Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Lay Down Sally" by Eric Clapton (1977)



Apparently, when I was, like, four, I amazed my father and several of his friends by being correctly able to identify the song “Layla” by its opening guitar riff. I have no comment on how I was able to do that (especially since it would have been a years-old mouldy oldie at that time), but I can confirm that I like that song quite a bit.

Which makes it perhaps the only Eric Clapton song I’ve liked in his 40-some-odd years as a professional musician.

Yes, yes. Eric Clapton is God. I know, I know. Thing is, I don’t believe in God, either.

For me, the moment of truth was finding Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton in a cutout bin. I knew I liked “Layla” (and that rubbishy acoustic version had yet to come out) and seemed to recall having heard a song or two of his that I didn’t mind. Plus, the universe was filled with people all too willing to tell me how great Eric Clapton is. So I saw it there looking me in the face for, like, $3 or something, and gave it a go.

Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton is perhaps the worst greatest hits album ever, beating out even Shaquille O’Neal’s. I know, it sounds like iconoclasm for its own sake, but it’s a simple fact. A more inept album I could not imagine. Except for the great “Layla” and the acceptable “After Midnight”, it’s laziness from start to finish. For a man allegedly so connected to the blues, Clapton seems to have no soul, no passion or feeling whatsoever. He is a piece of cardboard. He can play guitar well enough, but so can Yngwie Malmsteen, and that doesn’t mean anyone ever wants to listen to him either.

I’ve chosen the excruciating “Lay Down Sally.” But equally legitimately it could have been “Cocaine” or “Willie and the Hand Jive” or his embarrassing take on “I Shot the Sherriff”. It could also have been “Tales of Brave Ulysses” or any of the every-now-and-then interchangeable singles he’s released over the past fifteen years that have a vague soft-rock feel but are produced by R&B svengalis like Babyface. All deserve to be here, frankly.

“Lay Down Sally” is the most depressing because it attempts to be ‘jolly’. Because we know you have to have a heart to have one broken, we can immediately recognize soulless robo-emoting on supposed ‘sad songs’ as the pretense it is. Because this preposterous little ‘down-home shuffle’ sets its sights so low, though, we may not immediately realize how it is affected by Mr. Clapton’s critical lack of a soul.

But affected it is. The wholly unconvincing ‘good-timey’ vibe (with female b-vox appearing in time for the chorus) actually accentuates its total lack of personality. ‘Good-timey’ only works if it’s charming, and I can’t imagine anything as charmless as this.

And the guitar’s no great shakes either.

God, pshaw.

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