Golden Oldies

Have you read the book “Jane Eyre?” It’s one of my all-time favorites. I think I read it for the first time in junior high school, and even now I go back to it every few years. I do it because it’s a great story, and because I get something new out of it every time. As I grow older and change, I notice different things about the story and view the characters and events in a different light.

Music is like that, too. We all know about those musical numbers that have been played so often, you can’t stand them any more. Like “Stairway to Heaven.” Or “Born in the U.S.A.” Or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

As I may have mentioned one or two or a hundred times on this blog, I’m a big Rolling Stones fan. I can listen to songs like “Honky Tonk Woman” or “Shattered” over and over again, but I realize that for a lot of people that would be torture. The Stones’ hits have been played so often, in so many environments from radio to stadium events, that we all know them backwards and forwards.

But I argue that it’s worth revisiting these old chestnuts from time to time. I think that if you can get beyond having heard them so often, you’ll always discover something new.

I have a Bach channel on Pandora, and it frequently plays something from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Now music from this piece has appeared in movies and TV ads and it’s on classical radio all the time; it’s kind of the “Stairway to Heaven” of classical music. But still.

Yesterday I was listening to “Fall,” and the Adagio movement came on. I literally stopped in my tracks to listen. It’s just so beautiful. It feeds your soul.

 

 

It’s always great to discover new music; that’s one of the reasons I started this blog. But the old classics can continue to give joy, whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you hear them.

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Working it

The past few weeks have been pretty busy, thanks to some wonderful wonderful work. I know everyone hates waking up in the morning to get ready for their jobs, but it’s so great to have a reason to hate waking up.

It seems like the best working songs have to do with not liking your job, just like the best love songs are usually about affairs that either haven’t begun yet or have ended badly. I was really psyched to have this project, but I suspect that if I wrote a song about it, it wouldn’t be very good.

So just in time for Labor Day, here are a few songs about not liking your job. Even if you do.

 

 

Photo by Matt MacGillivray. Creative Commons License 2.0.

5/12/17: There’s Something Happening Here

I found out about this from Ken Michaels’s social media feed. Ken hosts the Beatles radio show “Every Little Thing,” which you should check out ASAP.

Eric Burdon of the Animals has released a cover of the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth.” Very appropriate, given the political crisis here in the U.S.

 

First of all, the drums. I love them. They’re just really interesting, and a nice sound.

And I like where Eric’s voice has gone. At 72, it’s only become more interesting. Of course, it’s always been unique. There’s a sternness to it, but he’s a good blues singer, too. He’s always kind of sounded like an old man. Here he is in 1965.

 
In 1970, Eric sat in with War for “Spill the Wine.” He is having so much fun in this video. I’m not sure it’s the original recording, but this is one of those songs where I think it really doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s a great performance, which it is.

 

And here’s the original “For What It’s Worth,” released in 1966 during a different time of political crisis. There are a lot of wonderful protest songs out there, but I wish there didn’t have to be any.

5/6/17: Rock & roll for grownups

There’s a lot of Who music going around the house these days. One of us is making a mix for a friend, and I just bought a Pete Townshend greatest hits album.

I’ve heard that girls supposedly don’t like the Who. I’ve also heard that about Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, two bands I love, but in my case it was kind of true with the Who.

I always liked their singles, and I saw and loved both “Quadrophenia” and “Tommy.” But that thing that makes you really connect with an artist’s music was just missing from my relationship with the band.

Things are changing now that I’m old and pruny. I’ve grown to appreciate Ringo Starr’s drumming and Bill Wyman’s bass playing, and I’m listening to lots of Pete Townshend. There’s that emotional connection now, and I keep going back to his music.

So you know what’s going to happen now. I’m going to be hitting all the Who albums, and inflicting them on you. But that’s a great kind of infliction. Like getting hit in the face with a bag full of awesome.

In the meantime, here’s Pete. I love the lyrics – they’re great in his songs – and also the chord choices. Not too elaborate, but sophisticated.

This is a duet with Ronnie Lane (of the Small Faces and also the regular Faces).

 

And here’s “Rough Boys,” because it’s fun.

 

 

 
Image by Annie Mole. License: Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

 

4/26/17: The happiest man on earth

There’s a game going around Facebook today where you list nine bands you saw and one you didn’t. Your friends have to guess which band you didn’t see. Music nerd that I am, I’m having a blast with this (incidentally, the answer to mine is “Queens of the Stone Age”).

Anyway, this leading to that, I started thinking about Iron Butterfly, a band I had the unlikely opportunity to see. As a Gen X-er, I’m too young to have seen them in their late 60’s/early 70’s heyday, but in 1988 they did a reunion show at Atlantic Records’s 40th anniversary celebration.

I guess as a warmup show, they played at the Chance in Poughkeepsie. And I went with some friends from college and we had a great time.

The Cult Brothers, which was two members of Blue Oyster Cult and two other guys, opened up the show. Their drummer was not a member of BOC, and looked like he was about 20. And while they were onstage, that guy was the happiest man on the planet. He was having a blast. He was twirling his sticks and throwing them up in the air and catching them, and he was playing with BLUE! OYSTER! CULT!!! it made me happy just to watch him being happy.

I hope that guy had a long happy career in music, and I’m dedicating these two songs to him.

 

 

Image courtesy of the British Library.

1/23/17: Suffering for my craft

Folks talk about practicing until your fingers bleed as an indication of your dedication to your craft.

I only had that happen once, over a series of two or three gigs at a club in the suburbs of New Jersey. I was playing bass in an Irish/pub rock band, and this was a really fun place to play. Lots of dancing and conviviality.

So we did a series of three or four gigs there – something like every other Saturday night And it would be a three set night and we’d get paid something and it was great.

One of these Saturdays, I finished Set One, and noticed that I’d ripped open the ends of the third and fourth fingers on my right hand. My first reaction, of course, was “Cool! I’m bleeding! I’m a real rocker now!”

fonziecool

I think that using band aids (they have to be the right kind to allow for movement) and maybe switching to a pick would have been the best solution to deal with the next two sets. Naturally I had none of those things with me, so I just kept on playing with the open wounds.

The rest of the night was not as painful as you might have thought. It actually didn’t hurt while I was playing. Bass strings vibrate as you play, and that seems to have numbed the pain. By the end of the night, there was blood spatter on my nice white pickguard.

I went home after the gig, and spent the next two weeks taking really good care of my fingers. I also checked out my bass to see if there were any issues that might have caused them to bleed, and there weren’t.

When the next gig came, my fingers were healed and I was all set to play a night of music. I felt extra rock and roll that night because I just made my fingers bleed, man. I rock.

And the exact same thing happened again. Same fingers, even. Now I know my limitations when it comes to being cool, and although someone else might rock ’til they bleed at every gig, I don’t. I do not rock that much.

You may have noticed by now that it hasn’t occurred to me to check my amp. But finally it did, after a total of 4 sets (about 3 – 3.5 hours) over two gigs with no fingertips. And yes, that was the problem. The amp was gradually losing volume during the sets, and I would unconsciously respond by playing harder.

In my defense, that was a tough problem to diagnose. I couldn’t hear what was going on very well during sets, and when I went to check my amp before each new set, it would sound fine again.

But … I should have thought to check ALL of my equipment when something unusual happened. Lesson learned.

Still, I waited a long time to clean that blood spatter off of my pickguard. Kind of gross when you think about it, but rock and roll is not for the squeamish.

So in honor of my poor fingertips, here are a few songs that finger-bleeding cool.

7/26/16: Playing favorites

A lot of the decisions I made as a teenager are burned into my memory. I guess it’s because this is such an intense time in your life; everything is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

For example, there’s boys. When I was in junior high school, Duran Duran were The Thing. Of course, my girlfriends and I all had crushes on them. Everyone had a crush on a different guy – mine was Simon LeBon.

I mention this because since then, whenever I hear about him, I recall that he’s my “official” favorite member of Duran Duran. This is in fact not true – John Taylor is my favorite, because he is a KICKASS bass player. But, like the Supreme Court Justices, Simon LeBon seems to have the title for life, as determined by my 13 year-old self.

