Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Same artist, Different Version: In a Gadda Da Vida




[purchase]

I wrote not too long back (perhaps somewhat misguidedly) about how AM radio play lists were dictated by guidelines set by the record company moguls, but I’ll stick by my comment that the length of a pop song in the 60s was limited to  what was perceived as commercially viable: anything over 3 minutes was pushing the limits. And then, towards the end of the 60s, there came various musical innovations that pushed these limits.

One of the first that comes to mind is the extended drum solo perpetrated by Ginger Baker on “Fresh Cream” – “Toad”.  It didn’t achieve commercial success. At about the same time, however, Iron Butterfly managed commercial success with a similarly lengthy song entitled “In a Gadda Da Vida”, pushing the limits of endurance at 17 minutes: way over the AM playlist time slots. However, this song was a commercial success, and so some formula had to be found to accommodate public clamor. The result was a short alternative version that could fit the AM radio format: my alternative version post.

The song is legacy enough that various other bands have revisited it with success, and I am including some of their alternative versions below in addition to the originals.
 
short play version
 
long play version
Blind Guardian version
Slayer version
 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Same Artist, Different Version: Voice of Harold


R.E.M.: Voice of Harold
[purchase]

The first time I heard “Voice of Harold,” which is a version of “7 Chinese Bros.” from R.E.M.’s second album, Reckoning with completely different lyrics, I assumed that it was simply a joke by the band. But it turns out that the story is a bit more interesting.

I’ve always had a sense that, like many great artists, Michael Stipe was a bit high maintenance. (It turns out that Mike Mills, is, too—he took exception on Twitter to something that I wrote on another blog about The Baseball Project). Apparently, when the band was working on Reckoning, which was recorded after a long, exhausting tour, Stipe was having a bad day, and his attempts at laying down vocal tracks for “7 Chinese Bros.” were inaudible. Don Dixon, one of the producers (and a fine songwriter in his own right), was killing time, poking around the studio, and was on a ladder when he found a pile of albums that had been tossed away. He pulled one off the top and threw it down to Stipe, hoping that it would inspire him.

That album, The Joy of Knowing Jesus, by the gospel group The Revelaires, would have been totally forgotten, had Stipe not started singing the liner notes on the back of the cover over the music for "7 Chinese Bros.” Done in one take, Stipe essentially sings, word for word, the laudatory notes written by the wonderfully named J. Elmo Fagg, described as the “Founder and Leader of the Blue Ridge Quartet for 23 years.” A few times, Stipe starts singing on one line, then jumps to the next line, and back again, because he was cold reading the small print and probably lost his place. He even sings the production and art direction credits and the catalog number (“LST 390”).

For some reason, it is charming. Like many of the band’s lyrics at the time, the fact that they sometimes made no sense is immaterial to the reality of the mood they created.

I’ve been a fan of this band for many years, almost as long as it was possible to hear their music in New York, and although I knew that they were from Georgia, I initially never really thought of them as a “Southern” band, in the way that bands like the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd flaunted their Southern roots and used stereotypical Southern symbols and imagery. But as time went on, it became more obvious that R.E.M. came from a different Southern tradition, one of mystery and kudzu and fog, of outsider art and eccentricity. Much of which can be seen in their early album covers.

And maybe that is why “Voice of Harold” resonates. It connected the band to the gospel tradition, and the liner notes that Stipe somehow shoehorned into the music are oddly religious, evocative and proud—for example—

Chill bumps appear and I am frozen in the web 
They weave as they reveal their innermost selves 
With the outpouring of their hearts 

According to Dixon, after doing this take, Stipe was able to successfully record the vocals for “7 Chinese Bros.” I don’t know if The Joy of Knowing Jesus is, as the esteemed Mr. Fagg asserts (and Mr. Stipe repeats), “a must.” But to fans of R.E.M., “Voice of Harold” sure is.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Same Artist, Different Version: I'm Looking Through You


   Written after an argument with then girlfriend Jane Asher, Paul McCartney's bitter "piss off" tirade was recorded multiple times by The Beatles. First, in October of 1965, they spent nine hours knocking out a slower, groovier version that makes me think of The Who's "Magic Bus".  There was no "Why Tell Me Why..." middle-eight. Instead you get a blistering, very 60's raga style guitar solo from George Harrison.  This version is on the Anthology Volume II release.




