Thursday, 29 August 2013

This Ain’t No Disco

Are we sure David Byrne wasn’t born in Detroit?  Just asking.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Transformer Man

Interesting list from Gibson on Shocking Detours by Major Artists.  You know, like, where did that come from?  That’s not what I expect or want to hear.  How dare he/she/they?  That kind of thing.

Here’s the list:
Neil Young – Trans
Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request
Todd Rundgren – With a Twist
Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music
David Bowie – Young Americans
Sly Tone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Kiss – Music from “The Elder”
Springsteen – Nebraska
Yes – 90125
Johnny Cash – American Recordings

Well, some of these records certainly did shock.  Some were dramatic departures from what you’d expect.  Maybe some were even bad ideas.

Not all of ‘em, though.  I mean, disco was in full swing and Bowie morphed from Ziggy Stardust to white R&B.  I don’t remember anyone being too surprised, especially since he did it with such credibility.

And Trans?  By 1982, could anyone seriously be shocked by anything Neil Young did?  The same could be said about Rundgren and Springsteen – or Cash for that matter.  The word fearless comes to mind, and it could be applied at any point in their careers.

As for Satanic Majesties, well, it was just a bad idea.  The Stones were obsessed with The Beatles.  Everyone was.  They did their best Pepper , and just didn’t have it in ‘em.  It’s not who they were.  Shocking?  Ya, shockingly bad.  But a departure?  Nope, we all could see it coming.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Far Out, Man

According to Wikipedia, psychedelic music covers a range of styles and genres, is inspired by psychedelic (drug) culture, and emerged in the mid-60’s among folk rock and blues rock bands.  Wikipedia also notes that these bands went to on to create prog rock, heavy metal and a bunch of other new genres.  But you knew all that.

The article mentions a bunch of bands you’d expect – The Beatles, Floyd, Hendrix, The Byrds – but no Led Zeppelin.

Ya?  So go listen to How Many More Times.  Seems to me that, exotic instrumentation excepted, this song has most of the characteristics listed: complex song structure, strange lyrics, extended solos, distorted guitar, wah wah, elaborate studio effects …  this song is a trip.

It’s always bugged me that Zeppelin was jammed into the heavy metal pigeon hole.  I get the name and their influence and all that, but they had too much depth and range.  And for my money, Zeppelin I is every bit as trippy as Pepper, Are You Experienced?, or Disraeli Gears.

Just goes to show that labels don’t mean nothin’. 

Hey!  Wait a minute!  Cream doesn’t get a mention in the article either.  Guess it needs some updating.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


The main thing that jumps out at me as I scan Gibson’s 10 Great Rock Guitar Instrumentals is that it would be hard to build on.  The list apparently features pieces known for their “pioneering impact” as opposed to virtuosity or popularity.

But, like, what else would you add?  Is there much else out there to debate?  We’ve got Beck, Page, Edgar Winter, Van Halen, Duane Eddy and The Ventures – like you’d expect.  And we have to dip into The Who’s Tommy to get to 10.

The genre has a major handicap: no lyrics.  Kinda hampers the singing along, which makes it more difficult on the memory, which reduces the odds of a tune being popular.  Not to mention the emotional impact that lyrics can add to a great song.

Make that two handicaps, the second being that instrumentals tend to be vehicles for showing off.  With all due respect to Mssrs. Beck, Satriani, Malmsteen, Johnson and McGlaughlin et al, chicks don’t dig it.  You can’t dance to this stuff.

These guys have an audience limited to mostly other guitarists, which is why the list is brought to you by Gibson as opposed to a popular culture magazine.  The guitar has dominated popular music for over half a century, but it works best in a supporting role.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

As Clear As The Sun In The Summer Sky

I know it’s been played to death, but there’s a case to be made that Boston’s More Than A Feeling might be the best rock song ever written.

OK, maybe not, but – like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony– it could be held up as the best example of the genre, worthy of study.

