Listen to this track by former TV band turned actual real life band featured in their own movie, The Monkees. It’s “Porpoise Song”, a 1968 single also to be heard on the soundtrack to the movie Head. The film was directed by The Monkees TV series creator and director Bob Rafaelson who would go on to direct many films into the 1970s, including Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson, who in turn would serve as a screeenwriter on Head. The Monkees TV producer Bert Schneider would also produce the feature. The gang was all here.
In addition to the filmmaking aspect of the project, The Monkees had other allies on this tune, with whom they had a healthy and fruitful relationship; Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who had written a number of other songs in their catalogue, including a hit song in “Pleasant Valley Sunday“. That was during the era in which the band were beamed into living rooms all over the nation. Since that period, they’d cut loose the bonds of their former personas as lovable TV goofs. They had established their own path as a real band without the fuel of a hit TV show to propel them onto the charts.
And yet, with “Porpoise Song” and with Head, that former life was still referenced, although in a more satirical light — or maybe as a way to decompress from it and make their escape once and for all. The results were, perhaps, not as they’d thought. Continue reading
Listen to this track by Hamilton based and cinematically monikered pop-psych collective led by one Bill Majoros, The Foreign Films. It’s “Empire Of Night”, a key track as taken from the third side of the upcoming full length album, The Record Collector, due in early 2016.
Majoros’ interest in a wide spectrum of pop music is well documented with his work under The Foreign Films banner. This was initially apparent with 2007’s double album Distant Star. It continued to develop in the ensuing years, with various singles and EPs that revealed a love of all kinds of pop music that certainly included British psych and sixties guitar music. But, it also included girl group pop and classic soul music too. The key to Majoros’ success has always been about translating a passion and enthusiasm for these strains of music into something integrated and new.
Working with a number of musicians, including singer-songwriter Kori Pop who is featured in lead vocal spots through out, Majoros describes himself as being akin to a musical mad scientist, with the creation of the new record being less about simply getting the songs down on tape, and more like that of musical alchemic process, mixing elements together as contributed by everyone he works with and awaiting the x-factor for each song for them to become what they need to be. Continue reading
Listen to this track by first tier of second wave ska outfits The Specials. It’s “Too Much Too Young” as featured on their 1980 EP of the same name. It was released in January of that year, quick to follow up their self-titled record that preceded it in October.
This song was featured on that release as well, with a slightly slower and more languid tempo. With this version, recorded live in front of an audience at the Lyceum in London, the song is amped up in every way, full of the kind of on-stage energy for which the band were known by this time, clocking in at just over two minutes. The result was a number one showing on the UK singles chart in February, being the shortest song in the UK to hit a number one spot during that decade.
As with much of their material, The Specials drew inspiration from the Trojan label and the music associated with it coming out of Jamaica in the mid-to-late sixties. Head writer Jerry Dammers based this song around some elements that can be found on the 1969 single by Lloyd Charmers “Birth Control“, adding a bit of contemporary content of his own in this new track that took some of the themes of the original, and put something of a political spin on the proceedings in so doing. So, how does a jaunty ska track become so political? Continue reading
Listen to this track by up-and-coming Melburnian singer-songwriter and leftie guitar slinger Courtney Barnett. It’s “Pedestrian At Best”, a single off her 2015 full-length debut record entitled Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. This is a live version as featured on a Guardian session, recorded in Shoreditch in London.
This new record was built upon the momentum Barnett created from two previous EPs, another band in Immigrant Union, lots of live appearances as solo act, and on a developing style that matches stream-of-consciousness narratives with tons (make that the more Antipodean heaps) of wattage on top. Her song “Avant Gardener” from her 2013 EP How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose as put out by her own Milk! label won the praises of Pitchfork as best new track that year. This new album scored a solid 8.6 rating from the Pitchforkers, almost as if it really, really got to them. Plus, there have been several mentions of musical goodliness from the usual suspects by now; Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Guardian, NME, and beyond.
With every new artist that makes a splash like this, comparisons with those artists who have similarly blazed the trails of their times are unavoidable. You can choose your own here. But, my immediate reaction is that no one in recent memory has started where Courtney Barnett starts with on this tune, and on the record in general. Where you certainly can make those comparisons to what is happening on this song, somehow they are hollow when you try to impose them. This tune is bigger than all that, and so I suspect is Courtney Barnett.
