Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Bonzo Reprise

Gibson just published The Top 10 Rock Drummers. Lots of similarities to the Rolling Stone list published a while back. Here's the list:
 1. John Bonham - also #1 in Rolling Stone
 2. Neil Peart - #3 in Rolling Stone
 3. Keith Moon - #2 in Rolling Stone. Not a lot of variety here, is there?
 4. Dave Grohl - also #4 in Rolling Stone. See what I mean?
 5. Lars Ulrich - not in Rolling Stone. Ah, some change!
 6. Mike Portnoy - also not in Rolling Stone. OK maybe it's worth having a new list.
 7. Ginger Baker - sigh. Better than Rolling Stone's #9, but still not good enough.
 8. Josh Freese - not in Rolling Stone. A pattern of slightly more current drummers perhaps?
 9. Stewart Copeland - #7 in Rolling Stone
10. Ringo. Still nice to see him included, but I liked Rolling Stone's #5 better.

I agree with Gibson's statements that a good drummer is the backbone to the band, and that he/she also keeps the listener engaged. The best drummers find ways to do that without interfering with the song - not an easy thing to do.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

On a Night Like This

With the recent passing of Levon Helm, Rolling Stone’s Best Concert Movies of All Time list takes on a whole new dimension.  Here’s the list:

 1. The Last Waltz – The Band et al
 2. The Song Remains the Same – Led Zeppelin
 3. Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads
 4. Woodstock – everyone who was big at the time, and then some
 5. Rattle and Hum – U2
 6. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
 7. Live at Pompeii – Pink Floyd
 8. Shine a Light – The Rolling Stones
 9. Sign O’ the Times – that guys whose name keeps changing
10. Bullet in a Bible – Green Day

It’s fitting that the Stones get on the list twice, as it is that Scorcese directed two of these gems.

I wish that Led Zeppelin had made another film, though.  Or maybe I just wish there were none of those lame fantasy sequences.  Zep was fantastic in concert, and so they need to be on the list.  I just wish …

Speaking of wishing, a few shows I wish I’d been at and would therefore nominate for this list:

The Concert for George
AC/DC Live at Donnington
Queen Live at Wembley
Bonnie Raitt’s Road Tested

Anyway, no quarrel with The Last Waltz topping the list.  A superb performance from a great band – a smart band who went out on top - aided by an all-star guest line up.  R.I.P. Levon.

Friday, 20 April 2012

It's Alive!

Gibson recently published The Top 10 Live Bands, along with the statement that "the best bands combine great music and great theatrics." Fair enough, but for me it goes deeper than that.

For me, it's more about how they will deliver. Whenever I'm experiencing a live performance, I have at least three questions running through my mind:
1. Will they - or how will they - replicate the recording? With some songs it's impossible. But I'm always wondering what tricks will be used to duplicate - or indicate - the original recorded performance.
2. Will they make mistakes? Call it the NASCAR syndrome. You know, will there be a crash?
3. How will they keep it fresh? Let's face it: they've played - and you've heard - the song a million times. Will the performance be autonomous, or spontaneous?

The last question the most interesting.

Switching genres, I recently saw a concert given by Lang Lang, the classical piano sensation. One of the pieces he performed was Liszt's Liebestraum, a piece so overplayed it's a cliché (yes, you have heard it). Lang Lang possessed that music. Every note, every gesture, every nuance in his performance made me feel, not that I was hearing the piece for the first time, but that I was actually listening to the premiere performance, that he was making the music up on the spot.

That's a combination of great music and great theatrics.

By the way, here's the list:
1. The Who
2. Led Zeppelin
3. The Rolling Stones
4. The Allman Brothers
5. The Flaming Lips
6. AC/DC
7. The Stooges
8. Iron Maiden
9. Pink Floyd
10. Queen

Good list. I've seen some of 'em live and a few on DVD, and they all rock.

For years, Led Zeppelin was the best concert I ever attended. Until the first time I saw Tom Petty, then I had a new number one. The next three times I saw Tom Petty I had a new number one too. I've been to a lot of concerts and seen some pretty big acts, so Petty was really good at meeting my criteria.

Then I finally saw McCartney and everything else paled. Talk about being challenged to keep things fresh! And man, did he succeed.

So he's my number 1. Sorry Eric.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

You, or Your Song?

Here's a chicken-or-egg question: do you like (or dislike) the artist because you like (or dislike) the music or do you like (or dislike) the music because you like (or dislike) the artist?

For me, it's usually straight forward and driven by the music. For example, I love the Stones, who are not really very lovable, because I love their music.

