Friday, 30 November 2012

Same As It Ever Was

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
Into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones
There is water underground

Once In A Lifetime, by The Talking Heads.  Another one of those fabulous what-does-that-mean? songs.

I remember the first time I heard it, and I instantly related.  I always relate in a powerful way, even though I’m not too sure what it’s about.  A brief online search on the song reveals that it’s a mystery to others too, with various theories being offered up, including:
1. re-incarnation
2. mid-life crisis
3. pointless materialism
4. water (in a meaning-of-life sort of way)

If I’d had to put it into words at the time, I would have gone for mid-life crisis, even though when the song came out I was only 27.  But I dunno.

Water dissolving … and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean

And the video, with David Byrne bouncing around like a nervous puppet.  It’s all kind of threatening and sinister.

Same as it ever was, I guess.

How do I work this?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The 45 Masters

Gibson’s 10 Greatest Singles Bands reminds you why radio used to be do darned good.  Here’s the list:

 1.  The Beatles
 2.  The Rolling Stones
 3.  Creedance Clearwater Revival
 4.  The Smiths
 5.  The Who
 6.  The Eagles
 7.  The Kinks
 8.  Oasis
 9.  The Guess Who
10. The Dave Clark Five

The singles from these bands makes for a pretty good playlist and a decent party.  With the exception of The Dave Clark Five, who understood their market and gracefully retired with the advent of FM radio, all these bands were pretty good on the album front too.  A key point, I think.

The article points out that although 45 RPM singles gave way to albums (then CD’s), in this digital age we’re back to buying singles.

Well, the singles were always there and were always the way to get attention and exposure.  So what sends the bands on this list apart?  For me, it’s a combination of volume and balance.  A multitude of hits to distinguish themselves from the one-hit-wonders, plus the ability to appeal beyond the constraints of the 3 minute pop song.  Each album had a few hits on it, plus some great album rock that proved these bands had depth.  That distinguished them from the pop groups who could churn out singles, but disappeared with the next fad.

The music from the bands on this list will not fade away.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Cultural Icons

We like to touch them.  We like to play on them.  Sometimes, it’s a thrill just to look at them.

Get your mind out of the gutter.  Mainly, we like to hear them.

I refer to the Rolling Stone list of 20 Iconic Guitars.

Some obvious choices: McCartney’s Hofner Violin bass, B.B.’s Lucille, Les Paul squared, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s poor abused strat, Bo Diddley’s Cigar Box, Neil Young’s Old Black, Springsteen’s Esquire, What’s-His-Name’s What-Is-That?

Some I guess-so’s:  Eric Clapton’s Blackie (really, couldn’t it be any strat – since the 60’s when it could have been any Gibson?), Jimmy Page’s Doubleneck (undoubtedly iconic, but I always picture his Les Paul when I think of him), Keef’s Micawber (ya, he likes Tele’s, but he has like ten million guitars of all makes and models, right?), Lonnie Mack’s Flying V (hmmm, not Albert King?)

One WTF?: George Harrison’s 12 String Rickenbacker (George changed guitars for practically every album!  How about John’s Rickenbacker?)

To be iconic means the association has to be a strong one.  Frequently used or seen, or played at a seminal event (like Hendrix’s Monterey strat, as opposed to all the other strats).  So most of the guitars on the list make sense.  Some, though, seem to have been chosen to get the iconic player on the list.

They’re all cool though.  I do like to watch.

Friday, 23 November 2012

What About Now?

Well, that’s all there is, right?

As Robbie Robertson sings: forget about tomorrow, don’t talk of yesterday; it’s too far away.

And does anything snap us into the moment as quickly, as forcefully, as completely, as music?  Not for me.

Ya, the big goal, the killer homerun, the nail-biting election; they’re pretty intense.  And all successful art makes you stop and think – and feel.  But music reigns supreme.  It takes you out of time and puts you in the moment.

You can feel energy you didn’t know you had in you, experience a dormant emotion, or get deep into an idea you didn’t care about.

You dance; you sing along, you listen.  Music is immediate, overpowering, total.  There’s nothing like it.

Music is right now.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

It Won’t Be Long

The thing that jumps out of the Rolling Stone Top 25 Teen Idol Breakout Moments is that not many of them lasted beyond the moment.

