Sunday, December 25, 2016

RIP George Michael

And the worst year of my sentient life continues.

It would be inaccurate to say I was ever a George Michael fan, or a fan of Wham! At the time I foolishly thought myself above what I considered such pop piffle. And yet...and yet when the videos came on, I never turned the TV off. Not because I enjoyed the videos themselves—although the videos for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" was a lot of silly fun—but because, in the end, as always, it comes down to the music, and Michael's gift for melody was undeniable. (As were his voice and his production skills, as well as his extraordinarily handsome looks, but none of those have ever meant anything close to as much to me as melody.)

So...yeah. Somebody wake me up once 2016 has gone-gone.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Acadian Driftwood

It's not easy to find three singers in the same band that can stack up against The Band's powerhouse lineup. The Roches do it without even breaking a sweat. It's too easy, too pat to think it's because they're family. And yet...

We had kin livin',
South of the border
They're a little older,
And they been around
They wrote in a letter
Life is a whole lot better
So pull up your stakes, children,
And come on down

Thursday, December 8, 2016

36 years later

I love the LP version of "Woman" and think it truly is one of the best and most beautiful love songs ever written. Such a perfect love letter from John to Yoko, written, tragically, just before the end. I love the lushness of the song, the fullness in his voice and instrumentation that almost hearkens back to the Wall of Sound.

But I think I love this stripped down version even more. It's still tender and lovely, only now it's raw, bare. Like these are words he doesn't just want to say but has to say.


And thankfully he was able to say them.

"So let me tell you,
again and and again and again...
I love you, now and forever."

We miss you, Beatle John.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Driven to Tears? So what.

As a fan of The Police and a Miles Davis fanatic, I found this amalgamation beyond magnificent.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Favorite Song Friday: Faithfully

I've often thought of Journey as the anti-Beatles. Not that they were against everything or anything the Fabs stood for or represented—just the opposite, in fact; even without knowing much about what the band members believe in their heart of hearts, I'm quite confident all of them grew up loving the lads. No, I think of them as the anti-Beatles because each and every member of the most popular lineup of the band (although, really, it goes for the musicians who were members before they got really popular, as well as the ones who came after their heyday) is an absolute monster on his instrument. I mean, seriously, you just don't get better, really, on a technical level, than Steve Perry, Neal Schon or Steve Smith. And yet, unlike the Beatles, none of whom were technically all that accomplished—save, perhaps Paul McCartney, on bass—Journey managed to produce nothing transcendent, and little that's really, objectively, of lasting value.

Harsh, I know. So let me temper it with this caveat: a handful of their songs remain wildly popular, and I fully admit to liking several, including "Separate Ways," despite (perhaps) its staggeringly terrible in a slow-motion-train-wreck-can't-look-away manner.

And then there's "Faithfully." Another entry in the "oh, life is so hard on the road when you're a fabulously wealthy and popular musician" category, I absolutely adore this song unreservedly and without the slightest hint of irony—no mean feat, when you consider the mustache in its accompanying video.


Now, usually on our Favorite Song Fridays, we over some sort of analysis, whether it's a close reading of the lyrics, or perhaps our ham-handed stab at delving into the chord progression in some sad pseudo-music theory attempt. Not here. I got nothin', other than to mention Smith's typically spectacular drumming, and the fact that the lyrics are straightforward, which helps them scalpel their way directly into your heart, or at least, into my heart.

One funny note, though: apparently, Prince called up "Faithfully" composer Jonathan Cain, immediately after The Purple One had recorded "Purple Rain," to see if that masterpiece was too close to the Journey song. Cain assured the lil fella that other than sharing some chords, it was not, in fact, too close. For some reason, that makes me love the song even more, as well as Prince, and who knew that was even possible?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Don't Do It

Look at these jamokes. If you were drinking in your local dive, or maybe a guest at the wedding of a distant acquaintance, and these guys got up to play, what would you think? I mean, really. Just look at them.

Levon looks like the really good mechanic you're pleased to have finally found, even though you can't help but feel—accurately—that he's always looking down at you because you don't know as much about cars as he does. Rick looks like the guy who works the counter at the autoparts store. Richard looks like the guy who stocks the shelves at the autoparts store: there's something about his smile that freaks out the customers too much, even the most manly ones, so they don't let him work the register. Robbie looks like the guy who mixes paint at the hardware store and tries to chat up the housewives, most of whom see right through him, and don't so much enjoy the attention as feel a bit creeped out and like they need a shower. And then there's Garth—in the end, there's always Garth. He's the guy who works in the stacks at the local university library, the one you hope the librarian won't have to go to for help when you ask your question, even though they always do, 'cuz he always knows, and there's no reason you hope they won't, as he's never said or done anything weird to you or anyone you know: in fact, he never does anything weird, other than never doing anything but studying old, arcane tomes and feeding his fish. It's just that he always stares at your shoes as he mumbles the answer to even the most esoteric of queries.

And then they start playing.


Would you get it right away? Would Levon's jittery yet slinky beat immediately clue you in that you're in the presence of a master, of a man who got as much funk, as much soul in his DNA as guanine? I'm not sure you would. What about when Rick starts in with that bassline? I like to think so, but I'm still not sure; the goofy way he bops might distract you. Sure, you'd think, okay, this might not be totally embarrassing, but I don't think you'd quite realize yet what you're in for.

It's Richard's piano that prepares you. His chording is simple, sweet, tasteful...but quiet as it is, it's got that tang of the roadhouse about it—but a roadhouse down New Orleans way—that subtly shifts your thoughts and expectations and even though you haven't fully grokked it yet, you're already starting to think, well...huh. This might just

And then Robbie starts playing. And the slightly sad lounge lizard reveals himself to be the greatest guitarist you've ever actually seen in person, with just a few chords. They're not difficult chords; this isn't Jim Hall playing some bizarre inversed voicing. They're just your standard rock and roll chords...but they're rock and roll chords played with that distorted Strat tone that bypasses your aural canal and goes directly into your very being and makes it clear that the guy making those sounds knows rock and roll and he knows the guitar and suddenly the smugness seems entirely justified.

And then they start singing. And it hits you, first, that this sweaty funk workout is somehow Marvin Gaye's boppy classic. And, secondly, you realize, accurately, that if this isn't the best group vocals you've ever heard, well, you never heard better. Never. Not by the Beach Boys, not by the Beatles, not even by the Everlys. Never.

Robbie's guitar solo only confirms what you could tell by his opening chords, which is that this superior bastard is indeed superior—he's got the technical ability, but he's more than just flash: he's got the spirit. And behind him, supporting them all, is that intense research librarian who, it turns out, plays the church organ like Bach, if Bach had been raised as a tobacco farmer in Kentucky.

Turns out, and who knew? that looks can be deceptive. And that the rock, the funk, the soul, can take root in the most unlikely of places, whether a guy who looks like a smarmy bastard or a creepy stockboy. And that the proof is always in the sound. And god-a-mighty, what a sound.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Come Together

Dear World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band™: it's sweet that you went to the trouble of showing your respect and admiration for your betters by covering them, and that you went out of your way to be as not good as possible doing it. Very, very convincingly done.


Friday, November 18, 2016

In Your Eyes

Here's my argument:

Peter Gabriel was with Genesis for roughly nine years. In that time he wrote or co-wrote a few dozen songs, many of which range from okay to very, very good. In the forty plus years since then he has written several dozen more, which range from good to transcendent.

Sting was with the Police for roughly six years (with another three tacked on where they weren't really a band in any meaningful sense but hadn't officially broken up either). In that time, he wrote several dozen songs, which range from okay to phenomenal. In the thirty-three or so years since then, he's written many dozen more songs, which range from good to very good.

What I'm saying is that Gabriel needed to break free from Genesis in order to become the artist he is, and we're all the better off for it. Sting, on the other hand, broke free from both the constraints of the Police and the full flowering of his abilities. Because he's been without the Police for nearly six times as long as he was with them, and in that time he hasn't created a single song as good as his half-dozen best Police songs, nevermind one which approaches this:


And while comparing another song to "In Your Eyes" would normally be unfair, in this case, it really isn't, since if Sting never wrote a song better than this slice of brilliance, he's certainly written several—"Message in a Bottle," "Every Breath You Take," "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and so on—that are very comfortable peers, at the very least. For a few years there, he seemed to turn them out on a yearly basis. And then....not.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

RIP Leonard Cohen

I swear to all that is holy that I am so damn tired of writing RIP posts for my favorite artists this year.

Damn.

Leonard Cohen is dead. I don't have much to say other than he was a musical hero of mine. He wrote with his heart not just on his sleeve but laid out bare on the table in front of him.

He sang with a raw, plaintive sensuality that no one else ever has. He either did rock-n-roll like poetry or he did poetry like rock-n-roll. Or both. He bled hot and red blood into in his music while he waltzed to it. He was loneliness and sex and grief and humor and soul and pain and honesty and fear and religion and strength and pathos. He was all that and more. He was sui generis in music history and we will never see another like him.

