Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pour: Rain, by The Beatles

I’m going to reach a little here. Our theme is “Pour”, as in pouring rain, or a beer, but as is the fashion with SMM, interpretation is an open-ended exercise and itself its own tolerantly loose term.

I thought a lot about pouring and due to my partiality towards spirits and libations, I was thinking on drinking songs to try to fit the theme. But writing about drinking songs gets as old as drinking songs themselves—heard ‘em all a few too many times. Expanding on the theme, there’s rain. Easy. Some great songs have been written about rain. And why not? Rain is as evocative a metaphor on paper as in real-life. And “Rain”, by the Beatles, is not only a fine piece of trippy melodic pop sugar, but it’s a track I never get tired of hearing.

The Beatles “Rain”, released as a B-side to “Paperback Writer”,  remains one of my favorite Fab-Four songs. I always thought it was their first foray into their experimental, psychedelic side, and it came out before their genre-crossing masterwork—and harbinger of things to come, sonically, aesthetically, and otherwise—Revolver.  

It’s a wonderful song, in all the best ways that pop songs are great: the swirling guitar comes close to sounding as if its crunching through the soni-scape, but it’s light enough to seem as if it’s just happily caught in a tilt-a-whirl, lazily going round and around. That fuzzed-out guitar lead by George is as ‘60s as it gets, and the lilting, sing-song vocals by John and Paul’s slippery groove bass line combine with what I think is my favorite drumbeat that Ringo ever laid down, all tripped out gun shot and gently propulsive, to bring 2 minutes and 45 seconds of exactly the kind of song that touches into the best part of your brain that makes you love, love, love music…

Meaning: a song like “Rain” sends the listener scrambling through their onomatopoetic thesaurus looking for tangible words to describe not just the sound, but what the sound feels like, what it does as it works on you and makes you reach for the rewind button again and again. The Beatles will perhaps always serve as the greatest band for drawing a listener into a beautiful interior world, a bubble of sound that, once experienced, colors, literally and metaphorically, all the rest of the music they might ever hear. 

I suppose that’s what makes The Beatles so great (not that the subject nor my instance is necessary at this point): once you’ve heard them, and if you were lucky enough to fall in love with rock music because of them, and to them, the band will color, in brilliant hues, whatever else you listen to, pretty much for life…

As a P.S. of sorts, I wanted to send a shout out to one of my favorite music blogs, Cover Me, which, you can guess, specializes in cover versions of songs we all know, by delivering mp3s of cover versions we don't...Cover Me's write up on "Rain" is pretty cool and the five choices they present as for our tune are just out of this world fun...Five Good Covers: Rain 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

POUR: What's Your Poison?

A rare gap in my day allowed me some further reverie around this theme, wondering whether there is a tipple that at some time has not put the poetic muse into overdrive. (Answer: quite a few, but here are a few that did!)

WATER: Clearly we start with the only real essential, that last choice at the party, adam's ale. And what better than a bit of cheesy soviet folk-jazz-rock, the russians seeming always to me big fans of plain. Yeah, right. I had never heard of Garik Sukachyov before today, but he and his "proletariat jazz" seems quite big in the eastern bloc and more, were I able to read the cyrillic of his publicity pages. The song is "Pour Me Water".

TEA: Can't stand it myself, but the life's blood, it seems of my nation, a brew being the solution to any crisis, the balm to any bluster, the antidote to any antipathy etc etc. I was expecting some Bonzo Dog type parody to celebrate this drink, but, should I be surprised it was rap, sorry, Grime, artist Yungen that celebrates this nectar. And the song? "Comfy". Not really, or, um, my cup of tea.

COFFEE: In truth from where this idea came, this song , "Truck Drivin' Man", and the band both longtime favourites of mine, with the chorus refrain of "Pour me another cup of coffee, for it is the best in the land" lilting into my head at the merest flicker of fancying a flat white. An old country staple, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airman nail this as theirs. (I saw erstwhile guitarist Bill Kirchen, self-styled king of Dieselbilly on a solo UK tour in 2015, asking he play it as a request. Without the rest of that stellar crew, he showed he still could.)

COKE: Nope, not that one, the fizzy drink, but I felt a need to slowly build up to liquor, keep you thirsty, as it were. The only reference I could find to pouring one comes from this little Elvis Costello mid-period beauty. From his never bettered "King of America", in 1986, this song references not necessarily its consumption, more to how it may be, in the song, comparable to the vintage wine of the more decadent europeans. (As I listen again I wonder as to whether anyone currently resident in Washington might see themselves somehow as King? What's the name of the song again? Brilliant  Mistake........)

