Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Listen to Holland Tunnel by John Phillips.
Listen to First and Last Thing You Do by John Phillips.

Today's songs are by a guy that I referenced in my last series of posts, John Phillips--aka, "The Wolfking". Phillips is, of course, best known for his work as the leader of the Mamas & Papas, but his masterpiece--and the best record I've discovered in the past several years--is his 1970 solo record, John, The Wolfking of L.A. The record assembled the best of L.A.'s session men and the songs are ingenious descriptions of the beginning stages of a man's fall from grace. Much like There's a Riot Goin' On (which, incidentally, was recorded at Phillips' Bel Air mansion...Sly was Phillips' tenant!), it's a bit like the watching (listening to?) a train wreck...but one that's going out in style.

The Wolfking may be the most prototypical of our "Kings of the Road". This record finds him wandering around Los Angeles, as well as other debauched locales (e.g., New York and New Orleans), on a search for self-discovery and drugs. I'm posting two songs today, but they're really just different versions of the same song. The first, "Holland Tunnel", is the version released on the Wolfking record. It's a bittersweet meditation on leaving New York, replete with details about picking up tickets for the New Jersey turnpike, getting steamed clams at the Howard Johnson's and slumming in Pittsburgh pawn shops (and he seems to be, um, "red-ballin'" it all the way). In other words, nice little details that perfectly conjure up images of escape and the open road.

I'm also including the version of this song that Phillips recorded for the soundtrack to Robert Altman's 1970 film Brewster McCloud. It's significantly faster and peppier--Phillips sounds much less doped up--and it features prominent (and satisfying) pedal steel guitar. It's much less melancholy and probably more in keeping with our series. In both songs, Phillips concludes by hoping that a stroke of good luck will strand him in L.A. See you next week!

N.B.: In doing some Internet searches about this song, I found out that "Holland Tunnel" was on the soundtrack for Noah Baumbach's 2005 film "The Squid and the Whale". Now that's a skillful soundtrack compiler! Who are these guys? How do they get their jobs? I'm jealous.

Photo: Rainbow Connection, Jemez Trail, NM.


1 comment:

Bill said...

re your last sentence, that's the question that haunts me every day...