Tuesday, July 30, 2019

James Gang – "The Bomber" (1970)

Will I be back tomorrow
For the punchline of the joke?

[NOTE: The James Gang may the least well-known of the bands to have a song included in this year's group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME.  I don't know why that is, but no matter – they were one of the great power trios of that era, and their oeuvre includes several songs that are Hall of Fame-worthy.  What follows is a revised version of my original 2010 post about "The Bomber," which is really three songs in one.]

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There were some great three-member rock bands in the 1960's and 1970's:  Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were probably the best of the power trios of the era, while Grand Funk Railroad may have been the most popular.  

The James Gang was right up there with the best of them.  A great power trio had to have a very good drummer and a very good bass player, but what it needed most of all was a great guitarist.  Cream had Eric Clapton, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had you know who.  The James Gang had Joe Walsh, who was never as well-known as Clapton and Hendrix, but he was really, really, really good, boys and girls.

The "James Gang Rides Again" album cover

The first James Gang album, titled Yer' Album, was solid.  But their second album – James Gang Rides Again – was outstanding.  "Funk #49" and "Woman" are classics, but I've chosen to feature a cut off that album that you never heard much on the radio:  "The Bomber," or "The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate to the Wind" as the title is sometimes rendered.

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"The Bomber" didn't get much airplay because it's about seven minutes long.  It's seven minutes long because it's really three songs in one.  

If you put the first and last parts of "The Bomber" together, you'd have a good, three-verse, three-minute rock song.  But instead of doing that, the band took a sudden detour after the first two verses and played abbreviated versions of two very different instrumental works.

First, we get a couple of minutes of Maurice Ravel's famous orchestral piece, Bolero, which was composed in 1928 and originally intended as a ballet.  Bolero was always popular, but became familiar to millions when it was later used in the soundtrack of the movie 10, which starred Bo Derek.

Click here to watch the original theatrical trailer for Bolero.

It turned out that the copyright on Ravel's composition was still valid in 1970, and the composer's estate threatened to sue the James Gang and its record company for their unauthorized use of Bolero.  "The Bomber" was edited for subsequent pressings of the LP, but the original version was eventually restored.

Vince Guaraldi
Next, the band gives us a couple of minutes of a well-known jazz composition, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," composed and originally recorded by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.  After a TV producer heard this song, Guaraldi was hired to write and record the score for the Peanuts Christmas special.  He eventually composed the scores for 18 Peanuts television specials, plus the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Click here to listen to Guaraldi performing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

After that, the James Gang circles back and wraps up "The Bomber" (your guess is as good as mine as to where that title came from) by playing the final verse of the "Closet Queen" song.  It sounds crazy but it works.  In fact, it does more than just work -- it's genius, a tour de force.  

Click here to listen to "The Bomber."

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon:

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