Saturday, November 30, 2013

It Better End Soon

Oh my God.

I just [re]read Lester Bang's review of Chicago's fourth LP, At Carnegie Hall.
- in 'It Better End Soon - Second Movement' Walter Parazaider takes of on a long and wildly eclectic flute solo, starting with 'Morning Song' from Grieg's 'Peer Gynt Suite', shifting abruptly into 'Dixie' to cheers from the audience, and thence to 'Battle Hymn Of The Republic' complete with martial drum rolls.
I thought it was satire. I didn't believe there could possibly really be a song called "It Better End Soon," much less that there would be multiple movements, much less one entire five minute flute solo, much less one with that many disparate quotes.

Oh my God.

More horrifying, of course, is the fact that upon listening I realize I actually recognize this.

Oh, 70s. So much to answer for.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Mark Kozelek has said that he recorded the Sun Kil Moon album Admiral Fell Promises after listening to a lot of Andrés Segovia. That's as may be but boy howdy but it sounds like he'd listened to a lot of Steve Hackett in his day as well. (The fact that he's covered both Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and post-PG Genesis also makes me suspect this.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This Boy (isolated vocals)

It was 50 years ago this week that this was released:

And sure, all it did was change rock-n-roll forever. Along with a good chunk of 20th century culture. The most important band to ever exist let loose with (almost inarguably) their greatest single, and thus launched a career that would crazily keep reaching new heights over the six years that followed. Heights that even the greatest of rock-n-roll bands to follow never really were able to equal.

That's what "I Want To Hold Your Hand," the A-side, did.

What the waltzy B-side, "This Boy," did? Was display for the first time the harmony calisthenics the Beatles were capable of delivering. Listen to this (mostly) isolated vocal track of John, Paul and George creating something so intricate, so deftly layered it's damn near impossible to tell who is singing what part. Or for that matter where the melody starts and the harmony ends. Astounding.

They would do the three-part harmony thing again, of course. And do it to perfection. On tracks like "Nowhere Man" and "Yes It Is" and, at the very very end of their career as a band, the lush splendor of "Because." But it bears remembering just how many different arrows the Fab Four had in their collective quiver. Harmonies this spectacular? And from guys this young (John was 23, Paul 21, George 20)?

This boy remains impressed. He surely does.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Feelin' Alright

Two great tastes that taste great together? How's about a little hot buttered soul and some crazy horses?

I'm not sure I could love this much more. Maybe if they'd done a whole album together, ala Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. And by "album," I mean "enormous run of albums."

[HT: the wonderful Round Place In The Middle]

Friday, November 22, 2013

All Right Now

Not so much.

I grew up on classic rock. AOR was a mainstay. Despite owning all the Beatles LPs, for instance, whenever one of the local rock radio stations would hold one of their "all Beatles all the time" holiday weekends, playing every Fabs song in alphabetical order, I'd leave the radio on for the duration. Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doors, Black Sabbath, the Eagles, Deep Purple, Styx, these were my lifeblood in junior high and high school.

Even at the time I had more sophisticated tastes as well. In addition to the Beatles, there were the Rolling Stones and the Who, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie and Jackson Browne and Pink Floyd. There was also a fair amount of prog, which, hey: the heart wants what the heart wants. Later, I got into jazz and punk and post-punk and alternative and classical and so on and so forth.

I was a music fanatic pretty much since I can remember. Sousa music in the park on the Fourth? I'm there. Cocktail pianist at someone's wedding reception? I'll just sit and watch. And yet for the first few years after I graduated college, I more or less did without music, as my stereo and CDs and LPs were down in Greensboro, North Carolina and I was up in New York City. So I had a walkman and a few dozen tapes, but that was about it. And this when grunge was just starting to explode, so there was some mighty interesting stuff happening, and I missed much of it.

A few years later, I got back into music again for a few years, from around 1993-1995. But then life intruded once more and I pretty much had to duck back out. And when I resurfaced, in the late 90s, I found myself consumed by jazz, listening to almost nothing but for a few years. After that, it was classical, which was almost all I listened to for several more. (Oh, Shostakovich, you are the seductive one.)

