Peter Green, of course, but Emitt Rhodes?
By Trevor Moore
Peter Green’s death made the news because, if you hadn’t heard of him, you had almost certainly heard of Fleetwood Mac and had almost certainly heard his most famous tune, Albatross. But before we get to Peter Green, there are two other rock ’n’ rolls stars who have died in the last few days. And these are two people that you may never have heard of.
I was breakfasting last week when my wife interrupted me (I like to breakfast in peace, I am a miserable SOB) and said “Emitt Rhodes has died.” I looked perplexed. “He was in a band called Merry-Go-Round.” My perplexity persisted. I had never heard of Emitt Rhodes. I did what I generally do in these situations. I turned to my friend Macman, to whom I know you all listen to every Wednesday afternoon on 2EARFM. I texted him: “have you heard of this dude?” He texted back “cannot recall anything of his”. This was a world first as Macman is the ultimate source for rock trivia. We did not despair. Macman’s brother, resident in the US, has a background in the music industry so we duly turned to him. He remembered a story about a giraffe but then said that, no, that was someone else. He hadn’t heard of Rhodes.
Emitt Rhodes then, and not-so-then
Emitt Rhodes was one of those musicians who really ought to have made it but never did. A little research found an Emitt Rhodes playlist on Spotify. When I listened to it I could almost have been listening to The Beatles. There is a 2009 movie about him that was critically acclaimed on its release. It is called The One Man Beatles. Rhodes was born in California in 1950 and his musical career began at the age of 15 as the drummer for a band called The Palace Guard. The Palace Guard was successful in Southern California … but nowhere else. Occasionally Rhodes would come out from behind his drum kit and sing. The band was known for their style of dress, clothing themselves in military-themed red coats, much like the costumes worn by The Kinks (see the cover of their first eponymous album) who were one of the influences on Rhodes along with The Who, The Small Faces, The Byrds and of course The Beatles. Indeed, perhaps the uniforms influenced the Beatles’ costumes on Sgt Pepper. Perhaps, but probably not.
The Palace Guard in their number ones.
After The Palace Guard broke up in 1966, Rhodes joined The Merry-Go-Round on guitar. He switched to guitar, he said, because it was easier to carry around. The Merry-Go-Round released one single called Live which was a minor hit in 1967. It was subsequently covered by The Bangles on their first album All Over the Place (1984). Merry-Go-Round’s second single was You’re a very lovely woman which Goldmine, the record collectors’ magazine, describes as a fabulous flipside. Linda Ronstadt recorded it on 1971 and it reached number 70 in the US.
When you listen to the Spotify playlist the similarities with The Beatles strike you immediately. The similarity is more with McCartney than with Lennon, but the production is similar in style to George Martin’s. The melodies are catchy, and one can’t help but wonder why this man never made it. The songs are lyrically strong and the instrumentation and arrangements, though of their time, suit the songs. What a shame we never knew him.
At perhaps the other end of the rock spectrum you can find The Cardiacs. Their front man Tim Smith also died last week. It is difficult to put the The Cardiacs into a category. In a way they are like Neil Young; you never quite know what you are going to get. Sometimes genius gets in the way of accessibility. Like Neil Young, The Cardiacs would produce something wonderful with one release and then something that was unlistenable the next. The late sixties and early seventies saw the emergence of a category of rock music called prog-rock. This was supposed to suggest rock, but rock with some sort of intellectual buttressing. I suppose one could call The Cardiacs an prog-punk band. That they are a punk band is unquestionable; they make a lot of noise, they seem to be angry and they seem to have something to say.
Tim Smith with The Cardiacs
They remind me of Georges Antheil, the avant garde 1920s composer, whose Ballet Mechanique required half a dozen mechanical pianos, a siren and a couple of aircraft propellers. Until computers came along no one could play this piece, which was written as the score for a film of the same name. You cannot find The Cardiacs on Spotify but there are clips on YouTube. I recommend finding the clip of them rehearsing Jibber and Twitch here. If you listen to this, do not attempt to do anything other than watch and listen. The timing is impeccable. The energy is infectious. My sister lasted 30 seconds. I love it - especially the bass player (Jim Smith) who is dressed in just his bass guitar and his jockeys. At 1:42, a dog barks. You are not sure whether it is supposed to be there or not. It’s a challenging number, amusing but brilliant. There are more songs on Soundcloud.
And that doesn’t exactly bring us to Peter Green but he’s the one that made the news this week. There’s not a lot to add. Albatross was released as a single in 1968 and remains Fleetwood Mac’s only UK number single. The coverage of Green’s death by the mainstream media focused more on his prowess as a blues guitarist and there’s no doubt that tracks like Black magic woman (also written by Green) showcases his talents as a guitarist. But it is Albatross that is his lasting testament. Not only is is a beautiful melody but the arrangement is superb. It would have been easy for the band to be carried away and to rev it up; they don’t. The song is almost the definition of laid back, Mick Fleetwood’s cymbals sound like the sea, John McVie’s bassline supplies the platform for Green’s guitar. As a rock song, this is as good as it gets.
Green with harmonica and guitar, 2009.