Too many friends who tried

This post isn't intended to be an introduction to Richard Thompson.  If you're not familiar with Richard Thompson, that really needs to be fixed, and I'll probably be coming back to that.  Let me know.  While I suspect he'll end up touring until he drops, the way Leonard Cohen did, the man is 70, and you shouldn't let too much grass grow under your feet waiting to appreciate him while he's still among us.

Thomas Paine observed that from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.  I thought that was the case here, but then it turned out there were two steps.

First, the sublime:  "Meet On The Ledge," the song from Fairport Convention's 1968 debut album What We Did On Our Holidays that became the closing song at all of their concerts.  

Lead vocals by a 17-year-old Richard Thompson, who, like many vocalists in 1968, has not yet internalized the stylistic change that Bob Dylan has already brought to singing.  (He was certainly aware of what Dylan was up to.  "Nottamun Town," another song on this album, is a track they included because it's the original melody for Dylan's "Masters of War.")  The clarity and sweetness of his singing is really common in pre-1970 folk and folk-rock music (listen to Marty Balin's vocals on early Jefferson Airplane songs, for instance.), and it starts to disappear from popular music fast after The Freewheeling Bob Dylan comes out.

Monstrous backing vocals by Sandy Denny.  

If you've never heard this album, you should fix that.  It's full of great songs, and Joe Boyd's production was and still is state of the art for capturing acoustic instruments and voices on tape.

I thought this next version was ridiculous when I first heard it.  It's from Counting Crows's 2012 Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)

It's really not ridiculous, though the beginning is especially unpromising.  But for all the wandering around that Adam Durwitz does with the melody, the band nails the electric guitar hook and the chorus, which makes this version true enough to the original to be worth listening to.

Also, note that in contrast to Richard Thompson in 1968, by 2012 Adam Durwitz, like every other singer in the indie-rock universe, has thoroughly internalized what Bob Dylan was doing.  Everyone from Elvis Costello to Chris Cornell heard Dylan and took it as permission.  The nasality and plaintive whining that Durwitz made the center of his vocal style (I'm not trying to be judgmental, I genuinely don't know what other words to use to describe it) come straight from "Like A Rolling Stone." 

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.

Now let's go full ridiculous.  This is from Greta Van Fleet's 2017 From The Fires:  


If you think this performance is a misreading of this song at the beginning, just wait until you get to the guitar solo.  And the coda.  

I try to listen to music I don't like with an open mind, but this track baffles me.  I don't like the Insane Clown Posse, for instance, but at least their music makes sense to me.   This is like the blues-rock version of synthwave, only without the irony.  It's like a collage of 70s/80s rock tropes cut and pasted together. 

Clearly someone wants this, but who, and why?  As George W.S. Trow liked to ask, who is this for?  

Anyway, back to the sublime.  Richard Thompson wrote this song when he was 17.  Here he is performing it, with authority, at 56:  

At this point, you can see he's embraced Dylan's ideas of what the voice can be used for and shaped his own style out of it.


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  2. Among other things, I have long thought that guitar-wise, it was Richard Thompson, maybe more than anyone who put the rock in folk-rock.


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