Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" / Eddie Vedder (Beatles Cover) / I Am Sam

Back in 2001, there was a forgettable little film called I Am Sam in which Sean Penn went full retard. Though I never saw the movie or had any interest in it, the soundtrack was entirely Beatles covers; apparently the songs of The Beatles played a large part in the plot. Covering the Beatles is, of course, not a new concept, as they might be the most widely covered band in history, but to their credit they eschewed some of the more obvious choices for some of the deep cuts, and in this blogger's opinion, matched up the songs and artists well.

Some of the notable songs:
Ben Folds' "Golden Slumbers" (my favorite on the album)
Nick Cave's "Let it Be"
Granddaddy's "Revolution"
Paul Westerberg's "Nowhere Man"
Rufus Wainwright's "Across the Universe"

And, of course, we have Eddie Vedder doing one of my favorite Beatles tracks, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away". The original was a Lennon track and appeared on the "Help" album in 1965. That time period was smack in the middle of the Beatles' transition from pop stars to "serious" artists, and you can tell from this tune that they were definitely headed in a different direction.

Unlike other Beatles songs, it's in a minor key, a slow, Dylan-esque comedown from the formulaic pop gems that they had produced up until that time. It must have thrown their fans for a loop at the time (whenever I hear it I think of a northern England sea shanty), and was definitely a portent for the experimental phase the band was about to experience.

Eddie Vedder plays this cover pretty straight, not changing much at all from the original. He has one of the most outstanding voices in rock music, a deep baritone with great range, so it was a natural song for him to cover. Without being blasphemous, I think his voice suits this song better than Lennon's does, actually.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays

To all my reader(s)

Taking a Christmas break. Check back next week.

My Christmas present to you: NYC's PS 22 chorus singing the Cure's "Pictures of You". Awesome.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Strobelite Honey" / Black Sheep / A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Ahhh....what could have been.

The Black Sheep are one of the great misses in all of music. Back in 1992, they were a cinch lock to be rap music's next big thing, mostly on the strength of their badass debut single "The Choice is Yours" (which still has one of the greatest samples in rap music ever - the "Uh - come on" that makes up the beat throughout the song)

So, yeah, Drez and Mista Lawnge arrived on the scene with splash in 1992. They came in at what was ,at the time, hip hip's golden era. Black Sheep looked to inherit the same sphere that was occupied by De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde and The Jungle Brothers. And just check 'em out - do the round glasses, high top fade, acid washed jeans and buttoned-up shirt scream early 90's or what?

However, you know what seminal rap album was also released in 1992? Yeah, that's right:

The megastardom of former NWA member Dr. Dre and the subsequent dominance of gangsta rap put the death blow on groups such as the Black Sheep, either effectively killing them off or forcing them underground. It was a complete annihilation, much in the same way that Kurt Cobain and Nirvana decimated 80's metal (though one could argue that 80's metal had it coming, whereas conscious rap didn't. But I digress).

America's choice to allow gansta to dominate rap music can't be overstated, in this fan's opinion. Not only was rap music as a genre affected, but one could also argue that it changed African American culture for years to come. The irony of it all is that on this album, Black Sheep satirized gansta rap, which most causal fans were unaware of at the time, with a track "U Mean I'm Not", in which Dres beats his sister for using his toothbrush and shoots his Mom for breaking his egg yolk at breakfast.

Well, anyway, back to the song selection, "Strobelite Honey" is just a joke song, a narrative about a dude who goes into a club, spots what he thinks is a hot chick, goes to speak to her, and is obviously taken aback by her up close, fooled by the strobe light. Thinking quickly to get out of the situation, he tries an old trick, ("I thought you were someone else"), a flat out lie ("My phone number? 765-4321") and finally, just turns and runs, giving us the "I gotta go" chorus.

Though this song is no great shakes topically, you can see what made these guys popular for a hot minute: good production and sample choices (how about that funk guitar in the chorus?), clever turns of phrase, and nice flow (check out the verse that starts at 1:31). It's a shame that they never fulfilled their commercial potential, but Black Sheep are still fondly remembered by rap fans of my generation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Pass" / Rush / Presto

Sorry, haters, it's another Rush song.

I'm a person that believes in what some call synchronicity, or "meaningful coincidence". I was checking a Rush news blog which I frequent every couple weeks, and noticed that Sunday was the 20th anniversary of Rush's Presto album. There is a poll attached to the post asking everyone's favorite song on the album, and I thought, "No, brainier, it's The Pass", which turned out to be true. Then I go to itunes for the blog, and guess what song pops up? Pretty strange.

"The Pass" is a song which has only grown in prestige over the years among Rush fans (Russians? Is there a clever name for Rush fans like Dead fans or Jimmy Buffett? Besides loser, I mean) and the band too. They have singled out this song over the years as one of their personal favorites and often trot it out during tours.

This song joins a long line of a great band trope: the anti-suicide song. Though, as we see later, the object of the narrator's pleadings doesn't listen.

Neil Peart is at his lyrical best in this one. We meet the protagonist in the first two verses:

Proud swagger out of the school yard
Waiting for the world's applause
Rebel without a conscience
Martyr without a cause

Static on your frequency
Electrical storm in your veins
Raging at unreachable glory
Straining at invisible chains

One gets the sense of a angry young man, filled with potential and brimming with energy and misdirected anger ("Rebel without a conscience / Martyr without a cause")

But for whatever reason, he's met with frustration, as Peart sets up a metaphor of a dangerous cliff in the chorus. Or perhaps it's no metaphor and our kid is, literally, standing on a ledge. Probably both.

And now you're trembling on a rocky ledge
Staring down into a heartless sea
Can't face life on a razor's edge
Nothing's what you thought it would be

Now, our narrator gives his advice in the second half of the chorus. It's interesting, too how this song has two distinct choruses back to back. Not something you see often
All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
Turn around and turn around and turn around
Turn around and walk the razor's edge
Don't turn your back
And slam the door on me

Beautifully said, indeed. "Everybody hurts, sometimes" as a famous Athenian once said in his own fashion. I also like how the music "slams" along with the lyric leaving Ged's voice alone to end the line.

Now, more advice:

It's not as if this barricade
Blocks the only road
It's not as if you're all alone
In wanting to explode

Someone set a bad example
Made surrender seem all right
The act of a noble warrior
Who lost the will to fight

And back to the double choruses.

After one of Alex's best solos on record, we get the tragic ending:

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salutes for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate
Christ, what have you done?

I love what Neil does here, totally pissing over any kind of romanticism, bravery or sacrifice that some might associate with suicide. "No salutes for your surrender"is a hell of a line, no matter your feelings on this band. Again, like the "slam" lyric at the end of the chorus, the music stops on "Christ" to really convey the shock and incredulous feeling of what's happened.

Once more with the chorus, to really get the point across, I suppose, and we end strangely for a Rush song, with Geddy singing alone.

Looking back, I've really focused on the lyrics here, but there is some great musicianship going on here as well. I've already mentioned Lifeson's incredible, restrained solo, but the opening to this song with Geddy's plucked bass riff is very distinctive in the Rush canon. The big intro to the chorus is a classic as well (check :49 on the video), and this is the first album when Geddy really started to restrain his glass shattering screech (one of the main things that people hate about this band) which he does to fine effect here.