He wrote story-songs and hymns that belong under glass or hanging on the wall in some museum, not just on vinyl and compact discs and digital files. He wrote "Suzanne" and "Chelsea Hotel" and "Tower of Song" and "Bird on a Wire" and "Dance Me to the End of Love" and "Came So Far For Beauty" and yes, my favorite song ever, "Hallelujah." And more than that.

So long, good sir. You will always hold the mirror.






"It looks like freedom but it feels like death;
It's something in between I guess,
It's closing time."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Day - How does it feel?

It's Election Day. I love Election Day as much as any day on the calendar. And as loyal readers here at Reason to Believe know, Election Day for me is all about Bob Dylan. 

On Election Days that I looked forward to and even on those I kinda dreaded, I still loved going to the polls, expressing my opinion on my terms as only I can. My people don't always win, but I always feel like I've done something big when I vote. Going all the way back 30 years when I voted for the first time.

For many many reasons I am thrilled for Election Day 2016 to be here and for the campaign soon to be over; most of those reasons having to do with a certain sentient rotting pumpkin running for President for one of the major parties. And in 12 hours it will in fact be over. And I think our great nation will be a little greater as a result.

This day as I head into work I'll be be blaring Mr. Zimmerman on the way once more, And I'll go right to the source, as they say. No fooling around, no wasting time. I'll go right to one of his greatest albums ever and start with the very first track on that record, objectively and pretty much inarguably the greatest song he ever wrote.


Because it really does speak to just so much of what we've been watching for the past year and more. The insufferable feeling invincible. The underprivileged being duped and lied to. And the tenets of decency and integrity being torn to pieces before our eyes.

Here's hoping it all ends tonight. I'll take comfort in words Bob wrote rather presciently 51 years ago, words that really could have been written for today:

Ain't it hard when you discover that,
He really wasn't wear it's at,
After he took from you everything he could steal.

Right on. Go vote and take back every ounce that's been robbed from us this year.

And as the credits roll on this election season, let's take one more look at one of the truly great defiant moments in rock-n-roll history. At the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966, when Bob Dylan brushed off the detractors and jeers with a smile and a sneer, turned to his band and just as they began a blistering "Like a Rolling Stone," told them, "Play it fucking loud!"

And they did.

's

Go play today, voters. And when you play, play it fucking loud.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gwen

So, as usual, my first thought upon hearing how beautifully the great Philly Joe Jones plays piano on this song he composed himself, is "well, that's not fair." I mean, how uncool is it that possibly the greatest hard-bop drummer ever is also a killer pianist? But, of course, that's probably not entirely a coincidence: he was arguably the greatest hard-bop drummer ever because he was a killer musician. I mean, duh, but it still felt worth pointing out. Or, really, an excuse to post this.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Cherie Amour

It's the last week and I desperately needed something and when in need, Stevie is pretty much always the answer. I was actually intending to play one of his other early gems, but this one caught my eye, thanks in no small part to the typo in the title, and yeah, it did the trick.


And today I learned that Motown didn't release this song for a year after he recorded it, and only put it out when they did because apparently the Wonderful one was having voice troubles, so they dug through the box of unreleased stuff and found this and my GOD can you imagine this being a safety school? Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

For No One

So today I turn 48. One year younger than James Garfield when he died. Meaning next year I will look pretty much like this.

Hey, it's an improvement.

But I'm not posting this today to fish for shameless birthday wishes. Although thank you! Thank you for remembering! Really, that is just so nice!

No. Today is my birthday. And like I do with many, many different occasions and times of year, I tend to associate my birthday with specific music.

Election Day makes me think of, and listen to, Bob Dylan. I've written about this before, a few times.

When the summer turns to fall and the school year begins, even though I haven't been a student of any kind since 1990, I think of The Replacements. And during those "back to college" times that follow, meaning the fall, I tend to think about R.E.M. Likely because I became such a fanatic of both bands in college.

In the summer it's Bruce Springsteen for all occasions, as it should be,  And on vacation it's often healthy doses of escapist music like the Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, Miles Davis. In the deep throws of winter it's the darker stuff that tends to seep in, such as Warren Zevon and Leonard Cohen. And there is never, ever any time of year when it's a good idea to listen to these guys.

But my birthday? It's always about the Beatles.

