The James Gang released this song on The James Gang Rides Again in around 1970 or thereabouts. At the time, I was heavy into the nap-time and drooling scene somewhere near Schenectady, so it escaped my notice.

About twenty years later, I heard the song on the radio, and I loved it. The hook is a riff, a deeply groovy riff, and it lodged itself permanently in my brain. The effect is like the riff to "Monkey Man", which it closely resembles: Pure primal rock and roll, a blind lunge for no good reason. I didn't know what the song was called nor who'd recorded it, but I remembered that riff. After about five years I sat down and learned it, from memory. This ain't John McLaughlin. It took about a minute and a half. What I came up with was an approximation and probably in the wrong key, but it gets the idea across:


    -----           ---------           -----------------------
    -----           -7-------           -8---7-----------7-8-7-
    -5-6-           -7---5-6-           -7---7-----------7-7-7-
    -5-7- (chicka-  -7---5-7- (chicka-  -9---7-----------7-9-7-
    -5-7-   chicka) -5---5-7-   chicka) -5---5-----------5-5-5-
    -5---           -----5---           -----------------------
        mute                mute

(Mind you, I'm writing this at my desk at work without a guitar. My memory is mostly in my hands, so the above may contain errors. The 6/7/7 things are hammered on.)

A few more years passed. I still didn't know from the James Gang. I got a real job and stopped playing guitar so much. It's a great riff to have around, because it sounds pretty damn cool for how easy it is to play. It's easy enough that even with once-shaky chops eroded further by disuse, I can still find room to dig into it and make it shake. This is good: When I find myself somewhere with a guitar in my hands, it's one of the things I can pull out of my ass and impersonate somebody who plays rock and roll. Anybody would sound good playing it.

One day I found myself at a friend's apartment. I picked up his guitar and bashed out the Mystery Riff, and asked if he knew what it was, this incarnation of rock and roll, this song that had haunted me for so many years. He said, "that's 'Funk #49' by the James Gang. Jesus! Were you born on a raft?!" No, I was born in 1968. Cut me some slack here...

So it's Joe Walsh, is it. Well, well. I filed that away, more years passed, and last week I finally went out and bought the record. Don't ask me why. I had the Mystery Riff whenever I wanted it, right? Right. I should have left well enough alone. This is the way Oedipus screwed himself.

The problem is this: The song's not all that great.

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