Thursday, 27 February 2014

Absolutely Nothing

What is war good for?  Absolutely nothing.  So sang Edwin Starr, as we are reminded in Gibson’s 10 Vietnam Era Rock Classics.

There was a lot of major stuff going down in the 60’s: the cold war, the space race, and civil rights to name a few.  Not to mention the unrelenting march of rock music to its pre-eminent position in modern culture.  All against the horrendous, inescapable backdrop of the Vietnam War.  So the Vietnam War and the music of the late 60’s and early 70’s are inextricably mixed.

As the list makes clear, there weren’t many attempts to romanticize or justify that conflict.  The cruelty, the futility and the stupidity are front and centre as some of the best songwriters of the time moved pop music from its innocent, puppy-love and hand-holding storytelling towards much-needed social commentary.

The songs listed are full of outrage and indignation, but also of hope.  They offer an alternative, a future full of love, compassion, respect.  They understood what was going on, they could see that the times were changing, and they imagined a better world.

Too bad we stopped listening.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Wring That Neck

Ritchie Blackmore is probably the best guitarist to never top a best-ever list, and I confess I’m just as guilty as the next person.

I was a huge fan, of course.  From Shades of through Burn, a period of almost seven years, Deep Purple would have been in my Top Three Bands list.  And I was always amazed, astonished, over-awed by Blackmore’s playing – but he never dented my favourite guitarists list.

I’m still not sure why.  Too much shredding (albeit before the term came into use)?  Really weird notes?  Impenetrable, unapproachably angry persona?  (Slightly) inferior songs to solo?

All of the above, probably, but it still doesn’t excuse the implied lack of respect.  His wow factor can top Hendrix, his that-was-surprising-but-those-were-just-the-right-notes ability could rival Clapton’s, and his duets with John Lord were pure magic.

It’s a mystery.  He’s a mystery, one as big as his choice of notes.  It’s got me chasing shadows.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Filling Stevie’s Shoes

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s untimely death in 1990 left a void in the world of young blues musicians.  So says Gibson’s Top 10 Modern Blues Guitarists.

But, as the article nicely proves, blues guitar is alive and well, thanks to the likes of: Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer, Jack White, Dan Auerbach and Derek Trucks.

Indeed, while they have all been successful, if they had been born 20-30 years sooner, the 10 guys listed would have easily joined SRV in the pantheon of guitar gods.  These cats have chops.

And soul.

The torch has been passed, and the flame will never go out.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Tune In

Going back to the Hunter Davies book, I have read a lot about The Beatles.  A lot.

But this new book, All These Years (Volume 1), by Mark Lewisohn, is nothing short of amazing.  After a lifetime of listening, watching, playing and reading, you’d think you’d get to the point where you know it all.


The plot doesn’t change, of course.  But with 800 pages that only get you to the end of 1962, this book is dense.  Fascinating additional details, wonderful new insights, and more than a few myths exploded.

Can’t wait for the next volume.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Men With Cricket Bats

Well, Ian Faith of Spinal Tap doesn’t make Gibson’s 10 Famous Rock and Roll Managers, because he is, after all, fictitious.  But he does capture the essence of the ones who do, which are:

Kit Lambert, Colonel Tom Parker, Malcom McLaren, Andrew Loog Oldham, Tony Jeffries, Albert Grossman, Don Arden, Allen Klein, Peter Grant, Brian Epstein.

Creating image, managing the brand, conceiving new directions, bullying young punks into becoming skilled songwriters, looking after the dark side, feeding the machine, and at times micromanaging the personal lives of their charges – these guys definitely provided the script for the Spinal Tap character.

Including the cricket bat.

They provided an invaluable service to their artists, and, in turn, to us.  After all, with the possible exception of Mick Jagger, none of the artists these guys managed had any business acumen at all.  Can you imagine The Beatles managed by John Lennon?  The Stones managed by Keith Richards?  Zeppelin managed by John Bonham?  The Who managed by Keith Moon?

Makes you wonder if some of those one-hit-wonders disappeared because they didn’t have good management.  So hats off to the managers on the list, even if some of them are more than a bit creepy.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Remember I’ll Always Be True

Well, along with a big bunch of other people, I’ll be watching the 50th anniversary tribute of The Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan when it airs this Sunday.  And along with what I suspect will be a healthy majority of ‘em, I’ll have my fingers crossed that it’s not too corny, schmaltzy or over-done.  Unlikely, but it is possible.

But whether I shed tears of nostalgic joy or wince in embarrassment, I’ll tell you this:  aside from being born, The Beatles are the single biggest fact of my life.

I’m not talking about teenybopper infatuation, mindless celebrity idolization, or stalker-like obsession.  The Beatles tapped into something bigger than themselves, something enervating, life giving, transcendent – and it touched millions of us in profound ways.

Friends, teachers, work colleagues – even family – come and go.  Many earned my respect, gratitude and love.  Some influenced my thinking, and who I became.  A few provided excellent role models.  The Beatles did something even bigger: they defined my culture.

I was two months shy of my tenth birthday on February 9, 1964, and a week or so short of sixteen when Paul announced that The Beatles had broken up.  So growing up, they were a dominant news item, the biggest positive, a cosmic force.  The Space Program, Civil Rights, Vietnam, pending nuclear Armageddon  … they were all out there.  But for many of us, these things were only visible and understood through music and pop culture, which was dominated by The Beatles.  They were the lens through which we watched the world.  They were the shoes we would put on so we could walk in it.

Sometimes what The Beatles did was sad.  Sometimes it was embarrassing, even painful.  But mostly they were joyful and they were always magical.  They changed all of us, and their impact is still being felt.

As Bob Wooler wrote in the very first article ever written about The Beatles (in Mersey Beat on August 31, 1961), “I don’t think anything like them will happen again.”

Monday, 3 February 2014

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll

It doesn’t sound very confident, but Gibson’s 10 Greatest Covers if Chuck Berry Songs notes that, with the possible exception of the Beatles, no other artist has had as many of his songs covered by his peers.

Possible?  How about looking it up?  Or just offer an opinion, like this one: no other artist has had a bigger influence over rock and roll during the last 60 years. 

And Gibson’s list proves that.  The Beatles, The Stones, Bowie, The Kinks, AC/DC, Hendrix … they all paid homage to Berry’s iconic tunes.  And everything that followed pretty much stemmed from that list of bands.

Add the fact that Chuck Berry’s guitar playing is even more important, and you get one colossally influential cat.

Got to agree with the comments below the article, though.  Johnny Winter’s version of Johnny B. Goode should be on the list.