Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Two to Tango

It takes two, so says Rolling Stone’s 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.  “Less narcissistic than a solo performer, more intimate than a band.”  Not sure that quite holds up, but when the chemistry works, a duo can indeed be magical.

I’m a tad confused about what holds this list together, though.  We’ve got bona fide duos, such as Richard and Linda Thompson, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Everly Brothers.

But then we’ve got duos that may be duos but they sound like bands, even though they are definitely driven by a partnership of two, e.g. Black Keys or Steely Dan.  I mean, is Ronnie Wood any less of a hired gun than Larry Carlton?

Debatable, maybe, if you apply that logic to Sam & Dave, but then the list gets weird.  Ashford & Simpson were really known for songwriting, not performing, so why not King & Goffin?  Fripp & Eno were a one-off.  Ike Tuner was big before Tina, Tina was big after Ike, and no one wants to remember the period in between.

Maybe 20 is a stretch and this should have been a Top 10 list.

ps - Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra have “stood the test of time?”  Really?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A Hunger Still Unsatisfied

Are you older than, say, 30?  Got regrets?  Feel like a part of you is lost?  Still trying to find yourself – in the future, the present, the past?  Or … want your spirit crushed?

Go listen to High Hopes by Pink Floyd.  They’ve done a lot of songs about loss, but this one is the champ.

A life consumed by slow decay.  Steps taken forward but sleepwalking back again.  Encumbered forever by desire and ambition.  Our weary eyes … the grass was greener … the water flowing … the endless river … sheesh!

Poignant poetry, a moody tune with a haunting, tolling bell, impeccable Floyd production, and perhaps David Gilmour’s most heartbreaking guitar solo.  I cannot listen to this song without weeping.

Sad, cathartic, and absolutely beautiful.  By the way, the accompanying music video is one of the most amazing videos of all time.

The light was brighter.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Miracle

OK, so the greatest songs by one band list is becoming something less of a novelty, since Rolling Stone has now added Queen’s 10 Greatest Songs. 

Not that I’m arguing against it.  Monster band.  Killer songs, as the list aptly shows.

All the biggies are there:  Killer Queen, The Show Must Go On, Under Pressure, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Somebody To Love, Fat Bottomed Girls, and of course, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Two things jump out at my about this list:
1) They had too many huge hits to cram into a top 10 list.  Missing in action, for
    example, are Radio Ga Ga, Tie Your Mother Down and everyone’s favourite
    sports arena song, We Will Rock You.  You’d add your own, no doubt.
2) The breadth of these guys was amazing.  Prog, metal, pop, rockabilly,
   Broadway  Wow.

We still miss you, Freddie.  You were one of our best friends.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Rover

Wow.  I always knew Jimmy Page was a session player before he signed on with The Yardbirds and then founded Led Zeppelin, but wow.  Gibson’s Jimmy Page In The 60’s article shows you just how much this guy got around.

You’ve got your big names: Tom Jones, Van Morrison, The Kinks, The Who,  Donovan, Cocker … wow.

You’ve got your forgot-about-thems: The Southerners, The Nashville Teens, The Sneekers … who?

You’ve got your really?: Burt Bacharach, Petula Clark, Lulu, Herman’s Hermits … are you kidding me?

You’ve got your that-was-him?:  Gloria?  Here Comes the Night?  Can’t Explain?  As Tears Go By?  With a Little Help From My Friends? (Cocker, not Beatles) Hurdy Gurdy Man?  Did I say wow yet?

This guy was everywhere.  But the song did not remain the same.  He rambled on, met a few friends, went out on the tiles, slapped us upside the head with Good Times Bad Times, and carried us over the hills and far away.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A Well Respected Man

Gibson’s Dave Davies’ 10 Greatest Performances serves as a healthy reminder that The Kinks’ guitarist was about way more than You Really Got Me.

Yeah, that’s on the list, as is its sequel, All Day and All of the Night, as thats semi-sequel Tired of Waiting.

Pushed aside by the late 60’s blues rockers, The Kinks enjoyed an all-too brief resurgence ten years later, riding the punk/new wave thing for a few years.  Gibson’s list nicely demonstrates that The Kinks – and Davies – still had their chops, staying as – or even more – relevant than many of the 60’s British Invasion relics that were still out there. 

The tunes – and the guitar work – on Misfits and Low Budget are archetypal, no-holds-barred rock and roll.  The massive influence of You Really Got Me aside, for my money, this was their best work.  They rocked us around the dial.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Don’t You Notice How the Wheel Goes ‘Round?

Speaking of minor and major pentatonic, there’s this guy by the name of Eric Clapton who is an absolute master at switching back and forth seamlessly between the two, creating a beautiful eight note scale that perfectly suits just about any blues or rock song you could think of.

Have a listen to his solo in Badge, probably the best example of this tasty integration, and possibly his best solo ever.  He alternates minor and major pentatonic phrases so smoothly that you don’t even know it’s happening.  What you do notice is melodic tension and harmonic brilliance that makes the solo a powerful emotional trip.

Clapton isn’t the only guitar god to integrate the two pentatonic scales.  B.B. King, for example, comes to mind as another master.  Clapton has many other attributes which help set him apart, but his constant bi-play between the two scales is perhaps his most distinguishing characteristic.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

5 Little Notes

Western music has divided the octave into twelve equidistant notes.  The major scale uses seven of those notes.  The minor scale uses a different seven (or nine, actually, but let’s not get into that).  Such scales are known as heptatonic (seven tones).

Modern guitarists mostly get by with pentatonic scales, taking five notes from the minor scale to play blues, or five notes from the major scale to play country.  Since rock borrows heavily from both blues and country, rock guitarists tend use either major or minor pentatonic depending on the song.

Jazz players?  Well, they prefer strange seven and nine note scales with even stranger sounding Greek names.  Good for them.

Skilled and inventive guitarists throw in lots of notes that don’t belong in the pentatonic scale - sometimes to harmonize, sometimes to give you a tasty blue note – but they rarely stray from those five basic notes.  Most of the classic guitar solos follow this pattern.

Isn’t it amazing what you can do with a driving beat, a few simple chords, and five little notes?