Tag Archives: Beatle

Albums I listen to when the shit hits the fan.

I’m playing this Saturday night at a place in Carrboro called Steel String Brewery. I start at 8. Please come by if you can.

The Free Design hailed from Delevan, New York, and sang at Richard Nixon’s 1968 Inauguration Ball. I love them. Their first 7 albums were on Enoch Light’s  Project 3 Label. The albums were always varied and fun, united by Chris Dedrick’s stunning writing and vocal arrangements. You might call it sunshine pop. To me, they were superior to, say, The Carpenters, in every way. My favorite record by them was their 7th, 1971’s “One By One”. It doesn’t even have it’s own Wikipedia page at this time, so perhaps I will start one. Here’s the title track, one that feels even more prescient given the fact that Chris Dedrick died in 2010 of cancer. I listen to this album when the shit hits the fan.

Sadly, Tears For Fears often gets lumped into that slagheap of lesser artists from the late 80’s. However, they were much more than that. And this album is as deep and rich as anything from that time. Maybe it’s the feeling of familiarity and the ubiquitous nature of their previous singles that made people take them for granted, to this day. I think it was pretty ballsy to dedicate almost half the album to works that featured an undiscovered club singer named Oleta Adams at a time when they themselves were red hot and hardly needed to extend their palette. This album is art to me, and when things get rough, “Badman’s Song” always brings me back. Featuring Pino Palladino and Manu Catche. Brilliant.

I have personal reasons for loving Lou Christie, but even if I did not, this album would be among my favorites. Other 60’s singers had tried and failed to expand their audience with reinventions that went against type. But I don’t see “Paint America Love” as a reinvention so much as a striking evolution in writing and performing. This is the guy that sang “Lightning Strikes”, and he’s still touring today, but when the fur flies in my heart, I like to hear these songs.

If you ignore the history and stuff (if you can), I believe this to be their most varied and accomplished piece of work. Epic in scale and execution, and even though some folks thought a single album would have been wiser, that’s a silly argument now. “With The Beatles” would have been better if it was reduced to just one side. Etc. etc. I like the fact that there’s so much music, and different music. Different voices. The ultimate summation of everything they had ever learned, achieved and shared. I love them deeply as you know, but this is the one I have on repeat. I never get tired of it.

By the way, a “glass onion” is a monacle.

There’s no better record from beginning to end than this. I, myself, of course, am thrown back to my Reuben’s Backstage days when Phil Messina, the owner, would put this on the eight-track house stereo as the evening wound down and I was trying to find a ride home.  I know I’m nothing compared to him, but I do try to emulate him when I do my own music, in regards to making tracks cross-fade, and alternating styles.

Dennis Wilson wrote “Slip On Through” and a couple more great tunes on this, their best record to my ears from beginning to end. Not as revolutionary as Pet Sounds, I know. I just like it more. The first album they did where they were a band.  I never get tired of this, and “Our Sweet Love” is a real highlight of the pop music of that era. The weirdness that preceded and followed…

I like pretty much all their albums, but this one is a little more aggressive and relate-able to me. This song in particular reminds me of some recent developments. Sad. To me, it goes: The Beatles to Stevie Wonder to XTC to Radiohead. What’s next? Nothing.

There’s four songs on this album, all of ’em pretty long. Too long to hold your passive interest, but I love this album. Renaissance was formed by Keith Relf of The Yardbirds along with his sister Jane. I know you’re more acquainted if at all with the version that recorded this album. The one with Annie Haslam. Later on they signed to the I.R.S. label, owned by Miles Copeland. Like many progressive bands, they tried vainly to change styles to keep their audience in the 80’s. This album is their best. One of my classical music expert friends pointed out the familiar (stolen?) themes that they incorporated into their magnum opus “Song off Scheherazade” but I don’t think it lessens the effect. Oh what the hell. If you have 24 minutes, listen to this. It’s wonderful.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Paul McCartney was/is overrated.

