Songs Of The Day 8/1/2015: Dick Campbell – “The People Planners” + “Approximately Four Minutes of Feeling Sorry for DC”

I ran some lip earlier this year about new and/or fake Dylans, from last month’s Loudon Wainwright III song about being one to referring to Mouse & the Traps’ “A Public Execution” as being “as blatant a Bob Dylan clone as anyone was allowed to get away with.” That was before I heard Dick Campbell (1944–2002) out of Chicago, and his album Dick Campbell Sings Where It’s At from 1966 on Mercury Records.

Campbell himself, in a gracious act of post-heyday self-effacement, explained the genesis for this record: “I had written a couple of ‘Dylan-esque’ songs which Mercury liked. Columbia had Dylan and Mercury didn’t. They asked me to write ten more, come back in two weeks, and make an album.” You couldn’t get a more by-the-numbers Xerox of Duluth’s finest than Where It’s At: It’s like Highway 61 Revisited for the impatient and easily distracted.

Which is not to say it’s bad. I don’t know what I’d call it, but Campbell’s gaiety with actually being given a studio budget – and, from the sounds of it, the best thesaurus money could buy – rubs off in a way that curates a sort of perverse fascination. There’s that level of self-defined defiance, a stance that I’m sure a lot of folk-rockers gently misappropriated from Dylan’s lyrics, “Like a Rolling Stone” in particular. The opening lines of Campbell’s “The People Planners” spell out Campbell’s bad mood, then almost buries the lede: “Hey Mr. Unrefined / Lower class hoodlum kind / Trying to beat my head ’cause he don’t like how I act / Well… don’t do it.” That’ll show ’em. The uneducated proletariat was all ready to do it, and then Dick said, no, you’d better not do it, and so they… well, the song never explains whether they end up doing it or not, but I guess the evidence that Campbell continues singing is a good sign that whatever they were about to do, they did not.

As easy as it is to make fun of Where It’s At, it’s got some pretty good parts on it if you can forgive the third-generation Dylanoscopy. Writer Gene Sculatti even wrote in Scram web-magazine that the album was “the sole masterpiece of the fake-Dylan field," an accolade that sounds at once impressive and farcical. But that guitar hook on ”Approximately Four Minutes" is wicked, as it should be: It’s played by Dylan’s own sideman at the time, Mike Bloomfield, who gave Highway 61 Revisited its electric knavery.

Other people in Campbell's band for this album included harmonica godhead Paul Butterfield and, I kid you not, one Peter Cetera on bass. Cetera later went on to help found a brass-rock conglomerate that named their albums after famous Roman numerals.
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