Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rush - All The World's A Stage

Strangely, my first exposure to Rush also came during my first exposure to the opposite sex. It was the fall of the eighth grade when myself and another classmate found ourselves in the company of two other eighth grade girls with no parental supervision.
One of the girls invited us over to her house while her parents went out to watch a high school football game. The four of us were supposed to be there too, but the very idea of unsupervised liaisons was, obviously, more enticing than football.
The girls had already invaded the liquor cabinet by the time we arrived, so any notion of heavy petting was quickly reduced as both of them had trouble standing upright, let alone removing undergarments.
But believe me, I tried my best. On the unmade bed of the host’s older brother (who happened to be playing in the football game we should have been at), every advance was met with her unfocused ramblings and drunken stalling.
As she excused herself to use the restroom, I understood that I wouldn’t be losing my virginity on that evening. This frustrated me. I noticed her brother’s stereo next to the bed and my eyes glanced over some of his collection. In a fit of selfish revenge, I took his 8-track of Rush’s All The World’s A Stage and put it in the pocket of my blue jean jacket.
A few months later, I was fortunate enough to have another opportunity present itself, this time in my own bedroom. During the time that I had A.T.W.A.S., I played it continually. Rush’s Permanent Waves was the current album, but I was content with this double-live overview of the band’s first four albums. Since the album’s rightful owner was actually a high school senior who also happened to be a varsity football player, I immediately associated A.T.W.A.S. with coolness. In an act that now seems completely stupid, I instinctively put in that album on my stereo as we prepared to make out on my twin bed. And even though the voice of Geddy Lee didn’t get me any closer to losing my virginity, I did end up with a prominent hickey that I would proudly display at middle school until it healed four days later.
If you’ve ever heard All The World’s A Stage, you’ll understand that it’s by no means a “make out” album. In fact, it’s a fairly strange anomaly in the Rush arsenal: coming after their first four studio albums, it’s the sound of a young band finding some headway in terms of sales while still discovering what kind of band they ultimately want to be.
The recording is from the tour that supported 2112, Rush’s first foray into conceptual themes. That album is adequately represented here, as Geddy announces “We’d like to perform for you side one of our latest album.” before the power trio breaks into a five-part suite of 2112.
It also includes substantial workout of “By-Tor And The Snow Dog” (originally on Fly By Night) Rush’s first attempt at tip-toeing into the progressive rock world of lengthy songs composed of smaller suites/parts/movements.
But the rest of the album is pretty much straight-ahead smart rockers (“Bastille Day,” “Fly By Night,” “Something For Nothing”), with a helping handful of straight-ahead dumb Zeppelin rockers (“Working Man,” “In The Mood,” “Finding My Way”) taken from their un-original debut. Sure, it had been done before (and done better) but it’s a fun album nonetheless.
Arguably, the best songs happen to be the softer ones (“Lakeside Park” and “In The End”) where the trio gets to show of their dynamics and melodics, two characteristics that they later exploited quite successfully after Peart ditched his pretentious epic lyrical phase for more streamlined A.O.R.-ready material.
Rush has suggested that their “routine” of following four or five studio efforts with a live album somehow signals an end to each phase of the band. While that looks good on paper and on the liner notes for the live albums, it isn’t always the case. When you consider live albums like Exit…Stage Left (where the songs sound exactly like the studio renditions) and A Show Of Hands (ditto), the band never really demonstrated much noteworthy change afterwards.
They did after A.T.W.A.S., which makes it such a pleasure and an anomaly at the same time. The performances rock and they aren’t perfect; there are flubbed notes, rushed tempos and even (gasp!) sounds of the band tuning in between songs. They never sounded like this again: a young and hungry band with an eye on where they were going while managing to work through their past material with impatient ferocity.
It may not be one of the best albums of all times, but for Rush, it may very well be their best live document ever.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Aerosmith-Head First Into Downloading

Diving "head first" into the age of the internet isn't something that you'd expect from such a dinosaurian band like Aerosmith, but apparently, they were the first major band that provided an exclusive track for fans to download, way back on this day in 1994. Geffen Records and CompuServe teamed up to provide fans with the opportunity to download the track "Head First" over the lightening fast phone lines of their dial-up connection.
The premise that "Head First" was an internet exclusive was short lived as it later appeared as a B-side of the "Eat The Rich" CD single.
This impressive factoid of Aerosmith history is nowhere nearly as impressive as the fact that Aerosmith haven't released a decent album since 1977's Draw The Line.
Here's a clip from when Aerosmith meant something.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Elvis' Last Concert

