Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rockaway Beach

As my brother Jeff continues to make more and more progress every day recovering from a stroke, here's something bound to make him smile. One of his favorite bands (The Ramones) doing one of their best songs in pretty much the most Ramone-y way possible. Little is said, little is changed, just nonstop energy and sneers to go along with the irresistible beat. Rock-n-roll, baby. #TapperStrong

 

And boy howdy, as a dancer, Joey sure was...one hell of a good lead singer.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)

So a good pal sent me this earlier today


and how delightful was that? Sure, Anne Murray's not exactly a heavy-hitter, artistically, but as a pop-loving child of the 70s, I've always had a serious soft spot for her, especially after reading about her learning the hardest of ways why you never want to try to follow Bruce Springsteen on stage, especially not in New York City.

(This was during the brief period after Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez had left the band, when the fantastic Ernest "Boom" Carter was on drums. Springsteen was on fire, of course, and a quarter of the audience left as soon as his set was done; not only was Murray booed when she started her set, by the time her set was over, only a quarter of the crowd was left. Not coincidentally, that was the last time any artist ever even considered letting Bruce Springsteen open for him/her.)

Was that extra little walkdown filigree added to title line really necessary? I don't think so, but hey, quibbles. A more serious annoyance is the fact that they reverse the order of the first two lines, but then, absolutely everybody (except Dylan himself) does that, probably because that's how the lyrics were officially registered. Still, have none of them ever paid attention to (almost) any of Dylan's own recordings? Vexing.

[Yes, I know, in the very early days he would sometimes since it in the printed order, which is undoubtedly why the lyrics were printed in that order. I do not accept this excuse. Rejected!]

I found it an interesting choice for Dylan cover. 'cuz, sure, it's one of Dylan's very greatest songs—and when you consider the rest of us oeuvre, that's a mouthful, and especially staggering considering he was about 21 when he wrote it—but it was never a single for him, much less a hit. Nor was it a big hit for anyone else, unlike so many of his other songs, which were commercial and artistic successes, of course, for the likes of the Byrds and Jimi Hendrix and so on.

Only it turns out it was a successful single, first for Peter, Paul & Mary (who I try to avoid like the plague, hence my semi-deliberate ignorance), going to #9 in 1963. And then even more amazingly, going to #12 two years later and selling over a million copies. Oddly, that later cover seems little more than a footnote now.

Or maybe not so odd, once you hear the damn thing.


As a pop-loving child of the 70s, I have a soft spot for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. But this...this is not good. Abomination is probably too strong a word. Probably. But maybe not. Yes, it was apparently recorded as a joke. It's not a good one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

RIP Glen Campbell

There's going to be a lot written about how Glen Campbell was one of the greatest guitarists ever, and that's true. There'll be a lot written about his studio work, his time with the Beach Boys, his huge success in the late 60s and 70s, his television shows, and the terrible sadness of his final years.

And there's going to be a lot written about the Jimmy Webb songs he recorded, as well there should be. A lot of people have called "Witchita Lineman" the greatest pop song ever. I'm not sure I can go along with that...and yet it's pretty hard to disagree. The late Sir William Joel of Long Islandington once described it as "a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts" and that's pretty spot damn on. It came about because Campbell had already had a hit with Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and, like Chuck Berry had the previous decade, he clearly saw the commercial value in using a specific location as a hook, so much so that he asked Webb for "another town song." "Do me another song that makes me long for home," Campbell told the songwriter and damn if Webb didn't do exactly that in spades.


If there's a more romantic couplet than

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time

Well, I've yet to discover it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This Land Is Your Land

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”


In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people
By the relief office I seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me? 

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can ever make me turn back 
This land was made for you and me

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Some Guys Have All the Luck

So previously I had declared this here perhaps The Most 80s Video Ever. Then a very unkind pal sent me this Rod Stewart video and I may have to reassess.

The animated effects, the deliberately herky-jerky framerate, the neon juxtaposed against the Patrick Nagel-like black and white, the drum machine, the chiming synths, the cheesy humor at the very beginning, the Miami Vice outfits...and of course, Rod the Mod at his Jaggerian pranciest. And if there's an artist in the world who has less standing to sing this nice guy anthem, I don't know who.


Needless to say, I love every second of this.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

After the Fire

DT and I were talking a while back about post-Keith Moon Who LPs, as well as subsequent solo albums from various Who members. And I recalled that the Pete Townshend-written Roger Daltrey track "After the Fire" was really good.

But what I didn't recall was that the video itself gives Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" a serious run for its money when it comes to Most 80s Video Ever.


Sure, that's some earnest damn emoting at the beginning there, but then, Roger's always been a heart-on-the-sleeve singer. (And, if biographies are to be believe, guy.) And, yeah, you might think that one dramatic whiparound was enough, never mind seven. That's right, seven; I slowed the video down to half-speed, just to make sure my tally was right—although, admittedly, on the last one, he does a 270, rather than a 180, so I'm not positive if it counts. But what makes the opening work for me is how much drama he gets out of...lighting a match. Yeah, he later uses that match to spark a genuine conflagration, but that's in the future. At the moment the match is lit, it's just a surprise Spanish Inquisition-like appearance of...a match. And not even one of them really big mamajamas, neither; it's just a simple bog standard match, like used to be on the counter for the taking in restaurants and hotels and convenience stores. And yet the gravitas, the drama—it is simply glorious.

