Listen to Shackles and Chains by John Stewart.
Well, it's winter again--It's that time of year when a young(ish) man's fancy turns to warmer climes and, in a more general sense, to escape in itself. That's why we'll be featuring a two week series entitled "Kings of the Road".
While some others (e.g., the owners of this blog) spent the past week "bump(ing) into Mick" down in the Caribbean, I've been sitting here trapped in New Dump City thinking of songs that do their best to capture the spirit of the open road. It's been my own little attempt at a vacation. So, for the next several days we'll be playing songs that trade in escape fantasies, whether they be internal or geographic ones. These songs will be generously seasoned with deserts, lonely roads and names of places both well known and obscure. Their writers and performers will be lovingly known as "Kings of the Road".
Today's song starts us off with a bang--It's the late John Stewart's "Shackles and Chains" from his 1969 record California Bloodlines. Stewart gained his reputation as a member of and writer for the Kingston Trio, until he went solo in 1967. His best known song, "Daydream Believer", was taken to number one later that year by the Monkees. However, Stewart's enduring legacy will be his self-conscious creation of a type of pop that would later be called Americana. Stewart was perhaps the first to write songs about characters and stories with self-consciously historical narratives, such as a song about Lincoln's funeral train (see "Lincoln's Train"). I think Stewart's songs aren't as sophisticated or successful in their aims as, say Dylan's work in the same vein, mostly because his songs are so explicit and concrete. They sometimes don't leave enough to the imagination--they're more Stephen Ambrose than they are Stephen Crane.
Despite all that complaining, the songs are pretty awesome, and "Shackles and Chains" is a great example. It's a hot little workout with some of the world's greatest session men playing on it, many of whom were similarly featured on Dylan's Nashville Skyline--Players like Kenny Buttrey (drums), Charlie McCoy (harmonica, etc.), Norbert Putnam (bass) and Lloyd Green (pedal steel). I think the song really evokes the excitement of hopping into a car and turning the key, or of a train pulling out of the station for some unknown destination. Anyway, listen to the song and see if you don't feel like jumping some unbound Barstow train bound for L.A.! Freedom!
Photo: View of Phoenix.