Tuesday, 30 December 2014


Speaking of genres (well, I was two posts ago), wasn’t it all so much easier when we though of everything as just pop – or rock ‘n’ roll (take your pick)?

But this genre thing is outta control.

I mean, I get that Easy Listening and Pop and Rock and Folk and R&B and Hip Hop just don’t cross paths too much any more(except maybe on awards shows).  I’m inured to the fact that rock has gone through all this cell division so we’ve got Folk Rock, Punk, Metal, Alternative, Prog, Indie and so on and so on and even more so on.

I’ve slowly come top recognize that we need additional labels such as House and Psychobilly, and Emo and Hardcore.  I guess they serve a purpose.

But brother, when I browse some online music sites, I’m overwhelmed by all these weird genres:  Doom?  Sleaze?  Sadcore?  Red Dirt?

Really?  What are these about?

OK, you can kinda guess what Melodic Death might be like, or Screamo, or Horrorcore, or Trip Hop.  Gothabilly you can almost picture (or hear, I guess).  Ditto Acid Folk, even Swamp.  I think.

And it turns out most ‘em have entries in Wikipedia, so I suppose there’s more than one band doing them.  But simple folk like me have to be enlightened as to why we need Shoegaze, Glitch or Grime.

But some of this sub-genrification is kinda pointless isn’t it?  I mean, Wikipedia defines Street Punk as “a working class-based genre of punk rock.”  Hello?  Was normal Punk something reserved for the upper class?  Like The Sex Pistols gave us music for Toffs?

Maybe some of these bands are just trying to distinguish themselves in ways that don’t involve their actual music.  Maybe they’re having us on.   Noir?  Heartfelt and Lyrical?  Youtube?  Jack Daniels?

I think I need a swig.

Friday, 12 December 2014

I Can Sense It From A Mile

Go have a listen to Pete Townshend’s Secondhand Love.

Nice, eh?  What would you call that?  Rock?  Blues?  R&B?

All the above and then some, right?  Sometimes great songs exemplify a genre.  Sometimes they defy categorization.

Who cares?  Great music is great music.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Let’s Go Crazy

I don’t know about pop’s greatest year (that honour would have to land somewhere around 1966 give or take a year or two), but Rolling Stone’s 100 Best Singles of 1984 definitely disproves the assertion that the 80’s were a musical wasteland.

Yes, you’ve got your abundance of Europop (some good, some bad; you decide which is which), like Dead or Alive, Wham!  Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Culture Club, or The Eurythmics.

Or you’ve got your hair bands, some of which didn’t quite stand the test of time (again, you decide which ones), like Scorpion, Ratt, Bon Jovi or Def Leppard.

You’ve also got a healthy reminder that R&B was alive and well thank you very much, thanks to Hall & Oates, Huey Lewis, Sade and Tina Turner.

Then there’s folks who did a great job riding the punk/new wave pop rock thing, like The Cars, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, or Mellencamp.

And of course there are the giants of the decade: Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, The Police and U2.

But, you also have blasts from the past, as it were, with entries from Springsteen, Genesis, Van Halen, ZZ Top, Elton John, and McCartney.  Heck, even John Lennon has a posthumous release on the list.

So, notwithstanding 99 Luftballons, there are a lot of fabulous tunes here.  And you know, I had almost as many of these records as I had for the Top 100 of 1966.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Come On Baby The Laugh’s On Me

Dunno ‘bout you, but I always find a song with a bit of humour in it refreshing.  Not comedy.  Just songs that have a humourous line or two, maybe a bit of self-deprecation, something that says, ”Hey! Don’t take this too seriously.”

The Kinks were pretty good that way.  Ditto Steve Miller, Dire Straits, Ian Thomas and Joe Walsh (The Eagles, not so much).  Tom Petty excels at it.  George Harrison was a master.

Then there are the Stones doing country.  They seem to be screaming, “This is a joke!” to the point where it borders on comedy.  But they’re so darn good at it you’re not sure whether the joke is on you.

