Fleetwood Mac: Man of the World

220px-fleetwood_mac_peter_green_2The story of Peter Green is a story that chimes with that of Syd Barrett: a suburban, English white boy who found unexpected personal resonance in the music of Black America, but whose gifts were lost in the psychic turbulence of a counterculture that descended from the bliss and joy of 1967 to the ruin and despair of the decade’s end. Each left their own cultural mark primarily as rock’s “lost boys” – known as much for their disappearance from public life as for the innovative music they made in their fleeting spell in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, the bands built largely around their unique talents moved into an entirely different stratosphere of success throughout the 70s: platinum albums… huge stadia… iconic album artwork. Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac somehow transmogrified from the vehicles for the intimate, deeply personal visions of their founding members into rock colossi that spoke to millions through a kind of digestible universality and slick musicianship.

They both ended these most productive part of their careers with dark, troubled recordings. (Peter Green’s The Green Manalishi occupying the same fractured mental space as Pink Floyd’s Jugband Blues) but many observers point to Man of the World as the start of the change in Peter Green’s psyche.

It’s a song that’s haunted me since I first heard it on a cassette in around 1990. As I was picking up the guitar for the first time, I was listening to the second-hand Canon Of Great Music from the 60s and 70s, passed down from older kids and the record collections of their parents.

Much of it – like The Doors and other self-consciously portentous acts of that ilk – left little impression on me, but Man of the World stuck like a limpet. Only now with half a lifetime under my belt has it really come to resonate on a psychological level (partly informed by things I’m struggling to overcome).

Musically, it is simple in construction but the actual recording is full of tricksy moments to keep you on your toes if you’re playing along. Most notably, the rhythm parts noticeably lag behind the main guitar figures – lending the song a kind of uncertainty that fits the lyrical themes like a glove.

The main chord change of the verse is also unexpected in some ways. It drops from the opening D to the fifth of A and then onto the minor fourth of a plangent G minor (throughout, there are two guitars whose interactions are an absolute all-time case study in how to write complimentary parts – the A, for example, presenting as a 6th). This is a subtle inversion from more traditional progressions, which would ordinarily segue from the fourth to its minor form. In this sense, it fits neatly with the general freeing of popular music from traditional tropes that the Beatles had initiated with their blithe disregard for orthodoxy in the first half of the sixties.

Like much great songwriting, this chord change is then twisted: moving to Em before landing on an unexpectedly ambiguous B minor. Musically, of course, these chords fit perfectly into the natural key of the song, but the their use shows how even a prosaic set of chords can be deployed in unexpected ways to create a tone.

After two verses (and a hauntingly lyrical guitar solo) the underlying restlessness of the song finds a new expression  – shifting to a brief, hard-edged excursion into a rocky F minor/E minor change chock full of angular riffing and buzzing guitars. Finally, the song returns to the verse before ending on a note of exquisitely resigned gentleness over the same Fm/Em axis: presented this time with what is almost a touch of soft jazz.

While not being born of the traditional wellspring of the blues in musical terms, it is completely of the blues thematically.

If one were to be uncharitable, you could argue that it is a standard “rich man’s lament” – but to me it touches on one of the universal underlying truths of life: you can have everything and yet it can all count for nothing. The blues is an expression of longing: laments for things lost, whether in the form of material things or elements of the soul.

Is there a more direct expression of that in rock than Green’s second verse?

“I guess I’ve got everything I want
I couldn’t ask for more
And there’s no one I’d rather be
But I just wish that I’d never been born.”

For various reasons which I can’t articulate here, this speaks very directly to my own regrets and laments at this point in my life. I may never be able to do full justice to this song, but I’ve started incorporating it into live performance. So, without futher ado, here I am performing this haunting track live – completely with my frankly massive head.

 

Man of the World: Lyrics

Shall I tell you about my life?
They say I’m a man of the world
I’ve flown across every tide
And I’ve seen lots of pretty girls

I guess I’ve got everything I need
I would’t ask for more
And there’s no one I’d rather be
But I just wish that I’d never been born

And I need a good woman
To make me feel like a good man should
I don’t say I’m a good man
Oh, but I would be if I could

I could tell you about my life
And keep you amused I’m sure
About all the times I’ve cried
And how I don’t want to be sad anymore
And how I wish I was in love

Stone Roses: One For All

Depressingly for my own sense of mortality, it was pointed out to me that in terms of chronology, The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut album (1989) is closer to The Beatles’ debut Please Please Me (1962) than it is to today. It is also 21 years since the band released any new music as a group, and throughout all those years I’ve kept a flickering candle aloft for the seminal group of my youth.

And suddenly – out of nowhere – a new single. Is it any good? Well your mind is probably made up about the band one way or another so in a sense your opinion is moot, but I’m attempting to set aside my personal preference (basically to go drop some Es and drive round the countryside in a Mini Metro singing it at the top of my voice) to give it a fair hearing. So: here it is, after two decades of waiting….

In strict songwriting terms, All For One barely exists. I’ve not had the chance to completely break it down, but you can effectively busk it after a couple of listens with the G, F and C chords (in fact, the record was released at 8:00pm, and we did a live acoustic performance of it on Periscope before 9 the same night). There are just two vocal melodies, which sound like they utilise half a dozen notes between them – and the lyrics are genially optimistic nonsense that don’t really warrant much scrutiny.

So on that basis, you’d be forgiven for shrugging the song off, leaving some snarky comment on social media about how the Stone Roses are a Beady Eye tribute act and going about your business. However, the song does have some pretty interesting twists within its structure that I think betray its genesis and highlight some of the things that make the Stone Roses still a more musically astute unit than, say, the bands like Oasis for which they are ultimately responsible.

