Listen to this track by seminal Toronto punk rock scene starters and once nominated “best Toronto band ever”, The Diodes. It’s “Tired of Waking Up Tired” as taken from their 1979 record Released. It would appear on compilation records to follow, and became something of a signature track for the band, enduring even after they’d faded away.
Like many bands from this country of mine, the Diodes were brimming over with talent and potential, yet largely unknown to the mainstream in the rest of the world. This is not to say that they didn’t hit the road to put themselves across. They’d associated themselves with east coast punk rock, playing bills with the Ramones, the Runaways, the Dead Boys, and others. They’d also have something of a connection with UK scenes in the 1980s after transplanting the band there.
They’d formed at a time when punk was being recognized by major labels for its radio play potential, and were signed to Columbia records (in Canada, mind you). They’d move on to other labels, with the title of the album off of which this song comes possibly relating to a changeover to Epic.
But, like a lot of the best punk, this tune has miles of pop appeal rooted in rock n’ roll traditions of the previous decade.
Listen to this track by leather-jacketed punk rock architects from Queens, New York, The Ramones (or simply ‘Ramones’). It’s “Rock N’ Roll High School” a song that served as a title track to the Roger Corman-produced movie of the same name, and appearing on the soundtrack album, and later in a Phil Spectre-produced version on End Of The Century.
By the time this song, and the movie, came out, the Ramones was an institution. Founded in 1974, they took to writing songs for the simple reason that they didn’t have the confidence to play other people’s songs as well as ones they could come up with on their own. The four guys from Forest Hill in Queens New York would craft a sound, and a look, that would solidify what many acts had reached for over the decades since rock n’ roll as a social phenomenon was established.
Their music is basic, visceral, and appealing to the teenaged mind no matter how old that teenager gets. Maybe this is why they were incorporated into the plot of the film which is all about teenagers. In many ways, the movie is much like a Ramones song in cinematic form; it concerns itself with the pursuit of kicks, chicks, and resistance to oppressive authority. (more…)
Listen to this track by singer, songwriter, and pop music auteur Todd Rundgren. It’s his biggest hit, “Hello, It’s Me” as taken from his biggest selling album Something/Anything. The song was released as a single in 1973, where it reached a #5 showing, becoming something of a staple on classic rock radio from then until today.
Rundgren was among the earliest, and most high-profile proponents of the “record it all myself, and play everything too” school. Here on this song, Rundgren mitigated that approach slightly by playing almost everything himself. Either way, it would prove to be an enduring hit for him. And, it would have a lasting place in pop culture history as well, featured on soundtracks, and TV shows, as well as on classic rock radio.
But, there were other tools at work that helped Rundgren to enhance the rate of his output on a sprawling double album; drugs.
Listen to this track by jazz-funk pioneer, future electro innovator, and all-around influential musical barrier-breaker-downer Herbie Hancock. It’s “Chameleon”, a key track on his seminal 1973 album Head Hunters.
That record would spin the heads of many who’d first heard it, perhaps not being able to immediately figure out whether or not it was a jazz record. Many of these people would be the critics. Well, it certainly is a jazz record. But, it also carries with it influences that stood apart from the traditions of the jazz world at the time too; Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, and the funk genre in general, which is in turn very much influenced by jazz. Talk about spinning heads!
The barriers between the musical forms expressed here had always been fairly permeable. But, as jazz expanded its borders by the end of the ’60s, the definition of jazz as a musical form became harder to ascertain. It had shifted, and morphed, having taken on new influences, as it had done since it was first recorded.
In the middle of all of that, this record was a big seller, standing as a sign of the musical times where the evolution of jazz was concerned. And it would provide an avenue that would open things up for Hancock, and for other musicians down the road. (more…)
Listen to this track by Hammond B3 organ kingpin and soul jazz practitioner Jimmy Smith. It’s “Root Down (And Get It)” as taken from his 1972 live album Root Down Jimmy Smith Live. The record was recorded live in Los Angeles in February of that year. You can hear the clinking of the glasses which serve as a kind of unofficial percussion section as the patrons listen to the groove as it unfolds. And boy, does it ever.
Like Wes Montgomery with whom Smith partnered on many occasions, Smith was interested in the pop music side of the soul jazz spectrum. But also like Montgomery, Smith was a formidable improvisationalist even if some of his sides are viewed as a bit lightweight.
Yet, here on this cut, it’s the funk that really shines through. And it serves somewhat as a beacon of light for the music that would emerge in ensuing decades, too. (more…)
Listen to this track by Athens Georgia ’60s hairdo sporting new wave quintet The B-52′s. It’s “Rock Lobster”, a 1979 hit record as taken from their self-titled debut album the B-52′s. This is the longer version of a record that had been released earlier in a shorter form. The song established their sound early on as an amalgam of ’60s surf music, B-Movie aethetics, and of course a DIY spirit that played right into punk and new wave. Their timing was perfect.