In the immediate wake of the 9/11 unpleasantness, the most successful songwriter in the history of the world by almost any metric put pen to paper and spake thus to a waiting world:

This is my right, a right given by God 
To live a free life, to live in freedom 

Talking about freedom 
I’m talking about freedom 
I will fight, for the right 
To live in freedom 

Anyone, tries to take it away 
Will have to answer ’cause this is my right 

Has there ever been a more shallow, depressing response from such a canonized figure about such a galvanizing event? What pandering! God? Really? And the little allusion to potential bloodshed. Oh, you don’t think so? What does “will have to answer” mean to you in this context? A stern finger-wagging? Perhaps a fourth-hand reference on a b-side of one of his boutique singles? No, this was a shrewd re-immersion into the crass banalities which have defined his solo career. A man who talked about love while impregnating half of Australia. A man who could have told his partner in the biggest business music has ever known to shut the fuck up, lose the studio pet, and understand that the drugs and shit are ruining everything they had built up to that point, and that perhaps there’s a bigger picture. A currency to all the hard work. Instead, he hummed and hawed and approached that conflict much like Nick Mason would approach a 16th note. Silent, simmering sadness partnered with a withering fear of/aversion to conflict. The English Way. I hate him because he, in his way, deprived us of so much.

Paul McCartney is overrated. He, like his partner John Lennon, suffered mightily outside the hothouse of musical excellence that was “The Beatles 1962-1969”. But they all did, of course. His craft was melody. His music-hall tendencies and gift for a tune were free to flourish at first, then rot. He had nothing to say, because having something to say would require a stance. If Lennon chickened out over and over (two examples off-hand “You can count me out…in” and his complaints about Dylan making openly religious recordings while at the same time chiding his audience for believing a single word he was saying were things the contemporary Lennon kicked himself for not doing when he was more than equipped to privately, and yet his tantrums were moot exercises in house-husbandly petulance, as he never found the nerve to express his real beliefs), McCartney had nothing substantive to say. Ever. Had he died in 1980, the subsequent generations of lost youth might feel compelled to sift through his rock and roll detritus to find some deeper meaning in his silly love songs, but there will be none. No deeper meaning.

While Lennon’s needle moved from politics of peace to war to utopia to fascism to atheism to karma, McCartney was always careful to stand for nothing. I don’t know which solo career infuriates me more. At least George Harrison’s pontificating was somewhat consistent in its boorish self-righteousness.

Look at his attempts at engaging the political/social realm beyond the studio clock. “Give Ireland To The Irish” could have been a provocative indictment of Bloody Sunday. But after having initiated this potentially devastating, even career-defining leadership role, he proceeded to come off as some entitled school teacher.

Great Britain you are tremendous 
And nobody knows like me 
But really what are you doin’ 
In the land across the sea 

But really, Great Britain. What are you doing? Really? You are tremendous. But really…pish posh and all that. As ham-handed as Lennon’s ode to a political cause in which he himself was conveniently remote was, this little soiree into politics is embarrassing.  And it would happen a few more times. See, my theory is that the concept of meaningful, thoughtful lyrics are a total afterthought to this man. And he, like Lennon, was the beneficiary of nose-to-nose, men in white shirts and ties quality control like that of no other group, before or since. His gift for melody was unsurpassed. No one, not Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Hoagy Carmichael, Beethoven, no one created more enduring, more pleasing melodies than Paul McCartney. But he would and could create a pretty melody from the sound of  turkey being sliced. It’s anything deeper than that that makes me think that he’s overrated. He wrote a song called “Bip Bop”. “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose”.  He crafted immaculate arrangements and deeply moving lines and covered them with shit. Listen to “Motor of Love” off Flowers in the Dirt.  The production is a little dated with the electronic drums and airy synths and whatnot, but a fine melody. It’s when he sings “Turn on your motor of love..heavenly father look down from above…” that I realize that in his oeuvre, there’s no such thing as writing yourself into a lyrical corner.  He’s gonna blast his way out, come hell or high water, regardless of how that might compromise the effectiveness of the song itself.

