Listen to this track by Scottish dance rock proponents and musical genre crossover adventurers Primal Scream. It’s “Loaded”, a hit song as taken from their seminal 1991record Screamadelica. The single was released in February 1990, over a year before the full album came out.
The song would be something of an anthem to the dance scenes all over Britain on its release, with a dash of ’60s iconoclast ingredients worked into its fabric. There are certainly musical ingredients to be found in what was once a humble remix that most assuredly helped to turn it into a hit single.
One of the defining elements to the song of course is the use of audio clips from the 1966 film The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda as a hard-riding member of a motorcycle gang, and a guy who knows what he wants to do; to be free, to get loaded, have a good time, to have a party.
Some themes never get old.
And beyond that, it certainly spoke to the burgeoning acid house scene at the same time. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter and musical-family bred chanteuse Martha Wainwright. It’s “Proserpina”, the last song written by her singer-songwriter mother, Kate McGarrigle in the year that Martha became a mother herself.
Martha Wainwright has an established musical pedigree. She’s a part of a celebrated musical family which includes brother and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, and mother Kate McGarrigle of Kate & Anna McGarrigle fame. Anna is her aunt, of course. And her father, and singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, who had split with Kate when Martha was an infant, had been touted as one of the many so-called New Dylan figures to emerge in the 1970s.
Come Home To Mama is a tribute to these generational roots, in particular with regard to her mother. Kate McGarrigle passed away in 2010, not before writing a stunning song “Proserpina”, which Martha covers on this new record. The song serves as a single, and as a reminder of the connection between strong women who happen to be mother and daughter.
At practically the same time as she lost Kate, Wainwright became a mother herself. You might be able to guess where the fuel to write the songs may have come from. So how does this song relate to the role of motherhood, not just on a personal level for Martha Wainwright, but in general?
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Listen to this track by twin Velvet Underground founders and former Andy Warhol musical interests Lou Reed and John Cale. It’s “Hello It’s Me” as taken from the 1990 album Songs For Drella, a concept album about the aforementioned Warhol, in part as a way of saying goodbye.
Warhol had died in 1987 after a gall bladder operation. And in that time, some distance had grown between him and two of those who had been taken under his artistic wing in the late 1960s. The Velvet Underground was a project of Warhol’s as much as it was Reed’s and Cale’s. It was under Warhol’s mentorship that the band initially established their presence.
This record is a musical journey of a life, tracing Andy’s origins in Pittsburgh, to his rise to fame as a pop art mover in New York City, to the assassination attempt on him, to his founding of Interview magazine, and to his latter years.
Perhaps this song, which is the closer to the set, is the most overt goodbye there is from two men who had known Warhol best, and not without a significant amount of guilt, too
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Listen to this track by Atlantic criss-crossing rockabilly revivalist trio The Stray Cats. It’s “Rock This Town”, their 1981 single as taken off of their debut record The Stray Cats. It would appear again the next year on the US-released Built For Speed album, which EMI released in North America on the strength of that earlier UK record.
The band was from Long island, forming on the New York scene playing both Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, with those scenes being breeding grounds for all kinds of “back to basics” approaches, even if the Stray Cats went back further than most. It was the enduring Ted scene in Britain that lured them across the pond, where they would eventually record their initial two albums, and this single with Rockpile’s Dave Edmunds as producer, himself known for his love of the Sun Records sound.
The single eventually hit top ten in the US and here in Canada, too. But how? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter-satirist with a jaundiced eye Warren Zevon. It’s “Werewolves of London”, his biggest hit off of his best-selling record to date, Excitable Boy from 1978. The song was written with sought-after session guitarist Waddy Wachtel, with the record (and the rest of the album) produced by fellow singer-songwriter Jackson Browne.
Like Browne, Zevon was on the scene in Los Angeles by the 1970s, moving in some of the same circles. But, unlike Browne, Zevon’s impact on the mainstream charts was not quite as ubiquitous, that is until this song helped him to move up in stature with a top 40 hit. But, despite having a hit, the song still reflects Zevon’s approach, that being slightly bent and left of center, with a broad streak of dark humour. His work has a satirical edge, certainly on display on songs like “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, also appearing on this same record.
So, what about this song which evokes the classic 1941 The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. (actually namechecked in this song!) while also being something of a comment on characters that are perhaps more contemporary? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by towering spiritual saxophonist and jazz immortal John Coltrane. It’s “Psalm”, the last movement in his 1965 magnum opus A Love Supreme.
The track, along with the rest of the record was recorded with what is now known as his classic quartet; Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums. With the almost psychic connection between these musicians, the whole record gels gloriously, coming to be what it was intended to be; a statement of ultimate gratitude by its author.
But, before the music was laid down on an album that is now considered to be Coltrane’s artistic pinnacle, it required one thing before it could be born: solitude. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by serial Mercury Prize nominee and envelope-pushing singer-songwriter PJ Harvey. It’s “Rid of Me”, the title track from her 1993 record Rid Of Me.
This song, and the record off of which it comes, forsaw a few trends that we would see in the ensuing years and decades; stripped down arrangements in a rock context, fusion of the blues with post-punk indie strains, and harshly autobiographical songwriting from the point of view of a woman, but without the wistfulness that is often associated with that dynamic. A good deal of this came from Harvey’s influences at the time. most notably Chicago blues, and specifically Howlin’ Wolf.
This ingredient is not unknown in the development of British rock music. This very same influence inspired a whole generation of bands, of course. But, Harvey’s approach to the blues wasn’t about hero worship or faithful renderings of existing recordings. She was able to do something that her contemporaries hadn’t really tried on the same scale; to include the blues, and to include herself as an author with an undeniable voice without being crowded out by it. That’s a tall order.
This is how I think she manages it.
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