Educating Peter # 50

June 2, 2013

I must offer a full and frank admission regarding this week’s suggestion by Michael:

I know it.

This week’s song is the bouncy “You’re A Friend Of Mine” by Clarence Clemons and Jackson Browne, from smack bang in the middle of the ’80s. I remember it from when it climbed up the charts in Australia (i.e., the country I live in).

I could simply sum up this week’s instalment of Educating Peter by saying “This song is bouncy” and leave it at that. But I made a solemn vow to myself to listen to the songs Michael sends me, analyse them as lazily best I can, and tell Michael why I loathe dislike tolerate them.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

Clarence Clemons and Jackson Browne – “You’re A Friend Of Mine (1985)

0:00-0:05 – That is possibly the most ’80s-sounding electric guitar sound ever recorded. It’s the archetype of what electric guitars sounded like in pop songs throughout the ’80s. Putting it charitably, I’d call it “crystalline”. Putting in uncharitably, I’d say “I can hear the treble, but where’s the rest of the guitar sound? And why is there all that echo on it?”

0:05-0:25 – But now the song is in full bounce mode, and as far as I remember it remains so for the rest of the song.

Wow. As I’m listening to this introduction I’m thinking: “This is so ’80s. It’s so… generic.” It reminds me not just of every song in 1985, but of every US Top 40 song released in the 1980s. It also reminds me of pastel colours, shoulder pads, perms etc. etc.

0:25-0:35 – First up, it’s Clarence singing his part. I must admit that I think that’s not a very good voice. It leads me to the thought that Clarence has recorded a song not because of his talents as a vocalist, but because he was so well loved at the time. (cf. Starr, R. circa 1964-1970.)

0:35-0:47 – Now here’s the usually plaintive Jackson Browne, doing his best to be a cheerful partner in a vocal duet.

Speaking of Jackson Browne, I just remembered a fabulous quote by Elvis Costello that I can’t repeat here because it’s terribly rude. (You can read it here. On that page, just search for the opening sentence: “Two types of rock ‘n’ roll had become bankrupt to me”.)

Jackson’s singing is OK, but he still sounds a little sad. (“You’re – sniff – my best pal. I’ll always – sob – be by your side, buddy. Sigh“)

0:47-0:51 – This bit, where the angelic backing singers sing “Oh, you can depend on me”, is my favourite part of the song. I think it’s gorgeous.

0:51-0:57 – But then Clarence and Jackson come in, singing together like a couple of drunks in a bar. (“OVER AND OVER! OVER AND OVER!”)

0:57-1:01 – Ah, those angelic voices again (“Know that I intend to be”)…

1:01-1:12 – “THE ONE WHO ALWAYS MAKES YOU LAUGH UNTIL YOU CRY!”

1:12-1:22 – Clarence and Jackson together: “Years may come and go / Here’s one thing I know”. I like that bit.

Production Query: Who turned up the bass guitar here?

1:22-1:32 – This, I think, is the hook of the chorus. “All my life, you’re a friend of mine.” It’s catchy, and it has the phrase “You’re a friend of mine” in it. It’s gotta be the chorus hook.

One thing I like about it, apart from its catchiness, is that Clarence is bellowing out his vocals and almost drowning out Jackson’s voice. It makes Jackson sound nowhere near as sad as he could without someone like Clarence bellowing in his ear. (Assuming they were in the recording studio at the same time, recording their vocals together.)

1:32-1:42 – Even when he’s singing about how great his friend is, Jackson still sound so melancholy. Cheer up, Jackson – you have a great friend!

1:42-1:54 – Here’s Clarence again. That’s a pretty impressive falsetto (at 1:44). But directly after that (at 1:46), Clarence sings the word “cool” flat. However, he manages to turn “cool” into a three-syllable word. That’s not easy. (Unless you’re contestant on a TV singing competition who can transform any simple word into a 97-syllable extravaganza.)

1:54-1:58 – Yum.

1:58-2:04 – “OVER AND OVER! OVER AND OVER!”

2:04-2:08 – Yum.

2:08-2:14 – Roar, Clarence, roar!

2:14-2:20 – Be melancholy, Jackson, be melancholy!

2:20-2:40 – Yep. I like the chorus. Although the more I’m hearing that drum beat, the more I’m thinking of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.

2:40-3:02 – One Clarence Clemons saxophone solo. This is purely a personal taste kind of thing, but I have to say that I don’t like what Clarence played to begin his solo (2:40-2:42). Clarence swoops up to a note (with a little trill on the way up), and then he swoops down on another note. I’m sure it was a bit of showing off by Clarence, but I wasn’t keen on the musical result. The rest of the solo was fine, but it was much simpler than I thought it was going to be. It centred around only a few notes, didn’t stray very far, and gave me the (no doubt) false impression that Clarence Clemons is not a great player. According to pretty much everyone who worked with him, Clarence Clemons was a great player. The only reason I can think of for Clarence playing a relatively simple solo is the presence of a producer saying something like, “Hey, Clarence – when you get to your solo, keep it simple. Keep it Top 40.”

3:02-3:27Love those voices.

And I’m now used to the shouting, and Clarence bellowing, and the beat reminding me of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.

3:27-3:57 – Still like the chorus. But I still think the whole song is terribly generic.

By the way, at 3:46 there’s an unbelievably weird falsetto note from Jackson Browne. (It sounds more like he’s being strangled, rather than singing a note.) I don’t know what possessed Jackson to sing that there, or the producer deciding to keep that in. It sure is weird. And I’m hoping Jackson doesn’t try to sing falsetto again. Anywhere.

3:57-4:20 – The fade-out, accompanied by Clarence playing another solo.

***

Okey dokey. As for what I thought of “You’re A Friend Of Mine” as a song from the 1980s that Michael suggested, all I can say is… it certainly was.

Advertisements