WINE: I know beer probably comes next, but I couldn't find me a convincing one, so onto another King, Dean Martin, no stranger to either grape or grain. Possibly lost for choice, this is the only one with an explicit instruction to pour. Not much else to say. (Is it just me, but anyone reminded just a little of this?)

RUM: You get the drift, by now I am just naming a drink, any drink, and asking google for a stiff one. This is the probably unfeasably long straw I got here, along with an umbrella and, quite possibly, some dry ice. Who the f is Zac Brown and why is he singing this execrable nonsense? "Castaway". I wish it was. A hat band from the southern states, I learn, committing the common if no less cardinal sin of mistaking country music with cruise ship crap in the caribbean. (See also Jimmy Buffett. No link.)

GIN: Gin is dead classy nowadays, taking a place ahead of malt whisky in its myriad styles and varieties, all increasingly exotically and artisanally sourced, prices escalating through the stratosphere. This song, "Galaxy of the Lost" was made in 2007, so the chances are it was a Gordons, possibly ahead even of  Mr Ramsey's last ditch attempt to resurrect the also-ran loser generic (or brand leader as these things often are in the real world.) More tonic than gin in both the song and performance, by ex-Test Icicle, Lightspeed Champion.

WHISKY: Right on cue, waiting for the gin backlash, here's whisky revving in the pits, tho' maybe this band are more down the rotgut end of the market than my tipple of choice, Laphroaig, thanks for asking. Double. No ice. This? "Pour Me" by Trick Pony. I like the way the video finishes before the end of the song. It seems somehow how it should be. Like the amnesia of an alcohol related black-out.

BOURBON: I don't think this is cheating. Bourbon may be generically a whisky, but, no, not really, it is different altogether. And what is about all these country dudes and their drinking? Mind you, this song, by Alan Jackson, is a whole lot classier than the whisky above, a whole lot. Lonesome guy, a broken heart, an understanding bartender. Heck, I'm there already. But if those goddamn rednecks put that Trick Pony song on the jukebox again I swear I won't be responsible for myself.

TEQUILA: Oh, hell, I must have just lost a moment or two there, where am I? That bourbon was just soooooo smooth. But what's this shit? Like that fine line between not enough and too much, I have strayed again from good country to bad country. Or from country to western as we so hilariously put it back home. Never liked tequila anyway, whether "Pour me another Tequila, Sheila" is pouring or not. Bobby Bare sounds someone I don't need to know. Am I right?

Hating to end on a low note, perhaps, but even with that large pint of water, the tea, the coffee, the cola, all that wine, rum, gin, whisky, bourbon and tequila is going to have some effect on the next day. So here is Bobby Bare's son (Bobby Bare Junior!) to remind us quite what. I have one of his records. He seems a whole lot cooler a character than his dad. Less successfull too, I'll wager, but at least he'll be forgotten on account of his art.

Cheers, y'all!

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Pour: Red Rain

purchase [red rain]

I am pretty sure that I memorized the entirety of <Selling England ByThe Pound>. Probably couldn’t sing along today on the first try - but it would come back quickly, I knew it that well. As years went by, it was Phil Collins whose name cropped up more frequently (one of the early MTV hits was his "You Can’t Hurry Love") - while Peter Gabriel was more or less dismissed. Worse: Gabriel was denigrated as being not quite of right mind ... maybe kind of crazy?
Like many other "combos", Genesis was good because of the cross-fit of its' leads styles: Collins tends to the middle, Gabriel to the edges. But which of the two is more creative? For that matter: What defines creativity? Producing more? Being more artistic? Sorry: I mean "artistic"?
That said, while Collins remained in the spotlight, Gabriel faded. Well ... not entirely. He, too made an early MTV appearance with Sledgehammer: a whopper of a production. It must have pushed the limits of video editing to the edges for its time (The Wikipedia says it earned the most awards any clip has ever attained. Rightly so. IMHO way surpassing another MTV clip of about the same time: I Want My MTV/Money for Nothing). Virtually every frame (25 per second) of Sledgehammer is a separate shot. Talk about attention to detail! And it that attention to detail that may have marked Gabriel as not quite "right".
But, as much as I love both the Sledgehammer video and the song itself, it is only tangentially related to the current SMM theme of <pour>. What we need is a song that relates to pour, and Sledgehammer's closest reference is to "blue sky".
To the rescue, as I attempt to focus on Gabriel: <Red Rain>. Lots of pouring here. Again and again: we've got ... "pouring down all over me". But this isn’t a case of trying to make the foot fit the shoe .... it's a darned good song that you should really take a listen to the clip at the top.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pour: Sugar, Sugar

