[I first posted this one in 2008(!), back when the world and this blog were barely removed from diaper-wearing, but with the sad passing this week of Lauren Bacall (nee Betty Perske -- she was a nice Jewish girl, 'natch) it seemed at least tangentially relevant, so here it is again. As is my wont, I've done some rewriting and added two new entries, just so you don't find me unduly indolent. Enjoy. -- S.S.]
BEST HARMONICA SOLO ON A POST-ELVIS POP OR ROCK RECORD!!!!!
By "best," we mean either in a blues or non-blues idiom, just to keep it totally wide open. And by "solo" we mean anything of any length, even if it's just a riff.
Totally arbitrary rule: Don't even try to nominate something by that fat guy from Blues Traveller. The Hendrix of the Blues Harp my ass....
Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Thirteen:
13. The White Stripes -- Hello Operator
Just because we needed something actually recorded in the 21st century.
12. Jimmy Reed -- Honest I Do
The very definition of sly concision. (Hey -- I made a couplet!!!!)
11. The Pretenders -- Middle of the Road
Chrissie Hynde -- first she growls, then she makes her harp sound like a stray cat in heat. Can we just admit she's the greatest female rocker who ever was or will be and be done with it already?
10. The Prostitutes -- Down Below
A great New York City rock band in the tradition of the Velvets and the Heartbreakers, and some of the most fabulously blues-wailing harp (courtesy of NYC fixture Jon Paris) on a sort of Doors-Meet-the- Smithereens song you'll ever hear.
Incidentally, Prostitutes bass player Steve Early, the guy on the left in the picture, is also my favorite bartender of all time; stop in at the Broome Street Bar (363 West Broadway in fabulous downtown SoHo) before it shuts down (yes, it's closing after 42 years, alas) on a Wednesday or a Thursday and he'll be happy to pour you a drink, even if you mention my name.
9. Bruce Channel -- Hey Baby
That's Delbert McClinton playing the harmonica stuff. I seem to recall it was a huge influence on a certain four-piece band from the UK.
8. The Broadcasters -- Down in the Trenches
One of the great lost singles of the 80s (produced by Wayne Kramer of the MC5, incidentally). These guys should have been superstars. I have a video of me singing "Route 66" and "Gloria" at a party with three of them; get me hammered some time and I might even show it to you.
7. J. Geils Band -- Whammer Jammer
The aptly named Magic Dick. 'Nuff said.
6. Stevie Wonder -- For Once In My Life
As brilliantly structured and performed a solo as you'll ever hear on any instrument.
5. A tie --
The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger) -- Stop Breaking Down
The Rolling Stones (Brian Jones) -- Good Times Bad Times
Amplified Chicago blues harp in the former, acoustic country blues harp in the latter, both brilliant.
4. Bob Dylan -- I Want You
Short, melodic, and it frames the song perfectly, front and back. Anybody who says Dylan's a crappy harp player really isn't listening....
3. XTC -- Ballad of Peter Pumpkin Head
Blues harp on a revisionist folk rock song. Andy Partridge is god, obviously.
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Run Through the Jungle
John Fogerty channels Howlin Wolf. It doesn't get any spookier, song OR harp part.
And the number one, no question about it, all time coolest harmonica solo on a hit record is --
1. Slim Harpo -- Scratch My Back
Hands down, the down and dirtiest blues performance ever to crack Top 40 radio.
Alrighty now -- what would your choices be?
[h/ts to Brooklyn Girl and John McPartlin]