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?