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Saturday, December 31, 2011

"One Armed Scissor"

At the Drive-In - One Armed Scissor (2000)

A band at the height of their fame, shaking apart due to creative differences, records one more album.

The lyrics are about a space station, which is of course falling apart; when has a space station ever appeared and been in good working order by the end of the media? In this case, the station is supposed to represent the bands troubles. I would like to eventually hear an orchestration of this song used as the theme to a science fiction film about a doomed space station. The singer uses a number of different styles, including spoken word in the intro, shouting in the chorus, and a strained sung vocal during the verses.

Hardcore punk is an offshoot of punk that focused on speed, loud vocals and loud bass. That sort of describes the choruses. But At the Drive-In was a Post-hardcore band. Post-hardcore starts at the same train station but is willing to incorporate other singing styles, and has a more open mindset on quieter introspective themes and styles. The verses are still intense, but the drums really tone things down and while the bass keeps driving, the guitars are adding atmospheric sounds rather than doubling the bass as in the chorus.

About six months after the release of the album, with this song as lead single, the band announced they were breaking up. The lead singer and one of the guitarists said that they wanted to do more creative progressive stuff; they formed The Mars Volta. The other guitarist, bassist and drummer started the Post-hardcore band Sparta. The bassist later left Sparta and joined the Mars Volta as a second guitarist.

Friday, December 30, 2011

"I'm Coming Out"

Diana Ross - I'm Coming Out (1980)

That's right, it's a trombone solo. What are you going to do about it?

I know this song from so many TV shows, movies, and gay pride videos, not to mention Mo' Money Mo' Problems; that it just sort of blends into the background. Listening to it was a treat. It's a great pop song. A little long, but if any of it was cut it would have been the trombone solo, and I can't abide that, so we'll cut the length some slack. Diana Ross was huge in 1979 when this album was recorded. She could have chosen anyone in the world to write and produce for her, so she chose the biggest names of the time: Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic. According to lore, after recording, but before the final mix, Diana Ross began to realize that her choice of such funky producers might not jibe with the "Disco Sucks" sentiment rising across the land. Ross took the masters to Detroit to be remixed by herself and friendly Motown techs. Whatever happened, the album Diana and the singles that came from it made 1980 a huge year for Ross.

That guitar riff is infectious. It gets in your head. Your foot is tapping even before the drums show you exactly when you should be tapping. the drums on the whole first minute long intro are so creative. They are jazz like, I mean that they are accents, not time keepers. It's the guitar riff that keeps the beat going, while the drum acts like the horns, just hitting fun accents. When the main body of the song stars up, the drums switch from tom hits to high hat disco style beats, and the bass drops in really heavy to move the song along. The horns deserve to be mentioned here, according to the liner notes there is one trumpet, one sax, and one trombone player, but they play in such perfect lock step here that the sound is much bigger.

The trombone solo starts at 3:13. According to the performer himself, that was not the best version of his solo. He recorded four takes and planned to have them mixed for best. When Ross took all the masters to Detroit, the techs their just grabbed the first one and put it in. The trombone solo was risky, pop songs had saxophone solos, or guitar solos, maybe piano or trumpet, but not trombone; but it worked. It makes the song different.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"He's a Rebel"

The Crystals - He's a Rebel (1962)

Get ready for trivia.

