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Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Given to Fly"

Pearl Jam - "Given to Fly" (1997)

Dozens of Pearl Jam songs and this is the only one they decided to include in the 1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

So let's all admit that yes, it's clearly heavily influenced by the sound of Led Zeppelin's Going to California. Whether you like that or not, the song does have it's own merits. It's got very uplifting lyrics, which lead singer Vedder has described as "a fable" and imagined each line as a line in a children's book with a picture to accompany it. I do enjoy the lyrics, it's a great story, for adults as well as kids. The song was written much the way the band built their freshman triumph 10; with the melody and lyrics coming after the song was complete.

It's not in my top ten favorite Pearl Jam songs, and it's not even my favorite song from the album Yield. It's not a genre changing or even bending song, it's not "important" and I don't really know why the editors chose it. It's a good song, just not their best, but if the other option is nothing by the band, I guess I'll take "Given to Fly"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The Whole of the Moon"

The Waterboys -"The Whole of the Moon" (1985)

It hit number thirty in 1985, then in typical English fashion it got a re-release and hit number three ix years later.

A long lived English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish band active during my elementary, middle and early high school years that I have never even vaguely heard of or heard anything by ever. Their typical genre is a Celtic inspired folk rock, lots of interesting drums, fiddle and acoustic guitars and other atypical stringed instruments. This song however is more straight ahead 80's keyboard driven rock, though it does have some fiddle. The wildly different instrumentation is the trumpet calls back and forth, and then adding electric harpsichord and saxophone we've got a mini-orchestra going on and that's a pretty interesting thing.

The subject of the song has been a question of a lot of speculation, a girlfriend, a writer or musician that was particularly inspiring? Whatever the answer (probably a mix of all of these things according to interviews) it's a sort of thank you, while admitting that the singer still doesn't appreciate and notice everything around him, it is the subject that makes him a better person.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"You Haven't Done Nothin'"

Stevie Wonder - "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (1974)

Released in the summer of 1974 just before it's subject, U.S. president Richard Nixon resigned.

Stevie Wonder was 23 when he wrote, produced and performed almost every instrument on this track. It is short for a funk song, and not really sing-along like a good protest song should be, but it was catchy enough to climb the pop charts. It actually hit number one for one week in November, between Dionne Warwick and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. According to Wikipedia and 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die this is a drum machine, which is an odd choice for Stevie Wonder, who is a very talented drummer. Backing vocals on this track were provided by The Jackson 5, who were still big stars, but a little past their prime. Wonder on the other hand was still going strong and had huge hits in his future. This song owes a lot to 1972's "Superstition" but the added element of a political statement was a new one for Wonder.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Viva la Vida"

Coldplay - "Viva la Vida" (2008)

It's been a while since this song ruled the airwaves.

I'd forgotten how repetitive it was. But I think that worked for it. It wasn't droning repetitive, dragging us down into a mire of boredom. It was uplifting and wanted us to stand up. Seriously, listen to it. Even if you can't speak English I bet that people stand up when they hear this song. Not like to attention mind you. But stand up and look around the room. See what their is to do, or dance with, or jump on. It's powerfully enthusiastically positive. Then if you listen to the lyrics you get a jolt. A king loses his kingdom; and when he dies, St. Peter denies him entrance into heaven. And he deserves it. Revolution begins because he is so corrupt and dishonest. But the strings and the chimes! And the rolling drums and the chorus singing in the background! Well yes, as I hear it, think of this as a song in a musical. The song is sung by the king, but it's about the revolution. So what we are hearing is the sounds of revolutionaries celebrating. The church bells are chiming victory, the crowd is singing along with everything, and the rolling drums are tolling for the king, now without a crown, being marched towards the inevitable death that awaits him at the end of the song. It is a jubilant song for everyone, except the singer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The First Year

Well here it is, it's been a year.
365 total possible days to update, and I got 300 of them. Not bad for an experiment. I really dropped off near the end, but I also got a full time job for the first time in like three years, and started going back to school for the first time in 15 years, so I'm going to give myself a little slack.  For those of you that have enjoyed, or disagreed, or just glanced, thanks. I encourage you to comment if you hear a song you like, or hate, or agree with something I say, or not. Or if you've got a question, or for any reason at all. I'll be doing this for two more years if I can keep up this pace, so there's still plenty of songs still in the book. Thanks for reading!

"Tumbling Dice"

The Rolling Stones "Tumbling Dice" (1972)

A song that is all about the groove.

Joe Strummer of The Clash once claimed that "part of what makes this special, is that the words are a conundrum, like 'Louie, Louie'". Mick Jagger has claimed that the song is ordinary and he doesn't really see what people see in it. The Stones use a backing group of women that kinda give the song a singalong feel. Mick is singing lyrics that are hard to keep up with, but when you hear something you recognize, everyone just sort of jumps in. There's a bit of a brass section, some tinkling piano, a little slide guitar, and world renown saxophone player Bobby Keys adds to that free wheeling "just throw it all in and see what happens" feel like the female backing musicians.  But that freewheeling sound was precise. It sounds like it just happened because the musicians care so much. Engineer Andy Johns suggests that as many as 150 takes were done of the song.

Part of the legendary Exile on Main Street album, and part of the Stones live performances for so long that it appears on three different live compilations, the song is one that is often covered. Linda Ronstadt had a hit with it just five years after the original. Keith Urban and Bon Jovi are known to play it live. I've always like the Johnny Copeland cover on an album called Paint it Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones. It's not a enlightening cover, but the whole album is great, so I think well of the song. It does have a ripping good guitar solo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More"

The Walker Brothers - "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More" (1966)

From actual brothers who didn't advertise it yesterday, to a trio who weren't related, marketed as brothers today.

This trio did have something in common with Sparks from yesterday. They were a LA group that came to England to find fame. They differ in that instead of playing genre defying originals, all of The Walker Brothers' chart success came on the backs of others, recording songs that hadn't quite been hits for other artists and most of them recently. This might be the closest between original and Walker Brothers cover, taking only seven months between release dates.

Written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio who were hit writing machines for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, this song wasn't a big hit for that band, but it charted in the second 100 in the summer of 1965. The original is thin and sparse production wise, acoustic guitar and tambourine to start, then gradually swells to the full string and bells and piano that we would expect from a mid sixties pop act. The Walker Brothers' cover adds some trumpet that as the book points out are distinctly mariachi style. Other than that, they speed it up and that sounds much better for sure. But besides speed and some new trumpet licks, I swear the studio musicians are playing the same charts that were used for the original. The chimes come in at the same time, the piano, the tambourine, it's just a really straight ahead cover. So while I do appreciate the fact that these three guys do have some really nice voices, I just can't see how they justify calling this one of the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Beat the Clock"

Sparks - "Beat the Clock" (1979)

Odd band, interesting story, song that doesn't stand the test of time but is historically significant.

Sparks started life as two brothers from LA who write music that no one else really seemed to get. They eventually got traction in England, and took up residency in London, writing operatic pop music like their big hit "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us". The vocals were high pitched, the songs were piano driven, and after a few albums with a full band, they still hadn't had any real success outside of England. As the 70s were drawing to a close, they became enamored with Disco, and their new angle was born.

Producer Giogio Moroder had just finished working with Donna Summer and got put together with the Mael brothers who had just ditched the rest of the band. They kept the high pitched vocals and the keyboard driven, but switched to synthesizers. Moroder's disco beats hung the whole thing together and the hit upon the synth duo; a musical style that would burn through England, Europe, and shape the 80s in America as well.

It is a perfect example of a mid 80s New Wave sound, so while it doesn't really sound great to me, you have to respect the fact that this was released in July of 1979. The vocals are impressive, but the song is ultimately a drum loop and a synth player who might as well be looped for most of the track.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Army of Me"

Bjork - "Army of Me" (1995)

A song that has been chopped, remixed, appropriated for soundtracks, and dissected by too many people to count.

Short history, Bjork was the lead singer for the Sugarcubes, which we've already discussed earlier on this blog. After the band broke up, she wrote and recorded a debut album, and this was one of the first tracks she did, but she ultimately decided that its dark and aggressive tone were not right for the album. So even though she recorded it in 1992, it didn't actually see the light of day until April 21st 1995 as the first single for her sophomore album Post.

The song is not a call to arms by the singer, as many presume. It is actually a "get over yourself" or "get off your self imposed downward spiral" to the listener. In particular it was written for her brother, but the message is universal. Stand up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, your self destructive behavior is hurting yourself and others, so quit it.

