"Oh Well" by Fleetwood Mac which clocks in at 9:02
Do you know who Peter Green is?
Have you ever heard this song before?
Did you know that Fleetwood Mac was a hard-edged British blues band in the late '60s, previous to their career as Los Angeles superstar pop-rockers in the '70s?
If your answer to the above questions is yes, then I have nothing new to offer you in the form of information or music at the moment. But I do have a tiny game you can play while the rest of us learn a thing or two... click HERE. That should entertain you for at least 30-45 seconds. My best time after 5 attempts is 15.211 seconds.
Now, if you like Led Zeppelin and your answer to the above(s) is no, you may want to read a bit further to discover Fleetwood Mac's 1969 (pre-Buckingham/Nicks) masterpiece "Oh Well". The first time I ever heard the song was when I saw The Black Crowes and Jimmy Page play a cover version of it live (together) at Walnut Creek in Raleigh, NC in 2000. I had no idea what song they were playing - I figured it for an old blues song perhaps - but I was in love instantly and, thanks to Napster, was listening to the original version that's posted here as soon as I got home from the show that night.
That's when I really started researching the song, and the entire Fleetwood Mac story, a bit more. Turns out "Oh Well" actually charted as high as #2 in the UK (#55 in the US) in 1969. Which make sense, given that the first half of the song sounds (overstatement alert) as though it's precisely what taught Jimmy Page and Joe Perry how to write music - makes sense given that the second half of it could very well be a lost track from a Morricone soundtrack. It certainly stands to reason that "Oh Well" charted fairly well given that the song is pretty much "Black Dog" v 1.0; given that it's the blueprint for the switch-to-instrumental mood-change in the middle of "Layla"; given that it's the birthplace of heavy metal; given that it's all things to all people...
Actually, Richie Unterberger wrote about "Oh Well" on Allmusic and did so with a much better hyperbole to fact ratio than I just did in the few statements above. Let's call him our fact checkin' cuz:
"Oh Well" was a major British hit single for Fleetwood Mac, reaching number two in late 1969, and was arguably the best track the band cut in its original incarnation, when guitarist Peter Green was the band's principal creative force. Although it's a classic hard rock song (at least for its first half), it actually isn't all that well known or frequently heard on the radio in the United States, though its reputation has risen with the passing of time. *above photo (cover of Then Play On) from HERE
The first half of "Oh Well" is a grinding hard rock song, but one whose constant changes of tempo and probing lyrics set it far above many other loud blues-rock songs past and present. The spindle of "Oh Well" is a coiling, rapid blues guitar riff, not much different from what you might have heard from many mid-20th century Delta bluesmen. It was quickly seconded and counterpointed by a much louder, spikier electric guitar riff, which tortuously ascended the scale until it reached a tense, piercing high note that came to a dead stop, like an omen that judgment day was at hand. Green's brief sung lines during the verses were also grave in mood, seeming to reflect a low self-esteem and offer questions about the purpose of existence that couldn't be easily answered. The instruments took a break while Green sung those lines, only to come back with a vengeance to the main riffs when he took a breather. It's those riffs, especially the ones peeled off during the instrumental break, that have made the song viewed by some critics as of a piece with early blues-hard rock-heavy metal crossover records, like the ones by Led Zeppelin.
For many listeners (particularly British singles buyers, as the 45 split the track into two different parts), this first, vocal half of the song was the only one they were familiar with. However, it's essential to hear the second, instrumental half of the track (as you can on the Then Play On album, without any interruption between the halves) to appreciate the full magnificence of the recording. While sticking to the same key and somber mood, this second half is almost totally different from the first, much as the instrumental second half of Derek & the Dominos' "Layla" is both different from and complements what has come before. It's almost a classical piece, with seductive though melancholy blends of Spanish-like acoustic guitar strumming, low sustained electric guitar notes, medieval-sounding recorder, cello, and piano. The tempo speeds up and mood becomes more portentous as it draws to the end, but this section is for the most part placid, coming to appropriately melodramatic resolutions in which the percussion booms softly and the recorder trills get more pensive and hopeful. Though the different parts might seem incongruous, "Oh Well" melds them together brilliantly, creating an epic that stands as Green's finest achievement as a composer.
Buy Then Play On on Amazon.
EAR FARM's 8+ is a weekly feature that showcases songs longer than 8 minutes. In the recent past these songs were featured on EF's 8+:
Phish - "You Enjoy Myself"
Green Day - "Homecoming"
Billy Bragg - "Joe Hill"
Van Halen - "Year to the Day"
Kraftwerk - "The Telephone Call"
Neutral Milk Hotel - "Oh Comely"
George Gershwin - “Rhaphsody in Blue"
Múm - "Smell Memory"
To see a full list of every song featured in EAR FARM's 8+ click HERE.
03 April 2008
"Oh Well" by Fleetwood Mac which clocks in at 9:02