Nuggets: Diddy Wah Diddy by Captain Beefheart & His Magic BandNuggets:

Before he became Patti Smith’s lead guitarist, Lenny Kaye compiled the 2 album set, Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Released in 1972, the two-LP set covered American garage rock and psychedelia from the years 1965-to 1968 and was a major influence on punk rock. Rhino Records reissued an expanded version of the set in 1998, with 118 tracks in total. I’m profiling and rating each of these 118 tracks, working backwards.

Track 54/118: Diddy Wah Diddy by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
From: California
Aphoristic Rating: 10/10

DIDDY WAH DIDDY – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band [2:22]
(Elias McDaniel/Willie Dixon)
CAPTAIN BEEFHEART (DON VanVLIET): vocals, harmonica * DOUG MOON: lead guitar * ALEX ST. CLAIR: guitar * JERRY HANDLEY: bass * PAUL BLAKELEY: drums
Recorded in Los Angeles, CA
A&M single #794 (3/66)

Captain Beefheart is one of the most infamous artists to appear on Nuggets. While he was never a commercial force, he’s well-known among music geeks for his uncompromising approach, especially his 1969 double album Trout Mask Replica. Trout Mask Replica is one of the most avant-garde albums to enjoy wide acclaim – it makes it onto best albums of all time lists, despite its inscrutability. Beefheart mixed bluesy rawness, jazzy exploration, and a surreal sense of humour.

Before Trout Mask Replica, Beefheart’s first single was a 1966 cover of ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’, a cover of a 1956 blues track written by Willie Dixon and Bo Diddley. I’m often dismissive of blues tracks on Nuggets, but this one’s superlative – a great song, with a fantastic vocal from Beefheart. Curiously, it’s produced by David Gates, who’d go on to score a string of easy-listening hits with Bread in the early 1970s.

Beefheart soon moved beyond belting out blues covers, instead delivering idiosyncratic albums like Lick My Decals Off, Baby and Doc at the Radar Station. Rolling Stone tried to convince him to go back to blues covers – based on ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’, they may have had a point.

The crucial problem in Beefheart’s career has been that few people have ever been able to accept him for what he is. His manager. musicians, fans, and critics listen to his incredible voice, his amazing lyrics, his chaotic harp and soprano sax, and uniformly decide that Beefheart could be great if he would only (1) sing more clearly and softly (2) go commercial, (3) play blues songs that people could understand and dance to. “Don, you’re potentially the greatest white blues singer of all time.” his managers tell him, thinking that they are paying him a compliment. Record companies eagerly seek the Beefheart voice with its unprecedented four and one half octave range. They realize that the man can produce just about any sound he sets his mind to and that he interprets lyrics as well as any singer in the business. Urging him to abandon the Magic Band and to sing the blues with slick studio musicians, record producers have always been certain that Don Van Vliet was just a hype away from the big money.

But Beefheart stubbornly continues what he’s doing and waits patiently for everyone else to come around. He has steadfastly refused to leave the Magic Band or to abandon the integrity of his art. “I realize,” he says, “that somebody playing free music isn’t as commercial as a hamburger stand. But is it because you can eat a hamburger and hold it in your hand and you can’t do that with music? Is it too free to control?”

Langdon Winner, Rolling Stone

Beefheart passed away in 2010 from complications from multiple sclerosis. He left behind an assortment of admirers – artists as diverse as Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Black Francis, Kurt Cobain, and The White Stripes have stated their love of his work.

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  1. I like this a lot more than I used to and I think the reason I didn’t like it is because it’s not nearly as good as DO Wah Diddy by Manfred Mann. A guy I’m working with today loves Captain Beefheart, and even he says it’s not as good as Do Wah Diddy. And he likes all those albums about the Radar Station and stuff, which I don’t. Lol

    • I remember jumping to the conclusion he covered Doo Way Diddy on Nuggets, based on a skim read. It’s a different beast than his later more avant-garde stuff, but it’s a great blues song on its own terms.

      • The thing that weirds me out is that it was produced by David Gates!!!! That’s the second cool factoid about David Gates that I got from your blog. The other one is that he wrote Popsicles and Icicles by The Murmaids. I wonder what other cool things he did that I don’t know about.

    • Yup, from skim-reading the Nuggets tracklist I assumed it was a Manfred Mann cover. But it’s a terrific blues cover.

  2. I love this song…yea I thought of the Manfred Mann song also but this isn’t pop! I love the blues groove they are in. Excellent cut!

  3. Not a Beefheart fan but I like that. I’m afraid Langdon Winner had it wrong. The world never really came around to Van Vliet as much s they did to his weirder pal Zappa.

    • I think he could have made it big in that late 1960s era if he’d made blues-rock records – he’d be cool fronting a guitar band like Cream.

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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