Monday, October 20, 2014

Footprints

I walk into the living room and hear the sweet sounds of Wayne Shorter and see the 13-year-old
staring at my computer intently. I slowly peek over her shoulder. She's starting at the iTunes window.

She side-eyes me and says, "I need to practice piano, but there's only a little over a minute and a half left of the track. And it's against my personal beliefs to stop a song in the middle if you can possibly avoid it."


That's my girl.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Roundabout

In case you ever wondered what classic rockers sound like when they're asleep.


If you made it all the way through all 27 minutes of that without falling asleep yourself, you're a far stronger (or more caffeinated) person than I.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Viva la Vida

I have to say, I don't entirely get the hatred Coldplay engenders. I get that a lot of people are turned off by their open attempt (success?) at being the biggest rock band in the world, as it's been decades since such naked desire for popularity has been cool. But their music seems to be the flashpoint just as much as their ambition. And try as I might, I cannot remember almost any of their biggest hits, even after I made a point of listening to several of them many, many times in a row, in a futile attempt to create some lasting impression of the band.

Which is when I realized what I really, really don't get is the love of the band. I know people who like them. I also know people who like them a lot. I've even encountered a few people who love them, and that I really don't understand. Maybe they just have much better memories than I. In fact, I'm sure they do. In fact, I think I probably said that before, somewhere in the first paragraph.

On the other hand, when you actually see the band, rather than just hear them? The hatred becomes far easier to understand. I just watched the Coldplay episode of Austin City Limits and good golly are they annoying visually. And by "they," of course, I mainly mean, "Chris Martin." Which is too bad, since I really liked his induction of Peter Gabriel into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But none of that can take away from the fact that this is, no kidding, one of the greatest pop songs ever. It is utterly perfect, and deserves a place with the Beatles and Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys and Prince and even Carly Rae Jepsen. It is flawless. Naturally, I place most of the credit for that producer Brian Eno, but whatever. It's a gem and a half.


Yeah, I didn't use the official video. Remember what I said about visually annoying?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Paranoid Eyes


Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think people tend to associate the word “beauty” with the music of Pink Floyd too often. At least I don’t.

Pink Floyd is one of the greatest and most important rock-n-roll bands in history for myriad reasons. That's a given.

The sheer audacity of Roger Waters’ vision and propensity to not only aim for the fences so many different times, but to reach them. David Gilmour’s jaw-dropping guitar ability. The fact that Waters-Gilmour-Mason-Wright made one damn fine, tight and meticulously instinctive band. And that unique atmospheric quality attached to so much of Pink Floyd’s work—think of how recognizable and distinctive that decade-long thread running from Meddle through The Wall (and even through The Final Cut) is. It’s hard to think of a band with a more identifiable sound or feel, or a band more in command of that sound and feel.

But beauty? Sure, there’s plenty of it in their songs. Parts of “Echoes,” the gorgeous guitar run in “Fearless,” Gilmour’s impeccable solos that play out “Another Brick in the Wall Part II” and “Comfortably Numb,” the sentiments of loss and regret that permeate every inch of “Wish You Were Here.” It’s there. I’ve just never looked at a Pink Floyd song before and had my first response be, “That’s beautiful.” I’m more apt to be amazed, or floored, or sometimes even bewildered or startled than to notice the outright beauty.

But it’s there. 

And here’s a very, very deep cut from very, very late in their career that clearly shows how capable these guys were of creating something that, first and foremost, was beautiful. Even though, yes, David Gilmour doesn’t play on it, and even though, unfortunately, Rick Wright was no longer part of the band at this time. It still has the Pink Floyd name on it. (Just like “Yesterday” has the Beatles name on it and is without question a Beatles song, even though Paul is the only Beatle who's there.) And it’s still a beautiful and moving little song.

Mayhap you agree? And if not, well, listen anyway!


("The pie in the sky turned out to be miles too high. And you hide hide hide, behind brown and mild eyes.")

