Oct 11

Robert Palmer: “Sailing Shoes/Hey Julia/Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”

Robert Palmer

Rob and Sally take a leisurely sneak through the aforementioned alley.

Well for the first time in quite a while, I just didn’t have time to post yesterday, as I hinted at the day before in the Who post. It has been a very busy week, but I’m doing a triple-shot of a post today to make up for yesterday, as well as for tomorrow — sorry to say it, but I expect to be doing too many other things to get a blog post in. But I hear you thinking right now: “But Dave, what about Cover Friday?” Fear not: it so happens that today’s triple song also takes that into account — twice! Whew…that’s a relief, right?

The “triple” I’m referring to is the classic Robert Palmer triumvirate, “Sailing Shoes/Hey Julia/Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,” from his 1974 debut album, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley. Basically, these are the first three songs of Palmer’s career, and some might also argue that they’re his best. I just might be one of those — at the very least, they’re among his best. At this time in his career, Palmer was one of the best of the “blue-eyed soul” singers — he sang with a funkiness and depth of feeling that by the mid-’80s he had mostly set aside in exchange for what amounted to a rock lounge-singer style (and which resulted in his biggest hit, “Addicted to Love”). That later slickness is thankfully lacking on his early material.

When you listen to these songs, even if you’re already familiar with them, it’s Palmer’s timing and confidence that come across the most impressively and set him at the forefront of his peers. He growls, croons, and belts it out in equal amounts, infusing the songs with soul and working in perfect tandem with the equally great musical backing. That backing band included members of Little Feat and the Meters (New Orleans funk heavily influenced Palmer during the ’70s), so it isn’t too surprising that it’s as self-assured as Palmer’s singing. (It should also be noted that Palmer himself played bass, guitar, drums, and keyboards on the album.) And this brings us to how this threesome also fills the “Cover Friday” requirement. Two of the three songs are covers: “Sailing Shoes,” an ode to cocaine written by Little Feat’s Lowell George (Little Feat’s slower version of the song came out in 1972), and “Sneakin’ Sally…,” about having an illicit affair, written by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint and originally recorded by Lee Dorsey in 1970 (the singer best known for another Toussaint composition, “Workin’ in a Coalmine”).

The three songs link up in an Abbey Road-ish way — you could listen to them individually, but they work best together. The moods and melodies of the songs mesh perfectly, building from the laid-back “Sailin’ Shoes,” through the musically tense “Hey Julia,” and culminating in the near-anthemic, flat-out funk release of “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley.” Thematically, you could also construct a story-line: the narrator, hooked on cocaine, meets up with Julia, who in his drug-induced frame of mind seems impossibly appealing to him and he ends up marrying her, but then once he realizes his mistake starts to fool-around with Sally, with whom he ends up getting caught by Sally. However you want to imagine it, the trio of songs works fantastically well, making their 9-minute total length fly by and leaving you wanting more.

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