Sunday, October 16, 2016

record scratch

So this obviously resonated with me, to a large extent:

Except that it doesn't quite hit its mark, which is surprisingly for the great xkcd, since so many kids today spend a lot of time and money searching out vinyl. Anyone over the age of, oh, let's say, 35 probably remembers the days when vinyl was either the dominant medium or at least an important one. And anyone under the age of 30 probably at least knows a vinyl collector.  

And then I read the alt-text.
The 78-rpm era was closer to the Civil War than to today
dear god

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Can't Stop Thinking About You

So this right here is an absolutely amazing pop song.

Upon first hearing it, my initial impulse was say I didn't think Sting could write like this anymore, but more accurately, I should have said I didn't think he had any interest in doing so. But upon reflection, it's not like I've heard any of his deep cuts in 20 years, so for all I know he's being putting a half dozen such tracks on each album. (Although I doubt it.)

But the really amazing thing, beyond how great a tune it is, is that up until the chorus at least, it sounds like Bruce Springsteen: the guitar-driven backing track, the melody, the lyrics, hell, even the way the video is shot. There seems to be a weird key change (maybe?) in the chorus that makes it not quite Bruce, but otherwise, it feels like ol' Gordon is channeling his blue collar pal at his very catchiest. And that chorus is absolutely prime 1984 pop, and I have no higher praise for a single than that.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What It Means

The vice presidential debate just finished and now the talking heads are talking their heads off. But for some reason this song is going through my head, just like it has for much of the week.

He was running down the street when they shot him in his tracks
About the only thing agreed upon is he ain't coming back
There won't be any trial so the air it won't be cleared
There's just two sides calling names out of anger out of fear
If you say it wasn't racial when they shot him in his tracks
Well, I guess that means that you ain't black
It means that you ain't black
I mean, Barack Obama won and you can choose where to eat
But you don't see too many white kids lying bleeding on the street

In some town in Missouri but it could be anywhere
It could be right here on Ruth Street, in fact, it's happened here
And it happened where you're sitting, wherever that might be
And it happened last weekend and it will happen again next week
And when they turned him over they were surprised there was no gun
I mean, he must have done something or else why would he have run
And they'll spin it for the anchors on the television screen
So we can shrug and let it happen without asking what it means

What it means
What it means

Then I guess there was protesting and some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that they ain't called colored folks no more
I mean, we try to be politically correct when we call names
But what's the point of post-racial when old prejudice remains
And that guy who killed that kid down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend and wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried and laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles

What it means
What it means

Astrophysics at our fingertips and we're standing at the summit
And some man with a joystick lands a rocket on a comet
We're living in an age where limitations are forgotten
The outer edges move and dazzle us but the core is something rotten
And we're standing on the precipice of prejudice and fear
We trust science just as long as it tells us what we want to hear
We want our truths all fair and balanced as long as our notions lie within it
There's no sunlight in our ass' and our heads are stuck up in it
And our heroes may be rapists who watch us while we dream
But don't look to me for answers 'cuz I don't know what it means

What it means
What it means

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bus Stop - Storytelling 101

One really cool thing about writing a music blog (although I have been unbelievably lax in doing so lately) is finding little gems in a song or an album here or there that you never noticed before. Maybe it's a song you used to hear over and over again but haven't for a long while. Maybe it's a band with whom you are quite familiar but a song that you are not. Or maybe it's a newer song on which you just feel the need to give your own take, even though others have already chimed in on it. But no matter; when it comes to music, the connection is so personal and so intimate  that you get to offer what you want, when you want. Whether it's a comment on, say, "Cake By the Ocean" or on "Johnny B. Goode." There's always room for another take.

This one definitely falls into the category of "old song/new take."

I'll admit I haven't spent a ton of time in my music-loving life thinking about the Hollies. I know and understand their historic significanceone of the key bands to follow the Beatles in the British invasion, a number of catchy and, well, Beatlish hits, hallmarked by stellar harmonies and jangling guitars, and a number of oddball and innovative choices that punctuated some of their biggest songs (most notably the steel drum solo in the middle of "Carrie Ann.") Also and not to be discounted? Unlike so many bands of the Invasion (the Fab Four obviously not included), they had a legit second chapter that stretched into the 70s. No doubt impressive.

I also knew our boy Little Steven gave one kickass induction speech for the band when they made it into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, whether I agreed with their inclusion or not. (I don't think I do. Although who knows? I don't know. Let's move on).

But one thing I never associated the Hollies with was songwriting, or more to the point, storytelling. I mean, their songs were bristling and fun pop, definitely candy aisle stuff all the way. Graham Nash and Allan Clarke soared with their harmonies and upper-register glow, and it was delightful, but I didn't exactly think lyrics or story when hearing their stuff.