On June 26th, 1977, Elvis Presley played his final concert at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana. Immediately after landing, RCA Records presented him with a plaque commemorating the two billionth (that's a "b" folks) record ever manufactured.
Touring in support of his latest album Moody Blue, Elvis ended the performance with "Hurt" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," boarded a plane, and was dead just a few weeks later.
The clip below is from one of his last performances ever. Obviously in weak physical form and apparently winded, he delivers a pretty remarkable vocal performance.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

White Stripes - Icky Thump

I’ve been listening to the new White Stripes album a lot lately and it seems to have made an impact with our four-year old. As we drove to daycare this morning, I turned on the CD player and heard E make a request from his car seat.
“Play Yucky Hump, Daddy.”
That’s four-year old speak for the Stripes’ great new album Icky Thump.
To be honest, I think I overrated their last effort, perhaps because it sounded like they were trying to expand their sound and continue with a creative progression. Today, particularly after hearing Icky Thump and Jack’s Raconteurs side-project from last year, it sounds more like he was feeling confined with the duo format and was trying anything to light a fire under him.
It appears that the time spent with The Raconteurs was the fire that he needed; Icky Thump sounds refreshed, vital, and true to the lineage that has made them one of America’s finest rock bands around.
It also sounds awesome, as in fidelity-wise; the album jumps out of the speakers and is full of dimension. The music is full of spectrum and depth and is one of the better sounding albums that I’ve heard in quite a while.
And Jack’s guitar tone has developed some personality as well. It fluctuates, suddenly, from a dirty vintage model to a trebly distorted freakout that’s as unique as some of those one-of-a-kind tones found on the Nuggets compilation.
After a while, the lack of versatility in his tone is kind of a hindrance; initially you’re drawn to it, only to feel like it’s overstaying its welcome after about the fourth time you’ve heard it. A wider selection of guitar tones would have been preferred, particularly after considering how many different genres that White touches upon throughout Icky Thump.
Thankfully, the album is sequenced in such a way that it actually feels like a proper album and, by design, those trainwrecks-of-a-styles seem tolerable and downright exciting.
After a few songs of incessant riffage, a cover of Patti Page’s “Conquest” appears with over-the-top mariachi horns that seem woefully out of place at first before you finally admit that it was a pretty clever maneuver. By the time Jack starts a guitar solo dual with the trumpet, it’s become one of your favorite tracks on the record.
As does the dumpster-diving anthem “Rag & Bone” which should bring a smile to anyone who’s ever lived in a college town (or any town that has a yearly city-wide clean up day) and remembers all of the slow moving vehicles eyeballing the mounds of discarded items piled up by the curb. It would always amaze me how small that mound got before the sanitation department came to take it away.
“The riff” is the common thread that holds Icky Thump together while also being the main point of infatuation. It’s a much better album than Get Behind Me Satan and one that rivals Elephant. The important thing for me is that it sounds like a move forward from those albums as well, which hopefully means that Jack White won’t feel constrained by the two-man format going forward. Even bands with double the line-up and similar inspirations (I’m looking at you Mooney Suzuki) would have a hard time coming up with an album as challenging, heavy, and fun as what Jack and Meg have managed with Icky Thump.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Saxon - Denim & Leather

For a brief moment in the early eighties, I became enamored with some of the bands within the category of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I stole Iron Maiden’s Maiden Japan from the local K-Mart, heeded the advice of a (literally) crazy ADHA kid named Steve Chambers who declared Judas Priest’s Unleashed In The East as one of the greatest albums ever made and, for reasons completely unknown, bought Saxon’s Denim & Leather album.
Saxon, as I discovered from looking at the back cover photo, were a quintet of some of the most ugly men ever to don instruments and rock the shit out of England.
The album received a lot of critical praise during that time and, from my own perspective, the praise was justified. Denim & Leather contains some memorable riffs and enough anthemic themes to please most fans of heavy metal.
The title track is a prime example of this, with its “we-accept-you-as-one-of-us” mantra (“Denim and leather/Brought us all together/It was you that set the spirit free”) while asking rhetorical questions as to why people enjoyed rocking out so much (the drums, the loud guitars, etc.).
Saxon also likes, in descending order, playing live on stage, motorcycles, chicks that keep them “satisfied,” and babes they remember from long ago.
Admittedly, the song lyrics are pretty dismal if you place too much thought in them. Take the song “Midnight Rider” which chronicles Saxon’s tour of the United States. If one follows the cities and states that the band plays according to the lyrics, then someone really should have let the band know that that their itinerary was completely fucked: they went from N.Y.C. to Portland, Maine to Niagra Falls to Canada, back down to Texas, to Nashville, to Chicago and then back down to Baton Rouge. From there, apparently, the tour ended.
But nobody puts lyrics at the top of the list when it comes to metal; it’s the riffage that draws us in. Denim & Leather contains some of the best riffing that came out of N.W.B.H.M., but unfortunately, Nigel Thomas’ production fails to provide Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn any real meat behind their guitar tones. Many of the riffs, as clever as they are, sound tinny and weak; had Thomas worked harder at filling out the sound, Denim & Leather may have been revered outside of the U.K. more than it was.
Of curious note, my vinyl copy of Denim & Leather took a noticeable drop in the volume level immediately after the guitar solo in “Princess Of The Night,” signally a pretty shitty mastering job for the album’s stateside release. I brought it over to a mutual metal friend at the time to see if he also heard it. He did, but he didn’t think it was as great as Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love. That album provided him with the incentive to move to Los Angeles, get inked, and start his own band before returning to Iowa and cooking for a local eatery.
Saxon, on the other hand, has continued on, primarily around Europe to fairly limited success. They stupidly went on a more commercial direction, alienating a lot of their fans in the process before finally returning back to their core sound and direction.
And their core sound is in fine form on Denim & Leather, despite the silly lyrics and weak production. It remains a strong example of one of Britain’s finest heavy metal albums and one of Saxon’s best offerings.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Meet Totale's #1 Fan: Suit And Tie Guy