Sometimes, though, it can be confusing. I love all Beatles music, but they were so charismatic and charming that taste and judgement were probably frequently suspended (I mean, is Martha My Dear really a good song, or is it just cool because Paul sings it?).

Sometimes it's tangled up in a tie. I can't stand Elton John's music and I also think he's a jerk (no that's not why).

Sometimes knowledge after the fact brings me to dislike an artist when I learn about behaviour that's not very nice - but I still like the music. ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin are good examples. Sometimes I ignore the information because it's incompatible with my love for the music and my adoration of the artist. Eric Clapton, for instance.

Sometimes it's just plain weird. I have never liked the Doobie Brothers, but I can't name a single song that I don't like. Nor do I know anything about them. So, huh?

Our culture is so caught up in hero worship, and the factories are very good at manufacturing idols and images, so it's interesting to think about just how much of our enjoyment of music is driven by taste as opposed to expectation.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Under Cover

Another intriguing list, Gibson's Top 50 Cover Songs of All Time

No surprise to me, #1 is Jimi Hendrix's version of Dylan's All Along The Watchtower. The old saying about doing a cover is, "be true to the original, and make it your own." Well, Hendrix stole this song. It's his song now, not Dylan's.

Some others that come close to theft are:
#10 - Aretha Franklin's version of Respect (oh, did Otis Redding write that?)
#20 - The Who's version of Young Man Blues (who is Mose Allison actually?)
#23 - The Black Crowe's version of Hard To Handle (who knew Otis wrote southern rock?)
#49 - CCR's version of Suzie Q (that song defined them)

The songs that come closest to the maxim (balancing respect with a fresh sound) are:
#2 - The Beatles version of Twist And Shout
#7 - The Byrd's version of Mr. Tambourine Man
#10 - Elvis's Hound Dog
#27 - Talking Head's version of Take Me To The River
#29 - Elvis's Blue Suede Shoes (sorry Carl)

In the "decent cover ... interesting take" category, I'd place:
#13 - Stevie Ray Vaughan's cover of Hendrix's Little Wing
#18/#24 - The Stones' covers of Not Fade Away and Love In Vain
#28 - Red Hot Chili Peppers' version of Higher Ground

In the "some songs just shouldn't be covered" (and therefore should not be on the list) category, I'd put:
#17 - GNR's molestation of Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door
#26 - Ike & Tina Turner's cartoon version of Proud Mary
#33 - Van Halen's disfiguring of Oh Pretty Woman
#35 - Aerosmith's criminal rendition of Come Together

Interesting, isn't it, that a bunch of these artists are on the list as coverers and coverees: The Beatles, Hendrix, The Stones, CCR, and Otis (not mentioned above, but he is).

Interesting, too, that so many songs on the list are rediscovering of old blues tunes.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Rock Trinities

Another interesting list: the Gibson Top 10 Rock Trios

Here's the list:
1. Jimi Hendrix Experience
2. Cream
3. Rush
4. Nirvana
5. ZZ Top
6. Green Day
7. Muse
8. SRV and Double Trouble
9. Primus
10. The Police

Well, I would have included The James Gang there somewhere.  And I would have swapped Cream for Hendrix, but otherwise the list is predictable.

The inclusion of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble poses and interesting question, though. What about the quartets that had a singer backed by a trio? Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc.? These bands had the same limitations in terms of what they could put out - especially live. Might make for a different looking list.

The trigger for the question is: Double Trouble started out as just bass and drums behind Stevie. The keyboard was added later - so they weren't always a trio.  Guess there isn’t a big list to choose from.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Dividing Up The Pie

I was playing around with my music map, figuring out where to locate my favourite artists. Came up with this:
Things get a little crowded in the centre, which makes sense. Given my assertion that psychedelic has a dose of Classical, I'd like Cream to be more to the left. And, given Gilmour's guitar playing, I'd like Pink Floyd to be more to the right, touching the Blues.

The Rock circle is definitely the busiest. Those that touch the circle but are partially outside make sense to me (e.g. Eagles being part Rock, part Country - as compared to Buddy Holly who is Rock but you can hear the Country influence.

It was easy to put Petty and Young at the confluence of Folk Rock and Country Rock. On the other hand, I confess that the placement of Springsteen was purely arbitrary.

The model breaks down for some artists. Dylan has a heavy Blues influence, and Zeppelin was pretty good at Folk, but I don't have Blues and Folk overlapping. CCR and The Beatles both need to touch the R&B circle but I couldn't do that without giving up something else.

Of course the best bands defy categorization, and cover more territory than I was able to allocate.

