SINGLE REVIEWS: "Neil Young (Have You Forgotten?)" by Dr BLT versus "Let's Impeach the President" by Neil Young
I've been groovin' on a couple of pretty good protest type songs. Let's start with the first and actually better of these, from a guy named Bruce Thiessen aka Dr BLT. Hearing the big publicity run-up about Neil Young's Bush-bashing record, BLT offered a premptive strike- kind of like US in Iraq. It's a point of pride that he beat Neil to market with "Neil Young (Have You Forgotten?)"
The obvious point is that BLT wrote a Neil-style song making his counterpoint. He's got a nice raw guitar throb that Neil would have been proud to write. However, this is better put together than Neil's mostly half-assed idea of making records. I won't say that this unknown BLT is more talented than Neil, but he has at least as good a basic musical idea between just these two songs. Plus, BLT also obviously put considerably more careful attention to working out his ideas. Compositionally especially, there's just more to BLT's actual SONG.
But actually Neil Young's "Let's Impeach the President" is a pretty fair little jam. I'm highly critical of Neil Young's common rock and roll mode of working. In the name of spontaneity, he pretty much comes in with just maybe one basic piece of melodic hook, and just bashes it out real loud again and again over the same unimaginative, generic chords. In other words, he just slops out a lot of half-assed crap without bothering to put in the work of developing it properly, justifying it on the basis of being "passionate." Likewise, when last I saw my two year old godson, he was most passionate in his desire not to go to bed- but we didn't call that tantrum a work of art.
In fairness though, "Let's Impeach the President" works more effectively than it should. The chords are plain vanilla harmonically, but he does make it swing in a tasty way. There's really only a couple of dozen notes of melody - enough for "Let's impeach the president for lying, and misleading our country into war." That little bit is pretty much all the basic melody, but it's pretty catchy. The bits of trumpet are the extra little thing that adds enough unique flavor and style and at least a sconce more melodic content to put the whole thing over. This sounds most excellent cruising the country roads at midnight with the window down.
By the way, the big important political lyric is the weakest part of the song. Regardless of liberal/conservative, it's just a ridiculous excuse for songcraft. I'm all in favor of a song about impeaching the president. Hey, rock and roll! But you need something better than this. SNL got to the big point about this whole album with their faux-ad for Living With War casting Kevin Spacey as Neil Young with his SUBTLEST album yet. The SNL version has a song called "George W Liar" in which Spacey/Young asked, "What did you have for breakfast Mr President, a big plateful of LIES? Did you wash it down with a nice cold glass of LIES?" That really is about the childish level Young is working at.
I'm sure there are many possible ways of writing a convincing rock lyric about why Bush should be rode out of town on a rail, but this isn't one of them. It's just throwing in the pinko laundry list of every damned idiot problem in the country this century. Plus, I don't appreciate the tone of Young singing about "leaving black people neglected" as if they were some kind of livestock that needs tending. When you propose impeaching the president because of Katrina, then you're blaming the guy for the weather. You're not a serious person.
But even LESS serious was the one thing Neil came up with new for the list. It's the perfect stupid Neil Young lyric, explaining as his final argument that we should impeach the president because they're using steroids in professional baseball, and George Bush used to OWN a baseball team. I swear to Ayn Rand I'm not making this up:
Thank god hešs cracking down on steroids
Since he sold his old baseball team
There's lot of people looking at big trouble
But of course the president is clean
Now, you can see that Neil Young just looks like a fool talking that crazy out of his head. It's even a bit more ridiculous to think that he actively supported the goddam Patriot Act at the time, but now he wants to impeach the president for actually using it. But that's getting to be an external issue not really related to this record.
Dr BLT certainly has a better crafted lyric. I don't know that it's a brilliant visionary statement, but it is well focused and on target like a smart bomb. "They say 'rust never sleeps' but your memory fades." He's careful and respectful, "Don't get me wrong, I am your biggest fan." He's not just gratuitously spouting every kind of unfounded hateful crap, but staying carefully on message: While you're out posing for your liberal friends, have you forgotten the planes flying into our buildings?
Between them, I'm much more philosophically sympathetic to BLT, so I'm trying to be careful to separate that from the intrinsic qualities of these songs as art. Just because I'm sympathetic to the politics doesn't mean that it's a good song. Still, BLT has just flat out wrote Neil Young in this one song.
The care in the lyric is reflected even more importantly in the various musical aspects. For starters, BLT has a distinctly somewhat superior main vocal melody. Young's basic phrasing of his song title is about equally catchy, but he does absolutely nothing to develop it. Now, BLT's tune is not going to make you forget Richard Rodgers or anything, but there's more to it than the Neil composition.
Neil is of course the obvious stylistic reference point for this BLT record, but actually this sounds more like Midnight Oil. The flattened effect of the melodic composition distinctly has that Peter Garrett thing going on, and some of those punky dark harmony vocals. There's more memorable melodic spark here than in most Midnight Oil, though. I'd take this BLT over probably anything of Midnight Oil except maybe their one main hit, "Beds Are Burning." I suppose you'd say that BLT isn't being particularly stylistically innovative, but he's written a better song than Neil Young or Midnight Oil have anytime recently. He sure sounds good back to back with Neil driving down the back roads.
But for a bonus, I've got one more song to complete the set. It's old and completely unrelated, but BLT's considered and carefully respectful reply is really not what Neil deserves as a response. These songs both appeal to me in an adolescent rock and roll Beavis and Butthead kind of way- which leads us to their #1 all-time favorite song, the Judas Priest classic "Breakin' the Law."
It SOUNDS so good together in that highway mix, and I'm imagining it as Bush's first person response to Neil Young's charges that W is "Breaking every law in the country." To which, President Bush responds defiantly with the B&B devil hand gesture and in Rob Halford's voice, "BREAKIN' THE LAW, BREAKIN' THE LAW!" Climactically, the president screams his frustration with these pesky congressional investigators, useful idiots and The Liberal Media, "You don't know what it's liiiiiiiiiiiiiike!"
Rock and roll!
Bruce Thiessen has graciously given me permission to offer his song for free downloads for personal use. Check it out, and tell me if it ain't a fine little jam. DOWNLOAD "NEIL YOUNG" by Bruce Thiessen, Dr BLT
Music Sustains the Soul
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