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Posts Tagged ‘the Beatles’

By Joel Francis

Since this is day 45 of the social distancing spins project, I thought it was only fitting we celebrate by spinning, what else, 45s. Here are 10 from my collection.

Penny and the Quarters – You and Me/You Are Giving Me Some Other Love (2011) “You and Me” was neatly tucked near the end of the Numero soul compilation Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label. The scant liner notes provide more questions than answers. Then Ryan Gosling heard this great soul love song and used it in his 2010 movie Blue Valentine. The film developed a devoted following – it’s quite good – and peoples started wondering about the love theme that brought the main characters together. Numero turned on the bat-signal, hoping to learn more about the mysterious Penny – and deliver some royalties. Finally, the mystery was solved. Penny was none other than Nannie Sharpe of Columbus, Ohio. She performed the song with her brothers in a studio in 1969, not knowing if they were actually being recorded. The tune itself sounds like it could have come from the golden age of doo wop, or at least Sam Cooke’s pen. The b-side, “You Are Giving Me Some Love,” is cut from the same cloth and features a lengthy spoken-word introduction. The lo-fi quality of both recordings only adds to the charm. Lost jewels like this are what makes the Numero Group so essential. I dare you to listen to this and not smile.

Mission of Burma – Innermost/And Here It Comes (2009) These are two non-album tracks recorded at the same time as their third reunion album (and fifth overall) The Sound the Speed and the Light. The album is the weakest release of their reunion relative to the rest of their catalog, which is to say it is still very good. I don’t know the record well enough to tell you if “Innermost” and “And Here It Comes” were unfairly excluded, but they aren’t a departure from the band’s arty, cerebral, intense punk. Of the two tracks, I prefer “And Here It Comes” for the guitar solo and sonic experimentation in the middle.

Brandon Phillips and the Condition – People Talk/Angel Say No (2019) Brandon Phillips is a staple of the Kansas City, Mo., music scene. He started off in the Gadjits with his brothers, before the three of them started the Architects, an incredible punk band. Now the Phillips brothers are back with Brandon out front in the Condition, a sonic tribute to early Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. The pair of tunes here are so good it’s almost a cruel tease. I desperately want a full-length album to enjoy alongside Look Sharp! and Punch the Clock. Like the Phillips’ brothers other musical endeavors, the Condition have hooks and energy for miles, I hope they stick around long enough to give us more.

Ben Folds – Mister Peepers/A Million Years or So (2018) Piano man Ben Folds wrote this song about then-assistant attorney general Rod Rosenstein as part of a storytelling project for The Washington Post Magazine. I don’t think Folds has written another political song (please let me know in the comments if he has), but this track is a winner on several levels. First off, the lyrics, painting Rosenstein as a nerd getting picked on by the GOP jocks in the House of Representatives is perfect analogy. Folds also nails the hypocrisy baked-in to the bullying we’ve normalized from D.C. The lyric is worth quoting in full:

“You boys are Christians right? What would Jesus do? Would he bury crimes and carry water like a stooge? Or smear a family man in case he tells the truth/About the boss/Yeah what would Jesus do?”

Finally, the banjo and fiddle accompaniment is superb. I don’t think Folds has worked in this mode before either and I love the bluegrass tinge it provides. If we’re lucky, there might be a few more songs in this direction on Folds’ next album. Or he could cover Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg again. Could go either way.

The b-side is a Roger Miller cover that Folds turns into a tear-jerking love ballad.

Jawbox – Motorist/Jackpot Plus! (1992) The single version of “Motorist” is quite a bit different from the album version that appeared on For Your Own Special Sweetheart a couple years later. The single version opens with a drum machine and the verses rest on the bassline and drums, until the guitar kicks in and takes the song over the top on the chorus. The album version opens with the chorus, then drops back to the first verse. The version here is a more raw performance and my favorite of the two readings. The b-side, “Jackpot Plus!” is another song that also appears on For Your Own Special Sweetheart. This time the arrangement and emotion are pretty similar. The biggest difference is J. Robbins’ vocals have a filter on the album version. I love this kind of no-frills, visceral punk.

The Beatles – Baby It’s You/I’ll Follow the Sun/Devil in her Heart/Boys (1994) I believe this was my first vinyl purchase. I don’t know if the turntable at home was even working at the time I bought this, I just knew I was happy to buy a new Beatles single just like my parents (could) have at my age. “Baby It’s You” was pulled from the Live at the BBC compilation. The other three songs are also BBC recordings, two of which were included on the 2013 collection On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume Two. These early sessions are great because they remind you just how amazing the Beatles were as live performers. Before they were turning the recording studio inside-out, they were a heck of a live band. John Lennon’s tender vocals on “Baby It’s You” made it a stand-out cut on the first BBC anthology. The other songs aren’t as essential, but it’s always fun to hear the Fab Four let it all hang out on “Boys.”

