Graded on a Curve: Spooky Tooth,
Spooky Two

Spooky Tooth: I don’t know exactly how to start this review of Spooky Two, except by saying that Spooky Tooth has always, at least in my mind, been in a dead heat with Foghat as funniest band name ever when stoned. For the longest time I didn’t know much more than that about them, other than that they featured Gary Wright, the genius who gave us the great “Dream Weaver,” on organ and vocals. Oh, and they also featured Luther Grosvenor, who would go on to change his name to Ariel Bender and play guitar for Mott the Hoople.

I always suspected them of progressive transgressions, but hey—I was wrong, at least on 1969’s Spooky Two. No neo-classical rigmarole for these guys; some gussied up vocal hoohah, yes, but you never get the idea listening to them that they think they’re slumming by playing rock’n’roll and not Modest Mussorgsky. True, they were keyboard heavy, a frequent indicator of prog proclivities, but both Wright and Mike Harrison utilized their keyboards to rock, not to roll up into a little ball in embarrassment they weren’t Wagner.

I have only one two real reasons to dislike them, the first of which is the guy who sings the high notes in the horribly titled (what a cliché!) heavy metal epic “Evil Woman,” which was written by Larry Weiss, the same guy who gave us the great “Rhinestone Cowboy.” I have never heard anything like those stratospheric vocals, and I will literally pay never to hear them again. They make TV commercial superstar Lil’ Sweet sound like a baritone.

Which is a pity, because the song is a long and cool demonstration both of the band’s keyboards and guitar chops. Oh, and the second reason? The Wright-penned “Lost in My Dream,” a subpar Procol Harum song which evolves from something barely listenable to a pretentious nightmare that builds and builds, with vocals being piled on vocals while the singer goes on about how “somewhere in the frost in the sea of my mind waits my destiny.” Dude, that’s not frost; that’s Foghat! And I don’t know about you, but I fear the Dream Weaver is not far off.

The band released eight studio LPs between 1967 and 1999, with 1973’s You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw winning in the titles sweepstakes. But the critics are in agreement that Spooky Two’s the band’s high-water mark, so here we go. But where are we going? Spooky Tooth was a blues rock group that didn’t behave like a blues rock group, and it’s to their credit that they didn’t take the usual road. Take “That Was Only Yesterday,” which comes across as an inexplicable morphing of rock ballad and country rock hoedown. And it works! I love it! You boys are going to be stars!

Meanwhile, “Feelin’ Bad” starts on a dubious vocal note but comes together as a song that reminds me some of Traffic. But where, I wonder, are all those vocalists on the excellent choruses coming from? Were they kept in a closet and only allowed to emerge when it was time for them to sing?

“Better by You, Better Than Me” is a so-so blooz rock tune with a puny riff, that is until the acoustic guitar and organ come charging in, like the Canadian Mounties to rescue a woman tied to some train tracks. Still, it’s not the greatest song to walk down Blues Alley, and it’s up to the vocalist to generate what little energy the song possesses.

Meanwhile, “Hangman Hang My Shell on a Tree” features some vocals that remind me a bit of Steve Marriott and a very cool chorus that once again utilizes a plethora of vocalists. I’m not going to lie to you; the song’s not going to blow the hair off your head. It won’t even knock your hat off. But its melody is quite nice given its subject matter, and things perk up as the keyboards and Grosvenor’s guitar kick in alongside the vocalists to end the hanging on a very nice up note. And shouldn’t every hanging end on a nice note?

“Waitin’ for the Wind” opens with some sustained drumming, followed by one rumbling big organ playing one cool riff. And then the vocalist comes in, really sounding like a Jr. Steve Marriott on this one. Not wild about the choruses though. This one proves the band had soul, but it’s nowhere in the soul/gospel vein compared to the big, slow, and lovely sound of “I’ve Got Enough Heartaches,” which features the Tooth vocalist playing give and take with an ethereal gospel choir. The piano is lovely, as is the melody, and this tune is a lost classic if ever there was one, the kind of song Marriott would have killed to perform.

Spooky Two was the best of a band that simply wasn’t that great, but I’m glad to have “I’ve Got Enough Heartaches,” “That Was Only Yesterday,” and “Feelin’ Bad” to turn to when the mood strikes. To say nothing of “Evil Woman,” which I like a little more every time I listen to it. Grosvenor’s guitar weighs a ton but breaks the speed limit when called for, and the organ is so humongous it’s supernatural. If only I didn’t crack up every time Lil’ Sweet makes an entrance. He’s funnier even than the name Spooky Tooth, and I’ll bet you Foghat is pissed they didn’t discover him first.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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