Google+ Badge

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Out of Space"

The Prodigy - Out of Space (1992)

Early stuff by The Prodigy. Who knew? British dance/rave fans, that's who.



Stretching the limits of what I find to be good music, this five minute long mix of a few samples, a few beats, and a few really annoying sounds is the just about the crystal center of what the British rave scene was all about in 1992. At this point in their career, The Prodigy was basically one guy doing production, and two guys dancing on stage. It wasn't until later that the dancers began singing and playing instruments, so this is all sampled vocals, created drum loops, and found sounds all done up by Liam Howlett.

The first minute actually sounds spacey. Orchestral synth chords are paired with a sound that I think may be a circus organ setting. Then the beats drop in and we've got a very forgettable, but danceable track. Then the song drastically shifts and we get the second section. A Reggae song loop, different drum beats and a really annoying spring "boing" sound. Then, just when you think nothing could be more annoying the first section starts again, this time with vocals sampled in from a Kool Keith song and a squeaking sound that grates on your ears worse than the "boing" though that sound continues as well. The song continues, but really, you've heard it all by this point. There are more sounds added, and the drum loops are actually fairly cool, but the two annoying sounds absolutely kill any enjoyment of this track outside of it's intended time and audience.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor"

Arctic Monkeys - I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor (2005)

"...I'm me and nobody else, whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not, because they don't know a bloody thing about me..." Sillitoe, Alan. Saturday Night, and Sunday Morning. United Kingdom, W. H. Allen Ltd.,1958



Fast and angry sounding, the song is actually kind of a modern love song. They vocals sound angry but he's actually wooing a woman without actually trying to sound like he's wooing a woman. If you see what I'm getting at. Maybe it would help if you knew that lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Alex Turner was 19 when the song came out. He mentions the year1984 and the Duran Duran song Rio, which are both from before he was before. Before the whole band was born. Of course he also references Romeo and Juliet, which is before all of us were born. Musically I love the speed of the drums, the infrequent yelled harmony and the intensity of everything. They're not virtuosos on this debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, though there is a good guitar solo at the beginning; all four members of the band did not play instruments when they decided to start a band. Two years after that they had there first full length album. After the guitar solo it's very basic playing, but they play with such enthusiasm and the lyrics are smart, so it's hard to to give them a chance.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

"(I'm) Stranded"

The Saints - (I'm) Stranded (1976)

"...single of this and every week..." Sounds (a U.K. music paper)



Before The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, or The Sex Pistols ever released an album, Australia's own The Saints released this shot across the bow for punk. The song has an interesting set up. It's verse, chorus, verse, chorus, super chorus, verse, chorus super chorus, verse, chorus, super chorus, super chorus. By super chorus I mean it's an expanded version of the chorus, with the instruments playing the same parts as the chorus; but for twice as long while the singer sings a similar, but different part than the main chorus. You could call the super chorus the chorus and the "chorus" a half chorus, but super chorus sounds cool.

Punk is fairly simple in these early days, driving fast rhythms, "buzz-saw" guitars and lyrics about being disaffected youth. This song hits it all. For all those choruses, the song is under three and a half minutes long. There's no overdubbing, and the singer does not play guitar. It's just one guitar, one bass, and a drummer making all that sound. The lead singer was an Irish kid born in Kenya who moved to Australia, and the guitarist was a West German kid who moved to Australia. That just the kind of pulled around outcast kind of feel you need to write a great anthem about being stranded, feeling separated from everything that everyone around you feels connected to.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

"Substitute"

The Who - Substitute (1966)

Townshend has said he got the idea from this line: /Although she may be cute / She’s just a substitute / Because you’re the permanent one/   The Tracks of My Tears-The Miracles. 1965



Wow, what a self hating self deprecating single. This is like a primer for Emo bands everywhere. Every time the singer claims that the girl he is singing to likes something about him, he points out what a fake it is. Shoes, height, suit, age, it's all a false front because he's trying to fit a mold so that she will be happy with him as a substitute for who she really wants to be with. There are some fantastic lines here, but one that needs a little notice. /I look all White but my dad was Black/ wasn't heard in the US. They replaced it with /I try going forward but my feel walk back/. A little to controversial for America at the time.

Don't let the video confuse you, in the recording studio things were a little different. First, guitarist Pete Townshend wasn't playing electric, he was playing a 12 string acoustic. Also, drummer Keith Moon was apparently so high that he didn't remember the session at all. He later accused the band of using another drummer for the recording. More subtly, bassist John Entwistle was turning up his bass after the recording engineers got sound levels so that his sound came across more during the instrument breaks. Pete Townsend produced the track; it was his first single for the band that he produced himself, so he must have liked it well enough. Personally, I think that's why he turns away from the camera at the big break at about 1:00 in this video. Because of the mix, it sounds like a bass solo rather than a full instrument break. He's even got what looks like a tire mark running over his white coat.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Gimme All Your Lovin'"

ZZ Top - Gimme All Your Lovin' (1983)

The car? Yeah, that's a custom Ford Model B.



