Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Chuckle Song #4: I Can Tell By The Way You Smell, by Ry Cooder

Blood is slowly returning to the head, but for those unfortunate folks whose blood is frozen in the brain, watching the goings-on of people with flow is an endless torment. I Can Tell By The Way You Smell, written by Walter Davis and performed by Ry Cooder on Get Rhythm, is the lament of just such a person, and it’s filled with the precise observations of the obsessed.

I have to digress, though. I don’t understand why Ry Cooder’s Get Rhythm is savagely disparaged by most Cooderites. I’m as fond of Cooder’s early stuff as anyone else (my all-time favorite is Chicken Skin Music) – for most of his productive career, Cooder’s signature was slowing down the tempo, the better to savor a song’s deliciousness. He rarely “dirties” his guitar sound, keeping the tone high and undistorted, so that his slide solos remain articulately languid, or tense.

Perhaps that’s his unforgivable sin in Get Rhythm (having one track abused by the Tom Cruise yuppies-on-parade vehicle, Cocktail, probably didn’t salve Cooderite anxiety, either). He recorded the disc in the throes of mid-life, driving his slide genius through muddy electric fuzz, while holding back a relentless beat. He capitalized on the new digital recording techniques of the time, threw caution to the wind, and cooked up an album that out-and-out rocks.

ICTBTWYS is the raunchiest song of the bunch, beginning with a goosed-up slide solo that squawks and chirps with indignation, before descending into the thunderously grumpy stomp that drives this roar of high dudgeon. The singer starts by confronting his significant other, who appears before him in very rough shape indeed. “You’ve been doing something wrong,” he declares: “I can tell by the way you smell.”

He eventually implicates the household’s youngsters (“It’s a-run here, mama!/Just look at little sis’”), but before he does, we get a picture of the root of the problem:

And there's grandma and grandpa out on the porches
Must be kidding 'bout her ninety years
Ain't too old, God almighty, just keep shifting them gears
Well, you ain't too old ... doin' the boogie, you ain't too old
I can tell by the way they smell

Usually what grandma and grandpa are up to is their own business, and bully for them, but clearly this is a man who can’t get the blood to leave his brain. We have here a pre-Viagra howl, folks, and if you can’t “do the boogie”, you will at least be able to kick up your heels to this infectious moralistic rant.

Post-note: if Amazon's customer notes are any indication, it seems the critical tide for this disc has turned.

Chuckle-Head Song #3!


DarkoV said...

Enjoying your countdown tremendously. I'm with you on the mystery of why "Get Rhythm" got clobbered by the Cooderites. However, I diverge with you on favorite Cooder album. Though I like "Chicken Skin Music", I find it difficult to listen to more than once every 4-6 months. On the other hand, "Get Rhythm" can be taken in once a week, with no resulting headaches.
Stretching musical comparisons & genres, "Chicken Skin Music" is like recordings by Mary Lou Williams or Cecil Taylor. Every six months, they're fine. More frequent listening of their albums gives me a headache. It's a personal thing.
Keep up your truly fine reviewing technique!

Whisky Prajer said...

Thanks. The "once a week" test is quite an indicator, no question. In fact, for years Get Rhythm was weekly fare in my place - it signalled the beginning of the weekend! Fifteen years later, you still can't beat it for late-Friday-night-drinks-and-dinner ambience.