September 22, 2009

NT's greatest hits, vol. 20 (of 34)

And we're off!

"Shake Some Action" by the Flamin' Groovies

Several years ago, someone asked me if, typically, I'm more attracted to a song for its lyrics or for its music. My knee-jerk answer was lyrics, but after a microsecond of reflection, I realized that I was completely self-deluded. Just taking a look at my list of favorite songs shatters this theory: I have no idea what half of these tunes' lyrics are about.

This entry underlines the point, not only because I never much paid attention the the lyrics of "Shake Some Action" (there's not much to pay attention to, other than the kicky title), but because a song like this is so thoroughly a creature of its instrumentation and production. The Flamin' Groovies were a greasy, blues-soaked rock & roll band, emerging in late-'60s San Francisco just when their sound became the least hip thing in the universe (read: they were nothing like the Grateful Dead). Truth be told, I don't care for much of their output from this era, but they soldiered on until 1976, when Welsh pub-rock genius Dave Edmunds produced their album Shake Some Action, an unlikely hit among the emerging elite of British power pop.

This title track is easily the Flamin' Groovies' best-known song (it's appeared on a couple million power-pop compilations, and Cracker covered it in the film Clueless), a remarkably canny synthesis of raggedly, lo-fi performance and soaring hooks. Both the chiming guitar (yes, there's the Byrds, again) and the intensely untrained vocals have a muted tone, working together perfectly to lull the listener in. And atypically for the power-pop genre, typified by punchy rock nuggets, the Groovies spread out over four and a half minutes, constructing an almost hermetic, wistful pop nirvana. It completely doesn't matter what the lyrical content is; the pure sound of this song has an almost neurological effect on me.

I am heartbroken that I cannot find the original recording on the Web to share with you here. The best I can do is this, a passable live version, but nowhere near the primary document. Or check out my man John Davis's radio show, 1-2-3-4 More More More, and scroll down to the 9/12 show (only there for a limited time); he starts the broadcast with the real thing.

Of course, you can get it from iTunes, and you really should. You need to hear my favorite moment: At 2:14, when the one of the vocalist goes, "Whoo!" He knows what I'm talking about.

More of NT's greatest hits:
"Chips Ahoy!," "Radio, Radio," "Could You Be the One?," "Summer in the City," "Teenage Kicks," "Strawberry Fields Forever, " "Tunnel of Love," "I Get Around," "Local Girls," "Don't Let's Start," "Suffragette City," "See-Saw," "My Name Is Jonas," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Reelin' in the Years," "Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover," "OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"