Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24: Edgar Winter Group, "Frankenstein"

Artist: Edgar Winter Group
Song: "Frankenstein"
Album: They Only Come Out At Night
Year: 1973

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As more and more genres and sub-genres come into being with the passing of each year, the exact linage of each sound often becomes more and more difficult to trace to its beginnings.  Due to this, there are many bands that are seen as "founders" of a style that simply are not, and likewise, there are a number of acts that are overlooked when it comes to their impact on a certain style of music.  Sometimes due to the time in which they were making a particular sound, or in some cases simply because listeners do not pay close enough attention, many in this latter category are often completely under-represented in the overall history of music.  This is especially true when it comes to the world of heavy metal, as there is one artist that is almost always forgotten, yet played one of the most important roles in the development of the sound.  While performers like Led Zeppelin, Motörhead, and Cream certainly had a great deal to do with the rise of the sound, most overlook the presence of a blues artist without whom, the genre may have never been fully realized.  Known for being one of the greatest composers and multi-instrumentalists in history, one cannot deny the fact that without the great Edgar Winter, much of the music of the past four decades may have never been recorded.  While he is responsible for a number of amazing tracks, few have had the lasting and wide-reaching impact of Edgar Winter Group's classic 1973 instrumental, "Frankenstein."

If there was ever an example of a "jam session gone right," this is it, as the band quickly slides into one of the tightest musical formations ever captured on record.  "Frankenstein" has a trademark crunch to it that is lain over nearly every instrument, and it gives the song a far heavier, grittier sound than it would have without this distortion.  In many ways, this is where the tie is to what would become heavy metal, as Edgar Winter fuses together his progressive style of rock music with the louder, more aggressive style that was the early signs of the metal movement.  It can be heard in everything from the pummeling drum work of Chuck Ruff to Winter's own keyboard sound.  Truth be told, when it comes to "iconic riffs," few hold a similar status to the one that runs throughout "Frankenstein," and it is also one of the few in this group that is NOT played on guitar.  The way that Winter manipulates the riff through various bends and key changes is nothing short of spectacular, and it is perhaps due to this different sound that helped the riff achieve its status.  It is also through the deep, funky bass playing that the song gets its unmistakable sound, and this is where one can see the link between metal and funk that would be explored by a number of groups over the following decades.  Without question one of the most diverse and unique songs in history, it is impossible to note all of the different ways in which "Frankenstein" defined music to come, and it is that fact that solidifies its place as a pivotal moment in music history.

However, as is the case with a number of the most important songs in history, in some ways, "Frankenstein" was never meant to be.  As one can tell from the sound, the song itself is a loose jam session, and it was only included on the album as a last minute, almost joking move.  In fact, it was initially only released as the b-side of the single for "Hanging Around," but after a number of radio stations began playing it, the band was almost "forced" to "properly' release the song.  Amazingly, the song ended up topping the charts and would remain as the groups' most successful single.  Yet there is a great deal behind the name of the song as well, and these facts only add to the overall amazing quality that is "Frankenstein."  While most simply take the song title as the group attempting to describe the sound that they create, there is far more to the name than one might gather.  The original version of "Frankenstein" was far longer than the version one can hear on the album, as the band fleshed out every jam and progression they could find.  In the end, the engineers and band used straight razors to splice together the shorter, more compact version that made the album, and it was due to this slicing and piecing together that the band came up with the name, "Frankenstein."  Regardless of from where the name was derived, few songs in history have as fitting a name as one finds here, and it only adds to the overall perfection of the song.

The final element that cements the place of "Frankenstein" amongst the greatest songs ever recorded is in the legacy it has garnered over the past four decades.  The riff itself stands among the greatest of all time, and though some do not know its origins, thanks to heavy use within popular culture, nearly everyone knows the riff itself.  Furthermore, everyone from hip-hop and jazz artists to The Weather Channel have used the song or its progression over the years, and the band Phish have turned the song into a regular part of their live sets.  For a song that was not originally supposed to even be released to the public, the fact that it has gained so much prominence over the decades is somewhat unfathomable.  Yet at the same time, it is this fact that proves the completely unpredictable nature fo music, as one would have been crazy to think that a heavy-metal style song based around a synthesizer would have been anything even remotely successful in the early 1970's.  From the perfectly placed wah-wah of the guitars to the unexpected horn breakdown to the grinding sounds of the keyboards, there is truly no other song ever recorded that bears even the slightest resemblance to "Frankenstein," and it is this uniqueness that makes it such a special track.  Bringing a somewhat dark, yet absolutely irresistible groove, the combined sound of the musicians found on Edgar Winter Group's classic 1973 single, "Frankenstein," is what makes the song not only the greatest rock instrumental of all time, but one of the greatest songs of any style in music history.

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