Monday, September 19, 2016

SHG: The Ventures: "Walk—Don't Run"

The Ventures: “Walk—Don’t Run”
Entered the chart on: 7/25/1960
Peaked on: 8/29/1960
Weeks at #2: 1
Song at #1: “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis Presley

It’s funny, this is the first instrumental I’ve reviewed since “Raunchy” all the way back in 1957. “Funny” because I’m looking ahead, and I see three instrumentals (more or less) in quick succession in my near future. Funny because I’m looking at the plentitude of instrumentals that charted in 1961. But more on that later.

It’s also funny that the Ventures, the most successful and influential of instrumental rock bands possibly of all-time, are hardly ever talked about these days. Imitators like Dick Dale receive gushing praise from hipster lips all the time, but hardly anyone mentions the originators of the surf-guitar sound anymore. And I have to wonder why that is?

For the record, this originated as a 1956 jazz guitar tune by Johnny Smith. It had also previously been done by country guitarist and musical arranger Chet Atkins (the man behind the memorably subtle orchestration of Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go”), on whom the Ventures apparently based their version.

I have to say, there’s a certain something about the Ventures’ rendition of this that just clicks with me the way the Johnny Smith and Chet Atkins versions don’t. The melody is there and present in all three versions, but why does the Ventures version seem so much better to me? I guess the other two are competent, but rather typical. The Johnny Smith version follows a steady “head-solos-head” form that was typical of 1950s jazz, while the Chet Atkins tune could be any instrumental track off of a “guitarist plays popular songs” album of the day.

The Ventures version has a certain je ne sais quoi about it. Maybe it’s that drum fill that opens the tune, making you stand at attention. Maybe it’s that spiky guitar tone that’s present on both lead and rhythm guitars. For whatever reason, it really works for this song and it’s memorable melody. Bob Bogle’s handling of the melody is very fluid, and he knows just when to bend a note and how to do so to make the most of it.

Apparently this song influenced a ton of young, budding musicians to pick up guitars and form bands of their own. And you know, I can hear that. Timeless stuff.

Rating: 5

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