   Three weeks later The Beatles revisited "I'm Looking Through You". Americans get two false guitar starts before the band launches into the Rubber Soul version everyone knows. McCartney double tracks his vocals while Ringo can be heard tapping his fingers on a matchbox and slapping his lap for percussion. If you're going to slap your lap, may I recommend you lock the door so Mom doesn't walk in on you?


SAME ARTIST, DIFFERENT VERSION : PLAYING BOGART








Ooo, this is a good one! Getting straight to the point, here's the opportunity to rave about one of my true faves, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Clive Gregson, or, within this context his once and occasional band, Any Trouble. It's fair to say he has had a variable career, poised frequently on the precipice of greatness, before either stepping back, or being elbowed out the way by some other gone in 30 seconds whippersnapper. For that we should maybe be grateful, not least as, at various times in his career he has returned and revisited earlier songs, radically redefining them. Between Any Trouble mark 1, Any Trouble mark 2, exemplary duo with Christine Collister (and simultaneously Richard Thompson sideman), solo years, a spell in Plainsong with Iain Matthews, solo years, Any Trouble mark 3 and further solo years, there has been ample opportunity to remake and remodel his songs, juggling with both electricity and acousticity. And somehow remain a thoroughly decent cove.

Spoilt not for choice but more for demonstrable evidence, this isn't even one of his own songs, but it is so good it could be. (I exhort you to search out more for proof of his songwriting. And not half bad guitar.) Anyhow, roll back to the late 70s and a folkie 3 piece are playing the pubs and clubs of Manchester, adding drums and dynamism to address the outbursting of punk. 1980 saw them signed to maverick indie label, Stiff, and attempts to market Gregson as the next Costello. This song was on their first recording, and, in some reflection of then (relative) youth, is a straightforward thrash of a version, displaying the eagerness of a young man out on the friday lash.



Flash forward a few years, Stiff have dropped them, and the band are lost in America, briefly signed to EMI America until, again, finding themselves without a contract, halfway through an abortive tour. Somehow these experiences must have offered a more sanguine view on life, and the version the band produced at that time is a way more reflective piece, a yearning plea for acceptance. I prefer it.



Sadly that was that for the erstwhile band for many a long year, and I hope later to be given a theme that allows me to access Gregsons latter years, but until then, here's a taste of how the song might have originally sounded, as dreamt up by it's author, fellow struggling mancunian musician of the 70s, Nick Simpson. This is the 2013 reunion of Any Trouble, with the author guesting. It seems to be the faster version.......



Where and what to buy? I'd go for the top 2 as most representative. (It says there is only 1 of each left, so I will know if anyone reads this drivel!!)


















Friday, October 10, 2014

Musical Chameleons: Hendrix



Jimi Hendrix

purchase [Purple Haze]
purchase [Drifting]

I guess in all my days of listening to rock/pop, nothing has affected me quite the way that “Are You Experienced” did. I had been listening to Smokey Robinson, the Box Tops ..whatever came over the AM band airwaves back in the late 60s - from BBC's Top of the Pops or Radio Luxembourg. And then one day, a friend of my younger brother’s showed up with a copy of “Experienced”.
Similar to how a chameleon plays a trick by changing colours to fool his predator, Hendrix messed with my senses. Like nothing ever before. The sounds coming from the speakers were so jarring to my ears and brain that I might as well have changed colours. Now, for today's generation, this may be hard to fathom: we are so used to all sorts of musical styles, variations, genres and such, that I may not be able to get you to understand how transformational and out-of-this-world was the sound of Hendrix’s music.

"Are You Experienced" was cutting/crude and rough. Go back and listen to the guitar strokes of Purple Haze. Then compare them with the harmonies of anything else on the late 60s radio airwaves. This sound/noise re-defined music: cacophony that was harmony. This was melodic aural abuse.

Even the cover artwork of "Axis" continued the chameleon effect: this was cover artwork unlike anything that came before. The recordings included sounds that no one else was capable of making: stereo crossover, feedback that sounded good, wah-wah no one else could produce. This was truly music from another planet. It certainly blew my mind. Imagine: on one hand you’ve got the Beach Boys' good vibrations … on the other, there’s Jimi.