And I remembered right: pretty sweet tune.

Monday, June 12, 2017

You Upset Me Baby

Some givens: yes, B.B. King sings great. Of course he does—he's B.B. damn King. And, yes, he plays magnificently. Of course he does—as mentioned, he's B.B. damn King.

But the thing that about this gem that makes me laugh every damn time is how the vocals convey just how much he takes it in stride.


Like getting hit by a falling tree? He sounds about as put out as if an errant leaf blown on a breeze stuck to his leg.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Angel Eyes — For My Wife, 25 Years Later

It all began with a small smile. And the bluest eyes I'd ever seen.

It's a cliche, of course, to talk about love at first sight, to say you knew from the moment you saw your  husband/wife that he/she was the one for you. And in my case it wouldn't necessarily be accurate. I can't confess to reading my fortune with such letter perfect precision the moment I saw her 27 years ago. But I can say this: the blonde hair, that little smile in my direction, those eyes. They made me not want to look away. Maybe I couldn't see the future, but I could see that smile, those eyes.

Today, 25 years to the day we were married, I still can't read the future, but I can say this much; the present still looks mighty fine with her in my life. And if the future brings us as far as tomorrow, that looks pretty fine too.

"So tonight I'll ask the stars above,
How did I ever win your love?"

That's from John Hiatt's "Angel Eyes," also made popular-ish in 1990 by Jeff Healey with his aching and passionate rendition. Funny thing about songs that become "your song" with the one you love, you don't exactly know it's "your song" the first time you ever hear it. Or even the 20th. Well, maybe if you're extremely lucky, or if you're Marty McFly's parents, you know the very moment you hear a song it was meant to be the song that connected two hearts together inseparably for all time. It just doesn't usually work that way.

In the summer of 1990 I was 21 years old and a very recent college graduate. I was barely shaving every other day, let alone every day like I sadly must do now. I was clean-shaven and skinny, barely 160 pounds on my 6'1 frame. I had just been hired at my first ever real bona fide job as a reporter at a mid-sized daily newspaper outside of Hartford, CT. I was making a little money (not much, but a little) and was living with friends in a crowded but adequate little apartment. And I was single, unhitched. I thought at the time I had everything I needed; a job, a place of my own, a few bucks in my pocket and no attachments.

I spent that summer carefree and pretty much carelessly blissful, or so I thought. My last "girlfriend" had come months earlier at the end of my senior year and I told myself it was my time to have some adult fun. I thought myself funny, charming and somewhat (I guess) attractive. So I spent those summer months playing the proverbial field, dating and goofing around. My time, and everything else, was my own, and for a short while it felt like I had all I needed.

Only yeah, no. I learned something pretty stark after those few months. I wanted more than this. I was young and a little naive and idealistic. I wanted to be a writer and a poet and to cash in on my romantic's heart. No, I wasn't dreaming of falling in love, but I was smitten with the idea of being hit by that thunderbolt and having someone else with me who was hit by it just as hard. Look, I was 21 and had no clue what I wanted, truth be told. But I knew I wanted something and I wanted it to be amazing.

I would frequently go out with friends that summer to bars and to parties, even the occasional road trip, and "Angel Eyes," that song, was without a question part of the soundtrack of that summer. I loved the song, and what's more, I noticed when it was on. I listened intently to the longing and the beauty of that underdog's tale of found love. I heard something of myself in it for whatever reason. And I couldn't get it out of my head.

Now I'm the guy who never learned to dance
Who never even got one second glance
Across the crowded room was close enough
I could look but I could never touch

So tonight I'll ask the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?

When I met Doreen it was in the heart of that summer, late July to be exact. It was in the newsroom. She was one of the first people I met that day and she was given the (unenviable) task of showing me around that day, giving me the five-cent tour and, it seems, making sure I didn't break anything. That's when I first saw that smile, those blue eyes. I thought she was exactly what she was, beautiful and funny and warm. I had no idea what was to come.

She was a little older than I was but we hit it off right away, the same sense of humor and a lot in common. Not only could I count on her counsel and advice now and again as I was getting my start, but I found we shared common interests. Funny, one of the first things I recall was we both loved legendary northeast band NRBQ and talked lightly of going to see them sometime. But it was a work friendship and not much more. Or so I thought.

And then suddenly it wasn't that anymore. I was thinking about Doreen all the time, her face and hair and those eyes and the way she seemed to make me feel a little better when she talked to me. When I heard "Angel Eyes" play on the radio I began to think about her (y'see, kids, back in the day we actually listened to music on the broadcast radio, but I guess that's another story for another time).

