SONG TITLE: MILKCOW BLUES BOOGIE
PERFORMER: ELVIS PRESLEY
SONGWRITER: KOKOMO ARNOLD
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1955
SONG TITLE: BLISTER IN THE SUN
PERFORMER: THE VIOLENT FEMMES
SONGWRITER: GORDON GANO
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1982
COMMENTS: All right, kiddies: It's Rock and Roll 101. Lesson #1 is that rock music is in the fighting spirit, not in the amperage of the guitars. Indeed some of the toughest rocking has come from all or mostly acoustic bands.
Elvis presented a primer lesson on this selection from the famous Sun sessions with a simple blues song through the most famous faux false start in rock. He and the boys start out all slow and bluesy, before stopping the band cold and calling it out like the hippest beat poet. "Hold it fellas. That don't... move me. Let's get real, real gone for a change."
Then they did. They let it loose, turned every bit of intensity in their beings into a jumping arrangement, much faster and more rhythmically nuanced a performance than the opening. Much of the intensity is in the fast and furious but precisely laid out detail work. There is a strong sense of spontaneity and discovery, but careful listening will make clear the careful consideration involved in their craftsmanship.
What ultimately makes this a hall of fame performance, though, is the vocal performance. Elvis is doing tricks, making sudden octave wide jumps. "If you see my milkcow..." There is a charismatic determination of spirit that Nietzche would no doubt have recognized as the will to power. When the king got through with it, it was no longer anything to do with a high calcium drink, but about the singer's assertion of his place in the universe.
The milkcow gets the top spot here primarily because of Presley's spiritual ambition, for "Blister in the Sun" is definitely a stronger song. From the beginning bass statement of the key melodic phrase of the verses, this is one catchy neo-rockabilly blast of good rockin' teen angst. The particular whining worldview and some of those flattened out phrases come from Lou Reed way, but the way more than compensatory joyous emotional release and dancing rhythm came from other places. Although Elvis was more enjoyably Nietzchean, Mr. Gano certainly came up with much more interesting lyrics by which to
express his outlook. Elvis was obviously planning world conquest, Gordon Gano asks only to go out with a bang.
And a bang he got. The Violent Femmes were but a trio, but they got good use out of those instruments. The band on this record is as tight and just as distinctive in their sound as Elvis' boys. With no intent of slighting the others, the bass player must get props for those catchy, hard driving yet melodic lines. He rocks.
Though they are associated with the already dissipating punk/new wave movement, the Violent Femmes were smart enough and broad enough of taste to learn from the broad history of popular music. For many bands of their era, the only legitimate band before the Ramones was the Velvet Underground. I doubt Johnny Rotten ever got off listening to Buddy Holly or Elvis' Sun sessions. The Violent Femmes definitely did, and it helped to make their music rich and long lasting.
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