Music News

Hold On, I'm Cummings!

Sometimes towering insignificance is the very thing that draws the most attention. Take Sony Legacy reissuing not one, but four Burton Cummings CDs with previously unheard bonus cuts.Burton Cummings?

In rock 'n' roll hero terms, he's Atom Man, the Justice Leaguer who only saved the day by doing something really dull, like crawling through a keyhole. And bonus cuts? For most people, anything that isn't "These Eyes" or "American Woman" qualifies as a bonus cut.

But that just shows how much you know. If you take this Burton 101 crash course with me, you'll learn lotsa stuff. Did you know our boy Burton was the first Canadian to ever go triple-platinum? That was for solo album number three, Dreams of a Child, a platter that had even fewer hit singles than Rush's 2112 and Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Restless Daughter combined!

Rarely has Cummings been given his Guess Who due. He's always had a great banshee wail, made even greater by an apparent touch of Tourette's, something that kicks in whenever there's a free bar of music to ad-lib lyrics over. Who could forget the way he stretched the alphabet soup on the Guess Who's 1972 Live at the Paramount album? Rather than merely admonish that darned war machine operating "American Woman" to just "stay away from me-hee," Burton blasted his own verbal bazookas, calling her a litany of names you won't hear repeated during any of Ringo's All-Stars shows when the Burton Cummings sing-along portion of the program comes around: "American bitch! American cunt! American slut! American lesbian!" And yes, even "American beaver!" Cummings knew the show was being taped for a live-album release, and yet, he persisted. Doesn't the word "demographics" mean anything to this guy? Think about all the flak Mick Jagger caught from feminists just for singing "Stupid Girl," and you'll realize how many more musical crimes against women Burton's gotten away with in all these years.

Neighborhoods get to put up posters every time a convicted sex offender moves in next door, but oldies stations can hardly raise a similar red flag before playing a Guess Who record, even though the vinyl pudding is proof that the heart of a rock 'n' roll pervert beats inside this depraved Canuck. Remember such Guess Who near-hits as "Follow Your Daughter Home" and "Albert Flasher"? Of course not. No radio station in its right mind was ever gonna play a record that cheerfully sang the phrase, "It was a workshop boner" over and over again. Or was it "workshop owner"? Jeez, you just can't pin a thing on this slippery feller.

Until now, anyway. While the first three Burton Cummings albums reached the malls and shops without incident, his fourth long player, the suppressed-in-the-U.S. opus Woman Love, is such a monumental cry for help we think you and your neighbors should know about it. To better understand this blight against humanity, perhaps a brief analysis of the three CDs leading up to it might provide some clarity.

Burton Cummings (1976)

One year after Eric Carmen left the Raspberries to be all by his self, Cummings bolted the safe confines of the Guess Who to follow him down that dark and scary "middle of the road." With this album, Cummings ended a five-year feud with former Who-ser Randy Bachman by covering "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" like the slow, elegant version of Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." With tasteful stuttering, you n-nn-nnn-never will f-ff-fff-orget! Like Carmen, this album scored Cummings his very own don't-wanna-be-all-by-myself-with-88-keys hit, "Stand Tall." Who could forget this chorus: "Stand tall, don't you fall/FOR GOD'S SAKE, DON'T GO AND DO SOMETHING FOOLISH!!!" Sage advice that went sadly unheeded later on.

My Own Way to Rock (1977)

Enough of that MOR shit, says Burton, who turns the piano stool up to 11 here. But like his previous album, My Own Way to Rock is produced by Richard Perry, whose own "way to rock" means hiring the same session players who made Carly Simon and Ringo Starr records the seismic eruptions they were. Burton's worked up quite a lather on the cover, as the mercifully reduced close-up of his sweaty head on the CD version bears out. Why wasn't this album called My Own Way to Perspire? Maybe if he had pushed that envelope, then Burton would've gotten due props for his secretion breakthrough long before everyone from Olivia Newton-John to Hall & Oates to Richard Simmons ran their runny pores on record sleeves.

Most of the bonus cuts offered on these reissues are understandably album rejects. I mean, how good can you expect a song called "I Do My Vocals On the Boat" to be? But thank heaven for this album's outasite outtake, a live version of "Charlemagne" that proves that all Burton needs is a coliseum of sickos egging him on, and before you know it, it's too late, he's gone too far and lost the sun. In short, he comes "Undun." From out of nowhere he suddenly starts singing, "I could never be Freddie Mercury," and then proudly blurts "'Cause I LIKE YOUNG GIRLS!" This was in 1979, at least a year before Freddie officially adopted his glad-to-be-gay/Fonzie-in-mascara look. (okay, so in the outing rock stars department, Jagger has Cummings handily beat. As early as 1975, Mick's frequent onstage introduction for Billy Preston was "he's staying at the Carlyle and he likes young boys.")

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic