Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Arlo: Highway in the Wind



purchase[Highway in the Wind ]

Most everyone with some music background knows that Arlo Guthrie is the son of Woody Guthrie. Most everyone knows that he wrote <Alice's Restaurant> if not the fact that it was an exaggerated "Massacree". But, the times being such as they were (Vietnam War, Nixon and more) ... the song gained a foothold in the popular imagination.

Before he breaks into the song here/above, Guthrie opens with an entertaining story about an early trip out West when he stayed with Ramblin' Jack and when/where he first saw his wife to be. Possibly, you have to have been a contemporary to fully appreciate the humor, but the audience seems to be in tune. But it is a wonderful example of how the Guthrie musicians were able to (a) place their songs within a relatable socio-economic time-frame and (b) draw in said audience.

Perhaps a word or two about Ramblin Jack Elliot is warranted - Guthrie mentions that his dad (!) and Ramblin Jack had been on the road together. Born in 1931 and scheduled to play this week in Santa Cruz and the following week in Texas [ramblinjack.com], the man is has been mentor to many musicians, ranging from Bob Dylan to The Grateful Dead.

Back to the lyrics of this one ...
Seems to me that the first phrases of the song show the lingering effects of the night before (not that I've ever been there myself, but there's something in the choice of words that suggest to me  that ... a change... a revelation ... has occurred.)

Says he:
Sail with me into the unknown void
That has no end
Swept along the open road
That don't seem to begin

Versions:



Kate Wolf above



Hearts and Flowers

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Arlo: Alice’s Restaurant Massacree



Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant Massacree
[purchase]

There comes a moment on Thanksgiving Day, right about noon, when my wife and I, and whoever is cooking with us, or just kibitzing, stop what we are doing, and listen to WFUV’s annual broadcast of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” an 18 plus minute talking blues about how littering on Thanksgiving kept Arlo Guthrie out of the Vietnam War. It is a funny song, clever in its "shaggy dog" structure, and how it ties together so many disparate threads, with a message—a message that Guthrie has specifically noted was not anti-war in general, but rather against the Vietnam War in particular.  Actually, Guthrie likes to say that it is actually an “anti-stupidity” song. I’m not going to discuss in any great detail the history of the song, or what it is about—because I’m betting that most people reading this already know most of it, and Google is our friend.

Listening to this song on Thanksgiving has become a family tradition for our family and for many others, and is the Thanksgiving connection—which is tenuous at best—is why we are running this theme now. But, of course, there is much about Thanksgiving traditions that makes little sense. Nowadays, we identify Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and (sometimes) the Wampanoag, who celebrated what is considered the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621. It is unlikely that there was turkey, but there was waterfowl, venison, ham, seafood, fruit and berries, pumpkin and squash. But probably not marshmallows on anything. And how did an over-hyped parade in New York, sponsored by a department store, featuring huge balloons, marching bands, celebrities, and Santa Claus, become a centerpiece of the celebration (not to mention the inflation of said balloons). Or football?  Just repetition, over a long period of time.

Interestingly (to me, at least), the tradition of tying our Turkey Day to the 1621 feast is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although there have been official and unofficial Thanksgiving celebrations in our part of North America going back to that “First” one, Thomas Jefferson didn’t continue the Thanksgiving proclamations of his predecessors, but James Madison renewed the tradition at the end of the War of 1812. Its observance was spotty and localized during the following era, but since 1863, Thanksgiving has been a national holiday in the United States (usurping “Evacuation Day,” commemorating the withdrawal of British troops after the Revolutionary War. I’d hate to know what people ate on Evacuation Day.)

In the mid-1800s, around the time that Thanksgiving was getting a publicity boost, the publication and popularization of Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish and the recovery of Governor Bradford’s lost manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation, began to spark interest in the Pilgrims and Wampanoags, and by the end of the 19th Century, the First Thanksgiving story became inextricably interwoven into the holiday, in part because of its message of American freedom, citizenship, and, I’d argue, propagation of a “noble savage” role for Native Americans.

How did it become a Thanksgiving tradition? I don’t know, and the Internet isn’t helping. Even Arlo doesn’t know, although he certainly appreciates the royalties. One thing that I can say, though, is that since radio programmers are not always the most creative folks (anymore—and that’s not a boast about my college radio programming days—OK, not completely—but more of a look back to the 60s and 70s, a time when FM radio really was progressive and interesting), someone thought it was a good idea, and everyone copied him. (And I say “him,” because I don’t think there were too many female program directors then, but it could have been a woman, because who knows.)

I also have no clue how “Alice” became a tradition in my family—it wasn’t part of mine growing up, and I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t a tradition in my wife’s family. For a while now, my wife and I have hosted Thanksgiving for our families, and do the bulk of the cooking. Which is fine—we like to do it, and like having quality control. I suspect that one year, while we were all working in the kitchen, we dialed it up on WFUV, and we all enjoyed it, including my kids, who love a good song, a good joke, and a good message of peace. And we did it the next year, and the next. Boom—a tradition!!!  One year, my in-laws were there, and my father-in-law enjoyed it, but had trouble understanding all of Arlo’s words, so the next year, we printed the lyrics for him to follow along.

That 18 minutes around noon is like the calm before the storm—the dishes you started early are humming away, but you have some time before the later-prepared items need to be done. Also, it’s lunch time.

"Alice" isn’t a tradition in Arlo’s family. As he said in an interview with Rolling Stone a few years ago, he doesn’t listen, and “no one in my family does either. There are better things to do for us and I’ve got grandkids now.” They really should.

Last year, I wrote about how Thanksgiving traditions change over time, and it is still pretty accurate, although my son’s fiancée is now his wife (yay!). But because this is their year to go to her parents, and my daughter still living in Spain, it is likely that this year’s “Alice” tradition will just be me and my wife. Which is fine, for now, although it is more fun to listen to it with a group, especially one that isn’t familiar with the song.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

ARLO: R.LO: ROBERT LOCKWOOD JR


Well is this the one to finally get me my marching orders? The 'Thanksgiving' theme is the one I generally sit out, it being a holiday I neither partake or understand fully, together with (this theme's) Arlo being someone I know precisely 2 songs about, the restaurant and the 'sickle. Other Arlo's have me stuck after the Good Dinosaur. But then I remembered the penchant for abbreviating names so de rigour your side, you know, J-Lo and, um, I can't think of any more, but, hey, never let evidence get in the way of a good idea. So I give you R-Lo. (Drumroll.) No, not that one.

Robert Lockwood, Jr, was one of the last credible links between the very early days blues of the blues and the appropriation of their legacy by white boys in the 60s, managing to haul back some of the credit, if little of the cash, raked in by these latter-day pillagers. Robert Johnson was the King of the (Delta) Blues, and Lockwood was (almost) his step-son, Johnson living, albeit intermittently, with his mother over a 10 year period, the seminal part of his childhood and early adulthood. What better guitar tutor could he have had, and he spent these years picking up many of the tics and trades of his default stepfather, performing with him and other local luminaries. Indeed, such was the similarities in style that an early nickname was Robert Junior.


