Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"What Am I Living For?" /
Alan Price

My iTunes has been scolding me lately, reminding me that I have been ignoring Alan Price. That simply will not do. I still owe Alan Price for the approximately ten years, 1973-83, when he was my top fangirl obsession; I also owe him for February 23, 2005 (remember, Alan?). And so my shuffle has been taunting me today, pulling out all the most devastatingly bluesy Alan Price tracks, things that still make me catch my breath and feel faint.

After pulling off one of the most notorious switcheroos in the history of rock music -- getting his name down as arranger on the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun," thus snagging all the songwriting royalties (I reckon he's still living on those) -- Alan for years wrote all the songs on his albums. Some of that material, particularly the brilliant soundtrack for O Lucky Man! and the autobiographical LP Between Today and Yesterday, still ranks among my favorite music in the world. But -- let's face it -- Alan wasn't above padding his albums out with some dreck (I refer to this as the McCartney Syndrome), especially during the Disco Era. I mean, only a truly obsessed fangirl like myself could really like "Don't Stop" or "Let Yourself Go" (which still make me pant, by the way -- I've never claimed that my critical faculties were infallible).

Later in his career, though, when he'd lost any hope of being considered a Major Contender, Alan reverted to doing what he probably should have done all along: Covering old blues songs. That's what made albums like A Gigster's Life For Me, Covers, and Travellin' Man worth all the time it took me to find them on eBay. (Based On A True Story is another story altogether -- who knew Alan had that vein of jazzy genius still waiting to be tapped?)

Which leads us to "What Am I Living For?" This appears on both A Gigster's Life and Covers, though the Amazon mp3 link I'm providing leads you to an anthology album called I Put A Spell On You -- not a bad place to start if you don't know who the hell this guy is.

This blues standard, written by Fred Jay and Art Harris, was recorded by tons of people -- Wanda Jackson, Chuck Wills, Solomon Burke -- I reckon it was in the Animals' repertoire early on, considering what a blues maniac Eric Burdon was. So here's Alan Price pulling it out 30 years later, which is kinda cool. I haven't listened to many of the other versions; this one is the one I know and love. I sink happily into the smoky texture of Alan's vocals, those scatting organ solos, the lazy syncopation of the arrangement (let's give a shout out to the beautiful Bobby Tench on guitar, and Martin Wild's emphatic drumming). I love how Alan caresses the lyrics, from the husky quaver on "I want your lips on mine" to the wail of "I wanna ho-old you tight." Let's face it, this is a slow dancin' make-out song; it has absolutely NO OTHER PURPOSE IN THE WORLD. But I could sit here all night, visualizing Alan's fingers flying over that keyboard, imagining...

Where was I?

You know what? I like being a fangirl. It adds a certain dimension to music that you male fans may never entirely understand. I don't have to prattle on about what guitar strings or mixing boards were used on this album; I don't have to parse the music industry circa 1992, or discuss how Alan's keyboard technique was derived from his boyhood playing the church organ in Jarrow. I can just say this: his voice makes me quiver and shiver. Always has, always will. I'm sorry I've neglected you, Alan; you know I still love you. And we'll always have Cheltenham.

What Am I Living For? sample

1 comment:

Mark said...

Alan Price has been one of my favorite singers and songwriters for a long time. My favorite albums of his are O Lucky Man! and Between Today and Yesterday, but everything he's done has some great songs on it. There's a great 2-disc set of all his solo 60's recordings, if you don't have it, you should get it. When I first started really getting into the Kinks, I was like, "Hey, Ray Davies is a lot like Alan Price!" They're both disdainful of a lot of contemporary society, and they use sarcasm a lot, which is rare in rock and roll. And they write catchy songs.

Alan's extremely underrated, especially here in America. He's a great keyboard player, and also a great singer.