Our friend Deborah asked a question in the comments after yesterday’s essay about Wichita Lineman:
This is a bunny trail, but please go with me. Since you have an “ear”
for the electric bass, can you tell me if the first 30 seconds of the
Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” is played on the electric
bass? I maintain that the first 30 second of “Long Cool Woman … ” is the finest 30 seconds in all of Rockdom. I’m wondering if I like the sound so much because it is played on the electric bass.
It’s hard to argue about her rating for the first thirty seconds of Long Cool Woman. It is instantly recognizable everywhere, to most everyone. Let’s have a listen:
There’s a problem with Long Cool Woman, though.
Let’s move on to second number 31, and all those that follow. Like many songs with very recognizable intros, it’s two different songs. Back in the day, if you played that intro in a club, the audience would whoop and flood the dance floor. So far, so good. But when the scintillating guitar riff and the second big ol’ BOOM BOOM on the snare and floor tom was over, the bass player starts dutifully playing a polka at the slowest tempo imaginable. Short of turning on the lights, you can’t possibly clear a dance floor any faster than by doing that.
It’s the same problem you have when you play a rockabilly song in a place frequented by people that can’t dance country. Everyone gets really excited, then discovers on the dance floor that they have no idea what the hell to do with that beat and their feet. The hayseeds that can two-step glide around the floor, everyone else hears their mother calling them right quick. The brave souls that could Lindy Hop before their hip gave out could have managed it, too.
To answer Deborah’s question: no, that’s not an electric bass guitar that gives the intro that sound. The guitar players in the video are playing regular Fender Telecasters, and the recording sounds like it, too. They’ve got the reverb cranked up to 11 on everything, though, including the vocals and drums, and it gave it that sound. The producers and engineers of these records don’t get enough credit for such contributions to the final product, generally. George Martin, the Beatle’s producer, wasn’t “the fifth Beatle.” He came in third, if you ask me. Maybe second.
That song was immensely popular when it came out, mostly because it didn’t sound much like the Hollies. The Hollies didn’t want to sound like the Hollies that day. This is what they wanted to sound like:
Speaking of songs that are pretty good flash fiction in their own right, Green River surely is that.
Well, take me back down where cool water flow, yeah.
Let me remember things I love.
Stoppin’ at the log where catfish bite,
Walkin’ along the river road at night,
Barefoot girls dancin’ in the moonlight.
I can hear the bullfrog callin’ me.
Wonder if my rope’s still hangin’ to the tree.
Love to kick my feet way down the shallow water,
Shoe fly, dragon fly, get back t’ yer mother.
Pick up a flat rock, skip it across Green River.
Up at Cody’s camp I spent my days, oh,
With flatcar riders and cross-tie walkers.
Old Cody, Junior took me over,
Said, you’re gonna find the world is smoulderin’
And if you get lost, come on home to Green River.
I could try for a good long time and never come up with the imagery bagged and tagged by “I spent my days with flatcar riders and cross-tie walkers.”
Long Cool Woman is lots of fun; but Green River is Artemis’ baby, conceived on the sly, midwived by Bob Dylan, delivered by a stork from Bakersfield who got lost and stopped to ask for directions in Yoknapatawpha County.