“Turn up the Eagles / the neighbors are listening”
“They stab it with their Steely knives / but they just can’t / kill the beast.”
Those of us who listen (or listened) to Seventies rock will recognize those two lines and remember their context. The first appeared in Steely Dan’s “Everything You Did” off the Royal Scam album; the second appeared half a year later on The Eagles’ Hotel California. In the era where the Internet didn’t make every bit of trivial information immediately available and where artists typically spoke almost exclusively through lyrics and liner notes, much was made of this “war” between Fagen/Becker and Frey/Henley, but the truth was that the artists shared a management company and generally admired their counterparts’ work. Consider both lines as being critical of the fanbase, rather than the musicians: vacuous, adulterous people who use the Eagles as background music, sun-bleached Californians whose love of irony goes well with their empty souls.
On a lark, as the lovely Aoife O’Donovan would say, I’ve put together a pair of musical nods to go along with the lyrical winks above. In both cases, you have an artist who is paying a sort of backhanded respect to a peer or muse. For me, one of them is far more obvious than the other.
Pat Metheny’s Pat Metheny Group album, unironically called “The White Album” by Metheny fans such as myself, marked his first attempt to step beyond the chops-driven straight-ahead jazz exemplified by his Bright Size Life and Watercolors. It featured bassist Mark Egan, who was arguably one of the first “Jaco clones” whose tone, technique, and choice of equipment seemed almost entirely imitative of electric-bass pioneer Jaco Pastorius. Metheny and Jaco had played together in Joni Mitchell’s band, and Jaco had been one-third of the Bright Size Life trio. So why name a track “Jaco” after Jaco and Metheny had parted ways?
The story goes that Metheny wrote the track, played it a few times, decided that it was awfully similar to Jaco’s “Come On, Come Over”, and named it “Jaco” as a tribute. So here’s “Come On, Come Over,” which features the vocalists Sam&Dave in front of Pastorius and his fretless Fender:
Do you hear it? I have to admit that I don’t pick up much commonality between the two, but I’d also admit that you could probably play them as a mash-up because the timing is so similar. It does make you wish that Jaco had stuck around in the Pat Metheny Group; Egan never played with that level of intensity.
The next one might be easier. It’s by seven-string guitar/bass virtuoso Charlie Hunter, who plays both the bass and guitar parts at the same time on a specially-constructed, fan-fretted instrument, and it’s called “Difford Tilbrook”.
The question is: what’s a Difford Tilbrook? Well, it’s not what — it’s who. Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford were the songwriting team behind the British band Squeeze. You’ve probably heard their best-known song:
This one is far more obvious in my opinion; Hunter’s pacing and instrumentation are directly and deliberately reminiscent of Squeeze in general and this track in particular. Rather sadly, Difford and Tilbrook long ago lost the rights to the original performance of “Tempted”, so they decided to remake it along with their other big hits on a modern album titled Spot The Difference. Charlie Hunter is well known for advocating on artists’ rights — one of his finest albums is hilariously titled Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You That You Will Not Be Getting Paid as a tribute to a particularly frustrating day spent as a session musician — so I’m not surprised that he decided to toss a shout out to the former Squeezers.
If you know of other nods and winks outside the separate-but-equal domain of “rap beefs”, feel free to add them in the comments. After forty-six years, I have yet to truly decide if music in general and popular music in particular is made more or less enjoyable by knowing as much context as possible — but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Turn up the Eagles, why dontcha?