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Posts Tagged ‘Blondie’

(Above: Blondie perform “My Heart Will Go On” and validate the cliche: It’s the singer, not the song.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Blondie performed all four of their No. 1 hits during Tuesday’s concert at Crossroads KC, but they opened their encore set with someone else’s chart topper.

Playing with an energy that recalled their CBGB’s heyday, the sextet slammed through a surprising cover of Celine Dion’s “Titanic hit “My Heart Will Go On.” It is unsure what was more shocking: that Blondie covered Celine Dion; or that it was really, really good.

If Blondie ever get around to making another album, that cover should definitely be included. Until then, the back catalog satisfied the nearly full venue. The 80-minute set played like a greatest hits album and clocked in at about the same length.

High points included a blistering “Rapture” that went from the rap hit to punk to a blues jam and finally ended up in the band’s hip-hop update, “No Exit.” Debbie Harry’s voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but “Maria” put to rest any questions on her strength as a singer. She nailed the big notes of the chorus and the lower register of the verses.

Drummer Clem Burke was the group’s secret weapon. Throughout the night, the founding member set the tone by opening and closing most numbers, driving the rest of the band with his powerful playing and delivering emphatic fills that always seemed to enhance the performance. His moody playing underlined the dark moodiness of the one-two of “Fade Away and Radiate” and “Screaming Skin.”

When the band stretched out on “Atomic,” Harry retreated to the shadows at the side of the stage. She may have been out of the spotlight, but it was clear with the two detours into her solo catalog that Harry was always in the driver’s seat.

Harry reclaimed center stage with the reggae sing-along of “The Tide Is High” that drew the biggest response of the night. Harry made sure the crowd stayed involved by switching from to a cover of “I’ll Take You There.” She may have transformed the Staples Singers’ hit from social anthem to come-on, but the audience still hung on every word. When the band flipped back to “Tide,” there were scores of arms waving and fingers aloft, responding to the chorus “The tide is high but I’m holding on/I’m gonna be your number one.”

Fifty minutes earlier it was the band holding one finger in the air, as the performers frantically signaled to the soundman to turn up their monitors. Opening number “Call Me” suffered from dropped coverage, with Harry’s weak vocals buried in a horrible mix that seemed to frustrate both band and audience. The sound improved during “Hanging on the Telephone,” the next number, but it took until the fourth song, “The Hardest Part,” for everything to click.

Once the sound was solved, the band rocked like a finely tuned machine. Although only half of the six musicians onstage were original members, most of the rest have been onboard since the band reunited 10 years ago.

The evening ended with three straight No. 1 hits. After the Dion cover and the disco thump of “Heart of Glass,” Blondie segued into “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Michael Jackson moments have become the cliché of the summer, but this inspired pairing made complete musical sense and kept bodies moving.

Few of Blondie’s peers in the late ‘70s New York punk scene had as much mainstream success as Blondie, and even fewer of those acts are still going today. Although the night may have ended sooner than expected, there were few complaints with what it delivered. At this point, we’re happy to take what we can get.

Setlist: Call Me, Hanging on the Telephone, Two Times Blue, The Hardest Part, Fade Away and Radiate, Screaming Skin, Maria, Atomic, The Tide Is High/I’ll Take You There, You’re Too Hot, Rapture/jam/No Exit, One Way Or Another. Encore: My Heart Will Go On, Heart of Glass, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

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hunter

The Marvelettes – “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” Pop # 13, R&B #2

By Joel Francis

The Marvelettes gave Motown its first No. 1 hit with “Please Mr. Postman,” but that was way back in 1961. But that was five years before “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” came out – a lifetime in pop music. The interceding years weren’t too kind. The group found some follow-up success with “Beechwood 4-5789,” but lost a founding member, and famously passed on “Where Did Our Love Go,” which became the Supremes’ first No. 1 hit.

By the mid-‘60s, the Marvelettes had lost another member. Only the success of greatest hits and live albums were keeping the band tethered to the Motown roster. Then Smokey Robinson entered the picture.