Formed in 1969, ZZ Top didn't grow the beards until 1977, and didn't break into the mainstream until 1983's Eliminator album. This song was the debut single from the album that also gave us Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. It's a blues based rock song about sex. Pretty simple and straightforward. This was the MTV era, and a three band with a unique style plus cool cars and hot women was all you really needed to be a hit. The video for this track introduced the big red hot rod, the key chain, the three hot women, and that finger pointing thing the guys did.

If you take away the video, is it still a good song? Yeah, it is. The verses are two lines long each, just like the chorus. Nothing really poetic here, but it gets the job done. Vocally, it's not often you hear hard rocking blues musicians singing three part harmony, so enjoy it. The song kicks off with the drums, which is nice, because they basically just keep time for the rest of the song. It's mostly the same beat pattern from top to bottom. The drummer does mix it up and throw in something different during the instrument breaks. The bass is equally there. The bass tab looks like something you teach a first week student so they can feel good that they're playing along with a real band. During the guitar solos, the bass player plays the same note over and over again as eight notes. It's the kind of thing you try not to fall asleep during while you play. So why is the song any good? Billy Gibbons, the band's guitarist and lead singer. He's playing both the driving rhythm guitar part, and all the solos. It's electric blues on the edge of falling off into something heavier. The final guitar solo isn't ground breaking, but it's just about the perfect example of what electric blues rock should sound like. Producer and band manager Bill Ham made use of synthesizers on the album, and you can hear them on this track, it was the eighties, but for the most part everything moves aside and lets the guitar take the limelight.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Spice Up Your Life"

Spice Girls - Spice Up Your Life (1997)

Well it's my favorite song of theirs. What of it?



It's dance pop. Pure and simple. Five girls from England, and a whole lot of production, do a Latin dance influenced anthem for the world. The group wrote and recorded their part in mere hours. They were filming a movie, dragging an MTV crew behind them, and had to have a record out the door as fast as possible. The stream-of-conscious writing that occurred gives us some hilarious lines: /We moonwalk the foxtrot, then polka the salsa/ is a favorite, also this gem: /Kung Fu fighting dancing queen/Tribal spaceman and all that's in between/. I don't know what that last one means, but it's catchy. Not good, but catchy. In a rare event, they were all in the booth together at the same time as well. Producer Richard Stannard usually had them record their vocals separate, but time was short so they all recorded the chorus together.

Musically the song is a never ending carnival dance number. Percussion including bongos, congas, steel drums, cabasa, vibraslap and police whistle make sure we know we are having fun. The piano part holds the song together. Six notes repeated in different keys are the main through line in the song. When the producers need a big sound, they just have all the girls sing. There's no horns or winds on the track that I can hear. I would have had some trumpets for sure, but alas...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Take Me Out"

Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out (2004)

Yep, named after the Archduke of Austria whose assassination was the catalyst for the first World War



As I am always a sucker for false endings, this song is great. It comes to an end early on. Then kicks off again, but into what is essentially an entirely new song! The first song is less than a minute long. Sir Paul McCartney when he was Wings would occasionally do a song with multiple parts that were that short, but very few other bands would take a great concept for a song and make it a minute long piece of a full song rather than expanding it out into a track itself. From 0:55 until 1:04 they are vamping in between songs. Then from 1:04 until 1:23 the band is vamping on the new song. This is classic thing to do during a live performance for any band segueing from one song to another. It lets everybody check to make sure they're in tune, and ready to go. So to me it gives the overall feel that we are listening to Franz Ferdinand live.

The lyrics are about a doomed relationship framed as a sniper battle. Love doesn't get deadlier: /And if you leave here/You leave me broken, shattered I lie/. But regardless of the lyrics, this song is about getting people up and dancing.It works.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Roadrunner"

The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner (1976)

Released five years after it was recorded, just as the singer was getting a solo career going.



A lot of road songs out there. Hundreds of odes to long black ribbons of freedom. This one is about a strip of road around Boston, and how much the singer loves it, loves driving, loves the radio, it's actually kind of infectious. It's as simple a base for a song as I can imagine. Two chords, one less than punk. Lyrics that sound like the singer is just coming up with the next line off the top of his head, and if he doesn't have one yet, he'll just repeat the line again and come up with a new line next time around. Singer, guitar player, and writer Jonathan Richman idolized The Velvet Underground. I can see that, the song does remind me of I'm Waiting For The Man or Run Run Run with even less concern for standard verse chorus verse structure. There's another reason the song reminds me of The Velvet Underground, namely, this track, and much of the album it's off of was produced by co-founder John Cale.

Musically, the standout sound is the keyboardist. Organ always makes for an interesting sound in a rock band. He plays cool stand out parts while the rest of the band is all jamming, and he gets a solo as well. Just to be thorough I looked him up to see if he had become a producer or anything cool. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the album was released several years after he had split to join newly formed New Wave act Talking Heads. Jerry Harrison was the member that wasn't David Byrne, the hot chick bassist, or the hot chick's drummer husband.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Raining Blood"

Slayer - Raining Blood (1986)

/Now I shall reign in blood!/




Thrash Metal is the metal genre that begot Death Metal and Black Metal. Tying all of those together is the aggressive speed of the guitars and drums. Raining Blood is the final track off of Reign in Blood, the album that many consider to be the best Thrash Metal album recorded. At the time, Anthrax, Megadeath, Metallica, and Slayer were at the top of the Metal heap, each one trying to out rock the other. The trend was for longer and longer songs, powerful riffs repeated with flying fast shredded guitar solos over them. Metallica's Master of Puppets had the longest songs of the albums released by the four bands in 1985/1986.

Slayer had another idea. Cutting the songs down to just the basics: a great riff, fast drums, dangerous lyrics, and a blistering solo, they kept most of the songs on Reign in Blood under three minutes long. Even this four minute and seventeen second final track is actually over a full minute of rain sounds on either side of the song itself. The song starts with rain and drums then the intro riff based on the diminished scale. The main body of the song is fast guitar and bass work, with a hard snare drum sound dominating and keeping everything together. The vocalist is fairly easy to understand, there is no chorus. Just before three minutes into the song, as the vocal part ends, the bass repeats it's riff, the drums start getting faster and wilder, and the two guitars just play like the devil has taken them both, clashing with each other, the bass riff, just getting louder and faster and less musical until a thunderclap clears it all away leaving us with rain ending the track. This is the first metal album produced by Rick Rubin, known at the time for working with L.L. Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Run-D.M.C.

Lyrically the song seems to be about a killer, dead now and trapped in purgatory waiting and dreaming of a chance to overthrow heaven and rule. It could be interpreted as about Satan himself. But honestly, the song isn't about lyrics.Though to be fair, Tori Amos covered it, and it sure wasn't about guitars.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"It's Only Make Believe"

Conway Twitty - It's Only Make Believe (1958)

"Ladies and gentlemen... Mr. Conway Twitty"




On this original recording you can absolutely hear why many people in 1958 thought this record might have been Elvis Presley recording under a false name. Twitty has a low baritone slurred vocal just like Presley, but he also went up higher into his vocal register in this song. The backup singers on this record, were The Jordanaires, which was the same group Elvis used, adding to the confusion. Elvis was serving in the Army at the time, making it hard for him to record new music. This service break gave other young talents a chance to rise and Conway Twitty took it.

The song was written during the intermission at a concert he was giving. He and co-writer/drummer Jack Nance estimate that it took seven minutes to write. Musically it's a simple song. written in 12/8 time, you can hear the piano and guitar playing three notes for every beat. The bass plays every other beat and the drums play along with the piano, accenting the beat opposite of the bass. There's no solo, no break, just an intro over plucked acoustic guitar and then three stanzas. The third is a repeat of the first, really cutting back on the writing. I like how the song builds and falls. Each line in the stanza besides the last one is higher than the one before it; building emotion and tension. Then the final line falls apart, just like the singer's hopes and dreams.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Little Bear"

Guillemots - Little Bear (2006)

"...a very brave way to open an album..." - Sir Paul McCartney


I can't find an embeddable link to the full album version off this song. Youtube, dailymotion and others do not have the full song anywhere, embeddable or not. This link to tudou.com is the full version.


The first track off of their debut album Through the Windowpane, this UK based indie band had already released a few EPs and had a tour under their belts as the supporting act for Rufus Wainwright. You don't actually hear any of the band until over ninety seconds into this track. A beautiful lush string section starts the piece off, first with almost horror or thriller-esque high pitched screeching violins, then mellowing out into more standard bowed violins and violas. There are pizzicato cello and base notes, possibly some off which are played by double bass playing band member Aristazbal Hawkes but there is no way to know. Fyfe Dangerfield begins playing his oddly occasionally discordant piano and singing to his "little bear". The final fifty five seconds or so is back to just piano and string accompaniment. The very end has the orchestra collectively "powering down" using a glissando technique downward. You can't really say for sure if any of the other band members other than Dangerfield are on this track. Live, guitarist MC Lord Magrão plays theremin, and drummer Greig Stewart plays wind chimes and cymbal.

Lyrically the song is painfully about loss, but loss of love, or of self, or of mind? Is the singer talking to a lover or child with a pet name? Possibly he could be speaking to the beloved children's book character? I could easily hear the song as a grown up, talking to the inner child in his mind using the name his mother called him. Whatever way you interpret the song, it's not one you will easily forget.

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Into the Groove"

Madonna - Into the Groove (1985)

"Desperately seeking Susan. Meet me, four o'clock, Battery Park. Keep the faith. Love, Jim." 



One of the simplest songs Madonna ever wrote, this track nonetheless became an enormous success even though it was not released in the US as a single. It wasn't even available on an album when it first became popular. Due to disagreements with various record labels, the song wasn't on a Madonna album, or the soundtrack album to the movie it was featured in: Desperately Seeking Susan. Eventually it made it onto the B-side of the single Angel.

Vocally the song is an invitation; a very strongly worded, aggressive invitation, to dance with the singer. That's Madonna multi-tracked throughout the song, there are no back up singers. Musically the song has a fun conga drum part during the verse, but it is very hard to hear over all the electronic stuff. For the most part it's a synth bass line, keyboards and other electronic sounds held together with some disco/rock drums.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Is That All There Is?"

Peggy Lee - Is That All There Is? (1969)

This was from the 60's? I thought it was an old 40's song.




