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

Lady

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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

American Tune

"Magnificent" doesn't begin to describe this. Or, well, it does, but doesn't go nearly far enough. Stately, classy, gorgeous, transcendent. Paul Simon pretty clearly has a pretty healthy ego, and why on earth shouldn't/wouldn't he? And yet he's musically sophisticated enough, I'd expect, to listen to a cover of this calibre and still be awed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

singer-songwriter-bandleader at the Hall of Fame

If you've spent any time here at Reason to Believe, then you know I love me some Bruce Springsteen. But this clip—and we'll see how long it stays up (I've got the under on three more days)—throws some stuff into stark relief.

The thing about Prince and Springsteen is that they were essentially doing the same job: they were both singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleaders. So Prince was from the midwest and Bruce from New Jersey. And Prince was nearly a decade younger. But they were both voracious listeners with many, perhaps most, of the same touchstones in common. And they both praised each other publicly. Sure, their music tended to sound very different from each other's—with a few arguable exceptions (I've long been convinced "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" was not only the greatest song Springsteen never but should have covered but that it was Prince's nod to the Boss)—but then R.E.M. and the Replacements were both brilliant alternative rock bands in the early 80s and no one would have mistaken one for the other.

So the difference between how good at it Bruce was at the bandleading part of the gig (best in the world...except for one guy) and Prince was (#1 in the world) is amazing. 'cuz Springsteen was like an absolutely outstanding college basketball team going up against the Chicago Bulls during Michael Jordan's glory days. There's simply no competition, really. Springsteen was and is fantastic. Prince was simply on another level. I prefer Springsteen's writing, and his shows are spine-tingling. But Prince, man...

But speaking of his writing, this clip gives an idea, I think, of just how amazing he was: at his Hall induction, he didn't play "1999," "Little Red Corvette," "Purple Rain," "Raspberry Beret" or "Cream" or "Diamonds and Pearls" or "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" or, oh yes, "When Doves Cry." Because he only had room for three songs and there were so many others to choose from. I mean...what in the hell? Who had such a catalog that he could afford to not play "When Doves Cry," perhaps the single greatest single of the entire 1980s—a damn good decade for singles—or his signature song, "Purple Rain."

We shall not look upon his like again.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Even Flow

Eddie Vedder on Prince:
"People know him from the ways he looked, and the different ways he looked, and different things he said – a lot of incredible things to remember him by. But I gotta tell you, and you just saw some great guitar playing. Prince was probably the greatest guitar player we've ever seen."
A little overstated perhaps? Let's go to the tape:


Yeah, okay. I'm sold.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Sometimes It Snows in April

Sometimes It Snows In April.mp3



Sometimes it snows in April
Sometimes I feel so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never-ending
But all good things, they say, never last
All good things, they say, never last
And love...it isn't love until it's past

RIP Prince

I just...
















...damn. Damn damn DAMN!

"Paint a perfect picture. Bring to life a vision in one's mind."


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trouble Boys

I am just about finished with Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, Bob Mehr's exhaustively comprehensive account of the seminal Minneapolis band that some of us think, despite total lack of commercial success during their lifespan from 1981-91, may have been the greatest American band ever to live. Scott and I have written fairly extensively about our love for the Replacements, and in fact it was Scott who first introduced me to the band. The bastard.

For someone like me whose love of the band cannot truly be expressed in words, I honestly never want the bio to end. Because I know we'll likely never see something this expansive written about the Replacements ever again, and because once I'm done, it will be one more reminder that the band is done as well. And will have lived and died (and briefly reunited recently before going away again) without ever achieving the commercial success they so clearly deserved. Even though it was that very success that terrified them to the point of hitting the self-destruct button on their careers so often they practically wrote the instruction manual on how to do it.

The book is an exhilarating ride all the way through, at times hilarious, awe-inspiring, infuriating, mortifying and horrifically decadent. And sometimes all at once. Mehr's research and ability to actually get inside the troubled heads of Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars and the tragic Bob Stinson may be the most impressive thing about what he's done.

As I've been reading Trouble Boys it once more dawned on me why the Mats meant to so much to me and continue to be so embedded in my DNA, and why it's different than, say, listening to other favorites like Bruce Springsteen or R.E.M.

We listen to devotedly Bruce Springsteen to be inspired and moved, to believe in the glory of rock-n-roll as a force, though good times and bad, that keeps us moving towards something bigger.

We listen to R.E.M. because it makes us part of something, a club for people who are in on this amazing secret and even though we were never ever the cool ones, the fact that we are part of this club is the coolest thing of all.

But we listen to the Replacements not for coolness or glory, but because when we do, we finally get this sense that someone, somewhere out thereeven though they have no damn idea who the hell we aregets us.

Thanks for that, boys. You can color me impressed.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Psycho Killer

Apparently the band thought this version sounded too much like a novelty song. I...dunno. I would have said it was impossible to top the well-known version...but this...this is pretty unhinged—that cello is pretty damn demented—and I mean that in a good way.