During the 30's he plied his trade as a working musician, coming into contact with a who's who of who is who, even if it was before they were. So Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson were all contemporaries with whom he played, until he was able to kick off his own career, in 1941, with a brace of 78rpm discs, which includes the song, 'Black Spider Blues', featured above, before he and Williamson started a long connection with the King Biscuit Time radio show. Cited as an influence on B.B. King, he later played in an early version of his band, before working in the band of harp player extraordinaire, Little Walter, the Coronets, which also included the likes of Willie Dixon and Otis Spann. Quite a c.v.!

In his mid-40s he moved to Cleveland, becoming a well-established local performer and bandleader. with residencies at many a venue that lasted right up to his final years. But it was in his 60s that he made a further notch in the bedstead of blues history, discovering the 12-string guitar, adopting it and using it near exclusively for the final 3 decades of his life, in 2008 winning a posthumous Grammy for his performance with 3 other veterans, 'Honeyboy' Edwards, 'Pinetop' Perkins and 'Mule' Johnson, as the Last of the Great Missisippi Delta Bluesmen, made in 2004. And this a decade or so after he was an endowed with the highest honour in folk and traditional arts bestowed in the U.S., a National Heritage Fellow.


Modern history is full of tales like this, largely often forgotten footnotes. But there are possibly many other than enthusiasts who are familiar with his material. I refer back again to my earlier comments about the late 60s and early 70s blues boom, from the Rolling Stones, Mike Bloomfield and John Mayall, through and via Cream and the Allmans to, ultimately, Led Zeppelin and beyond. There have been a slew of records reinterpreting the music of said bands, often with performances by the individuals who influenced them in the first place. One such was 'Whole Lotta Blues: Songs of Led Zeppelin', which featured Lockwood on both parts of 'Bring It On Home'.


He died, age 91, in 2006. Here's a great short film about him.

This is a good place to start listening, emanating for his time in the 50s a a band leader, but he also appears in just about any compilation of blues greats that you might find.

O, an afterthought, harking back to the intended theme of my imposition, Thanksgiving by way of Arlo, Lockwood was born in the town of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trick/Treat: Bonnie Raitt-No Way To Treat a Lady




purchase [Nine Lives]


In the end, not one trick or one treat, but two treats. Oh well...

Halloween is well behind us as this SMM theme wraps up, but as we prepare to move on the the next "holiday" theme, another treat:

The dark side of Halloween is that if you don't get your candy, you treat the hosting party with a trick - toilet paper decorations or worse. There's no rule that you have to treat the host so bad, but ... it's part of the Halloween deal: a treat or a trick.

Since I live fairly deeply within a Muslim culture which seems particularly attuned to the notions/traditions wherein you/your family are expected to reciprocate/give tit-for-tat or live under the cloud of social debt, I [think] I am attuned to these social balances.

Related to Halloween trick or treating: you don't send your kids out if you aren't prepared to give to those who show up at your door - not so different from the Moslem culture of pay-back, is it?

I was brought up under the [rather Christian/missionary] mantra of <Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.>, but in fact, it's not so Christian as I first assumed: most religions espouse some version of the same pay-back message: you reap what you sow: your next life depends on what you have done in this...  I think that's what the Beatles "discovered" in their trip to India/Nepal/Buddhism.

Bonnie Raitt's <No Way to Treat a Lady> says a lot in its title. Consider the role Bonnie Raitt has played though-out her career, and you might imagine the stages/situations she's been through: likely no less than a few #MeToo moments to get to where she is.

Songwriting credits for the song, according to the liner notes, go to Byran Adams [who? No, not who: Summer of '69]

The Nine Lives album is not/was not one of Raitt's best, and there are a lot of reasons for this - but the extensive lineup of musicians who contributed attests to her stature: Tower of Power, Bill Payne, Russ Kunkel, Michael Landau, Dean Parks, Leland Sklar, Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac and about another 20 who contributed to the album. That said, it's perfectly decent musical treat that I think you might enjoy.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

TRICK/TREAT: MAMA, HE TREATS YOUR DAUGHTER MEAN

Change of heart here, I was originally going to do a treat track, something looked forward to, held with relish. Then I heard this, by chance, on i-pod shuffle, by Ruth Brown, remembering what an unsung talent she was, a holding post between the raw blues of Bessie and the smoother soul of Aretha, in the relative early 50s graveyard of popular music, missing most of the peak genres littered before and after. Uncertain where to place her, jump jive or straight forward big band r'n'b, with the emphasis on b, I think she needs more listens.



This song, a traditional good girl done bad belter, was based upon a song heard by the song's authors and which included the title, so the standard semi-plagiarism that has bedevilled any blues based music to this day. Ruth Brown, already successful, requested it sped up a bit, whereupon she took it to a 1952 no.1 on the r'n'b Billboard chart. (Re-recorded a decade later, she took it to 99 in the full chart.) Personally, I can do without the yelps in the original, but I prefer the full big band arrangement to the later more standard happy-clappy version.

So what of Ruth Brown? Born in 1928, she was an early recipient of the Queen of r'n'b crown, following a string of singles during the early 50s, themselves helping define Atlantic records as a label of discernment in such areas. However her star faded as the 60s beckoned, spending her time quietly in suburbia. The mid 70s saw a resurgence in her career, predominantly as an actress in films such as the iconic 'Hairspray', playing Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs, a character prominent in black (music) rights. This was then something she addressed in real life, being responsible for the idea of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which still fights for the royalties and rights of african-american musicians in the field of r'nb. On the back of this she revived her own musical career, touring more or less until she couldn't, dying in 2006 at the age of 78. You can see her supporting Bonnie Raitt on Raitt's 1995 DVD, 'Road Tested', along with, no relation, similar legend, Charles Brown. Listen to the plaudits offered in the voice-over.

The song hasn't exactly faded from sight, being a staple still in blues (and rhythm) circles. Here is a version from 2 decades after the original: Koko Taylor,


and another 2 decades after that: Susan Tedeschi,


Ain't they all a treat?
Indulge.

POSTSCRIPT: I discover Darius of this parish featured this self-same song a mere 9 years ago. Sorry, Bro', but if it's good enough for you.....

Monday, November 5, 2018

Trick/Treat: Candy


Iggy Pop featuring Kate Pierson: Candy
[purchase]

And now here’s the Treat.

That Iggy Pop wrote a catchy pop love song is more than a little surprising. Best known for musical and personal excess, confrontation, and a wildly unpredictable stage persona, Pop reached out in early 1990 to Don Was, a fan and fellow Michigander, who was beginning to make a name as a producer, to try to make an album that would be more polished and commercial than his recent output. Was gathered a diverse group of musicians, including Slash and Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, Kate Pierson, from the B-52’s, whose recent hit album, Cosmic Thing, he had produced, John Hiatt, studio veterans Waddy Wachtel, Kenny Drayton, Kenny Aronoff, and David Lindley, and members of his own band, Was (Not Was).

He succeeded. Brick By Brick is a great album, filled with great songs that split the difference between the harder rock of his prior work and a more commercial sensibility, but with, for the most part, angry, cynical lyrics.

And then there’s “Candy.” A love song sung as a duet with Pierson, it is an anomaly, and was a hit. As Pop has said, “I’ve written one good pop song, ‘Candy.’ It’s a very decent, proper pop song, but that’s as far as that went.” It is a more than decent pop song. On its surface, it appears to be a song about a lost love, who herself regrets the loss. Although it is a duet, the characters are singing past each other, but are heading to the same place. If you take that interpretation, which Pop has advanced (he says it is about a teenage girlfriend, Betsy), it really is sweet, and poignant.

