Hard Again? Almost.
- Do you wanna hear one of the best things ever recorded by anyone ever?* Course you do. Well buster, you’ve come to the right place.
- Do you wanna hear some of the most fantastically masculine tracks ever cut by anyone ever?* Yeah man.
- Do you wanna hear possibly the best album released in 1977?* Why else would you be here.
- Do you wanna hear the song that I play louder than anything else I own?* Hell yeah, you do!
- Do you wanna hear the blueprint for whole genres as yet unborn being laid down?* Yup, I’ll lay it on you.
- Do you wanna hear what a perfectly produced LP sounds like?* Yup, yup, yup.
- Do you wanna massage my feet lovingly whilst I sip this gin and listen to this record?** Oh well, can’t blame me for asking.
- Do you wanna hear my favourite Saturday night album?* Affirmative, droids.
- Do you wanna just smile and have a ball?* Uh-huh.
Welcome to you all and welcome to Muddy Waters Hard Again. Pretty much the best LP I own, sometimes. An album designed to sound incredible being blasted out after the working week is done. An album cut in a blistering three-day session helmed by Johnny Winter with a crack band of bluesmen – seriously has there ever been a better electric blues band put together than Waters, Winter, Cotton, Pine Top Perkins, Margolin, Calmese and Big Eyes Smith? if so, I haven’t heard them.
There had been plenty of attempts to parley up the old blues legends influence into record sales and acclaim throughout the 70’s, most were sporadically good at best, some were horror shows, none can hold a candle to Hard Again. That’s just a scientific fact^
You want a grab-em-by-the-throat opener? just tee up ‘Mannish Boy’ for size. I mean, come on, I genuinely don’t think music gets any better than this.
That beat is just the best there has ever been, if that doesn’t make you want to dance just skip the pulse checking stage and take yourself straight off to the chapel of rest for a lie down. Talk about a strutting cock, the whole track preens and parades like a brilliantined red rooster, dismissing every wannabe young pretender trying to hitch a ride on its’ coattails. Pure essence of male.
The only issue I have with ‘Mannish Boy’ is that it is such a difficult opener to get past, I genuinely find it difficult not to just play it over and over on strict repeat.
The line I shoot
Will never miss
When I make love to a girl
She can’t resist
Hard Again is so perfectly recorded and produced too, I just love all the snippets of studio chatter and shout-outs going on in the studio that get captured here – Johnny Winter just sounds like he is having the absolute time of his life during the intro to ‘Mannish Boy’, and why wouldn’t he be!
But don’t fall into my trap here, there are 8 other great cuts on Hard Again. Okay, so I am a little less enamoured with the closing ‘Little Girl’ but that’s a minor quibble indeed. Want some proof juice? well just let that needle truck on down the grooves to ‘Bus Driver’.
My baby run off with a bus driver
And you know that don’t seem right
He used to give her rides in the daytime
Now she gives him rides at night
It is just an excellent full-throated slice of electric blues, you know exactly where the whole song is going right from the first chord, but that’s not the point – you don’t get on the bus to be surprised, it’s the getting there that is all the fun. James Cotton takes a particularly great harp solo, as does Pine Top Perkins on the piano. The best compliment I can pay it is that at 7:48 it is far too short.
Similarly ass-kickingly excellent is ‘The Blues Had a Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)’, which is another beastly cocksure strutter. Everyone plays on 10, at least and what I particularly like is that they give the tune time to breathe, nobody rushes in to fill all the little gaps in the track.
There is also particular joy to be had in Muddy’s reappropriation of ‘I Want To Be Loved’ from the Rolling Stones. The version here is assertive and sensuously groovy, the 62 year-old Waters sings it like a man of experience, making the Stones’ version (which I love) sound very callow by comparison.
Yet another reason I love Hard Again is that there are enough variations on board to keep everything interesting and groovy. Just check out the loose-limbed swagger of ‘Crosseyed Cat’, the country blues of ‘I Can’t Be satisfied’ and the slower ‘Deep Down In Florida’. When you fold this lot into the testosterone fuelled pounding Chicago blues elsewhere, you really are well on your way to baking a perfect blues cake; complete with Muddy icing and Winter sprinkles.
The playing is just superb throughout the album, Johnny Winter and Bob Margolin^^ just rip it up on guitar, Muddy is credited with guitar but I understand the input was pretty minimal from him. The real eye opener for me was Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on drums, when that man hit a drum, man it stayed hit.
Plus, come on, look at Muddy’s portrait on the front cover! I love that photo of him, coming on like a dandified Buddah; the man had such a wonderful face. And that smile? the man knew exactly how good an album he’d just made.
So as I may have hinted at slightly above, Hard Again is just an absolute delight and a half. Get this album if you love the blues if you love blues rock, if you love hard rock, if you like music, if you like you then this should be your next purchase.
Hard Again? Oooooo Yeah, Ooh Yeah!
*that was one of those rhetoricallywhatsit questions beloved of philosophers, great orators and angry wives.
**that was a genuine yes/no option. And your choice saddened me greatly.
^recently proven by top NASA scientists in white coats, using test tubes and stuff.
^^who is the only surviving band member now from these sessions.