Sunday, November 30, 2008

And now, a word from our reader(s)

Last week's Sonic Youth post got me thinking about one's personal "theme music". You know, the song or songs that loop in your head as you go through your daily life, giving you inspiration, purpose and making you feel like you're living the movie of your existence.

I say this because Sonic Youth provides one of those soundtracks for me. It's a testament to how badass Kim Gordon is that it's a song performed by a girl, and I'm not even ashamed of it.

That song? "The Sprawl", the seven minute epic and second track off of "Daydream Nation".

I love the whole thing, even the long, trippy ending (which for some reason, has always brought forth the spooky image of a car in a crash flipping over and over), but really it's the grungy (sorry), dirty verses (see 1:10-2:10) to that get the lion's share of my mental energy. To wit:

And the second song needs no real explanation. So funky that it screws up your face like you smelled somethin' rotten.

"Freddie's Dead" by Curtis Mayfield

So my question to you, dear reader(s) and commenter(s) - What's your theme song?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Kool Thing" / Sonic Youth / Goo

Solid. Finally get a song from Sonic Youth, one of my very favorites. And this song, incidentally, is the first song I heard from them, way back in 1990.

This was a song that really was a surprise hit for Sonic Youth (and by "hit" I mean a song that got some plays on MTV) and was reaaaaaly close to being the song that signaled the arrival of alternative music going mainstream before "Smells Like Teen Spirit" did it.

I was immediately impressed with this one because of the inclusion of Chuck D, who at the time was rocking my little suburban white boy world. That gave them some instant cred with me, then throw in the fact that the song was an ode to LL Cool J (i.e., "Kool thing, walking like a panther", "play with your radio" and the repetition of "I don't think so") and I was more than willing to listen.

Yeeeeh. Tell 'em bout it. Hit 'em where it hurts.

Plus, the organic sex appeal and sultry delivery of Kim Gordon, possibly the coolest girl in rock music, didn't hurt either.

I believe I bought "Goo" along with "Dirty" from good buddy and sometime contributer ej my freshman year of college, and I was totally hooked (especially by "Dirty", which still might be my favorite album of theirs pound for pound). I subsequently went back in the catalogue, buying the seminal "Daydream Nation" at one of Downtown Records many incarnations, getting an approving comment from the clerk and feeling all fuzzy inside. As soon as I heard "Teenage Riot", it was another one of those, "So that's what the fuss is all about" moments.

Since then, I've been a loyal fan, buying each new release as it comes out (although I didn't get the last one, "Rather Ripped", which I remember getting great reviews. I should probably check that one out, no?). Their 1995 album, "Washing Machine", is one of those albums that is incredibly evocative of a particular time and place. You know what I mean. That album always takes me back to 1995, being in grad school, living in the baseball house, and, let's say, living the life of a young single man in Athens. Good times indeed. That year culminated in seeing Sonic Youth at Legion Field, which was an altogether fantastic experience.

What I really love about this band boils down to their marriage of noise and melody. They can establish a beautiful, catchy song early on, then at some point they meander away from what they've established and launch into a free form explosion of chirps, feedback and distortion, but then always being you safely back to the familiar by the end of the song. That, or the opposite - they throw you in the deep end immediately, make you find your bearings, then offer you a gorgeous hook out of nowhere to land you. It's unpredictable, demanding, and I never get tired of their songs becasue I can always find something new to unearth within them.

Let's take "Kool Thing", for instance. It begins with a simple 16th note pattern (on the CD, it's actually continued from the previous song) and early on hits the main riff at :13 (all song times are from the recording, not the video, if you're keeping score at home). It rocks along, seemingly straight forward (though the guitar squeaks at the end of every line and the howling guitars that answer Gordon in the chorus hint at something to come). At 1:25, the inevitable break begins, softly at first, and then we get our Chuck D / Kim Gordon interplay. That culminates at 2:21, where you can barely hear Gordon whisper "Come on, come on, come on", inviting the chaos. And it does come - perhaps not as heavy as their other songs, but let's remember, this was a pretty mainstream attempt.

My favorite part of the song happens right after this break. Gordon speaks: "When you're a star / I know that you'll fix everything". Then the briefest of pauses, then BAM at 3:14, right back into the main riff. That's awesome. I suppose this song accomplished what it was supposed to. Get someone interested in your band through an attractive, palatable bait, then get them to dig deeper. I'm glad I did, after all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Got To Get You Into My Life" / The Beatles / Revolver

Really? No Beatles yet? *Runs off to check archive*

OK, then. Wow.

What more could possibly be said about The Beatles that hasn't been written thousands of times over? I can't say that I liked them too much growing up, and I believe one reason for that is just obstinence because I was supposed to like them (and the fact that my parents loved them too).

Strangely enough, the first I probably remember about them is hearing The Beatles remix on "The Stars on 45" (you guys remember those?) and liking the songs pretty well. If you grow up and pay any attention at all to pop culture, the Beatles' hits somehow worm their way into your brain without you even knowing it.

So, like anyone else, I knew all the big hits, and I knew they were supposed to be great, but I never really appreciated them. Then in 1995, things began to change.

First of all, The Beatles Anthology movie and soundtrack set came out to huge fanfare that culminated with the release of "Free as a Bird", their first single in 30 years. The Beatles were back on the map and were everywhere again. Also, this was the year that I first heard "Revolver", at the late, great Engine Room in Athens, Ga.

A place like the ER carefully vetted the music it player for maximum hipster approval. In fact, it was also my introduction to Big Star, as mentioned in a previous post. So when I happened to hear "Taxman" cue up, followed by "Eleanor Rigby", I began to critically reexamine this group. Having never really been exposed to their albums, only their Fox 97 singles, I was pretty blown away by what I heard. I mean, a song like "She Said She Said" (and check out Ringo's drum fills in that one - wow!) or "Tomorrow Never Knows" sounded as fresh to my ears as anything that was being put out by Matador or Sub Pop at the time.

I went out not long after and bought Revolver, followed by "Abby Road", "The White Album", and "Rubber Soul". I finally "got" The Beatles, and was beginning to appreciate what everyone was crazy about all along. These guys were really a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, but are also able to speak to all subsequent generations. It's a trip to see the kids down the street (10 and 7) discuss with me their favorite Beatles songs and go crazy over the release of the movie "Across the Universe" last year.

(That being said - in the age old "Beatles versus Stones" argument....I'm a Stones guy. So there)

After reading the above, it may not surprise you to know that, for the longest time, I didn't know "Got To Get You Into My Life" was even a Beatles song. Indeed, I considered it an Earth, Wind and Fire song, as heard in that classic 70's movie flop, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" (starring the BeeGees)

This song is a Paul song, and it's an ode to weed done in a Stax style, thus the incongruous sound of the Beatles with horns. Oh, and speaking of Paul, let me digress for a minute here. I've always thought Paul was never given due credit as a Beatle (and that goes for Wings and solo material also, for that matter).

When I think back on my favorite Beatles songs, usually they are the poppier "Paul" songs. This is especially true when you consider each person's solo work. I think Paul still had that great pop sound, full of hooks and melodies. Lennon, in my opinion, is very overrated. I think there are two reasons for this: the first is, of course, the tragedy of his death. The second is the inability of the Baby Boomers to cast a critical eye at any aspect of their youth and mythologize it to an unbearable degree.

Paul gets a lot of flack for producing formulaic, adult contemporary crap, like "Maybe I'm Amazed", but come on, think about "Woman" by Lennon. Why does he get a free pass? And what kind of music do you suppose Lennon would be making today, if he were still with us?

Anyway, although this isn't one of my favorites on "Revolver", it's a groovy, soulful little pop tune by the group that perfected pop.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Human Beat Box" / Fat Boys / Fat Boys

It turns out that I have five Fat Boys songs on my itunes, which indicates this is either the result of a drunken itunes store spending spree or a spur -of-the-moment Limewire search. Either way, it's good to hear again.

I don't remember exactly how I heard of the Fat Boys back in sixth grade. My family didn't have cable (thus bringing me MTV and BET), and I'm pretty sure they weren't on radio, so I suppose I just heard it here or there from friends at school.

I do specifically remember saving up to buy the cassette and sitting in Georgia Square Mall after just purchasing it at Record Bar, harldly being able to wait to get home to pop it in my "box". Seriously, how easy was it to make a record back in the day, especially the early days of rap? What a concept- three fat dudes rapping about....eating and being fat and stuff.


But damn, we loved it. That was a pretty popular album back then; a whole lot of fun to listen to, spawning many beat box imitators in Patti Hilsman's boys locker room day after day. And much of that had to do with the fantastic skills of the subject of this song - The Human Beat Box.

Really, there was nothing to compare to him up to that point. The dude was amazing, and I remember having debates as to whether or not he was really making all of those beats with his mouth or if he was faking. Of course it was all legit, and the spirit of THBB lives on today through countless incarnations. In fact, one of me and the kids' favorite show, Yo Gabba Gabba, has introduced beat-boxing to a whole new generation, and if my brood is any indication, it's still just as fascinating.

Witness the Biz

Oddly enough, the song begins with the "Brrrrr - stick 'em , ha ha-ha stick 'em!" refrain from another song, but then settles in to let the man show his skills. If I'm remembering correctly, most Fat Boys songs used the beat box part of the song almost like a guitar solo in a rock song, but in this one, his voice forms the beat of the song throughout. The lyrics are sparse, but essentially all about him and his greatness, which is something I miss about old school rap - the song on every album that was the shout-out to the DJ (see Public Enemy's "Terminator X to the Edge of Panic", Run DMC's "Perfection", LL Cool J's "Go Cut Creator Go" for examples)

After (strangely) skyrocketing to mainstream success, (and what says 80's success like a Swatch commercial?)the Fat Boys lost it just as quickly.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B: (and I warn you - this is painful)

So let's pour one out for the Fat Boys, an innovative, surprisingly influential hip hop group that takes us back to the early days of rap when shit was just fun and a good ass time.