So in 1962 minor singer-songwriter Gene Pitney had gotten a couple of bigger hits and was on his way up. He had written a song that was about a bad boy, to be sung by a woman. He originally meant for it to go to The Shirelles, but they turned down the song. At the time, the anti establishment message was considered controversial. Instead it went to Vikki Carr (who indecently went on to have a recording career into the 90's mostly in Spanish, including a number 1 Hot Latin Songs chart topper). Legendary producer Phil Spector heard about her going into the studio and decided that he wanted one of his groups to record it first. He immediately chose The Crystals. Unfortunately the girl group was touring the East coast and could not fly back fast enough to record and get their version to air before Carr's. So Spector hired Darlene Love and The Blossoms to sing the track, but gave credit to The Crystals. The Blossoms continued to have a behind the scenes role in many Phil Sector produced tracks and live studio performances through the early 70s. Darlene Love actually had a big Christmas hit in 1963 with Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) that has been covered by Mariah Carey, U2, Jon Bon Jovi, and appeared in GoodFellas and Gremlins. The Crystals had to eventually hire a new lead singer so that they could sing this song, which was to be their biggest hit, live in concerts. Carr's version came out weeks later, but it was too late, hers was a hit, "The Crystals'" was gold.

The song starts with some tom tom heavy drums and a high tinkly piano part. There's some trumpet and sax parts backing up the girls as well. The sax solo during the break is Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steve Douglas who played sax, clarinet and flute on sides by Dylan, The Beach Boys, many Spector produced tracks and even Sammy Hagar. He also played the sax solo in Love's Christmas song above. I really like the one, and three, four dance beat that gets heavy during the Just because he doesn't do what/Everybody else does portion of the chorus. It's called a habanera rhythm because it is based on the Cuban dance that uses that beat. The aria Habanera in Bizet's Carmen is a perfect example.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Subway Sect - Ambition (1978)

An early recording by an all but forgotten British punk band.

By the time this single was released, the band had ceased to exist. They reformed later, around front man Vic Godard. The band itself was very British punk: short punchy songs, with an almost whiny untrained vocal running high above the rest of the band, singing a nihilistic tune. But this song adds a ever present synthesizer track that itself is very high in the register; like the high part of a roller skating rink or baseball stadium's organ. Also an odd "plinking" sound that is not in time with the song at all. So much so that I find it distracting. The book says that it is the sound of ping-pong balls that were recorded from an arcade game. I'm imagining something like Pong.

Ignoring the plinking, the song sounds very pop. It's short, it's fast, the drums keep it moving, the synth and guitar are almost always fast and in a major key; when they do go minor, it's only for a measure or two, then right back to the major key. The bass part is fast, and keeps up with the keyboard and guitar which isn't always common in rock, but is common in American soul music, which is what many of the members of Subway Sect were fans of.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Frontier Psychiatrist"

The Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist (2000)

"It is the opinion of the entire staff that Dexter is criminally insane."

This song is built almost entirely on samples of comedy records and lesser known songs of the 50s and 60s. The genre can be called a few things, but Wikipedia uses Plunderphonics, and I think its a hell of a word. Recognizable samples include dialogue from the John Waters film Polyester, the strings from the movie Lawrence of Arabia, quotes by Flip Wilson, and choir and horns from the Enoch Light Singers version of Bert Kaempfert's (You Are) My Way of Life. Kaempfert wrote Danke Schoen, L-O-V-E, and Strangers in the Night amongst other songs, but (You Are) My Way of Life was never that big. It is worth checking out though.

All together this jumbled mass of sounds really works well. I think the important thing they did was not to overwhelm the situation and just keep layering sound over sound. It's actually sparse in a way, and makes use of a "chorus" so that we have something to find and use as a center if we do get lost in the sound. Around 3:00 we get a change. The horn theme remains, but the choir drops out and we get quieter. Around 3:50 we get a guitar breakdown that fades us out of the piece. Someone has put together a video breaking out a lot of the samples. Here's a link.

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Champagne Supernova"

Oasis - Champagne Supernova (1995)

Happy Boxing Day!

The last track off of their enormous hit album (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, and the last single released from that album as well. This was the biggest song the band had, and seemed like just a highpoint with many more to come. Instead this song signaled the slow decline from one of the biggest acts in the world, to over hyped but still impressive, to good but not great, to basically forgotten in the US, to basically ignored, to breaking up.

