Boards of Canada, “Roygbiv” from Music Has the Right to Children

Boards of Canada Music Has The Right To ChildrenHere’s a clip of Boards of Canada’s song “Roygbiv”, a favourite of mine for reasons I’m not entirely sure of. This sounds a bit derogatory, maybe. But I mean it in the best of senses. There’s something about this track, which is true of many tracks on the album off of which it comes, Music Has the Right to Children – it reminds me of my early childhood. There is something ineffably early 70s about this. Perhaps this is easily understood, given that much of the output, and the very name of this electronica outfit was inspired by Canadian National Film Board shorts and the accompanying soundtracks produced in this era. Somehow, they must have made their way to Scotland, where Boards of Canada hail from.

“Roygbiv” (a acronym for the color spectrum – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) was a single of the album, which really isn’t about the singles. This is a record to be listened to in one sitting, with an overall effect to be experienced ranging from these sorts of vague remembrances of the past, with some humour, and not just a little bit of menace too. Perhaps this is what makes this record such a standout from the late-90s Warp Records scene. This is an album meant to be listened to for its subtleties, an ambient record that will not be ignored – a contradiction in terms that proves to be utterly compelling.

Enjoy!

Joe Jackson performs song from 2008 album Rain – “Wasted Time”

Joe JacksonHere’s a clip of Joe Jackson singing a key track from his new, and brilliant, album Rain . The track is “Wasted Time”.

He’s clearly following the same rays of musical inspiration as Todd Rundgren used to follow on this song, out-Todding Todd. This song has everything that the tradition of melancholy love-gone-wrong songs demand – impassioned vocals (including a falsetto which I’m not sure I’ve heard Jackson ever use), minor chords and major chords held in contrast, and of course a sense of unfinished business that equals a tension of the bittersweet kind. Jackson always dealt with shades of grey in his work, and he continues his mastery of this approach again here. And his signiture brand of irony is in place too, of course.

The entire album is his best in years – a rock/pop piano trio of Jackson singing and playing piano, with long-time associate Graham Maby on bass guitar, and original drummer of Jackson’s first three albums, Dave Houghton showing some particularly versatile playing behind the kit. And he needs to be versatile on this one, with a lot of jazz overtones (which have always been present in Jackson’s work). Like his masterpiece Night & Day, there are no guitars on this one, which allows for Maby’s bass to breathe a bit, enough to create some interesting interplay for Jackson’s piano lines . And in places, a “Becker & Fagen has drinks with Duke Ellington” vibe just shines through. As a big fan of Joe’s classic period, I was thrilled to hear it.

Joe is currently living in Berlin, where the album was recorded. And here’s another clip of Joe’s impressions of the German city mostly known as the former hub of the iron curtain.

And to round all of this off, I found this interview with Joe Jackson about the new record, and about songwriting in general.

Enjoy!

Song rendition showdown: ‘Proud Mary’ – CCR vs. Ike &Tina

In the first of a possible series, here are two versions of “Proud Mary”. Which one’s better? You decide, good people!

The song itself is all about cutting loose the 9 to 5 life ‘working for the man’ in the city , to take hold of one’s own destiny, and … work on a riverboat way down South, where people on the river are ‘happy to give’. Life on the river is a socialists dream, apparently, standing in direct opposition to the life in the North where money sure does come in handy. But, apart from some dubious statements about how easy life is on the river, this has become a rock standard, interpreted many times over the years, proving just how universal the sentiments found in it are. The song was written in 1969 by John Fogerty, primary songwriter for roots-rock daddies Creedence Clearwater Revival. Since then, it’s been covered by many artists, from Star Trek actor and sometime singer Leonard Nimoy, to Elvis (on his On Stage – February, 1970 LP), to American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino.

