I remember with great fondness the power trio I played bass in circa 1996-97. We had perhaps the worst name of any band ever: Sexx. Because three x’s would have been silly. We played only one show: a gig in Framingham, MA that resulted in folks at the bar shouting for us to stop, mainly, I figured, because the guitarist was drunk and, at one point, was playing a different section of Van Halen’s “Panama” than the drummer and I were.
Sexx had a set list of nearly 20 songs, all but three of which were covers. My thinking was that we needed more originals. So I tried to introduce songs I had written. Unfortunately, Kevin (fake name) the guitarist appeared dizzy when I played my songs for him. My guess? Too many chords, too many sections.
Of the three original songs we played there was “Bad Day,” consisting of the same three chords throughout the entire tune; “Becky,” which included one guitar riff and three chords; and “Cruisin’,” which caused massive confusion for me because its intro was identical to that of “Panama,” which, as I stated earlier, we also played! I could never tell which song we were doing until at least five measures in!
My reason for writing about my rock stardom from seventeen years ago is that my four-year-old LOVES the Guess Who song “American Woman.” Just yesterday, as I was driving him to and from school, we listened to it three times on the way and three times going home. And we did the same today. No “Undun.” No “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” Not even “No Time,” which he also kind of likes. Just “American Woman” over and over again. We’ll probably do the same tomorrow.
I don’t think I realized until hearing that song twelve times in two days how utterly repetitive it is. The same guitar riff for four minutes! It would have been a wonderful song for Sexx to perform. When you notice that and actually listen to it, it’s obnoxious.
I have a love/hate relationship with these types of songs. For example, Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.” How ‘bout a bridge, Tom? Something other than those three chords throughout? Or anything by Blues Traveler, particularly the hits “Runaround” and “Hook.” While John Popper is enjoying himself on that goofy harmonica, the guitar player is falling asleep playing the same progression for an eternity.
Or my generation’s favorite song, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” How did Kurt Cobain pull the wool over our eyes by becoming a legend with a song that not only has three lousy chords, but has a horrible guitar solo that’s the same as the verse? “Teen Spirit” was Twister Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” all over again! That’s right! Nirvana? No better than Twisted Sister!
Good golly, sometimes songs need a bridge just to break up the monotony. This is, I think, what Kevin didn’t like about the songs I tried to introduce. I always had at least one bridge in my songs, sometimes two or three. It was only recently that I realized how influenced by Def Leppard I was. Take “Foolin,’ for example. Two bridges in that song. Or my favorite Leppard song, “Armageddon It,” which has two bridges between the verse and the chorus, and a third after the guitar solo.
Is that overwriting? Perhaps. But it’s freaking cool to me.
I remember, when I was in high school, a band named Drivin’ N Cryin’ gaining a little popularity with songs like “Build a Fire” and “Fly Me Courageous.” I told a friend of mine, “It’s just the same riff over and over.”
“It’s rock and roll,” he said.
I used to say the same thing to another friend of mine about The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” and there are thousands of songs like this, sure, such as “Bad to the Bone.” Blues songs are almost always that way, but here’s the weird thing: I LOVE old blues songs from the 30s and 40s. Which is strange - and I’m just writing until I get bored here, you probably left me paragraphs ago – because there was certainly nothing quite as repetitive as old blues. It bugs me in modern blues, but not in the old stuff. I love me some Robert Johnson, Mississippi Sheiks, anything from back then.
Anyway, sticking with music, here are a couple of exchanges between my wife Amy and I last night while listening to Toad the Wet Sprocket Radio on Pandora. Oh, how we enjoy ripping each other’s musical tastes:
Me: Ecch. Counting Crows, followed by Coldplay?
Amy: Van Halen blows.
Me: Ew. Radiohead? Fake Plastic Trees? As opposed to real plastic trees?
Amy: Juliana Hatfield is a hole.
Me: Damn you!