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

1968: it was a very good year

I tend to get irritated whenever someone talks about music today sucks, and how much better it used to be and yadda yadda yadda. That's, of course, exactly what people said in 1956 about the golden days before Elvis, Chuck, Buddy and Little Richard appeared, and it's what Elvis said when the Beatles appeared and so it goes.

On the other hand, you run across information like just some of the albums released in the final few months of 1968 and it kinda staggers.

September 1968
The Who—Magic Bus
Miles Davis—Miles in the Sky

October 1968
The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Electric Ladyland
Traffic—Traffic

November 1968
Neil Young—Neil Young
The Beatles—The Beatles (The White Album)
The Kinks—The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Van Morrison—Astral Weeks
Elvis Presley—Elvis (soundtrack to his comeback special)

December 1968
The Rolling Stones—Beggars Banquet

...okay. Okay, sure. BUT.

Yeah, I got nothin', except maybe to point out that just November alone would have made 1968 a damn good year. When you can list five out of the dozen plus major releases and Neil Young's solo debut is the weak spot by far? That's, uh...that's a pretty list. And, again, that's just from the final third of the year, so not even talking about, say, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, White Light/White Heat or Lady Soul, all of which came out in the month of January 1968. Crazy.

Sing us out, Raymond.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Big Red Sun Blues/Dry Lightning

I admit it, Lucinda Williams didn't really come across my radar until suddenly Car Wheels on a Gravel Road was seemingly everywhere—and by that, I mean, was being lauded in every music magazine I read, although I've still never heard a single note of her music on the radio. Undoubtedly I'm not listening to the right stations.

Maybe because the praise set the bar too high, or I just wasn't in the right place for it at the time—I was in my nothing but jazz phase at that point, I think—Car Wheels didn't do much for me, much to my disappointment. But I believed the non-hype, so I checked out what I'd heard was her first major critical success, her self-titled LP from 1988. And although I approached it with some trepidation—my understanding was that she didn't fit comfortably in the country scene at all, being far too much her own artist prone to go her own way—that still implied she was at heart country-based, and that's the one major American music for which I still have something of a blind spot. So imagine my delight when I discover a wonderful album that sounds, to my ears, more than anything like a slightly (but only slightly) more country female Jackson Browne.

Until it came to "Big Red Sun Blues." Which I loved from the very first.


Everything is goin' wrong 
it's not right anymore
We can't seem to get along the way we did before

Sun is hangin' in the sky
sinkin' low and so am I
Just for the love of someone and a big red sun

How'm I gonna lose these big red sun blues
Big red sun big red sun big red sun blues

True love to hold is worth everything
It's worth more than gold or any diamond ring

But this little diamond and a heart that's been broken
Are all I got from you big red sun

How'm I gonna lose these big red sun blues
Big red sun big red sun big red sun blues

Look out at that western sky out over the open plains
God only knows why this is all that remains

But give me one more promise and another kiss
And I guess the deal's still on you big red sun

How'm I gonna lose these big red sun blues
Big red sun big red sun big red sun blues


But the thing is...I knew this song. Except I couldn't, because it was an original, and I'd never heard it before. And yet I did. From where? The bassline, which sounds like the Drifters? Not quite.

And then I realized.


Lyrically, they may not have a whole lot in common, but thematically they surely do.

I threw my robe on in the morning
Watched the ring on the stove turn to red
Stared hypnotized into a cup of coffee
Pulled on my boots and made the bed
Screen door hangin' off its hinges kept bangin' me awake all night
As I look out the window the only thing in sight

Is dry lightning on the horizon line
Just dry lightning and you on my mind

I chased the heat of her blood like it was the holy grail
Descend beautiful spirit into the evening pale
Her appaloosa's kickin' in the corral smelling rain
There's a low thunder rolling 'cross the mesquite plain
But there's just dry lightning on the horizon line
It's just dry lightning and you on my mind

I'd drive down to Alvarado street where she danced to make ends meet
I'd spend the night over my gin as she'd talk to her men

Well the piss yellow sun comes bringin' up the day
She said "ain't nobody gonna give nobody what they really need anyway"

Well you get so sick of the fightin'
You lose your fear of the end
But you can't lose your memory and the sweet smell of your skin
And it's just dry lightning on the horizon line
Just dry lightning and you on my mind


I'm going to guess I'm not the only one who can see the similarities between the two sets of lyrics, and that's before even mentioning that the bit about "the piss yellow sun" being not only a skewed echo of the "big red sun" but the line in the song that gets mentioned the most.