The song is just as aggressive, using heavily distorted bass prominent synthesizer tracks for the majority of the songs melody. There are also recordings of actual explosions used in the mix. The drum track is said to be a loop of the first part of the drum track to Led Zeppelin's "When the Levy Breaks". The original single release contained 4 different remixes of the song. A charity album was released in 2006 with twenty tracks, each one a remix or cover of the song. In addition, Alternative Metal band Helmet recoded a cover of the song for a different charity album. All of the various covers and remixes that I have heard add layers of electronic noise or harsh electronic guitar chords in an attempt to make the song harder and edgier. As far as I'm concerned, the almost sparse by comparison original is chilling enough.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"Most People I Know (Think That I'm Crazy)"

Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs - "Most People I Know (Think That I'm Crazy)" (1972)

The band, and this song, really jumped into the spotlight when they were featured in the inaugural Sunbury Pop Festival.

According to Wikipedia Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs were an Australian pop rock group from the mid 60s that broke up, then reformed in the 70s to become a well respected hard-rock group. The Book points out that this song is their most popular, but not exactly indicative of their later sound, where they were known for being the one of 'rock's loudest acts'. I don't really know how they competed against ACDC for even being the loudest act in Australia.

This song is a great tight song that I can't believe doesn't get any attention on classic rock stations. It's got elements of the later Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynard Skynard, and Elton John. Wonderful harmonies, a passionate lead vocal, a simple chugging along acoustic guitar part and then seemingly out of nowhere just blazing lead guitar chops. And they don't rest on that. The guitar solos are pure 70s heavy lead stuff and the first one is actually competing with an organ which makes it sound like an early precursor to prog metal. Even during the guitar solos (one of which is an outro on the single) they've got an upright piano banging out chords that give the song a fuller, more complex sound that makes it really hard to put a name on. It's like Australian roots rock and I dig it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Never Let Me Down Again"

Depeche Mode - "Never Let Me Down Again" (1987)

Mostly sung by lead singer Dave Gahan, lead songwriter Martin Gore takes an unusually strong singing role in this song.

Apparently, many fans feel the lyrics refer to drug use. I always assumed it was about an overbearing best friend and that the lead voice and the anonymous 'best friend' were also homosexual on the down low. It's a little odd structurally, it starts with a verse, then the chorus, then another verse that starts so similarly you think maybe there is only one verse. but the back end of the verse is different. So then chorus again, then a bridge and a repetitive vocal fade out that actually grows much louder before the full fade out. So two verses, but really only one and a half.

The music has a lot more to dig into. After a blink and you'll miss it intro based on heavily produced guitars, we quickly get into the main song. The verses are synth heavy oppressive sounding things, threatening, and yet at the same time remind of of "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" but slowed down. I appreciate the use of the bass drum, so it doesn't sound like a dance track, and I appreciate what sounds like an actual piano leading into the vocals. The chorus is really different. There's a really soft and pleasant backing vocal, and the keyboards sound almost like large chimes and other idiophones. There's also almost a tack piano/children's toy piano sound going on.

The ending is a whole different animal, choirs singing, multiple lead vocals blending over each other, orchestra hits, that keep building in volume the horn sounds getting brighter and louder and the tom drums reaching out under us, and then just as it reaches a near fevered pitch, it is over. Live they do more with drum sounds that I really like, keeping up a complex rhythm pattern that sounds almost tribal.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Waterloo Sunset"

The Kinks - "Waterloo Sunset" (1967)

How do you have this and not "Lola"?

You know how we know 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die is a British book? It's not just the dance acts, the Euro-Pop or the British one-hit-wonders. It's the fact that there are 5 songs by The Kinks in the 1001. That's tied with The Beatles. It's more than The Rolling Stones! Only a British book would have more songs written by Ray Davies than by Jagger and Richards. "But The Stones are British" I can hear you saying. Yes, I know, but by the middle of the 60's they were global. The Kinks on the other hand were never as big. They were huge in England, and popular elsewhere but never the globally dominant force that The Beatles or The Rolling Stones were. So it's a bit of a 'favorite son candidate' thing going on I think. Another point in that direction is that off the five, we do not get two of the biggest hits by the Kinks: "All Day and All of the Night" and "Lola". Sort of a London hipster-esque 'yeah, that stuff was good, but you should hear the stuff that didn't cross the pond'.

It's not a bad song, but it's nothing to hang your hat on. I like the high background vocals that sound like The Kinks are a girl group. I also like the fact that during the verses, the tune of the vocals is very music/dance hall sounding, much like their song from the previous year that we've already heard. If it was played on a muted trumpet it would sound vaguely like "Winchester Cathedral". It's a sweet love letter to the city of London, and for Londoners, it's a classic. But to me, it's can't compare to the taste of Coca-Cola. C-O-L-A Cola.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Ever Fallen in Love...(with Someone You Shouldn't've)"

Buzzcocks - "Ever Fallen in Love...(with Someone You Shouldn't've)" (1978)

What is it about early twenty somethings and disastrous romantic relationships making good music?

Pete Shelly, the writer, guitarist, and singer of the Buzzcocks was twenty two when he and his mates in the band were vaguely watching the Sinatra/Brando film version of Guys & Dolls. A lyric about falling in love with a person you should not came on and inspiration struck. The song in very melodic punk, in fact if it wasn't the Buzzcocks, an iconic British punk band, you would just say it was rock. There are two guitars, the bass is doing it's own thing instead of thrashing out the same thing as the guitar, and the drummer is playing way more complex patterns in his fills than a usual punk song. The speed, and recycled lyrics are distinctly punk, and the lyrics being about love are very British punk, it's just so melodic a song I almost want to call it something else. It's also been covered by every second wave punk band you've ever heard of and a bunch more that you haven't. It's a much beloved song, clearly every punk kid has had a rough start with a relationship.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Rid of Me"

PJ Harvey - "Rid of Me" (1993)

Producer Steve Albini had just finished working on this album when he was asked to work on Nirvana's In Utero.

This is a raw sound. Three musicians, two doing some vocal work, but in one case it can not really be called singing. The drums, bass and guitar are menacing, no other word for it. The instruments are there, in the darkness, waiting, willing to hold off until you are too weak to run, and then they are going to hurt you. The lead vocal is angry, she has been wronged and so the idea that her partner should be punished is strong. She threatens to force the perpetrator to do things they don't want to do and find distasteful until they admit that it would have been better if they never met. This is the ego, bruised and demanding. But it is the background voice, the singer's angriest id that screams and rants, wanting and hating all together. This is a really powerful song with a really simple message: Do not. Make PJ Harvey. Mad.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me"

Culture Club - "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" (1982)

Apparently Boy George started on stage as Lieutenant Lush, an occasional guest vocalist for Bow Wow Wow, who was booed off stage until he was dropped and started his own band.

So I am really just listening to this song for the first time. Of course I was aware of it culturally, and have heard it thousands of times at school dances, in The Wedding Singer, and played every time someone on VH-1 says 80s. But I've never bothered listening to it before. It's a very quiet song, a very sad song, a touching mournful song; sitting on the back of a Reggae dance beat to make it all go down easier.

There is very little solo keyboard in the song, but it's there, floating along in the background, holding down the chords. The bass is too busy showing off to hold the song together, and I really like the kinda flashy bass work. There is a sound of a Glockenspiel throughout the song, but I'm pretty sure that's a synth sound. The strings sounds at the beginning for sure are artificially created. I really like the church choir sound of the beginning. The subtle soaring sound of the backing vocalists really hits at the right moments during the song, but in particular make the opening a memorable almost confessional moment. As much as I like the vocals and the bass, it's the beat that makes this song danceable, and stand out from any number of New Wave love songs. The Brits really love their reggae, which I did not really know before reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die. It really influenced British New Wave and the British Punk Scene. This songs rhythm is pure laid back reggae and that beat made it possible to move your butt while listening to an androgynous man sing about love in a manner that made people confused. It was really the beat that made Americans OK with such an odd and different band I'm sure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Tomorrow Is a Long Time"

Elvis Presley - "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" (1966)

From the soundtrack album Spinout, where Elvis plays a part time rock band leader and part time race car driver. Three different women want to marry him. It couldn't be more of a Marty Stu movie if it tried.

This song's got a convoluted recording history. Let's break it down. Originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1962 as a demo, that version was only available on bootleg and didn't get released until 2010. A bootlegged live version, recorded in April 1963 in New York was the most commonly heard version of the song for years, by Dylan at least. This version that played over the Walking Dead season one finale is now the only version by Dylan easily available on line. I think it's the 1963 live version, but I can't promise. Anyway, back to the brief story of the Elvis version. In August of 1963 Bob Dylan played at the Civil Rights march in Washington DC along with many others. One of those was Black folk singer Odetta. in January of 1965 Odetta released an album called Odetta sings Dylan that included her take on the song. Now Elvis didn't need Odetta's version to record Dylan, he was a fan, and covered at least a couple more Dylan tunes during his later career, mostly informal never released stuff, but still; he knew the guy. So why is the Odetta version an important step? It's clearly the version Elvis, his producer Felton Jarvis, and his musicians based their version on.

