The Black Crowes' "Thorn in My Pride" 45 RPM single
Today’s single brings us well into the 1990’s: 1992 to be exact. By then, I doubt that many people were actually buying and playing vinyl (I think it was in 1990 that the needle on my turntable broke, and I never bothered to replace it), but vinyl records were still being manufactured and imagine my surprise when I went on eBay and found today’s featured single: “Thorn in My Pride” b/w “Sting Me”.
Fans of music from that era will likely recognize those two tracks as being from the Black Crowes’ “Southern Harmony And Musical Companion” album. In 1992, The Black Crowes (Chris Robinson – vocals; Rich Robinson – guitars; Marc Ford – guitars; Johnny Colt – bass guitar; Eddie Harsch – keyboards; Steve Gorman – drums) were still basking in the afterglow of their successful debut album, “Shake Your Money Maker” (1990). Rather than rest on their laurels, the band released a follow-up effort that is probably their magnum opus, in which they took their blues-rock revival to new levels, and for anyone who enjoyed their Faces meets Humble Pie meets the Rolling Stones meets blues and soul act, the album was thoroughly enjoyable. But not only did they release one great album, they put two of the album’s best songs on one single.
“Thorn in My Pride” is a slow ballad, opening with an acoustic guitar, followed by Eddie Harsch’s organ, and the rhythm section of Colt and Gorman. The song really is a good example of the Black Crowes slowly building a wall of sound. Like many other bands, they understand the light-heavy dichotomy and the idea that tension can be built in a song by holding back, but unlike some of the songs reviewed here (e.g. The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”), there is no moment here where the dam bursts; instead, the music gradually builds, adding guitars, pianos, and eventually backing vocals, until the coda, where all this is stripped away, and we are left with Chris Robinson’s soulful vocals and and acoustic guitar, neatly creating a bookend for the song. And who could resist inscrutable lyrics like these: “Wake me when the day breaks/Show me how the sun shines/Tell me about your heartaches/Who could be so unkind?”. In the words of one reviewer, “The roots of Otis Redding and Humble Pie meet with a viable grace here…” This is classic Crowes all the way.
“Sting Me”, on the other hand, is a rocker that exhibits much of the happy sloppiness that the Black Crowes often exemplified. The opening of the track has the sound effect of a tape machine starting up, launching into Rick Robinson’s lead guitar, followed about ten seconds in by someone clapping, followed by Harsch’s organ and Gorman’s drums; the vocals don’t start until forty-eight seconds into the track, as if either the Crowes want to give us a feel for the sound of the track before launching into it, or they want to provide a really big intro for DJs to talk over (which given Chris Robinson’s criticism of commercialization seems unlikely). About three minutes in, there’s a powerful Rick Robinson guitar solo. The rhythm section is here, providing a solid backbone for the Black Crowes’ sound. But on this track, as with “Thorn”, what’s really noticeable (especially in comparison to their first album) are the keyboards, both the organ and the piano, and the decision to recruit Eddie Harsch in 1991 seems to have paid serious dividends; the band went from being a very good blues-rock revival band to a band that has a fuller, more refined sound. And if they were aiming for something that sounded a bit more like the Faces, adding a keyboardist was a step in the right direction (I always considered Ian McLagan a key component of the Faces’ sound). The lyrics seem to be directed towards an unknown woman: the chorus of “[c]an you sting me?” is a sexual metaphor, and Robinson’s asking “[w]hat’s a wasp without her sting?” is a question that seems to answer itself. The rhyme structure of the song is interesting as well: we get two rhyming lines followed by a non-rhyming line: If you feel like a riot/Then don’t you deny it/Put your good foot forward/No need for heroics I just/want you to show it/Now’s the time to shine”. Note the third line doesn’t rhyme with the first and second lines; the sixth line doesn’t rhyme with the fourth and fifth line; they don’t rhyme with each other; nor do they rhyme with any other lines in the song.
This single was issued with the black Def American label, with a barcode on the left side and the Def American logo (a map of the continental U.S.) on the right side. And here’s something that’s rather cool: a lot of the songs reviewed in this blog had special “single edits” to make the songs more AM radio-friendly (e.g. “No Sugar Tonight” was cut down to about two minutes). But by 1992, AM Top 40 radio had pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, so such considerations were not a factor. As a result, the single has the full album-length version of “Thorn in My Pride”. I’m not sure about “Sting Me”, but I’d imagine that would also be the full-length version. Even if it isn’t, this is still a damn good single.