Monday, 28 January 2013

Under the Apex

That earlier post about U2 being the last great rock band got me thinking about who gets on the list, relative positioning, etc..

So if we stick with “larger than life” as one category, what’s below that?  I’d have to say “huge and influential.”  Really good.  Not quite larger than life.  As good or better than the “larger than life” folks, but never quite got there.  Maybe broke up or died too soon.

Below that?  Well, important.  Maybe not as big in our consciousness as those in the “huge” category, but very influential.  Just ask the folks on the “huge” list.

Below that would be the legions of acts you really like but …

Throw this all into a graphic and you get something like this:
The Beatles, of course, are larger than larger than life.  This is about perception more than taste, but I assume few would argue with the top two tiers.  Notice my indecision on The Police.  Almost got there, but not quite in my book anyway.

Notice my cop-outs on Dylan and Michael Jackson.  I know many would place them along with The Beatles.  Solid arguments could be made for any of the categories, so maybe this is more about taste than perception.

I didn’t get lazy in the “important” category; I just ran out of real estate.  There are simply too many influential blues greats, Motown artists and early rockers to list.  And maybe that’s the point of the graphic; it’s less about ranking and more about connecting.

Your taste – or perception – will differ from mine, so you may have different names, or different positions.  That’s cool.  Go build your own pyramid,

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Surrealistic Pillows

Stumbled across this fun list called 50 Things We Wouldn't Have Without The Beatles.

50 things.  That’s a lot.  Some of them even matter, like: long hair, music videos, stadium concerts, concept albums, backmasking, eastern philosophy, and intentional feedback.  Examples of how The Beatles changed the world.  Speaking of which: musicians trying to change the world.

Other things are true but more curious than impactful:  heavy metal (yes, check Helter Skelter), Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (well, if George didn’t have the money …)

50 things is a lot.  So some are a stretch:  Apple (copycat name and logo), Thomas the Tank Engine (Ringo was cool and all, but …), Nirvana?  Cher?  Phil Collins?

Double albums?  In 1968, everyone had a double album!

Maybe 50 is just too many things.  Like, of course we wouldn’t have Beatles cover bands without The Beatles!  And I guess we wouldn’t have had The Monkees, but …

Keeping the list to 20-25 might have bee a good idea.  A shorter list would have contained less whimsy – a definite Beatles characteristic – but would have carried more credibility.  The impact of the guys is immeasurable.  We don’t need a longer list to establish that.

And yes, Ringo was apparently the first to put a pillow inside his kick drum.  And now it’s time to say goodnight.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Cry Me A River

Well, it’s official.  We’re bummed out.  German and Canadian researches have confirmed we prefer sad songs over happy ones.  The last 5 decades have been a slippery slope leading to Downerville.

Analysis of Billboard Hot 100 lists reveals that the number of songs in major keys is half of what it was 50 years ago.  Half.  And the tempo has slowed down.

To Hell with dancing.  We’re on a death march here.  No chirpy up-tempo songs for us!  Life sucks.  Don’t interfere with our misery.

Now, why is that?  I mean, in the 60’s we had the Vietnam War and impending nuclear holocaust.  He only had one (black and white) TV and our parents put on Lawrence Welk when we wanted to watch Get Smart.  Racial discrimination was considered acceptable!  We had reason to be worried.  We should have sung the blues from sunrise to sunset.  But we didn’t.  Life was cool.  We were optimistic.

I mean, everyone had jobs and all, and we hadn’t figured out that politicians lie to their own mothers, and we weren’t watching the planet being destroyed before our very eyes, but still …

OK, I get it.  But life can imitate art, and maybe we just need to buck up and change our tune.  Ain’t nothin’ but sorrow down this road we’re on.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Living in the Material World

Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of the 80's provided a lot less fodder for argument than I expected.

The 80’s began badly.  After a big tease by Elvis Costello, The Cars and other New Wave arrivals, John Lennon got shot, synth players began wearing strap-ons, the guitars disappeared, and everyone began wearing makeup and stuff.

Rolling Stone notes that there were no big musical revolutions like there had been in previous decades.  Nope, just a bizarre retreat into glam, disco, and Broadway silliness.  So I expected a rather moribund scan over a list filled with the likes of Culture Club, George Michael and The Human League.

To be sure, they are all there, but they don’t dominate as much as I had feared.  Here’s the Top 10:

The Clash – London Calling
What’s-his-name – Purple Rain
U2 – Joshua Tree
Talking Heads – Remain In Light
Paul Simon – Graceland
Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
Michael Jackson – Thriller
R.E.M. – Murmur
Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman

Pretty good.  And the rest of the list didn’t give me too much of the creeps.  It’s got Midnight Oil, The Pretenders, more Bruce, Tom Petty (though not near high enough), AC/DC, Lennon, Peter Gabriel, Squeeze, Travelling Wilburys, and Pete Townshend.

