Friday, 30 December 2011

We Are The Champions

Well, it's the start of the New Years Day weekend, and all the radio stations will be into their "Top 500 Songs Of All Time" countdowns.  Or 300, or 250, or whatever number fits their format and scope.

If you're old enough, you may remember a time when this was a new idea, an exciting idea.

I remember when the local FM Rock station first did this, about 35 years ago, I got totally caught up in the whole thing.  I wrote my letter (no internet, kids), I glued myself to the radio all weekend, I bought a newspaper to get the entire list (for my archives?), I debated the relative placement of various songs with the radio (it didn't respond) and friends (a few might have responded).  It was new, exciting, fun - and somehow important.

Then of course it became a standard feature of long weekends and New Years Days.  And after about the 15th time I saw Stairway To Heaven at #1, followed by Hey Jude and Satisfaction, well the idea had lost its lustre.  The list is the list, and not much is going to change year to year.  So unless you can get excited about whether Smoke On The Water placed 23rd or 24th, it's just the same old list.

Nowadays, when all radio stations follow a top 40 format, and probably dont' have more than 500 or 600 songs in their playlist, there doesn't even seem to be a point to such a countdown.  You know, when the listener request app on the station's website gives you a drop down menu to choose from their predetermined list, well  ...

I suppose the whole thing is a break from the top 40 songs you're going to hear this week, so you get a bit more variety during the countdown.  I mean, being exposed to the master playlist instead of just this week's playlist is pretty good, right?  Even if the master playlist doesn't change from year to year, you're still getting some variety and a bit of fun, right?  Right?

What the hell.  Better go and put the radio on.  Hmmm.  I wonder where Bohemian Rhapsody will finish this year?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Take Another Little Piece of My Heart

Last week I saw a show billed as "Woodstock Festival Tribute."

The featured tribute artists were Melanie, Santana, CCR, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, CSNY, and Jimi Hendrix.  Also on the bill were The Doors and Jethro Tull.  Curious, really, since these two acts were not at Woodstock.

As it turned out it didn't really matter.  CSNY only did Neil Young solo songs - all from after August, 1969.  Tull and Santana also featured songs that couldn't have been performed at Woodstock.

But we live in an age when minor details and facts don't seem to matter.

Bending the truth a little might have been a smaller offence if the show had been good, but it was just OK.  Some good, some more bad.  When you find yourself thinking, sheesh, even the wig is bad, then you know it's pretty bad.

At least they didn't try and re-create the festival itself.  You know, warnings about bad acid and would you “please get down off the towers.”

I guess I made this point before, but: cover bands yes, tribute acts, I dunno.  Actually I do; no thanks.  I get manipulated enough as I go through life without paying for it.  Unless the act is mind-blowingly accurate, it's not entertainment, it’s just creepy.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Take It Easy

So many of the great songs follow the KISS principle.  They're simple, predictable.  Comfortable even.  Not boring, just simple.

I, IV, V and maybe VI minor.  Maybe only two chords.  Maybe a 7th here or there.  That's all you need.  Wonderful Tonight, Bad Moon Rising, Love Me Do, Stand By Me, Folsom Prison Blues  ...  the list goes on and one and on.

Sure, there are lots of complicated songs that are also great.  Many's the time when I've been playing along with a recording trying pick up a song, and I've struggled to figure out what is that chord?  But just as often my brain has told me to add a chord when a new one wasn't required.  Or to make the chord more complex than it in fact was.

My reaction is always, "oh!  It's such a cool sounding song and you're just a good songwriter John (or Eric or Tom or Bob or Pete or John or whoever), so I thought you were doing something clever."  Then it hits me:  "oh!  You were doing something clever.  You were keeping it simple."

Lots of very interesting and enjoyable songs have complicated chord progressions and cool key changes, but most of the classics, most of the songs that move us and get into our DNA don't go much beyond 3 or 4 chords.

It's a strange magic, but it works.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Son, Don't You Understand?

I heard Born In The USA on the radio today, and it struck me how dead simple the song is.