One nice bit of foresight (if foresight can be accidental) was the little blank space just north of Rock centre where you could say the influences where everything and nothing. Good place to put the most versatile - and unique - bands, isn't it? And those would be The Beatles and The Stones.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A Decade In The Life

Here's an interesting list: the Rolling Stone Top Ten Songs Of The Sixties

Good list, and I guess all pretty much predictable. You quickly see that we have the usual, expected suspects, and they each get one tune (except The Beatles and Stones, who get two, and that's fair).

Here's the list:
1. Like A Rolling Stone - Dylan
2. A Day In The Life - The Beatles
3. Satisfaction - Stones
4. Gimme Shelter - Stones
5. My Generation -The Who
6. Light My Fire - The Doors
7. Hey Jude - The Beatles
8. Whole Lotta Love - Zeppelin
9. All Along The Watchtower - Hendrix
10. God Only Knows - Beach Boys

No point in debating relative placement. They are all wonderful songs (except God Only Knows, and, and, well only He does).

You could have pretty much guaranteed which groups would have been represented. What's interesting is which songs got selected. Satisfaction? Watchtower? Whole Lotta Love? Zero surprise factor.

Gimme Shelter? Nice, especially since it came so late. But it certainly captured the downer mood that undid the Woodstock high and kicked us into the 70's.

My Generation? Classic Rock radio revisionism. No one listened to this song when it first came out. OK, they did, and it was respected, but it wasn't as big or influential at the time as I Can See For Miles or Pinball Wizard.

Hey Jude? Sure. #1 for a zillion weeks. A Day In The Life? Nice. Trippy. Best representation of The Fab at their psychedelic best. But She Loves You started everything. And tunes like Day Tripper summed up what set them apart from everyone, why everything else was second best.

Like A Rolling Stone? If you asked me to pick one song that best represented the 60's I might just pick this one. But it feels like more revisionism to me. Ya, there's the legendary booing at Newport and all that, but it didn't get played much (at least initially). Sure, it marked Dylan's transition from folk to rock, but in the end it feels arbitrary. Blowing In The Wind or The Times They Are A Changing are better representations of what was happening at the time.

So, the thing is this was a reader's poll. And it's the voice of the people and the people are never wrong. The real thing is, how much have we all been manipulated by what we constantly hear, by what we're told to remember?

If you had done a poll on January 1, 1970, you probably would have got the same artists. Not sure you would have got the same songs.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Pop Boom Fizzle

One of the sub-genres you might have noticed missing from my music map is Power Pop.

And sure, it's just Pop, but it's heavier, right? More to the right to reflect that Metal, Blues Rock influence.

Well, it's omitted because I was never a fan. Foreigner, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Styx ... all those power ballads to me were just a compromise. I disagree here with Wikipedia, which describes Power Pop as Pop music with a Rock edge, and lists The Beatles, The Who and The Kinks as early examples. Fair enough, but I'm talking about the bands that specialized in rather soppy ballads that just happen to have a furry guitar in the song.

As for the compromise, guys wanted to listen to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, but their girls wanted Lionel Ritchie and The Bee Gees. Foreigner was the middle ground. Good musicians and all, but so what if they had electric guitars? The songs were really Easy Listening, most of 'em ones on the outside of my Rock circle.

Overlaps and blends that create something new: exciting.

Ones that are a shotgun wedding to keep the peace: not so much.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Lists Get Grungy

So here's a list I almost didn't look at, given I'd almost given up on new music by then: the Gibson Top 50 Albums of the 90's

It surprised me, because I knew a lot of them, even bought a bunch. Here's the Top 10:
1. Nevermind, by Nirvana
2. OK Computer, by Radiohead
3. Achtung Baby, by U2
4. Definitely Maybe, by Oasis
5. Automatic For The People, by R.E.M.
6. Ten, by Pearljam
7. Metallica
8. Time Out Of Mind, by Bob Dylan
9. Grace, by Jeff Buckley
10. The Bends, by Radiohead.

Gee. Good for Radiohead. Nevermind is a no brainer. I would have swapped What's The Story (Morning Glory)? (#23) with Definitely Maybe, but it really doesn't matter.

Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic by RHCP almost squeaked in to the top 10 (#11), and I would have let it. Glad to see Shake Your Money Maker, by The Black Crowes as high as #24. Sad to see Clapton's Unplugged at only #44, but whatever.

Mainly, it's very cool - and maybe telling - that Bob Dylan managed a top 10 appearance in his fourth decade of recording, influencing and reflecting our souls. 

Good on ya, Bob.