Alice Cooper – Clones (We’re All)/Model Citizen (1980) “Clones” doesn’t sound anything like Alice Cooper’s anthems “School’s Out” or “Eighteen,” but then again at the time this was recorded Cooper didn’t sound much like himself, either. He dabbled in 1950s noir on Lace and Whiskey and got ultra-personal on From the Inside. It’s clear Cooper didn’t know what to do at the time, so he hooked up with Cars and Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker and swapped the guitars for synthesizers. I haven’t listened to the album Cooper and Baker made together, but “Clones” has everything I love about those early Cars singles – handclaps! great keyboard hooks! sharp rhythm guitars! – and early ‘80s new wave in general. “Model Citizen” is closer to Cooper’s expected sound but Baker’s production tricks can’t completely hide the inane lyrics that aren’t nearly as clever as they think.

James Brown – The Payback Part One/Part Two (1973) My all-time favorite James Brown jam. The only bad things I can say about “The Payback” is that I get annoyed by having to flip the single over halfway through the song and that I’m always disappointed it doesn’t go on for twice as long. This song has been sampled a million times, but no one has been able to improve on the original. An angry Brown put the godfather in his Godfather of Soul nickname with this tale of revenge. Brown lays out how he’s been wronged and what he’s going to do about it over some funky chicken-scratch guitar. The horns punch like fists and Brown’s emphatic screams punctuate the anger and boasting with a sharp blast of frustration and impatience. You can see Brown pacing his corner of the boxing ring, psyching himself up and waiting for the bell to ring as this song builds. By the time it’s over, I’m ready hit the streets and find some trouble myself. Maybe it’s for the best this song isn’t longer, before I get caught in something I can’t handle.

The Clash – Bankrobber/Rockers Galore ….UK Tour (1980) Between releasing a two-LP masterpiece and it’s three-record follow-up, the Clash managed to released this gem, which never appeared on any of their albums. Joe strummer rides a terrific reggae groove talking about income inequality disguised as the story of his dad, a bank robber who never hurt anyone and just “loved to steal your money.” Think of it as Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd” by way of King Tubby and Kingston, Jamaica. Reggae producer Mikey Dread added great dub effects to “Bankrobber.” On the b-side, Dread takes over, taking the mic for some toasting over an even more dubbed-out version of the “Bankrobber” track. When Clash guitarist Mick Jones joined Joe Strummer onstage for the first time in decades at a benefit show for striking firefighters, the two jammed on this song for nearly 10 minutes.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window/The Burning of the Midnight Lamp (1998) If memory serves, this was a promotional give-away that came with the Hendrix Live at the BBC double-disc set. After the success of the Beatles BBC collection, all the heritage bands got in on the act. “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” is a song that never appeared on any of the Experience albums, a Hendrix cover of an obscure Bob Dylan song that was only released as a single. Got that? Hendrix covering Dylan has historically been a good thing and this version is a solid addition to the Hendrix catalog, even if it isn’t as incendiary as “Watchtower.” The BBC version of “The Burning of the Midnight Lamp” shows how proficient Hendrix was at transforming his psychedelic studio creations into compelling live performances. Pairing this song with the Dylan cover shows how much an influence the Hibbing, Minn., folk singer had on Hendrix’ lyric-writing. He drops a lot of little details into “Lamp” that sometimes get lost among the guitar heroics.

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Day 34

By Joel Francis

Based on the announcements made today it looks like we’ll be doing this for at least another month. I hope everyone out there is safe and healthy.

Ringo Starr – Beaucoups of Blues (1970) The Fab Four drummer had a busy year in 1970. He not only released two solo albums, but was an integral part of Let It Be, the final Beatles album. Beaucoups of Blues was the last Ringo-related release of the year. Frankly, this is a criminally underappreciated album. The premise is simple: Ringo travelled to Nashville and cut a bunch of country tunes with the best session players in the city. The results are even better than expected. As demonstrated on songs like “Honey Don’t” and “Act Naturally,” Ringo has a great voice for country songs. The instrumental support is superb. Finally, the album barely breaks the half-hour mark, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you like the Beatles, country music or top-shelf musicianship, don’t hesitate to grab Beaucoups of Blues next time you see it.

Mikal Cronin – MCII (2013) If you are a big fan of the prolife garage rocker Ty Segall, you may recognize Mikal Cronin as the bass player from Segall’s band. For his second solo album, Cronin brings a lot of the dirt and scuzz from Segall’s projects, but sweetens it up with lots of acoustic rhythm guitar and some keyboards and strings. The result is nearly 40 minutes of wonderful power pop that changes tempo and textures just enough to remain invigorating throughout. After kicking out the cobwebs with rockers like “Shout It Out” and “See My Way,” Cronin ends the album on a graceful, contemplative note with the slow, string-laden “Piano Mantra.”

MCII was my favorite album that year and it remains an absolute delight. Put this on, turn it up and let ‘er rip.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Ella and Louis (compilation) The First Lady of Song and Satchmo only appeared in the studio together a handful of times, likely because they knew the universe would not be able to handle this abundance of joy. The two-record set I own combines 1956’s Ella and Louis with 1957’s Ella and Louis Again. There has never been a time I’ve played this music that I haven’t felt better afterward. Dwell on that for a moment. Think about how much has changed in the world over the past 63 years, when these songs were released. And these two have been able to deliver unbridled bliss that entire time. If you don’t own this, there has never been a better time to buy it. We are all stuck at home, starving for human interaction. Think of it as therapy and have it delivered. If you own this, I hope I have inspired you to play it now. The world needs more gaiety, in all times, but especially now.

Rolling Stones – Goat’s Head Soup (1973) The Stones’ 13th U.S. long-player ended their incredible hot streak that started way back with 1966’s Aftermath. I’m fairly confident that the Stones were the best rock band on the planet during that run. You could argue the Beatles, but they broke up in 1970. In 1966, the Who were still figuring everything out on A Quick One (a fine album). The Kinks kept pace for most of that time, but peaked with 1971’s Muswell Hillbillies. Look, the point is that the Stones were very, very good for about seven years. And then Goat’s Head Soup came out.

Goat’s Head Soup isn’t a bad album, necessarily, it’s just not as good as the half-dozen albums that came before. “Dancing with Mr. D” starts the record on a tepid note and it takes the last two songs on the side to rescue the album. “Angie” was a No. 1 hit and the horn-driven “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” is solid, but neither are as vital as “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar,” the songs that clearly inspired these. The second side is better just because it doesn’t try as hard. “Silver Train” is a ragged romp powered by Mick Taylor’s slide guitar that recall’s the better moments on Exile on Main Street. “Winter” is a beautiful downtempo number to which anyone who has experienced a season that just won’t let go – meteorological or otherwise – can relate. The performance is so good it almost makes up for the malaise plaguing the weaker numbers. There is enough good stuff on Goat’s Head Soup to make it a worthwhile addition, but temper your expectations.

Bruce Springsteen – Human Touch (1992) This was the first Bruce Springsteen album I owned. I know, I picked a really bad time to become a fan. I remember watching Springsteen on Saturday Night Live around the time of this release, when I was just starting to discover him (away from the omnipresent hits, at least). Everything I read said the stage was where Springsteen really came alive. I was underwhelmed. The new arrangement of “57 Channels” was too noisy for my tastes at the time and I didn’t know what to make of the other songs performed because they were on Lucky Town, the other album the Boss released on the same day. I didn’t know what to make of the guy. The live setting didn’t resonate so I kept going back to Human Touch, looking for something that I may have missed.

Here we are nearly 30 (!!!) years later, and I’m still not sure how much gold there is in hills of Human Touch. The album opens with the title track, easily the album’s best song and sonically similar to the Tunnel of Love material. From there it flatlines and coasts. The songs I liked best back in the day remain my favorites today: “With Every Wish,” “Roll of the Dice,” “Real World,” the title track, “Man’s Job,” “The Long Goodbye” – mostly clustered in the middle for some reason. It is only because of Devils and Dust and, especially, Western Stars that I am finally able to appreciate “Pony Boy.”

Thanks to the Tracks box set fans are able to sift through a dozen or so outtakes and piece together their own version of Human Touch. I think the album would have been better with “Sad Eyes,” “Trouble River,” “Red Headed Woman” and “All the Way Home” replacing “Soul Driver,” “Gloria’s Eyes,” “All or Nothin’ at All” and “Real Man.” More importantly, I think we’ve already given this record more time than it deserves. Let’s just move on.

Los Lobos – The Neighborhood (1990) A good friend of mine once commented that Los Lobos were like the second coming of The Band, a group of supremely talented multi-instrumentalists who could sound like themselves while still maintaining the spirit of any genre. For their fifth album, the East Los Angeles quintet enlisted an actual member of The Band to help them along their journey through New Orleans soul (“Jenny’s Got a Pony”), the bluesy swagger of “I Walk Alone” and the heavenly skip of “Angel Dance.” Helm sings on the ballad “Little John of God” where his vocals are understated but the perfect accent. The only element this album doesn’t touch is traditional Mexican music, but that was the focus of their entire previous album, La Pistola y el Corazon, so it’s understandable the wolves bypass it here. There’s not a bad track among the 13 songs here. The Neighborhood remains a high-water mark in the band’s formidable catalog.

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By Joel Francis

I hope everyone had a good holiday weekend (if you’re into that sort of thing).

R.E.M. – Reveal (2001) I counted down the days to this album’s release after hearing the lead single, “Imitation of Life.” While I still like that song and a few other moments on Reveal, it was the most unsatisfying experience I’d had with an R.E.M. album until that point. Reveal gets off to a strong start with the first handful of songs, but then just kind of floats on its pillows of keyboards. Reveal also receives a strong demerit for failing to include “Fascinating,” one of the band’s best late-period ballads. It was reportedly cut because it sounded too much like the other material, but Reveal’s biggest problem is that it sounds too samey, and few of its songs are as memorable – or beautiful – as “Fascinating.” Hearing Reveal made me wonder if Up, the band’s first album after the departure of drummer Bill Berry, was a fluke. I don’t begrudge the band for pressing on as a trio, but the great moments were further apart.

