Little Feat’s first album did not exactly rocket up the charts, so it seems they made a concerted effort to improve their salability for release #2.
They wrote a few songs that were radio friendly (“Easy to Slip” “Teenage Nervous Breakdown”), and tightened up their arrangements a bit (Cold, Cold, Cold”, “Texas Rose Cafe”). They even avoided the trucker theme that dominated the first record, except for re-recording a toss-off from the first album called “Willin’”, fleshing it out with harmonies and pedal steel guitar, but the effort was wasted on contemporary listeners. The album ‘bubbled under’ the top 200, entirely missing any chart position of merit. Precious few people heard “Sailin’ Shoes” in 1972, but those who did hear it knew it was one of the best albums of the year. Each of the above-mentioned tracks (all written by Lowell George), were masterpieces that attempted to morph rock and roll into a unique and singular vision. The musical interplay served as a stunning example of how a genuinely great band of intuitive players ought to sound, while covering entirely new ground for song lyrics.
George played with words and twisted phrases like a lysergic dyslexic. It’s almost impossible to not smile when singing along with his fever dream visions. “I had no money, my ‘special friend’ was gone. The TV set was busted so she went along” is a singular example (from “Cold, Cold, Cold”) or “You yelled ‘hey’ when the stove blew up. Upset? Why, yes. The footprints on your ceiling are almost gone” (from Trouble”) is another. Need more? How about “Picked up on the phone in Houston. Everybody answered. Everybody answered but they won’t say why” (from “Texas Rose Café”). This is what happens when the acid wears off. Each of these songs tell a story from a perspective that would likely frighten most people. “A Apolitical Blues” (even the title is skewed) is a comic portrayal of paranoia, while “Sailin’ Shoes” is such a twisted study in escapism that it boggles the senses, but the real meat and potatoes of this album lies in the musicianship.
Anyone who refers to Little Feat as a ‘boogie band’ is so thoroughly missing the point that they should be forced to keep their opinions to themselves. Yes, “Tripe Face Boogie” (written by pianist Billy Payne and drummer Richie Hayward) is a ‘boogie’ (duh), but nothing else in their catalog even resembles that rhythm, and even then, the band uses the form almost comically - “I don’t dig potato chips and I can’t dig torts, Gotta tripe my guacamole baby, gotta tripe my shorts” is ridiculous poetry, but there it is - a line that proves the rest of the band was happily pursuing lyrical goals similar to George’s.
“Sailin’ Shoes” is a gloriously weird album that may take some getting used to, even (or maybe especially) if you’re already a fan of the band’s latter-day stuff. Tracks like “Cold, Cold Cold” and “Texas Rose Café” radiate early signs of the idiosyncratic rhythms that would come to define their best work, which was just one or two years into the future. As a package, it’s 100% American and yet stunningly original, conveying all of the traits that earned the band its well-deserved reputation as one of rock and roll’s all-time best rhythm sections. As an aside, it also has one of the bestest ever album covers, too.
May 1972 - Billboard Charted #203
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