Friday, November 11, 2011

November 11: Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly"

Artist: Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
Song: "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly"
Album: Breakout!
Year: 1966

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Though it is often overlooked for its musical contributions outside of the "Motown Sound," there is no question that without the pioneering efforts of a number of musicians from Detroit, Michigan, music would not appear in its current shape.  While this is not to say that the "Motown Sound" was not in itself one of the most important eras in music history, the reality is that it was the moment when this sound began to expand where one can find some of the most pivotal recordings in the entire history of music.  Standing among the groups responsible for the shift from the r&b sound to the more modern sense of rock and roll, few bands brought a sound and style that could compete with that of Mitch Ryder and his backing band, The Detroit Wheels.  Falling somewhere between soul, gospel, blues, and what would likely be termed punk rock in modern times, the band brought a grit and passion to each of their songs that almost instantly set them far beyond any of their peers.  While the group made their name based on a number of original takes on older songs, there was never any doubt as to their own musical ability, and to this day, few bands can boast recordings that hold up as well as these with the passing decades.  Though nearly every one of their songs instantly grabs the listener and never lets go, there are few moments from any era of music that can compare to the sound and spirit of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels' 1965 medley, "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly."

From the moment the song begins, "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly"  has a feel and intensity like no other song in history.  Managing to simultaneously capture the classic sound of Motown, along with the vibrancy of the current music scene, there is no question that the song represents a turning point in rock and roll.  Much of the spirit and soul of the song comes from drummer Johnny "Bee" Badanjek,  in the way that his sound almost bounces off the track makes it impossible not to dance along with the song.  This sound is complemented by bassist Earl Elliot, and the groove he deploys is as good as any other in all of music history.  Yet there is no question that the most distinctive factor on this take of "Devil With A Blue Dress On"  lives within the much faster tempo than any previous versions, and yet the soul of the song remains the same.  The way that the piano seems to almost dance in the background adds further intensity to the song, as well as strengthening the link to the original version of the song.  Though his efforts mostly reside during the "Good Golly Miss Molly" portion of the song, guitarist Jim McCarty brings a tone and aggression to the song that is far beyond anything else that was being recorded at the time.  It is the attitude and grit found in every element of this medley that would change the direction of rock music, and nearly every hard rock band that followed took part of their sound and approach from this recording.

Yet while the musical arrangement has become nothing short of legendary, there is no question that the soul and spirit of the band lives within Mitch Ryder.  Perfectly matching the grit and growl of the music, Ryder easily works the entire vocal scale as he pays tribute to the musicians by whom he was clearly influenced.  There is a clear joy and excitement in every word he sings, and it is this spirit that keeps the song in heavy rotation more than four decades later.  Furthermore, it is this energy which pulls the listener into the song, and in many ways, "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly" demands to be played just as loudly today as it did when it was first released.  This in itself is the clearest definition of a song that is timeless, and in his vocal performance found here, Ryder  created a number of new sub-genres.  It was due to his sound and style that critics began using the term "blue-eyed soul," and while many may have seen the term as slightly offensive, there is no question that a unique title was necessary for this amazingly distinctive performance.  The fact that Mitch Ryder was able to so easily make both of these classic songs his own, without losing the deeper sentiment of both recordings is a testament to his exceptional talents as a singer and band leader, and few vocalists from any era can even come close to the power and sheer vibrancy that he bring to every moment of this medley.

Though it had been released a few years earlier by Shorty Long, "Devil With A Blue Dress On" had failed to chart for him, and yet the new incarnation from Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels quickly shot into the top five on the singles charts, almost instantly cementing its place as one of the greatest songs in all of music history.  n many ways, one can argue that the "Motown Sound" was beginning to fade at this time due to the rise of rock and roll, and yet Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels injected a band new energy into both the sound and city.  In fact, one can easily trace the impact of this recording to the early rumblings of punk rock that would emerge from Detroit only a few years later.  It is the attitude and power that the band brings at every moment on this medley which in many ways defines the Detroit sound, and yet the band remains somewhat overlooked when one considers the most important rock and roll acts of all time.  The way that the guitars lock in tightly with the rhythm section, creating one of the most irresistible musical arrangements ever represents everything that is great and pure about rock and roll music, and it is in this song where one can see the most obvious link from the early sounds of the style to the more modern version.  In literally every aspect, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels re-wrote the books on rock music in 1965, and there are few songs from any era that can compare to their brilliant medley, "Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly."

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