Almost Hits: Hindu Love Gods, “Raspberry Beret” (1990)


The Hindu Love Gods may sound like the name of some obscure alt-rock band, but that was hardly the case. In short: it was R.E.M. with Michael Stipe replaced with Warren Zevon.

These guys got together during the height of their careers in the eighties to take a break from their regular gigs just for fun. They didn’t even bother to write or tackle material from their respective day jobs, because that would have taken a lot of rehearsal, and thus, taken away a lot of that fun. Instead, they performed simple, familiar songs; mainly old blues covers.

And yes, they did actually record an album for their casual side project. This self-titled effort came out in 1990 but was recorded in 1987 after Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene sessions — on which fellow Love Gods and R.E.M. members Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass), Bill Berry (drums) appeared. Legend has it that this was recorded spontaneously after some heavy drinking and while the resulting album didn’t exactly threaten to overtake their original claims to fame, it was interesting just to hear these guys play without relying on a slyly written tune or a crafty arrangement.

In fact, you really come to appreciate what a tight unit that has been backing up Stipe and perhaps most significantly, what a great rock ‘n’ roll singer Zevon really was.

Their rowdy, no-frills runs through the tunes are good and all, but right in between “Traveling Riverside Blues” and “Crosscut Saw” is a left-field choice of a then-recent Prince hit: his 1985 psychedelic pop delight “Raspberry Beret.” There’s nothing terribly tricky that the Love Gods do with this tune, which failed to reached the Billboard Hot 100 but did lodge just outside the Top 20 of the Modern Rock Tracks poll. Well, actually there is one thing: they took a riff from the string arrangement in the bridge and converted it to the song’s main riff. As played by Buck’s guitar, it sounds nearly a duplicate of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” riff. The bridge itself is discarded. Who needs all that clutter? The Hindu Love Gods sure didn’t.

As for Zevon, he sings it straight, which given his reputation for dry, acerbic wit, makes one wonder if he was being ironic. Perhaps, but regardless, it works. Listening to Zevon take on Prince’s smirky, boastful lines like “built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me if I planned to do her any harm” is alone worth the price of admission. Meanwhile, his backing band is ripping it up; Berry’s cymbal hits punctuates the rock-steady beat. There’s no soloing on this songs, the boys are just locked down on a groove and stubbornly stick with it. It’s a straightforward, harder rendering of a great Prince composition that perhaps His Purpleness should have tried himself.

That could be taken as either praise for Prince’s songwriting abilities to write a song that sounds good even simply done, or a critique on his song’s arrangement. I’m not sure which of the two it really is. I am certain, though, that The Hindu Love Gods knew what to do with that song.

Even if they were snot-slinging drunk when they recorded it.

    

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.