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Posts Tagged ‘Nine Inch Nails’

(Above: Metallica perform with Ray Davies at the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert in New York City.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Every great song usually inspires about a dozen covers. Most of these are pedestrian and instantly forgotten. The few that transcend the original can be troublesome for the original artist. Should they mimic the new, more popular version or maintain the original vision? Bob Dylan has turned his nightly performances of “All Along the Watchtower” into a sort-of tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Trent Reznor, however, continues to perform “Hurt” as he originally intended, ignoring Johnny Cash’s transcendent interpretation.

Ray Davies wrote “You Really Got Me” in 1964 on an upright piano. The initial sketches suggest a loping bluesy number somewhere between Gerry Mulligan and Big Bill Broonzy, two of Davies’ biggest inspirations at the time.

Davies’ brother Dave had different ideas. Latching onto the riff, and drawing on “Wild Thing” and “Tequilla,” he drove the song through his distorted guitar. The song was born anew, and when Ray Davies heard the new arrangement he knew that’s how his number was supposed to be played.

Unfortunately, the Kinks had already taken the first arrangement into the studio. It was that version that Pye, their label, intended to release as the band’s third single. The Kinks and producer Shel Talmy successfully lobbied for another session to re-record the number with the newfound grit and rawness. The result was the band’s first No. 1 hit in their native England, thereby launching their career.

The Kinks’ next single was essentially a re-write of “You Really Got Me.” Despite the similar success of “All Day and All of the Night,” Ray Davies abandoned that style of writing for the most part for more lilting fare like “Tired of Waiting for You” and “Sunny Afternoon.”

Davies and the Kinks may have moved on, but the rest of the world was just catching up. “You Really Got Me” inspired the signature grimy riff of “Satisfaction,” the feel of “Wild Thing,” and all of “I Can’t Explain.” Heavily distorted guitars became a staple in the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene and, a decade later, the backbone of punk.

In the heart of punk movement, Los Angeles party band Van Halen decided to release their version of “You Really Got Me” as their debut single. Although the song only rose to No. 36 on the U.S. charts, it was tremendously popular, becoming a concert staple throughout the band’s career (and numerous line-ups).

For the most part, Van Halen’s 1978 arrangement of “You Really Got Me” stayed true to the Kinks version. The biggest difference was Eddie Van Halen’s fretboard pyrotechnics. This transformed the song from a proto-punk jam into a guitar hero workout. Matching Van Halen’s instrumental energy was frontman David Lee Roth, whose grunting and moaning punctuated an already-strong come-on.

In 1980, “You Really Got Me” was one of the last cuts on the Kinks live album “One From the Road.” The song had already been released in live format before, on 1968’s “Live At Kelvin Hall,” but this was the band’s first recorded response to Van Halen.

Sadly, the Kinks responded by turning into a Van Halen cover band. An excellent guitarist in his own right, Dave Davies fell flat trying to imitate Eddie Van Halen (as many, many other axeslingers would also discover). Ray Davies’ pinched London voice could not match Roth’s West Coast bravado. Instead of playing to their strengths, the Kinks played to Van Halen’s strong points, thereby undermining themselves and relinquishing ownership of the original “You Really Got Me.”

I mention all this, because this month Ray Davies has elected to release another version of “You Really Got Me” on his new all-star duets album “See My Friends.” Since the Kinks have been on hiatus since 1996, Davies chose Metallica to back him on this track. Although they are working with the original songwriter, the grunts and asides spewing from Metallica singer James Hetfield make clear that his band is covering Van Halen, not the Kinks. Displaying a leaden stomp that makes Black Sabbath seem nimble, Metallica drain the life from the song as Davies stands helplessly by.

The Kinks original 1964 recording of “You Really Got Me” is a brilliant track. Van Halen’s cover some 14 years later also remains exhilarating (particularly when it is coupled with “Eruption,” the Eddie Van Halen instrumental that preceeds it on the album). Sadly, we have lost one version in the wake of the other.

Keep reading:

“Death Magnetic” is Metallica’s creative rebirth

Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower

Lanois + Raffi = Eno

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(Above: Author Greg Kot discusses his book “Ripped” in this 30-minute radio interview.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

When I was in graduate school I wrote my précis – an abridged thesis – on how the internet was changing the music industry. It was an exciting time. Napster was in full swing and Metallica’s lawsuit was not only breaking news, but new research ripe for my writing. (Incidentally, the record industry’s great hope at the time was to create a new type of CD that could not be copied or ripped to computer.) I was praised for my paper, but the research did not age well. Barely two years after graduation, its findings were horribly outdated.

Greg Kot fares much better in his recent book “Ripped” How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music.” Published in 2009, he takes the long view on the digital evolution of the past decade. The book opens with an overview of how the major labels wound up on the wrong side of their consumers at the turn of the century. In the first three chapters, Kot covers the consolidations that homogenized commercial radio and placed extra emphasis on the major labels’ profit margins; the labels’ revolt against the payola system they built and established; and how labels quashed their artists’ efforts to embrace the Internet.

That’s a lot to cover in 50 pages, but Kot is wise not to belabor these points. Other books – notably Steve Knopper’s “Appetite for Self-Destruction,” which appeared a few months earlier – cover this ground in far more depth. Kot’s summary provides a nice launching pad for the real meat of his book, namely how the net has allowed artists and fans to connect in unexpected ways with unexpected results.

Today Prince is a punching bag for declaring the internet “completely over,” but his actions in the mid-‘90s laid the groundwork for the path Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and other bands currently follow. Walking away from his contract with Warner Bros., Prince built a network with his fans where he would release music directly to them, at a pace he dictated. Without the modern digital infrastructure, distribution was often slow and frustrating. It is puzzling that yesterday’s visionary opted out just when technology became the most accommodating.

Kot also discusses how the internet helped Wilco and Death Cab For Cutie develop an online cult following and how that translated to mainstream success. Another chapter is devoted to the impact of Pitchfork and other online tastemakers. The book ends with the stories of Lily Allen, Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor and Radiohead and how their business models have turned the industry on its head.

A music critic and reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Kot draws on his day job to incorporate first-hand quotes delivered in the heat of the moment. Putting the reader in the speaker’s mind in real time keeps the stories fresh and makes the linear exposition more exciting. Very little is revealed through hindsight; the reader gets everything as it occurs.

“Ripped” shares many traits with Thomas Freidman’s 2006 exploration of the online paradigm “The World is Flat.” Both books hold few revelations for readers who followed the events unfold in real time, but are also handy encapsulations of everything that has occurred. At the same time, they are immensely in explaining to the uninitiated how we got to where we are. Whether “Ripped” deserves a spot on the bookshelf or a visit to the library depends on the reader’s level of knowledge. Either way, it is worth reading.

Keep reading:

Review – “Record Store Days”

Radiohead Rock St. Louis

Review – “King of the Queen City”

Review: Wilco returns to the Crossroads (2009)

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(Above: The video for “Pretty Wings,” one of the biggest songs to come off Maxwell’s latest album.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

When Maxwell released his first album in eight years last summer, he planned on making up for lost time by hitting his audience with three albums over a short period of time. The fans, however, had another plan. “BLACKsummer’snight” debuted at No. 1, spawned two singles that stayed on the charts for 46 and 47 weeks, respectively.

The assuring everyone “I’m back for good,” the follow up album is ready. Now Maxwell’s waiting for the excitement to die down.

“This (new album) will be the second in a trilogy,” Maxwell said. “They were going to come out in succession, but then the first one created this response. We’re waiting for the people to tell us when they’re ready.”

The soul man mapped his return cautiously, playing the Uptown on the first leg of his tour in the fall of 2008. By the time his show reached St. Louis a year later he was playing arenas and had two sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden under his belt.

“Honestly, I like the intimate settings better,” said Maxwell, who celebrated his 37th birthday on May 23. “People can hear us better and see us better. But because of the success of the record, I’d be in every town for two weeks if I did that.”

When Maxwell plays Starlight on Sunday, he will bring Jill Scott, one of the singers who blossomed during his time away.

“She is absolutely amazing,” Maxwell said of Scott. “Apart from the music, she not only has the most beautiful smile but the biggest spirit. She typifies soul right now.”

