Monday, August 13, 2007

“Out of Time” / Chris Farlowe

I’ve never been all that impressed with the songwriting skills of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – that is, unless their songs are sung by Chris Farlowe. And then suddenly I dig them, big-time.

I didn’t even know who Chris Farlowe was until a couple years ago – his records never hit big in the States (I guess since we already had Otis Redding, the suits figured we didn’t also need a white English guy singing “Mr. Pitiful”). But I recently acquired a 2-CD set of Farlowe’s 60s recordings, and I’m astounded that he wasn’t a bigger name over here. I for one would have eaten him up, just like I did Eric Burdon and Van Morrison.

There are plenty of Stones covers on these discs, which is no coincidence -- Farlowe was managed by the Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who used Farlowe to extend their franchise. But in my opinion that trick backfired on Oldham; Farlowe’s versions only expose the Stones’ limitations. He positively sizzles on “Satisfaction” and “Paint It Black”; he gives “I’m Free” a hoarse gasp of release that totally transforms it.

The first track of Farlowe’s I ever heard was another Jagger/Richards number, “Out of Time” (1967), which I found on a British Invasion anthology. Despite the girl-groupish arrangement – the opening riff copies the Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy”-- I suppose I recognized it from the Stones’ rendition (it was dropped off the US version of Aftermath but we got it eventually on the compilation Flowers, which my brother owned). But as I recall, Jagger brayed this with a snide swagger that I instinctively disliked.

Farlowe, however, gives it a shiver of empathy -- you really believe that he’s sorry for this old girlfriend who’s suddenly resurfaced -- and that turns it into a whole different song. “You don't know what's going on,” he tells her, gently, “You've been away for far too long / You can't come back and think you are still mine” – he not only feels sorry for her, he feels sorry for himself, too. She meant something to him once, damn it, and as his heart swells, his voice rises to a passionate howl. “You're out of touch, my baby / My poor discarded baby / I said, baby, baby, baby, you're out of time.” I can just see him, sorrowfully caressing her cheek.

“You thought you were a clever girl,” he says huskily in the second verse, “Giving up your social whirl / But you can't come back and be the first in line, oh yeah.” The sentiment is brutal in Jagger’s hands, but with Farlowe it’s just the way of the world; things change, people change, you can’t help it. His timing is exquisite -- those little millisecond pauses he slips in, expressing so much reluctance and regret. “You're obsolete my baby / My poor old favorite baby / I said baby, baby, baby you're out of time.” I love how he chokes up on that word “favorite” (changed from the critical “old-fashioned” in the original, you notice).

I’m grooving on Chris Farlowe for the same reasons I’ve always grooved on Dusty Springfield, the way she drank in those American r&b classics as if she’d been dying of thirst. It’s not just the power of their voices, it’s the smoky timbre, the phrasing, the emotional delivery – they sang these songs like souls possessed. With the Rolling Stones, I’m always aware that they’re white Brits posing as bluesmen – with Chris and Dusty, skin color and national origin become irrelevant. The music’s all that matters, and the music is sublime.

Out of Time sample


Imaginary Man said...

BRILLIANT song, I had almost forgotten it and now I want to listen to it again. Thank you very much!

I prefer the Chris Farlowe version to the Stones too.

G12 said...

A true, true classic. Still gets a lot of play on UK radio. The Ramones cut a version too. Not really worth tracking down, but fun to hear.

Farlowe also recorded the first version of Handbags & Gladrags, a hit later for Rod Stewart and more recently The Stereophonics, as well as being the theme tune for The Office. I think he sings on a Jimmy Page solo album, but don't quote me on that!.

He tours the UK a LOT, and I hear he still has it.

Anonymous said...

Love it!
Once I saw Chris perform it - in Marbella of all places.