A couple of years ago I set out to listen to their entire catalog start to finish in chronological order over the course of my birthday weekend. And I liked it so much I do it each year, a little Beatles marathon (10-12 hours of Beatles music, that is to say) starting with "I Saw Her Standing There" and ending with "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)." So that's where I am now. Thinking about and listening to the Beatles. Because it's my birthday and probably because the Beatles have always been my "birthday band,," dating back to when I was 12 and first started receiving Beatles records for my birthday.

And today I want to write about my absolute favorite Beatles song of all time. Not their greatest song, mind you, but my favorite. "For No One."  Located right smack in the center of Revolver, only the greatest album ever released by the greatest band ever to walk the earth.

(Although to clarifythis is one of their greatest songs, and in fact when Scott and I were putting together our Top 50 Beatles list a few years ago, we both agreed "For No One" should place way up there on any list).



Simply put, they never recorded a more beautiful song, never wrote a more poignant song, never sang a song more perfectly. Did some Beatles songs equal it in those capacities? Of course. But it is this 48-year-old man's opinion they never did it better.

It's everything about the song. The words are some of the most plaintive and mature Paul McCartney ever wrote. He wasn't known for writing about sadness necessarily, at least not as much as John was, but look at these verses and tell me they couldn't be mistaken for the finest tear-duct onslaughts of Roy Orbison, or the saddest of Leonard Cohen's tales.

The day breaks
Your mind aches
You find that all the words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you

She wakes up
She makes up
She takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You want her
You need her
And yet you don't believe her when she says
Her love is dead
You think she needs you

You stay home
She goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone
But now he's gone
She doesn't need you

The day breaks
Your minds aches
There will be times when all the things she said
Will fill your head
You won't forget her

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

Those are as gorgeous and they are heartbreaking. Through all of the myriad accolades Macca has deservedly received over the years, I'm still not sure he ever gets his due credit as a first-rate songwriter. But his ability to convey pure loss and sadness without ever slipping into sap or self-pity is staggering. The unconventional phrasing, the intermittent rhyme scheme, the way Paul seems to shape each syllable around his peerless, perfect voice. It's all there. It's genuine anguish Paul writes and sings about, but he does it with such sweetness and intricacy that it's impossible not to feel every word and every note. And see the beauty behind it,

The music is as breathtaking as Paul's words and voice are, even though John Lennon and George Harrison are nowhere to be found. No guitar either. Just Paul on bass, piano and clavichord, and of course Ringo Starr keeping flawless pace with a timekeeping roll that sounds like a slow march. But then there is one more added trump card; Alan Civil with a french horn solo in the middle (and accompaniment at the final verse) that takes the song to somewhere very different and very high and very special, soaring above all and...and I can't believe I am writing thhis...almost upstaging the work of the Beatles themselves with his masterful little run up and down the scale. Paul sounds like defeat and regret when he sings. But Civil's playing makes the hurt feel even sharper, the pain even deeper. And in a sad love song, that's pretty amazing.

Last and by no means least, in a tribute to the power of brevity, "For No One" clocks in at 1:59. That's all they needed to create this piece of timeless musical art. Don't get me wrong—"Free Bird" and "Hey Jude" and "Stairway to Heaven" and "Visions of Johanna" and others all have their well-earned longplay place in the realms of musical royalty. But sometimes, you don't need more than two minutes to get it done.

That's "For No One." And that's my little explanation as to why neither the Beatles, nor anyone else, ever did it better.

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

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, not to mention some truly sweet bass work and an almost contrapuntal guitar solo. Oh my goodness all so good. (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.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Want to Talk to You

It seems like no matter how hard I try to keep up, I can't possibly—there's just too much music, and too much good music, coming out. Not that I'm complaining; it's a good thing.

And there are even more gaps when it comes to already released stuff. So there are so many artists like Elliott Murphy, whose names I've known for literally decades but just never found the time to actually listen to. And then you hear a song and you think, well, damn...this is pretty much perfect. (The fact that musically the writing sounds exactly like something Bruce Springsteen would have written for the Asbury Jukes in the late 70s, while in terms of its lyrics and instrumentation it's more like this century's Springsteen obviously doesn't hurt.)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Watch the Sunrise

"I'm in love—what's that song? I'm in love with that song."

This. This is that song.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Against All Odds

You know, for all the fecal matter slung his way, even some of Phil Collins's most popular ballads were really kinda weird structurally and harmonically.