But now, to the showdown.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival Bayou CountryThe original version of the song is a meat and potatoes rock song, with country-soul overtones. The song’s author John Fogerty gives us the straight goods here, making this sound as though he’s the one covering the tune. That’s one of the song’s strengths – that it sounds older than it is. It’s one of those ones which I imagine many songwriters are kicking themselves over, wishing they’d written it. This take on the track is found on CCR’s Bayou Country album. Listen/Watch

Ike & Tina Turner

The Very Best of Ike & Tina TurnerIke and Tina took the tune in 1971, and made it into a slow-jam R&B tune – “nice and easy” – and then ratcheted it up into a sweaty, gospel-tinged workout, accented by horns, and Ike’s stabbing lead guitar work – “nice and rough”. This of course frames Tina’s raw vocal delivery, which kicks this song in the ass, and solidifies her as a force to be reckoned with once again. Their version of the song appears on their Workin’ Together album and of course on the compilation album Proud Mary: The Best of Ike & Tina Turner . Ike and Tina’s version is ‘Proud Mary’ on an epic scale, built for a live setting, with the excitement and energy of a top-flight interpretive team giving it their all. Listen/Watch

So, which is it to be? Roots-rocking CCR? Or hot and sexy Tina? Or is there a third option? Does Nimoy take it, for instance?

Give me the news! What do you think, good people?


10 Songs About Fame

No Photos PleaseFame is the bitch-goddess of Western culture, a thing to be reviled as much as it is to be coveted. Our reality-TV addicted habits of recent years is but one example of people doing pretty much anything to become recognized for something, anything. Yet, from the mouths of the most famous names we can think of, we hear stories of lost identity, lost humanity, interspersed with tales of artistic and personal triumph. Is fame all it’s cracked up to be? It seems to be a bit of a catch-22. Only the famous can really answer that question. And for them, the answer is a moot point. Funny old world, isn’t it?

So, in lieu of a definitive answer for the benefit of those who sing into their hairbrushes daily, here are 10 songs about fame – the triumphs, the low-points, the delusions, the cynicism, the survivor’s tales, which shed some light on a distinctive late 20th-early 21st century phenomenon which is mass celebrity. Judge for yourself whether your name in lights is a blessing, a curse, or both.

Above image courtesy of RecoilRick

Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry the Great Twenty-EightChuck Berry has been quoted as saying that if his job as a painter had made him more money than the music, than he would have stuck with the painting. But, this tale of a poor country boy who ‘never learned to read or write so well/ but he could play the guitar just like a ring in a bell”, is about someone with, possibly, fewer options than Chuck, but with a singular gift to transport him into the stratosphere. This is a classic rock n’ roll story – perhaps the only rock n roll story – lived out by the chosen few, although in many cases with more than they bargained for. But, Chuck Berry is setting up a fantasy story here, not one for real life. This is a 1950s American Dream story, of a poor boy who makes good. Indeed, in the follow up song, “Bye Bye Johnny B. Goode”, Johnny flies off to Hollywood to become a star, a dream realised, with our hero flying off into the sunset. End credits. This is the dream of fame, the idea of it, not the reality. After all, dreams have sold more records than reality ever has.

The song hit the charts in 1958, a smash success, and appeared in many forms both by Berry, and by other artists who recoginised it as the quintessential rock n’ roll story. It appears on the must-have Chuck Berry compilation The Great Twenty-Eight.among a number of songs which would immortalize Berry’s own fame. Yet, it’s “Johnny B. Goode” which was included in the package sent into space on the Voyager mission in 1977. It’s hard to rival fame like that, when visitors to our world can potentially riff along with Chuck when they arrive.

Drive My Car – The Beatles

The Beatles Rubber SoulBy 1966, the Beatles had seen enough of fame in an annis horriblis that involved a disasterous experience in the Philippines, when they had ‘snubbed’ the Marcos family when they were called upon like good little pop stars to attend a state dinner, and chose not to attend. This was also the year that Lennon was quoted by a friend in the British press that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, which caused a furore in the States that included radio bans and (incredibly) burning of Beatles merchandise. The trappings of fame had gone south for them. But, at least through it all they kept their perspective which would carry them through.

“Drive My Car”, taken from their 1965 album Rubber Soul, showed that the Beatles knew that the pursuit of fame was mostly about the accessories in the end. “I got no car and it’s breaking my heart/But I found a driver and that’s a start”. These young men had perspective, that those truly seeking the accouterments of fame are ultimately ridiculous. And it was after time spent among many of these types of people, those who wished to bask in their reflected glory, that the band would decide to quit touring, and to quit attending the ‘right’ parties in order to concentrate on the business of being serious artists. This new pursuit was more about escaping the trappings of fame than embracing them, and ultimately was the driving force in transforming pop/rock music into something to be respected, rather than something simply on which to hang an image.

