Category Archives: For musicians only!

You’ll be free.

This week’s car CD is Rubber Soul, the remastered version.

This is my favorite Beatles song. And I’m a Beatles fanatic, as you know. So let me tell you why, in terms that attempt to convey accurately why this song is in my DNA.

1. The lyrics are wonderful. “Give the word a chance to say that the word is just a way.” I think that’s a fascinating, elegant summation of the more genuine aspirations of the entire love generation before it became co-opted. And make no mistake, aside from the Beatles’ legacy, the love generation suffered a lopsided defeat at the hands of the “man”.

2. The arrangement. Wikipedia mentions that the song is in Dm, but it’s not really clear if the song is in minor or major keys, since the rhythm guitar (I refer to the guitar stabs on beat 2 and 3+) plays D7#9, which includes both major and minor! The main vocal line implies minor but the arrangement is traditional 12 bar blues, and as you know, you can sing a blues melody in major and minor within the same measure if you please. Another contributing factor is the fact that McCartney’s piano part is a major triad, and not minor at all. So minor melody, major piano, both in the guitar stabs. The song is in both.

3. The groove. It’s a kind of funk. It’s danceable. It can be soul, funk, pop, peace and love, anything you like.I love the drum sounds on Rubber Soul, and the bass guitar cuts anything recorded in the rock idiom before it, and for years to come.  And when you look back on their contemporaries (even some of the black ones), what other act could so effortlessly create something like this?  Of course, Lennon and McCartney confessed to being high when they wrote this, so there’s that. But John Denver also smoked an awful lot of grass, and…

4. The vocals. Two of the greatest singers in popular music history. At 1:47 there’s a slight lilt in McCartney’s upper harmony (one of the two tracks) that makes it even more reminiscent of the divergence to come from pop to soul-pop made popular by certain Motown acts.  By the final chorus, the harmonies commit to minor, but that clashes with the piano part. Ok, not to delve too deeply, but listen to the way the high harmony on the phrase “chance to say” descends to the 6th instead of the flat 7th (or flat 6th). That implies a major scale when coming from the tonic to the 5th. Listen to all that dissonance! I love it. The first time I heard it, even then it reached down and touched my inner rhythm like nothing I had ever heard. It still moves me. It really does. Lennon sings with such conviction and soul that it’s hard not to want to come along.

I didn’t mention the amazing guitar sound, the way they cut off the end of every phrase in the chorus to add to the…I don’t even know the word (so to speak) to use aside from just “funky”.

This is my favorite Beatles’ song. What’s your’n?

Tagged , , ,

4 Worst Songs In Popular Music History

Let me qualify this: The 4 worst songs by two artists that have clearly shown (or will soon show) that they are capable of much better work, and for whatever reason, have either phoned it in or have just released crap for the fun of it. In no particular order:

1. and 2.

Gentle Giant – “Bet You Thought We Couldn’t Do It” (The Missing Piece 1977)/Simon Dupree and the Big Sound – “Thinking About My Life” (single 1968)

One of the great prog bands of all time was Gentle Giant, which was formed from the ashes of the faux soul/psych pop of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. It used to perplex me how the Schulman Brothers could have taken part in such a soulless, empty-headed version of 60’s pop (try to glean the message from “Thinking About My Life” – there really isn’t one, even though all the words seem to make sense on first listen). If you’re a fan of GG, take a listen to the first few tracks of their “Under Construction” comp from 1997. Recorded between SDatBS and the GG we all know as a sort of audition for Vertigo in 1970, tracks like “Freedom’s Child” and “Weekend Cowboy” are stately, almost earthy performances. Kind of like Bacharach meets The Band. It’s too bad, on one hand, that they didn’t keep going in that direction. As it was, their melodies and arrangements got more and more angular as the years went on, culminating in the hard-to-get-all-the-way-through “Interview”, sounding like Zappa in places, 10 CC in others. Seeing that this was a commercial dead-end, and possibly the end of the marketability of prog in general, they reverted to cold calculation for “The Missing Piece”.   “Bet You Thought We Couldn’t Do It” reads like the barroom dare of a drunk old man more than a statement of intent or boldness. Just about every prog band would make the same mistake in the late 70’s, but GG’s sad descent makes me wonder which of these bands was the genuine article. Without Kerry Minnear, would GG have become prog at all? It’s impossible to say, but given the fact that GG were utterly unrecognizable by the end of their run (with the exact same players that they had during their heyday) I tend to think that they swayed a little less grudgingly than their peers, which is a bad thing. I can’t even listen to their greatest works now without thinking of their every move as an attempt to ride a wave.

3. The Hollies Medley (1981)

This is a horrible slap in the face of a once great legacy. It wasn’t the first time The Hollies had tried to cash in on past glories, but it was the worst. Their album “What Goes Around” featured a tepid reworking of the old warhorse “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, which they retitled without the exclaimation point. Which was ironic, as they had sucked the exclaimation point out of the song entirely. Many tried and failed, but The Hollies circa 1983 succeeded. Here’s (4.) that imcomprehensible, saddening video off their album “What Goes Around…”

Another famous b-side.

“Beth” by Kiss.

It was not until radio stations started playing the B-side of the “Detroit Rock City” single, “Beth,” that the album started to sell as expected. The ballad, which according to Simmons was deliberately put on the B-side to force stations to play “Detroit Rock City,” started receiving numerous listener requests and became an unexpected hit. “Beth” was re-released as the fourth single in late August, and it peaked at #7 on the Billboard singles chart on September 25. It was the group’s first Top 10 song and re-ignited sales of the album. On November 11 Destroyer became the first Kiss album to be certified platinum.

 

Yes, Gene Simmons, that marketing genius…

Yeah, I dunno….let me be more specific…

I still haven’t decided if I think this is good or bad. But it certainly “is”.  And since Pandora (the ‘real’ one, not the one that somehow equates The Bee Gees with Rupert Holmes)  has opened the box nice and wide, there’s no going back. What do you think? If you explore this fellow’s YouTube channel, you’ll find all sorts of ‘goodies’. Do you think having the ability to take these songs ‘apart’ as it were and hear every single imperfection and nuance and pops and crackles and shit good for the music fan or not? Does it lessen the mystique? You can pretty much mix your own “Taxman” now. Will you?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PxVrOuMxy0&list=TLsg82IL_36q0

Every Morning Coming Down

Ray Stevens (The Streak, Guitarzan, etc.) was the first person to record the seminal Kris Kristofferson song “Sunday Morning Coming Down“, in1969. It is a true testament to one of the great songs of the era (or ever really) that it doesn’t lose any of its power no matter who recorded it. Here it is, if you must:

Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother, was the first artist to record “Midnight Train to Georgia, a year before the version by my second-favorite female singer of all-time, Gladys Knight. Here it is, if you insist:

“Twist and Shout” was originally recorded in 1961 by an anonymous group of hipsters named The Top Notes, and produced by Phil Spector. I like it, but as you can hear yourself, it bears little resemblance to what it became. Covered by everyone including The Beatles, The Who, The Mamas and the Papas, and Doris Pandolfi, a folk singer from Tonawanda, New York whose act was a precursor to that of GG Allin. Really? You want to? Ok, slow-boat:

Here’s a song that you hear every few fucking minutes, either for a Cialis commercial, or Enzyte, or Zoloft or Percocet or Cymbalta or Depends Adult Undergarments (with the fresh Rose-Scent® release pouch). “Vacation” by The Go-Gos. Like I discussed in a previous post, bands who burst onto the scene with big debut releases often find themselves desperate for ways to repeat their initial success. So when they needed a follow-up to “Beauty and the Beat”, I would imagine a band meeting ensued wherein they all looked at each other and asked, nervously, “Anyone got anything?” And one of them piped up “Well, my old band recorded a catchy tune that didn’t really go anywhere…”  And the producer said “GIMME!!!!!!” Like to hear it? Here it goes…

This guy works at my office.  And a couple of his bitches, too.

And finally, here’s yet one more thing I can’t really talk to anyone about. From Wikipedia:

Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet is a 1971 composition by Gavin Bryars. It is formed on a loop of an unknown homeless man singing a brief stanza. Rich harmonies, comprising string and brass, are gradually overlaid over the stanza. The piece was first recorded for use in an Alan Power documentary which chronicles street life in and around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo, in London. When later listening to the recordings, Bryars noticed the clip was in tune with his piano and that it conveniently looped into 13 bars. For the first LP recording, Bryars was limited to a duration of 25 minutes; with the invention of the cassette tape, Bryars was able to complete a 60-minute version of the piece; and later, with the advent of the CD, a 74-minute version.