Anyway, even though rock ‘n’ roll itself – as Mark Shipper says – is a joke, it can cover some pretty heavy ground, so a little comic relief here and there is welcome.

Friday, 21 November 2014


I still remember going out and buying my first VCR so I could record The Who’s farewell concert, which was simulcast from Maple Leaf Gardens in December, 1982.

Turns out they didn’t mean it – and still don’t since they’re already advertising their 50th anniversary tour scheduled for 2015.  Well, half The Who anyway.

The Who were not alone in giving us a long goodbye, as Rolling Stone’s 10 Farewell Tours That Didn’t Stick makes clear.  Judas Priest, Kiss, Cher … heck, even Sinatra couldn’t resist the temptation to give ‘er one more go.  Well, if we’re going to buy the tickets, why not?

It’s probably a good thing that we did get fooled again.  Between farewell tours,  re-union tours and why-should-I-stop(?) tours, a fair amount of joy has been spread through the land in the last couple of decades.

Anyway, it gives us a good excuse to wear those “Still Pissed At Yoko” tee shirts.

Friday, 14 November 2014

I Put A Time Bomb In Your Submarine

Let’s play a game.  Picture a band doing a long jam that kinda summarizes everything that’s au courant, you know, everything that’s going on around them.

OK, when I say au courant, I mean sometime around 1970, since that’s about where I’m stuck.

Anyway, imagine them doing a really good job, so good that you find yourself thinking, “gee, that bit could be Zeppelin, and that bit sounds like The Moody Blues, hmm was that Cream or Deep Purple, maybe Black Sabbath?”

I came up with Alice Cooper’s Halo of Flies.  How about you?

Friday, 31 October 2014

His Hair Was Perfect

Forget candy.  Forget schlocky horror flicks.

What you really need for Halloween is some kitsch, some funk, some pop, a couple of legendary riffs, and some butt-kicking rock.  Something like Billboard’s Top 10 Halloween Songs.  Go ahead and be thrilled.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, 24 October 2014

No One Here Gets Out Alive

In each of the six decades since the birth of rock and roll, you can find some magic, and you can shake your head and wonder how anybody could listen to such rubbish. 

But for me, the 70’s is the big enigma.  Some of the best rock, much of it indelibly stamped into the concrete of our collective consciousness, was made in that decade.  And I couldn’t do without it.  But it was a confusing decade, one with little or no direction, a time of extremes and excesses.

Hard rock, prog rock, power pop, funk, metal, disco, jazz fusion, punk, folk-rock, singer-songwriter … and the leisure suits.  Brother.

The 70’s were not kind to a lot of 60’s icons.  The Stones, Clapton, and The Who, for example, all had their moments, but really they drifted through with mixed results.  Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd triumphantly pushed through, and then collapsed at the finish line.  Deep Purple didn’t make it.  The Beatles and Hendrix didn’t even get out of the starting block.

The energy that began as punk and coalesced into New Wave was certainly welcome.  It brought some much-needed focus to all that aimless thrashing about.  To borrow from Rossini’s invective against Wagner, the 70’s had wonderful moments, and dreadful quarters of an hour.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Whole Lotta Riffs

The beat: definitely.  The energy: probably.  The simplicity: most of the time.  The lyrics: often.  The audacity: goes without saying.  But what really sets a great rock song apart is the riff.  The hook that buries itself into your DNA, where it forevermore acts as a switch, a trigger, a hypnotist’s command.

BBC Radio’s Greatest Guitar Riffs have most of the ones you’d expect: Whole Lotta Love, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Back In Black, Smoke On The Water and Layla landing in the top 5.  Can’t really argue with those.

And as you scan down the list, you realize – joyfully, I’ll bet – just how much great music we’ve been blessed with.  Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Rush, Free, Fleetwood Mac, Cream … on and on it goes.  I can’t think of one riff on this list that doesn’t deserve to be here.

However, it is nothing short of shocking that the Stones and Beatles have only one entry each.  Nice of the BBC to spread the joy, but I can think of another dozen or so riffs from those two groups that are more than worthy.  Nevermind.  I’ll get over it.

