Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Oliver: The Jesus and Mary Chain - Guitarman (2 February 1992)

Guitar Man, to give the track its correct title, was recorded in 1967 by country singer, Jerry Reed and featured on his debut album.  Reed's version scored a minor hit in the Billboard Country Charts but became more renumerative when Elvis Presley recorded it as part of the soundtrack to his 1967 film, Clambake.  Presley's version hit the top of the country charts while hitting the top 30 and top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Top 50 respectively.  At this distance, the song's wider significance is that it took Presley a little closer to the more rootsier end of his repertoire - not exactly rock'n'roll but certainly country pop and more interesting than anything which had gone out with his name attached to it for several years.  It can be seen as a push towards the '68 Comeback Special which would, briefly at least, resurrect his credibility.  The choice of Guitar Man, together with Trouble to open the whole shebang signifies it's importance.  Regrettably, the dawn provided by the comeback show proved to be a false one as Elvis moved towards gospel music, MOR rock, sentimental weepies and an eternity playing in Vegas.  There was no Rick Rubin figure who could have persuaded him to keep taking risks.  I still dream of a musical alternative universe where Presley took on The End.

If Elvis had lived into the 80s, he would have been a cinch to have covered something by The Jesus and Mary Chain, particularly given how Jim and William Reid based so much of their look and sound on a bastard hybrid of Elvis/Gene Vincent/ PJ Proby and all those other artists from the 50s/60s whose doomy melodramas could be mashed through a soundscape that was equal parts Sun Records/Phil Spector Wall of Sound/Velvet Underground/Raw Power era Stooges.  But by 1992, The Jesus and Mary Chain were still trying to party up their sound as best they could. Their take on Guitarman, as they labelled it on the B-side of the Lalo Schifrin tinged funk of Reverence, evokes the Presley of Viva Las Vegas as their titular hero jacks in working a car wash to hitch across the U.S. and try to make a living as a musician.  The sample at the end in which a helium-voiced lush talks of "the degenerate's degenerate" is a suitably JAMC-like touch with its implications of how the Guitar Man may find that being a "Swinging little guitar man" could lead to many more rewards than simply pleasure in the music.

Curiously, Peel chose only to play the JAMC version of the tune, but the other versions are well worth hearing as well.

Jerry Reed's original

Elvis's version featuring Jerry Reed on guitar

Videos courtesy of Copshootcop74 (Jesus and Mary Chain), madgab5 (Reed) and David Doleen (Elvis).

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