Duran Duran Play “Ordinary World”

Duran_Duran_-_The_Wedding_Album_-_CoverListen to this track by former Fab Five New Romantic chart toppers from Birmingham Duran Duran. It’s “Ordinary World”, a single as taken from their self-titled 1993 album, often known as The Wedding Album due to its cover. The song was looked upon as a comeback single, helping the band reclaim their place in the top ten all over the world after a period in the desert, commercially and artistically speaking.

By the time this song was written and recorded, Duran Duran were pulling themselves out of a loss of pop chart mojo. Disappointing sales returns from the late-eighties and early into the nineties was one sign of their descent. Another was the loss of their classic line-up that brought them their best artistic and commercial returns. Guitarist Andy Taylor went solo. Drummer Roger Taylor left the music business entirely. Their bedroom wall pin-up status was getting pretty old, too. Their “duranie” fans had grown up, ready for a new decade and with newer bands to appeal to their new levels of maturity. Duran Duran had scored a number of memorable hit singles in the eighties, but by the nineties even these were looked upon as guilty pleasures by many instead of as building blocks to a lasting career. Even the video age that helped birth them into the world-beating hit machine they were was on the wane by the early nineties. Times had changed.

Yet, Duran Duran still had gas in the tank. This song met those new levels of maturity their older fan base demanded, and even enabled the band to re-invent themselves for newer fans. Because all the while, Duran Duran had grown up, too. Read more

Pink Floyd Play “Louder Than Words”

Pink_Floyd_-_The_Endless_River_(Artwork)Listen to this track by psychedelic and progressive rock granddaddies Pink Floyd. It’s “Louder Than Words”, the sole lyrics-based song as taken from their final album under the Pink Floyd name, The Endless River. The album came out of scouring through the tapes leftover from 1994’s The Division Bell sessions, looking for gems that were good enough to release as a new record. After reviewing the tracks in their original form, overdubs were layered on top to make them new tracks by surviving and current members David Gilmour and Nick Mason.

The reasons for the release, after having been hounded by press and fans for so long around the subject of a reunion, are artistic. But, they’re also sentimental. And whose sentiment are we experiencing when we hear this song, so self-referential as it is (although with lyrics not from the band, but a close insider – guitarist David Gilmour’s wife Polly Sampson)? Well, there is something of  trace of self-examination over nearly fifty years of existance as a band. But, I think it delivers something else that is more universal, too. Read more

Edwyn Collins Sings “Losing Sleep”

Edwyn Collins Losing SleepListen to this track by one-time Orange Juice frontman and second-wind Brit-pop singer songwriter Edwyn Collins. It’s “Losing Sleep” the title track to his 2010 record of the same name, and its first single. The song and its accompanying album represents an important phase in Collins’ career. It was a comeback. But, the term takes on additional layers of meaning when one considers the road that led to its creation.

In 2005, Edwyn Collins suffered two brain hemorrhages that left him severely debilitated. He couldn’t walk, write, or read. He lost strength in the right side of his body, and suffered aphasia, which is a loss of connection between thought and speech. At one point, the only things he could say was “yes”, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” who is his wife and manager, and finally and very tellingly, “the possibilities are endless.” For Collins, that last statement seemed to be pretty unrealistic given his condition. But, he went to prove that assumption wrong.

How did he do that? Well, for one he lived through it. But for another, he went back to work. Read more

Duke Ellington Plays “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo in Blue” At Newport 1956

Ellington At NewportListen 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.

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Vashti Bunyan Sings “Wayward”

Lookaftering Vashti BunyanListen to this track by returning den mother of wispy, ethereal English folk music Vashti Bunyan. It’s “Wayward”, one of the many jewels featured on her 2005 album Lookaftering, her second full-length album in a career that at that point stretched to forty years, starting with her years working with Andrew Loog Oldham in the mid-60s as a pop singles artist. Her first album, Just Another Diamond Day was released in 1970, a work that moved away  from pop and embraced a distinctively English folk style instead.

But, despite its delicate lyricism, ecstatic pastoral textures, and appealingly hazy melodicism, that first album was a commercial flop. Tired of the merciless rigours of the music business and of trying to find an audience that understood what she was trying to do, Bunyan gave it up to concentrate on other things, specifically in raising a family. She repaired to a farm in Ireland to live the rural life that is reflected in her songs. That was thirty-five years before she’d return as a recording artist with a new album.

What was it that brought her back? The answer is simply that her first album paid her back for her efforts by taking on a life of its own long after she’d given it up for dead.

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Reunions: Yea or Nay?

The Kinks It’s just come down the pipe that the original line-up of the Kinks will be reforming this year; Ray Davies, Dave Davies, Mick Avory, and Pete Quaife. The original line-up of the band that brought you “You Really Got Me”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “Victoria”, “Sunny Afternoon”, and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” (among others) haven’t played together since 1969.

What is driving this sudden glut of reunions? They all seem to be happening in a very short space of time, as if they put something in the water in 2007 – The Police, Led Zeppelin, The Stooges, Van Halen, The ‘pop’ line-up of Genesis, and Crowded House all reformed last year with varied results. Even the Spice Girls got back together! I suppose the cynical answer, and maybe the most obvious, is the money to be made by sticking to a brand. In some cases, the brand is more compelling when it’s the original recipe. I suppose on this level, I should be suspicious of the motives behind reunion gigs. But as it is, I’m not. This is because I think I know the score.

Genesis - Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony  BanksVan Halen 2007Robert Plant of Led ZeppelinIggy Pop of the Stooges

It seems to me that once rock artists age, they are in a no-win situation. They either get criticized for continuing so long in their respective outfits (see the Rolling Stones), or get criticized for getting the bands back together. And there is a certain embarrassment factor which music fans feel to see their heroes complete with the ravages of age; it reminds them of their mortality, perhaps, instead of their youth. There are many other music fans who are concerned with the tarnishing of legacies – that reunion tours and album somehow impact the quality of tours and albums of the past. Whether this has any validity or not is not really the point. We’re dealing with perceptions here. With rock music and rock fandom, the histories of the bands are intertwined with those of their fans. That’s another burden carried by the aging rock star.

Crowded HouseFor me, I like to think of reunion shows without cynicism. I saw the Police this year and Crowded House too. Admittedly, I was a target audience in more than one way. They are two of my favourite bands, both of which I never thought to see live and jumped at the chance to do so. I am a demographic, a cash-cow for promoters everywhere, I guess. Yet, what I get out of it, and got out of it, was not a revisit to my youth or some vain attempt to travel back in time. What I saw were shows put on by guys who were clearly having a ball playing music. I didn’t get the impression that I, or they, were attempting to get back to the past at all. For me, the appeal was all about the present, about how the musicians were interacting on stage, about the energy shifting and dancing between musicians and audience. In short, I saw two great shows. And to me that’s the point.

As for the Kinks, who knows what is driving them to get back together; money or a legitimate intention to create something new together? It doesn’t matter. The proof will be in the pudding.

Take a look at this footage of Led Zeppelin playing their 1975 classic “Kashmir” at their recent reunion show in London’s 02 Centre. Hover over the symbols below, and click the ‘play’ button. To make the window a bit bigger, click the magnifying glass icon in the upper right hand corner. Enjoy!

Led Zeppelin four symbols