So, You Wanna Be A Rock n’ Roll Star – The Byrds

The Byrds Younger Than YesterdayBy the end of the 60s, a lot of money could be made in the pop star game, and so the star-maker machinery was built up to full-steam, crushing many a dream in its wake. Not ones to miss the changing times were the Byrds, who had been inspired by both the electrified jangle of Beatles and the folk leanings of Bob Dylan to construct what became known as folk-rock. This 1967 song from the album Younger Than Yesterday offers ironic criticism of the whole fame game, when the benign act of learning to play an electric guitar leads to selling …”your soul to the company/Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware”.

Things had changed since the early part of the decade when a good deal of the major labels saw pop music as an insignificant tax write-off, rather than as a multi-million dollar industry. And there must have been a lot of harsh contrast between the hippie ideal and the demands of capitalism which began to drive the industry more and more on a grander scale. This would certainly be a dynamic in the ensuing decades, this idea of selling out, when worldwide fame of rock stars was directly proportionate to perceptions of their lack of artistic integrity.

Fruit Tree – Nick Drake

Nick Drake Five Leaves LeftFame is an elusive mistress, with many well-known names – Vincent Van Gogh, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Edgar Allen Poe, and many more – who only won her favour after their own deaths. In 1969, British folk artist Nick Drake would ruminate on the the randomness of fame on this key track from the debut album Five Leaves Left , not knowing that he himself would serve as yet another example of an artist sharing similar post-mortem popularity.

Drake was a struggling musician, painfully shy, and wrestling with clinical depression, yet also wanting his music to be heard. His own thoughts here about fame being a fruit tree, fed by the deaths of those who seek it may well have been a case of sour grapes. Yet, I think it was just pure observation of the basic cruelties of real life. During his life, he made three complete albums, none of which shifted very many units. His fame would grow only after his passing in 1974 of a (probably accidental) prescription drugs overdose. It would achieve the heights of fame at the end of the 1990s, when his song ‘Pink Moon’ was used to sell Volkswagens 25 years after his death – far from his dying day indeed. Luckily, it’s not fame that is the point. It’s the supreme delicacy of his songs, his voice, and his superlative gifts as a guitarist which emerges. And the tragedy is not that he didn’t achieve fame in his lifetime. It’s that he didn’t make more albums, famous or not.

Cover of the Rolling Stone – Dr. Hook

The Best of Dr. HookEveryone has a benchmark to use to measure when they’ve ‘made it’. By the mid-70s, when a pop star, the coveted cover of Rolling Stone magazine was surely the Superbowl of rock stardom. But, very few bands allowed themselves to drop their cool demeanours and click their heels upon reaching that goal. After all, rock n’ roll is not about acceptance by the press. It’s supposed to be about rebellion, about sticking it to the man. It’s not about getting ‘five copies to my mother’. Your mother? C’mon guys! You’re in a rock n’ roll band! Yet, this song by Dr. Hook gets to the heart of the matter, and pushes past the coolness that rock musicians are supposed to have in the face of widespread acceptance. The song points out that everyone, aloof rock stars especially, wants the respect of their peers, and of the public too. You can say you’re in it for the music. But, to say that you don’t care about acceptance? Well, you’re not fooling anyone, says this tune.

“Cover of the Rolling Stone is clearly a shot at rock n’ roll pretension, much of which was reaching a fever pitch around the time this song came out. Gigs were getting bigger, outsized only by the egos that were behind them. And this not to mention the money involved. Yet, this song suggests that it’s not any of that which really matters. What does matter is the moment of recognition that the greater culture acknowledges, even for an instant, that what you’ve done has had an impact. This is the essence of fame, to be tasted only once in quite this same way.

Midnight Train to Georgia – Gladys Knight & the Pips

Gladys Knight & the Pips I've Got to Use My ImaginationWhere there are times when fame comes too late, there are quite a few more instances of fame not coming at all to those who seek it, despite their talent. In this tale of a man crushed by disappointment, and the woman who stays by his side anyway, fame is something that is no longer an option “proving too much for the man” and driving him homeward. Such is the tale of many who travel from far flung locations to the Big City, seeking fame and riches that may or may not exist in the way they are promised. This song is about the dark side of the rock myth about the boy from the country who makes good as a star. Sometimes, Johnny B. Goode just isn’t good enough.

