Certain Songs #1163: The Miss Alans – “Otis Plum”

Album: Remnants
Year: 1990

If songs like “Big Hand on The 7” and “Angel Death Blues” were songs that were continually twisting and turning, “Otis Plum” was an entirely different beast: a song that established its groove from the start and pretty much stuck with it.

Like “Westchester, NY #105,” “Otis Plum” was in 3/4, (or is it 6/8?) but it was hardly a waltz: instead the interplay between Jay’s lanky bass, Ron’s woozy tambourine-driven beat, Scott’s rhythm guitar and Manny’s lazy slide gave the verses an unsettled quality: like a drunk guy lurching down the middle of Van Ness at 3:00 AM on a warm Tower summer night, trying to remember where he’s living right now.

Which matches the tenor of Scott Oliver’s lyrics, about someone dealing with their own over-partying issues; though it probably would have been too on the nose to call it “His Drug.”

Let’s have a light up time
Pretty boy ripped off my dope
Though his charm has died
Drinking in the dark he lays down
Gimme some lies asleep driving in his car
Now ya feel the big breast of the cities love said

And because the verses of “Otis Plum” always felt like they were going to stumble and fall into the gutter, you were too busy waiting to catch them to notice that Scott was building to a big question in the chorus.

How do you fee-eeellllll?
How do you fee-eeellllll?
How do you fee-eeellllll?

The first two questions are pitched at the high end of his register, desperate, confused, worried, but that last one was dropped down near the bottom: omnious, calm, cool. Like he really doesn’t give a shit, even as you realize he’s looking into a mirror.

Which is of course just a facade, because the last minute of the song is Scott screaming “How do you fee-eelll?” over and over and over with increasing desperation, while the rest of the band is practically doing loop-de-loops around him: Ron’s tossing out rolls and somehow always landing on the one, Jay’s running around trying to catch him like Charlie Brown trying to catch a pop fly on a windy day and Manny . . .

And Manny . . .

And Manny plays one of his greatest solos on any Miss Alans recording.

After having all kinds of fun fucking around with his slide guitar on the verses and spiraling his way around the choruses, he suddenly takes off at the end, with a solo that kinda reminds me of Richard Lloyd’s at the end of Television’s “Ain’t That Nothin'” in terms of the angle of attack, but is different in that it starts out unhinged at the beginning, and gets tighter and tighter as it continues, eventually wrapping itself around the song so hard that Scott is reduced to just repeating “feel” as “Otis Plum” finally finds its home, the central question unanswered, even though it was obvious what the answer was.

“Otis Plum”

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