Thursday, 28 June 2012

Defining Moments

If you look at the Guitar Player 40 Most Influential Rock Guitar Solos, as a guitarist, you get the depressing feeling that it's all been done, so why bother?

I mean, take Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, for example. It has the quintessential licks that fit in almost every rock song.

Well almost. To fill up your bag of tricks you can borrow from the songs listed by the Three Kings: Freddie, Albert and B.B.: Hideaway, Born Under A Bad Sign, and The Thrill Is Gone. You don't need much else. Don't believe me? Listen to Clapton's Crossroads. (Yes I know Crossroads preceded The Thrill Is Gone but I'm making a point.)

As a guitarist, I'm always searching for new ways to express myself, but those five solos give you a pretty large playing field.

This is a list of influential solos, not necessarily best or favourite solos. So for sure Duanne Allman's Statesboro Blues belongs there, and, sadly, Eddie Van Halen's Eruption belongs. But some seem arbitrary to me. Is Heartbreaker really Jimmy Page's most influential solo? Is Comfortably Numb David Gilmour's? Pride and Joy is Stevie Ray Vaughan's most definitive solo, and All Along The Watchtower is one of Hendrix's most amazing, but ...

At some point it feels like we've crossed the line where the best, most admired guitarists simply get an arbitrary pick. Fair enough. I wouldn't want to see a list that didn't include Mark Knopfler, Peter Green, Angus Young, Jimmy Page, David Gilmour or Ritchie Blackmore either.

My favourite thing about this list is that most of the solos are very musical. Happily, there isn't much mindless wankarama. Thank you, Guitar Player.

By the way, I get the influence of Elmore James for Dust My Broom, but it's Robert Johnson's, 100%.

Monday, 25 June 2012

What Pilate Said

John Lennon famously said, " Say what you mean, make it rhyme, and give it a backbeat."

And I agree. I also agree in "three chords and the truth," wherever that quote came from.

But what is truth? And which truth? One single truth? Multiple truths hidden in multiple layers? A vague truth anyone can relate to? A personal truth? A universal truth? A cliche?

It's been said that great art makes you say, "ya, that's how I feel." Sometimes, say in a straightforward protest or love song, the point is obvious. Sometimes, though, not so much.

And maybe it's not clear to the songwriter either. I know when the words for one of my songs started coming to me, I thought it was about unrequited love. By the time I'd written it all down, I decided it was more about loss of faith. By the time I'd recorded it, I was wondering if it was some kind of commentary on the futility of hero worship.

The lyrics work on all three levels, but who knows what I meant? Not me.

Maybe that's a good thing, because it frees the listener to infer his/her own meaning, and make his/her own emotional connection to the song.

I know that some of the songs I have the strongest reactions to defy explanation. Lots of songs tighten my chest and open my tear ducts. Happy tears? Remorseful tears? Bitter tears? I never know. If you were to ask me why I'm reacting, all can explain is, "this song just gets to me."

So maybe truth isn't enough. Truth is meaningless without audience participation.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

2 to Tango

Interesting list from Billboard a while back: 10 Songwriting Duos That Rocked Music History

No ranking so no opportunity to whine or moan. Or ...

perfect opportunity to rank the list myself!

1. Lennon & McCartney
2. Jagger & Richards
3. Page & Plant
4. Strummer & Jones
5. King & Goffin
6. Hall & Oates
7. Rodgers & Hammerstein
8. John & Taupin
9. Morrissey & Marr
10. Gamble & Huff

Hmmm ... no numbers, but maybe the list was ranked by Billboard, with R&H @ #10 and L&M @ #1. My list above gets pretty arbitrary after Page & Plant, 'cause I really don't care about the rest of 'em. Well, maybe after Strummer & Jones.

But the Billboard list is weird. It was sparked by the deaths of Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford. So why weren't Leiber & Stoller and Ashford & Simpson included? Much more deserving than Hall & Oates in my book.

And Rodgers & Hammerstein? Rocking music history? With what? Edelweiss?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Eve Of Destruction Music

Gibson published this list of Top 10 Protest Rockers a while back.

Thankfully, Barry McGuire wasn't on it. I mean, Eve Of Destruction is just a little too down, now isn't it? No disrespect, but it certainly doesn't measure up to the poetry from the likes of Dylan.

Here's the list:
1. Phil Ochs
2. Public Enemy
3. MC5
4. U2
5. Rage Against The Machine
6. Dead Kennedys
7. Bob Dylan
8. John Lennon
9. The Clash
10. Bruce Springsteen

I think maybe Gibson's list makers confuse punk with protest, and I would have reversed the list, but nevermind.

What matters is we need more of this. You know, when we were on the eve of destruction, artists tended to balance their irrepressible optimism with the occasional protest song. And they were songs of protest. They said: "hey! this ain't right. We need to do something about it."

We don't do enough of that now. "You piss me off" just doesn't cut it.

Come on, people: protest!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Best of the Spandex and Mullet Era

A while back, Gibson published a Greatest Songs From The 80's list.

Good for them for challenging the Classic Rock radio playlists, which feature almost nothing from the entire decade, except for a handful of tunes they like to call "80's music that doesn't suck."

Double good for Gibson since guitars don't feature too mightily. Here's the Top 10:
1. The Clash, London Calling (1980)
2. Guns N' Roses, Sweet Child o' Mine (1988)
3. Michael Jackson, Billie Jean (1983)
4. Guns N' Roses, Welcome to the Jungle (1987)
5. Public Enemy, Fight the Power (1989)
6. AC/DC, You Shook Me All Night Long (1980)
7. Prince, When Doves Cry (1984)
8. Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar on Me (1987)
9. Van Halen, Jump (1984)
10. Duran Duran, Hungry Like The Wolf (1982)

Me, I do like guitars, and didn't ever fully embrace the strap on keyboards, silly hair and 18th century costumes, but the dancing wasn't so bad back then.

So I won't criticize the Euro-synth pop inclusions. I'll just say:
- I wish AC/DC was higher
- I would have put Under Pressure (Queen/David Bowie) higher than #11
- I'm pleased to see The Clash @#1
- I'm disappointed not to see Dire Straits, U2, The Stones, The Talking Heads or Springsteen in the top 10

Interesting not to see any Eurythmics on the list (of 50 songs). They did a pretty good job of melding the synth-pop sound with a hint (threat?) of angry guitar. For me, that was better than the bands who seemed to turn their backs on guitars altogether. Sweeter dreams are made of that.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Somebody's Fault, But Whose?

Why is Led Zeppelin's Nobody's Fault But Mine not on classic rock radio's playlist?

It's got it all: a blues base under a hard driving rock tune, vintage Page guitar riffs, an exotic melodic hook that hints at somewhere either south or east of the Mediterranean, pounding syncopation from Bonzo ...

No, the hook isn't as instantly gripping as Whole Lotta Love, the blues isn't as hypnotic as When The Levee Breaks, it isn't as exotic as Kashmir, and the grandeur doesn't sweep as much as Stairway To Heaven. But it's got bits of all that and more.

Another example of how corporate radio narrows our taste and numbs our brains.

Try to save your soul tonight.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

I Believe In Magic

I saw John Sebastian a while back, in a little music hall in Connecticut.

He was lots of fun, accompanying himself and smiling and fingerpicking his way through a terrific set. All the old Lovin' Spoonful hits, a few new tunes, some nice stories, and a few history lessons, delivered with that infectious smile and some tasty guitar work.

It's a shame he didn't sing Goodnight Irene, since it was the night the hurricane made landfall.

But no worries. The tie-dye is gone, but ol' John can still tug on the strings of my heart.