Buzz's Blog

Friday, 24 October 2014

No One Here Gets Out Alive

In each of the six decades since the birth of rock and roll, you can find some magic, and you can shake your head and wonder how anybody could listen to such rubbish. 

But for me, the 70’s is the big enigma.  Some of the best rock, much of it indelibly stamped into the concrete of our collective consciousness, was made in that decade.  And I couldn’t do without it.  But it was a confusing decade, one with little or no direction, a time of extremes and excesses.

Hard rock, prog rock, power pop, funk, metal, disco, jazz fusion, punk, folk-rock, singer-songwriter … and the leisure suits.  Brother.

The 70’s were not kind to a lot of 60’s icons.  The Stones, Clapton, and The Who, for example, all had their moments, but really they drifted through with mixed results.  Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd triumphantly pushed through, and then collapsed at the finish line.  Deep Purple didn’t make it.  The Beatles and Hendrix didn’t even get out of the starting block.

The energy that began as punk and coalesced into New Wave was certainly welcome.  It brought some much-needed focus to all that aimless thrashing about.  To borrow from Rossini’s invective against Wagner, the 70’s had wonderful moments, and dreadful quarters of an hour.

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Friday, 17 October 2014

Whole Lotta Riffs

The beat: definitely.  The energy: probably.  The simplicity: most of the time.  The lyrics: often.  The audacity: goes without saying.  But what really sets a great rock song apart is the riff.  The hook that buries itself into your DNA, where it forevermore acts as a switch, a trigger, a hypnotist’s command.

BBC Radio’s Greatest Guitar Riffs have most of the ones you’d expect: Whole Lotta Love, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Back In Black, Smoke On The Water and Layla landing in the top 5.  Can’t really argue with those.

And as you scan down the list, you realize – joyfully, I’ll bet – just how much great music we’ve been blessed with.  Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Rush, Free, Fleetwood Mac, Cream … on and on it goes.  I can’t think of one riff on this list that doesn’t deserve to be here.

However, it is nothing short of shocking that the Stones and Beatles have only one entry each.  Nice of the BBC to spread the joy, but I can think of another dozen or so riffs from those two groups that are more than worthy.  Nevermind.  I’ll get over it.

Sad, though, that there’s nothing current.  Rock riffs seem to have gone the way of the dodo, and that is not a good thing.

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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Almost Fab

Speaking of songs that shoulda been recorded by The Beatles, there have been quite a few down through the years that engendered a “that’s a Beatles tune” reaction.  For me, anyway.

Sometimes it’s the melody, sometimes the chords, or the overall feel, or the sound of the singer’s voice.  It can vary.  It happened a lot in 70-71 when I was, like many (most?) people, still ticked about their breakup.

Examples include:
Cheap Trick’s If You Want My Love You Got It
Argent’s Hold Your Head Up
Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, and his Steeler’s Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You
America’s Goldenhair – guess that was the George Martin production?
Yes’s Love Will Find A Way
Pretty much everything by Badfinger

Then of course, you had the solo work by the four fabs.  On the stronger songs, you couldn’t help but wish for a better backup band.  Well, I couldn’t anyway.

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Thursday, 25 September 2014

You Won’t Find A Better Loser

Some people think Bell Bottom Blues is a wonderful song, one of Clapton’s best.  Many people think it’s rubbish.

I happen to be in the former camp, but I kinda get why some people don’t like it too much.  Even though I enjoy it, it can come across somewhat unsettling, like something’s not quite right. 

Well, 40+ years later, I think I’ve finally put my finger on it:  it’s performed by the wrong band.  Instead of Derek and the Dominoes, it should be a Beatles record, with John singing, and Paul doing the harmony.  Clapton is guesting, as is Billy Preston.  George and Ringo make their presence known, tastefully as always.

Can you picture it – I mean hear it?  Nice, eh?

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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Rockumentary Heaven

Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Rock Documentaries nicely illustrates just how much good video is out there to enjoy.

Dylan, Page, White, U2, Rush, Bowie, Neil Young, James Brown, The Stones, Hendrix, The Who, Zep, Floyd, a little band out of Liverpool called The Beatles  - they’re all there.

Kinda like my desert island playlist, but without enough blues and folk.

Some masterpieces (Talking Heads), some silliness (Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus), some cultural chronicles (Monterey, Woodstock), and a lot of great music.

