Friday, February 28, 2014

Favorite Song Friday: No Such Thing

There are times, watching this video—as impeccable a union as can even be conceived between ravishing visuals and aural perfection—that it's easy to forget that John Mayer might possibly be the greatest guitarist, not just of his generation, but of the past 35 years. If he'll never threaten Jimi Hendrix's place, certainly since Jimmy Page abdicated the throne, he's a serious rival to the Edge and Johnny Marr and Nils Cline and Tom Morello, and most likely towers above them all.

His lyrics, obviously, are every bit the match of the transcendent music, with lines such as
I like to think the best of me is still hiding up my sleeve
since where else would one keep one's best but tucked away up one's sleeve like a parlor trick? It is the rare lyricist, indeed, who could come up with such a resting place, as most would think that an artist would prefer to show his best face, his best work, to the world. But John Mayer is not just any wordslinger.
This small but perfect gem opens with
"Welcome to the real world," she said to me condescendingly
which is juxtaposed against the later insightful query
And all of our parents, they're getting older
I wonder if they've wished for anything better
While in their memories
Tiny tragedies
Oh goodness. The way the question is unanswered—indeed, the entire thought wholly unfinished, as if the pressure of the impending chorus caused him to leave it hanging there like a tattered, wilted piece of mistletoe left bereft after Valentine's Day, so despondent it apparently never even occurred to ask the parents in question the question. The angst is unparalleled in rock and roll—only Drake or Smith or perhaps Donovan or Bieber could come close in scope and depth—and all the more anguished for it.
I just found out there's no such thing as the real world
Just a lie you've got to rise above
Voice of a Generation? No. Or, rather, yes, but that's not enough, that's not nearly enough. That's like suggesting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a little musical aptitude, or Steve Guttenberg possessed a modicum of comedic talent. So Voice of Our Generation? Sure. But Voice of All Generations is more like it. But most important of all is this: John Mayer is the Voice of My Soul. He says the things I feel but lack the talent, the courage, the words to say.

Take, for example, the concluding lines
And when I stand on these tables before you
You will know what all this time was for
with their luminously literate allusions to leaders such as Bonaparte, Churchill, Palin, Khan, Gingrich, Alexander, Caesar, and the unstated but indisputable conclusion that he and he alone, John Mayer, will be there, magnificent atop the formica tables in the cafeteria to lead his poor benighted catechumens, like a modern-day Zelda Rubinstein with the body and visage of Apollo, into the light, not via the pearls of wisdom falling from his mouth but merely by sheer dint of his awesomeness, as no words will be needed. No, not for the likes of John Mayer acolytes—and whom amongst us cannot modestly call ourselves one? No, all they, all we, will need to do is gaze upon him and enlightenment shall be theirs. It shall be ours, all of us. That's rock and roll.

And speaking of: then, as the coup de grâce, we have the video itself, meaning we are blesséd to be able to watch him move, observe as he takes those lofty, abstract yet concrete concepts and alchemizes them into physical manifestations of integrity as his body translates those wisps of genius into the visuals of a pop song. As much as his dancing here reminds one of Michael Jackson in its feline, aqueous grace, it's his heavy-lidded, slack-jawed yet burning intensity that draws the obvious comparisons to the King himself, Elvis Presley. And when he gets to the goosebump-inducing bridge and purrs, "I am invincible," who would argue the point? Is there any such argument to be made?

No. No such thing. No such thing indeed.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nothing Compares 2 U

My wife's favorite song and my wife's favorite movie smooshed together? If I didn't know better, I'd think MORRISMCCLYMONT’s trying to make time with my best girl.

[HT: the great Cover Me Songs.]

Friday, February 21, 2014

Favorite Song Friday: No Such Thing

 (This post has been removed by a higher being due to its gross violation of every standard of human decency)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Try a Little Tenderness

I am emphatically not saying this is my favorite version of this song, especially given that the Queen of Soul already, as Otis Redding himself put it, stole one song from him. (Not that he's the original writer of this one.)

But listening to Franklin's substitutions on this, it really hits you just how fine a jazz singer she could have been, had she chosen to go that route, rather than demolishing all contenders to the soul throne.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

kings o' teh search

That's right. We're #1 for "semi-ironic beach boys vocal pad."

