I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of Butch Walker. Probably in his time with Marvelous 3. And, if not aware of him in particular, I did know about Southgang back in the day. My girlfriend was a big fan.
In fact years later, we saw Marvelous 3 at Slim’s in San Francisco and my girlfriend and her friend managed to whip out their old Southgang fan club cards and show them to Butch. The look on his face was sort of, “Wow! Neat! I wish those would go away!”
Anyway, suffice to say Butch was in my peripheral vision of music for quite awhile. But when I got my hands on “The Rise and Fall Of Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites”…. Oh, man.
The album came out in 2006, but I’m pretty sure I picked it up about a year later. It’s not cutting edge. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before. But it does it all so well. The songcraft is absolutely amazing. Not to mention it appealed to my penchant for overly long album titles.
When I sit down to write, this album is in my head. As a lyricist, as a producer, as an arranger…. If I can emulate half of what goes on here, I’m in good shape.
Ooh… Ahhh… – Ok, not a lot going on with this first track. It’s just 21 seconds of “ooh” and “ahh” like the title says. But it doesn’t set the reverb expectations for the rest of the album. Plus I always admire cool harmony singing because I’m so terrible at it.
Hot Girls In Good Moods – It doesn’t get anymore rock n’ roll than this. A song about hot girls with a fat fat fat guitar riff and killer 70’s style production with a sweet slapback echo on just about everything. Butch grew up as a huge KISS fan and it shows, but this is better than anything Gene and Paul could ever come up with.
Ladies and Gentlemen… The Let’s Go Out Tonites! – This is the one that really did it for me. My favorite song on the album. It’s got a chorus that’s simple enough to sing along with, but just complicated enough to make you work a little to figure out and remember all the lyrics. One day my girlfriend and I were listening to this song in the car and I told her it’s my favorite on the album. She said, “Of course it is. It sounds like something you’d write.” One of the greatest compliments she’s ever given me.
Bethamphetamine (Pretty Pretty) – This was the first single from the album. Butch definitely has a way of being in the scene and being able to look at the scene from the outside too. A really useful skill for a songwriter. He’s not only really self-aware, but everyone else-aware too, and can create thoughtful commentary on the scene around him. Ok, it’s an awesome riff about dumb club chicks.
Too Famous To Get Fully Dressed – This one really builds on Bethamphetamine and looks at the friends around her. The rest of the hipster crew that works so hard to look they don’t work hard. Just the title alone makes me giggle. And yet another super fun guitar riff with cool slapback right out of the gate on the count in.
We’re All Going Down – It’s that time of the night to slow it down a little bit folks. This song retains all the cool 70’s production values and has a cool singable chorus. I’m still not totally sure what the song is about it, but I know it’s not happy.
Dominoes – One of the saddest songs ever recorded. In fact I wrote about in my top 10 saddest songs post awhile back. It’s about a couple that’s grown old together and now the wife has passed on. It’s a song about having a house and family full of memories of the person you loved the most in the world. I had this song in mind while writing “I’m Not The One”. A very different relationship story. But I was trying for the same depth on imagery.
Paid To Get Excited – And after a couple real downer songs, Butch and the band rip into a super uptempo tom-tom heavy groove about how a lot of us are “doped up on diversions” and forget to make our own decisions about what we like or don’t like. It’s about thinking for yourself and not always going with the flow. Me like.
Song Without A Chorus – Just as the title says, it’s a song without a chorus. Which, for a guy who writes such killer choruses, is an interesting challenge. Still, it’s catchy as hell and his sense of humor shines through as he talks about the song not getting on the radio because he used the word “gun” despite the hip-hop stations playing songs about drive-bys.
The Taste Of Red – This song reminds me of the 80’s hippie country vibe that used to show up in some bands back then. That’s a weird mix to picture, but it was 80’s bands working out their major pentatonic scales and wearing cowboy hats, but filtered through a psychedelic flower child type of aesthetic.
Rich People Die Unhappy – And then there’s no mixture about it. Straight up country in this one. Steel guitar, mandolin… the whole shebang. A song about learning a lesson from the old folks who know better. The music video for this one is fun too.
This Is The Sweetest Little Song – This is that mental dichotomy of the songwriter at work. Our job is to comment on the world around us. And as soon as the song is born we get to comment on it too. This really is a sweet little song. And he was able to look at himself doing it from the outside and give it that title. It’s sappy and romantic and cute. But hey, ya gotta give into that sometimes.
When Canyons Ruled The City – I love that this song starts with “Hey, how do we start this song?” It’s a curious cut to close with since it doesn’t end on a big bang. It’s more like a jam that ends at 3am. Everyone’s a little sleepy and drunk, but one more song need to be played. Big sing along background vocals and everyone gets a piece of the spectrum in this longview of Los Angeles society.
Like I said, everything about this album has been influential on my own work in some way. It’s and album with very few dead spots and great theme tying the whole thing together. “Look at those partying idiots…. Ok, fuck it… Let’s be partying idiots for awhile too.”
While I was writing “Geeks Don’t Care” I was trying to capture a lot of Butch Walker vibe both lyrically and musically. Though the song is less “Let’s Go Out Tonite’s” and a little more “Marvelous 3”, it’s all still there.
One item on my bucket list is one day getting into a studio with Butch to co-write something or at least have him produce one of my tracks. As he calls it, that’s his “day job”. He writes songs for other people (big people!) and produces albums. So yeah, one of these days.
Also, if you haven’t read his book Drinking with Strangers: Music Lessons from a Teenage Bullet Belt yet, I highly recommend it. In case you’d ever wondered what 25 years of being a “mid-level artist” in the music is about, it’s a great education.
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