The Monkees Play “Sometime In The Morning”

MoreoftmListen to this track by enduring four-man multimedia phenomenon Micky, Davy, Mike, and Peter; The Monkees. It’s “Sometime In The Morning”, a deep cut and favourite track off of their mega-selling second album More Of The Monkees, released in January of 1967. The album remained at the number one spot on the Billboard 200 for a big 18 weeks. Meanwhile, this song would appear multiple times in their concurrent and very popular TV show The Monkees including in one of my favourite episodes “Monkee Mother”, guest starring Rose Marie.

Nineteen sixty-seven was a banner year for the group for a number of reasons. First, the TV show was an Emmy-winning hit. Second, their first live appearances as a group starting at tail-end of 1966 were going swimmingly during a time when they were taking heat for being just a pretend group who couldn’t play their own instruments. As far as the “pretend” part of that equation, this was true in one sense; the group they played on TV really was fictional, even though its members had the same names as the four principle cast. In real life though, they were as real as any other band playing shows in front of live audiences. The differences between their two identities, one fictional and one real, may explain the confusion around The Monkees’ authenticity. No one else was doing this sort of thing in quite this way at the time.

Further to that, this dynamic blurred the lines about who was responsible and who should be credited for the music people were hearing and buying. So, when More Of The Monkees hit the racks in January of 1967 to the surprise of The Monkees themselves who had no idea it was even coming out, things were about to get real ugly, real fast. Read more

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The Who Play “The Real Me”

The Who "The Real Me"Listen to this track by former ’60s mod pin-ups turned rock-operaist foursome, The Who. It’s “The Real Me” as taken from their 1973 epic record Quadrophenia, a study in subculture and identity, and arguably their last significant release as the original quartet.

And how perfect that the album was based upon the idea that the group presents something of a unified entity, with the story of Jimmy the Mod really being a reflection of each Who member.

In this respect, this song is really the centerpiece to the record that Townshend envisioned; four identities shaping one, with the real identity being something harder to define.

Yet it is this idea that a “real” identity can be found when those of likemind gather together as a group that lays at the heart of the album, and later the film. But, in the end, it can be about identity as a whole, and our need to be a part, perhaps, of something bigger. But, what? Read more

Elton John Performs ‘Burn Down The Mission’

Here’s a clip of a very green, not yet larger than life, Elton John in 1970 performing his early gem of a track “Burn Down the Mission” as taken from his Tumbleweed Connection album, which came out the following year.

When starting out, and at the moment of musical history in which he found himself, Elton John was awash with admiration for his contemporaries.  And even if by the time he recorded  Madman Across the Water and Tumbleweed Connection, he’d cemented his style and was putting consistent great albums anchored by his partnership with Bernie Taupin, Elton was still very much under the spell of his heroes.  Gospel music clearly fed into his early work.  But so did Leon Russell, and The Band.

After having seen Elton on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle TV show, apparently this song “Burn Down the Mission” was Elton’s attempt to do a song like something that Laura Nyro might have written, particularly all of the tempo changes for which Nyro was famous.

But, what he said on the program was that, much like Bob Dylan Laura Nyro opened up the possibilities for songwriting, in her case particularly for piano players like Elton John.  No longer was he restrained to the verse chorus verse treadmill.  He could throw in a middle section with a quick tempo, and then take it back to where it was.  And like Nyro, he could put in a gospel feel, while making it a bit theatrical at the same time.

One thing which really came out of the interview with Elton John, and in how his music comes off too, is that he was always a music fan.  And its clear that he was an intent listener, pulling in the influences of his contemporaries, and in older styles like gospel music too, and making it a platform for his own songwriting.

He would later begin to employ some more overt theatricality of course , with larger scale shows and outrageous costumes.  But, many consider this early, more Americana-based songwriting, to be his most interesting period as a songwriter.

Enjoy!

The Beatles Sing “All I’ve Got To Do”

WiththebeatlescoverListen to this track by the four mop tops singing an early track from their second UK album With the Beatles.  I woke up with this song in my head for no apparent reason; it seems to have been the soundtrack for one of my dreams.  But, as it turns out, it’s a favourite of mine.

In the famous 1980 Playboy interview, John Lennon dismissed a good many of his early compositions, I suppose in the way that you do when you’ve become more seasoned and are asked to look back on a career you started when in your early twenties.  Yet, the fact is Lennon and McCartney, and later Harrison too, were extremely good at taking styles and making perfect pop concoctions that had their own marks on them.  This is certainly one of them, a song about how love can be so simple, with just a whisper, a call, a kiss.  It is teenage innocence inside of three-minutes of pop music.  The Beatles knew who their audience was, just as those who ran the Brill Building knew.

I think a lot has been written about the Beatles as innovators and how their approach revolutionized what rock music could be and even down to how it was made. Yet, it’s often lost that the Beatles did not arrive out of nowhere. They had their influences. And perhaps ironically, the very influences which fed this song, “All I’ve Got To Do”, were the very ones they put in danger as far as the industry goes.

