The Best Song In the World: “Blockhead”

The best song in the world (is it still called a song when it has no lyrics or vocals?) was written by Paul Richards. It is performed on guitar – at least a trio of guitars – tuned in the New Standard Tuning established in Guitar Craft: CGDAEG, low to high. In its lifetime it has mainly been performed by the California Guitar Trio, alone or in various constellations with other artists: as part of the Robert Fripp String Quintet, CGT+2 (with  Pat Mastelotto and Tony Levin), with Trey Gunn and Robert Fripp during the First Day tour in 1992  with Sylvian/Fripp/Gunn (ie. essentially the RFSQ) and with Bill Janssen.

It begins in media res, with a hectic motif that feels slightly claustrophobic, partly due to it being played with palm muting. After a few bars it opens up with a determined bass line but keeps its feel of rushing. This is followed by an ascending arpeggiated theme more peaceful in its feel but retaining much of the momentum from the opening. It’s like someone standing still with great upheaval going on all around them. It is usually during this third theme that any accompanying soloists first make themselves known.

These three main themes are played in this sequence three times, but the third time the peaceful theme is replaced by a fourth theme, strummed with muted strings. The muting is gradually opened up as the theme rises and becomes more dynamic. This part is played again, the second time even more dynamically and then the piece comes to a dramatic stop. Usually, this is also where the truly soaring solos are played.

My favourite version was for a long time the one found on the RFSQ DGM downloadable concert from Cosenza, Italy in March, 1992. It has Trey Gunn adding a strong bottom end to the sound and Robert Fripp playing amazing solos. These days I somewhat prefer the version from the CGT’s live album Rocks the West which has Tony Levin on bass or Stick and Bill Janssen playing absolutely mind blowing solo saxophone. The intensity gets pretty ridiculous and several audience members can’t contain the energy and just scream.

Unfortunately, there is no really good version of “Blockhead” on Youtube. This is a basic trio version of the song, with sound that is uninspiring even by YT standards…

And here is one with keyboardist Ryo Okumoto as soloist:

I’ve seen at least one with Pat Mastelotto, but I strongly feel that drums add nothing to “Blockhead”.

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