Circumstantial? Sure. Hard to hear? Nope.

Friday, October 3, 2014

You Missed My Heart

RtB mainstay Chris Barton thanked us recently for reminding him of just how much he loves the Osmonds and how no earworm could possibly be more welcome than "Crazy Horses." It was, of course, our pleasure, but if hard Zeppelin-influenced rock isn't so much your jam, we offer as a light alternative this ever so warm and comforting Mark Kozelek ditty.


For those who prefer their pop slightly more stripped down, the same tune in a more barren package. Different vibe, same lovely story, and both distinctly Osmondian in tone.


I broke into her house, saw her sitting there
Drinking coke and whiskey in her bra and underwear
I saw him in the kitchen hanging up the phone
I asked him nicely once to pack his things and go

He gave her a reassuring look and said he wouldn't leave
But I asked him one more time and this time pulled out my shiv
I stuck him in the back and I pulled it out slow
And I watched him fall down
And as the morning sun rose

He looked at me and said
"You missed my heart, you missed my heart
You got me good, I knew you would
But you missed my heart, you missed my heart"
Were his last words before he died

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Crazy Horses

Okay. So it's easy (and largely justified) to laugh at the Osmonds. A very white version of the Jackson 5, with amazing teeth and less good songs (and dance moves).

It's also easy to single out "Crazy Horses" as one of the exceptions, given its critical re-establishment this century, due to (perhaps initially ironical) covers by younger bands.

But it also stands up. This is one badass jam.


The brothers wrote and played everything on this album themselves, in a bid for critical respect. It didn't seem to work much at the time, but history has proved kinder. And props to the boys for being pro-environmental, whether trendy or not. As my imaginary friend Chris said:
It really tries to be be "of the time" while also having a very dorm-room-at-3am vibe -- "Man, did you ever notice that cars are, like, really just a kind of crazy horse?"
The reason you don't see a drummer in this video is that they're lip-syncing to the studio version, and the drums you're hearing are really being played by lead singer Alan. Which, given that drummers are usually, you know, behind the drums, might explain his what-if-Joe-Cocker-were-in-great-shape-but-still-tripping-balls dance moves...except that Alan was also the band's (and The Donny and Marie Show's) choreographer.

Wayne, on lead guitar, looks remarkably like Jimmy Page. And if he's not got Pagey's chops—no sin, by any means—his solo is actually pretty cool. Not exactly a masterclass in technique, it's interesting in how catchy, yet slightly raunchy, it is, while not echoing any melody heard elsewhere in the song, but rather providing some sort of basic counterpoint. Not bad.

And then there's Merrill, playing the bass and singing the lines right before the chorus. Okay, sure, his teeth might be beyond perfect—boy, howdy, they sure look like they are, even by Osmond standards (which, apparently, are still considered The Gold Standard in dental school)—but homeboy sells this damn song, with range and grit. And check out the bit after the solo, where he repeated "what they've done" line: he sings that not four times, and not eight, but seven, holding on the final, a nice bit of asymmetry that works to build the tension for the final chorus.

The keyboard horse effect does get pretty old, though. But we'll put up with it, if that's the price to be paid for a guitar riff that awesome.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Valentine/Drain You

So Tommy Stinson recently said this:
It may have been time, but the timing was less than ideal. The year the Replacements wandered off into the sunset, Nirvana dropped "Smells Like Teen Spirit," effectively ushering in the alternative-music revolution that would dominate rock culture in the '90s. It was the unlikely triumph of underground culture, and it's hard not to think the Replacements, having been key players, wouldn't have benefited somehow from that breakthrough. 
"I'll be honest with you," Stinson says. "I never really got the connection, to be frank. I didn't hear anything in Nirvana or any of the so-called grunge bands that had anything to do with us. I really didn't. In my mind, we were more a sort of rock and roll, sort of almost rootsy punk-rock kind of band. That stuff was more metal-leaning to me. Having people make a lot of to-do about them sounding like us or any connection, I think, was a bit of a misstep in the journalistic world. Aside from wearing flannel shirts."
Which just...