Not for the first time, but it struck me hard.

A 6 note melody (3 really, the other 3 notes are just fills) repeatedy endlessly, relentlessly over 2 alternating chords.  2 chords, 3 (or 6) notes.  That's it.

Yes, Springsteen has a big voice and he puts everything into the vocals.  And he has a big sounding band. 

But, lyrics aside, the real power of the music is the brutish, pounding repetition of a naked leitmotif, an idee fixe stripped down to its bare essence.  The implacable motif drives the disappointment of broken dreams, and the despair of having no future,  straight through your skull.  It screams of anguish and injustice.  It hints at revenge.

And, buried in all that repetition, there is a stubborn hope, an energetic optimism that says never give up.

Powerful lyrics, a great band, 2 chords, 3 notes.  What a formula for a timeless, emotional trip.  No wonder he's called The Boss.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The British are coming! The British are coming!

Here are my favourite types of music:  Rock and Roll, Folk and Blues.  Some people refer to this stuff as roots music.  Some call it Americana (or Canadiana, if you're on this side of the border and typically Canadian (i.e. self-conscious)).

Whatever you call it, it's great music.  And like all American music, it's the offspring of black-meets-European culture.  The best of it is simple, honest, and speaks to everyday people about everyday life.

I've loved this music all my life, but I was a good way into it before I could really appreciate the real McCoy.

The reason is the British Invasion.  The Beatles kindled my passion for music.  They gave me Rockabilly and Motown.  They gave me Folk Rock.  Led Zeppelin and Cream gave me the Blues. The Stones did it all, with a dose of Country.  All very roots, very Americana - all with a side order of fish and chips.

I didn't understand it at the time, didn't get that these bands were taking American music and throwing it back in the face of Americans.  I liked and listened to lots of American artists too, but to me there was something about the English sound that was more alive, more fresh, more interesting.

Hey!  I'm white and have British roots.  So how could I not love my black music served up by Honkies and Limeys?

I still love it, but over the years I've also gradually come to appreciate the unadulterated, original, untouched-by-hallucenogens (most of this was the Sixties, right?) sound(s) too.

A roundabout journey.  Instead of going down the road, I had to travel across the ocean and back again to discover all this great music that was surrounding me all along.

I guess I finally heard someone singing "baby come back."

Monday, 19 December 2011

All My Tears They Fell Like Rain

I was listening to Led Zeppelin's Since I've Been Loving You the other day in the car.  As usual, I tried to sing along.  Tried.  As usual, I failed.

This has nothing to do with the fact that Robert Plant's range is an octave and a bit higher than mine.  What it is, is the fabulous, natural, inimitable timing Plant applies to the vocals.

The timing imparts such raw, powerful, overwhelming emotion that I just get into the song, and so I try and sing along.

Except I can't because his rendering is so unpredictable that each time I hear it, it feels like he's delivering the performance for the first time.  So even though I've listened - and tried to sing along - like, a million times, I can't get the timing down.  When does he pause?  When does he repeat that line?  When does he stutter?  When does he wail?

It's just not possible. 

It's qualities like this that made Led Zeppelin so amazing, and Since I've Been Loving You one of my favourite all time blues songs.

Yes, I can hear some of you purests saying it's not proper blues; it's too white, too psychedelic, too English - but that's the subject for another blog, I think.

And yes, maybe, just maybe, Plant is having us on and giving us more show than real emotion.  Maybe he's just drawing from his formidable bag of tricks to make us think he's suffering.  Maybe he's not taking himself too seriously.  Led Zeppelin was good at that.

But it doesn't matter.  The result feels genuine.

He's says his life is a drag, and you relate and you think life is a drag, and   ...

it kinda makes life a drag, drag, drag  ...  whaaaaaaaaa!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Favourite Songwriters - Part 2

Going back to a previous post  ...  whenever you cut a list short at 10, you start feeling guilty about who you have omitted (well, I do, anyway).

So, some honourable mentions:

Influential blues greats:  Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Leadbelly, Willie Dixon.  See?   There are too many to squeeze into a top ten.

Pete Townshend.  You could say he's uneven, but his best material is huge, and massively influential.

Paul Simon.  Ditto.

Neil Young.  I mean, Neil Young is Neil Young, and even if he didn't make my top ten list, he should be on yours.  Who said this had to make sense?

David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler and Warren Zevon.  My holy trinity of under-rated songwriters.  You can decide which is father, son and holy ghost.

Yikes!  And so I just remembered I forgot - completely forgot - about Bruce Springsteen.  Too late to revise the top ten, so let's put him in with Neil Young and say he should be on yours.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Only Love ...

"Only love
Can bring the rain
That makes you yearn to the sky
Only love
Can bring the rain
That falls like tears from on high"

Is there anybody out there that doesn't like Love Reign O-er Me?

I didn't think so.

It grabs me every time, changing my mood from whatever it was to a confused and powerful mix of pain, defiance and optimism.  Daltry's anguished singing, Townshend's soaring guitar, the bittersweet lyrics  ...  wow.

I can be already sad, happy, whatever …  I can be working and not even notice that music is playing - today I was planting a bush - and it just makes me stop, listen, tremble, and think, "ya, that's how I feel!"

That, people, is the power of music.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Higher Place

I went to a Tom Petty concert a while ago.  It was my fourth concert, and he never disappoints.

Solid musicianship, terrific songs, cool light show, and just the right balance between humility and attitude.

Mike Campbell was on, putting on a clinic of masterful guitar work.  This was an improvement over previous shows, because - although he is a tasteful genius in the studio - his attempts to wow in live performances can sometimes be uneven.

Another improvement:  Petty's noodling guitar solos also seem to get better with age.

As always, the coolest part of the experience was the crowd, who stand up and sing along with every song.  Not some parts of some songs, not when asked to join in, but every line of every song.  Rather like being in church.

I suppose it is, for some people.  Anyway, the fanaticism is contagious and joyful.

Only one complaint, especially coming on the heels of McCartney's nearly 3 hour show:  not enough.  Petty's show was just under 2 hours, which was downright annoying given we were subjected to over 90 minutes of a CSN "performance" that was a long time gone before it even started.

A good kind of complaint, I guess, but the final result was that the lows outnumbered the highs.  I went from "when will this end?" to "hell ya!" to "what, it's over?" and ended up feeling like, for $180, Tom was jammin' me.

Were you, Tom?  I need to know.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

War Is Over If You Want It

It still hurts.

I'm still angry, still shocked, and still very, very sad.

Why did Mark David Chapman murder John Lennon?  How have we managed to create a society where guns and violence are not just OK, they are celebrated?

John Lennon always was, and always will be, my hero.  Sure he was a little weird, more than a little naive, sometimes irresponsible, and deeply flawed.

He was also a genius who spread joy and excitement throughout the world.  He inspired millions to look towards a brighter future.  He spoke to - and for - all of us.

The world is a darker, crueler, more dangerous place than it used to be.  John Lennon was no saint and no saviour, but I can't help but feel it would be a better place if he were still here.

I still miss him.  It still hurts.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Carry On?

My mom, probably like yours, always told me if you don't have anything nice to say, then keep your mouth shut.  That said ...

I saw Crosby, Stills and Nash in concert last year, and it was a sad affair.

I saw them in 1974, and have fond memories.  But their embarrassing performance at Live Aid in 1985, confirmed by woeful appearances on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows, set me up with low expectations for this concert.  Sadly, these expectations were met.

Their music is timeless.  Unfortunately, the boys aren't, and the litany of complaints is too long and painful to record here.  Suffice it to say that if you walked into a bar and didn't know who they were, you'd turn around and walk out.  In fact, I saw a tribute band a few years ago that was way better.

Here's a curious thing, though: the audience was enthusiastic.  
Wildly enthusiastic.  I admit that when I recognized the big songs (eventually, in most cases) I felt a small wave of emotion wash over me.  But people must have been hearing the music in their heads, not the sound emanating from the stage.

I guess my brain is wired differently, because my overwhelming reaction was one of sadness, helplessly hoping they'd get off the stage before it got any worse.

Sorry, Mom.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Favourite Songwriters

The recent post about seeing Paul McCartney live naturally got me thinking about "bests".

So here's a best songwriters list:

To begin, Lennon and McCartney must be split up.  They're too good - and did too much stuff on their own - to be put together.  Oh, and they didn't collaborate as much as we thought at the time.  But mainly, the sheer volume of masterpieces says not only should they be on top, but they must be 1-2.  So ...

1) John Lennon.  An arbitrary choice.  Sorry, Paul.

2) Paul McCartney.  Silly love songs aside, Paul was - and is - a genius who has blessed us with countless thrills, memories and emotions over five decades.  In a class of his own.  No one else comes close.  Except  ...  well, sorry, Paul.

3)  George Harrison.  Not in the same class as his band mates, and a ranking most people will disagree with, but I can't place him any lower on the list.  I just can't.

4) Tom Petty.  Petty has held true to the mid-sixties vibe that The Beatles and The Stones defined.  He gets it.  He has absorbed all the elements, and knows how to serve up the perfect mix of heart-on-your-sleeve-emotion, humour and attitude.  And he's consistent, year after year, decade after decade.

5) Eric Clapton.  Clapton may have started out as a guitar god, but his voice and songwriting eventually caught up.  It's not just Layla.  Clapton has written a formidable number of great songs, and has been consistently fearless in expressing his emotions, transferring them to his audience.

6) Jagger/Richards.  Many would put them number one.  On sheer volume alone, they have a good case.  Ditto influence.  But this is a personal list, and I have to get the other five out of the way first.

7) Page/Plant.  Yes, I know Bonham and Jones were also credited on many of the songs ...   Again, from a volume and influence standpoint, these guys have to be up there.  I always had the feeling that Plant was just making up the words as they were recording, but the words never really mattered, did they?  What mattered was the thunderous and soaring competition between Page's riffs and Plant's voice.

8) John Lee Hooker.  I need at least one classical blues guy here, and ol' Johnny wins handily.  To me, he just told the best, most emotive stories.  That mournful voice helped a bit, too.

9) James Taylor.  Speaking of voices ...   His songs just make me feel.  Mostly good, sometimes sad.  Sometimes both at the same time, and sometimes some things else.  He makes me feel.

10) Bob Dylan.  I'm sure Dylan is number one for a lot of people, and I couldn't argue.  His influence is so pervasive it can't be measured.  And so many great songs.  I do wish they were all a verse or two shorter, though.

Anyway, that's my list.  I know that when I'm working on a song, one or more of the above is influencing what comes out.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Walk Of Life

I attended a small blues festival last summer.  Four acts (2 really, or 2.8 or 3.1 depending on how you want to count).  Two (or 1.3 of them) with some notoriety, and two (or 2.7 of them) not so much.

But it was all good.

Sure, recorded music can be more or less perfect (in terms of sound quality if not performance and taste), but it's not as real, is it?  You can edit out a lot of mistakes and patch in a lot of corrections.  That's what the pros do, what the big stars do, and what we usually get excited about.

But it's not real.  Real is rough and tumble, here goes nothing, fall on your ass music jumping out at the audience - some of it great, some of it inspired, some of it just interesting.

Let me explain the numbers.  There were four acts on the billing.  The first act was two guys: drums and organ.  My first reactions was, this will be interesting, and it was.  Except that this guitarist from one of the other acts sat in and jammed with them for most of the set.  A good thing, especially from the point of view of the organist, who was a busy boy.

The second act performed their set - very nice - and got off without complication.

The third act, Harry Manx, a solo artist (and one of my favourites), played a few songs on his own, but invited the organist and the MC (a harp player from an act not on the billing) up to jam.  Fun stuff.

Then the final act came on.  The guitarist who jammed through the first set, a bass player, and guess who?  The drummer and the organ player that were the first, 'separate' act!

I got the feeling that the whole event was one big jam session.  So all the musicians were on their toes.  Little was rehearsed.  Nothing was automatic.  Most of it involved some danger, and all of it was genuine.

From the perspetive of the audience, that's exciting.  From the musician's perspective, it's about learning and growing and getting better.  Not to mention having fun.

Playing live is how musicians hone their craft, how they learn, how they improve.  How they develop into the magicians that make us all happy.

If people didn't take a chance on live music The Beatles might never have made a record, Rod Stewart might still be busking in train stations, and Bob Dylan might have had to finish college and become a manager at a trucking company or something.

So get out there and listen to live music.  You never know who you'll be helping along.  And once in a while you'll say to yourself, "Oh yeah, the boy can play."

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Sad Songs (Part 2 ... or 3)

OK, so a few songs I overlooked the first time out, and so here's a more complete list:

I Can't Make You Love Me and Matters of the Heart, by Bonnie Raitt

Romeo and Juliet, by Dire Straits

You're Missing, by Bruce Springsteen

Love In Vain, and St. James Infirmary – anyone’s version

Walk Away Rene, by The Left Bank (or Temptations)

Accidently Like a Martyr, by Warren Zevon

Humble Me, either Harry Manx's or Norah Jones's version.

Love Hurts and Crying, by Roy Orbison

Don't Fade On Me, by Tom Petty

No particular order.  They all get to me every time.  And, in terms of tear induction, Here Today by Paul McCartney is the hands-down winner.  Don't know how I forgot that one.

Great songs, all of 'em.  They just hurt so good.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I Believe In Yesterday ... and Today

So, I saw Paul McCartney's performance in Toronto last year.  First time (I was too young to disobey the 'you can't go; you'll get trampled to death' edict when The Beatles came through in the 60's, and in the 70's I was still mad at him over the breakup, but these are other stories).

Well, everyone blamed somebody for that, didn't they?  I mean the Beatles breakup.

Excuses for the last few tours?  None, really.  None at all.

Notice how I'm delaying saying anything at all about this concert?  That's because I'm speechless.  Still.

Long, long pause ...

I can't imagine a better concert experience.  Almost three hours of non-stop exhilaration.  One magical song after another, with barely a breath in between.  I don't think Paul even took a sip of water.  Energy, exuberance, and joy washing over an electrified audience in wave after astonishing wave.

And such showmanship.  Each joke, each wink, seemed to be delivered to everyone in the audience personallyPersonally.  He's like a Windows 7 commercial:  "I'm a music lover, and Paul McCartney was my idea."

No if's, and's or maybe's.  I'm definitely amazed.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

See It My Way, See It Your Way

I was listening to We Can Work It Out by the Beatles, and started to think that maybe that was the saddest song ever.  But no, it's too complicated.

Picture a compass.  Replace 'east' with 'confidence' ("Listen to me.  Only I have the answer.").  Replace 'west' with 'despair' ("Can't you see you're hurting me?").  Replace 'south' with 'frustration' ("It shouldn't have to be like this.").  Replace 'north' with 'optimism' ("Together we can make the world a better place.").

Paul's pretty melody is countered by John's plaintive harmony.  John's stuttering guitar hesitates and drives forward at the same time.  His simplistic organ part also contains a church-like grandeur.  Oh, and the song oscillates between quadruple and triple time.

The song pushes out in all directions, yet stands squarely (OK, roundly) in the middle.

So, it's a sad song if that happens to be your mood at the time, but it's a whole lot more besides.

I can picture Paul introducing the song: "Here's a little number that can be whatever you want it to be."


Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Man Is

I had the chance to see Barney Bentall in an intimate setting a while back, and it was quite enjoyable.

He is a thoughtful and talented songwriter filled with honesty.

He did some f his old Legendary Hearts stuff, which was fun, but his newer material is just terrific.  I especially liked A Man Is, and Inside Passage.

Keep on rocking, Barney!  Glad you’re still around.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Take A Sad Song And Make It Better

Listening to a good sad song can be cleansing, cathartic experience.

