One Valentine’s Day 1974, English folk legend and musical
oddity Roy Harper officially released his seventh LP, the aptly titled Valentine. Supremely talented and stunningly lyrical, but equally underrepresented in the UK and virtually unknown in the US. On his records Harper usually had one or more of his well-known contemporaries and admirers assist him in
his recorded creations.
Placed in the second slot on the record Valentine, the focus of
this Take One, ‘Male Chauvinist Pig Blues’ is a jagged and weighty slab of British rock. Nestled in complete contrast to
the surrounding acoustic based cuts, this track spotlights a backing band rock geeks
can only dream of. A sturdy rhythm section comprised of Keith Moon and Ronnie
Lane on drums and bass respectively, and none other than Jimmy Page on lead ax lending
some six string bending to the cut.
album is dedicated to ‘Bonzo, Jimmy, John Paul, and Robert, so Page’s inclusion
should come as no surprise. The ‘Led Zeppelin’ fans reading today will also
note that the final track on Led Zeppelin
III is titled ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’, so the mutual admiration society
between the musicians had been brewing for a while.
While our focus is on the studio cut from the LP Valentine, in addition to the star studded
collaboration on the LP, Harper also decided to stage a record release performance at the
Rainbow Theatre, London. On the day of the album release Harper had a number of his musical pals stop by.
Joined by a very special MC named Robert Plant, Harper performed a full set of music. He
was soon joined onstage by Jimmy Page, Ronnie Lane, Keith Moon and a guest appearance
by John Bonham on acoustic rhythm guitar for boozy electric versions of ‘Male Chauvinist Blues’, ‘Too Many Movies’ and ‘Home’.
Both of the boozy and rickety readings of ‘Too Many Moves’ and ‘Home’ performances
would be included on Harper’s 1974 live album, Flashes From the Archives of Oblivion, in addition to a stunning
acoustic duo rendition of ‘Male Chauvinist Pig Blues’ recorded by Page and
Harper reportedly at the Royal Albert Hall 1973 which we have included here for your review.
As previously stated, the ‘rock room’s focus is the original
studio reading with our rock royalty line up. Opening with a Moonie roll down
the front steps, the song takes on a chunky groove. Page, the omnipotent ‘riff
master’ soon develops a silvery descending lick through the verses that
immediately makes me think of his excursions on Physical Graffiti.
Obviously the beginnings of those compositions were in Page’s head at this
time and it’s a natural occurrence that they transfer to Harper’s songs. Page
also dons a slide for some icy overdubs that can be discerned shifting under
the basic track.
Ronnie Lane, uses builder’s hands and cements the arrangement together with rotund bass lanes, while Moon and Page take divergent paths toward a melodic payoff meeting at various intersections to punctuate appropriately. The song
emits a gritty urgency not only from Harper’s plaintive vocals but from the
sideways rhythmic dances occurring from Moonie’s kit.
At points the track becomes caught in a whirlpool of sonic vertigo as there a number of details in Pagey’s guitar approaches that flash in passing. Additionally, there are a plethora of
ideas being bantered about in a compressed time frame, one can only dream about
the possibilities of a full album by this crew of rowdies. It’s rare that such star studded collaborations pay dividends but here the multifarious approaches equate to a unique musical birth.
Like a pebble in a mattress, this is an odd track to be included in a record of ‘love songs’, but lyrically the song is just that. The narrator is well aware of his issues and faults but isn’t going to do anything to alter them except maybe find a new lover? Typical to Harper’s catalog this is a strange collaboration and odd song. But it works! His conversational vocal approach soon turns to falsetto with verse ending shouts. Both the unique lyrical approach and disorienting arrangement equate to a kick ass number by some stellar musicians.
Similarly to the ‘rock room’s’ breakdown of the ‘Ansley Dunbar Retaliation’s’ ‘Stone Crazy’, this one off contains a particular group of musicians and a resulting song that defies any expectations of the collaboration. Roy Harper’s impressive catalog and career offer a number of additional moments for aural inspection, but for today this one track is quite enough. A welcome sonic door to open revealing a deep wealth of unique music to explore.