Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Ventures - Knock Me Out

Every summer for two weeks, my parents would ship me over to my grandparent’s house in a small town in Southwest Iowa, population 1,500 residents. When I went there for my grandmother’s funeral this August. Both sets of grandparents lived in Bedford, making it impossible to get away from the farming community whenever summer come around again.

To a kid below the age of 12, Bedford was not such a terrible place to visit. It wasn’t until my teenage years when the limitations of a town of 1,500 people became noticeable. Prior to that, Bedford was a fine environment for a kid. It boasted a big lake you could swim in, a small Main Street with a department store, and fireworks just a few miles to the south, right across the state line of Missouri where the incendiary devices were legal.

The only time when Bedford became kind of a drag was when I missed my record collection from back home. Both grandparents did not have much in the way of records, at least the kind that I enjoyed, so it was a real bummer when I had a hankering for some Queen and the closest match was an old Rusty Warren comedy album that one of my grandmother’s had stuck in the middle of all of her easy listening records.
The same grandmother did have a one leftover record from her kids, The Ventures’ Knock Me Out.

It was an instrumental offering from the band circa 1965 and it featured a few hits from the day as well as one or two originals. The cover featured a blonde haired girl who was “knocked out” by the Ventures’ sound, a sound that evidently was created by the Mosrite guitars, whose headstocks were prominently featured next to the girl’s swinging head.

This was the first type of guitar that I ever became familiar with, mainly because I thought it was cool that the Ventures were so well known back in the 60’s that Mosrite had an exclusive line of guitars made especially for them. When I noticed that there was a picture of Ricky Wilson’s Mosrite on the inner sleeve of The B-52’s debut album, I surmised that the awesome surf tone of “Rock Lobster” was the result of that two-stringed instrument that had the strap attached to it by a bunch of duct tape. I immediately wanted one, and still do to this day.

Some of the songs on Knock Me Out were instantly recognizable. The album begins with “I Feel Fine” and the distinctive feedback at the beginning of the song. “Love Potion No. 9” was another familiar cut, although the fuzz tone of guitarist Nokie Edwards on the Ventures’ version makes the track almost sound menacing.

At the end of side two, The Ventures actually sign during one song, “Sha La La.” As you can probably figure out, the extent of the band’s “singing” consists of them going “Sha La La” over and over, dutifully preventing the band from ever being compared with any of the vocal groups they covered. Like most other Ventures’ product, the guitars normally served as the same melody where the vocals usually were.

Regardless of the band’s lack of vocal prowess, Knock Me Out is another example of the band’s instrumental dexterity and consistent chops. There’s no doubt that the band served an important role in the annals of rock music and Knock Me Out is another fine example of the band’s style and prowess. There are moments of intriguing tones, particularly considering the rest of the rock landscape from when the album was first issued in February, 1965.

The band puts together a taught collection of one dozen tracks that were probably better suited for my own collection rather than my grandmother’s. But at the end of the day, Knock Me Out stayed in Bedford as the only real permanent rock and roll fixture within my grandparents’ home, a brief reprieve from the over-abundance of mellow schlock that was played on their stereo during dining and whatever social occasions they listened to that garbage.

It only took another spin-several decades removed, and with a plethora of unlimited options available to me at my digital fingertips, before I fully appreciated the extend of Knock Me Out’s influence on my young ears.

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