Sad, though, that there’s nothing current.  Rock riffs seem to have gone the way of the dodo, and that is not a good thing.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Almost Fab

Speaking of songs that shoulda been recorded by The Beatles, there have been quite a few down through the years that engendered a “that’s a Beatles tune” reaction.  For me, anyway.

Sometimes it’s the melody, sometimes the chords, or the overall feel, or the sound of the singer’s voice.  It can vary.  It happened a lot in 70-71 when I was, like many (most?) people, still ticked about their breakup.

Examples include:
Cheap Trick’s If You Want My Love You Got It
Argent’s Hold Your Head Up
Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, and his Steeler’s Wheel’s Stuck In The Middle With You
America’s Goldenhair – guess that was the George Martin production?
Yes’s Love Will Find A Way
Pretty much everything by Badfinger

Then of course, you had the solo work by the four fabs.  On the stronger songs, you couldn’t help but wish for a better backup band.  Well, I couldn’t anyway.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

You Won’t Find A Better Loser

Some people think Bell Bottom Blues is a wonderful song, one of Clapton’s best.  Many people think it’s rubbish.

I happen to be in the former camp, but I kinda get why some people don’t like it too much.  Even though I enjoy it, it can come across somewhat unsettling, like something’s not quite right. 

Well, 40+ years later, I think I’ve finally put my finger on it:  it’s performed by the wrong band.  Instead of Derek and the Dominoes, it should be a Beatles record, with John singing, and Paul doing the harmony.  Clapton is guesting, as is Billy Preston.  George and Ringo make their presence known, tastefully as always.

Can you picture it – I mean hear it?  Nice, eh?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Rockumentary Heaven

Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest Rock Documentaries nicely illustrates just how much good video is out there to enjoy.

Dylan, Page, White, U2, Rush, Bowie, Neil Young, James Brown, The Stones, Hendrix, The Who, Zep, Floyd, a little band out of Liverpool called The Beatles  - they’re all there.

Kinda like my desert island playlist, but without enough blues and folk.

Some masterpieces (Talking Heads), some silliness (Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus), some cultural chronicles (Monterey, Woodstock), and a lot of great music.

The list has something for everyone, so I won’t complain, other than to say I would have included:

The Concert For George – my favourite concert video, period
AC/DC Live at Donnington – killer performance, surpassed only by
Queen Live At Wembley – Freddie’s control over the audience is simply mesmerizing.

Speaking of which, there’s a lot of rubbish (OK, music that didn’t age too well) on the Live Aid video, but some of it is great, so it deserves at least an honourable mention.  Maybe?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Undercover Agent For The Blues …

… and Rock!  Take a look at the influence John Mayall has had.  The connections.  The influences. The great music that came out of his influence.

It’s almost unbelievable.  The diagram just depicts the most obvious connections.  The ones that could fit on a page.  It’s missing the Yardbirds-Page-Zeppelin link.  It obscenely abridges Clapton’s reach.  It skips the whole Dylan universe outside the Willburys.  It doesn’t even try to show who Phil Collins has touched, which is, like, everybody.

Was John Mayall as influential as Lennon, Dylan, Jagger, Hendrix or Page?  Maybe not, but when you think about who he’s played with – and who they played with, he’s touched just about everything.  Mayall is one important cat.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Session Men

Gibson’s 10 Great Session Guitarists brings some well-deserved focus to some brilliant musicians who have delivered a heap of magic over the years.

Lukather, Cropper, Carlton, Tedesco, Atkins, Spedding … where would pop/rcok/blues/soul be without them?  Or, to put it another way, where would Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Sam Cooke, Bryan Ferry, Elton John and  Aretha Franklin be without them?

OK, some of them would probably have done OK, but you get the point.

And then there was this cat by the name of Jimmy Page.

Note to Gibson.  No one is going to dispute the importance of James Jamerson, but he was a bass player.  Is there really no other session guitarist out there that should have made the list?