But this is Iggy Pop, we are talking about, so there are other, darker, interpretations. One is that Pierson’s character is a prostitute, who gave Pop’s character “love for free.” And another is that Pierson’s character represents heroin, to which Pop was addicted to on and off over the years (and which he has written about before, maybe most famously in “Lust for Life,” a song that someone thought was an appropriate tune to use in commercials for a family cruise line. At least they edited out the part about liquor and drugs.)

You know, I’m going to take Iggy’s word for it—that he reached into his past to write a love song to a childhood sweetheart who still meant something to him—and not try to read too much into it.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

TRICK/TREAT: CHEAP TRICKS/THEA GILMORE



Ms. Gilmore has had a couple of brief mentions here previously, but really deserves the option of a fuller piece, given the pleasure her evolving talent has given over the years, even if only to me. She actually reminds me of a female Elvis Costello, a comparison that has eluded most, but bear with me, let me convince you.


The featured track is probably a good example of her earlier period, from 2006's 'Harpo's Ghost', featured as the lead single therefrom, although she had been making records since her debut, 8 years before. The vocals cascade in an avalanche of verbiage, spiky and challenging in a demeanour suggesting her aim to be, similarly, true. (This is even more pronounced on 'Rules For Jokers', from 2001, but didn't have a track appropriate, unless you deem 'Benzedrine' to be a treat. And, if you do, try this.) Her penchant for suits and hats seems also apposite, as is the clear influence musically, acknowledged by her, picking up most of her enthusiasms from the record collection of her father.
However, her father had many more records.......

Along the way had been an obligatory covers record, featuring songs by artists as varied (similar?!) as the Buzzcocks and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and a sideways excursion into the extraordinary Reel and Soul Association, an eccentric collaboration between ex-Pretender, Robbie McIntosh, and various alumni of the extended Fairport Convention diaspora.


2002 saw her tackle the Bob Dylan songbook, covering the whole of 'John Wesley Harding' in a single set piece, all the while producing her own material, gradually building a name for herself, as she spread further wide her influences. Married to the studio engineer, Nigel Stonier, who "discovered" her in her day job at the studio he was then working, himself with a background in folk music, having worked with and written for acts such as Lindisfarne, it was perhaps inevitable that would be the direction of travel. Having earlier taken part in a tribute concert for Sandy Denny, in 2011, she given the opportunity to tackle some posthumously discovered lyrics written by the late singer, and to write the accompanying music, the project entitled 'Don't Stop Singing.' Here's a brief explanation.


Of late she has revisited her back catalogue with an orchestral tour and recording, with her most recent LP of original material, 'The Counterweight', coming out last year.

But let's finally return to the Costello comparison. Here she is, on a Christmas themed recording, actually covering E.C.


I would love to see him return the compliment.

Treat yourself!


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Trick/Treat: Why You Want To Treat Me So Bad



UPDATED TO INCLUDE TV DEBUT

purchase [Why You Want To Treat Me So Bad ]

Prince's <Why You Want To Treat Me So Bad> appears to have marked a turning point in his career. See the detailed review at diffuser.fm here - lots of back-stage notes that relate to both the song and his career trajectory.

It's been a couple of years since we lost the man, but me-thinks we don't ever want to lose the talent. He was rightfully a "one-and-only" musician, and this song helps to solidify that claim.

I ask you to keep in mind the year. A rather early 1980 (for his career) was populated with hits from the likes of Pink Floyd, Blondie, The Cars, Bette Middler, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Styx ...
Which only goes to put Prince's music further on the fringes. He hadn't yet published 1999 at this time.

It's kind of too bad that he's a little out of tune on the vocals at several places in this clip, but it doesn't detract all that much - both because he's on key most of the time and because the energy level/show presence is way up there. [Check out the jump at 2:44 !] And is he really doing the solo that follows? In the air? Whew!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trick/Treat: A Trick of the Tail


Genesis: A Trick of The Tail
[purchase]

So, my last post was about a band that started off very proggy, then gradually got poppier, before hitting it big. Why not follow that with a post about band that started off very proggy, then gradually got poppier, before hitting it big?

There are some differences, however. First, writing about Supertramp was a new experience for me, and to be fair, they were a band that I liked, but never really loved. Genesis, on the other hand, is a band that I have long loved, even after it was no longer remotely fashionable, and about which I have written a few times. Also, Supertramp’s early albums are pretty much forgotten, while Genesis’ (except their first), are still fondly remembered by those who enjoy the genre. And Supertramp essentially faded into oblivion after their major breakthrough, while Genesis continued to be successful, as they became more and more mainstream, to the point that even I gave up on them.

Many fans consider Genesis’ album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway to be a creative peak, and in some ways, it was—complex, dark, and in many places, brilliant. On the other hand, its attempt at a story was pretty much incomprehensible and there are parts of the album that sort of work in the story, but you really don’t want to listen to more than once. As most Genesis-ophiles know, after The Lamb, singer and visual focus Peter Gabriel decided to stop being part of the scenery and left the band.

Despite what many people may believe, The Lamb was not only a Gabriel project—most of the music for that album was written by the other members of the band, with the lyrics being written by Gabriel—a departure from the band’s prior more collegial practices, which led to the tensions resulting in Gabriel’s quitting. Although the music press assumed that this would be the end of the band, the remaining members wanted to continue—and the fact that they did so successfully does put to lie the myth that Gabriel was the creative heart of Genesis.

Determined to create a great new album, the band wrote a bunch of songs that hearkened back to the album before The Lamb, Selling England By The Pound, with a more pastoral, more English, more fun sound, and also included some jazzier sections, influenced by Phil Collins’ work with Brand X. It is an oft-told story that they auditioned a number of singers, assisted by Collins, but none clicked. So, like many organizations, they decided to promote from within, and Collins seized the front-man role and ran with it, ultimately doing credible versions of many of the songs originally sung by Gabriel. No, he didn’t have Gabriel’s edginess or weirdness, but he had a nice voice, and a genial, amusing stage presence.

The album, A Trick of the Tail may well be the point where Genesis best balanced its prog-rock heritage and its newer pop sensibility. There are many songs on this album that I love as much as anything that preceded them, and the title track, while not my favorite, is still a fine song. Based loosely on one of William Golding’s not-Lord-of–the-Flies books, The Inheritors (remember, songwriter Tony Banks was a graduate of the Charterhouse School, one of the oldest “public” schools in England), it is about an alien character who leaves his own world for that of humans, where he is captured and displayed as a freak, before escaping back to his “city of gold,” evading the humans who sought to plunder it. It is a bouncy pop tune, with the playfulness of older songs such as, say, “Harold The Barrel,” or “I Know What I Like,” and while it has its more complex moments, it is definitely a move toward pop, but to me, not in a bad way.

It also was the first Genesis song to have a video, and it is truly appalling. I mean really, really bad. Which is remarkable, because it was directed by the same guy who did the great video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

So, check out both the album and song (but not the video, for god's sake), and you are in for a treat. (Sorry.)

Friday, October 26, 2018

Homecoming: Sweet Home Chicago



purchase [Sweet Home Chicago ]

Sweet Home Chicago is so old and such a classic that it almost rates as kind of trite to post it.
And then again, there are renditions of the song that stand out, even after 80 plus years [Robert Johnson, 1936 or before], sometimes because of the interpretation, sometimes because of the line-up of musicians (each with their own interpretation).

More credit to you if you can name these guys in order of appearance (some are pretty easy, others need a little expertise).
But, whatever, the clip is a pretty good example of unique interpretations of a riff.

The list ( if I ain't confused):

Buddy Guy starts us off.
Johnny Winter appears to solo, but it isn't clear that he's playing.
Hubert Sumlin does a solo. (1931-2011, and a member of Howlin' Wolf's band)
Clapton and Buddy Guy sing a verse.
John Meyer - love the way he swings his guitar and the unusual notes he hits in his solo.
Johnny Winter's actual solo,
followed by Jimmie Vaughan's solo
And a Clapton/Buddy Guy wrap

The history of the song is particularly entertaining, because, while credited to Robert Johnson, there are a fair number of preceding progenitors and a plethora of interpretations of the lyrics. I'll simply provide you with a link to the informative Wiki article (and, because Turkey continues to ban access to Wikipedia, it's a link to the alternative Wikipedia that those of us over here have to use, unless we're on a VPN)

Groove ...




Thursday, October 25, 2018

Homecoming: Take The Long Way Home


Supertramp: Take The Long Way Home
[purchase]

What exactly was Supertramp, anyway? They started out as a prog band financed by a modern day Medici, Dutch millionaire Stanley August “Sam” Miesegaes, but only became successful when they lost their patron and, over the course of a few albums, gradually tempered their proggier influences with radio-friendly pop, only to lose a key member at the height of their long-sought popularity and drift into obscurity and irrelevance. In addition to the tension between longer, complex songs and catchy pop tunes, the band also had to deal with the fact that its two main songwriters, Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, had different personalities and different musical styles—one harder and jazzier and the other more folky and melodic—which ultimately led to the breakup. (If you are dying to know who wrote which Supertramp song, because most of the songs were credited to both Davies and Hodgson, look here.)

I became aware of Supertramp with their 1977 album, Even in the Quietest Moments… an album that, to my mind, is their most successful balancing of the various influences. It had a hit single, “Give a Little Bit,” but it also had an excellent ten and half minute song, “Fool’s Overture.”

My college radio career began during the early part of 1979, and in March of that year, Supertramp released Breakfast in America. It was, for the most part, a swing toward the pop side of their personality, and it was a huge hit—reaching number 1 on the Billboard pop album chart, and containing four hit singles, and a couple of other songs that might have been contenders. I remember playing it, but having the sense that Supertramp was really moving away from the kind of music that we were playing on the station in those days (and we still played a pretty good amount of prog rock). Although I think that we were less doctrinaire about shunning hits than many other college stations of the time, there definitely was the sense that Breakfast in America was maybe just too commercial. I did continue to play my favorites from Quietest Moments and took the opportunity to investigate their prior two albums, which had songs that I have to believe I heard on WNEW when I was in high school. For some reason, possibly bad reviews, I never spent any time with the band’s first two albums, which were unsuccessful full on prog records (which led to the loss of their benefactor). Although in preparing to write this, I discovered that the guitarist and lyricist on Supertramp’s self-titled debut album was Richard Palmer, who, as Richard Palmer-James later wrote the lyrics for three of King Crimson’s best albums—Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, so maybe I’ll go back and check it out.

I think that “Take The Long Way Home” is my favorite of the hit singles from Breakfast, and I think that it holds up better than some of the others, maybe in part because the song uses what sounds like a real piano, and not the dated sounding electric one that many of the band’s songs relied on. (Although the title track also sounds good after having not listened to it for a while) And maybe it is because that while it is still a pop song it lopes along, taking, I guess, the long way home. Or maybe because of its ambivalent message. Hodgson, who wrote the song, has said that it is about

home on two levels. I mean, I'm talking about not wanting to go home to the wife, take the long way home to the wife because she treats you like part of the furniture, but there's a deeper level to the song, too. I really believe we all want to find our home, find that place in us where we feel at home, and to me, home is in the heart and that is really, when we are in touch with our heart and we're living our life from our heart, then we do feel like we found our home. 

After that blockbuster came a placeholding live album, and an even poppier studio followup, which while having a couple of hits, really was a pale imitation of Breakfast. At that point Hodgson left the band to record some mostly forgotten solo albums. Davies kept the band together, releasing some more experimental records that had some initial chart success, but not for long. Both Supertramp and Hodgson continued to record and tour occasionally (and separately), and no real reunion ever bore fruit. In 2015, Davies was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, forcing a tour cancellation, and the band’s website simply says “There are no upcoming tour dates scheduled currently.” Hodgson’s website, on the other hand, shows a vigorous touring schedule through the rest of 2018 and 2019.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Homecoming: Sweet Home Alabama




purchase [Sweet Home Alabama]

If you are talking about coming home, you cannot dismiss this. Granted, I already have a name for posting the obvious, but this one belongs here.

The song was mired in the polemic Neil Young raised about what does the "South" mean - both to Southerners and to those outside, What does it mean to fly the Confederate flag? And then ... in response, Lynard Skynard was trying to send Neil Young (and the world) a message. 40 years down the road, so much has changed (not just in rock), but I do wonder what these guys were thinking when they penned these lines:

Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you

You could not survive that line these days, but we <forgive> it as a classic,

The linked video is relatively amazing for its time ('74): it is pretty close to synced on time as it cuts from scene to scene (No small feat for 1974), and it includes modern features such as focus on the lead guitar during the solo (all recent innovations back in the '70s)

As to the theme ...
There are few things more hurtful than an attack on your home. And I don't know if that is what prompted the song, but it sure seems so, The lyrics say as much: F*&ck you Neil Young, we have our own narrative of our history. Because, after all the "truth" of history left to later generations is in the words that the present generation chooses to write - fake or not...


And what to make of the very discernible female backing vocals that are equally not visible anywhere in the clip. A classic piece, that, like most of its associates, falls far short of today's standards.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Homecoming: Blue Bayou

Our Homecoming theme got off to a great start, but then seems to have wilted. So I propose to define it as “songs about coming home, or wanting to.” That means two things: the song does not have to have the word Home in the title; and I can post this gem.

Linda Ronstadt: Blue Bayou

[purchase]

I first heard Blue Bayou when Linda Ronstadt released her version in 1977. My oldest brother was, and still is, a music snob, and one of his rules at the time was that no artist was worth your time unless they did original songs. (The musical gods would later have their revenge on him by making him love jazz, where many classics are covers) But, getting back to 1977, I knew I disagreed, because I had already discovered folk music. Blue Bayou was and is a powerful expression of yearning for home. Ronstadt completely sells the emotion of it, belting it out without oversinging. The song became an early hit for Ronstadt that really jump started her career, and it is easy to hear why. She completely sells the lyric. As you listen, you want to find out what happened to keep her from feeling that she can go home again.

Roy Orbison: Blue Bayou

[purchase]

What did happen was that Roy Orbison, 14 years earlier, had become a star whose livelihood meant he had to live his life on the road, away from the places and people he loved. Orbison was at the peak of his career in 1963, when this was released. Ironically, where Blue Bayou would mark the commercial arrival of Linda Ronstadt, it would mark the beginning of a commercial decline for Orbison. This version charted, but not in the way Orbison had become used to. It peaked at #29 on the pop charts, staying there for only one week. Soon after, the Beatles would arrive in the US, and Orbison would have to scale back his career. This original version of Blue Bayou features a great vocal, and it has a bass line that sounds great. Ronstadt’s version replaces that bass line, and I could not find another version that does it this way. That said, the female background vocals are cheesy, even for their time, and the song would have been better without them. Blue Bayou became a minor part of Orbison’s catalog, and I could find no other versions until Ronstadt’s. It is Linda Ronstadt who is being covered by everyone who comes after her.

Faith Ako: Blue Bayou

[purchase the album Kulaiwi here]

Blue Bayou usually works best with a soaring high tenor or soprano vocal. Faith Ako however makes it work beautifully with her rich alto. Ako is my great discovery for this post. Most of her songs are Hawaiian, as she is, but this one breaks the language barrier to allow those of us who don’t speak Hawaiian to appreciate her artistry. The instrumental flourishes here are stunning, and this arrangement works in any language.

The Cox Family: Blue Bayou

[purchase]

Even though Linda Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou is the standard, her arrangement sounds dated. In particular, the way the electric piano is used became a terrible cliché by the time the 70s were over. The Cox family strips the song down to a wonderfully spare acoustic arrangement, and then adds gorgeous vocal harmonies. There is a great live version live version of the Cox Family doing this one with Allison Kraus available on YouTube. I did not include it here because it is not available for purchase.

Raul Malo, Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes, and Dave Pomeroy: Blue Bayou

[purchase]

Finally, I had to include this version. Thanks to Linda Ronstadt, the vast majority of artists who cover this are women. I think there is also another reason why versions with male vocals are rare: there are very few male singers who can do justice to the song. I could think of only two who I would want to hear. One is Chis Isaak. I suspect that he has heard comparisons to Roy Orbison way too often, and wants nothing to do with it. The other is Raul Malo of the Mavericks. In fact, The Mavericks have done the song live, and Malo has also performed it with his own band. But the only recorded version I could find is this stunning acoustic version. As I suspected, Malo is a great choice to sing it, and the arrangement is great too.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

HOMECOMING: TAKE ME BACK HOME/SOULSAVERS


OK, so it was only when the facebook link to my last post alerted me that I realised Homecoming to be peculiarly and specifically an american concept, relating to (high) schools inviting back past alumni, for a dance to celebrate the existence of the institution in question. And football?! Who knew? Certainly not me, although I suddenly get a whole lot of references from "Romy and Micheles High School Reunion" to the Monkees. Anyway, this piece too, like those of my colleagues, is nothing at all to do with that. (Except, arguably, on a metaphysical level.........)

Soulsavers are a remarkable concept, the idea of Rich Machin and Ian Glover, two british producers who somehow have conjured a knack of getting some of the most distinctive vocalists around to sing on their electronica take on what I would broadly categorise as gospel music, possibly not (but probably) including in any religious sense. Perhaps if a little veiled as to any particular divinity. Sorry, sprawling intro, but it is tricky for modern musicians to overtly ally themselves to any accepted spirituality beyond the vague. Or maybe difficult for me and my generation, avowedly secular, to accept such. I can find little back story as to how these two honed their craft. 2003 saw their first record, 'Tough Guys Don't Dance', the template immediately set out with sombre and dark sounds, sombre and dark imagery and sombre, dark, often lugubrious vocals. Here's 'Love' from that record, a style remaining and in no need of change. The singer is Josh Haden, son of Charlie, and erstwhile lead singer of the short lived 'Spain', well worthy of recommendation in their own right.

Second album, 'It's Not How You Fall, It's How You Land', saw them bring in Mark Lanegan, whose gothic tones have increasingly added a little black, or is it white, magic to any number of artists, as well as building up quite a catalogue of his own. With his back story of gaol and addiction, who better to sing of a curiously old testament redemption and revival?

Third album, 'Broken', again included Lanegan, amongst others including Jason Pierce, whose 'Spiritualised' had been mining, and still do, a similar vein. This took deeper still the atmospheric, exemplified by this version of this Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) track, he also appearing on this and the last record. (And here's Billy's version.)


The song featured in this article comes from number 4, 'The Light the Dead See', which, on the back of the critical breakthrough achieved by 'Broken', had the genius of recruiting Dave Gahan in the Lanegan role. Perhaps as famous for his overdosing near-death experiences as for his fronting of electro-band Depeche Mode, interviews had already revealed his deep melancholic beliefs. When Soulsavers were chosen to support Depeche Mode on a 2012 tour, it was perhaps inevitable he would end up writing and singing with/for them. Not for nothing was the title of his main bands 1993 album 'Songs of Love and Devotion'.

'Take Me Back Home' is one of many highlights from this remarkable album, the references aplenty as to where that home may be. It can move me to impossible places, to states akin to a mystical reverie, almost damascene in intensity. It is only my hard fought for cynicism that enables me to pretend I hear not the beseechments to (a) god. Or to God? As intensity goes it can go little further. And it can't get more overt than the song below.


Gahan has stayed on board a while longer, to the extent of the next release coming under the Dave Gahan & Soulsavers soubriquet, a step backwards for me, experientially, even if the songs, on 'Angels & Ghosts', were nearly as powerful. Strangely, the giving of a name extruded a taste of Mammon. Some of the magic was gone. Perhaps indicatively, the next release was back to the core duo, and instrumental, a film soundtrack, 'Kubrick', no clues in the lyrics, and fewer from the subject matter of the film. But no mistaking the music.

I remain an atheist. I think.

I could just point you toward the named track. Hell, or is that heck, hit the main page.


HOMECOMING: Homeward Bound



purchase [Homeward Bound]

OK. Sorry. With this post I show my age, but I can't help myself.

Simon & Garfunkel's [Parsley, Sage...] was among my first LPs, and for those of us of that generation, it was momentous. It bridged a gap between generations by making folk  ... popular. If not exactly rock. That came next.

For those of my age, Simon & Garfunkel was/were integral - our entrance to the world of pop.rock.

The theme of [Going home/homecoming] carries more baggage for Americans if not for other cultures (maybe think Spring break in Florida).

My choice may be no high school homecoming (that's a separate realm all to itself), but it touches on the theme of going back. Back to a past that you recall, but is probably no longer the same.

The American Homecoming weekend tradition plays upon these emotions: bringing you together with those days (in the hopes that you will stay connected/subscribing)

Homecoming: A Sort of Homecoming



U2: A Sort of Homecoming
[purchase]

“A Sort of Homecoming” is a strange song in the U2 canon. It was not a hit, it is rarely played live (more on that, later), but it has long been one of my favorites—and in researching this piece, I found that there are many U2 fans who really love the song. As most of us know, U2 burst upon the scene with their remarkable debut, Boy, in 1980. I remember hearing it and playing it on WPRB, and being struck by the uniqueness of their sound, their earnestness, and their confidence, despite the fact that they were so young. The next album, October, was a minor stumble—not terrible, but somehow not fully realized. Their third album, War, was, start to finish, a great album, filled with anthems and love songs, delivered with passion, bravado, and musical talent. I saw them on that tour, at the Pier in New York, and was blown away. The album was a huge hit, and the album spawned hit singles—it was U2’s breakthrough into mass popularity.

