Brothers In Arms: A belated review of the versions

Not really having heard the original Dire Straits version of “Brothers in Arms” when it came out (it was one of these things I was planning on “getting around to”), my first experience with the song was through protest singer Joan Baez in 1988, with a radio-only compilation back when I was a university DJ. I feel that it was at least her best since “Love Song To a Stranger”, another song that grabs my emotions in a similar way.

Brothers in Arms is about a quintessential Baez theme: anti-war. It is hard to listen to lyrics like “There’s  a million different worlds/and a million different suns/we have just one world/and live in different ones” and not get choked up.

I have heard some remarks in recent blogs regarding the appropriateness of a woman singing this song. Well, I think that war is not just a “man’s issue”. It is an issue for all mankind. I feel no conflict with Baez singing this song. Women have sons, brothers, and husbands that are lost in war, too.  And when you hear Baez sing, believe me, any questions of appropriateness quickly fly out the window. She definitely makes this song her own.

[youtube zJeNPS2tLdA]

She does a better job of the vocals than anyone I have heard, including Mark Knopfler, the writer of the tune. But there is an element missing.The music in the background serves as a vehicle for her voice. It is maudlin, and its mediocrity doesn’t become obvious until the song’s ending where the musicians no longer have the power of Baez’s voice to carry the ending.

Finally, after all these years, I sat down and had an un-interrupted, quiet, sustained listen to Dire Straits doing the original song.

[youtube k5JkHBC5lDs]

Its strength is its weakness: Knopfler’s Gibson guitar. When most people talk to me about Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms being a “good song”, they are referring to the guitar work. The words of the song, which Knopfler nearly mumbles his way through, takes a back seat to the the guitar playing. In a real sense, the problem is the reverse of the Baez problem: while the voice is just “kind of there”, it is just a vehicle for the guitar. And as Baez shows us in no uncertain terms, the lyrics of the song have their own power in the hands of the right vocalist, making the most of what are powerful, poetic lyrics.

If only we had Knopfler’s guitar, and Baez’s voice doing that tune … we can only dream.

Crappy Album Covers #48 — Couldn't hit the broad side of a barn …

album-cover-crap-25_lp-cover-loverNot clear on this idea of double-barreled handguns.  Especially guns that use actual wooden barrels to guide the bullet.

Some guns are not made for actual shooting, I suppose.

Dave and Ansel Collins put this reggae album out in 1971. The title track of this album peaked at #22 on Billboard back then. It was a bigger hit in the UK, where it topped the singles chart.

If that’s double-barrel, then it’s a trigger and a hammer short.

album-cover-crap-2_lp-cover-loverThere’s farmer John with a rifle. And there’s the broad side of a barn. I think he missed.

After farmer John’s 10th attempt at seeing if he could hit the broad side of a barn with his shotgun, Joe and Bill come on the scene, trying to take the gun away, because he is getting dangerous with it.

And, during the ensuing struggle, the damned thing goes off again.

Crappy Album Covers #47 — I don't get this

album-cover-crap-6_lp-cover-loverDonnie and Joe Emerson’s 1979 offering, Dreamin’ Wild, is classed in some blogs in the psychedelic rock genre.

So, then I if I look at this picture and think that I see two heads growing out of one body, then I suppose that it’s because I am on acid?

If this is not the case, then, is it Donnie fretting the strings on the guitar or is that the hand of Joe? Am I still tripping on acid?

Also, the background of this photo looks like it was rented from the same outfit that shot their high school photos. Soul-Sides.com has found some actual digitized tracks from this album for your listening pleasure.

album-cover-crap-4_lp-cover-lover“Sterling Blythe Sings” is one of those crappy record album covers with crossover appeal. I don’t know whether to say that it fits in as a “crappy cliche checklist” album, or as a “crappy-by-ambiguousness” album. The background for this album cover could also have come from some kind of background used in high school photos.

On the empty cliche checklist:

  • Cowboy hat? Check.
  • Tight pants with rhinestones? Check
  • Cowboy boots with fancy stitching and dye work? Check.
  • Sitting on a … uh….

… and that’s where the ambiguousness comes in. What the heck is he sitting on? A long branch with his legs dangling in the sky? Or a fence (with his legs still having nothing to rest on)? Looks like he could easily topple over and fall down, and that could be the end of his career.  What we do know, and what the artwork appears to show, is that his right heel is off-camera.  So, if that is the case, then he is sitting on a fence with his feet on the ground. With his legs allowed to rest at that angle, the fence can’t be more than 2 feet off the ground, and so the fence can’t be of the type to keep animals (horses, cows, sheep) out, if this were a real farm. In fact for all we know he could be sitting on a fence in a suburban part of Los Angeles or Boston, the only purpose of the fence being to keep the neighbours off his lawn.