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
Listen to this track by Dorchester Massachusetts indie-pop concern The Pernice Brothers. It’s “Working Girls”, the lead track off of their 2001 album World Won’t End, their second full-length record.
The record was released on their own label after a brief hiatus between this one and their debut, plus side projects from principle songwriter Joe Pernice. Previous to this band, Pernice and his brother Bob had been in alt-country band The Scud Mountain Boys. With this new fraternally monikered band formed in 1997, it’s the jangly sunshine of a mid-to-late sixties strain West Coast pop that is the primary set of colours to be heard.
With that sound established, the lyrical content of the tunes is less of the hopeful variety, and more in line with themes of quiet desperation. This song is one of the best examples of that tension between sunshiny music, and distinctly cloud-covered words. Who is the central character here, and what does this song have to say about her? Well, that she’s a dreamer in a dead end job, unable to remove herself from her course. How many people do we know like that? Perhaps none that will confide in us about their situations, or even admit it to themselves. Maybe we can relate to her more directly than we’d like to ourselves.
As such, maybe it’s not just this one person being sung about in this tune. And maybe too this isn’t just about being frustrated in one’s job, either. Continue reading
The cover version, as I’ve said so many times, should bring something new to the listener that they can’t get from the original. It’s a good general rule. There are perfunctory cover versions anyway, of course. And there are ones that you think couldn’t possibly work, and yet they do and sometimes gloriously so!
But, what of the cover version that seems to have been inevitable? What of the ones that appeared to have been waiting for the artist to take it in their arms and give it some sweet musical lovin’? I’m not talking about predictability here. No. I’m talking about that “of course!” factor; of course that artist recorded that song. It was made for them, even if they didn’t write it, or record it first!
Well, here are ten of those; songs that silently demanded that they be covered by the given artist, and that the artist framed the song in such a way as to bring out personality traits in it that weren’t obvious before, true to their own personalities and previous works. Some were big hits. Some were only minor entries into the charts. Some were little-known live versions or bonus tracks. But beside all those details, with each one comes the feeling to a listener that a sense of resolution has been revealed, that because each of these cover versions exist, finally the cosmic tumblers have fallen into place. Proceed!
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Listen to this track by emotive pop song chart bothering duo from Bath England, Tears For Fears. It’s “The Working Hour”, a deep cut off of the otherwise hit single-laden 1985 album Songs From The Big Chair. That album was the much-awaited follow-up to their modestly successful debut record The Hurting from two years previous, with this new record being their breakthrough into the mainstream and outside of their alternative fanbase.
The songs on the album showed some of the same lyrical and musical DNA from their début. But, with this follow-up their sound seemed to be on a larger scale. If The Hurting was a precisely realized and eloquent little indie film, then Songs From The Big Chair had the sheen of a major studio, still dealing in similar themes of inner turmoil and alienation, but doing so with a bit more gloss. Hit singles “Shout”, “Head Over Heels”, and particularly “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” were ready for the red carpet, contrasted to their previous singles that were too emotionally insular to fit that kind of overt mainstream fanfare.
This had more to do with the tone of each release than it did with quality. As a major fan of The Hurting, even I noticed that, and was OK with it. Maybe that’s in part because of this song, “The Working Hour” that is one of the songs on the record that best bridges the gap between the moody and contemplative pop outfit they’d been, and the anthemic stadia-ready band they were seeking to become. Continue reading
Listen to this track by London-born, Deepcut Surrey raised singer-songwriter and original angry young man Graham Parker, along with his crack team of pub rock compatriots, The Rumour. It’s a hot should-have-been-huge single “Local Girls”, featured on Rolling Stone’s retroactively appreciative top 500 albums of all time record Squeezing Out Sparks, produced by none other than Jack Nitzsche, arranger and one-time co-orchestrator to Phil Spectre in the 1960s.
Before his career as a musician with an unbeatable backing band on the pub rock scene in London, Graham Parker was a wanderer, travelling to various places, and working different jobs while his ambitions as a full-time songwriter and touring musician were percolating.
That’s why I think “Local Girls” is less about a disdain for women at bus stops, and more about finding a personal sense of location for a songwriter from a small town.
Summertime. And the livin’ is easy.
Well, I hope it is for you. If it isn’t right now, maybe all you need until things pick up are some new tunes. Well, if that sounds about right, then you’ve come to the right place. And if the livin’ really is easy for you, then – tunes. Same deal, folks!
So, as is our custom here at the ‘Bin, here are a selection of tunes from across the pop music spectrum and from around the world; something here for everyone. Dig in!