When Al Green recorded the original, he was recovering from an assault with boiling grits by a girlfriend. Prior to the assault, he had released six albums, each with successively greater success, about getting together and working things out. Later, he would become ordained as a minister and then fade, in popularity and creativity, with a smaller series of Gospel albums about righteousness and absolution. But Al Green is Love came in the interim, a period of frustration and pain. Those emotions are hidden on this song behind an upbeat tempo, nursery rhyme cadence, and refrains of “I won’t let it get me down / turn my smile into a frown.” But the album marked a turning point, away from musical success.
“Rhymes” appropriately entered the Phish world with a series of performances by Mike Gordon’s band, with Scott Murawski handling lead vocals. Both the tempo and the uncertain emotions meld well with other parts of Mike’s quirky solo repertoire, such as the original “Only a Dream”, which has often followed it live.
Phish’s debut was a surprise breather during a solid first set filled with Phish classics, and hinted at the second set’s levity (“Mango”, “Halley’s”, “Meatstick”, and more). It’s always fun to hear Mike sing, and some fans hope for more assimilation of the solo repertoires into Phish’s active catalog. But Phish’s version, like that by Mike’s band, was about as flat and bland as Green’s – even the bridge (such as it is), where Trey’s guitar wanking pales even compared to Mabon “Teenie” Hodges on the original. It’s not worth throwing grits at; but one hopes, upon hearing it, that the performers will navigate the quirky respite and get back to what we loved about them.
Why is it that all the research I do on this song seems to suggest that Al Green's Rhymes is a completely different song? Did he incorporate lines from the children's rhyme and later record it as "Rhymes" or what? This is a bit confusing because the lyrics to Al Green's original song called Rhymes are nothing like the lyrics Mike sings...quite odd!