If Chuck Berry had written "Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes", it would be one of the all time great rock'n'roll songs, no questions asked. Unfortunately, it was penned by Kevin Ayers, which leaves it open to all kind of questioning - a man who graduated to his solo career via stints with Soft Machine and Gong is not, after all, the kind of character renowned for writing straightforward motorvatin' rockers, a querulousness that is only amplified by a quick look at the song's subject matter. A man walks into a bar, eats some second-rate food, and then turns the waiter onto marijuana. Of course. The vague hint of a Velvet Underground influence only furthers the confusion.
But the riff is unstoppable all the same, a rolling, boiling, insistent beast that boogies in the studio and positively detonates in concert - the version captured on 1974's live June 1st 1974 album is dramatic enough, but 1999's Turn The Lights Down! captures an even more explosive performance, cut in 1995 with the Wizards of Twiddly, blazing through a delightfully lackadaisical Ayers vocal, snatches of maniacal horn, and an all-round sparsity that only restates the brilliant, shattering simplicity of the song's construction. Johnny can B as Goode as he likes, but he can't roll cigarettes as great as this stranger.