Friday, July 23, 2010

SONG #139: Angry Eyes

Loggins and Messina, Loggins And Messina, 1972





Some songs you need to keep close to you for completely random reasons.  Here's the story with this one, a hilarious country-rock monstrosity from the days of sleeveless, cable-knit sweater vests, awesome beards, and mid-song bass solos.

It is the summer of 1992.  I am driving across the country from California after my first year of teaching to go back home to Maryland for a few weeks in the summer because I basically can't figure out what else to do.  I am driving by myself, so I want to do the trip as fast as possible.  We are in the days before iPods or satellite radio, so the entire passanger seat of my car is a pile of tapes and CDs.  I don't have a CD player in my car (too fancy for me) so I have to use a Discman and one of those cassette adapters, which means I have to change the batteries every four hours or so-- there's also a huge stack of AA batteries in the glove compartment.

This is the itinerary that I follow:

Phase 1-- San Francisco to rest stop somewhere in Nebraska on I-80  (20 hours)

Sleep in back of car for six hours.

Phase 2-- Nebraska to Indianapolis, IN (spring for truly tragic hotel room) (17 hours)

Phase 3-- Indianapolis IN to Annapolis, MD  (11 hours)

That is a dumb, ill-advised way to travel across the country, but I was young and broke, and it made every conversation with every gas station clerk and Dairy Queen window attendant (and the cop who gave me a speeding ticket for going 68 in a 65) extremely meaningful.  Luckily, midwesterners are incredibly, genuinely friendly, so I had long conversations about corn-infused gasoline (Gasohol) and life in Iowa while filling either the car or me up.

On the way home, I've even dumber:

Phase 1-- Maryland to Champaign-Urbana IL to stay with friend from high school (hey, Sally).  (12 1/2 hours, plus a day of hanging out)

Phase 2-- Champaign-Urbana IL to... San Francisco.  Non-stop.  (34 hours)

You read that correctly.  I drove for 34 straight hours, by myself, from Illinois to San Francisco, across some of the most boring real estate in the world.  Why?  Because I could, I guess.  It was the kind of decision that a lonely, bored 22 year-old makes.  I thought I'd get back home and have more summer in CA.  Instead, the effort of doing that ridiculous leg made me sick as hell for a week.

Somewhere around 4am of that night, in the desolate Wyoming darkness, I realized that I wasn't what one would call completely awake.  I decided to see how long I could go without blinking.  I made myself blink at 45 minutes to make sure I wasn't dead.  I had entered a completely zen, half-life state.  I just guided the car's headlights in between the lines of the road.  I had not seen another vehicle, even a truck, for hours.  At 5am, I decided that I better pull over, so I paid attention for the next exit.

Have you been through Wyoming on I-80?  You get about five chances to pull over in the entire state.  I had just passed Rawlins, and the next town was Rock Springs, about 100 miles away.  The interstate was under construction, so there was no shoulder, and no rest stop.  Moreover, when I had last pulled over for gas at Midnight, a huge, filthy, drenched (it had been pouring) obviously insane hairy guy in a camoflage poncho with a hand-written sign saying "EAST" had asked me for a ride (happily, I was headed "WEST"), and he'd spooked me a bit about trying the "sleep in the rest stop" plan again.

So I had to grin and bear it-- I had gotten myself into this stupid mess, and now it was time to see how much I wanted to survive.  I was out of junk food and caffeine.  The Discman's batteries had given out, and I couldn't reach or find replacements.  Desperate, I turned on the radio for help.

Have you ever listened to Wyoming radio?  Not a lot of choices, especially in 1992.  Here's what scanning the dial got me on FM:

Bone-crushing static.
Scan
Bone-crushing static.
Scan
"Some people seem to think that the words of Jesus... are about peace.  WRONG!!"
Scan
Modern country music.
Scan
Bone-crushing static.
Scan
Bone-crushing static.
Scan
"Fiery pits of HELL!!!"
Scan
Modern country music.

That's it.  Two stations, equally unappealing.  The religious barker would have turned me away from God, and the modern country music would have made me crash the car on purpose to try to meet Him.  I began to panic, and switched to AM.

Scan... nothing.  I go around the WHOLE dial once without catching anything, but then my radio pulls up a miraculously clean signal of a station playing the very end of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Gimme Three Steps."

