Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Number 4: 409

purchase [409]

 The Beach Boys' 409 came out early in their career - the B side to the Surfin' Safari 45.  409 refers to  a Chevrolet with a  409 cc engine. Wikipedia says it was a 6.7 litre engine - a record setting Daytona stock car. ( I appreciate the motor power; having owned a 5.9 litre beast a few years ago, I know that they rocket you from 0-60 in just a few seconds. Any time you need a little more power, it's there. But, you can literally watch the gas gauge work its way down in real time - not so cool where I live with gas at about $10/gal - still!!) In fact - a lot about the Beach Boys ain't so cool when you look in to their 60's frame of mind, but at the time, it was "surfer cool".

Take for example the lyrics themselves: nigh on 1/3 of the song is comprised of the words <409>: but that fit the times: rock beat, AM radio play...

However, the Beach Boys again and again hit the top of the charts in the mid 60s - including 1964, when (maybe not the height of their career) they came out with Fun,Fun, Fun and I Get Around.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Number 4: Four Sticks

Led Zeppelin: Four Sticks

I never knew why “Four Sticks” had that title, and until I decided to write this, I never cared enough to try to find out. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a stickler for good lyrics, which is not to say that I don’t appreciate them, but that I’m generally more concerned with the feel of a whole song. So what “Four Sticks” meant, or what the lyrics to the song are (which don’t mention any number of sticks at all) wasn’t all that important. But when I decided to write about this song, it seemed like a good idea to find out, if possible, why the title was chosen.

And it turns out to be pretty simple—drummer John Bohnam used four sticks when he played the song, believing that he needed the extra wood to get the volume he wanted. No mystical or mythical back story, just the pure need for power.

“Four Sticks” appears on one of the legendary rock albums of all time, the theme-appropriate fourth Led Zeppelin album, which is technically untitled, but usually referred to as Led Zeppelin IV (or the fourth album, or Runes, or Four Symbols). Each member of the band adopted a symbol (Sandy Denny, who sang on one song, got her own symbol), in an attempt to deflect attention from the band and the members personally and put the focus on the music, as a reaction to criticism that their popularity was all based on hype. As it turned out, pretty much every song on the album entered and has remained part of the classic-rock canon, most notably “Stairway to Heaven,” in my teenage years considered to be the greatest rock song of all time (before the predictable backlash, including from Robert Plant). The album sold many millions of copies, and is regularly cited as one of the best rock albums ever.

“Four Sticks,” though, is generally considered to be the worst song on the album. The band seemed to agree with this assessment—they apparently played it only once live, although it has been occasionally trotted out by Page and Plant, and re-recorded with Indian and Middle Eastern arrangements. It is also the only song from IV not on the band’s 1990 box set. It is a complicated song, in odd time signatures, with uninteresting lyrics. The original’s power, though, is undeniable, thanks in no small part to the four sticks used by Bonham.

Remarkably, more than a quarter century after their official breakup following Bonham’s death, Led Zeppelin has been in the news, with the jury verdict absolving them of plagiarizing from the song “Taurus,” by Spirit in creating “Stairway to Heaven.” That Led Zep was accused of plagiarism is not surprising—they have been accused of it numerous times, and have altered songwriting credits to reflect this. But this time, I just don’t hear it.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Four: Four Seasons in One Day

Crowded House: Four Seasons in One Day


New Buffalo (Sally Seltmann): Four Seasons in One Day


Paul Kelly and Angus Stone: Four Seasons in One Day


The songs of Neil and Tim Finn have be come so familiar that I sometimes forget that they are from Australia. Their songs have been covered by artists worldwide, and I am more accustomed to that treatment for American, English, or Canadian artists. Four Seasons in One Day makes no specific reference to Melbourne, but the song was inspired by the changeable weather there. For the singer, the uncertain weather is a mirror of the uncertainties in his own life. The video expands brilliantly on this idea, by regarding the seasons in the title as the seasons of a man’s life.

Does it matter that the songs of the Finn brothers are written and sung by men, or are they more universal? In 2005, the label EMI decided to find out. They recruited a roster of female artists from Australia and New Zealand to record their versions of Finn songs. They called the resulting album She Will Have Her Way. For the occasion, Sally Seltmann recorded Four Seasons in One Day under her stage name of the time, New Buffalo. She has recorded her more recent material under her own name. Her take on Four Seasons in One Day sounds like Laurie Anderson may have been is much of an inspiration as the Finns. Reviewers of the album on Amazon seem to either love it or hate it, and this song will probably get similar reactions.

In any case, the album was enough of a success that EMI decided to release a companion album in 2010. He Will Have His Way features all male artists this time, but still from Australia and New Zealand. You might have expected similar results, but reviewers on Amazon who loved the previous album seem to hate this one, and vice versa. Paul Kelly and Angus Stone deliver a Four Seasons in One Day that is certainly truer to the original than Seltmann’s version, but they still make some artistic choices of their own. The brass section is an especially nice touch.

In summary, I leave this post as a case study in the art of the cover song. The artists on both tribute albums offer a wealth of quality original material from their own catalogues as well; I invite you to seek that out and enjoy.