366 Songs 220: Sugar Man

The first time I heard “Sugar Man” was on David Holmes’ Come Get It I Got It mix, and I was convinced that he was doing some weirdness to the song after the 2:00 mark; all those random noises and string saws and the like couldn’t have come from the same original mostly-acoustic song from before, right? And yet, there they are in the full version. I wonder, considering the lyrical content, if they’re meant to imply a trip in some weird, quasi-soundscape way, like a really bad radio play that’s trying to scare the kids off’ve the road to crack.

Considering the precision of the arrangement earlier – Listen to those wonderful horns and that buoyant bassline, this is a song that just sounds amazing – that interlude feels particularly out of place and clumsy; everything else in the song has a clarity – even the extended fake out, with two different performances in either speaker, one echoed and fading faster but lasting longer – that is something to marvel at. I’ve never heard another of Sixto Rodriguez’ songs (It took me long enough to find a full version of “Sugarman” after the David Holmes mix; this was a decade ago, way before Rodriguez’ recent critical revival and movie), but based on this one alone, I can believe that he’s one of those forgotten geniuses that slipped through the cracks of pop culture.

Not content with putting the song on a mix, David Holmes’ then-band project, the Free Association, did a cover of “Sugar Man” that’s… good enough, I guess? But not a patch on the original:

Too much Portishead-lite, not enough of the bounce and lightness of the original, right? The Free Association was a weird thing; I should do something about them sometime.

366 Songs 095: Sugar Man

Considering the lyrical nature of the song (Spoiler: It’s about drugs), it sounds somewhat unexpected and maybe just a little contrary to say that this song really reminds me of my honeymoon in Boston with Kate, a decade ago to this very day – Seriously, Kate and I were married ten years ago last Friday – but it’s true. The two of us first found this song on the David Holmes mix CD “Come Get it, I Got It,” which we bought at some store in Boston on the trip, and we fell in love with its psychedelic folk/soul on very first listen. For years afterwards, we tried to find out more about Sixto Rodriguez, but this was before Cold Fact had been reissued or Holmes’ sponsorship of the artist had really taken any effect, so all we knew of him for the longest time was this piece of awesomeness. Despite what he’s singing about, this makes me think of warm, sunny days, the future feeling wide open and waiting for us as we wandered the streets.