54th Favorite Album

Share

Rumours. Fleetwood Mac.
1977, Warner Bros. Producer: Fleetwood Mac, Ken Caillat, Richard Dashut.
Purchased, ??? (Seems like it’s always just been there).

IN A NUTSHELL: One of the most popular and enduring albums in rock music history, I’ve heard it so much that it’s hard to tell if I like it, or if I just find it familiar! But I think it’s because I like it: Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar playing throughout is what keeps me coming back, along with the terrific vocals from Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. The rhythm section is top-notch, too, although the thin, wimpy drum sound is hard to take.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
{Portions of this piece were first posted June 6, 2013}

If you saw The Mona Lisa tomorrow, for the first time ever and with no prior knowledge of it, and it was hanging inside the screened-in porch of your uncle’s fishing cabin, between one of those paintings of dogs playing poker and a Bob Ross mountainscape, would you recognize it as a masterpiece?

Okay, in that context maybe you would. But if she wasn’t “the most visited, most written about, most sung about, most parodied work of art in the world,” would you look at her and immediately decide, “Oh. My. God. This painting HAS TO BE the most famous painting in the world!”?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite desserts that my mom would make was something called “No Bake Cheesecake,” by Jello. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that my mom wasn’t a great baker. She was, and remains, an excellent baker of cookies, cakes and those twin Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies Shoo-Fly Pie and Whoopie Pies.

But she has never been the kind of baker to go much beyond the types of desserts that a mediocre sports announcer might describe as being “in her wheelhouse.” So back in the 70s, to add some variety to our menu of desserts (which also served as our breakfast menu1) my mom would “mix things up” by mixing up things like Jello No-Bake Cheesecake.

I loved it. Then again, I loved all of the pre-packaged, imitation foods of the day: Tang, Space Food Sticks, Spaghettios (with Franks!) and perhaps my favorite of all non-desserts: Mug-O-Lunch. I never thought of Jello No-Bake Cheesecake as anything other than simply cheesecake. It was the only cheesecake I knew. The texture of the filling was creamy, a little stiffer than pudding, but not as firm as, say, imitation butter in a tub, and this very sweet, yet slightly tangy mass was plopped and spread into the loving embrace of a margarine/graham cracker crust. “Cheesecake” was officially my favorite dessert.

When I got to college I started dating a woman, M., who, by any standard available, would be described as “out of my league.” In addition to being more popular and more attractive than me, she was also far more worldly and came from a much wealthier family than me. We didn’t have much in common, but somehow we stayed together for about a year and a half. (If pressed, I’d attribute the tenacity of our relationship to mental illness, alcoholism, self-loathing, lack of communication skills, and an appreciation of a well-told joke; each distributed between us in relatively equal, though constantly varying, proportions.)

I went out to dinner with her and her family sometimes, typically near her parents’ home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and often at very nice restaurants. This fact alone attests to the differences between M. and myself, as “going out to dinner” in my family had always meant subs or pizza, McDonald’s or The Red Barn. We just weren’t a family that spent much money going out to restaurants.

At one of my first fancy restaurant dinners with M. and her family I was excited to see “New York Cheesecake” listed on the dessert menu. I loved cheesecake, and even though it seemed pretty pricey2, I knew her family was the type that wouldn’t object to me ordering a slice.

When it arrived, I tried to act nonchalant about the fact that I didn’t know what the fuck this tannish-gold, giant wedge of not-quite-set Quikrete was that had been placed in front of my face. But my hosts saw my look of distress, clearly, because someone asked, “Isn’t that what you wanted?” Although I hadn’t been completely domesticated by this time in my life, I did have enough couth to understand I needed to be tactful and polite. Thinking quickly, I remarked “No, it’s fine. I just haven’t had the New York style before.”

I ate the cheesecake and pretended to enjoy the lightly-sweetened density of what I now know to be a well-made, tasty cheesecake, but my mouth yearned for the sugary, creamy pudding of the Jello brand. I told everyone I liked it3 but I vowed to never order New York Cheesecake in a restaurant again. Maybe I was the crazy one, preferring the boxed, No-Bake dessert to what the rest of the world knew to be authentic cheesecake, but that’s the version that was familiar (and delicious!) to me. I knew it, I was comfortable with it and I really liked it4!

Just as with taste in cheesecakes and other delicacies, one’s appreciation for art is subjective. Some people don’t like Jello No-Bake Cheesecake, just as others claim The Mona Lisa isn’t really even all that great in the first place. Taste is subjective, unstable, prone to drifting. Your mood can affect your tastes; your friends can affect your tastes; your station in life can affect your tastes. Is it really surprising, then, to think that simple familiarity could affect your tastes? We’ve probably all had the experience of songs “growing on us” with repeated listenings, and I’m sure we’ve all grown weary of many others5.

I thought about the effect of The Mona Lisa hanging inside your uncle’s cabin6 because I’ve been having trouble clarifying my impressions of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. Now, I’m sure many of you just cringed at my comparison of a 70s soft-rock album to a work of art by Leonardo DaVinci, but in terms of familiarity, I think the comparison is reasonable. Various websites list Rumours as having sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and as of December, 2016, it is the 6th best-selling non-greatest-hits record ever in the US. Ask a few friends to name 5 famous paintings and 5 famous rock records, and I think there’s a good chance The Mona Lisa and Rumours would both make most lists.

As may be the case with seeing The Mona Lisa today, it is hard to appraise Rumours solely on its artistic merits without constantly recognizing “Hey, this is Rumours!” There are so many songs on the album that have been played so frequently throughout the years since its 1977 release that the album has almost become part of the ambient world: the birds chirp, cars drive by, “You Make Loving Fun” plays, someone coughs, the sprinklers turn on …

Try this test: I will name a song and then give you a line and see if you can sing, or hum, at least 75% of the entire song in your head. (Bonus points if one or more of the songs plays in your head the rest of the day!)

“Dreams” – Thunder only happens when it’s raining.
“Don’t Stop” – Don’t stop/Thinkin’ about tomorrow.
“Go Your Own Way” – Loving you/Isn’t the right thing to do.
“You Make Loving Fun” – Sweet, wonderful you/ You make me happy with the things you do.
“The Chain” – And if you don’t love me now/ you will never love me again.
“Second Hand News” – Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass/ And let me do my stuff.
“Never Going Back Again” – Been down one time/ Been down two times.
“Gold Dust Woman” – Well did she make you cry/ Make you break down/ And shatter your illusions of love.

These are songs from my entire radio-listening life – some (“You Make Loving Fun,” “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams”) were soft-rock hits from childhood, played on WLBR, AM-1270, in the 70s7; some (“The Chain,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Second Hand News”) were Album-Oriented Rock staples, from my teen and young adult years; still others (“Never Going Back Again,” “Gold Dust Woman”) have been played on Oldies radio (or what is euphemistically now called “Adult Album Alternative” radio) for years. I can’t remember NOT having this album. I think my sister had it in her famous milk-crate of music. In high school I had a cassette tape of it, and soon after I began buying CDs, I bought it on CD. After all this time, I don’t know if it’s Jello No-Bake or bakery-fresh: I’ve heard it too much to tell anymore. It probably should be either higher or lower than #54 – based on whether familiarity has either enhanced or devalued my love of it – so right near the middle of the list is probably perfect placement.

The album begins subtly, with the approaching rumble of acoustic guitar that opens “Second Hand News.”

One of the things I love about this song is that acoustic guitar – particularly the four little chords Lindsey Buckingham plays after the first line of verse, there at 0:08 and again at 0:12. Little guitar things like this are found throughout this album, placed there by the renowned perfectionist Buckingham. He is an underrated guitar player, a name that doesn’t spring to mind among the Jimi Hendrixes, Eric Claptons and Eddie Van Halens of the world, but folks who know realize he’s got the goods8. Fleetwood Mac is an excellent vocal group, with three top-notch singers in Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, each of whom is equally comfortable on lead or harmony. On this song, Nicks’s harmony vocals in the chorus (particularly 1:08 – 1:12) really make the song. Buckingham plays a cool, compression-heavy guitar solo that begins about 2:31, but before getting there, as the vocal harmonies and rhythm section are building, several guitar parts ring and sustain in the background. Again, these are the types of little touches on songs on this album that I love. The lyrics are a plea to an ex9 to keep certain privileges available to the singer even after the breakup. We’ll hear more about this and other breakups throughout Rumours.

In addition to singing, Buckingham, Nicks and C. McVie also write songs. Each has their own style, and since I started with Buckingham, I’ll stay there for now with another breakup song, “Go Your Own Way.”

This time the song starts with an electric guitar approaching the listener, and a chiming acoustic guitar once again provides subtle support (0:05). This song may be overplayed, and you very well may be tired of it, but let’s take a second to consider the rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, a “Fleetwood” and a “Mac,” respectively. This song is really theirs, with McVie’s fun, rolling bass line propelling it, and Fleetwood’s tribal drumming carrying it. I like Fleetwood’s drumming, although I don’t care for the drum sound on this album. It’s thin, as if it shouldn’t be noticed, with a snare that sounds like a kid slapping water in a pool. But the actual drumming is really great. McVie is one of my favorite bass players because his bass lines are generally cool-sounding, but blues-based and in the pocket, with their “coolness” emanating not from virtuoso dexterity, like The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea or Geddy Lee, from Rush, but from their simplicity. There’s nothing special about the bass line behind the “You can go your own way” chorus, and that’s what makes it special! This song is a break-up song, once again about Nicks, and has fantastic electric guitar, with goodies through the entire song (like that ringing feedback at about 0:54) and a terrific solo at the end (2:39).

Do me a favor and go ahead and google ‘fleetwood mac rumours band turmoil‘ and read the 288,000 results – that way I don’t have to cover it all. Basically, long-term couple Nicks and Buckingham, and husband/wife John and Christine McVie were splitting up during the writing and recording of Rumours. This means all of the songs pack a wallop of emotion, as the band members were playing on sometimes venomous songs written about each other. This is like having two couples setting their court-ordered marriage-counseling transcripts to music and handing them around to say, “here, sing this.” AND – having the other band members take the transcripts and complete amazing performances despite the pain and anger and, frankly, awkwardness. Nicks tells her side of the story on the extremely popular “Dreams.”

Nicks truly has one of the all-time great voices in rock. It’s a smoky, husky voice, strong yet delicate, as at about 0:35, where she sings “it’s only right.” The rhythm section again is on display, and a two-note bass line has never sounded better. Fleetwood’s drums are still thin10, but his part is great, particularly the “heartbeat … drives you mad” at 0:52. And as is the custom in a Fleetwood Mac (Buckingham era) song, Buckingham’s guitar is the unsung hero of this piece. True, it’s Nicks’s voice that triumphs on this warning about regret to her ex, with particularly nice overdubbed harmonies against her own lead vocal, but the subtle, eerie guitar sounds that her ex provides really add shape and color to the piece.

Buckingham and Nicks may be thought of as the John and Paul of Fleetwood Mac, but the band’s George wrote most of the hits. I’m referring, of course, to keyboardist Christine McVie who, by my (Wikipedia) count, wrote eight top-20 songs for the band: “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” “Think About Me,” “Hold Me,” “Little Lies,” “Everywhere,” and two from Rumours, including “You Make Loving Fun.”

This song is often thought of as a yacht-rock, mellow, 70s-Love’s-Baby-Soft-Rock, but I’m here to make the case that (as is getting to be a theme here) it’s actually an awesome guitar song. Sure it has that uber-70’s, squawky Hohner Clavinet sound right off the bat, but by 0:12, Buckingham is overlaying super-tasty little guitar figures – the kind of stuff that’s lost when heard on AM waves through a transistor radio, especially when those lush harmonies of the chorus (0:50-0:59) are so very strong. The second verse of the song is a straight-on guitar solo, coming out of a nifty Buckingham noodle at 1:19, and when the chorus returns, he keeps pumping out the sweet riffs, particularly at about 2:40, after the “you, you make loving fun” vocals. The outro of the song begins at 2:50, and of course features more guitar. I also want to point out how much joy I get from the bass note that John McVie hits during “believe,” in the chorus, for example at about 1:54-1:55. I don’t know music theory – is it a 7th? A 9th? A suspended-myxolidian-13th? Who knows, but it sounds really great and makes me smile – and shows the immense professionalism of J. McVie, as he shines on a track on which his wife’s lyrics are a love letter to the man with whom she was having an affair. (Awkward!)

Her other big hit on the album is “Don’t Stop,” which – frankly – I never need to hear again – although it does have some great Buckingham guitar, but then again, what song doesn’t? Well, “Songbird,” for one. This McVie song is a beautiful solo piece for her (with a few touches of acoustic guitar.) I can’t hear it without remembering a friend, a jazz musician and man of immense talent and extremely good looks, who sang this song solo, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, to his new bride at their wedding. I remember thinking, “Great. He just spoiled weddings for every unmarried couple here: no man will EVER live up to that!”

Although I think of this record as the prototypical 70s rock record, and that was an era of studio excess and hours of recording, there are a few relatively simple songs on the album. For example, Buckingham has (basically) a solo performance piece on the poison-pen kiss-offNever Going Back Again,” which features his lovely fingerpicking guitar style. One of these simple, (relatively) production-light songs is my favorite on the album: the Stevie Nicks-penned “I Don’t Want to Know.”

The Nicks/Buckingham vocals are terrific on this song about all the feelings involved in a breakup, and the sense that all you can do to survive is to remain ignorant11. There’s another cool Buckingham background guitar riff, heard, for example, at 0:29, and J. McVie plays another simple, damn-near-perfect bass line. As diverse as this record is, this is the song that best captures the entirety of Rumours, lyrically, musically, and instrumentally.

But the song that defines the spirit of the album is the only group-penned song on the record, attributed to Buckingham, Fleetwood, McVie, McVie and Nicks, a song that touches on both the discord between the couples and the strength of the quintet, “The Chain.”

It opens with an ominous-sounding bass drum behind a twangy acoustic guitar. Of course, multiple guitars are layered on top as the band harmonizes, and an electric piano enters during the chorus. The first part of the song is angry, accusatory, referring to a partner’s indifference to “The Chain.” This collective pain and anger is the theme of the album, really, but what elevates this song is the second half, beginning about 3:05. John McVie plays another simple line, and Buckingham wails on another highly compressed solo as the band affirms: “The chain will keep us together.” When people speak about the album, they often ask “How could this band go through all that turmoil, and still produce such a great album?” And this song answers the question: The Chain keeping them together is The Music. The first half’s accusatory declaration, “I can still hear you saying that you’d never break the chain,” which implies a sort of dare to the partner (“Oh, what? Now you’re just going to leave the band because of this??”) is answered by the second half response: “The chain will keep us together.” The Music is more important than anything to them, even love, or even a sense of emotional self-preservation. That’s hard to believe for non-artists like you and me, but simply the level of commitment to one’s art that is required for success such as theirs.

Maybe the answer to The Fishing Cabin Conundrum is this: WHO CARES? The Mona Lisa can be good, and so can Jello No-Bake Cheesecake. It doesn’t really matter if I like Rumours because it’s been so ubiquitous in my life, or if it’s because I think the songs are excellent. The fact is, it’s been a part of my life, and I like it. As Stevie Nicks sang, “I don’t want to know the reasons why …”

Track Listing
“Second Hand News”
“Dreams”
“Never Going Back Again”
“Don’t Stop”
“Go Your Own Way”
“Songbird”
“The Chain”
“You Make Loving Fun”
“I Don’t Want to Know”
“Oh Daddy”
“Gold Dust Woman”

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

55th Favorite Album

Share

The Decline and Fall of Heavenly. Heavenly.
1994, K Records. Producer: Ian Shaw.
Purchased 1994.

album-heavenly

56-nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: A cute little record with a cute cover, Heavenly only placed 8 songs on this album, and in this case Less is really More! Co-lead vocals from Amelia Fletcher and Cathy Rogers, whose voices blend sweetly on top of raucous drumming and subdued yet dirty guitar. It’s quite reminiscent of the Show Tunes I grew up listening to, and if that’s a strike against it: so be it! It’s fun and catchy, and it always makes me smile.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
paul-lynde“That’s so gay.”

This was a common phrase among everyone I knew growing up in the late 70s and early 80s. It was a put-down, though considered a bit gentler than saying “That sucks!” The origins of the phrase were clearly homophobic, equating “gayness” with the ridiculous, the stupid, the nonsensical events of everyday life. “That test was SO GAY!,” one might say, and the implication was not “I had to have sex with someone of my own gender during that test!” The implication was “That test was as ridiculous as someone who has sex with someone of their own gender.”

Some people argue that nowadays, among younger folks, ducksthis phrase is not homophobic. Young people in America have grown up in an era of increasing acceptance of gay men and lesbians12, and although the phrase persists, to many the term “gay” now has two distinct meanings: 1) homosexual; and 2) stupid or ridiculous. Another example of such a word is “duck,” which can mean a quacking bird or an evasive maneuver. Some research shows the link between the two meanings of “gay” has been dismantled among younger Americans, just as the link between the evasive maneuver and the waterfowl – the name of which changed from the Olde English “ened” as people began referring to it “ducking” into the water – has also vanished13

But when I was a kid, the link between meanings was clear, and saying “that’s so gay” did not only mean “that’s so ridiculous” in a metaphorical sense. It also, very often, meant gay in an intra-gender-sex way. For example, “being in the marching band is so gay.” This type of statement did not only mean band participation was ridiculous, it also, by some bizarre 70s, rural, gay-bandteenage logic, meant “those boys might have sex with each other.”

Now, I don’t believe MOST teenagers of the era sat around and considered whether this made sense, the idea that boys who derive pleasure from making music14 by blowing horns would also inherently derive pleasure from blowing each other. However, I do believe at least a few supposedly “straight” boys DID think about groups of other boys being gay, and were so uncomfortable with their own desires that these thoughts revealed that they then attacked the boys who reminded them of those feelings. I’m using boys/band as an example because the sense that activities (or clothing, or appreciation of musical styles, or enjoyment of certain types of food) imparted a level of “gayness” to participants was pretty gender-specific. Nobody thought band girls were lesbians, just as nobody thought athletic boys were gay.

questionBut whether it made sense or not, this was a real concern to teenagers at that time and place: would what I’m doing somehow imply “gayness?” Sure, some things – holding hands with other boys,
painting one’s fingernails, fast dancing at a dance15 – were clearly “gay.” (For boys, anyway – all of those things, even hand-holding, suggested no specific sexual orientation to girls.) But the line between “gay” and “not gay” could be arbitrary and fluctuate with the vicissitudes of teen life. When I was a freshman, izodin 1981, pink collared shirts and penny loafers would have immediately signaled an apparent fondness for dick. But the “Preppie” wave that crashed on the shores of other high schools in 1982 was finally hitting Bumfuck, PA, in 1984, and by my senior year one could wear such apparel yet still be assured of conveying an interest in vaginas for sex.

Most of these gayness tests and indicators were nonsensical, their systems for divination obscure, their application seemingly random. “Look at that fruit! He’s eating cake with frosting flowers on it!” “That kid watches Dallas. What a queer.”spy “You can tell by how he walks, he’s a fag.” It was like living under an oppressive regime, among a shadowy network of secret government agents who analyzed, closely, microscopically, every single data point you didn’t know you were generating, then revealed the humiliating results, loudly, in front of strangers and girls. I’m happy to say that in the enlightened era, and region, in which my own kids are growing up, the idea of being mistaken for being gay is not a big deal – it’s sort of like being mistaken for being left-handed or hazel-eyed. But in rural 80s Pennsylvania, it could seem like a life sentence.

Of course, musical taste was considered chief among all indicators of sexual orientation (for boys), a divining rod thought to have such fine sensitivity and precise calibration that a simple question of “What’s your favorite tape?16” could possibly offer a readout not just on orientation, but also proclivities, past experiences and potential habits, as well.

The “safest” choice was Heavy Metal.iron-maiden Heavy metal dudes were tough and scary and drove souped up cars and spoke often, and loudly, of “gettin’ pussy,” and hung out with tough, scary, and often sexy girls, leading you to believe they weren’t lying. A love for true metal bands, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Motorhead, was the clearest hetero flag one could wave. (Although when Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford came out in 1998, he probably caused many former teen metal-heads to reconsider the calibration of their musical hetero-detectors.) However, as metal lurched toward pop, and the Def Leppards and Motley Crues and Ratts came to prominence, Heavy Metal gay-gauge readings grew murkier.

One’s taste in pure Pop Music of boy-georgethe 80s could offer more nuanced readings than the brute, yes/no results of the Heavy Metal test, but could also require more time spent analyzing the data that was generated. For example, it was the early 80s so everyone17 loved MTV. Because of the novelty of the channel those first few years, it was expected, and “okay,” from a teen-gay-suspicion point of view, to enjoy songs from bands like Haircut 100 or A Flock of Seagulls or Human League. However, enthusiasm for such acts was a slippery slope. One had to make it clear that while you enjoyed some songs, and found the artists amusing, you were in NO WAY stating that you were a FAN! FANDOM had to be reserved for hetero-obvious bands like Van Halen and Blue Oyster Cult. Owning one (and only one) album by Yaz or Ultravox could be – possibly – okay, depending what other cassettes were in one’s collection. But you always had to do some explaining with these “fruity” bands: it had to be made clear that while one might like a Culture club or Depeche Mode song, it did NOT IMPLY AN ENDORSEMENT of anything else about the bands or their (supposed) lifestyles (which we knew nothing about but assumed we did).

timeA quick (possibly) note about R&B: I grew up in a VERY white area. I think there were 3 or 4 African American kids in my class of 320, and fewer than 10 total non-whites. There were a few (white) boys who were R&B fans, watched Soul Train, owned Dazz Band cassettes, and hopped on the Run-DMC bandwagon that – frankly – barely traveled through my town. This music was so far outside the realm of the rest of our understanding that it was like a brand new instrument at the CSI crime lab: results of gayness-tests from it were rendered useless while we tried to figure out how to generate data.

It was so complicated. Life is so much easier when you’re tolerant and open-minded. And while homophobic hatred and violence are still all too common, we’ve come so far that today’s straight teen boys can even love an openly gay singer, oceanand nobody bats an eye. The gay punk band Pansy Division has been carving out a career for 20 years18. However, as ridiculous as all that worry and anxiety might seem now, and for how much it seems like so much of a “characteristic of the era,” there’s one musical style that has always been, and continues to be, associated with gay men: the Show Tune.

I have always really enjoyed19 Show Tunes. As you can imagine, I guarded this fact vigilantly as a high-schooler. (I can’t even imagine the psychic trauma that goes along with guarding more important facts about one’s self as a growing teenager.) Growing up, my mom had quite a few 8-track cassettes of various musicals – like Annie and Fiddler On the Roof – that she listened to, and even more old albums of Cast Recordings. My family went to see many of the musicals the local high schools staged, and whenever PBS showed The Music Man (which was a yearly pledge-drive event for WITF in the 70s) we watched it together20. My love of music developed, in part, around these songs, and I grew fond of the melodies and clever wordplay that characterize most of the Show Tune songs. Because plot points and motivations are often given via songs, Show Tune melodies are typically simple and catchy, so that the performers’ words are clearly understood. And these characteristics continue to be part of most of the rock songs I enjoy, too.

The first time I heard the band Heavenly, I thought it was the name of a musical. Sometime around 1994/95, while living in San Francisco, I didn’t have a car – but I had a job about 30 miles away from my house. Luckily, my good friend Ximena and her roommate The Count also worked at the same place, so I paid them to drive me to work for a few months. We listened to lots of great music on those rides, and some not as great music, too. One of the CDs they favored was The Decline and Fall of Heavenly. Maybe folks who didn’t grow up around so much Oklahoma! and Damn Yankees wouldn’t have considered it, but my first thought was “I can’t believe Ximena and The Count like Show Tunes!” Ximena has been one of the biggest musical influencers (and influencer in life in general!) I’ve known, and The Decline and Fall of Heavenly is just one of several albums she inspired me to buy!

The first song on the album is “Me and My Madness,” and the vocals enter immediately, front and center, and grab the listener’s ear, while guitarist Peter Momtchiloff follows their melody with bouncy fills. Heavenly has two singers, Amanda Fletcher and Cathy Rogers, and their voices blend beautifully – like two well-cast actors in a movie musical! The singers nicely trade lines at the end of the verses, for example at about 0:12, and their voices are charmingly sweet. However, the lyrics describe the inner turmoil (madness) of someone in a new relationship, and the sweetness gets rather raucous and “grungey21,” a satisfying change of tone, in the verse, about 1:30. Special mention should go to Matthew Fletcher, as well, whose drumming always keeps this one, and most of the songs, firmly in the rock genre with driving, flailing beats. Together, the band and its songs create a strange amalgam of lightness, depth, sweetness and darkness. And they keep it up on song two, “Modestic.”

This time the introductory faux-trumpet provides that feeling of Movie Musical Magic. This song continues what will be revealed as the band’s typical approach: sweet, light voices singing angry, harsh words – this time a plea for a boyfriend to get the hell out of the house (and to herself to follow through on kicking him out). The harmonies are tight, during backing oohs and aahs, and blend perfectly in the chorus, as at about 0:42. And who can dislike any song with the words “malicious intent” prominent in a pre-chorus?? Once again, Fletcher’s drumming keeps it all driving, and the band adds a nifty, goofy 60s-esque organ solo at about 1:50. It’s a fun song.

And the band seems to have a million of these fun melodies up their sleeves – even though the album is made of 8 quick songs. The band dials the energy back a bit on the next one, another song featuring the vocal talents of Amelia Fletcher and Cathy Rogers, this time trading lines and intertwining melodies on the mellow groove of “Skipjack.”

It’s got great little guitar figures from Momtchiloff, and a 70s-style, Gold-Plated-Diaper-Worthy cowbell from Matthew Fletcher. But A. Fletcher and Rogers steal the show, especially beginning on the second verse, about 0:47, when they sing two melodies. Once again, the lyrics indicate they’ve chosen the wrong guy. In my mind, the pair are once again standing on a stage, singing their parts to move the action of the story along, just before Act One ends – but Momtchiloff tosses in a nice guitar solo to end the song, and pull it back to the realm of rock (sort of.)

This band has a sad story. After this album they recorded one more, but on the eve of its release drummer Matthew Fletcher committed suicide. The band decided to break up. (Singer Cathy Rogers somehow ended up becoming host of the TLC’s “Junkyard Wars,” believe it or not.) The song “Itchy Chin” features Matthew’s bass drum, prominently.

It’s got the Heavenly formula of sweet harmonies, catchy melodies, on aggrieved lyrics, backed by nice guitar solos and pumping drums. “Three Star Compartment” offers particularly dreamy harmonies (on typically unlucky-at-love lyrics) from A. Fletcher and Rogers, who at times are reminiscent of The B-52’s singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. The song has a nice change at about 3:45, as all the parts build together beneath a cool riff from Momtchiloff to a satisfying payoff. “Sacramento” is a bit of instrumental filler. And “She and Me” is a slow song that demonstrates that even when falling for the same sex, the singer can’t catch a break in love.

My favorite song is probably the wonderfully titled “Sperm Meets Egg, So What?” a direct look at unwanted pregnancy from a class of people who too often are unheard in the question of abortion: WOMEN!

I like this song for the same reasons I like XTC’s song “Dear God.” Because it’s a good song with direct lyrics that take on a contentious issue that – in my mind – isn’t even remotely controversial. In “Dear God” it’s the question of atheism; in this case it’s the idea that a grown woman is a human and a mass of cells is not. The lyrics are pretty funny, actually, and the song is a sort of 60s rave-up, with piping organ and frantic guitar lines.

So there you go. I don’t know what my love of this album says about me. I’m sure the me from 1984 would have made assumptions about the now me for liking this record. But in all things, humans like what we like and we are what we are. I could try to not like show tunes; I could try to not like The Decline and Fall of Heavenly. But I don’t think I’d be any happier. Maybe it’s true – this album is “So Gay.” But so what?

Track Listing
“Me and My Madness”
“Modestic”
“Skipjack”
“Itchy Chin”
“Sacramento”
“Three Star Compartment”
“Sperm Meets Egg, So What?”
“She and Me”

Share

1 Comment

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

56th Favorite Album

Share

Blood & Chocolate. Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
1986, Columbia Records. Producer: Nick Lowe and Colin Fairley.
Purchased 1999.

bloodchocolatealbum

56nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: Often referred to as an “angry young man,” Elvis Costello has never been angrier than on this collection of 11 rough, bitter and spiteful tunes – and they sound TERRIFIC! The Attractions play loud and straight, offering little adornment, and Costello sings of the women who done him wrong and the ugliness around him, the only state his vengeful eyes can see. It’s a bit overwhelming, but the tunes are great and his vocals are, too!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I have been bobbing in a great sea of anger for months. All of America has.

You see, a giant, orange, talking turd has recently spent a year tapping cute-cat-1into many white Americans’ hatefulness, bigotry and low self-esteem to cause a flatulescent release of their previously (mostly) un-vented anger. What were they angry about? Well, the temerity of America to elect an African American as president – twice! And this anger drove them22 to ensure that no smart-ass woman was going to follow him there23. “We’d rather have a childish business failure who is clearly lying to our faces – as long as he’s a white man,” they said. (I’d typically find links to references for all these claims, but if you’re reading this and don’t believe what I’m saying … well, my links won’t help you.) This stinky piece of shit will soon be president.

While this was happening, a large group of intellectual people who have difficulty disguisingcute-dog-1 their condescension toward the less well-educated whites around them24 (but who make a bit of an effort if the dimwit in question is a person of color25) were filled with rage over the phony “journalists” on TV and interwebs and newspapers who realized that they’d get better election-year ratings and more “likes” if they pretended that debunked stories of one candidate’s email servers were the equivalent of the enormous totality of evidence that the other candidate was profoundly disturbed and unworthy of the presidency, thus keeping the race close.

The outcome of this election has also caused tremendous anger within myself. Anger at fellow cute-cat-2whites who have now made me feel like I should apologize to every woman and every person of color and every immigrant I know or meet, or perhaps wear a sign that says, simply, “Did Not Vote for Hateful Orange Turd.” Anger at whiny, entitled “millennials” whose mommies never told them that their snowflake-specialness and wall of participation trophies wouldn’t be enough to ensure a perfect candidate ran for president every time. Anger at the entire American process which is patently undemocratic, and the Myth of the Constitution that is taught in schools, and so perpetuates the dysfunction of the system. And anger at myself for getting so angry. I really shouldn’t allow myself to get so angry that I’m in the state I am now: questioning the value of long friendships and family connections; questioning the worth of the u.s.a.26 as a place to keep my kids safe and among decent folks27; questioning whether it’s even worthwhile counting down my favorite albums28.

As a child I was taught that getting angry was a bad thing. cute-bunny“Well, getting mad won’t help!” my mom often told me at times when it was most unhelpful – for instance, when I thought a teacher gave me an unfair grade; or when the baseball game I was looking forward to playing in was rained out; or if someone at school said something mean to me. Each hurdle in life was to be faced with a smile, and if you couldn’t overcome a hurdle without anger, well, then it was probably better to just accept the fact that you weren’t crossing it and learn to adapt to life on this side of the hurdle. With a smile.

I would try to follow mom’s guidelines, but I still found myself getting angry in certain anger-inducing situations. And so, since I wasn’t supposed to get angry, I started feeling bad about myself for not being able to control my anger. Finally, after a game of intramural basketball cute-dog-2(of all things) in college, I decided to change. After a particularly troubling loss, a referee told me, “You’re good, but you’d be a hell of a player if you didn’t get so angry out there. When you play angry, your game gets worse.” This sweaty, pot-bellied, middle-aged man in Sansabelt poly-stretch pants couldn’t have known, but the best way to reach me with any message is to wrap it up in flattery of my (rather spare) athletic abilities. I endeavored to learn to let stuff roll off my back, to shrug off small slights and injustices, to transform myself into the “happy-go-lucky guy.” (I recognize now how closely the “happy-go-lucky guy” mirrored my dad’s “quiet, reserved guy.”)

cute-cat-ducksThe only problem with the “happy-go-lucky guy” is that he isn’t me! I spent 10 years ignoring anger and pretending to be “chill” about things that really upset me, while still feeling the anger rise within me, and having it burst out in weird, unexpected ways, just as it did in my dad’s “quiet, reserved guy.” And then, afterwards, I’d still end up feeling guilty about it. I was right back to where I was as a child! It took a good psychotherapist and a good girlfriend and several years of living to reach the point where I am now: still unsure of how to best relate to feelings of anger, but at least conscious of them, and their effects on me. The biggest change since the “happy-go-lucky-guy” days is that I now clearly understand that the FEELINGS of anger are normal, and they are separate from, and different than, the ACTIONS of anger29. This understanding has made me, I think, a better person and has clearly made me a better parent/husband/friend than I otherwise would be.

The reason this distinction helps is that – first of all – it allows me to feel okay about being angry. Anger is normal – even the Dalai Lama himself gets angry sometimes. Secondly, when these feelings are identified as separate from the actions of anger, it allows me to ask the question, “So, what am I going to do about it?” When feelings and actions of anger are mingled, chaos reigns and solutions are not easily reached. cute-polar-bearThis mingling of feelings and actions is often described as a statement of “When I get mad, I …” For example, “When I get mad, I scream at people!” “When I get mad, I break things!” “When I get mad, I stop passing to my teammates and take all the shots myself!” It gives the holder of the feelings license to act in ways that may be hard on others, or dangerous, or not conducive to winning basketball games. After all, if anger is a typical human emotion, and part of my anger is throwing a lamp at you, well, we’re all just going to have to accept a few lamps whizzing around as just part of my anger “thing.”

However, if actions are recognized as separate from the feelings of anger, this can lead to any range of actions on my part. I now have a selection of responses. I can scream and shout, I can write a letter, I can vent to a loved one, I can make some art, I can call a timeout and explain to my teammates that #40 continues to set up on the three-point line and drain his shots, and somebodyfriendhug (Bob, I’ll just give you a look, no need to name names in the huddle … for now) has to get on him and get a hand in his face!!!

I can write a blog post that references a human piece of shit who will be the most powerful person in the world. I can mock the ridiculous babies who voted for him. I can hug my family and keep them close. I can continue to support and work for the policies in which I believe. I can get together with my liberal friends, who – like me – have supported everything that the piece of shit stands against, and we can vent and chat and plan our actions and feel secure in the knowledge that it’s not we who are fucked up, it is the turd’s supporters. I can pity those ugly turd voters, for their hate and ignorance cute-cat3and childishness won’t get them what they think they want; and it won’t change who I am, or what I believe, or what I know: that – as Dr. Martin Luther King said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

And when my anger subsides, I can continue to choose love as my guiding principle. That will be the best “Fuck You” to those supporters of President Turd – because when I have reached that place I won’t even feel like I’m saying “Fuck You,” but those assholes will still think I am.

And I can listen to music. And it just so happens that my #56 album is one of the angriest albums I know: Blood & Chocolate. I didn’t plan to listen to the angriest album I own during the angriest weeks of my country’s existence since 1865, it just worked out that way – the universe has a sense of humor. Or maybe just a good sense of timing – it’s hard to find humor right now.

elvis-faceI’ve written before about my introduction to Elvis Costello. How I was interested in him as a young teen in the late 70s and early 80s, but never bought an album. How I saw him sing a song on a movie on TV. How I enjoyed his MTV videos, and respected his words and music, and saw him, in 1986, in one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen in my life, but still never bought an album until the late 1990s.

By the time Blood & Chocolate came out, in 1986, I already thought of Elvis Costello as a has-been. Sometime in my freshman year of college, I had heard his remake of “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and I thought “Okay, he’s done. As soon as an artist starts pilfering old hits, it signals the end of the line.” By then, songs like “Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” and “Watching the Detectiveselvis1 and “(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding” seemed like ancient events.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, my girlfriend’s little sister announced, “Elvis Costello’s new record is called Blood & Chocolate! Isn’t that such a cool name??!” I remember thinking, “That poor kid. Doesn’t even realize he’s a has-been. She should get into a hot new band, built to last, like Night Ranger30.” However, I did think “Blood & Chocolate” was an excellent name for an album, immediately conveying the basic duality of human relationships.

Costello writes, in his autobiography of 2015, attractions-1that the album was recorded while The Attractions were not getting along with each other. The band was angry about their limited participation in his most recent album, King of America. Costello was struggling with the realization that The Attractions weren’t capable of playing some of his newer songs properly. The tension was palpable. Producer Nick Lowe captured it by recording the band playing at near-concert volume, and using limited overdubs to make the sound on the record immediate and loud – like a cry of pain when you smash your thumb. In the autobiography, Costello compares the songs to “freshly inflicted wounds,” and “blurred and unfortunate Polaroids that people used to keep to document their worst desires and unhappy love affairs before we had the blessings of phone cameras.”