The lyrics are notoriously confusing, with writer/guitarist Noel Gallagher admitting that he was "out of it" and the lyrics "might be" about reincarnation. Whatever the song is about Liam Gallagher sings with a controlled passion that keeps the song interesting for it's full length. Musically the song is 7:30 minutes long; a soaring psychedelic journey. It starts with water lapping at the beach and gently grows to a languid pop song volume with mellotron droning, acoustic guitar providing a percussive hit, and really short electric guitar quips. The drums eventually work their way in, driving the previously meandering pace. Within a few moments the volume picks up and we are in a full rocker. Around 3:00 we get a brief guitar solo that may actually be Paul Weller who was friends with the band and has a lead guitar credit on this track, as does Noel. The song builds back up again and as it fades at 4:30 you assume the song is about to find it's way out. Instead we get Beatle-esque non-lyrical harmonies floating along with rocking guitar solos over the mellotron and bass guitar sea. Then back to a fade out chorus. the song sounds like it could end again at 7:00, but holds on for a few more seconds.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

"White Christmas"

Bing Crosby - White Christmas (1947)

The best selling single of all time.

This is not the original recording, that was lost to degradation. That was 1942. This was also not the recording from either of the movies this was in: 1942's Holiday Inn or 1954's White Christmas. This was such a popular song that a new recording was necessary because the master had worn out from constant recording.

Recorded with the Trotter Orchestra and the Darby Singers, this version remains the one that every Christmas celebrating individual, as well as anyone who knows any; can sing along with. Crosby's Baritone voice is reassuring, telling us that even though we may be far away from what we love about the holidays, they are still there. This was a particularly poignant theme for the soldiers away from home fighting in WWII. The whistling part has always been one of my favorite moments in a Christmas song, along with the vocal bridge in Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters Jingle Bells. Bing might have whistled the part himself, there's no notes as to who did it, and he was known to be a whistler.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Aretha Franklin - Respect (1967)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T/find out what it means to me/R-E-S-P-E-C-T/take care of TCB

Quite possibly the best known example of 'the cover being more popular than the original', Aretha Franklin's version of Otis Redding's song was an enormous hit for the fast rising star. Redding's version was a big hit in the black community, and was a small crossover hit as well. A few years later Jerry Wexler decided that Franklin would be able to make it a bigger crossover hit. Wexler was one of the most important behind the scenes guys in the business; so Aretha recorded the song as her second single on her new label. Her sisters sing the well known backup.

Driven by bass and keyboards, this under 2:30 song never lets up, never gives us a chance to disagree. It's like having a fight with a woman you love. she may be right, she may be wrong, but you are damn sure not going to get a word in as long as she's got this head of steam built up. The track became a woman's anthem, a black anthem, a youth anthem, and popularized the term 'propers' short for proper respect that has since been shortened to props and is used across age lines in the English speaking world. Great song, great sax solo by King Curtis, phenomenal vocals by all three Franklin sisters.

Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me...

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Runnin' with the Devil"

Van Halen - Runnin' with the Devil (1978)

Perfect example of 80s heavy metal. Except that it's from 1978.

Rising and falling synth, like a train passing you by. Then a repetitive menacing bass, followed by a light tinkling piano, giving way to a clean loud guitar riff, backed by a tom and high hat heavy drum set. Then David Lee Roth swaggers to the microphone. This was the opening track to the debut album of Van Halen. Before they were a video game, before their long term bassist was replaced by the fifteen year old son of the guitarist, before the multiple reunion tours, before III, before Van Hagar, before the love affair with MTV made them bigger than anything; they were four hungry guys playing music in LA that were hard to book, because club owners said they were "too loud".

By today's standards this isn't loud, fast, or heavy enough to be heavy metal, but at the time this was raucous. Eddie Van Halen introduced the world to the finger-tapping style he used to blistering effect in so many later songs. Here it is slower than it will be, but it's so distinct and clean. The backing vocals are perfectly harmonized, which just isn't done in Metal anymore, but sounds great here. The opening sound is actually the band's car horns played backwards.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Big Black - Kerosene (1986)

Industrial Punk?