So, why have the fates given me this song, what's the synchronicity? Fear not for me, dear reader, but stay alert to those around you, eh?

Also, does Geddy's late 80's ponytailed look make him even less attractive? I don't think it was possible, myself. How about Alex's mullet?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"The Next Messiah" / Jenny Lewis / Acid Tongue

OK, first off I'm just going to go ahead and state the obvious - Jenny Lewis is HOT. It's far from the sum total of why I love her and her music, but damn if she just isn't one smoking lady. In fact, she's most definitely in my list of five (the others? Well, that would be Mad Men actress January Jones, pop siren Mandy Moore - (and Ryan Adams, Mandy? Really?)Natalie Morales, NBC news-temptress, and Natalie Dormer, the doomed Anne Boelyn from Showtime's The Tudors. Just in case you were wondering.)

Huge, completely gratuitous photo

Again, though, all that aside, Lewis is an awesomely talented singer and songwriter, with a voice almost as pure and beautiful as Neko Case. Lewis is also the lead singer of indie rock band Rilo Kiley, one of my very favorites of the 2000s. Though Rilo Kiley put out a new album a couple of years ago, they are currently on hiatus as Lewis explores her solo career.

Her first album was the countryish Rabbit Fur Coat, which had a nice hit with the sublime "Rise Up With Fists" and an awesome Hee-Haw tribute for its video

Jenny Lewis - Rise Up with Fists - The funniest home videos are here

As great as that album is for Sunday morning lounging, I actually prefer Acid Tongue more (and I'm probably in the minority there). I like the wide variety of styles she uses in that one; it's more dynamic and has a few rock songs on it too, one of which is this one - "The Next Messiah"

When this came out, I remember reading an interview with Lewis in which she said this song was meant to invoke the multi-part, narrative songs that she grew up listening to as a kid in the 70's. It does tell a story, though I'm at a loss to figure the damn thing out. If you'd like to give it a go, have at it. And, indeed, there are three distinct parts to this eight minute opus.

Part one is a straight ahead boogie beat, with Lewis' voice taking front and center. Part two begins at 2:48 with a funky breakdown and backbeat. Part three at 5:11 (after a cool false ending)has Lewis trading off lines with a male vocalist over a soft strumming guitar. This part has my favorite bit of this song, the "Ohh-ohh" she sings in a blues key at 6:35, 6:49 and 7:31. Unexpected and sexy. The last minute of the song (at 7:51) circles back to the boogie beat, making the listener feel effectively like he's gone somewhere.

I've seen Lewis perform twice now, once in 2005 with Rilo Kiley and this past summer, both times at the 40 Watt. Last summer's show was supposed to go be at the Georgia Theatre, but the week before the show it burned to the ground. Embarrassingly, the first thought I had when I heard it was on fire was, "Crap, does this mean I don't get to see Jenny Lewis?"

Thank goodness the show went on as the 40 Watt generously hosted her, and my wife and I ended up going and getting a hell of a treat. In fact, she opened with "The Next Messiah", which I thought was a song she would just choose to skip live, as I thought it wouldn't translate well. She killed it. You can't imagine how small the Watt felt when she belted out, "He's the neeeeeeext moo-si-uhhhhh" at the top of her lungs at the end of that song.

I apologize for not having an album version, but it seems her record company has a huge copyrighted stick up its butt. The times I posted above are for the album version, but you should get the idea.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Obscene" / The Rollins Band / The End of Silence

The End of Silence was released in 1992, and came by me via the “Low Self-Opinion” song and video at a perfect time for me in 1993.

I was familiar with Rollins from my high school skater punk-guy days, but The Rollins Band was another animal altogether. Gone were the breakneck, manic, sarcastic songs like “Slip it In” and “Six Pack”, and in their place were long, eight minute pulverizing, angry dirges based firmly in the blues. To say it took some getting used to was an understatement.

Anyway, this album was essential to me during a bad breakup I had back in my early 20’s. I guess girls fancy a good love song and a cry during a breakup (stereotypically, of course), but The End of Silence contained the perfect mix of self-pity, searing anger, resentment, and resolve that made it an absolute essential part of my life for about six months of 1994.

And then, strangely enough, during a trip to New York City, I got the chance to meet Rollins. Well, “meet” is being generous. I was up there with a buddy visiting his girlfriend, and a few of us were walking around the city, when I notice I’m behind a squat, jacked-up dude that seemed strangely familiar. That’s when I also notice the unmistakable Black Flag insignia tattoo on the back of the guy’s neck.

Without even considering what I was doing, I blurt out, “Hey, Henry”.

He and the girl he’s with turn around and he looks me in the eye and raises an eyebrow – “Yeah?”

Then, panicking, I hold out my hand to shake and say, I swear, “I think you’re pretty cool”

He was nice enough to return my shake, tell me thanks, and not punch me in my face. So, there’s my exciting brush with superstardom.

About a year after that, some of my friends and I went to see Rollins at The Cotton Club in Atlanta (opening act was a noisy, unknown band called Tool). Now, that was a weird performance. I’m sure everyone has seen clips of Rollins in full-on, possessed performance mode. He’s usually naked but for a pair of black briefs, hunched over and screaming his lungs out into a mic. We expected all this, of course, but the strangeness happened in between songs.

This. Yikes

He would put the mic back on the stand, stand erect, start genuinely smiling, and crack jokes with the audience (probably this was about the time he really started considering spoken word as his major career move). There was lots of nervous laughter from the audience, and then, sometimes, just complete, uncomfortable silence. Rollins even noticed this at one point, and commented how everyone seemed scared to speak (to which I answered in my head like everyone else, “No fucking shit, dude”). Then his face would screw up, the band would kick in, and there he’d be, staking the stage again. It was a very strange show indeed.

The years (and his spoken word stuff, and his talk show) have of course shown us that Rollins has either chilled out a good bit or was really a big-hearted person underneath his muscle bound, Hulkish exterior. He’s a very intelligent dude, a good writer and poet, and very thoughtful on a wide variety of subjects. I think The Rollins Band helped him grow as a person, actually, providing him a therapeutic outlet for some of his issues.

“Obscene” is one of the longest songs on this album, clocking in at 8:40, though much of that is taken up by a chaotic, instrumental freak-out at the end. The song really begins with some drum and bass fireworks, with the bass player running some awesome scale work underneath the guitar noodling.

The band locks into a nice riff which drives the song, and Rollins starts the vocals at :33 with, guess what, a guttural scream. He’s confused and angry – go figure. My favorite part of the song is what passes for its chorus – check 1:04, when the band hits HARD on eighth notes with pauses in between – “Bam bam – bam bam – bam bam – bam” while Rollins, raving, yells – “I’ll love you and hate you both at the same time – Heal you and hurt you and laugh as you cry!” Very effective stuff. (He does again at 1:42, just in case you don’t know what I mean)

After the second chorus, we have a great bluesy jam, followed by the song grinding to a halt at 3:00. For the next minute and a half, Rollins quietly sings over a barely audible bass until he explodes again at 4:30 (and we get one more chorus at 5:02). From that point until the end of the song, it’s just the aforementioned instrumental freak out, fading away to nothing. It’s pretty cool to see live though.