I'm hearing two acoustic guitars, one playing an almost slide-like wailing occasional lead. The other playing chords. The only real percussion is a tambourine doing just about the most laid back tambourine I've ever heard. I really like the walking bass on this track. It's a great sound and not overly loud or brash. Actually that bass is just about all that keeps the instruments on this song from being an old folk recording, it's too clear and was obviously done in a studio. Elvis gets forgotten a lot in today's fast paced musical world, but his voice here is not to be denied.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Cokane in My Brain"

Dillinger - "Cokane in My Brain" (1976)

I don't know who Jim is. The producer's name was Joseph, but he apparently went by Jo Jo. I can only hope that somewhere, Jim has learned how to spell New York.

I gotta be honest, I think this might be one of those songs that became popular because it mentioned drugs a lot, and so in the time, it sounded cool. Much like Afroman's "Because I Got High" it doesn't really hold up years later. The music is The People's Choice's "Do It Any Way You Wanna" but played by in house Jamaican studio musicians. The don't play it the same, but it's the same tune nevertheless. They've got some good funk going on, but the original is funkier.

There's really only two lyrics worth talking about. The first is the answer to the question that Dillinger asks over and over again. "/A knife, a fork, a bottle, and a cork/ That's the way we spell New York" (Bullock). The line is a sort of Cockney rhyming slang that dates back until at least the 1910s. A article in the Syracuse Herald from 1915 mentions the phrase in relation to an address on a letter. Other artists, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Information Society have used the phrase in songs. The other lyric is the common complaint of people who throw house parties. "/No matter where I treat my guest/ They always like my kitchen best/" of course Dillinger follows it up with a reason. "/ Because I've got a whole lot of Cocaine.../".

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Sufjan Stevens "Chicago" (2005)

The album cover originally contained a drawing of Superman, which in later versions was covered by a sticker of balloons.

So much music has been tied up with The Second City. It's got a classic song from the 20s that has been recorded hundreds of times, most notably by Frank Sinatra. It's also got a song from the early 60s that Sinatra sang that virtually drove the early song out of people's heads. It's got its own musical, which opened in 1975. It's got a Progressive, Jazz Fusion Rock/Adult Contemporary band that named itself after the transit authority, then changed to just be named after the whole city. Graham Nash wrote a song in 1970 as a plea to the rest of his band mates to come and protest on behalf of the Chicago 8. There are also lesser known songs in the electronica, pop folk confessional, metalcore, and Tom Waits genres. So how does an indie singer-songwriter from Detroit come to write one of the most critically regarded songs about the city?

In 2004 Sufjan Stevens expressed an interest in writing an album for each of the fifty states of the US. The first he wrote back in 2003 about his home state of Michigan. When he eventually released Illinois, often called by the name on the cover: Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise in 2005 it was a lo-fi complexly orchestrated extraveganza. The titles of the songs were sometimes longer than the title of the album, he used over a dozen musicians, not including the choir, and played close to two dozen instruments himself. In more recent years, as he has released other non state related albums, there have been hints about others, but also statements that it was all a promotional gimmick.

The song is about growing up in general, and having one defining moment that encapsulates that growth in maturity. The vibraphone that starts the song is such an unheard song in music anymore that I love hearing it. the layers of sound just sit on top off each other perfectly, the strings in particular I really enjoy. There is a anoying little sound in the chorus that reminds me a little too much of a clock alarm, but overall I can't dislike the song over it. I like the trumpet, particularly because it is in the moment that the trumpet comes in that you realize that it's not a super hi-fi slick production with auto tune correction everywhere. It's musicians playing a song they love and with people they respect and appreciate. The layers of sound, and in particular the backing choir remind me of a band that does not have a place in the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die book: The Polyphonic Spree.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Let's Dance"

David Bowie - "Let's Dance" (1983)

One of the few albums that did not feature long time Bowie collaborator Carlos Alomar on guitar. He says he was busy, rumor has it the pay was too low; regardless he returned for five more albums after this break.

The song is one of Bowie's most popular, and is seen by purists as the beginning of his commercial stage. Bowie became a household name, stopped dressing up funny, and recorded duets with Queen, Mick Jagger, and Bing Crosby. Older fans cried sellout but the new fans embraced him and made his post disco dance music an international success.

There is a big collection of early 80s talent here on this cut. Niles Rodgers and Tony Thompson from Chic played guitar and drums on the track respectively. You've most likely never heard of keyboardist Robert Sabino, or saxophone player Stan Harrison,but I promise you, they've both played with dozens of popular 80s bands. Niles Rodgers also produced not only this song, but with Bowie, produced the entire album. His Dance and R&B influence can be heard all over the record. The guitar solo at the end of the song is played by Stevie Ray Vaughn, recorded right before he broke huge into the American mainstream.

The song's video is anti-capitalist, and considered by Bowie to be anti racist, but to the modern eye seems to lean a little hard on the 'Noble Savage' archetype. The lyrics are mostly just a hopeless romantic asking his partner to dance, but there lies just underneath the hint of something darker, as if the love affair might be ending. The music is funked along by the bass, while the echo-y guitar and saxophones give it a dreamy cushion on either side of the bouncing/walking/grooving protagonist of the bass. I can't forget to mention two things vocally. The first is the rising do-wop backing singers heard at the beginning and elsewhere, giving the song an odd homage/throwback feel that has enthused listeners since then. The second is Bowie's shaking vocals as the song grows and he honestly makes us sound like it's not just the love affair we have to worry about ending; maybe we're dancing at the end of the world!

Friday, June 22, 2012

"End of a Century"

Blur - "End of a Century" (1994)

It's a pretty little slice of Britpop right in the middle of the grunge years.

Damon Albarn's early 90s accent could never be described as easy on the ears, but even with the addition of monotonous power chords played on the electric guitar during the verses and the bridge the song manages to feel light and airy. The backing vocals being in the upper register as well as the ringing guitar help that quite a bit. The organ is also a light element to the song. There's a flute at the beginning, as well as during the bridge, and the flugelhorn that dominates the bridge and outro give the song the peppy upbeat poppy feeling. the lyrics on the other hand includes one of the saddest lines hidden amongst the wealth of depressing ones. The song as a whole is about how we, as the century drew to a close, had become complacent  and willing to just say "meh, whatever". Their flat is infested with insects, they watch TV instead of have conversation, etc. But the line that gets me is "/and kiss with dry lips/when we say goodnight/" (Albarn). In a relationship full of boredom and monotony, the fact that they kiss each other goodnight with dry lips is the saddest thing I've heard all week.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Season of the Witch"

Donovan - "Season of the Witch" (1966)

I have no memory of the Nicolas Cage movie of the same name that came out last year.

That hack down on the electric guitar sounds scratchy and scary doesn't it? And the electric organ sitting on that quiet drone just makes it creepier. Donovan's voice gets more insistent and angry as the chorus grows near until he is very nearly begging us for help, the time has drawn neigh and the Season is upon us all.

Donovan was a Scottish folk singer/songwriter who had a lot of success both at home and in America. His "Catch the Wind" from 1965 is a perfect encapsulation of love unrevealed and unrequited. For his third album, he and producer Mickie Most grabbed local musicians to play a more electric version of folk. Instead of continuing to sound like 'Britain's Bob Dylan' (as he often was called) what emerged was early psychedelic rock, including many of the things that would come to be associated with the genre. Namely, impenetrable lyrics and long drawn out instrumental jam style solos. The song, also like Dylan before, was longer than a normal pop song.But Donovan deserves to be remembered as more than just a Dylan follower.

The song is a great example of early psychedelia, and it has been used in media to denote mystic happenings as well as a song of the times. It's been covered many times, to great effect, but my favorites include Dr. John, Lou Rawls, The Strangelings, Joan Jett, and of course Vanilla Fudge.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl"

Faust - "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" (1972)

Faust was one of the earliest bands signed to Richard Branson's fledgling Virgin Records.

OK, so clearly we've started with some drums, it's a raw sound, you can hear that on some beats the drummer is hitting harder than others, and you can hear the actual "tone" of the drum and not just the percussive hit. The piano part that comes in is only marginally more complex than the drums, in that they play the same note 15 times then one different note, at the same time the drummer hits the drum a little harder. The vocalists that come in sound like they are being recorded on one mike, a little too far away and then the guitar comes in. The second acoustic guitar adds the most complexity so far, and it's about two minutes in when you realize that this song is over seven minutes long, and you just might be listening to some experimental college rock that no one expected anyone else to ever listen to.

Krautrock is the genre name given to a German based highly experimental sound that has no real other binding definition. Some of it is more like jazz, other stuff is more like progressive classical, and then this is sort of an ambient, layers of sound thing. After building a basic sound of drums, keyboard, and vocals, we get several different layers. The guitar starts as something different, giving us hints of complexity, but eventually just becomes another layer. The vocals too go in and out, but for the most part are just another bass layer. About halfway through the song, faint electronic keyboard sounds and the wind start, eventually getting louder until they push everything else into a drone in the back of your mind. It's the kind of sound a Hollywood executive would want a scene of a Native American or Hippie meditation/psychedelic scene to have going on over it. A totally unexpected harmonica solo breaks the drone and suddenly the vocals that you hadn't noticed had disappeared are back in. Then a saxophone reminds you that you are listening to experimental music as the whole thing ends rather abruptly after a short fade out. You are left sitting and wondering "what did I just listen to?"