Lots of artists get on more than once: Springsteen, Gabriel, U2, The Stones, R.E.M., Talking Heads.  Some should have: Petty, Def Leppard, Townshend.  But overall the synth, dance stuff does not dominate, and much of what was selected actually ages well.

As with most such lists, you get the feeling that there’s an arbitrary pick of some album or other just to include some of the big names.  Take Freedom by Neil Young (#85) for example.  Then as now, Neil put out an album every 9 months or so.  Why that one?  I mean, why not, but …

Biggest surprise: Captain Beefheart was still around in the 80’s?

Disappointing that neither August nor Behind the Sun from Clapton made the list.  Speaking of omissions, no Phil Collins, with or without Genesis?  I was lukewarm on him, but Collins was everywhere that decade.  He was inescapable.  Singing, playing, producing …  Not finding him on the list seems to be against all odds.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Rattle and Hum

I was watching the U2 movie a while back and it occurred to me that U2 was the last great rock band.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been a ton of wonderful bands over the last 20 years or so, but U2 was the last one that was larger than life.  You know, Rolling-Stones-Led-Zeppelin-Queen larger than life.  Can-do-no-wrong larger than life.  Know-they’re-as-big-as-Elvis larger than life.  You-should-listen-up larger than life.

Terrific movie.  If you haven’t seen it, do so.  Kinda interesting insights into the band (and ourselves), and constant reminders that these guys are good.  The musicianship, the energy, the passion    awesome.  And, although they have had some great moments over the last 25 years, the film catches U2 at their peak, playing songs from their best period. 

U2 carried on the tradition of rock super-hugeness.  And by the time the movie was made, they were also filling a void.  Zep was done.  Freddie, well not dead yet, but …  The Stones were iffy.  U2 were the last ones standing.

Lotta great bands and fabulous music out there, but no one since has managed to achieve the larger-than-life stature.  It’s a good thing we’ve had the boys from Dublin to carry the torch.

But it’s been a while.  Who’s gonna step up?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Still Got the Blues

Gibson’s Top 10 Modern Blues Guitarists prove that the Blues, like Rock ‘n’ Roll, can never die.

Just like a generation of giants took the torch in the 60’s, a new group took it up in the last decade or so.  Here’s the list:

 1. Joe Bonamassa
 2. John Mayer
 3. Jack White
 4. Eric Gales
 5. Dan Auerbach
 6. Davy Knowles
 7. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
 8. Derek Trucks
 9. Jonny Lang
10. Ben Harper

All deserving, and all sources of comfort.  The torch is in safe hands.

For my money, Bonamassa is the Eric Clapton of the bunch, standing head and shoulders above the rest.  Kinda suprprised to see Derek Trucks as low as #8.  He’s good enough for two (three, really) Grammies, plus a long stint with Eric Clapton.

Speaking of Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II would get my nod for the list, as would acoustic guru Harry Manx.

Anyway, it’s all good, and Muddy can rest in peace.  And with the likes of Bonamassa, Jack White and The Black Keys out there, my generation can stop fretting about that Led Zeppelin reunion.  Don’t need it.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Rock and a Hard Place

Note to all the people that still think it’s cool to ask “Beatles of Stones?” – your question can be answered with six letters and two punctuation marks:

WTF?  Yes!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


Rolling Stone’s 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs makes for, um, an interesting read.  It points out that the plot is mostly the same (big dreamer makes good, lives the life, then the world comes crashing down), then gets you thinking about Elizabethan revenge tragedies.  Hmmm …

Their list includes:

Steven Tyler: Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?

Boy George: Take It Like A Man

Anthony Kiedis: Scar Tissue

Ronnie Spector: Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness

Tommy James: Me, The Mob and the Music

Chuck Berry: The Autobiography

David Bowie: Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust

Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now

Slash: Slash

Keith Richards: Life

Bob Dylan: Chronicles, Volume One

And the winner of the longest title goes to …  Ronnie Spector.  Bowie should have tried harder.

Shortest title:  Keef.  Most obvious:  Slash.

2012 was a busy year for rock memoirs, so a year from now this list might look different (a few are on my ‘to be read” pile).

Some people will be surprised to learn that rockers can read and write, but I’ve read a few of the books listed, and enjoyed them.  Actually, there’s one exception; Chuck Berry’s book was disillusioning.  Mortal folk don’t dig it when their heroes turn out to be jerks.   

Then again, that’s all part of the Elizabethan revenge tragedy thing.  Like, the article compliments McCartney by saying he did less to f**k up his good luck than any rock star who ever existed.  Glowing praise, indeed.

Anyway, a few new reading suggestions.  Hopefully there are no pie recipes.