Looking back now, it does seem a little bit juvenile to dig this, but I still do, though I can’t really relate to the man’s anger (and to be fair, he’d probably say the same, twenty years on). It’s not particularly skillfully written or performed, but really The Rollins Band is much better than the sum of its parts. Anything that serves as an catharsis or outlet for Rollins’ anger and aggression is probably good for the world in the end.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"I Don't Care (So There)" / The Donnas / Spend the Night

OK, I'm calling bullshit on The Donnas.

They suck. I downloaded this CD off of the great press they were getting circa 2002, and I'm still trying to decide if the whole thing is a big goof in a "We really stink and I dare you to call us out on it", or if they are really, earnestly trying and just are that bad.

Yeah, I get that they're girls in a rock band(!), and I get all the Joan Jett and Runaways allusions, the cleverness of everyone in the band being a "Donna" (like the Ramones), but novelty can only take you so far. Think about it, if they were a bunch of dudes, would they have even gotten a sniff at a record contract?

Bland riffs, poor singing, boring songs, trite lyrics,a sameness to every tune on the CD; like I said, just not that good. The only part I really do like is literally a few seconds in the chorus of "Take it Off", the little two-note pop at :59.

Not much to say about the song here, as I've already mentioned all I need to up top. If there's something you think I'm missing in them, let me know.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Drain You" / Nirvana / Nevermind

I don’t see any point in rehashing here what has already been said and written about Nirvana and their influence on music and culture. As with Michael Jackson, others have said and written more extensively about them and much better than I ever could.

I will say this though, about the period in which they “broke” - I was definitely surprised that they did at all. In the early 90’s, my friends and I were still very much into metal. I had just attended the “Clash of the Titans” tour to see Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. Nirvana actually first got a break by having “Smells Like Teen Spirit” played on Headbanger’s Ball; in fact I remember seeing this early interview in which Rikki Rachtman takes on a dress-wearing Kurt Cobain.

I liked the song, but it was obvious to me it wasn’t “real” metal. So, when it blew up to pop radio, 96 Rock, and everywhere, I was genuinely surprised that something so raw and angry became that popular.

I must say that “Drain You” is one of my favorites on the Nevermind album, along with “On a Plain”. In fact, those are the only two off this album which are in my itunes library. I think it’s because, due to radio saturation, songs like “In Bloom”, “Come As You Are”, and “Lithium” are completely. Played. Out. And that’s a shame.

(Though, surprisingly, their most famous song.., “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, doesn’t get old for me. Ironically, it’s the least played of all their hits off this album, and something about the drums crashing in at the beginning and the screaming at the end keeps me listening each time)

Lyrically, there’s some pretty cool imagery here about dependency. Some speculate Cobain was writing about a one-sided relationship with Bikini Kill's drummer Tobi Vail which he felt was sucking his soul away (hell, just the song title alone should tell you that).

The creepy chorus brings up, to me, thoughts of a helpless baby (be it a bird or fetus) relying on another for sustenance

Chew your meat for you
Pass it back and forth
In a passionate kiss
From my mouth to yours

To swallow (ha ha) this disturbing material, Cobain couches it in his now famous sing-along melodies. Of course, this is the genius of Nivana – making hard music and difficult lyrics palatable through irresistible hooks and choruses. How many people buying Nivana CDs in 1992 had just the previous year bought MC Hammer, Milli Vanilli or C & C Music Factory CDs? How many of those kids had a clue that Nirvana was satirizing and condemning them all through the album? Cobain pulled an awesome bait and switch, but then became resentful and self-loathing about doing it, fearing the “wrong people” were buying his music and not understanding it at all.

Musically, “Drain You” is propelled by Nirvana’s secret weapon – Dave Grohl. As the endurance and massive success of Foo Fighters has shown, he was a HUGE part of what made Nirvana so great. One thing I love about this song is the double-snare he puts in the verses...that “ tap, taptap” beat really propels the song and it’s such a simple musical choice to make to be so effective (see :21, :23, :25,etc. on the video for an example of what I’m describing)

I also really dig the middle of the song. After the second chorus, Cobain keeps the song in the minor key that finished the chorus instead of going major again and back to the melody (1:46). This gives the song an immediately ominous tone, and again Grohl does a great job with a constant bass drum beat. So begins a weird, unsettling, noisy interlude with chimes, buzzsaw guitars, and other strange effects. It’s not unlike a bastard Sonic Youth song, one of Cobain’s admitted influences. After a few bars of it, we have the classic (but enjoyable) musical trope of the “big buildup”, starting at 2:31 when they finally kick back into the familiar verse at 2:41, it’s awesome and exhilarating.

For all Cobain’s posture about not trying too hard with his music, it’s obvious he had a gift for songcraft and took great care to fully realize it. That he was already experimenting with expanding his style on “In Utero”, and the realization that we will never see where it could have gone, is a tragedy of modern music.

And just so you don't forget how kick-ass they were in concert, here's a live version

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"LDN" / Lilly Allen / Alright, Still

I'd heard of Lilly Allen though her (at the time) unique, 00's style success story, blowing up through her MySpace page which led to a record contract. When my buddy (and unlikely indie music guru) Mike came down for a visit a couple of years ago, he brought his hard drive and I, er, "borrowed" a bunch of his music, including this.

It's not without it's charm. Hard to resist a cute, outspoken British chick with an attitude and mean streak to boot. All in all, I think she was a little bit overrated, as the music media became obsessed with her as a person and a story and left the music as a secondary concern. Nothing more than simple pop tunes, easily digested and quickly forgotten.

This song takes a really simple conceit, that things aren't at first what they appear to be, and stretches it out for, oh, a couple of verses. It seems she became bored with the idea and then just decided to finish the song halfway through by repeating it's refrain ("When you look with your eyes / Everything seems Nice / But if you look twice / You can see it's all lies") and chorus ("The sun is in the sky / Oh why of why would I want to be anywhere else?") until three minutes are up. And let's face it...she's not exactly Shakespearean (or Peartean) as a lyricist. Though it's adorable to her the words "crack whore" in a baby doll cockney accent.

This song was also included on a special mixtape I made when my daughter was born in which all of the songs had "London" in the title. Can anyone guess some of the others?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"It's a Wonderful Life" / Fishbone

I wondered how long it would take for a Fishbone song to make its way in. I have 86 songs of theirs on itunes, covering seven albums in all. I will say that at one point in the early / mid 90's, they were a top five band of mine. Though some of that passion has cooled, and they have not just fallen off the proverbial map but careened off the chart, I still dig their stuff. Plus, how can you not love one of the greatest, most iconic logos in rock history?

This is one of those instances when I can very well recall the moment I first heard and liked a band. In 1991, fresh out of high school, my friend Marty and I went to Georgia State University in Atlanta to see Primus (one of our big bands of the time) and Fishbone play. We watched Primus and had a great time moshing around to "Tommy the Cat" and the like, then we decided to stick around to see what Fishbone was all about.