The list has something for everyone, so I won’t complain, other than to say I would have included:

The Concert For George – my favourite concert video, period
AC/DC Live at Donnington – killer performance, surpassed only by
Queen Live At Wembley – Freddie’s control over the audience is simply mesmerizing.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of rubbish (OK, music that didn’t age too well) on the Live Aid video, but some of it is great, so it deserves at least an honourable mention.  Maybe?

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Friday, 12 September 2014

Undercover Agent For The Blues …

… and Rock!  Take a look at the influence John Mayall has had.  The connections.  The influences. The great music that came out of his influence.

It’s almost unbelievable.  The diagram just depicts the most obvious connections.  The ones that could fit on a page.  It’s missing the Yardbirds-Page-Zeppelin link.  It obscenely abridges Clapton’s reach.  It skips the whole Dylan universe outside the Willburys.  It doesn’t even try to show who Phil Collins has touched, which is, like, everybody.

Was John Mayall as influential as Lennon, Dylan, Jagger, Hendrix or Page?  Maybe not, but when you think about who he’s played with – and who they played with, he’s touched just about everything.  Mayall is one important cat.

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Friday, 29 August 2014

The Session Men

Gibson’s 10 Great Session Guitarists brings some well-deserved focus to some brilliant musicians who have delivered a heap of magic over the years.

Lukather, Cropper, Carlton, Tedesco, Atkins, Spedding … where would pop/rcok/blues/soul be without them?  Or, to put it another way, where would Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Sam Cooke, Bryan Ferry, Elton John and  Aretha Franklin be without them?

OK, some of them would probably have done OK, but you get the point.

And then there was this cat by the name of Jimmy Page.

Note to Gibson.  No one is going to dispute the importance of James Jamerson, but he was a bass player.  Is there really no other session guitarist out there that should have made the list?

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Friday, 22 August 2014

Look Out Kid

Most people think Rap started in the late 70’s and blossomed in the late 80’s.  Wikipedia cites a 1971 Isaac Hayes album as the more or less official beginning, while pointing out its African roots and the ubiquitous influence of blues.

Fair enough, but I think Rap began with Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.  And why not?  If rapping has its origins in the blues, are we surprised if Dylan picked up on some stylings from, say, The Memphis Jug Band, and then poured it out into modern pop music?

We shouldn’t be.  You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Are We There Yet?

Kudos to RS for, you know, trying to broaden our musical horizons.  But when I examine the list I just don’t get the title.  Are they suggesting that, after over 50 years of obscurity on this side of the Atlantic, Cliff Richards is likely to bust out sometime soon?  Do they think that, at the age of 90, Charles Aznavour gives a damn?  I think we’re maybe being a little optimistic here.

Twenty acts who should have made it in America, twenty acts Americans missed out on, not everything’s made in America … there are lots of titles that don’t need to include the rather silly promise “yet.”

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Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sounds Like …

Here’s an obvious truth: although they covered a lot of ground over many years (not enough, in the case of The Beatles), The Beatles always sound like The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones always sound like The Rolling Stones.

But here’s the thing:  what made them so darn good is that they could do anybody else.  The Beatles do Roy Orbison and come up with Please Please Me.  They do Dylan and come up with You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.  They start jamming Fleetwood Mac’s Green Manalishi and arrive at Sun King.

Same thing with The Stones.  While always true to their blues roots, they’ve absorbed and played back: Rock and Roll, British Invasion, Country, Folk Rock, Psychedelic, Hard Rock, Jazz Fusion – and just about everything that ever came out of Motown, Memphis and Muscle Shoals.  I know some cynics who think The Stones sold out and became silly by trying to stay relevant in the late 70’s as the world shifted into Disco and then 80’s R&B, but I disagree.

What I hear is a great band saying, “Yeah, we can do that.  Listen!”  And then they prove it by serving up a classic example of the style.  But even as the do that, they remind you they’re still The Stones.  The riffs, the grit, the guitar bi-play, the self-caricaturing vocals – they’re all there.  Miss You is both vintage Disco and vintage Stones.  Rock and A Hard Place sounds like it could have been recorded by Robert Palmer, but the presence of Keith and Ronnie make it better.  And just to drive the point home, they give us Sad Sad Sad on the same album.  “So much for this ‘new’ R&B thing.  Now here’s some rock and roll.”

Paul McCartney’s solo career proves that if The Beatles had lasted longer, they too would have remained relevant by continuing to listen to the new music around them, absorbing it, and the giving it back to us as fresh magic.

The Beatles and The Stones prove that you develop your own style by absorbing the music around you, and you evolve that style by continuing to listen.

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