What does “Jet” really mean? I think he just came up with a good melody, and thought up a one-word chorus. It could have been “puke” or “cup” or “plum”. Did it really matter? Even “Hey Jude” is the sort of song where you have to accept that he’s speaking in some sort of code, and your interpretation of that code depends on acceptance of the nonsensical. You and I have been TOLD what it’s about, but for poetic license to be given, one must understand what he’s saying. Lennon, in the deepest throes of his heroin addiction and incessant egotistical ramblings, somehow thought the song was about HIM.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. When the machine was running on all cylinders, there was a built-in cull of the worst of his tendencies. This faded as time went on. But he sang these meaningless couplets with such conviction and such authority that you could not help being pulled in.

And while he’s no Anvil, he’s not that far off.

——————————————————————————–

You and me together
Nothing feels so good
Even if I get a medal from my local neighbourhood

———————————————————————————-

When you’re wide awake
Say it for goodness sake
It’s gonna be a great day
While you’re standing there
Get up and grab a chair
It’s gonna be a great day

———————————————————-———————

From “Jet” to “Rough Ride” to “Press” to “Beautiful Night”, even his pre-solo work. songs like “Get Back” start out as little political screeds. Pakistanis taking British jobs, etc.  Fine. You agree or don’t. But like Lennon, he backs off for the sake of some kind of impulsive need to be universal by being vague. Like a politician. No point in alienating half the population by standing for something when the people who don’t stand for that thing will never buy your records again. As if that were true. It’s ridiculous. I’m an atheist, but I still buy Stevie Wonder’s music and am moved by HIS conviction. Earth Wind and Fire. When McCartney mentions god, it’s a cheap means of writing himself out of a corner. I used to cringe when i’d listen to “Living in the Material World” because Harrison was preaching to me. At least he was PREACHING something. At least there was no question where he stood. In his lyrics, at least. In life he was just as filthy as anyone else in showbiz. But better that then the endlessly nebulous quicksand that is and always has been Paul McCartney’s lyrics.

If Paul McCartney ever decided to write music for Scott Walker, I wonder what would happen. Or Leonard Cohen. That would be something.

I leave you with:

That would be something 
Really would be something 
That would be something 
To meet you in the fallin’ rain momma 
To meet you in the fallin’ rain

No, all music doesn’t have to “mean something” but after all this time, wouldn’t it be nice to know that under all that sugar coating beat the heart of a real revolutionary?  A hardened criminal? A pervert? He did sing about animal rights once. Here’s that:

I saw a cat with a machine in his brain
The man who fed him said he didn’t feel any pain
I’d like to see that man take out that machine
And stick it in his own brain, you know what I mean

I saw a rabbit with its eyes full of tears
The lab that owned her had been doing it for years
Why don’t we make them pay for every last eye?
That couldn’t cry its own tears, do you know what I mean?

When I tell you that we’ll all be looking for changes
Changes in the way we treat our fellow creatures
And we will learn how to grow
(Learn how to grow)

Well, I tell you that we’ll all be looking for changes
Changes in the way we treat our fellow creatures
And we will learn how to grow, yeah
When we’re looking for changes

I saw a monkey that was learning to choke
A guy beside him gave him cigarettes to smoke
And every time that monkey started to cough
The bastard laughed his head off, do you know what I mean?

Really makes you think.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

I know Nancy doesn’t remember, but I do.

We were living in West Seneca, and I followed Nancy’s lead for the only time in my life that I can remember. The era of the CB radio. I took a few tentative steps but Nancy was all-in as I recall. And she used to go to these parties called “breaks”.  If you were around Aurora Avenue in the mid to late 70’s, everyone in the neighborhood was immersed in the culture on one level or another. I won’t go into too much detail here, except to say it was a great way to meet young people outside of your immediate vicinity.

One of those people was Kathy. She lived on Boynton Street off Clinton. She and her friends met me at what was then the Valu Cinema on Clinton and S Rossler Ave. I think that’s what it was called. I would go there to meet all these nice people, but I really went to see Kathy, her sweet face reminding me of Meredith Baxter-Birney. Her cabal of pals seemed innocuous enough, but it was nice to be with her. I rode my bike to her house a few times. I remember that. Being at her front door. Calling her now and then to see what the gang was doing.