Robinson penned “Don’t Mess With Bill,” the comeback single for the now-trio. His pen also produced “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” sung by Wanda Young, wife of Miracles’ guitarist Bobby Rodgers.

The lyrics are straightforward, but what makes the song is Young’s slinky singing and an equally elastic performance from the Funk Brothers. Check out the great guitar performance holding the whole song together and the great and rare Motown harmonica solo to appear outside of a Stevie Wonder or Shorty Long album.

The Marvelettes found a Top 10 hit with their next single – a remake of Ruby and the Romantics’ “When You’re In Love” – before losing another singer. They carried on with some success, but a full-scale comeback was quashed when the remaining members decided not to follow Berry Gordy to Los Angeles and Young’s pregnancy. After the Marvelettes dissolved, singer Ann Bogan joined New Birth, a soul outfit founded by former Motown staffer Harvey Fuqua.

“The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” has been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Raconteur Brendan Benson, Jerry Garcia, Blondie and Massive Attack. A reggae cover by Grace Jones reached No. 87 on the R&B charts in 1980.

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IggyPop-02-big

By Joel Francis

Purists of all stripes can relax: Iggy Pop’s much ballyhooed 15 studio album, “Preliminaires,” is not the jazz album Pop talked up before its release.

That said, the album’s lone foray into the genre is actually one of its best songs. Borrowing enough of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans hot jazz sound and arrangements to earn Satchmo a partial songwriting credit, “I Want to Go to the Beach” is surprising triumph that should throw a nice curveball into dinner party playlists.

The rest of “Preliminaries,” however, is more French café than bebop bistro. Pop opens and closes the album with two spoken word pieces in French and provides two versions of “She’s the Business” – both with and without French narration – that are straight from the Serge Gainsbourg model.

Other tracks find Pop channeling late-period Leonard Cohen for “I Want to Go to the Beach,” dropping in some acoustic Delta blues for “He’s Dead/She’s Alive” and delivering another spoken word piece about how dogs are the ultimate companion based on the Michel Houellebecq novel “The Possibility of an Island.” On the gentle yet foreboding “Spanish Coast,” Pop croons in a deep baritone on what could be a lost Marianne Faithful song. There’s also a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensative.”

Try as he might, Pop can’t repress his rock side for the entire album. “Nice To Be Dead” is a solid rocker that is one of the album’s best tracks and very much what one would expect from Pop. The electronic “Party Time” is to cocktail parties what “Night Clubbing” was to nights on the town.

While “Preliminaires” is a departure, it doesn’t arrive out of the blue. Pop first dabbled in jazz on a 1990 duet with Debbie Harry on Cole Porter’s “Well, Did You Evah!” He also did an entire album of jazz-tinged spoken word pieces. And although that album, “Avenue B,” was a disaster, “Preliminaires” succeeds in large part because Pop delivers each track with authority and authenticity.

While Pop’s genre hopping could be a bizarre recipe for disaster, he turns this into a strength, weaving the diverse threads together for a cohesive listen.  The resulting variance in mood and texture is another element that keeps “Preliminaires” from being as stilted and dreary as “Avenue B.” “Preliminaires” greatest strength, though, might simply be that Pop knows when to quit. Most songs hover between two and three minutes and the 12-track affair is over in a brief 36 minutes.

“Preliminaries” will not bump “Lust for Life” or “The Passenger” off the pedestal atop Pop’s catalog and likely won’t even stand as a major entry in his canon, but curious fans interested in what the Wild One can do when stripped of his raw power should find something to like.

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Above: Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Little Steven Van Zant do “London Calling” at the Grammys for Joe Strummer.

By Joel Francis

I remember getting the call from my brother-in-law like it happened yesterday. I was sitting in my apartment, it was the night before Christmas Eve, 2002 His words slowly trickled out: “Joe Strummer is dead.” The next day I loaded my CD changer with nothing but Clash and Mescelaros music and played it on shuffle for the entire day. Every Christmas Eve since then has been Clash-mas Eve, with at least a couple hours devoted to celebrating the art of Joe Strummer. To borrow a line from The Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer,” let’s “raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer” and revisit five of his greatest moments.

“Letsagetabitarockin'” by the 101ers, from “Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited”
The 101ers drew more on the bluesy rock of the Rolling Stones and classic American rock and roll than they did on the jagged precursors of punk rock. Formed in 1974, Joe Strummer knew his band was done in 1976 after hearing just five seconds of the Sex Pistols. When the 101ers lone single, “Keys to Your Heart” came out later that year, the group was already over. Having seen the light, Strummer jumped ship to join the Clash, but the 101ers remained a curious footnote of Strummer’s pre-punk powers. In 1981, the group’s few studio and live recordings were cobbled together for release.
“Letsagetabitarockin'” kicks off that album with a shot high-octane rockabilly recorded in 1975 that would become the Stray Cats stock in trade several years later. Stylistically, it’s not much of a leap from this to the music Strummer was making in the Clash. The change in attitude and approach, however, is huge.

“1977” by the Clash, from “Super Black Market Clash”
Strummer eviscerates his former life as a pub rocker and skewers rock’s sacred cows with his cry of “no Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones” on the chorus of “1977.” An early calling card for the band, it appeared on the b-side of their first single and helped establish them as the new guard of rock and roll.
Written by Strummer and Clash guitarist Mick Jones, the two packed a lot into their 99 seconds. In addition to denouncing the previous generation’s music, they draw on the Rastafarian prediction of July 7, 1977 bringing chaos and tip a hat to George Orwell’s novel “1984” by counting up to that year before ending abruptly.

“Brand New Cadillac” by the Clash, from “London Calling”
“Letsagetabitarockin'” and “Brand New Cadillac” are both rockabilly songs, but the similarity pretty much ends there. Strummer not only changed his surrounding musicians, his voice has transformed. His singing has the edge of a switchblade knife and you can hear his sneer as he angrily spits likes like “Jesus Christ, where’d you get that Cadillac?”
That line wasn’t in the 1958 version of “Brand New Cadillac” written and recorded by Vince Taylor and his Playboys. Taylor’s version was menacing in its own right back then, but he sounds less inclined to track his woman down. Strummer, on the other hand, is ready to do more than slash her tires.

“Magnificent Seven” by the Clash, from “Sandinista!”
Rap music wasn’t much older than punk when the Clash cut this track in 1981. Strummer throws stream-of-conscious lyrics over a bass loop composed not by Clash bass player Paul Simonon, but Norman Watt-Roy from the Blockheads. The arrangement over the loop is strongly influenced by reggae and dub, two of the cornerstones of the Clash’s sound.
The result, though, was unlike anything recorded up to that time. Preceding Blondie’s “Rapture” by six months, this was white rock’s first attempt to write a rap song.
Strummer delivers his story about a good working boy with his typical swagger, but throws a curveball in the third verse – the work isn’t to make ends meet, but to buy all the junk he sees advertised on TV. Emboldened by his anti-consumerist diatribe, Strummer tosses Ghandi, Karl Marx and Richard Nixon into the final verse before musing who’s better known, Plato the Greek or Rin Tin Tin.

“Straight To Hell (live)” by the Clash, from “From Here To Eternity: Live”
Recorded live at The Orpheum in Boston on the Combat Rock tour, the band stretches this reading of “Straight To Hell” more than three minutes longer than its LP run time. Given more space, the song becomes even more moody. Strummer wallows in the beat as he damns those who mistreat immigrants by closing steel mills or burning their communities.
The deliberately slow tempo shows how much the Clash have grown since their rapid-fire debut just five years earlier. The arrangement again echoes strongly of reggae and dub elements and was borrowed by M.I.A. for her hit “Paper Planes.”
The defining moment comes at the end when Strummer yells at the crowd to “sing in tune, you bastards.” For a man who always wore his emotions on his sleeve, it doesn’t get more heartfelt than this.