I got to thinking the other day about sad songs and started wondering which ones are the saddest ever.

It all depends on your individual experience, of course, which will influence how you react to any given song, but here’s my partial list:

I Can’t Make You Love Me, by Bonnie Raitt is right up there, maybe #1.  It just aches.

Sticking with Bonnie, Matters Of The Heart, should also be on the short list.

Romeo And Juliet, by Dire Straits is either a close second, or maybe even #1.  Whenever I see Knopfler perform it live, my reaction is "I hope I’m never unhappy enough to be able to write a song like that."

You’re Missing, by Springsteen gets me every time.  So does Father and Son by Cat Stevens.  Not sure why, but so does Hysteria by Def Leppard.

Two Blues classics, Love in Vain and St. James Infirmary, deserve consideration.  Anyone’s version.

After that, I’m not sure.  Yesterday?  Yes It Is?  For No One?  No.  The Beatles could do melancholy, but they were masters of juxtaposition, and so even their sad songs feel upbeat.  Springsteen’s pretty good at that too.

Maybe John Mayer’s Gravity.  Nah.  Too pretty.

Fast Car?  No.  That’s depressing, not sad.
Lots of emotional songs, lots of downer songs, but not many sad ones come to mind.  Hmmm  ...  maybe we could use more.  The catharsis might be good for us, and then maybe we wouldn't need so many pissed off songs.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Good Ol' (English) Boys

I listened to Sticky Fingers in its entirety for the first time in decades the other day (as I transferred my vinyl to cassette, then again later to CD, then again later to MP3, the "playlists" shrunk each time, justifying the narrow-mindedness of classic rock radio, but that's a different story).

Anyway, sure they were the self-proclaimed "world's greatest rock and roll band," but the Stones were so country.  The music oozes south.  It's not classic rock, hard rock, British rock, psychedelic era hard rock, or blues rock (OK, maybe it's actually all of those things).  But more than anything, it's southern rock.

And how southern rock is it?  It's so southern, I've decided the Stones weren't doing southern, they were southern (are, I guess).  They are so southern the southern bands are trying to sound like them versus vice versa.  They own the sound, and bands from The Allman Brothers to the Black Crowes to Collective Soul have been trying to copy them ever since. 

Sorry, bro' but that's what it sounds like from up here in the Great White North.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

What's In A Name?

It's interesting how people define different musical genres.

Does a country song have to have fiddles?  If it's missing fiddles, what is it?  (Bad rock, according to Tom Petty, but I don't think he meant it.)

Does a prog rock song have to have multiple time and key signature changes?

Can't a blues song have more than three chords?

Does rock and roll have to be in 4/4 time?

The problem with labels, of course, is that they are restricting.  To me, the best artists have always borrowed a bit here, a bit there, studied this, appreciated that - and picked up bits and pieces along the way to crafting their own unique sound.  None of them have been rigid and exclusive in what music they liked.  Just the opposite; they've explored, included and cross-pollinated.

Sure, each genre and sub-genre has its home base and dominant characteristics, but great artists are always mixing things up and taking us somewhere new, to a place where labels don't matter.

And that's a good thing.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Sweetness In The Sad

Anyone out there an Ian Thomas fan?

I've been one for pushing three decades, and have always been puzzled why he wasn't a huge star.

Other than Painted Ladies (one of his poorest efforts) and 
Right Before Your Eyes he never got much radio play.   Things didn't improve much with The Boomers, the band he founded after his 20 year solo career. 

Bizarre, because every record he made, before and with The Boomers, is terrific.  Strong melodies, versatile voice, interesting harmonies, thoughtful lyrics that are heartfelt but not too preachy, a good sense of humour, and fabulous production.

He never strayed too far from solid pop sensibilities, but blended in a variety of styles over the years, from prog rock to Euro-pop to blues.  He could imitate Steely Dan, Foreigner, the Beach Boys or R.E.M., but do so in his own, unique way.