The Archies: Sugar, Sugar

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how my love of music began in the summer of 1969. That summer saw the release of “Sugar, Sugar,” a classic “bubblegum” rock song credited to The Archies, a fictional band of cartoon characters from the comics, and specifically, from The Archie Show, a cartoon series that began airing in 1968 on CBS. As a 7 year old, I was directly in the target demographic, and remember watching the show, and its various later incarnations and spin offs. The Archies, of course, were an attempt to piggyback on the success of The Monkees, a fictional group of actual humans which remarkably turned into a real band, themselves created to piggyback on the success of The Beatles, an actual band of legendary humans.

“Sugar, Sugar” was written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, and features the lyrics ‘Oh, sugar, pour a little sugar on it honey/Pour a little sugar on it baby,” making it theme-appropriate. Because Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang were fictional, the song featured a crew of studio musicians managed by Don Kirshner (who had originally supervised The Monkees’ music), including Chuck Rainey, who played with Quincy Jones and Steely Dan, on bass, and drummer Gary Chester, who appeared on tons of hit records. Lead vocals were performed by Ron Dante, accompanied by Toni Wine, who multitracked their voices to create the full Archies sound.

Ultimately, “Sugar, Sugar” was the number one song of 1969, and its influence cannot be underestimated. You find its DNA in the power pop that arose in the 70s and 80s, and even in punk bands like The Ramones. Not to mention Def Leppard. Since I love that music (other than Def Leppard), I have to believe that constant repetition of “Sugar, Sugar” during the summer of 1969 somehow imprinted in my brain a susceptibility to poppy, hooky music. Remarkably, the song became a hit again the next year in a cover by Wilson Pickett, a very different artist. It has been covered often, by artists as diverse as Alex Chilton, Bob Marley, The Germs, and Homer Simpson. There are also German, two Czech, and Spanish covers. Recently, it was featured on Riverdale, a noir live action version of the Archie comics, played not by some modern version of The Archies, but by Josie and the Pussycats. (All of a sudden, this is turning into a Cover Me "Five Good Covers" piece....)

Flash forward from the summer of 1969 to the summer of 1978. That was the summer that I graduated from high school, and as a graduation present, my parents sent me to Europe on a multi-week teen tour. It was an incredible experience. We flew to London, took a ferry to Holland, and then bussed south to Italy—I’ll never forget waking up in the middle of the Alps for the first time—then north to Paris before I somehow was trusted to lead a small group of my fellow teens back to New York while the rest of the group continued on without us. We had a good group of kids, mostly from the New York area, and I very quickly became closest with two other guys, Larry and Keith. We spent an enormous amount of time together that summer, riding buses, touring and just hanging out.

It turned out that Larry’s father was Don Kirshner’s partner, and he joked that The Monkees and Archies were going to put him through college. At the time, though, their big act was Kansas, and after we returned from the trip, we all saw the band play Madison Square Garden together. As things happened, we grew apart as our lives turned to college, careers and families.

Flash forward to 2011, about a year after I joined Facebook. I had reconnected with Keith and Larry, and another woman, Nancy, who had been on the trip. We met for dinner in New York, and had a great time, but although we promised to do it again, we haven’t. I’ve been in touch, on and off with Larry, on Facebook and off, have had a little contact with Keith on Facebook, and it appears that Nancy has unfriended me. That’s sort of the way life is, I guess. It is difficult to keep in contact with people when your social circles really don’t overlap, your relationship is based on a short, intense period decades in the past, with a long eventful gap and considering the amount of effort that it takes to rekindle a friendship.

The other day, I was lucky to attend a speech at Princeton Alumni Day by Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Alphabet (the holding company for Google). He talked about how his belief was that technological innovation would solve the world’s problems. In response to a question about the effect of social media on human interaction, he observed, essentially, that we may have more relationships, but that those relationships are not as deep. And that does seem to be the case in the Facebook era.

Personally, I’m not complaining. I’ve always been somewhat introverted with a small number of close friends at any given time. Through Facebook, I’ve been able to create a larger circle of friends, some who I haven’t spoken to in years and some of whom I’ve never even spoken to in person, and enjoy interacting with them comfortably in the ether.