Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Yardbirds: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

The Tanuki supposes he's an Eric Clapton fan. One way or another he's ended up owning all of Clapton's solo albums, all of his work with Cream, Blind Faith, the Yardbirds, and the Bluesbreakers, and a lot of his session work. Clapton's the subject of one of the Tanuki's infamous homebrewed multivolume anthologies (somewhere around twenty volumes and counting). But the Tanuki's personal jury is still out on Clapton as a guitarist.

Viz. "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," an October '64 single from his tenure with the Yardbirds. Distantly derived from the old Sonny Boy Williamson blues (itself covered by lots of people, including a definitive reading by Junior Wells in 1965, which in turn formed the basis of the Grateful Dead's version, found on their first album), this is a pop song (as Sam Phillips would have said). And it's a good one.

It's full of hooks. Starts off with an effective harmonica riff by Keith Relf, interspersed with a peppy little "whoa-whoa" vocal part. The verse/chorus part is catchy and well arranged, nice harmony vocals (with touchingly jejune lyrics about soda shops, the twist, and other things that Junior Wells would cackle at).

Then we the guitar solo. Right away we're better off than we are on most early Yardbirds cuts. I like the Yardbirds: Five Live Yardbirds is one of the more exciting documents of its era: but it took them a while to realize that Keith Relf, who was at best a competent harmonica player, shouldn't be taking up valuable solo spots when you have the likes of Clapton in the band. So the fact that we have a geetar solo here is good.

And it's a perfectly serviceable solo. Nice fuzzy tone, nice smooth phrasing, cool little jagged sign-off at the end. Rhythmically it starts out in classic Chuck Berry territory, before rising to a bluesy wail. It's a good solo.

So why was it that I never noticed it until I'd listened to the track at least two dozen times? Serious question: I often find myself spacing out during Clapton's solos, even in his early, Is God, years. Not that they're not cool solos - when I take a moment and pay attention, as above, I usually find something to really appreciate. But with a few exceptions I find they tend not to reach out and grab me like, say, a Robbie Robertson solo, or a Hendrix solo, or a Duane Allman solo.

Could just be that Clapton's boring. And sometimes I think he is, but in my more charitable moments (or moments when I try to explain to myself how I ended up with his Complete damn Works), I decide it's probably because he tends to play what's best for the song. That is, he tends not to try to transform the song with his solo, but merely complete it. That's what happens here in "Schoolgirl." It's a good record, and the solo contributes to that, even if it doesn't call attention to itself.

This is the conventional wisdom on Clapton's post-Derek work. I guess what I'm saying is, I find it often to be true about his sixties work, as well.

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