I love the movie Almost Famous.
Aside from the work being a terrific piece of cinema, I was a subscriber to RollingStone when the original article–written by Cameron Crowe and based upon the Allman Brothers Band tour–on which now director Crowe’s film is based, was published. I remember the words and for sure the photographs.
I am also a big fan of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the chameleon actor who portrayed Truman Capote, Scottie (the neurotic “go-for” in Boogie Nights), Brandt, the other Lebowski’s ‘go-for,’ Athletics manager Art Howe (in Moneyball), and my favorite, tragically doomed rock critic Lester Bangs in Crowe’s tome.
In a typically Bangsian rant, the actor dismisses cool bands–including the Doors and Morrison Hotel–, extolling the 70’s band, The Guess Who thusly: “Give me the Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.”
Well, over the last few months we have been having work done to our home, and that meant storing a bunch of crap in what usually masquerades as my music room. Actually, I love the room. All my guitars and array of amps live in there, along with a drum kit and a keyboard. I have a a little PA, and all my music books (some songbooks, but I am talking Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung type books) in there as well.
There is also a stereo–with a turntable no less–and all the 800 or so albums I collected before albums and their moniker became things of the past.
So, with one phase the reconstruction completed, my niece and music bud Lindsay came over not just to help me put stuff in order, but to redo the albums, placing them in band name/release date order a la High Fidelity.
In the course of going through things, I happened onto my old single of The Guess Who’s, No Time which I suppose I have lugged around from house-to-house for the past 40 years or so.
I guess in a Proustian/Swann’s Way fahion, stumbling across the record brought back a flood of Guess Who memories. Like remembering that Burton Cummings had appeared as “an eligible bachelor” on The Dating Game (he wasn’t picked) and the Hoffman cum Bangs line from Crowe’s movie.
In retrospect, Bang’s observation of the band as a bunch of “drunken buffoons” is kind of harsh (but, that is Bangs). Although I don’t know the particulars of their habits regarding the ingestion of alcohol, let alone pyschotropics, but I do know that the Guess Who had a litany of hits.
Between 1968-76, the team of Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachman (the Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive) penned/released no fewer than 32 singles that registered on the Top 100 of one, if not all the charts for Canada, Australia, and the United States.
Of their songs that really clicked in the States, both American Woman and No Sugar Tonight/Mother Nature (the song the title for this piece was stolen from) hit #1.
But, there are a number of great pop tunes within the group’s catalog, including the amazing output list below over a three-year span:
- These Eyes (1969)
- Laughing (1969)
- Undun (1969)
- No Time (1970)
- American Woman (1970)
- No Sugar Tonight (1970)
- Hand Me Down World (1970)
- Share the Land (1970)
- Hang Onto Your Life (1971)
- Albert Flasher (from 1971, and which is part of the Almost Famous soundtrack)
The group still released songs after that fruitful period, but nothing apparently as strong, and they barely registered a flicker on any chart other than their native Canadian one.
They continued to perform as the Guess Who until 1975, split up, and then–shudder–reformed and are still apparently playing to my fellow boomers who refuse to let go of the past.
Irrespective, that list of ten tunes above deserves more merit than even Mr. Bangs could offer.
Both These Eyes and especially Undun were just great tracks at the time, with the flute in Undun pre-dating Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson by a couple of years.
No Time is simply a great song, with a cool drum kick that starts the groove off. And there are similarly the vague and cool words:
“no time for my watch and chain,
no time for a summer rain,
seasons change and so do I,
you need not wonder why,
for no time left for you…”
OK, so maybe a little hippy dippy trippy, but it was 60’s, and, well, American Woman was probably no less naive in principle. It also rocked enough for Lenny Kravitz to cover in a great way, and it is another song I always wanted to cover in one of my bands.
The apex, though, was No Sugar Tonight/Mother Nature, probably the band’s maximum opus that sort of merged together two tunes eventually pulling the melody from No Sugar for the coda and finish.
Certainly, Cummings, Bachman, et al, were not The Stooges, or even the Seeds or the 13th Floor Elevators in the world of in your face Rock’n’Roll.
But, for a brief time, right when FM radio was taking off, and baby boomers were determining that “Up With People,” and “The King Family” were not really what represented music and the future (check out the first 20 years of Super Bowl halftime acts, and you will see), and no one really knew what direction we were supposed to go, let alone would go, The Guess Who popped out some pretty good and tuneful tunes.
To me, they were even more than drunken buffoons. They still are.
