Friday, 30 May 2014

Like a Chimpanzee

Seriously, though, aren’t all those drummer jokes deserved?  I mean, just a little?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

More Hits Than Hats

Hey Rolling Stone!  What’s with the lists of twenty all of a sudden?  The lists were always ten, right?  Or, like if it was epic, 100.  Now we’ve got this rash of twenty? 

Anyway, Rolling Stone’s list of 20 Greatest Two-Hit Wonders is curious because, really, most of us probably only remember one song.  Maybe that’s just age and memory.  Maybe it’s corporate playlist rendering.  I mean, RS does tell you the chart position, so facts are on their side.

Before you look on the link, though, test yourself.  Do you know of a second hit by Quiet Riot, Janis Ian, Golden Earring, ? and the Mysterians, A-ha, Animotion?

Me neither.

There were a couple of exceptions for me:   I did remember both Tone Loc songs, and (when prompted) both Left Banke tunes.  And, if I’m honest, both Men without Hats songs.

Too bad some of these acts disappeared so fast.  After calling One-Hit-Wonder a derisive term, the article introduces the list by saying here are some acts “who managed to stick around a little longer.”  Faint praise, and a lot of these bands deserved better.

Success is a fickle mistress.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Dream Baby

Growing up, I never knew what to make of Roy Orbison.  Oh Pretty Woman was a great rocker, but it didn’t quite have the same edge as contemporary Beatles or Stones songs.  And the rest of his canon seemed better suited to my parents’ radio station than mine.

I know his tenor voice was operatic, but all those strings!  Sure, it was the doo-wop era, and rock had been tamed, bottled and homogenized, but where were the twangy guitars?  Where was the attitude?  Roy Orbison seemed more like Gene Pitney or Shelley Fabares than Elvis or Chuck Berry.

Pretty good with the sad songs, though.

Maybe it was just the production values of the time.  Much later on, in the 80’s working with Jeff Lynne, Roy proved he could rock out with the Travelling Willburys and U2.  And if you’ve ever seen Black and White Night, I’m sure you’ll agree his old classics sparked some great rock and roll moments when supported by the likes of Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Elvis Costello.

Ringo has said that Roy was the only act The Beatles didn’t want to follow.  With a different producer in a different era, Roy Orbison could have had ‘em all running scared.  Except it’s obvious everybody loved him just the way he was.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Second Time Around

Most of us have a few records/tapes/CD’s/MB of memory that are basically collecting dust because we:

1) Were blown away by someone’s debut album, and so …
2) Rushed to buy the second album, then went ‘oops!’

In many cases, it seems the more amazing the first album was, the easier it was to be disappointed with the second.  Maybe it goes back to the adage that bands have their whole lives to come up with that first album but no time for the next one.  Whatever the cause, a flop the second time around can be fatal.  Lots of one hit wonders probably released more than one record.  We just ignored them.

Rolling Stone’s 20 Best Second Albums provides a list of happy exceptions, albums that were every bit as good – or even better – than the debuts.  Examples from the list include second efforts by Neil Young, Springsteen, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Dylan, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Band, and Nirvana.

Yeah, I know these acts are all legendary and most people cherish their entire catalogues, but what if that second album had been awful?  Maybe then the legend is stillborn.  Or maybe the examples listed nicely illustrate why these acts became legends.  “You that was good?  OK, have a listen to this!”

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The History of Cool

We tend to have a schizophrenic relationship with technology; we either think something is really cool, or we take it for granted.  Or maybe one viewpoint evolves into the other, as illustrated by Rolling Stone’s 24 Inventions That Changed Music.

From Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877 to the microphone to LP to the Compact Disc to the Internet    they’re all there.

It’s interesting to trace the evolution of media from wax cylinders through tape and vinyl to CD’s and computer drives.  Even more interesting, is to consider the evolution of playback devices from the Victrola to the cassette deck to the CD player to the iPod/phone.

The romance is connected to the playback device, of course.  I still remember the big honking furniture cabinets that housed the stereos of my youth.  More importantly, I remember how much I loved my first transistor radio.  It gave me freedom, independence, and the power to live in my own culture.  The transistor radio is probably the single biggest factor in the dominance of rock and roll.

That said, I remember how badly we all wanted a Walkman the moment they came out.  By then it was mug’s game though.  CD’s, mp3’s, iPods … I don’t miss my cassette tapes but I do get tired of replacing and re-organizing my media every few years. 

The stated theme of the list is recording and playing back music, so it’s more than a little curious that the Marshall amplifier is on the list.  Sure, that amp is the most famous, but it doesn’t relate to recorded music any more than the first Les Paul guitar or the first effects pedals.

The dates of some of the innovations are interesting, too.  When you think about how fast we moved from cassettes to CD’s to mp3’s, it’s amazing to realize the LP was invented in 1931 but 78’s were sold into the mid-50’s.  The biggest surprise, though is the vocoder, invented in 1940 for military use!  Take that, Daft Punk.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Three Chords and the Truth

All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth
All I’ve got is a red guitar, the rest is up to you

The above lyric, inserted into U2’s rendition of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, got me thinking about the power of music and art to rise above simple entertainment and get us worked up about serious issues.

OK, I’m as guilty as the next person as far as not wanting to be lectured, and sometimes musicians, actors, etc. can get a bit too full of themselves.  But I’ve never subscribed to the notion that artists should just shut up and perform.  As Neil Young would say, “What?  Just because I’m a singer means I’m not entitled to an opinion?”

Anyway, if art is a reflection of life, how can art not be making a statement?

So here’s to Bono, and Dylan, and Lennon, and Springsteen, and Young, and Woody, and Marley, and all the other cats that have the courage to tell it like it is.

The rest is up to us.