Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

The formula for a hit song is simple: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, chorus again, out.

Other than songs based on 12 bar blues, the above pattern is ubiquitous, predictable, universal.  One of these formulas applies to all your favourite songs.

That is, until you get closer.  Then you notice The Beatles starting a song with the chorus (Nowhere Man), or stretching a 12 bar blues pattern into 14 bars (Revolution).  Or The Animals using two different turnarounds on a 12 bar pattern (See See Rider), or The Doors going verse-verse fragment-chorus-bridge-verse fragmant-chorus-verse (Love Her Madly).  Or ZZ Top refusing to be consistent in how many times they play the intro/hook in between verses (Sharp Dressed Man), an attitude employed by The Stones on Brown Sugar.

Maybe these dudes didn’t know the rules they were breaking.  Maybe they didn’t care.  Or maybe, the rules aren’t creative straight jackets at all.  Maybe they are ignition switches.

Monday, 29 October 2012

On a Night Like This

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, 26 October 2012

Time Changes Everything

If nothing changed we’d all be stuck in a sort of groundhog day and life would get pretty boring.  Things change, we change, what we like and don’t like changes.

Dunno about you, but my musical tastes have changed a lot over the years, and it’s not just about getting mellower as I get older.  I hope.

For example:

Extreme changes, from “Hate it” to “Love it” – Van Morrison, The Band

Major changes, from “Don’t like it but respect it” to “Love it” – CCR, Motown, Blues, (some) Country

Minor changes, from “Like it” to “Love it” – Stones, AC/DC, Bob Marley

Minor changes from “Adore it” to “Love it” – Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jethro Tull

Minor changes from “Love it” to “Like it” – Hendrix, The Who

Major changes from “Love it” to “Ya it was OK then but don’t care now” – The Byrds, The Cult, Humble Pie

Extreme changes from “Love it” to “Let’s pretend it didn’t happen” – Wang Chung (I don’t know; I really don’t know), Genesis, a lot of prog rock

Some things just wear thin over time.  Others seem to get better as I discover more and learn to appreciate what I’m hearing.

And some things don’t change.  In the “Can’t imagine ever not loving it” category – Clapton, Dire Straits, Bonnie Raitt, The Cars, The Police, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Tom Petty.

And in a category of their own, the “this is perfect” category – The Beatles.  Sheer joy, any time at all.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Change’ll Do You Good

A sad but inevitable (inescapable?  inexorable?) truth in music is that the line ups of our favourite bands keep changing.  Gibson’s 10 Bands That Changed Singers ... and Won deals with this reality, and reminds us that change is not always a bad thing.

Here’s the list:  Deep Purple, Van Halen, AC/DC, Faith No More, Judas Priest, Journey, Iron Maiden, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Pink Floyd.

Winning seems to mean, “enjoyed increased commercial success,” so that ducks the question of whether the band actually got better.  For a lot of these transitions, it’s debatable whether the band improved, especially in the eyes of their existing fans.

David Lee Roth for Sammy Hagar?  Not sure.  Bon Scott for Brian Johnson?  I think so, but many wouldn’t.  Syd Barrett for David Gilmour?  Well, for me, Floyd’s music was finally approachable with Waters and Gilmour at the helm, and maybe that illustrates the problem with “winning.”  Commercial success means, well, “more commercial” (ya I know we’re talking about Pink Floyd but everything is relative).

Take Genesis.  By the time Collins is through with them, a (some would say) pretentious prog rock band becomes a pop act.  Makes you wonder how much of the original fan base was still around to celebrate the victory.

Or take Fleetwood Mac.  Trying to reconcile the dichotomy between the Peter Green and the Buckingham/Nicks eras, the article suggests that FM is “arguably not a band, but a brand.”   Maybe, but don’t brands have a core sound/image/look/feel/quality/certain-something that is supposed to endure and is therefore protected?  I would suggest that Fleetwood Mac is not a brand, but simply a name that got re-used.

The most interesting case for me is that of Deep Purple.  No question that Ian Gillan was an improvement over Rod Evans, and their popularity certainly jumped with the change.  But there was something very cool about those early albums.  I felt at the time, and I guess I still feel now, that they made the switch to try and sound more like Led Zeppelin.  They succeeded, and it was great and all, but they also lost some Deep Purpleness in the process.  They might have become highway stars, but the bird had flown.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Fabbest of the Four

Question:  Who’s the best Beatle?  Not your favourite.  Not the most talented, or successful, or revered.  The best Beatle.  The one who has the best blend of Beatles attributes.  The most Beatleness.