Screaming guitars and fancy acoustic pickin’.  Nice.  An unforgettable hook.  Lyrics that grab your emotions without actually going too deep.  Smart.  Another great hook that acts as a bridge to the chorus, showing you that this ain’t no simple 3 chord rock song.  These people were MIT students; they have depth.

So make that two unforgettable hooks.  Wait!  Make it three, since the chorus somehow manages to steal a power chord riff that’s been done to death and make it sound new.

A soulful melody.  Sweet harmonies.  Another genius bridge on the way into the solo.  Oh ya, and you can sing the solo.  You do sing the solo.  No mindless shredding here; this is music.

All of the elements are simple, but the relative complexity of the structure, and the number of elements subtly add to your enjoyment of the song.  “Like this?  Great.  Here’s a little something more.”  It’s like chocolate sauce and sprinkles on your ice cream.

Listen: I like raw three-chord rock and blues, but a lot of masterpieces have the kind of added complexity and intelligence described above.

It’s too bad the lawyers got involved so early in their career.  I always felt Boston could have given us so much more.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Say What?

I can’t decide if this list of 10 Misinterpreted Song Meanings is funny or frightening.

Sting’s ultimate stalker song (Every Breath You Take) is frequently misconstrued as a sweet love song?  Really?  Bohemian Rhapsody is about AIDS even though AIDS didn’t exist yet?  Huh?  Born In The USA is chest-thumpingly patriotic?

What?  Hey, are these people even listening to the words?

Maybe the scariest one, though, is Hotel California.  I mean, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, but I got right away that this was about material excess and the emptiness of American culture.  Sheesh!  Half the album was about that.  How did people land on devil worship?  Is this stuff just made up?

Maybe Bryan or Freddie didn’t care how you interpreted the lyrics, since they both seem to have confessed that not much thought was put into them, but I gotta think Sting, Bruce, Don and Glenn are a tad dismayed that they’re thoughtful poetry was received with less than zero thought.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Songs From Kill Devil Hills

Have you ever read Old Weird America by Greil Marcus?  It’s ostensibly about Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, the sessions, the times, the world around and all that.


What it is, really, is the deepest exploration of American – and along with it – Western – culture I have ever read.

This book is deep.  Whole chapters interpreting the meaning of one song, entire groups of chapters explaining how the stories in those songs are universal, how they grew out of real-life experiences and events, and grew until they became legend, about how the legends actually matter more than the facts.

Large sections describing the beauty, the majesty, the viciousness and the shame of everyday life.  Deep insights questioning whether any of the history as we know it is real, at least real in comparison to the passions and follies of men and women – good and bad – sung about in the folk and blues of rural America.

And that music is what informs just about all the music you listen to, so whether or not you give a damn about Doc Boggs and Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and Robert Johnson – or Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin – that music is important.

I quickly lost count of the insights, epiphanies and “a-ha’s.”  Rock history, sociology, anthropology, musicology … this book is deep.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Partners in Crime

Gibson has a list of 20 Great Rock and Roll Songwriting Partnerships, which includes:

Strummer and Jones from The Clash
Tyler and Perry from Aerosmith
Marr and Morrissey from The Smiths
Page and Plant from Zeppelin
Fagen and Becker from Steely Dan
John and Taupin for Reggie Dwight
Bachman and Cummings from The Guess Who
Chilton and Bell from Big Star
Jagger and Richards from the Stones
Lennon and McCartney – ya, d’ya think?

Nice to see Bachman and Cummings on the list, although The Guess Who had more than a few good songs after Bachman departed.

Why no Holland-Dozier-Holland?  Motown was rock ‘n’ roll, and those guys outsold everyone.  I know the article was tagged ‘dynamic duos’, but it’s really about partnerships.

Otherwise it’s a solid – if predictable – list. 

Or maybe it’s constrained and difficult to populate.  I scrolled through my iTunes library, and had a hard time coming up with any other real partnerships.  Lots of cases where the whole band gets credit.  Cases like CSNY or the Eagles where there were several individuals who each contributed great songs, but not many real partnerships.

Curious, that.  Music is such a collaborative thing.  I would have expected more.