For some reason, a review that I wrote for Glorious Noise several months ago really upset a guy from Chillicothe, IL. The review was for Andre Williams’ Aphrodisiac, a fairly lackluster effort that I did not enjoy. Rather than reprint the entire review, let’s cut to the chase and just state that I wasn’t very nice about it.
The guy, a thirty-year old gentleman with a penchant for “Hammond organizing” and screen names that unwittingly namecheck an old Dirty Rotten Imbeciles’ song. Initially, he voiced his displeasure with an obligatory comment:

“Nice elitist review there, dickhead.
It so fucking happens that the Midwest and integrated bands cultivated groove jazz and your racist insinuation that the Diplomats lack credibility because they are white and from Iowa is completely uncalled for.
Also by mentioning "Booker T" because an organ happens to be present you demonstrate your lack of experience with the genre. You would probably use the term "Stockhausen" in a review of a Tangerine Dream album.”

And here’s my initial attempt at a restrained, yet swarmy reply:
“The Diplomats lack credibility may be because of their past. I'm hard pressed to understand why a band, whos members hail from over two decades worth of power pop/garage rock, can suddenly transform themselves into a "groove jazz" outfit and not expect to sound a little contrived. The fact remains that Aphrodisiac is a weak album with little inspiration on anyone's part who participated in it.And before you start being assumptive about my experience with the genre, why does nearly every article on the Diplomats (including their own press) list Booker T as an influence? Have 'em list some deeper catalog if you don't like the reference.And most of my Tangerine Dream reviews would probably read: "In der Kürze liegt die Würze."Nice D.R.I. reference too; I loved Dealing With It.”

As you can guess, Suit And Tie guy really took offense that I didn’t like Aphrodisiac and took even more offense that I poked fun at The Diplomats’ ethnicity (white) and their point of origin (Iowa). Here is the line that apparently made Suit And Tie Guy lose some sleep: “Williams teams up with The Diplomats of Solid Sound, a collective of Iowa music veterans with a penchant for Booker T & The MG-styled rhythm and blues. The results are what you would expect from a band of white guys from Iowa that have a Hammond Organ at their disposal.”

It bothered him so much that, over three months later, he posted the following on his own Live Journal site, strangely revisiting the Andre Williams review with a short piece I did here when I heard that Tony Wilson had cancer.
From Suit And Tie Guy’s Livejournal:

“white guys can't groove but joy division were gods.huh? check out what this music journalist blogger has to say about Tony Wilson's cancer:"One of these days, I'm going to get around to writing that massive undertaking of how fucking brilliant Joy Division were to me.And I just want Tony to be around to read it."this is the same twat that wrote this review, just in case you're wondering what I’m on about. this man is a racist who thinks that white men from Iowa can't play soul jazz, because they're white and from Iowa*:
*despite the fact that soul jazz is inherently a Midwestern, integrated music. “

Additionally, after posting on his own LiveJournal site, he visited here and decided to comment on the Tony Wilson post:

“I genuinely hope that Tony Wilson is kept alive just to read your brilliant prose. maybe your unwritten treatise on the glory of Joy Division could CURE CANCER!!!I'm doing an organ rental in your hometown on June 30th. why don't you come out, let me buy you a drink, and you can tell the Diplomats to their face what shit soul musicians you think they are, considering they're a bunch of white dudes.”

