London, Ontario’s Dave Merritt– of Adam West and Golden Seals fame– is one of my favourite songwriters: “The Boy Who Cried Eye,” “Sinister Cycle,” “Algernon,” “I’m Afraid (of Letting You Down),” “Commander Tom,” and “Song of the Garden,” which Dave wrote for Rheostatics’ “Story of Harmelodia,’ and was sung by Sarah Harmer. His solo albums– you can find them at zunior.com– are worth seeking out and so is the Adam West stuff, allowing completists a chance to hear the kind of great work that lives beyond buzz lists and angles of hype. Dave– who cut his teeth in record retail before becoming one of Canada’s foremost opera tour programmers (he spends much of his time in Europe)– has typically lovely taste in music, and we’re grateful that he spent some time writing about a songwriter of equal substance: England’s Nick Lowe.
Try to download Nick Lowe’s “Stick It Where The Sun Don’t Shine.” You can’t. I defy you to find it. Sure, you can stream it, on one of two YouTube videos of crap, digitized audio (one is an actual upload that sounds a bit more “hi-fi” and has about 4500 views, 4400 of which are mine; the other is a video of a guy playing the 45 and dropping the needle off the record, which may explain why it has only 961 views). The song is one of three singles from the 1982 album Nick the Nife, which has long since been out of print in any format. So good luck finding either the album or the single in your local vinyl shop (I ordered mine on the interweb a few years ago, from a guy in California). The song and album dented the top 50 on Billboard back in ’82, and did even better in Canada, making it to #12 on the CHUM chart and getting plenty of play on cfny, which is where I heard it. Between 1982 and 2012, though, I bet I didn’t hear it once. No matter—it stuck. It’s one of those songs I sing bits of almost every day, and after 30 years of radio silence, I could still sing the whole thing. How come? The guitar intro is an absolute rip off of CCR’s “Green River,” but better, with better drumming. Terry Williams drumming: Jesus Christ, has there ever been a better pop/rock drummer? There is only one perfect drum beat for a song, and part of what makes this song is Williams’ drumming (the same could be said for what he does on “When I Write the Book”, “Cruel to be Kind”, “Big Kick, Plain Scrap”, and sundry other Nick Lowe/Rockpile/Dave Edmunds numbers). Unbelievably, he went on to drum for—wait for it—Dire Straits, the most flaccid, beige “rock” band of the 80s. But Williams is aces in my book for what he did with Lowe, Edmunds and Rockpile in the late 70s/early 80s. When the singing starts, something’s wrong. Carlene Carter, Lowe’s wife at the time, harmonizes on every word in the verses, but oddly. To my ears, she is at least very lazy with her pitch, and more probably pretty flat, often. Is this by design? I mean, she’s June Carter’s daughter and Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter, so she must be able to sing, right? Either way, this pitchiness is what makes the song work. The slightly AM radio production on the vocals and those weird harmonies are magnetic. And when the killer pre-chorus hits, it’s already one of my favourite songs of all time. Well you can call up the law, do what you like/ You keep the car, I’m on my bike That second line modulates magically, unexpectedly, up a full step, then back down again for line three and up again for line four, higher this time though: I can’t be sorry when there ain’t no choice/ Either rejoin the rabble, or listen to your babble A lesser songwriter (like me) might have completed the A/A/B/B rhyme scheme and gone with “or listen to your voice,” but that’s not as good as “babble.” The word scans better and just is better, in tone and context. After this swell couplet, we get the chorus payoff: You can stick it, stick it, stick it stick it stick it/ stick it where the sun don’t shine “Shine” is sung over two notes (the 4th and the 3rd) and is a huge hook. But every part of the song is a hook—the CCR intro, the lilting 1950s rock & roll melody of the verses, the crazy out-of-tune harmonies, the killer melody and modulation in the pre-chorus, and the chorus that drops off a cliff and delivers a memorable, smart-assed, eponymous, Nashvillian turn of phrase. Solid gold. At least in my speakers it is. I should mention that the song I really wanted to write about was “Born Fighter”. That song represents everything that I love about being a musician, and I listen to it repeatedly on nights leading up to any of my all-too-rare recording sessions. But it was never issued as a 45. No matter–like “Born Fighter,” “Stick It Where The Sun Don’t Shine” is what a perfect rock & roll radio single sounds like. Lowe’s nickname was “Basher”, as his approach was to “bash the songs out and tart them up later.” Listen to the drum-filled bridge in “Stick It”—“What should we do here?” “Who cares—let’s just get it down!” Not over thought or overwrought—just Pure Pop for Now People.