I mean.

Tommy. Tommy.

I love you, brother, I really do, as much as one guy who's never met another guy can love that second guy. But I'm going to say you're a mite too close to see what's pretty obvious. Which is that this, amongst many other things:


pretty clearly helped give birth to this:


Now, look. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to say you guys are on the hook for a paternity suit or nothing. The breakdown, por ejemplo, pretty clearly owes way more to, say, early Led Zeppelin than it does vintage 'Mats (or even later LZ)—although if, Kurt Cobain's underrated guitar playing aside, Nirvana had had a Bob Stinson in the band, that breakdown might (would) have sounded mighty different. And I loves me some Chris Mars—one of the great drummers of the post-punk 80s, and a fine songwriter in his own right—but he ain't no Dave Grohl: them's some bigass drums being played on this song, sounding (as always) far more like John Bonham than someone from Sonic Youth or Hüsker Dü or R.E.M. or, yes, the Replacements.

But the drum part itself? That could have been written by one Christopher Mars. The melody? Paul Westerberg, without question. The bass? Well, okay, that doesn't sound much like Tommy Stinson, I'll grant you, although Grohl's harmony vocals kinda do; Tommy was and is a great bassist, but Krist Novoselic—one of the most important and most unheralded bassists in history, Iggy Pop perceptively aside—doesn't seem to have been much influenced by him, at least to my ears. Even Cobain's voice has that Westerbergian ability to be sweetly vulnerable one minute and then gravelly and rock as all get out the next second.

Sure, Nirvana was heavier, although much of that was simply that they were of their time as the Replacements were of theirs. But the basic DNA underpinning each band? It might be too much to say they were twin brothers of different mothers...and then again, it really might not be.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Misfits/Sixteen Blue

DT and I were speaking recently of the various ties between bands, influences of older artists on younger, as well as contemporaneous artists sometimes symbiotic relationships.

I've been in a Kinks mood recently, and I'm always in a Replacements mood, which may be why, upon hearing this song for the first time in 20+ years, it sounded so clearly proto-'Mats.


Tell me that doesn't sound like the blueprint for this.


From the lyrical thrust to the arrangement down to the melody to even the playing, with its pop elegance juxtaposed against a country background; I mean, even the first few seconds of each sound like, at most, first cousins—appropriate, given the genetic bonds at the heart of each bands' genesis.

It's no coincidence that the Replacements would bear more than a few similarities to the Kinks: both were fronted by amazing lyricists but massively aided and abetted by a sometimes unheralded group of musicians with whom they grew up. Both had aspirations far beyond "mere" rock and roll, but Cole Porter be damned, neither could help but return to balls to the wall rock again and again.

Paul Westerberg once talked about how maybe some bands had done the ballads better, and maybe some had done the hard rock better, but that no band had ever done them both as well as the Replacements. As a diehard fan, I find it hard to entirely disagree...but when listening to the Kinks it's hard to entirely buy in, either.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

You Really Got Me/Destroyer

Well, this is kinda fascinating. Here's one of the all-time great bands, during their 2nd or 3rd or perhaps 4th, depending upon how you're counting, career renaissance playing a talk show in Australia. Think about that: they were doing well, commercially, at this point in time, and yet they were playing a talk show at about the same time the Rolling Stones and the Who were playing outdoor stadiums for around 75,000 people a pop. This from the band that no less an authority than Pete Townshend said was the third member of the Holy Trinity of British Rock, along with the Beatles and the Stones, and not the Who.

And yet. Here they are playing a talk show (which would be cancelled just a year later). And damn if they don't give it their all.