And then it was the mid-Naughts and rock and roll pulled me back. I caught up on a lot of the stuff I'd missed and more: thanks to a pair of books (1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die), I got invested in really investigating some major artists I'd only had collections of before (Aretha Franklin, the Byrds) or artists about whom I'd heard for literally decades but never listened to before (Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, both of which...WOW. Hawkwind and Tim Buckley, which...not so much).

But I also made a point out of seeking out current artists. So I fell deeply in like to love with the Decemberists and the Wrens and Bon Iver and Iron & Wine and Smith Westerns and Kathleen Edwards and Japandrois and Low and Janelle Monáe and Tennis and Real Estate and Camera Obscura and Kanye West and so on and so forth. There is so damn much damn good music coming out these days. I decided that, no hard feelings, Steve Miller Band, but I really don't need to ever hear you ever again; I listened to you for literally hundreds of hours growing up, and that was good enough. If I ever need to hear "Fly Like an Eagle" again, I can almost certainly "hear" the entire thing from beginning to end with my mind's ear.

But after a few years the excitement of discovering started to wear off just a bit, and I had to realize there was one problem with most of today's best artists, or at least, the ones I'd discovered: almost none of them...welll...rocked. They were often exquisite, gorgeous, sophisticated, warm and inviting...but sometimes you just really wanna hear someone kick out the jams, you know? Sometimes you wanna hear "That's the Way" and sometimes you need to hear "Achilles Last Stand." And give 'em their due: classic rock often did just that. It rocked.

So much as I didn't particularly want to listen to Bad Company again (cf. Steve Miller Band), I had to admit my appreciation for their rockitude, for Paul Rodgers' killer voice, for the great (so great!) drumming of Simon Kirke, for the killer riffs of Mick Ralphs. So when "All Right Now," by Bad Company's predecssor, Free, came on the other day, I kinda smiled. It's got that great voice, that great (so great!) drumming, and the absolutely fantastic guitar riff by Paul Kossoff.

And then I listened to the lyrics.

There she stood in the street
Smilin' from her head to her feet;
I said, "Hey, what is this?
Now maybe, baby,
Maybe she's in need of a kiss."

I said, "Hey, what's your name?
Maybe we can see things the same.
"Now don't you wait, or hesitate.
Let's move before they raise the parking rate."

All right now, baby, it's a-all right now.
All right now, baby, it's a-all right now.

I took her home to my place,
Watchin' every move on her face;
She said, "Look, what's your game?
Are you tryin' to put me to shame?"
I said "Slow, don't go so fast, don't you think that love can last?"
She said, "Love, Lord above,
Now you're tryin' to trick me in love."

All right now, baby, it's a-all right now.
All right now, baby, it's a-all right now

Maybe it's because I've got a bunch of daughters. Maybe it's because the world has changed. Maybe it's because I have. But these lyrics are just so damn rapey. And I don't think it's an either-or proposition, not in a million years. But if it is? If I have to choose between rock that rocks but is rapey or rock that doesn't rock but isn't? I'll go with today's more laid-back artists, in a heartbeat. 'cuz no matter how great the voice or riff or drumming, this is just gross.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Seriously. Ow.

Things hurt.

That is best wisdom I would impart to any young-un...hell, anyone under the age of, say, 23, really. About what it's like when you hit your 40s. Or beyond. There's one very easy thing I could tell them.

"Things hurt."

Because they do. They so, so do.

Knee. Ankle. Neck. Thumb. They just hurt. That's today's list. And for no damn reason.

It used to be the legs were super-sore after playing a couple of hours of basketball or something. But nope. I hurt my thumb the other day opening a beer bottle. And I don't mean "hurt" like I cut it or something. No. I strained some kind of muscle or ligament or sinew or whatever the hell is inside the hand that makes the thumb work. And it still hurts. Hitchhiking may never be the same again.

So. That's really all I had to say. Things hurt.

