Song: "Stone Cold Fever"
Album: Rock On
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As the rock and roll scene of the 1970's began to take shape, it seemed that the overall point was to completely forget everything from the previous decade, with most bands taking a far more aggressive and often darker approach to their music. In the place of long, drawn out "jams," bands were going for more direct, distorted sounds, and this would be the building blocks for both heavy metal and punk rock. However, there were still a handful of groups that found many "worthy" aspects of the rock style of the previous generation, and it was within these bands that attempted to blend old and new where one can find some of the finest recordings of the era. Paying close attention to what many might argue is the most important aspect of music, the "groove," and blending it with the more forceful guitar style of the day, there may be no band that better defines the idea of "boogie rock" than the legendary lineup known as Humble Pie. As individuals, one would be hard pressed to find a more musically accomplished group of musicians, and the way that they worked together to form a single sound remains one of the most stunning achievements in all of music history. While the early lineup of the band rarely created a song that was anything less than spectacular, one can argue that the essence of Humble Pie can be found in their phenomenal 1971 song, "Stone Cold Fever."
The very moment that "Stone Cold Fever" begins, it is almost misleading in the sound and style that is to come. Instantly assaulting the listener with some of the mot powerful, yet slightly restrained guitar chords in history, it is these opening notes which in many ways define the albums' title, Rock On. The presence and tone on the guitars are not all that surprising, as they are played by none other than Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott. While both of these individuals would go on to make even larger names for themselves in other projects, the fact that they are both present on this track, as well as the way they work with one another, stands as one of the most impressive moments in all of music history. When their sound is "doubled," it takes on a tone that is far larger than almost anything else ever recorded, and yet there is a precision to their playing that gives it persona that is unlike any other guitar piece. However, it is in the middle and closing points of "Stone Cold Fever" where these two guitar gods truly show their talents, as Frampton performs one of the most iconic solos in history. The way that the pair wind around one another is in many ways as good as rock guitar gets, and as they pass the lead back and forth, one cannot help but be completely drawn into the song. The groove that they create has yet to be matched, and there is no question that "Stone Cold Fever" stands as one of the finest moments in the careers of both Frampton and Marriott.
However, while there is little auguring against the talent in their guitar section, once one looks at the rest of the band, it is clear that Humble Pie are absolutely worthy of the title "super group." The rhythm section is equally as impressive as the guitarists, with bassist Greg Ridley serving as a perfect compliment to the drumming of Jerry Shirley. In fact, "Stone Cold Fever" is one of the few songs of the era to feature an all-out drum solo in the middle of the song, and it is the fills and grooves that Shirley injects at every angle which makes the song even more captivating. Working his entire drum kit, there is a raw, almost organic sound that comes through in his playing, and it gives "Stone Cold Fever" a sway that is completely unique. It is also the soft-toned, yet deep groove that Ridley lends from beginning to end which defines the idea of "boogie rock," as regardless of ones' musical preference, Humble Pie manages to reach far beyond, drawing in nearly every listener to their smooth, yet heavy rock sound. Along with this fantastic pairing, Marriott fills out the center section of the song with a rather brief, yet amazingly intense harmonica piece, and it is within this inclusion that one can easily draw a connection to the blues sound. The way that all of these instruments come together in such superb balance is a testament to not only the individual talents of each musician, but to their understanding of how to make the sound of the group far superior to the sum of its parts.
The fact of the matter is, due to the fact that the musical performances found throughout "Stone Cold Fever" are so intense and flawless, the vocals on the song take a bit of a "back seat" to the rest of the arrangement. This is also because they are rather brief and heavily distorted, and yet one cannot argue that the singing from Steve Marriott does anything less than perfectly match the music over which he sings. It is the grit in his style and the slight distortion placed over his singing which makes it fit as seamlessly as it does, and his singing again draws a strong connection to the blues style, while one can also hear similarities to the likes of Led Zeppelin. Regardless of the influences or where they are in the mix, there is no question that Marriott's vocals are anything less than exceptional, and had they not been in the presence of such an extraordinary musical arrangement, they would have been nothing short of legendary onto themselves. It is the fact that at every angle, Humble Pie are able to achieve such musical excellence that makes them such an important part of music history, and yet once one seems the membership of the band, the obvious selfless acts that can be heard all across their catalog makes their music all the more impressive. While the band boasts one of the most stunning recorded catalogs of all time, few can argue that Humble Pie were at their best on their spectacular 1971 song, "Stone Cold Fever."