Wednesday, July 29, 2015

IT'S ELEMENTAL: Part 2


What fun! Against sense or justification I find myself with time to continue a trawl through some more of the elements. I am intrigued by still how potent a source of lyrical stimulation the periodic table is proving, even as we leave the everyday names behind. Naturally the temptation to use some of the more arcane names of elements for band names, especially if ‘heavy metals’, is too much to resist, for example the well-known(?) bands Nobium, Cobalt, Xenon, C(a)esium 137 and even Barium, hoping the latter haven’t made too much of a meal of it. Sorry to any of them, hoping for a tag to their latest, but I am sticking to the words in songs.


Buy Titanium
First off is dancemaster David Guetta, who, in 2011, produced this little number, featuring go-to girl in this genre, Sia. I find it fascinating that the video seems to display a girl with supernatural forces running from the Police, not least as the opening bars of the tune seem a lift from Sting’s finest? All a bit generic and by numbers for me. Understandably not in the Greatest Hits that crept onto my shelves last year.


Buy Vanadium, but you will need i-tunes
Unbelievable! Vanadium I had never even heard of, yet clearly a part of the essentials for this gloomy and never more industrial gothic sounding outfit, from their 1983 album "Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T.", or Drawing of Patient O.T., which isn’t a huge help. The name of the group I knew, but this was my very first earburst of them, reading that their thing is the use of non-musical machinery as part of their instrumentation. Resisting the obvious cynical riposte, I am minded of the more recent Fuck Buttons, who similarly invoke noise as music. Oddly I can see an appeal, but maybe I have had too many MRI scans. Erstwhile member Blixa Bargold, guitar/vocals, later became a member of Nick Cave band The Birthday Party and then a Bad Seed.


Buy Chromium (electric)
The Church are, of course, world famous in Australia, with a lineage stretching back decades up into the present day: they have recently performed a few bijou gigs in the U.K. I think they should and could have been better known, tending towards a tuneful jangliness, reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub.This is the 2nd version of the song, appearing on a 2005 acoustic rehash of back-catalogue, ‘El Momento Descuidado, an LP I picked up cheap in Melbourne, whilst visiting my daughter, a couple of years back. I prefer it to the electric version here.


Buy Iron
Who could resist and who does not know this song? An astonishing 45 years old, or will be in a month, astonishingly simple and astonishingly effective. I forgive them for the successive waves of noisy tosh produced within their invented genre, if only for the joy of air-guitar aged 13. And all still alive and squabbling. Wonderful.


Buy Nickel
So, as stated, no room for Nickelback, thank the Lord, or Nickel Creek, mores the pity, here, so it’s the marmite man himself, Tom Waits. Fabulous songwriter, of which I have no doubt, it’s just his unusual corncrake grate of a voice. Sometimes, just sometimes, it works for me, and, by jingo, this is one of those times, the contrast with the strings imparting a pathos I didn’t know he had in him. OK the odd guttural hawk as it continues, making me wince and the front row of any audience duck. Nearly as good as Over the Rainbow.



Buy Copper
Confess I only know the W.O.L.D.(ee ee ee) song for this lauded writer, deceased many a long year. Not my proverbial, I fear, being too M.O.R. (ah ah ah). Cheap gag, move on.


Buy Zinc
I wanted, I really wanted to give this a chance, trying to forget the years of horror when T. Rex were a fixture on UK TV chartshow 'Top of the Pops', my mother unfailingly asking me who he, Bolan,  was, with my stock answer being that I didn’t know. In case she though it indicative of my taste. Best thing, as ever, is the Taylor/Volman backing vocals, fresh from their stint with the Mothers of Invention, with me never understanding quite why. Shame the Turtles never sang a song about, o, I don’t know, Tungsten. (Is tungsten even an element?)


Buy Arsenic
Unfamiliar with these guys, and, at my first wiki I was pleasantly surprised, preparing to give this formulaic pop-punk a second chance, mistaking the noughties Philadephia “punks”, the Loved Ones, with the Australian garage band of the same name, 40 years earlier. What is yawn now would be somewhatground-breaking in ’65. But it wasn’t to be. File under old lace.


Buy Molybdenum, sorry, Nobelium
Mindful of 3 spiteful comments in a row, I really need one to like, and this, I thought, was definitely the one. The sheer unlikeliness of a song called Molybdenum automatically excused any need to consider its value. But, frustratingly, not on the youtube……. But, they did do one called Nobelium, which is, even if straying from the order I had been seeking. In fact they have more, with songs Iodine, Uranium, two Oxygens, another Titanium, Selenium and Nitrogen, all on a 2000 LP called, with little surprise, elements. Who they? Noxious Emotion is the name. I applaud the idea more than its fruition, but it’s OK. Clearly a leader in what amazon call EBM. (No, me neither, so back to wiki….) Whatever. It's OK. Really.


Buy Iodine
Now I can imagine Leonard Cohen stumbling down a track on some obscure greek island, knees smeared with iodine, having fallen from a scooter after a liason with his latest olive hued muse. Which seems actually to fit the gist of the lyric. Maybe not his pinnacle. Produced, doncha know, by Phil Spector, giving some down time fun imagining the same song sung by the Ronettes. (Works for me!)


I think we are both tiring……

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It’s Elemental: King’s Lead Hat


Brian Eno: King’s Lead Hat
[purchase]

If you only think of Brian Eno as the guy who does those ambient music pieces, let me introduce you to the rocking “King’s Lead Hat.” During the mid-1970s, Eno first entered the world of popular music as the synthesizer player for Roxy Music, quit the band, and then released four remarkable solo albums that mixed rock, electronic music, jazz and experimental sounds in a way that was, if not groundbreaking, was pretty damn cool. At the same time, he began to experiment with various techniques that led to the release of his ambient music, and released a series of such albums, including the legendary Music For Airports.

Before and After Science was the last of the rock-oriented albums from this period, released in 1977, and it includes ambient pieces, silly ditties, and a few rockers, none more aggressively so than “King’s Lead Hat.” Reportedly recorded, but lacking lyrics and a title, before Eno and John Cale saw an up and coming band, Talking Heads, at CBGB in New York, Eno gave the song a title that was an anagram for Talking Heads and wrote a bunch of lyrics around the title which either make no sense or are brilliant. Or both. Many Eno lyrics seem to use words more for their sound than as a vehicle for imparting meaning (like, say, this one), or to create vivid imagery. There may well be some sexual references in the lyrics of “King’s Lead Hat.” Or not.

What is clear, though, is that the music was way ahead of its time. You can certainly hear some Talking Heads in the jittery, New-Wavy sound, but you can also hear precursors of what the Talking Heads would sound like a few years later, when Eno began to produce them. And you can hear the roots of the synthesizer based pop music, that would become popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, starting with Gary Numan and exploding from there.

Not surprisingly, I had never heard Eno on the radio before working at WPRB starting in 1979, and his music was treated there with incredible reverence. We even had a show one evening, named in honor of his earlier, somewhat more experimental album, Another Green World, for music that fit into that genre of experimental, electronic, OK, I’ll say it—weird--music. One night, my friend Bill and I took over the show for a “performance” that you can read about in more detail here, along with a bunch more of my college radio reminiscences. Considering Eno’s involvement with the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestra that admitted only players who were either non-musicians, or were playing an unfamiliar instrument (Eno played clarinet), I suspect he would have been fine with my “performance.”

With the perspective of years, there are times that I think that some of the Eno worship is a bit over the top, but you can’t deny that he has produced some of the best and most popular albums ever, has made music that has influenced generations of musicians in numerous genres. And, I still enjoy his music.

Friday, July 24, 2015

IT'S ELEMENTAL



At first I had a silly and somewhat vainglorious notion of posting a song relating to each and every element. That would get the posts up, I thought, failing to recall quite how many of the buggers there were. After a quick chat with my friend wiki I realised/remembered  there were 118 of them, meaning a minimum of 14 posts a day, given I have already left this so late. And then, as I perused the list, I saw that few are exactly household names, sufficiently known as to be stimulating the pens of even the most scholarly lyricist. But these ideas are hard to shake off, and so, like a grass seed in the ear of a dog, here’s a germinated selection of some of the less likely. (None of your oxygens or lithiums, mind, that would be too easy.)

So, here’s to part 1, hoping I won’t be stepping on the shoes of too many colleagues, themselves eagerly pursuing these very titles for more complete discussion and discourse.

HELIUM: The Plain White Ts are what I would call inoffensive. Easily digestible, processed and slightly punky pop, with melodies and purpose to satisfy the easily pleased. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike them, I just don’t sort of need them. This track, written by their main songwriter, Tom Higgenson, comes from 2013’s ‘Should’ve Gone to Bed’, and is typically catchy, tho’ I fear I may have forgotten it by tomorrow.


Buy Helium

NITROGEN PINK: Polly Scattergood sounds as if she ought to be good, if not better than this song, her debut single in 2007. Sadly, the vocals are too knowingly off-kilter. The construction behind it is OK, but, tellingly, 2009 was her last release. And WTF is Nitrogen Pink anyway? (Possibly something Bjork inhales?)

Buy Nitrogen

NEON MOON: At last, one for the old folks, it’s that nice Brooks and Dunn, mega-sellers from Linedancing Land. Can you take it away now? Please.

Buy Neon

SODIUM LIGHT BABY: Matt Johnson, aka The The, produced a flurry of dance influenced records from the mid 80s until, after a gap, 2000, this song coming from his 6th, ‘Dusk’, in 1993. With the move towards a more guitar based sound, courtesy Johnny Marr, I hear a tinge, appropriately perhaps, of the ‘Mad’chester Happy Mondays sound, but with better vocals.

Buy Sodium

MAGNESIUM NIGHT LIGHT: Actually this is a pair of tracks, being a composite of Infrared Roses and the aforementioned. I’d tell you where the join is, but, to be fair, despite listening, I have no way of knowing. It’s an instrumental and I’m guessing it’s live. No doubt, because it is the Grateful Dead, you had to be there, but I never thought I would be missing Jerry’s vocal ‘strengths’. Can I be the first to go on record and say I prefer their studio stuff.

Don't buy Magnesium; you can't. (But it does have a touch of grey about it.)

ALUMINUM: Or Aluminium, as we charmingly call it over here. The White Stripes or, massively overated as, likewise, we call them over here. I like the Jack White/Brendan Benson ‘Raconteurs’ stuff, largely, I suspect, as Benson has the discipline to rein in White’s more, um, experimental side. Pleasantly short.

Buy Aluminum

SILICON JESUS: I had never heard this or of Psykosonik, making my aimless wittering of worth, if only to me, ‘cos I rather like it’s somewhat generic and derivative take on techno. If Plain White Ts went electronic with a few sequencers I think they would sound like this.  (How many different Jesus’s can you think of in popular music?)

Buy Silicon

SULFUR: The temptation to belittle and deride Slipknot with more ribtickling mirth around the spelling of Sulphur is actually dissipated by a gallingly shocking fact. This is quite good. OK, get rid of the vocals and it’s very good. Who knew? Having never knowingly allowed myself to listen to them, should I now be exploring their back catalogue? This is from 2008s ‘All Hope is Gone’ and it is almost fusion in its frantic pace. Mind you, I’m not that keen on fusion either.

Buy Sulfur

CHLORINE: From 2014, a group called Title Fight about whom I know next to nothing. The youtube metacritics argue about how or not hardcore they are, and AMG says nothing. ‘Pitchfork’ told me more, without, true to form, actually telling me anything. It’s their second LP, if that helps.

Buy Chlorine

POTASSIUM: Bones, another new-to-me, in a broadly electronica beats tonepoem, with a glorious harmonium like intro. Given LastFM tell me there are 5 different groups/individuals called by this name,  it was intriguing as to whether this was/is the same Bones who has an earlier song called, intriguingly for this piece, ‘Calcium’? If so, Bones is a ridiculously prolific individual called Elmo Kennedy O’Connor, and is described as a rapper. (Well, if this is rap, like Slipknot above, or nearly like Slipknot above, count me in for more.)

Download Potassium (for free!)

11 down, including the 2 from Elmo Bones.

To be continued?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Elemental: Earth Angel


The Penguins: Earth Angel
[purchase]

Change is one of the few things that we can count on. Marriage equality, which not so long ago seemed first impossible, then unlikely, is now the law of the land. Donald Trump has changed from a bufoonish businessman to a bufoonish politician. In my lifetime, we have gone from a world with a handful of TV stations, a music industry dominated by large companies issuing vinyl and computers that filled rooms to virtually unlimited access to all media, including on powerful computers we carry in our pockets.

When Plato and Aristotle passed for scientists, they understood that there were four elements—earth, air, fire and water, and maybe a fifth, “aether.” A similar five element system was posited in Hindu writings, and the Buddha taught about the first four. The Chinese philosophers had five—Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood, while Japanese tradition followed the Hindu system. Or at least, that’s what Wikipedia says. Modern science, however, considers elements to be substances defined by their atomic numbers, with 118 of them currently identified. If anything, the classical elements are now loosely identified with the states of matter—solid, gas, liquid and plasma.

The song, “Earth Angel,” refers to one of the classical elements directly, and even, to some degree, to the aether, because that’s where angels dwell. It was the one and only hit song by the Penguins (penguins, of course, live where Water is often a solid, although the group was from Los Angeles, where Water is now at a premium, the Earth quakes, Fire ravages the countryside and the Air is almost solid). The Penguins, a doo-wop group that morphed from an earlier group, the Hollywood Flames (Fire!!), literally recorded the demo version of the song in a garage in 1954, often having to stop recording when a neighbor’s dog barked.

The music business was so different in those days that the demo, physically carried to a record store as an acetate by producer/label owner Dootsie Williams (who also recorded comedy records by Redd Foxx and violinist Johnny Creach, who years later, as Papa John Creach, played with the Jefferson Airplane/Starship and Hot Tuna), was played on a radio show, requests came in, Williams decided to release it without dubbing any more instrumentation, and a hit was born (despite the fact that Williams insisted on releasing it as the b-side of the now forgotten "Hey Señorita"). The success of the song created a demand that apparently almost bankrupted Williams, who ran out of label paper. Its timelessness and beauty has resulted in sales of millions of copies over the years, numerous cover versions and soundtrack appearances. And not surprisingly, it resulted in years of litigation among Williams, members of the group, putative song writers and Mercury (an Element!) Records, which later signed the Penguins and released a more produced and less successful version of the song.  One of the songwriter claimants, Jesse Belvin actually was required by the judge to stand up and sing his version, which led to his being awarded a portion of the credit.  The Penguins later released a nostalgia novelty song called "Memories of El Monte," based on the "Earth Angel" chord changes, and containing bits of other doo-wop songs, including "Earth Angel," which was written by Frank Zappa and Ray Collins, pre-Mothers of Invention.

I was introduced to this song years ago by my parents, who are high school sweethearts and remembered dancing to the song during their courtship during the 1954-55 era. My parents married in 1959 and are still together. And while that hasn’t changed, like all relationships, theirs has changed over the years, from being young marrieds with small kids, to successful adults who put those kids through college, to amazing grandparents. I’ve seen my parents dance over the years, usually at weddings and bar mitzvahs, and while I’m sure that they dance differently now than they did back when “Earth Angel” was a hit, I know that their love and respect for each other hasn’t changed, and, if anything, has grown stronger.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rainbow: She's a Rainbow




purchase [She's a Rainbow] from Amazon MP3s

Back in the late 60s, my musical tastes were as eclectic as they are now. My LP collection as of 1970 consisted of Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced, something from Smokey Robinson, Sergeant Pepper's, Between the Buttons and Aftermath. Oh yes ... Switched on Bach and Tom Lehrer. Die-hard Stones? No. Ever-loving? Yes.

Their Satanic Majesties Request, from whence this songs comes,  has been labeled (at least for its cover ) a riff on Sergeant Pepper's - the seating, the dress, the "air".

To me, the song comes from a time when both the Beatles and the Stones were searching. Mysticism, drugs, religion (including the satanic) .

But - for the Stones - it is also a time when they began a transition. Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street are of a different realm - to me, influenced by whatever came out of their satanic request.

Jimi, Smokey, the Beatles .. gone. The Stones? >> ZipCode Tour 2015



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Colors of the Rainbow: Tangled Up In Blue (Indigo Girls Version)


Indigo Girls: Tangled Up In Blue
[purchase]

I’m going to keep this short, but you are going to get three colors for the price of one.

Considering the theme, it seemed like writing about the Indigo Girls made sense. Not only do they have a Color of the Rainbow in their name, they were LGBT activists before that was easy or popular. Their commercial and critical success in light of their openness about their sexuality back in the late 1980s and 1990s helped to open doors and change attitudes. Back in 1994, I joined a law firm as an associate which had been started by three guys who I had worked with or known at a big Wall Street firm. I remember that during my first week on the job, I had to leave relatively early, because my wife and I had tickets to see the Indigo Girls at Radio City Music Hall, a couple of blocks from my office. And I remember getting shit from some of the partners because I was going to see a couple of lesbians perform. I should have realized what I was in for, but I missed that sign. It was a great show, and since then we have seen them perform a few times, all of which have been wonderful.

