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.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

I Stand Alone

Gibson’s 10 Great One-Man-Band Albums reminds us just how freakin’ talented some cats are.  Write the tunes, play all the instruments, produce it, mix it … sheesh!

Prince (we’ll call him Prince today), Dave Grohl, Steve Winwood, John Fogerty, Todd Rundgren – oh, and this English knight called Paul McCartney.  These guys stand as giants, even when performing as members of their respective bands.

Then they go and demonstrate that they might not actually need the help.  Hats off to ‘em, I say.

Rock is full of huge talents whose creative force drove not just the songwriting but the studio production – guys like Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Pete Townshend, for example.  But they don’t stand on their own.  They need the presence of – not to mention the chemistry with – other musicians.

By the way, where is Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions?

Friday, 6 June 2014

Shaking At The Knees

AC/DC’s Thunderstruck belongs right there in the dictionary as the picture beside the word(s) rock and roll.  It’s got it all:  Angus Young’s riff buzzing around your face like an aggressive wasp, a driving rhythm from the drums and bass that feels like a runaway train, mindlessly juvenile lyrics, a soccer chant that conveys an urgent menace – and three (four?) guitars with absolutely perfect tone.

If you want to study how to write, perform, or produce a rock song, look no further.  Brian Johnson’s vocals, Angus Young’s solo, Malcolm Young’s rhythm, the sound of the mix  - they are all perfect.  And, what – three hooks?

Go have a listen.  Take a breath or two.  You’ll need to, because you’ve been thunderstruck.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


One of the comments below Gibson’s 10 Great Grunge Bands article says it best: I miss hearing snarling guitars and adult subject matter on the radio.

Grunge was the last great innovation of the rock ‘n’ roll era.  A refreshing kick in the pants to self-indulgent 80’s hair metal, a rude finger to the fashion driven synth pop Kool-Aid that was dominating the airwaves, grunge reminded us that rock ‘n’ roll is punk.

The guitar playing was perhaps not as noteworthy as that served up by the guitar gods of the 60’s and 70’s, and the lyrics were a tad on the angry side, but even old fogey’s in their forties like me got it.

An all too brief revitalization, though.  Before long the corporate pop machine had driven us back to its predictable formula of catchy but forgettable nonsense. 

The next wave is overdue.  Hey, you snarling guitarists!  Pick up the torch!