Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 7: Ted Nugent, "Cat Scratch Fever"

Artist: Ted Nugent
Song: "Cat Scratch Fever"
Album: Cat Scratch Fever
Year: 1977

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Though they are very few in number, there are a handful of iconic musical acts that have managed to let their non-musical endeavors overshadow their talents to some extent.  While in some cases, there is an isolated incident that fades with time, there are other artists that live in a constant battle between making their amazing art and dealing with fallout from their personal life.  However, one must step back and understand that musicians "are people too," and one must be able to separate their musical achievements from their actions outside of the musical arena, and this is perhaps no more true than in the case of the one and only Ted Nugent.  There may be no other artist that is as polarizing as Nugent due to his unapologetic expression of his beliefs, and yet at the same time, there are few performers in history that have shown a similar talent for writing anthemic rock songs.  Responsible for some of the most recognized songs and riffs in all of music history, it was not until he decided to move on as a solo artist that his true talents began to shine, and it came to a head in his fantastic 1977 record, Cat Scratch Fever.  Filled with the energy and attitude that defined his live performances, it was this album that finally "broke" Nugent into the mainstream, and there are few songs in his catalog that are as timeless or absolutely perfect than the musical brilliance one finds in the albums' title track.

The moment that "Cat Scratch Fever" begins, the song instantly burns itself into the minds of listeners, and there are few songs in history that can boast as memorable a riff.  This is, in many ways, "what" makes Ted Nugent such an amazing artist, as he is able to take a relatively simple musical progression and turn it into something unforgettable.  The riff itself is little more than a three-tone blues progression, and yet it is the way in which Nugent plays the riff, as well as the fantastic harmonization that makes it so special.  Even more than thirty years later, the core guitar riff on "Cat Scratch Fever" can be heard in guitar stores and soundchecks across the world, and this alone is reason enough for the songs' place in history.  However, the riff would not be as memorable without the way in which it fuses together with the second guitar of Derek St. Holmes, and "Cat Scratch Fever" represents the high-point of the chemistry between these two players.  Both the drums and bass fall into line behind the guitars, and though they rarely move forward in the mix, it is the way in which they "dig into" the song that gives "Cat Scratch Fever" its unique groove.  It is also from the rhythm section where the unique, yet undeniably soulful tone comes across, and the fact that such a feeling exists in this song is one of the keys to "Cat Scratch Fever" achieving the iconic status that it retains to this day.

Along with writing the unforgettable guitar riff, Ted Nugent also handled the lead vocals and write the lyrics to "Cat Scratch Fever," and it this is this combined achievement that shows just how amazing a talent lived within him.  Easily working a large chunk of the vocal scale, there is an energy within his vocals through which one can quickly understand why his live performances of that era are spoken of with such a sense of awe.  It is the way in which this energy highlights the attitude with which Nugent sings that makes the song so special, as he makes no attempt to hide the songs' rather sinful aim, and it is this almost humorous up-front honestly that has turned "Cat Scratch Fever" into the legendary song that it remains to this day.  Along with the songs' main riff, the chorus is equally as memorable, and in most cases, it has become so memorable that people cannot recall the songs' wonderfully unsubtle verses.  Throughout the entire song, Nugent leaves no question as to what he is singing about, and there are few lyrics in history that are as amusingly straightforward as when he sings, "...well I make that kitten happy with the tongue and the hand, she wave her tail at me..."  Though even by the standards of the day, lyrics such as this were certainly questionable for radio airplay, and yet it is the way in which Ted Nugent sings the words that makes them impossible to ignore, and why the song continues to be a part of popular culture.

It is almost impossible to name all of the artists who have recorded a cover of "Cat Scratch Fever" over the decades, as one can find it in everything from hip-hop to instrumental "new age" versions to heavy metal, and it has also become the theme song for a few professional sports teams.  The fact that the song has managed these achievements, even with the somewhat questionable material it contains, is a testament to the true power of music, as well as to the exceptional talents of Ted Nugent.  Furthermore, one simply cannot overstate the lasting impact of the riff he deploys on the song, as few other guitar progressions have achieved a similar status.  These two elements live a rather frustrating existence, as they are almost always accompanied by some sort of reference to Nugent's life and views outside of the world of music, which if one steps back and considers it, should not play any factor when considering his musical achievements.  Furthermore, most overlook the fact that there may be no other performer in music history who has been as openly and actively anti-drugs and alcohol than Nugent, and this fact alone plays a massive contrast to the norms of the style of music which he plays.  Regardless of and of these factors, one cannot deny the massive impact that Ted Nugent has had on the world of music, and there are few songs as perfectly constructed or truly unforgettable as one can experience in his monumental 1977 single, "Cat Scratch Fever."

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