After the brief instrumental Jimi Hendrix cover “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” that introduces the album, which I discussed previously here, the leadoff song proper on Different Shades of Blue is the riveting, genre-bending “Oh Beautiful!” Leadoff tracks are crucial to the overall success of an album. Without a grand slam beginning, a listener may already begin to lose some interest. On the other hand, a great leadoff whets the appetite for more and really sets the tone of what it is you are trying to do with an LP.
Fortunately for us, “Oh Beautiful!” is a truly exceptional start. And I can’t stop listening to it.
After the overdriving guitar of “Hey Baby,” the smooth, honey-sweet acapella that leads off “Oh Beautiful!” is an abrupt shift in tone that one doesn’t really expect, but that works perfectly. In Joe’s discussion of the track, which you can read here, he mentions the delta blues inspiration for the acapella portion of the composition. I love the throwback to the early blues tradition, and also the nod to the structural form of the Led Zeppelin classic “Black Dog.”
The cut begins with a haunted, enigmatic voice that sings:
Oh beautiful, if you were mine
I would write you letters and pour you sweet wine
Oh beautiful, why you so blue?
If you can only see the way I see you
I just dig this lyric. I think we have all known that beautiful woman, sad and tortured, who we have thought, “If only they could understand how I would love them, they’d finally be happy” even if they probably wouldn’t be. The second line is almost a parody of the classic literary lover, full of wine and flowers and pretty speeches dedicated to the beloved, as if the singer doesn’t know how to woo his forlorn love but by checking off the classic motifs. He thinks he is the key to her future happiness, but of course, this is not the truth, and he is bound to be disappointed.
The song then launches into a muscular, bone-crunching Zeppelin-esque riff, with the guitar, organ and bass attacking together in an enthralling overlay of octaves, to which you can’t help but get up and start nodding your head and grooving. At the same time, Anton Fig owns a perfect John Bonham beat that can’t be shaken.
The centerpiece of this thrilling track is the soul-shaking guitar solo that Joe rips in the middle. The guitar soars and swoops and destroys everything in its path, and when Joe says to us that the solo “gets nuts,” he ain’t kiddin’. The rapid fire attack he hits at 3:50 is mind blowing, and when the bands finally breaks back into the main riff at 4:25, the effect is positively euphoric.
One thing I can’t help but keep thinking when I listen to this track is that the hypnotic, atmospheric tone the bands hits at 2:03 right before Joe dives into the solo is such a cool little segment that I’d love to hear it extended and developed into its own track, or at least stretched out during this one. But I’m not complaining – and maybe we’ll hear more of this kind of ethereal, metaphysically moody tone in the future.
The song ends with a repeat of the opening lyrics, and we know the singer is not destined for a happy ending with the woman he desires. She’ll go on being blue, and he’ll continue to pine for her adoration and affection. But at least some steam was blown off during the frenzied solo.
In the end, this is just the perfect track to lead off an album with flair, excitement, and passion, and it certainly makes you crave more. Good thing there’s still an album full of music ahead!
– Brian R.