Little Feat – The Fan. Much needed to clear the air in this fuggy song.
Little Feat was not a band I’d come across much before about 5 years ago. At college, an amiable local dealer was into them, but I just bracketed them into the same category of good time US country rock where I dropped JJ Cale, Lynyrd Skynyrd and much of the Grateful Dead’s material – a bit Radio 2, a bit safe, a bit like a comfortable old shoe.
But then online enthusiasm for them prompted me to get a bit curious and I bought a 5 album collection going cheap to listen to what all the fuss was about. (I did the same for Joni Mitchell, of which probably more later in the year). I dutifully listened through once or twice with half an ear, while doing other things, but didn’t hear anything to make me fall in love. There must be something fans of their music are hearing, but it’s not getting through to me. So – perfect for one of these blogs, then. Maybe intensive listening will act like a sourdough starter and get me bubbling for all things Little Feat – or maybe inoculate me against their small acts of wonder.
I just chose this track because of the title. Little Feat does seem to attract devoted fans. First listen and it seemed a very busy noise – too much going on to really notice anything in particular, except possibly a jazzy organ somewhere in the mix? Let’s have a second listen,
Second listen and it’s still very busy. A constant steady rhythm, Indulgent and uninventive, and rather lengthy guitar solo. Wibbly keyboard modulations that don’t go with the guitar or percussion at all. It must have been someone’s idea of a joke to put that in the song. Then it creaks out.
Third listen and I’m getting more attentive. Organ, drums and high guitar notes, then bass starts and the singing. The drumming seems to echo the phrasing of the singing rather than any sort of danceable rhythm, and it is constant, and fairly unvaried. Two minutes in and the guitar solo starts. Only 45 seconds long, it felt longer. Then it all goes odd, with organs and keyboards throwing themselves into the song.
Fourth listen – let’s read the lyrics first. Oh. The singing is so indistinct I would never have found that out just from listening. Well that’s a subject I would expect from a Steely Dan song – and that’s from reputation only. I’ve never heard a Steely Dan song. Nice’n’sleazy, as the Stranglers might say. It is interesting how the building blocks of familiarity with a song build up. It’s mainly a series of snatches from the song, which make little impressions. Slowly the whole jigsaw is formed from different patches of pieces slowly getting larger – the picture reveals itself.
The song references cheerleaders – there’s a coincidence. I’ve just been watching the TV show Misfits – the episode where a zombie outbreak infects a troupe of cheerleaders and the merry gang of petty crims beat them to death with baseball bats. And now I’ve got the lyric “Beat on the brat with a baseball bat” in my head – The Ramones. That laugh-free comedy show, The Now Show tonight had a joke about Brexiteers vs Ramoaners. Maybe everything is linked in a cosmic mystical way. Who knows. Let’s get back to the song.
Now on the 6th listen and I feel the constant rhythm beginning to seep into my unconscious. I guess it’s a form of muscle memory – like learning to drive. You teach your body to carry out standard actions and then you can forget you are doing them, instinctively and focus your attention on other things – like what’s happening on the road ahead, for example. These rhythms aren’t meant to be noticed -they are supposed to be the backdrop, the form against which all the interesting bits, like the guitar solo and wibbly keyboard stuff take centre stage.
Talking of the guitar solo, it’ s less irritating, now that I can hear it and the rhythm at the same time. It starts off slow, focused and feedbacky, like something by Neil Young, but ends too bluesy and busy for me. Still find the keyboard solo that comes after it very busy (in a busy song).
One thing I have worked out – the singing, by having the same pattern as the drumming, is as much part of the rhythmic backdrop to be ignored as the drum and bass.
Nine listens, and I think I wold be able to identify the song if I heard it again now. Would I want to? Not really – it is far too busy – no space – it feels like there’s always at least three or four instruments playing at once.
But it has given me a bit of a taste for the Little Feat rhythm section. If there are songs with less silly lead instruments, I might be more tempted. There are 48 of them in my music library. Plenty of options then.