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A Review of “Fuck ‘em” (date unknown)

In a previous draft of this review, I had called this an "album", when it is nothing of the sort. I have been enlightened, although I really should have trusted my instincts when I saw a "different version" of this as compared to the one that sold on Ebay. Anyway, this is a collection of demo tapes that Shel cut in the late 60s or early 70s, which was meant to demonstrate how a particular song sounded before somebody else would record it for a commercial album, or just for the heck of it (since many of these tracks were certainly never meant for commercial use). And at this point, I give a disclaimer:

I don't know what the legal intricacies of me owning a copy of these demo tracks are, but I do know that selling CD copies of print albums that Shel recorded is definitely illegal. I have seen this happen on Ebay several times, and I've never understood the practice. Yes, the albums are out of print, so Shel's estate won't directly benefit from royalties, but if they are ever released onto CD, that is still potential royalties lost. And it's still not kosher. And I am pretty positive that Shel would not be very happy with this practice. Actually, he probably wouldn't be happy that there are copies of the demo tapes in the hands of those who were never intended to have it--like myself--but my purpose is to disseminate information and NOT to sell it.

End of disclaimer/rant. Now, for the details:

Fuck ‘Em. Obviously the "title" track, the longest of the songs, and a real tour de force. It’s basically a well-ordered rant about how various people and situations are pissing him off, so he says “Fuck ‘em!” to all: to his landlord, his parents, junkies, children, chicks, and lastly, to the Grim Reaper who’s come to take a positively consumptive Shel to fulfill his destiny as “the devil’s favorite pet.” Two other things stuck out in my mind: one, the theme of the devil and thwarting his plans was made stunningly clear in “The Devil and Billy Markham”, written some years later, and two, how the hell did Shel learn to cough on demand like that?

I Call That True Love. This is the prototype of the song that would appear (with funky guitar riffs and far more of a rock-driven beat) on Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s debut album. It doesn’t happen too often, but I much prefer Shel’s version. While the version sung by Ray Sawyer is very production-heavy with lots of cool layers, it’s just Shel and the guitar, strumming his version of a modified twelve-bar blues. Whereas Dr. Hook’s version was different, it wasn’t nearly as catchy as Shel’s straight ahead, stripped-down version. As for the song itself, well, it’s plenty outrageous, going into detail about all the perverted things he considers “true love.” But the kicker is once the song is done, and Shel launches into his patter, which explains that “he doesn’t really mean all this shit...anything you want, that’s what we’re gonna do. You can’t argue with me, or else I’m going to split.” The end tag just makes the song even funnier. This is probably my favorite of the real tracks.

Julie’s Working. Opens with Shel doing his version of scat, then goes into the heart of the song, describing how he’s become slothful and lazy and indulgent while his ladylove “Julie’s Working.” Pretty catchy tune. This actually was one of the nice surprises; on most of the albums that weren’t heavy on studio production (unlike Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball or even Drain My Brain) I never tended to notice his guitar licks. But here, and throughout the album, they are very present and really, quite good. The guy could play.

Sausalito Witch. Pretty typical, slightly outrageous, but not overly so. I wonder if this song was written when he’d gotten the houseboat, or beforehand. May give a clue as to when this collection was slapped together, but if it does, I’m not privy to it.

The Dope. Oh, dear. Shel is positively blasting his vocal cords on this one as he admonishes one and all to the evils and terrors of “the dope, dope, dope, dope, dope, dope, DOPE!” Goes on and on and gets funnier and louder.

The Terrible Thing. Another one of Shel’s “skanky songs”, as I like to call them. It opens with his girlfriend telling him to get out of his life, but oops, “I guess I hit her harder than I should, so now I’m in the courthouse, reflecting on the terrible things that love has made me do.” Of course, love had no reason for all of the perversities described (deflowering forty crippled ugly nuns, or was that forty-two?), but that’s OK, it “might have been infatuation.” An excuse for outrageousness, but still pretty damn funny.

Say That I’m Your Fella, Stella. The structure starts normally, with the title line repeated, ending with “and life will be peaches and cream.” Then each verse adds more activities “We’ll go to my cella and wear clothes of yella as I’ll play my cella as we dance the tarantella and you’ll sing a capella” and on and on, one being added per stanza. Of course, Shel has to fit these within the meter, so he’s singing faster and faster and running out of breath and messing up the lyrics left and right. Finally, he gives up, saying “I can’t finish that, I guess we’ll have to miss a quarter of the song.” A novelty number, not outrageous, and since it’s included in “Dirty Feet”, he actually made royalties from this one.

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout. Mostly likely the exact same version that was included on “Freaker’s Ball”, except that the recording quality is not as good and the key is slightly flat, C# as opposed to the D major on the later album. If this was taken from the “Fuck ‘em” sessions, were these songs recorded while Shel was under contract to CBS? Did he take “Sarah...” with him to CBS? I guess we will never know, unless Ron Haffkine awakes from his musical coma and deigns to let us in on the secret.

Goin’ Up to Charlie’s. By far the most whacked-out of the tracks. Each stanza begins with a well-known quote, from “Little Miss Muffet” to the first lines of the Declaration of Independence to the opening lines of Hamlet’s soliloquy. But instead of going on, Shel segues into the chorus, where all of those guys “go up to Charlie’s to smoke some shit.” Later Shel mimics the actual effects of smoking pot. I never can tell from his songs if he actually tried all of the stuff he wrote about. Then again, he lived at the Playboy Mansion a fair amount during the Sixties, so I guess if he wasn’t trying, he was probably aware or even watching. Ay. Not going there. :-)

Raquel Welch. Wishful-thinking on the part of Shel, who seems to have had a slight obsession with her, as she was mentioned in previous songs and poems. The point–if there is one–is that he has to be prepared for Raquel to show up, so he gets some matches. Then she does, and one thing leads to another...probably almost completely improvised.

No Room for Me. Definitely more of a song than a patter with guitar, as some of his compositions are. The girl in question is quite sexually voracious, experimenting with all sorts of sexual toys and other, uh, partners, leaving poor Shel out of the equation. Very typical in terms of the “list” aspect, where Shel likes to pile on as many ideas into one verse. A technique he used very frequently.

There’s No One I Hate. The entire clip is this: “I’m quite up to date, and there’s no one I hate but the fags, and dykes, Puerto Ricans and kikes, and niggers and prejudiced people!” Probably he and the sound recorder had a good giggle after this.

Julie’s Working (part deux?). Well, the bracket’s a misnomer, as this entire track–all two minutes of it–is an outtake, as Shel struggles to find the first word of the song, swearing, laughing, swearing, and laughing his way through. I never fail to crack up at this track; I think Shel’s enthusiasm and laughter is positively infectious. But then, I am a huge fan of Shel’s laugh.

I Love My Right Hand. Well, what do you think it’s about? Suffice it to say that only Shel could have written such a clever little ode to Onanism. I mean “then my left hand got jealous.” My. The song ends with one of Shel’s patented patter rants as he lectures his right hand on staying faithful. Like I said, who else could have written it?

So all in all, this album is definitely a wonderful piece of history to possess, if you can. Now my next job is to find out just how this came about. If I had to peg a date for the recording, it would probably be late 1969 or early 1970, after “A Boy Named Sue” came out. However, it’s possible it predated “Sue”, but undoubtedly it was made after the Cadet albums. Basically, I have no idea! But it would be great if someone did. So if you have any inkling about the origin and the making of this “album”, please don’t hesitate to email me.

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