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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More"

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Beat the Clock"

Sparks - "Beat the Clock" (1979)

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Army of Me"

Bjork - "Army of Me" (1995)

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Never Let Me Down Again"

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Waterloo Sunset"

The Kinks - "Waterloo Sunset" (1967)

How do you have this and not "Lola"?

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Rid of Me"

PJ Harvey - "Rid of Me" (1993)

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

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