When I was a young, easily influenced wannabe musician (well, let’s face it, a wannabe bloke who hung around with musicians), I was convinced that the defining quality of a really good song was the ability to pull it back to a vocal line and one instrument, typically a guitar or piano.
This theory stood me in fairly good stead as it managed to distance me from any prog-rock in the 1970’s. And largely the songs that were around in the 1970’s which sounded good acoustically then, still sound good now. For example, I heard an acoustic version of Whiskey In The Jar the other night that was every bit as powerful as Thin Lizzy, who, I’m ashamed to say, I had always thought wrote the song. And, at the other extreme, if you were to play, say, any song by The Rubettes on any combination of acoustic instruments, they’d still sound, at best, shite.
However, as Rick Wakeman, cape flying, was kicked down the King’s Road by the spit of punk & new wave in the late 70’s, the only thing that really mattered was being in a group. And with some notable exceptions, that’s pretty much the way it stayed, and, because the dynamics of music in groups are so fantastic to listen to and watch, for me they took over, and the ‘strip it back’ test sort of lost its meaning.
And then my friend James sent me this MP3 file, of a single lead vocal track from Marvin Gaye. And listening to it without the song that we’re all familar with makes it even more resonant; I knew he could sing, but somehow the full recording softens the emotion. So, consequently, I’m thinking about going back to basics. You?
Anyway, I’m going back to listen to some delta bluesmen…