Maxwell said his set is “very different” from previous tour legs. The stage has been redesigned by Roy Bennett, who came to Maxwell’s attention through his work with Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein.

“His ability to design is stellar. We’ve got great video and lights,” Maxwell said. “More importantly is my band. These musicians could stand out in front of a cloth.”

The ten-piece outfit includes several artists who have made names for themselves in the jazz world, like pianist Robert Glasper and bass player Derrick Hodge. The pieces of the ensemble started falling into place when a friend introduced Maxwell to Chris Dave. Dave’s impressive resume includes collaborations with Mint Condition, Meshell Ndgeocello, Pat Metheny, Kenny Garrett.

“Chris is just an incredible drummer. He knew the person who introduced me to the horn section, and the band kind of evolved from there,” Maxwell said. “I won’t say it was happenstance, because I do believe in destiny, but it came together very organically.”

The musical landscape Maxwell re-entered is markedly different. Labels are failing and artists are selling fewer albums and, as a result, generating less money for both themselves and their label.

“It hasn’t been a problem for me, which is incredible,” Maxwell said. “We just added the fourth leg of the tour and I’m getting better album sales than I’ve ever had. I’ve been pretty – and I hate using this word, but – lucky. Blessed.”

For Maxwell the comeback is over. He’s returned and conquered, and now he’s ready to move on. Worn down by being asked why he voluntarily dropped out of sight so many times, Maxwell has a simple, smirking answer: “I like Seinfeld.”

Keep reading:

Review: Maxwell and Jill Scott

Review: Jill Scott at Starlight

Stevie Wonder celebrates Michael Jackson at Starlight

Review: Raphael Saadiq

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(Above: Metric roar through “Dead Disco” in their native Toronto.)

By Joel Francis

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Midland Theater. The opulent 3,500-seat venue has hosted scores of acclaimed performances in its 82-year history. Both Spoon and the Bravery commented on the austere surroundings during their sets at the annual “The Night the Buzz Stole Christmas” concert on Thursday night. And why not? The grand old venue was both more stately and spacious than the clubs and outdoor festivals they were accustomed to playing.

Emily Haines, the vibrant front woman for the indie pop quartet Metric, however, did not comment on the hall; she owned it. Overcoming an unkind mix and unfamiliar audience, Haines commanded the stage and the band slowly won over the crowd with its merger of ‘80s pop, dance, industrial and indie rock.

Filled by the swirling synthesizers of opening number “Twilight Galaxy,” the Midland felt more like a basement club than a cavernous theater. Metric is much edgier in concert and they put it to good use. Haines strapped on an electric guitar for “Help I’m Alive” and locked eyes with guitarist James Shaw while he peeled off a solo that recalled Mike Campbell’s on “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” “Dead Disco,” the lone number not drawn from “Fantasies,” the ensemble’s celebrated new release. Packed with several crescendos, it was an industrial barrage that felt like a Nine Inch Nails outtake.

The first half of the 40-minute set felt like a teaser for the second. Haines prefaced “Gimme Sympathy,” a song that revives the age-old debate over the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, with part of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My.” The performance drew a spirited response from the crowd. Metric seized on this newfound attention by segueing into the spiky “Sick Muse,” which drew even more cheers and hands in the air.

By the time Haines roared into “Stadium Love,” it felt like the band was ready to play Arrowhead. Although Metric headlined the much smaller Granada Theater six months ago, and couldn’t command a crowd this size on their own – the band was second on the “Buzz” bill of four acts – they’ll get there soon enough. And when they do, they’ll be ready for it.

Setlist: Twilight Galaxy, Help I’m Alive, Gold Guns Girls, Gimme Sympathy > Sick Muse > Dead Disco, Stadium Love

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(Above: Former NBA player and current ESPN music columnist Paul Shirley discusses some of his favorite records at Amobea Records in Los Angeles.)

By Joel Francis

Paul Shirley played in the 2005 NBA conference finals as a member of the Phoenix Suns and scrimmaged against Kobe Bryant as a training camp member of the Los Angeles Lakers, but he doesn’t want to talk about any of that right now. Shirley’s telling the story of when he first heard U2’s “Mysterious Ways” in the back of a school bus during high school.

“It dawned on me that I was old enough to have a CD player and I could play whenever I wanted,” Shirley said. “The first time I played ‘Achtung Baby,’ I thought it was the worst purchase ever, but after I played it 8 or 10 times, I thought it was the best.”

When “Zooropa” arrived a few years later, Shirley realized bands could grow and music could evolve. Nearly 20 years later, Shirley is still marveling at inventive new sounds and comforting old ones.

“Music and basketball were both my outlets,” Shirley said. “People don’t understand, but there’s a lot of catharsis in both of them. When I came home from practice, mad at the world, I could put on ‘The Downward Spiral’ and all my troubles would melt away.”

As Shirley migrated from Jefferson West High School in Meriden, Kan. – located about 15 miles outside of Topeka – to Ames, Iowa as a three-year starter for the Iowa State Cyclones men’s basketball squad and a professional ball career that encompassed Spain, Russia, Greece and several stops in the NBA, music was a constant companion.

“The music I have taken with me has allowed me to feel at home in all different places,” said Shirley, who makes his home in Kansas City, Mo. “The ability to put on my headphones and pop in a CD is priceless. It’s like having a set of friends I can take with me wherever I want.”

When not rocking with his aural amigos, Shirley was taking his friends to live shows. An early concert at the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan. made a big impression.

“One weekend my brother and I were home from college flipping through the Lawrence weekend paper when we saw an ad for (textural post-rock band) Mogwai,” Shirley said. “We did a little research and decided to check it out for, what, $12 or whatever. When we got there the show was so intense and focused, it was like nothing I’d ever seen. There were four guitars and no vocalist. It was just overwhelming.”

That fix turned Shirley in to a live music junkie, prowling the scene searching for the next high.

“I don’t think of myself as a person on the cutting edge, but there are moments when you see someone who you now is going to be good before anyone else. Like when I saw Ratatat open for the Killers at the Hurricane or the Secret Machines at El Torreon,” Shirley said. “Moments when you see someone destined for, if not stardom, then goodness and that’s really cool.”

Shirley’s pro ball career never took off as planned, but through those trials another passion emerged: writing.

“It never occurred to me that I could write about this stuff,” said Shirley, who saw “Can I Keep My Jersey?,” his basketball memoir, published in 2007.

After writing a column for the Phoenix Suns Website, Shirley was asked to write for ESPN.

“I think they (ESPN) were thinking I’d go back into the NBA and then they’d have a player on the inside,” Shirley said. “Instead I went to summer leagues and overseas.”

The column died when Shirley grew tired of writing about basketball, but when ESPN launched a new, non-sports section of their Website, they asked him to write a music column. Every Tuesday he interviews indie bands, reports on a festival like Austin City Limits or Lollapalloza, reviews a concert or shares his musical opinions.

“It’s nice to be able to contact a band and say, hey, I live in Kansas City and see you are coming to town. Could I go to your show?” Shirley said. “Talking to musicians is nice, too, like when I got to chat with the Dandy Warhols, who I’ve liked for 15 years.”

Today, Shirley juggles the expectations that come with being an athlete writing for the Worldwide Leader with his passion for music.

“There is a disconnect between the athletes and their fans and music nerds and book nerds, and it’s probably exaggerated for me because I write for a jock Website,” Shirley said. “People have a hard time understanding that for me, talking about basketball is like them talking about their day job. It’s not as interesting to me (as music).”

Shirley acknowledges he could be drop stories about star players, or work as an analyst, but that no longer interests him.

“Basketball doesn’t inspire me,” Shirley said. “I can only stay interested in things for so long. Right now writing – specifically writing about music – provides the spark for me.”

Keep reading:

Paul Shirley’s ESPN collumn archive

More music features on The Daily Record:

Peter, Bjorn and John Heart Hip Hop

Jamie Foxx brings it to Sprint Center on Saturday

The Derek Trucks Band makes old-school rock new

Kansas City Rocks Out

Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band

Hail Death Cab

Ever Fallen For The Buzzcocks?

Out of the Tar Pit Back Onto the Stage

Local Doctor Claims He’s Treating Elvis

Down on “Cypress Avenue”

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