Friday, March 14, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special Just Blow Me! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental amanuensis Hop-Sing and I are off to Albany for the weekend, where we'll be attending the black tie premiere for the new bio-pic about Governor Eliot Spitzer, Thank You For Everything. Could be a hot one!

In any case, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:


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. Procol Harum -- Your Own Choice

Sorry there's no audio or video link, but take my word for it -- it's gorgeous, and it's played (unredited) by the great Larry Adler. And if you don't know who he is, hang your head in shame and then read this.

9. Bruce Chanel -- 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 Beatles -- I Should Have Known Better

Uh...a case in point.

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

No vid available alas, but you can listen to the whole thing in stereo(!) here.


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]


Anonymous said...

off the top of my head...

Atlantic City (great harmonica all over Nebraska)

Joni Mitchell
You Turn Me On I'm Radio (G. Nash on harmonica)
Furry Sings the Blues (N. Young on harmonica)

Neil Young
Heart of Gold (and many others)

Be Good Tanyas
In Spite of all the Damage

peter spencer said...

"Sinister Minister" by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

"Cisco Kid" by War, love the way Lee Oskar works with the horn section

"Boogie On, Reggae Woman" by Stevie Wonder - "Can I play?"

TJWood said...

There's truckloads of candidates out there, but you and Peter seemed to cover a lot of what would have been my choices. There could easily be a list of just all-Rolling Stones choices (or Beatles) choices, but I'll limit myself to just one for each:

1)Rolling Stones, "Miss You": But that's Sugar Blue, not Mick, playing harp on this one. My random Mick Jagger choice would be "Shake Your Hips", which, like "Stop Breaking Down", is also from Exile.

2)The Beatles, "Little Child": Another case in point for the Bruce Channel/Delbert McClinton influence

3)Bruce Springsteen,"The Promised Land", from Darkness on the Edge of Town

4)Bob Dylan, "Obviously Five Believers", from Blonde on Blonde: That's Charlie McCoy, not Bob, on harmonica

5)U2, "Trip Through Your Wires", from The Joshua Tree: Ragged, but effective, harmonica playing from a man who claims never to have practiced on the instrument

MBowen said...

A couple spring to mind:

Warren Zevon, Splendid Isolation, Neil Young, harmonica - It's almost like a transcription of a great Neil Young guitar solo. Too bad he can't get distortion on the harp.

My all-time favorite harmonica part, though, is on "Easy" by Timbuk 3, from their second album "Eden Alley" (no audio/video available). These guys never recovered from their novelty-act tag because of their smart-ass first single (which is also one of their weakest songs), but they made some damn good records. Pat MacDonald is a really good songwriter and a monster harmonica player. On this song, about a boxer weighing whether or not to take a dive, he plays a series of descending figures over the minor-key riff that resolve into an amazing carillon-style figure over the final chorus. I thought it had to be two tracks carefully overdubbed until I saw them play it live.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Agree wholeheartedly re Blues Traveler. I like that other fat guy though, from Canned Heat -- Alan Wilson. So I nominate ,,. what? Oh: On the Road Again for sure.

Cleveland Bob said...

Ha. The VERY first song I thought of was Middle Of The Road and yes, let's be done with the dialogue once and for all. Chrissie is top female rocker ever. No one else even comes close. She's Buddy Holly, Keith Richards, Stiv Bators and Dana Delaney all wrapped up in one perfect package.

Yes, obviously tons of Stones and Beatles. Probably some Tom Waits too if were motivated to enough this morning to find any. Also, I can't think of a good example right now, but Morphine had a good harp player back then.

The only song you may have over looked is What I Like About You by the Romantics. Near perfect riff.

Of course for me the best player I ever heard and saw innumerable times is Jack Kidney of the Kent based 15-60-75 aka, The Numbers Band. Jack and Bob have been blues legends for eons round here and happen to enjoy the services of sax player Terry Hynde, brother of teh Chrissie.

I'm certain I've brought them up before.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

I forgot Psychotic Reaction by the Count Five!! OK, done now.

Brooklyn Girl said...

The first time I heard the call and response between Keith Relf's harp and Jeff Beck's guitar on "I'm a Man" I was blown away ...

And, while there are tons of Stones songs to choose from, the one that stands out for me is the live version of "Midnight Rambler".

steve simels said...


Very good call on that guy from Timbuk3; don't know that second album but on the first one he was a monster indeed.