Bootsy’s Rubber Band – Bootsy? Player of the Year (1978) George Clinton’s P-Funk was a well-oiled machine by the time bass man Bootsy Collins’ their album dropped. Your mileage with Bootsy? Player of the Year will depend on how much you like Clinton’s signature sound. “Bootsy? (What’s the Name of This Town” and “Roto-Rooter” are exactly the type of high-energy funk exercises you imagine them to be. (“Town” even features some funky flute.) “Hollywood Squares” opens with an appropriately theatrical fanfare, complete with tympani. The slow grind R&B workout “Very Yes” features uncredited but very accommodating female singers. The original funkateer is in prime form here.

Matthew Sweet – Wicked System of Things (2018) After a delightful trio of covers albums with Susanna Hoffs, Matthew Sweet finally pivoted back to his solo career. That return featured so many ideas and guests it was split across two albums, Tomorrow Forever and Tomorrow’s Daughter. The Tomorrow follow-up features Sweet stripping down and rocking out in a trio. Wicked System features some Sweet’s most aggressive playing in nearly a decade, but just because the riffs are harder doesn’t mean the album is lacking Sweet’s power pop chops. “Eternity Now” and “Backwards Upside Down” are great pop songs that could easily slot alongside his ‘90s work in a setlist. “It’s a Charade” is a deceptively sunny protest song, thanks to the cheery backing vocals on the chorus. Wicked System of Things snuck out as a Record Store Day release. I’m not sure it is on streaming platforms, but it is definitely worth seeking out if you are a fan of Sweet or power pop.

The Replacements – Hootenany (1983)

The Replacements – All Shook Down (1990) The Minneapolis college rock favorite’s second album is a beautiful mess, starting with the opening title track. “Hootenany” sounds like something some drunks would rip through in the basement while warming up. In other words, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the ‘Mats’ IDGAF ethos. “Run It,” the second song turns back to the more familiar sound of the band’s debut. Side one ends with “Mr. Whirly,” another drunken jam free-associating well-known riffs and lyrics. My favorite early ‘Mats song kicks off side two. “Within Your Reach” is the first glimpse of Paul Westerberg’s more sensitive and nuanced songwriting, which would blossom on the next two albums.

By the time of All Shook Down, Westerberg was positioning himself as a Serious Songwriter. While the compositions and performances are undoubtedly better, they also aren’t as much fun. That’s not to say it isn’t a good album. “Merry Go Round,” “Nobody” and “Somebody Take the Wheel” belong on any solid Replacements playlist. “Sadly Beautiful” is Westerberg at his aching, lonely best. All Shook Down ends with a song called “The Last,” a fitting title for what would be the end of the line for the band.

Beatles – Anthology 1 (1995) It’s hard to believe, but right now we are as far from the release of the Beatles Anthology series as that landmark look back was from the end of the Beatles. It’s also hard to believe that something that was seen as the ultimate treasure trove when it came out has become so inessential today. Be honest, when was the last time you listened to any of the Anthology collections? Prior to this, it had been years for me, especially for this first volume. Thanks to all the spoken word interludes Anthology 1 has an audio documentary feel the other collections lack. At times it feels like the only reason a performance is included on the album is because it was featured in the film. It’s great fun watching the Fab Four ham it up on Morcambe and Wise, but hearing only the audio is much less fun (and insightful). Hearing the Decca audition tape and the Quarrymen performances are historically interesting but not musically vital. In other words, I’m glad they’re here and that I have them, but I rarely reach for them.

Of course, the big draw for this set was the reunion track “Free As a Bird.” I liked it at the time and I still enjoy it today. Then again, I am also a big fan of George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as individual musicians, so I was already standing on third before the first pitch was thrown. Hearing these three interact musically on John Lennon’s recording is a delight, and frankly Anthology 1’s best moment. That’s not to say there aren’t other great songs here. The early versions of “One After 909” and hearing “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Eight Days a Week” are definite high points. But the band was finding their footing more than they were experimenting. That came in the later, superior, Anthologies.

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(Above: Reggae pioneers the Skatalites pay tribute to Dave Brubeck, and prove that it is possible to skank to jazz.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The original run of the Skatalites lasted barely over a year. That brief window has proved to be more than enough time to build a legacy strong to survive nearly half a century later.

The music the seven-piece island band played for two hours at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club on Thursday night transformed the sound of Jamaican music, but has deep tentacles into many forms of American music, including jazz, doo wop, R&B, gospel and even country.

The band never tried to hide its influences. “Music is My Occupation” reappropriated the horn line from “Ring of Fire.” Next, on their version of the James Bond theme, the famous surf guitar was transferred to a punchy horn line. The arrangement inspired more dancing than danger. Think of it as the soundtrack to the scene after the big fight, when 007 waltzes away with the girl.

Three horns lined the front of the stage, proclaiming the band’s strength. Founding member Lester Sterling played an old saxophone that looked like it had been rescued from a shipwreck but never failed to summon a melody pure and true. The big rhythm section included keyboards and guitar. They players may have been hidden behind the brass, but never played second fiddle.