Friday, 22 August 2014

Look Out Kid

Most people think Rap started in the late 70’s and blossomed in the late 80’s.  Wikipedia cites a 1971 Isaac Hayes album as the more or less official beginning, while pointing out its African roots and the ubiquitous influence of blues.

Fair enough, but I think Rap began with Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.  And why not?  If rapping has its origins in the blues, are we surprised if Dylan picked up on some stylings from, say, The Memphis Jug Band, and then poured it out into modern pop music?

We shouldn’t be.  You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Are We There Yet?

Kudos to RS for, you know, trying to broaden our musical horizons.  But when I examine the list I just don’t get the title.  Are they suggesting that, after over 50 years of obscurity on this side of the Atlantic, Cliff Richards is likely to bust out sometime soon?  Do they think that, at the age of 90, Charles Aznavour gives a damn?  I think we’re maybe being a little optimistic here.

Twenty acts who should have made it in America, twenty acts Americans missed out on, not everything’s made in America … there are lots of titles that don’t need to include the rather silly promise “yet.”

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Sounds Like …

Here’s an obvious truth: although they covered a lot of ground over many years (not enough, in the case of The Beatles), The Beatles always sound like The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones always sound like The Rolling Stones.

But here’s the thing:  what made them so darn good is that they could do anybody else.  The Beatles do Roy Orbison and come up with Please Please Me.  They do Dylan and come up with You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.  They start jamming Fleetwood Mac’s Green Manalishi and arrive at Sun King.

Same thing with The Stones.  While always true to their blues roots, they’ve absorbed and played back: Rock and Roll, British Invasion, Country, Folk Rock, Psychedelic, Hard Rock, Jazz Fusion – and just about everything that ever came out of Motown, Memphis and Muscle Shoals.  I know some cynics who think The Stones sold out and became silly by trying to stay relevant in the late 70’s as the world shifted into Disco and then 80’s R&B, but I disagree.

What I hear is a great band saying, “Yeah, we can do that.  Listen!”  And then they prove it by serving up a classic example of the style.  But even as the do that, they remind you they’re still The Stones.  The riffs, the grit, the guitar bi-play, the self-caricaturing vocals – they’re all there.  Miss You is both vintage Disco and vintage Stones.  Rock and A Hard Place sounds like it could have been recorded by Robert Palmer, but the presence of Keith and Ronnie make it better.  And just to drive the point home, they give us Sad Sad Sad on the same album.  “So much for this ‘new’ R&B thing.  Now here’s some rock and roll.”

Paul McCartney’s solo career proves that if The Beatles had lasted longer, they too would have remained relevant by continuing to listen to the new music around them, absorbing it, and the giving it back to us as fresh magic.

The Beatles and The Stones prove that you develop your own style by absorbing the music around you, and you evolve that style by continuing to listen.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Power of Two

Rolling Stone’s Readers’ Poll on The 10 Greatest Duets of All Time definitely reminds us that magic can happen when two great musical forces are combined.  With the exception of Sonny and Cher - and (sort of) Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell - most of the recordings listed were one-offs, which only adds to their appeal. 

Personally, I’m kinda partial to Bowie’s duet with Bing Crosby on The Little Drummer Boy, but I get why it’s not on the list.  A lot of Blues greats have done the duet thing too:  Hooker, Buddy Guy, B.B., Clapton.  Lots of magic on those records.

Anyway, you gotta dig it when great artists who respect each other collaborate.  You can almost feel their joy.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Damn Right I Got The Blues

I had the pleasure of seeing Buddy Guy in concert a while back.  While I regard him as one of the lesser powers in my particular pantheon of musical gods, his status as living legend is more than well deserved.

At 78, he’s still got his chops, and he provided an insightful and entertaining trip down his own personal memory lane, paying tribute to many of the greats who inspired him.

He also had with him one young Quinn Sullivan, a ridiculously talented fifteen year-old who has just about all of Eric Clapton’s tricks nailed.  I mean nailed.  Not approximated the way less gifted schlepps like me can do – I mean nailed.