I’ll claim that – chameleon theme – Hendrix's progression was relatively smooth. I guess the chameleon doesn’t change his colours in a flash – there must be a progression of sorts – and so it appears with Jimi. A rather raw “Experienced” progresses/morphs into the sounds of “Axis”, then matures to the sounds of “Electric Ladyland” and then to “Cry of Love”.

See if you agree with my definition of chameleon:

Early Hendrix (Purple Haze):

 

Late Hendrix (Drifting):

 

Of course, any musician worth his “salt” is going to evolve: just look at (among so many others) the Beatles (masters of chameleon-ship)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

MUSICAL CHAMELEONS: CAT STEVENS/YUSUF ISLAM





Well this cat has certainly run a ragged path around his image(s) over the decades, so as good a candidate as any for this thread, even if he is surreptitiously slipping back out of the more severe incarnation of his current given name.

Born Steven Georgiou, of joint Greek Cypriot and Swedish stock, in 1948, one recurring theme throughout his careers has been an apparent sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness, never proving himself comfortable within the confines and constrictions of the music industry, and uncomfortable with the adulation of his fans, with repeated searches for solutions to the mysteries of life. How much of this could be explained by the polar opposites of his Greek orthodox and Baptist parents, who, effectively, split the difference in their ideologies, and sent him to a Catholic school, remains open to conjecture, but it seems he was an aloof and lonely lad, happier in his own company, tinkering with those musical instruments made available to him. Like many later musicians of his generation, Art School became the obvious next step, which clearly was not entirely without merit, as he was responsible for the design of many of his album covers. Originally seeking a musical career under the name Steve Adams, his first success came as a songwriter. If he had stalled there alone, he would probably still be remembered fondly, if only for this song, covered memorably by PP Arnold, Rod Stewart, Sheryl Crow and many more. He sold it to PP for £30, currently about $50.

Performing solo in pubs and clubs, a name change was more seriously applied to, with some insight as to what may help, believing the US marketplace was full of animal lovers. Thus Cat Stevens was born, and he swiftly picked up a recording contract of his own. Furthering the animal metaphor a step ahead, his first UK top 30 hit was with, ironically, "I Love My Dog", and here his first image is outed, the swinging 60s fingerclicking hipster, velvet suit, dark glasses and a hideous over-produced backing. A couple more hits followed, "Matthew and Son", again subsequently much covered, including a reprise in the 2nd stage of his journey, and the now somewhat arch sounding, "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun", a song I don't suppose still likely to feature in his act.

The contracting of tuberculosis in 1969 ground this early start into the ground, the long hospitalisation instilling in him a hunger for some spiritual fulfillment, as he gave up meat and took up meditation and yoga, growing long both hair and beard. It was a very different Stevens that re-launched in 1970, as a lovelorn folkie troubadour, with Mona Bone Jakon, getting his first US gold record with "Lady D'Arbanville", his appearance now perfect for the 70s singer-songwriter boom. Successive LPs became bigger and bigger, through Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat and Catch Bull at Four, these 3 being my personal favourites in his canon. And, because I can, this was my favourite song, and still is, perhaps revealing quite what a shy and introspective boy I was........

Disillusion was seeping in, and he relocated to Brazil in 1973, in part as a tax exile, developing a more "varied" style, of additional electric instrumentation, with synthesisers and a funkier feel to the fore. It didn't work for me, and he and I parted ways. During this time he began to explore other religions, converting to Islam in 1976 after a(nother) near-death experience. Changing his name again to Yusuf Islam, in 1978 he turned his back on the music industry, in part believing the vanities thereof were contrary to teachings of the Koran, devoting himself to philanthropy and education, opening several Moslem schools in London, and working with a number of equivalent charities. Unwittingly, given his prominence amongst Islamists, hindered by some unhelpful and possibly misquoted commentary on 9/11, he was, in 2004, denied entry to the US and sent back to the UK, arousing a transatlantic political furore between the respective governments. He was later able to return to the States in 2006.

