Monday, 31 March 2014

Hey Mr. Fantasy

As the intro points out, the number of reunions that have taken place since Traffic first did it in 1970 are too numerous to list, but the Readers’ Poll on Bands That Should Reunite is still kinda sad.

We’ve got the usual suspects: Pink Floyd, Oasis, GNR, The Smiths, Genesis, The Kinks    but most of the write-ups say something like “it ain’t going to happen ‘cause xx hates yy” or “zz isn’t interested, so dream on.”

So it’s sad.  Or worse.  I mean, Led Zeppelin can’t reunite because their drummer is dead.  Ya, the 2007 show was amazing and Jason Bonham did a great job, but shouldn’t we move on?

Can’t we treasure what’s come before and still give a shot to the host of current acts out there that deserve a listen?  Isn’t “the new” what attracted us to those old acts in the first place?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Good Enough

I usually reserve my 10th-favourite-guitarist-of-all-time spot for whoever I’ve listened to recently that’s very good but didn’t make the top 9.  Mike Campbell, Tom Petty’s sidekick, is frequently in that spot.

One list he could definitely top, though, is Most Improved Guitarist.  Such a designation may be unfair, because he was always terrific.  Never a wasted note, always complimenting the song with additional emotion, tasty licks, clever double stops and a unique but familiar style. 

Refugee, The Waiting or Mary Jane’s Last Dance are typical examples of Campbell’s ability to improve a song without getting in the way.  But you’d be hard pressed to move him up the list and compare him with the likes of Clapton or Page or Hendrix or SRV, right?  Not enough notes.  Not enough complexity.  Insufficient speed.  No real surprises.

OK, so go listen to Good Enough from Petty’s last album, Mojo.  It’s a trippy, bluesy, Beatle-esque number calling for either some signature Harrison bends or some classic Lennon howls.  Campbell gives you both, while still sounding like himself.  But during the extended soloing, Campbell also gives you Jimmy Page with a bit of Clapton thrown in.  If you swapped Petty’s vocals for Plant, and had John Bonham drumming, this song could be a stow-away on Led Zeppelin III.

Improved?  Well, maybe Mike Campbell got better with time.  Maybe he just became more adventurous.  Or maybe he just felt like saying, “oh ya, I can do that too.”

I should have known it.

Monday, 24 March 2014

The River of Troubled Water

A few posts ago I said that not many artists or groups deserve their own list, but that The Band was one of them.  I stand by that, but don’t dispute that Simon and Garfunkel also deserve their own Top Ten list.

So, without question, does Bruce Springsteen, but 100 Greatest Bruce Springsteen Songs?  I mean, he’s fabulous, and I have the utmost respect, but 100?  Isn’t that just a little excessive?  What about The Beatles or Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin or Eric Clapton or Buddy Guy?   Really, almost anyone with a big catalogue and lasting appeal.

Maybe they’re coming, those lists.

Back to Simon and Garfunkel, their impact was large.  Their appeal transcended generations and genres.  They kept the beatnik coffee house folk thing going until the Hippies came along and (all-too briefly) breathed new life into that scene.  That’s a pretty big accomplishment.

Powerful songs, terrific vocals, musical poetry.  “Tom and Jerry” definitely deserve their own list.  Too bad that, like so much other magic from the 60’s, it couldn’t last.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Runnin’ Down a Dream

Here’s the bio for the perfect rock ‘n’ roll star:  Grew up during a time when The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan and The Byrds dominated the airwaves.  Grew up in a place where there’s no shame in a country song, and rockabilly is still revered.

Had all the talent to write and perform some hard-driving rock that was at once familiar yet fresh.

Was lucky enough to meet – and become friends with – some of his boyhood idols.  Even made a record with them.  Then he used another member of this supergroup, an English cat who shared the same childhood idols, to produce his best work yet.  Through all the shifts and changes in pop music, he remained true to his roots, and his fans adore him.

Wait a minute; I’m describing Tom Petty.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Mission Impossible

Now here’s a list that nicely demonstrates how North American monoculture has shattered into a million fragments.  The Recording Industry Association of America actually compiled a list of the Songs of the Century (20th).  So it’s gonna reflect a whole bunch of tastes and styles over an entire hundred years.

And be agreed to by … no one, not even the most broad-minded, culturally curious, historically informed I-love-everything kinda person.  Up until about 1970, which incorporates all but two of the songs, you would have got reasonable support for this list, but no more.

The top three are probably hard to argue:

1. Over the Rainbow, Judy Garland
2. White Christmas, Bing Crosby
3. This Land Is Your Land, Woodie Guthrie

After that, it’s hard to keep your personal biases at bay.  Mine kicked in big time.  For example:
- American Pie is #5.  Really?   Ahead of The Beatles, The Stones, Chuck Berry?
- Elvis is missing?
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Seriously?

I mean, I know they had to include big band, jazz, ragtime, tin pan alley, patriotic songs and all that.  I get it.  But only two country songs?  Only four songs from England?  Tina Turner beats Fats Waller and Hoagy Carmichael?

And, hey!  There is some cheating here:  The West Side Story and The Sound of Music full soundtracks are on a list of songs?

You’ll find your own issues, outrages and mysteries, I’m sure.  Brave people, the RIAA.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Matchstick Men

January, 1968.  A psychedelic pop song called Pictures of Matchstick Men hits the charts, and man, was it trippy.   Vaguely drug-related lyrics, wah-wah guitar, and one of the early examples of the phaser effect.  OK, it was closer to bubble-gum than, say Cream or Led Zeppelin, but it was cool.

And then they were gone.

Fast forward to July, 1985.  Along with nearly two billion of my closest friends, I watched Live Aid.  The Wembley section of the concert opens up with this high energy bunch of British rockers who don’t seem to have left the 60’s.  They remind me of The Kinks, or any number of British Invasion groups I’d forgotten.  Didn’t catch their name, but they put on a great set.

And then they were gone.

Fast forward to early this century.  I’ve entered the digital age and I’m surfing the web looking for old tunes I once had on vinyl but can’t find on CD.  I go looking for Pictures of Matchstick Men, and find dozens of songs by Status Quo.  Oh!  That was that band from Live Aid.  Why didn’t I know about this?

From the 60’s through the 90’s, these guys reflected back a little of what was popular, but never wavered from their honest delivery of straight-ahead, stand-up, rock ‘n’ roll.

Funny how they never made it this side of the Atlantic.  They seem have a loyal following in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, and they deliver a similar brand of music to many other bands – British and American – that have made it and endured.  It’s a pity.  These guys should have been rockin’ all over the world.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Big Pink Music

Not many bands or artists deserve their own list, but Rolling Stone was smart enough to do a readers’ poll on The Band’s Ten Greatest Songs, because they do (deserve their own list).

The songs included, like The Weight, It Makes No Difference, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Up On Crippled Creek and Chest Fever, demonstrate the enormous range, power and influence these cats had.  Not to mention appeal.

I remember the tremendous buzz when Music From Big Pink came out.  I didn’t get it, because I was pre-occupied with the likes of Hendrix and Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but I remember many people treating it like one of those “everything is changed” moments. 

As the years go by, though, my appreciation deepens, and I understand why some of my other heroes like Eric Clapton and George Harrison dug them.  They were a drunkard’s dream if ever I did see one.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Forgotten Years

Let’s face it: we were all rather tired of it by the time the 80’s ended.  And ever since, it’s been fashionable to look back on that decade with disdain.

But there was some great music in the 80’s.  Not the Euro-pop synth stuff.  Not the disco with no soul stuff.  But great guitar-based rock.  We got:

  • The rebirth of rock ‘n’ roll from New Wavers such as U2, The Pretenders, The Police, Elvis Costello, and The Cars;
  • A continuation of what came to be known as Classic Rock by the likes of Tom Petty, Midnight Oil, Dire Straits, Deff Leppard, and The Cult;
  • Some great reminders by Classic Rockers like Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, The Stones, ZZ Top, Pete Townshend and George Harrison that they were far from ready to hang up their guns.
  • Oh, and guys like Colin James and Stevie Ray Vaughan came along to carry the flag for ball busting blues guitar.  Oh ya, and AC/DC also had their best decade.

You reflect on the music noted above and it’s pretty easy to forget about all that spandex and those strap-on keyboards.  We were handed a lot of music that didn’t age well, but we were also given some brass in pocket.