Monday, February 23, 2009

A Visual Song for the Video Generation

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Entella Hotel
Peter Case
ALBUM: The Man With the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar
YEAR/LABEL: 1988; Geffen

The whole trick to songwriting is to say as much as you can with the least amount. It's almost like sending a telegram.
(Peter Case)

The advent of MTV seems to have made songwriters lazy. So many songs sound as though they were written for background music for a video, or they're so convoluted that they need a video to explain them.

Enter Peter Case. He had already produced an exceptional debut (his 1986 self-titled album) after a hiatus following the break-up of the Plimsouls. His second solo album, The Man With the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar (a title that sounds as though he stole it out of Joe Walsh's garbage can -- he has another album like that, Peter Case Sings Like Hell), broke the so-called "sophomore curse" that so many greats of the 80s suffered from (e.g., the BoDeans, Marshall Crenshaw), and, in fact, was a better album than Peter Case -- which is saying something.

Highlights abound on Blue Guitar, but without question the most exceptional song is the movie disguised as a five-minute song, "Entella Hotel." Forget a video, because this song is so explicitly detailed that a video would only distract from the lyrics. Case takes us through this seedy hotel and the strip bar, the Garden of Earthly Delights, with such clarity that one can almost smell those "old men laying in hallways" and hear the shatter as "the mirror falls with a roar."

Case bombards his listener with great line after great line in this song, including two back-to-back. Describing the day, he sings, "The afternoon seems to go on forever like some drunken bum till the sun finally drowns 'neath the bridge and the night has begun." He allows no time to recover from that exceptional piece of visual reporting, for the next verse begins, "Down by the bay the ships' horns are blasting the fog, and we stumble and mutter and run through the gutter like dogs." By the time Case finishes assaulting your senses in this song, you're looking for Nicole's phone number to offer to help her recover from the "terrible fight" she and her boss had down at the Garden of Earthly Delights -- or you're wanting a shower because the grunge of the hotel and its denizens has rubbed off on you.

Sadly, Blue Guitar is not currently in print, although it has been issued on CD in the past. The song is also available on Thank You St. Jude, an album of re-recorded versions of Case's most requested material from his days on Geffen. Whatever it takes, get this song.


The entire Man With the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar album -- it is no exaggeration to say this is one of the best albums, not only of the 1980s, but of the last 30 years.
"Steel Strings" (from Peter Case) -- a classic song from Case's first album about the ups and downs (mostly downs) of life as a musician.
"Rose Conolly" (from Peter Case Sings Like Hell) -- better known as "Down in the Willow Garden" when Charlie Monroe & the Kentucky Partners recorded it in 1946, this old murder ballad gets a fresh reading from Case.

Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well


Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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