Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7: War, "Low Rider"

Artist: War
Song: "Low Rider"
Album: Why Can't We Be Friends?
Year: 1975


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For certain sounds that have emerged from recording studios, there is simply no way to give an accurate description of the style with which the artist or band in question plays.  While they may share some similarities with already-established styles of music, the fact remains that there is often so much mixing of influences and outright musical inspiration, that no single word can describe the sound.  During the middle of the 1970's, this became extremely apparent, as innovations in technology, as well as the mixing of many different cultures under the umbrella of "rock and roll" gave birth to some of the most excitingly unique bands in history.  Among these fantastic groups, there were few others that shows the creative range and level of musicianship that one can find within the recorded catalog of War.  Though they went through a number of lineup changes throughout the history of the band, the group is responsible for some of the most distinctive sounding hits ever recorded, and their sound manages to easily defy any common description.  Pulling their influence from sounds ranging from funk to blues to Latin jazz to the psychedelic movement among others, the music of War remains as uniquely fresh today as it did more than three decades ago.  While the band had a number of unforgettable hits, no other can measure up to the sound and mood found on War's magnificent 1975 single, "Low Rider."

There is no getting around the fact that while every element of "Low Rider" is worth mentioning, the song revolves around the unforgettable riff that runs throughout.  For most people, even hearing the songs' name instantly brings to mind the cooled-out, poly-rhythmic groove that sits under the fantastic horn progression.  While this progression is rather simple in structure, it is the style and mood with which Charles Miller and Lee Oskar play it that has turned it into one of the most iconic musical moments in all of history.  The sense of movement that is conveyed through this riff is second to none, and it remains just as enjoyable and captivating today as it was more than thirty years ago.  It is the way that these horns combine with the brilliant performance from the rhythm section that vaults "Low Rider" to such highly revered status, as the groove they create is second to none.  From the opening cow bell cadence to the fantastic drum "roll in," the drumming all across "Low Rider" is nothing short of superb.  Much of the groove and overall mesmerizing quality of the song comes from the multiple drums, and the way that each of them are able to bring a unique sound and tone to the track.  Combining this with the deep grooving, sliding bassline, and there is no question that the overall orchestration found on "Low Rider" stands as one of the greatest musical arrangements in the history of recorded music.

Yet it is the fact that the vocals are equally distinctive and captivating that pushes "Low Rider" to the status that it enjoys to this day.  The tone of the singing perfectly matches the laid back sound found within the music, and one can easily argue that it is this style which remains one of the most imitated vocal passages in all of music history.  It is the way that the vocals are somewhat dark, perhaps mysterious; and yet retain an upbeat, fun vibe throughout that makes them so unique, as well as the fact that the rhythm with which they are sung adds and additional tempo to the song.  In many ways, one can argue that the vocals on "Low Rider" are far more akin to those found within the world of hip-hop than any other genre, and this shows yet another style of music that is working within the overall orchestration.  Furthermore, it is the fact that the lyrics to "Low Rider" can be interpreted on different levels that serves as an ideal finishing touch to the song.  While many can easily make the argument that this is the finest tribute to a car ever created in musical form, there are those who believe that there is an ulterior, more risqué meaning to the song if one digs deeper.  After considering this secondary interpretation, it is easy to read sexual connotations in the words, and yet regardless of which way one "hears" the song, the fact remains that the vocals and lyrics stand as some of the finest ever captured on tape.

As the decades have passed, few songs have persevered as well as "Low Rider," as the song continues to be utilized all over popular culture.  It is almost impossible to find a film that takes place during that era that does not find some way to use the song, and it stands as one of the most definitive songs of the entire decade.  A number of television shows and commercials have also utilized the song over the years, and in many ways, "Low Rider" is just as relevant to the current generation as it was during the time that it was first released.  Along with these usages, dozens of artists ranging from Phish to Nirvana to Korn to Barry White have all recorded their own rendition of the song, and yet none have been able to capture the "cool" that defines the original from War.  Furthermore, the fact that the song was originally released during the domination of the disco sound makes it a rather unlikely "hit," and yet the deep grooves and completely undefinable sound that "is" "Low Rider" makes it impossible to not get into this fantastic musical work.  The way that War is able to blend together Latin poly-rhythms with the deep funk, and then add in a bit of the "cool" from the world of jazz makes it absolutely unlike any other song ever recorded; and there is simply nothing that can compare to the brilliant musical perfection that is War's classic 1975 single, "Low Rider."

1 comment:

pluakka said...

this is one of my favourite songs..great choice