Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Song of The Week: "Friend Is A Four Letter Word," Cake

I once read somewhere that there are two types of people in this world. People who get Cake, and people who don't get Cake. I think that is pretty damn true. Count me as one who gets Cake. I absolutely love the stripped down approach the band takes to their music. Raw, reverb-free guitar and vocals that are spoken as much as sung. Trumpet, surprisingly funky drum work, deft bass work and tasteful keyboard all add up to an eclectic mix. To me, they are like a Wes Anderson film. Let's say...The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou. Not for everyone, but quite rewarding for those whose humor and tastes happen to match up with the art nicely.

The Sacramento band broke nationally with their excellent 1996 album, Fashion Nugget. That nearly flawless album featured the excellent break-out hit, The Distance. It was the song that got them out of the KDVS play rotation and onto MTV. Right after that song, comes a very different song on the album: Friend Is A Four Letter Word. It's our SoTW. The song was written by singer John McCrea. What grabs me most about this song are the spartan lyrics. Quite frankly, they never fail to get my attention with their twist of word play and restraint. it says so much with so little.
To me, coming from you.
Friend is a four letter word.
End is the only part of the word, that I heard.
Call me morbid, or absurd,
But to me, coming from you
Friend is a four letter word.
There isn't much more. But one doesn't need more. I think it speaks volumes on it's own. Former guitarist Greg Brown (who, incidentally, wrote The Distance) plays extremely tasteful guitar work with a tone that quickly identifies the band as Cake. It's a tone born from a 1960s Guild Starfire III (think The Kinks) run thru a distortion pedal run through a 1960s Sears Silvertone amp. It's a great, distinctive sound, and Brown gets all the props in the world from me for going a very different direction from most other guitarists. Vincent di Fiore's trumpet work adds a wonderful latin tone to the song.

On a side note, someone once informed me that Cake opened for my band, The Lionhearted. It was back in 1991 at a house party for a cool gal named Michelle Piniera. I honestly do not remember that. I was even told by someone else that Greg Brown paid special attention to the use of our Silvertone Aristocrat guitar and Vox amps. Again, I don't recall this and have only the vaguest memory of the show at all. If anyone on this blog recalls this or can confirm it, please do so.

Otherwise, enjoy.


  1. Three cheers for Greg Brown's guitar work, Bronx cheer for rest.

  2. And an enormous raspberry to me for my inability to utilize articles, both definite and indefinite, in my haste to be glib.

  3. they opened up for you when you were the Moss Men, not the Lionhearted

  4. yep, it was the Mossmen, not the Lionhearted. I stand corrected.

  5. The guitarist who replaced Greg Brown was formerly a member of Berkeley based 60's garage-rock revivalists The Loved Ones and also, later, The Kinetics. Both these bands were fronted by singer Bart Davenport, who has released some decent solo stuff over the past 10 years. I saw The Kinetics a number of times during the late nineties when they played a regular gig at Bruno's in SF and I always admired this guitarist playing and also his beautiful vintage equipment (I remember he favored a classic, 60's Gibson SG for those Kinetics shows). I also admit I admired his cool stage presence and sharp clothes. Anyway, as far as Cake opening for The Mossmen. Well, I was a member of that most blues-wailin' band The Mossmen (Oh, the flame burned briefly but it burned true) and frankly, I don't remember Cake opening for us. I do remember a backyard show we played with The Popalopes (spelling?)though, who were kind of a big thing locally. I hope it is true that Cake opened for us, because I like Cake and, of course, it makes a nice addition the the legend of The Mossmen.

    -The Howlin', Prowlin' but most times just Slinkin' "Coyote"