The tone of the album is set immediately on the clattering chords that open it, sounding almost like a cranky child banging on a guitar in frustration.

“Blood and Chocolate/I hope you’re satisfied what you’ve done,” Elvis sings on “Uncomplicated,” as the band slams their instruments again and again on a single note. “You think it’s over now/But we’ve only just begun.” The lyrics are a bit obscure, but their delivery indicates it to be about a fearful man who won’t accept the fact his girlfriend is gone. It’s simple to him – he wants her back. Keyboardist Steve Nieve plays some of his whirling organ riffs, familiar to Attractions fans, but other than that the song is really instrumentally unadorned. It’s a one note song in many ways, and that one note is anger.

The next song presents a more fiery, less smoldering anger that allows The Attractions to really shine. If there could be any doubts about the song’s theme, they are erased by the title: “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”

Elvis has always been fond of these songs with vocal-only openings. attractionsBruce Thomas’s busy, roller-coaster baseline propels the song, and Steve Nieve’s chiming keyboards in the choruses sound really great. Drummer Pete Thomas is perfectly sloppy and wonderful. But it’s Elvis’s furious vocal delivery, spitting venom at a lover who’s found someone else, that makes the song work. He never seems to give himself easy lyrics to sing, fitting the words in very tightly within the melody, but he definitely has a sense of humor, as in the lines “He’s acting innocent and proud still you know what he’s after/Like a matador with his pork sword, while we all die of laughter.” (Pork sword – heh.) The effect of the song is not unlike watching a customer ahead of you in line chew out a clerk and storm off. However, instead of feeling uncomfortable and awkward, I want to hear more.

Luckily, the next song is even better – and just as bitter. Elvis packs even more words into the melody of “Tokyo Storm Warning,” and this time their target isn’t one person.

It’s clear from reading the lyrics that the song is about the approaching end of the world, and his indifference to it. And hearing its references to the KKK31, and imagery of bleak life around spinning-tourthe globe while the wealthy thrive32 makes me wonder if Mr. Costello had a crystal ball back in 1986 that projected 30 years forward. Once again, he fires these lyrics off with intensity, and heightening the rage is the fact that there are no breaks from singing – verse and chorus follow verse and chorus, with barely a break to catch breath. The song is reminiscent of a silly old falsetto 60s song, “Bread and Butter,” (which I first heard on a TV commercial) but the band elevates it under Nick Lowe’s wall-of-noise production. There’s a nifty backwards guitar line at the end, but other than that the song is simple, relentless fury.

It might sound like it’s all too much, all this anger, but the melodies and sound and Elvis’s charismatic voice keep it from overwhelming me. And he also has a different take on the emotion on songs like the cleverly titled “Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head.”

On this track, the anger turns inward, becomes sadness. It’s a nieveday-in-the-life of unrequited love, and its lyrics’ descriptions of that condition are reminiscent of The Beatles’ excellent Revolver track “For No One.” Musically, I really like the chord progression as the song moves from verse to chorus, for example beginning about 0:55, and at 1:14, as Steve Nieve’s organ subtly bolsters Elvis’s vocals, which are – as with every song on Blood & Chocolate – squarely front and center in the recording.

There are a few of these slower, more contemplative songs about misery and sadness on the album. “Battered Old Bird” is a slow burn of a song describing a horrible landlord and his wretched tenants. “Poor Napoleon” is a mid-tempo diatribe against love that tips its hand early with the opening lines “I can’t lie on this bed anymore/it burns my skin/You can take the truthful things you’ve said to me/And fit them on the head of a pin.”33 elvisThis album is listening perfection on those days when nothing’s going right, and fuck everybody anyway!

But there are a few respites from the rage – as there would have to be. The 60s-sounding “Honey Are You Straight or Are You Blind?” is a jaunty relief-valve of a song placed mid-album to let the listener, perhaps, dance the anger out instead of wallowing in it. “Blue Chair” has another rolling bass line to carry it, a straightforward ode to sadness with really cool vocals, especially in the last verse, when he alters the melody.

One of my favorite melodies on the album is “Crimes of Paris,” in which, once again, Elvis’s heart was broken – this time to Mythic Proportions.

The melody ranges far and wide, and Elvis performs it brilliantly,cig-girl always coming home to a sing-along chorus that references “the cigarette girl in the sizzle hot pants,” which conjures great imagery of a woman content to serve the men around her. In reading all the lyrics from the album, trying to tease out what it is that has piqued Elvis’s anger and caused it to rage so deeply and with such strength, I get the sense that much of it has to do with women who aren’t “cigarette girl”-ish enough. He’s been burned by women who don’t see their relationship in the same way he does, who’ve acted on their displeasure to seek out new romances, leaving him behind to write great songs with clever lyrics about it all. He can’t get over it. He won’t get over it. He explains it pretty clearly on one of my favorite songs ever, the emotionally haunting “I Want You.”

I first heard this song when I purchased a “Greatest Hits” album of Costello’s34. Without listening closely to the words, it sounded sort of like a love song, similar to John Lennon’s epic Abbey Road piece, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” My good friend and Beatles fanatic Dr. Dave had recently gotten engaged, so – as I often did – I decided to celebrate by sending him a CD of songs. “Hey,” I thought, “I’ll put this Elvis Costello love song next to Lennon’s song, and it’ll be cool because they have the same title, which is repeated frequently throughout the piece!” Then I listened to the lyrics and realized, “This isn’t really a celebration of love …”

The song opens with an acoustic love poem, sung troubadour-style, elvis-guitarthat ends (0:48) with the word “breath” sung on an unexpected note, followed closely by a startlingly discordant chord. The song builds over the next 6 minutes, adding instruments every few lines, intensity increasing as Costello again fumes over a woman who chose to be with another man. His imagery throughout conveys with withering directness his deep feelings of hurt and, what else, anger. “It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for/It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for/It’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing/It’s the thought of him undressing you or you undressing.” After each sordid detail he reminds us “I want you.” It’s another vocal masterpiece, but Elvis’s guitar is nice in subtle ways as well. He makes great use of his tremolo bar, and plays a fittingly clamoring guitar solo midway through (3:21). By about five minutes, the song has dispensed all the wisdom it has (“The truth can’t hurt you it’s just like the dark/It scares you witless/But in time you see things clear and stark.”) and Elvis is left crooning against Nieve’s organ. It’s a song that always sends chills up my spine. (There is also a tremendous version that I highly recommend by list-member Fiona Apple, accompanied by Elvis himself.)

The album ends on what sounds like a happy note, “Next Time Round.”

At a minimum, the song could be considered … hopeful … perhaps. I mean, it does at least consider the possibility that there will be a “next time.” smashThe despondency of some of the other songs is gone, but the lyrics do reveal the bitterness that seems to have become his best friend on Blood & Chocolate. There is nice harmony singing throughout, and Bruce Thomas’s bass pumps the song along. It’s an upbeat-tempo song that leaves the listener, if not happy or satisfied, at least a little less prone to smashing one’s hand through the glass in a frame around a picture of an ex.

attractions-bandWhat a wonderful, necessary and brilliant thing, this human endeavor called “art.” Imagine if all that pain and hostility and rage inside Costello were bottled up and unexpressed; or worse yet, imagine if it had been diverted to something destructive and hateful – like becoming a fraudulent Orange Turd bent on destroying the u.s.a. Instead, he took it and made something great with it. Blood & Chocolate is a reminder that anger isn’t bad, that it is part of our lives. It’s also a reminder that we should use our anger and do something constructive with it – like working against everything the stinky turd (whom most Americans did not vote for) and his cry-baby supporters stand for. I’ve started already.

Track Listing
“Uncomplicated”
“I Hope You’re Happy Now”
“Tokyo Storm Warning”
“Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head”
“I Want You”
“Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?”
“Blue Chair”
“Battered Old Bird”
“Crimes of Paris”
“Poor Napoleon”
“Next Time Round”

Share

1 Comment

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

57th Favorite Album

Share

When I Was Born for the 7th Time. Cornershop.
1997, Warner Bros. Producer: Tjinder Singh, Dan the Automator, Daddy Rappaport.
Purchased 1997.

7th-time-album-cover

squirrelIN A NUTSHELL: An album that is really hard to categorize, featuring everything from turntablism to country to raga. UK-born Tjinder Singh leads his group through style after style, but keeps the music fun and tethers it to its trance-inducing Hindi roots. It’s music that’s hard for me to adequately describe – my usual “guitar/bass/drums” verbiage doesn’t really work. But I like the way it sounds – it makes me feel young!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In about six months I’ll turn 50 years old.

I’ve always equated “fifty” with “elderly.” Sometime around 1985, there was a contest sponsored by Canada Dry to win $1,000,000 OR: a date with Joan Collins. Collins was a TV star whose best work is generally agreed35 to have been her role as the villain “The Siren” in the 1960s TV show Batman. By 1985, however, she was the star of some ridiculous – and ridiculously popular – nighttime soap opera called Dynasty. Winning a date with a star has been a time-honored Hollywood tradition for years, but what joan-collins-datewas interesting about this contest was that the prize wasn’t some young, teenage heart-throb, but a fifty year-old woman. FIFTY!!! (Or a million dollars.)

I was in my first year of college, and my fellow 18 year old, male, heterosexual (I think) friends and I were aghast. “Who would take the date with a 50 year old??” we wondered. It was an age older than most of our mothers. Only one of us claimed we would take the date, and he did so because “I’d want to see if I could [share intimate physical contact with] her.” (He also later spent time in prison, not that it matters. (Although maybe it does.)) The rest of us were further aghast. FIFTY was old.

FIFTY IS OLD. It’s the age you becomederek AARP-eligible, a fact that has been exploited for laughs by American spouses for 30 years, a membership being the ultimate BIG 5-0 gag-gift, as it’s humorous but also useful36. Rock-Music-Wise, Roger Daltry sang “I hope I die before I get old” in The Who’s “My Generation,” and he certainly meant well before age 50. FIFTY is even older than Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls was when he lamented growing old in rock-n-roll.

But big whoop. Who cares? The fact is, I’ve felt old at every “Big X-0” birthday since I turned 10. (Although at 10, “old” was a good thing.) Time moves in one direction, and such markers whiz past like telephone poles viewed from the bed of a speeding pick-up truck. When I turned 20, I hadn’t yet performed comedy, but I knew Eddie Murphy was a star by that age, so it seemed too late for me. When I turned forty, my kids were still so young and it seemed like it would be years before I’d get a little free time for my own – and by the time it arrived I assumed I’d be too old to enjoy it.

The author's 10th birthday was the last time in his life that a birthday ending in '0' brought contentment rather than anxiety.

Now I’m turning 50, and I actually don’t feel as old as I thought I would. 30quoteSure, physically, I’m a little more achey than I used to be, and a nice long walk now substitutes for an hour’s worth of pick-up basketball, but emotionally I’m not experiencing anywhere near the level of concern I felt when I turned 30. Of all the X-0 birthdays, 30 hit me the hardest. That was the one that grabbed my lapels, slapped me in the face, spun me around with a kick in the pants and said, “Get on with it, boy! You can’t goof off forever!”

I’ve never forgiven 30 for telling me that.

bernalI was living in San Francisco with my cool girlfriend37, in our cool neighborhood, with one cool cat and one mentally disabled stray cat we called “Lenny,” after the big sad character in Of Mice and Men. But even Lenny was cool! I was in a theater group, writing and acting in plays, I was performing improv – and getting paid for it38, and I was doing some stand up comedy. I was having a blast – but the BIG 3-0 hung over my head ominously.

All of my artistic pursuits were fun and important to me, chemisthowever I was still earning my living as a chemist in the pharmaceutical industry. I thought of myself as an actor/performer, but I had a series of W-2s going back 6 years that told a different story. The time had come to either ditch the well-paying job and dive headfirst into performance, or quietly admit to myself that despite my pursuits’ fun and importance, I really enjoyed having a comfortable lifestyle with an income I could count on. I quietly admitted to myself that performance – improv, standup, acting – was an AVOCATION.

This was all happening in the mid-90s. In a different era, there may have been music on the radio to help soothe my anxiety and stress. But not in the mid-90s, which was an era of some of the worst music imaginable: pseudo-alt-rock – a ripped-off, corporate-hijacked, style-over-substance form whose ridiculousness was perhaps topped only wingerby the spiraling absurdity of the late 80s hair-band phenomenon. Pseudo-Alt-Rock was similar to the follies of the late-80s hair-bands in that a once-inspired musical style (in the case of hair-bands, Heavy Metal; in the case of pseudo-alt, College Rock/Grunge) had been fed through the record label Xerox machine so many times that only the faintest outline remained of the original form. All the subtle intricacy of true expression and unique character was lost, and a bunch of nondescript blobs were spat out and called “alternative rock,” in the hope that listeners wouldn’t notice the difference. And it was all over the radio.

As my 30th birthday approached, I felt my carefree youthhourglass slipping away, and I decided to make a last-ditch attempt to hang on by renewing my interest in what was new on the musical map. I decided that 1997 would be the year I would resume buying good, new music – a favorite pastime of mine that had peaked in the early 90s, but had waned some by 1997. It was a dubious era in which to claw back into the musical stew.

1997For every Yo La Tengo or Radiohead, there was a The Prodigy or a Creed. It wasn’t hard to enjoy Sleater-Kinney, and then be tricked by Veruca Salt. It was the era of the Trapdoor of the Catchy Alternative Pop Song, a phenomenon in which a tuneful song that immediately grabs your ear by a random Smashmouth or New Radicals, or even – shockingly enough – a Hanson39, could, if you didn’t give the song a second and third go-around to really listen, cause you to consider buying an album, and in doing so plummet, screaming, clutching in your hands a virtually unlistenable and un-re-sellable piece of shiny, plastic trash.

I did a pretty good job of avoiding the really lousy albums from the really shitty bands of the day40. I didn’t buy anything from Matchbox 20 or Bush or Third Eye Blind. I wasn’t tricked by a catchy single into buying albums from Luscious Jackson or White Town or OMC.

But I did purchase one album that summer on the basis of one catchy song that turned out to indeed be a one-hit wonder … in the UK. And after re-mixing. In the summer of 1997, Alt-Rock Radio – that foister of tepidry41 – was playing a Catchy Alternative Pop Song that could have been a trap door. ashaThe song was “Brimful of Asha,” by Cornershop, sung in a definitely-noticeable Hindi accent. It was part of Corporate Modern Rock Radio’s apparent push towards some bit of multi-cultural awareness, a song churned onto the playlist via some strange algorithm that also allowed a Los Lobos song to be played once a month, but still couldn’t spit out any hip-hop songs onto the playlist by any bands other than The Beastie Boys42. It caught my ear, and I read good things about the album (probably in Spin magazine) so I went out and got it. I wasn’t disappointed.

“Brimful of Asha” is a terrific guitar pop song, with great drums and a great beat. It starts quietly and simply: an easy electric guitar riff and basic drums. The song builds with each verse, adding organ and strings. By the time of the “Everybody needs a tjinder-concertbosom for a pillow” chorus, it’s got a full sound. The song’s lyrics are a salute to Bollywood playback singer43 Asha Bhosle, and the band’s love of 45s. This is probably as good a time as any to mention the band’s Indian-UK heritage. Singer/Songwriter Tjinder Singh’s music incorporates his Hindi background into 90s-style UK funk, and the result is unlike anything else. For example, in “Brimful of Asha,” the repetitive guitar riff functions somewhat like a “drone” in Indian classical music, setting the table onto which the rest of the song is placed – including a pumped up bass drum, hand claps, and samples of orchestra strings.

That Indian drone technique is used throughout the album, and there’s something compelling about it. Sometimes I will find it repetitive, but most often it draws me in and keeps me hooked. A good example is the first track on the album, “Sleep On the Left Side.”

There’s not a lot happening in this song, but there’s an awful lot happening, too! What I mean is, the five notes that make up the drone are unchanging and run through the whole song. But throughout, the electronic squawks and cornerband-1accordion riffs and orchestral wiggles and flute trills and Singh’s laconic vocals provide the listener with much to consider. The lyrics seem to be a reflection on life in, and pride for, an Indian neighborhood in the U.K. (The name “Cornershop” is a reclamation of a UK slur for Indians and Pakistanis, so-called because of the many who owned convenience stores (aka cornershops) in the U.K.44) It’s got a trance-inducing groove, but in a good way.

The band’s Indian roots are on full display in one of the most Hindi-sounding pop songs I’ve heard since The Beatles’ “Love You To.” The song is “We’re In Yr Corner,” and the sitar starts flying immediately.

In addition to the sitar, the song is sung in Punjabi (apparently, from what I’ve read). I couldn’t find any English translations for the lyrics, but the song is catchy and melodic. At about 1:45 there is some spoken cornerband-3-sitardialogue that sounds terrific. As with the first two songs I mentioned, there’s a repetitive drone aspect to the song which a) I love, but b) makes it hard for me to write about. I’m used to saying, “I like the guitar in the chorus,” and “How about those drums in the bridge,” but many of the songs on When I Was Born for the 7th Time have no guitar, chorus or bridge. However, the drums always sound great – whether drum kit, tabla, bongoes, or some other type with which I’m unfamiliar! But the sounds move me. And Western aspects are tossed in, such as the breaks around 2:50, or the false ending or the “IBM and Coca-Cola, motherfucker!” lyrics. The band has a knack for taking the unfamiliar and making it sound familiar.

So the band flies its Indian flag in all its songs, however, as I’ve said in many of my album write-ups, I love variety! Nothing makes me tire of an album quicker than a repetition of sound, and Cornershop is fluent in many styles. My favorite song on the album almost sounds like a Beck song: “Funky Days are Back Again.”

Drummer Nick Simms shines on the track, propelling it forward with tight rolls and syncopation. The typical cornerband-2Cornershop beeps and blips supplement the song, as Singh celebrates the 1990s good life, in lyrics that are clever and fun.

The album also contains a sort of turntable jazz song, “Butter the Soul,” that features a really cool-sounding turntable riff broken up by solos on Indian instruments, complete with bursts of applause from the “audience.” Also impressive is a country song, sung as a duet between Singh and American singer Paula Frazer. The song is “Good to Be on the Road Back Home.” It’s got typical country lyrics – how the road wreaks havoc on the traveler. It’s also got that Indian drone – with few cornerband-4chord changes and a constant chugging acoustic guitar. The band is just very creative.