When the band prepared to record its follow up, though, they wanted to move in a different direction, with less bombast and sloganeering. They wanted to work with Brian Eno, who initially was unimpressed by the band, and was planning to fob them off on his engineer, Daniel Lanois. Ultimately, though, Eno was convinced, and he agreed to work with U2 (along with Lanois), and try to create a more mature sound for the band. Not surprisingly, considering the production team, the collaboration resulted in The Unforgettable Fire, which was a more atmospheric and subtle album, but without losing the power of War. The two records are probably my favorite U2 albums (most critics probably go with The Joshua Tree or Achtung, Baby!, and I like them, too, but not as much).

“A Sort of Homecoming” is named after a line by poet Paul Celan, who Bono had been reading, in a speech he delivered on October 20, 1960, about five months after Bono was born, when Celan was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize. In that speech, Ceran discussed Büchner’s work, art, and poetry, and in his view, the circularity of poetry. He went on to say (in German, but I found a translation):

Is it on such paths that poems take us when we think of them? And are these paths only detours, detours from you to you? But they are, among how many others, the paths on which language becomes voice. They are encounters, paths from a voice to a listening You, natural paths, outlines for existence, perhaps, for projecting ourselves into the search for ourselves. . . . A kind of homecoming. 

I’ll bet you never thought that we’d be discussing German literature when you started reading this music blog post, did you? But critics note that this song, and the whole Unforgettable Fire album, show a more Celan-like spiritual doubt as compared to the more certain religious themes of their prior work.

Although I've never read Celan (but have read a little Büchner), what grabbed me about the song was the sense of yearning, both lyrically and musically, that is palpable from its quiet, polyrhythmic opening, to its more intense end. Note that the song is not called just “Homecoming,” it is “A Sort of Homecoming,” so it is fitting that lyrically it works on so many levels—as a personal homecoming to Bono’s native Ireland, as the “homecoming” of his late mother, as a return from war (possible the violence that was engulfing Ireland at the time), and as a spiritual renewal. And maybe more. Ultimately, though, the song ends with the comforting thought:

Oh don't sorrow, no don't weep 
For tonight, at last 
I am coming home 
I am coming home 

U2 played the song pretty regularly from 1984-1987, as they toured in support of The Unforgettable Fire and its follow-up, The Joshua Tree. There’s an excellent, if more triumphant and less atmospheric, live version from 1984, released on 1985’s EP Wide Awake In America (which is an odd title, because the song was actually recorded at a soundcheck before a show in London, with the crowd noises dubbed in later). But they basically ditched it from their setlist until a performance in 2001 at Slane Castle, in Ireland, which was described on one site as “somewhat shambolic, with Bono struggling to remember the lyrics.”

It made another appearance that year under very unusual circumstances, in Oakland on November 16, 2001. A devoted U2 fan and guitarist, Scott Perretta, had seen U2 pull people out of the audience on occasion to play guitar, and decided to see if he could make that happen for him. He went to the show on November 15 with a sign that said Me + Guitar = People? Knockin? Watchtower? Anything! and planted himself by the stage. U2 security asked if could actually play, because the band got pissed off when poseurs were selected and couldn’t. Assured by Peretta’s friends that he was legit, the security director said that if Bono was interested, he’d give Peretta a signal. But it didn’t happen.

Until the next night, when Peretta could see Bono and the Edge checking out his sign, and they invited him onstage. Peretta started playing the opening to “Homecoming,” which surprised them (since it wasn't on the sign, and wasn't as noted above, a regular part of their set), but they went with it, despite the fact that Bono couldn’t remember the lyrics.  He started ad-libbing about the song, crediting Van Morrison for its inspiration, before turning it into a prayer for the United States, which only two months before had suffered the 9/11 attacks. The crowd went wild. Here’s the audio of the performance. Here’s Peretta’s detailed recollection of the night, and here and here are short audience videos showing him onstage.

As Peretta wrote about that night: “I can die happy now.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018

HOMECOMING: FEEL LIKE GOING HOME




Ain't this just the saddest song, a heartfelt plea, no, a searing moan, from a fading and failing heart, stranded out on the road, miles from home, and in probably the wrong direction? Hear it again here, in demo format, and it is way bleaker still, a last gasp, a vainglorious grasping at an unattainable rose-tinted past. Magnificent.

In truth I know little about Rich beyond this song. This version featured here is a late career 1993 reprise which, give or take the choir, exudes just a bit more pathos than the 1973 original or the better known 1975 version. It was quite a shock to discover this song was actually the work of a then quite young man. He first cropped up on Sun records, starting out, nominally, as a rocker, ahead of cementing his name in the Nashville 60s 'Countrypolitan' movement. I have also discovered he was behind this shocker of a song, an ear worm that can destroy any moment: I usually find myself singing it as I go shopping or mow the lawn, then finding it sticks with me for days, to the eternal annoyance of all I come into contact with. (And, no, I am not going to grace it by name, for fear of triggering another bout.) In fact, he had a number of careers, across a number of labels and styles, although all broadly within the country canon. It is also fair to say he was a colourful figure, that euphemism so beloved of obituary writers for unrepentant boozehounds. He died, fairly suddenly, of a pulmonary embolism, in transit for, ironically, not home, but going on vacation.

It is a song that hasn't had that many covers, the ones I have being on a Jools Holland country LP, featuring sometime popstrel Sam, daughter of Joe, Brown and on Mark Knopfler's early side project, the Notting Hillbillies. The first, clearly more a showcase for the bandleader's ivory tinkling, the latter  just a bit too slow for comfort. But the one that stands out for me is the one below, as performed by Scotland's majestic Battlefield Band, where the song seems to be drenched in hues of expatriate regret, almost a genetic memory of the homeland, tugging ceaselessly at the heartstrings of the vast scots-irish diaspora, no matter how many generations since the auld country became little more than a distant dream.


Rich.
Battlefield.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Leaves: Headstones and Dead Leaves


Glossary: Headstones and Dead Leaves
[purchase]

I’m trying hard to write about bands that I haven’t written about before, and this is a bonus, because it seems that Glossary has never been written about on this site. I can’t be sure, but there’s a good chance that I heard about the band from a now defunct blog called Nine Bullets, which was founded back in 2006 by a gentleman who went by the name Autopsy IV, who championed the kind of Americana roots rock that Glossary played so well. (Longtime readers of this site may remember that Autopsy IV was a contributor here back in 2008-2009).

Often compared to Lucero (with whom they have toured, and shared members and a record label) or Drive-By Truckers, because they actually do sound like those bands, Glossary, from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had their own style, and released a handful of albums from the late 1990s through the 2010s, all of which are worth checking out. Led by legally blind singer/songwriter/guitarist Joey Kneiser, Glossary focuses on character-driven and personal songs that are well-written and well-played, often featuring harmony vocals from Kneiser’s now ex-wife Kelly (with whom he continues to perform).

