Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Track Attack- "Different Drum" (The Stone Poneys)


(Welcome to "Track Attack", where each Tuesday a "new" song will be reviewed. Anything is fair-game for this feature, from 50s rockabilly to 70s disco and 90s shoegaze or 2000s freak-folk. Week 1 of the feature is tackling the sorely under-appreciated psychedelic folk-rock cut "Different Drum".)   

Years before George Costanza laid claim to inventing "it's not you, it's me" Linda Ronstadt had the phrase patented and perfected with "Different Drum". Wrapped in Baroque harpsichord and carefully considered strings, you'd never even realize this was the ultimate kiss-off if you only heard the music. The same can be said of Ronstadt's stately vocals. Is there yearning slathering her every word? Absolutely, but Ronstadt makes a point of mentioning "I see no sense in this crying and grieving" atop a soaring instrumental section. She's refusing to hang her head. This isn't a colossal tragedy so much as it is a teaching moment, elucidating Ronstadt won't be reined in by anyone.

Similar to Aretha Franklin absconding with Otis Redding's "Respect" and making it an anthem of female empowerment, "Different Drum" began as a tune penned by a man (in this case Michael Nesmith of the Monkees). Originally performed by bluegrass band the Greenbriar Boys in 1966, the song had none of the bite Ronstadt would eventually deliver. John Herald's somber performance was subterfuge, he was still waving goodbye, but you knew he'd be looking back on the way out. 

The Stone Poneys' '67 version could've suffered a similar fate had producer Nick Venet not intervened and recast the acoustic ballad as a Nashville meets Fab Four tour de force. Years later Ronstadt would say of the reshuffling, "I hear fear and a lack of confidence on my part." Robbed of any rehearsal time, Ronstadt was thrown right into the fire and forced to sing from memory. What could've been disastrous becomes the song's greatest asset. There's an urgency in "We'll both live a lot, longer, if you live without me" because Ronstadt's scrambling to find the right words to say both in and out of the song. When she jabs "you can't see the forest for the trees" the only thing coming through the speakers is supreme self-confidence. She's letting everyone know, these two aren't on the wrong page or out of step. They're speaking completely different languages.


If you have suggestions for songs to be featured in future reviews of Track Attack, feel free to leave them in the comment section.

1 comment:

  1. Just a terrific delivery by the barefoot and breathtaking young Linda Ronstadt.