here; Westbrook, Gibbs and Surman were one step away from being pop stars, the Brotherhood of Breath breathed fiery Kwela life into everything, and Tippett’s Centipede mopped up most of the central field players – King Crimson, Nucleus, the South Africans, Patto and especially Soft Machine – into a glorious, glutinous (tone) row. Dudu Pukwana collided with Richard Thompson, the Incredible String Band fed back their own otherness, and somewhere from where Cornelius Cardew had set off, the Scratch Orchestra, featuring the young Eno, Bryars and Nyman among incendiary others, were busy demolishing every tower for every greater good.
Thus it was a rare season for Pink Floyd, but were they venturing into the field, or sitting aside from it, or departing for their own pastures? As great as Atom Heart Mother is, I can’t help but think that the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, Ron Geesin, the John Aldiss Choir and Alan Stiles’ frying bacon and eggs are all covering up for an unbridgeable absence. The Floyd had expertly avoided the irritating question of how exactly to reconstitute themselves for some time following Barrett’s imposed absence; A Saucerful Of Secrets saw them gingerly venturing out from the ashes of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn but Syd was still technically in the group and his concluding “Jugband Blues” seems to bring the rest of their adventures down with him. Ummagumma was a double, half-live band performance, half-studio solo projects, and although I love it dearly and the live tracks, recorded at Birmingham University – were the Sabs in attendance? - are particularly incendiary, the trope of playing for time is unavoidably in its centre.
Then the various film projects, and Atom Heart Mother itself, a final plea for space to breathe and regroup. They don’t quite know where they’re going – yet – and the side-long title track offers no clear directions other than there is clearly some unfinished 1967 business to clear up. Given the presence of the Abbey Road studios and the epic, discursive nature of the record’s big setpiece, there is more than an indication that the Floyd intended to take up from where the Beatles had left off.
Less assured of their constructive skills as composers, however, the group drafted in Ayrshireman Ron Geesin, sound designer and general odd-job avant-garde art music man, to help out with the orchestration and construction of the “Atom Heart Mother” suite. Geesin had already worked with Roger Waters to startling effect on the Music From The Body soundtrack, although from the suite’s twenty-three or so minutes it would if anything appear that Pink Floyd are trying to bury themselves under Geesin’s flashy picture show.
Throughout the piece the brass and choir are the most prevalent and noticeable factors; they more or less direct the work’s progression and divert it into its most adventurous digressions. I will not waste time debating where the various sections of the piece begin and end, since that is in part a red herring and the piece is meant to be listened to as an integrated whole. Still, it begins with a slowly-fading in drone – just like the body of Escalator – with a hiss of processed cymbals giving way to forthright brass figures issuing Harrison Birtwistle-esque polytonal fanfares. The group eventually smack themselves into the track’s wakefulness, only to be answered by a chorale of squealing brakes and crashing cars.
This gives way to a lugubrious organ and ‘cello melody, vaguely reminiscent of Messiaen but far more in keeping with the poignant, Klezmer-derived chord progressions of mourning one finds in the work of Bley, Wyatt, Kurt Weill and so forth. Air raid sirens – the war, again, and more achingly in the Floyd’s work than anywhere else in the seventies – rise up to David Gilmour’s first guitar solo, partly “Sleepwalk” but mostly Hank Marvin, then becoming louder and more anguished. At its climax the brass re-enters, followed by the choir, and then relative peace reigns again for an organ/choir interlude, giving a curious resonance of the cowboy trail of fifties childhoods.
The choir figures then increase serially in polytonality and thickness of texture before finally going into atonality. Nick Mason’s drums herald the suite’s main theme, Godspeed You Black Emperor! come immediately to mind and the choral lines inspire thoughts of the George Mitchell Minstrels having a go at Peter Maxwell Davies. Quite unexpectedly, the piece then diverts to the land of the Peddlers; working men’s club bass and organ. Gilmour’s solo here pays due tribute to BB King – astonishing how one can scratch the surface of so many guitarists around this time and find Hank Marvin and/or BB King just beneath – before Mason’s drums turn impatient, Gilmour’s guitar slips out of focus, a Moog hovers into view and we are suddenly in the world of porno-funk.
With perhaps a nod to Jean-Claude Vannier’s arrangements for Gainsbourg’s Melody Nelson, while nodding slightly in the direction of Stockhausen’s Stimmung, the choir moves into abrupt bursts of spoken, pointillistic, not-quite-comprehensible non-language (was Celentano listening?). This is, let us remind ourselves, being played out on side one of a number one album.
