The Song In My Head Today: The Band – Rockin’ Chair

richard manuelIf my neighbours are by any chance reading my blog, it will come to them as no surprise that this post concerns The Band – whose first two albums I’ve played obsessively, in rotation for the last month or so. Rarely does a group impress me so much as they managed to do. One aspect in particular, that I don’t think I’ve met before in a band, is the fact that the members are all so essential to the group’s sound, each in his own distinctive way. Of course, we all may have our favourite, but if you asked me to name one that consider the ‘best’ or the ‘most essential’, I just couldn’t pick.

In the same line of thinking, The Band are masters when it comes to adding their own touches to each other’s compositions. And ‘Rockin Chair’ is a perfect example of that. Written by main song-writer and guitarist Robbie Robertson, this is a touching, resonant ode to settling down, returning to one’s roots after having spent an eventful life away. The ‘rockin’ chair’ is a symbol for tradition, for all that remains unchanged as times go by and for all that you can return to when you feel like life has nothing new to offer.

But if I were to be perfectly honest, the song didn’t really catch my attention until the third or fourth listen. This can be explained by the fact that its beauty is not as straight-in-your-face as say, Hey Jude’s beauty. The magic of ‘Rockin’ Chair’ lies in its details – the little instrumental touches, the vocal delivery, the mood and the atmosphere – more so than in its strength as a composition. Differently put, I feel this is a song that only The Band, with their excellent musical blend and ‘each member is allowed to add his own little touch’ mentality, could ever fully do justice to and elevate it from ‘great’ to ‘astonishing’.

And they did. Richard Manuel delivers a passionate, longing lead vocal while adopting a sombre tone far removed from the fragile falsetto of previous album’s ‘I Shall Be Released’ or ‘Lonesome Suzie’. However, the times his voice does go up (listen carefully to the chorus, the “with my very best friend” part), it’s truly heartbreaking. Hudson’s accordion and Helm’s mandolin could not have fit the song’s atmosphere better. Robertson’s little acoustic flourishes before and after each choruses are another nice touch. Once you hear the lyrics, you simply are there – it invokes a time and a place like few songs I’ve ever heard do.

I feel like I shouldn’t like this song so much. Its message doesn’t really meet with my teenage mentality – I want to have fun and live my life, not to “soothe away the rest of my years”. But I do love it, and that may be enough of a proof that great music has the power to speak to anybody, regardless of their age, sex, genre, race etc.

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11 replies

  1. This group was a class act- Arcadian Driftwood always gets to me.

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  2. I’ve had this record on this weekend – solid album. Looking forward to comparing notes later this week!

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  3. Another band who could easily have made my top ten. This very album as well!

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  4. Missed this take yesterday. Ovidiu you’re onto some good stuff here. The Band does it for CB. Richard Manuel voice, man it’s so good. Obviously you’ve checked out ‘The Basement Tapes’ lots more of this style on there. Elvis Costello and some friends cut an album ‘Lost on the River:The New Basement Tapes’. Haven’t checked it out yet but I got it from a reliable source that it’s very good. T Bone Burnett produced it. Can’t go wrong. Don’t get me going on this kind of music. It’s some real good stuff.

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  5. Ovidiu. Check out Mermaid Avenue Vol 1 and 2. Billy Bragg and Wilco putting music to Woody Guthrie lyrics. Two real good albums. I’ve listened to these to death. Contemporary artists honoring and keeping WG music alive. Dylan called himself a walking WG jukebox and Springsteen makes no bones about Guthrie’s influence. There’s also a documentary on the making of this music. Great stuff.

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  1. Top 10 Songs by The Band (After 1969) – Tangled Up In Music

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