The linchpin track off the first full length LP by the least corporate Punk band of the 80s in the US. Big Black never signed a contract, booked their own shows, paid for their studio time up front and controlled as much of their music as they could. Punk and post punk bands through the years have cited them and specifically this track as seminal. But this track is also over six minutes long; and uses both a drum machine and effects laded guitar parts. The lyrics are repetitive and destructive, so that could go either way. I don't really like the spoken word style, but the overbearing boredrum leading to obsession with sex and fire is something I think speaks to not just me, but anybody who grew up in the 80s. Plus, as I've mentioned before; I'm a sucker for songs with a false ending. In this song it comes at around 4:45. I like the guitar solo afterwords, it's angry and visceral. The ending is almost abrupt, I really didn't expect it and had to listen to a few videos to be sure that was really when the song ended. This song isn't melodic, but it is good music.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Sweet Disposition"

The Temper Trap - Sweet Disposition (2008)

Produced by the Jim Abbiss, who did Arctic Monkey's debut album, Kasabian's debut, Adele's debut, Bombay Bicycle Club's debut; and worked with Ladytron, KT Tunstall, and DJ Shadow. He sleeps on a pillow made of indie cred.

The guitar riff that runs through this whole piece starts us off. It's echo-y, giving the song a dreamy start, even though the riff itself is forward moving. This balance between floating and driving in the guitar riff is found in the whole song. The lyrics are sung in a high falsetto and really stretched out. The lyrics themselves are about love and dreams, so they add to the floating around side of the equation. The style of singing just adds; putting the vocals fully on the side of the dream. The drums are my favorite part of the song. They drive forward, yet the odd accent beats make you feel like stumbling; which actually propels you further in and faster to try to keep your feet under you. Covers of the song without drums, or with a simpler drum part just fall flat. The bass part is a rock. Slow moving low notes, which because everything else is moving so fast actually make it noticeable.

Overall it's a nice song, a late summer wistful tune combined with a start of the school year kick out the jams rocker. The band is Australian but are much bigger in the UK and Ireland. I saw them play Virgin Free Fest in 2010. The were one of the early acts on the side stage. Very energetic and hard to understand, but the drummer was a beast.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"

The Yardbirds - Happenings Ten Years Time Ago (1966)

Hard to find a good quality version of this audio. Hope this one works.

So let's get this out of the way right now. Yes, this is the Yardbirds, the band that had at least four different lead guitarists during it's brief 5 year run. Three of those guitarists went on to international super-stardom: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. No known recordings exist of Clapton playing with either of the others, but there was a brief period of time (June-October 1966) when Beck and Page were both in the band. Some of that time Jimmy Page was playing bass, other times he played lead while future Led Zeppelin cohort John Paul Jones played bass. Only one single had all three of these giants playing together; Jones on bass and Page and Beck on dual lead guitar. This is it.

This isn't quite "Acid Rock" as there are long instrumental breaks, but the song is short and there are a lot of lyrics. Think of it as proto-Acid. There's a lot of echo on all the vocals. That really adds to the psychedelic effect. The drummer, rhythm guitarist and bassist all keep the song moving along admirably, but the song is clearly in the book for the part at 1:45 where the other instruments head for the back, and Jeff Beck's spoken word part comes along over under and through the dueling guitarists.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Back for Good"

Take That - Back for Good (1995)

British Boy Band Wooo! You know I'm loving this.

Released in the last year the group was still a five piece vocal group, before Robbie Williams was kicked out for drug problems/quit the band to start a solo career. This was really the only chart topper the group had in America, but they were a huge success all over the globe. It was written by Gary Barlow, who also provides lead vocals.