I don’t like “Almost Famous.” Mike Salfino and Scott Pianowski refer to it fairly frequently in their excellent “Breakfast Table” NFL column and I couldn’t take it anymore. My (edited to a tolerable level of political correctness) comments from that time:
1) The initial, small-time manager looks like Josh Paley.
2) The music they play during the movie has positives, but, sans Zep, almost all the music they let play for any length is lame. I watched the credits at the end and noticed “Looking At You” by MC5, a great song, is in the movie. I didn’t even catch it. “Search & Destroy” by Iggy, the best song ever, plays for about 10 seconds.
3) Take a look at the movie soundtrack. It’s amazing in that, just like the movie, for the most part, the really good stuff is left off and all the lame stuff is there.
4) Stillwater is pretty lame, kind of like a poor man’s Bad Company. I don’t think Bad Company is that good (of course, because it’s “Bad.”)
5) The “Tiny Dancer” bus scene is really lame. What kind of kick ass rock ‘n’ roll band gets a charge out of singing “Tiny Dancer” on a bus together like a bunch of girl scouts?
6) I know the movie is based on Cameron Crowe’s real-life experience. My guess is that’s very loosely based. “Inglorius Basterds” was based on WWII too.
7) Perhaps there were big changes from 1973 to 1975 or perhaps the East Coast is much more cruel than the West Coast, but I started going to concerts in 1975 and looked relatively similar to the William Miller character. The hippies were ornery and mean to me, especially since I looked like a little kid. And, believe me, no hot, older groupie women befriended me either. I was treated more like a little kid pissant. The peace and love hippy stuff was gone by 1975 and probably by 1973 as well.
8) The entire film boils down to a cutesy little chick flick love story. I saw a review that called it “a power ballad of a movie.” Power ballads suck.
9) I don’t think Lester Bangs would have liked “Almost Famous.”
But I will say, for balance sake, that the very first album I bought as a kid (nine years old in 1970, to be exact) was “Share The Land” by the Guess Who. I went with a friend and his family to Kempton, PA, where they have a train museum and a trian to ride, etc. We heard “Share The Land” all day long on the radio and it was a good time, so I bought my first album. Burton Cummings had an amazing voice. Have you ever tried to cover his singing in a band? It’s like trying to cover Noddy Holder from Slade.
I hear what you are saying, but it is a movie. More it is a memoir movie, so that will stretch a little. And, if you ever saw “The Player,” which is terrific, remember the principles of making a movie from it.
I do remember the Crowe piece on the Allman’s did have the “we are all gonna die” thing in it.
Never saw Inglorius. But, again, memoir/fictionalized, so I can cut some slack for that if engaging. And, to me Almost Famous is.
Though, I am sure your are right, Bangs would hate it.
You know Nancy Wilson from Heart did the music (she is married to Crowe)?
Anyway, my favorite movies are 40’s screwball comedies, so I have a very suspended belief system, tainted my needless romanticism (Oscar Wilde said the cynic was the unfulfilled romantic. He also said a cynic is a person who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing). So, I am willing to cut it some slack.
He does write well. And, how many other mainstream movies even have Search and Destroy?
I have tried to view the closing music credits, but there are soooooo many.
I want to know what the song at the end when the tour bus 74 (no airplanes tour) goes off into the sunset?
But, then it goes into I think “White Hot Shimmering Gold” by the Beach Boys which is just deadly.
You were a West Coast hippie, Lawr, and I’m certain you would have been nice to me in 1975. Sigh.
A little investigating suggests the song before the Beach Boys song is by Yes. Maybe Your Move?
Here’s a list of music in order from the movie, though this sites a different Yes song before the Beach Boys than the last site out found.
Thanks Peter. Lotta tunes. And, some Zep, Steve, for sure. Feel Flows is the Beach Boys song at the end. Never knew the title exactly: always loved, though. Crowe is a big Pet Sounds fan too, I think.
Geez, I was right about “Search and Destroy” – only 13 seconds (best use of “Search and Destroy” is in Wes Anderson’s “Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” – a great, underrated movie, especially if you like Bill Murray). But I was dead wrong on “Looking At You.” It plays for a whole minute. How did I miss it? Was it playing during naked boobs or something?
It (Search and Destroy) when Bangs is at the San Diego radio station, just before he meets young William, I believe.
Steve Zissou is a great little move. Murray vastly underrated. Anderson is as well. Plus, he always has great music in his movies.