Friday, August 2, 2013

Musical Homonyms: Slow Dancing

Lucero: Slow Dancing


Johnny Rivers: Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin')***

[LP & CD out of print, purchase on iTunes]

This is going to be one of the stranger blog posts on Star Maker Machine, but my life has been strange lately, so just roll with it, OK? OK.

Johnny Rivers Lucero
Song Name Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin’)*** Slow Dancing
Album Outside Help Tennessee
Year 1977 2002
Written By Jack Tempchin Ben Nichols
Highest Chart Position #10 on US Billboard Hot 100, #3 in Canada None
Song Storyteller Man talking to a Woman Man (aka "Trouble") talking to a Woman
Song Location At Home Dive Bar
Time Late at night Near closing time
Music Source Radio Jukebox maybe? Not specified
Dancing Partner "My Girl" Random woman, presumably intoxicated
Ambiance Lights Low Starry Disco Ball
Who's Watching? No one Everyone at the bar
Dance Skills Swayin' to the music Too drunk to keep in time
Interrupted by Telephone Calls? No No
Holding Dance Partner Tight? Yes! Yes!
Smiling? Presumably, Yes Yes, a lot
Slow dance to more than one song? Presumably, Yes No
What happens next? More swayin' to the music Couple goes their separate ways
And then? More swayin' Dude can't get chick off of his mind
Then? More swayin' (damn this song is repetitive) Homeboy smokes and drinks a shit ton
Post-script Couples lives happily ever after in their house in the suburbs with 2.6 kids, a dog, and a Volvo Narrator can never find this girl again, gets clinically depressed, ends up in rehab, gets emphysema
Can you actually slow dance to this song? It’s little too up-tempo for a slow dance, but perfect for the late 70s Yes, but afterwards you need to do whiskey shots and cry
Final Thoughts This song is cheesy as hell but I love it This song is pretty much the reason I started listening to alt country music

***Composer Jack Tempchin originally entitled this song "Slow Dancing." The Rivers' version was changed to "Swayin' to the Music (Slow Dancin')" to avoid confusion with another 1977 single release entitled "Slow Dancing Don't Turn Me On" by the Addrisi Brothers. So for the purposes of Star Maker Machine, that's close enough.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Musical Homonyms: Freesia

Freesia is a fragrant flower native to South Africa.  In the Victorian language of flowers, the freesia signifies friendship and innocence.  Why it shows up as the title of so many Japanese pop/rock songs is still a mystery to me.  Of the many I know, three show up in my tags as 5-star treats, so I feel somewhat inspired to post them after a long hiatus.  Due to the circumstances, I'm using YouTube vids.  I've gone with two live versions, which adds the bonus of cute, very sweaty singers.   

 Gackt – Freesia op. 1 and 2 (live, original song from 'Mars') 

First up is Gackt from a 2000 live.  Even then he was a pop idol (hence the screams).  He just celebrated his 40th birthday a few weeks ago and still is hugely popular, not only as a singer but in movies and TV too.  I love the bass player doing the upright thing with his electric guitar in the background.  And, of course, I love Gackt's rich baritone. 

MUCC – freesia (2009 single release)

MUCC started out as a visual kei band about 15 years ago, but have moved more into hard rock with a tinge of metal.  I think this was made during the peak of J-rock's AutoTuning days. 

girugamesh– freesia (from 2009 album 'reason of crying')

girugamesh, too, started life as a visual kei band, but lately they're considered industrial.  I love the bass line here, that deep "chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk" leading into the bridge. 

Two other j-rock groups I love have also released different songs called Freesia – Matenrou Opera has one on a 2013 mini-album release, and Penicillin came up with one in 2005 on their "Hell Bound Heart."  I couldn't find vids for them, though; well, vids that can be searched for in English, at any rate.

Musical Homonyms: Central Reservation

Random Hold: Central Reservation

Genre labels can be an easy way to approach music. Describe a song as “punk” or “folk-rock” or “metal,” and you can immediately get some sense of what you are about to hear. And yet, you could argue that the most interesting artists don’t fit into convenient boxes. Sometimes, this ability to cross genres leads to wide popularity like, say, Wilco. The two artists that are the subject of this post represent more common career paths for the uneasily pigeonholed—public indifference and failure, as in the case of Random Hold, and critical acclaim and limited cult popularity, as in the case of Beth Orton.

