There’s a belief that every rock critic is a frustrated musician. Here at Popdose, we get that thrown in our face in our comments whenever we slam something: “Can you do better?” “How many records have you sold, smart guy?” “You’re just jealous because you wish you could sing as good as (insert hack here)” It’s a stupid argument, but we’ve decided to fight back and show that some of us can actually sing and play. You may remember that two years ago, almost to the day, we devoted a Friday Mixtape to our original compositions, and now we’re tackling our influences by doing covers.
When the idea of this series was brought up to the staff, I knew I would be contributing, but I didn’t want to revisit any of the covers I already had up on YouTube. Then came the type of overthinking that all of us music geeks do when asked to make our lists. Would it be more obvious if I do a well-known song or an obscure one? And is it more obvious among this crowd if I do an obscure one? Do I challenge myself by learning something new or pull one that I’ve been doing for years? Should it be a faithful rendition or radical re-interpretation? Slow or fast? Introspective or fun? Thankfully I soon got busy at work, which took my mind off all these questions before it turned into an existential crisis.
As is so often the case, the answer comes when you don’t think about it. The next morning as I got ready to leave, I realized I was wearing a blue shirt, red tie, and gray pants, and I immediately decided to cover “Blue Red And Grey” by The Who. It was released on The Who By Numbers in 1975, which Pete Townshend wrote it while he was drinking heavily, cheating on his wife, and trying to come to terms with turning 30 as the guy who wrote, “Hope I die before I get old.” One critic famously referred to it as “Pete Townshend’s suicide note.” And yet, its hit single was a dumb and juvenile dirty joke (“Squeeze Box”). But towards the end of this fiery mixture of searing rock n’ roll and introspective self-loathing is a song that celebrates life for all its contradictions. “Blue Red And Grey” is one of Townshend’s prettiest tunes and features Pete accompanying himself on a ukulele, with a muted horn chart by John Entwistle.
Once I decided to do the song. I had some arranging to do. The song is in the key of D, so I put a capo on the seventh fret to approximate the high tone of the ukulele and played it in G. The guitar sounded good and played easily but I had trouble with the vocals. It was always at the top of my range in my younger days, but now it was impossible. I dropped it all the way down to A, which fit my range, but now I had to play a B7 chord with a capo high up the neck, which has always been a problem for me. So I gave up trying to make the guitar sound like a ukulele and played it in G with a capo on the second fret. I found that gave me some of the bass notes that the horns provide in the original, and also allowed me to use my low voice, the one I only use when I try to sing standards.
I recorded the vocals and guitar live to Garageband using the Blue Snowball microphone I use for the Popdose Podcast. It took about 10 or 15 tries to get a take that I was happy with. I hope that you will be, too.
“Blue Red And Grey” by The Who, performed by Dave Lifton.