Crazy song, with neat trivia attached, and it should never have been a hit.Written in the late 60's by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller it was recorded by Dan Daniels, Leslie Uggams, Guy Lombardo, and Tony Bennett over the course of about 20 months. None of those recordings were hits. Leiber and Stoller were Jewish-American songwriters of the 50's, penning classics for The Drifters, The Coasters, Ben E. King, and Elvis, but hadn't had a real big hit in years, almost a decade. Peggy Lee hadn't had a big hit on the pop charts in over a decade, but she insisted that her label release her version as a single. Odder still than the pedigree, the song is an existential remembrance, staged as a cabaret song. The verses are spoken word for goodness' sakes. The singer is talking about how nothing gets through to them emotionally, so forget about it, let's just drink and dance and not worry about whatever is going to come next. The single, and the album of the same name sold very well, giving her a number 11 hit on the pop charts, and a Grammy. Her older fans still loved her, and the detached existentialism connected with the disaffected youth of America.

Almost unknown at the time, singer songwriter Randy Newman wrote the arraignment for the strings and band. He starts by playing piano in a style you can almost hear as his. During the first "verse" the piano and strings gives us a old time feeling, carefree youthfulness, recalling porch swings and picnics on the lawn. The chorus is backed by subtle strings and a guitar that makes us recall a cabaret stage. The second verse is about the circus, so Newman gives us horns, but bent through the lens of a cabaret they are crooked almost discordant trumpets and an oom-pah style tuba. The third verse adds more strings and a clarinet. Her final verse is about how even death would be a disappointment, so even though life offers nothing, why kill herself. The back and forth between verse and chorus, particularly when Peggy Lee; who sang (and wrote) It's a Good Day talks about suicide and then sings /...let's break out the booze and have a ball.../ is so sharp it's like whiplash.And yet sometimes, you know exactly what she's talking about.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Sabotage"

Beastie Boys - Sabotage (1994)

Is there a problem officer?




Handcrafted to get you up out of your seats. The song makes use of traditional rock instruments as well as turntables and a rapped vocal. It's often called rapcore, and yes, this is who you can blame for Limp Biscut. The bass and guitar are heavily distorted, the scratches are sent through echo effects, but the drums are clear, clean and straight ahead rock. Lyrically, my favorite line is /I'm Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle/. Buddy Rich was world class big band era drummer. He was also notorious for screaming and going crazy on people at the drop of a hat. Then right back to business. He had a real short temper, but never really stayed mad at anyone.

You've got to mention a video this important to the song. Almost unknown director Spike Jones came of age in 1994, directing videos for Weezer, Dinosaur Jr. and the Beastie Boys as well as others. He had directed The Breeders Cannonball the previous year, but most people point to the constant rotation of this video's 70's era cop show spoof on MTV as the reason he exploded into the pop culture consciousness.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

In the U.S. the B side was called Young Man's Blues. The rest of the world knew it as Screw You.



One of Elton John's biggest hits, this was the second single released off of the album of the same name. Bernie Taupin, John's lyricist for the large majority of his career wrote the words intentionally evoking the imagry of the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz and incorporating the theme of being tired of the bright lights of Oz/fame and ready to go back to the farm. The song is almost maudlin, the singer is telling the subject of the performance that they have hung around too long, and are leaving; that the subject is going to crash and burn and that it will probably only take a few drinks before they are back to their old ways with a replacement for the singer.

My favorite part musically is the segue into the chorus. Each time Elton John swings up into falsetto to sing the wordless ahhhs which is backed up not only by singers, but by strings. This segue is the dreamy effect that transfers us to the chorus where he sings /goodbye yellow brick road/. Therefore the musical segue is like the wipe between black and white and color in the 1939 film.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Awaiting on You All"

George Harrison - Awaiting on You All (1970)

Good song, but no My Sweet Lord or All Things Must Pass?




Less than three minutes long, yet packed with enough to last two or three songs for a lesser artist. George Harrison was always "the quiet one" in his former band The Beatles, but when all four released solo albums in 1970 after the band's break-up, only his was a triple album. (It should be noted that Ringo Starr did produce two solo albums in 1970). Produced by Phil Spector and Harrison, the song is full of sounds. Piano and electric bass drive the song along, slide guitar and electric guitar add tone while the drum set is almost overwhelmed by all the percussion instruments, including fairly prominent tambourine, and what is perhaps the single most dominant maraca part I've ever heard. The layered backing vocals and huge sound of all of the instruments give the song a very upbeat celebratory feel. Lyrically it is a song about spirituality, but not necessarily religion. He advocates for Jesus, but condemns both the Pope and former band mate John Lennon. The main theme of the song is that the Lord is waiting for all of us to find Him, and that if we just open our hearts and say his name we are free. No jumping through the spiritual hoops that others place in front of you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Like a Rolling Stone"

Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (1965)

The six minute single.




Just five days before his notorious "electric set" at the Newport Folk Festival during the summer of 1965 Bob Dylan released this six minute long rock song to the American airwaves. No one had released anything so long to the pop charts. Between the rock sound contrast to his earlier folk ways and the length no one expected it to be a hit. It hit number 2 on the charts, and has become one of his most known and covered songs.