The version below features Tom Waits, but the original is just as moving, if not more. But I can’t find it. Isn’t it funny that humans do this?

It’s me. Again.
Your super-ego.
I have not written to you in a while because I’ve been laughing so hard whenever I think of your exploits. Your pathetic exploits. If only you could see what others see as soon as you walk into a room. If only you could grasp just how universally loathed you are. People at work tolerate you because you’re there and they’re there, and they simply have no choice, but truth be told, you’re no different than all the others who’ve come before you. When you leave, you’ll barely register as a memory, for a while. Then you’ll be forgotten entirely. That is, unless, like all the other places you’ve been, you burn your bridges in some fantastic fashion. Forever. How many people are still in touch with you from your old jobs? Two? Three?
The only friends you think you might have are the ones who can like you from a distance, turn you off or shut you off with a flick of a switch, a click of a mouse. BELIEVE me- they’d run just as fast and hard as the others have, away and safe from your contemptible noise.
Tagged

From my teenage basement band to Kanye West.

The song “You Could Have Been a Lady” was written and performed by the band Hot Chocolate, which began life as The Hot Chocolate Band, and got signed to Apple Records because John Lennon liked this:

I played this song in bands in my early teens, but I had never actually heard the song itself until…now. I was taught which chords to play, and I played them on the old Hait guitar with the bass cranked up and the treble cut, usually through a PA speaker so it sounded like a giant AM radio. Listen to the lead guitar figure in this song. This lead sound would become very familiar as the decade went on and Hot Chocolate’s hits piled up.

And here’s the version released a year later by April Wine, a huge hit in their native Canada, and obviously it crept into the Great Lakes area as well, hence me learning it.

Our version sounded nothing like either of these. I think it’s a terrible song.

April Wine went from local heroes to international rock stars when they had the balls to released this:

which is a cover of this:

which leads us to The Kanye West video I posted before.

 

Gigs to remember. Gigs to forget. Pt.1.

Slow computer. Whirring fan. Got good news about the music – MTV might (read: is contractually allowed to) use my music for their myriad of youth-related programming. So I heard about that, and not 5 minutes later I see a friend of mine on the FB and ask him about some collaboration in the future. His words were “I dunno. You’re kind of a dick.”  It’s been 13 years and not a phone call? I’d love to know what I did, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about people leaving my life (and lots of people have), it’s that there’s nothing I can do but hand them their hat as they walk out the door. It sucks. I’ll miss the guy.

The worst thing about getting bullied was the fact that I thought I was the only one. But my friends from the high school I attended (even my personal “Fonz”, Rick Angle) have assured me this is not so, and for that, I feel comfort. So thank you everyone.

I have played music in one form or another all my life. So I was thinking about all the various line-ups and styles of music I’ve done (which is not to say I won’t be doing it more in the future) and thought I would list, for you good people, some of my more memorable gigs, good and bad.

1. “Mist” – Northwood Elementary Talent Show – May, 1977

Paul Miller, Jerome Lis, Paul Rinedoller

We had been practicing for 6 months, various songs I knew by ear, but they knew by sheet music. We had messed around with 50’s music, various hits of the days gone by like “Joy To The World” and “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”, a severely truncated version of Edgar Winters’ “Frankenstein” which I had never actually heard before. We just played the one riff over and over, amid shouts of “Frankenstein!!”. All the rides and weekly rehearsals, and we finally had ourselves a “gig”.  The Northwood Elementary Talent Show/Concert.  Trial and error had left us with the informed decision to go with the crowd-pleasers:  “Takin’ Care of Business”, “Tonight’s The Night”, and, I think, “Rock’n Me”.

I was scared shitless. My first performance in front of real people, and the memories are sort of fuzzy. I do remember buying a snare drum ON THE WAY to the gig because we didn’t have one. Also, a nice stand for it. Why would I have done that? Was I playing drums? I know I used to play drums for the band.   There was a program, I remember, but I do recall that we were forced to drop “Tonight’s The Night” because some people were offended by it’s lyrical content. We substituted it with…something else. What’s that? You want to hear my very first band’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”? This was The Space Riders (1976), the same people as Mist. You want to hear me on drums and obnoxious backing vocals? Ok, you sadistic mo-fo.