Watch Ray Davies shimmy and shake at the beginning like a young Roger Daltrey tying to be James Brown. Check out Dave Davies with his angelic high harmonies and his effortless mastery of the fretboard, showing later imitators from arena rock bands like REO Speedwagon just how it's done, from the originator of the proto-punk riff, one of the most impressive transitions in rock. Note Mick Avory dressed like he's auditioning for an AC/DC tribute band and observe as he seems to be having trouble keeping up with the tempo.


And then there's the song itself, utilizing the riff of "All Day and All of the Night"—itself a rewrite of "You Really Got Me," a lesson Townshend learned well when he himself then brilliantly rewrote it for "Can't Explain"—and adding lyrics that are either a sequel to "Lola" or at least a continuation of the story from a slightly varied point of view and brought up to date, going from the beginning of the anything goes in the Me Decade to the frantic stress of the 80s, one of the more interesting deconstruction of a famous rock band's own mythology by the very rock band in question.

And, of course, it kicks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RIP Christopher Hogwood

Well, this is a bummer.

Christopher Hogwood was one of the first conductors I followed, when I was just getting into classical music. Never as famous as Leonard Bernstein or Herbert von Karajan, he was one of the pioneers in the "historically informed performance" movement, wherein avid scholarship was applied to compositions, in an attempt to replicate as closely as possible the performance practices of the day, so you could hear, say, a Mozart symphony performed the way Mozart would have heard it—which is what Mozart would have had in mind when composing it. So orchestras were smaller, instruments which had fallen out of favor (such as the valveless trumpet) brought back, tempos often quite a bit brisker, and even the sound of a note itself changed, as a A, for instance, was tuned to something like 430 cycles per second, rather than the 440 cycles per second that's standard these days.

What's all that matter? Maybe not a lot. Except that, for me, coming from a rock and roll and jazz background, I found Hogwood's recordings to simply sound more alive and vibrant than most others.

Take a really easy example. Here's one of the best known classical compositions ever, and one which, no matter how overplayed it is, I still find delightful, the Canon in D, by Johann Pachebel.


Sounds great, right? Sure, it might conjure up visions of a lightbulb commercial or perhaps a middle grade piano recital, but it's still a lovely piece of music.

This, on the other hand, is Hogwood's version.


Note how—even if you don't listen to classical music—you can easily hear how much smaller the orchestra is, how much lighter a tone the reduced forces brings, how much more clarity there is, how much easier it is to pick out and follow individual lines, not to mention how much quicker the tempo. Rather than the lush tones to which one had become accustomed, whether aware or not, this was rougher, more aggressive. It was, frankly, a pretty punk approach.

This wasn't for everyone. A lot of people just plain liked their Beethoven weighty, not fleet of foot, and understandably so: there are times that I myself like to hear Otto Klemperer trudge through Beethoven's Seventh like a drunken argentinosaurus trying to make its way through an especially stubborn tar pit. But for me it was a revelation. The idea that this was the way Bach or Beethoven would have expected their music to be played was a thrilling idea. But at the end of the day, what worked for me most was that it simply sounded wonderful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Warszawa

I could watching a thousand hours of this and never get tired. I wish this guy'd do one for every track.


I never cared for Low as much as for Heroes, which I know casts some suspicion on my status as a Bowie fan. But I did always love this song.



Monday, September 15, 2014

All Along the Watchtower

Welcome to another installment of "All Along the Watchtower" Watch, wherein we listen to various versions of, well, "All Along the Watchtower."

Here's one I've always liked. Although the great Stereogum thinks it's failure, I'll be so bold as to disagree. Andy Partridge sounds remarkably like Bono doing a half-assed Bob Dylan impersonation, and considering this was released two years before U2's first LP was even recorded, that's not only all the more impressive, it makes one wonder if XTC wasn't perhaps a bigger influence on U2 than is commonly acknowledged. (I don't actually think so.)


Admittedly, the scat singing at the end doesn't really work, and the harmonica seems an odd choice for a sort of punkish take on the classic, albeit more in the angular Wire school of intellectual punk, with perhaps some ska influences mixed in there as well. Still, a worthy addition to the canon.