Sunday, January 1, 2012

Forgive Them, Levi, For They Know Not What They Do

I spend very little time listening to music on commercial radio, and that's been the case for years. Yesterday afternoon I was again reminded why I avoid this (generally) pre-programmed dreck at all costs.

Around 2:00 p.m., I found myself stuck in someone else's car for a mercifully short ride, listening to Chicago's WLS-FM, which is now an oldies station. After a few commercials and a station identification break, the instantly recognizable intro to "Bernadette" by The Four Tops blasted through the Mazda's speakers.

I was pumped.

Few singers can match the power and emotion of the late Levi Stubbs, and I consider his performance of "Bernadette" to be one of the most powerful three-minute songs ever committed to vinyl.

Levi's passion and desperation build throughout the recording, until the song hits its climax at about the 2:38 mark.

That's when time stops.

There's silence.

Levi then lets loose a final anguished cry for his woman, after which the band (led by James Jamerson's driving bass) and the background singers bring it all home during the record's last twenty seconds.

I've listened to this record hundreds of times over the years, and every time I hear it, I anxiously await that pause, that final roar, and that outro.

Lord only knows who was turning the knobs yesterday at WLS-FM, but just as Levi dug deep for his last plea to Bernadette, the radio guy abruptly faded out the song at about the 2:40 mark.

But this guy wasn't content just to paint his own musical mustache on a Motown "Mona Lisa"; he added insult to injury by hurriedly halting Levi's masterwork simply to get to the next record.

Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves."

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