So as an elitist dickhead twat, I feel obligated to explain a few things. First of all, I was asked to do the Andre Williams review and, to be completely honest, was excited about it when I noticed that the Diplomats of Solid Sound were on it. The reason being: I’ve known head Diplomat Doug Roberson for over twenty years and thoroughly enjoyed his other musical endeavors. In fact, I didn’t mind D.S.S. when I saw them open for Wilco and didn’t mind some of the stuff I’ve heard from them while perusing around the internet.
When I first heard Aphrodisiac though, I was suddenly torn between reviewing an album that I disliked by a band fronted by a man that I respect very much.
I wrote what I believed and felt: that D.S.S., based in large part to the member’s individual lineage, didn’t have what it took to accurately translate themselves into a credible soul outfit.
So ultimately, I didn’t like the fucking album.
Rather than comment on why he disagreed, call me a name and then let the fucking issue drop, Suit And Tie Guy decided to carry on and creepily follow up and call me out again. The adult in me tells me to ignore my new drink-buying buddy from Chillicothe while my juvenilia encourages me to start a pointless online verbal volley with him.
A couple of minor points: Iowa City isn’t my hometown. My wife and I just had a baby, which means that I don’t get out much anymore (the kid’s formula is $25 a can, and with gas at $3/gallon, I can justify driving down to Iowa City to have a drink with a guy that refers to me as a “twat.” Plus, I get a strange vibe from you dude; The kind that really doesn’t think you’d want me to have a civil discussion with any member of D.S.S. about “soul jazz,” but would instead like to see some kind of physical confrontation.
Is that the way they settle things in Chillicothe, hoss?
I expect some shit to be thrown my way on the internet and I have no qualms about having you voice your opinions here, there, or on your own site. But the fact remains, and if I read your profile correctly, you’re like 30 years old, and you’re acting like I stood you up at the Homecoming dance.
You don’t like my shit? Fine. Make your funny and go on about tinkling your ivories. It’s a fucking blog; there’s like a million of ‘em out there, each one with their own opinions. Perhaps there’s a few of ‘em that may enjoy being called a twat.
And yes, that’s a picture of the Suit And Tie Guy that I gleaned from his website without permission. Yes, it’s same dude that called me a racist.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Paul McCartney: Backwards Traveler

And where do I start about Paul McCartney, the cute Beatle that turns 65 today? Probably at the same place where everybody starts with him: disappointment.
There was a time when I didn’t know any better. It was around the time of “Uncle Albert,” the three lp set called Wings Over America, “Listen To What The Man Said,” “With A Little Luck,” and Venus And Mars. There were some stickers included in that album, and I promptly placed them on the wall of my closet rather than save them. What did you expect; I was eleven years old.
Interesting (or probably not) sidenote: I used to work with an older woman who knew the entire words to McCartney’s “Magneto And Titanium Man” and she would break into it whenever provoked.
The point is: with all of these albums and singles I was transfixed with Paul McCartney, perhaps more so than the other Beatles. After all, Lennon was (at that time) a house-husband, Ringo released some fairly shitty albums, and Harrison always put that weird blue dude in the gatefolds of his albums.
So I was stuck with the melodic perfection of Paul McCartney and, I suppose, that’s not a bad place to be when you’re a kid.
“Listen To What The Man Said” always reminds me of Okoboji; it was a hit on the drive up to the lake and was on the jukebox to in the club house.
“With A Little Luck” reminds me of Meister Music, the hometown music store where I bought it. They had a bunch of 45s in between the sheet music and lubricating oils.
McCartney II reminds me of Bedford, Iowa, at the electronics store where I bought it while visiting my Grandparents.
Back To The Egg reminds me of why I stopped spending my allowance money on Paul McCartney albums.
It’s been over a quarter-century since that realization and I’m strangely finding myself drawn to McCartney’s latest album Memory Almost Full. It’s got the offbeat sensibilities that McCartney II had but with better songs.
Maybe Paul has finally given up on trying to compete with the sales totals of other peer superstars like Rod Stewart and…well….I think Rod’s probably the only other peer that consistently seems to unload a gold or platinum album on each release.
Which is a shame, because Stewart’s always been notorious for wasting his talents while McCartney seems to have finally noticed that he needs to be paying closer attention to his.
He’s completed a fairly strange label move over to Starbuck’s label and is utilizing their marketing plan to better reach his core audience: latte drinking crackers who like the tunes being cranked out of the store’s PA while their waiting on their caffeine.
I don’t fault him for trying this approach and there’s nothing on Memory Almost Full that screams “hit record” and Paul doesn’t sound too concerned about it either. Which may explain why I like it so much, and am able to see how much my own tastes in music has changed since I last remember liking a Paul McCartney album
Paul’s 65 now. So you can stop with all the “When I’m Sixty Four” references now.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Monterey Pop Festival