But in Gladys Knight’s song, we don’t hear from the man himself, but from the one who has come to love him, with a hint that she has established some success, yet choosing to “live in his world (rather than living) without him in mine.” To this, fame pales in comparison to the greater forces of love and sacrifice. So, in the end this is a hopeful song, when success is defined by the two in question, which of course is the sucess of the best kind.

“Midnight Train to Georgia” from the I’ve Got To Use My Imagination album was Gladys Knight & the Pips biggest hit, after a string of chart showings when they were a Motown act from 1966 to 1973. This tune was the group’s only number one hit, their debut on the Buddah label.

Life’s Been Good – Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh But Seriously FolksWhen you really think about it, the mega-successful musician’s life can very easily fall into the realm of cliche. After all, what is it that these guys are getting paid to do exactly? Make up songs, sing them, and get what? Summer homes? Masseratis that do 185? Groupies? Drugs? Gold records for wallpaper? When you reduce fame like this to it’s bare essentials, it sounds absurd. And that’s what Joe Walsh does so brilliantly here; a song about stunted emotional development traded in for a life of leisure, perhaps half-joking, but then again perhaps not. The tune was a big radio hit in 1978, taken from Walsh’s solo album But Seriously, Folks…

Walsh was a late joiner to the Eagles, who were massive upon his arrival as well as before it. Before that, he’d forged a reputation in James Gang, as well as in a series of concurrent solo albums. He knew a thing or two about the fame game enough to write a song that reveals something of its true nature. And what you get in this song, underneath the vignettes of rock star excess, is that the narrator of the tune is lost and not in control of his own circumstances. Beneath the humour and the joviality of the laid back rock star is a hint that the narrator is only reacting to the forces in his life, not creating them. Fame has made him a bit player in the story of his own life.

Big Time – Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel SoThere is an old proverb that says that “success is the best revenge”. Getting out of the small town you’re in, maybe changing your accent, and getting a new life is the goal of a lot of people. And sometimes, escaping one’s origins becomes a full-time job, making sure that there are enough props in one’s life to ensure that the true root of one’s identity is not seen as having not evolved from that which they once were. This is the underlying element in this 1986 song about the shallowness of success and fame found on Peter Gabriel’s smash record So

‘Overcompensation’ would be a great alternate title for this song, exquisitely damning of pop star hubris and greed, two watchwords of the 1980s me generation which was the degradation of baby boom idealism. This is a story of a big shot who attempts to distance himself from the small town in which he was raised, where “they think so small/they use small words/but not me; I’m smarter than that” by means of displays of fame, success, and material wealth. Yet once again, reaching the Big Time here ultimately comes down to the ridiculous, the downright childish, the juvenile “look at my circumstance!” cry of attention. This is a conclusion of fame for those of dubious self-esteem; that fame becomes little more than a means to an end, with that end getting lost in the noise of self-promotion and crass materialism.

Handle With Care – The Travelling Wilburys

Traveling WilburysFor many, fame is not something to be sought, but rather something to be survived. The Travelling Wilburys was a composite of several branches in rock’s family tree, from Sun Records veteran Roy Orbison, to 60s icons Bob Dylan and George Harrison, to the kid brother figures in ELO’s Jeff Lynne, and of course Tom Petty. All of them had been through the grind of what it means to achieve, and be saddled with the burdens of being known wherever they went. Harrison had survived Beatlemania. Dylan was still trying to shake off his “voice of a generation” millstone, and the others too had known the rigours of the road and all of the instabilities that life brings. And this is why this tune, which sounds like a form letter to be filled out by new friends and lovers for people in the position of our Wilbury heroes. The very fact that each of these ‘legends’ took on stage names for this record and the one to follow, made it somewhat of a one-finger salute to their own images, or the images many had of them. And because these are legends at work here, this song is believable in that loneliness and weariness is as much a part of fame as riches and glory.

The song was the lead track from the 1988 album Traveling Wilburys , Vol. 1 a project which started out as a B-side to a George Harrison single, and blossomed into an entire record made by friends and contemporaries who wanted to bring the music back down to earth. And on this tune, we get Harrison’s trademark slide playing, Dylan’s wheezy harmonica, Orbison’s operatic tenor, and more delights for which each member had made their fame. Yet this was about making music in spite of fame, rather than because of it.

