Monday, 30 December 2013

Just Nod If You Can Hear Me

Back on the sad songs.   Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb does a spectacularly morose job of summarizing the human condition.

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb

Ouch!  Life is a pointless, hopeless big tease, only coming through in waves, and we can’t hear it.

Is there anyone at home?  No.  You are receding.  We are all alone.

I mean, hopefully most of us don’t feel this way too often, but we all do just a little from time to time, right?

Depressing, frightening  - and definitely sad.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Passion Plays

The Rolling Stone readers’ poll on the 10 Best Prog Rock Albums of the 70’s has it all: songs of symphonic length, self-indulgent morality plays, virtuosity, technical wizardry – and absolutely no dancing.

And yes, I had most of these albums.

Prog rock was big in 70’s; probably too big.  So it’s curious that only 5 bands scooped up all 10 spots (2 each for Rush and Genesis, with the grand prize going to Pink Floyd with 4).  Or maybe not, because the albums listed were huge.

Definitely not:  ELP, Focus and Mike Oldfield didn’t age as well.

I might have swapped out Floyd’s Animals for Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play, though.  Tull’s sense of humour with the “Story of the hare that lost his spectacles” bit was kinda funny.  And let’s face it, Animals was hard work.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Reconsider Baby

Another album missing from Gibson’s best covers album list is From the Cradle by Eric Clapton, a terrific collection of blues standards performed flawlessly – and sung passionately – by the greatest blues guitarist of all time.

No use standin’ around crying, but I’m tore down that this masterpiece was omitted.

BTW, his tribute to Robert Johnson is also amazing.  Red hot renditions of 14 of the most influential blues tunes ever written.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Shake It Up, Baby

By the way, the best cover band of all time?  The Beatles.  No, they never did an entire album because they had too much fabulous material of their own.  But those early records had a lot of great covers.  Covers that paid homage.  Covers that revealed the band’s influences.  Covers that were true to the original, but sounded brand new.

Message to Paul:  do you know what would have been a better idea for Let It Be?  Instead of a film showing The Beatles rehearsing a recording new material, you should have done a covers album.

Bet they would have had more fun.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Got It Covered

Gibson’s 10 All-Time Greatest Covers Albums makes the point that great songwriters can also do very well covering material by other artists, thank you very much.  It contains the likes of Lennon, GNR, Bowie, Def Leppard, Patti Smith and Metallica.

The article points out that sometimes these recordings are just throw-aways; contractual obligations and so on, and I can think of a few examples where you can tell either the effort wasn’t there or heart wasn’t in the job.

But the list illustrates the passion and respect the artists felt for those that had come before.  After all, you don’t write songs before you’ve learned how to play, so you start by learning someone else’s songs.  And so these albums are also insightful in terms of influence.

One I would have added, by the way, is Run Devil Run by Paul McCartney, a great covers album that rivals Lennon’s – and that’s saying something.

Friday, 13 December 2013

I’m On My Knees

I may not hold him up quite as high as I do some other blues guitar legends, but I’ll tell you this much:  Buddy Guy’s Baby Please Don’t Leave is the best blues recording so far this millennium.

It’s got a hypnotic groove, a trippy atmosphere, raw, emotional vocals, and near perfect guitar.  Buddy somehow pulls together a sound that blends the best of Hendrix, Clapton, Page and himself, and erects it on the rock of the Delta.

It’s a long, painful, wailing triumph.  Respect.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Baby Please Don’t Go

Here’s a list that reminds us there is a lot of wonderful music outside the ridiculously short playlists of commercial radio:  Gibson’s 10 Great Bands That Ended Too Soon.

Predictably (and correctly) the list includes the likes of Nirvana, The Doors and The Clash, but it also includes bands that are all but forgotten, such as Alice Cooper, New York Dolls, J. Geils and The Faces.  These bands don’t get near enough airplay.

My only complaint is: what about Cream?  Talk about a great band that didn’t last long enough!  If Clapton had died in a plane crash the night before their final U.S.  concert in 1968, we’d still be weeping.

Nice to see The Beatles on the list, though.  Even though their body of work dwarfs everyone else mentioned, nothing wrong with some self-indulgent, “ya, but they could have given us so much more” thinking.  It’s only love.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Road I’m On

Music Harmony 101:  harmonize your melody by using the chords based on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale, commonly notated using the Roman Numerals I, IV and V.  If you want a bit of spice, add the chord based on the 6th note (VI).

That’s enough for most western music: rock, pop, country, punk, hymns, national anthems, you name it.

You can just repeat a sequence endlessly, like I-VI-IV-V, as used in Stand By Me and a million other songs.

You can follow a rigid formula, like I-IV-I-V-IV-I, the 12 bar blues pattern used for a healthy majority of blues songs, also sped up with a backbeat for early rock ’n’ roll.

Or you can mix ‘em up endlessly like Jackson Browne does in Running On Empty.

The basis of the song is a jumped up groove on the church cadence (“amen”): IV-I.  Once you’ve got that approaching the hypnotic, let’s take it somewhere by adding the 6th: IV-I-VI.

Now let’s go crazy for the bridge.  VI-IV-V-I, then switched up to VI-V-IV-I. Back to VI-IV-V-I, then IV-V-I (this last sequence being something used by everyone from Bach to The Ramones).

Just four chords, mixed up and stirred around in a way that makes it both familiar and fresh at the same time.

Just what you’re hoping to find.