Fabian, The Monkees, The Cassidy’s, Bay City Rollers, New Kids On The Block … all gone.  Long gone.  Gone and forgotten.

The list has some noteworthy exceptions, of course: Elvis, The Beatles, The Jackson 5 (well, Michael anyway), and Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra?  Well sure.  The whole idol, screaming girl thing started with him.  But RS does describe the list as “of the rock era,” and the hysteria over Frank started in 1942 – hardly part of the rock era.  OK, let’s not quibble.  Strangers In The Night was #1 midway through The Beatles run of hits – and played on the same radio stations.

But most of the names on the list are in the “oh-ya-I-forgot-all-about-him/her/them” category.  Not surprising, because most of the acts were manufactured.  They were not the real deal.  They were not artists who happened to make it big.  They were a product, created to capitalize on the teen idol impulse, exploiting the popular musical style of the day.

Popularity was intense but fleeting, there being no substance to the material.

The list is actually an interesting reflection of our culture, though, isn’t it?  A few timeless greats whose impact cannot be truly measured, and a bunch of fluff quickly consumed and more quickly forgotten.

The wolves are always hungry.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Hey Hey My My

Whoever thinks rock and roll is dead should take the matter up with the 17,000 fans who crowded around me, whooping it up at a recent concert I saw featuring Death Cab For Cutie and The Tragically Hip.

Rock and roll can never die.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Attack Of The Killer Mirror Balls

In the 10 Songs That Prove Disco Didn't Suck article, posted a while back by Gibson, we are invited to entertain the notion that Disco didn’t almost kill contemporary pop music and culture.

To quote: “No genre in the history of contemporary music has been more thoroughly maligned than disco has. But the music – and its impact – shouldn’t be dismissed in one fell swoop. Many terrific artists dabbled in or even embraced the genre, and emerged with their musical integrity intact. Below are 10 songs that give credence to that assertion.”

Well, here’s the list: Good Times (Chic), Hot Stuff (Donna Summer), I Was Made For Lovin’ You (Kiss), Miss You (Rolling Stones), Heart Of Glass (Blondie), Tears Are Not Enough (ABC), Rock With You (Michael Jackson), Stay (David Bowie), Fire (Ohio Players), Goodnight Tonight (Wings).

Listen: I’m wary of generalizations, and I don’t like the phrase “such-and-such sucks.”  But disco was awful, and this list does not prove the article’s point.

For example:
1)    As much as I adore The Stones and Paul McCartney, and respect Messrs. Bowie and Jackson, these songs are hardly their best efforts.
2)    Yes, it got played in discos, and in hindsight sounds like disco, but Blondie was viewed as a New Wave act.  On second thought, was Blondie copying the disco that came before or presaging the resurrected 80’s synth pop rubbish that was to come afterwards?  Nevermind.

Don’t get me wrong.  Dancing is fun.  A great beat and an infectious, upbeat tune is the stuff of happiness.  But for rockers like me, disco was hard to take.  And the list just proves the point.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Oh My My

I saw Ringo in concert a while back.  It was pure joy from start to finish.

Can’t vouch for the rest of the crowd, but for me it wasn’t about seeing a former Beatle.  It was about Ringo.  Who cares if With A Little Help From My Friends isn’t as inspirational as Let It Be, if It Don’t Come Easy isn’t as deep in your consciousness as Nowhere Man, if – if you’re jaded enough to say it – he’s an also-ran in the vocal department?  Who cares?

What matters is watching a 72 year old bounding around stage acting like a 16 year old, having a ball, flashing peace signs – and meaning it.  He’s been doing this for over half a century, and it shows.  I mean: he’s not tired.  He’s professional.  He’s into it.  He’s still having fun, and it’s contagious.

Ringo is all about peace and love and rock and roll.  That’s a damn fine combination, and that’s what matters.  He just might be the coolest guy on the planet.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Twisted, Sister

How do people even come up with this stuff?  Rolling Stone did a reader’s poll on 10 Artists Who Should Return As Holograms.

The poll was taken after Snoop Dogg had a hologram of Tupac Shakur during a concert, or something.  So, the morbid question is “Hey kids!  What dead people do you want to see on stage?  Cool!  Fun!  Woot!” 

And the list is: Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Notorious B.I.G..

Hey kids!  Anybody not guess who would be on the list?  OK, I guessed Keith Moon instead of Notorious.  Drummers never did get enough respect.