Deception – Blackalicious

Blackalicious NiaThe temptations of fame and the dangers surrounding them all have one thing in common – pursuing them means abandoning the pursuit of finding out who one is. In this tune, taken from the album Nia the lead character Cysco is hoodwinked by fame, distracted by its promises to the point where his own identity is subsumed in pursuit of it. A perennial question to the newly rich is “will the money change me”? And it’s the terminally honest person who responds “how could it not”?

Yet, in the hip hop world, nothing is more valued than the strength of character it takes to manage the burdens of sucess, while at the same time staying true to one’s roots too – spending money, yet not being spent. In this story, the character loses his way in a labyrinth of materialism, dependence, and egotism. The result is inevitable – that fame turns on the unwary, and that where it’s possible to shoot to the top, it is even more likely that one will plummet to the bottom from such great heights.

***

Fame is a conundrum. The only way you know it’s worth it or not is to attain it. And then, you take your chances. It is a volatile cocktail of glory, immortality, and untold danger that few have not at least thought about. And yet, the pursuit of fame often leads many to places of either profound disappointment, or stifling solitude, not truly being able to share themselves because of how fame tends to blur the view to the true identity of those who are associated with it. Yet, despite it’s untamed nature, we as a culture are obsessed with it, so much so that fame isn’t necessarily attached to achievement anymore. Now, one just has to be perceived as famous in order to gain it, perhaps even when the more deserving of public recognition toil in obscurity. But, like life, and the animal kingdom, no one said it was fair.

Johnny Cash Bio-pic ‘Walk the Line’ Extended Cut

Johnny Cash Walk the Line MovieRead this review of the the recently released 2 disc set of the 2005 movie now available, with extended scenes of the film and deleted scenes, extended scenes, and a number of featurettes which gives the uninitiated a view into the element which made Cash the man he was as a musician, and as a human being too.

Joseph Campbell talked about the hero cycles of ancient myths, that every mythic tale follows the same pattern. We love to hear stories again and again because they resonate with our perceptions of the human experience. Walk the Line (Extended Cut) shows that not much has changed. We still want to hear and see stories about the heroes and titans of our time, to discover the humanity behind the legend. Recently, the movie Walk Hard proved that the music bio-pic is pretty easy to make fun of. That’s because even the most interesting tales of the lives of some of our most beloved musicians follows a pattern too. This usually involves a dreary backdrop of poverty and boredom, often in a dull small town or dangerous inner city. It often involves a depressed childhood too, or some childhood trauma that shapes the man. Then, we have the stuggles to become known, the meteoric rise to fame, the relationship difficulties, the drugs, the decent into hell (whatever form that may take), and the redemption from it. Along the way, a love story helps too.

With the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter, we get all of this. And with some Hollywood intervention and stretches of the truth in places, we get a box office smash aimed at the casual music fan as well as at the casual movie goer who likes a bit of romance, tragedy, human failures and weaknesses, and the healing power of true love as well. But, if you’re looking for a portrayal that sheds light on who Cash was, as far as this film goes, you’ll have to find it elsewhere.

The real Johnny Cash stands as a paragon of musical integrity. When he sings, you believe every word, even about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. As such, Joaquin Phoenix had big boots to fill, and he doesn’t quite make it, despite his obvious talent. The impression one is left with is a man who is doing a good job of portraying Cash, but not really inhabiting him or helping to give dimension to the legend. Phoenix plays Cash as a vulnerable man-child. Phoenix’s Cash is easily led, easily hurt, and is generally weak willed. We see none of his strength, his integrity, his sense of purpose. This part of it for me was disappointing, particularly considering that the real Johnny Cash was involved in the script, working with director James Mangold.

Here’s a video except taken from one of the featurettes from the extended cut of the movie which talks about the strength of the man, the core characteristic which made him such an admirable figure among his peers:

Fortunately, Reese Witherspoon’s June Carter adds the strength of character the story requires of a hero. Carter is a woman growing up as a modern day princess in the Carter Family, the key architects in forming what is known as country music for everyone who would follow them. Again, the mythic significance here is pretty powerful, with Cash as the questing hero trying to win the heart of the princess. Yet, it’s the princess who does the saving here, not the hero who is a lost little boy ultimately looking for approval. Witherspoon rises to the challenge in a role which demonstrates her range as well as reminding us just how watchable she is. It may well be the Phoenix’s portrayal was felt to be necessary in order to add to how important June Carter was to his redemption. But, that’s a fine balance that really needed to be struck.