(Which we really shouldn't be. Robbie Fulks obviously should be. But whoever said life was fair?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Billie Jean

I've got a(n, admittedly, imaginary) friend who believes that if there's a civilization 100 years from now, "Billie Jean" is one of the small handful of songs from the 1980s that'll survive. I'm pretty sure he's right but I would have chalked it up, largely, to the bassline. But this cover makes me wonder if it's not just as much the lyrics and melody.

Of course, it could be this version and it could be that the future is already here. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

You Keep Me Hangin' On

I must admit, the Supremes are something of a blind spot for me. I like them, but I don't like them nearly as much as I love most of the other huge Motown acts. But "You Keep Me Hangin' On" is one of my all-time favorite Holland-Dozier-Holland songs.

So this

just oh so very much works for me, overwrought as it may be.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sweet Child o' Mine

Yep yep yep yep yep.

I really want a video of Slash or Duff watching this for the first time.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Favorite Song Friday: Sandusky

I've probably listened to this more than any other Uncle Tupelo song. I don't know if it's their best song, but it surely is my favorite.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sugar, Sugar

As a guy who knows something about songwriting (quoting another guy who knows something about songwriting) once wrote (but didn't sing): "It's the singer not the song that makes the music move along."

Exhibit A:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thunder Road (ukulele version)

That's right. That's exactly what it is.

I never ever EVER thought I would see or hear a cover version of "Thunder Road" that would make me sit back and just say, "Damn!"

But now I have. No lie. Watch and love.

[H/T: the great zombie, rotten and farming.]

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fountains of Wayne Hotline

Meta? Post-ironical? Snarky? Whatever. This is awesome.

"Oh, that Gerald..."

"Tell me about your textural variation and harmonic palette that you have going so far."

"Uh, well, that 9th—that telegraphed or is that just gratuitous coloration?"

"Well, let's hit the bridge. I'll tell you what you do. No new chords introduced. Get a split bar of 4 in there, and push the I, and then we'll slather the whole hell out of the thing with a semi-ironic Beach Boys vocal pad. And then an asymmetrical backhand. There's your bridge."

And thusly is outstanding pop created.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails

I love Mark Kozelek. The dude seems indefatigable, working on a plethora of projects at once, in a variety of styles—over his own largely acoustic classical guitar, or over someone else's electronica backing or with the somewhat Crazy Horse-like Desertshore—but with his slice-of-life, stream-of-consciousness lyrics delivered in his rich baritone. No matter the context, I find it an intoxicating combination and I think about how if I'd discovered this guy when I was in high school or even college, I'd think he was speaking directly to me.

He's got a new album coming out this week, Benji, named after, yes, the film starring the plucky dog. (I have such fond feelings for that dog and yet I have no memory of ever actually seeing the movie.) Benji's an incredible piece of work—one review recently wondered if it was a contender for the title of The Great American Novel—but it make me go back to some of his slightly earlier yet still recent work, such as this, which manages to somehow attain a certain universal applicability while being more specific than the overwhelming major of non-Kozelek songs. 

I had a high school friend, he liked to hunt muskrats and rabbits and he liked to draw and he liked to listen to Ian Gillan with Black Sabbath
But one night outside a Canton, Ohio pool hall something transpired, he stuck a man with a screwdriver, stole his car and he hauled
He did three years in Tico Reformatory and the rumors of what went on in there were most chilling horror stories
Not long after he was set free, he left his parent's house at 1am and wrapped his car around a tree
And I was in Pacific Grove, California when I got the call
I talked with his mother and his father and his brothers, I talked to them all about his love for heavy metal, his love for hunting and how good he could draw
And I laid down next to my girlfriend Deena, like a child I bawled

One Thanksgiving when I was pretty young, me and my dad got into it over something and we fought and he won
And I went running barefoot off into the snow and I sought refuge at a neighbor's house and later that night I came home
And in the midst of all the agonies and hardness I felt, somehow the wonder of life always prevails
And in the midst of all the awkwardness, all my growing pains, somehow the wonder of life always remains