Young Quinn isn’t the first prodigy to be discovered and mentored by an old master.  Many of his predecessors faded away before their twentieth birthday.  I hope that’s not the case here.  This kid’s something special.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

If You Remember The 60’s …

Rolling Stone needs to come up with shorter titles for their articles, man.  20 Albums Rolling Stone Loved In The Sixties That You’ve Never Heard makes for a title that spills onto a second line!

Anyway, it’s an interesting list, and a bit of a memory test.  I mean, who remembers the rumours that The Masked Marauders were The Beatles plus Dylan and Jagger?  Not me.

A few bands I forgot about without any noticeable downside:  Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, for example (talk about long titles!)

A few that live up to the article’s title (I have never heard of them):  Autosalvage, The Good Rats, The Insect Trust, Wild Man Fischer.

Maybe we never heard of these artists because their names were so, like, nuts?  More than a few seem to have existed inside Frank Zappa’s orbit, I notice.  Actually, I do remember Wild Man Fischer – but I forgot on purpose.

Not sure why Wildflowers by Judy Collins is on the list though.  Who doesn’t remember Both Sides Now?  Ditto Those Were The Days by Marky Hopkin.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

I Can See Through Your Masks

Go have a listen to Eddie Vedder’s rendition of Masters of War at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert.

            You ain’t worth the blood that runs in your veins

            Even Jesus would never forgive what you do

            All the money you made will never buy back your soul

Ouch!  It might not be the most popular protest song of all time, but it’s got to be the angriest, and Vedder’s performance is spellbinding.

Is that kind of anger still out there and I just can’t find it?  Don’t we have a few things to protest about?  The world don’t look too perfect to me, man.  Why aren’t we, like we used to say, telling it like it is?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Comeback Kids

Guitar World’s 10 Best Comeback Albums of All Time proves that you can’t keep a good band down.

Even the best artists sometimes:
1) Take risks that fans don’t dig
2) Let success get in the way
3) Run out of ideas
4) Lose their way
5) Just get overtaken by something new and exciting

Or, as the list also illustrates, people die and stuff.  So bravo AC/DC!  Well done, Foo Fighters!

But most of the list is about a wake-up call, followed by a determined (and successful) effort to proclaim, “Not down for the count!”

U2, Metallica, Johnny Cash, Aerosmith, John Lennon, Deep Purple, the Stones, The Dixie Chicks …  they’ve all proven they had a lot more to give.

Good for them … and lucky us!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Come Gather ‘Round People

I recently picked up the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute concert DVD.  Dunno why they kept us waiting 22 years, but it was worth the wait.

Great performances by an all-start cast.  And some of the best songs ever written.

I watched the DVD with someone who’s a little younger than me, who asked, “What’s the big deal about Dylan anyway?”  The question was influenced by this person’s limited exposure to Dylan, which is mostly latter day Dylan, the cat with the cartoonish voice, dark sound and suicidal lyrics.

But that’s not the Dylan I know.  Well, I do, and I think he’s kinda cool too (in his own way).

Anyway, I responded, “Just listen!  Look who’s on the stage!”  A substantial number of my favourite artists, some of the most successful of all time, were influenced by Bob Dylan.  They said as much, and they proved their assertion in their renditions of his songs.

More than any other artist, Dylan is the link that connects our modern music – and culture – with the past.  Sure, Clapton and Page dug out some blues gems. Yes, The Beatles and The Stones played Nashville, Motown and Memphis with conviction. 

But Dylan is the conduit.  Delta Blues, Hillbilly folk, sea shanties, gospel, ballads, poems, stories … It was as if he had absorbed a dozen working-man’s cultures, and poured it out into the modern world.  Folk, rock and roll, soul, blues rock, R&B, folk rock … he’s touched it all, and shown us where it all came from.

And he spoke the truth, fearlessly.  It’s too bad we stopped listening.  We better start swimming.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Millennial Barrier

Some albums transcend their eras, says Rolling Stone – and some don’t.  The 40 Albums Baby Boomers Loved But Millennials Don’t Know (whew! What a long Title!) list includes some great music that somehow hasn’t made it across the generational divide.