Except this. Here's a great raw version of a great song about getting older gracefully. Which I'd like to think is still possible. Just as long as I don't run too hard, don't reach too far down, and, of course, use a bottle opener from now on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Good Day's Work

Here's how the story goes:

One Friday in June of 1984, Johnny Marr decided to write a song, as one is wont to do when one is the 20-year-old musical mastermind of The Smiths, for Morrissey to later add lyrics and a melody to. It'd been a week or two, perhaps, since their last single, so it was high time.

He thought it should be something up-tempo, and he had a little portable 4-track, so he went to work. A bit over an hour later, he had this:

That same night, he was alone and feeling a bit melancholy. So he decided to write another song, a slow one this time. He came up with this:

The next day, he went into the studio with the outstanding Smiths rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. Believing it's a good idea to write songs in groups of three, Marr thought he'd see if they could maybe recreate the swampy vibe of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Run Through the Jungle"—a difficult task, made exponentially trickier by the fact that he'd never actually heard CCR's recording, just The Gun Club's cover of it. Undeterred, the band jammed for a few hours and, intoxicated by the results—even then, they already had a pretty good grasp of what they were creating—nailed the basic track. That night Marr added roughly a billion guitar overdubs later, this was the result:

Really, that's not a good day's work, or a good weekend's. It's not a good month's or even a good year's. That's a pretty sweet career, right there. In about 36 damn hours.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want

I have such a crush on Johnny Marr.

I think it's almost certainly unwarranted. As with other gunslinger prototypes like Keith Richards and Jimmy Page and the Edge and Peter Buck, he's probably not nearly as cool as he comes off. (In the case of Keef, that's unquestionably true.) He's probably nearly as prickly as—or maybe even more than—the lead singer. I mean, in this case, he's the guy that broke up the band, breaking the hearts of the other three in the process. But by dint of his literal and figurative position in the band—hanging back, partially in shadow, cool composer/creator of the musical tapestry as the frontman dashes around, trying to engage the audience, the attention-seeking sod—the guitarist is the cool one.

I know this. And yet. I still have such a crush on this most unlikely, unusual of guitar heroes. And now that he's finally started singing, some 30 or so years later? And he's not bad?

I mean...the beauty of that composition (oh, major 7ths, you are so lush and so lovely), the delicacy of the intricate picking, the odd changes, the soaring, searing countermelody that only enters in the final 30% of the song, the musical asceticism...the bastard's like a Britpop Debussy of the electric guitar.


Saturday, November 16, 2013


Back in the early 90s, this Reivers tune was one of the covers my college band—Übërsphïnctër, although when playing some of the local country joints, we went by Gööbërsphïnctër—would generally play twice: once during the first set, when pretty much no one but our girlfriends (hi, honey!) were there, and then again during the third set, when the place was packed with students too drunk (hi, honey!) to know if they'd heard it before or not. (We didn't have enough original material for three sets, and didn't know enough covers.)

The rest of the band used to grin malevolently when it came time for this one, gleeful to see how fast my imaginary friend Chris could strum the opening chords, and then watching as I (never a terribly fast drummer; my skills lay more in my rapier wit and movie star good looks. Okay, okay, I had the only place at which we could hold band practice) tried desperately (and failed) to keep up. Hint: Chris was generally at least 30% faster than on this here recording. Why didn't I just switch from playing eighth notes with my right hand to quarter notes? Pride. Arrogance. Stubbornness. Most of all, of course, stupiditity. (It never even occurred to me until just now.)

And I press my heart into your hand—it's my gift from Araby.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Way leads to way and one moment you're reading an article on the Forex scandal and suddenly you realize you've gone from there to the wiki entry on Blazing Saddles and then you're watching a video of clips from what's often considered one of the worst superhero movies ever and that's saying something.

But damn if this doesn't look pretty good. But, of course, Sam Elliott plus the sound of Frankie Laine can make pretty much anything look decent.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New York City Serenade

I'm one of those (seemingly) relatively rare hardcore Bruce Springsteen fans who doesn't feel that he's always better live, that his songs only truly come to life when he performs them in concert. And as I wrote here, I think his original studio recording of "New York City Serenade" is one of the most gloriously perfect things he's ever done.