Another milestone anniversary today: the Monterey Pop Festival began on June 16, 1967 in Monterey, California. This may have been the first rock festival as it predated Woodstock by a couple of years and practically equals it in available talent.
Check out the line-up:

Friday, June 16
• The Association
• The Paupers
• Lou Rawls
• Beverly
• Johnny Rivers
• The Animals
• Simon and Garfunkel
Saturday, June 17
• Canned Heat
• Big Brother & The Holding Company
• Country Joe and The Fish
• Al Kooper
• The Butterfield Blues Band
• Quicksilver Messenger Service
• Steve Miller Band
• The Electric Flag
• Moby Grape
• Hugh Masekela
• The Byrds
• Laura Nyro
• Jefferson Airplane
• Booker T and The MG's
• Otis Redding
Sunday, June 18
• Ravi Shankar
• The Blues Project
• Big Brother & The Holding Company
• The Group With No Name
• Buffalo Springfield
• The Who
• Grateful Dead
• The Jimi Hendrix Experience
• Scott McKenzie
• The Mamas & The Papas

Ok, so ending out the festival with Scott McKenzie and The Mamas & The Papas seems a tad underwhelming and the first day seems a little weak with the exception of Simon & Garfunkel (keep in mind, even The Animals weren’t the original line-up, but Eric Burdon’s piece of shit hippy line-up that penned and performed the utterly stupid hit “Monterey,” based on the show). But the rest of Sunday (love that Who/Dead/Hendrix spot!) looks awesome as does the Saturday night show.
But the thing that makes the Monterey Pop Festival even better is the fact that it only cost a buck to get in.
It makes you want to go back in time…

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Brad Delp

I never wrote about Brad Delp’s suicide because I didn’t think it was my place to. To put it another way: I was so burned on anything Boston that I feared my words would sound insincere.
In some kind of silent memorial to him, I finally purchased Boston’s first album. In the thirty years since it was released, I’d only made a very primitive copy of it (by placing a cassette recorder against one speaker of a fairly pathetic portable record player) and I’d never actually owned a Boston album.
Many friends did own their debut or the follow-up Don’t Look Back but I don’t recall ever hearing either one getting played, probably because nearly every fucking song on those first two albums received constant airplay on A.O.R. radio stations.
I was actually working in radio at the time Third Stage was finally released. I was curious as to what it sounded like, but not to the point where some were fanatical about it. Seriously: the Program Director actually put a handwritten note on the album informing all airstaff members that they could only play one track from Third Stage per airshift. I listened to it, determined it was a piece of shit, and played Tommy Bolin’s “Post Toastee” instead.
Incessant airplay aside, there should be no question about Delp’s enormous talents and critical importance to the formula that was Boston’s textured studio-induced rock. While Tom Scholz seemed hellbent on perfection and countless takes to achieve it, Delp had such a gift that he rarely needed multiple takes to get Scholz’s desired results.
Brad Delp was born on June 12, 1951.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Calling All Astral Flyers

The entire debate about Sgt. Pepper’s is somewhat hilarious since there are so many examples of that album’s far reaching influence that, around every corner it seems, comes another milestone that shines more light on its relevance.
Forty years ago today, Marc Bolan decided to leave the comforts of the band John’s Children and placed an ad in Melody Maker magazine. There’s a good probability that Pepper’s far reaching scope prompted him to consider that in order for him to achieve his own vision, he would have to set out on his own.
The actual classified read as follows:
“Freaky lead guitarist, bass guitarist and drummer wanted for Marc Bolan’s new group. Also any other astral flyers like with cars, amplification and that which never grows in window boxes.”
Ironically, Bolan (who’d never owned a guitar before joining John’s Children) must have had second thoughts about the “amplification,” choosing to pursue an acoustic approach with his new project.
Percussionist Steve Took answered the ad and joined with Bolan under the moniker Tyrannosaurus Rex. The duo released their debut album My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars On Their Brows later on that same year.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Howlin' Wolf

Chester Burnett, known to the rest of us as Howlin Fucking Wolf was born on this day in 1910. The Wolf is perhaps my favorite blues artist of all time and was one of the first artists of any genre that completely scared the bejesus out of me as a child.
My Father owned a copy of Moanin’ In The Moonlight and, based entirely on his name alone, I gave it a listen. Wolf’s voice was so visceral and abrasive that it was, and remains, heavier than most of the heavy metal albums ever released. I think I lasted one track before I put the album away.
It wasn’t until many years later, probably around the time I went to college and started to pay attention to those references that classic rock always seemed to acknowledge, when I started to examine Wolf’s body of work and appreciate the impact it had on rock and roll. Every time Wolf opens his mouth, it sounds like the epitome of a repressed Southern black man that’s ready to kick the shit out of his oppressor by means of his voice alone. And there are times in which he sounds like he can do it.
One of my favorite Wolf albums is The London Howlin Wolf Sessions, probably because it attempts (and succeeds) to bridge the gap between old school blues and the fans who were inspired by it to the point where they started down their own journey. Wolf is joined by such luminaries like Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Steve Winwood, and Eric Clapton. At one point, Wolf shows Clapton how to play a guitar part and Eric obediently listens to the master. Clapton tries to get Wolf to play on the track, but he’s too stubborn to consider Eric’s request.
Not only was Wolf’s voice intimidating, so was his stature; over six feet tall and over 300 pounds, he didn’t need any punk-ass English cracker telling him what to do.
But the best place to start with discovering the music of Howlin Wolf is with The Chess Box, three discs (reasonably priced too) filled with great, guttural blues classics that perfectly captures the essence of what made him such a legend.

