Thursday, September 27, 2007

My favorite song(s) in the world: Part I...

I've pimped Peter Case's music pretty hard on this blog over the years, but now I get to offer you the tunes themselves thanks to my Badongo player in the right hand margin. Last week I posted those deep cuts from UFO's Obsession album as part of a catch up plan and I'd like to continue with that effort. I had no luck coming up with a clever title for this reoccurring post so it is what is. If someone wants to recommend something I'd be happy to consider any suggestion. Otherwise, it’ll be this until I’m inspired.

Anyhoo, "Small Town Spree". I've been calling this tune out at Peter Case shows for 15 years and he hasn't obliged me yet. At one show a couple of years ago, I was talking with him between sets and when he asked me if there was anything I’d like to hear in particular I didn’t hesitate a second and quickly blurted out “Small Town Spree!” He scratched his head and asked me, “Do you remember how the lyrics started?” I took it to mean that he didn’t want to play it and I quickly made another suggestion, “how ‘bout ‘Put Down the Gun’?” “No problem…” he said, as he set down his cup of coffee and took his place in front of the mic.

The story in “Small Town Spree” is one that most anyone can relate to. The reason I’m so fond of the lyrics to this song is that in addition to personally knowing a ton of guys from my wasted youth who could qualify to be the figure in the tale, I’m pretty sure that many of my old high school classmates have thought the same of me as they leafed through their dusty old yearbooks. The hauntingly percussive guitar is complimented by a fantastic string arraignment that builds as the song progresses and at one particular point of brilliance offers a sickly out of tune backdrop as Pete sings, “Heard you broke down on your way out to New York City…”. His harmonic provides another clever sound effect surprise a bit further up the road.

I love the way he ends it too. Perhaps he’s wondering if there were signs back then that his friend had this thing in him even back then. No question one of my all time favorite songs EVER.

There are so many great PC songs that I would consider my second favorite (I was considering both “Poor Old Tom” and “Put Down The Gun”) that I decided to go for the tune that was a little more diverse juxtaposed against Small Town Spree and go with the latter. This is a PC song with band accompaniment and it’s simply fantastic. The open tuned guitar gallop at the beginning matched with his picturesque lyrics grab you from the beginning:

On the hills outside of town there’s a hiding place
Where the green fields sway with lavender that stirs the Queen Anne’s lace
Where the silent clouds go sailing in a sea of Dutchman’s blue
And the lonesome tracks by the railroad cut make think of you

And the train we missed…

With that, he lands on an E chord and you know something is amiss. As the chorus emerges, the band is in full swing electric guitars and all. The songs’ peaks and valleys are pure perfection to me and T-Bone Burnett’s production is masterfully evident throughout.

“Small Town Spree” affirms that everybody has a myth of some sort built around them in somebody’s eyes. Sometimes you end up defying them, sometimes you end up living up to them, sometimes for better or for worse. At a minimum, it’s great to be remembered I guess.

“Put Down the Gun” gives us a story of someone talking a friend down from the ledge. Something we’ve all had to do at one time or another. That’s just what you do for friends.

As I write this, I wonder if I’m cheating you by not going with “Poor Old Tom” now. I guess that means I’ll have to feature it on it’s own at a later time.

Enjoy and let me know what you think…

“Small Town Spree” is from Peter Case’s self titled debut solo album on Geffen records. Sadly, this record is currently out of print, but it can be found used on “Put Down the Gun” is from Pete's second Geffen release “The Man with the Blue Guitar”. It is still widely available.


At 7:12 PM, September 27, 2007, Blogger Beth said...

Great song. I need to spend some time exploring Peter Case's catalog.

I gotta get one of those Badongo thingies ...

At 9:48 AM, September 28, 2007, Blogger Tony Alva said...


You will not be disappointed with either of Pete's two Geffen releases and I'd highly recommend dropping the extra bucks for the first one. Both were produced by T-Bone and are packed with thoughtful, well crafted tunes end to end. On the first record, he even looks back to his old Plimsouls band and gives them a nod on "Steel Strings":

All those night they hit rock bottom
The songs they sang well we forgot'em
You can hear'em play with shaky hands
Guitars strung up with rubber bands

Singin' do you want a man of steel
Or do you want a man that's real
Some of'em hide when the doorbell rings, but they're only made of steel when they're on steel strings

From there on, Pete went to Vanguard Records and his future efforts were far more sparse in comparision production wise. That doesn't make them bad at all, it just makes them a little harder on mainstream ears. As a matter of fact, "Sings Like Hell" and "Torn Again" are brilliant.

The Geffen releases are must haves. If I had a million dollars I'd buy a 100,000 copies of these two records and give them away to people and show them what they are missing.

At 11:37 AM, September 28, 2007, Blogger Mother Goldstein said...

I'm sold - I will be ordering my copy of his debut solo today - already have blue guitar.

been a long time plimsouls fan, but his solo stuff is much different - much more mature. You can see how he has grown as a musician/song writer by leaps and bounds since those days.

He could still be touring around playing Million Miles Away and the like (and probably do well) - I just love when musicians actually keep learning and refining their craft.

Great post...

drop me an email

I have a better Idea for you to use other than this badongo thingy...
Let Mother Goldstein-Mooksuki hook you up.

At 3:04 PM, September 28, 2007, Blogger Beth said...

You convinced me; I'll hit Decatur CD this weekend.

At 1:19 AM, September 29, 2007, Blogger Jackson said...

The title is fine, but you could lose the 'in the world', it's kinda given.

Small Town Spree and Three Days Straight are my PC faves.

At 9:11 PM, September 29, 2007, Blogger Tony Alva said...

Three Days Straight IS an excellent tune. Damn, I might have to rethink this post.

Damn you Jackson...

At 11:38 PM, October 24, 2007, Blogger Tomek said...

Interesting write-up on Peter Case. I actually met his parents once, as I'm from his hometown (though long after he left). The song "Small Town Spree" contains clear references to this town:

"It all started at Gates Liquor Store, where you helped yourself to a bottle of scotch
Strode down to Millar's Drugs, where you forged a check and borrowed a watch.
The bells were ringing at St. Peters and Paul's when you stole the collection box..."

These three local icons all existed within easy walking distance on Main Street in Hamburg, NY (about a half hour south of Buffalo, NY) in the 1970s and 80s, though only the church is still around. In Case's childhood in the 1960s and still mine in the late 1970s and early 80s Hamburg was indeed still an isolated little farming community, a small town, though by now it's a bustling up-scale "bedroom community", a sad transformation.

I'm not sure if Case was just using a convenient backdrop for this song, or if this connection to his hometown has any deeper significance.


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