Label from a 78 RPM copy of "Mannish Boy" Note the misspelling of "Mannish" on the label.
McKinley Morganfield (a.k.a. Muddy Waters) was born April 4, 1913 in Issaquena County, Mississippi. His grandmother raised him when his mother died shortly after his birth. His fondness for playing in the mud earned him the nickname “Muddy” at a young age, which he eventually changed to “Muddy Water” and “Muddy Waters”. He took up the harmonica, and started playing the guitar at age seventeen, emulating two popular blues artists of the day, Son House and Robert Johnson. In 1940, Muddy moved to Chicago; a year later, he returned to Mississippi, where he ran a juke joint, complete with gambling, moonshine, and a jukebox. In the summer of 1941, musicologist Alan Lomax came to Stovall, Mississippi to record various country blues musicians; he recorded Muddy in his house. Lomax would return and record Muddy a second time. In 1943, Morganfield returned to Chicago with the hopes of becoming a full-time musician. Big Bill Broonzy became an early supporter, allowing Muddy to open for him in rowdy clubs. In 1945, Muddy got his first electric guitar; in 1946, he recorded some tracks for Mayo Williams of Columbia, but these tracks went unreleased at the time. Later that year, he started recording for Aristocrat, a label formed by two brothers, Leonard and Phil Chess. In 1947, he played guitar on two tracks he recorded with Sunnyland Slim: “Gypsy Woman” and “Little Annie Mae”. These were shelved, but in 1948, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home” were released became hits, and Muddy’s popularity began to rise. Soon afterward, Aristocrat changed its name to Chess, and Muddy’s signature tune “Rollin’ Stone” became a hit.
At first, the Chess brothers did not allow Muddy to have his own band, but by 1953, they relented, and soon he had assembled a band consisting of Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elga Edmonds on drums, Otis Spann on piano, and Big Crawford on bass. Soon the band recorded a series of blues classics, many penned by bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon. Not all of them were; however, and his hit “Mannish Boy” (with “Young Fashioned Ways” on the flip) was written by Morganfield, Mel London, and Elias McDaniel (a.k.a. Bo Diddley). This is today’s featured single.
“Mannish Boy” takes the classic stop-time riff from Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man”, employed with even greater effect here, distilled and refined and augmented with some catchy hooks. From the “whoa, yeah” opening, the song commands the listener’s attention, and soon we have a song that epitomizes male braggadocio as Muddy unleashes his chorus of “I’m a man…I spell M-A-child-N” accompanied by a chorus of “yeah”. Morganfield even invokes the title of his previous hit when he sings “I’m a rolling stone”. The lyrics are more explicit than in the Willie Dixon song, with Muddy singing “[t]he line I shoot/Will never miss/When I make love to a woman/She can’t resist”. And just when you’re getting into the song, it ends, clocking in at a modest 2 minutes and 56 seconds. This song is a classic, and has been covered by artists as diverse as The Band, Junior Wells, Hank Williams, Jr. and the Rolling Stones. Bo Diddley would rework it into “I’m A Man”, which appeared on the flipside of “Bo Diddley”, which sounds comparatively restrained, with McDaniel exhibiting more of a quiet cool on the track.
The B-side, “Young Fashioned Ways”, is an upbeat blues tune, punctuated by Spann’s piano. Think of this as Muddy Waters’ manifesto for the aging: “I may be getting old/But I have young fashioned ways”. Years before songs like The Who’s “They’re All In Love”, Morganfield made it clear that age isn’t going to condemn him to irrelevance, at least when it comes to women. The song contains a great sexual innuendo: “There may be snow on top of the mountain/But there’s a thaw down under the hill”. And let’s not forget an excellent harmonica solo about 1 minute and 20 seconds into the song. “Young Fashioned Ways” may not be the classic that “Mannish Boy” is, but it stands out as a great song about the wisdom that comes with age, released in 1955 – the year of rock and roll, a genre that was strongly identified with youth, at least in its early days. In its own way, I like to think it presages songs that contain an “aging rocker is still relevant” theme.
The single (catalog #: 1602) was released on Chess Records in April 1955. It featured the classic blue and white Chess label (solid blue on the top, white on the bottom). Since this was the era when 78 RPM records were still being issued, this single was released as both a 10-inch 78 RPM record and a 7-inch 45 RPM record. [This practice would continue for a number of years, with the last Chess 78 RPM release apparently being Chuck Berry’s “Too Pooped To Pop” in February 1960.] Muddy Waters would reach the peak of his success in the years 1952 to 1956; after his last major hit, “I’m Ready” in 1956, he was put on the back shelf by Chess Records. He went to the U.K. in 1958, where he exposed audiences to electric blues for the first time. In 1960, he played the Newport Jazz Festival and enjoyed a revival in popularity. Yet for most of the next two decades (1956-76), he largely kept a low profile. This would change with his appearance onstage with The Band at their final concert at Winterland, where he performed “Mannish Boy” with The Band. Johnny Winter convinced his label, Blue Sky, to sign him in 1977, and Morganfield released a comeback album, “Hard Again”. The comeback continued with a live album in 1979, and Muddy continued to perform live until declining health in 1982 caused him to cut back his touring schedule. He died in his sleep on April 30, 1983 at his home in Westmont, Illinois.
November 20th’s show (#245) was cancelled due to personal reasons. Since three shows have been cancelled this year for one reason or another, I’m going to try to do something a bit unusual in an effort to catch up: three shows in three days. The schedule for this week looks like this:
November 25: NRBQ
November 26: The Rolling Stones, Part 2
November 27: Bomp! Records
Each show will be a three-hour show with a live segment in the third hour. During Wednesday’s show, I will be playing Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Day classic, “Alice’s Restaurant”. You can listen to the netcast live by clicking on the link on the left sidebar. Each show will be netcast at 11 PM EST/4:00 AM UTC.