Walk the Line Johnny Cash movie Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin PhoenixTo me, we still needed to see that Cash was a pioneer, a mover, and someone who took risks not out of petulance or selfishness, but because he had an inner strength to do what was necessary, despite his flaws. The film suggests Cash’s redemption comes about because he was saved by love. Where this can’t entirely be sidelined – it is a compelling element to Cash’ life – making it central to the story means that Cash’s strength of character is all but absent here. Instead, he becomes a romance novel fantasy figure – the bad boy who only needs the love of a good woman to redeem him. The emphasis on his drug habit hurts the film in this regard too, much like an Elvis picture would if it concentrated on how many peanut butter and banana sandwiches the King ate. For my money, we need to see what made Cash great in spite of the drugs, and in many ways despite June Carter too.

Overall, the retelling of this story is compelling because of the romance angle. Ultimately, this is why this story was made into a movie to start with; good actors in Phoenix and Witherspoon portraying two people in love who must overcome prejudice and their own human failings to preserve that love. And there’s no denying the talent of the two leads, who also do their own singing (Witherspoon in particular is very convincing in this department…) under the tutelage of Americana go-to guy T-Bone Burnett. For this, the film is recommended. And the extras included in this edition of the DVD are outstanding.

If you want to find out who Johnny Cash is and what drove his darkly compelling and intensely believable musical voice, the extras included here shed a bit of light on the man from the point of view of some of his peers and followers. The addition of the featurettes makes this new 2 disc set a worthy purchase in an of itself. Even as a lesson in musical history, from Cash’s touring days, the history of the Carter Family and June Carter’s background, to Cash’s Folsom Prison live album, this makes for interesting and dare I say educational viewing. Even if you’re not a fan of country music, if you care about music in general, the extras here make for some pretty compelling viewing.

Ron Sexsmith Performs His Song “All in Good Time”

Ron Sexsmith Time BeingHere’s a clip of the video for Ron Sexsmith’s tune “All in Good Time”, taken from his 2006 album Time Being.

I was thinking recently about optimistic songs, once again. I’ve written about some of them before of course in my 10 Songs of Optimism article. And it struck me that I could have chosen nearly any song of Ron Sexsmith’s for that list. One of his key strengths is putting a positive spin on a bad situation in song, while not making that spin sound trite, or disrespectful of the dark side of things which are just as important. I think it’s one of the elements which makes him a great songwriter; he’s got enough respect for the complexities of the human experience to write about it seriously, without the fashionable miserablism which often goes along with that. It’s refreshing not to hear another singer-songwriter banging on about how depressing life can be. There are times when that kind of writing is cathartic, of course. But, that takes a certain kind of talent too, to strike the fine line between creating catharsis, and just being a self-indulgent whiner or worse; a phony.

With Sexsmith’s work, there is a sense that we’re all in this together whatever it is, that what is common among human beings is our uncertainty. And from here, we can take this as a call to arms to seek out our own meaning, or we can weaken to bitterness. But, as he says in another song of his, “Listen”, taken from his 2005 album with Don Kerr Destination Unknown:

“Listen to that inner voice/Telling me I have a choice/to condemn life or rejoice/I think I’ll choose rejoicing”.

And that choice really what it’s all about if nothing else, isn’t it?
For further reading, check out this interview with Ron Sexsmith. And for more music and information, check out Ron Sexsmith’s MySpace page.

Herbie Hancock Performs ‘Maiden Voyage’

Maiden_Voyage_(Hancock)Here’s a clip which montages Herbie Hancock’s title track from his 1965 album, Maiden Voyage .

By the mid-60s, rock music was changing with the British invasion, Motown, the R&B boom in London, and Bob Dylan going electric. But, jazz was changing too just as it had in the 40s with bebop, drifting away from speed of sound soloing which was established in bebop at that time into a more leisurely space , allowing soloists to ‘stretch out‘ in kind. But, some of the best examples of this new trend in jazz concentrated as much on melody and lyricism as it did on personal expression. This track is a great example of this, with many different melodies revealing themselves in the solos, some of which are only truly revealed on the second or third listen. That’s the great thing about jazz from this era – it keeps on giving.

The personnel on the track is Hancock himself on piano, holding down the syncopated rhythm which is the engine of the piece. Freddie Hubbard is on trumpet, while fellow Miles Davis alumnus George Coleman plays tenor saxophone. The rhythm section is the ever-present Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.

Herbie HancockListening to this, it’s hard to believe that this music came out the same year as Sonny & Cher. This is not to knock “I Got You Babe”, but the point is that this music sounds as though it’s from another world entirely, streets ahead of what was happening in the pop charts. Later, rock music and jazz would dovetail into fusion, brought about largely by Hancock and Coleman’s former bandleader Miles Davis. Hancock himself would align his sound with funk, and collaborate with non-jazz artists like Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell, to name a few. He would even branch out into hip hop and electro in the early 80s. Yet, in this brief period between cool jazz, The New Thing‘, and fusion, jazz seemed to exist on a plane of its own, neither threatened nor overshadowed by what was happening in the pop world.

Maiden Voyage was an important track and an important record in my own pursuits in learning about how rich jazz is. It taught my ear to appreciate subtlety, patience, and the value of musical tension. Where pop is immediate, a sugar rush, jazz takes its time, doesn’t spoon feed it to you, but let’s you discover the nuances of its flavours for yourself.

Enjoy!

The Donnas ‘Friends Like Mine’

The Donnas Gold MedalHere’s a clip of the Donnas performing the opening track of their 2004 album Gold Medal.

The rock n’ roll that grabs you most is often the basic, throw-it-up-against-the-wall variety, often fueled by a palpable sexual drive. This is one tune which demonstrates this – and it doesn’t hurt that the band is comprised of four charismatic women in their twenties, usually the objects of lust in this kind of idiom, now doing some lusting (and some serious rocking out) themselves. These women are hot!

The group started off as Ramones disciples, and their early albums were very much in that vein. Even the name of each band member follows the Ramones model – they’ve all got ‘Donna’ stage names. They started the group in Palo Alto, California while still in junior high-school, loving the Ramones, being inspired by them, and starting a group because there was no reason not to.

But at some point, they must have discovered AC/DC. Note Donna R’s (Alison Robertson’s) Angus Young model Gibson SG. And note too the meat-and-potatoes delivery. This band for me flies in the face of what women in pop music are meant to be – demure pop starlets, or contrived sex kittens mugging for the camera. This girls are clearly on a different trajectory altogether. They’re not the first to do it, of course. But, they are the hope that continues to be necessary – examples of the fact that women can be musicians with big balls, kicking ass and taking names.

Their more heavy metal-oriented direction continues on their latest album, Bitchin’.

Check out the Donnas’ MySpace page and find out more.

Enjoy!

Genesis Fronted by Peter Gabriel Perform ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight’

Here’s a clip of the classic Genesis line-up (Peter Gabriel on vocals, percussion, and flute, Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals, Steve Hackett on guitars, Mike Rutherford on bass and rhythm guitars, and Tony Banks on keyboards) doing their epic track “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” taken from (arguably) their best album of their early period, Selling England by the Pound from 1973.

Peter_Gabriel The Moonlight_Knight
Peter Gabriel in 1974, portraying “Britainia” the Moonlit Knight. It would be these personas and costumes which would define the visual presentation of the whole band before Gabriel departed from Genesis in May of 1975.

Note the odd monologue before the song starts – a common practice which Gabriel used to entertain the audience, or at least hold their attention, until his bandmates tuned up.

Before ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘In Your Eyes’, and WOMAD, and certainly before ‘Land of Confusion’ and ‘Sussudio’, Genesis was a premier-league act in British progressive rock, or (affectionately) ‘prog’, along with King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Yes.

The group started at Charterhouse school in Surrey, England in 1966 when Gabriel, Banks, and Rutherford were still in their teens. But even after they’d been signed, and had put out their first two albums by 1970, they were considered as ‘studenty’ and dull on stage – playing their instruments while sitting down, and approaching the music in an academic way, rather than in a balls-out rock n’ roll fashion. Having read a review about how boring they were as a stage act, Gabriel took this as a challenge to up his game. So, the next show they did, he appeared on stage as as usual, but for the red dress and fox head mask, a figure which was featured on their 1972 album Foxtrot. And the rest of the band was just as surprised as the audience – he hadn’t told them about his costumes.