Then the piece switches majestically to the major key. Mason’s pregnant tick-tock rimshots play against cinematic brass. But then we return quite decisively to unfinished 1967 business; a tortured, tonally distorted inversion variant on the “Strawberry Fields”/”Walrus” Mellotron figure takes centre stage, surrounded by space debris of cut-up speech, sound effects and sighs of atonality. This all builds up to a tremor, which thence becomes an explosion, before moving back down to quietude. “Silence in the studio!” someone barks. The group moves back to the main theme, then back to the organ/’cello unisons, and finally Gilmour’s swooning Hank guitar which then doubles up in agony. The brass returns but is looped out of rationality (this could almost have played as a requiem for Hendrix). Again we hear the brass/choir theme before the band works the piece up towards its climax. After a slight nudge out of tonality in its penultimate chord, we get one final, suspended-out-of-tonality pause, and then a mighty E major – that 1967 chord that simply won’t go away.
After that it is left only for the individual group members to give their own thoughts. “If” is Roger Waters’ contribution and I doubt whether I’ve ever heard him sing so quietly – as though afraid to sound louder than the minimally plucked acoustic guitar – or as less like Roger Waters than elsewhere; sometimes he sounds like Elvis, or even Cliff, in ballad mood but the poignancy is too much; he is talking directly to the absent man, the man who could have done everything that it took a brass section, a choir and Ron Geesin’s sound effects library to accomplish with one fuzz pedal and a handily-positioned screwdriver. To hear him whisper, or whimper, “If I go insane/Please don’t put your wires in my brain” is almost unbearable – and Gilmour’s keening guitar in the distance only adds to the grief – until you realise that he’s basically trying to sound like Syd. Not yet absent from the world – he spent 1970 recording his second album and still gamely trying to make a go of things – his absence from Atom Heart Mother is all pervasive. Mason’s ride cymbal cuddles in gently on the fourth verse, and then deep piano and “In The Ghetto” guitar cries fill the picture of absence (“And if I were a good man/I’d talk with you more often than I do"). Did someone say the Beatles?
“Summer ‘68” is Richard Wright’s song, and while vocally he does sound a little like Harrison, every atom of the tune seems to want to hark back to the days just spent, from its bright, Brill Building piano intro, its “When I’m 64” paraphrase (“Perhaps you’d care to state exactly how you feel”), the rumbling down of the organ and roaring up to launch into a “Baby You’re A Rich Man” pastiche (“How do you feel?”), the “Penny Lane” trumpet figure, everything points to the Fabs. Some vocal fugues give way to a drift into the minor key, led by Wright’s piano. Then Geesin’s brass re-enter, as per “A Day In The Life.” Gilmour’s acoustic guitar slows the song down, hesitantly, to a waltz. A bright minor key brass coda finishes the song off – and it is superficially a song about one more lay on the road; but who is this “Charlotte Pringle” who surfaces so menacingly towards the song’s finale? Again I can’t shake off the thought that this is still about missing Syd.
Then again, Gilmour’s voice on his “Fat Old Sun” is also as unlike any other David Gilmour vocal I’ve ever heard; if anything he sounds as though he’s trying to be McCartney, and this peaceful interlude with its unexpected tonal shift (at the phrase “a tongue so strange”), Mason’s stumbling, homemade drums and the whirling dervish of unattributable guitar noise in the far distance (together with decidedly non-tonal keyboards) would scarcely have been out of place on McCartney’s own rural adventures of the period. But Gilmour’s repeated cry of “Sing to me, sing to me” is moving in a sense purely its own; we know the voice he is avidly, painfully seeking.
Then Nick Mason has the final word with the thirteen-minute “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast.” The dripping tap serves as a rhythm as Alan – not engineer Alan Parsons but band roadie Alan Stiles – sleepily stumbles and grumbles his way into the kitchen to rustle up something, perhaps out of the cows we are admiring on the sleeve. “Marmalade, I like marmalade,” he pronounces. E major fanfares give way to a sampled beat of knife scraped against toast – singular events like “Revolution 9” notwithstanding, is this the first piece of music in this tale to deploy loops and samples? – before two pianos filter in and out of each other and the scene gives way to a bright, skipping Chris Rea roundelay of piano and guitar, although again there is the whirling ghost of Syd’s guitar impersonating, or blending with, the kettle. Acoustic guitar plays bucolically as eggs and bacon sizzle on the cooker, like scratched 78s. Electric guitar and bass join in while Alan’s comments wander into a loop. Then piano and drums, joined by the full band, launch into an immediately familiar mid-tempo pace which does seem to set the scene for their greater subsequent triumphs. Alan’s voice is interspersed with the meditations, and the piece arrives at something resembling a climax. Wright’s piano provides a florid Liberace sign-off and the tap drips forever – or is that the clock ticking, counting down towards nothingness?
A nice day out in the country. Manipulating beauty and other things into things which they might not be. Following the dank urban hell of Paranoid we are offered the bright, green, shiny, yellow alternative; get back to the land, get back home, back to those spaces for which the rest of 1969 and 1970 had been yearning, back to rediscover who we, the Pink Floyd, really are, whether we can still count, and what the hell do we do from hereonin. I’m not convinced that they have ever really escaped that original fugitive ghost – indeed its memory was the principal power behind their most momentous works – but rejoice at a time when something this adventurous (especially since it was pretending to be as unadventurous as possible) could, even if only for one week, outsell everything else, and maybe make some moves towards it happening again.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
BLACK SABBATH: Paranoid
(#82: 10 October 1970, 1 week)
Track listing: War Pigs/Paranoid/Planet Caravan/Iron Man/Electric Funeral/Hand Of Doom/Rat Salad/Fairies Wear Boots
If the Moody Blues demonstrated the aspirational goodwill of a certain view of turn-of-the-decade Birmingham, Black Sabbath epitomised the downsizing doom. The Moodies urged their listeners to open their eyes, absorb the light, embrace the world; the Sabs seemed to want to crawl into the furthest, darkest, tiniest, dirtiest corner, curl up into an approximation of foetus and hide from the world forever.
Paranoid is the first seventies number one album which I really cannot imagine having been possible to conceive or make in the sixties; most of the group arose from a blues band called Earth but, although tracks such as “Rat Salad” make it clear that they had chops, their technical skills are subservient to the collectiveness of the music and the not quite unalloyed bleakness of their vision. Listening to the title track of their eponymous debut album from earlier in the year, one could project forward to the early work of another Earth, the Seattle drone band whose apparent initial mission was to slow down the busyness of rock to a near-static crawl. On this “Black Sabbath” the mobility of rock is stunted back towards an ungainly, floor-writhing, fly-dying flailing of limbs, slackened down to the point of anti-apoplexy; dire bells toll, the man-ness of rock with its guts slashed open, stumbling stomach first along the pavement. This, rock and working-class Birmingham seemed to say, is what The Sixties finally did to us.
That first album was as hopeless (in the best sense) as any record arriving at the anti-dawn of the seventies and it had a slow but huge impact; although Record Retailer never placed it higher than #8, it stayed on the chart for over ten months and was one of its year’s top twenty best-sellers. The record sounded as though it had taken four lifetimes to assemble and so came the inevitable difficulty of following it up on the turn of a dime. This the group did by means of developing the eight songs heard here out of jams, either in the studio or while on tour, and while the light of Paranoid rarely shines beyond the negative, the album is noticeably lighter on its feet than its predecessor; the brakes are off, the group interaction is more marked – yet again the mind’s eye sees four men in a studio working and playing together – and Sabbath’s eventual glory far more clearly delineated.
The album was originally intended to be called War Pigs, hence its odd cover of a policeman, seemingly transposed in a time machine from the G20 protests, furiously waving a shield and sword in the darkness; the scariness was strictly provincial. But an anxious Vertigo Records demurred, and needed a single on the record; guitarist Tony Iommi came up with the “Paranoid” riff spontaneously in the studio, the rhythm section joined in, Ozzy Osbourne quickly improvised some words and producer Rodger Bain, sensing potential magic, urged them to get it down on tape. It could have been more extreme; “War Pigs” was originally entitled “Walpurgis” in honour of the Witches’ Sabbath and in continuation of the occult theme of the first album, and indeed Ozzy has since generally continued to sing the original lyrics when performing the song live.
Still, the Vietnam spectre was inescapable, and the song lumbers into motion with a very slow, stumbling blues-rock pattern which soon mutates into a snarling thrash complete with feedback choir. Then come the air raid sirens – twenty-five years after the end of the war from which Britain has never really escaped – and finally Ozzy, likening generals to witches, intoning chimes of burning bodies and war machines. There are unbearable long pauses – are you sure you want to keep listening to this? – between which the song speeds up into something approximating a wrecked Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac with its neutered splinters of power trio blues-rock and slows down again for the Ozzy cortege. “Satan, laughing, spreads his wings” he finally proclaims. “ALL RIGHT NOW!!” he cackles, welcoming the incoming doom and showing Free the firmest of doors.
“Paranoid” the song, in contrast, makes a strange light of its troubles, although it was one of the unlikeliest of top five hit singles, even in this most confused and least settled of all pop years; “Finished with my woman ‘cos she couldn’t help me with my mind” was perhaps the least reassuring opening line of any 1970 hit, but above (or below?) and beyond Ozzy’s fulminating cries lies a streamlining of the notion of “rock” which simultaneously points to the past and the future; Iommi’s guitars are very clean, carefully scrubbed and set to one stereo channel, and neither bass nor drums do anything other than their assigned jobs. From one perspective, with its near-mechanical sequences of guitar static, the song is a clear continuation of Eddie Cochran, although in the desperation of “Summertime Blues,” where The Man booms out at him from every corner like Rover the Prisoner balloon, stopping him from doing anything, there is a certain ineffable swagger and hopefulness to Cochran’s wailing; you know that somehow he’ll get through and overcome all of this adult nonsense, and the almost robotic drum pattern of the tune even indicates a future road towards House and techno (Martin Rev and Alan Vega, as Suicide, would eventually join these dots). Ozzy, however, is in an unrescuable pit, and knows full well that he’s dug it himself, of his own volition. “Can you help me…?” he cries, “…occupy my brain?” Arguably far scarier, because more in our faces, than Peter Green’s still frightening breakdown on “The Green Manalishi,” Osbourne concludes with a parade of trochaic tetrameters (“Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry”) and finally gasps his goodbyes at his dazed audience: “I tell you to enjoy life/I wish I could but it’s too late.” The future perspective, as evinced by the tightness of the rhythm and the cleanliness of the guitar lines, points in the direction of the Ramones; rock drained of its “virtuosity,” the song once again being served by the process rather than vice versa.
“Planet Caravan” finds Sabbath groping towards their distended take on the rock ballad, which would come to full fruition with the subsequent “Changes” and “Laguna Sunrise”; here Ozzy gurgles through a Leslie cabinet as the group travels at less than magnificent speeds around the universe, sounding like the Moodies on a markedly bad trip; on his journey Ozzy sees the moon falling down like tears, and Earth as “a purple blaze” – it should be noted that Paranoid was released on the day Hendrix died, 18 September – “of sapphire haze/In orbit…ALWAYS.” The mood is one of damaged salsa, a comatose Santana, a heavily sedated Happy Sad-era Tim Buckley, the fallout from “Third Stone From The Sun” when all that is seen is not rainbows of crimson but debris from intergalactic garbage dumps.
Then, and finally on side one, materialises The Future: “Iron Man.” It is not really impossible fully to gauge the incalculable influence that this side of music in particular has waged on pretty well everything that came after it in its line, from Van Halen (who early on in their career considered calling themselves Rat Salad) to Metallica and Slayer, from hip hop to contemporary Goth-rock (both Busta Rhymes and Marilyn Manson have covered the song) and, incandescently, on Gen X. The opening, still shocking, electronically distorted growls of voice and guitar lead straight into the invention of the Butthole Surfers; once again, rock stumbling around its bedroom, incontinent, flowing, and that most immense and metallic of all heavy metal riffs – also one of the most patient; you just SIT there or stand petrified until it’s finished spelling the future out to you – comes at you, reacting against Geezer Butler’s Big Dipper bass, Iommi’s two solos being distinctly unshowy, generally slow and measured even as Bill Ward’s drums speed and slow the song as required. But, above all, there is the now terrifying figure of the class joker, the reject to whom no flowers spoke of peace – in his youth Ozzy briefly served time for breaking and entering into a clothes shop – rejuvenated, dehumanised, out to wreak revenge on everyone who had ever laughed at or rejected him. “VENGEANCE FROM THE GRAVE!” he roars, joyfully. “KILLS THE PEOPLE HE ONCE SAVED!” Everyone runs as far away from him as they can, just as they used to in the old days, but his new confidence has jacked up their fears. Like The Misunderstood in 1966, he could have taken them to the sun – this Iron Man appears to have SEEN the sun and been irrevocably damaged by his wider experiences of time and the universe – but they didn’t want to go and pushed him back into his steel box. He rises up, resurrected, and they can’t take it, and he is revelling in it. His metallic KO, he knows, is already the real future. “Electric Funeral” opens side two and is as slow and ungainly as anything we’ve previously heard, though its central elements are sharper than any razor; the false world of “plastic flowers” and “melting sun” – and the moon again falls, but this time fatally – is rotting, burning, and ringmaster Ozzy is our guide to the destruction. Where does this crawl come from? Blue Cheer with a touch of Arthur Brown (but where are the guitars on “Fire”?)? Five months later Lennon would croon controversially about the dream being over but already Ozzy is telling us that the game is up, and moreover, he is enjoying it. “Evil souls fall to HELL!” he howls. “Ever trapped in burning CE-HELLS-AHH!!” he chortles. Meanwhile Bill Ward goes all Tony Williams with his astringent snare rolls and guess the next subdivision sideways rhythm lines.