I mention this because it’s Mick Jagger’s birthday today, and by the same preteen reasoning, the Rolling Stones are my favorite band. Starting at the age of 13, I was hooked.

I immersed myself in the Stones as only a nerd with excellent research skills can. I knew that (at the time) Keith played a 5-string tuned to an open chord. I knew that Charlie collects cars, but can’t actually drive. I knew about the 1967 bust at Redlands and the untimely death of Brian Jones.

Nowadays, I’m still a huge fan. Of their music. I’ll still go and listen to Stones albums with headphones on and pick apart the songs and figure out how they were recorded. But I don’t really follow the boys’ personal lives or look up how Charlie’s drums were mic’ed on a particular track. Still, like Simon LeBon, the Rolling Stones retain their title as my Favorite Band Ever.

So here are a few favorites from the official Best Band Ever as Determined by a 13 Year-Old Girl, chosen by the lady she grew into.




 

Photo by Steve Denenberg (Creative Commons license 2.0)

6/14/16

I was looking at the Facepagething, and someone posted this:

Despite the fact that I owned Super Session for many years, I only listened to it once or twice, and didn’t remember “Season of the Witch.”

Donovan wrote and recorded the original.

Donovan fun fact: That’s Jimi Page (of the Firm and also Led Zeppelin) on lead guitar. He was a session musician back in the mid sixties.

A lot of other artists also covered “SOTW,” including Lou Rawls …

… and Joan Jett.

I think this is my favorite.

Part of the appeal of this song, of course, is that kind of cool witchy vibe. You feel a little bit sexy when this song is playing, and what audience doesn’t like that?

Plus, it’s super easy to play. Two chords for most of the song. But since there isn’t a whole lot going on instrumentally, there has to be something to be keep the audience engaged. You need a great storyteller, or a great vocal improviser on the mic. Trust me, the right vocalist makes all the difference in the world between an amazing shared musical journey and a dreary 5 minutes of flowery nonsense.

 

Image by Plaisanter; distributed under Creative Commons License 2.0.

 

4/4/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

Written by Randy Newman, the original version of “Mama Told Me Not to Come” was recorded by Eric Burdon, and of course Three Dog Night had a big hit with it in 1970. But right now, this version by Tom Jones + Stereophonics is my favorite.

Great, great, singing, and I love the guitar solo. Great outro, too.

In the intense research process that goes into my weekly “Monday Funday Dance Party” selection, I came across this video featuring Tom Jones, Luciano Pavarotti, and a large choir of small children, performing “Delilah.”

Two things come to mind:

1.) When it comes to personal aplomb, not to mention vocal projection, Pavarotti has nothing on Mr. Jones. Nothing.

2.) Why did they pick a song about infidelity and murder for a large choir of small children to sing? Just curious.

Photo by Miika Silfverberg, Creative Commons License 2.0

March 9, 2016

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGeorge_Martin_-_backstage_at_LOVE.jpg

You can accomplish a lot in 90 years.

George Martin just passed away, and my thoughts are with his family and loved ones.

Some of you younger kids have probably never heard of George Martin. He’s a good name to look out for if you’re browsing through older music; he produced and arranged music for Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cheap Trick, America, Jeff Beck, Ultravox, and especially the Beatles.

I would argue that Martin did a lot to help shape the musical form we call rock. He brought orchestration into the Beatles’ recordings, and vastly increased rock’s musical vocabulary, adding nuance to a language then mainly spoken by teenagers.

If Martin had not been around in the 60’s, I wonder if we would have Jeff Lynne, King Crimson or Yes?

George Martin’s name is almost always linked with the Beatles. He worked on every album they recorded. I’m not putting down the Beatles at all, by the way – they came with their fantastic songwriting and their own ideas about arranging and producing. Martin helped them to realize their ideas, and added a few of his own.

And the next time you’re having an argument about whether the drums should have 12 dedicated tracks, keep in mind the Beatles’ albums were all done on either 2-track, 4-track or 8-track tape machines.

Here’s a wonderful tribute, courtesy of Paul McCartney.

http://www.paulmccartney.com/news-blogs/news/paul-mccartney-on-george-martin

And here’s one of my favorite Beatles tracks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUMFp0F6mp0