Friday, October 29, 2010

October 29: The Allman Brothers Band, "Whipping Post"

Artist: The Allman Brothers Band
Song: "Whipping Post"
Album: The Allman Brothers Band
Year: 1969

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While a number of bands in history have created a sound that stands suprior decades after it was recorded, in many cases, there is an element within the music that makes it sound as if the band was working quite hard to achieve the sound in question.  Though it is difficult to say the sound comes off as a bit "forced," once one hears a band where there is a clear sense of ease in playing, the opposite becomes more obvious.  Many bands have displayed this ease of playing, where one can hear the music "flow" through the band, but few groups have done so with the presence, beauty, and power that one finds within the recorded history of The Allman Brothers Band.  As an integral part of the development of the "Southern Rock" style as well as the "jam band" scene, their sounds stand today as perhaps the greatest fusion of rock, blues, and soul that has ever been recorded.  Though many attempt to label the group as one of these styles, the fact of the matter is, The Allman Brothers Band have such a distinctive sound and style that they must be placed into a musical category all their own.  As one of the most long-standing and highly respected bands in music history, it is hard to site a single song as their finest work, yet one can experience all of the beauty and power that makes them so extraordinary within The Allman Brothers Band's legendary 1969 song, "Whipping Post."

Truth be told, The Allman Brothers Band may very well be the greatest, certainly the most potent debut album ever released by an American blues band, and it retains its impact more than four decades later.  Though it closes the album, "Whipping Post" is without question the centerpiece and most potent song, capturing the groups' amazing live energy, as well as the superb musicianship found in the band.  The song was placed in this position due to its poor performance as a single, and yet it stands today as one of the greatest songs of the entire decade.  The bass riff that opens and runs throughout the song, played by Berry Oakley, has a uniquely intimidating sound to it, and it sets the perfect tone for the rest of the song.  Quickly joined by the pulsing guitar of Dickey Betts and similar sound from Duane Allman pulls "Whipping Post" to an entirely new level, as the combined sound has a frustrated, beautiful tension that is unlike anything else ever recorded.  When the organ playing of Gregg Allman joins in underneath the other instruments, the mood becomes nothing short of overwhelming, as even without the vocals, one can feel the deep sense of sorrow alongside the majestic overtones that the band brings.  Rounding out the sound on "Whipping Post" is drummer Butch Trucks, and as he switches tempos, including a mind-bending 11/4 time signature that persists for a majority of the song, the superior level of talent within the band becomes undeniable, and the mood they create as a group is nothing short of perfect.

Working in superb harmony with the tone he sets via his organ playing, the vocals of Gregg Allman on "Whipping Post" may very well be his finest to date.  Unquestionably one of the most soulful singers in history, there is a fantastic level of grit in his voice that pushes the mood even higher.  Throughout "Whipping Post," Allman works the entire range of his voice, from softer moments in the verses, to an unrestrained yell on the bridge and chorus sections.  The changes in tone match perfect with the music over which he sings, and it is this combined sound that makes "Whipping Post" such a monumental musical achievement.  Clearly, there is a deep emotional connection to the words which he sings, and one can easily relate the song to the years of struggle and rejection that Gregg Allman experienced whilst trying to "make it" as a musician (and in life) in Los Angeles in the 1960's.  However, "Whipping Post" has a completely universal quality to it, and one can easily apply the lyrics to any situation of struggle in life.  The way in which Allman laments about his "woman gone bad" throughout the song has a tragic beauty to it, and the pain comes through so clearly in his voice that one cannot argue that it is performances like this that are what the blues are all about.  As Allman completely lets loose on the final bridge and chorus section, one can feel the catharsis, and the impact of the song remains firmly intact even after repeated listenings.

While the studio recording of "Whipping Post" is nothing short of flawless, The Allman Brothers Band were able to "one up" themselves when they released a live version on their equally legendary 1971 At The Fillmore East album.  This version, stretching more than twenty-three minutes, is highlighted by the stunning solo from Duane, which would be one of his last before being tragically killed less than six months after the performance.  Throughout the live version, it is clear that the band has bowed to the mood of the song and they are letting it dictate the pace, as Gregg places the vocals where they seem "right," as opposed to where they should be when compared to the studio version.  It is aspects such as these that solidify the groups' claim to greatness, as the emotion and power of the song clearly flow through each of the band members, and the resulting product is nothing short of legendary.  Regardless of which version one hears, there is a mesmerizing tone to "Whipping Post," and this is largely due to the straightforward, honest approach in terms of both the music as well as the lyrics to the song.  Gregg Allman holds nothing back, and "Whipping Post" stands as a shining example of the power and beauty that can be created when a band is truly in sync with one another, as well as not forcing even a single note on a song.  Achieving musical perfection in every sense of the word, even more than forty years later, there is no other recording that can even remotely compare to the combination of musical beauty and all out blues power than one finds on The Allman Brothers Band's iconic 1969 song, "Whipping Post."

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