In the latter part of the 90s there was a gradual return to music, albeit originally purely secular and without the adornment of instrumentation, and initially in Arabic. Now I am sure I would be wrong in suggesting that commercialisation had anything to do with it, seeing as his income, in 2007, was estimated at still being $1.5 p.a. from  U.S.royalties alone, but perhaps his fanbase were delighted when he suggested that his wholesale retreat from western music had been hastier than he had wished, and returned to admitting to and acknowledging, and playing songs from, his Cat Stevens years. His new material has not been a vast catalogue, nor, it's true, perhaps received to the level of his glory days, but he remains a world player, playing often for charitable causes close to his heart and faith. As a way of concluding this chameleon's chronicle, here is his version of someone else's song, the lyric presumably ringing true with his post-conversion experiences with the media and more. I am no expert and unqualified to discuss the intricacies and inconsistencies of (any) faith, but I would too chime in with the sentiment. Hell, I think he is just a great singer, who has written a shedload of a lot of good songs. It's good to have him back.

Here is quite a good documentary from a couple of years back.

So what am I going to point you to? Actually you can't goo wrong with any of his Greatest Hits collections, but for overall consistency it is, for me, Tea for the Tillerman and/or Teaser and the Firecat.

Enjoy!!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Musical Chameleons: Brian Eno

The modern Eno.
How could I pass up another opportunity to write about Brian Eno? The ambient sound he helped pioneer isn't only completely distinct from what most of the world considers "music," it's also different from Eno's own style in his first years as a musician.


While he now expertly produces quiet, soothing sounds engineered to fit into the backgrounds of hip, minimalist art shows, Brian Eno got his start in glam rock band Roxy Music, playing the synthesizer along in poppy, upbeat tunes.

The early Eno.
Eno's departure from Roxy Music didn't lead immediately into his ambient obsession, but the early signs of ambitious audial experimentation are obvious. In fact, he continued playing somewhat noisy, new wave music through several of his first solo albums, gradually mixing more ambient arrangements into his discography until around 1978, when the minimalist style became his primary medium.






Sunday, September 28, 2014

Songs Under 3 Minutes --> Musical Chameleons: King Crimson

[purchase pretty much every recorded note from King Crimson at their shop]

It is not every day that you get to see Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak and then, a few hours later, get to see Supreme Guitarist Robert Fripp perform. But that was my day a couple of weeks ago. First, I attended the dedication of my law school’s beautiful new building and got to hear Justice Sotomayor speak, for the second time this year. Then, I met three college friends for dinner followed by a King Crimson concert. It was a pretty special day.

I’ve previously written about my history with King Crimson, so I won’t repeat it here. It has been a very long time since I have seen them, and to be fair, I probably would have passed on trying to get tickets except that my friend Bill offered to order them for the four of us, as part of a birthday celebration. The chance to hear Crimson again with some old friends, and without having to go through the trouble of actually trying to order the tickets was irresistible.

Our theme for the next two weeks is Musical Chameleons—artists whose sound has changed over their career, and King Crimson certainly qualifies (but this does not). During the concert the other night, between some of the songs, they played recorded excerpts from interviews, manipulated to mock the interviewers. I actually found that to be a mean thing for them to have done. If you don’t want to be interviewed, don’t do interviews. And as someone who has interviewed musicians, especially ones that I liked, it is hard to do without asking some bad questions, and I thought that highlighting a few clinkers was, at best, uncharitable. I suspect Mr. Fripp would not like it if a DJ found some miscues during his performances, and played a loop of them. But I digress. One of the interview snippets essentially asked Fripp about the changing sound of Crimson over the decades, and he responded simply that was because “there were different men in the band.”

To some degree, that does explain the varied sounds that have been released under the King Crimson name. The orthodox canon identifies eight separate lineups for the band (with only Fripp as a constant), but even that is an approximation, because during many of these periods there was still a revolving door. Click on the links throughout this post to get a sense of the variety of music released under the Crimson banner.

The original lineup produced the seminal In The Court of the Crimson King, and two other albums that are generally in the prog-rock mode, although with elements of metal, jazz and classical music mixed in. The video above is an under 3 minute, very folk/prog tune, from album three, Lizard (which, in fact, features a very different lineup than the prior two albums, so, maybe this is lineup 1A). The second lineup, a short-lived and misbegotten collection that included Ian Wallace and Boz Burrell, released only one studio album, Islands, which was even more influenced by free jazz, but also somehow included some rootsy rock, Beatle-esque harmonies and strings. Mark III, though, was a return to quality, and their studio output, Larks’ Tongue In Aspic, Starless and Bible Black and Red represented what may be the best Crimson ever. Fripp’s angular guitar, Bill Bruford’s brilliant drumming and John Wetton’s powerful bass and singing (along with excellent contributions from other musicians including percussionist Jamie Muir, violinist David Cross and reedman Mel Collins) resulted in a sound that contrasted harsh loud sections with beautiful, quiet ones.

