Adventures of a University Finalist

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Turned Down By Sammy Davis Jr For the Last Time


Jimmy Webb - Archive + Live (Reprise, 2005)

Jimmy Webb - Galveston
Jimmy Webb - Feet in the Sunshine
Jimmy Webb - If Ships Were Made to Sail
Jimmy Webb - My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama (Live)

How quickly we humans seek change in our soggy milque toast existences. Bored by the throbbing technicality of machines and buoyed by a new found glory in letter writing I have switched to handwriting my essays. Not only will this save my poor eyes from the disease of the cathode (inasmuch transcription takes far less time than the creative process of writing) but will enable me to write in a comfy lounge chair whilst Jimmy Webb's 'PF Sloan' envelops me in magnificent surround sound. The accordion is all that more discordant and the bass sunburnt into a lazy stupour so as to enhance the listening experience.
Well I guess that having unsubtley and unfairly ridiculed the man's 'MacArthur Park' in my last post, I had to put things right in my musical feng shui by praising his songwriting genius. I, along with many other people, was originally introduced to Webb's work through Glen Campbell's glorious treatment of summer heartbreak perennials such as 'Wichita Lineman', 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', 'Galveston' and 'Where's the Playground, Susie?' Without any sense of irony or embarrassment, I must declare that, due in no small part to Webb, Campbell's 'Capitol Years' retrospective would surely be my favourite of all time if didn't fall within that dreaded exclusory group of "Compilations". As a result, Rundgren's 'Something/Anything?' and Costello's 'This Year's Model' tag team it into submission with a few well placed rabbit punches to the kidneys and a flying elbow finisher from the top turnbuckle.
But I digress from the subject yet again. The album of Mr Webb's which is the focus of this post is the recent double CD release of 'Archive + Live', Webb's superb 1993 best-of coupled with a live recording of Webb's first concert in the UK at the Royal Albert Hall in '72. Both CDs are fantastic, not only due to Webb's being able to keep a firm grasp on his own material despite his legendary weak vocals, but also as a showcase for Webb's mainstay guitarist, Fred Tackett, who would eventually go on to become Lowell George's replacement in Little Feat. Webb himself brands Tackett's performance on the studio version of 'Galveston' as one of the finest moments in music; an opinion with which I am inclined to agree. Tackett manages to ride out the wailing storm of Zappa's 'My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama' with Stetson and handlebar moustache fully intact whilst Webb demonstrates his ability to cook up a Fats Domino white ivory jambalaya out on the bayou when he's not pleasantly plucking ballads from the sky.
It's always been a surprise to me that ebb never attempted a ludicrously ambitious concept album - perhaps on his favoured allusion of space travel (present of 'If Ships Were Made to Sail', 'The Moon's A Harsh Mistress', 'Where the Universes Are', 'Highwayman'). Note to Ben Elton: sod Rod Stewart and Queen. I want to see a West End "musical extravaganza" based on Jimmy Webb songs surrounding the adventures in space of Xang, the Alpha Centaurii electrician, before the next year is out! I, for one, would laugh and point when I saw the gaudy posters decorating the walls as I descended the Underground escalators.
At this juncture, I realise that I have yet to make a case for why, along with Diamond, Goffin & King, Newman, and Boyce & Hart, Webb is such a vital songwriter of the 60s and 70s. Well here goes: Webb is a romantic fantasist, the antithesis to solipsism, who is articulate on the subjects of both the unwelcome reality which he inhabits and the fantastic solution for which he strives, be it leaving an ungrateful lover, altering one's perception on child rearing, or departing the untamed earth for the green pastures of the nearest star. This often results in some wonderfully abstract lyrical tangents in regard to the analogous situations he concocts, with the most famous example being 'MacArthur Park's patently irregular equation of the end of an affair being the same as a cake left out in the rain. Even the simply enough named "Love Song" constructs the raw, sentimental image of love's ability to etch a vast indelible image in one's soul and "Highwayman" tracks a 19th century outlaw and his continued reincarnations before delivering the Jungian punchline that the traps of futurism will result in its replacement by the primal.
Webb's work output is contradictory in many senses - perfectly judged 2 minute ballads sit comfortably alongside overambitious 9 minute suites. West coast rock, soul, deep country, and Canuck simplicity all battle for his undivided attention resulting in his musical identity being afflicted by a benign schizophrenia. His lyrics can hinge on a single powerful image - a landscape occupied only by a continuous stretch of powerlines or Freud's prescription of cocaine for mental health problems - or several conflicting ideas such as 'PF Sloan's encompassing of the personal and political; the fictitious and the overbearing truth (something that could also be said of the anti-war 'Galveston' bridging the gap between the Civil War and Vietnam). The man can make you shimmy, sway, sag or swagger.
As an endnote, can anyone think of any other great paeans to feet other than Webb's 'Feet in the Sunshine' (pop par excellence featuring a Ms Joni Mitchell) or The Beach Boys' 'Take Good Care of Your Feet'. Suggestions of Family Guy's cruel Randy Newman pastiche 'Left Foot, Right Foot (The Apple Song)' will result in a good slapping. You've been warned. Actually speaking of warnings, it is my sad duty to state that the only lowpoint on this set is Webb's nervous attempt to reinvent the meter and phrasing of 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix' resulting in a damp squib.

Buy - Jimmy Webb - Archive + Live