The band had no problem moving the tricky 5/4 time of Dave Brubeck’s signature “Take Five” to a ska beat. Originally recorded with Val Bennett as “The Russians are Coming,” the piece featured Sterling’s longest solo of the night and proved he could hang with the players in the Blue Room any night.

When Sterling wanted to show off ska’s versatility, he launched the band into a cover of “I Should Have Known Better.” The Beatles were contemporaries when the Skatalties first laid down their version. A cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” – courtesy of drummer Trevor Thompson – and the spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved” were the night’s only vocal moments.

The two-hour set was generous to a fault. While the room was packed for the first hour, there was plenty of elbow room when “The Guns of Navarone,” the band’s biggest song, finally emerged near the end. Most of the instrumentals employed a similar arrangement, allowing some sameness to eventually creep. The performances were always energetic, however, and kept a steady flow of dancing near the stage.

Purists can quibble over the lack of original members onstage and they’d have a point. Sterling is the only founding member, and almost half the band wasn’t born when the Skatalites were at their peak in Studio One. Blame Father Time for the attrition then ask if the music should be forced to pass along with its musicians.

Sterling put it another way between numbers: “When you’re good, you’re good.”

They’re good.

Keep reading:

Review: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Review: Sly and Robbie

Police On My Back: Five Musicians Convicted of Murder

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(Above: The only acceptable version of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

A fun game has been going around the internet recently: Name 15 albums that influenced your taste in music today in 15 minutes. Because we never play anything straight up at The Daily Record, we twisted the rules a little and came up with 15 songs we dislike by artists we like.

  1. Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven.” Might as well get this heavy out of the way first. Classic rock radio has destroyed this great band’s best-known song. I’ve heard it so many times at this point I can conjure it up in my sleep. I never need to hear it again. Let me go one step further: I’d rather hear a half-hour live version of “Moby Dick” than have to sit through “Stairway” again.
  2. Joni Mitchell – “The Circle Game.” Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song about the cycles of life is actually a remarkable song. It works too well, though, leaving me completely depressed and feeling like I care about has decayed around me in just under 5 minutes. No wonder Mitchell selected this song to close her classic album “Ladies of the Canyon.” After this there’s nowhere to go.
  3. Beastie Boys – “Fight For Your Right To Party.” The Beastie Boys were a lot more creative and fun than the frat boy stereotype this dumb song earned them.
  4. Van Halen – “Love Walks In.” The Sammy Hagar period of the band is rightly painted as inferior to the original lineup, but you can’t help when you were born and I came of age right in the middle of Van Hagar. I never had a problem with Eddie switching from six-string to synths, but the sugary melody combined with lyrics about aliens made this song more than I could handle.
  5. Boogie Down Productions – “Jimmy.” Usually a master of the message, KRS-One’s sermon on safe sex comes off as both preachy and simplistic. The idiotic chorus destroys what little credibility may remain. The track did inspire the Young MC cut “Keep It In Your Pants” from his follow-up to “Stone Cold Rhymin’.” I wish I didn’t know these things, but I do and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
  6. Anyone – “The Long Black Veil.” First performed by Lefty Frizzell in 1959, this country classic has become a staple for Johnny Cash, The Band, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen and a dozen more. I can’t argue with any of those artists, but for a reason I could never put a finger on, it never resonated with me.
  7. Radiohead – “Creep.” This song introduced Radiohead to America, and for that I should be grateful, but “Pablo Honey” is the outlier in their catalog for me. In my mind, the catalog officially starts with “The Bends.”
  8. James Brown – “Killing Is Out, School Is In.” This song became the unintentional center point of Brown’s 2002 concert at the River Market. A lackluster set had already been derailed by a couple Janis Joplin covers by Brown’s then-wife and mayor Kay Barnes onstage proclamation of James Brown Day. Several years after Columbine, the message was not only no longer timely, but embarrassing. The song was later released as a single. Thankfully few heard it.
  9. David Bowie – “Changes.” Yet another song ruined by radio and turned into lazy shorthand for its era by television and movie producers.
  10. The Beatles – “The Long and Winding Road.” Dislike may be too strong a word for this song, but Paul McCartney had already delivered a better ballad for the “Let It Be/Get Back” project. This one feels like a syrupy afterthought to me.
  11. Steve Earle – “The Devil’s Right Hand.” This number brought Earle acclaim as a songwriter before he established himself as a recording artist in his own right. I think Lynyrd Skynyrd covered the same turf better with “Saturday Night Special.” The verses aren’t band, but the song is overly reliant on the repetitive chorus.
  12. The Who – “Behind Blues Eyes.” This sensitive number never seemed to fit in with the rest of “Who’s Next” and it seemed even more out of place as a single. Pete Townshend usually struck the right balance of being tough and vulnerable at the same time (see “The Song Is Over” or “How Many Friends”). He sounds weak and whiney on “Blue Eyes.” Limp Bizkit’s cover confirmed my instinct. Sympathy for Fred Durst? Never!
  13. Anyone but Muddy Waters – “Hoochie Coochie Man.” In the hands of Waters and the Chess studio pros, this is a blues masterpiece. For just about anyone else, it is usually a lame attempt for a middle-aged white guy to show he’s hep to the blooze. I’m looking at you Eric Clapton, Alexis Korner, Steven Seagal and Dion.
  14. Jay-Z – “Young Forever.” Alphaville’s 1984 hit “Forever Young” worked perfectly as the soundtrack to Napolean Dynamite’s dance with Deb. In the hands of Hova, however, it is ridiculous.
  15. Louie Armstrong – “What A Wonderful World.” There’s nothing wrong with Satchmo’s sublime performance. He manages to walk the tightrope between sincere and saccharine as the strings underneath support his presentation. Unfortunately, no one understood the song’s message, as it has a crutch when movie producers want to tug on heartstrings. Joey Ramone’s version was great upon release, but in the decade since it has become a hipster version of the same cliché.  I guess this leaves me with Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips’ weird yet heartfelt reading. I don’t think mainstream America is ready for that to be thrust down their throats – yet.