For the first time, after this group disbanded, Fripp declared King Crimson to be over, and he went off to other projects. But after his collaboration with guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew, Bruford and bass/Chapman Stick player Tony Levin, initially to be called “Discipline,” played some gigs, they decided that they should be King Crimson, Mark IV. This quartet, without changes, released three albums, the best of which was the first, Discipline, featuring an interesting mix of Fripp and Belew’s sometimes interlocking and other times screaming guitars, Bruford’s drumming, often eschewing cymbals, Levin’s unique bass and Chapman Stick, and Belew’s David Byrne-influenced singing. I saw this lineup during 1982 at Rutgers, at Princeton and again at the Pier in New York. And possibly again at the Pier in 1984, but maybe not—after all these years, memories begin to fade. By the end of 1984, this group, unequaled in Crimson stability, disbanded.

It was not until 1994 that Fripp reformed the band, at Belew’s request. After a bit of personnel shuffling, the fifth incarnation of King Crimson coalesced, featuring Fripp, Belew, Levin, Bruford, Trey Gunn, a second Chapman Stick player (and later Warr guitarist) and Pat Mastellotto as a second drummer. This sextet toured and released a few albums and EPs, with a sound that was a mix of the Discipline-era band, with the harsher elements of Red, and industrial and electronic elements. The “double trio” fractured into a series of smaller groups, called “ProjeKcts” to experiment with different sounds. At the end of the ProjeKcts period, Belew, Fripp, Gunn, and Mastelotto reformed as the Mark VI lineup, and released the difficult, dense and almost alt-metal The ConstruKction of Light and a second, more experimental sounding album, The Power to Believe. Following yet another hiatus, a seventh lineup, with Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison added to the quartet, played some shows, adding a heavier percussion sound to older songs, but released no studio albums.

Fripp, who had become very negative about the music business, rebuffed Belew’s attempts to again re-form Crimson, as did Bruford, who didn’t want to try, and fail, to recreate their prior glory. But apparently, the concept of King Crimson is irresistible to Fripp, who slowly morphed a number of other projects into a new, eighth band, featuring Fripp, Levin, Mel Collins, from the earlier years, three drummers, Mastelotto, Harrison and Bill Rieflin, who has played with bands as diverse as R.E.M. and Ministry and guitarist/singer Jakko Jakszyk, who played with Crimson alumni bands and Fripp.

And that is the group that I heard the other night, which was also a reunion for me and my friends, who had all seen the band together back in 1982.

The show was incredible, although for much of it, especially the beginning, I found myself appreciating what they were doing on a more intellectual than emotional level. Part of it, I think, was that the band was arrayed in a very unorthodox way—one that was very different from any prior King Crimson lineup, or, for that matter, any band that I had ever seen. The three drummers were in front, and the other four musicians were in a row, on a riser, behind them. Fripp sat in one corner, half turned away from the audience, with a guitar, a keyboard and a bank of equipment. As you can imagine, it was a percussive assault, which as a bad drummer myself, I certainly appreciated. But I really found it hard to get invested in many of the early songs, most of which were instrumental and unfamiliar. It was one of those situations where I respected and was astonished by what they were doing more than I was enjoying it.

But then, they kicked into “Red,” followed by another song from that album, “One More Red Nightmare,” and I was hooked. When they ended their set with “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Part Two” and the last song from Red, “Starless,” I was all in. And the encore, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” was exhilarating. I heard one guy say as we were leaving, “I’ve been waiting to hear that song live since I was 10.” The setlist covered a number of different Crimson eras, with the notable exception of the 1980s band that I loved, with an emphasis on the incredible third incarnation and a few more recent works mixed in. But through a clever selection of songs, cherry picked from various lineups, there was a unity to the sound that tied together the disparate music of the chameleon that is King Crimson.