“Chest Fever” by The Band

“Chest Fever” by The Band is an unusual song with an almost disjointed sound that I’ve been connected to ever since I first heard it. It starts off with a bit of Bach’s “Fugue in D Minor” played on the electric organ, and then goes into the main riff of the song. This is a very long introduction, lasting over 40 seconds, and really draws the listener into the song, both by giving you the sense of the familiar, in Bach’s “Fugue,” and putting a different twist on it, through the use of the electric organ and the almost manic playing of that piece. One interesting thing about the classical introduction piece is that whenever they played it live, they never played the same piece of classical music. The style is the same, however, with manic playing on an electric organ, moving to the main riff. The rest of the song has a similar disjointed feel, with the main riff going through the song, but with almost jarring bursts of manic playing. It comes off feeling like a very raw, almost painful song, and one that is full of aching passion. The lyrics describe a man who is enthralled by a woman, here again is our familiar theme. However, the way they are both portrayed, through the lyrics, for the time, is very different. At the time, 1968, women in music were rather passive in sexual relationships. In this song, the woman is described as “a tracker,” and “a chooser,” while the man is the one who “just can’t refuse her.” She’s portrayed as pursuing sexual partners and doing drugs. “She’s stoned, says the Swede…” She comes and goes as she pleases, (“she was just there/but then/she can’t be here no more..” and the man, from whose perspective we hear about her, is left pining for her. “I just can’t take it very much longer.” There aren’t many songs like this one, and it uses the music to create in the listener the feeling that the singer experiences, of being caught up, overwhelmed, and left suddenly, full of longing. Listening to it closely has given me a greater appreciation for this song, and made me much more connected to it, as aside from the drugs, I have been this woman, and have left my partners wanting more. One final note about this song, is that you hear no moral judgement about the woman in this song, like you find in Rick James’ “Superfreak.” This elevates the story from stereotype to being a tale of the human experience. It made me feel like I was normal, which isn’t something that happens often in music for me. All in all, this is a really neat gender swap of the more traditional “bad boy/sweet girl” stereotype, which breaks the stereotype by removing moral judgement, and uses music to create and enhance the feelings of the singer. It is certainly one by which I will happily be overwhelmed.

5 thoughts on ““Chest Fever” by The Band”

  1. I very much appreciate your reading of how this song reverses stereotypical gender roles. (And, of course, the B3 organ vibes…)

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