The Space Riders – Bohemian Rhapsody

2.  “Second Age” – West Seneca West Junior High – May 1978

Randy Ball, Joe Chemin

The SECOND performance in front of live people, equally as terrifying, with a new cast of characters and again, an auditorium full of people. I spend the whole performance looking at the drummer, who’s admonishments of “Stop looking at me!” were misheard by me as “Look at me some more!!” Instead of the AM radio hits of the day, we played lots of Nugent. Lots and lots. Randy was the only kid I knew with a real Les Paul. He was 13! And amazingly adept at lead guitar. This was my time with the cool kids. Definitely a step up from the people I had played with before, social prestige-wise. I played my old Hait guitar as a bass, with the treble knob turned down. Maybe Randy can chime in with some memories of this show.

3. “The City Victims” – Mercy Fair Lawn Fete (correction needed) – September 1979

Paul Rinedoller, Dan Lewis

This was a great little band with a fairly poor live music history, mostly because we were just happy creating things with each other. When the time came to play live, for the first time in front of a big audience, it was in front of children and nuns.  Without real guidance of any kind from anyone, we blindly “booked” this gig in the hopes that we could rock the South Buffalo unwashed with our uncompromising rhythms and hard-nosed lyrics. There were two things that sort of ruined this illusion as soon as we took the stage.  The first was that our guitar player had become entangled in a life and death struggle with a derelict gang of satanic bees, perhaps attracted to his cheap cologne. Or maybe it was expensive. Whatever the price, there was lots of it.  There’s no need for cologne when you’re 15 and playing for nuns and children. More egregious was the second thing: My new equipment. I had worked all summer trying to earn enough money to pay some of our family’s delinquent utility bills and get the car repaired along with the….eh, I saved for a new guitar and an amplifier (a Fender Twin) with way too much power for me to handle or even understand. That, combined with my freshly oiled (!) Morley Power Wah Fuzz (if someone were to invent a time machine, and let me in it, I would go back and tell the younger me that the difference between “fuzz” and “distortion” is important, and never oil the foot pedal of a Morley Power Wah Fuzz) made the first song so loud and shrill that almost the very first note sent everyone running for the tent.

So in a few short moments we had alienated our audience, and nature.  Our confidence shaken, we went back to the rehearsal space (my bedroom) not to be seen for another 3 years.

 

Yoko Ono is a marketing genius. Plus some life-changing musical works.

So with yesterday’s release of “Power To The People” this makes 7 albums of original, non-experimental music in his lifetime, and 14 compilation albums. 14. You COULD argue 6 albums of original material, since half of “Some Time in New York City” was half Yoko, half meandering, heavily-edited jam session, and “Double Fantasy” was half Yoko.  Not since The Who has so much rehashing been done for cynical blackmail of fan’s wallets. When does it stop? There are fools out there who have bought or will buy every one. But I’m here to tell you, friends, as I said before, Lennon was just not the same man once he stupidly rid himself of his one true motivating factor in favor of another, somewhat less talented manipulator. You could and should jettison all that stuff for one pristine copy of “Leave My Kitten Alone”.

Here, now, as well as I can remember, are some of the most transcendent moments of musical discovery in my life, in no particular order:

Le Sacre Du Printemps – Igor Stravinsky (1913)  – I first heard this in my college library on one of those primitive old school record players. It showed me that I needed to open up my mind to all the things that classical music could be, not just what I had been taught that it was. It is the first progressive rock piece. All the dissonance, all the poly-rhythmic mayhem, so new and fresh even now. I soon got into what is known as the Second Viennese School, combining Romanticism with Schoenberg’s tonal mathematics, somehow the music I was born to listen to.

Close To The Edge – Yes (1972) -Dan. Paul and I huddled around Paul’s brand-new record player and gigantic speakers. I don’t remember who had just bought this, probably Paul, and why I do not know. But the volume was turned up and the intro grew and grew in intensity. Then that opening with that slinky guitar and crushing bass speaking almost diametrically opposed languages, yet one. I think the thing about it now is that it was somehow instinctively plausible to us that these sounds, these aggressive scales and grace notes COULD have come from our instruments, but the instruments themselves were now suddenly in the hands of men whose imagination and power far exceeded our own. Listening to The Beatles, for instance, it was easy to imagine one’s self coming up with those chords and playing those notes. Now, with this song, there was now a real possibility that no matter how easy the sounds were to approximate, we were clearly in the presence of gods.

