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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, Will.i.am 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

"Gloria"

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

"Fallin'"

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

"Plateau"

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

"Superfly"

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.