So, they begin the show with "Party at Ground Zero", and let me tell you, when they hit the meat of that song with Angelo's scream after the long into buildup (:13 on the video here), the explosion both on stage and on the gymnasium floor was chaotic. I had never, ever seen anything like it, and as I was swept up in the pandemonium of the churning crowd, I caught a glimpse of Marty and imagined I wore the game bug-eyed grin that he did.

Indeed, a fan was made at that very moment. Another funny thing I remember about that show was Angelo crowd surfing to the back of the gym where people were actually sitting in seats and getting into an argument with a girl who said the song they were performing at that moment was "sexist" (The song? A sweet little ditty called "Lyin' Ass Bitch"). Dude lit into her big time, saying something along the lines of, "If this was Michel fuckin' Stipe singing this, you wouldn't be saying that, would you?"

Not long after this show, I was reading Spin or Rolling Stone and read an interview with Scott Ian of Anthrax in which he name-checked Fishbone's newly released album The Reality of My Surroundings, at which point I went out and bought it (yeah, Scott Ian had that kind of pull with me back then. Still might, actually). To this day, that sprawling, brilliant album remains solidly in my top 25 albums of all time.

The great thing about that album is what's great about Fishbone overall - no adherence to any genre, a refusal to be musically pigeonholed, and a unbelievable sonic curiosity. It's easier to list the types of music they don't play than what they do (though they do get most of their hype as a ska band). Reality indeed has ska, but also pop, metal, rock, and funk. I bought all of their available CDs after that, and while they had their moments, none reached the height of Reality of My Surroundings.

Of course, as I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm nothing if not a loyal music fan, and through the 90's I continued to support the 'Bone, until the disaster of 1996's Chim Chim's Badass Revenge, which aside from the single Alcoholic, was a hot mess. I gave them another chance with The Psychotic Friends Nuttworx, a final, sad stab at mainstream relevance with Gwen Stephani appearances and Sly Stone covers, but it was over. Since, the band has had an ever rotating lineup of members (still faithfully fronted by Moore, though) and bizarre tales of kidnapping and brainwashing. It's sad now to see what was one of the most potent live bands ever, as well as one of the most respected underground acts of the 80's and 90's limp along as they do.

So here's "It's a Wonderful Life", a strange little single based on the movie of the same name. It was released a part of a Christmas EP (WTF?) that's now out of print. In a way, it's Fishbone to a T - brazen, unexpected, silly, skillfully executed, all in one tune.
How about the first verse, setting up George Bailey's rescue of his brother -
The ice was freezin'
My brother almost drowned
I jumped in to save him
On his way, way down
Then it went black and I went in

And so on and so forth. It's given the typical Fishbone treatment, a fast-paced, two minute ska romp with some horn accents thrown in on the chorus (and I love the "be-de-du-dip" Angelo sings during it). My favorite part is the little bridge in the middle, though (1:08 on the video)

Angel made me numb
The angel made me void
Got thrown out of the bar
Then I wrecked my car
Got socked in the jaw
Cussed out by my mama
Someone stole my money
Screamed at by my honey
Things was gettin' worse
Things was gettin' worse
Things was gettin' worse
Things was gettin' worse

The juxtaposition of scenes from the Jimmy Stewart classic (and one of my favorite movies, actually) with the incredible presence of Angelo Moore is pretty funny. Fishbone is almost better seen, either live or on video, than heard, just so you can get the full on , hyper-assed, manic Angelo effect. I have to get me another one of those Fishbone logo T-shirts, man.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Respectable" / The Rolling Stones / Some GIrls

This is not the first time I’ve posted about the Stones, but the first time I wrote about them was waaaaaay back on post #1. Not only are they a “pantheon” band for me, which means I don’t skip them as a duplicate, but my posting has changed so much that I need to revisit them anyway.

I recently engaged in a classic “Beatles v Stones” debate on a message board, and here is what I concluded:

I love both bands, but I have to go with the Stones, with the caveat that what we know as "The Stones" ended with Tattoo You in 1980. I prefer dirt and grime over spit and polish in the end.
That string of Stones albums starting in '68: Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street are unmatched in rock history.

This song comes in right under what I consider to be “The Stones” cutoff - the Tattoo You album in 1980, which incidentally was the first time I heard of the Stones. When I was in third grade they had a few radio hits off this album, the eternal “Start Me Up", “Hang Fire”, and one of my top three Stones songs, the flawless “Waiting on a Friend”. Some Girls, the album from which this song comes, includes some radio classics like “Shattered”, “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden”, as well as some awesome album cuts like Keith Richard’s fan favorite “Before They Make Me Run” , the country goof “Far Away Eyes”, and the controversial title song in which Jagger analyzes the sexual peculiarities of various ethnicities. Classy, Mick.

After they released “Undercover of the Night”, they all but fell off the map for me (and the less said about stuff like “Harlem Shuffle”, the better). Then in my senior year of high school they came back big for me. There were a coupe of reasons for this: one was they released a critically acclaimed “return to form” Steel Wheels, and my buddy nick bought Exile on Main Street(and made me a taped copy of it, labeling it "The Bible"). Nick, Patrick, Jake and I thought we should go see them on tour that year, when they played at Grant Field in Atlanta, and I recall a very early Saturday morning being picked up in Jake’s brown Ford Tempo, heading to Turtles to get lottery tickets to buy concert seats (remember those days?)

As soon as I got in the car, Jake pushed in the Exile tape and with the opening bars of “Rocks Off”, I knew there was more to this band than I heard growing up, and I was eager to investigate. This followed my foray into the aforementioned quaternity of Stones albums which still hold up strongly today. Beggar’s Banquet remains my favorite, with the Dylan-esque deep cut “Jigsaw Puzzle” also in my top three songs (the third? Exile’s “Torn and Frayed”. Thanks for asking!)

“Respectable” is a bare-bones, bluesy, barroom rave-up. Nothing fancy, just plowing ahead with that nasty guitar sound and other classic Stones tropes like Keith Richard’s high harmonies, Jagger’s lyrics about wooing a sassy young lady, and a classic 1-4-5 chord progression. It sounds like a song they made up on the spot and tossed off in one take in the studio to fill out an album, but in some ways it represents what the Stones are all about.

It appears that those days for the Stones are long gone, but every now an then they have a song that brings back the old magic – like “Mixed Emotions” from Steel Wheels , or even “Streets of Love” from their latest, Bigger Bang. They are obviously never going to have another run like they did from ’67 to ’82, but considering that that might represent the apotheosis of what we call “Rock & Roll”, there’s really no shame in that.

Click here for the official video
, as embedding is not allowed. It’s cool to see Mick strapped with a guitar, and to take a look at the guys when they were much younger and less geriatric.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Girlfriend" / Phoenix / Wolfgang Amadaeus Phoenix

This is one of the very latest CDs I've bought, and here it is already making itself known.

It's also the first Phoenix CD I've bought. One of my favorite songs of the last few years is "Too Young" by these Frenchmen, which was memorably featured in a great scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, "Lost in Translation" - the scene where Bill Murray picks up Scarlett Johansson to go to karaoke.

"Lost In Translation" [Phoenix - Too Young] from Captain Cook on Vimeo.