Lyrically, the song came from a long poem that Dylan composed while on tour. Cut down and set to music it is an angry take that against a young woman who came from wealth and privilege and has fallen down to earth. People have interpreted as about a specific woman, or Dylan himself; I think it's about American culture in general and its youth specifically. Forced to face a future that included a ground war in Vietnam, an assassination of a President, and an ending of the "feel good" era of the 50s; the American people, and in particularly its youth were not seeing everything come up roses anymore. Pop songs were usually about love, possibly lost love, but small scale things. Folk music was about the political side of things, but it wasn't as popular. Dylan was big enough to bridge the gap and with this song he made America look at itself and asked "/How does it feel/to be on your own/with no direction home/".

The recording included a number of great performers. On guitar, Mike Bloomfield of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. On drums, Bobby Gregg, who would play with Dylan on many of his mid sixties recordings. On tambourine, Bruce Langhorne, whom Dylan wrote Mr. Tambourine Man about. On piano, Paul Griffin, who played session piano on dozens of well known tracks, including several of Bob Dylan's, The Isley Brother's Twist and Shout, and Don McLean's American Pie. The most interesting story about the recording session is about the young organist Al Kooper. Kooper showed up as a guest of producer Tom Wilson (who effectively gave the world Simon and Garfunkel but we'll tell that story another time) but really wanted to play on a Dylan recording. He brought his guitar, but upon hearing Bloomfield warm up he hung back in the recording booth. Later in the day, after a few takes, Griffin, who had been playing organ, moved to piano for a change. Kooper jumped at the chance, and against Wilson's judgment sat in on organ. He was not really a great keyboard player, but no one stopped him so he played. On hearing the playback, Dylan's only comment was "turn the organ up" so Kooper got to stay on.

The organ is simple, but recognizable in the song. Mostly chords that come in just behind the beat, the story is that Kooper was trying to make sure he hit the right notes. The piano part is kind of a honky tonk/tack piano sound. Griffin just rolls all over on the song never really letting his hands sit in one place very long. The tambourine is fairly loud in the mix, and because it covers that sound, the drums focus on bass drum and toms, and mostly avoid loud cymbal crashes. The song does start on a snare hit, but the drums are so quiet in the mix, that the guitar, piano and keyboard coming in a beat later blow it away. Dylan's own harmonica make a few appearances, but mostly he focuses on the slightly sneering vocal performance. The guitar is the hardest part for me to pick out, but he does get some great segues into the choruses. It still surprises me that a six minute long song fades out instead of having a proper ending, but who am I to question?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Orinoco Flow"

Enya - Orinoco Flow (1988)

Yeah, I thought it was called Sail Away too.




So it's a travelogue song. Like I've Been Everywhere or Route 66 it's a list of places. In this case a list of places that the singer and presumably the listener, can go rather than have been. In this way it can be a little sad. You can interpret as wishful hopeful young people talking about where they could go, but over 20 years after the song came out, it's hard not to hear a little melancholy in the synthesized keyboard sound, particularly during the chorus. There is also a running harp sound during the chorus that sounds electric to me. The background vocals are Enya, layered over and over on herself, an idea from her producer and manager Nicky Ryan. The title of the song is a reference to the studio it was recorded in: Orinoco Studios in London, England.

I do think the song does a good job of making you feel like you are bobbing up and down in the ocean. the beat is on the two and the & after three. It can be slightly off sounding, like you are rushing, because we are used to hearing the beat on the two and the four, but that is what makes the song sound like we are sailing. I do like the big timpani and other drum sounds as they are the only thing that sounds real and unprocessed to me. Not my favorite song, or artists, but you can't deny it was an enormous success, and I do feel a little seasick when I hear it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Walk"

Pantera - Walk (1992)

/Are you talking to me?/




A really simple riff fuels this song. Guitarist Darrell "Dimebag" Abbott starting playing the riff during a warm up and drummer Vinnie Paul added his part on the wall while someone recorded it so that the band could remember it later for recording. The bass and guitar parts are just doubling each other for most of the song, and it's the same riff over and over. It kind of sounds like walking if you listen to it. The song is in 12/8 time which means you can hear the triplets over the standard rock 4/4 time signature. The drums do a lot of doubling as well, just adding layers of sound and noise to the mix. Vocalist Anselmo's vicious attack on  posers, back-stabbers, false friends and others with no self respect is so aggressive and violent it leaps over the almost calm-by-comparison band riff. It also reminds me of De Niro in Taxi Driver.

The guitar solo is a bolt of lightning from out of nowhere. "Dimebag" was known as a great guitar player, but this song seemed like it was set to me. We had the riff, we had the vocals, the whole band is just churning it out, and I was expecting an almost punk-short 3 minute anger session. But the guitar had other plans. In fact, right at three minutes the lead guitar just starts going off. Fast, high, less distorted (but still distorted) and very melodic, this thirty second guitar solo is not as blistering as other guitar solos, but taken with the rest of the song it can be viewed as the fight, the confrontation, and eventual victory over the posers the song is talking to.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Harry Patch (In Memory Of)"

Radiohead - Harry Patch (In Memory Of) (2009)

A tribute to the last trench warfare veteran of WWI in the world.