Is All For One Plagiarised from The Fall’s Squid Lord?

An interesting aside here is that the song’s major musical motif – the riff that runs throughout more or less constantly – is very close to that of the Fall’s Squid Lord. Not only is the figure very similar, but to my ear (and I haven’t had the chance yet to sit down and work it out) I suspect it’s also in the same key of G.

Sure, John Squire’s figure adds a couple of notes and has a much more fluidity, but bands have been successfully sued for less. Is it a direct copy or a subconscious thing? Pure coincidence? Until/unless there’s a court case, we’ll never know. Here’s The Fall – and you can make your own mind up.

Setting that aside, the riff is in the vein of classic “psychedelia.” It sits on an alternating axis of G and F and using the G major scale over both to create the effect of a polychord so beloved of British bands in the 60s (see: The Kinks’ See My Friends for perhaps the earliest example).

Melody

The opening melody is typically Stone Rosian. Ian Brown is not a gifted vocalist by anyone’s measure in terms of range so like many of their songs, All For One is tonally pretty conservative – probably to accommodate Brown’s limitations. But this is not to damn the song, for this is how all bands operate. Bob Dylan’s songs can’t be classed as terrible just because the guy can’t roam cover a couple of octaves – their appeal is directly tied to his voice, phrasing and vocal mannerisms. So, you either like the personality of Brown’s voice or you don’t. Yes, there are better singers, but he brings a certain phrasing and attitude to his vocalisation that has enough character to have informed a thousand imitators ever since.

Taken as it is, it’s clear the band are working in the same psychedelic genre that has birthed any number of drone-based songs. Perhaps the most obvious direct analog would be the Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows (Revolver, 1966.) The use of a drone is a common feature of folk music from around the world, but it is through Indian classical music that the ‘psychedelic’ sub-genre was born and the idea of the song-as-mantra has been part of Western culture since that movement arose in the mid-60s.

You know I mentioned the song’s genesis? Well to me, All For One has all the hallmarks of a developed jam – taking a riff which the band have developed together in the studio and worked into a song. “Oh it sounds like a band just jamming” is another lazy refrain of the lazy critic, but it’s a valid approach that’s had a long and honourable history across all genres of popular music for decades. In fact, I mentioned such an example while talking about Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up on this here very internet webzone some months ago.

Structure

It is the song’s structure that I think shows that how the Stone Roses have taken the bare bones of a studio jam and worked hard to create genuine interest within its limited sonic palette.

Firstly, there really is no structure in formal terms. The unimaginative songwriter/band will slap down (as Morrissey noted) “verse, chorus, middle-8 break, fade” when devoid of inspiration. Here, the Stone Roses chuck in the refrains, pauses, choruses, instrumental breaks in a way that makes no rational sense. You’re just thinking “Oh – I’ve got this now” when the song throws in one of its constituent parts from an unexpected angle.

The parts themselves are kind of uninteresting in musical terms, so these structural surprises are absolutely necessary to maintain interest over the song’s 3:36 running time and to my ear they rise to the challenge. John Squire’s guitar tracks have always had an extemporised feel to them – constantly shifting so that (if you’re really listening) they act as a kind of running commentary on the song: quiet here, loud there and only rarely repeating. The rhythm section too – clearly inspired by the rehearsal work they’ve put into the last 4 years of touring – subtly shift emphasis from moment to moment, and are so tightly interlocked that it’s easy to miss the moments where they pause together in tandem, displaying the kind of alchemy that very few bands achieve.

As a thought experiment, imagine the meat-and-potatoes of Coldplay’s rhythm section ploddingly following the chords of an early Who single, or adding flavour to a late-60s Stones record. Rhythm sections can absolutely make the difference as to whether or not a song works, and the Roses have one of the great rhythm sections.

The Stone Roses have always made a point of playing their backing tracks live, rather than building up layers through ProTools. I just think you either hear that and care about it, or you don’t. For the avoidance of doubt: I very much do, and appreciate the resulting organic sound and dynamic range of the recording in general.

And in conclusion?

As I said somewhere near the outset: if you like The Stone Roses, this song will work for you and probably has enough of the elements that made them popular to ensure that you can bounce in a moshpit with your arms around your mates singing “one big family” throughout the summer. If the appeal of that is lost on you, nothing here is going to change your mind. For me, this works on every level I’d like it to, and I’m busily applying Baby Bio to what little remains of my hair in the vain hope of regaining a fringe.

As an aside, ane complaint already repeated ad nauseum about this record is that it “just sounds the same.” Well, aside from a few truly transcendent examples, that’s just what artists do. Picasso didn’t have a twenty year break and come back painting watercolours of the English countryside. Tolkien’s unpublished works weren’t about 30-something women making friends and trying to find love in the corporate world. Artists have themes and styles and concerns that generally speaking stay with them. While it would have been interesting for The Stone Roses to return with a slice of dubstep that would be greeted with disdain you can imagine: either they’d be castigated for betraying their roots, or laughed at for straying beyond them. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

Personally, I’m glad they did.

All For One: Lyrics

All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall
All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall

All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall
Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
The mystery, all eyes to see
Chemistry, all one family

All for one, one for all
If we take a stand, we shall not fall

Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
The mystery, all eyes to see
Chemistry, all one family

Beside of me, all over me
Behind of me, right in front of me
Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all one family

Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
The mystery, all eyes to see
Chemistry, all one family

All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall