Monday, July 13, 2009

Slow Down

Shoot, this day is wicked busy, and once again I've left myself not nearly enough time to write a proper post. I wish everything would just freaking slow down.

"Slow Down" is one of my secret favorite covers-- a secret favorite in that even I think it doesn't actually measure up to some of the hardest-rocking covers like "Money (That's What I Want)" and so on. There's something in the messiness of the sound here that's a little unbecoming. But I love it nonetheless-- because the song is so, so awesome, and George is relentless on the guitar (the solo was played by a sax on the original, but it's better with a guitar, to my mind), and Ringo drums himself to death. And John's vocal is one of his best ever, if you tend to measure his vocals on sheer craziness alone, which maybe I do sometimes. That's producer George Martin on the piano, which was overdubbed a few days after the Beatles actually recorded everything else, which sometimes happened in 1964 when they were on the road constantly. Even if "Slow Down" sounds messy, and even if it sounds like they keep pushing the tempo (they're taking it a little slow, aren't they? is that just me? they might not have had time to get the tempo right in the studio), I can't not dance around a little in my desk chair to this song. 

The song was released in 1958 by Larry Williams as the B-side to his "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" single, which the Beatles also recorded a little later on (along with Williams' "Bad Boy"). Williams seems little remembered today, which is a shame, and I don't know much about him myself except that he was tapped to be some kind of Little Richard soundalike over at Specialty Records when Richard abandoned his burgeoning career to enter the ministry. Like Little Richard, who was a close friend of his, Larry Williams seems to have been a piano rock kind of guy and a totally charismatic vocal performer. He also seems to have been kind of sketchy-- he's said to have been involved in pimping and drug running since long before he got famous, and he never really stopped. Famously, he very nearly shot Little Richard over some drug-related argument they were having in the '70s. So, there's that. Never mind, though. He freaking rocks. I can't find a video of it, so sorely is Williams forgotten by the YouTubers of the world, but click here to have a listen to the original "Slow Down," which is well worth your time.

John Lennon was a gigantic fan of the Little-Richard-but-scuzzier style of Larry Williams, and he took the lead on all the Williams covers the Beatles did. Rightly so, too. Listen to him here, for God's sake-- his scream going into the guitar solo practically gives me chills. And in the final verse it almost sounds as if he's possessed-- yet somehow it's so sexy as to be almost terrifying. Yow! This is, frankly, exactly the shot of adrenaline I needed to get this week off to creaking start. Hope it works for you too.

"Slow Down," released in the U.K. side B track 1 of Long Tall Sally EP, June 19, 1964; in the U.S. side A track 5 of Something New, July 20, 1964.


  1. Was just listening to this yesterday on the road, and it reminded me of our little back-and-forth a few weeks ago about the Beatles showing a sense of humor early on, what with their "not half!"s and stuff. John's "BRRRRR!!!" here has to be at least Exhibit C.

  2. Totally forgot about this song. How great to hear it. And yes, it is the shot in the arm that i could use today, so thanks. Good timing. GM surely rocks on the piano. Love John's screams and that Brrrr sound he does. What a great cover of a cool song.

    In the for-what-its-worth department, i met and spent a morning with Little Richard eons ago. I was shooting a story on him and the ministry and such. I have a HUGE bible that he signed and gave me. He was very gracious.

  3. Well, that would seem to trump the time Magic Johnson passed by me in the Detroit airport. I bow to you, sir!

  4. Re yesterday's posts, i had to google tamboura as i had no clue what it was or looked like. Kind of a mini sitar, 4 to 6 strings, and difficult to play well. Or so the article said. Did not see a price range. I'm betting not too many turn up in N.Y. pawn shops ...

  5. Jesus Christ, you hung out with Little Richard?? You are my hero.

    For what it's worth, the BRRRR lippy thing is something Larry Williams does in the original recording too. I think it might have been a bit of a signature move. So John is aping it. And yet the sense of humor that it shows in Williams might have been a big part of his appeal to John.