Keep reading:

Review: Flaming Lips New Year’s Freakout

Jay-Z – “The Blueprint 3″

Review: “Pops” by Terry Teachout

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(Above: Stefani Germanotta goes gaga for John Lennon.)

A few random thoughts for this mid-week blog entry.

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Lilith Fair

I’m looking forward to catching my first-ever Lilith Fair tomorrow night, but must admit I have several reservations. It’s never a good sign when Sarah McLachlan, the tour headliner and organizer, admits that ticket sales have been “soft.” Several dates were cancelled, and a quick glance at the temporarily unavailable TicketMaster instant seat locator showed that many of the remaining dates had vast sections of available seats. I don’t know how to fix the sour ticket industry (eliminating “convenience” fees and lowering prices spring to mind, but I’m sure it’s much more complicated), but I think Lilith hasn’t done itself any favors. Many of these problems could be fixed by paying more attention to the Lilith Fair Website.

Fans should be able to see where each artists performs without having to click on every date. Clicking an artist’s name brings up a highlighted list of her cities, but without dates. This is needlessly complex. Furthermore, the schedules for each city are missing. Eleven artists will play at Sandstone Amphitheater tomorrow night. Performances will start in the mid-afternoon. Approximate schedules should be posted weeks before each stop so fans will be able to make plans and adjust to be in place for their favorite performer. Each of these issues have easy solutions. Judging by the Website, it appears as if everyone threw in the towel long ago. These shows may be a loss, but fans still need to be cared for.

Lady Gaga and John Lennon

My little brother cracks me up. With very little coaching from me, he has become a huge Beatles fan. His Facebook posting the other day reminded me of something I would have written as his age. He was outraged that the “freak” Lady Gaga had covered “Imagine,” “the magnificent song by John Lennon.”

I can’t recall any Beatles covers drawing my ire, but for a brief period I grew very upset when rap producers (I’m looking at you, Diddy) were too reliant on the source material. “I’ll Be Missing You” and “Feel So Good” seemed like glorified karaoke to me. The kicker came when Jimmy Page and Tom Morello, two guitarists (read: “musicians”) I greatly respected helped Diddy rework Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” for “Come With Me.”

I have mellowed over time. Now when I hear Gaga’s cover of “Imagine” I’m glad she has good taste and that someone is keeping Lennon’s music alive, however the performance rates.

Going Deep

In another lifetime, in another era I would have been a great producer at Rhino Records. I love scouring the catalogs of artists, unearthing gems from dismissed albums or periods. Much of this ends up in multi-volume anthologies, but these treasures also work as nice garnishing in a playlist.

The other day I was working with a friend who took great delight in all the solo Pete Townshend material I had sprinkled into a Who playlist (there were Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle solo offerings as well). He thought it was hilarious that I would venture beyond “You Better You Bet,” the band’s final classic single. I think he’s missing out. “Slit Skirts” and “Give Blood” may not be the second coming of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “Substitute,” but they’re easily as good as anything that came after “Who By Numbers.”

This leads me to Ringo Starr. Obsessive that I am, I created anthologies for all the fallow periods in the solo Beatle catalogs – except Ringo. The Fab drummer’s 70th birthday last week caused me to reconsider this stance. So I dutifully investigated all of his albums. The critics weren’t wrong – there’s more bad than good. That said, there’s always at least one keeper on each album, and if I hadn’t been so dedicated I would have completely missed out on Ringo’s first two fantastic albums.

Ringo’s third solo album, 1973’s “Ringo” soaks up all the love but “Sentimental Journey” and “Beaucoups of Blues” are just as good, albeit for very different reasons. Both albums came out in 1970, and both clock in around 35 minutes. Both the brevity and timing work in Ringo’s favor. 1970 was both the best and worst year to be a Beatles fan. Sure the band broke up, but on the other hand fans got “Let It Be,” “McCartney,” “All Things Must Pass,” “Plastic Ono Band” and the aforementioned Ringo platters.