More than a little sick, and absolutely pointless.

Oh, and apparently there is some ongoing tour out there featuring an Elvis hologram.  Talk about the heebie-jeebies!

I liked it better when they just sold those Elvis-on-black-velvet paintings at corner gas stations.  When it comes to cheese, I’ll take low tech.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Don’t Pass Me By

I know the Beatles had more than their fair share of hits singles, but you know what?  They could have had more.

They wrote so many great songs, and actually seemed to pull back starting in late ’65.  You know, so that they only had one or two songs on the charts at a time, instead of the three or four that was customary during the first couple of years.  They definitely could have maintained that dominance with the following songs:

No Reply  - B side I’m A Loser
You’re Gonna Lose That Girl  - B side It’s Only Love
Hide Your Love Away – B side Another Girl
Drive My Car – B side Norwegian Wood
You Won’t See Me – B side The Word
Got To Get You Into My Life  - B side She Said She Said
Here, There and Everywhere – B side Taxman
Back in the USSR  - B side While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Hey Bulldog – B side It’s All Too Much
Here Comes the Sun  - B side Oh! Darling

Judging by the Classic Rock radio playlists and revisionist history, many of these songs are now actually treated like singles. 

I know, I know: 27 number one hits is enough, plus another dozen or song right up there.  Then another dozen or so post breakup releases in the early days of compilation mania (yes, I know: including Got To Get You Into My Life and Back in the USSR).  But check out the list.  They had even more hits in their arsenal.

They sure were something.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Invisible Suns

Fender has a list of Top 10 Unsung Guitarists.  Not everyone can be Eric Clapton and be lionized from (what seems) birth.  Or Steve Cropper and get noticed for being the perfect sideman for like a zillion acts.  So this is a cool list.

Which is:  Doyle Bramhall II, Tyler Bryant, Jim Campilongo, Bill Frisell, Greg Koch, Michael Landau, Buddy Miller, Paul Pigat, Pillip Sayce, Alex Scally.

Can’t say I have heard of all of them, which I guess is the point.  But the write-ups sure prove these are accomplished guys.

Not sure where you would cross the line from “unsung” to “not sung enough” but I might nominate Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Whittington and Coco Montoya.  All masters who coulda/shoulda been bigger.

So what separates these guys from the Claptons, Becks, Pages and SRV’s of the world?  Singing?  Songwriting?  The right band?  Management?  Fashion sense?  Luck?

We’ll never know, of course, or else we’d all go out there and be superstars.

Anyway, play on, dudes.  Your sun may yet shine brighter.

p.s. – I was just kidding about the fashion sense.  I think.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys

I saw Arlo Guthrie in concert a while back.  What a treat.

He is still a hippy.  Self-deprecating, but not apologetic.  Sincere, but not cynical.  Kind of like, “ya I guess we were kinda na├»ve, but we were on the right track, don’t you think?”

It can’t be easy being Arlo Guthrie.  A legendary father, a luminous host of friends and mentors.  A past he can’t walk away from, even as he moves steadily forward.

Well, he did a fine job.  Great tunes, funny stories, honesty and integrity all wrapped up in a real nice vibe.

Attaboy, Arlo.  Keep chasing that happy feeling all over the world.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Dream On, Dudes

Gibson has this list of 10 Power Ballads That Don't Suck.

Well, ya know, these are some pretty good songs:
Dream On – Aerosmith
Day After Day – Badfinger
Ballad of Dwight Fry – Alice Cooper
Bringin’ on the Heartbreak – Def Leppard
Don’t Look Back in Anger – Oasis
Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters
We are the Champions – Queen
More Than a Feeling – Boston
All the Young Dudes – Mott the Hoople
Purple Rain – Mr. Squirckle

The premise of the article is that power ballads “have gotten and undeserved bad rap,” that the “gaudy, bombastic videos” of the 80’s caused this otherwise charming genre to fall from grace.

Nonsense.  The videos just added visuals to the gaudy, bombastic music.

If you’re a fan of rock music (a dying breed, I know), you may point to the rise of rap or the laziness of grunge as the moment when the decline of rock began.  But a good case can be made against the power ballad.  Sorry, dudes, but the bad rap is deserved.

Re: the list.  They aren’t bad tunes, but they aren’t all really power ballads.