Monday, June 18, 2012


Pata Negra - "Camarón" (1987)

Pata Negra is Spanish for Black hoof, a very expensive type of Iberian ham. Sort of like naming your band Cristal, or Beluga.

So we've already had a flamenco hybrid style, that was flamenco and hip hop, this is flamenco and blues based rock and roll. It kind of has a movie vibe to it, like it's the kind of song that would be playing in an 80s movie when the main characters got off the boat and walked up to find the beach of their dreams, sun, surf, hot bodies and cool beer.

The acoustic flamenco style guitar and the hand claps keep the song rooted in the traditional Spanish dance style. but the electric bass and electric guitar really pull the song into blues rock territory. The solos are great, with a lot of echo and reverb that give the tune a laid back feel even with the driving 12/8 rhythm driving us along. I think that's why it reminds me of a beach, you're excited and happy and there is a lot going on, but you're really their to relax. The principal members of the band are two brothers. One mostly sings and plays guitar, the other mostly plays guitar and sings. You should really check out just a bit of this live video of them playing in 1992. The big hair and spandex is just a bonus, you're really checking out how much fun they are having.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"One More Time"

Daft Punk - "One More Time" (2000)

An absolute classic of the genre, and responsible for thousands and thousands of imitators.

I think it goes without saying that I think this song is terrible. It is almost everything I found bad about music in one long repetitive track. That being said, I will attempt to find some nice things to say about it. The middle section, starting around 2:22 is not as annoying as the rest of the track, because the drum machine has been turned off. They use a great bass sample even if they claim that it wasn't sample. If they played it themselves, great. The song ends so surprisingly abruptly I thought YouTube had choked. The lyrics are very upbeat.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Voices Carry"

'Til Tuesday - "Voices Carry" (1985)

OK, I'm going to admit it, turns out the cute redhead in the band that I always thought was better looking than Aimee Mann is actually guitarist Robert Holmes.

It's a track that leans heavily on the synthesizers and driving high hat but the vocals and bass really make it a memorable track. Aimee Mann provides both of those things. Her shouted lines like "He wants me/ but only part of the time./ He wants me/ if he can keep me in line!/" (Mann) are powerful and compelling, and her sung/whispered take on the chorus is so breathy it would be sexy if she wasn't talking about an abusive relationship. Mann is also the bass player and the bass line is the only instrumental part that sticks with me. The backing vocals are also really lush , with male and female vocalists blending together to sound really big and deep and important. It really helps the song build at the end so that the backing vocalists can keep going while Mann on lead can start going into her "He said shut up!" lines.

The song was famously written as a woman singing to another woman, but the record company wanted the song to be the lead single off the album so they asked for a change. The band agreed and 'Til Tuesday got their biggest hit. Aimee Mann went on to a solo career, including an Oscar nomination for her work on the soundtrack to Magnolia. In 2005 she recorded an acoustic version as an iTunes exclusive. It's not completely acoustic mind you, just features an acoustic guitar, but it's very worth a listen. Her voice is still great.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Subterranean Homesick Blues"

Bob Dylan - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (1965)

Producer Tom Wilson was an African American who cut his teeth producing Sun Ra in the 50s but really came into his own in the 60s, producing Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mothers of Invention, The Animals, and The Velvet Underground. His influence on Rock and Roll can not be denied. He died of a heart attack in 1978.

The title is a reference to a Kerouac novel The Subterraneans, the lyrics reference Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger's song "Taking it Easy", the guitar lick and lyric rhythm is a take on a Chuck Berry tune called "Too Much Monkey Business". Add to that the fact that this was Dylan's first "electric" single, his first single to hit the top 40, and one of the earliest examples of a "music video" and you can see why this song made the list of 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

The song is a very repetitive acoustic folk guitar and basic drum set chugging away. On top of that, we get an electric guitar and an almost dirty fuzzy bass. There is also a cleaner bass playing the same walking line. Or something like that, I swear you can hear a clean bass and a fuzz bass on some parts. There's also a harmonica playing a lot of the time that Bob isn't singing. What's he singing about you ask? It's very stream of conscious, doesn't really man anything, and therefore everybody has an opinion. Jet took the name of their first album Get Born from one of the lines, and radical leftist group The Weathermen took their name from another.

There have been numerous covers, way to many to list, but some noteworthy ones include pop singer songwriter Harry Nilsson, known for "Everybody's Talkin'" "Coconut" and "Me and My Arrow" doing a surprisingly heavy rock version produced by John Lennon. The Red Hot Chili Peppers put a seriously new spin on it. There a a few Reggae covers to be found, this one is by Sizzla. The funniest take on it is Weird Al's classic spoof "Bob". He even gets friends to play Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth in the back of the video. About the video, sorry about the copy up above, it sounds fine, but it's the only one on the Internet that hasn't been taken down, so you only get a small version. If you are looking for something really different as far as "covers" go, check out Julez Santana Featuring Yelawolf. Their "Mixin' Up The Medicine" uses the song as a starting point. It's rap, and full of cursing and crude language, so consider yourselves warned away.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Little Feat - "Willin'" (1972)

Producer Ted Templeman worked with the Doobie Brothers, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Aerosmith, but is most known for helping to discover and produce Van Halen.

This is a great folk song. It's a travel song, a blue collar worker song, and a drug song all rolled up together. It's no wonder that it is a country and roots rock favorite. Originally covered by Linda Ronstadt, it has been covered by the Black Crows, Dwight Yoakam and Bob Dylan. This version is kind of a cover in and of itself. This is off of Salin' Shoes, the second Little Feat album, and it appeared on the eponymous debut album in a really stripped down version first. Almost all of the versions are tremendously faithful, there's not a lot of change you want to do to a trucker song that so perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being on the inside of a rig. Singer, guitar player, and songwriter Lowell George really lets his voice lead you into the story. He's world weary, beat down, misses his woman, subsisting on nothing by uppers and downers, and yet if there's a load that needs to get somewhere, he's still your man.

It's a short song, under three minutes, and yet it includes a beautiful duet between a slide guitar and a piano. He sings the chorus twice, backed by the other three members of the band, and only two verses. It's a song that could easily have been stretched out by any other artist, a five or six minute version with more verses about different parts of the country, different women, and more solos, but instead he ties it up in such a neat bow.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Goo Goo Dolls - "Iris" (1998)

The alternative/punk rock band that became a soft rock/adult contemporary staple.

This is not the song that first took them from relative obscurity to WASH FM success, that would be "Name" from the previous LP A Boy Named Goo, but Dizzy Up The Girl was full of orchestrated power ballads and this was the first single off that album. It was actually written for, and included on the soundtrack album for the film City of Angels a remake of the German film Der Himmel über Berlin or Wings of Desire in English. The movie is about a guardian angel that falls in love with a human, and the lyrics fit that far away searching and desire.

Musically the song is deep and rich, with multiple layers of strings, guitars, mandolins, and percussion. The band is credited as producers on every song on the album, as is the now current chairman of Warner Brothers Records, Rob Cavallo; who cut his teeth producing Green Day, and produced for a number of different 90s and 00s bands, including every Goo Goo Dolls studio album since this one.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"The Art Teacher"

Rufus Wainwright - "The Art Teacher" (2004)

Originally released as part of a four song EP Between Wainwright's Want One and Want Two entitled  Waiting for a Want.

Really interesting song. It's a man singing as a woman telling a story about her days as a high school girl. It doesn't have a chorus, or even verses really, just a stream of conscious story. The vamping on the piano before he starts a line actually makes it sound like he is sitting in a parlor, telling you this story, deciding if he wants to tell you the next part. He breathes in a long drag of a cigarette connected to a long elegant cigarette holder; then takes a sip of the pinot grigio, before finally finishing the thought. I found very few liner notes about the album, but I did find a uncited source claiming that the song was recorded live for the album. Every version I found online that says it was the album version had the people cheering at the end, but that doesn't prove it, just makes it more likely. The book agrees, but there's no documentation I found.

The song is one of the simplest forms of music: a story told by one person, with one backing instrument. The only break to this is the horn that comes in at the middle of the piece. Performed by Isobel Griffiths, the same source that claims it was recorded live (in Montreal) also claims that the horn was added later in the studio. It's a tragic sad story, told beautifully. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Free Fallin'"

Tom Petty - "Free Fallin'" (1989)

Will always be associated with Jerry Maguire after Tom Cruise fails to sing along to "Bitch" by The Rolling Stones, "Angel of the Morning" by Merrilee Rush, and Gram Parsons' "She", he finally celebrates by singing this song at the top of his lungs.

Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers had recorded several successful albums, and Petty had not planed to go solo at all, but in 1988 he joined supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. One of the people he worked with was Jeff Lynne, songwriter, singer, and record producer most associated with the Electric Light Orchestra. Petty and Lynn wrote some songs together after they recorded the first Traveling Wilburys album and Petty decided that they didn't sound like 'Heartbreaker' tunes, so he decided to do a solo album. Most of the members of his band did record something for the album, but it started a rift that took some time to eventually clear the band. Adding ELO's Lynn on songwriting and producing duties means the entire album Full Moon Fever has a smoother sound, with more layers and less of the rougher sound of early Petty.

The jangling guitars almost never stop in the whole song, they provided the dreamy cloud that the rest of the song sits on. Even the verse with the military snare drum has the guitars under it. The bass is slow and you can hear it bend from one note up to the other, which just adds to the dream like effect of the song. The lyrics are dream like as well. The first verse describes an 'American Dream Girl' who loves horses, her boyfriend and Jesus. Later in the song petty sings of vampires living in the San Fernando Valley, and gliding and falling into the sky. There are many layers of backing vocals, chanting and adding texture, all of which leads me to the conclusion that the whole song is about the American Dream, and how it's all kind of a dream in Los Angeles.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Et moi et moi et moi"

Jacques Dutronc - "Et moit et moit et moi" (1966)

Jacques Dutronc wrote music for a number of Ye-Ye singers in the early 60s including Françoise Hardy before finding his own voice in the mid sixties. In a interesting twist, Hardy and Dutronc married in the early 80s and have a son who is a French Jazz guitarist.

The lyrics are more like a poem than a song. There is no chorus per se, there are 9 verses each following a pattern. the last two lines of each could be considered a chorus because they are the same, but they are really sung like they are part of the verse, so I don't really consider them a chorus. Each verse or stanza starts by mentioning how many there are of a specific group of people: three hundred million Soviets, nine hundred million hungry people, five hundred million Martians, etc. Then 'Et moit et moit et moi' which is basically 'and me and me and me'. Then two lines that are about the singer that are only tangentially related to the specific group of people. The last two lines of the verse are the ones that are repeated. 'I am thinking about it, and then I forget it/That's life, that's life' (Lanzman/Dutronc). Musically the song is flat out an electric folk kind of song, reminiscent of Bob Dylan. Even the wry vocal style makes him sound like a folky Dylan. Jangly guitars and almost no bass guitar, heavy on the bass drum and just chugging along like a little train. British rock band Mungo Jerry had a hit with "Alright, Alright, Alright" in 1973 which is sort of an English language adaptation, but instead of wry humor and self deprecating humor about folk music, it's just a straight ahead tune with a pretty good guitar solo.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Kings of the Wild Frontier"

Adam & The Ants - "Kings of the Wild Frontier" (1980)

Adam Ant was born Stuart Leslie Goddard. Not as big a mouthful as Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, but I think we can forgive him for wanting a stage name.

Interesting song, You've got African style drums, masquerading as Native American drums. You've got guitars that are twangy, so they evoke the country sound and more specifically, the western movie genre sound. then you've got war whoops and lyrics about family, nobility, war cries and 'redskins'. Not exactly politically correct, but for a British band from the 80s gosh darn it they were trying to bring attention to something. They actually used two drummers on this album, one of whom, Chris Hughes, produced the record. The whole guitar sound, crashing down loudly over the drums makes this track much louder and impressive than I expected going into a track from the band before Adam Ant went solo.

So a little history on that. Adam & The Ants were founded in 1977 and had some minor success live, while never achieving much success on record sales. In January of 1980 the band's manager Malcolm McLaren (who had managed the Sex Pistols) convinced the whole band, minus vocalist Adam Ant, to quit and be the basis for a new band, Bow Wow Wow, to be fronted by a 14 year old girl that his friend had seen in a dry cleaner. Adam put together a new band, recorded a new album, and released Kings of the Wild Frontier, a big hit. Just two years later he went solo as Adam Ant, but continued to work with guitarist Marco Pirroni as a co-songwriter.

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely"

Hüsker Dü - "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely" (1986)

Bassist Greg Norton had a great mustache.

The band that started as punks and then evolved into a genre that was hard to describe. They broke up in 1988 as one of the most well respected performers of 'college rock' a genre that is cited as a jumping off point for the 'alternative' scene that dominated music in the 90s and 00s. Hüsker Dü was named after a board game, but with umlauts. Actually the story goes that they couldn't remember the lyrics to "Psycho Killer" and so just started saying random phrases in foreign languages and one of them said Hūsker Dū, which was a kids game mildly popular in the 60s and 70s. They fired their keyboardist during their first show and remained a trio from that moment on. Guitarist Mould and Drummer Hart shared production duties and each individually wrote and sang songs for every album. This song is Hart's.

The lead single for their major label debut, the song had a lot of pressure on it at the time, but over 25 years later, we can just listen and hear the music. It's definitely rooted in punk, the fast tempo, the screeching guitar, and the rolling drum breaks. But the guitar also has some great layered moments in the solo. There's more than a few overdubs going on, and the final squeal sounds like something a metal band would end a solo with instead of a punk outfit. Lyrically the song is classic tortured male. He's broken up with someone and doesn't want to know if she's lonely, but wants to know if she's alright. He doesn't want to hear from her friends, but wants them to leave a message. For my money the best line comes right at the end of the opening verse "/It reassures me just to know that you're okay/But I don't want you to go on needing me this way" (Hart). He needs reassuring that she's OK, but she's the one that needs him? It's a classic way of dealing with the pain of a breakup, and I think we've all been there. That 's what makes the song a good one, we can relate.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Doll Parts"

Hole - "Doll Parts" (1994)

We all needed this song.

Released about six months after the death of her husband, and Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, this was the catharsis song that Courtney Love, and many American teenagers needed. Of course, it turns out that Love wrote the song starting back in 1991, before anyone outside of Seattle had ever heard of Nirvana, Hole, or Cobain. Hole recorded the song in October of 1993 along with the rest of the songs for their second album Live Through This.  The first single off of the album "Miss World" was released in late March of 1993, and the album was released a few days later, but just as it climbed the charts, Kurt Cobain killed himself and the story changed. There was a lot of blame floating in the air, and a lot of anger. Fans wanted to grieve with Love, and yet wanted to blame someone for his unhappiness. Months later, soon after the video for "Doll Parts" was filmed, hole bassist Kristen Pfaff died of a drug overdose, so the release of the video and single was pushed back. When it finally was released, and we all heard Courtney Love crying and screaming about aching and loss it didn't matter that the song had been recorded a year before it was released, and more than six months after Cobain died; she was singing about him to us, and it was what we needed to hear.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"My People"

The Presets - "My People" (2007)

Oh joy, electro dance synth pop! It's like I won the musical lottery! Except of course the opposite.

As many popular Australian songs turn out to be, it is a message song dressed up as a pop song so that it is more palatable to the radio censors and becomes more of a ear worm for people so they think of it all the time. This song is about the Australian phenomenon of Boat People. Thousands of people leave lives of poverty and oppression every year in South East Asia by small boat, and travel to Australia looking for a better life. Most are caught and put into mandatory detention centers. The song brings to lights their plight.

The Presets is just about the best name I have ever heard for this type of group. So perfectly on the nose. The Presets is two guys, one on vocals and keyboards, and the other on drums and keyboards. It is all electronically produced noise, and a drum set, though many of the drums sounds are electronic as well. I find the obviously electronic sounds annoying and oddly out of time. Much of the high pitched sounds could have been made by a keyboard in an 80s British synthpop band. The worst offender is the sound that segues from the chorus into the verse. It's so dated I'm pretty sure I had a toy as a child that could make that sound. The lower pitched sounds that are replicating the sound of a heavily feedback looped guitar is less annoying. It's still not great, but it does give the song an angry edge that lets people know that the song might be for more than just dancing.  The lyrics are good, evocative and really putting you in the feeling of the people that he is singing about; but the vocals are so processed and monotonous that aside from the repeated chorus I had to pull up a lyrics sheet just to get an idea of what he was saying.  This is far from the worst dance influenced synthesizer driven song I've heard, it does some creative things with some of the sounds, and the message is clear if more that a little covered up; but it's just so not my genre, I don't know how I'm supposed to feel about it. And if that wasn't enough, of the Black Eyed Peas has stated that their 2009 album The E.N.D., which gave us the musically null "Boom Boom Pow" and the truly horrible and musically stupefying track (yes, I'm implying that just by listening to the song you become musically dumber - that's why I'm not linking you to it) "I Gotta Feeling"; sounded the way it did because he spent three months in Australia while "My People" was big on the radio.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Patti Smith - "Gloria" (1975)

Produced by former The Velvet Underground member and all around award winning record producer John Cale.