“Hand Of Doom” is, I believe, the first song in this tale to namecheck Vietnam directly (“First it was the bomb, Vietnam napalm”) and it stares down the barrel of the junkie GI as pitilessly as Paul Revere’s “Kicks” had done in a slightly different age; Ozzy watches patiently as the victim injects himself towards oblivion. Again there’s the quiet verse-loud chorus seesaw, Iommi’s guitar reaching up to the agonised for the first chorus, Ward’s drums magisterial on the second chorus. Then the song revs up towards a bluesy swagger, Iommi’s solo backed by a stomping rhythm straight out of Sly’s “Dance To The Music”; this abruptly gives way to Butler’s careful, policing bass riff, Ward patient on brushes and rimshots before the song builds up to its penultimate chorus, where guitar and drums are equally prominent, following which Ozzy stares down at the protagonist: “Price of life, you cry/Now you’re gonna DIE!!” Butler’s bass creeps out of the song and the room as though there was something in there that it didn’t want to see.
“Rat Salad” is a straight instrumental interlude, and mainly a feature for Ward’s fairly out-there drumming, although there are some Iommi-led trio passages which could practically pass as John McLaughlin jamming with Tony Williams’ Lifetime. This leads into the closing “Fairies Wear Boots” – the Moodies could never have thought of that – which, following its filtered-in intro (credited on some editions of the album as a separate track, “Jack The Stripper”; the coda to “War Pigs” is also sometimes listed as “Luke’s Wall”), lumbers into the standard Sabbath wrestling template with a “Black Night”-style shuffle, Ward’s drums again expert in their sense of displacement as Ozzy narrates a shaggy dog story of seeing the titular protagonists (skinheads on acid and/or cheap cider) while out of his head; he goes to the doctor who frankly tells him, in what are almost the album’s closing sentiments, “Son, son, you’ve gone too far/’Cos smokin’ and trippin’ is all you do.” Still Ozzy is unflappable – hear his “WELL ALLLL RIGHT NOW!!!” midway through – and Iommi’s solo, treated in its first half, comes from no immediately identifiable precursor.
The song slows down briefly before returning for a final lap of honour rave-up; Ozzy, generally sounding like Tweety Pie (“I Taut I Taw Faiwies In Boots”?), responds to the doctor with an extended “YEEEEAAAAHHHHH!!” – he probably couldn’t think of a fourth line but in reality didn’t need to; his point has already been fully made. The song and the record end with tick-tock drums, two-note octave bass (Pink Floyd? Here??) and Iommi’s guitar loops echoing out into the chasms of an ill-defined tomorrow.
In summary it is not so much a case of Sabbath crawling into a corner and curling up, licking its own wounds, but poking their noses and fingers into that curious little alcove at the back of the wall, there, do you see it, and somewhere beyond that is a way to…something else, and maybe something better, something which the placid world of 1970 could not conveniently contained. They know that the specks of dust which constitute the future are merely waiting there for form and purpose, including those belonging to Ozzy Osbourne, the man who in 1970 wailed abjectly about his inability to love and who would, after several rapidly-enfolding variants of hell, become perhaps the most famous family man in rock. The things that make true happiness – he was blind, but now can see.