Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Brief History of Grungy Pop -Rock

For some reason, lately my musical attention span has decreased. It is probably purely affected by the situations in which I listen to music. Because of this, it feels like my musical tastes have dumbed down a bit, and gotten somewhat more primitive and immediate. Put away the Jazz and Jamband cd booklet, bust out the underground 60s and 70s Rock and New Wave.

It kind of feels like in the late 70s, when people started viewing bands like Yes and Led Zeppelin as bloated, self-important, pompous and indulgent, and started favoring the straight-ahead, stripped-down approach of bands like the Ramones and the Talking Heads. Punk and New Wave followed, and much of its sound was taken from both the mindless teenage surf-sci fi party music of the early 60s, and the obscure, raw garage bands of the late 60s. These late 60s bands (think “Louie Louie”) were really the first wave of groups to really utilize guitar distortion and feedback as components in a simple pop song, having been shown the way by the Beatles. And in the late 70s and early 80s, a second, new wave of bands re-embraced this aesthetic of pop primitivism. The Ramones, Devo, the B-52's, the Police, the Talking Heads and Elvis Costello all emerged during this period with a similarly simple and tightly wound approach to their music.

So it is this type of musical approach that I'm craving right now, as pop-rock before the mid-80s is often surprisingly relevant, compared to most produced after. One excellent compilation for obscure and awesome 60's garage rock is the Nuggets Box Set: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968. Almost every band on the 4-cd set is obscure and unknown. At its best it is essential and groundbreaking, at its worst its at least entertaining. It is all grungy and raw, but still really catchy in that 60's pop way. This set was originally released as a double-LP set in 1972, and played a role in influencing the bands that let up to and became part of the Punk and New Wave movement. The garage sound of these bands definitely rubbed off on bands like the New York Dolls, the Stooges before the Punk and New Wave generation embraced it. This made apparent by the fate of the Strangelove's 1965 pop ditty “I Want Candy” (on disc 4), which was turned into a New Wave classic in 1982, when it was covered by the band Bow Wow Wow.

Nothin' like good old teenage kicks to satiate the musical ADD. I'm bustin' out the surfin', twistin', rock-n'-roll high school radio candy like its my job, and it feels great. Compared to listening to Jazz, this feels like switching to a lollipop after trying to eat a spaghetti dinner. Its lot sweeter, and also succinct and less messy, but it has no nutritional value in the long run. It is instant and momentary gratification. Just listen to the Ramones' Rocket to Russia and tell me that it's not totally musically refreshing...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sometimes You Just Feel Like Astral Weeks

Sometimes You Just Feel Like Astral Weeks

Sometimes mood is melancholy, and blues runs deep.

Maybe you're alone, unable to sleep.

Maybe you're numb, and need

A reminding taste of the world's wells of emotion -

Need soul that cuts sharp and to the core,

And you know its time for Van the Man.

His tortured pleas reveal things -

Deep human urges, pain and suffering,

Rapture, beauty and ecstasy,

Mixed together in a confusing blend.

It feel strange, possibly uncomfortable,

As it is too real and from the deep deep heart -

This is not music to listen to socially.

But as it pierces with its truth,

Van's voice recalls a feeling forgotten or lost in everyday life -

And in doing so gives undeniable proof that it exists.

For though his cries are tinged with loss and longing

They contain a sense of hope and renewal which lifts the spirit

As this is a spiritual record. (Let Mr. Bangs tell you about that)

Because sometimes you don't know what to do with your hands

And sometimes you just feel like Astral Weeks.

This really is a marvelous album.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pretentious Top 5 Lists (a la "High Fidelity")

This week I will present some well-thought out musical top 5 lists, which were pondered over laboriously with ma nephew Matt in the Arizona desert this past July. There was lots of time to kill in between the time spent tracking California Condors, so we retorted to impressing each other with our vast musical knowledge. About 8 miles deep in the Grand Canyon, there wasn't much to do during a long day of sweating and hiding under a rock from the blistering sun (though no hot chili peppers). At well over 100 degrees, we threw out top 5 lists of our own device, just like John Cusack and Jack Black. These are some of the results, none of which can be considered definitive:

Top 5 Grateful Dead Shows:

- May 2, 1970 - Harper College - Dick's Picks 8 - This show is epic. It's all over the boards, with a nice country-gospel tinged acoustic set, followed by an absolutely primal, furious electric performance.
- June 26, 1974 - Boston Garden - Dick's Picks 12 - This is pure liquid drippy trippy Jerry at his cleanest and most blissful. China Cat ->Rider is my all time favorite.
- August 27, 1972 - Field Trip, Veneta, OR - One of the legendary all-around amazing shows. From clean, tight, succinct songs to summer melty deep space jams, this one has it all.
- October 29, 1980 - Gainsville, FL - A seemingly random choice, this show is meaty, with thick, muscular playing, added to greatly by Brent Mydland's organ and keys. Really intense and rocking.
Tie for 5th:
- July 12, 1990 - RFK Stadium, Washington, DC - Played during a massive rainstorm, this is another rocking, meaty show that Brent is all over. A great version of "Foolish Heart," then a way-out-there, very powerful "Dark Star."
- May 9, 1977 - Buffalo, NY - I choose this over the more popular show the night before, mostly because of its absolutely perfect Help->Slip->Frank opener. Everything else is also performed to perfection. Just flawless music.

Matt's Top 5 Grateful Dead Shows:

- May 2, 1970 - Harper College
- Dick's Picks 8
- May 8, 1977 - Cornell University

- May 22, 1977 - Pembroke Pines, FL - Dick's Picks 3
- January 17, 1968 - Eureka Municipal Auditorium
- June 17, 1991 - Giants Stadium

My Top 5 One Hit Wonders:

- House of Pain - Jump Around
- Edgar Winter Group - Frankenstein
- Dexy's Midnight Riders - Come On Eileen
- Don McLean - American Pie
- Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
Honorable Mention: Faith No More - Epic

Matt's Top 5 One Hit Wonders:

- Dexy's Midnight Riders - Come On Eileen
- Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)
- Thomas Dolby - She Blinded Me with Science
- Rick Derringer - Rock and Roll Coochie Coo
-The Knack - My Sherona

Top 5 Songs about Pot (in order):

1. Cypress Hill - Hits from the Bong
2. Peter Tosh - Legalize It
3. Bob Marley - Kaya
4. Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf
5. Peter Rowan - Panama Red

List of Musicians who should have died years ago to save their reputation and legacy:

- Rod Stewart - Should have died right after Faces broke up in the mid 70's. Entire solo career was a poor decision.
- Eric Clapton - Should have overdosed and been dead in 1972. His entire solo career is regretable.
- Sting - Should have died in the late 80's early 90's
- Tina Turner - Should have never existed in the 80's at all. Poor decision on her part.
- Robbie Robertson - Should have died of a cocaine OD during the after party for The Last Waltz in 1976
- ELVIS (the definiton) - Probably should have died right after his '68 comeback special
- Pete Townsend - Should have died in 1978, with Keith Moon
- Michael Jackson - Should have died right after "Bad" was released in 1987
- Elton John - The 80s did not treat this guy well either. Should have died in the late 70s.
- Metallica (whole band) - Should have all gone down in a plane crash during their world tour for The Black Album in 1991.
- B-52's (whole band) - Their first album was incredible. Everything else sucked. They should have gone away back in 1979.
- Ozzy Osbourne - Should have gone down in the plane crash that killed Randy Rhoades. That was the last good music he ever made.
- Bono - Actually, Bono should have never existed on this earth as we know him. I would respect the man more if he was never the lead singer of a band called U2, and ended up a local mechanic in Dublin.

All-time Top Hired Session Musicians who MADE the albums they played on:

- Richard Davis - Upright Bass on Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks"
Mike Garson - Piano on David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane"
- Bernie Worrell - Keyboards on Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense"
- Duane Allman - Guitar on Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs"
- Billy Preston - Keyboards on the Beatles ' "Let It Be"
- Al Kooper - Organ on Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" (great story about this session here)
- David Grisman - Mandolin on Grateful Dead's "American Beauty"
- Jerry Garcia - Guitar on David Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name"
- The Meters - Backing band for Robert Palmer's "Sneakin' Sally Thru the Alley"

That is all. I like the last list the best.