“Headstones and Dead Leaves,” from 2006’s For What I Don’t Become, is a perfect song for the theme, and for this time of year, as we head into the Halloween season, although despite its title, it is a hopeful song. The singer tells his partner that he doesn’t want her to die for him, or give up anything for him, because the world is cruel enough. He continues:

And headstones and dead leaves 
Are just reminders of 
What happens to living things like us 

In the end, though, he says that together, they can bury their regrets and “walk away alive.”

It appears that Glossary went on hiatus in 2013, when its drummer hurt his shoulder, but reformed in 2017 for some anniversary shows. Kneiser has released some fine solo albums, some more music with Kelly (now) Smith, and tours as a solo and duo act.

Bottom line—if you like this sort of music, Glossary is one of those bands that you might have missed, but it is never too late to catch up.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Leaves: Autumn Leaves

Cannonball Adderley: Autumn Leaves

[purchase]

During this theme, there has already been a mention of “the elephant in the room.” To me, the phrase refers to an obvious choice that everyone is ignoring. Indeed, it sometimes seems to me that one of our themes is more difficult than it needs to be, because everyone is rejecting a song as too obvious, My rule is that the first song that comes to mind is first for a reason: its quality. So here is my post of Autumn Leaves.

I know the song as a jazz standard. Cannonball Adderley’s version was released in 1958, one of three versions that year that established the song as a jazz classic. The passionate playing here of especially Miles Davis and Adderley show why. Although the song would become one of Davis’ signature tunes, available in at least four different live versions dating from 1958 to 1966, this is the only studio version of it that Davis made. Davis introduces the song, and his soloing stays close to the melody. This allows Adderley to make his entrance soloing, without restating the melody at all. So this version becomes a showcase for Adderley, which would explain why it is on his album, not Davis’. But make sure to listen all the way through to this one, for Hank Jones’ startling second solo near the end.

Yves Montand: Les Feuilles Mortes

[purchase]

In researching this post, I discovered something I never knew: Autumn Leaves has words! In fact, it has two sets of words, in French and English. The French lyric is the original. It started life as a poem, Les Feuilles Mortes by Jacques Prevert, and it was set to music by a Hungarian, Joseph Kosma. Yves Montand was the first to record it, in 1945. The French poem is quite different from the English lyric. Here is one translation I found:

Oh I would like you so much to remember/ The joyful days when we were friends./ At that time, life was more beautiful/ And the sun burned more than it does today.

Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful/ You see, I have not forgotten…/ Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful,/ So can memories and regrets./ And the north wind takes them/ Into the cold night of oblivion.

You see, I have not forgotten/ The song you used to sing me./ This song is like us./ You used to love me and I used to love you/ And we used to live together/ You loving me, me loving you./ But life separates lovers,/ Pretty slowly, noiselessly,/ And the sea erases on the sand/ The separated lovers’ footprints

Karrin Allyson: Autumn Leaves

[purchase]

Karrin Allyson’s Autumn Leaves is the only version I could find sung in both languages. Allyson takes the French lyrics in the original tempo, and then switches to double time for the English lyrics. At both speeds, she finds all of the emotional power of the song. The English lyric is almost a new song. Johnny Mercer wrote it in 1950, and his wife at the time, Jo Stafford, was the first to sing it. There is, in my mind, no good name for the musical genre that Stafford worked in. I have heard it called “Standards”, but that term can refer to any song that is performed by multiple artists. I have also heard it called “pop music”, but again the term has broader application. At any rate, I am referring to the musical genre where the singer performs with a full orchestra, and the arranger is just as important as the singer. Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole are examples of artists in this genre, and both would record their own versions of Autumn Leaves. Whatever this genre should be called, it is one of my least favorites, which is why I did not include Jo Stafford’s Autumn Leaves in this post.

Paula Cole: Autumn Leaves

[purchase]

In the jazz world, there are two ways to perform Autumn Leaves, fast and slow. Karrin Allyson does both, but I wanted to conclude with a great slow sung version, and Paula Cole of all people nails this one. Actually, the choice of Cole for this one makes more sense than I expected. I knew Paula Cole as a major label artist who had sung with Peter Gabriel and then had solo hits with Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? and I Don’t Wanna Wait. But it turns out that Cole was jazz singer before any of that happened. She records on her own label these days, using Kickstarter for funding, and her most recent album, Ballads, marks a return to her roots.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Leaves: All I Want Is To Be (Is By Your Side)



Peter Frampton: All I Want Is To Be (Is By Your Side)
[purchase]

It is far from an original thought to note that Frampton Comes Alive! came out of nowhere. Up until its release, Frampton, a talented guitarist, a passable singer, and a good looking guy with great hair, had experienced some minor fame with various bands, notably The Herd and Humble Pie, and as a sideman, but his pre-Comes Alive! solo career was generally underwhelming. A&M co-founder Jerry Moss had signed Frampton to the label when he was 19, because "He had a cool face, he didn't mind working, and he had a great attitude.” Frampton toured relentlessly and was one of those artists whose songs seem to work better live than on vinyl. And there was the talk-box effect.

So, when he recorded a live album, mostly at the Winterland in San Francisco, but also at the Long Island Arena and SUNY Plattsburgh, there really wasn’t much expected—it was released in January, 1976, after the holiday buying season—and A&M had its collective fingers crossed that it might sell half a million copies and be certified as a gold record. Instead, the album turned into the ultimate “grower.” It charted at No. 51 its second week, then rose to No. 22, No. 6, No. 4 and No. 2, where it stalled throughout March, before hitting No. 1 in April. And it showed staying power, bouncing around the top 10 for the rest of 1976, logging a total of 10 weeks at No. 1, and selling a shocking 6 million copies, which broke Carole King's sales record for Tapestry. Ultimately, it has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.

Why? I’m not really sure. It is not a great album; much of it is really pretty ordinary (which is why his prior solo albums were not big hits). There are a handful of really good rock songs on the album—songs that rocked hard enough, but not too hard to be offensive—filled with hooks and tight playing. As a high school student in 1976, I can tell you that rock radio played the crap out of the record, and it certainly was a part of the soundtrack of my high school years. Mostly, we heard the singles: "Show Me The Way," "Baby, I Love Your Way," and "Do You Feel Like We Do," but some stations went a couple of tracks deeper than that. So, it might just have been a case of the right album at the right time—a solid product, well promoted, that probably became discussed as one of those things that you had to buy, because everyone was buying it--sort of a pre-Internet version of going viral.

In addition to the rockers, a number of the songs on the live album were acoustic, which were included at Moss’ insistence.  They showcased Frampton’s fine playing and made for a nice contrast from the heavier tracks. One of the best of these is “All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side),” originally from his debut solo album. It’s a nice, bluesy, love song, although I find the lyrics a bit confusing—“I don't care if they cut my hair/All I want to be is by your side.” Huh? But it satisfies the theme by being one of approximately a billion songs that mention four leaf clovers. Yeah, I could have gone with the Old 97’s, but I’m trying to write about artists that I haven’t featured before.

Comes Alive! was, by far, the pinnacle of Frampton’s career. His next album, rushed out to capitalize on his new-found superstardom, was generally substandard, marred by a cheesy, cheesecake album cover and a truly sappy title track. It sold reasonably well, but was generally mocked, including by Frank Zappa. He then starred in the critically panned Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film, and was in a serious car accident. A few years later, all his guitars were believed to be destroyed in a cargo plane crash that killed three people, including the black Les Paul Custom that appeared on the cover of Comes Alive! (although it was found years later and returned to him).