Happy birthday, Wolf, you bad motherfucker.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rock & Roll Turns 56

That’s a picture of a 1949 Oldsmobile 88. Ike Turner had one, or at least, wanted to have one. In fact, Ike Turner liked the car so much that he wrote a song about it. The song was called “Rocket 88,” and if you’ve heard it, you’ve got to acknowledge that it’s pretty awesome.
“Rocket 88” is more than just an awesome song; it’s also the first rock and roll song ever recorded. So I guess if you didn’t like it, then there’s something wrong with you. Seriously.
And go fuck yourself if you consider “Rock Around The Clock” or “Jailhouse Rock” to be the first rock and roll song ever made.
Crackers didn’t make rock and roll; they just marketed it more effectively.
The fact that Ike Turner wrote “Rocket 88” doesn’t make it right that he laid into Tina, but it may provide some insight into why he would even consider hitting a woman.
Maybe the fact that he may be the person responsible for “inventing” rock and roll and some white hillbilly is the one who often gets credit for it, might have been enough to turn Ike Turner into a bitterly stupid wife beater.
The good news is that when you listen to “Rocket 88,” you don’t think about Ike Turner, beating up women, or if the artist is black or white.
When you listen to it, you just think it’s a killer rock and roll song about a badass car.
“Rocket 88” was recorded by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee on March 5, 1951 and reached #1 on the rhythm and blues charts on this day, June 8th, some fifty-six years ago.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Babyshambles - Down In Albion

If there’s anything that could completely dismantle the notion that Pete Doherty is a legitimate artist, then Babyshambles Down In Albion is it. There’s little in it that points to any hint of creativity, talent, or musicianship. Instead, it sounds like a professionally recorded demo tape of a bunch of junkies trying to keep from nodding off before the end of the take. Indeed, reading about Doherty’s exploits in the tabloids is ten times more exciting than the material presented here.
Seriously: it’s so frighteningly bad that everyone should take a reprieve from even thinking about Doherty and avoid covering his activities, no matter how unbelievably stupid they may be.
Notes barely get played, phrases get slurred, and tempos are sporadic; even if Down In Albion is intended as some kind of clever statement on junkiedom, it fails to consider the sad truth that most junkies (and drunks, for that matter) are pretty boring individuals to be around, let alone listen to.
Not only does Down In Albion effectively place Pete Doherty is the nearly irrelevant category, it’s so unbelievably awful that it almost makes you forget that producer Mick Jones was once an important creative element of The Clash. Actually, there’s no hint of “production” at all; Babyshambles are allowed to waste precious tape with half-baked song fragments and loose ideas that any normal producer would have thrown out before hitting the record button.
Totaling out at 16 tracks, you lose interest well before the halfway point. And if you’re curious about which songs out of the sixteen are, at least, decent, then you’d be surprised to learn that one, that’s right, one song is fairly good. The perfectly decadent “Fuck Forever” serves as the veritable theme for the entire album as well as an anthem for junkies everywhere.
A few other tracks (“Albion,” “Pipedown,” “Loyalty Song”) stumble through completion, while the rest are the equivalent of watching the snow on an old analog television with a coat hanger for an antenna.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tom Evans