Although they hit shelves only six months apart, “Sentimental Journey” and “Beaucoups of Blues” couldn’t be more different. Both albums are genre exercises, but the big-band swing of “You Always Hurt the One You Love” is both geographically and generationally separated from the country twang of “Loser’s Lounge.” Yet Ringo’s enthusiasm and personality shines through both project, making them an infectious and irresistible listen.

Neither album will replace “Abbey Road” or “A Hard Day’s Night,” but they easily trump “Red Rose Speedway,” “Extra Texture” or “Some Time in New York City.” Better yet, they can be found easily and cheaply on vinyl. Do yourself a favor and grab ‘em next time you haunt the bins.

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(Above: Bettye LaVette owns The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. This performance helped inspire LaVette’s latest album, and is included as a bonus track.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

From Rod Stewart to Barry Manilow, albums based on the 1960s and ‘70s pop song book are a dime a dozen and usually worth even less. So while the concept behind Bettye LaVette’s latest album may not be novel, the delivery certainly is. LaVette has audaciously selected a baker’s dozen of the era’s biggest songs and steals every single performance.

Throughout “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook” LaVette not only erases Paul McCartney and Elton John’s fingerprints from “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” respectively. She scrubs off four decades of radio saturation, turning in performances that arrive sounding completely fresh.

LaVette accomplishes this feat by ignoring the original melody and phrasing and focusing entirely on the lyrics. She crawls inside the words, mining new depth and emotion and lets that frame the arrangement. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” aches with loneliness. LaVette sneaks a reference to HIV/AIDS in “Salt of the Earth,” the Rolling Stones free-love era tribute to the working class. In “Don’t Let the Sun,” LaVette pleads with a desperation that feels like her life is hanging in the balance between light and dark. Robert Plant liked her treatment of “All Of My Love” so much he gave her the opening slot on his summer tour.

While every song fulfills the title by hailing from the United Kingdom, LaVette slyly hedges her bets with two numbers that are also associated with one of her primary influences, Nina Simone. LaVette mirrors Simone’s epic treatment and sparse arrangement of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity.” Earlier, LaVette reminds listeners that while the Animals may have had the bigger hit with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” it was originally a Simone single. LaVette happily returns the gift.

Five years into her comeback, LaVette sings like something to prove. At 64 she is a contemporary of most of the performers she covers on “Interpretations.” But while most of them are content to coast by on these very songs, LaVette still sings with a hunger fueled by the decades she unjustly lost in obscurity. The force and authority in her voice make LaVette one of the most vital and compelling artists today.

Keep reading:

Review: Bettye LaVette and Buddy Guy at Roots n Blues BBQ Fest (2008)

Review Roundup – Rakim, Dodos, Naomi Shelton, Blakroc and Daptone Gold

Review – Booker T.

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zzstaxdoesthebeatles~_101b

By Joel Francis

The ultimate Stax tribute to the Beatles was Booker T and the MGs 1970 album “McLemore Avenue.”  None of those tracks appear on the 2007 compilation “Stax Does the Beatles,” but strong contributions from Isaac Hayes, the Bar Kays, Carla Thomas and four other MG tracks make collection as strong as it appears on paper.

Otis Redding opens the album with arguably the greatest Beatles cover of all time. His version of “Day Tripper” (presented here in an unreleased alternate take) may even top the Beatles. Redding’s “Day Tripper” may be second only to Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman’s “Hey Jude” in the pantheon of Beatle covers. Pickett’s reading is sadly missing on this album, but David Porter’s “Help!” continues Redding’s frenetic horn lines and double-time delivery to add an urgency only hinted in John Lennon’s originals vocals.

“Stax Does the Beatles” contains two very different versions of “Yesterday,” a funky, sassy spin on “And I Love Her” and a slight cheat with John Gary Williams’ 1973 cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” Some readings work better than others, but all are stamped with the high quality that defined the Stax catalog.

The collection’s centerpiece is Isaac Hayes’ 12-minute cinematic, romantic rendition of “Something.” His arrangement features almost as many instruments as the Beatles “A Day in the Life,” including saxophone, wah guitar, full orchestra and a gorgeous piano line that holds the whole thing together. And that’s just the first 2 minutes.

Some might complain Hayes’ “Something” is overblown, over-produced and pretentious. They haven’t been paying attention to the deep longing in Hayes’ voice.

Although “Something” and “Day Tripper” come the closest, nothing on this collection will replace or make one forget the Beatles versions. The magic in their songs is that there are so many nooks and crannies it seems unlikely future generations will ever exhaust the possibilities of reinterpretation.

For Beatle fans that can play a song in their head by just thinking of the title or chorus, these R&B translations are for you. They are a fresh coat of paint on a favorite structure. For soul fans interested in the influence of soul in rock and vice versa, there is much to enjoy in “Stax Does the Beatles.” People who don’t like either Stax or the Beatles should find the nearest house of worship and repent. Then buy this on the way home.