But then I listened to "Bus Stop" the other day and it all changed. Not only it is a purely flawless rock-n-roll song, but it is, no lie, one of the finest examples of musical storytelling I have ever heard.

First, listen:

What you hear is a just delectable pop confection sung and performed by a talented band that absolutely nailed what they were trying to do. From the super groovy little arpeggio that opens it, askew though it is, to the varying time signatures to Tony Hicks'  Byrdsy solo to the customary pristine harmonies, the bones are all there for a refined little piece of pop royalty.

But then come the lyrics. And I swear to all that is holy I cannot imagine anyone, at any time, writing a more original, clever yet simple song as concisely as "Bus Stop" was written.

Check the lyrics. This is literally where the song is when it reaches the one-minute mark:

Bus stop, wet day,
She's there, I say, "Please share my umbrella."
Bus stop, bus goes,
She stays, love grows, under my umbrella.

All that summer we enjoyed it,
Wind and rain and shine.
That umbrella, we employed it,
By August she was mine.

Every morning I would see her waiting at the stop,
Sometimes she'd shopped and she would show me what she bought.
Other people stared as if we were both quite insane,
Someday my name and hers are going to be the same.

The story being told is as ancient as time itself. "How I met my true love." But this is the perfect way to tell it. And I never noticed it until recently.

Look at the words again and think of the premisethis is a song about "our story, how we met." Every single word, every one of them, moves the story along. Not a shred of introspection or commentary or any kind of filler; it all goes to explaining—in the most precise detailhow this happened. And again, it does it in just 60 seconds, and at a pace so wonderfully brisk and sunny that you barely notice you have just been told a crystal clear and gloriously unique story from start to finish.

That's half the genius. The other half is how those words are strung together. The buoyant, practically cheeky changes in meter. The off-kilter choice to end some of the key lines absent of rhyme (plenty of things rhyme with "umbrella," but thank Yahweh they didn't try). And the intricacy of it all, the stunning use of interior rhyme that would have made Cole Porter or e.e. cummings (or even Dr. Seuss) proud. "Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows." Eight words and you know all you need to know.

Graham Gouldman wrote these words for the Hollies, and while not a household songwriting name by any means, mayhap he should be. This wasn't the only great thing he ever wrotehe would also pen another wondrous Hollies song, "Look Through Any Window," as well as some of the best things the Yardbirds ever did ("Heart Full of Soul," "For Your Love," "Evil Hearted You") and later front the pretty damn innovative 10cc in the 70s, giving us, among others, "I'm Not in Love" and "The Things We Do For Love." That's one hell of a career.

And if it didn't start with "Bus Stop," it certainly reached heights there that any songwriter at any time or place in history would have been proud to hit. Because truth be told, most don't.

"Bus Stop" is sui generis as a pop-rock number; it sounds familiar and of a time but there really is nothing quite like it, and that's thanks to the songwriting and storytelling. Oh, and I haven't mentioned it but the song goes on for another minute and a half and while it doesn't quite keep the same lyrical pace it had in those magical first 60 seconds, it still works and never loses an ounce of its charm.

That's the way the whole thing started,
Silly but it's true.
Thinking of a sweet romance,
Beginning in a queue.

Came the sun and ice was melting,
No more sheltering now.
Nice to think that that umbrella,
Led me to a vow.

Another little corner of rock-n-roll, so familiar but still in many ways so removed. But this is why we listen, if I may be so bold and speak briefly for the entire rock-n-roll listening population. For moments like "Bus Stop," when we can sit back and smile at the fact that songs may again be this good someday, but they really can't be better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Long Walk Home

Of all the amazing things I saw at the final show of Bruce Springsteen's 2016 tour earlier this month in Foxboro, none chilled me quite like this performance.

You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do, and what we won't.

Amen. And listen to the crowd reaction when he gets to that line. Unreal.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

One for the Vine

This makes me unreasonably happy.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Egg Radio

I think the first time I heard Bill Frisell was on the Disney covers collection, Stay Awake, featuring wonderful covers by the likes of NRBQ, Suzanne Vega, Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant, and best of all, the Replacements demolishing "Cruella De Ville," still one of my favorite covers of anything ever, as well as a demented version of "Heigh Ho" by Tom Waits.

Since then I've become a fan of Frisell's jazz work, including his series of live albums, all of which are enjoyable and many of which are superb, including his covers of John Lennon, in which he proves (as if it were needed) that Paul McCartney wasn't the only Beatle with a knack for writing insanely gorgeous melodies.

This may be my favorite Frisell original, and after playing it roughly three dozen times over the past week, I finally realized why: it sounds like the beautiful child of "Moon River" and Ritchie Valens' "Donna."