Picture sleeve for The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" EP
The Undertones formed in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1975. The initial lineup consisted of Feargal Sharkey (lead vocals), John O’Neill (guitar), Damian O’Neill (guitar, keyboards, and vocals), Michael Bradley (bass, vocals), and Billy Doherty (drums). They were friends from Creggan and the Bogside who drew inspiration from such bands as The Beatles, the Small Faces, and Lindisfarne. The band original rehearsed cover versions in the home of brothers John and Damian O’Neill, and in the shed of a neighbor. By the following year, the band was playing gigs at minor local venues such as schools, parish halls and scout huts. When the band played a gig at Saint Joseph’s secondary school in Derry, Sharkey was asked the name of the band, and he replied, “The Hot Rods”. Later that year, drummer Doherty suggested an alternate name for the band, “The Undertones”, which he discovered in a history book, and the other members agreed. With the arrival of punk rock in 1976, the artistic focus of the band shifted, and artists such as the Adverts, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, and the Ramones became major influences on The Undertones.
By 1977, the band was playing their own three-chord pop punk material, performed alongside cover versions at venues such as The Casbah, which was where they played their first paid gigs in February (£40/week). This inspired the band to write and rehearse further material as a means of remaining a popular act at this venue. By the summer of 1977, they added “Teenage Kicks” to their setlist. In June 1977, they played outside of Derry for the first time, opening for the Dublin punk rock band The Radiators From Space. In March 1978, The Undertones recorded a demo at Magee University in Derry, and sent copies to record companies, hoping to secure a recording contract. All they received, however, were official letters of rejection. They also sent a copy to BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who was so impressed with the band that he offered to pay for a recording session. On June 16, 1978, they recorded their “Teenage Kicks” EP on a budget of only £200. The Undertones were signed to Sire Records in September 1978 on a five-year contract, and “Teenage Kicks” was released as a single in October with “True Confessions” on the B-side. This is today’s featured single.
“Teenage Kicks” is built around a relatively simple (the main riff is based on three chords – D, A, and E) hook-laden melody and angst-ridden lyrics. The production is relatively crude but is decent for a punk record. As mentioned, John Peel paid for the recording session, and he loved “Teenage Kicks” so much that until his death in 2004 he maintained that it was his favorite pop record. “I can’t listen to it now without getting all dewy eyed,” he once said. Although I noticeably failed to have the same reaction upon hearing this song – even after listening to it repeatedly – I must admit that it has many of the elements of good pop composition – the melody is catchy, the lyrics are pure rock and roll (especially the infectious chorus of “I wanna hold you wanna hold you tight/Get teenage kicks right through the night”), Sharkey’s quavering vocals convey the teen angst of the song’s protagonist perfectly. Moreover, the song was perfect for the punk era, clocking in at a mere 2 minutes and 25 seconds. The Sire Records release of this song reached #31 on the U.K. charts. It was also featured on their eponymous debut album, released in May 1979, which reached #13 in the U.K., but tanked in the U.S. Nevertheless, on both sides of the Atlantic, “Teenage Kicks” has come to be regarded as a punk pop classic.
The B-side of the single, “True Confessions”, features somewhat cleaner production, but similar distorted guitars and Sharkey’s trademark tremolo vocals. It is sung from the perspective of someone who’s been cuckolded by his significant other, and is confronting her: “Don’t look so surprised/You’ve been telling me lies/True – true – true – confessions”. He has evidence to back up his accusations (“I got a picture from your sister/There was writing on the back”, but in spite of it all, he wants to “sit down and sort this out”. It uses the same chords as “Teenage Kicks”, which makes one wonder just how broad the band’s musical palette was, but it stands out as a catchy, if somewhat less memorable, song.
The single (catalog #: C008-62177) was released on Sire Records in October 1978. It was issued with a picture sleeve displaying the name of the band and the name of the song. The original September 1978 release of the single on the independent Good Vibrations label featured a somewhat cruder – but far more interesting – picture sleeve: the full track listing was included (there were four tracks: “Teenage Kicks”, “Smarter Than U”, “True Confessions”, and “Emergency Cases”), along with pictures of all five band members, and a picture of a door defaced with graffiti boldly proclaiming that “THE UNDER TONES ARE SHIT PISH COUNTY WANKERS”. The success of “Teenage Kicks” led to the band’s first U.K. tour (supporting the Rezillos). The Undertones would release several successful singles and their debut album, “The Undertones”, in 1979, and would also tour the U.S. in support of The Clash. The second album, “Hypnotised”, was released in April 1980, and reached #6 in the U.K., remaining in the Top 10 for one month. They also performed on five major tours between February 1980 and December 1980, including their second tour of the U.S., this time as headliners. In April 1980, The Undertones released “My Perfect Cousin”, their highest-charting single in the U.K. (#9). Unhappy with the level of promotion they were getting from Sire, they split with the label in December 1980, signing with EMI in January 1981. Their third album, “Positive Touch”, was released in May 1981, and received favorable reviews; it was the first album whose lyrical content touched upon political issues, including troubles in Northern Ireland. The Undertones toured Europe from May to October 1981. 1982 saw a lull in activity for the band, who only performed a tour of continental Europe in August. They released two singles that year that failed to make much of an impact on the U.K. charts. The band returned with their fourth album, “The Sin of Pride”, in May 1983, but the album only reached #43 on the U.K. charts. Increasing tensions between Sharkey and John O’Neill helped precipitate the demise of the band, and The Undertones disbanded after a European tour in July 1983. The band would remain dormant for over sixteen years, until four-fifths of the band would reunite, recruiting Paul McLoone as the new lead vocalist (Feargal Sharkey declined to participate).