AFGHAN WHIGS  “Conjure Me” b/w “My World Is Empty Without You” (Sub Pop Records SP142, 1991)

All roads lead to Cincinnati, if you believe the cover art of this single, a not-so-subtle take-off on the old Motown label design.  In this case, however, you’d be right, because this week’s slab of ancient wax comes from Greg Dulli and the Afghan Whigs, one of the finest musical outfits ever to emerge from the Queen City of southwestern Ohio.  Combining grunge power and Sonic Youth-style dissonance with a passion for classic R&B, the Whigs were the first non-Northwestern band to sign to Seattle’s prestigious (and, at the time, financially hemorrhaging) Sub Pop label.

Pressed on delicious-looking milky-white vinyl, this early Whigs 45 gives us the original track, “Conjure Me” on the A-side, which later appeared on their debut LP, Congregation.  A straightforward, uptempo rocker, very much within Sub Pop’s usual vein of things at the time, “Conjure Me” finds Dulli & Co. swimming in thick walls of guitar distortion and beefy vocal hooks.  This promotional video, which probably landed on 120 Minutes once or twice, combines all that with dark images of sex and death.  Ahh, the early ’90’s…

AFGHAN WHIGS \”Conjure Me\” on YouTube

Now the real prize here is the B-side, a cover of the Holland/Dozier/Holland-penned Supremes classic, “My World Is Empty Without You.”  Originally a non-hit for the Supremes in late 1965, “My World…” has been covered by everyone from Jose Feliciano to David McCallum.  But it’s this Whigs’ version here that I find the most compelling of all, mainly because of Greg Dulli’s excellent interpretation.  Here he’s using his best John Lennon-meets-Joe Cocker (or is it John Belushi?) vocal, skewering right deep down into the meat of the song’s lyrics, then turning it all upside-down and bashing the living shit out of it.  By the time he & the band reach the second refrain, the song becomes positively unhinged.  This rehearsal tape sez it all.  (And by the way, ladies and gentlemen, notice that Greg Dulli is so good, he can deliver a vocal like this while SEATED.)

AFGHAN WHIGS \”My World Is Empty Without You\” on YouTube

The Whigs went on to record many great albums before disbanding in 2001.  Dulli (along with Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan) continues in The Twilight Singers.

NEXT WEEK: I can see for miles and miles, from Portland to the Space Needle and back again.