Top Fifty 33: Rickie Lee Jones, 1978

[Originally posted July 2013]

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Rickie’s Wonderful Joint

Hit single Chuck E.’s In Love announced Rickie Lee Jones to the world and me in all its funky sass and beat storytelling, narratives made real by the grammar of the street, And he hang that sign on the door….He learn all of the lines. But the album also announced the folk songstress in the Joni Mitchell lineage, for example the sweet piano ballad On Saturday Afternoons in 1963. These ballads were also stunningly beautiful, Night Train as plaintively aching in this beauty as any we had heard before, the slur and harmonies in the vocals rising and rolling hypnotically, the poetry painting atmospherically,

Here she comes
I’m safe here with you
On the Night Train
Oh mama, mama.
Concrete is wheeling by
Down at the end of a lullaby
On the Night Train

Young Blood provided the strut that balances this perfect album of folk to be-bop, funk to jazz. Easy Money told one of the album’s many beatnik stories with characters living in the grooves. A song I would play again and again was the gorgeous The Last Chance Texaco, poetry and melody made beautifully poignant in the wonderful writing and singing of Rickie Lee,

A long stretch of headlights
Bends into 1-9
Tiptoe into truck stops
And sleepy diesel eyes
Volcanoes rumble in the taxi
And glow in the dark
Camels in the driver’s seat
A slow easy mark

This song has one of the most dramatic denouements, the motoring metaphors peaking in the vocal which harmonises at the end as a car that races by and away.

Side 2 of the vinyl picks up the beat with a clutch of storytellers, beginning here with Danny’s All-Star Joint – more places and people we grew to know so well – and Rickie recites her urban poetry

Your sister’s into mustard
She loves to walk the pup
She likes the pickles and the relish
She never gets enough
A Hershey milkshake
Steamin’ on a stick
For a Carte Blanche sandwich
Oh lettuce get thick…
It’s not because I’m dirty,
It’s not because I’m clean,
It’s not because I kiss the boys behind the magazine
Hey boys? How ‘bout a fight?
Cuz here comes Rickie with the girdle on tight
And if she don’t know your name
She knows what you got
From your matzo balls
To the chicken-in-the-pot
Chicken-in-the-pot
Chicken-in-the-pot

and of course we love it because Rickie is dirty, the sleaze and sass as taut as her girdle.

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Then we visit Coolsville to meet Bragger and Junior Lee, just before bopping over to Weasel and the White Boy Cools to hang out with Sal, Angela, Perry and Mario. It is just so……cool.

Penultimate Company is all late night jazz and blues, so sweetly sung – just listen to how Rickie delivers the verse

I’ll see you in another life, baby
I’ll free you in my dreams
But when I reach across the galaxy
I will miss your company

and beyond, the sweeping strings unable to compete with the rising beauty of her vocals.

This brilliant album ends on After Hours [Twelve Bars Past Goodnight] and we are lullabyed to loneliness with Rickie Lee’s Laura Nyroesque lament, saying goodbye to the vivid world we have also inhabited for those two glorious sides,

And all the gang has gone home
And I’m standing on the corner
All alone

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