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


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. 


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