Since then, Frampton has released albums, toured with his childhood friend David Bowie (who had been an art student of Frampton's father) and others as a sideman, released an unsuccessful Frampton Comes Alive! II, and has generally stayed active musically, even if most people don’t realize it.  And, like many of us, he no longer has great hair.

I think that it is fair to say that if the universe hadn’t aligned to give Peter Frampton one of the bestselling albums of his era, he’d probably have continued, putting out a series of albums that would have bubbled under the radar of most listeners, maybe occasionally having a radio hit, before being pushed aside from the public consciousness by new generations of musicians, like, say, Foghat, or Pat Travers. That certainly doesn’t mean that they are not good—to the contrary, such artists, including Frampton, are fantastically talented, but still, the incredible, massive,  success of Comes Alive! is an anomaly.

LEAVES: Leaf and Stream/Wishbone Ash

There is always going to be an elephant in the room of this theme, what with the sort of leaf and leaves seeming to be of, um, such appeal to musicians and music lovers. And I don't mean tea. So I have deliberately looked away and have not inhaled today, celebrating the more pastoral side. As in ain't nature wonderful, which, of course it is. This too has also provided a rich vein of inspiration, especially in my home land and especially in the more whimsical days of the hippy/folk/prog interface. Wishbone Ash, who would have hated any of those epithets alone, let alone collectively, actually and amply epitomise this union. Songs about a mythical mystical past? Check. Gentle melodies sweetly sung? Check. Rippling, dual lead guitars, playing tunes rather than shredding the notes. Check, double check. All so Game of Thrones, but without any of the troublesome cussing or titties.


Wishbone Ash were the cool band to have an album of tucked under your arm. 'Argus', from which this song is plucked, and/or 'Pilgrimage' seemed to be the peak of teenage dudedom in the early 70s, at least at my school. Not too popular or chart-bothering, a little bit niche, certain to pop up on the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show or in NME, the inky weekly hipster's bible . Yup, I fell for all of this, hook, line and sinker until the great awkwardness of the punk wars came along, sweeping all with hair and melody away in the tsunami of year zero. Which I also loved, transferring my passions, cutting my hair and narrowing my trousers. I don't suppose I ever listened to anything of theirs again. But they didn't go away. Nobody did: they all play on and probably at a theatre near you soon. Ash, as their faithful called them, did better, or was it worse, musical differences, always musical differences, causing them to become 2, or is it 3, bands, each with some claim to the name. Ugliness and the courts intervened and so there are currently at least 2 versions on the road, Wishbone Ash, featuring one original member, Andy Powell, and Martin Turner's band notallowedtobecalledWishboneAsh (which they probably wouldn't be allowed to be called either), which contains, ironically not only Turner, who actually founded the original band, but often also another original member, (no relation) Ted Turner and the long serving drummer of those epochal recordings, Laurie Wisefield. The Powell helmed band have continued to release new material, the Turner version ploughing the classic furrows of yesteryear. Such is life, and I would probably see either band as having equal right to the name and to perform, without, to be fair, me taking the time and trouble to seek out either. (Would either, could either surpass the records?)

Here's the nearest thing to making that decision, a near-unplugged from the official Ash, in 2017, Andy Powell sadly not wielding the flying V that was as much their trademark* as anything else, but it is visible behind him, stacked against the drum podium. (*And maybe why the courts gave him the band?)


And here, from the year before, is Martin Taylor's.


Buy the original, when all is said and done, it is a beautiful song.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Leaves: Simon and Garfunkel: Leaves That Are Green









purchase [ Leaves ]

As the theme generator, I fuss with the Blogger tools to check previously-used themes. I keep my own Excel file of used/unused themes which I try to keep up to date. [It's hard after 20 years]

That means decisions about <fall> or <autumn> or, this time, <leaves> as a substitute to fall, since that is the season.

That said, the first song that came to mind for the <Leaves> theme (considering my age and time-frame) was: Leaves That Are Green, a classic <folk> hit from the 60s that almost qualifies for "pop", but not rock.

The Simon and Garfunkel duo made millions (I trust) from their 60s albums that blurred the boundaries between "[pop] songs your Mom approved of" and the simultaneous raucous rock that was brewing underneath. Theirs was a kind of acceptable pathway to the inevitable cacophany of the latter half of the 70s: "Pop is not so bad/probably OK. If moderated."

I don't mean to take away from their later forays: Garkunkle's <My Home Town> has its high points and verges away from their <folk> format, to some extent.

Simon has done some very positive expositions of alternative [African] vibes - to everyone's benefit. But they [individually and combined] are generally relegated to a status less than they really deserve for what they have given/left us.

I cannot re-create the atmosphere of the mid-60s for you, a time filled with Motown, emerging Stones and Beatles, short-lived acts like Manfred Man, the Monekeys and more.
 
However, Simon and Garfunkel kept it up - both through the psychedelia (without going down that path) and then for at least another generation ... well a decade or two ..., each in their own way.

Leaves That Are Green .. somewhere between rock and the future ....

Simon & Garfunkel go back far enough that there are visual/video records of their first appearances, and there is one of their earliest <Leaves That Are Green> shows available online.


And .. summer moving into fall - we've got green going to brown.

Enjoy ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

AMAZE: WOW/KATE BUSH


For someone who barely dented America until fairly late in her her career, KB has certainly had her fair share of posts here over the years. Which is amazing. And amazing is the word that comes to mind whenever I think of her, although not perhaps for the reasons the by now middle aged matriarch would necessarily wish. And it isn't for that picture either!


Poor Kate was an easy target. With her speaking voice as individual as her singing voice, and a tendency to describe all in superlative led to her becoming fair game for parody. The parody above has not aged as well as the original, I suspect, but the clip shown displays her "incredible" and, of course, her "amazing". (Pity the poor woman, mind, where an appearance on TV is more to discuss some 3rd rate telly rather than her own work.....) I was sure she was also bestowed the honour of a Spitting Image puppet, but was unable to find any proof of this, so you will have to make do with this, which lampoons the ridiculous age, 20-30 years ago, of several then active rockers.

Anyhow, there is actually purpose to this meandering reminisce of time bygone, namely the song, lyrically rammed with the archetypical.


What I hadn't realised at the time was the content of the song, I now musing as to possibly any autobigraphical content to the description of the proximity to the "amazing" performer portrayed. I note also that there seems to have been an air-brush of the final line of the song, a sly reference to presumably more than the capability of vaseline to just prevent chapped lips. I read of a sly pat to her buttocks as that line was sung, but cannot find it, the BBC having censored that aspect for broadcast, it seems.

"We're all alone on the stage tonight
We've been told we're not afraid of you
We know all our lines so well, uh-huh
We've said them so many times
Time and time again
Line and line again

Ooh, yeah, you're amazing
We think you're incredible
You say we're fantastic
But still we don't head the bill

Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable! 
Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Unbelievable! 

When the actor reaches his death 
You know it's not for real, he just holds his breath 
But he always dives too soon, too fast to save himself 

He'll never make the screen
He'll never make the Sweeney
Be that movie queen
He's too busy hitting the Vaseline......."

Actually that was quite amazing for 1979. Who do you think it might be?

Buy it here.