Every day, I get out and I walk, every day, I get on the phone with someone and I talk
It's good to have friends who love you, care and understand, who have your back and don't judge you, criticize you, or make demands
Every day, for miles I walk along the Monterey Pines, the Marina to Aquatic Park and I look at the Marin Headlands, Tiburon, Sausalito, Angel Island, from the end of fishing pier, I couldn't ask for more, my eyes couldn't ever want for more
I watch the seagulls fly, for half my life I've watched the ferry boats and the barges go by

It's February, it'll be the 10th year anniversary of when I lost a friend to cancer and there's times when I still can't believe it
But I'm so grateful for all the time we got to spend in Pescadero, Point Reyes, Mendocino, San Rafael and Fairfax
Though I'm reminded of her passing especially when it rains somehow the wonder of life always remains
And every Christmas I get pictures of her growing daughter and her face looks more and more and more and more and more and more and more like her mother

Spent this Thanksgiving in Seat 21E of an SAS Airplane flying over the Baltic and the North Sea on my way home from Stockholm and Malmö and Göteborg and Copenhagen
All I could think of in my seat was getting back home to my girlfriend
She'd be away until Saturday or Sunday down in Orange County with her family for the holiday
But it's all right, I can't cry, can't complain, because I'm just about to land in a 737 airplane
Looking down at the city of Martinez and the Carquinez Strait and that San Francisco Pacific Ocean and North Bay and at the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges and the many boats that sail
And the wonder of life always prevails

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Go Lucky

This may just be one of the seven catchiest songs I've ever heard.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Highway to Hell

For all you zombies who thought, "you know what AC/DC really needs? A horn section."

Tom Morello looks like he's about ready to die of joy. And there's a certain delight to be had in watching Tom, Nils and Steve have themselves a little coolest headwear competition.

Friday, February 7, 2014

When I Saw Sandman Standing There

As everyone knows, it was 50 years ago that the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. And even today, watching it, it's no wonder they hit an unsuspecting America like they did.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dream Baby Dream

Welcome to the 12th and final day of our 12-day examination of the 12 songs on Bruce Springsteen's new album, High Hopes. As we indicated at the start, rather than a straight review, we're having a running dialogue based around each song as we listen to it. 

So. Day 12, Song 12: "Dream Baby Dream."

Scott Peterson
Which brings us to the final song. The insanely verbose "Dream Baby Dream," which more than anything, is reminiscent of his first album, lyrically.
Dan Tapper
We saw him do this back in 2005, of course, when he closed every show with it on the pump organ. And it went in about 2 minutes from "What is this?" to "WOW."
Scott Peterson
Did you see him on his Devils & Dust tour?
Dan Tapper
I did. Twice.
Scott Peterson
Where? Hartford and Boston?
Dan Tapper
Yeah—Hartford and Worcester. Two weeks apart.
Can you please shut up now so I can hear the song? 

