2021 Song Draft- Round 6 Pick 4- Mike and Paul’s Music Blog selects- ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’- Richard Thompson.
Richard Thompson 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
I can’t believe the song draft is halfway over – I’ve been really enjoying the variety of everyone’s picks and being exposed to artists that I’m not as familiar with. For my 6th pick in the draft, I’m going with Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.
When I lived in Philadelphia in the early 90’s my favorite radio station was WXPN, an NPR associated independent/alternative station run out of the University of Pennsylvania. What was great about it was that it had that college radio station/alternative ethos, but the production and broadcast power of a commercial station. It was what kept me grounded in the independent music scene that I had gotten into listening to a number of college stations in the Research Triangle area of NC during grad school. Without WXPN, I would have been limited to classic rock radio (nothing wrong with classic rock, but by definition its not going to expose you to new music) I would hear a great song on WXPN and go out and buy the CDs. That’s how I happened on Richard Thompson’s 1991 album Rumor and Sigh.
I don’t remember what cut was played on WXPN (maybe Read about Love or I Feel So Good) but on my first listen to Rumor and Sigh, 7 songs in, came 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, and it blew me away!
I had no idea what a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning was (it’s a classic British racing motorcycle – apparently only a few dozen were manufactured). But the story of James and Red Molly is a classic, no! an epic, love story in the form of an English folk ballad but played by an incredible guitar player and song writer Richard Thompson. When you listen to the song, its hard to believe that its just one person is playing the guitar – it sounds like two or even three players at least. And I know that in the studio its easy to add overdubs and other studio tricks to get the effect you want but having seen Richard Thompson play this song life in concert, I can attest that the studio version is probably just him and his guitar – its just amazing.
The virtuoso guitar performance doesn’t detract from the story though, which is the classic doomed love story between a girl and an outlaw with the motorcycle being what brings them together. James foreshadows where things are headed when he says:
And now I’m twenty-one years, I might make twenty-two.
And I don’t mind dyin’ but for the love of you.
But if fate should break my stride, then I’ll give you my Vincent, To Ride.”
If by chance you’ve never heard the song, I won’t spoil it, but will only say that if you get to the end where James is seeing “Angels on Ariels in leather and chrome” and it doesn’t get you, I don’t know what to say.
The Time Magazine review said it best – 1952 Vincent Black Lightning is a “ a glorious example of what one guy can accomplish with just a guitar, a voice, an imagination and a set of astonishingly nimble fingers.”
I’ve included two clips, the first is the studio version, and the second is a live version of Thompson performing at the Cambridge Folk Festival.