This song is what comes on next, and I'm a fan for life.  After these eight minutes, I feel like I've had a nap and a shower.  When I hit Rock Springs at 6:30am, I just kept on going and going and going until I was home.  "Angry Eyes" was my guardian angel.

If you had asked me to predict which song would do that, it would not have been this one.  Loggins* and Messina are responsible for two of my least favorite songs-- the "I'm so in love with you honey" song that people make bands play at weddings, and "House At Pooh Corner."  I have particular venom for that one because I've heard six or two thousand (I lost count) a cappella groups sing it, and I really dislike a cappella.  It's not just because in college the a cappella groups would draw 800 people to a show while the rock bands played to... the other fourteen surly guys in the other rock bands.  Well, maybe that's the main reason.  But I still hate it-- all the cutesy arrangements, and swaying back and forth, and "Let's all wear suits that we got for our Bar Mitzvahs" outfits, and the "Let's have the guy who can't sing do percussion" beatboxing, and the skits, and the cheesy, Broadway arrangements that ruin songs we all love-- I saw a group do "Where The Streets Have No Name," and half the band "sang" The Edge's guitar part through the whole thing by going "Dunka-dunka-dunka-dunka" over and over.  Some nights I still wake up screaming.  Yes, I'm bitter and judgmental, but so was Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites, and he was right about a lot of things also.  



Irony is when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.


So those of you who were in a cappella groups, feel free to write in and defend yourselves.  Or, I can keep your identities secret, and you can continue to live taunt-free adult lives.  Your choice.

Back to Loggins and Messina.  Under any other circumstances, this terribly conceived song whose faults are numerous would never have garnered much attention from me, but it's precisely those faults that attracted my attention enough to pull me back into the land of conscious thought and safe driving.  

"Angry Eyes" is a really funny attempt to be a bunch of different genres all at once.  It starts off as a classic 70s swamp-rock tune, all Doobie Brotherish, but Loggins' twangy vocal puts us right into country singer-songwriter world.  The chorus invents the sound The Eagles would shamelessly rip off for the next eight years, and the lyrics are right up Glenn Frey's misogynistic alley as well (see Blog #17 for a more complete Eagles analysis)-- "Well I bet you wish you could cut me down with those angry eyes."  The lyrics to this song are a total throwaway.  Woman looks angrily at man.  Man notices.  Fini.

That covers the first minute, and the 2:25 single version never leaves that territory.  But at 5am, that DJ on that little tiny AM station wasn't about to be bothered changing a record that quickly.  I thankfully got the full, 7:45 minute album version,  'cause that's where the fun stuff is.  Things get very weird and quickly at 1:15.  Without warning, we get a full horn section playing a Steely Dan-style chart for twenty seconds, right into a BASS SOLO.  A bass solo ninety seconds in.  I can understand having a bass solo in a twenty minute epic, but after ONE chorus?  That's just lazy.  That's followed by a soprano sax and xylophone dueling solos section that continues for the next two minutes.  I am not inventing this.  You're listening to it, right?  Doesn't it sounds like the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" played on the instruments they gave you to mess around with in elementary school music class?  That's when I really perked up in the car.  I thought I was hallucinating.  "Is that a... a xylophone?"  And it is.  NOT a vibraphone, the much more cool, electrified option, but an old-fashioned, "OK kids, now we're going to learn Pop Goes The Weasel" XYLOPHONE!  Needless to say, I was intrigued.

The guitar returns at 3:00, but the sax isn't done hitting that high note.  We get not one, not two, but three "WAAAAAAAAAAAA!!" from the sax player.  It cracks me up every time.  "Not yet!  Not yet!  This is my moment!"  By 3:30, we're in classic 70s guitar solo land.  This could be a Chicago track at this point.  At 4:00, the guitar starts to lose ideas or interests in things, and he plays a bizarre, angular figure that, in a live context, would mean "I'm done.  Someone else take it."  No such luck-- the band just keeps on goin', so the guitar has to also.  For another full minute!  It's the most tired, "I wish this were over" guitar solo I've ever heard on a studio recording.

At 5:00, the drummer suddenly switches to double time randomly, but no one in the band follows.  He tries again.  Strike two.  What is going to save this endless tune?  A FLUTE SOLO at 5:25!!  Seriously, were instruments just lying around?  Did the guitar player put down his guitar dejectedly, having failed the band and the track, see the flute, and think, "Ah, what the hell?"  Now we're in the Jethro Tull wilderness, all jazzy guitar single note arpeggios and a meandering flute.  It has been FIVE MINUTES since the band sang the chorus.  At this point, we're heading into prog-land.  This one minute section wouldn't be out of place on a Yes record.

And then... after almost six full minutes of some of the most random jamming committed to tape, we're back to the beginning!  The band gives us 45 seconds of pop-country rock, and even tries to join the drummer in double time for the last few seconds, and we're out.

It killed me, and I found myself blurting out the chorus randomly for the next twelve hours.  I couldn't wait to get home and tell people about this crazy track.  

And now I have.   

Closure.

If I asked you to name the one song that got your heart racing, NO ONE would mention this one.  It's a time capsule relic.  But I don't care-- for the rest of my life, singing "Angry Eyeee-zzzzz!" will be like getting a Vitamin B-12 shot.

I always wonder who that DJ was who played me that song, who was bothering to broadcast anything to that empty section of Wyoming nothingness-- he must have been broadcasting from his car, since I was in the middle of nowhere and the signal faded to nothing five minutes after this tune.  I drove on and away, bringing, gratefully, this little piece of unforgettable detritus with me.


LINK:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oowuyzxgmtg


*  Kenny Loggins also wrote the theme songs for Caddyshack and Footloose, which deserve a loving blog of their own.



15 comments:

  1. wow, that song is crap. I'm glad it saved your life during that ill-advised road trip (I've had a few of those as well) but that song is yacht rock at its worst.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMTI8vg7A5U

    I cannot bring myself to defend a cappella, because it is indefensible. But let me tell you, from experience: it works.

    let's see if clevenger or barton can do better than that.

    rah

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  2. If you're looking for me to defend a cappella you're barking up the wrong tree my friend, I was with Jeff in the bitter, anti group. The unquestionably true fact that "it works" is just nails on the blackboard. I will note, however, that under the right circumstances ($1 all you can drink beer and no other campus competition) Haverford bands could play to adoring (and thankfully drunk) crowds.

    "Danny's Song" is the wedding song fave. In an earlier post I admitted that I still liked that song based on a college girlfriend, so I'll just re-own that here. No defense at all, just owning it.

    Never heard the album version of this song. WOW. How good were the seventies? Seriously, how crazy did everything go where this is mainstream entertainment? Indya and I watched the entire AFI 100 list of best american movies and the seventies movies really, really stood out as aggressively bizarre. Indya went on an associated 70s binge and when she made me sit through Splendor in the Grass (which was a major studio release and a minor hit movie) I had to put my foot down and re-take control of the Netflix queue.

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  3. A belated comment on the Rush blog: "Tom Sawyer" is my "Angry Eyes." Some kid had his boombox tuned to 98 Rock when we arrived at Cape Henlopen State Park after a 63-mile day of biking with Bill Cone in the summer of 1985. Remember? It was the first music I'd heard in five days and, exhausted, I let that song stamp my brain. Then I started hallucinating later that night when we were in Rehoboth and got lost … then that huge storm hit and we were all huddled in the one tent with about a billion mosquitos (another story) ...

    Also, as long as I'm off topic: You are lucky to have missed Rock Springs, WY. Ten years ago my buddy Judah and I stopped there for gas on a Brooklyn-to-SF journey in a U-Haul crammed with his and his girlfriend's belongings and their two Siamese cats (Goose and Liza) in the front with us. He was moving there, and my final destination was some wedding in San Anselmo, CA.

    There was one worker behind the counter of the Gas 'n Go (or maybe it was a Kum 'n Go), a girl who looked about 17, pregnant, holding down the whole place by herself. Totally alone. Judah and I made small talk about how us city boys had never seen such beautiful, big sky, and we come to find out the father to be was in prison and she dropped out of high school to get a job to help support her mom and sisters. When she heard we were on our way to California, here eyes lit up, and I got the feeling we could have strapped her to the top of the truck, Chevy Chase's grandma-style, and she wouldn't have minded a bit.

    Ever read Richard Ford's short story collection, "Rock Springs"? It's all of the above and more.

    Hijack over. Yeah, that song SUCKS. I always get these guys confused with Delaney and Bonnie.