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Above: “True Love Ways” is The Daily Record’s favorite Buddy Holly song.

By Joel Francis

Fifty years ago this week, the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed in an Iowa cornfield, claiming its passengers and 22-year-old pilot Roger Peterson.

The event became known as “The Day the Music Died,” but the fact people were still talking about it 12 years later when Don McLean memorialized the moment with the song “American Pie” proves that music indeed survived.

The rock landscape had changed a lot between 1959 and 1971. The pioneers of the rock and roll were having hard time. Chuck Berry had bounced from Chess to Mercury and back and was seven years removed from his most recent Top 40 hit (although the No. 1 “My Ding-A-Ling” was right around the corner). Carl Perkins was performing as a sideman in Johnny Cash’s band and Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Bill Haley dismissed as washed up. Only Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis retained a whiff of their ’50s fervor, but it took a televised “comeback” special and a genre hop to country and western for them to manage the trick.

That Holly was not only remembered, but celebrated in the aftermath of Woodstock and Altamont, in an era where rock’s excesses were just starting to steamroll, was not pure nostalgia.

Far from killing rock and roll, Holly planted the seeds that allowed it to flourish. Holly was one of the first artists to recognize the recording studio as creative environment, by experimenting with double-tracking and overdubs. He was the first songwriter to pilfer the Bo Diddley beat for “Not Fade Away.” He was the first rock and roll star to play a Fender Stratocaster, the guitar of choice for Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless others.

Although the Beatles often receive credit for being the first group to write their own material and put strings on a rock album, the truth is, Holly did both nearly a decade before them. It’s not a big leap from Holly’s “Raining In My Heart” to McCartney’s “Yesterday.”

But the most amazing of Holly’s feats is that he did it all by 22, an age at which Bob Dylan was just emerging from his Woody Guthrie fixation, Brian Wilson was begging out of tours because of stage fright and Neil Diamond was still trapped in the Brill Building.

Few mourn other ’50s rock casualties, like Eddie Cochran, who died a scant 14 months later, but Holly’s influence continues to be felt today. It’s  in Elvis Costello’s spectacles, Weezer’s Top 5 1994 hit, and the myriad of bands – ranging from the Rolling Stones to the White Stripes to the cover band in the bar around the corner – who regularly drop “Not Fade Away” into their sets.

The day the music died? Not even close.

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(Above: The Stooges do “1969” in 2007.)

By Joel Francis

When Ron Asheton started playing electric guitar in the mid-’60s, there were no signs pointing the way he wanted to go. The Beatles were just starting to experiment with feedback and backwards instrumentation on their albums; Pink Floyd was buried in the London underground and Andy Warhol had yet to champion the Velvet Underground (not that many were paying attention anyhow).

The closest things to the sounds in his head were Pete Townshend’s guitar riff on The Who’s “My Generation,” the surf guitar instrumentals of Dick Dale and the dirty blues of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.

By the time Asheton, his brother Scott, and their longtime friend Dave Alexander hooked up with fellow Ann Arbor, Mich. musician Jim Osterberg there were a few more road signs. Home state natives the MC5 had kicked out their jams, and the free jazz freak-outs of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders were regularly released on the Impulse label. But there still weren’t many fellow travelers on the Asheton brothers’ weird road during the Summer of Love. Osterberg, who would soon call himself Iggy Pop, was one hitchhiker they had to pick up.

Four years later, it was mostly over. In retrospect, it’s amazing the band lasted that long. The Stooges two albums, released in 1969 and 1970, were rawer than razor burn, more violent than the 1968 Democratic Convention and as combustible as the Hindenburg. When it was over, Asheton’s guitar work pointed the way that nearly every guitarist since has followed, or at lease acknowledged.

It’s difficult to imagine the furious stomp of the White Stripes and the six-string perversions of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr without the expanded palette Asheton created. The Sex Pistols and the Damned both covered “No Fun” in concert. Heck, the blueprint of the grunge movement was mostly hijacked from the Stooges’ designs.

Of course David Bowie prodded the Stooges to reconvene in 1973 for “Raw Power,” but it wasn’t the same. Iggy’s name was out front and Asheton was confined to the bass guitar by Ig’s new best bud, James Williamson. There was even a piano player! Asheton’s rightful place on lead guitar was restored when the Stooges reunited a generation later for a couple guest shots on Iggy’s solo album, an R.L. Burnside tribute and, finally, an album of their own, but by then they were no longer leaders.

Ron Asheton’s name rarely comes up in “Guitar God” discussions. The music he made nearly 40 years ago remains difficult to assimilate by mainstream tastes. And like his long-overdue adulation, it took people a while to figure out he was gone. Six days after dying from a heart attack, Asheton’s body was discovered in his Ann Arbor apartment.

There was no obituary in the New York Times and little mention on the 24-hour news channels, but somewhere in heaven a white cloud is tarnished with soot and Asheton’s scary noise is driving the harp-plucking cherubs out of their minds. Which is as it should be.

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