One night I got drunk with one of my closest friends and told him about her. He told me to make my move, so to speak. To go for it, the way friends do. But that wasn't my style, at least not right away. Instead I stumbled home that night, stone drunk, and wrote a poem about her. A lot of it was gibberish, but the final line was pretty clear, "I am ready."

Our first date happened largely by accident on of all things a Monday night. October 29, 1990 to be exact. Three days past my 22nd birthday. Neither one of us planned it; we just happened to be working late and decided to go out for a drink. Over drinks we talked about getting a bite to eat and she invited me to her apartment for a quick-fix pasta dinner. Perfect; I had to go out later that night to cover a story anyway, so a nice quick meal and some great conversation with a friend was ideal. Yes, at this time I knew how interested I was in her, but despite the recent drunken poetic declarations I'd put to paper, I was nowhere near ready to tell her that, I didn't think.

And then there we were, sitting and talking and suddenly her hand was in mine. I remarked at how small her hands were and we had a laugh about that; it was honestly something I hadn't noticed before. It probably took us a good few seconds to realize we were holding hands, but then at once we both seemed acutely aware of it.

That's when I threw all caution to hell, swallowed up every ounce of courage I had, leaned over and kissed her. And she kissed me back. It likely lasted five seconds but seemed to last for hours. Probably because I wanted it to.

That's when we looked at each other, that warm smile of hers suddenly warmer than anything I'd ever seen or known, and I had to think of something to say. "You're a writer, jackass," my mind told me as it sprinted 10 miles ahead of my body. "Say something a writer would say!"

But all I could come up with was this:

"God, I've been wanting to do that for a long time."

She responded in kind, "I've been wanting to do that for a long time too."

That was our love story. So much followed and continues to follow, amazing days and nights together, our engagement seven months later, our wedding 13 months after that, our life together. Sickness and health, great times and hard times, the birth of an amazing son, changing careers and traversing all of those paths life puts before you. All of it followed that first kiss, and it all has meant so much 25 years and beyond, moving down the road together.

But our love story was told in that kiss, in that moment. It shone like moonlight through her smile and danced through my soul as it reflected in those beautiful blue eyes of hers. It was our first moment and remains the window to every moment that has followed.

So tonight I'll ask the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?

It wasn't too long after that first moment, maybe a few weeks, that we were together and "Angel Eyes" came on the stereo. My song, the song that sounded exactly like the thing I was looking for even though I had no idea what that thing was. Before I could point out how much I loved this song she spoke.

"Oh my God! I love this song!" she exclaimed.

Yes, it was meant to be. We danced to it for our first dance at our wedding on June 6, 1992. That's 25 years ago today. We don't need any song to remind us what we mean to each other, how happy we are, but whenever we hear it we both are transported back to those early days together. And we are both so grateful for what we found in each other.

We've been together 27 years, married for 25, and are both signed on for at least twice of that to come. At least. And it all started with a smile that has never left me, and those eyes that remain as blue and perfect as the day I met her.

Happy anniversary to the love of my life. As the man sang, "What did I do? What did I say? To turn your angel eyes my way?"

The original version, throaty and raw and wondrous.



And the version we both first fell in love with, in all its ethereal beauty.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

RIP Chris Cornell

What a voice.

Soundgarden. Audioslave. And one very very memorable session with fellow bandmates and friends called Temple of the Dog, which did two things: 1) Delivered "Hunger Strike," one of the best and most iconic songs of the 1990s, and 2) Kinda resulted in the formation of a band known as Pearl Jam.

The man did a lot and indeed left a mark. And damn could he sing.

Some people just look like rock-n-roll, in addition to sounding like it.

Chris Cornell was no doubt one of those people. He so very, very was.

RIP Chris. You'll be missed.

And for the record, this was one of the scariest and most unforgettable videos ever made. It still is.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Favorite Song Friday: People Who Died

One of the great things about punk, past all of the anger and the pathos and the defiance and so much else, is that so many of the standard bearer punk rock songs, when you cut to the core, are just so melodic. Think Patti Smith at her best. Or the Stooges with "Search and Destroy," among others. Or basically the entire Ramones catalogue. The list goes on, from "London Calling" to "American Idiot" and everything else in between. All of these young (and not so young) punks had something loud and urgent to say, but dammit if you couldn't sing along with it while they did. Or even, in some cases, dance to it.

That's what I love about today's entry in our occasional "Favorite Song Friday" series.

Favorite Song Friday: People Who Died — The Jim Carroll Band

This is punk rock. I mean this is punk rock with a capitol damn P. Jim Carroll was many things and was really really good at all of them. He was a neo-beat poet who grew up worshiping the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. He was a best-selling author whose The Basketball Diaries remains as visceral a depiction of the urban nightmare of despair and addiction as anyone has ever written. He hung with and had the respect of the the proto-punk New York crowd, the likes of Patti Smith and Lou Reed and Robert Maplethorpe. He was a young basketball star who lived through addiction and survived addiction, with the scars to prove it. And in his spare time he fronted a punk/new wave band, The Jim Carroll Band, that while they weren't quite The Clash or The Ramones or Black Flag, for a brief while in the early 80s they were pretty damn good and a pretty damn clear representation of what New York City punk rock was really all about. Carroll's poet's soul, his storyteller's mind and, yes, his punk rocker's heart resulted in at least one truly great piece of punk artistry, "People Who Died."



There's not much more to this song that a churning 4/4 beat, a breakneck bassline, a couple of very tasty guitar solos and an eight-stanza glimpse into Jim Carroll's personal definition of hell. "People Who Died" is a literal list of what the title says; people in his life who died young and painfully, either from disease, ODing, war, murder or suicide. Every inch of the eight verses (three of which are repeated at the end) gives us a rapid-fire memorial of people in life whom he lost.

Carroll doesn't really bother trying to sing, he more raps and rasps his way through the hyperpaced list of the lost. And the words are so tragic and gripping you practically want him to stop, to say "No mas." But then comes the chorus and the song shifts from the frenetic poetic dirge to a fist-pumping rally cry to the lost. "Those are people who died, died!" he shouts/sings, "Those are people who died-died! They were all my friends! And they died!"

You shouldn't be able to dance to those words. Or sing along with passion to those words. Or allow those words to liberate you and make you rise from street-level where all the dead bodies lay to a place beyond death and despair where actual life can be celebrated. There's no way that should be possible in a song that is so riddled with death from opening to close. But you can. You can because Jim Carroll didn't just write down a list of people who died. He wrote a song to remember, mourn and, yes, celebrate them.

And read the lyrics. This is gutter poetry at its very finest, something only someone who had lived it and somehow emerged from it could possibly write:

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from a roof on East 2-9.
Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

G-burg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine, two more friends that died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from his cell in the tombs.
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in his jugular vein.
Eddie, I miss you more than all the others - and I salute you brother!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
All of my friends, they died!

Herbie pushed Tony from a Boys' Club roof
Tony thought his rage was just some goof.
But Herbie sure gave Tony some, some bitchin' proof.
And Herbie said, "Tony, can you fly?"
But  Tony couldn't fly. Tony died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin' on some bikers.
He said, "Hey I know it's dangerous,
"But it sure beats Rikers."
But the next day he got offed, by the very same bikers!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from a roof on East 2-9.
Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

G-burg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine, two more friends that died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from his cell in the tombs.
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in his jugular vein.
Eddie, I miss you more than all the others - this song is for you my brother!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
All of my friends, they died!

Jim Carroll died in 2009 at 60, far too young but, I suppose, way longer than he may have ever expected to live given his descent in his young life into heroin and hell. But he left behind a diverse and indelible canon of work that any writer would have been proud to call their own.

"People Who Died" was part of that canon. A big part. A song for the dead and dying. Written and delivered by someone who was and remains very much alive in a world he helped to shape.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Season of the Witch


Call this a guilty pleasure song, I guess. Or maybe it's a really really good song. I mean, I think it's a really really good song. So that should count for something, right?

I've always been a little funny when it comes to Donovan. I tend to err on the side of appreciating him more than I think others of my generation do. Which is to say, people who were nowhere close to being alive when many of his biggest songs like "Catch the Wind," "Mellow Yellow," "Sunshine Superman" and the song I am writing about today were written. And barely alive when his career peaked and started to fade by the late 60s. But some obvious annoyances notwithstanding, like his tendency towards overwroughtedness in his voice and his seeming penchant to take himself way too seriously at times, he was a pretty solid songwriter who had a fine understanding of melody and was never afraid to take chances. So sue me. I like Donovan!

(Actually, don't sue me if you don't have to. My kid starts college this fall and that's really the last thing I need).

So. "Season of the Witch." Yeah, guilty pleasure or not, I love it. So there it is.



No, I don't know what's talking about or singing about. His talent for writing sweet and moving lyrics (like the lovely and aforementioned "Catch the Wind") kinda takes a vacation in this one. ("When I look out my window, so many sites to see" is the kinda line that would merit an "Incomplete - please elaborate" if turned in for a high school English class. And the rest of it just seems to be filler until we get to the title line.) That annoying voice thing comes back, sounding like someone trying to sound grown up as he orders his meal in a really fancy restaurant.


The music, however, is outstanding. It starts with these haunting, twangy guitar strands that seem to lean more on a band like the Yardbirds than on the usual Donovan hippy-dippy-trippy stuff. There's a seething nature to the way the bass lopes menacingly underneath it, like an animal waiting to strike. Even those damn lyrics and that damn singing voice don't get in the way of the music setting an eerie stage. And when Mr. Leitch then goes up a register and actually "sings" for realsies the way we know he can, the song starts to get fully realized. It's almost like he's setting a trap and waiting patiently for it to be tripped as the music builds behind him.


But then, oh man. Once he gets to the "chorus," repeating the "stitch" line three times before that spring-loaded trap releases and we are hit like a right-cross with the payoff: "Must be the SEASON OF THE WIII-III-ITCH," all bets are off. The song becomes as commanding and overpowering as any of that era. And dammit if that isn't a great rock-n-roll moment right there. It's got everything we love about music. Tension, mystery, delightful moments of interplay and one mother of a punchline. And at each chorus, when Donovan employs this time-tested trick, it works like gangbusters; every time the song reaches its highest height with the thrice-repeated title line, it's as fresh and startling as the first time we've heard it. Well done, sir. Well done.

Lastly there's the guitar. Which starts as forboding little fills but when Donovan rips out that "witch" line, there's some awesome guitar work going on alongside it, a jangle that seems to be the marriage of blues and electric folk and seems to be borrowed from the likes of the Animals and (here's that band again and, hint hint, remember I said this) the Yardbirds. It's some serious chops and technique on display here, and honestly, I didn't think Donovan had it in him; nothing he's done before or after really reminds me of this kinda playing. I mean, he seems to be a fine acoustic guitarist, but this doesn't sound like him.

Because as I have now learned, it isn't. It's this little fella here:






















Mayhap this was common knowledge to some, that Jimmy Page played on many of Donovan's tracks during this time (including "Sunshine Superman") but it was news to me. I mean, I knew he was a coveted sessions player in his pre-Yardbirds days and even during, but never ever knew this was his handiwork until very recently. And I was as delighted as I was fershimmeled. Huh!

So there we go. Great rock-n-roll, as least as far as I'm concerned. Guilty pleasure or not. And regardless of whatever the hell he's talking about.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Daybreak

Congratulations to one of my favorite ever musical artists.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

We Don't Talk Anymore

This is one of two Cliff Richard songs that I loved when I was a kid, yet only discovered was by Sir Cliff some time within the past few years, decades after I'd first learned of the British Elvis.


Great tune. But boy howdy that spinning dance at the end, followed by the lumbering side to side shuffle is...not Elvis-like.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Rebel Rebel

Well, all right. Rickie Lee Jones makes this Bowiest of songs her own. And while she goes the unplugged route, she doesn't slow it down (or, god forbid, turn it into an anemic shuffle—that's right, Slowhand, I still love you, but I also still haven't forgiven you for what you did to your own greatest creation), but manages to keep a surprising amount of the original's energy.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dreams

This cover is interesting in its execution, yes, but also because while it's obviously immediately recognizable, I can't help but feel if it were the only version you knew, it'd be nearly impossible to reverse-engineer it to get the original.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Johnny B. Goode

This is one of the greatest, most apropos covers I've ever seen, up there with Springsteen covering Dylan and R.E.M. covering CCR, from the trademark Green Day energy and sound to the oddly appropriate lackluster approach to the lyrics.


Long live rock.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

RIP Chuck Berry

"If you tried to give rock-n-roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'"—John Lennon

Chuck Berry is gone. He died today at the age of 90.

In a musical genre where old age is much more wishful thinking that anything based remotely in reality, Chuck beat the odds and fooled 'em all, like he always did. He outlived basically everyone who came up with him in the early days of rock-n-roll and so damn many who came up under his influence. 90 years in rock-n-roll is an ice age, and era, so much more than a lifetime. And still it hurts so much that he's gone. Gone too soon. RIP Charles Edward Anderson Berry. And damn.

It's hard to say that Chuck Berry invented rock-n-roll, because so many people played a part in this magical and in many ways still indescribable invention that we now call rock-n-roll. Did Chuck invent it? Did Elvis Presley? Did Roy Brown and Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner? Did Hank Williams? Did Ike Turner? Did Jerry Lee Lewis? Hell, did the amazing Big Mama Thornton?

Yes to all. And no to all. Rock-n-roll emerged from the lava, from the magma. Thanks to giants like all of those mentioned above and others. Thanks to people with the talent, the vision and, yes, the balls of Chuck Berry.

Here's what we know. If Chuck Berry didn't invent rock-n-roll—and I am not contending he did (see above paragraph)—he sure as hell refined it. He did what Miles Davis did to jazz. What Marvin Gaye did to soul. What Johnny Cash did to the American songbook and what Michael Jackson did to pop. He wasn't the first, but it's really hard to argue that anyone did it better. And in Chuck's case, that anyone did it better for longer.

Here is what I will say tonight, while mourning a man I never met (I saw him in concert once in the late 1980s, something I now am just so damn grateful for) but have listened to devoutly and worshipped since I was just a young white boy in Catholic high school 30+ years ago.

Chuck Berry invented rock-n-roll guitar.

Chuck Berry invented rock-n-roll songwriting.

Chuck Berry invented rock-n-roll as therapy for the twisted, haunted soul.

And Chuck Berry invented a sound. A sound so unique, so whole, so complete and so overpowering that the only way to describe it is "the Chuck Berry Sound."

What Chuck Berry did was he took everything his brilliant ears and body ingested and made it into something more. The blues and doo-wop and boogie woogie and jazz and country and gospel and the sweetest soul sounds you ever heard. And he took them all and he added those elements that only he had, those tortured and lovely and brutal things lurking inside his brain, and he strapped on his Gibson guitar and he mixed them all together in a musical jambalaya that no one had ever tasted before, and he hooked us in one bite. From the opening, ear-splitting strains of "Maybelline" on through, he fed us rock-n-roll like no one had ever heard or imagined before. And in doing so he foretold so much of what was to come. From the Beatles and Rolling Stones who worshiped him to Jimi Hendrix who bled him, from Stevie Wonder who channeled him in unimaginable sensory ways to Chuck D. and the forerunners and geniuses of rap and hip-hop who used his streetwise tales and too-cool-for-school skat-a-tat lingo to blaze their own trails, Chuck Berry saw it all. Maybe he's not  the father of rock-n-roll (or maybe he is). But to me, anyway, he is more. He's the father of the 20th century sound. And beyond.

As an equal parts musical fanatic and sports fanatic, the best comparison I could always make to Chuck Berry was Magic Johnson. Outsized and overbearing, playing the same old game in a way we never imagined it could be played. To picture Magic is to picture Chuck—the effervescent smile and devilish gleam in their eyes, always one step ahead of everyone else, seeming to make it up as they go but always in such dynamic and rhythmic control, 1,000 different ways to wow us waiting at their fingertips. And at the end, a wink. And a promise of more to come. Magic Johnson leading the fast break and firing a no-look pass was the first cousin to Chuck Berry's duck-walking across the stage and stretching it all out in the spirit of unbridled musical ebullience.

The songs explain it all far better than I ever could. The sheer fun of "Too Much Monkey Business." The epic travelogue of "The Promised Land." The torrential sadness of "Memphis." The very  raison d'etre of rock-n-roll stardom that was "Johnny B. Goode." The statement of purpose(s) of "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Rock-n-Roll Music." The rumbling fever of "Downbound Train." The rebellion of "School Days." The outright glory gush of "Back in the USA." The aching of "Carol" and "Nadine." The youthful joyride of "You Never Can Tell." The naughty wink of "My Ding A Ling." On the tale rocks, on the train rolls. Take those Chuck Berry creations and dozens of others and put them under glass. Paint them in oils. Preserve them in amber. Their likes we will never see again. And that we did get to see and hear them, for 60+ years, makes us so lucky. So damn lucky.

Hail, hail rock-n-roll, Mr. Berry. Thanks to you our hearts are beatin' rhythm and our souls will always, always be singin' the blues. 




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pigs (Three Different Ones)

So I'd known this existed for a while but hadn't watched it until just now and hokey smokes is it ever so much better than I'd anticipated. Roger Waters' voice sounds surprisingly supple, the band is expectedly red hot, and the graphics are not surprisingly top notch.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Achin' To Be

This post is not exactly going to be one that in the business world they call a "value-add." There's not a ton of new ground I'll be covering here, and I hope that is OK with you, dear reader(s).

It's fairly obvious and simplistic. Just my favorite song by one of my absolute most favorite bands that ever lived.

I listened to the song (actually to the entire Don't Tell a Soul album this morning) on my ride into work today. No real reason why, other than it had been a while. And this was the first Mats album I ever fell in love with; my love affair with everything else they did would literally come seconds later. But "Achin' To be" always struck me as a great rock-n-roll band at their very very greatest.




Did it rock as hard as the Replacements were capable of rocking? Nope.

Was it a touch more produced than a lot of their vintage stuff? Yep.

Was it representative of their total work? Which is to say if an alien landed tomorrow and gave you one song to define for him or her who the Replacements were (and wouldn't that just be an awesome reason for an alien coming to Earth? Seriously!), would this be the song you'd play? I don't think so. I really don't. Not with this out there. Or this. Or even this. Or this. 

Anyway.

Still it is just so raggedly beautiful, so jaggedly heartfelt and, yes, aching. There's not an ounce of strut or pose in the band here, particularly not from the inimitable Paul Westerberg. His voice is tired and raw, as it always was, but there is a longing underneath. Like these are words he just has to get out and has only a tiny window of time to do it. The rest of the band is perfectly in form; Tommy Stinson does his thing by adding some pop to the loping bassline, Slim Dunlop adds a few small country licks into the mid-tempo mix, and Chris Mars kept perfect time just the way Chris Mars always did. Combining that with Paul's peerless songwriting and shattered glass voice, this is what I mean when I say while this might not represent the quintessential Replacements song, it does show them doing it as well as they ever could.

And if you're like me and buy into the theory that Paul really was singing about himself here, only with flopping the gender and putting it into the third person to throw us all off the trail, then read these lyrics again. And tell me you're not achin' to be right there with him. Hearing every single syllable and, what's more important, getting it. Getting it all.