Gabriel would turn himself into several fantastic creatures while fronting the band until 1975 – the bat-like Watcher of the Skies, the ‘Flower’ as taken from the group’s apocalyptic epic “Supper’s Ready”, and most outrageously of all, the Slipperman which was one of the deformed characters from the band’s epic two-disc concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. His compatriots in the band began to feel that Peter’s theatrical approach to his duties as frontman was beginning to upstage the music. For instance, Peter’s Slipperman costume covered his entire head, making it difficult to get his microphone near his mouth.

The group would transform a number of times over the course of its life. Gabriel would leave in 1975 to pursue a lucrative solo career, and Hackett would follow his example in 1977. Collins, Rutherford, and Banks would re-fashion the band at the end of the 70s, slowly jettisoning its prog roots in favour of a more keyboard-driven r&b pop approach with every record. Ray Wilson would replace Collins in the 1990s as frontman for one album. Because of all of these personnel and stylistic changes, the question of whether or not one is a fan of Genesis is not quite as simple as the question would be if it centered around another band. It often depends on which stage of the band’s development that is being talked about.

For me, this 1971- 1975 period is the band at its most interesting – musically ambitious and skilled, kind of weird too, and with a better sense of humour than most bands of its ilk. And Gabriel is magnetic as a performer, but also as a vocalist. The influence of prog would continue to the twenty-first century, its mantle passed on to (to me, less interesting…) band’s like Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, and Tool, albeit with a harder edge. Many of the elements of prog would be there – complicated rhythms, costumes, epic-length song suites, and more. But, it would never have such a charismatic figure to champion it.

For more Gabriel-era Genesis, check out Canadian tribute band The Musical Box, who have recreated, and even re-used, some of the original costumes and sets from this early period in the band’s history. For those not old enough to catch an original early 70s Genesis show, this is (apparently) the next best thing. Both Phil Collins and Steve Hackett have sat in with the group during performances of the original material. And Gabriel has attended their shows. How’s that for an endorsement?

Enjoy!

[Update, March 21, 2014 – for an even more expansive idea of this era of the band’s history, take a look at this article announcing an unearthed 1973 concert of Genesis playing Shepperton Studios, now in HD no less. At the time of this writing, you can watch the concert in full on an embed found at the bottom of the article.]

 

Disco Sucks? Try Earth Wind & Fire

The Best of Earth Wind and Fire Vol. 1Disco has always been an extension of r&b, derived from the smooth, production-oriented approach found in Philly soul – not much new, but presented as though it was, which is what made all the difference. But in the summer of 1979 , there was a backlash against the music that was summed up in two words: disco sucks.

The incident unfolded in Comisky Park in Chicago during half-time at a White Sox game. At the ‘disco sucks’ event, former fans burned records in what started as a cheap publicity stunt for a local radio station, and ended up being pretty ugly. The incident has been linked to cultural realization that because disco was in fact originally the music of gay culture, and black and Hispanic culture too, it was ultimately a threat. A threat to what and to whom is less clear, but shades of Third Reich book burning was hard to deny, no matter what you happen to think about the records. Starting off as a tongue-in-cheek joke, the encouragement of a large mass of people to be destructive in a public place was ill-conceived at best.

But, the passing years have allowed the music of that mid-70s to 1980 heyday to become appreciated even by rockists such as myself. The fact is, disco is about fantasy, that being a part of a nighttime culture of heroes made on a dance floor is, in the moment, more important than mundane real life to many people. And that’s why it thrived, and in some ways and in different forms, continued to thrive in Chicago house music in the late 80s, to rave culture into the 1990s, and beyond.

But for me, disco is the music of my childhood, or at least a big part of that tapestry of radio in the 1970s and early 80s. One of my favourites is the 1978 disco anthem ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, a hit single included on the group’s album The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol.1.

Listen and watch this clip and try to deny that this tune is all about the joy of living, the warm feelings of remembering good times with friends, and the power found in dancing together.

Get down!