It was about eight months ago that I saw Patti Smith live in concert. She was and is a legend, and really knows how to work a crowd, but I think I can honestly say she was not my favorite part of the show. Her voice was harsh and her self righteous attitude seemed almost like a put on it felt so forced. This on the other hand sounds real. Based on the Them song of the same name, penned by lead singer and songwriter Van Morrison; Patti Smith ads a bitter introduction. Simple chord progression and snarled lyrics are part of what makes this song, and the whole album Horses seen as a jumping off point for the NYC punk movement. But I can hear country/folk influences in the guitar and the storytelling. Them sang about a young woman who was coming over and then obviously spent time with the singer. Smith takes the same basic tale and gives it more depth, setting us up the city and the neighborhood, and then really letting us know that when she's sings:

"/Here she comes/Crawlin’ up my stair
Here she comes/Waltzin’ through the hall
In a pretty red dress/And oh, she looks so good, oh, she looks so fine
And I got this crazy feeling that I’m gonna ah-ah make her mine" (Van Morrison/Smith)

she intends to make this the most memorable night that either of the woman has ever had. The song seems to be wrapping up around five minutes in, quoting Smith's opening lyrics, but then the drum rolls, and the ecstatic guitar solo at the end performed by Lenny Kaye is the perfect announcement to the world that Patti Smith is coming, lock up your sons and your daughters.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Alicia Keys - "Fallin'" (2001)

The album is called Songs in A Minor the song is in E Minor

Two chords. 60 beats a minute. Two verses, a chorus that is only two lines long and repeated at least 6 times. How does this get under my skin so well? Under all our skin? A quick history: Alicia Augello Cook was born in New York City in 1981. She was on The Cosby Show as a young child as a friend of Rudy's. She learned to play piano, got into Columbia University, dropped out after a month and focused on her career full time. She was signed at Columbia Records and didn't do much. She recorded a few songs for compilation albums, but her own debut album languished in executive meddling hell until she finally went and spoke to legendary studio executive Clive Davis. Davis signed her to Arista, but then when he left he took her to his new label Jive. Alicia Keys as she was called by then finally got to release her album and after an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show became a household name.

I admit that I was fooled by modern technology. That is not a drum set, it is a drum machine, programed by a longtime collaborator of Keys: Kerry Brothers Jr.  Brothers has co-written a number of songs with Keys, but on this song all he did was program the drum machine. World renown violinist Miri Ben-Ari provides the melancholy string instrumental touch to the song. There are three backing vocalists on the track, and that Gospel/Soul influenced sound is a big part of why the song is such a big hit. The other is Alicia's voice. Not to take away from her writing, piano playing, or producing of the track, but that voice is 90% of the power in this song. She's not lying, she's living it. And because of that, and because you're hearing her live it then you are living it too.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"At the Hop"

Danny & The Juniors - "At the Hop" (1958)

The band was original called The Juvenairs

A song so associated with the 1950s that a re-recording of the tune in the 70s by a 60s era novelty band became a hit based on nostalgia alone. In fact, it is not just a song associated with the 50s, it is the 50s to many children of the 70s who grew up during that Happy Days nostalgia fueled age. According to 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die it was originally recorded as "At the Bop" referencing a specific dance craze. It was Dick Clark who suggested to writers Dave White and John Medora that they change the name to "At the Hop" referencing the name high school kids used for a school dance, and then call out a bunch of other dance names during the song. White and Medora wrote other songs together, including "1-2-3" and "You Don't Own Me" which became big hits, but nothing as big as "At the Hop".

Sha Na Na were a local New York City group in the late 1960s that performed 'oldies' tunes and began singing together in an a cappella group at Columbia University. Their college and NYC connection brought them to Woodstock in 1969 and their performance and appearance in the documentary of the concert brought them huge attention. The 70s brought us a lot of nostalgia themed entertainment, but many people point to Sha Na Na's performance at Woodstock as one of the touch off points.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Paranoid Android"

Radiohead - "Paranoid Android" (1997)

Occasionally introduced on tour as a Pink Floyd cover.

Originally, this 'modern "Happiness is a Warm Gun"', this '"Bohemian Rhapsody" for the 90s', was twice as long, clocking in at over 14 minutes. It was eventually edited down to just short of six and a half, and all sources who mention the original version talk about the missing Hammond organ based outro that went on so long that fans watching the band live actually stopped dancing and moshing and just started staring at the band. It was like they had become a jam band or a shoegaze act and it confused fans as the song was new and not on any album yet. Even the longest song on previous album The Bends was under five minutes long.  This album OK Computer was ambitious, almost prog-rock, using computer voices and sounds blended with the traditional guitar, bass, drums sound of a modern 90s rock band.

The song is in sections, which is why critics liken it to Happiness and Rhapsody. The first part is echo-y guitar and plucked acoustic guitar with clean bass and a straight ahead rock rhythm augmented by maracas. The second section the kicks off with percussion augment of claves and some organ added into the mix. As it continues it grows louder with guitar and bass doubling each other through some serious feedback. Then ending the section is a big distorted guitar solo. A younger Radiohead would probably have ended the song there,  three and a half minutes long and well crafted. Instead they slow the track down, adding layered vocals that sound like chant with droning backup. Backing instrumentation becomes simple acoustic guitar and drum set, along with church-like organ. Lyrics about screaming and vomit in this section are then concluded with the repeated line /God loves his children/ (Yorke) which, when paired with the music seem like they should mean something, but the band has claimed many different interpretations of the song as a whole and none of them really match up, other than they were inspired by a night out at a really seedy bar. The last section brings the speed of the song back to the original, with driving drums, a full on freaky feedback guitar solo and no vocals to get in the way of the glorious cacophony.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Anarchy in the U.K."

Sex Pistols - "Anarchy in the U.K." (1976)

Who else would rhyme Anarchist with Antichrist?

So if you've been following the blog, you know that The Damned released their first single a month before the Sex Pistols, and that The Saints released their single a month before that. So why is this song pointed to time and time again as the grandfather, the first shot, the original moment that punk made it? Well there is a story of a TV appearance, but there is also the fact that the lyrics if the song are calculated to burn instead of salve. The Damned and The Saints both recorded blistering songs full of angry guitars and rough vocals, but they were lyrically about young men who were in love, and either rejected or not, but one way or another they were singing about love. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols were telling Britain's youth to rise up and violently throw off every possible rule and law they could get a hold of. That'll get you some attention and a every expanding fan base that includes young people of today, over thirty five years after the song was recorded.

The song is longer than I would have imagined, over three and a half minutes long. It also has a surprising amount of guitar going on. There's the standard simple chords through a bunch of feedback, but there's actually a solo as well. The bass is recorded by Glen Matlock who left the band after this single and before they could record the second. For all the snarled lyrics of Johnny Rotten, he actually sings melodically and he and guitarist Steve Jones manage a great little harmony there for a few seconds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Meat Puppets - "Plateau" (1984)

Nirvana played six covers November 18 1993, half of them were Meat Puppets songs.

I knew this was a cover, I knew that I had only heard of the Meat Puppets because Kurt Cobain liked them and wanted to introduce them to the rest of the world. What I didn't know was that the song was almost ten years old when Nirvana recorded their really faithful cover during the MTV Unplugged in New York session.

So when Kurt sang this song and it sounded like it wasn't written for his range, I just assumed he loved the song so much that he was willing to sound a little like a kid trying to fit into his dad's suit; reaching for, but not quite grasping the heart of it. But it turns out that the original sounds the same way. Tortured simple vocals, straining at the highs and fading into the lows that can't be reached even by the man who wrote it: Kurt Kirkwood. Kurt on guitar, with his brother Chris on bass and their friend Derrick Bostrom on drums were out of time and place their entire career. It was the 80s and they were on punk label SST with renegade rebels Black Flag, but they, like the label eventually, were into something a little different. Sometimes classified as cowpunk,  what they sang was folk and country influenced rock, filtered through the punk ethos of short, simple, and D.I.Y. The brothers were also heavily into drugs, and despite the newly rediscovered fame that performing with Nirvana got them, the band never managed to become big because Chris in particular was always looking for the next high.

You can hear the drugs in the obscure lyrics, but it's the unexpected feedback and distortion filled outro that still sits in my brain twenty minutes after I heard it for the first time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Dub Be Good to Me"

Beats International - "Dub Be Good to Me" (1990)

"You brought two too many."