"Lost in Translation" is a movie in which the use of music indelibly adds to its atmosphere. I love Sophia Coppola's movies mainly because its obvious she's a music fan and take care with the soundtrack, making very deliberate choices. I knew after seeing this movie I had to track down that song, so I was very happy to find it on itunes back in 2003. Since then I've gone back to "Too Young" quite often as a mixtape money shot. People find it pretty irresistible and usually end up asking me more about Phoenix. To which I can usually only tell them, "Er....they're French?"

Phoenix released this Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix CD in April of this year, and based on great buzz from some of the music websites I peruse, I decided to give it a shot. I bought it at just the right time too, as it made the prefect accompaniment to sunny Summer days. They don't really break any new ground to their dance / pop sound; if anything it got even poppier.

"Girlfriend", as with most of this CD, sounds like s sonic brother of Of Montreal's (seriously - the singer sounds exactly like Kevin Barnes). I like the staccato, clipped delivery of the lyrics, and the guitar accompaniment which appears in the chorus complements it perfectly. My favorite sound in the song, though, is the keyboard which comes after the choruses and leads into the next verses (see 1:22-1:32). It softens the song and plays really nicely over the surprisingly busy drumbeat.

And again, here's an instance with a band in which I only care about the lyrics in terms of how the words sound as a part of the overall musical effect. Though, I do like the "Not a miracle in years" line which they seem to particularly emphasize.

Here's a little bonus too: A mix of the first song on the CD, "Lisztomania" set to scenes from John Hughes' movies. I actually found this before he passed away recently, but now it makes a beautiful tribute, doesn't it?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Down" / The London Suede / Head Music

The London Suede (or, from here on out, Suede, as they had to change their name after their debut because of copyright infringement) is an all-time favorite of mine which I enjoy in isolation. Seriously, I count them among my top ten bands, but absolutely none of my friends have either any knowledge of them or are immediately repelled by them. It's sad, because it's what this band's career is like in a nutshell - unappreciated, overlooked, but rabidly supported by those in the know.

Sudede was one of the forbearers of the 90's Britpop movement upon the release of their eponymous debut album in 1992. Later, Blur and Oasis (and their UK tabloid-fueled rivalry) dominated that scene and Suede was set fighting for crumbs. There were a couple of elements that fueled the huge splash Suede made in England. One was the partnership of singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler as a modern-day Morrissey and Johnny Marr (of the Smiths), and the other was the androgynous nature of Butler himself. Despite the fact that he was a longtime partner of 90's flash in the pan Elastica's Justine Frichmann, he toyed with bisexual lyrics and imagery which, I suppose, were still shocking in the early 90's from a pop singer.

Boy and Girl? Two boys? Two girls? Who cares?

I had only read about this album in Spin or something back in the day, and then during a trip to Boston with my buddy to visit a mutual friend at Brandeis University, I found the above cover staring at me in an indie record store in downtown Boston. I decided to buy it on a whim there; the American music media at the time was reporting on the fawning of the mercurial UK media over these guys and it certainly piqued my interest.

I put the CD on in my friend's dorm room when I got home, and as the first few seconds of opener "So Young" trickled out, I was instantly intrigued. When Anderson hit the chorus at :45 in, and Butler lay down the guitar hook under it...well, it doesn't happen to me often, but I was 100% solid on first listen. Then they follow that with "Animal Nitrate", which was the big UK hit, and there's still not a one-two opening punch that I enjoy more on any of my CDs.

(On a somewhat related note: On that same trip, I met a girl that worked as an intern for a music company. She immediately asked me what kind of music I liked, and her roommates rolled their eyes and said she always asks people that, and that she is always disappointed with people's answers. Feeling the pressure, I told her that I loved Fishbone (which was and is true) and that I just picked up a new CD that day by Suede that I really thought was great. I passed. She got really excited, ran into her room , and got me a Fishbone sticker which I placed on the back of my '85 Buick Regal and never took off. It was one of the first times I realized that being a music geek could get me something from the right women other than derision.)

As special as Suede's debut was, they went epic for their follow up, Dog Man Star (their first as London Suede). According to the fine book Britpop, which is an awesome account of the 90's in British music, Brett Anderson was spooked by the sudden success of his band, especially after Butler quit, incredibly found a 16 year old, Richard Oaks, that was nearly as great as Butler, and holed himself up in a mansion doing herion and writing the bulk of the music that would be the Dog Man Star album.

Whereas Suede was pop/rock, hooky perfection, Dog Man Star was dark, sweeping, orchestral, ambitious, completely over the top, pretentious, and, in my estimation, brilliant.

They followed that with Coming Up in 1996, a full-on, Bowiesque glam CD.
. It turned about to be as big a success as Suede, catapulting them again into the UK spotlight.

Those first three CDs represent an opening trifecta for a band that seems hard to top. All three different, but all three outstanding. Even their B-Sides album contained great stuff. Hell, this might be their best song period, and it wasn't even a proper release!

You can see a formula for sure in their songs: they begin slowly and quietly with Anderson's rich baritone, then usually within a minute hit their wonderful, wonderful choruses - soaring, sticky melodies with Butler or Oaks riffing under it. Formulaic, yes, but exhilarating and memorable.

The band soldiered on even though they had long ago lost mainstream appeal and were selling only to harcore fans. This selection, "Down", comes from Head Music, the CD that followed Coming Up, then they bowed out with a UK only release, New Morning, which I had to order from overseas. In 2002 Butler and Anderson reunited with new musicians to form a band called The Tears. They released a CD, but it didn't have the same impact as Suede, save a song like "Refugees" that recaptured the old Suede magic.

And that seems to be about it for Suede. I know Brett Anderson has released a couple of solo CDs, but I don't have much interest. I'd rather remember them as they used to be at this point. But, hell, if the Mary Jane Girls can reunite, why couldn't Suede? In a few years, 90's nostalgia will be raging, and they might have a shot.

The song "Down" is different from the others I've included here. Most of the stuff I've posted is pop, but these guys can make some epic ballads (including one of the most beautiful love songs I've heard, bar none). "Down" definitely begins differently, with a slow, bubbling keyboard, Andersen's voice, and a very slightly picked guitar in the back. But then at 1:17, here comes one of those patented Suede choruses, at which point a piano kicks in too. Then, after the first chorus, the drumbeat comes in, and the song begins to build some momentum. At four minutes in, Oaks begins his guitar solo which carries on for two minutes, finally reaching the song's crescendo. It's a classic "building" song, where you start slowly and simply, then add on instrumentation and tempo until you feel, as a listener that you've journeyed somewhere (you know, the "Stairway" effect).

I realize I may have gone overboard here with clips and the gushing, but I'm trying to make it a mission to recruit some Suede fans. If you are new to them, tell me what you think in the comments!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Answer Me My Love" / Nat King Cole / The Nat King Cole Story

You can have your Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, and Bing Crosbys. For me, there is only one top “Crooner”, and that, friends, is Nat King Cole.

I spent many a long weekend over at my good friend Dominic’s house growing up. His father was a huge Cole fan, party due to their shared Chicago heritage, and played his records often of the stereo system. Back then, when I was into top 40, or Van Halen, or punk, it was easy to slam that music and make fun of it, especially hearing stuff like “Mexico Joe, the Boogie-Woogie Caballero”. Days later, though, I would find that songs like “Orange Colored Sky”, “Sweet Lorraine”, and "Paper Moon" had wormed their way into my brain and that….I sort of enjoyed it.