Serving as their first single, the song was an instant pop hit, despite the fact there was nothing to prepare audiences for it. Of course too, the sound of the record goes against the system too, full of surf guitar, tinkly keyboards, and call and response backing vocals that aren’t really backing vocals, but more like shared leads.This is thanks to Kate Pierson (who also plays Farfisa organ) and Cindy Wilson, who come off as post-punk Shangra-Las.
It became a signature hit for the band along the way. Even in an era when weird, cool records were more common in the mainstream than perhaps they are today, it’s popularity was widespread, played at every school dance for years after its release.
The Mayan Calendar. Rumours of the Rapture. Rod Stewart’s new Christmas album. All of them have been recently featured in the news over the past few years to make us wonder whether or not the end is nigh. Well, maybe the Rod album only makes me wonder that.
Anyway, as established with our 10 songs about death list, we can all agree that one day everything meets its end. This of course must include civilization as we know it; the end of the world. But, maybe making civilization and “the world” synonymous is just human arrogance. After all, the world existed before we came along, right?
And yet we’re a species that’s marked with a blessing, or is it a curse: we know that the end is coming. Maybe it’s both.
So, as a result, songwriters have taken it on. And how has it turned out?
Well, here’s 10 songs about doomsday in several possible forms. Sometimes, it really is about the end of everything. At other times, its about endings that just seem like the end of everything from a certain point of view. But, with all of them, it’s about confrontation with a force that we have to deal with whether we’re at the end of the line or not; our own humanity.
Listen to this track by Motown wunderkind and soul pop auteur Stevie Wonder. It’s “I Believe (When I Fall In Love With You It Will Be Forever)”, the closing track of his 1972 record Talking Book.
That album was almost dead center in the inarguable purple patch of records Wonder would create in the early ’70s, wedged between Music Of My Mind, and Innervisions, while still managing to rival those albums as among the best examples of his work. And this was a highlight among highlights, with a co-authorship by Yvonne Wright, his then sister-in-law.
The song would be covered by a wide range of artists on the pop spectrum, from Peter Frampton, to Art Garfunkel, to George Michael, to Petra Haden, to Josh Groban. This could be because it’s one of those sweeping pop songs, full of the glory of idealized love, with plenty of room for singers to stretch out their chops.
But, there’s more to this tune then being a showstopper, which it is of course. (more…)
Listen to this track by Tennessean songwriter and true rags to riches tale in the flesh Dolly Parton. It’s “Coat of Many Colors” as taken from the 1971 album that references it, Joshua & the Coat of Many Colors. The story is a childhood tale, touching on a number of themes. But, one of the big ones is that of a mother’s love. On the week just before Mother’s Day here in North America (in Britain, it’s in March, friends), that’s a pretty top-of-mind theme for many.
The song was a standout on the record, and released as a single where it reached a #4 position on the country charts. It would later go on the be extensively covered by a variety of artists from Billy Connoly to Shania Twain, to Dolly Parton herself. It would become something of an anthem to the region out of which it came as well. It seems that there were a lot of hard-working mothers supporting families, which maybe why the themes of strong mothers carried this song to success.
But, this song touches on other themes besides, with the rare feat of doing justice to all of them.
Listen to this track by British folk paragon and singer-songwriter Bridget St. John. It’s “A Day A Way” the opening track as taken from her 1971 album Songs For The Gentle Man which, as Wikipedia puts it best, “propelled her to cult status in the United Kingdom”. I love that: propelled her to cult status.
It’s not like this record went under the radar of some key influencers at the time. None other than John Peel was a major supporter in a variety of capacities. Her first three records, including this one, came out on his Dandelion label. And he produced her debut Ask Me No Questions, and arranged several Peel sessions. According to a piece in July 2006 issue of MOJO magazine, he even shouted down a loutish crowd so that she could be heard during an early tour before she recorded her first record. If only Peel had been there to do the same when Nick Drake toured.
And speaking of Drake, St. John played with him in Le Cousins, a folk club in Soho in London. They had a common friend in John Martyn who was something of a mentor to St. John when it came to the guitar. Much like both men mentioned, she unlocked her melodic sense when it came to songwriting by way of open tunings, and with a flurry of natural imagery in her lyrics. This is not to mention that patented melancholy that makes her work so compelling, and so tied to the British folk sound of the time.
But, there’s something unique to be found in this song, and St. John’s work in general. (more…)