Listen to this track by great American composer and supreme jazz immortal Duke Ellington. It’s “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo in Blue”, two compositions dating back to 1937 and re-positioned here from the band’s book (aka their catalogue of songs) on the 1956 “live” release Ellington At Newport.
This was a game-changing date for Ellington and his guys, and I put the quotation marks around the word live because it was pieced together after the fact, supplemented by studio recordings and with audience applause. Duke felt that the band wasn’t properly prepared for their appearance to the point that he felt it might not make for a good recording. He made the suggestion of a studio album and live album hybrid to paper over what he felt were some of the cracks. But, that’s not the big story here.
The big story is what happened to the real audience, and how it became a vital chapter in the career of one of the greatest American composers of all-time, actually ensuring his success for the remainder of his life – including a cover shot in Time Magazine.
Listen to this track by Mancunian post-punk trendsetters Joy Division. It’s “Transmission”, a single released in October of 1979 between their two sole albums as a seven inch on the Factory label. By the next year in December, it would be re-released as a twelve inch single, later to be celebrated in cover versions by bands from Low to Smashing Pumpkins, to Hot Chip.
By this time, the band had morphed from what they would describe themselves as an “undistinguished punk band” called Warsaw into one that would write a template for bands up until the present day. This would be a highlight in a small but vital body of work, cut short by the death of lead singer and lyricist Ian Curtis, himself something of an iconic figure for post-punk influenced acts, and certainly for frontmen looking beyond the standard shrill-voiced golden god variety.
Actually, this band would provide an example to succeeding ones in many ways beyond even that. They broke the rules of being a rock band. But more importantly, they wrote their own. (more…)
Listen to this track by Barking, Essex-based left-leaning jangle pop maestros McCarthy. It’s their 1986 single “Red Sleeping Beauty”, the harbinger for their first album that would appear the next year, I Am A Wallet.
The band put themselves across as a sort of politicized Smiths, with jangling guitars and lyrics that alluded to the cracks in the facade where mid-to-late ’80s Britain was concerned. They built their sound around the political lyrics of singer/guitarist Malcolm Eden, and the chiming folk-indie lines laid down by lead guitarist Tim Gane.
McCarthy formed in 1984, just before the height of the unemployment rash and miner’s strike in England, as well as the dismantling of the social safety net at the hands of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives. Despite their material being very concerned with those particular times, by the time this track came out on the Pink label, they didn’t get much radio play internationally, or even domestically, other than by way of the immortal champion of fringe indie bands John Peel, who hosted several of his famous sessions with McCarthy.
But, they would provide another service to music as a whole beyond their small but vital output by the end of the decade, even if at the time, they appeared not to make much impact. (more…)
Listen to this track by London-based trip-hopping downtempo trio with a feel for the blues Morcheeba. It’s “Part Of The Process”, a 1998 single from their second album Big Calm. The album was a breakthrough hit, scoring platinum sales in the UK, and respectable ones abroad as well.
The sound of the band is taken from various sources, emanating from each member of the group; singer Skye Edwards’ soul background, guitarist Ross Godfrey’s interest in the blues and psychedelia, and producer and lyricist Paul Godfrey, Ross’ brother, bringing in electronic and hip hop texture to the whole.
This song is a solid example of a more pop-oriented mainstream direction, designed to set them apart from a scene they felt would eventually be stuck in the era. Of course, then they were labeled “post-trip hop” by the press. But, they were making interesting music, with some unexpected ingredients and contrasts that are indispensable to each other. (more…)
It is a decade that is very often maligned by rock and classic pop fans, particularly those who followed some of the innovators of the form from the 1960s. The ’80s were pretty hard on the artists of that previous era. And why was that?
(image: Lawrence Whittemore)
It could be that the ’80s had become a producer’s decade, a time when digital technology ruled the roost over the warmth of analogue technology of decades previous. This not only affected the way the records sounded. It also affected how they were recorded, too. Further, the ’80s was the first decade in which youthful visages on a TV screen became inextricably linked to mainstream success, forcing many veterans to rethink their presentation, sometimes with not-so-great results in the wardrobe/dance-move department. Quite simply, there was a new generation of competitors for the (dollar) attention of the average music fan. The veteran artists themselves who had established the rules of popular music in the ’60s were in a new arena, with time having marched on in all kinds of ways.
Needless to say, it seems like a given to say that most iconic artists of the Love Generation didn’t have a very good decade in the age of the Rubik’s Cube, the 20-Minute Workout, and the fuschia legwarmer-headband combo, at least not in terms of their comparable output in each period. But, this is too simple to be true across the board. Through it all, some very good music was made, maybe against all odds. Some of it was because of the new technology and approach that the decade offered which opened up stylistic possibiities. Some of it was inspite of that technology, with the artists turning to their considerable artistic strengths and experience in the face of younger competitors and new fangled tools.
Either way, here are 10 moments in the careers of the masters in a decade that was otherwise unkind to members of their generation and sometimes to them personally, critically speaking.
Listen to this track by British songwriter and lost Macca-esque psychedelia creator John Bromley. It’s “So Many Things”, a 1969 song as taken from his sole album Sing. On that album, and on this song, he is backed by The Fleur De Lys, his labelmates at the time. That band in turn was something of a rearguard to the British Invasion, launching in 1964, but never quite reaching the heights of their fellow beat combos who’d made the trip across the Atlantic.
The Fleur De Lys had trolled the edges of the ’60s rock scene, with touches from Chas Chandler, Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate Records, and Jimmy Page who had produced one of their singles, “Moondreams”. As you can hear, their sound had morphed into a classic Beatlesque stew with not just a few Who references, with the band having once recorded Pete Townshend’s “Circles” in 1966.
Bromley was primarily a songwriter, penning tunes for singer Jackie DeShannon. By the end of the decade, he was encouraged by Polydor to collect some of his singles together, including this one, for a full length album – Sing. Appropriately, it’s Bromley’s voice that stands out here, with lyrics that touch on a very important ingredient to be found on a certain kind of psychedelia that was in it’s last phase by the time this song had been recorded.
Listen to this track by former Roxy Music member, producer, and ambient art rock forseer Brian Eno. It’s “St. Elmo’s Fire”, a song as featured on his landmark 1975 album Another Green World.
When not playing the songs on the album completely by himself, he is joined by some luminary musicians from the prog and art rock camp, including Robert Fripp (who plays the squiggly guitar break on this tune), John Cale, and Phil Collins of Genesis, one of the many bands to which Eno would lend his sought-after production skills.
Eno’s feel for texture in the producer’s seat would also inform this record, which was looked upon as a crossroads album away from rock songs, albeit ones with unexpected angles, and into a more experimental space where minimalist mood pieces were more central. This song is one of five out of fourteen that contains lyrics, for instance.
There is a lot of talk about experimentation when artists put out records that diverge from the pop song plot. But, the question in this case is, was the experiment a success? (more…)