A sort of tone poem with lyrics and vocals by front man Thom York and orchestral part written by lead guitarist Johnny Greenwood. There is no rock element to this song, despite being "performed" by one of the biggest rock bands of the era. York's lyrics are written as from the point of view of a front line soldier. Many of the lines are based on quotes by Harry Patch himself. He was alive when the song was recorded, but died about a week before it was released. Radiohead released the song on their website for download for a pound and donated all the money to The Royal British Legion.

The strings are mainly in arpeggios. It starts very simply, reminding one of rolling hills or a slowly moving river. As York's voice enters, where you not to speak English, you might think that it was just a beautiful lyric about a woman, or the environment around you. But the lyric is about being the only survivor of a terrible battle, and it contrasts so painfully with the music that it tugs at our soul. Around 2:30 the middle section gets minor and oppressive. York's voice hums and hauntingly moans behind lower strings rolling under a high pitched wail of a sound. A minute later, the main theme breaks through again. York's lyrics are harder to make out, but no less poignant. The last minute is the orchestra outro. You need it to decompress in my opinion. This song is not one I'd put on my ipod, but it is a powerful song to listen to.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On"

Jerry Lee Lewis - Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On (1957)

Rock & Roll's first great wild man - The Killer




Written at least two years before Jerry Lee Lewis recorded it; the song was not a success for Big Maybelle (even with Qunicy Jones producing) or for the white rockabilly artist Roy Hall who claimed partial songwriting credit under the name Sunny David. Black songwriter Dave "Curlee" Williams is credited on Lewis' recording and in the Decca archives. Whoever wrote it, it wasn't really a hit until Jerry Lee Lewis performed it on TV.

The song is often referred to as "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going' On" or some variant. But the label on the 1957 Sun Records recording clearly says "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On". Watching this clip of he and his band performing on The Steve Allen Show you can see the raw charisma and crazy pouring out of him. This young man from Louisiana was everything that was scary about Rock and Roll and that's why the kids loved him. He first moved to Memphis to audition for the Sun label, and began backing up other Sun artists like Billy Lee Riley and Carl Perkins. His own record starting selling after the TV performance and suddenly every rockabilly song had to have a piano, and everybody was trying to outdo the wild performance of Lewis. Elvis Presley is said to have quipped "...if I could play piano like that I wouldn't have to dance".

The song rises slowly. Just his piano, then we get a drum under it. Lewis' voice is under control. By the second verse he begins to whoop, and we get a little guitar going on under the piano and voice. After the chorus we suddenly hear what all the fuss is about. The drummer almost overplays his intro, cutting into the piano solo that Lewis bangs out. He calls out to the guitar player who finish out the instrumental break. When he gets to the point of the song where he's just vamping and talking into the microphone, telling a girl how to shake it for him you can tell right then and there he is going to be trouble.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Dum Dum Boys"

Iggy Pop - Dum Dum Boys (1977)

A eulogy by Osterberg and Jones in the city of Berlin.



A sad opening backed by David Bowie on keyboards, Iggy Pop gives us the the breakdown on where all of his old band mates The Stooges have ended up. We get a distorted guitar break after that to let us know how down and dirty the song is going to be. The guitars are distorted with reverb effects through the whole song. The drums even have some echo delay added. The bass is simple and clean, so it really sticks out.

Iggy's vocals are also laden with effects. The echo is so long it gives a dreamy almost heroin affected sound to his downer lyrics about his old band. He sings about old times with the gang with nostalgia, missing them, and what they did together. One of the last lines he explicitly wants them back, he doesn't know how to carry on without them; it's sad. But in fact, Iggy Pop had moved on. This album, written with and produced by David Bowie, while Bowie was in the middle of his Berlin Trilogy was Iggy's first real taste of success. The Stooges were seminal, and revered amongst the punks that they had influenced, but were unknown outside of that niche. This album The Idiot (whose title is inspired by the Dostoyevsky novel) is considered one of Pop's best, if not representative of his usual sound.

Final note. Tony Visconti, a frequent colaborator of Bowie, did the final mix of this album from the demo tapes that Bowie produced. He also wrote the preface to The Book.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Sodade"

Cesária Evora - Sodade (1992)

We're going to need a little background to break this one down.



In the most basic of history lessons we learned that Spain and Portugal were the biggest players in the international exploration business during the late 1500s. What you may or may not remember is that the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed in 1494 and divided the unknown world between the two. Spain took West of the line and Portugal took East. Already discovered by Portugal, but now formally "theirs" was an archipelago of 10 Islands off the coast of Africa. It was uninhabited when discovered, but Portugal adapted it to the growing slave trade during the late 16th century. The country is a creole one, a blend of European and African peoples. After the slave trade ended the country was almost worthless to Portugal, who never the less held it as a colony until 1975. It is still a very poor nation. All of these factors combine to help us understand morna: the traditional musical style of Cape Verde.

Morna is a style of folk music that owes a lot to the fado musical style of Portugal. Fado is very often mournful, either about loss, the life of the poor, or hardships related to the sea. A solo singer is backed by stringed guitar like instruments, and the audience ends in tears. Morna grew from that tradition, and adds the traditional African embellishment to Western music: rhythm. Morna, like fado, does not have to be mournful, but much of it is.

This song has multiple guitar parts, some at least are most likely played on a cavaquinho, which is a small four stringed instrument related to the ukulele. They never stop playing, providing a blanket for Evora's voice. On the drums you can hear fast patterns played on something like bongos, a sound not unlike a cabasa, and a very low bass drum that resonates well after it is played. Her voice is absolutely surrounded by sound.

Cesária Evora was a bar singer until many of the bars closed with the independence Cape Verde. She then became a cruise ship singer until she was discovered. Her first album was not recorded until she was 47 years old. Her 1995 album brought her a Grammy nomination, and her 2004 album won Best Contemporary World Music Album. but it was her 1992 album Miss Perfumado that contained her biggest hit - Sodade.

The word sodade is a Cape Verde creole version of the Portuguese word saudade. The wikipedia article on the word claims that it is a word that has no direct translation in English, but that it means the deep longing or yearning for something or someone that one loves, often carrying the implication that the person or thing will never return. Cesária Evora died December 17th 2011 at the age of 70. Sodade.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Touch Me I'm Sick"

Mudhoney - Touch Me I'm Sick (1988)

Proto-Grunge



Vocalist Mark Arm is often credited as the first person to call the music that was coming out of Seattle "Grunge". This song is a pretty clear indication of where that came from. The song is growling vocals and distorted guitars. Sure there's a bass line and drums holding the shrieking swaying mass together, but mostly it's a repeated guitar riff on two heavily distorted guitars and a shouted vocal about diseases and rot. The and a half minutes, three chords and anger; like Punk but with more fuzz on the guitar.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Crank That (Soulja Boy)"

Soulja Boy - Crank That (Soulja Boy) (2007)

/When I do that Soulja Boy/I lean to the left and crank that thing/Now you/



Following in the tradition of The Hokie Pokie, The Twist, The Pony, The Time Warp, The Macarena, and many more, this is nothing more than an updated version of a pop dance song where the singer teaches the listeners a new dance, and then performs a song designed to show it off. In this case this song, the dance is named after the performer. It incorporates other dance moves including the oft repeated "Superman" but the dance itself is explicitly called out as the"Soulja Boy" at the 22 second mark in the official video.

The instrumentation is simple. There is limited drum set, some heavy electrically "reverbed" bass drum, and some fast high hat, not at the same time, and often neither of them can be heard. There is liberal use of the orchestra hit effect on a keyboard. The most dominant instrument is the steel drum. Also called a Steelpan or Carnival drum, this instrument evokes a Caribbean Island playfulness in the tune.

Around two minutes in, Soulja Boy references being seen as the Rubberband Man. This could be a reference to T.I.'s single Rubberband Man five years prior, but that song is about how much money he has and therefore how many rubber bands he carries around to wrap up his money. I think he is referencing The Spinners hit The Rubberband Man which is about dancing and having a good time.

Soulja Boy has never replicated the success of this song, and love it or hate it, you have to respect the hard work and dedication it took to come together. He wrote performed and produced the track on his own, and released it to YouTube. It was remixed dozens and then hundreds of times, and instead of trying to fight it, he incorporated that into how he interacted with his fans. When he was signed and the song went on to become a huge hit he became the youngest artist to write produce and perform a song that hit number 1 on the Billboard hot 100 chart.

Friday, January 6, 2012

"Beds Are Burning"

Midnight Oil - Beds Are Burning (1987)

Ironically, this song reached number one in South Africa in 1988



Part pop song, part protest song. OK, mostly protest song; this track by Australian activist band Midnight Oil became their biggest hit in their own country, and around the world. Explicitly about the Pintupi Aboriginal people of Western Australia and how the government stole their land and they deserve to have it back. The song, and album that it is on are regularly proclaimed best of the decade, best of Australia, and best protest music by recording industry publications.

Musically the song is bookended by a brass section hitting three rising notes. You hear those three notes again through the song. According to the liner notes there was a French horn player, and a trombone player on the album. This sounds like more than that to me, but with mixing, and throw a keyboard in there, they made a good sound. The plucked electric bass sound that drives the song is said to be inspired by the sound of the traveling vehicles the band used on a tour of the far reaches of Australia. The band makes use of harmony, it's not tight like a doo-wop or girl group, it's a little rough around the edges. I think that works for the style of music, it's an almost shouted protest song, not a song about love and moonlight. The final 30 seconds of the song includes a trombone solo and then the final three notes falling into a glissando.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)"

The Jacksons - Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) (1978)

I don't understand why the editors of this book chose this song instead of Blame It on the Boogie.



The first album in the history of The Jackson 5 where the artists had creative control. After nine studio albums at Motown the group left and started performing as The Jacksons. This is off of their third studio album at Epic. That's 12 studio albums in less than 10 years, plus live albums, a Christmas album, and Michael had done at least four solo albums at Motown. This was the last album as a group before Michael's huge solo album Off the Wall. That album was heralded as Michael breaking loose from his Motown past and embracing the more modern sounds of Funk and Disco on hits like Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough and Rock With You. But this track, and others off of The Jacksons Destiny are obviously crafted from the same fabric.