Nancy and I rarely occupied the same space, even living in the same house. As you know, I would go to school, get picked on mercilessly, come home, play my Beatles records with my headphones on, and read liner notes like they were scripture. Then to bed. However, for some reason, Nancy and I attended the same “break” once. This once. And Kathy was there! How did Nancy know Kathy? Anyhow, sitting next to Kathy was a very beautiful, thin, blonde fellow, terribly nice. Dave? Rob?

I remember trying really hard to make Kathy laugh. Doing my “routine” as it were. She seemed to be enjoying it. Still, something wasn’t right. There was some sort of silent….understanding…for lack of a better word, between her and Dave. As if, instinctively, it was known or to be known, that the two were together. An undeclared energy that they gave off. Do you know what I’m talking about? They couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13. 14 tops.

I dropped my fork.  I leaned down to pick it up. I made the mistake of looking up for a second. And it looked exactly like this:

Well, that broke my heart. And it was the last time I saw any of them.

I tell you this story because I remember the song that was playing on the jukebox at that moment, and every time I hear it, I think of Kathy and Dave and wonder if they stayed together or if he turned out to be an asshole and if she dropped him. Then maybe she went on a wild, frenzied search for my phone number to rekindle our young, sweet, unfulfilled love, only to live out her days in regret and eternal celibacy. Her dry, dry cooter a constant reminder of the genuine needy love she could have had with the kid with the plaid pants.

The song was this, and it came up on the Pandora just now, which is why I’m really, really sad all the sudden. I’ll get over it.

Tagged , ,

Maybe 999 dances.

Written by the same guy who wrote one of my favorite R&B tunes.

The Beatles, as you know, performed some ferocious covers of obscure R&B tunes when they were earning their stripes in some of the shittiest bars/clubs in the world. One of their contemporaries didn’t fare too badly with the same strategy:

Damn. Mike Smith was a singer.

I love love love this blog, “Rockaeology“. The guy goes deep, and it’s always fascinating. Check it out.

As women everywhere are having their reproductive rights threatened by a powerful, well-financed minority, it reminds me of what John Lennon said all those years ago. “Woman IS the nigger of the world.”  The same erosion of rights affected freed slaves, and immigrants throughout history in this, the land of the free. It took guts to put a song like that on an ex-Beatle record, but no one ever said he didn’t have guts. Wait, did I?

This SAME backing band, Elephant’s Memory, included a female vocalist on their first record, and had a song featured in one of my favorite films, Midnight Cowboy.

So check out that blog. There’s a quote on it from one of the guys who wrote “867-5309 (Jenny)” that has recently become rather prescient in my own life:

“There was always a dagger in someone’s hand, and it was usually a friend’s hand…Sometimes, it’s your best buddy”…

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Where were you when John Lennon died?

My alibi is that I was upstairs sleeping. I couldn’t make it through the Monday night game so I hit the sack early.

When I woke up, my mother gave me the bad news and some lunch money. I liked the ice cream sandwiches. So I had this black Beatles t-shirt I bought myself for a Christmas gift. And I put it on in honor of the bewilderment and sadness I was feeling, depriving myself of the one Christmas gift I can recall. We must always honor our sad bewilderment. The t-shirt was a good size too small for my blossoming abdomen, stuffed with poorly digested frozen clam strips and french fries from the evening before. And cheap. Thin. I think the thread count was 5.

I wandered up and down the halls that day, as ever smelling of teenager B.O., trying not to get beat up, spat on, or mocked. And I felt the lukewarm line of defense that was afforded me by the allegiance I felt with my no doubt made-in-Taiwan shirt. I wondered if the slaves and tweens that manufactured the shirt knew what a fucking Beatle was. Were they bewildered and sad too? The picture on the front didn’t really look like the Beatles much at all, come to think of it.  More like the 1965 New York Knicks or the Manson Family pre-head shave.

So, in the words of the great man himself:

“Well- I been Meat City to see for myself…”

Let’s all visit Meat City today. In our own elegant way. Won’t we?

Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: