Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Blues Image -- "Ride Captain Ride" (1970)

Seventy-three men sailed up 
From the San Francisco Bay,
Rolled off of their ship 
And here's what they had to say

Mike Pinera was in a tough spot.  His band, Blues Image, was recording their second album in Los Angeles in 1970.  Their first LP hadn't done diddly-squat, and the band's record label was going to dump them if their second album didn't produce a hit single.

Their producer obviously wasn't impressed with what he had heard so far.  He had told them that unless they had some other songs, it was time to pack their guitars and clear out -- Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night were waiting to use the recording studio.

The 21-year-old Pinera was up to the challenge:

I said, "Oh, I have a song," which I didn't have exactly.  So I went into the bathroom, and I shut the door, and I just meditated.  I calmed my mind, and I started hearing music.  I went out and sat at the piano, which was a Rhodes model 73, which had 73 keys.  So I said, "OK, I need a first word."  And what came into my mind was 73. . . . The song sort of just wrote itself from there.

Rhodes electric piano with (count 'em) 73 keys
The result was "Ride Captain Ride," which sold a million copies and made it all the way to #4 on the Billboard "Hot 100." 

"Ride Captain Ride" song has been a favorite of mine since it was released, but I always wondered what the song's lyrics meant.

I've finally figured it out -- they don't mean anything.  Mike Pinera had to write a song toot sweet or his band was going to get dumped by their label.  After meditating in the bathroom -- translation: after rushing to the bathroom so he could throw up from the stress of his situation -- the first thought that came into his mind was that his electric piano had 73 keys and "the song sort of wrote itself from there."  Do you really think a song written under those circumstances is going to actually mean anything?

Some people have tried to find a meaning in the song's lyrics.  Wikipedia's entry on "Ride Captain Ride" says the following: "It has been purported that the historical context for this song refers to the 1968 capture of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, but it is not substantiated."  (The "not substantiated" is an understatement -- as is the "[citation needed]" note appended to this text.)

The USS Pueblo
That sentence is not only execrable English, it makes no sense.  The Pueblo had 84 crew members -- two were killed during the taking of the ship, while the other 82 were taken captive -- not 73.  The Pueblo was a spy ship, so maybe the song's reference to a "mystery ship" could refer to it.

Most of the rest of the lyrics don't match up with Pueblo theory.  For example, here's what the 73 men "had to say" in verse one:

We're calling everyone to ride along 
To another shore
Where we can laugh our lives away 
And be free once more

A bunch of guys leaving to spy on North Korea from a US Navy ship might well say they were going "to another shore," but I don't think they would expect to "Laugh our lives away and be free once more" on such a mission.  But that's just me.

By the way, did you know the North Koreans never gave the Pueblo back?  Instead, they parked it in a river in Pyongyang and turned it into a museum ship.

"Welcome aboard USS Pueblo, which was
taken from running-dog American
 capitalist lackeys by Korean heroes"
This is the first song is yet another 2 or 3 lines series -- one-hit wonders from 1969-1970.  It will be a short series -- no more than half a dozen songs, I think -- and I'm not going to drag it out for months and months and months.

Here's "Ride Captain Ride":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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