Random Brainwave/I Pity Inanimate Objects – Godley and Creme – (1979)- Is this the first use of auto-tune? Since both of these fellows are among the finest singers in rock at that time, it was not a mere gimmick. It was a leap forward in technology and music. And the first time I heard it was on WZIR 107.7, Buffalo New York, in 1980, and it scared the living shit out of me.

Larks Tongues In Aspic (Pt. 1) – King Crimson (1972) -I had never heard of King Crimson, but upon hearing this for the first time on WZIR, I called the DJ, Gary Storm, who called his show “Oil of Dog”.  It was and is a powerful introduction for me to all things progressive, particularly the virtuosity aspect of it. I have heard everything by King Crimson, but this was the first, which is special.

I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles (1963) – There’s a swing to this record, an amazing rhythmic funkiness that caught my ear in almost a primal sort of way. Paul Rinedoller exposed me to The Beatles, and this is possibly the first song he played in my presence. Listen to the powerful vocals, the dynamic guitars, and despite the nice-nice lyric, a universality in the message. Can you imagine what it was like in America hearing this for the first time? Truly there was nothing like it to warn of its coming. And in my world, there was nothing to get me ready for the love affair that began in Paul’s house in 1972 and has not abated one bit since then.

I’m BAD – Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers – (1987) This was on Black Entertainment Television ONCE.  It might have been another live performance, then again, it might have been this one. It swings so fucking hard, for a young man like me, it was simply too much to comprehend. It made me want to do this kind of music, even though I didn’t understand it or the Go-Go scene in general. But can you imagine being in this audience? CAN YOU IMAGINE BEING IN THIS BAND?!?!?!?! What does it mean when I saw it once 23 years ago and it hasn’t left my mind in that time?

The Entire “Innervisions” Album – Stevie Wonder – (1973)  It is still my favorite album of all-time, and the only album I can listen to wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, and never come upon a song or moment that doesn’t resonate inside in a positive way. I am an atheist, but Stevie Wonder is the best argument I’ve seen for faith. If you don’t have it or have not heard it, I PROMISE you that you will like it. I can’t even say that about “Abbey Road”. Here, listen to this, and try not to be smiling or moving by the end. That’s one man making all those noises. One fucking brilliant man.

That didn’t work? Try this:

No? You have no fucking soul and I want you to kill yourself.

Bad Man’s Song – Tears For Fears – (1989)  Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were matinee idols for the last half of the 1980’s due to their good looks, above-average musicianship, and eye-friendly videos. But no one was prepared for what came next, and that’s why they’re struggling to keep even their own website up as we speak. Aside from the Beatles paean, “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” which I found excellent and entertaining,  the rest of the album is deep and amazingly well-produced and well-played. Session players like Manu Katche and Pino Palladino along with ringer Phil Collins (on “Woman In Chains”) make for an exponentially more diverse pallet of sounds than their big coming out record, “Songs From The Big Chair”. But the star of the record is Oleta Adams, my favorite female singer of all-time. A unique, earthy voice, reaching low “F”(2:40 of the clip here) and four octaves higher, and simply cutting her contemporaries to pieces. it’s unfortunate she wasn’t bigger longer, but I will always have this, my favorite song from my #2 album of all-time.

 

Name the song Wikipedia is describing.

Let’s all have a small modicum of fun. Robert Fripp-style. I’ll post a description of a song from Wikipedia with all names removed, and you, brave musician, tell me (without cheating by using Google) what the song is. Here we go.

XXX is a song in the key of G major. Each cadential six-measure  phrase is constructed using a change of meter on the fourth measure and uses a I–IV–V–VI chord progression. G major and C major chords are played for one and two 4/4 measures respectively. xxxxx then uses a deceptive cadence after a 2/4 measure of the dominant D major chord, leading into two 4/4 measures of an E major  chord. The song moves at 160 beats per minute, and xxxxx’s vocal range spans more than an octave and a half, from B3 to G5.

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: