Wolfman Jack

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3KuS44V

YouTube: https://bit.ly/3rksmbN

This was before “Midnight Special.” This was even before “American Graffiti.” You had to live in Southern California or be an ardent music fan to know who Wolfman Jack was. Wikipedia tells me that he was also on Armed Forces Radio but that was before being a soldier was cool, back when the goal was to stay out of the army, long before the slew of Vietnam movies began. But still, “Wolfman Jack” was the third track on Todd Rundgren’s 1972 double album opus, “Something/Anything?”

It was a year and a half before “Hello It’s Me” was released as a single and became a hit. And I’ve always preferred the initial version, with Nazz. And I’m also a heretic in liking Todd’s previous album, “The Ballad of Todd Rundgren,” more than “Something/Anything?” But that does not mean “Something/Anything?” was not a masterpiece. Todd was one of a trio, including Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes, who did it all themselves. Although he fourth side of the album did contain a band.

The advantage of doing it all yourself is you can do it your way. With no interference. You can take your time to get it right. And today others do this, then again others buy beats, but fifty years ago home recording equipment was nonexistent, at least four tracks plus. And a record deal separated the wheat from the chaff. And speaking of record deals, Todd’s first two LPs were distributed by Ampex, a noted tape manufacturer with a fledgling record distribution arm which ultimately failed. So you couldn’t find Todd’s first two albums, and there was little promotion, but if you needed them, if you knew who he was and wanted more, you ultimately laid your hands on them, And about the time “Something/Anything?” appeared, distributed by Warner Brothers, the first two LPs showed up in cutout bins.

The opening track was made to be a hit and it was a mild one. I’m speaking of course of “I Saw the Light.” And it’s good, and it’s catchy, and I like it, but there are better numbers on the double album. As a matter of fact, the second cut on the first side, “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” was superior.

And on the second side there was “The Night the Carousel Burned Down,” which had the up and down feel of riding the ponies. And “Marlene,” with the lyrics:

“Marlene, Marlene

Who’d believe that you’re only seventeen

I’m in trouble if your folks get mean

And if they do

Then I don’t care if they bust me

And I guess that means that I love you”

It was a different era, but we all knew under eighteen was a problem, yet Todd admitted it, and owned it! I never heard of any prosecution. But doing research I just found out her name was Marlene Pinkard and after changing her moniker to Marlene Morrow she was “Playboy”‘s Miss April of 1974. I love the internet.

Side three had the indelible power ballad “Black Maria.” It also contained “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” which was a single, and good, but not as good as some of the rest of the tracks on the album.

Like “Dust in the Wind,” a Moogy Klingman original on side four.

Side four also contained the memorable “Piss Aaron,” then again all the songs on “Something/Anything?” are memorable.

So you’ve got the bouncy “I Saw the Light” opening the album, and then the meaningful, mid-tempo “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” following it up. But then…

“Hey baby, you’re on a subliminal trip to nowhere

You better get your trip together before you step in here with us”

“Wolfman Jack” sounds like something from the early sixties, pre-Beatles. And it’s just as catchy. And a revelation after what came before, an injection of adrenaline just when your mind was drifting, thinking about past relationships. And it was the opening cut on a Spotify playlist someone sent me yesterday.

I was traipsing through the e-mail last night, I had over two hundred to go through, and unlike those who work at the company all my e-mail is directly to me, I’m not cc’ed constantly, kept in the loop on things I don’t care about. And I was intrigued by the e-mail, so I clicked and while I’m on to the next missive out of my computer speakers come the above words, and I know immediately that it’s “Wolfman Jack”! And my mood changes completely.

It was a gray day. Everyday life can be kind of boring. But then this sound emanated from the substandard speakers in my MacBook Pro and still I got it, my mood lifted, I started shimmying in my chair, this was the best I felt all day!

And of course I know “Wolfman Jack,” but listening fifty years later reinforced how great it was, how much better than today’s dreck it was. Maybe because it was channeled directly from Todd to the listener. There weren’t twenty writers. There weren’t endless remixes, comped vocals. “Wolfman Jack” was alive, even if the Wolfman himself passed away in the last century.

Maybe if you’re under thirty you don’t get it. “Wolfman Jack” is not bass heavy. It’s got more than one chord. And Todd sings as opposed to talks. And it’s not a diva-esque pop song, bland, made to pull your heartstrings. “Wolfman Jack” is a tear, a throw-off, a comet blistering across the sky which shines brightly for under three minutes then disappears. Whew!

“If you want yourself a day man well I don’t mind

You just ditch him when the sun goes down

‘Cause the moon shines bright and everything’s all right

When the Wolfman he creeps into town”

Nothing good happens during the day, unless you’re still in bed with your significant other. The sun shines bright into every corner, everybody’s working. That’s one of the reasons you become an artist, because you don’t have to work during the day. Don’t confuse this with being a businessman. For some reason they have to attend the gig at night yet be in their office early in the morning. You can only burn the candle at both ends for so long, but sometimes you want to, if you’re an artist, you want no restrictions, you just want to follow your muse.

That’s right, everything good happens at night. When the straight people retire. When everything does not have the light upon it. When you can hide in the dark and do not only nefarious things, but fun, meaningful ones too!

“Now you’ll maybe want a man who throws ’round his money

But he ain’t as cool as Wolfman Jack

You might want yourself a man who don’t act so funny

But he ain’t your fool like Wolfman Jack”

A rich man can’t compete with an artist, a musician, a performer. Come on guys, you’ve seen it, you’ve experienced it, you’re giving it your all but your heart’s desire is infatuated with the dirty, greasy, sometimes even broke, musician on stage. You’ve got no chance.

“I don’t mean to treat you evil

I’m just a good boy gone bad

But if I catch you after dark walking through the park

I’m just liable to do something mad”

There’s that after dark precept once again.

You can’t escape Wolfman Jack. You don’t want to!

And really the song isn’t about the lyrics so much as the feel, the changes. Like an amusement park ride you’re at attention, the whole time, a few minutes go by, it’s over and you ask yourself…WHAT WAS THAT?

Not that I expect that to have a renaissance. I don’t expect the younger generation to discover “Wolfman Jack,” never mind the rest of “Something/Anything?” As for Todd himself, he’s shifting the show constantly, playing to fans. Hard core fans will keep you alive, if there are enough of them.

So it’s a small movement. As is the case with so many acts of yore, assuming they’re not dead. But there are so many who can’t tour at all, the economics prohibit it, there just aren’t enough passionate fans out there.

But Todd has them.

And if you listen to “Wolfman Jack” you’ll know why.

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