Good Songs, Bad Songs (You Know I’ve Had My Share)

My buddy Les Ogilby, who plays a fantastic blues harp–on occasion with the Biletones–and is as much of a music junkie as the rest of us (Les has contributed to the site, in fact) gave me a great disc with a bunch of cool less than widely known tunes, and one of the songs on it was this fantastic cover of Louie Louie by the Flamin’ Groovies (note the drummer has a real Boris Karloff look to him, and the bassist is on a Hofner!).

As I was listening and thinking about how simple this song is, the thought brought me back to Spirit in the Sky, another simple song that was a hit, but that is flat out weak compared to Louie Louie.

One reason we know the superiority is Louie Louie I believe is the most recorded pop tune, while anyone covering Greenbaum has been crucified.

Some of what works are the words, for one thing that drives me nuts about Greenbaum’s song is the “couplet:”

“When I die and they lay me to rest,

I’m gonna go to the place that’s the best.”

To say that is third grade poetry is an insult to eight-year olds everywhere. I mean that second line could have been “I love god it’s in him I invest” or “I’ll sleep with a heavenly crest” or “I’ll be denied because of incest” or something slightly more sophisticated. Not that Louie Louie has complex words, but part of the charm is like a good rock tune, the words are garbled and subject to urban myth and conjecture providing part of the essence of how Aristotle defined what poetry should do: teach and delight.

But, then I was streaming some New Wave stuff and on came a fantastic Johnny Thunders cover of the Shangri Las Give Him a Great Big Kiss, another tune that could easily be so tawdry and awful in the Honey/Teen Angel kind of sense, but somehow the song kills both in the hands of the Shangri Las and Thunders.

Anyway, I am not sure exactly where this is going. For sure I dig both these covers and was looking for an excuse to write about them, but, again, Kiss is such a simple song (two chords for the verse, two more for the chorus) and like Louie Louie it all works so well.

Maybe someone can explain that fine line to me between genius and stupid? I do know Einstein said “the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.” True words for these times.

4 thoughts on “Good Songs, Bad Songs (You Know I’ve Had My Share)

  1. Amen on “Great Big Kiss.” Played it hundreds of times, always a crowd pleaser. You gotta get “So Alone,” Lawr. It’s an all-time great album with a range of styles and fantastic production by Steve Lillywight in one of his first gigs. The musicians all play their asses off and Johnny’s in all his ragged glory. Another great cut, a little loud n hard R&B:

  2. Hey Lawr, I’m a fan of Spirit in the Sky. It’s cheesy, but it has a compelling and original sound for a Top 40 tune and the music actually feels spiritual in an original way. In the land of one hit wonders, this is one of the kings.

    That said, you’re absolutely right about the “place that’s the best” line. That is irredeemable crap.

    Which drops Spirit in the Sky a few notches on my list of songs that I like even though everyone else hates them. Good argument.

  3. i am downloading So Alone on my Spotify now, Gene. And, fine if you like Spirit but the riff is just Satisfaction sideways to me. I even thought that was a rip.

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