Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Band -- "Chest Fever" (1968)

"She's stoned," said the Swede
And the mooncalf agreed
I'm like a viper in shock
With my eyes on the clock
She was just there, somewhere
And here I am again
And as my mind unweaves
I feel the freeze down in my knees
But just before she leaves
She receives

I know this blog is called 2 or 3 lines, but I thought it was better to quote the entire final verse and chorus.  Quoting just two or three lines out of context might have been confusing -- but when you read the entire verse and chorus, it all makes perfect sense . . . right?

I first heard this song over 40 years ago -- the Three Dog Night version, not the original version by The Band -- and I had no idea that these were the words.

The Band
This may be TMI, but if you've never heard the term "mooncalf," it originally referred to a miscarried fetus of a cow.  (Superstitious folk believed that the moon could cause miscarriages.)  Later, the term came to be used to describe malformed or grotesque creatures -- it appears in Shakespeare's The Tempest, an H. G. Wells novel, the Harry Potter books, and The Bank Dick (a 1940 W. C. Fields movie).

"Chest Fever" is from The Band's first studio album, Music from Big Pink, which got its title from the pink-siding-ed house in upstate New York where The Band and Bob Dylan hung out in the mid-sixties.  (The Band had been Dylan's backup band on his 1966 tour, and he wrote or co-wrote several songs on the album).

The Band had a unique style.  You might say they were the quintessential American roots rock band, except for the fact that four of the five members were natives of Ontario.  (Levon Helm -- who died of cancer just last year -- grew up in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, an unincorporated community near Helena.)

Music from Big Pink wasn't a big seller at first, although Al Kooper's rave review of it in Rolling Stone helped.  Eric Clapton liked its laid-back, rootsy style so much that he quit Cream so he could take a different musical direction.  (Clapton's work on the Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie, and Derek and the Dominoes albums demonstrates how influential The Band was on him.)  George Harrison loved it, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd said it was the second-most influential rock and roll record ever (behind only Sgt. Pepper's).

"Chest Fever" is credited to Robbie Robertson.  He freely admits that the lyrics don't make any sense.  That's a fact, Jack!  (Levon Helm says that the lyrics were originally improvised by him and Richard Manuel.)

Garth Hudson at the Lowery organ
The song begins with a very Bach-like organ solo played by Garth Hudson.  Unlike most rock organists, Hudson played a Lowery organ -- not a Hammond B-3.  

I'm not a huge fan of roots rock, but you can't argue with songs like "Chest Fever," "The Weight," "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down," "Rag Mama Rag," and "Don't Do It."  The first 500 songs featured in 2 or 3 lines didn't include anything by The Band, but now I've made up for that oversight.

Here's "Chest Fever":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. Godfrey Daniel! "Don't be a jobbernowl! Don't be a mooncalf!" Not sure if this was written by Mahatma Kane Jeeves or Otis Cribblecoblis.