If there ever was a band that seemed to be unfairly cursed, it would have to be Badfinger. They were a band of enormous talent and potential, only to be doomed with poor management deals and pointless side-issues that distracted the members from making some of the best power pop music known to man.
They signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records, they were provided with their first hit single courtesy of Paul McCartney, they shared the stage for The Concert For Bangla Desh, and they seemed poised to become the legitimate heirs to the The Beatles.
It all came crashing down on April 24, 1975 when Badfinger leader Pete Ham hung himself in the garage of his London home.
Tom Evans, Ham’s bandmate was born 60 years ago today. He helped Pete co-write one of the band’s most well known tracks, “Without You” (later covered by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey) and was tapped by McCartney himself to sing lead on “Come And Get It.”
After Ham’s suicide, Tom Evans and Joey Molland decided to restart Badfinger as a duo.
My Dad, knowing that I liked Badfinger, got me one of these “comeback” album for Christmas one year. Airwaves sounded nothing like the Badfinger of old and the band was quickly dropped by Elektra records.
Strangely, the band signed to another label and attempted one more follow up in 1981. After it became clear that the band wouldn’t regain the heights of the early 70’s, Tom Evans split with Joey Molland and the two started separate versions of Badfinger.
The two never were able to regain their friendship; Molland argued with Evans concerning the royalties of “Without You” (a song that Molland had little creative input on) and it prompted the already financially strapped Evans to go in his own backyard and hang himself from a tree.
Molland continued on using the Badfinger name and toured around the Midwest during the summer to take advantage of the fair and festival circuit. They (or he, in this case) played around the Southeast Iowa area a few times to little attendance; it seemed that Molland was a little tipsy and trying to take advantage of the name during a time when Ryko was releasing a live Badfinger album.
The death of Tom Evans is an eerie event. Both he and Ham were caught in the middle of financial disputes and both used hanging as methods on which they left the planet. I don’t remember the slightest mention of Evans’ death in 1983 but I remember specifically thinking how crazy it was once I did read about that half….HALF of the band Badfinger killed themselves via hanging.
How crazy is that?
And how crazy is it that they’re not revered today as much as they should be. After all, any band that had access to The Beatles’ inner circle couldn’t be all that bad.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 40 Years Later

