Wednesday, August 8, 2012

David Essex: Rock On

Recorded in 1973 and peaking on the American charts at number 5 in spring of 1974, David Essex’s “Rock On” is one of those songs that when you heard it first you had to stop and carefully listen to it. Considered a “Glam Rock” song, “Rock On” was more than that and it defies categorization - with exception of one.  It was a one-hit wonder.

The song begins with Ray Cooper’s percussion and Herbie Flowers’ bass run through a tape delay. The dry signal figured into the left channel while the delay appeared in the right. Strings and horns appear later in the mix and Essex’s vocals are processed with heavy dose of reverb – reminiscent of production from the 1950s – a theme of the song.

This is a song that cries out to be heard in stereo, and a mono mix just doesn’t do it complete justice. Although, I probably first heard this song through the one speaker in the dash of my 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 over WKEE-AM80 in Huntington, WV. The mono AM radio version didn’t hamper me from going out and buying the single as soon as possible.

The thing that bothered me about this song was Essex’s equating of the names Jimmy Dean and James Dean. I know he intended for the reference to the actor James Dean; however, when I think of Jimmy Dean, I think of the country artist who sang “Big Bad John.”

A younger generation will identify with Jimmy Dean as the sausage huckster – a reinvention of his career. Now, James Dean of “Rebel without a Cause,” “East of Eden,” and “Giant” was a much cooler icon. This song was cool as well, so I guess I’ll cut Essex some slack on the Jimmy/James nomenclature.

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