Sometime in college, I gave in and bought the double CD set “The Nat King Cole Story”. I can’t say it was (or is) in heavy rotation, but when I decided to play it, often on still evenings out on the porch or something, the effect was magical, pulling me right back to my friend’s house with the kerosene heater on in the playroom, casually talking with his Dad or playing a role playing game (insert nerd joke here). I also pleasantly found out that it was a great secret weapon to surprise and impress the ladies: “Oh, sure, I like Nine Inch Nails like everyone else too, but sometimes, I just have to relax with something different, old soul that I am. Can I get you a brandy?” (It's amazing what "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" can do. Remember that, kids.)And lest we forget, maybe the signature holiday song of all time.

And really, there is not better mood setting music to me than these pre-rock era singers. They represent a style and classiness that you rarely find in music any longer, and damn, did they dress smoothly. That’s why Dave Chappelle’s goof on gentle Nat Cole wasn’t (snicker) funny (snort) at all (BWAA!)
Chappelle's Show
Nat King Cole Christmas
Buy Chappelle's Show DVDsBlack ComedyTrue Hollywood Story

Now, having said that, this song begins with two of my least favorite parts about crooner music of that time: the sweeping orchestral flourishes and overbearing backup choruses. I cringe a bit on this song for the first 13 seconds until Cole begins to sing, and that mellow vocal always hits me. Picture pouring melted butter on a feather pillow, and that’s Cole’s voice. His phrasing, tone, timber, even his enunciation, create just a singular beautiful instrument that’s immediately distinctive and original.

The lyrics aren’t really worth going over; it’s complete, stereotypical romantic sap that your grandparents fell in love to (boy’s girl has gone cold, he doesn’t know why, he wants to know so he can make it right). But again, Cole to me isn’t about the intent or purpose of the song, it’s about the mood and the idea of what that music can do. Nat King Cole could read the starting lineup for the 2009 Florida Gators and I would probably listen, spellbound. He was that awesome.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Terminal Preppie" / Dead Kennedys / Plastic Surgery Disasters

I really began to get into punk music between 8th and 9th grade. My interest in it came about rather naturally from my immersion into the skater / townie culture that I started dipping my toe in around the same time.

I really have to thank an old buddy of mine, Worth Parker, for getting me started. He was the first dude to get a skateboard (the Vision Gator), buy Thrasher magazine (only posers read Transworld), and buy punk records. He let me tape his copy of The Dead Kennedys' “Plastic Surgery Disasters” which I listened to incessantly, which led me to buying Agent Orange, The Sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies (which, awesomely, I begged my Mom to buy for me at the old Ruthless Records downtown on her way home from work. What in the world was she thinking?), and Black Flag tapes.

As I listened to this stuff, I became really obsessed with it in only the way a fourteen year old can really be. To trot out an old cliché, the lyrics really spoke to me at the time and caused me to completely reexamine the social constructs of my school, community and family. I bought a Black Flag T-shirt and began wearing that and an old olive green Army jacket of my Dad’s and started looking at my old friends who were still into Van Halen and Zeppelin with a critical eye. I got lots of shit for my new attitude, wardrobe, and interest in music, but of course that only fed it further.

Bought at Ruthless Records, of course

Eventually I began to reconcile that punk ethos with the reality of being a responsible citizen who, after all, lived in a secure, middle class , two-parent home and had no conceivable right to complain about things (“I am NOT walking the dog, Mom! I’ve had it with your bourgeoisie paradigm of suburban life!”). Plus, in the end, I was too nice and raised with too much politeness to be a good punk. I will admit, though, that I’ve internalized much more of the views of Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra than I may have realized. Even though what I went through was Teenage Rebellion 101, there are still some aspects that I can’t completely let go, and that in all honesty surprises me. I’ve always appreciated music which, at it’s heart, believed in more than chicks and beer, (and damn did they believe), and in the end, I think that’s what still sticks with me the most.

"Punk Ain't no religious cult / Punk Means thinking for yourself / You ain't hardcore 'cause you spike your hair when a jock still lives inside your head"

“Terminal Preppie” is, like most all other DK songs, delivered as a sarcastic, sneering screed,a minute and a half buzzsaw. Jello Biafra does what he does best here – assuming the narrative voice of the object of his scorn and ridicule.

My ambition in life
Is too look good on paper
What I want is a spot
In some big corporation

This sounded great to me at the time, a condemnation of people focused on the dollar and getting ahead, with no thought to what’s “real” in life (again, this from a kid who had his folded laundry lovingly placed on his bed once a week.. What the hell did I know? Who was I to criticize?)

Beliushi’s my hero I lampoon and I ape him
My news of the world comes from Sports Illustrated

Here’s where I ran into a little disconnect. My buddies and I did worship Animal House's Blutarsky, and I couldn’t hide the fact that I loved sports. And now, er, subscribe to SI. Sorry, Jello

I’m proud of my trophies like my empty beer cans
Stacked in rows up the wall to impress all my friends

I came back to this lyric a bunch in college and grad school at a million apartment parties I attended. At least half (more if it was a guy’s) had a line of beer cans or liquor bottles lined atop of their kitchen cabinets. It always gave me a snort.

Now I’m not here to learn
I just want to get drunk
And major in business
And be taught how to fuck

UGA in the early and mid 80’s. That about covers it, no?

I want a wife with tits
Who just smiles all the time
In my centerfold world
Filled with Springsteen and wine

Uh-oh. Starting to his close to home here (well, at least the Springsteen shot)

Someday I’ll have power!
Someday I’ll have boats!
A tract in some suburb
With Thanksgivings to host

Yeah, the last two lines busted me. What can you do? We all sell out eventually, don’t we? We just negotiate our own internal price and eventually justify it to ourselves.

The last thing I’ll point out here is one of the most underrated musicians of all time – the DK’s bassist, Klaus Floride. You can tell from the first riff in this song what’s up, and he's is just incredible on this whole album. His bass launches many of the DK’s songs, and he always has some major riffs and innovative lines. Great stuff.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In Memoriam : Michael Jackson

Man, what a strange, strange, summer.

I'm not going into a long narrative this week, as you've probably seen and heard enough over the last few days by much more skillful writers than myself.

Let me just run two things by you:

1) A performance by a young Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack on a song from "Free to Be You and Me" from the 70's. I'd never seen this before, but caught it in the mix of tributes on Sunday. If you watch the video and listen to the song, it's really, really poignant and sad, and would have been even before his death. I'm not gonna lie; I teared up just a bit.

2) I made a Michael Jackson cake for the Barnett Shoals Cake Fair in Fifth Grade. Sweet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Georgia Theatre: In Memoriam

For those of you who have been away in the remotes of Argentina the past week, the landmark Georgia Theatre burned down last Friday. The cause of the fire is still unknown, and the place was consumed quickly. As I read on a message board, if you take a wooden building that old with no sprinklers, soak it in alcohol for thirty years and light a flame, the results are inevitable.