Below is the Beatles article that was published yesterday in Glorious Noise. I suppose that a lot of my support of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band comes from the fact that it was one of the first albums I ever listened to repeatedly. Our family lived in a small town in Shenandoah, Iowa. It's the same place that the Everly Brothers got their start, in case you're wondering. In my room, I had a hand-me-down portable record player, several dozen 45s, and about 4 or 5 albums. All of this music was my parent's but it somehow found its way into my bedroom; Mom and Dad had an 8-track stereo strategically located high on the fireplace mantle, well out of my reach. Half of the albums that I had were by The Beatles and a strong argument that I learned how to talk with the help of Meet The Beatles, Beatles VI, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. In those days (I would have been three) I was drawn to Sgt. Pepper more because of it's unusual sounds and whimsical imagery, which seemed perfectly logical to the mind of a toddler. 40 years later, there's a lot more press celebrating its release, but I've also noticed a lot more criticism of it from critics and fans alike. Most of the criticism and complaints, it seems, has the luxury of 40 years of progression that was, ironically, initiated with the release of this landmark album. Here's the article from Glorious Noise:
It was forty years ago today that The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and changed the face of pop and rock music. In the time since then, the album has faced a tremendous amount of examination and its place in history has come under increased scrutiny and debate.
There are a growing number of music fans and critics that challenge Sgt. Pepper’s rank as not only the definitive statement of the Beatles, but the notion that the album is ground zero for conceptual pop/rock music; the building block of anything that strives to be more important than perhaps the original intent of the genre allowed it to be.
I wholeheartedly agree that there are indeed better albums to be found among The Beatles’ catalog, but I am not ready to distance myself from the fact that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band remains not only as the first album new fab four converts should acquire after discovering them, but it’s also…and still…the greatest rock and roll album of all time.
And that smug little part of your brain that made you want to automatically argue with me is, in fact, the direct result of Sgt. Pepper itself.
There is some truth that the album doesn’t contain some of the band’s best individual contributions. Sgt. Pepper is obviously Paul’s baby: out of the twelve tracks, over half are McCartney’s and it’s been well documented that he’s responsible for the overall “concept” of Sgt. Pepper. It is, admittedly, a very loose concept that doesn’t go much beyond the title track, the bookending reprise, and the alter ego cover art depictions. Don’t go trying to find additional threads to tie things together; consider what happened to Robert Stigwood when he tried to make a screenplay out the Sgt. Pepper theme in 1978.
It’s also true that some of the material from Sgt. Pepper isn’t on par with the band’s more acknowledged classics. I mean, “When I’m Sixty Four” ain’t no “Hey Jude.” (Hell, Paul wrote the thing when he was fucking sixteen, so how could it be better?) Lennon’s “Good Morning, Good Morning” isn’t on par with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and even “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite was completely ripped from a turn of the century circus poster.
At the same time, “A Day In The Life,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “Within Without You” are perhaps three of the greatest Beatle songs ever, with the lyrics effortlessly matching the wide-eyed production strategies.
But then again, Sgt. Pepper isn’t about the lyrics, is it? It’s about how the trainwreck-on-paper of sequencing “When I’m Sixty Four” after “Within Without You” somehow works, how the strings of “She’s Leaving Home” manages to turn a sappy tale of a teenage runaway into high drama, and how 24 measures of orchestral crescendo ended up becoming the greatest album closer ever.
The attention is in details like this, and it’s obvious that the band spent a lot of time with George Martin working on those details between December 6, 1966 and April 1, 1967. With the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds clearly used as a reference point and Pink Floyd’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn its schizophrenic doppelganger (that was, literally, down the halls from them while they were recording), Sgt. Pepper surpasses both in terms of scope, passion and relevance.
It’s not my place to debate what I feel is the best Beatles album (if you want to, I’m choosing Rubber Soul), but I do feel the need to support the album that is, like it or not, the clear pinnacle of the band’s achievement. Meet The Beatles (or With The Beatles for you picky Anglophiles) may have matched Sgt. Pepper in terms of popularity and influence, but it didn’t change the perception that (for better or worse) rock music was actually a legitimate form of art. Until that point, there was always a certain amount of pomposity towards rock and roll. Sgt. Pepper touched on so many different genres, and did so quite effortlessly, that it forced the arrogant to reconsider rock’s place and consider it as more than just fodder for uncultured teenagers.
All of this, it seems, has been thrown out fairly recently, in favor of some tired 13th generation “kill your idols” bullshit that seems to attribute Sgt Pepper’s continued praise with some baby-boomer conspiracy theory.
One of the leading proponents of this movement is Jim DeRogatis, who compiled a book a few years ago that attempted to “reconsider the classics.” The book lobbied a long deserved rebuttal against the tired old rock critics that continually cite the same old classic albums that seemed to appear every time an obligatory list of the greatest records of all time was created.
DeRogatis contributed to the festivities by focusing his ire on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Jim, who’s three years older than me, uses boomer nostalgia as a main focal point of his argument. I could give two shits about how boomers perceive themselves, their generation, and the albums that they communally namecheck. Whatever they want to deem as their generational soundtrack is up to them. All I know is that on June 1, 1967, the greatest rock and roll band in history released the greatest album ever recorded.
DeRogatis goes on to take a couple of shots at the lyrics (a deficiency that I’ve mentioned), but then goes a step further by suggesting that the underlying theme of Sgt Pepper, essentially, is to “embrace the past” and to “celebrate the values of your parents.” Never mind the fact that most people start to do this even without the help of The Beatles, the key that Jim misses is that the theme is four young men acknowledging the myriad of influences they encountered growing up. The impressive thing is how they attempted to reproduce these references as honestly as they could within the confines of a forty minute long player.
Whether it’s Indian music, whimsical psychedelia, classical music, theatrical pieces, whatever; The Beatles seemed content with coming up with a final product that’s both commercial, challenging, and stunningly original.
The nostalgia argument is even funnier coming from DeRogatis, an admitted Wilco and Flaming Lips fans, two bands that are completely devoted to nostalgia. Seriously: Wayne Coyne owes his entire career to the record collection of his older brother and I’m willing to bet DeRogatis gets a boner for the majority of the titles that the “cutting edge” writers in Kill Your Idols attempt to deflate.
Like I said before, it was Sgt. Pepper that actually provided people with the idea that there was a market for rock and roll criticism to begin with. Looking for a publication solely devoted to rock music before Pepper? Good luck; they didn’t exist. But look at the periodical landscape after Sgt. Pepper and you’ll notice a hell of a lot of magazines devoted to the coverage and criticism of rock music. It appears that a lot of people enjoyed talking about how awesome Sgt. Pepper was and decided to continue to do it with other albums and artists.
So how ironic is it that the very format spawned by the Beatles’ eighth album later turned to hungrily cannibalize it. And for what? Essentially because a few record geeks, cooler than you and I, collectively displayed their bitterness that Sgt. Pepper again ranked higher than their beloved Odessey And Oracle?
At the risk of sounding like that clichéd “there’s a reason why they call it classic rock” line there’s a reason why Sgt. Pepper continues to place high on those “greatest albums of all times” lists:
Because it fucking rules.
It’s easy to forget this, and with each passing year the argument to keep the album in high regard gets even more difficult. We’re seeing new generations without any idea who The Beatles were, let alone their contributions. Yet we continue to hear their influence every time some unsigned band takes advantage of ProTools’ unlimited recording tracks or whenever a band considers a string quartet for their own magnum opus.
There will always be a little piece of that Lonely Hearts Club band, but time, technology and cynicism are doing their part at trying to dismantle the album’s relevance.
But listen to it again, closely, within context, and you’ll hear it’s true: Sgt. Pepper not only taught the band to play, he taught them to play beyond their own abilities.

This article originally appeared in Glorious Noise