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

Interesting thing, aural proof. It's taken as a truism that Stephen Stills is not only the dominant personality of Crosby, Stills and Nash but the most accomplished musician by a comfortable margin, as well it should be. And that while he may not quite the artist Neil Young is—which, hey, how many artists are, really? A small handful?—he's probably a better singer in a traditional sense and a seriously underrated (if, again, more traditional) guitarist.

What's more, the famously aborted tour Stills and Young attempted together in 1976 ended in typical Young fashion, with ol' Neil simply disappearing and letting his long-time some-time collaborator know their latest collaboration was at an end via telegram:
"Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil."
which is both awesome and such a dick move.

And other than the wonderful song "Long May You Run," and the fact that they erased David Crosby's and Graham Nash's vocals from the album shortly before release, that's pretty much all you know about The Stills-Young Band.

But then oh so many years later, thanks to Al Gore inventing the internet, you get a chance to actually hear one of the handful of concerts they actually managed to play before it all fell apart. And at first you're struck by just how kickass their electric version of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" sounds. Secondly, you're so curious to hear how Neil is going to possibly replace Crosby's and Nash's vocals and delighted to find he does so remarkably well, with his high keening voice taking their places more than admirably. And then as the song goes on and the initial excitement wears off you start to realize that Stills sounds...not good. In places, he sounds fine, even better than just fine, perhaps. And in places, especially towards the end, he sounds, well, like shit.

And you start to wonder if maybe Neil left not because he's difficult—he is—but because he knew the shows simply weren't up to his lofty if at times confusing standards and you wonder how much other stuff you've gotten wrong over the years.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


Look, I am an unironic, unabashed fan of 70s pop. Is it cheesy, trite, sometimes cringe-worthy? Of course. But then again, so are DT and I.

Which is to say I absolutely love this damn song. Even as I fully recognize that it's terrible.

I mean...terrible. 

And I love you best
You're not like the rest
You're there when I need you
You're there when I need
I'm gonna need you

A long time ago
I had a lady to love
She made me think of things
I never thought of
Now she's gone and I'm on my own
A love song has come into my mind
A love song
It was there all the time

So lady
Let me take a look at you now
You're there on the dance floor
Making me want you somehow
Oh lady
I think it's only fair
I should say to you
Don't be thinkin' that I don't want you

'Cause maybe I do

See what I mean? Do I lie? That's... listen, I don't need my pop songs to have lyrics worthy of Dylan. Sure, it's nice when they do, but you know what else works just as damn well? "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom." "Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-tee-da.""De-do-do-do-de-da-da-da." Certainly "Mmmbop, ba duba dop, ba du bop, ba duba dop, ba du bop, ba duba dop, ba du, yeah yeah." Actually, come to think of it, those are all Dylan-worthy.

So he loves her best, she's there when he needs her, but she's gone and he's alone, and he's clumsily macking on a dancer he's been ogling and what? When's this taking place? Do we have three separate timelines going on at the same time in some sort of time is an infinite loop and all times are now?

Of course now. What we have is an embarrassing mishmash and none of it really matters much 'cuz melody and tasty harmonies. (Seriously.)

Now. Having said that, in 2016, it's a bit hard to listen to songs like this and not feel at least a bit SJW and wonder if maybe the guy should take a step or two back, play it several degrees cooler and, most of all, be quite confident she should be keeping a close eye on her drink.

Finally, this line?

You're there on the dance floor making me want you somehow

"Somehow"? I think Erin Brockovich said it best.

Not rocket science, friend. So don't be a creep and act like she doesn't know exactly what it is that's making you want her. (And, I mean..."somehow"? Dude, come on.)

On the other hand: melody and tasty harmonies.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Brown Eyed Girl

Few things make me happier than watching Bruce Springsteen working out songs onstage. Two kinds of performers can do that: those who are new enough or dismissive of their audience enough and those who have achieved a certain level of popularity and mastery of their craft.

Also, he probably should have tried it in A.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Sound of Silence

Despite how thoroughly you know, sometimes it can still sneak up on you, just how damn great Bob Dylan is. The gravitas his gravelly baritone adds here, the growling harmonica, the reminder of what a surprisingly fine duet partner he can be...this may be my favorite version of this great tune, in no small part because Dylan's ragged glory is exactly what the pristine fastidiousness of Paul Simon could use a bit more of.

[h/t: the great AllDylan.]

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Celebration Day

Congrats to The Mighty Zep for their big win in court today. (A case they probably should have lost, but I'm glad they didn't.)

That's maybe the single best live performance I've ever heard from Zeppelin, post-1970, incidentally. Which, it occurs to me, is because Jimmy Page is so spot on, and for the most part Page's playing was what generally made the difference between great LZ and incredibly sloppy LZ.