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  4. Thanks for this. Just, thanks.

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  5. Andrew ClevengerJuly 27, 2010 at 7:24 PM

    This sounds to me like a fragment of a song that got hijacked by a bunch of session players who wanted to play some sort of lame jazz jam rather than country rock.

    "You know what would blow everyone's minds, man? If we just, like, you know, exploded genres, man. It'll be the coolest thing ever, man, just like Miles. I'll go write a chart."

    As for a cappella, I'm neither prone to defend it nor trash it. I had a lot of fun doing it, but that was mostly because the great bunch of guys in the group, not because of any artistic satisfaction from singing "Na, na-na, na-nah! [snap!] Na, na-na, na-nah! [snap! snap!]" over and over again.

    I do remember one of the first concerts I sang my senior year, having spent my junior year abroad. I think it was in Founders, and a girl who sat in the front row, propping up her tape recorder to capture every note, came up to me after the show and said something to the effect of: "Omigod! You guys haven't sung 'Under the Sea' since April 1991 at Marshall Auditorium! I'm so excited, now I have two versions! This is great!"

    I was pretty taken aback by her unbridled enthusiasm. For the life of me, I could never understand why anyone would get so wound up over a cappella.

    And no I didn't, Colin, for the record.

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  6. Ha! Answered my question, too. Now I know that when I'm in purgatory for my sins, a cappella bootlegs will be playing-- I had never even considered that terrifying possibility until now.

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  7. You know what? The best part of that link is that it's a video response to Gregg Alman's "I'm No Angel", which deserves a post of it's own.

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  8. Jeff - great story - weird song.

    @ Ben - what college girlfriend was that??!!

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  9. This is most definitely NOT yacht rock.

    In the mid-1970s still on the East Coast I was learning to sing and perform in formal setting with 15 other high school boys and four acoustic. ( We were well dressed but not well behaved.) L&M was a shed of light that despite Jim Messina's prickly personality --even well known to teenagers by that point--that you could be cool and sing and play without an electric instrument. On Stage was released during my junior year and it was --at that time at least --a liberation that you could take a song and make it much much better live than in a studio. Also, and this is the important part, the mix put the bass up front and gave the emphasis to both the sax and the flute. Good drums as well. Yacht rock, my ass.

    Still one of my favorite road songs, loud, mixed well and good for multiple plays as long as nobody else is in the car. Did I mention my beloved wife does not like this song?

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  10. Awesome intro to this post, drew me in completely. Love the story!

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  11. I guess you have never heard any a cappella besides "college fraternity" flavor! Take a listen to both of these and tell me about "cheesy" and all the other "sheltered and naive perjoratives"...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH6KQZ8Uabg
    or this one.....
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX0lKdWSD8s
    and note this "beatboxer" sings very well!

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  12. Angry Eyes by Loggins and Messina is one of the most classly songs to ever be recorded by rock musicians. The incredible sophisticated arrangement, the unmatched rhythm/percussion section, the clever inventive bridges in the song, the uber quality musicianship including the memorable solos. To a drooling drunk or stoned slug whose musical IQ is on par with Homer Simpson, the song is just another rock jam. To someone who's ever played music or wrote music the song is a gleaming gem of musical quality and creativity.

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  13. Dude, it's not often that I've read reviews on Angry Eyes as disjointed and hapless as you have wasted perfectly good bandwidth, but allow me the pleasure of filling in your haphazard interpretation of this timeless song from musicians who not only have forgotten more about music than you seem to know, but actually wrote this song...which is one more than you'll ever be listened to.

    Sweet and simple for an apparently over-toked addled mind. Yours.

    The long version of Angry Eyes is their answer to angst-ridden male teens who were crying out for their chick-magnet tune to extend a few minutes of just jamming, with no particular deep and meaningful arrangement...as you've ridiculously begged for, but, read closely stoner...to give us males extended time to score with our chicks!

    Leave your Einstein interpretation of a beloved song to, actual musicians to critique.

    In the meantime, get laid!

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  14. Laughing so outloud. Song is a masterpiece. There is no way that that this song doesn't relate to everyone. I'll help if there are any skepticals. Cool, ugly, happy, needy, nerdy,beautiful, reject, in crowd, outcast, any soul under the son loves or can relate to the words in this song

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