Listen to WIDE OPEN ROAD by The Triffids.
Jason dropping in.
With Corbett doing a stellar job on road tunes this week (I'm a big Mamas & Papas fan), I figured I would try and stick with the theme.
I was talking to a translucent friend of mine yesterday (who asked me to refer to him only as "the guitarist from London's premier funk rock band - stage name: Bastion Highwalk") about my song selection and he wondered if picking a song called "Wide Open Road" was taking "Road Tunes" too literally. But I travelled heavily in the 90s, and I would spend weeks in advance of those trips making road tune compilations on TDK (A)D90 cassette tapes for my beaten Sony WM FX36 (with anti-rolling mechanism!*). This song was a staple on each trip - and it is a road tune with a twist: this is about a man moving because of obsession.
The Triffids formed in Perth, Australia, in the late 70s. Our featured song is from the album "Born Sandy Devotional" which is of a style that makes you reach for adjectives - no better described than here:
"Sprawling, expressive, unique and beautiful. But the LP - and indeed the Triffids whole career - has been boiled down to one song 'Wide Open Road' and even that probably doesn't get the attention it deserves......The record is dominated by themes of landscape and loneliness doused in alcohol..... Unafraid to be beautiful. Unafraid to be aching."
It is this aching, in a dusty and barren musical landscape, that really captures me. The openness created by the music is in stark contrast to the constricted fixation that now consumes this man after his woman hits the road with another.
I lost track of my friends, I lost my kin
Cut them off as limbs
I drove out over the flatlands
Hunting down you and him
(That last line........)
And so every day he wakes,
thinking I'm still by your side
I reach out just to touch you
only to be hit by the Groundhog Day realisation again and again and again, knowing that he would impose this suffering on himself once more.
But it is these four lines below, played as I would pass through the landscapes on my own travels, that gave me the evocation that I, too, could be free:
The sky was big and empty
My chest filled to explode
I yelled my insides out at the sun
At the wide open road
Photo: Thar Desert, Jaisalmer, India. Taken by Jason Bryant.
* whatever that is
Friday, February 29, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Listen to Holland Tunnel by John Phillips.
Listen to First and Last Thing You Do by John Phillips.
Today's songs are by a guy that I referenced in my last series of posts, John Phillips--aka, "The Wolfking". Phillips is, of course, best known for his work as the leader of the Mamas & Papas, but his masterpiece--and the best record I've discovered in the past several years--is his 1970 solo record, John, The Wolfking of L.A. The record assembled the best of L.A.'s session men and the songs are ingenious descriptions of the beginning stages of a man's fall from grace. Much like There's a Riot Goin' On (which, incidentally, was recorded at Phillips' Bel Air mansion...Sly was Phillips' tenant!), it's a bit like the watching (listening to?) a train wreck...but one that's going out in style.
The Wolfking may be the most prototypical of our "Kings of the Road". This record finds him wandering around Los Angeles, as well as other debauched locales (e.g., New York and New Orleans), on a search for self-discovery and drugs. I'm posting two songs today, but they're really just different versions of the same song. The first, "Holland Tunnel", is the version released on the Wolfking record. It's a bittersweet meditation on leaving New York, replete with details about picking up tickets for the New Jersey turnpike, getting steamed clams at the Howard Johnson's and slumming in Pittsburgh pawn shops (and he seems to be, um, "red-ballin'" it all the way). In other words, nice little details that perfectly conjure up images of escape and the open road.
I'm also including the version of this song that Phillips recorded for the soundtrack to Robert Altman's 1970 film Brewster McCloud. It's significantly faster and peppier--Phillips sounds much less doped up--and it features prominent (and satisfying) pedal steel guitar. It's much less melancholy and probably more in keeping with our series. In both songs, Phillips concludes by hoping that a stroke of good luck will strand him in L.A. See you next week!
N.B.: In doing some Internet searches about this song, I found out that "Holland Tunnel" was on the soundtrack for Noah Baumbach's 2005 film "The Squid and the Whale". Now that's a skillful soundtrack compiler! Who are these guys? How do they get their jobs? I'm jealous.
Photo: Rainbow Connection, Jemez Trail, NM.
Listen to Lyin' Down the Middle by Dillard & Clark.
