Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Perfect Songs - Forty Four

forty four

Some time in '94 or '95, I saw Clapton live. It was during the From the Cradle tour so it was all blues, which is really the only time I really listen to him. I played the hell out of that album back then. But he played one song at the show that wasn't on that album of blues classics, that I hadn't heard before and it blew me away. To this day it's one of my all time favorite songs, period, in any genre. And back then, it wasn't that easy to just look up the song and instantly play it, but I hunted it down anyway. It was "Forty Four" as played by Howlin Wolf and although there are many versions and Wolf's isn't the original, it's my favorite and the one most people really cover because it's perfect.

The combination of sick and tired that comes through in this song is palpable. It's weary, threatening, angry and ultimately painful in a way that few songs manage to balance out this well. I've used the word catharsis quite a bit lately, talking about rock in general or metal in particular, but it applies to the blues before it ever applied to anything else and this is a prime example. Howlin Wolf's version differs immensely from the first recorded version by Roosevelt Sykes, though.

It was around well before Sykes, and it's known by several different versions of the title. There's "Forty Four," "44 Blues," "The Forty Fours" and "44 Pistols." But for the most part, everything after Wolf is in line with his additions because that beat is impossible to deny. There are a lot of songs about anger but man, if there's a better one that deals in that moment when the frustration is just boiling and you aren't sure "where in the world to go" with it, I've never heard it.  And back in '94 or '95, when I first heard it, that feeling sort of always lived with me, so it's no accident that this song latched on to me the way it did. Anyway, here's a more recent version by Clapton, different than the more stripped down version I first heard, but the intro is more than appropriate.

Then there's RL Burnside's ".44 Pistol" which makes it more country, more groovy and has a different beat but amps up the sick and tired in a way only RL Burnside can. There's just something about his playing and his almost moaning voice that makes you just feel beat down. The simplicity of his style is easy to dismiss but you'd be a fool to do so.

And in closing, I leave you with The Kills, because The fucking Kills, that's why. This version is stripped down and closer to the first time I heard it from Clapton but what's turned up here is the badass. Only Alison Mosshart can make it this badass and painful at the same time though. Her menace is tempered by her cool but underneath is the pain that leads to anger (and ultimately to the Dark Side). But no matter what, the song remains perfect.

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