Ten Years After: “Hard Monkeys” (In Memoriam)
The rock news coming in this morning is that Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee passed away yesterday at the age of 68, from complications during a “routine” surgical procedure. What an unfortunate way to go — a fiery guitarist such as Lee deserved something more definitive. Not that it’s a good way to go for anyone . . . but I think you know what I’m saying.
Admittedly, I never really got into Ten Years After, except for “I’d Love to Change the World,” which is inarguably a great song. Really. Sure, you could say you’re sick of it, but it’s hard to deny that it isn’t one of the most successful recordings of a blazing blues-rock guitarist. It truly captures the spirit of Alvin Lee’s playing, encapsulated in a relatively succinct song — no meandering 10-minute guitar workout here!
Of course, posting that song today would have been an obvious tribute — even if it is really the only song of Alvin Lee’s that I know well (other than “I’m Going Home,” as performed at Woodstock and shown in glorious Triple Vision in the accompanying film). So I figured I owed it to myself to explore a little more of Ten Years After’s catalogue, Many Years After the fact. So I went through some of their better-known work this morning, and confirmed for myself that while it’s by no means bad, it just isn’t really my cup of tea. A great guitarist he was, without doubt, but the songs, in most cases primarily frames on which to hang Lee’s guitarwork, just don’t do much for me. Nonetheless, a few stood out, and “Hard Monkeys,” about trying to stay clear of addiction, is what I’m going with. It’s from Ten Years After’s best-selling album, A Space in Time, from 1971, the same album that “I’d Love to Change the World” is on — the album that brought Lee’s guitar playing together with the best sense of tight song structure.
Reminiscent in its opening chords of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” — but predating it by a couple of years — “Hard Monkeys” is a great combination of acoustic and electric guitar riffing, which Ten Years After did quite well throughout the album. And Forty Years After its release, this song still sounds very fresh — and Alvin Lee stands as one of the great blues-rock guitarists.