Lyrically the song is about the singer, who has done something to run off the listener. The singer doesn't know what it is, but apologizes anyway. As anyone who has ever been in this situation can attest, that never ever works. He begs to be let back into the listener's life, but it is pretty clear that is not going to happen. Musically the song is driven by acoustic guitars, but does have a string section backing and simple drum set. Vocally the group is fine, the harmonies are nice, and the music doesn't cover them up. They all sing very high, there is not a lot of baritone or bass. Around 2:45 it really reminds be of a Bee Gees breakdown. Completely inoffensive pop song.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"The Grand Tour"

George Jones - The Grand Tour (1974)

Damn, what a downer.

This track, produced by a Country Music Hall of Fame member, and written by three big names in country music; is often considered one of the greatest performances in the history of country music. George Jones was a hard drinkin' womanizing so-and-so when this song came out, and less than a year away from his divorce from Tammy Wynette (who fours years later would marry one of the big name songwriters). He is known for putting so much feeling into his performances that audiences assumed that every song was autobiographical. This one wasn't, but it's hard to listen to twice.

Pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar, simple slow walking bass, and basic piano accompaniment start this song off; and well in the "country" wheelhouse. By the end you realize that there is also a backing choir and a good sized string section. The producer was known in the later 70s for creating crossover hits for country artists, and this has a lot of the hallmarks of an almost "adult contemporary" style song.

Lyrically the song starts sad. A man who is broken, and tries to be upbeat, invites the listener into the house that "once was home sweet home". It gets sadder as George walks around the house and points out furniture that holds memories of his wife who is "gone forever" though she used to "whisper I love you". By the end we are heartbroken to find that this shell of a man has walked us into the nursery; only to find that his wife left him and took nothing "but our baby and my heart". No further explanation is given, we are left to show ourselves out.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Fuck the Pain Away"

Peaches - Fuck the Pain Away (2000)

Our third song in the Electroclash genre. I'd never heard of it before this book.

Yeah, this isn't my thing. It's not bad, just repetitive and doesn't really have a melody in the music. Lots of cymbals, bass drum, and synth bass. Lyrically Peaches does some fun things, referencing stay in school (she was a teacher before becoming a performer) in the same line as birth control, and dropping references to Blondie and Chrissie Hynde. Musically it is early Electroclash, and I find that I like the other two examples better. This is just too striped down for me. Reminds me of early Hip-Hop with the simple beats and clever rhymes but this came out in 2000 not 1980. Once again we find that a dance song and I don't really mesh, but at least I can say I get this one, it's just not my favorite.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"A minha menina"

Os Mutantes - A minha menina (1968)

Brazilian fusion pop!

Os Mutantes (The Mutants) were a Brazilian power trio. Two men, one woman, all three sang, all played instruments, and the band always had lots of guests on their albums. This is off of their first, eponymous album. Influenced by the pop vocals and psychedelic guitar sounds coming out of England and America, they fused it with the native dance rhythms of Brazil.

Lyrically it's a straight love song. She's his girl, he's her boy, and everything is right with the world. Musically the verses are very 60s pop. Vocals that harmonize tightly together over upbeat chords and fast drumming. The chorus has some fat fuzz effects on the guitar, giving us an angry edge to the song, but lyrically there is nothing to back up the anger. It's just a cool effect. The break is really interesting. There's some psychedelic guitars, some acoustic guitar licks, and some vocal noises that sound like hot and heavy breathing to me. Overall it's a fun pop song from a band I'd never heard of but that has fans. Indie act A Band of Bees (or The Bees if you're from the UK) got some early recognition covering this song in 2002 and Beck's 1998 album Mutation was named after the band. And in a hell of a coincidence, (because I just flipped to this song randomly as I usually do) Os Mutantes is apparently a favorite band of David Byrne - who was featured in yesterday's post.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Talking Heads - Heaven (1979)

I would have guessed this was David Byrne based on the voice, but I never would have guessed this was a Talking Heads track.