Great artist, producer and musician.  I've always been sad Ian Thomas never made it big, but grateful I discovered his sweet musical secrets.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Last Waltz

Hundreds of years ago, music theorists - aided by the church - held that 3/4 time was "perfect" time because it represented the Holy Trinity.  Really.

Skip forward to the mid 19th century, and the rock and roll of the day was the waltz.  With roots in folk music, initially considered scandalous because of the closeness of the dancers, the waltz was eventually adopted by society in general, and dominated popular music for a long, long time.  Sounds like rock, right?

Speaking of rock, many pop and rock artists that helped define music for us were very comfortable with the waltz.  Probably because in America the waltz had slipped back to its folk roots and found its way into country music (think of Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene).  Until the 70's we got a fair number of good tunes in 3/4 time: Dylan, The Stones, James Taylor, Bill Joel, even Jimi Hendrix all gave us waltzes.

OK, Hendrix was Hendrix, so
Manic Depression isn't exactly a waltz ...

Lots of waltzes from The Beatles:  Hide Your Love Away, I Me Mine, Dig A Pony, Long Long Long, and my favourite - Baby's In Black.  John's Happy Christmas (War Is Over) has even achieved anthem status. 

Interesting, by the way, that the list is dominating by John and George, despite Paul's reputation for what John called "grannie music."  (Actually, he didn't use the word "music".)

By the late 70's, though, the waltz was all but gone.  Scanning my iPod, all I can find is one song by Pink Floyd (In The Flesh?), and one by The Pretenders (2,000 Miles), and that's about it until this century, with Wish I Could by Norah Jones and Smile by David Gilmour.  So I guess the waltz is dead, and long live rock.

Too bad, in a way, because a departure into triple time now and again would provide a nice break from the relentless thunder of the modern rock beat.

Hmmm ...  maybe that's the attraction to the domination of triplets in the blues.  Maybe that's why slow blues (in 12/8 time) is so hypnotically alluring.  3/4 time inside 4/4 time.  Maybe that's "perfect" time.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Eagles Live

The motivation for going to the aforementioned concert was The Dixie Chicks.   But, having commented on them, I thought I should also say something about the main event.

I've always been lukewarm towards The Eagles.  I mean, I've always liked them, I've bought records and CD's.  I can't remember ever changing the station when they came on the radio - which, coming from an incurable button-pusher, is a compliment.  They've written some classic songs and I respect them as musicians - especially Joe Walsh.  I've just never been ... oh, I dunno ... enthusiastic.

So I went with neutral expectations.  I knew I wouldn't hate it, but I didn't expect to be blown away.  Well, I almost was blown away.  They were very good.

Great production, tight delivery, a good mix of "listen up! this is serious" and "it's just rock, let's have some fun."  Excellent a/v show.  And they gave Joe Walsh five songs, acknowledging that he was a star before they were.  Joe sure is fun.

I'm not sure The Eagles have made it onto my "I-have-to-see-them-every-time-they-go-on-tour" list, but they were a treat and I'm glad I went.  Glad they've been around in The Long Run.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Dixie Chicks Live

Last year I had the opportunity to see the Dixie Chicks live.

Just so you know, I'm a recent convert.  I'm not a hard core country fan, so it took Shut Up and Sing to get my attention.  Which it did.

Some random thoughts:

1) thoroughly enjoyed it

2) confused about Natalie's hair (or lack thereof)

3) wish they had played longer

4) Natalie's performance was uneven.  It was obvious this was the first stop on the tour.  She was good, but didn't appear to be emotionally connected to every song.  On at least one song, you could se she was struggling as she tried to remember it. 

But on some songs, like Not Ready to Make Nice, she was unbelievable; powerful, emotional, knock you over passionate.  More than made up for the others songs where the performance was merely good.

4) My, but hasn't country changed alot in my lifetime.  As a kid, Country meant Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs, cowboy songs, bluegrass, Hee Haw.  The fiddles and the banjos are still there, but now it's rock.