I’ve written in detail about the Indigo Girls here, and I’m not going to repeat myself, but there is a bunch of good stuff there about the band, and some pretty rare covers, so check it out.

In scrolling through my list of Indigo Girls songs, their cover of Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue” jumped out at me, since, it also references a color. It is a live version, recorded at a show in 1992 in San Francisco, from the band’s excellent 1200 Curfews album, most of which was actually recorded on the 1994-95 tour, although nothing from the Radio City show made the cut. I hadn’t listened to it for years, and when I let it rip, I realized that it was quite good. One of the highlights of the track is the violin part, and when I looked up who played it, I was pleased to find that it was Scarlet Rivera, adding to the colorful theme.

Rivera, I discovered, also played on some Dylan albums and toured with him, as a member of the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 and 1976. It is hard to tell, because the sound quality is poor, but Rivera may well be playing on this rocking version of the song, performed by Dylan and the band at a show in Ft. Collins, Colorado on May 23, 1976.

Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue: Tangled Up In Blue

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Colors of the Rainbow: Scarlet Begonias/ Fire on the Mountain

Grateful Dead: Scarlet Begonias/ Fire on the Mountain (Capitol Theater 4-27-77)

[purchase Dick's Picks Vol. 29: 5/19/77 (Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA) & 5/21/77 (Lakeland Civic Center Arena, Lakeland, FL]

Grateful Dead with Trey Anastasio: Scarlet Begonias/ Fire on the Mountain (Soldier Field 7-3-15)

[preorder 11-20-2015 release]

This week‘s theme was inspired, of course, by last week‘s historic Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. I rejoice in that decision, and I hope no one thinks I am making light of it with this post. But in the music world, there was another event last week that I would like to celebrate. The Fare Thee Well tour celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Grateful Dead. The grand finale was three nights of shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field. This was also the site of the last Grateful Dead shows twenty years ago. At that time, it was reasonable to assume that the Grateful Dead were done, since leader Jerry Garcia had died. Garcia was a wonderful guitar player and songwriter. But more important to the band was his personality. Garcia‘s voice was not always on pitch, but there was always a great warmth to the man that came through whenever he sang. Garcia welcomed you in to his musical world, and once you were there, the whole band dazzled you with their musical acrobatics.

How then was it possible for there to be Grateful Dead shows last week? The surviving members of the band brought in Trey Anastasio of Phish to sing some of Garcia‘s parts, and to play lead guitar. Because this is jam band music, Anastasio interprets the music in his own way, but also sounds like he has been with the band his whole life. In a way, he has. Phish is the leading jam band of these times, and all jam bands owe a debt to the Grateful Dead for setting the standards of the form, and showing what is possible. Further, I found a cover of Scarlet Begonias/ Fire on the Mountain by Phish while gathering material for this post. So my second video shows Anastasio with a stupid grin on his face for most of the video‘s eighteen minutes; the man is clearly living a fantasy for as long as this strange trip lasts.

I will leave to the hard-core Dead Heads among our readers the question of when the Dead began playing this medley of Scarlet Begonias and Fire on the Mountain. But I would argue that 1977 was the year for some of the band’s best performances of it. After that year, Scarlet/ Fire became a staple of their shows. The purchase link is to a version from May of that year, and some Dead Heads commenting on Amazon regard this as the Dead‘s definitive performance of the song. Sadly, I could not find a decent quality video of this performance that presented the whole thing one video, instead of splitting it into two. So I went with a performance from a month earlier. By the same token, I could not find a readily available CD of the performance I chose. This April performance has some of the painful vocals of Donna Godchaux. With the Dead, she often had pitch problems, and sometimes belted out her parts when a softer approach would have served the material better, and both of those problems show up here as well. Despite that, this is still a fine example of the Grateful Dead at an artistic peak. By contrast, the new Scarlet/ Fire lacks Garcia‘s warmth, but Donna‘s miscues are gone as well. The excitement of the band‘s playing is still as present as ever.

A final note: especially if you are not a jam band fan, this post contains a lot of music! The first video is 21 minutes long, with an additional 18 minutes for the second one. So let me offer a small break. The first video has a point at about the 16 minute mark where the music almost but not completely stops. Despite that, this marks, not a continuation of a medley, but the start of a new song, Good Lovin‘. So you can stop at that 16 minute mark if you want to.