The guitar is a little twangy, giving it the country influence the book mentions. We've also got simple piano, or at least a synthesizer set to upright. The drum part is almost overwhelming to me; repetitive, too loud, and frankly both dull and too much. The bass line here is moving as fast or faster than the piano during most of the song. Due to the fact that the guitar is playing an atmospheric twang part, the bass becomes a real driving force of the song; really keeping it moving along with the non stop drums - which is ironic considering the lyrics.

The song is about the afterlife, but a version of Heaven few would consider positive. It is a place where "nothing ever happens" and "it will not be any different, it will be exactly he same". Never has Heaven been described in such a way that no one, save people with anxiety that too much is happening and lovers of boredom; would ever want to go. It could be interpreted as very zen, nothing that ends doesn't begin again. but I just think it sounds terrible. Not that the song is terrible, the word play is fantastic: "the band in heaven, they play my favorite song/Play it one more time, play it all night long". It just does a great job of describing a place I wouldn't want to go.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Private Dancer"

Tina Turner - Private Dancer (1984)

Much has been written about Ms. Turner's legs, divorce, solo career and more. Let's try to focus on the song.

This is the full 7:11 length album cut. The radio edit is less than four minutes long. The song was written by Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler for his band. They recorded it in 1982, but he ultimately decided that the lyrics didn't work for a male vocalist. So it was shelved without a vocal added to it. The lyrics are about a high class prostitute; though Tina Turner claimed that she thought it was about performing for private parties for rich people as she had done in the past.

The song sat in the vault until Tina's manager and Knopfler's manager got together and decided Tina should sing the song. Legal obligations meant that the band had to record a new version for Tina to sing over; and in an odd twist of fate, Knopfler was unavailable to perform on the track. Mega star guitarist Jeff Beck was asked to play guitar instead. He provided a solo that Knopfler thought was rubbish. I like it, though I'm not sure if it goes with the rest of the tune.

So let's talk about the tune, it's a soulful song from the 80s, so you know we're going to get some sax. Sure enough, before the twenty second mark we've got a saxophone in the picture. Before the vocal comes in, the song sounds like a smooth jazz/quiet storm style lite jazz piece. The verses and choruses sound very different. In the verse, Tina's voice is low, stays in one small part of her range and the music is all in a minor key. The chorus gives us a much larger part of Tina's range, and it fluctuates between major and minor keys. The piano plays a major part in both sections. Louder than the guitar, holding together the chords and giving embellishment.

My favorite part is the bridge between the second and third chorus. The first part is a vocal part with funky fuzzy electric bass going on under it. Then we get a sax solo that is very reminiscent of the early sax bit, and every bit a "sexy 80s jazz sax solo". you could play just that part and ask people where it was from and they would name a dozen different TV shows or movies with slinky women, maybe a murder, a scene in the rain; and all of them would be from the 80s. The guitar solo that comes after it (with Hammond organ accompaniment) is slinky and sexy and I like it, but by this point in the song, I've forgotten it's a Tina Turner R+B song and have begun to feel like it's just a smooth jazz number from a forgotten album. It doesn't really sound "dancer" to me, though the "private" part shines.

The end is so repetitive. The verse is a repeat, then she sings parts of the chorus over and over again. I think the album version could have been cut short, but still left in the solos. The radio edit eliminates the sax but leaves in the guitar solo.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Tutti Frutti"

Little Richard - Tutti Frutti (1955)

Tutti Frutti, good booty/ If it don't fit, don't force it.

In November 1955, the world had heard Bill Haley, and Big Joe Turner, and Chuck Berry, but were still months away from Elvis' breakthrough and more than a year away from Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard must have driven every old person in America off the deep end. A flamboyant, makeup wearing, pompadour having, piano smashing mad black man out to teach every young person "just what to do". The original lyrics ( a taste of which are above) would have gotten Little Richard an obscenity trial in the 90s, and worse in the 50s.