"Against All Odds," with its rising chord progression that methodically works its way through almost every chord in the key of A minor, skipping E minor only to return to it later, unexpectedly, after G major, and shifting the D minor chord to a D major chord for the chorus, is, well, weird. The lack of a bridge or solo, the ever shifting lyrics, which reuse lines but rarely exactly...it really does sound like what it was, a guy in pain playing just for himself in his empty house as way to try to ameliorate or at least work through his issues. It's just that, in this case, the guy in question turned into a major pop star and was able to rework some of his musical therapy sessions and turn them into massive worldwide hits. But the unusual elements and the pain remains.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

RIP Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Man. Christopher Hogwood, Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt...it's been a tough decade for maestri. And, not to be grim or nothin', but I just discovered that my boy Herbert Blomstedt—maybe my all-time favorite conductor, which is a bit like preferring the Replacements to the Rolling Stones—was born two years before Harnoncourt, six years before Abbado, fourteen before Hogwood...


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Like a Rolling Stone

As I've written, I'm pretty lukewarm on David Bowie the cover artist, even as I remain fairly insane about David Bowie the artist.

But this is a pretty stellar version of a Bob Dylan song which hasn't had a whole lot of great versions by anyone other than the man himself. (Although, yes, there have been some.) It's hard not to think that Bowie's stint in the not very good but very rejuvenating Tin Machine had more than a little to do with how he tears into this, but it's also notable that he does a much better job with it than that band did with the Dylan cover "Maggie's Farm." How much of it is due to this being a much better song ("Maggie's Farm" is, to my ears, one of Dylan's three most overrated songs ever), and how much of it's due to how much better or at least simpatico (read: better) a match Mick Ronson was for The Thin White Duke than Reeves Gabrels remains open to debate.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pictures of Lily

I've liked very few of David Bowie's covers: he's one of those artists whose own identity is so strong and, conventional and actual wisdom somewhat to the contrary, so sui generis that his covers rarely rise to the level of the original, much less surpass.

I'm not going to say this surpasses the original, since you can't surpass perfection, but taking it in a dream pop direction was pretty brilliant, as it works both sonically and thematically.




Sunday, February 7, 2016

Like a Rolling Stone

So I guess this has been a thing for ten years and I'm just now coming across it. In an effort to make up for lost time, I've listened to it on repeat for 5 hours now. And it's not getting old.

This is probably the finest cover of this great song I've ever heard—although that's actually kinda damning with faint praise, since I've heard a few good covers (Jimi Hendrix, Green Day), a couple okay (the Rolling Stones' version actually was better than I'd expected if still not exactly transcendent) and a bunch of terrible (John Mayer, sure, but David Gilmour?! What were you thinkin', man?), but few if any great. (Maybe Hendrix simply set the bar too high with "All Along the Watchtower," but I find his "Like a Rolling Stone" good—of course it is, it's Jimi—but far from great).

But the Drive-By Truckers make this their own without changing a damn thing. The finest southern rock band since the heyday of the Allman Bros and Lynyrd Skynrd, one listen makes it clear that they've heard the original hundreds of times. And like Dylan, they're fluent in rock, country and blues, as well as alternative. And the fact that each verse is sung by a different band member is sheer gold, bringing to mind the glory days of The Band, not inappropriately. Having the finest singer-songwriter of the past decade, Jason Isbell, taking a verse certainly doesn't hurt, but so good are the others that his doesn't even (especially) stand out (much); Patterson Hood's Henleyesque voice fits perfectly, and the addition of Shonna Tucker is always a welcome one, while Mike Cooley's country punk caps things off perfectly. And when they all shout the final chorus, it brings it all home in a way the song hasn't often since being played fuckin' loud at the semi-apocryphal Royal Albert Hall gig.


So how does it feel? Pretty sweet, actually.

(Also, the pumpfake of the snare shot at the beginning's pretty damn funny.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Life on Mars?

Well, this choked me up more than I was expecting.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

"In the event that this fantastic voyage 
Should turn to erosion and we never get old,
Remember it's true:
Dignity is valuable,
But our lives are valuable too." 

- David Bowie, "Fantastic Voyage" 1979

Well, this really sucks.

Pick the word or phrase that best described David Bowie. Innovator. Performer. Talent-magnet. Envelope-pusher. Punk forerunner. Glam forerunner. New wave forerunner. Blue-eyed soul. Master producer. Fearless actor. Musical genius.

Any one of them fit. And none of them tell the full story. Just as it's hard to count the range of artists he influenced and inspired. Iggy Pop. Mick Jagger. Lou Reed. John Lennon. Madonna. Lady Gaga. And keep going. They are all brilliant musical artists. And all were made better by having known, or having been influenced by, David Bowie.

It's hard to believe we're now speaking of him in the past tense, that he's gone just two days after turning 69.

Farewell mate. Thank you for the music and for so, so much more.