Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Johnny Rivers, "The Snake" (1966)


The album pictured above, ...And I Know You Wanna Dance, was one of the first I ever owned, at the age of approximately 11, courtesy of the Columbia Record Club, which I joined in the mid-'60s with my brother as self-styled tycoon paperboys with money to burn. What I didn't know until a recent visit to Wikipedia is that it is actually Johnny Rivers's fourth album traveling under the concept ("recorded LIVE at the Whiskey a Go Go!"). It's the home of the hit single version of "Secret Agent Man," which by itself might make it the most significant of the four. I don't know about that. What I know is that "The Snake," which kicked off the album, plugged into a vaguely toxic gender orientation that appealed to me as an 11-year-old (Rubber Soul's "Run for Your Life" is another, as is much of the Stones' catalog of the mid-'60s, although their music frankly scared me so I didn't become familiar with "Under My Thumb" for many more years)—sneering tough-guy juvenile-delinquent types laying down the law to the ladies. Here it comes in the form of a fable about a poor trusting woman bamboozled by a vicious snake. Yes, that's right, leaving it open to ham-handed interpretations both Biblical and phallic. This may be the best-known song by songwriter Oscar Brown Jr., who elsewise worked eclectically in jazz, civil rights, the theater, and poetry. Rivers is typically in form as one of the great unrecognized rhythm and blues performers (vying for position with his status as one of the great unrecognized singles artists). But needless to say (I hope) I'm less comfortable now with the basic thrust. The real tell, as far as I'm concerned, is the goofy pinched mocking falsetto Rivers employs for the woman's voice, the woman in this story being monumentally dumb of course. There's a lot of bridling yet socially acceptable contempt here, which makes it an interesting period piece if nothing else.

No comments:

Post a Comment