This is a late night summer track. This is an end of the night "who are you going home with tonight" track. Sung by a woman imploring a player to stay with her tonight but not really trying to force the issue for any longer than the night. Written by Norman Cook, six years before he became known the world over as Fatboy Slim. It's based on a well known Reggae fusion song by The Clash and a lesser known song from U.S. R&B act S.O.S. Band. "Just Be Good to Me" was written and produced by 80s and 90s hit-makers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, so it has been covered and used in samples by acts as diverse as Mariah Carey and 2Pac. Rather than sample this song, Cook had singer Lindy Layton record the vocals with a little more bounce, to fit with the Reggae style Dub track he imagined. Two more major elements finish off the song. The harmonica comes from the soundtrack to the film Once Upon a Time in the West. The spoken word bit is Johnny Dynell from his 1983 track "Jam Hot". The whole album this is on, Let Them Eat Bingo, and in fact the whole point of Beats International was so that Norman Cook could combine samples he liked in order to create new songs. Much like Girl Talk does now, but with longer samples. The only part of the song I can't find reference to existing previously is the trombone solo that starts in the last thirty seconds of the song. I don't know who it is, but three years after this album, and still a few years from becoming Fatboy Slim, Cook started another band called Freak Power with a trombonist named Ashley Slater and I'm willing to guess it's him.

So despite the fact it's plunderphonics, or perhaps because it's Fatboy Slim before he was famous, the song has been covered. Dido sings the hook on the version by Faithless; Lilly Allen sings the hook on the adaptation by Professor Green. The most original (and by no means best) cover is the acoustic thing The Ting Tings do live. Without the reggae bass from The Clash it just doesn't do much for me, but I do respect the limb they are going out on.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Tiempo de soleá"

Ojos de Brujo - "Tiempo de soleá " (2002)

Soleá is a traditional style of flamenco that only uses one guitar.

A blend of traditional Spanish flamenco and modern hip hop beats. It's an interesting fusion led by female lead vocalist Marina Abad who can transition between sweet sounding singing, sinister singing, and angry rap with ease. Spanish flamenco grew out of the Southern part of the county and therefore is a blend of local Romani dances, Arabic drumming and Spanish guitar work. You can hear the traditional tabla, cajón, and congas along with hand-clapping making up the basic percussion. There is also a more standard drum set with cymbals and then scratches from a turntable rounding out the hip-hop side. You can clearly hear the guitars, both soft and sweet; and loud and driving. The sound really is about vocals though. All flamenco emphasizes the vocals and the danceability of the song, and this one does not disappoint. The band themselves call their style 'jipjop flamenkillo' or hip-hop with a little flamenco.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Cyprus Avenue"

Van Morrison - "Cyprus Avenue" (1968)

"It's too late to stop now!"

This is a stream of consciousness style vocal over blues chords. So in that way it's like a Dylan tune. But then we've got flute, violin, and harpsichord. At that point it sort of crosses into chamber or baroque pop. It's hard to imagine a song with a harpsichord playing blues. It's like a electric blues rocker from the same time period, except instead of electric guitar it's got a violin. Instead of a harmonica it's got a flue. Instead of Hammond organ it's got a harpsichord and instead of electric bass it's got an upright bass. It's really long and rambling, so how does this all work? Well, Van Morrison is Northern Irish. So he's got the folk in his blood. And the rambling story thing is pure Irish as well.

Apparently this was a regular closing song for Van Morrison on the road. He would play it as an encore and his wild performances and interaction with the fans and the band were seen as influenced by James Brown, and in turn influencing on Bruce Springsteen. The song always got wild in concert and was so popular that he named his 1974 live album It's Too Late to Stop Now, the line he always used to close the song, and the whole set.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Stayin' Alive"

Bee Gees - "Stayin' Alive" (1977)

I hate this song. It's so damn good.

Seriously though, this is not my kind of music, but aside from the fact that the drum is a loop from another song on the same album ("Night Fever") what is it exactly that I don't like? Well, the guitar solos are repetitive, and I'm not a huge fan of falsetto, but I find it acceptable in other songs. So I guess it really is just the association with one of the worst flash in the pan genres of modern music. So let's take away the drums, and listen to it as if it wasn't one of the most well known disco songs ever written.

The Gibb brothers are songwriters. First and foremost they tell great stories in a few minutes with well crafted lyrics. Their early numbers include a poignant song about miners talking together trapped underground, a soul ballad written for Otis Redding  who died before he could record it, and eventually they became known for quiet contemplative songs like "Words", "I Started a Joke", and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart". They wrote story songs and folk songs and were well regarded if not huge sellers. They actually wrote "Stayin' Alive" on acoustic guitars, and successfully told a story of inner-city struggle and the release of hitting the club on a weekend. What else works in this song? The harmonies are tight as can be. There's not half a dozen men alive who could have hit any of those notes, much less pulled them together into a three part harmony. Then they used a surprisingly live sounding keyboard to do the horn and string sections, so rather than sounding fake and electronic, it sounds like there are a dozen musicians adding layers to this track, instead of (as best as I can tell) just Blue Weaver playing all of that great backing instrumentation on his keyboard. So we've got a looped drum sample (which would became a staple of the disco genre), some repetitive so-so (and beloved) guitar work, vocals that I both respect and don't really love, a great keyboardist faking a larger group of musicians and a good story. So how does a song with this much balancing back and forth between I respect it and I can't stand it get me to say it's damn good?

Maurice Gibb on Bass. Often overlooked in favor of his good looking lead singing brother Barry or his interesting looking lead singing lead brother Robin, Maurice sang a lot of backup, and played a lot of instruments through the years, but on this track his bass holds the song together. The drums are mechanical, walking to a metronome doesn't make John Travolta, it's the funk and soul in the bass that made this song, that made the scene that made the movie.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Black Metal"

Venom - "Black Metal" (1982)

Ever wondered where the term 'Black Metal' came from? Now you know.

This song isn't actually what would be considered Black Metal today. You can understand what he is saying, which is not accepted in modern Black Metal. The guitar solo is also no where near fast enough. The guitar work in this song is fast, but not blindingly fast. Also, the drums are just standard rock drum beat at a fast tempo. Later Black Metal would use double and triple time bass drum kicks. This song is early Thrash Metal, but the name was so evocative it got used as a genre down the road. Lyrically the song does mention Satan and 'the gods of black metal', which is kind of lyrically in the Black Metal wheelhouse, but honestly the fact that the average listener can understand vocalist and bassist Cronos means that no one would consider it Black Metal today. The whole album Black Metal that it is on is considered influential on Thrash Metal, Death Metal and Black Metal, and in a way, Garage, because the technical quality of the musicians and the recording is not good. That opening noise is a chainsaw cutting metal, and they meant it to be there. The did put on a heck of a show though, with big hair, chains and spandex. But no makeup, they weren't Hair Metal, they were defining a new genre and a generation of modern extreme metal fans know that they were pioneers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Move Any Mountain - Progen 91"

The Shamen - "Move Any Mountain - Progen 91" (1991)

This song was so popular that whole albums of remixes were released.

 The entire U.K. was in love with this song and one of the albums released had sixteen samples from the song broken out on separate tracks so that the home listener/burgeoning dance producer could create their own version. The song is a blend of electronic effects, drum track, orchestra hits, really tinny keyboard solos, drone-like spoken verses, an out of nowhere rap, and a positive message melodically sung for a chorus. I like the message and in fact I think the vocals here are pretty good. The drone, and the mechanical nature of the music makes me think of being beaten down and defeated, but the verses and chorus are uplifting and both of the rap interludes are upbeat. Such powerful positive lyrics means that on second listening I can't help but hear the song as more about positive energy, but I still say on first listen that such a mechanical sound and droning verses makes the song seem downbeat.

The Shamen started life as a psychedelic indie rock band from Scotland. Over the course of a few years they lost some vocalists, a keyboardist, and their drummer, so that by 1990 they were just four members, two of which had never been on an album. One of those was a female singer, who appeared on the Album En-Tact but not this specific track. Rap vocalist Mr. C was also new to the band, but you can hear him twice on this track. Will Sinnott had been with the band a few years as bassist, vocalist and keyboardist, and rounding on the act was only original member left; Colin Angus, on guitars keyboard and vocals. As the four got together to record the album, they continued on in the direction of electronic dance music, which Sinnott and Angus had been pushing the band towards since their previous album. The new dance sound  gave them the biggest hits of their career to that point, and so they were given money to record a video. Tragically, just days after the video for this song was shot, Sinnott drowned in the very waters they had been filming in. The band continued to record and perform, getting more popular until finally imploding in a huge fight with their label in 1996, though they did release an independent album in 1998 before splitting for good.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Ain't No Other Man"

Christina Aguilera - "Ain't No Other Man" (2006)

A Pop Princess takes us back to the 40s

So the book is really deficient in its collection of actual swing music. No Tommy Dorsey, no Glen Miller, no Bennie Goodman, and only about fifteen songs from the entire 1940s decade at all. At least you can get a taste of the sound on this track. Aguilera belts out a fun sexy number about wanting her man to be as completely devoted to her as she is to him. The track is built on samples of two forgotten funk gems: "The Cissy's Thang" by The Soul Seven; and "Happy Soul (with a Hook)" by Dave Cortez & The Moon People. So a modern artist samples 70s era funk tracks and turns it all into a throwback sound to the big band era. The whole track was produced by DJ Premier, one half of alt-hip hop duo Gang Starr and a man so well known for his producing skills that he is ranked my many hip hop magazines and web sites as the best in the business. His production discography has its own Wikipedia page and reads like a who's who of rap, from Bid Daddy Kane and KRS-One, through Biggie and Nas, supporting Jay-Z, then onto Common, Mos Def, then Alicia Keys and now working with Eminem and Busta Rhymes. When you put that kind of talent in the booth with a vocalist as strong as Aguilera it was going to be a hit, but I like the fact that they made a neo-swing track.