When's the next bus to Oswego? said...

John Lennon- "Oh Yoko." That trippy solo at the end of the song after all the other instruments have stopped. I'll never forget the first time I heard it.
(This one came to mind instantly, by the way. Normally I have to think a bit.)

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

when's the next bus to oswego -- that's a good approach. Prompted me to turn off my mind, relax & float downstream too & what popped into my noggin was, of all things, Catch Us if You Can. I don't think I've heard that song in 40 years but in my boyhood transistor radio memory that harmonica was joyful.

The Kenosha Kid said...

First SS doesn't use my brilliant List O'Mania suggestion - then he bans talk about Blues Traveller on a thread about harmonica! Just for that I'm not participating!

(except to mention the wonderful harmonica solo on Watching Alice by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)

Dave said...

Ahh, hello. How about FINGERTIPS (parts 1 and 2), the only #1 song in which [a transcendent] a harmonica was the featured instrument?

I'm also partial to "Candy Man" by Roy Orbison, a wonderful non-flashy harmonica part.

Nice call on Slim Harpo, though, which would have been my #2.

Noam Sane said...

Furry Sings the Blues (N. Young on harmonica)

This cracks me up. You'll never hear more disjointed, atonal harp playing on record. I really love it, and that song, and that album.

"Some Kind of Blues" by NRBQ, a band woefully under-represented here. And everywhere else, for that matter.

"When the Levee Breaks".

For a 21st century choice, Howard Levy's sweet bluesy work on "What I Do" from Donald Fagen's "Morph the Cat" album.

king nosmo said...

Glad that someone else brought up Lee Oskar of War-- my pick of his would be "City, Country, City".

At the risk of being the Guy Who Always Brings Up Captain Beefheart, Don VV totally blows up a hurricane on "Diddy Wah Diddy", his first single (1965, I think) and a regional hit. Out-Stones the Stones.

13th Floor Elevators, "You're gonna Miss Me". Probably Roky E hisself playing, just as totally wound as his werewolf vocals.

By the way, Borrah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals were just the tip of the all-harmonica iceberg. They spawned Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang; and Leo Diamond, directly, and many others indirectly. My favorites are the Mulcays, by whom I have a 7" of "Caravan" that will knock your socks off. The flip, a slow ballad called "Drifting and Dreaming" is pretty happening too.

-king nosmo

Anonymous said...

The Procol Harum track is a great choice at #10 but it's not Larry Adler – it's Harry Pitch.

dSmith said...

"Laugh Laugh" by the Beau Brummels.

dSmith said...

Maybe he's not strictly pop or rock but there can't be a discussion of the harp without a mention of the Coltrane of the harmonica, Little Walter.

steve simels said...

Anonymous said...
The Procol Harum track is a great choice at #10 but it's not Larry Adler – it's Harry Pitch.

3/14/2008 8:22 PM

I don[t think so about Larry Adler and Procol.

And dsmith is right about Litle Walter. "Juke" would have been my number one choice except there's no video...

TMink said...

"Can we just admit she's the greatest female rocker who ever was or will be and be done with it already?"

Yes, we can.

peter spencer said...

I should have mentioned John Sebastian - lots of lovely harp breaks in those Spoonful records: "Daydream," to name only one.

When's the next bus to Oswego? said...

And one more -- Steve Earle, "You're still standing there." Between that wild harmonica and Lucinda Williams' duet vocals, it's one of his all-time greats.

steve simels said...

Oops --

Not only am I wrong about Larry Adler on the Procol Harum song, but I'm apparently illiterate to boot.

I regret the error....

jp said...

I know it's not all power poppy, but gebus christ..Paul Butterfield on Born in Chicago.

Lee Oskar almost close second

the guy in the Beau Brummels?

Anonymous said...

nothin fancy but the intro to 'good girls don't' still gets me fired up happy. doug feiger with the knack of course. agree with fingertips, that is the best!

FeralLiberal said...

OK, late as usual, but here's a few more:

Rascals - "Groovin'"

ChiLites - "Oh, Girl"

Any number of songs featuring the late, great Junior Wells.

The Who - "Baba O'Reily" live with Daltry harping the violin solo at the end.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add "There must be an Angel ( Playin' with my Heart)" by the Eurhyntic with the one and only Stevie Wonder on the harmonica - Euro Electronica mets Motown!

Anonymous said...