This tune is clearly the Beatles’ take on the sort of Brill Building pop song being written by people like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, who wrote a number of hits the Beatles would cover.  After the Beatles, the need for professional songwriters working in cramped little rooms were not needed quite as much as they had been.  So, with their skills at being able to meet their influences where they were, they soon made those influences redundant entirely.  Well, perhaps that’s a bit strong.  The Beatles’ ability to write and play their own songs didn’t immediately put people out of work. But, it ended an era where the division of labour in making a hit record, with writers, musicians, and singers as completely different jobs, was just a given.

Of course, the professional songwriter would never really be assigned to the ranks of the buggy whip factories.  Pop stars today live and breathe on the compositions of professional songwriters, particularly as pop music needs to move units to a greater degree than anyone in the early 60s would have imagined.  Yet, what the Beatles were able to do showed other acts, and perhaps more importantly record label bosses, that a band that writes their own tunes is not one of which to be suspicious.  But, a band who could do that was one to seek out, emulate, and perhaps capitalize on.

Suddenly, there were options!

Enjoy!

Nick Lowe and Daryl Hall Perform For A ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ Webcast

Thanks to some of my fellow music-geek colleagues bringing it to my attention, here’s a link to a seemingly impromptu (but not really – it’s a webcast!) jam between British songwriting giant Nick Lowe, world-renowned blue-eyed soul and late of Hall & Oates crooner Daryl Hall. Hot session guy T-Bone Wolk joins them for added licks and interplay. This is a part of Daryl Hall’s self-produced webcast series appropriately titled Live at Daryl’s House.

To see the whole show once you get to the site, the show in two parts, or selected clips, click on the images to the right of the viewing screen. If you’re going to cherry-pick, my recommendations are the group’s rendition of “Shelley My Love”, originally from Nick Lowe’s 1994 album The Impossible Bird, and their version of his 1979 radio hit “Cruel to Be Kind”. Actually, watch the whole show and tell me what you think, good people.

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Nick LoweNick Lowe has always been a songwriting classicist, letting the trends roll over him as the years went by like they were nothing, and much to his credit. Yet for a number of years, times were tough for him, plying his trade in Beatlesque power pop, country-rock, and 50s & 60s-styled rhythm & blues during a musical period that had pretty much left all that behind in favour of the DX7 synthesizer and Linn drum.

Some years before, he’d been house producer for the independent label Stiff records where he gained his nickname “Basher” for the bash-it-out-in-one-take production style for which he was known at the time. Lowe served as the sonic midwife for albums by Elvis Costello, The Damned, and the Pretenders, among many others. He was also a writer, singer, and bassist in his own right as a solo performer, and previously in the semi-legendary pub rock band Brinsley Swartz. While with the band in the mid-70s, he’d written a little number called “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”, which Elvis Costello had a hit with years later, recording it for his own Armed Forces album in 1979, which Lowe produced. But by the early 90s it would be the song that would keep on giving for Lowe by way of an unlikely source.

In the late 80s and early 90s while Lowe was floundering on the fringes of the pop universe, pop-soul singer Whitney Houston was at its center. At the height of her powers, she made a film with Kevin Costner called the Bodyguard, with a career-defining title track in Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” in the charts. The movie had an impressive box-office showing. But the soundtrack album was a worldwide smash, released at the end of 1992 in North America and spending fourteen weeks at the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It was certified at an incredible 17 x platinum, which means that it sold 17 million units. One of the album tracks on that record was a contribution by soul singer Curtis Stiegers. The song: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding” by Nick Lowe.

Nick Lowe was in again.

Nick LoweWith the continuing proceeds from the Bodyguard Soundtrack (approximately $1 million, all told), Nick Lowe was free to make any sort of album he wanted to make. And the first record he made, the aforementioned The Impossible Bird, was arguably his strongest since his early career. And the money allowed both a tour of the States to support the album, and a follow-up album too.

He would go on to make several other records following a similar stylistic trajectory, all featuring his lustrous baritone, with excursions into the musical traditions of classic pop music; pop-soul, straight-up country, and even tin pan alley jazz. The albums Dig My Mood in 1998 and The Convincer in 2001, were looked upon as completing the trilogy that was started with The Impossible Bird, garnering similar praise from critics along with comfortable sales.

Nick Lowe’s newest album, At My Age, is out now, as is the re-issue of his 1978 debut LP Jesus of Cool, an album which was re-titled for the North American market as Pure Pop For Now People, possibly to avoid record burnings in the bible-belt.

You can read Lowe’s own thoughts on the Bodyguard soundtrack, among other things, in this great interview with Nick Lowe.

For more music, check out the Nick Lowe MySpace page.

For tour information and other fan goodies, hightail it to the official Nick Lowe website.

Enjoy!