Friday, May 4, 2012

"Ticket to Ride"

The Beatles - "Ticket to Ride" (1965)

Big guitar sound, rolling drums shouted vocals and heavy bass. Proto-metal or just another hit for The Beatles?

This track has some interesting instrument choices for the most written about band of all time. Paul McCartney, usually the bass player, also added lead guitar to his repertoire for this number. George Harrison, usually the lead guitarist, played rhythm guitar on a 12 string guitar, as did principal songwriter on this song; John Lennon. Ringo Starr played cello and church organ, just kidding, Ringo still played drums. With Paul on lead, and George and John on 12 string guitars, it is no wonder that the song is such a loud, ringing change of pace. Add onto that the fact that John's lead vocals were double tracked and Paul sang vocals, so there were often three voices. Paul didn't forget to play bass on the song, in fact many people have written that the loud drone of the bass instead of a more standard walking bass meant that the song was even louder. Ringo does add to the volume by playing tambourine on a separate track from his stop and start drumming.

Before Dylan's 'six minute single' this song topped the charts at over three minutes. Dylan broke the mold in a big way, but the Beatles cracked it first. The Carpenters took the song back into the charts with a really down version, emphasizing the sadness of the lyrics and Richard Carpenter's piano. Hüsker Dü performed a very melodic and not punk version. Most creative version goes to Vanilla Fudge, whose heavy psychedelic version drips with organ and impassioned vocals.  It is a crying shame that not a single one of the songs of Vanilla Fudge was included in the book. The song also gives its name to a really fun board game. I've played it I don't know, a half dozen times, and have yet to win. But it's always fun.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Curtis Mayfield - "Superfly" (1972)

Who's the black cocaine dealer with a code name that would have made a great nemesis for Spider-Man in the 70s?
Shut your mouth.
I'm just talkin' bout Super Fly!
Then stop parodying the "Theme from Shaft", you're confusing people.
I can dig it.

The song that played over the closing credits of the film Super Fly. Yep, there's a space in the title of the movie, and the album, but not the song. The album is often credited with out-grossing the film it came from. It certainly had a longer last effect. The film was one of the more well known Blaxplotation films of the 70s, which wasn't exactly a long lasting genre. The soundtrack however is Curtis Mayfield's outstanding response to Issac Hayes best selling double album Shaft from the year previous. Both albums are a mix of Soul and Funk, but this track settles more into the Funk category. It does have a distinct melody and chord changes, which is still Soul, but that beat is solid Funk. Big brass hits and heavy landing bass make the sound hit hard and keep you moving, and as happens so often in songs like this, the vocalists decides to make himself heard by taking the song way up into falsetto. Mayfield makes use of this falsetto all the time. There has been a lot of essays written about where the falsetto came from in R&B music and all its derivative forms, including that it made black male singers 'safe' because they were less masculine, and that it was just a question of being heard as the lead vocalist over the multiple lower register singers in a do-wop style group. Here I think Mayfield started singing in falsetto as the lead singer of The Impressions in the late 50s and it became something that set him apart.

This is a really solid track, a non preachy message about how drug dealers are in a terrible business, great bass and brass licks like I said before, and funky fuzzy wah-wah guitar slinking around the corners. What I love is the secondary percussion. The primary drummer is good, lays down a solid hard to ignore beat and that's his job; but what percussionist 'Master' Henry Gibson does elevates the song, and in fact the whole album. Gibson is the conga/bongo performer on the album and he makes the song different. Hayes album makes use of a dozen different instruments, including congas but Gibson's performance on Super Fly really gets heard.  This was the second single released from the album, after "Freddie's Dead", but to me, and many others, the brightest spot on the album is actually "Pusherman".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"War Pigs"

Black Sabbath - "War Pigs" (1970)

Not my favorite song of theirs, but it is on the same side. ;-)

Oh, I had forgotten how slow and dramatic this starts. This is a great song, don't mistake the opening line of this review. Hell, the entire album Paranoid might very well be the definitive blueprint for Heavy Metal. The first side of the album alone has three of the trademark songs of the era. Of course it also has a dreamy hippie-friendly psychedelic track about floating through the universe with your lover while accompanied by bongos. But let's cut them some slack, it was 1970 and no one really knew what direction music was going in. They get to have that one.  Back to the music.

This is the lead off track to the album, and they really set a tone of despair and wasteland at the beginning. The WWII era air raid sirens really drive home the war/destruction feel. After the intro, the song is very separated. I mean that each of the instruments takes focus for a second, but not too much overlapping until they break into the jam portion with the two shorter verses in the middle. Then we get what many outlets have ranked as one of the greatest guitar solos in Heavy Metal. Tony Iommi is the only guitarist on the track, he layers himself to create the dense multi-part solo that helped define him as the most influential and greatest metal guitarist of all time. Then, we get the quiet high hat that has segued us before and we are back to vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and his wail telling us that the only way the War Pigs lose their power is when the hand of God calls us all to judgement at the end times. His last lines in the song evoke Satan, not to praise him, but to show where the merciless sinners will find themselves. The song however has more than two minutes left. The first half of that is a typical metal ending, working on the same chords and themes, and heading towards a fade out. But then we get "Luke's Wall"

American releases of Paranoid originally had this track titled "War Pigs/Luke's Wall". Well, Luke's Wall was the name of the section of the song at the end, starting around 6:30 that sounds hopeful, like a hero might be lifting himself out of the ashes. It was named after two members of the band's road crew named Luke and Wall. It gives us some hope that we may not be at the end of the story just yet. Then of course there's the weird sped up few seconds at the end that sound like someone wound the tape up too fast. I don't know what that's supposed to symbolize. Possibly the destruction of the hopeful hero in a bomb blast?

You want to hear some great covers? Of course you do. First we have a band named Elf, that is until they became Rainbow. This cover is live in 1972, just two years after the original. It sounds a lot like the original as well. so why include it? Well, lead singer of Elf, and then Rainbow Ronnie James Dio, eventually became the lead singer of Black Sabbath from 1979 to 1982 before going solo as Dio. So this vocalist eventually played the song live with the original band members at least for a short time. Also the guitar solo is pretty sweet. Most original sound is kind of a tie. We've got Hayseed Dixie with a bluegrass inspired cover that is great, and I love a mandolin, but the Alice Donut jazz band meets metal band sound is so creative. I just think it sounds like they needed a little more practice. But it is hard to hate a band with a trombone in it. I have found a favorite however. This version of War Pigs by The Dresden Dolls has more energy in it than the original, and that's saying something.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Ale Brider"

Klezmatics - "Ale Brider" (1988)

Ah May Day!

So I already did "Sixteen Tons" and "Le poinçonneur des Lilas", and no version of "Joe Hill" seems to have made the book's list, and somehow Harry Belafonte got left out as well. It took me a while to find a "work" song for you all today, but the Klezmatics arraignment of the Morris Winchevsky song "Ale Brider" (the title translates to We're All Brothers) comes close. The lyrics don't specify labor, just people sticking together 'like no one else' and loving each other 'like a bride and groom'. That by itself doesn't sound like a labor song to me, but couple that with the fact that Winchevsky was a prominent socialist and later communist in America in the late 19th century and you can kind of see where the union POV comes in.

Klezmer is the musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. This is the musical tradition that those of us in America probably think of when we think 'Jewish Music': clarinet, accordion, dancing, violin, some brass and lots of singing in Yiddish. The style is known in America because it only lived in America for a long time. It had died out in Europe, and never really traveled to Israel, whereas Jewish immigrants brought the style to New York City and beyond. It was a dying musical tradition even here, only heard in small enclaves for traditional ceremonies, but then younger musicians in the 60s folk scene sought out older musicians and kept it alive. Another revival happened in the 80s and that is where we join the Klezmatics, possibly the worlds best known klezmer and klezmer fusion band. This track is taken off of their debut album Shvaygn = Toyt  and is very straightforward. They used their contacts in the 'underground-roots-music' scene to get the Les Miserables Brass Band to perform on this track, which brings the volume and the revelry up a whole 'nother level. I have read a rumor in one place on line that says that they changed the lyrics of the last verse to make a risque joke, but I can neither confirm nor deny that they joked on King David.