Poor Gene. It's actually a bit hard for me to start writing a post about Gene Clark without thinking of him in that way. He deserved so much, but always seemed to end up on the short end of the stick. But is that a fair assessment? I mean, he was certainly the most talented and handsome member of a group with a surfeit of of good looks and creative spark (well, with the exception of maybe McGuinn). And, OK, so the other Byrds were mean to Gene, he didn't like flying, he felt out of place in Southern California and he never got anywhere near the recognition he deserved--is that enough to justify the self-destructiveness of his behavior or the self-pity in his lyrics?
Maybe. I mean, just the fact that songs like today's (and the album it comes from, The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark) were semi-forgotten until recently makes a pretty good case for the trajectory of Gene's life. Apart from his "bad luck," Gene seemed to have a kind of discomfort within his own skin that really comes across in his lyrics--He always seems to be running away from something or being treated surprisingly badly by a woman. Here's where he earns his status of a "King of the Road". Whether writing about trains leaving in the morning, catching an early plane, riding the Kansas City Southern, looking for "1320 N. Columbus", or being 15 miles from Memphis, Gene always seemed to be searching for something on the road that he never ends up finding.
Anyway, all of that is to say what a wonderful song we have for you today. "Lyin' Down the Middle" is a Dillard & Clark B-side (!) from 1968 and it is amazing. It is a wonderful combination of country, pop and bluegrass that would've served as the perfect template for ensuing country rockers, had they Clark's talent. I'm not sure whether the song title "Lyin' Down the Middle" is a typo, as the opening verse "I think that line down the middle of the road is driving me insane" would make a lot more sense (as well as link it to Haggard's "White Line Fever"). In the song's lyrics, Gene characteristically blames himself for his problems with a woman, drives 3000 miles to see her (only to be rebuffed, I'm sure) and admits to his largely rock audience that he does all this with "country rhythms" rolling across his mind. Most importantly, for our series, is his exclamation in the chorus of "San Bernardino, 14 miles, see that sign!" I don't know if he's leaving L.A. or returning, but it perfectly captures the pleasures of making good time out on an American highway.
Photo: Love is a Truck, Santa Monica.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Listen to (The Seashores Of) Old Mexico by Merle Haggard.
Today's song is by a man that really needs no introductions or explanations as to why he's important or overlooked (as we often do here). Yes, we hold some truths to be self-evident around here, and Merle Haggard's place in the pantheon of pop is right up there with the B's and Dylan. Haggard's songs are little miracles of economy, often expressing subtle and widely ranging emotions in neat, 2:30 minute packages (see "If We Make it Through December" or "Pride in What I Am"). And his melodies! They are really lovely, with hints of many diverse American styles running throughout (dixieland, folk, jazz).
"(The Seashores of) Old Mexico" is taken from Haggard's 1974 record Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album. No, it's not a creative title, but it sure does say something about the man's creative output between 1965 and 1974--That's right, 30 albums, very much of it of genius-level quality. Today's song is an escape fantasy of the first order and Haggard certainly earned his right to the title of "King of the Road", seeing as how so much of his material is either about movement (on trains, planes, etc.) or being trapped (in prisons, bars, etc.) and wanting to move.
Anyway, "(The Seashores of) Old Mexico" tells an archetypal story of an American on the lam, finding both freedom and love in the warmer and more forgiving environs of Mexico. This is an escape fantasy I hold particularly dear, but I also love how Haggard traces his actual route to freedom in the song--Tucson to Juarez, Durango, Colima and finally to Manzanillo. I've made much of that drive and it's just as good as the song makes it out to be.
Photo: San Augustinillo Playa, Oax.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Listen to Shackles and Chains by John Stewart.
Well, it's winter again--It's that time of year when a young(ish) man's fancy turns to warmer climes and, in a more general sense, to escape in itself. That's why we'll be featuring a two week series entitled "Kings of the Road".
While some others (e.g., the owners of this blog) spent the past week "bump(ing) into Mick" down in the Caribbean, I've been sitting here trapped in New Dump City thinking of songs that do their best to capture the spirit of the open road. It's been my own little attempt at a vacation. So, for the next several days we'll be playing songs that trade in escape fantasies, whether they be internal or geographic ones. These songs will be generously seasoned with deserts, lonely roads and names of places both well known and obscure. Their writers and performers will be lovingly known as "Kings of the Road".
