Tuesday, September 24, 2013

SONG #151: Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy

Bad Company, Desolation Angels, 1979

Hi.  Been awhile!  Hope you're all doing well.

My boy Kyle, drummer extraordinaire, closet lead singer and now Burning Man enthusiast, had this insight one night at band practice that, for me, is the definitive description of Bad Company lead singer Paul Rodgers' voice.  This is the guy who first took over FM radio with Free's "All Right Now," and then went on to tremendous fortune and moderate fame with this group.  To quote Kyle: "His voice is too good, if that makes sense.  It almost doesn't sound like an actual person it's so smooth… it's so good that he sounds creepy.  He sounds like a sex offender trying to lure people into his car."  Ever since Kyle said that, I cannot listen to Bad Company without imagining Paul Rodgers pushing a sofa with a fake limp towards an unmarked van and asking someone if she's a size 12.  Just let your mind go there: Paul Rodgers as Jame Gumb fronting Bad Company:

"I Can't Get Enough Of Your Love… when you PUT THE LOTION IN THE BASKET!!!"

The problem is, of course, that that would require you to visualize the rest of Bad Company, and who in the hell knows anything about what Bad Company looks like?  They belong to the sea of nondescript, dude rawk bands of the 70s.  I'm actually not 100% sure whether the only difference between Bad Company, Foreigner, Boston, Foghat, and twenty other 70s bands wasn't just their lead singers.  It might be the same four wavy haired fellas in ill-fitting satin pants providing all the background for all of those songs.    

I typed "70s rock band" into Google.  These Italian dudes came up first.  

In fact, Bad Company was a "supergroup," if you can call anonymous members of Free, Mott The Hoople and King Crimson coming together a "supergroup."  These were seasoned professionals who had just missed the big time in their previous bands, and decided to roll the dice (see their second album's front cover) and try to hit on a formula that would sell.  Turns out, they were the Heisenbergs of mid 70s classic rock-- they were such a perfect distillation of everything that worked, and also needed to be destroyed, that I think they're probably the band that made punk rock happen.  I can't prove it, but without "Feel Like Makin' Love," I don't think Johnny Rotten ever yells "I am the Anti-Christ!"  I know "Feel Like Makin' Love" makes me want to make a deal with the devil.

For that's who Bad Company has always been for me: the band that looks, sounds, acts and has the record covers and label clout of a "big" band, and "important" band, without actually… being… any… good.  Don't get me wrong-- they are mind-numbingly competent.  Their debut album is everything a debut album should be:  it has a badass logo on the front that seems to be made from the chrome of a Camaro that ran over a bunch of progressive rock nerds.  The playing and songwriting is top-shelf, professional, well-recorded and polished.  It had three HUGE hits, including a song called "Bad Company," so that your iPod says "Bad Company," "Bad Company," and "Bad Company" on it when it plays.  They were managed by Peter Grant, who managed Led Zeppelin, so DJs were terrified not to play it.  It sold a billion copies.  It has everything, except being even remotely enjoyable to listen to.  It is, to me, almost fascinatingly boring.  The album is indeed what it says it is: Bad Company.  I don't want to spend five minutes with it, let alone 35.

This song, from 1979, was the band's last big hit from the last album the original quartet made before falling apart.  (Good boys that they are, though, the living members are back together, ready to rock the roofs off of Native American casinos, county fairs, car dealership openings and tractor pulls all across America.  You can find their agent's number online.)  It is by far and away my favorite Bad Company song because it's their least pretentious single, so it's fun and funny rather than pedantic and calculating.  The earlier tracks try to generate genuine gravitas ("Doooon't you know that yoouuuu awwww a shooooooting staw!"), but this is as slick as a freeway after a 2am flash downpour.  There's nothing here but what is, and that makes is great.  It's also got those great early guitar synths and drums on it-- if Joe Walsh had fronted the Cars, they would have sounded exactly like this.

The album cover is a perfect distillation of the tune and the band in general.  Out in the middle of nowhere, a stylish woman (spy? socialite?) smirks at us while an all-American dude takes a look under the hood of her red sports car.  The cover suggests that we're going to head out on the highway with this mysteriously hot gal and crank it into fifth gear and reclaim the freedom, anarchy and adventure of Kerouac's "Desolation Angels." And we will… JUST as soon as we can figure out just what's wrong with this fan belt!  Until then, how about a little FM radio while we're stuck out here in some godforsaken no man's land? That's what listening to Bad Company is like-- all the illusions and trappings of speed and adventure… and a broken engine.

In fact, that's how the band felt themselves when they made this album.  They broke up later that year partly because they were bored themselves.  How many stadiums can you play in a lifetime?  The description of the "Rock N Roll Fantasy" here is a Bad Company concert, where fans are "dancing in the aisles," "put [their] hands together and sing it out loud," and "[churn] up the ground."  It's a song that's an ad for the band and simultaneously the single-- pretty great trick, except that Rodgers sounds tired.  It's a circus, and he's just a "jester" with the same "1,2,3" moves.  I love, however, that the concert of screaming, adoring fans is only "part" of Rodgers' fantasy.  What's missing?  The meeting with the label where they plan the merchandise tie-ins?  Cashing royalty checks?  Figuring out how to join Jimmy Page in a band that sullies the Led Zeppelin myth (see blog #96: http://20ksongs.blogspot.com/2010/03/song-96-radioactive.html) and then join Queen after Freddie Mercury dies to remind everyone just how much he is NOT FREDDIE MERCURY???  

With Bad Company, I can always hear the business wheels turning in the background, and while I don't begrudge the band their success, and freely admit that they completely mastered the art of selling rock music, that doesn't mean I have to like it or listen to it.  I'm impressed with Papa John's market saturation, but his pizza tastes like a cardboard box.  Same with these guys-- they're the Applebee's of classic rock.

Tonight at Applebee's:  Bad Company!  
Tomorrow night: Bad Company tribute band The Shootin' Stars (feat. Paul Rodgers)!

Happy birthday, Kyle.  And nice to see you all again.

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