Some of the albums listed are shocking.  I mean, how can Cocaine or Money For Nothing be played to death on the radio and not be known?  Ditto entries by ZZ Top, Steve Miller or Bob Seger.  Yeah, I know we’re talking albums not singles, but sheesh!

Many albums listed did not surprise me, though.  I know they were very popular, but nothing about Roberta Flack or The Commodores sounds very transcendent to me.  And Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Centre of the Earth is described by RS as bombastic and overwrought, so I’m guessing they’re not really recommending it?

Alice’s Restaurant was a joy in 1967-8-9, but simply not relevant by, say, 1972, so no surprise there.  The Concert for Bangladesh?  Listen, RS, everyone bought it because it was George and because of the all-star lineup.  But nobody played it more than once.

A lot of the stuff listed I’d be hard pressed to say I miss – Moody Blues, Supertramp, Phil Collins … they just didn’t age very well.

Nice to see Johnny Winter and Humble Pie listed, though.  I never understood why they don’t get more coverage on the classic rock radio playlists.  And as Jack White, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clarke Jr. and The Black Keys have proven, blues rock just won’t go away, so they should be heard.

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Fab Archives

Why is it that we seem to get some “new” Hendrix material every few years, but we can’t get access to old Beatles material?

Rolling Stone’s Six Best Out of Print Beatles Releases nicely illustrates that there is some great stuff out there we should have.  Some concert footage, some TV appearances, all the videos the made.  Some of it maybe not so great, but some of it vintage Beatles magic.

I remember watching Around The Beatles when it aired in Canada and it was pure joy from start to finish, so I won’t argue with Rolling Stone’s argument that they should all be brought back.  When I watch Anthology, I certainly wish that their dozens of TV performances could be brought together in a package.  And I’ve heard enough snippets to know the Christmas Album would be a treat.  And, as for The Beatles Video Collection?  There’s just no excuse.

But returning to Anthology, there’s enough of Let It Be captured there to remind how painful it was to watch that movie when it came out in 1970.  I don’t think I could do it again.

But bring the rest of it back, please.  How about a ‘Beatles Best Concert Performances’ DVD?  How about a ‘Beatles on TV’ DVD?  Come on, lawyers, go git ‘er done.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Zombie Apocalypse Music

Of all the musical genres out there, the one that scares me the most is the one they call singer-songwriter.  Some earnest cat with a guitar telling you about his sad luck, or complaining about what’s wrong with the world.  Downer stuff, man.  Run away and hide.  We’re all doomed.

Wait a minute!  Wikipedia says singer-songwriter just means musicians who write, compose and perform their own music – in the finest folk tradition.  Leadbellly, Woody, Dylan – guys like that.  That’s cool, right?

And anyway, Buzz, don’t you adore James Taylor and Cat Stevens, and didn’t you enjoy and respect some of those hippy-era guys like Tim Hardin and Bruce Cockburn?

And by the way, Buzz, what the heck do you think most of your music should be called?

OK!  Fine!  Then why do I associate the genre with the likes of Harry Chapin and Jim Croce and Dan Hill, guys whose songs – with all due respect – make me lose my will to live?

Maybe it was that bad voodoo going on in the early seventies, the force that codified, stereotyped and exaggerated everything, the thing that pushed metal into silliness and prog rock into pointlessness and soul into disco and goofy hair.  Maybe it’s just that little bit of singer-songwriter that turns me off.

Anyway, it ought to be the most respected genre, ‘cause it’s got to be the oldest.  Troubadours, bards, poets, Homer and all that.

By the way, I’d respectfully suggest the Wikipedia entry needs a major overhaul.  Maybe Frank Zappa did write, compose and play his own songs, but come on!  Is singer-songwriter really the genre that pops to mind when you hear his name?

Then again, as David Knopfler’s thoughtful article points out, it’s a genre that has defied categorization.