Sunday, May 02, 2010

In Praise of Dwight Twilley

Classic Rock Without The Overplay: In Praise of Dwight Twilley

"Classic rock" is such a narrow definition. Isn't the 1950's generation "classic"? What about pre-White Album Beatles?

And how about the glories of the B and C list bands and the one hit wonders? Nowhere do we hhings like the Nuggets set that came out in the 70s, anthologized garage bands of the 60s, got recompiled in the 80s and became a box set in the 90s.

For some reason, a handful of songs from the spring of 1975 really stick in my brain: "Bad Time" by Grand Funk, "Jackie Blue" by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (best heard with the "strawberry wine" verse that got trimmed from the 45 edit), "Black Water by the Doobie Brothers with its a capella break (I always picked up on the buried in the mix "I wanna honky tonk, honky tonk, honky tonk (pause) WITH you all night long). And the incredible "Never Been Any Reason" by no hit wonder Head East, a vocal duel that either should have been a male-female duet or else has a serious homoerotic subtext.

But the one that tops my "Gee if my hands would work and I could play guitar I'd definitely have my bamnd cover this" list is a janglepop gem, a latter-day Nugget that I haven't heard on the radio since it was a fluke top 20 hit in 1975: "I'm On Fire" by the Dwight Twilley Band. It stuck in my brain for decades before I finally found it on some obscure budget bin cutout compilation. Eventually I downloaded it in the Napster glory days; I have no idea where one could find a "legitimate" copy. Here's a live take:

They came out of nowhere. Well, out of Tulsa, actually (remember teenyboppers Hanson were from Tulsa, and the actual album was called "Middle of Nowhere".) The lyrics seem like semi-random lines, but that doesn't matter. What the song is really about is the million layers of overdubbed guitar (Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour were basically a two man band). Yet there's no proper solo, unless you count a two second riff when all the other instruments frop out.

There's no proper chorus, either; the title phrase is droppen in midway through, but it's not until the very end of song that Twilley and Seymour frag it out: "Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii'm (jumpo about an octave or so) OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON fiiiiiiiiiiiiii-yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa....." repeated a couple times, then joined by the counterpoint of "but you ain't, you ain't, you ain't, got no lover, lover, lover, lover...."

The song got orphaned because Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour got burned by the biz. Just like the song, the marketing was an anachronism: a one-off 45 on a regional label, about ten years after rock started to get globalized and corporatized. Then, just like the fate of so many 50s R & B one-shots, the label went broke. (The same label also stalled Tom Petty's career for a couple years.)

Eventually the duo split. Seymour had another one-shot on his own in `81 with "Precious to Me," which was also a nice litle gem. Twilley had a payday in the 80s with the less-memorable "Girls" and then again in the early 90s when his "Why You Wanna Break My Heart" was remade for the Wayne's World soundtrack. Tia Carrere may have made Mike Myers schwing, but she was a godawful singer. Twilley's version of the song is much better.

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