This creativity, the desire to expand in sound and genre, leads to several songs that – for me – really miss the mark. “When the Light Appears Boy,” with lyrics by Beat Generation hero Allen Ginsburg, who also speaks the lyrics, is much better in theory than in execution. “What Is Happening” sounds like supermarket announcements read over raga drumming. Others are just fragments, really. But some of the experiments succeed wildly – like “Candyman,” another trance-inducing groove that sounds great!

Maybe the coolest song on the album – and I state this as an unabashed and irrational Beatles fan – is Cornershop’s cover of “Norwegian Wood.” Sung in Punjabi. Listen.

To me, this song is what the album is all about: taking the old (old songs, old styles, old languages) adding a bit of yourself (Anglo-Indian roots, love of rock and hip-hop) and creating something new and wonderful. tjinder-concert-2In fact, this is probably what life is all about – take what’s come before you, add a bit of yourself, and make things better for those coming behind you. It’s why I probably shouldn’t get too worried about getting older – life was here before me, life will go on after me. I’m just here to improve things a little bit. I’ll let Cornershop have the last word, with another song I love for its song structure and beat; but most of all for its great message. Because as I approach 50, and I sometimes worry or fret, it helps to keep in mind: Good Shit’s All Around45.

Track Listing
“Sleep on the Left Side”
“Brimful of Asha”
“Butter the Soul”
“Chocolat”
“We’re in Yr Corner”
“Funky Days Are Back Again”
“What Is Happening?”
“When the Light Appears Boy”
“Coming Up”
“Good Shit”
“Good to Be on the Road Back Home”
“It’s Indian Tobacco My Friend”
“Candyman”
“State Troopers”
“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”

Share

3 Comments

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

58th Favorite Album

Share

OK Computer. Radiohead.
1997, Capitol. Producer: Radiohead and Nigel Godrich.
Purchased 1997.

ok-computer-album

58nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: One of the strongest, most interesting 2/3 of an album I’ve ever heard! The sounds are cool, and the songs range from soaring epics to soft lullabies. Singer Thom Yorke has a knack for melodies, the rhythm section is top-notch, and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood is one of the most creative minds in rock. Halfway into this album, I’m sure it’s destined for top-10, but the last few songs don’t deliver on the promise.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The people who today know me as the debonair, charming,clooney some-would-say-George-Clooney-esque bon-vivant and social butterfly, might find it hard to believe I didn’t have a lot of dates in high school. But it’s true – I didn’t. Believe it or not, I was awkward as a teen-ager, both in looks and actions. Chubby, with bad hair and little knowledge of style, my unease among people and lack of self-esteem didn’t provide the necessary components for a personality that could easily overcome my appearance. However, mine was a classic “ugly-duckling” story: I am now a beautiful swan.

As this recent photo demonstrates, given the proper angle, the term 'George-Clooney-esque' describes the author perfectly. 'Beautiful Swan' is also apt.

Because of my lack of success with girls, including multiple invgffailed attempts across many years of teen-ager-dom at trying to get girls to like me46, I don’t think I was ever happier in my first 18 years of life than when I got my first real girlfriend. I say “real girlfriend” to rule out a brief romance with, and planned marriage to, a girl, “Debbie,” in kindergarten; I don’t mean to imply that I had a series of fake girlfriends, or even one fake girlfriend. I didn’t even know how to get the fake girls to like me.

When I say “like me,” I mean “like me-like me,” the friendzonefirst-person version of “Of course she likes you! But she doesn’t really like you-like you.” I was generally well-liked by boys and girls through Middle School and High School – a nerd, sure, but not so strange that I endured beatings or significant bullying. But this likability kept me within the “Friend Zone” with basically every single girl I ever liked47. I was a perpetual Duckie.

But in the late summer before my senior year of high school, my three years of toiling in the marching band remarkably and unexpectedly paid ACTUAL social status dividends when, during rehearsals for our football halftime show, a cute patrickbandbaton-twirler in my grade named Jenny called me over and introduced me to another cute baton-twirler, a sophomore (not) named Bonnie. Jenny said, “You stand near Bonnie when you play your solo, so I thought I should introduce you to her.” Now, my lack of success with girls during high school was in part due to my inability to recognize when a girl liked me. But in this case, Jenny practically slapped me across the face and shouted, “Hey!! This girl likes you! I MEAN LIKES YOU-LIKES YOU, DUMMY!” This time I got the message.

Bonnie was cute and funny and smart, and best of all, she seemed to think the same of me. At first we would talk at band practice, and then I got her phone number. This meant I could call and offer her a ride to band practice. This meant I’d have an opportunity to say goodnight when I dropped her off. This meant I firstkisswould have to a) figure out if I should kiss her goodnight, and then, depending on the outcome, b) ACTUALLY DO IT! This meant the first time I drove her home from band practice I was sweating and woozy and fearing how I might screw things up when we got to her driveway. When I stopped the car, she said thank you and leaned over and gave me a long kiss on the lips!!! This meant I drove home happier than I had ever been.

I don’t remember any declaration of going steady, nothing formal like the “pinning” I’d seen on Happy Days and other shows about the 50s. In the 80s, we just sort of started walking in the halls together and holding hands and answering “yes” when asked, “Are you going with Bonnie?” It was understood that we’d go to the Homecoming Dance together, that we’d go meet at The Mall on weekends, that we’d make arrangements to go to movies or to each others’ homes.

handholdingWe made out some, which was fun, although rather stressful. So many questions: “Should I do something different with my hands?” “Should I tell her my neck hurts and ask to switch seats?” “This has been fun, but would it ruin things to say I want to go back to watching the movie now?” We didn’t do anything physical besides kiss, which was fine by me. After we broke up, Bonnie called me in tears because some girl I didn’t know told her that she heard we’d broken up because Bonnie didn’t “put out.” I told her it wasn’t true, but I didn’t admit that I had been terrified the whole time that she’d WANT TO do more than kiss. I mean, I’d think about it, sure, but it was sort of like thinking about driving on the PA Turnpike: I’d only recently learned how to start a car; I’d need to learn way more about its buttons and dials, not to mention yielding and merging, before I even considered heading up an on-ramp.

If it sounds like it was boring … well, it was – after a while. It was amazing at first,telephone the kissing, the hanging out, the knowledge that someone liked you. Those happy feelings carried on for several weeks, maybe a few months. But after a while, I got bored. A good example of why were our phone conversations. It was apparent to both of us that, as part of “going with” each other, we should talk on the phone regularly. But what to discuss was really unclear. After a quick rundown of the day (“I have math homework.”), the friends (“Josh made a joke in American Lit.”), and the possible future plans (“Lori is having a party on Saturday.”) we both were at a loss. It was awkward – we’d sit there and just sort of breathe at each other, both of us with nothing to say, and unable to figure an appropriately conversational and gentle version of “Look, I like you and all, but this call is really boring now so I’mcostanza hanging up.48” Then, when a decision to hang up did arrive, the insipid, nauseating exchanges of “You hang up, no you hang up” were excruciating. The phone calls began to feel pointless, much like the entire “going with” experience.

Of course, being 17 and having very little experience relating with other humans apart from my two best friends, I had no idea what to do. My friends weren’t good comparators: I had never (and still haven’t) made out with either of them, and we’d never stayed on the phone breathing at each other. I was at a loss. I thought Bonnie was nice and I really liked her, but I just didn’t want to spend my time with her anymore. I finally called her up and said some version of “It’s not you, it’s me.” In retrospect, I should have told her in person, and I shouldn’t have told her an hour before the Big Game – a basketball game against our rival high school that was one of the social highlights of the year. I rationalize it by thinking, “Well, I was clueless, and there’s never a good way to break up with someone,” but it was a really lousy way to do it.

Some experiences in life start off amazing, and the fact thatsall2that they don’t maintain that ability to amaze shouldn’t diminish one’s appreciation for the entirety of the experience. I look back fondly at my time with Bonnie; I can still feel the excitement of that first kiss, (and all those kisses); the happiness that someone was waiting by the cafeteria stairway just for me; the joy in sharing private laughs; the fantasy of driving on the turnpike … Some things fizzle out, and it’s just the way it goes.

And this brings me to Radiohead’s album OK Computer.

As with (probably) most people my age, creepmy first introduction to Radiohead was through the video for their song “Creep,” which was played nearly round-the-clock on MTV in 1992. The 90s turned out to be an era for one-hit-wonders that rivaled any other. In 1992, the song “Creep” seemed to ensure that Radiohead was destined to share “Wait, what’s that band again?” status with acts like The Lightning Seeds and Urban Dance Squad. At a party around 1996, a friend tried to convince me that the band’s latest record, The Bends, was excellent, but I scoffed – no way were the “Creep” creeps making decent music, I was sure.

Then sometime around the summer of 1997, I was home sick from work. I was on the couch flipping through TV stations, and figured I’d check MTV to see if “Pop Up Video” was on. It wasn’t. But I did see one of the weirdest, coolest videos for one of the oddest, coolest songs I’d ever seen: Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” I couldn’t believe this song was by the “Creep” creeps.

I’ve often heard one song from a record, then rushed out to buy it and found myself greatly disappointed by most everything else on it. (I’m looking at you, New Miserable Experience.) But OK Computer grabbed me right from the first twenty seconds of the album opener, “Airbag.”

Phil Selway’s drum beat is funky and odd and propels the song, colingand when Colin Greenwood’s bass pops in about 32 seconds in, a unique rhythmic table is set for the rest of the song to build on. Singer Thom Yorke’s simple melody draws in the listener, and the guitar lines and assorted noises create a spooky and powerful backdrop for his sneering vocals and inscrutable lyrics to swim through. I love how Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood’s guitars work together, and also Jonny’s solo at 2:25. But what makes the song extra-cool to me is the false ending at 3:28. Strange squeaks arise, and Selway and Colin fit tightly played rhythms into them, but then at around four minutes the band re-enters and runs out the song, revising the main guitar riff. Clearly, as a Beatles fan, I can’t say this is the most mind-blowing song I’ve ever heard, but it left an immediate, long-lasting impression. This song is like that first kiss by a first girl/boyfriend, those first moments when you realize, “Wow. This may be the best thing ever.”

thomBut things get even better by song two! Just like your new, first Significant Other will randomly spring a flower on you, or unexpectedly put an arm around you, and make you fall even harder, “Paranoid Android” pops up to surprise and amaze the listener. The video, above, can be distracting because it’s so weird – but the song is epic. It opens with a quiet acoustic guitar surrounded by wiggly electric guitars, haunting electric noises49, and Yorke’s unique vocal style again singing hard-to-grasp lyrics about modern life’s futile pursuits. At 1:57, the second part begins, and by 2:09 the song quickly moves into a 7/8 time signature for a few bars, then back to 4/4, proof that Selway and Colin G. are a top-notch rhythm section. The song gets aggressive quickly, starting with Yorke’s increasing venom and a cacophony of rock starting at 2:42. The next minute is a frenzy, as selwayJonny screeches one of my favorite guitar solos ever starting at 3:00, and by 3:17 is back in 7/8 time. It all ends suddenly when Part 3 begins, around 3:27. It’s a choral section, really, with multiple voices – soft and gentle, yet building to a splatter of further aggression at 5:37, and a reintroduction of the main theme, with another excellent solo. The entire song is brilliant.

So here you sit, young lover. A week or two into your first real relationship, and I’ll tell you what will happen: it will stay excellent, and maybe even get a bit better. Something will happen – maybe you’ll find out that like you, he also has an older sister in college, or that both of your moms go to the same hair salon and probably know each other. Somehow, by some small token, your belief that this is “for real” will be cemented in the same way “Subterranean Homesick Alien” cements OK Computer as a record for the ages.

This may be my favorite Radiohead song ever. It’s moving – one of their few songs in which the lyrics actually resonate with me. As a kid who usually felt out of place in his jonnysmall hometown, the idea of getting away was always on my mind – even when I didn’t realize it. Selway’s drumming is once again remarkable, but its the guitar that makes this song – Jonny’s leads throughout and the atmospheric touches. He’s not afraid of pedals and computers and anything he can find to make a cool sound, and even though I tend to favor straight-ahead, blues/rock guitar, I love Jonny Greenwood. But what I love most about the song is simply the feeling of it. It gives me chills. It’s unexplainable – much like first love.

And the next experience to plunge you deeper into love that first time around, now that you’ve been dating for 3 weeks, will be something breathtaking and deep that gives a clear indication that you were meant to be together. He admits he cried when the team lost that playoff game; she reveals she cheated on that math test, and you’re the only one who knows. Something will happen to tell you “It’s really real now – not kid stuff.” It will feel much like the breathtaking power of “Exit Music (For a Film)”

It’s a cinematic song, obviously, given the title, the lyrics telling the hopeful end of what appears to have been a sad story. It’s just Yorke and an acoustic guitar, with keyboards that sound like human voices. Sounds of children playing add to the feeling, and the band breaks in at 2:48 and – as with most songs on the album – builds to an emotional release at 3:20, a powerful, rolling synth bass carrying the weight behind Yorke’s belting. edoIt subsides to quiet guitar and voice, leaving a memory behind. It’s not that every song is getting better, but with every song the album is building a case for being one of the all-time greats in my book.

In a first love, the unexpected will happen, and sometimes it will be wonderful. It doesn’t have to be huge – for me, I always remember Bonnie’s house as the first place I ever had microwave popcorn. That sounds unimportant and funny, but my family had only recently bought a microwave by 1984 when I was going with Bonnie – they still seemed sort of fancy to me, and I was skeptical of them. But Bonnie’s popcorn changed my views. A little thing, but a lasting memory. To this point in OK Computer, Radiohead has been mostly about power and weirdness, so the lovely song “Let Down” is a bit of a surprise. It again has really cool guitar work, this time dueling guitars of Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood – subtle, intricate figures that at times sound like they’re playing a different song than the rest of the band. Yorke weaves a nice melody throughout, and in a gentler voice sings a song that again speaks to frustrations with the modern world.

Once again, Radiohead pulls their trick of seeming to end a song, around 2:31 this time. radiohead1But once again they build it up, this time to a thrilling last verse, from 3:40, with great harmony vocals. If this album is your first girl/boyfriend, at this point in the relationship you are feeling quite certain that you will be married for life. And the next song, “Karma Police,” does nothing to diminish the good feelings.

This is the “hit” from the album, hitting #14 on the US “Hot Modern Rock Tracks” list50. I don’t think it’s a great song, but it is a fine addition to such an outstanding album. Piano-driven, with wry lyrics about how annoying others around us can be, it also has a pretty great guitar part – as most all the songs have so far.

In many relationships, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where everything goes wrong; in others, there is no doubt. Maybe you find your new boyfriend going through your purse, and he plays it off cool, like “I really needed a paper clip, and I thought you might have one,” radiohead2 … but still, you have no idea how long he was rooting around in there, and wonder why he didn’t just ask. Maybe you find a note in your car that fell out of your girlfriend’s backpack, in which a friend asks “does he know anything?” and references a party that you didn’t attend. Or maybe you have a huge fight about some random detail, and what’s revealed in that fight – whether words or actions – causes you to rethink your entire appreciation of what has come before.

Song #7, “Fitter, Happier” is that fight.

The song is just a stream of words from a voice synthesizer51. The Beatles surrounded “Revolution 9,” John Lennon’s avant garde sound collage, with 29 other songs on “The White Album,” and even with all that cover people still question the band’s decision to release it. On OK Computer, even with 6 amazing tracks preceding it, “Fitter, Happier” makes me feel angry, cheated; annoyed that I have to skip over it every time I listen. It makes me think the band thinks I’m a chump.

But then – song 8. “Electioneering.” We are rocking again, and I can try to put the previous song out of my mind.

“Electioneering” has a raucous guitar, and radiohead3a ramshackle feel (accented by a cowbell!) that allows me to grant forgiveness to the band for the previous song. It’s as straightforward a rock song as I’ve heard from the band. It’s a protest song of sorts, lyrically challenging the idea that democratic elections can actually work in individuals’ best interests. Relationship-wise, it’s like a small gift after the big fight: it doesn’t make everything all right, but at least there’s an acknowledgment of the difficulty. There is hope that the ship can be righted.

“Climbing Up the Walls” fails to right the ship.

It’s a slow dirge, with customary squiggles radiohead4and beeps and a pretty great guitar solo. But there’s a lack of urgency, a certain somberness with a tinge of drudgery – which is far different than what has come before. Many of the previous songs were mid-tempo, or slow, but they just felt different than this. It’s the type of song that makes me reflect on how great all the previous songs were; except for that one. For the first time in this relationship, you are questioning whether your initial instincts were accurate.

No Surprises” simply raises further questions. It’s a lovely song, reminiscent of an old Claudine Longet Christmas song called “Snow” that my parents used to play. But as pretty as it is, it sounds repetitive, and when the band tries to do a customary “Radiohead build up,” at around 3 minutes, it just feels flat. In relationship terms, you’re now starting to wonder if you were duped earlier: maybe it was all a lie, and THIS is the real person.

radiohead5

How did it all go so wrong? You are hurt, angry. The little things that used to mean so much – there’s a false ending in the next song, “Lucky,” which once again morphs into a terrific guitar solo restating the main theme, the type of thing I used to rave about – now just seem tiresome, like imitations of the good that came before. Those quirks you put up with that used to say “unique” – like incomprehensible lyrics – now simply say “weirdo,” radiohead6calling into question your own ability to make good decisions. Has the other person changed? Have you? At this point, does it matter?

Fitting, then, that the album’s closing track, “The Tourist,” sounds so much like a breakup set to music. Sad, repetitive, almost funereal, the fact that it has some beautiful harmony vocals simply makes it more poignant. I listen to the song and imagine a slideshow of happier times: me, excitedly listening to “Airbag;” me and “Paranoid Android” being weird and goofy together; “Subterranean Homesick Alien” picking me up off my feet and spinning me around … “The Tourist” ends with a single tone struck on a bell, leaving a sense of cold finality. “Yep,” it seems to say, “that really happened. And now you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering what it all meant.”

But try and remember: the good was very, very good. The bad wasn’t awful, and could have been worse. Life is strange and we never know where events will take us. But if we can move through life and try to focus on the positive, and try to forgive ourselves and those around us for the negative, we’ll be happier with the memories we’ve made. On the whole, OK Computer makes me very, VERY happy!! I don’t regret the relationship at all. Despite its ups and downs, it was exactly as it should have been. And I’m a better person for having gone through it.

Track Listing
“Airbag”
“Paranoid Android”
“Subterranean Homesick Alien”
“Exit Music (For A Film)”
“Let Down”
“Karma Police”
“Fitter Happier”
“Electioneering”
“Climbing Up The Walls”
“No Surprises”
“Lucky”
“The Tourist”

Share

1 Comment

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

59th Favorite Record

Share

Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin.
1969, Atlantic. Producer: Jimmy Page.
Home bootleg, 1988. Purchased 1997.

album led zeppelin

59 nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: Debut album from one of the most iconic bands of the rock era. It’s a record of heavy guitar blues, quite different stylistically from the sound that would come to define them later. The musicianship is incredible on both the slow, thick, oozing songs and the upbeat, hard-charging ones, and they all serve as a basis for laments about Robert Plant’s love-life. This record is one of the seeds of Heavy Metal.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
dalailamaOne would think there are very few “once in a lifetime” situations in life. The very name – Once In A Lifetime – seems to imply there would be very few. It seems unreasonable to expect that someone would, say, return from space on a Monday, catch and land a 350-pound tuna on Tuesday, stumble upon a new dinosaur species on Wednesday and finish off the week experiencing all that goes into the first few days of being identified as the 15th Dalai Lama. No, Once-In-A-Lifetime events are special and rare!

However, a different perspective reveals that you likely experience handshakeseveral Once-In-A-Lifetime situations each week, and possibly (depending what kind of job you have) dozens per day! Every time you meet another person for the first time, you have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll never meet that person for the first time again.

As that old shampoo commercial used to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” anxietyThe value of a good first impression is understood by most everyone; the fear of making a bad first impression is part of what is reportedly the third most common psychological problem in the country, Social Anxiety Disorder. There are thousands of tips out there for overcoming fear of first meetings; for making good first impressions at work, during a job interview, and on your first day at a job; for making good first impressions on dates, both for women and for men; even for making good first impressions on a new pet!! It is clear, we as humans – social animals that we are52 – value first impressions.

First Impressions cut two ways. On the one hand, you want to make sure the other person thinks positively of you. But you also want to be sure you’re accurately assessing the other person. I’ve fumbled both of these objectives at various times. There were the innumerable times, for example, that others’ first experience with me included some kind of drunken, ridiculous, perhaps-borderline-illegal actions on my buffalopart, characteristics that are hard to forget. I’ve also completely discounted people upon meeting them, only to find out later that I was completely misguided.

It wasn’t just the booze that kept me from making a good first impression. I used to be really unsure of myself while sober, and lack of confidence is a real first-impression-killer. First dates were very difficult – but I had very few because it was even harder to ask women out! Typically, I’d ask someone out while I was inebriated – probably not wasted-drunk, as it’s unlikely a woman would’ve said yes to someone in that state. But I’d be a little tipsy, a little more charming than usual, and the invitee would usually also be a little tipsy, a little more amenable than usual, and somehow we’d agree to go somewhere together. Then I’d get to the restaurant, for example, and I’d … eat!

boo-radleyYou see, I was a nervous, quiet, shivering mess at first meetings. I often chose not to say anything. I’d just smile and nod in response to even the most innocuous direct questions. I barely asked others questions and I avoided eye-contact. Meeting me was like meeting Boo Radley: unless some “Scout” figure vouched for me, you were left rattled and bewildered and shooed me off your porch. Worst of all, I clung to those first-meeting symptoms for second, third, etc, meetings as well. Such were the depths of my affliction, the family of my good friend Dr. Dave thought I was a Selective Mute for the first three years I knew them!

I eventually overcame my problem by becoming a professional standup comic. ermSee, the booze had tricked me into thinking I had a certain … “something.” I didn’t, but that certain “something” would magically develop within me after just a few years of grimly trying to get the attention of strangers53 in the sad cafes and empty bars of entry-level comedy work. That “something” is this: a high baseline comfort level among people I don’t know. The excellent comedian Tim McIntire has spoken of the “Jedi mind-trick” that comedians develop to convince a room full of strangers that they should listen. And although I learned the trick, I can’t explain the trick; but it definitely has something to do with confidence. And it is probably the only real transferable skill from stand-up comedy to the real world54.

wingmanAs a child of the 70s and a teen of the 80s, I can’t remember when I wasn’t aware of Led Zeppelin. Before I ever knew any of their songs, I saw their posters at carnivals as prizes for games of chance – typically featuring a flying man or a creepy old dude in a cape holding a lantern. When I reached middle school, I saw their t-shirts on the tough, scary 8th graders who looked like they’d beat me up. By my teen years, each school year began in Zep-tember, and they were one of my “most important bands.” The writer Chuck Klosterman, posterin his book Killing Yourself to Live, opines that “…every straight man born after the year 1958 has at least one transitory period in his life when he believes Led Zeppelin is the only good band that ever existed.” He then goes on to hilariously, and believably, make the case that they are the only band for which this is true. For me, it was as a high-schooler, when I listened to Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin “IV55,” … Nearly all the Led Zeppelin. About the only Zep I didn’t pay attention to was the first one, which many of my like-minded friends had assured me was not rockin’ enough. I took them at their word – I never explored.

Sometime in 1988, my friend Dr. Dave sent me a cassette tape in the mail. I was learning to play bass, and was making plans to travel to Dr. Dave’s house to play music with him and his brother, the beginnings of the world-famous56 band JB and The So-Called Cells. On one side of cassettethe tape were a few songs that he, on guitar, and our drummer friend, Chris, had recorded in hopes I could learn the bass parts: Heart’s “Barracuda;” Tom Petty’s “The Waiting;” perhaps AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” He had recorded the songs on a cassette that was blank on Side 2. But the cassette case indicated, in Dr. Dave’s unmistakeable handwriting, that Side 1 contained “Led Zeppelin: Their First. (And their best.)” I ended up listening to Side 1 far more than Side 257. It immediately hooked me. The first song was like nothing I’d heard before.

I was explaining earlier that feigned confidence, the ability to “act like you know,” has been a valuable life lesson. When you are in a new situation, just act like it’s part of your regular routine, and you’ll place yourself ahead of the game. For example, if you’re a rock band and you’re going to release a debut rock record, you’d do well to start off with a song that assures every listener that, indeed, you are fully in command of the situation. Maybe a song like “Good Times, Bad Times.”

zep-poster“Good Times, Bad Times” is the first song off of the first album by Rock behemoths Led Zeppelin, and it is likely my favorite “Side 1, Track 1” from any debut album, and certainly Top-5 for all albums. It presents the type of First Impression that everyone strives for, announcing the band as confident, able and interesting – someone I’d definitely like to hear again soon. What makes it so special for me is the fact that the individual players – drummer John Bonham, bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant – display such astounding gifts on the song, but their virtuosity doesn’t overshadow it. The song is a powerful statement, and it retains its direct, visceral feeling throughout: I noticed its power long before I considered the individual components. And the individual parts are stunning.

bonhamLet’s first consider John Bonham’s drums. Run the googles on “good times bad times drum lesson” and you’ll get pages of people trying to explain how he did what he did. The song begins with two simple notes repeated a few times, with musical tension built by his cymbals and cowbell. Then, at 15 seconds, Bonham throws in a really cool fill to herald Plant’s first verse, going directly into a pulverizing back beat, with an astonishing kick drum pattern. The drumming is solid and heavy and awesome throughout, and that kick drum pattern is so astonishing that there are several web videos devoted simply to it, and even the wikipedia page for the song mentions it. I defy you to name another bass drum part from a debut album first track with which Wikipedia concerns itself.

I believe it was Jean-Paul Sartre who said that to make a really great first impression in life, you need to have a terrific rhythm section58.jpjones And he was absolutely correct. If you don’t want to be known as the new band with the drummer who’s too good for it, you need a bassist who’s just as sparkling. And John Paul Jones is that. He gets to show his cool, savvy playing in breaks after the chorus – such as 0:58 and 2:04. And if you focus your ears on his bouncing, fluid playing through the entire song, you’ll hear how he anchors Bonham’s playing to the guitar work of Jimmy Page while never sounding boring. As a bass player myself, this is the kind of playing I love – something that isn’t too flashy, but isn’t simple, either. It makes listening enjoyable, but holds the song together, as well.

pageJimmy Page is by most accounts the mastermind behind the band Led Zeppelin, having founded the band, written most of the music59 and produced all the albums. “Good Times, Bad Times” introduces everyone to Page’s main style: Riff Rock, in which he plays a melodic phrase (a “riff“) over and over while the singer sings. What’s cool about Page, is that he changes things up. There’s one riff for the first verse, beginning at 0:20. But for the second verse, at 1:00, he plays a completely different riff, keeping the song from getting boring, and also better supporting singer Robert Plant’s lower register. This change is the kind of subtlety you’ll find throughout Page’s songwriting and playing. Plus, his solos, at 1:29, atop the furious attack of Bonham and Jones, and after 2:06, answering each of Plant’s verses, are excellent and interesting and air-guitar-inducing.

plantRegarding singer Robert Plant, there’s little to be stated. If there’s ever been a better voice in rock, I’m unaware of it. His ability to both scream and purr effectively are top-notch, but equally impressive is the fact that he can carry a melody while doing either, AND do so expressively. He’s an emotional, interesting singer: his half-speaking, half-shouting, half-singing (which I’m aware is three halves, but Plant is that good!) through the last verse is excellent. His lyrics tend to lean heavily on the “my woman done left me” theme on this album60, but he’s singing the blues so I guess it makes sense. It’s true he became the blueprint for every screeching, girly-haired, hyper-sexualized hard-rock belter for the next 20 years, but he did it first: it was HIS first impression. And I think he nailed it.

Plant gets his chance to really shine immediately after, on the quiet/loud heavy blues of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.”

The song opens with a sweet acoustic guitar – a frequent stylistic choice for Led Zeppelin’s entire 10-year recording career, and one that would be hijacked by every goofy hair-metal band throughout the 80s.page-acoustic The song is a showcase for Plant, whose indecisive lyrics explain that he has to leave, but that he’s never going to leave61 … The band shines as well. For example, I love that Bonham comes in strong at 1:02, and 2:02, but that he holds back a little bit, so that he has a little extra explosiveness remaining at 2:27 when the band comes in with full power. The ending of the song is nice, too. Page is not just a screamer on guitar, and songs like this one and – obviously – “Black Mountain Side” show off his subtle and moving acoustic work, as well. (By the way, that’s Viram Jasani playing tabla on “Black Mountain Side.”)

John Paul Jones’s versatility is on display alongside Page’s acoustic guitar on the terrific “Your Time Is Gonna Come.”

Jones plays the organ, along with bass pedals62, and immediately creates a dark, chilling atmosphere. Page strums away on acoustic guitar, while Bonham kind of pounds away on the drums, almost like he’s playing a different song. However, it works fabulously, and Bonhamjpjones-organ knows when to ease back and allow Plant the space he needs to lament about one more woman who’s bringing him down. For a guy who supposedly got laid a bunch, Plant sure seems to have been predisposed to choose ladies who treat him badly. The sing-along chorus is great fun, especially during the outro, where Page wails away to the end.

Jones shows off his organ skills on the traditional blues cover of Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” too. Plant displays a talent for harmonica on it, as well, as the band trades solos between the verses about an unforgettable woman. The song ends concert1with Plant and Page mimicking each other after 5:37 in what was surely one of their most popular on-stage routines. The slow blues also carry the day on “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” Like all of the songs on this album, this one is perfectly suited to Plant’s vocal talents – even though, once again, he’s chosen a woman bound to break his heart. It’s also perfectly suited to Page’s soulful blues guitar. At 1:52 he begins a two-minute solo that must be one of the all-time greats in recorded rock music. It includes furious runs, long-held notes, wide-open spaces, and continues behind Plant on the final verse, in which he throws in great licks, such as the one at 4:19 that sounds like he’s laughing. Note also that during the solo, Bonham tosses in some more of those kick-drum triplets.

My friends told me back in the day that this album wasn’t rockin’, and that’s probably due to all the slow blues jams on it. concert2But the song “Communication Breakdown” is a crunching rocker, which totally stands up alongside the band’s Heavy Metal output in later years. By the way: Plant again is having problems with his lady. The band is on fire throughout, and even gets to contribute backing vocals en masse at the end. But what’s awesome about Led Zeppelin, and this album in particular, is that fact that they don’t have to play fast in order to sound metal and bad-ass. The song “Dazed and Confused,” probably my favorite track, is as slow as any they’ve cut, but the power of Bonham’s drums, Jones’s bass, Page’s guitar and Plant’s vocals create a sound that is the essence of Heavy. Just listen to the first minute.

I love the extended, controlled rolls that Bonham fills in throughout, for example at about 1:22. It must be pointed out that for most of his career, Bonham played mostly four- and five-piece drum kits, bonham1 meaning that he didn’t have scores of finely-tuned equipment encircling him, creating a fortress of batterie within which he sat63. He limited himself, and this limitation elicited creativity and interesting performances. For example, listen carefully, and you’ll hear his toms repeating Jones’s bass line throughout the song. Plant sings about … what else, this time claiming it may be the devil’s fault for his women-problems. Page takes an extended solo, beginning with a spooky section at 2:09, in which he uses a violin bow to create his demon sounds, and then crashing into something else at 3:31. Bonham goes nuts, about 4:58, calling the band to transition back to the main riff, about 5:07, and that change is where I tend to get chills. This song is amazing.

The closing track on Led Zeppelin is a close second for favorite on the album. It starts with a simple, memorable exceedingly cool bass line from Jones – perhaps the coolest bass line in Classic Rock.

It’s a strange, multi-part song that starts off as a straightforward blues riff rocker, and Plant again lamenting yet ANOTHER woman who done him wrong. But then, about 2:09, Page plays a sort of fanfare solo64 that seems to end the song. But Plant has more to say about his problems … At 3:39, against another spooky violin bow section, Plant blames his women problems on his immaturity – although it’s hard to see how immaturity alone could lead to eleven children. zep-band-1He seems to state that all those kids give him a lot of joy, but then reveals, after another break in the song at 5:30, that his joy is actually due to a schoolgirl(!) named Rosie who he’s going off to see!! Bonham plays a shuffling beat, and at 6:09 the song shifts again as Plant proclaims that he is going to get Rosie because he is, after all, “the hunter,” and his wail at 6:57, celebrating his “gun,” is among the most fabulous screams in rock history. I think the fact that he views himself as hunter, implying these women are his prey, really sheds some light on his love-life problems: perhaps when these women find out he’s still out hunting, they’re prone to leave? Or to do a little hunting of their own? Just a thought. As the band returns to the main riff, I believe his final yearning for his woman to come home (I don’t think he means Rosie, by the way, I think it’s the woman he was singing to in the first verse) is likely to fall on deaf ears. But that could lead to another terrific song on Led Zeppelin II about her leaving him!

zep-band-2By the end of Led Zeppelin, the listener is fully comfortable with this new acquaintance and ready to deepen the relationship. It wasn’t weird or objectionable, there were no awkward silences or boorish actions. The new visitor just let you know that it knew what it was doing and that you could look forward to more interactions in the future. Sure, Robert Plant may have dwelled a bit too much on his problems with women, but he was charming enough that it wasn’t an issue. This was a perfectly executed First Impression.

Track Listing:
“Good Times, Bad Times”
“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
“You Shook Me”
“Dazed and Confused”
“Your Time Is Gonna Come”
“Black Mountain Side”
“Communication Breakdown”
“I Can’t Quit You Baby”
“How Many More Times”

Share

1 Comment

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

60th Favorite Album

Share

Z. My Morning Jacket.
2005, ATO. Producer: John Leckie, Jim James.
Purchased 2006.

z album

nutshell60IN A NUTSHELL: Straight-ahead rock, with just enough bends to satisfy. Leader Jim James has a distinctive voice that soars and floats but is always out front, no matter what style song he writes – from jam-band psychedelia to three-minute rave-ups. The rest of the band keeps it all interesting. A record with so many great songs that it’s hard to pick a favorite
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I have a soft spot in my musical heart for polka. Maybe it’s in my genes, as my family is generations-deep into its initial settlement of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and Pennsylvania and Polka go hand-in-hand. polkapartyMaybe it’s because my grandfather’s band, “Die Lauterbach German Band,” played polkas and oompah songs and so the music is in my blood. Or maybe it’s simply because as a young child of 4 or 5, I had a stack of about twenty-five 45-rpm polka records in my basement, almost all of them from the Chicago-area label “Jay Jay Records,” and I played them incessantly and “marched around the basement” while I listened, as my mom has told me65.

records 45sThose polka records were my first experiences in active participation in my own personal enjoyment of music. I’d go downstairs to the little portable record player66, take out some 45s, and place them on the turntable. Then I commenced marching (apparently).

The experience of handling the 45s and reading their labels and watching them spin contributed greatly to my enjoyment. I can recall the fascination I felt eyeing those 45s pressed into clear, yellow plastic, and reading the sparse information provided: “POLKA PAL POLKA. (E. Blatnick). EDDIE BLATNICK and His Polka Pals. 237B. Diana Music. 2:24.” Who was Mr. Blatnick? Where did his Pals sit while they made the record? Diana Music?? Who is she? dick allenThe records didn’t have sleeves, they just lay naked and unashamed inside an old candy box67, so I couldn’t find any other information about them.

In addition to the polka records, there were other 45s in that candy box as well. The label I most liked from the non-polka selections was “Drum Boy Records,” which was also from Chicago, and was also run by the same guy who ran Jay Jay Records68, Walter “Li’l Wally” Jagiello. The song I liked best from this label was “Let’s Go Go Go White Sox,” by Captain Stubby & Buccaneers69 (with Li’l Wally Orch.). I wasn’t a White Sox fan, drumboy2but I loved baseball – plus it is an excellent song to march to, and I must have appreciated that. Another Drum Boy record I enjoyed was “My Little Josephine,” – a watered-down, decade-late (it was recorded in 1965) “Rock Around the Clock” ripoff performed by The Don Ralke Orchestra70. It’s pretty bad, but does feature a pretty awesome lead guitar throughout. But I can’t imagine its orch-rock swing inspired much marching in me.

That box of 45s contained so much joy! Besides the polka records and Drum Boy singles, 45sthere were lots of pop song novelties from the 50s that I enjoyed (again, likely with minimal marching.) Frankie Laine and Jimmy Boyd packed a 1-2 punch with the single “Let’s Go Fishin’” backed with “Poor Little Piggy Bank.” Phil Harris caused my kindergarten mind to run wild with his classicThe Thing.” And my little brain deduced something vaguely sexual in Guy Mitchell’s “Chicka-Boom,” about a woman whose “shoes paddy-wack in the front and the back while her yellow curls go swingin’.”

But the joy wasn’t simply from the sounds of the songs turntablethat I heard, it was also contained in the physical stack of plastic that I could hold in my hands, and swing onto a hooked thumb. There was joy in the words on the labels, the numbers and letters coding secrets to me: “45-JB-1-244” on a Jubilee 45; “9-62033” on a Coral 45; “249 A” on one of those Jay Jay Records polkas. I derived joy from the motivation and physical actions required to hear those songs. I had to go down to the basement, find the box of records, open the record player, select some songs and place them on the turntable. I had to monitor the songs, and be ready to remove the record linusbefore the needle ran into the label and made that dreaded clicking sound. There was a dance that the records and the record player and I performed together, a connection between us, that was accompanied by those songs we produced together. When the music was good – those polkas, the White Sox, the novelty songs – it all felt right. When the music was bad – the Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Julius LaRosa – it felt as if all three of us were disappointed together. Listening to music was more than just listening to music. It was a process that involved my body and my mind.

Of course, 45s and 33 1/3 LPs were the cassettmain medium for listening to music for all of my young life, so the whole-body experience became deeply ingrained. In my teen years, I got into the convenience of cassettes – particularly blank cassettes, which allowed me to record my albums and take them with me and listen through my wonderful Walkman. This process definitely involved a physical interaction with the media, however if I really liked a record I always preferred having the official label release over a pirated cassette. I wanted to read the packaging, to see what the artist wanted me to know about the work, to hold something in my hands while my boom-box hissed along. Sometime in college cdI was introduced to “Compact Disc technology,” CDs. People liked the clear sound and the convenience71, and you still had a little something to hold and read while you listened. There was a bit of backlash to the new-fangled things – most people who are into such things agree the sound quality on CD is inferior to albums, although most people NOT into such things can’t even tell the difference. Some artists were reluctant to release material on the new medium. Others complied, but got their little digs in at the rise of convenience over sound. I eventually switched over as well, which must be obvious if you’re reading this website.

CDs began the digital music revolution, but by the time the revolution really took off in the late 90s – win98when the new 1s and 0s of popular music were swept up in the giant tidal wave of the internet, and together they crushed the seemingly indestructible ship, the S.S. Recording Industry – my life no longer had enough time to devote to the ever-changing modes of compiling recorded music. Napster, KaZaa, LimeWire … they all came and went with barely a disruption to my music consumption habits72, which remained confined to CDs and the occasional vinyl bought at a yard sale. But at some point around 2006, the file-sharing storms had mostly subsided, the waters had calmed and I decided to dive in among the flotsam and jetsam remaining after the wreckage of the Recording Industry. So much detritus remained, and among such driftwood as Rhapsody, Zune, and Y! Music, I selected what seemed to be the most stable piece of crap on the sea, ignored the fact that it was drifting further and ipodfurther away from the Microsoft shores I recognized, and joined iTunes.

Around this same time, my local Don’t-Call-It-An-Oldies-Station was playing a great song by a singer with a high-pitched voice for a man called “Off The Record.” It was catchy, had some nice guitar … The band was My Morning Jacket – a name I’d heard over the past few years but with whom I was unfamiliar. I liked it enough to buy the band’s CD. Inspired by some twenty-something co-workers who were also music fans, I decided to make this album my first official73 digital album purchase. Remembering my love for the meta-information in CD booklets and album covers, and wishing to hold something in my hands, I also downloaded the “Digital Booklet.”

z and itunes

It wasn’t the same. As much as I liked the record (and there are only 59 records I like better!) I still didn’t feel connected to it in the same way that I’ve felt with other records – even those I like less. I don’t picture this record in my head the same way I picture others. platformMost records I love feel like a lake or a pond I can swim in, and the physical object – whether a cassette case, album cover or CD package – is like the platform tethered in the middle of that lake. It’s the place I can swim to and lean on, where I jump off to get to another part of the lake. I can hang out on the platform. Or I can spend the day at the lake and never even touch the platform, but it’s nice to know it’s there if I ever want it. And the digital booklet was no substitute – it was more like a small, inflatable raft with a slow leak, tethered to the shore: practically useless, entirely forgettable. Z has always felt like a lake without a platform.

mmj band 2But I loved the music immediately. Naturally, I burned a CD.

“Off The Record,” that first song I heard by the band, is a fun number that begins with a a guitar riff that sounds straight out of an old Western. It soon transitions into a sort of Reggae song with a straight rock beat.

After the verse, there’s another catchy guitar riff, and the song pumps along with a nice groove. Bandleader/guitarist/singer Jim James has a tenor voice, a la Roy Orbison, and it’s the distinctive sound of MMJ. james 1He has fun making these songs, as many songs feature all kinds of weird sounds and other goings-on in the background – such as the scream-along “right, right, right” around the 1:50 mark. The lyrics seem to be a straightforward request for discretion from a partner. The version played on the radio (which has a pretty cool video) ends at about 3 minutes. But the album version demonstrates what it is about this record that really captured me: the final two-and-a-half minute psychedelic instrumental that continues after 3 minutes. It features some organ, conga drums, some more strange spoken word stuff, and subtle guitar work. It’s the type of song that helped the record show up at #23 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “40 Greatest Stoner Album” list.

Another song in the same vein is the 70s-rock-feeling “Lay Low.”

It’s got terrific guitar work through the verse and chorus, pat hallahanbut drummer Patrick Hallahan is the star of this song. His high-hat keeps the beat steady through a choppy rhythm, propelling the song forward all the time. James sings in a lower register this time, prodding a lover to stay in tonight and chill, but his voice takes off around 1:20, just before that cool riff re-enters. The melody is captivating despite its cluttered wordiness. It’s a nice little song that at the three minute mark explodes into a guitar workout,james broemel and by 3:30 becomes a crushing guitar duel between James and lead guitarist Carl Broemel. It’s a song you can get lost in, with a definite whiff of 70s Neil Young/Lynyrd Skynyrd taking over the final two minutes. It’s great to hear a band like this let loose and wail for a while.

The band lets loose on many of the songs on Z, playing with abandon and recorded in a way that gives the record a live feel. A short song that rips nonetheless is the terrific “What a Wonderful Man.”

According to reports, it’s a song about a former friend of James’s who committed suicide. jim james guitarIt’s a great, ramshackle song that sounds like its about to fall apart several times, built on Hallahan’s sloppy (in a good way) drums and Broemel’s 70’s-sounding Southern Rock lead guitar. It’s short and to the point, with a squeal of joy from James closing it out.

James’s voice – squealing, shouting, reaching for highs and bending for lows – is the keystone of this album, and one of the most recognizable in rock over the past ten or fifteen years. It’s used to full effect on what may be my favorite song on the album, “Gideon.”

It begins simply with a kick drum tom band an arpeggiated guitar riff, and James’s subdued vocals. After about 50 seconds the build starts, cymbals crash … only to pull back and introduce the bass guitar, which helps build the song once more … dramatically this time, to James’s howling at 2:00 – truly a vocal expression on par with some of the great rock and roll screams of all time. It’s a song that is built on feeling and suspense, repetitive but natural, containing enigmatic yet spiritual lyrics.

Jim James’s lyrics are of the oblique style in which nothing is stated directly and listeners can make inferences for themselves. And in a song such as the terrificjames 2 fly v opener, “Wordless Chorus,” as the title suggests, lyrics are entirely absent from the chorus – James choosing instead to use his impressive vocalizations to convey meaning. But James can use his vocal instrument subtly, as well, as on the quiet, gorgeous “Knot Comes Loose.” A similar vocal style is evident on the country-tinged, pedal-steel-featuring “How Could I Know.” It’s an example of James’s knack for writing songs that sound like they’ve been around for years – he writes tunes that are simple and memorable. But he can pull off the unusual as well, like the circusy “Into the Woods,” or the lovely, intricate “It Beats 4 U.”

Vying with the aforementioned “Gideon” for title of my favorite song on this record is the straightforward rocker “Anytime.” It’s got a great, ripping guitar intro and the drums once again are sloppy-in-a-good-way, pushing the song forward constantly.

The thumping, ascending bass line in the chorus meld nicely with James’s melody. The lyrics concert 2admit a problem with communication that the singer’s trying to work on, with the help of wisdom from Madonna.

I suppose it says a lot about a record when I call two songs my “favorite.” So in praising Z, I might as well throw a third selection into the ring as my favorite. The eerie, epic, multi-faceted jam of the would-be album closer74 “Dondante.”

James’s voice once again carries things here, concertparticularly at the beginning of the song where he’s mostly accompanied simply by drums. But as he sings his mystifying lyrics, the song builds to a nice quiet guitar solo about 2:35 that bridges things until 3:30, when the band enters with full force and grows to still another level of urgency and energy. By 5:30, the energy has gone away as quickly as it entered. There’s a dreamlike quality to the song, again justifying the album’s place on a list of Best Stoner Albums. “Dondante” has the feel of one of those epic songs you’d hear on the radio in the 70s late at night while the DJ left the studio to complete a drug buy.

Of course, in the 70s, a DJ would have handled the actual vinyl album, vinylcould have read the liner notes on the record sleeve, might have gotten lost in the cover art; but by 2005 DJs were just clicking icons on a screen. There is so much progress and genius and hard work and wonder inherent in the fact that what 40 years ago took so much equipment – turntable, amp, speaker, wires, electricity, a piece of vinyl or plastic to hold – is accomplished today with a few finger swipes and taps. We’ve come so far and gained so much, but to me what we lost was significant, as well. I don’t think it affected my appreciation of Z – but how can I tell? Might a physical connection with this record have placed it higher on the list? Are there albums in the upcoming 59 whose packaging enhanced my experience with the music, the physical and visual senses bolstering the aural, therefore placing it ahead of Z? Did that candy box full of 45s ruin me for albums made after 2000? These are questions I’ll never be able to answer, and maybe they don’t matter. Z is a record I love, and I’ll enjoy it on any medium – even though I can’t march along to it.

Track Listing:
“Wordless Chorus”
“It Beats 4 U”
“Gideon”
“What A Wonderful Man”
“Off The Record”
“Into The Woods”
“Anytime”
“Lay Low”
“Knot Comes Loose”
“Dondante”
“How Could I Know”

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Albums 60 - 51

61st Favorite Album

Share

Songs for the Deaf. Queens of the Stone Age.
2002, Interscope. Producer: Josh Homme, Adam Kasper, Eric Valentine.
Purchased 2003.

songs deaf album

61nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: Aggressive, pounding rock and mellow, moody offerings plus everything in between are found on this excellent album. The musicianship is top-notch, featuring Nirvana/Foo Fighter Dave Grohl on drums and Josh Homme’s terrifically distinctive guitar work. Drums, guitar, melody, diversity – my list’s usual suspects – are once again featured here.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Brains are funny.funnybrain They’re not “funny Ha Ha,” but they’re more “funny weird” [i.e. Not funny at all]. The brain is the most important organ in the body, beating out the heart and lungs on the basis of the fact that while there is something called a “Heart and Lung Machine,” that takes over for the heart and lung when needed, there isn’t a comparable Brain Machine. (I said “Comparable,” so this sweet device, retailing for $25, doesn’t count.) When the brain stops working, that’s the end.

sherlockThe brain stands alone atop the hierarchy of organs in higher organisms because it is the one organ that is so complex, that functions so mysteriously, that nobody knows for sure what all it does, how it does what it does, or, especially, what its potential could be.

Consider for a moment how well we understand other organs. The heart, for example, has a straightforward purpose and a manner of operation, and both can be summed up pretty easily. Purpose: get blood through the body. Manner of Operation: contract and release in rhythmic pattern. The same can be said for the lungs, even heartlungsthough it’s more complex: Purpose: bring oxygen into the body and put it into the blood. Manner of Operation: diaphragm movement causes suction, oxygen moves in and gets to bloodstream through tiny capillaries75.

Those organs were pretty simple, I did them from memory76. How about if I pick an organ I don’t know much about, google77 around a little bit and try to summarize it. Pancreas. Purpose: produce and release enzymes to help digest foods. pancreasOkay, that was easy enough. Manner of Operation: uh, okay. This gets just a little bit more complex. Well, a lot more complex. But basically, some chemicals are released in the gut in response to what we’ve eaten, and those chemicals tell the pancreas to squirt some pancreatic juice78 into the intestines. So, it’s pretty complex, but it’s not hard to understand. And all vertebrates have a pancreas, and they all do pretty much the same thing, so it’s a pretty routine function.

Okay, now let’s think about how the brain works. Guess what!! You already are, just from reading that first sentence! musclebrainIn fact, you were probably thinking about brains and how they work since you first saw that goofy brain with Groucho nose and glasses, above. Your brain is like that – doing shit you’re not even aware of all the time, even while you sleep. Your brain does so much stuff that we still don’t know what all it does. In fact, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that you are your brain.

If that’s the case, then when we go through our two-step “Purpose” and “Manner of Operation” process to describe organ function, it’s complicated right off the bat. Purpose: well, how about EVERYTHING. Manner of Operation: let’s try something here. Imagine a large painting of an orange hanging in a museum, orangethe only painting on this particular wall, and that as you stand there looking at it, the color starts to ooze outward until the shape of the fruit is no longer recognizable. You calculate that the fruit had taken up about 60% of the canvas before it disappeared into what is now simply an orange-colored canvas. That orange color continues to spread off the canvas and soon takes up an entire wall, and when it takes up the entire wall, the wall begins to vibrate and then hum. As you back up a few steps, that hum turns into a woman’s voice singing The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun,” but the voice is out of tune, and as the wall sings, it dislodges itself from the surrounding building and begins a slow, soundless, controlled collapse. And as it collapses you watch it retract into an actual orange which plops onto the floor in the middle of the museum where the wall used to be. You walk over to it and pick it up and sniff it, and it smells like an orange, and you peel and eat it and it tastes delicious. And now imagine yourself doing that again when you’re 90.

brainwhatOkay, how the #*$%@!! did your brain just do that?! Visualize the impossible? Conjure an orange smell? Hear a song – out of tune?! Your brain did that without breaking a sweat! Hearts pump, lungs inflate, pancreases respond to chemical levels … But what did your brain just do? Are there elves living within your ears that get a message from a surly witch living in one of those folds in your brain, and do the elves pass pictures behind your eyes, and smells behind your nose, and songs inside your head? That sounds as plausible to me as any other explanation!

Humans have known about the brain for a long time, and for most of that time people – besides me – have understood oliverthat elves weren’t involved in the brain’s function. It’s hard for a simpleton like me to understand, but the fact is that the brain does everything it does through chemicals and electrons and energy, just like every other organ, and scientists are learning more about the brain every day. To better understand brain function, research is often carried out on people whose brains do things out of the ordinary, often due to injury or illness. Like the woman who developed extreme empathy after brain surgery; or the woman who has no fear; or the person who sees beards on everyone79. (If you’re interested in reading about weird stuff like this, I suggest the Oliver Sacks book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.)

brainmusicThis makes me wonder: has anyone ever studied someone with a brain that associates music with every memory of their entire life? Sure, it’s not as debilitating as Aboulomania or as strange as Foreign Accent Syndrome, but it could indicate some sort of brain malfunction, couldn’t it?

Consider the following Case Study. Subject: A forty-nine year old whitemauimap American male, with a history of good health, married, father to two teen-aged children. Symptomatic Episode: In late 2002, subject was thirty-five years old and had been married for six years to a woman, J., and had one four-year old son. J’s family included relatives living in Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands, and frequently mentioned as one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. The grandmother of J., after a long and fulfilling life, fell ill and died. Because the grandmother spent winters in Maui with her grown children, the family planned a ceremony to be held on the island to commemorate her long life and spread some of her ashes.
mauipic

The Subject flew with his wife and child to Maui in December, 2002, for a week of billeting with relatives, honoring the family matriarch, and general island vacation fun80. Subject and his immediate family attended several relatives’ gatherings, including trips to the beach, an excursion to Mount Haleakala, a whale watch, a Christmas/Hannukah gift exchange, and several rousing games of Sardines with the many children in attendance. Subject and his immediate family also spent several hours together exploring the island, driving to Hana, and generally experiencing the natural splendor that is Maui.

Subject and son in Maui. Subject appears to be in a location, and with people (including his wife, the photographer), that will make this trip among the most memorable experiences in his life.

Brain Affliction: As described above, the subject spent a week in Maui, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, with his closest loved-ones and extended family celebrating the life of an important person recently passed, and experiencing once-in-a-lifetime events with them. However, when asked to reflect on this time, the strongest persistent memory of this trip continues to be (as stated in the Subject’s words) “That trip was the first time I heard the song “No One Knows,” by Queens of The Stone Age.”

Discussion: The Subject’s brain appears to be otherwise normal, although certain functions that were tested did land on the extreme end of the scale. For example, appreciation for both old Three Stooges short films and Bugs Bunny episodes (including all of the associated Warner Brothers cartoons81) was extremely high so as to be noteworthy. doctorSubject is also extraordinarily handsome, which doesn’t factor into this research but really must be noted. The subject’s constant internal (mental) and external (verbal) references to rock music and, to a lesser extent, music such as jazz, show tunes, Tin Pan Alley and only the most well-known classical pieces, does not appear to interfere with his life. He has consistently been employed in professional occupations, has established meaningful, caring and reciprocated relationships with others, and generally moves through his life experiencing joy and happiness. While his focus on music is strange to others, bordering on alarming82, it does not appear to have hindered him. Others may not understand why a song by a rock band would appear to sit atop a hierarchy of memories of time spent with family on a so-called “Paradise on Earth,” but for the unafflicted masses the best way of processing this information is to just listen to that goddamn song and tell me it’s not un-fucking-believable.

qotsa1

I’d say the researcher above is stretching things a bit – I wouldn’t necessarily say that hearing “No One Knows” sits “atop a hierarchy of memories” from Maui. But it is true that I clearly remember lying on the couch of the guest apartment we stayed in, relaxing in between once-in-a-lifetime events by watching MTV83, when the following song showed up.

I love everything about this song. I love the four introductory guitar notes at the beginning, and I love the riff that carries grohl joshthe introduction and the harmonics at 0:13 that signal the beginning of the verse, and the little run at 0:56 that signals the beginning of the chorus. I love singer/guitarist Josh Homme’s singing, and the whispered voice that doubles the vocals periodically throughout the song. I particularly love the drumming by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who joined the band for this album and tour then left to continue leading his main band, Foo Fighters. I am particularly blown away by his fills during the choruses – for example, from 1:10 – 1:30, and again from 2:35 – 2:58. I love the background vocals beginning at 1:40. I love Nick Oliveri’s direct and pulsing bass throughout. I love the raucous instrumental break, from 2:59 – 3:14, and how it leads into a bass guitar interlude for 5 seconds, giving way to a very unique, Middle Eastern-sounding guitar solo from Homme atop furious Grohl drumming for 15 seconds, and then back to Oliveri’s bass pulse at 3:38, and a final verse at 3:47 to a confident final four notes. Homme’s lyrics are about bassistworshiping someone from afar, but don’t seem too creepy. It is one of my favorite rock songs of all time. I’m sure that there are parts of the Maui vacation that I can remember in just as great detail.

I went out and bought the CD immediately after returning from our trip. Songs For The Deaf is sort of a concept album, put together to mimic the experience of changing the radio dial on a long drive through the desert. The first song, “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire,” begins with a car starting and radio commercials blaring. Between songs, DJs from a variety of phony radios stations (including “KRDL,” “KLONE,” and “Banning College Radio”) introduce the next cut. At first listen, I was disappointed by the rest of the songs. I didn’t play it much. But sometime in the mid-2000s I began pulling it out of my CD case more frequently, listening to it a lot in the lab I worked in at the time. The songs are strange but sound cool. There’s a diversity of styles, and all the musicians are talented. Plus it’s a loud rock record, with aggression and power, and records like that – while not always appropriate in every situation – sound particularly awesome when the time is right.

I think the next song that really connected with me was the album’s second single, “Go With The Flow.”

This is a driving, straight-ahead rocker with none of the subtlety or instrumental interplay found on “No One Knows.” But it does have a terrific melody, and a great solo guitar throughout – played by guest artist Brendon McNichol. (Drums are provided by Gene Trautmann, not Grohl on this song.) The lyrics seem to be about the end of a relationship, and Homme’s quiet yet intense voice handles them perfectly.

The band goes back and forth between simple, driving songs and more complex, almost orchestral-sounding pieces – such as “A Song For The Dead.”

This one starts with a cool introduction, including nasty-good fills from Grohl. It sounds like it’s going to be all hellbent fury, josh 1but after a minute the song becomes slow and groove-heavy, featuring excellent guitar fills every two measures from Homme. Josh Homme, the leader of Queens of the Stone Age (aka QOTSA), is a multi-instrumentalist and an interesting guy. He’s also the creative force behind the band Eagles of Death Metal, sadly famous for being onstage during a terrorist attack in Paris in late 2015 (although Homme wasn’t onstage, as he typically doesn’t tour with that band). He’s got a guitar style all his own that he claims is partly due to his training as a Polka guitarist for the first several years of his josh 2tutelage on the instrument. He’s strongly featured on this one, and he’s free to play because he gave up vocal duties to Mark Lanegan, a sometime member of QOTSA who is mostly famous for his Seattle grunge roots with the band The Screaming Trees. It’s a song about driving your car to forget your problems, and like most of the songs on the album, it sounds great loud while you’re going really fast! Homme’s guitar solo from 2:55 to 3:38 is weird and sounds like no one else.

Lanegan also provides lead vocals on the unusual but very cool “Hangin’ Tree.”

I’ve said it several times before, but I always love songs in unusual time signatures, and this one is set to a brisk 5/4 beat. Grohl’s drums are fantastic, as is – once again – Homme’s guitar. But what I love most are Lanegan’s vocals, giving the sparse lyrics a sinister feel that is augmented by the spooky backing vocalizations. The song breaks into 4/4 for the guitar solo at 2:15, then falls right back to the 5/4 groove.

Many of the songs are unusual, but a few are straight-ahead rock songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a typical rock record – although even these are QOTSA-fied. For example, “Another Love Song,” sung by bassist Oliveri, would sound right at home on most any 60s pop album. Kind of.

You can almost see the Laugh-In go-go dancers dance while oliverithe song plays. Almost. As with most songs on the album, it features cool backing vocals and a great guitar solo. And the bridge, from 1:55 – 2:23, is cool. Oliveri handles the break-up lyrics with ease. He also sings another “normal-sounding” song “I’m Gonna Leave You,” another break up song with a nifty-yet-simple bass line and a great break and guitar solo around 1:54.

The album has 14 songs, and there isn’t really a loser in the bunch84. qotsa headsThere’s the arena-rock-style stomper, “Do It Again,” with it’s chant-along “Hey!” The return to the slow-groove of “God Is In The Radio,” another Lanegan-sung song that frees up Homme to range freely on guitar. The noisey-yet-mellow “Sky Is Fallin’” is a finely crafted song with cool harmonies and more great Grohl drumming. The band, and Homme in particular, goes a bit Middle Eastern in “A Song For The Deaf.” As I wrote earlier, I wasn’t a fan of the album when I first bought it, but it really grew on me. One song in particular that I found myself loving, much to my surprise, is the aggressive machine-gun beast that is “First It Giveth.”

josh bassistI like the harmony and backing vocals of the song, and once again, Grohl’s drumming stands out. The video shows a band on the verge of careening out of control, which accurately reflects the song. By the end, the guitars almost sound out of tune. It’s a song that Homme has said is about the effect of drugs on creativity and music.

The final song may be the most interesting of all. “Mosquito Song” opens with a folky acoustic guitar riff that almost sounds lifted from an early 70s Traffic or Led Zeppelin song. The lyrics seem to explain that we are all just a feast for the insects of the world, and the softly distorted voice of Homme sounds perfectly creepy singing them. As the song builds, an accordion joins him, then a piano and violin, then horns and tympani and military drums. It’s a great song, and a mellow way to end the record after so much aggression, power and noise.

Okay, so look – Songs For The Deaf is NOT the most memorable part of my trip to Maui. I swear! I look at pictures from that trip and I’m right back on that island paradise: snorkeling with little fish (that tried to eat my chest hair!), drinking fresh coconut juice at a roadside stand at the insistence of my kid (who took one sip and refused to drink any more!), seeing double and triple rainbows almost everywhere we looked! And also sharing memories of a wonderful woman in her favorite spot on the island: her garden. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I’m so happy I was able to go. But my brain is what it is – and my brain can’t help but remember that song that I heard … I don’t know how, or why, brains do what they do. And maybe mine is malfunctioning. But I don’t want to be cured. I’m happy that mine can remember Maui AND associate it with great music.
qotsa2

Track Listing:
“You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire”
“No One Knows”
“First It Giveth”
“A Song For The Dead”
“The Sky Is Fallin”
“Six Shooter”
“Hangin’ Tree”
“Go With The Flow”
“Gonna Leave You”
“Do It Again”
“God Is In The Radio”
“Another Love Song”
“A Song For The Deaf”
“Mosquito Song”

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Albums 70 - 61

62nd Favorite Album

Share

Pretenders. The Pretenders.
1980, Sire. Producer: Chris Thomas; Nick Lowe.
Gift 1984.

pretenders album

nutshellIN A NUTSHELL: Aggressive, melodic, unusual punky pop rock that sounds unlike anything else. Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar work shine on an album that combines power and sweetness and grit and beauty. The band moves from jangle pop to tough punk to slow-dance grace, and never sounds like a copy of anything else.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
diaryIf you’ve read this blog before, you’re very aware of what I’m about to type in the sentence after the next one. If you haven’t read it before, the next sentence may be the last of mine you’ll ever read. In this blog about records and music, I write just as much about me and my life as I do about the records and the music.

It’s kind of a weird thing to do – a private citizen who’s celebrityaccomplished nothing noteworthy to anyone outside a few friends and family85 documenting things that have happened in my life. Who really cares? I’m a huge fan of rock music autobiographies86, and what makes them interesting is the fact that the people writing them have done something terrific, moving, outstanding … something that has boredtypically touched the lives of millions, and reading their words can offer insight into their work.

I, however, have not done anything even remotely similar. The closest I’ve come to reaching millions is the time one of my funny phone calls made it on the air on WEEI radio’s old afternoon feature the “Weiner Whiner Line” back in the early ’00s87. And (much like this blog) hardly anyone even knew it was me who did it.

importantSo why do I write so much about a bunch of mundane memories, stories so insignificant that very often the other persons featured in them have only a vague remembrance of the events I describe? It’s partially because I have a super-inflated ego, a borderline delusional sense of my own level of importance in the world, which demands I impart upon any unwitting reader an amplified version of all the characteristics that make up my “self.”

monetBut that’s only part of the reason. It’s mainly because this music has always connected with me on a deep level. Music informs my life and helps me make sense of it. There’s a soundtrack playing inside my head while I make my way through my life and, just like a movie soundtrack, it’s full of songs that color the events and enhance my feelings. My experiences are inextricably bound to the music that plays in my head during them, so I can’t really discuss the music I love without also discussing my life events that go with that music. It would be like displaying a black and white rendering of a work by Monet: you’d get the idea, but it wouldn’t really be the same. (Given Monet’s abilities vis-a-vis mine, a closer analogy might be watching an infomercial with the sound off.)

So music is part of all aspects of my life, both the good and the bad. bagheadThis means I’ve written about some pretty unsavory characteristics of myself – or rather, my past selves. I’ve changed a lot over the years. But the music has remained with me. In these posts I’ve talked about my past problems with alcohol and self-control, my past intolerance of others and flat-out bigotry, my nerdiness, and – maybe most embarrassing of all – my love for albums that aren’t very good. However, there are parts of my life that I won’t write about. I don’t write directly about individuals in my family, or other people I know. I try to refrain from writing about how wonderful I am – I figure that will come through on its own. I’m also not going to write about sex88.

I’m not a prude, and consider myself pretty “sex positive,” as they say, but my thoughts on the topic are not something I want to broadcast to the world at large, nor do I think I can write well about it. However, this creates a problem for prudeme when writing about music, as music does relate to all aspects of my life, so …

A big issue with writing about sex is the fact that discussing attraction and romance in a thoughtful, respectful manner is a precarious ledge along which to travel, and as a heterosexual male, one stray word from my own personal unskilled hands could easily send the piece off a sheer cliff into a glorified version of a “Letter to Penthouse Forum89.” Additionally, this blog is about rock/pop music, which has always been aimed directly at the teen market. So, even songs I didn’t hear as a teen can frequently stir teenage-based thoughts and emotions, and it is simply a fact that teenage feelings of attraction are different than what adults feel. In trying to delve back into those teenage feelings and document what I find, I risk coming up with nothing more than “That chick was hot!” and “I figure I’ll never touch a breast.”

But yet, I want to write about all these records honestly.

Anyway, look: some music, and some musicians, I do associate with feelings of physical attraction, and most of those associations are from a time in my life when I was in my teens and early twenties, and – at the risk of sounding like a sexist jerk judging women like livestock at the Farm Show – even barracudathough I am now approaching 50 and no longer base my opinions of these artists (who are now approaching 70) on what they looked like, I still can remember what I once felt, and songs from that era can still generate these feelings. To boil it all down: when I hear an old song by Heart today, there’s still a part of me that thinks “Man, those two are hot!!” (To be fair to myself, there’s an even larger part that thinks, “Man, this song is awesome90!!) So I’d like to write a little bit about sex and music – without discussing sex and without sounding sexist. In only about three sentences, too, since I’ve already wasted all these words on a rambling (though not particularly digressive) caveat. I’ll be as careful as possible so I don’t drop off that cliff.

I remember being grossed out by Cher’s sexy costumes on the old Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour TV show. I was not yet 10, and whenever she came out to sing (and make fun of Sonny) with her belly exposed, or in skin-tight dresses, I was horrified. By middle school, disco music was in full swing, and despite the often blatant sexual nature of the songs, I was clueless about their meanings and didn’t think much about the general attractiveness of the singers91. The middle solidgoldschool years were also the era of Blondie, a band with songs I liked but with a singer whose attractiveness – once again – I didn’t really think that much about92. Sometime around 8th grade, the pop-music TV showcase Solid Gold debuted, airing locally in my town just before Saturday Night Live, and it featured The Solid Gold Dancers, who … well, I’ll not venture further out onto the ledge: suffice it to say things were changing with me, and I tried not to miss an episode.

As I’ve mentioned often in this blog, MTV was a big turning point in my musical appreciation. It launched in August of 1981, coinciding with mtvmy freshman year of high school – which was right about the time I also started noticing things about girls and women (including The Solid Gold Dancers) that I’d never considered before. In those early MTV years, the channel played songs I liked sung by women who were cute, but that I didn’t find particularly attractive. They also played songs I didn’t particularly like sung by women I found rather … captivating, let’s say. There were also a few videos of songs by women that my 14 year old self just couldn’t fit into its tiny little concept of men and women and attraction – even though – confusingly – I found them rather attractive just because they were making music.

And then there was Chrissie Hynde, of The Pretenders.
pretenders_1
The Pretenders had several videos in rotation on MTV in 1981 and 1982, and all of them featured lots of shots of the band playing, including leader Chrissie Hynde strumming that guitar and singing. To that point in my life, I could have easily pointed out girls and women that I considered “pretty,” but Chrissie Hynde didn’t look like those people. She wasn’t ugly, but she seemed tough and dangerous, like she didn’t give a damn whether I thought she was pretty or not. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. And she played that guitar, and sang so sweetly, but at times with such force and such emotion, on lyrics that were direct, not demure, that were at times shocking to a naive 14-year old boy from small town Pennsylvania.

The band’s biggest hit video to that point was “Brass In Pocket,” andwaitress it featured Hynde acting as a waitress in a diner, serving the rest of the band members and their girlfriends. I hated that video. I didn’t want to see her act, I wanted to see her SING and PLAY! When she acted, she was just another person on TV. When she sang and played, she was CHRISSIE HYNDE. I found her compelling, but I couldn’t really explain why. I’d figure it out soon enough.

Chrissie Hynde has always been the leader of The Pretenders: chief songwriter, singer, and rhythm guitarist. The band has had some tragic setbacks, including firing original bassist Pete Farndon in 1982 due to heroin abuse, followed two days later by original guitarist James Honeyman-Scott’s death from a cocaine overdose93. Farndon himself died a year later. The band has had lots of lineup changes, but Chrissie Hynde has always been there. And the album Pretenders had the first, and most memorable, lineup.

64 mustangThis was another album that I originally found in my oldest sister’s collection – however not in the milk crate full of vinyl, where I discovered so many other records. Pretenders was on a cassette she owned. I had seen it but hadn’t played it, until dawned on me one day that this was the band I’d fallen in lust with on MTV. Then I played it a lot. I also have a memory of listening to it with my sister while she drove me around in her sweet ’64 red mustang. She eventually moved to California and took the cassette with her, but she sent me a copy for a birthday present.

The album immediately announces itself, and Chrissie Hynde, with the raucous and raunchy “Precious.”

Four drum stick clicks, a little background chatter and that driving guitar riff begins. chrissie guitar 2The bass kicks in around 10 seconds, and the band is off and flying. Hynde’s voice is tough but sweet on a song that doesn’t really have much of a melody, and at times is almost a rap. If you’ve read Hynde’s recent autobiography, you know that she had a pretty violent life as a young woman in Cleveland, associating with biker gangs and doing way too many drugs. “Precious” is about her escape from Cleveland; while others stayed, as she states in one of the most famous “f-bombs” in rock history, she had to “fuck off.” The Pretenders’ songs often have unconventional structures and time signatures, and “Precious” doesn’t hew to the typical “verse-chorus-bridge” pop song format, but just charges ahead. It’s fast and direct, and James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar is unusual, with effects such as the flanging, featured at 0:44. It’s a perfect first song for a first album.

“The Phone Call” is up next, and it’s got an unusual sound, too.

For one thing, it’s in the time signature of 7/4 (withchambers an extra 6/4 measure before the chorus (if you will)) which is odd enough, but switches to 4/4 (with stray 2/4 bars every fourth bar, for good measure 94) in the instrumental section. It all creates a cool, noisey, aggressive sound within which all those extra beats are barely noticeable. This is a testament to excellent drummer Martin Chambers, who handles it all with no problem whatsoever. I never knew what the barely audible, again mostly melody-less vocals were singing about, but I believe they are also about Hynde having to get the hell out of Cleveland to save her life. It’s evidence of the band’s, and Hynde’s confidence, that she’d place two such unusual songs 1-2 on the first record. It makes a listener wonder what’s coming next. And next up are two songs that have always blown me away.

The first is “Up the Neck.” And it features the inimitable guitar sounds of James Honeyman-Scott.

His guitar riff alarm opens “Up The Neck,” and after 10 seconds he begins to play ascending notes that draw me right into the song. Pete Farndon’s simple, catchy bass joins Hynde’s vocals and by 22 seconds in, jamesa perfect guitar pop song is under way. While she’s singing about what sounds to be a one night stand that turns violent, Honeyman-Scott’s guitar continues to produce little chiming flourishes that are unmistakably his, and unmistakably cool. Honeyman-Scott is one of those guitar players with a sound all his own, who you can identify simply by listening. Others in this category are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham. At 1:15, when the ascending riff returns, he adds even more curlicues to it. It’s the perfect complement to Hynde’s sweet and aggressive (and suggestive: “the veins bulged on his … brow …”) vocals. He plays a coolly simple solo, as well. It’s a song I always listen to with enthusiasm that is only eclipsed on the album by the next song: “Tattooed Love Boys.”

I probably overuse the term “chiming” to describe a certain sound a guitar can make, but it perfectly describes Honeyman-Scott’s chrissieguitarguitar riff on this song. His chimes begin a charging, aggressive song with snarling vocals and a crazy time signature of either 15/4, or 7/4 + [2 x 4/4] (if there’s a difference). That time signature gives the song a hiccuping, rough-edged sound that makes it far more compelling than it would be in a typical time signature, and Chambers again shines behind the drums. The extended guitar section, from about 1:18 to about 2:11, with its stops and starts and one-measure guitar solos, never fails to astonish me. I feel like I could happily listen to this song on a continuous loop.

