Nick Lowe - Switchboard Susan
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
How could a song seemingly this dated be so timely? Because Nick Lowe’s an all-time rock ‘n’ roll smartass. He might as well be Tony Bennett these days, but this is the guy who sang about cops puking upon finding an actress’ corpse half eaten by her dog. Smartasses, be they comedians, ironic pop musicians, or just David Sedaris, are adept at choosing topics that won’t crust over in the long term, to ensure their place in the smartass pantheon. One reliable that never gets old in rock ‘n’ roll (except to Art Brut, a whole new breed of smartass) is the fuck song, which is alive and well from W.A.S.P. to Crazy Town to Tweet. Long before Justin Timberlake got stoned to the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack and dubbed FutureSex/LoveSounds the perfect title for a critically-acclaimed bone-a-rama, Lowe wrote 10/11ths of an album called Labour of Lust back in 1979, a title gag so bad it was awesome. Lowe beat Timberlake to the I-appear-ironic-but-I-really-am-plowing-your-sister boldness by almost 30 years.
Labour of Lust was so great on first play that I wanted to yell at it for not being famous. It seems like it should be. I mean, who didn’t want a whole album of thinly-veiled fucksongs in the fucking ‘70s? I still want to yell at it for having an album cover photo so ugly it ensures the record will remain out of print on these shores.
Halfway through that first listen, something achieved liftoff even among the suspicious consistency, a piece of tune that made me look up at what was playing. WinAmp simply replied that 1:35-1:48 in “Switchboard Susan,” was the most awesome guitar riff I’d ever heard that I’d never heard. I mean, they’ll be teaching “War Pigs,” and “Black Dog,” and “Killing in the Name,” in the instructional pamphlets future children will receive in their birthpods to prepare them for Guitar Hero 24. But currently country-mellowed Lowe will be too busy drinking sweet tea in wicker chairs to petition for its rightful inclusion. This is a shame.
The internet tells me that Mickey Jupp wrote “Switchboard Susan,” but Lowe’s version has Dave Edmunds, who belongs in the sideman hall of fame just for that riff. Just compare the predictable rockabilly of the Gary Brooker and Hamsters versions with Edmunds in absentia. The Riff resembles bodily juice-jets fireworksing from genital to genital after two minutes of beaty pounding. And not only airborne; twisty, like pinched nipples. It even ejaculates too early—how sex is that? The song’s one damn flaw is that its definitive moment doesn’t take up enough of it.
Do that many fuck songs actually rise, fall and occasionally lose their place the way actual orgasms do? I mean, Timberlake, Prince, and the LL Cool J of “Back Seat” can grind out steady variations on a grunt for which James Brown invented a soundtrack. But they keep the fun a bit singular and machinelike, which is a bit linear for a biological act that’s meant to skyrocket, right? PJ Harvey’s “To Bring You My Love” is comparable in ascending effect, but her quavery goth-moan would scare the shit out of this geezer, who’s still chuckling at (oh, brother) “When I’m with you girl I get an extension / And I don’t mean Alexander Graham Bell’s invention.”
One thing the Purple Purveyor of “Let’s Go Crazy” would appreciate is Lowe’s invitation to “get engaged.” There’s an act R. Kelly won’t do on a record. Only a smartass would ruin an innuendo-greasy fuck song with something as anti-crass as matrimony. Or tack on the lick of his career to the one he didn’t write.
By: Dan Weiss
Published on: 2007-07-23