Saturday, June 29, 2013
Track of the Week: Fleetwood Mac, "Oh Well"
One of the many reasons I love listening to vinyl records is that some songs are so vital, so explosive, that you only feel their true power when you drop the needle on the record and feel it pulsate from the groove right into your fingertips. I never get that feeling when I push play on the CD player, tap the screen on my iPhone, or click a link on Spotify. I still remember hanging out with some friends before my vinyl buying days and hearing Led Zeppelin IV blasting out of their old-school hi-fi like the voice of God. That moment sure made a believer out of me.
"Oh Well" by Fleetwood Mac is a great song that sounds absolutely sublime on record. For those of you who don't know, Fleetwood Mac began as a blues band in the 1960s before they brought in Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham and perfected California cocaine rock in the 1970s. Peter Green led their original incarnation, and for my money this cracked genius was the true guitar hero of his generation of British blues players, which included Clapton, Beck, and Page. It's a shame that his mental illness took such a toll on his life and career. Maybe because my best friend from childhood is also a schizophrenic, I have a soft spot for him.
It's not just general respect for Green's craft and ability that bring me back to his work, though. I feel the aforementioned ZAP! from the needle on the record whenever I drop it on this song, which starts with driving acoustic guitar line that builds into an absolute blockbusting thrasher of a riff, underscored by a torrid, relentless beat. If I owned a 1969 Camaro this is the song I would have blasting out of the 8 track player as I tore down the street.
After a mere two minutes of absolute killer riffage of the kind that Jimmy Page made famous, the song suddenly stops, shifts into slow tempo, and goes on for seven, worldless minutes. It's one of the most stunning about-faces I've ever heard on a record, but it works. This tune fit for a muscle car suddenly sounds like the lost soundtrack to a forgotten spaghetti western. This too can only truly be heard on vinyl, where the spaces between the notes take on such an open quality not possible in the compressed universe of the mp3.
In our society, so obsessed with novelty and "innovation," we rarely ask ourselves about the price of progress. Put the needle down on "Oh Well," and you'll get a taste.