Both of these artists wrote and recorded a song called “Central Reservation.” Our British readers probably know what that is, but here in the U.S., the term is meaningless. Random Hold’s synthesizer player David Ferguson explained “it's the grass verge on a motorway.” Or, as we more commonly say here in the States, the median. Yes, there are two songs about the grassy strip down the middle of the highway.

Random Hold is a band that has long been one of my favorite obscurities. Formed in the late 1970’s, they fell into an uneasy space between prog and punk, which at the time was akin to being a fan of both Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann. Time has proven that it is possible to meld the complexity and virtuosity of prog with the energy of punk, but at the time, this mixture made it hard for the band to gain a foothold. The band was formed by some school friends who were dissatisfied after seeing a show by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and his band 801. Ironically, the band’s first serious vocalist, Simon Ainley, sang on Manzanera’s solo album Listen Now, and 801’s bassist, Bill MacCormick joined (and bankrolled) the band. By the time that “Central Reservation” was recorded, though, Ainley had left (and found himself replaced as Manzanera’s vocalist when he showed up for a recording session with a cold), and pretty much disappeared.

Peter Gabriel had taken a liking to the band, and their dark, foreboding sound. Despite their lack of success, he asked the band to open for him first on a UK, and then a US, tour, where I saw them in Asbury Park (see the program, above). It was, if I recall, the first public appearance of the blue WPRB t-shirts, which were well received. I thought Random Hold were good, and Gabriel was incredible. However, after the tour, the band disintegrated. The guitarist, David Rhodes, joined Gabriel’s band, and a reformed version went nowhere. Even what appears to be the official website for the band admits that they were “the briefest of footnotes in the history of rock 'n' roll.” And yet, I still find some of their music interesting, including “Central Reservation.”

Ferguson explained that the song "was originally conceived as a song about driving cars down motorways and about certain emotional expectations of doing that at night - the excitement of not knowing what's in front of you. Over here [in America], some people have taken it to be about a love affair that had gone wrong."


Beth Orton’s song, “Central Reservation” is, in fact, about love, in this case a one night stand, and the singer finds herself “Running down a central reservation in last night's red dress.” Orton, who is still working—in fact, she is appearing on Friday in South Orange, New Jersey—has been assigned to the genre of “folktronica,” a mix of folk and electronica. Originally, she made her name in the electronic dance music world, singing with William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers, and therefore completely evaded my notice.

When I first heard her, I was struck by how her voice was so evocative of the great British folkies, like Sandy Denny, but with an updated sound. More recently, she has been including jazz influences in her music. However, it appears that her genre-bending has prevented her from being fully embraced by any particular audience, despite generally positive critical response.


Bon Jovi: "Wanted Dead or Alive"

Warren Zevon: "Wanted Dead or Alive"

If you read my usual blog, you know full well that while I have a wide-ranging appreciation of music genres, among the last that you will ever hear positive comments about from me is hair metal. More specifically, '80s hair metal -- bands like Poison, Warrant, Cinderella, Winger, and that ilk. And that would most certainly include Bon Jovi. I felt something very much like hate for them back then, although that has waned to simple indifference, as most of my strong music dislikes seem to do over the course of time.

But naturally, there are always exceptions, aren't there? And in this case, it's "Wanted Dead or Alive," that classic work of journeyman rock from Bon Jovi's otherwise terrible 1986 Slippery When Wet album. It was about as close to a "Stairway to Heaven" of hair metal that would ever be crafted. Just don't listen too closely to the lyrics -- otherwise you'll have to spend too much time rationalizing to yourself that you like a song with the lines, "I've seen a million faces/And I've rocked them all." Nonetheless, despite all the reasons that I shouldn't like it, I still truly enjoy the song. I guess I'm a sucker for that chord progression.

But let's get to the theme here: homonymic song titles. And to that effect, for the other song in this pair, I offer up Warren Zevon's own "Wanted Dead or Alive." And Zevon not only had the song -- it's even the title of his 1969 debut album that this comes from. Zevon's "Wanted Dead or Alive" is a shuffling, bluesy, and somewhat sloppy acoustic number; certainly not his best track, but enjoyable anyway. It may be not all that far removed from Bon Jovi's song, in a way, but it never builds to the (melo)dramatic crescendo of that song. Not to mention that Zevon apparently didn't rock a million faces -- at least by the time he wrote this song. He waited for "Werewolves of London" to do that.