Tuesday, September 28, 2010

James Gang -- "The Bomber" (1970)


When I became of age, my mama sat me down
Said, "Son, you're growin' up, it's time you looked around"
So I began to notice some things I hadn't seen before
That's what brought me here, knockin' on your back door


There were some great rock bands with only three members in the 1960's and 1970's:  Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were probably the best of the power trios of the era, and Grand Funk Railroad may have been the most popular.  Led Zeppelin, the Who, and others weren't pure power trios because they had four members, but they were really power trios in terms of instrumentation -- guitar, bass, and drums.  

The James Gang was right up there with the best of them.  A great power trio had to have a very good drummer and a very good bass player, but what it needed most of all was a great guitarist.  Cream had Eric Clapton, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had you know who.  The James Gang had Joe Walsh, who was never as well-known as Clapton and Hendrix and is largely forgotten today, but he was really, really, really good, boys and girls.

The "James Gang Rides Again" album cover

The first James Gang album, titled Yer' Album, was solid.  But their second album -- James Gang Rides Again -- was outstanding.  "Funk #49" and "Woman" are classics, but I've chosen a  cut off that album that you never heard much on the radio:  "The Bomber," or "The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate to the Wind" as the title is sometimes rendered.

"The Bomber" didn't get much airplay because it's about seven minutes long.  It's seven minutes long because it's really three songs in one.  

If you put the first and last parts of "The Bomber" together, you'd have a good, three-verse, three-minute rock song.  But instead of doing that, the band took a sudden detour after the first two verses and played abbreviated versions of two very different instrumental works.

First, we get a couple of minutes of Maurice Ravel's famous orchestral piece, Bolero, which was composed in 1928 and originally intended as a ballet.  Bolero was always popular, but became familiar to millions when it was later used in the soundtrack of the movie 10, which starred Bo Derek.




It turned out that the copyright on Ravel's composition was still valid in 1970, and the composer's estate threatened to sue the James Gang and its record company for their unauthorized use of Bolero.  "The Bomber" was edited for subsequent pressings of the LP, but the original version was eventually restored.

Next, the band gives us a couple of minutes of a well-known jazz composition, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," composed and originally recorded by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.  After a TV producer heard this song, Guaraldi was hired to write and record the score for the Peanuts Christmas special.  He eventually composed the scores for 16 Peanuts television specials, plus the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Everyone has heard Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" theme song about a million times.  I remember Jim Matthews becoming quite frustrated back in the heyday of "The Rogues" when I had trouble playing it by ear.




Here's Guaraldi performing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind":




After that, the James Gang circles back and wraps up "The Bomber" (your guess is as good as mine as to where that title came from) by playing the final verse of the "Closet Queen" song.  It sounds crazy but it works.  In fact, it does more than just work -- it's genius, a tour de force.  

Here's "The Bomber":




Use this link to order "The Bomber" from iTunes:

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