Dan Tapper
Hey, listen: Tom Morello! Remember him?
Tommy's dive-bombing again behind Bruce as he croons. Just like he started the album off.
Scott Peterson
Bruce just started singing and, yeah, you're right, some Morello bombs in the background. I've missed him so.
Dan Tapper
Now. This song has gotten some criticism for the production and the layers. Which I don't get. This song is all about layers.
Scott Peterson
Boy howdy, the guys in Suicide must absolutely love Bruce Springsteen. Even in these days of his albums selling a fraction what they did even 10 years ago, he's got to account for half their income this century.
Dan Tapper
Have you heard Suicide's original?
Scott Peterson
I have. I hadn't, but I have now.
I love that Bruce Springsteen loved Suicide. It's so incongruous to what most people think of when they think of Bruce Springsteen.
Dan Tapper
Me too. I was...surprised...when I heard the original.
Scott Peterson
I'd never heard of them until he covered this back in 2005.
Then they were in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. So I did. (And now I'm prepared. Which, I guess, was a bad move on my part?)
Dan Tapper
Me neither. But he was exploring punk—obscure punk—when most folks were barely discovering The Clash.
At the 1:30 mark the band comes in. Is that Max on drums/percussion? Almost sounds like fireworks.
Scott Peterson
Ayuh. You hear his NPR interview? Where he'd talk about how if he missed the last bus or train back to NJ, he'd go back to Max's Kansas City, back in like 1973, and watch the New York Dolls?
He was ground floor.
Dan Tapper
Of course he was. Seriously. He's always been ahead. 
"I just wanna see you smile." I love this part. 
Piano is heavenly.
Scott Peterson
No Max on this.
Just Bruce, Roy, Tom and Ron.
(And strings and horns).
Dan Tapper
Oh, Ron on percussion, huh? OK.
Scott Peterson
I accept your acceptance.
Boy, this makes "Drive All Night" seem ridonkulously wordy, huh?
Dan Tapper
HAH! It does! It's like an update on the long coda on "Drive All Night." "Through the wind...through the rain..."
Scott Peterson
Now I want to hear him sing other sparse songs, like "Pink Moon."
My life can never be complete without that.
(I may overstate ever so slightly.)
Huh. Surprisingly quick fadeout.
Dan Tapper
4:40—one more drop out. Lovely.
Scott Peterson
I desire to hear that again.
I like when his quickly strummed acoustic gets brought up in the mix. It's like a Townshend homage.
Dan Tapper
I do too!
Townshend is a good call.
Scott Peterson
"Come on dream, pinball wizard, dream."
Dan Tapper
His voice is like one that comes from down the hall at the start. So distant.
Scott Peterson
"I just wanna see you play."
Dan Tapper
"I just wanna magic bus...oh I just wanna magic bus..."
Scott Peterson
Interesting thought on the sound of his voice. I noticed that the first we hear percussion, it's sorta got that distant bullhorn effect he used so much on the vocals on the first few songs.
Well. That's a sweet way to end the LP.
Dan Tapper
This will play well, I would say, when he tours.
Scott Peterson
See, I feel like this is the minimalist sparse zen koan like approach he was going for with "Heaven's Wall" but didn't come close to achieving. Here, however, he knocks it outta the park. He does so much with so little and it's so damn effective.
Is it the most upbeat of his recent album closings?
A lot of them ended either kinda dark, ala "Devil's Arcade" or with dark bonus tracks like "The Wrestler" and "Terry's Song" and "The Last Carnival."
Dan Tapper
I thought he coulda done better opening the album, but you really can't beat the triple shot that closes it. The smoke and bombs of "Joad," the dead quiet of "The Wall" and the redemptive flare of "Dream Baby Dream."
Scott Peterson
"We Are Alive" was upbeat—very—but then he had "Belly of the Whale" bonus track.
Dan Tapper
"We Are Alive" was the most upbeat closer in the post-reunion era. Until now.
Scott Peterson
Yeah, good call. Actually, was it the middle of the album that was the real weak part? 'cuz the title track's okay, and i really liked "Harry's Place" and "American Skin." I think it was the middle that sagged. (Much like me.) 
Dan Tapper
What did I say about "Belly of the Whale?"
Scott Peterson
That you want "Belly" played at your wake? Just it, on a loop, and nothing else?
Dan Tapper
Scott Peterson
Shoot. I get those two instructions confused.
So it's "The Angel" you want played on a loop? Or "Real Man"?
Dan Tapper
You are a cruel man.
Weakest tracks on the album, in no order: "Heaven's Wall," "This is Your Sword" and the title track?
Scott Peterson
Definitely "Heaven's Wall" and "This Is Your Sword."
I find the first few covers okay but not fantastic.
I liked "Down in the Hole" more than most, I think.
"Hunter of Invisible Game" is okay.
Dan Tapper
Best tracks (new and original) "The Wall," "Frankie" and "Down in the Hole." (Yes, I have come around on that.)
Scott Peterson
Know what? This should have been a long EP maybe, or a really short LP.
Dan Tapper