Today's song starts us off with a bang--It's the late John Stewart's "Shackles and Chains" from his 1969 record California Bloodlines. Stewart gained his reputation as a member of and writer for the Kingston Trio, until he went solo in 1967. His best known song, "Daydream Believer", was taken to number one later that year by the Monkees. However, Stewart's enduring legacy will be his self-conscious creation of a type of pop that would later be called Americana. Stewart was perhaps the first to write songs about characters and stories with self-consciously historical narratives, such as a song about Lincoln's funeral train (see "Lincoln's Train"). I think Stewart's songs aren't as sophisticated or successful in their aims as, say Dylan's work in the same vein, mostly because his songs are so explicit and concrete. They sometimes don't leave enough to the imagination--they're more Stephen Ambrose than they are Stephen Crane.
Despite all that complaining, the songs are pretty awesome, and "Shackles and Chains" is a great example. It's a hot little workout with some of the world's greatest session men playing on it, many of whom were similarly featured on Dylan's Nashville Skyline--Players like Kenny Buttrey (drums), Charlie McCoy (harmonica, etc.), Norbert Putnam (bass) and Lloyd Green (pedal steel). I think the song really evokes the excitement of hopping into a car and turning the key, or of a train pulling out of the station for some unknown destination. Anyway, listen to the song and see if you don't feel like jumping some unbound Barstow train bound for L.A.! Freedom!
Photo: View of Phoenix.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Well well well! It's nice to be back on the blog, but this will be just a brief visit, because Corbett is taking over posting duties for the next two weeks with a series he's long been waiting to unveil. Do like me and tune in tomorrow to find out what he's got.
Before I go, I'd like to plug the Five Boro Bike Tour, scheduled for May 4, which we just signed up for today. I think it would be awesome if a big group of us could all go together. Details here.
Finally, I don't want to give away our secret undisclosed location too easily, but here's what landing on it looks like.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Listen to SUMTHIN' BETTA by Beatconductor.
Jason dropping in.
Stu has introduced me to some kicking record stores in East Side, New York. Not long ago, he hauled out "The Greatest Hits of G.A.M.M." - a Swedish label that is rumoured to be a side-project of DJ Mad Mats (founder of Raw Fusion Recordings). The G.A.M.M. stuff is very cool - oldskool, soulskool, toadskool....
My favourite track on the album is this one - sampling 1979's "There's Something Better" by Free Life.
Its a real fusion. Without originally knowing anything about the artist, or the label, I found it difficult to pick the era its from. Heavy on uplifting gospel but with a thumping disco rhythm, it sounds like its from the 70s but it was released just 2 years ago.
THIS will make you dance.
Photo: PANTHEON, ROME, 2004. Taken by Jason Bryant.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Listen to DRAGGIN' MY HEELS by The Hollies.
This 12" special disco version of Draggin' My Heels by The Hollies is a weird one. Recorded by the sixth incarnation of the band in and featuring only one foundation member (Allan Clarke), this mix was only ever released as a promo and never charted. The song can also be found on the band's 1977 album 'The Hollies / Clarke, Hicks, Sylvester, Calvert, Elliott'.
The Hollies lurch into the late 70's disco chasm is reminiscent of Elton John's Philly soul adventure Are You Ready For Love. However Elton actually went to Philly and hired MFSB as his backing band and Thom Bell to produce. By all accounts, The Hollies slapped theirs together themselves.
The track was an underground dance staple at joints like the Paradise garage and The Loft in NYC and has turned up on a compilation or two over the years. It's well worth a good listen.
Photo: Snowy trees (4).
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Listen to GOING BACK TO MY ROOTS by Richie Havens.
Greetings blogfans from our undisclosed location!
Going Back To My Roots is a song I got from Stu probably the first week I met him. At the time he was playing it quite a lot, but in the past four years I'd think no one's played it more than me!
As you might know, Going Back To My Roots was a hit for Lamont Dozier in 1977, and an important disco building block, as discussed in "Turn The Beat Around" by Peter Shapiro, which is the book I'm currently reading in our undisclosed location.
But this version is from 1981, and it's by Richie Havens. Until the time this cover was released, Havens was known as the earnest black folkie who opened Woodstock. So it must have come as quite a shock for people to hear him front this deep grooved smash. But front it he did, and I daresay the massiveness of this song is possibly the first thing music fans of 2008 would know about, not the Woodstock stuff.