Even though the Theatre with its frequent jam and cover bands didn't always cater to my tastes, I still mourn its passing. In tribute, I'd like to list a few of my favorite memories about my experiences there:

-The first show I ever legally saw in Athens was Dreams So Real at there, about a week after I turned 18 in 1990. This was when they had that bar smack in the middle of the place when you walked in. It was one of those moments that actually felt as important at the time as it really was.

- Seeing Social Distortion there around 1992 with all the scary skinheads and inadvertently getting my buddy Trey clocked by one (read the gory details here)

- The infamous GWAR show that was shut down for obscenity by the ACC police which ended up with the city defending itself in a (losing) lawsuit

- Dancing onstage with NYC ska band The Toasters and running into my future wife onstage while skanking.

Those are off the top of my head, and I'm sure many more will arise the more I reflect upon it. The last show I saw there was in 2008 when I saw The New Pornographers and got to see and hear Neko Case live, so that's a fine way to bow out. I also had tickets to see Jenny Lewis there July 1st, but that has since been rescheduled for the 40 Watt.

I'm also thankful my son got to experincve the Theatre a mere week before it burned when he saw a Beatles cover band play a special all-ages show (and, no, he didn't have a 32 oz beer). It's great that Quinn has now been to both the 40Watt (seeing Uncle Monsterface last summer) and was at the Theatre. He's an Athenian through-and-through.

So, in the comments, share with us some of your memorable shows and experiences with the Theatre. Hopefully, the preliminary talk of rebuilding will be seen through and we will have more great shows to remember in the future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Young Americans" / David Bowie / Best of Bowie 1974-1979

Bowie is another one of those artists I enjoy because he keeps things fresh. He may be second only to Madonna (or third to Neil Young) in the many iterations of his musical and performing personality over the years.

My first experiences with Bowie remind me of how I also encountered Bruce Springsteen, through 80’s pop radio. Like many Xer’s, I initially heard of him through the singles “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl” (which, if you remember, got lots of press for being scandalous) I recall the media making a big deal about David Bowie suddenly becoming an MTV star, but couldn’t figure out what the big deal was supposed to be about him.

On a totally unrelated note – I distinctly remember being at a neighbor’s house watching the “Let’s Dance” video, and having one of the kids say, “You know he gives blow jobs on stage”. I had NO idea what blow job was, but not wanting to appear lame in front of a cool older kid, said, “Yeah, I know”. Then, of course, he says, “Do you even know what a blow job is?” “Sure”, I say, seeing the hole I am digging for myself yet not avoiding it. “Well, what is it?” And I think that’s the point at which I excused myself and ran home.

Later, I would get the gist of it after Bowies released possibly the most homoerotic video in history, a cover of “Dancing in the Streets” with Mick Jagger.

As I grew up and started delving into classic rock via 96 Rock, I started seeing what more there was out there. I heard “Suffragette City” once and remember thinking, “Oh, that’s David Bowie too?” Then all the 70’s hits seemed to start pouring in and giving me a more complete picture – “Fame”, “Golden Years”, “Heroes”, “Space Oddity”, etc. You know all the ones.

This particular song I got off a two-CD compilation “The Best of Bowie”, which I bought because it had some deep cuts there which I found to be just as great as the radio hits (“TVC 15”, “DJ”, “Boys Keep Swinging”). I’ll admit that my Bowie knowledge is not where it should be, and I need to buy some albums to remedy that. I borrowed “Aladdin Sane” from a co-worker once based on liking “Panic in Detroit” which, for some odd reason, a local radio station decided to put in heavy rotation.

Today, much like I mentioned with Cash in the last post, you can hardly find an artist or big-time music fan that doesn’t claim an appreciation for David Bowie. He even got down with the kids in the 90’s with a Trent Reznor collaboration (and the less said about Tin Machine, the better).

In “Young Americans”, Bowie goes Soul. With the opening drumbeats, piano flourish, and especially the saxophone styling (a key element of this song), you can immediately tell you’re a ways away from the glam of “Ziggy Stardust”. The soul touches continue throughout the song with Bowie’s phrasing and delivery, the syncopated beat, and most of all the background singers, who, along with the sax, hit the song’s hook with their “All night / all right” refrain (and check their quick shoutout to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” at 2:14 – “I heard the news today, oh boy”)

I had to take a look at the lyrics for this song. It’s one of those you’ve heard over and over, but don’t have a clue what the words are or what it’s about (at least for me). For instance, I thought he was always singing “She was a young American”, but it’s actually “She wants a young American”. The “she” of the song is a character he follows though the duration of the song, starting with the first verse:

They pulled in just behind the bridge
He lays her down, he frowns
"Gee my life's a funny thing
Am I still too young?"
He kissed her then and there
She took his ring, took his babies
It took him minutes, took her nowhere
Heaven knows, she'd have taken anything

That’s much more serious subject matter than I suspected this to be about. In fact, this seems as if it’s a song that’s commonly misunderstood as a celebration of American youth culture, where actually it’s an exploration of the loss of the American dream (see “Born in the USA” for another famous example). Check out the middle verse:

Have you have been an un-American?
Just you and your idol singing falsetto 'bout
Leather, leather everywhere, and
Not a myth left from the ghetto
Well, well, well, would you carry a razor
In case, just in case of depression?
Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors
Blushing at all the afro-Sheeners
Ain't that close to love?
Well, ain't that poster love?
Well, it ain't that Barbie doll
Her heart's been broken just like you have

That’s pretty bleak isn’t it? Let’s keep in mind too, that this was written in 1974, right after Watergate (“Do you remember your President Nixon?”) when America was thought to be shooting straight down the tubes. Taking the song from that “loss of innocence” theme, the repetition of “She wants a young American” looks to be a yearning for a more untainted, optimistic outlook for her, and by extension, her generation and entire country. The upbeat nature of the music only serves to make it palatable to the listener and subversively slip that idea within it as you’re grooving along.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"On The Evening Train" / Johnny Cash / American V: A Hundred Highways

As I'm sure anyone who reads this blog is aware, the Rick Rubin produced American series completely revived Johnny Cash's career and changed him from a marginal (but influential) washed-up country artist into a full-fledged American icon. It's hard to recall now, but the prevailing thought at the time when news was coming about about this collaboration was, bluntly, "What the fuck?" That first American album, though, traced a direct line to the biopic "Walk the Line", if you think about it. (And here, I must implore you, if you haven't seen the movie "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" and it's Cash / Carter parody scene, please do so posthaste).

But now, do you know anyone that doesn't like Johnny Cash? I think any musician from any genre of music will tell you that, at the very least, they appreciate the guy's mettle, individualism and spirit.

That's right, Mofos...

Rubin's formula for Cash was to basically strip his sound down completely. Most songs in the American series are only Cash's voice, sounding haunted and carrying the weight of years of hard living, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and perhaps a piano or other instrument for shades of color. He also had Cash primarily cover songs by other artists with the exception of maybe one original or re-recording each album. The most memorable of these, of course, is his take on Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", which, with the incredible accompanying video, Cash made his own forever.

It's a formula that was obviously successful, duplicated by Jack White with Loretta Lynn, and a little less successfully again (commercially, not critically) by Rubin with Neil Diamond.