Listen to this track by laptop-totin’ Oxfordian rock quintet and era-defining post-rock flirters Radiohead. It’s “The National Anthem”, a deep cut off of their 2000 album that confounded many a music reviewer, Kid A.
That album was the follow up to their 1997 album OK Computer, a work that stirred up the stagnant waters of the rock scene in Britain as Brit-Pop was beginning to become somewhat bent with age. But as it turned out, Radiohead had not arrived with that record in terms of their ambition as a musical unit. They were on their way upward and inward to the degree that when this new album Kid A emerged, it was not just in the public eye because it was so long-awaited. It was a bona fide news story.
Before its release, it was rumoured that there were no guitars to be found on the new record! It was an electronic record full of bleeps and blips instead! Judas! Even today, 15 years (!) later, there continues to be a misconception that Radiohead abandoned six-stringed noisemakers completely on this record. They hadn’t. There’s plenty of guitar on this album. There just aren’t any solos or prominent riffs. There are other textures that simply took precedence on some tracks. With this one, it was beats and synthesized washes of sound, plus brass, of all things. Radiohead had changed their gameplan.
But, what they hadn’t changed was their interest in the direction culture was headed, especially on a newly dawning century. If we listeners were all distracted by how different the sound of the album was compared to what they’d come up with before, then on first listen, we may have missed what had stayed the same, coded into the music; a mistrust and fear of where the future was taking us, and the tenuous threads on which civilization itself hangs. Continue reading
Listen to this track by boundary-pushing jazz trumpeter and genre-defying sonic visionary Miles Davis. It’s “Shhh/Peaceful”, the first track and indeed whole of side-A on his 1969 landmark release In A Silent Way.
The album gathered some of the greatest jazz musicians of the day into one space, with the music recorded during a single session on February 18, 1969, after almost a year on Davis’ part of working up ideas, and experimenting with new textures and instrumentation. Joining jazz luminaries like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Chick Corea, were European jazz players including bassist Dave Holland, Joe Zawinul on organ, and electric guitarist John McLaughlin.
Besides Davis’ creative vision supported by producer and engineer Teo Macero, perhaps it was this cross-cultural exchange that helped to move this project into another dimension. Likely too it was the addition of electric instruments that made this record the harbinger of Davis’ foray into what would become known as jazz fusion, wherein he would employ electric wattage to his instrumental excursions that paid no mind to traditional melodic frameworks, making critics wonder if Miles Davis was even interested in jazz any longer.
But, when it came to the critics, this piece of music, and In A Silent Way in general, much of it stemmed from a significant paradigm shift when it came to how jazz was understood, and that which was very common in the recording of rock music at the time; studio trickery undertaken after the musicians went home. Continue reading
Listen to this track by turntablist poster boy and instrumental hip hop auteur DJ Shadow. It’s “Midnight In A Perfect World”, a single as taken from the seminal record released in the fall of 1996 that kicked off a genre, Endtroducing. That record garnered near universal praise across the critical spectrum at the time, noted as much for its technical achievements as it was for the eerie and evocative atmospheres for which it is now known.
The album was created solely by its author, fuelled by raiding a local record store, Rare Records in Sacramento, in between work on the tracks, including this one. The cover of the album is pretty true to how it was made, searching the racks for grooves and textures, and then carrying them by the armful back home to be repositioned and transformed into a work that would establish a career and reputation for DJ Shadow, born Joshua Evans. The tools he had to hand to create this song were a sampler, a turntable, and a tape recorder. They were enough to garner not only rave reviews and sales, but also a Guinness World Book of Records entry for first album to be comprised solely of samples.
In an age before Garage Band, this was a neat trick. But, this song and the rest of the album is far, far more than an amazing technical feat, although it certainly is that. It was the beginning of a new paradigm that generated all kinds of discussions about something in pop music that is rarely considered; context and how it relates to the way we hear the music within one, as well as the nature of what it is to “write” a song in the first place. Continue reading