Answer:  George Harrison

George would be dismayed, I’m sure, but it’s true.  Here’s why.

  1. He was the funniest one. Yes, they were all witty, and Ringo and John could be terrific clowns, but George’s sense of humour was relentless.  Listen to the last verse of Cockamamie Business.
  2. He was the most reserved.  One of the hallmarks of Beatlemania was the Beatles themselves saying, “look, we don’t know what’s going on, we’re just trying to make music.”  George maintained that posture until the day he died.
  3. He was the boldest.  Yes, John did all the grandstanding and Paul was the mouthpiece, but who explored further afield?  Who took the biggest risks that his fans might not get it?  Sitars?  Hare Krishna?  George.
  4. He was all about excellence.  First and foremost, The Beatles were the best band in the history of rock.  George never strayed, never compromised.  He didn’t make records with Pattie or Olivia.  He made them with John, Paul, Ringo, Billy, Eric, Bob, Tom and Jeff.
  5. He was wise.  John ran away from being a Beatle.  Paul went into denial for 20 years, then reversed himself to become chief curator of Beatles Memories Inc..  Ringo, because only he could, just carried on being Ringo.  George didn’t try to deny his past even though it made him uncomfortable.  He had other priorities (see points 1-4).

Like most people, I adore(d) them all.  But, if we’re honest with ourselves, all of them occasionally put us in a “I-wish-he-hadn’t-done-that” space.  Easily done when you’re a brave, clever, witty, inventive, curious, smart, cheeky, talented, idolized musical genius blamed for creating a hitherto unknown form of mass hysteria.  George had his moments, but he didn’t generate uneasiness as frequently – or as severely – as the others.  He was the best at being fab.

If you’d ask him the question, George would probably have said, “oh I don’t know, I suppose the obvious answer is John, isn’t it?”  Then he would have laughed and said, “but don’t tell Paul.”  Fab.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Excitable Boys

Gibson has this fun list called Mad Geniuses: 10 Brilliantly Eccentric Musicians.  People, so they say, “who seem wired differently from the rest of us.”

It’s a matter of degree, I suppose, but you could probably say that about most artists.

Here’s the list: Roky Erikson, Peter Green, Brian Wilson, Prince, Joe South, Phil Spector, Wayne Coyne, Scott Walker, Skip Spence, Syd Barrett.

Don’t pretend to know much about many on this list, but what I do know about the ones I do know about tells me that drugs might have a thing or two more to do with the madness than any innate wiring.

Whatever the cause, it’s too bad we lost Peter Green, one of the best guitarists of all time who just happened to also be a great singer and songwriter.  Who knows what he could have accomplished?

Can’t say I agree with Phil Spector’s inclusion on this list, and not just because I’ve never been a “wall of sound” fan.  Just suggesting there is bit of a difference between mad genius and sick creep, you know?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Rock ‘N Roll Train

Question: who would you say is the perfect guitar hero?
Clarification: not the best, not your favourite, but the one with the perfect blend of attributes, the one who best exemplifies the role.

Well, my answer is Angus Young.

Hard driving riffs that are informed by – and rival – such riffmeisters as John Lennon and Keith Richards.  Guitar solos that are acts of sedition, solos that frequently quote Chuck Berry but also convince you that Jimmy Page is doing his impersonation of Jimi Hendrix.

And the “so-I’m-dressed-as-a-schoolboy-gotta-problem-with-that?” attitude.  I mean, is anything missing?

Oh, and his tone is amazing.  Dark and ballsy, sharp and biting all at the same time.

Angus is hard as a rock.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Are We Not Men?

It’s always been a fine line that separates geeks from gods, cool dudes from goofy nerds.  So Gibson’s list of 10 Great Geek Bands is kinda fun.

Here’s the list: Devo, Talking Heads, XTC, Sparks, Kraftwerk, Fountains of Wayne, Man or Astro-man? 10cc, The Residents, They Might Be Giants

Guess I’m not too geeky because I can only claim fanship to the 1st 3 bands.