"On The Evening Train" is a cover of a Hank Williams song, but it's impossible not to read Cash's life into it. Many of the songs on American V deal, literally or symbolically, with death - Springsteen's "Further Up the Road", "God's Gonna Cut You Down", "A Legend in My Time" by Don Gibson, "I'm Free From the Chain Gang Now"(a re-recoding of his own song). Of course, with Cash nearing the end of his life during his American recordings, it was only natural for him to explore that theme (though it could be argued that was always one of his major subjects).

"On The Evening Train" has a narrator who is simply watching the casket of his wife being loaded onto a train with his infant son. Even though the song tells us in the first verse "...they're taking Mama on the evening train", it's not until halfway through the song in the second verse that he mentions the "Long white casket in the baggage coach" (harsh!), which is jarring if you don't know it's coming (I didn't).

The lines where you can read again into Cash's life occur in the final verse -
I pray that God will give me courage
To carry on til we meet again
It's hard to know she's gone forever

It' hard not to believe he's singing about June Carter Cash, his longtime wife and love, who passed away before he did. It makes an already sad song even more poignant.

Interestingly, out of the four verses, the first is from a third person point-of-view, while the other three are first person, from the man whose wife has died. Intentional or not? What's the narrative purpose there? Another question - why is the dead wife's casket being loaded on a train? Where is she being buried? Why isn't there a funeral at the place where the family lives?

Anyway, here's the song (nothing happens in this homemade video. It's a train and....a train. But at least you get to hear it.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"I Just Want to Love U (Give it to me)" / Jay-Z / The Dynasty

It's hard to believe this song is almost ten years old, isn't it? I'm not a huge Hova (that's what the kids call him...or used to call him; I can't keep up any more) fan, but I do have a couple of CDs, and that's not including the "Grey Album", the (unauthorized) project by Athens' own Danger Mouse mixing his "Black Album" with the Beatles' "White Album" , which I am probably obligated to own as a music blogger.

Two great tastes that taste great together

If you remember anything about rap back in the late 90's, it was all about gloss, bling, and ridiculous excess. It was the heyday of Puff Daddy and he churned out hit after hit based on old 80's pop tunes. The record industry was as strong as it has ever been (and will ever be, in my opinion), there was lots of money to be made, and by God, the hip hop artists of the era were celebrating it.

"I Just Want to Love You" is a pretty good example of the type of music and lyrics we were getting at the time. The Neptunes were the hot producers at the moment (and they were pretty good back then), and Pharrel Williams has the best part of the song - the falsetto chorus that calls back old-school funk songs and is also a lyrical shoutout to someone who hadn't been heard form in years at the time - Rick James

Jay Z, in a typical act of rap artist modesty, calls himself "The greatest rapper alive". I'm not willing to go that far (give me Rakim, Q-Tip, or Chuck D), but the dude's good. I think with him, it's more a "sum of the parts" situation. I can't put my finger on any one thing that makes him stand out, but he does lots of little things really well. I think the best thing about his rapping is his phrasing. He doesn't strictly go line to line, verse to verse in the same rhythm. He mixes his delivery up really well which keeps any of his songs from getting monotonous and keeps you listening and interested. For an example of what I'm getting at here, check the "It's - about -to- go-down" delivery about a minute into the song. All the hallmarks of "bling" music are there - Cristal champagne, Prada, Gucci, Remi Martin, "cheddar", weed, ecstasy, Belvedere, and the like. Hell, even Atlanta's infamous Cheetah is name checked.

Lyrically in this song, and I know you may not believe this, but Jay Z seems to have many, many women after him. He warns these ladies that they must be sexualy proficient to spend time with him, but be warned! Although he has lots and lots (and lots) of money, he's NOT willing to spend it on you.

I kid with this, obviously it's not a weighty message of social commentary like "Fight the Power", but I've always felt it's unfair to hold rap songs to standards like that. Shit, 90% of rock music is about chasing tail and getting fucked up, but no one is calling out Van Halen for not having an uplifting, responsible message. Plus, you have to have chuckle at a couplet like this :
Yeah, save the narrative you savin it for marriage
Let's keep it real ma you savin it for cabbage

Embedding is forbidden! So, click here if you'd like to watch the video. It's a party!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

"In The Light" / Led Zeppelin / Physical Graffiti

For previous Zeppelin musings, check here. As a general rule, I don't repeat artists that appear unless they are one of my biggies. Zeppelin is, for sure.

This song is one of my favorites on Physical Graffiti , which is a double album that takes the genre-expanding possibilities hinted at in Led Zeppelin III (my personal favorite, by the way) and delivers, bigtime. From classic Zeppelin cock-rock to lengthy blues romps, roots bluegrass, and beautiful instrumental ballads, Physical Graffiti has it all.

"In The Light" was the first song on side two of the Physical Graffiti tape (date myself? Nah), and I have very specific memories of listening to this "tape" over and over at a friend's house in high school, his bedroom filled with green light from a Kroger party lightbulb, probably finishing up some marathon role-playing game. So, believe it or not, those are good, comforting memories.

This song has a very long intro, which features Page producing an eerie sound by using a violin bow on an acoustic guitar to act as the bass. It also features an instrument relatively new to the Zeppelin sound up until then - the keybord. Also new was the total turn from the blues-based formula for which Zeppelin had become famous. You can hear the Middle Eastern influence creeping into the song right from the start, a style with which Jimmy Page would become more and more fascinated with until he finally unleashed it in the astonishing No Quarter album years after Zeppelin's demise.

Nigel Tufnel - an obvious influene on Page's style
(Interesting, also, that this song follows "Kashmir" on the album, considered by some the quintessential Led Zeppelin song and itself a tune with stong lyrical and musical roots in the Middle East.)

Plant and Page come in with the first lyrics at 1:44, hauntingly harmonized and heavily reverbed. Then at 2:45, another keyboard kicks in, a monstrous descending riff backed by John Bonham's first appearance in the song. They settle into a nice groove here for a while, then suddenly at 4:11, literally halfway through, there is a thirdkeyboard break followed by Page's wonderful ascending riff at 4:25 (contrasting nicely with the earlier descending scale). Stylistically, it's a whole new song here, and, reflective of the title and lyrics, brings the listener "In the light", highlighted by a change from a minor to a major key. Do you see how they manipulated you there? Don't you love it, though? It's brilliant stuff and the kind of mature songwriting these guys never get credit for.

Then, five minutes in, we suddenly go back to Kashmir, as it were - the strange, droning sound that began the song. They lock into that bluesy groove again, then hit the descending riff immediately followed by the ascending guitar. That riff and Page tracking some solo work over it takes us home, this time leaving us "In The Light" (and if we don't get it, I've always liked the way Plant sings "Light, light, light...In the Light" at the end of the song.)

Think about it: in the five years since their debut, which was essentially heavy covers of blues standards, Zeppelin had grown as artists to produce a song and album like this. It's a phenomenal growth curve for a band in such a short amount of time, and explains why every generation for decades now has come to revere Zeppelin and claim them as their own.

Note: I couldn't find a YouTube video of the song. Apparently Led Zeppelin is very protective of their image as such. I'm sure anyone bothering to read this already has a coy of "In the Light" you could cue up, but if you don't, you can download the song below. I've also included a pretty cool alternate take of the song I did find. Obviously, my notes above are about the studio recording.