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Above: Blondie’s superior, unused version of “For Your Eyes Only.”

By Joel Francis

When Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery as James Bond, the producers retooled the series to include the grittiness of the recent Dirty Harry movies and “The French Connection.” In “Live and Let Die” Bond chases a corrupt Caribbean politician who deals heroin and happens to be black. They also snagged one of the biggest stars on the planet to write and perform the latest Bond theme – ex-Beatle Paul McCartney.

McCartney’s theme song reunited him with Beatles producer George Martin, who scored the film. Martin was the first person other than John Barry to score a Bond film.

Not only was McCartney’s song the first rock Bond theme, but it was the first one to be written and performed by the same person. The film’s producers had wanted a soul singer, but Martin prevailed and McCartney was allowed to sing. The song starts with a soft melody and understanding lyrics, before bursting into a whirlwind of strings and horns. The change in tempo and texture underscores the protagonist’s philosophical change, from “live and let live” to “live and let die.” The song is a staple of McCartney’s live shows and was performed at his Super Bowl halftime concert in 2005. The less said about Guns N’ Roses 1991 cover, the better.

Barry was back in the scoring saddle for “The Man With the Golden Gun.” He teamed with lyricist Don Black on the title song and the results were predictable. British singer Lulu made her name with the No. 1 hit “To Sir With Love,” the title song to Sidney Poitier’s 1967 film, but she’s given little to distinguish herself with here. Deep in the mix, a guitar spews crazy licks underneath a battalion of churning trombones, but Lulu’s vocals stay safely in the Bassey mold.

Proto-shock rocker Alice Cooper claimed his song “The Man With the Golden Gun” was written for the film but rejected by its producers. The song is an aggressive slab of hard rock completely out of step with anything the producers had used before, so its unsurprising Cooper’s version didn’t appear until it was included on the tastefully titled “Muscle of Love” album.

In 1977, Carly Simon became the second American (after Nancy Sinatra) to sing a Bond theme. “Nobody Does It Better” was the first Bond theme without the same name as its movie, in this case “The Spy Who Loved Me,” although songwriters Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch did work the title into the lyrics.

The song revitalized Simon’s career which had been in a five-year gradual decline since her 1972 hit “You’re So Vain.” It was No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for seven consecutive weeks and was nominated for two Grammys.

Despite its soft rock arrangement, “Nobody Does It Better” works well as a Bond theme. Writing about the character instead of the film is a refreshing change. Simon’s vocals are nearly devoid of the sex most female Bond singers infused in their delivery. Simon’s approach is more of devotion than lust, which not only supports the arrangement, but makes the song more honest.

Moonraker” paired Bassey and Barry for the final time. Bassey’s third turn on a Bond theme happened after Johnny Mathis declined the song at the last moment. Her delivery is much smoother than on “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Goldfinger,” but it compliments Barry’s lush orchestration. For the first time, Barry’s horns are pushed far to the background. His strings are suspended, weightless in space, and the arrangement is accentuated with a light touch of disco.

The formula of pairing the score composer with a lyricist and giving the song to a pop singer was very much intact as the Bond film franchise entered the ’80s (and its third decade) with “For Your Eyes Only.” Unfortunately, the results were not as memorable. Sheena Easton set a precedent when she became the first singer to perform the title song onscreen. The gauze of synthesizers and strings and forced melody have rightfully relegated the song to footnote status. The producers would have been better served accepting Blondie’s title submission, which appeared on their 1982 album, “The Hunter.”

For his 13th Bond film, Barry turned to Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Weber’s lyricist, for help. The result, “All Time High,” was sung by Rita Coolidge. Like Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” “All Time High” spent multiple weeks at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and does not share the its film’s title (in this case “Octopussy“). Unlike Simon’s song, though, “All Time High” hit the all-time low in Bond songs.

Keep reading:

The Music of James Bond: Part Three – The ’80s and Beyond

The Music of James Bond: Part One – The Classic Years

Below: Alice Cooper’s alternate “The Man WIth the Golden Gun.”

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