Going Back To My Roots became a mainstay of the Ibiza Sound, the Balearic Beat--the (relatively) leisurely paced, upbeat groovers with loose, organic percussion championed by Paul Oakenfold and co. back in the 80s. Happy music that you can chill to as well as dance to.
I was none the wiser about any of this stuff until I raided Stu's library of music and started (but not finished!) educating myself.
Well, that's your lot. Back to the
Photo: Snowy trees (3).
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Listen to I'M AHEAD IF I CAN QUIT WHILE I'M BEHIND by Jim Ford.
If you're into country-soul, Jim Ford is the man. He may be new to many of you as he is to me. However his songs were covered by amongst others Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, and The Temptations. Nick Lowe cites him as the biggest musical influence of his life. He even popped up as an uncredited player on Sly Stone's 'Riot' album. All this despite only releasing one LP in his lifetime, 1969's 'Harlan County'', which featured contributions from James Burton, Jim Keltner and Dr. John.
Jim Ford disappeared in the mid-70's amid drink, drugs, etc. He was tracked down in a trailer park in California in 2006 where a slew of master tapes including this unreleased song were found spread out over the floor of his mobile home. A compilation of these was released later that year called 'Sounds Of Our Time'. As many an artist has done after they receive their long overdue recognition, Jim Ford passed soon after. This tune, the sublimely titled 'I'm Ahead If I Can Quit While I'm Behind' is taken from a second album sourced from those tapes, 2007's 'Point Of No return'.
For mine the first few riffs sound like Terry Reid's 'Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace'. Not a bad place to start. Enough faffing. I'll let you sit back and decide how it affects you. Enjoy.
(late minor edits.)
Photo: Snowy trees (2).
Monday, February 18, 2008
Listen to I'M STEPPING OUT OF THE PICTURE by Johnny Maestro.
Yes, we're stepping out of the picture, and Stuart is stepping in.
I picked this song less for the symbolism than because I really love it, and I owe it to Stu that I know it. On one of his Northern Soul comps that I borrowed back in the day, this song was buried down on Side 4, but I got attached to it immediately.
It prompted a pretty long search for more songs by Johnny Maestro, but I never found a whole heck of a lot, at least not much worth sharing. He was with an Italian guy from Brooklyn, and most of his recording were with a singing group called The Brooklyn Bridge, and had a minor hit with a Jimmy Webb tune, The Worst That Could Happen. Nevertheless, close readers of the blog will also know that they recorded a bombastic You'll Never Walk Alone.
So, thanks Stu, and the blog's all yours!
Photo: Snowy trees (1).
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Listen to YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE by Ray Charles
Hello, just checking in real quick. Not too surprised about our result and a little removed from it anyway, but I have to say I'm genuinely shocked at this one. Not being facetious--after all, I can't gloat--I'm really shocked to hear about it. Anyway, I'll be pulling for both teams this week in Europe to bounce back...
Friday, February 15, 2008
...for a few days. For some well-earned R&R. (Well, earned by Amy, not by me!)
I've got a couple of songs lined up for next week, but we're relying on a pair of guest-bloggers to keep things ticking over. Jason will be here a week from now doing his meditations, plus we have a big time treat for you: Our friend Stu, late of East Village Radio (catch them tomorrow, 6-9!) and all sorts of adventures we've plugged periodically, is going to drop a couple of tunes on us. It's a can't miss proposition.
Anyway, we've been a little remiss in our Arsenal blogging lately, and that's set to continue, but it's a big week for us, no question. Man United tomorrow in the FA Cup, and Milan on Wednesday. Fingers crossed Man United gets stuck in Dubai and Milan disband for cheating, and they forfeit both matches...
Have a good weekend and enjoy the rollicking good fun next week!
Listen to THE HONEYMOON IS OVER and HIGH SHERIFF (OF CALHOUN PARISH) by The Cruel Sea.
Jason dropping in.
My posts are rarely going to match the broader themes Bill gets going on the blog. This one is (sort of) an exception - but it ain't no sweet soul sixties vocal group.
The blog this week has been about love songs as we led up to Valentine's Day. It seems fitting to finish the week with a break-up song. I had really been considering "Can't Stand Me Now" by The Libertines until political events this week in my homeland instilled some pride from a distance. So I've gone for an Australian song and it was The Cruel Sea that crept onto the pod.
The Cruel Sea are all about their talisman: singer Tex Perkins. I remember seeing him in the early 90s at one of Sydney's inner pub rock venues (Hopetoun Hotel anyone?) with his band The Beasts of Bourbon. Like many who see the man prowl a stage for the first time, I thought "dude".
"The Honeymoon is Over" is all about Tex telling a lover its over and spelling out exactly what she's going to miss out on as a result - and his list is the first time I've ever been able to accurately define something as "pithy". Tex doesn't sing it as a song, more of a directive, to both of them:
I'm gonna send you back to wherever
The hell it was you came
And then I'm gonna get this tattoo
Changed to another girl's name
There's not really a melody to the vocal - its bordering on spoken-word - and the soaring slide guitar almost masks what really makes this song: Tex's staccato delivery. The words are mostly mono-syllabic and each delivered with the same emphasis, no up-and-down, to create the impression of a preacher hammering home the point: "cos-the-kind-of-fool-you-made-me-feel-I-never-live-it-down". To top it off, Tex grunts, clicks, pops and hollers like a man leading a migration of wild brumbies. The simple and direct words belie a very clever song that's topped with tonnes of gusto.
I couldn't drop The Cruel Sea without adding High Sheriff (Of Calhoun Parish) - a song which came with the "Black Stick" single.
Originally sung by Tony Joe White - one of the earliest exponents of swamp-rock, its got a real swampy acoustic guitar riff to anchor the track. The rhythm is also driven by the guitar - there are no drums. You've got a hand-clap and a bit of tambourine but the track rolls with a faux-tempo created by muted guitar squelch (think of the sound at the start of Radiohead's "Creep").
The song is about a Louisiana boy who spurns the advances of the Sheriff's daughter, only to have her accuse him of molesting her. Daddy throws him in jail only for him to escape into the woods (Tony Joe based it on the real daughter of a Calhoun Parish Sheriff).
To truly appreciate Tex, you need to see him - check out the video for "Honeymoon..". The black t-shirt that begs to hold a cigarette pack in its sleeve; the boot cut jeans; the height of the man; the greased-hair; the lank; the original dude.
Photo: Sydney Opera House, 2002. Taken by Jason Bryant.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Listen to LOVE'S HAPPENING by The Impressions.
Happy Valentine's Day! When I went to write this post, I found that I've done something (slightly) ironical. On a day where you should feel 100% about your valentine, I feel less than 100% about the music. Even though we haven't ever posted on The Impressions, or Curtis Mayfield (and I was embarassed about that), I have really mixed feelings about Love's Happening.
This is one of my favorite Impressions songs, but it's funny, sometimes I think it's a failed experiment! When you listen to this, do you feel like maybe Curtis wasn't completely satisfied with how it turned out? That's how I feel about it. It's a tough arrangement, in that it starts slow, then goes into that double time feel (and the tempo increases, too, by the end), and so it flirts with feeling disjointed. Sometimes I think it works brilliantly, sometimes I'm not so sure. The same with the harpsichord: I like it on Curtis's songs because it's a signature style of his, but I'm not convinced it works in this song.
I also know that Curtis also did the song with the Five Stairsteps, and that's why I think he was unsure how best to tackle it.
I really love the Impressions on this song though. On Love's Happening, they're more ornament than feature, but they're so pretty on the first section where they just do simple echoes of Curtis. Just listening to them is the best part of this tune.
Anyway, no more waffling, everybody go out and give your all to your valentine!
Photo: Life in Istanbul (4).
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Listen to I DON'T KNOW HOW (TO SAY I LOVE YOU) DON'T WALK AWAY by The Superlatives.
I really do love how much great obscure music is so readily available these days. I've spent a lot of my life collecting music, but I've really come around to the idea of a Universal Jukebox, where anyone can listen to anything they want. Maybe someday. In the meantime, we have music blogs. This song, for example, I found some time ago on Soul Sides, and not that he needs our endorsement, it's a place you really should visit. I think I've said this before! Everything good is there eventually. Even Monday's song (which John gave to me) was posted there a while ago. Oh, and speaking of blogs, Stu was on a heavy hitting Australian blog the other week playing some Icelandic music you'd be wise to check out.
Anyway, there are a couple of cool things about this song. One, the title, with a parenthetical right in the middle of it. Two, whoever recorded the drums was on to something. They really snap and pop. Pop? Yes, this song is very pop. Try not wiggle when you play it. In particular, there's a little breakdown section that is so much fun. I want to quote a well known fellow blogger who gets it exactly right:
There’s a breakdown in the middle of the record in which the arranger comes dangerously close to having his reach exceed his grasp, yet manages to pull off what amounts to a bit of pure magic. The entire band steps back, with the exception of the horns which lay down a little fanfare – trombones in harmony with muted trumpets – after which the lead singer drops a single, extended, soulful ‘BABY!’, that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. Just beautiful…Photo: Life in Istanbul (3).
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Listen to I LOVE YOU BABY by The Moovers.
I Love You Baby is the second song we've posted off of the Eccentric Soul Deep City Label comp. The Deep City label was based in Miami, and wasn't too successful in its short life before succumbing to relatively petty disagreements among its owners and shutting down forever. Still, they made some good music, and a lot of that music was made by The Moovers, a vocal group who sang back-up on most of the label's 45s. This track was one of their turns in the spotlight.
Musically and lyrically, it's nothing special--I wouldn't be too interested in a cover version--but it's a tremendous performance, and a great recording in the sense that it captures a lot of soul. I especially like it how nearly redlines on the "BABY!" lines and how it moves into the refrain "You put a SONG in my heart with a SWEET melody..." and then instead of moving back into the chorus it surprisingly doubles back a few seconds later with "You're my SOLE inspiration...." (or is it soul and inspiration? Anyway, it's really nice.) Have a good Tuesday!
Photo: Life in Istanbul (2).
Monday, February 11, 2008
Listen to HEART FULL OF LOVE by The Invincibles.
Welcome back! This week we're going to post a few selections from some sweet soul sixties vocal groups, of greater and lesser renown. I encourage you to have a listen to these tunes even if you don't recognize the name of the group though, because they're all designed for maximum enjoyability.
Heart Full Of Love by The Invincibles came out of L.A. in 1965. It's a really, really typical story for that era. The group started as a gospel ensemble ("The Invincible Songbirds," how cool is that name?), but took on new material (or adapted old material: scroll down here to hear a gospel re-adaptation of today's song) to join the hit parade. They signed to a major label subsidiary (Warner's Loma Records, in this case). But as LPs weren't much emphasized in 1965, The Invincibles never got to make a full album, just a couple of singles. Of course, black soul groups got infinitesimal label support relative to white pop groups in those days (plus ca change), so even though Heart Full Of Love is as compelling a ballad as you'll ever hear (not only a falsetto lead, but falsetto harmonies! Awesome), it only made the merest of dents in the national charts. It was basically a regional hit then disappeared.
The nice coda to this all-too-common narrative is that with the music blog era, these songs are being moved out of dusty second-hand shops (or savvy DJs' crates) and across peoples' laptops worldwide.
Photo: Life in Istanbul (1).
Friday, February 8, 2008
Listen to RAPTURE RIDERS (ORIGINAL) by Go Home Productions.
Jason dropping in.
I have a thing for (pi and) mashups - songs that are created from the pieces of other songs. Those of you who were at Bill's wedding would have heard me play a killer track without realising it was mash - Callin' Up The Pieces (mashing Lyrics Born and The Average White Band).
"Go Home Productions" is the alias for Mark Vidler, a UK-based producer/remixer/DJ. He made mash for 5 years, featured on radio and (M)TV and remixed records. In 2007, Vidler decided to let it loose - putting every mash he'd ever done online - for free.
One of these tracks is today's feature for 2 reasons:
1. It takes two songs that both suffer badly from over-familiarity and breathes new life into them. Those songs are "Riders of the Storm" by The Doors and "Rapture" by Blondie.Rapture was the first song featuring rap to hit the top of the charts in the US and its this rap that's critical to the success of this mash.
2. I dig it.
Jim Morrison's vocal kicks things off over Rapture's funk (based on Chic's "Good Times"). At 1:19 we hear Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger wandering around.
So far, nice enough.
Then, at 1:46, its bass-only until Debbie Harry slides in with THAT rap.
I challenge anyone to name a rap that is cooler than this - not just for its languid delivery but also its character references of that time: Fab Five Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lee Quinones....
Jim returns at 3:21 and you think that's it - that maybe the song will just drift out and verge on boring you with the rest of "Riders" - but 30 seconds later Debbie's back to bring it all home.
Put this on at a party and watch people go quiet and groove to the rhythm.
Photo: Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France, 2004. Taken by Jason Bryant.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Listen to AUTUMN ALMANAC by The Kinks.
And so we've reached the end of our little series on Rasa Davies. Today we bring you Autumn Almanac, which is surely one of the best three songs The Kinks ever wrote and therefore as good a song as you'll hear anywhere.
The thing about Autumn Almanac is that it is one of Ray's most formally sophisticated songs and also one of his most emotionally effective. It's really Beatlesy, with its Day In The Life-style interlude and in the phasings in the outro. Happily for Ray (and for the length of this post), it's a song that has always been recognized as truly great, so I don't think it's necessary to go to great lengths breaking it down.
But once again, Rasa Davies makes a grand contribution to the song. For once her vocal part is really complex. You can't easily hum along with it like you can with many of her other parts, but it's just as beautiful and mournful as anything she did for The Kinks. A great song, and a great way to cap off this little series if I do say so myself.
Photo: Autumn afternoon.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Listen to TILL DEATH DO US PART by The Kinks.
Hi everybody! It's nice to be back after a few days off. We're coming to the end of our little series. Tomorrow we're going to share a classic Kinks song today that everybody knows, but today is one nobody knows.
Till Death Do Us Part is a fantastic Kinks song that has never really seen the light of day. In part, that's because it wasn't really a Kinks record. Ray was commissioned to write the song for a motion picture of the same name. (Maybe some of you have even seen this movie? It was the English predecessor to "All In The Family." A different version of today's song (sung by some other guy) played over the title credits.) Our version was briefly out on the "Great Lost Kinks Album."
One thing we've tried to show is that Mrs. Davies added so much to the Kinks' sound. Just listen to the style and subtlety of Rasa's contribution to Till Death Do Us Part. She is only really doubling one instrument, but she picks the right one, Ray's instantly recognizable acoustic guitar. As usual, her contribution adds prettiness and wistfulness, which are always welcome in Ray's songs. There's a poignancy in this song, in the way Mrs. Davies observes and comments on her husband's reflections on married life.
The bittersweetness of the song is deepened by the knowledge that this is one of her very last contributions. It seems that it was too difficult to integrate his married life with his musical life, and for the sake of both he had to remove one from the other. As for his musical life, we know that Rasa's presence in the studio was at least occasionally difficult for the band: "With Rasa tagging along with us all the time, tempers began to sizzle and eventually the group began to splinter." But she also served to defuse tensions at different times: "She'd keep peace in the group just by being there. She'd come down into the studio and say, 'Could you try this or that?' And because she was a nice little nineteen-year old girl, you'd say, 'Well, OK yeah.'" (Both of those quotes are from bassist Pete Quaife, by the way.) (mild chauvinism in original.)
And according to Ray, leaving his wife out of the studio was the only way for him to keep thins going. He noted once that Rasa was very upset that she hadn't sang on Lola, their next and biggest hit. He said, "I was desperate to make my marriage work. It's all too easy to say you're imprisoned by the people who love you. but I was making myself a prisoner, and I wasn't able to do my job properly, that's all there is."
Unfortunately, we've been unable to track down Rasa's thoughts on her time singing with the Kinks, but to borrow a cliche, the music speaks for itself. The Kinks have been beloved by their fans for turning away from the Sgt. Peppers' excesses of contemporary British pop music in 1967 for something gentler, more reflective, and more... feminine. Rasa Davies deserves a lot of credit for that turn.
Photo: Snow and sun.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Listen to Dead End Street by The Kinks.
I'm going to lay off any heavy class-warfare analysis of this song. Suffice it to say, it's in there and it's pretty effective. Ray, as is his wont, makes the listener feel like he's right there in the room with the unfortunate subjects of his song ("What are we living for? Two-roomed apartment on the second floor" and "On a cold and frosty morning, wipe my eyes and stop me yawning" are particularly effective). What strikes me most about this song is Ray's use of food and drink to describe his protagonists' situation. "A Sunday joint of bread and honey" and "Boil the tea and put some toast on" are such vivid, yet economical ways of saying that they're down to eating bread and water. Also, I've often wondered if a "joint" of bread and honey (or jam, etc) is a common enough British phrase or if Ray was (again?) using drug lingo a la "blazin' on a sunny afternoon"? I'm sure he wasn't, but I kind of like to think of it in that way. I also like the thin veil Ray drapes over his songs when he is really writing about himself, and often his brother. As in "Two Sisters", this song seems to be a warding off of danger. I think you can hear the paranoia here--that this "Dead End Street" could easily be the one in which he and his brother live together, no doubt miserably.
Anyway, this song is a rousing call to arms and it gains considerable power from the ensemble yelling of "Dead End!", which Rasa was presumably part of.
Photo: Practice Space.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Listen to Susannah's Still Alive by The Kinks.
Dave Davies seems like an interesting character. Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about him. Most of what I've gleaned has been from his songs, and maybe that's a good thing. Some things I know about him are that he was really the first pop star to wear long hair, the first to play power chords and the first to distort his guitar sound (apparently by slashing the speaker cones of his 8W Elpico amp with a razor and then attaching it to a Vox AC30) . As a guitar player, he is second to none. The solos he played on the Kinks' early singles are blistering, angry exercises; in short, just the sort of playing you'd hope for in a band filled with open, aggressive feuds (with Mick Avory, Ray, etc). And his lead vocals aren't too far from his solos--Lusty, unpolished, shambolic and compelling.
Today's song, "Susannah's Still Alive", was written by Dave and released as a single in 1967 (b/w "Funny Face"). I don't quite know what to make of it. It's closest relative (in my own associations) is Nick Lowe's "Marie Provost", a similarly misanthropic musing on aging and dying alone. However, Dave's song is much more mysterious and mature than Lowe's. In fact, it's amazing how close Dave's compositions can stand to his brother's songs (I mean, is there something about having an ingenious songwriting brother that lends you magical talents [Carl, Dennis]?) Dave's observations are nuanced in much the same way Ray's are:
Oh, Susannah's bedraggled but she
Still wears the locket 'round her neck.
She's got a picture on the table
Of a man who is young and able.
Despite the similarities, Dave's songs seem more openly aggressive to me. Don't get me wrong, I realize how angry Ray is, but Dave just seems less artful in (interested in?) concealing it. Case in point are the lyrics to the chorus:
Oh, Susannah's gonna cry,
Oh, Susannah's still alive.
Whiskey or gin, that's alright,
When there's nothing in her bed at night
She sleeps with the covers down,
Hopin' that somebody gets in.
Beyond the nice picture that Dave paints in this song is a kind of pitiless sneer at the poor old woman who waits alone, drinking and pining for the soldier who's never coming home to her. I've also wondered if Dave was consciously (or unconsciously) aping Stephen Foster with the lyrics to this chorus. These guys knew a lot about music and it wouldn't surprise me if he had this somewhere in mind. Regardless, Rasa's backing vocals (along with Dave and/or Ray?) lend a kind of childlike sweetness to the mix that makes this dark, raucous song even more enjoyable.
Photo: Savannah Modern.
Friday, February 1, 2008
I just got word from Stu that he and his mate Ben have finally got their own radio show on the totally fantastic East Village Radio. Their first set is tomorrow from 6-8 PM. I highly recommend tuning in! (If you happen to miss it live, you can also download it as a podcast.) Have a good weekend, all of you...
Listen to GILA by Beach House.
Listen to FATA MORGANA by El Guincho.
Hello February! A quick post for you from me, since as soon as Jason takes over he immediately skates off to Oz, I have to be my own Friday guest blogger!
Two songs that are widely available on the internet, so I don't feel bad about posting them, even though they're very new.
First is Gila by Beach House, from their brand new album "Devotion." I really love this music: a voice, a guitar, a metronome, and serious low-fi vibes. If you liked their last album, or this song, you'll like the entire new album. It all sounds the same. (Suffice it to say, if you don't like this selection, don't dig any deeper.)
El Guincho's album, "Alegranza," was released last year but is only very recently attracting attention. The most common point of comparison has been Panda Bear, which is certainly there. I haven't heard anyone compare it to a Cornelius record, which is how it sounds to me. Anyway, it's good fun.
This weekend we have Man City early Saturday then we're hosting a shower for some twins-to-be. Sunday is the Super Bowl! Amy will be theoretically cheering for the Pats but probably just watching ANTM reruns...
Photos: iPhone Skies.