Using Fats Domino's backing band, Richard (the story goes) was unhappy with how the recording session was going; feeling like he was too restrained. During a break, he started playing a song that was a big hit for him in the black night clubs he was touring at the time. The musicians jumped in and the producer (who would later go on to work with Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Herb Albert, and Sly and The Family Stone - among others) knew that he had a hit if he could clean up the lyrics. The record label brought in a ringer to clean up the lyrics and a hit record was born.

At the time, Pat Boone's cover was more successful than Little Richard's original. Fortunately time has been on Little Richard's side. I've linked the Boone version for completionists, or the just curious, but once you've heard the rollicking original, Boone's cover just seems pallid.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Paradise City"

Guns N' Roses - Paradise City (1987)

Instantly recognizable.

The guitar lick that opens this track exemplifies the song. Sounds simple and upbeat but when you listen it's actually far more complex than you first thought. The drum beat that kicks in forces you to clap along. It actually reaches into your ears and grabs your pecs and your delts and your biceps and makes your clap your hands together.

There is a synthesizer running through the song. It's really easy to hear at 0:42-1:01 before the first guitar solo. Axl and Slash fought bitterly over the inclusion, but ultimately Axl won. It's the only song on the album with a synth, but the rift between the two only got bigger. Slash gets even on the track by ripping up some incredible solos and dominating the double time section at the end of the song.

Lyrically the song is heavy. Sure the chorus is fun for the whole family (Slash did try to introduce the line "where the girls are fat and they've got big titties, but the rest of the group shouted him down) , but the verses are serious business. A juvenile delinquent abandoned by everyone ends up with the death penalty after undisclosed crimes, and the nation is all heading down the same path. Pretty heavy stuff for a metal band out of L.A.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Hard to Handle"

Otis Redding - Hard to Handle (1968)

So Otis Redding was the Tupac of his day.

This track is off of the second of four posthumous albums filled with mostly previously unreleased songs. Released almost a year after his death, this was the forth single off of the album, and it didn't chart as well as the others, but has stood the test of time, being covered by many artists, including being a live favorite of The Blues Brothers, a campy production number sung by Mae West and the breakout hit of the 90s blues-rock band The Black Crowes.

The back up band here is effectively Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Drums, guitar, keyboard and bass were all played by members of the group originally brought together as the Stax Records house band. Horns on the track are by The Memphis Horns, another group affiliated with Stax. When you are backed by ten of the top soul session musicians in the world, you are bound to make a gem. Put Otis Redding's soulful wail on top and there is no doubt this song swings.

The lyrics are so boastful. This style of music goes back a long way, blues musicians, and Irish folk songs both make use of a I'm-the-best-man-for-you kind of structure. Today, modern rap music is full of boastful rhymes about the singer's wealth and sexual prowess. Otis sings about what a great lover he is, and the best damn back-up group assembled helps him sell it. You got to give it to the man, even after his death he's helping men get laid.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Every Breath You Take"

The Police - Every Breath You Take (1983)

A Stalkers Anthem.

Often misinterpreted as a love song, this and Isn't She Lovely? should be removed from wedding DJs bags across the country. It's clearly about a woman who left a man, and now he follows her around town stalking her every move. It's an obsession that, due to the way the fade out plays it up, is clearly never going to stop.

The guitar part was done in one part and was apparently inspired by classical composer Bartók. I've listened to about a half dozen Bartok pieces today and I don't hear it, but six pieces out of the hundreds he wrote doesn't mean anything. Bartók sounds upset to me, lots of pounding frustrations out like a hammer. The guitar lick is more precise, like a surgeons knife. He switches keys without missing a step and it cuts though the whole song without overwhelming the other little things going on. The drum part is fairly simple. Apparently Sting didn't let Stewart Copeland play what he wanted, Sting wanted simple on this track. Sting's own bass part is straight eighth notes with next to no embellishments. Sting also plays keyboards on the track. Heck, the man sings his own back up vocal parts towards the end.