I really like "Hunter." Makes me juant to waltz with you. Naked.
Scott Peterson
You're just saying that 'cuz you know how I feel about most 3/4 and 6/8 songs. Now, 9/8...
Here's what I think I might have pared the album down to. And in homage to Led Zeppelin, I would have still titled it High Hopes even though the title track wasn't actually on the LP.
Harry's Place 4:04
American Skin (41 Shots) 7:24
Down in the Hole 4:59
Frankie Fell in Love 2:48
The Ghost of Tom Joad 7:34
The Wall 4:20
Dream Baby Dream 5:02  
(That would not necessarily have been the running order.)
What's your feeling on "Harry's Place"?
Dan Tapper
I dunno. I like the collection and the effort. I know what it is, indeed. A minor work. First one in a long time. But I think the mishmash works.
Scott Peterson
I like "Harry's Place." I just don't get it. And I can't play it when the kiddies are around, for they have never heard such language, for they are my offspring.
Dan Tapper
I still like "Harry's Place." But it's just so different from everything on the record. Like "Further on Up the Road," kinda.
Scott Peterson
As you pointed out, "American Skin" and "Tom Joad" alone are nearly as long as a short LP side from the 70s, just the two of them.
Interesting call on "Harry."
Dan Tapper
Isn't that amazing? How much time those two take up all by themselves?
Scott Peterson
You're not wrong.
Dan Tapper
"Harry" is the only thing that sounds new. I know it's not, but it does.
All this said? The best of all tracks on this record is "The Ghost of Tom Joad." It's pretty insane what he and Tom do to it.
Scott Peterson
Hm. I am not sure I'm willing to go that far, just because I like "The Wall" and "American Skin" so much. But daggum if it's not fantastic. 
Dan Tapper
So I gotta tell you, overall I like the record. Yes, I know it is not a major piece of work for him. And you are very right when you say the hodgepodge nature is at the very least disconcerting. But I do think he has found some thematic consistency. Thanks to generally strong material, the contributions of Mr. Morello and (Brendan please forgive me) Ron Aniello's handiwork. So the songs don't necessarily tie together, but the sound does. Does that make sense?
Scott Peterson
I think so? I'm not entirely sure the sound's always a good thing, though—as we discussed, there's way too much of the bullhorn effect. And to some extent, I think how good the best songs are serves to make the less good ones seem even worse. I mean, look, "Heaven's Wall" is catchy. But you put it next to "The Wall" or "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and it's ridiculously anemic.
But, again, even "Just Like Fire Would," a fine song, suffers by being on the album with "American Skin." Even the lighter songs on The River or Born in the USA, upon close readings, usually reveal themselves to actually have very serious subtexts—the protagonist of the silly ditty "Working on the Highway," por ejemplo, is in prison, having either been railroaded by politically connected individuals...or for having transported a minor across state lines for lascivious purposes. It's got that desperation that ties in to every other song on the album, including the self-loathing "Dancing in the Dark." I'm not so sure this album has anything to tie seemingly disparate threads together.
Which, again, goes back to both the odds and sods nature of the record and what I arrogantly see as the need for it to have been cut way the hell back. And how, in some ways, a legend of Bruce Springsteen's stature is in a no-win situation. (Not that most of us wouldn't give our eyeteeth to find ourselves in such a predicament.) 
Dan Tapper
All very fair and extremely well put.
So I will leave it at this: I am grateful that at 64 Bruce is still putting out music that makes people think, pause, wonder, ponder and debate. He can still evoke and provoke, he's still trying new things, he's still writing from that same tireless place he's always called home, and he can still hold our attention by sheer force of will, even on the lesser tracks. And on the stronger tracks, no one but maybe Bob Dylan can still sound so inventive and, even, downright revolutionary in the final 3rd of his life. Paul Simon hasn't and, likely, can't. Paul McCartney isn't. Sadly Stevie Wonder hasn't for a long time. Bruce Springsteen still is.
Damned if that ain't impressive as all get out.
Scott Peterson
To my surprise, I will disagree with you somewhat on the Macca front—I think he is still trying new stuff, especially his work with The Fireman, although it doesn't necessarily move me as much as I wish—but as for the rest, I think you're dead on the money.
Since I'm not sure I made this clear: of course I'm glad he put this record out. It's a fine addition to his catalog. And if I think it could have been made a bit better with some judicious editing, well, I'll very much take a very good album every year from him over having to wait five years for a masterpiece. Without question. 
Dan Tapper
In other words, I was right. Now, was that so difficult?