No.  Hold on.  Taste is different from perception.  You’d have to ask the people around me.  Because liking Led Zeppelin does not mean you’re cool, sexy and dangerous, now does it?

Not sure I would have put Talking Heads on the list.  Sure they were quirky, but to me they were just a great rock band, one that typified all that was so great (albeit all too briefly) about New Wave.

The prize for prescience has to go to Devo though.  “Founded on the premise that humanity was regressing toward a consumer-driven, herd mentality …”
That was over 30 years ago!  Other than, “I told you so,” I wonder what they would say about things today?

Now, where is my flower pot hat?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

I Remember Feeling This Way

In our daily lives, will like things to be straightforward.  In music, though, a touch of ambiguity seems to make things more powerful.

Take Don’t Fade On Me, by Tom Petty for example.

The song is about loss for sure.  But whose loss?  the speaker’s?  the subject’s?  an irretrievable loss?  an imminent loss?

Is the singer sad?  afraid?  angry?  Who is he singing to?  A lover?  sibling?  friend?  parent?  hero?

Are we talking about physical loss?  loss of health?  loss of sanity?

What triggered all this?  Perhaps the speaker doesn’t even know:
            Was it love that took you under?
            Or did you know too much?
            Was it something you could picture,
            But never could quite touch?

All very dark and mysterious.  And the music just adds to it.  A folk song with a blues hook and a bluegrass solo.  Talk about ambiguous!

Art imitates life, and life is complicated, ambiguous, weird and wonderful.  We might crave certainty, but what we get is a big dish of dubious.

Comfortable?  Nope.  That’s why this song is such a powerful emotional trip.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Godfathers of Rock

Gibson has this list of 10 Pioneers Who Inspired Rock's Greatest Guitar Heroes.  Cool list.

Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, Lowman Pauling, Link Wray, James Burton, Dick Dale, Jimmy Nolan, Cliff Gallup, Hank Marvin, Carl Perkins.

In the full article you get a great sense for the huge influence these guys had: Hendrix, Clapton, Knopfler, Page, SRV, George, Keef … all listed as disciples and students.

Personally, I never got Dick Dale and Link Wray, but I wouldn’t dispute their impact.  I would, however, swap out one of them for T-Bone Walker.  The single most influential guitarist on the list is Chuck Berry and, as the article points out, Chuck owes a lot to T-Bone.

We’ve been dining off that meal for 60 years.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Producers Rule

I keep stumbling over all these interesting lists, but it’s curious that there doesn’t seem to be one about record producers.  Let’s face it:  production can have a huge impact – positive or negative – on a recording.

So who should go on the list?  Well …

For sure:
George Martin, Sam Phillips, Jimmy Page and Roy Thomas Baker.  Geniuses, whose impact is undeniable.

Bob Ezrin, Phil Collins, Glyn Johns and Bob Rock.  Successful, sought after, respected.

I Would Hope:
Jeff Lynne, Muff Winwood, David A. Stewart, Steve Lillywhite and – my favourite under-rated guy – Ian Thomas.  Talented guys who know their stuff.

I’ve left band-as-producer off the list because it’s too hard to tell who should really get the credit.

But no question producers are important.  Dunno about you but I have frequently had the same attitude about record producers that many people have about movie directors.  You know: if such-and-such made this, it must be good.

And I’m rarely disappointed.

Monday, 1 October 2012

My Ears Are Ringing

It might get loud?  It does get loud.  Gibson has this list of The 10 Loudest Rock Bands of All Time.

Here’s the list:
The Who
My Bloody Valentine
Deep Purple
Led Zeppelin

Wish I’d seen The Who.  Ditto doubly for AC/DC. 

The article says excessive volume is as pointless and painful as shouting in the midst of a tornado, and they have a point.  But I think the music itself enters into the picture.

Rock music is supposed to be loud.  And a little bit of temporary pain is kinda fun – once in a while.  Unfortunately, too many bands use volume to cover up their sins.  They substitute volume for skill and discipline.  Some acts may wear the noise as a “badge of courage”, but the best acts impress at any volume.

Take Zeppelin, for instance, which for over two decades was the best concert I’d ever seen.  Maybe the decibel level was over the top, but you know, you could go home and listen to one of their acoustic numbers – at low volume – and know you were listening to masters.

No question excessive volume is not good for you, but it’s never about the volume, man.  It’s about the music.