Better by You Better Than Me b/w Waitin' for the Wind picture sleeve
Spooky Tooth was formed in October 1967 in northwest England. Mike Harrison (lead vocals) and Greg Ridley (bass guitar) had been in a band called the V.I.P.s since 1963; Luther Grosvenor (lead guitar) joined the band in 1967. Frank Kenyon (rhythm guitar), Keith Emerson (electric organ) and Walter Johnstone (drums) rounded out V.I.P.’s lineup. After four years, the V.I.P.s released several singles but enjoyed no tangible success. Three-sixths of V.I.P. – Harrison, Ridley and Grosvenor – forged ahead, recruiting drummer Mike Kellie, and the band was renamed Art. The quartet released one album on Island Records – “Supernatural Fairy Tales” (1967) – before adding American Gary Wright to the lineup on organ. The addition of Wright coincided with the band being rechristened as Spooky Tooth. The group built a following by playing numerous gigs, and released its debut album, “It’s All About”, in 1968, and is an album of psychedelic music similar to Traffic. Several non-album singles were also issued, such as “The Weight” and “That Was Only Yesterday”. In 1969, they issued “Spooky Two”, their second studio album and what is considered by many critics to be their crowning achievement. This album also spawned the single “Better by You, Better Than Me” b/w “Waitin’ for the Wind”, which is today’s featured single.
“Better by You, Better Than Me” features a simple, hypnotic riff (which is echoed by the organ) containing some rather dark lyrical content in which the protagonist harps on his inability to articulate his thoughts: “You can find a way to be my passion/You listen to the blood flowin’ in my vein/You hear the teaching of the wind/Tell her what I’m like within/I can’t find the words my mind is dim /It’s better by you better than me”. Gary Wright’s organ serves the same function as a rhythm guitar during the first minute or so, and about 1 minute and 19 seconds into the track, we get an interesting bridge in which a chord is strummed on an acoustic guitar, accompanied by Wright’s ever-present organ: “You can tell what I want it to be/You can say what I only can see/Its better by you better than me”. This is followed, about 25 seconds later, by a third lyric, which contains the apocalyptic conclusion: “Guess Ill learn to fight and kill/Tell her not to wait until/They’ll find my blood upon her windowsill.” This is followed by a reprise of the bridge, which this time lasts almost a minute and takes us to the song’s fade-out. This song, of course, was covered by Judas Priest on their “Stained Class” (1977) album; the song was the subject of the famous 1990 “subliminal message trial” in which Judas Priest was involved in a civil action that alleged they were responsible for the suicide attempts of two young men in Reno, Nevada.
The B-side of the single, “Waitin’ for the Wind”, starts off with an unaccompanied 33 second-long drum rhythm, followed by a three-chord melody from Gary Wright’s organ, accompanied by Ridley’s bass, and then Harrison’s vocals: “Lonely is the night/Now that darkness has fallin’/Nothing seems right/And the world is callin'”. The song has an interesting rhyme structure. The first four lines go ABAB, as you can see, but in the second set of lines, only the second and fourth line rhyme. The second verse follows the same pattern. The organ melody changes slightly in the second part of each verse as well, before the chorus of “Hang on/Don’t ever go/Life’s here/I know”, where the lead guitar finally chimes in. It’s a mournful, minor key melody, and the interplay between the verses, in which the music sounds restrained, and the chorus, in which the damn seems to burst and the music thunders forth, is quite good. As is the case with “Better by You, Better Than Me”, there is no instrumental break; instead, the chorus is repeated for the final minute, including the fade-out. It’s hard to say what constitutes a suitable single for a progressive rock band like Spooky Tooth – their songs are hardly laden with catchy hooks or pop-laden melodies, but it’s fair to say that the A and B sides here could easily be reversed. In fact, “Waitin’ for the Wind” was the A-side of Spooky Tooth’s previous single (with “Feelin’ Bad” on the flip). Bands like Bad Company and Foreigner would distill the blues rock of Spooky Tooth into a more commercially viable product, but for fans of the genre, this is definitely worth checking out.
This single (catalog #: 6014-007) was issued by Island Records in the U.K. and A&M Records in the U.S. A picture sleeve was issued with the single in the U.K. and it just features the band name and track listing against a background that resembles record grooves. I’m not sure what the label looked like, but I assume it would have been the pink Island Records label for the U.K. release and the tan A&M label for the U.S. release. The second Spooky Tooth album would also be Mike Ridley’s last with the band: he joined Humble Pie in 1969 and was replaced by Andy Leigh, who recorded “Ceremony” (1970) with the band. The album received mixed reviews, and Gary Wright left the band after its release. Andy Leigh was replaced by Alan Spenner, and Wright was replaced by Chris Stainton. The band also added a third guitarist, Henry McCullough. All three of the new members were part of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, and this lineup recorded “The Last Puff” (1970). This was not enough to keep the band afloat, and Spooky Tooth disbanded after this album was released. However, Harrison and Wright re-formed Spooky Tooth in September 1972. The new lineup included Mick Jones (guitar, vocals), later of Foreigner, Chris Stewart (bass, vocals) and Bryson Graham. This time, Harrison and Mick Jones would be co-lead vocalists. After the release of “Witness” (1973), Val Burke replaced Chris Stewart on bass. This lineup recorded “You Broke My Heart, So I Busted Your Jaw” (1973), a moderately successful album. After this release, Mike Harrison left the band, and was replaced by Mike Patto. Spooky Tooth recorded one more album, “The Mirror”, before breaking up again. In 1998, the classic lineup of Harrison, Ridley, Grosvenor and Kellie (minus Gary Wright) reunited briefly for an album, “Cross Purpose” (1999). The death of Mike Ridley in 2003 quashed the possibility of any further reunions of the original lineup, but Mike Harrison, Gary Wright and Mike Kellie (augmented by newcomers Joey Albrecht on guitar and Michael Becker on bass) reunited in 2004 for two concerts in Germany. These performances were captured in the DVD release “Nomad Poets” (2007).
The 2004 incarnation of Spooky Tooth performing Better by You, Better Than Me
Waitin’ for the Wind