This is an eight minute side, with a lot of repetitive sections made for dancing. There are some instrument solos going on, but mostly it's a lot of straight ahead Disco drumming (accent on all four beats with high hat accent), walking electric bass, and a electric guitar riff you may not get out of your head for a week. The song was released in a under four minute radio edit, but the full length song was played in clubs. It was so popular a Disco Remix was released, with an even stronger rhythm section. It's not all electric and synth, there are live horns playing. But honestly they could have played two or three different sections and then dubbed them over and over again. Also a sign of the times, there is a string section leading into the verse around two minutes in as well as elsewhere on the track. By 6:30 the song has become a chance for the bass and synthesizer to show off a little. The guitar and drums hold a robotically steady beat, while the bass and keyboards play little runs back and forth.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Blue Moon"

The Marcels - Blue Moon (1961)

An integrated male doo-wop group named after a ladies hairstyle.



What a great opening. It gets your attention, immediately presents itself as a fun challenge to repeat and lets all the listeners know that this song is going to move. This is a doo-wop song, so the five part vocal harmony is the primary ingredient here. The drum set is the only other instrument that really gets a fair share of the microphone. There is a bass that walks during the verses, and I think I can hear a piano during the /bomp-baba-bomp/ part. I love the last thirty seconds. You get that really high harmony sung over everything, and then the really low /BLUE MOOOOON/ right at the end.

The song itself was older than the young men singing it. Written in 1933 and '34 (an arduous process that involved two MGM films and four versions of the lyrics) by American musical masters Rogers and Hart. It was used in at least seven more MGM films including two Marx Brothers' films. Mel Torme brought a version to the Billboard charts in the 40s and Elvis did it again in 1956. The Marcels hit came in February of 1961. They recorded more songs in a similar style and began touring all very quickly. By August their tour had reached the South and the integrated group hit a snag. In order to keep the money coming in and the music playing, the two white members were replaced with black friends and family of the three original black members. In the next year, one original and one new member left. Blue Moon reached number 1 on the charts, and the Marcels never managed a hit that big again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"Connection"

Elastica - Connection (1994)

Ahh Britpop Drama.



There once was a British band named Suede. They were formed in 1989 by a couple, Brett Anderson and Justine Frischmann; along with a few friends. By 1991 Frischmann and Anderson had split and Frischmann began dating Damon Albarn. Anderson kicked her out of the band and Suede starting going places. Albarn and his band Blur were touring the United States and got big and so Frischmann, along with another former member of Suede on drums, formed a band of their own. By 1995 Elastica, Suede, and Blur were three of the biggest names in the Britpop scene. Want more drama? Elastica's eponymous debut album was plagued with accusations of plagiarism. These accusations started in 1994 when their single, Connection, was reported to have an opening riff ripped off of their admitted musical influence Wire's Three Girl Rhumba.

The riff in question opens the song. It's played on keyboard on a setting called "distorted guitar" later in the song you can hear it played on an actual distorted guitar. The volume leaps in after the intro. Frischmann's vocals are a cross between singing and shouting. Her West London accent is really heard on lines like /They just think it's stupid/ and /Who would have thought it of someone like you/. I really like the two girl harmony on the chorus' /...connection is made/.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"Destroy Rock & Roll"

Mylo - Destroy Rock & Roll (2003)

"...Missing Persons, Duran Duran, Missing Persons, Duran Duran, Duran Duran, Duran Duran..."



The vocal is a sample of a religious diatribe against popular culture by an unknown member of the Church Universal and Triumphant. The sample is a list of musicians poplar during the 80s. Mylo created the electric drum heavy musical track. I like the cowbell that shows up through the song. Basically the whole song is a man reading names and a computer created track playing behind it.

Un-sourced opinion is that Mylo did all the graffiti art in the video as well. If so, I like him much better. The song is forgettable, but some of the stencil art is great fun. I really like Tina Turner as her own legs, ZZ Top as a negative space portrait studio photo of themselves, and Big Country as the lower 48 states, even though they are from Scotland. I love Thompson Twins as Charlie Chaplins looking at each other, and the best one of all is The Cars as a Volkswagen Beetle, followed immediately by the artist slapping a 53 on the picture, making it a reference to The Love Bug and Herbie, which makes sense because the next musician intoned is Herbie Hancock.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Minnie the Moocher"

Cab Calloway & His Orchestra - Minnie the Moocher (1931)

So. Many. Drug. References.



Like a lot of these early songs, trying to track down "original" recordings is tough. In this case the record company label is the key; the 1931 recording is on Brunswick. I found this video with the label showing, and then found the embedded video was (to my ear) the same version and cleaner.

I find Calloway's inflection on this recording to be very odd. Sort of high and whiny, which is not as prevalent on later recordings. The fun of the song came from live performances during the call and response scat section. Calloway would make the section longer and more complex until the band, or the audience could not keep up.

There's a guitar noodling around under Calloway's vocal, a trumpet as well. Keeping time during the vocal part is a tuba. All of this is interesting because there is no drum that I can hear. When the whole band starts playing you can hear the drummer doing snare rolls under the group. The raunchy trumpet solo near the beginning is great. In many later recordings that solo is very expanded, but here it is only about 4 bars long. The opening of the song is so well known that it continues to be used today to evoke "cool".