too much typing—since 2003


Grunting Fingers and the Vindication of Jack Ely

Some interesting conversation going on in the comments area of my "classically trained" post. Here's a followup.

I mention Andy Partridge's description of the writing of "Easter Theatre." Here's the full bit, released as one of the "b-sides" to the British CD single of the song. (Alas, CDs have no true b-side to speak of...) I don't think Partridge has any technical musical training (one clue: he refers to the notes of the initial chord as E, D-flat, and E-flat - whereas the musically trained would, rooting a chord on E, think of the other two notes as C-sharp and D-sharp) but this song - and the pseudo-orchestral arrangement he pulled out of his keyboard, as heard on the demo of the track also released on the single - demonstrate that lack of same is no obstacle at all toward musical creativity, given talent the scale of Andy Partridge's.

The way "Easter Theatre" was composed reminds me of a theory I have about Frank Zappa - who, although very literate musically, was also entirely self-taught. Somewhat in the way the XTC song evolves both musically and lyrically from the act of playing the guitar part (itself derived from physically exploring the fretboard and asking, what does this sound like?), I think a lot of Zappa's larger-scale works are episodic, story-based, and illustrative in structure. Even when there's no programmatic element given, the music tends to sound as if it's telling a story of sorts, or illustrating ideas, characters, or situations. It rarely feels structured in conventional musical terms (although the same is true of much 20c classical music, Zappa's main influence in these large-scale pieces I'm talking about.) Had Zappa been the sort of composer content to work for anyone else, he could have written some fine film soundtracks, I think.

Zappa makes a fine segue to this little bit that occurred to me as I happened to hear the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" the other day (since Zappa used that song as raw material quite a lot). For years, vocalist Jack Ely has been slammed for what sounds like his early entry after the guitar solo. Given the overall sound of the vocals, it's been assumed that he was just too damned drunk to get it right.

Well, guess what: I don't think that mistake is Ely's fault at all. I think it's the rest of the band that screwed up. Every other part of "Louie Louie" is made up of regular old 8-bar phrases - except the guitar solo, which unaccountably is one 8-bar phrase followed by a 10-bar phrase. And when does Ely come in? Dot-on at the beginning of the 17th bar - which if the song were structured as expected would be exactly where he was supposed to come in. Now it's true that blues-based songs are sometimes a bit irregular, and close listening to the guitar solo suggests that the guitarist felt his phrase finished at the end of the 14th bar, and the remaining 4 (in his mind) bars were a sort of transition back to the verse. But (as this page points out - scroll down to the "rare autographed picture" section) Ely wasn't the band's regular vocalist, and in such a situation it would seem incumbent on the band to make sure Ely knew that the solo section was 18 bars long, not the expected 16. And really, the only threads to hang this theory on are (a) the aforementioned phrasing of the solo, and (b) the fact that the drummer notoriously shuts Ely up with a furious fill after Ely enters "early." So maybe it's Ely's fault - or maybe the band tossed in another 2 bars on the fly and, as instrumentalists rather than singers, went with the feel of the song rather than counting bars. Given all that, it's no surprise that estrangement soon set in between the band and Ely - who, despite being the singer on the band's only hit, was soon out of the band entirely. (For much more than you probably want to know about "Louie Louie," go to the top of the "Louie Louie" website mentioned above.)

Andy Partridge "Easter Theatre" explained
Andy Partridge "Easter Theatre" demo
The Kingsmen "Louie Louie"

(note: the ET background and "Louie Louie" are mono and low-res mp3s - fidelity not really being an issue in either case, and besides, how can you not have "Louie Louie" already in your collection?)

1 comment:

luiluiely said...

It really was my fault and I was the regular singer as I had been singing the song with the band for at least two years before we recorded it. However, I was concentrating on the placement of the mic and wasn't really paying attention to where we were in the song because we had been told that it was just a run-through to get levels. So, there it is.