My Top 1000 Songs #160: I Want You Bad

"I Want You Bad," first recorded by long-running American rockers NRBQ (formed in Kentucky all the way back in 1965, playing in various incarnations ever since) in 1978, doesn't break new ground. Hell, it's a bit lightweight, at least lyrically.  But as a case study in crafting a concise, no-frills pop song that does everything a pop song is supposed to do, it's pretty damn miraculous, the sort of thing you hear for the first time and wonder how it's possible you haven't heard it before.

NRBQ have some truly dedicated fans (including many musicians), which seems a little odd for such a low-key act. Their music isn't flashy; a blend of R&B and pop, they're basically the neighborhood bar band which just happens to have a ton of widely varied material that's hard not to like. Their 1978 album At Yankee Stadium (a perfectly tongue-in-cheek title) is a nice case-in-point, some music you might year the local band play on a Thursday night at the pub down the block, humble rootsy grooves with the occasional pop hook--say, somewhere between Nick Lowe's work with Brinsley Schwarz and Nick Lowe's early solo work, but with a distinctly American spin. Yet "I Want You Bad" leaps out, a catchy guitar riff and earworm melody, one of the better recreations of mid-60s Beatles this side of the pond. It the context of album, it feels like the band saying, hey, we've got some decent songs you're gonna dance to, and maybe we'll just toss off a perfect British Invasion pop tune in the middle of it and see if you notice.

Nearly a decade later, Paisley Underground early Americana greats The Long Ryders covered the song (on their 3rd LP, 1987's Two-Fisted Tales). It felt a little odd at the time, as the Ryders' studio albums are predominantly originals (fun covers on the live discs aside), but a few seconds in and it all makes sense. They knew better than to muck about with such a letter-perfect pop tune, but with the addition of some country-rock twang and just a bit more rock & roll punch they still managed to make it their own. And as much as I like the original, the additional energy on the cover gives it the gravitas NRBQ almost seemed too shy to include. Great stuff.

Here's the NRBQ version:
And the Long Ryders' cover: