Monday, 29 July 2013


I recently read Philip Norman’s biography on Mick Jagger.  It could have been called Satisfaction:  Mick Jagger and the Invention of Corporate Rock.

I mean, we all know The Rolling Stones are a major brand and a well-oiled machine.  Kinda like Apple but, with more wrinkles – and a few more urban myths.

But what I realized reading this book is that Jagger was acting more like a CEO than a rock star right from the beginning. 

If you think about the Stones over the last 20 years or so, no problem seeing him in that light.  But in the 60’s and 70’s?  Deaths, drug busts, mars bars, blood transfusions, radio bans, prime minister’s wives …  this band was a train wreck. 

But the train somehow kept rolling, and Jagger managed his way through the mayhem.

Anyway, an interesting read, with enough salaciousness to keep most people amused.  That is why we read rock biographies, right?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Do Ya Think I’m Sexy - I Mean Clever?

“If you’re a serious musician or songwriter and wish to be treated as such, your chiseled features and smokin’ bod could prove problematic.”  So says 10 Rockers Too Sexy For Their Own Good.

Got it.  Some musicians have flaunted their attractiveness to the point where their musicianship became secondary, and that’s a sad thing.  Even worse, though, is the legion of entertainers who have road their looks to undeserved stardom – especially true in these days of Broadway dance production, monotone melodies and Autotune.

But the real thing that jumps out at me about this article is its total randomness.  Critics don’t take Marnie Stern seriously, and comment on her looks even though she doesn’t dress to exploit those looks?  Liz Phair chose the wrong song?  Rod Stewart was, what, hugely successful with his music and with the ladies?  Ann and Nancy Wilson were bullied and exploited by the chauvinist suits at their record company (and fought back)? 

And listen:  Robert Plant did not write the lyric “squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice runs down my leg.”  It came from Robert Johnson’s Travelling Riverside Blues.  And Johnson borrowed it from Arthur McKay, who we can be sure borrowed it from someone else.  The lyric is probably 300 years old.

Few females I know like Robert Plant, and they do cite his appearance (“acts like he’s sexy but he’s not”) as the reason.  Most males I know have the same attitude towards Rod Stewart, but they disguise it with criticism of his somewhat juvenile choice of songs.  But Plant, Stewart and the Wilsons have sold a gazillion records and are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So what exactly does “too sexy for their own good” mean?  Nothing, as far as I can tell, except maybe an eye-catching title (sexy) that lures you into reading an article that has no regard for facts, context or logic.

Guess it worked.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Slow Train Coming

You can hear the train.  You can feel the sweat running down your neck as you bend to pick cotton under the noonday sun.  You start thinking about your papa breaking rocks on a chain gang.

When he’s plugged in, Joe Bonamassa can blow your ears off as well as blow your mind, but his performance in this concert proves you don’t need a Les Paul plugged into a Marshall.  Heavy Metal?  Nothing is heavier than these blues, brother.  Nothing.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Shot Through the Heart

Back around Valentine’s day, Rolling Stone had a fun list called 20 Love Songs We Never Want to Hear Again.

Aptly described as cheddar bombs, it’s hard to dispute that most of these songs induce more groans than sweet whispers.

But it raises an interesting question:  how does a song go from “love it” to “hate it”? 

By getting overplayed?  As tastes change?  As good memories change to bad ones?

The passage of time and changes in personal relationships will definitely alter your view of a song, especially a love song.  But is there a single moment when you decide you no longer like a song, or is a gradual thing, with the song creeping imperceptibly towards Yuckville?

Actually, in the case of these songs, my dislike was more or less instantaneous; we all like the idea of a love song, but man is it hard to pull one off without coming across as cheap and manipulative.

But the question still stands:  how does a song lose its appeal?  What makes us cover our ears and run away when we used to smile and hum along?

I’ve always believed that great songs become timeless because they take on a life of their own, so maybe this list just represent songs that aren’t so great.  Maybe the songs that wear out just lacked substance to begin with.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Highway 61 Revisited Revisited

Gibson’s When Rockers Cover Dylan points out that the man has provided a gold mine of material for other artists.

It lists some great examples, some interesting analysis, and a variation on the “be true to the original, but make it your own” mantra: “completely restructure it until it sounds like you.”  Dunno about the “completely restructure it” part, but “sounds like you” is right.

The examples include:
Hendrix – Watchtower
Johnny Winter – Highway 61 Revisited
George Harrison – If Not For You
The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
GNR – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

I guess the winner is All Along the Watchtower, because covers by Hendrix, Dave Matthews and U2 all get a mention (I would add, BTW, a great live version by Neil Young from Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Tribute concert).

In terms of the “be true to the original, but make it your own” cliché
-       Hendrix and Winter take the prize for outright theft
-       The Byrds and George provide the best examples by doing a straight cover that nevertheless sounds like themselves
-       I wish no one – including Clapton – had covered Knockin’ on Heavens’ Door.  Dylan’s version is unbeatable.

But that’s maybe the only such song on the list.  I’ve always felt that a good song had a life of it’s own, and Dylan has provided a bunch of examples.  He might have created them – or opened a door through which they entered our lives – but once they arrived, they kind of became everybody’s songs.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Mayday! Mayday! We’re Listing!

Yes, I can take umbrage when I see a list that elevates someone I don’t respect/like or disrespects my idols.  Guilty as charged.

Seems I’m not alone, though.  The “puffed-up pontificators” at Entertainment Weekly appear to have deeply offended Joel Rubinoff with their list of Top 100 Albums, at least judging by his You Call This a List? rant in the Toronto Star.

Rubinoff’s Exhibit A is that the “whims of personality and ego” omitted Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Not just from the Top 10, but altogether.  He has many other issues, but that’s the big one.

By the way, here’s the Top 10:

 1. Beatles, Revolver
 2. Once-Again-Known-As-Prince, Purple Rain
 3. Stones, Exile
 4. MJ, Thriller
 5. The Clash, London Calling
 6. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
 7. Aretha, Lady Soul
 8. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
 9. Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
10. Nirvana, Nevermind

I mean, chill out Joel.  It’s not that different from many other lists I’ve seen - and commented on.  Yes, I agree that leaving out Pepper’s is crazy.  But frankly, I don’t care whether Blood on the Tracks outranks Highway 61 Revisited.  Like, they’re both good, right?

Perhaps the folks at EW were “determined to stoke debate” by going “out of their way … to tick of readers.”  Fair enough.

As Mr. Rubinoff admits, it’s a classic marketing ploy, and it works, cause it’s got people talkin’.

Take it easy, Joel.  At least the Beatles hold down top spot on the list.  For now, anyway.  Tomorrow never knows.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Truth Will Come

I was in the car the other day and Stairway to Heaven came on the radio.  I overcame the (mild) reflex to groan, then settled in to listen.  Before long waves of memories and feelings began to wash over me.  I was grateful I had resisted the impulse to change the station.

Then I got to thinking: that’s what we dig about a great song.  The memories, the feelings, the associations – and not just in songs we’ve heard a zillion times.

A really good song will reach out and grab parts of the world around you.  It will latch on to little bits of you and make itself real.  It does so right away, and then only grows from there.  It attaches itself to you, and sticks with you forever.  It is everything you experience.

In essence, the song is about you.  So next time you hear a classic and think you might be bored, watch it; you’re kinda thinking about life.