One of the great aspects of early MTV was how the channel would reward a viewer for watching in long chunks of time. You knew that if you just watched long enough, and sat through enough bullshit and goofy crap (terms I use endearingly, as I enjoyed the bullshit and goofy crap, too) you’d get to see a a video you loved. For me, “Tattooed Love Boys” was such a video. And it wasn’t played frequently, so I had to watch a lot. (I HAD TO!) pretenders_2This video, with the band covered in sweat and manhandling their instruments, drove me crazy. It wasn’t just the playing: much of my fervor was due to Hynde’s performance – her wielding that guitar, dancing and moving, her voice, openly singing about a crazy, rough sexual experience involving what sounded like several men, in which she seemed to brag about, and take delight in, her role. In her recent autobiography, she has deflated my (and I hope everyone’s) fascination with the what-sounded-sexy-back-then lyrics by revealing that the song actually described a brutal gang rape by a group of bikers she thought were her friends, including a boyfriend. It’s still one of my all-time favorite songs, but I hear it differently now.

“The Wait” is another song that floors me every time, again with the crazy time signature, again one of my all-time favorites.

This is a song sung at a furious pace, with Hynde spitting out peteunintelligible lyrics about, well, something, I guess, scratching guitars in the verse, and a terrific walking bass line in the chorus by the under-appreciated Pete Farndon. At 1:47 a quiet, sultry bridge begins, then at 2:14 empties into another excellent guitar solo from Honeyman-Scott, finished off with Hynde’s grunt of approval at 2:47. It’s a song that makes me bounce around whenever I hear it.

Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders don’t just play the crazy-rhythmed, furious punk songs. They also manage the typical pop song quite nicely, as evidenced by the wonderful “Kid.”

Along with great harmony vocals and a driving beat, what I love about this song is – once again – Honeyman-Scott’s incredible solo at 1:35, culminating in a lovely harmonic, and backed by Chambers’s tribal drums. pretenders 3The band also covers The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing,” and serve up their big hit, “Brass In Pocket,” both excellent, straightforward pop pearls. There’s also the instrumental, video game-inspired “Space Invader,” featuring sounds from the old arcade game recorded when it was a newfangled thing! The songs “Private Life” and “Lovers of Today” are a pair that I never loved (although, as always, the guitar work in “Private Life” is top-notch) but tolerated so that I could get to the last song.

“Mystery Achievement.”

It’s a perfect song to end an incredible album. The drums and bass get the song pumping, and soon enough Hynde is singing mysterious lyrics and Honeyman-Scott is throwing in his signature sounds. At 3:00 the band plays an extended instrumental section, with echoing drums and guitars and then an incredibly cool solo that pulls out at 4:23 and breaks into a nifty, ringing two-note riff behind the chrissie2vocals. It’s a song that demands repeated listening, and leaves the listener exhausted but satisfied by the very end.

Some lyrics from that last song, “Every day/ every nighttime I find/ Mystery Achievement/ you’re on my mind,” begin to describe what it’s like when you’re 13, 14, somewhere around that age, and you start to recognize something, some thing, you’ve never recognized before, even though you feel it must have been there all along. Maybe it was a face that inspired it, or a body, or a movie. For me, it was a singer in a band. I couldn’t explain it then, I can’t explain it now. The only thing I know for sure about it – even after all these years – is that it led me to a tremendous rock and roll record.

Track Listing
“Precious”
“The Phone Call”
“Up The Neck”
“Tattooed Love Boys”
“Space Invader”
“The Wait”
“Stop Your Sobbing”
“Kid”
“Private Life”
“Brass In Pocket”
“Lovers Of Today”
“Mystery Achievement”

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Albums 70 - 61

63rd Favorite Album

Share

Turns Into Stone. The Stone Roses.
1992, Silvertone. Producers: John Leckie; Peter Hook.
Purchased 1992.

turns into cover

nutshell63IN A NUTSHELL: From sixties-sounding psychedelic pop to hypnotic dance grooves, Manchester’s The Stone Roses pump out gem after gem in this collection of singles and B-sides from the band’s early years. Guitarist John Squire is masterful, drummer Reni conjures sick beats and sweet harmonies, and the band is in top form throughout – except for a couple duds.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.”
– Jack, Lord of the Flies

“Can’t crow before I’m outta the woods, but there’s exceptions to the rule.”
– “Diamond” David Lee Roth, “Little Guitars”
dlroth
On the whole, in my life, I’ve been a pretty fastidious rule-follower. My parents were rule-followers, and they taught their children to be rule-followers. This obeyhelped my sisters and me grow into conscientious and respectful adults, however, only after several years as boring teenagers. We’ve come to understand, I believe, that rules often have gray areas, subtleties and complexities that make following all of them all the time rather difficult. However, this hasn’t prevented our default rule-worship outlook to seep into conversations between us as adults from time to time, such as the following exchange from a few years back:

ME: This show I’m in is actually making a little money now! I’ve gotten a little bit of pay, a few bucks a night – not enough that I’d declare it on my taxes, but still something.
SISTER (who had just become a CPA): I need to stop you right there. Don’t tell me anything else about this. As a CPA, if I hear of any wrong-doing or attempts to evade taxes, I am obliged to report that information to the IRS.

I was the type of kid who found it frustrating and upsetting that kids around me either couldn’t or didn’t care to follow the rules.

unruly“Please take one handout, and pass it to your left,” a teacher might say, and I’d dutifully do so. Meanwhile, it seemed like everyone around me was asking, “What’s this for? How many do I take? I don’t want this big stack of papers!!” They’d talk while directions were given, goof off while they were supposed to do something, then interrupt the whole class because they hadn’t paid attention. I couldn’t wait to become an adult, when (I assumed) everyone would follow directions like they’re supposed to.

Then, at the first meeting I attended as a young professional, the entire handout scene above was repeated, but only with grown-ups this time.

My mom95 didn’t have a lot of rules, or methods for enforcing rules, but she had a lot of expectations. What I mean is, we didn’t have chore charts, or swear jars, or rewards for good grades. My sisters and I were simply expected to help out when asked, to not swear and to get good grades.

My mom kept my sisters and I under control by dressing us in hideous costumes as punishment. (Actually, this was fashionable 1976 Easter finery.)

Now that I’m a dad, I have no idea how she pulled this off! My kids have rebelled against every family directive, battled every parental edict, and presented complex foundational and procedural arguments challenging teenboth the internal family logic and the standing in the greater society of each and every rule my wife and I have crafted. It has been exhausting.

When I reflect on these parental challenges, I wonder if we made a mistake in not spanking our kids. (Continuously.) My sisters and I weren’t spanked often, but it happened enough times in our young childhood that it did what spanking proponents advise it does: it made us stay in line so that it didn’t happen again. It was the classic deterrent. In my family, it wasn’t called “spanking,” which sounded fancy to my ears, the kind of thing kids with butlers would get. It was called “paddling,” spooneven though it was always delivered with an open hand, never an implement. (My mom liked to threaten us with a wooden mixing spoon that was extra terrifying because it had been stained with red food coloring, earning it the nickname “The Bloody Wooden Spoon,” a nickname my mom detests to this day because threaten as she did, she never really walloped us with it – that I can remember.)

The discipline led to a pretty strong rule-abiding streak through high school. It’s what kept me from joining most other high schoolers at parties where alcohol flowed. Well, that and the fact that I had no friends. But mainly, it was the rules thing96. A fondness for rules is also a big reason I consider myself a punk rock poser, despite my experiences with a rock band.

bonnieclydeMy rule-questioning really only began in earnest when I made the decision to move to San Francisco, which seemed pretty outside-the-rules to me when I did it. It was in San Francisco that I met a woman who at first seemed to be breaking every rule in her path – or at least significantly questioning them. She wasn’t dishonest, and she wasn’t an anarchist97, but if there were rules that made no sense she had no qualms about ignoring them. Sure I’d driven over the speed limit and jay-walked a few times, but this woman was the first person who ever made me think about where rules come from, and who it is that is making them and what they mean to me. Her rule-questioning impressed me so much98 that I ended up marrying her!

Eventually we found ourselves raising two kids, a scenario that elicited the question: how do we go about instilling a healthy understanding of rules to them? finsterWell, I jokingly said above that we should’ve spanked our kids, but I don’t really believe that. We didn’t spank, and my reasoning was always, “I’d never hit anybody else, why would I hit these little beings that I love? (Even when they are huge pains in the ass. Which they can be, let’s not kid ourselves.)” And I think the evidence has backed us up on that decision.

We’ve bought into the late 20th/early 21st century parenting strategy of “consequences.” Of course, this strategy is much easier to implement when you have a two year old who you can outwit, and whose temper tantrum will last 15 minutes until she gets bored and starts drawing or playing with her dolls. It’s orders of magnitude more notobeychallenging when you have a 17 year old with car keys who typically goes to bed two hours later than you do.

We’ve tried to have rules that are consistent with who we are as people. For example, my wife and I have a tendency to swear – perhaps a lot, who am I to say?? But anyway, I don’t believe that words are “good” or “bad,” but rather “appropriate” or “inappropriate.” We’ve instilled in our kids that they can use any words they want, but they’d better be sure what’s acceptable when they use those words. I’ve always said, “I don’t care if you swear, but your teachers do. I’m not going to tell the teacher ‘My kid’s allowed to swear.’ I’m going to take the teacher’s side.”

So, anyway, my kids haven’t (yet) gotten into serious trouble. They’ve been able to follow rulebookenough of the rules around them that we get good reports about their behavior from the schools, their friends’ parents, coaches, etc. They have a lot of time ahead of them, so they might fuck up someday, but so far it’s been good. I think they have a healthier attitude about, and less stress related to, rules than I did as a teen ager.

I bring all this up because there was a time in my life when – in each and every situation involving them – I would have thought, “rules are rules, and darn it – I just have to follow them!” And at that point in my life, Turns Into Stone would not be found on this list of favorite 100 albums. You see, the rules I established years (!) ago plainly state “compilation albums are ineligible.”

Now, it is true that I’ve already had a compilation album on the list, Pizzicato Five’s Made in USA. HOWEVER – alexI didn’t know that it was a compilation album until I started writing about the record! At that point, my rules committee99 got together, and after several days of careful consideration they reached the conclusion that because of my lack of knowledge at the time of compiling the list, an exemption would be granted allowing the inclusion of the record. This is not unlike the time I was on the game show Jeopardy!, and in answering a question about a Gene Kelly movie, I said “American in Paris,” and Alex Trebek, douchebag that he is, went to the judges for clarification that indeed, this was an acceptable response for a movie titled An (emphasis mine) American in Paris.

In the case of Turns Into Stone, I am fully aware that it is a compilation album, and I DON’T CARE! TAKE THAT, Alex Trebek and your dumb judges!!!

See? I don’t care about the rules! But before you think I’m just an out-of-control Anarcho-Syndacalist with no regard for a decent societal structure, I’d like to offer a bit of reasoning. The Stone Roses, you see, signed two EXTREMELY BAD contracts as a young band in the late 80s. bandofyearOne was with their svengali-manager, Gareth Evans, a bombastic blowhard who’d fit perfectly as that idiotic, bigoted man-baby Donald Drumpf’s running mate. Evans, in turn, signed a contract with Silvertone Records that was so bad that a UK court eventually voided it. During the time that this court case was running its course, the band was precluded from recording any new material. The band’s first record had been a huge success in the UK (and a big hit on US college radio), so Silvertone Records wanted to capitalize on the success. They compiled several of the band’s singles – songs that never appeared on any other album – and released it as Turns Into Stone100.

The fact that none of these songs appeared on any other album101 is what I roses_1like to call a “mitigating factor,” and so I have no qualms about including it. My rules committee, however, was furious about it, and even held an emergency meeting to consider its options. I testified at the meeting and stated plainly that even if they ruled against me, they’d still be left with the problem of STOPPING ME from including it102! They did rule against me, and when I announced my decision to include the record despite their ruling, several members of the committee resigned in disgust. It was a tumultuous couple of weeks, but when the band phoned me with their support, I knew I had made the correct decision.

I bought this CD when I was living alone in a really cool part of Pennsylvania called Mt. Gretna. It’s an artsy gretnacommunity in the woods, full of summer cottages, some of which have been winterized, and a big lake for swimming and a big ice cream shop for gorging. I lived there during the summer of ’92, in a one-bedroom cottage, and it was great. I’d go play gigs with my band, go work at the aspirin factory, and come home and listen to records until I went to bed. I listened to Turns Into Stone so much that summer that when I listen to it today, I still smell the pine trees and honeysuckle, and feel the cool night air seeping through the day’s waning, humid sunlight. I can almost see the lightning bugs starting to flicker.

A song that elicits similar warm, carefree feelings is “Mersey Paradise.”

It opens with a nifty guitar figure from John Squire, the drums and bass crash in, and then Ian Brown’s distinctive, Mancunian voice enters. This song has a 60s British Invasion sound, but updated with prominent drums. “Mersey Paradise” exemplifies everything I love about this band, and this album particularly103. Squire’s guitar is full (although quite trebley in this song) and fills all the spaces, and his riffs and lines are interesting and sound cool. Brown’s lyrics describe a rather renibrowndepressed young man along the banks of the Mersey River104 considering suicide in the river (his Mersey Paradise). Dark lyrics for such a sunny song! Drummer Reni, who helped popularize that “Madchester” beat that was so ubiquitous in music from the early 90s, is one of the most creative drummers of the era. And he also is responsible for the band’s “secret weapon”: the killer harmonies evident throughout the band’s body of work. I love Squire’s guitar solo, at 1:51, and how the band comes out of it with harmonies blazing, culminating with Brown’s breathy “Oh yeah …” at 2:20. It ends cleanly and perfectly, as a perfect pop song should.

Another 60s-style guitar pop song is the beautiful “Going Down.”

Singer/lyricist Brown this time spins a lovely description of that joyful lightness one experiences during the early phase of a romance, when everything seems perfect. His love, Penny, who lives just thirty minutes away at No. 9, listens to Jimi Hendrix on her record player105, manitastes like sunscreen, and calls to mind great art106. He sums up the feeling of new love in the final stanza: “To look down on the clouds/You don’t need to fly/I’ve never flown in a plane/I’ll live until I die.” Reni provides amazing harmonies throughout, sometimes in counter-melody. Squire’s guitar is cool, yet restrained, but the hero is bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield, particularly at 1:43. It’s not intricate or challenging – it just sounds cool. And that’s what I like about all Stone Roses songs: they sound cool!

Guitarist Squire is not well-known in the US, but in the UK he is regarded as one of the greats. He plays a funky style, with great tone and creative licks. “Going Down,” above, mentions Jimi Hendrix, and in the song “Standing Here,” Squire shows his love for the man in his opening riff.

His guitar throughout the song is complex and requires repeated listens squireto catch all the neat little bits he throws into the mix. Drummer Reni provides a shuffling beat that keeps the song bouncing along while Brown sings of unrequited love. I particularly like how the band stops and starts around the lyrics “I don’t think you think like I do,” for example around the 1:28 mark. It’s a subtle thing, one of the many small aspects of the song that makes it so enjoyable to me. The song turns into a different song around the 3:09 mark, with an extended coda with nice bass work and the repeated refrain “I should be safe forever in your arms.”

These 60s style pop songs, featuring clever guitar and groovy bass and drums, make up one side to the band’s recorded material. brownAnother example of this style is the lush “Where Angels Play.” It’s one of Brown’s best vocal performances on the record, featuring a wide-ranging melody and a catchy “there’s something happening” bridge. Brown is notorious for being a disappointing singer in concert, but as a solo artist he’s had several top ten songs in the UK. He’s built a career on stage presence and confidence, and on the Stone Roses’ studio work, he sounds terrific.

Another style of song that The Stone Roses perfected is the catchy-guitar-rock-song-that-also-sounds-sort-of-danceable-but-sort-of-not-really-but-is-regardless-really-cool107. Two examples are featured on Turns Into Stone, including “The Hardest Thing In The World.”

This song again has the ripping John Squire guitar, the bouncy Mani bass and classic Reni backing vocals. It’s a song I belt out whenever I listen to it, singing about life on the road108, and I play air guitar and air bass and air drums and sing harmonies, as well.

Another in the same vein, and my favorite song on the album, is “What The World Is Waiting For.”

It’s a guitar and bass workout. Reni provides the funky shuffle, and Brown sings about the folly of financial pursuits. It’s getting repetitive, I suppose, but I love listening for all of Squire’s tricks he pulls. There’s so much happening on his guitar, supported by a brilliant rhythm section, that I always find something new each time I listen.

roses_2

The Stone Roses also were known for lengthy, groove-oriented jams, with repetitive drums and bass and plenty of space for Squire to create his unique soundscapes; these songs were perfect for the ecstasy-fueled raves common in “Madchester” and elsewhere at the turn of the 80s/90s decade. Turns Into Stone contains a number of these, and the most familiar is “Fools Gold.”

This is a hypnotic song that I find can transport me, and make me move. The melody is catchy, with lyrics again featuring an anti-materialism theme. roses_concertThe first 5:40 contains the melody, with vocals and cool guitar, and then the final four-plus minutes are a canvas for John Squire and his wah-wah pedal to go to work. Throughout, Reni and Mani work their magic. Two other songs in the hypnotic-groove category are the rangey, guitar-workout “One Love” and the smoldering109Something’s Burning.”

The other songs on the record include a Peter Hook remix of “Elephant Stone,” from their debut album, that I think sounds ridiculously lame; and a backward version of “Where Angels Play” (another type of song The Stone Roses recorded, thankfully in far fewer numbers than the other genres) titled “Simone.”
roses_3
So there you have it. My rule-breaking selection. I’m awaiting lawsuits and a barrage of negative press from this selection, but I will hold firm. Apparently those paddlings I had as a child didn’t keep me in line like my parents hoped they would! But this is how I roll. In the words of Ian Brown, from “What the World is Waiting For”:

Here comes the wise man
And there goes the fool
You see that burnt out world that he is living in
I don’t need to look for the rules

TRACK LISTING
“Elephant Stone” (12″ version)
“The Hardest Thing In The World”
“Going Down”
“Mersey Paradise”
“Standing Here”
“Where Angels Play”
“Simone”
“Fools Gold” (12″ version)
“What the World Is Waiting For”
“One Love” (12″ version)
“Something’s Burning” (12″ version)

Share

Leave a Comment

Filed under Albums 70 - 61