Saturday, August 20, 2016
Flamin' Groovies, "Have You Seen My Baby?"
The Flamin' Groovies, like Big Star, are one of those bands that are inexplicably obscure. I ask myself, how could music this good and catchy not be world-conqueringly popular? They started off in the San Francisco scene of the sixties, but didn't play psychedelic music. Instead, they loved early rock and roll, with its groove and rhythm. Later in the 1970s they evolved into doing power pop, and cut some of the best songs in that genre. In between they put out Teenage Head in 1971, full of blues rock scorchers. It is by far the best Stones album that the Stones never cut, but with more than a strong dash of Iggy Pop-style garage feeling.
"Have You Seen My Baby?" from Teenage Head is a cover of a Randy Newman tune from his 12 Songs album, and for my money is the best Newman cover, even better than the ones Harry Nilsson did on Nilsson Sings Newman. They leave the voice down in the mix, communicating the narrator's desperation better by not making the lyrics legible. It moves at a blistering pace with some boogie piano and driving guitar churning hard over relentless drumming. It was the perfect song to open Newman's album, but here it turns up the heat after the first two tracks. Randy Newman's version plays up the pathetic, oddball nature of the narrator with his singular voice, as he does on so many other songs. The Groovies jettison that for some honest to goodness rocking.
Like Big Star, the Groovies were a band out of time. In the early seventies, during the rise of arena rock, they chose to mine a purer seam of rock and roll. Instead of bowing their guitars or playing lobotomized Deep Purple riffs, they kept the groove and rhythm. They didn't have the world of independent labels later spawned by punk to fall back on, which is a damn shame, since after Teenage Head's commercial failure key members left the band. All these years later I'd rather listen to that album a hundred times before putting on a Humble Pie record (and they're all right with me.)