Thursday, May 5, 2016

My Toilet's Trimmed With Chrome

Wait... not my toilet.  I guess there's "some splainin' to do".  

I'm an old guy, of course.  I mean, what's the name of this blog?  Further, regulars will probably recall I've been working on teaching myself guitar since right around the end of 2010.  So what's an old guy who's learning to play going to play?  Right: old songs. 

One of my favorite songs from my callow youth is the way Chicago adapted "I'm a Man", originally done by the Spencer Davis Group. This was back when Chicago was Chicago Transit Authority and a different band from the mellow group that did songs like "Saturday in the Park" and "If You Leave Me Now", fired by Terry Kath, the lead guitarist who could shred as well anyone (all interested guitarists have heard the story that Jimi Hendrix said Kath was a better player than he was).  That video (song title link) is an excellent look at Kath playing his Gibson SG and getting amazing sounds out of it. 

Slightly off topic, you may also know that Terry Kath was also a bit of gun enthusiast and apparently accidentally shot himself.  A common telling of the story is here, where it comes across as just stupid.  I've read a few reports of this, some making it sound like a deliberate game of Russian roulette, and some making it sound like stupid horseplay.  If nothing else, this version makes it sound like a cross between the two options. 

The other night, I thought of the song and thought I'd try to play it.  Off to YouTube and look up a couple of videos.  I watched both Chicago and the original version by the Spencer Davis Group, featuring a young Steve Winwood. One of things that struck me was that Chicago didn't just cover I'm A Man, they almost rewrote it!  The dropped the key a full tone, changing the song's signature descending four tone chromatic chord sequence from F - E7 - D# - Dm  to D# - D - C# - Cm.  They also changed the lyrics, which is where this post title finally comes in.  They changed several lines in the song, but the one I'm referring to made me do a double take when I came across it in a Tab format reader. 

Chicago's last verse is:
You think that I'm not human
And my heart is made of stone
But I never had no problems
'Cause my body's pretty strong
While Spencer Davis Group's last verse is:
Who imagine I'm not human
And my heart is made of stone
I never had no problems
And my toilet's trimmed with chrome
Mrs. Graybeard found somebody's interpretation (which I won't link to) that tried to explain the lyrics as being all about drugs.  Seriously.  It was something like the chrome trim indicated it was poor man's drugs, or else it would have been gold trim.  In my mind, I just see a couple of kids sitting around, trying to come up with lyrics.  They'd just written "who imagine I'm not human, and my heart is made of stone" and they're trying to come up with something that sounds decent.  "Oh my God, man!  What rhymes with stone?"  "No, it doesn't". 

Like many of the songs of those days, I had never known all the lyrics (there are websites full of misunderstood lyrics after all), so I watched that video of SDG doing a live performance back in '66.  Sure enough, that's what Winwood is singing.  I had never been able to understand the couplet at the start of the second verse; in particular, the last word.
Well, if I had my choice of matter
I would rather be with cats
I was relieved to find that the sentiment is shared by both Chicago and SDG.  

So it's not my toilet that's trimmed with chrome.  It's Steve Winwood's.  Or Spencer Davis.  Both are listed as the composers of the song.  Or maybe nobody's - it was just a goofy rhyme.  And that's what I can't get out of my head for a week, now

(like it says - Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis)

2 comments:

  1. Then there's the story, perhaps apocryphal, of Keith Relf (the Animals, War) being electrocuted in his home studio, while taking a whizz with his guitar plugged in.

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    1. I heard he was in the bathtub. Never believed it, because no one in their right mind...

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