But sweet flying spaghetti monster, is this an impossibly wonderful version.

He sounds fantastic, and judging by how much he stretches it out—but never too much, not even close—he's having a good time. And the string section appears overjoyed. Roy and Max are superb and it may be the best and most interesting bass playing I've ever heard from Garry; listening to this, you can see how much he picked up from James Jamerson (about whom he once wrote a book).

Never a song he's played often, this version sounds like they'd played it dozens of times, rather than this being the first time the E Street Band had played it in four years.

I'm just staggered by how beautiful this is. Someone sent it to me a few days ago, but I didn't really pay attention; for whatever reason, these days (unlike years past) I'm much more interested in listening and relistening to Springsteen's studio stuff, especially his more recent releases, than his live performances. But I finally clicked on this, intending to let it play as I worked. But damn if I wasn't unable to pull my eyes off the screen for a moment. Simply mesmerizing.

Homeboy's still got it. He's singin'.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Moon River

So I found myself rewatching Eddie Vedder inducting R.E.M. into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as one is wont to do when unable to think of the correct cover copy on a Tuesday night, and was struck by how adorably awkward he comes across, as well as how heartfelt. I was surprised that he devoted such a disproportionately large amount of time to Michael Stipe, at the expense of the others—two and a half times as much to Stipe as to Peter Buck or Mike Mills, and never once actually mentioned Bill Berry's musical contribution to the band. Which is odd. You can understand a lyricist devoting extra time to a band's lyricist, but it's surprising that multi-instrumentalist Vedder, of all people, would give such short-shift to the musical part of a band, and most especially this band of all bands.

Also odd was that he said, "If R.E.M. had a secret weapon, I would say it was Mister Mike Mills." While accurately pointing out that Mills plays bass and keyboards and is a wonderful writer, he goes on to isolate Mills's vocals as the key to R.E.M., describing them as almost co-lead vocals, rather than "merely" backing vocals.

What's odd isn't that that's inaccurate, by any means. What's odd is that there's nothing secret about it. It's blindingly obvious to anyone who's ever paid any attention to R.E.M. It's like describing Scottie Pippin as the secret weapon of the Chicago Bulls during their six title run. Wasn't really much of a secret there.

The importance of Mike Mills to R.E.M. cannot be overstated. He's a great bassist, creating melodic, inventive lines. He's a wonderful keyboardist, adding invaluable, gorgeous textures. And he's a lovely singer, with his secondary vocals providing intricate and surprising counterpoint to Stipe's voice. But a secret weapon he was not. Their true secret weapon, so secret that as astute a listener as Eddie Vedder completely missed it, was the guy who can be seen adding the lowest harmonies at the beginning of this gorgeous cover.

That's their secret weapon. And that's why, no matter how hard they tried—and they tried—they never created an album post-1995 as good as their pre-1995 albums.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Political Science

I do loves me some Election Day! I truly do.

And I love Glen Phillips' voice. I think I could listen to him sing the ingredients on the back of a bottle of laxative and still be heartily entertained.

So in honor of today and all that it connotes, here's Glen. Doing more than justice to Randy Newman's magnificently wry "Political Science."

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rock Show

There are several things that can be definitively stated as fact after watching this clip.

1) Joe English was one hell of a drummer. I'd love to know whether Dave Grohl realizes he was influenced by English, since his fills seem a clear precursor to the stuff Grohl did with Nirvana.

2) Jimmy McCulloch was one smooth-lookin' dude, apparently influencing the look of Tony Manero.

3) bouncy, happy arena-rock-era Paul McCartney, sporting an absolutely fabulous mullet is, no kidding, awesome. Someone playing bass that well is amazing. Someone singing that well is almost unbelievable. Someone doing both at the same time, having also written these complex pop songs, and conveying an unreal sense of unbridled joy all the while, is just...