I realize there has always been a lot of overlap, and I'd heard all these songs before, but the live experience put the music in a new light.  At the concert, I heard hooks you might expect in a Deep Purple song.  I heard vocal harmonies that would be at home in a Moody Blues piece.  Prog rock and metal meets bluegrass.  Wow.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  All of North America's musical genres - country, blues, jazz and rock - come from the same basic building blocks, which are various Western European folk traditions, European church and classical music, and West African music.  The different genres mix things up differently, and emphasize things their own distinctive ways, but they start with the same elements.

Just goes to show you, I guess, the dangers of putting things in a box and putting a label on it.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Rolling Stone Top 500 - Part 2

Some additional thoughts ...

It was great to see so many early rockers on the list, people like Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and The Everly Brothers.  With the dominance of the Classic Rock radio format, the field has been narrowed to (mostly white) music from between 1967 and 1980.  So it was good to see the people compiling the list gave credit to the folks who influenced everything that came after.

Ditto the 50's blues greats.  As Muddy Waters sang, "the blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll."  Nice to see the list compilers didn't forget that, and included the likes of Muddy, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

There was only one Billy Joel song.  There were only five Elton John songs.  There were only James Brown songs.  It could have been worse.

Surprised (and not pleasantly):
Only three tunes from Pink Floyd?  And nothing from Dark Side?

Only three songs from Neil Young?  He is a genre sponge, and in turn has influenced artists ranging from folk to punk.  Very strange.

Only two entries for The Police?  At a minimum, where was Message In A Bottle?

No Red Hot Chili Peppers?  Guys who can straddle alt rock, rap, R&B and classic rock?  Wow.

No Talking Heads?  No Cat Stevens?

Two entries from The Kinks.  I would have had more, but no matter.  The question is why Waterloo Sunset but no Lola?  Beyond weird.

Only one song from Tom Petty?  None from Dire Straits?  No Donovan?  No Stevie Ray Vaughan?  These oversights make me wonder if the people who compiled the list were straight at the time.

OK, enough of the list.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Rolling Stone Top 500

This is one of those lists that invite debate, so let me wade in ...

First of all, it's a ridiculously tough job.  The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time?  My "desert island" playlist has about 900 songs on it - and my list is far less inclusive than Rolling Stone's.

And how do you please everyone, with so many sub-genres and musical tastes?  You can't.

That said, I think they did a pretty credible job.  Most of the songs are deserving, whether you like the genre or not, whether you want to quibble about the relative placement or not.  And, looking at the people who created the list, you'd have to agree they know what they're talking about.

Some random reactions:

As Expected:
The Beatles topped the list with the most entries and the Stones came second.

The 60's dominate the list and the 70's came second.

Not Expected But Not Surprised:
Dylan came third in terms of number of entries and Elvis came fourth.

Not Expected But Pleased:
Hendrix had seven songs on the list.  His influence is huge, but he gets so little airplay, and I always worry that the ongoing posthumous exploitation takes away from his legacy.  It's nice to see the experts know better.

I suppose ABBA had to get a song on the list, but it's still sad.

The Beach Boys are over-represented with seven songs.  And Good Vibrations does not beat any of The Beatles Songs on the list.  I have never undestood why so many people think this song is so good.

And call me greedy, but The Beatles should have had more songs on the list.  Where is:  We Can Work It OutI Feel FineNowhere Man?  for example.

Only six Led Zeppelin?  And Sly Stone gets six?  Please!

Does Free Bird really have to be on the list?  I never got that one either.

Only one Bonnie Raitt song?

No Jethro Tull.  At all?

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Listing, listing, listing ...

It's not really news I guess, but there are a lot of lists out there, and more showing up every day  ...  Top 50 This and Best 100 That.

Readers, editors, experts, radio stations, magazines, websites, product companies, everybody makes 'em.

Dunno 'bout you, but I like reading them.  Sometimes the invoke argument, sometimes reflection, sometimes they even provide new insights or ideas.

So when I find 'em I'll show them and comment.  Can't predict how much reflection or insight will ensue, but the disagreements are pretty much guaranteed.

That's human nature, right?