Well she's kinda like an artist
Sitting on the floor
Never finishes, she abandons
Never shows a soul
And she's kinda like a movie
Everyone rushes to see
But no one understands it
Sitting in their seats

She opens her mouth to speak and
What comes out's a mystery
Thought about, not understood
She's achin' to be

Well she dances alone in nightclubs
Every other day of the week
People look right through her
"Baby doll, check your cheek."
And she's kinda like a poet
Who finds it hard to speak
The poems come so slowly
Like the colors down a sheet

She opens her mouth to speak and
What comes out's a mystery
Thought about, not understood
She's achin' to be

I've been achin' for a while now, friend
I've been achin' hard for years

Well she's kinda like an artist
Who uses paints no more
You never show me what you're doing
You never show a soul
Well I saw one of your pictures
There was nothing that I could see
If no one's on your canvas,
Well I'm achin' to be

She closes her mouth to speak and
Closes her eyes to see
Thought about and only loved
She's achin' to be
Just like me

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Orange Crush

You know, even as a huge fan, I find it easy to forget just how hard these guys could rock.


But, man, they really did tear it up at times.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Follow You, Follow Me

I was reading a discussion the other day about who the greatest prog keyboardist of the 70s was: Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman? And what about Patrick Moraz? Where does he fit in?

I don't nearly enough about keyboards or Emerson to have any kind of an educated opinion. I know I certain prefer both Wakeman's and Moraz's playing, given that Close to the Edge is absolutely one of my favorite albums ever, and Fragile's not far behind, and for that matter, I have recently come to appreciate Relayer despite the fact that Bill Bruford doesn't play on it, but he didn't play on the two albums he made with Moraz and I like those too. Meanwhile, I've never had much desire to hear any ELP beyond what was frequently on the radio and didn't even enjoy that handful of tunes all that much.

Still, there's no question that when it comes to technique, Wakeman, Emerson and Moraz stand head and shoulders above the other most famous prog keyboardists, Tony Banks and Rick Wright, and that's assuming you even consider Pink Floyd a prog band. (You should.) Both are certainly fine players, but neither come close to the kind of technical excellence so freely displayed by Wakeman and Emerson.

And yet. For all their unquestioned chops, and for all I adore Close to the Edge and it and Fragile have enriched my life, I have never heard Rick Wakeman play anything as lovely, as melodious, as absolutely perfect for its setting as the solo Banks plays from 2:49-3:10, never mind Keith Emerson.


And we haven't even touched about the stuff he wrote with Genesis—which is to say, most of Genesis' output. (That's at least a slight exaggeration. Sometimes he only co-wrote stuff.) But, I mean, "Cinema Show"? "Apocalypse in 9/8"? "After the Ordeal"? I mean.

So. Best keyboardist? By most criteria, Banks isn't even close to being in the running. But I would surely pick just about anything he ever wrote with Genesis over not only just about anything ever written by Wakeman or Emerson, I'd pick just about anything he's ever written over just about everything written by those guys.

(Full disclosure: Rick Wakeman seems like he's been pretty much one of the coolest guys on the planet since at least Hunky Dory.)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Hushabye Mountain

I'll tell ya, I'd pay good money, or give up one of my kids—and possibly all of 'em (hi, Max!)—for an album of Dave Gilmour singing minor key Dick van Dyke songs.


Toss in him doing "Pure Imagination" and I wouldn't have to pay anything, 'cuz I'd die of happiness.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

I Write the Songs

Oh, 70s. You sweet, sweet, naïve decade. When a guy who looks like this jamoke can become a megastar with a song like this...that he didn't even write.


My guess is that Beach Boy Bruce Johnston had absolutely no problem with few people knowing he wrote the song claiming he writes the songs, and even fewer problems cashing the many enormous checks.

You know, I've never understood the main criticism that song seemed to get, which is the absurd arrogance of my man Bears claiming he invented music, when it's crystal clear that the song's narrator is, in fact, God, or at least some omnipotent being. Which, yes, Barry Manilow is damn close to being, but even he's not quite all the way there.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RIP John Wetton

First Chris Squire, then Greg Lake and now John Wetton. The list of great prog bassists from the 70s is getting mighty short. (Mike Rutherford and Roger Waters, you guys take care of yourselves, hear?)

Wetton had an interesting career. After being in perhaps King Crimson's finest lineup—with sincere apologies to the early 80s version—he toured with Roxy Music and then joined the big at the time but seemingly now virtually forgotten Uriah Heep, before forming prog supergroup UK with old Crimson bandmate Bill Bruford. When that didn't pay off with the kind of financial windfall many were expecting, he tried again, this time with Yes guitarist Steve Howe, Yes and Buggles keyboardist Geoff Downes and of course prog rock's answer to Buddy Rich, Carl Palmer. And boom: the money finally rolled in.

It wasn't really prog, of course, more like AOR pop rock, and that's fine; there's never too much catchy music around. But it was easy to forget just what a fine musician Wetton was when he was playing material as catchy but unchallenging to someone as proficient as he. So to remember him, we're going with this odd one-off supergroup, combining Steve Hackett, guitarist for almost all of the best Genesis albums, Ian McDonald, a member of the first King Crimson incarnation, later founding member of Foreigner, and the writer of this song, Chester Thompson, former drummer for Weather Report and Frank Zappa and, of course, touring drummer for Genesis, and Wetton himself.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Love Is All Around

In which one utterly kickass trailblazer suitably salutes another utterly kickass trailblazer.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Oddfellows Local 151

I mentioned the other day that the show in Charlottesville on R.E.M.'s Work tour was one of the best I'd ever seen. And this song—from a different show—was one of the highlights. It's one of the very, very few times Michael Stipe played guitar on stage, which alone made the performance special. But it's more than just that rarity. There's so much to love about this, from the murkiness of the lighting, which suits the music so perfectly, to the way the geometric lights blaze on the chorus, to the way Mike Mills and Bill Berry add harmony vocals on only the words "boy and girl" and only the second time through.

And yet, bizarrely, one of the things which is really vital to the song taking off is the style with which he plays guitar. He doesn't play at all while singing, and only some of the time during the instrumental sections, and yet his contributions are significant. He plays like a rhythm guitarist who's rarely played guitar. Which isn't to say he plays badly, just that he approaches his parts almost like a percussionist or keyboardist, adding textures without following a set pattern. When strumming, he concentrates more on sharp upstrokes, or vicious sixteenth note triplets, adding not so much a chordal bedding for Peter Buck's distorted but cutting leads, as an almost Sonic Youth-like din. Check out the way he stiffly but rapidly walks over to Buck at one point, mimicking (perhaps mocking) the traditional stage mannerisms of stadium rocker guitarists such as Keef and Woody or Don Felder and Joe Walsh, gunslingers staring each other down, or perhaps smiling in brotherly bonhomie.

It all works so well. And while I loved R.E.M.'s later tours, and understand why they brought more and more auxiliary musicians on tour with them, I often find myself wishing that they'd instead found ways to arrange the songs so they didn't sound just like the amazing studio recordings but were transmogrified so they could be performed by the original four members. Since, as this clip (amongst so many others) shows, there was a magic that happened when these four guys got together to play. Just look at how in this one song, Stipe's guitar—again, the first and only time he played it on an R.E.M tour—added more to the performance than all the times Mick Jagger or Bono played guitar on all those songs on all those tours combined.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Superstition

This is just about the greatest guest spot I've ever seen. Dude's really, really good...and then a guy who just may be the greatest living pop musician gets up with him. Phenomenal.



Of the many amazing things about this, one of the most amazing is that when it comes to the first chorus, Stevie—who has probably not had occasion to sing harmony on it since he first recorded it, roughly 10,000 performances again—immediately takes the harmony, rightly assuming that the dude wouldn't know it and would sing the melody. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Like the Weather

Another cold and rainy day in San Diego brought this song to mind.


I'd never seen the video before—despite owning the album back in the day, as most faithful R.E.M. fans seemed to—and was immediately struck by Natalie Merchant's dancing.

I remember the first time I encountered 10,000 Maniacs. My pal Dave and I saw them open for R.E.M. in Charlottesville on the Work tour (and that show, as well as a later one in New Haven, still count as two of the best concerts I've ever seen). Despite eagerly anticipating the headliners, we were fascinated by the openers.

The band played catchy, accessible folk-rock type songs and were fronted by a singer who spun and whirled and twirled, the centrifugal force causing her long skirt to create utterly fetching patterns. The main thing, though, was that Dave and I spent their entire set—except, perhaps, when Michael Stipe came out to duet with her on one song—debating whether or not she was speaking English. There were times we were sure she wasn't, times we thought she maybe was, as a clearly English word would suddenly emerge, and most of the time we just couldn't tell.

Those are my main memories of my initial exposure to 10,000 Maniacs: the Stipe duet, the language debate, and the image of her whirling, twirling skirt. So when I saw this video for the first time, I saw surprised by her dancing. Not that it wasn't of the übër-polished, complex, technically impressive style pioneered in videos by the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Janet Jackson, and later made an imperative by stars such as Britney Spears and Beyonce. It's that it was...well, so utterly graceless. Given that I have two left feet, I don't look down upon anyone for not being able to dance well. In fact, I've sometimes wondered if we've missed out on some fine pop stars over the past 10 or 15 years because, despite their other talents, they weren't able to dance. (Adele is an argument that there's nothing to worry about, but I'm not sure one possible exception, no matter how popular, can count for too much. Then again, I'm just talking out of my ass and, anyway, none of this is something which causes me to lose a lot of sleep.)

No, it's more that her dancing reminded me of something, but I just couldn't quite figure out what, until my good lady wife made the connection.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Learn to Fly In Bloom

Well, this is...awesome, if a little excessively mind-bendy.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Here Comes the Rain Again

It's raining this morning in San Diego, something which doesn't happen a whole lot. I don't believe in omens or portents...and yet given how dark this day is, it's hard not to lend it a certain amount of credence.


This is not the darkest time our great nation has ever seen.


Just the darkest in well over a century.



Things will get better. It's just going to suck until they do.