Thursday, July 5, 2018

Burn/Fire: Fire On High

Electric Light Orchestra: Fire On High

Regular readers of my work here and elsewhere know that I’m a fan of prog rock, and I think that it is pretty clear that the Beatles were a profound influence on prog bands, many of whom have acknowledged this directly, or have covered Beatles songs. Electric Light Orchestra,which was founded when Roy Wood, of The Move, wanted to explicitly pick up where the Beatles left off, and use orchestral arrangements and instruments to fuse classical music with pop shows how it is possible to mix the two.

Initially, Wood recruited Jeff Lynne to join The Move, which also included drummer Bev Bevan, and they gradually morphed the older band into a new unit, Electric Light Orchestra. Wood left the band during the recording of their second album, leaving Lynne as the leader. And, there is no question that Lynne loved the Beatles (and the Beatles loved him—as you can see in the article that I linked to above, not only did they like his songs, Ringo and George guested on their albums, Lynne produced solo albums for Ringo, Paul, and George, replaced George Martin as producer for the Beatles’ last singles, and, of course Lynne was a Traveling’ Wilbury).

I was a fan of ELO during their mid-late 1970s heyday. I enjoyed the mix of pomp and pop. “Fire on High” is one of their stranger songs, suitable only as a B-side—an instrumental (mostly), with backwards vocals ("The music is reversible, but time... is not. Turn back! Turn back! Turn back! Turn back!"), choral segments and all sorts of odd stuff going on, making it still a fascinating listen.

Interestingly, despite its weirdness, a portion of the song was used by CBS for its sports coverage in the 70s. I have a strong memory that it was used for the network’s NBA coverage, but the Internet disagrees, telling me that it was actually, used for a sports anthology show, sort of like the better-known Wide World of Sports called the CBS Sports Spectacular. As we know, memory is a strange thing.

Back in the late 1980s, my friend Bill and I shared an apartment in New York, in the days when having an answering machine was still something that everyone had, and creating a theoretically clever outgoing message was popular. I remember that we used a few seconds of “Fire on High” and pretended that we were announcing a game while imparting the standard “we aren’t home, leave a message at the beep” message.

As I am writing this, I’m having second thoughts about whether it is a good idea to share this story or not. But we're all friends, here, right, and you won't think less of me. Right?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Burn/Fire-Have Love Will Travel

We'd like to welcome a new writer--Gregory W. Smith--to our ranks.  Here's his first post!!

For the theme of Fire/Burn, I’m choosing Tom Petty’s The Last DJ generally, and “Have Love Will Travel” specifically. I know neither of these have flames or burning in the title, but bear with me.

Let me set the stage, the year is 2002 and music is not what it used to be.  Satellite paid radio is on the rise and am/fm radio is being replaced by AOR, instead of the latest and greatest from the artists we have all known and loved for years.  American Idol is just finding its sea legs, where judges tell you who is the latest and greatest, instead of homegrown or even nationally known DJ’s.  The music business is in shambles at worst, or a cheesy popularity contest at best.  Along comes Tom and the boys to release a scathing attack on the music industry in album form.  The same Tom Petty that went to war over album prices in the eighties and never, ever took a corporate sponsor to go on tour.  Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the last great American rock band IMHO.

The album starts off with the title track, a love note to Los Angeles DJ Jim Ladd.  I don’t know much about this guy, but Tom thought the world of him apparently.  “Money Becomes King” follows at  number two, with “Joe” coming in at track four.  These three tracks all take aim at the music industry, but in three different ways.  “Money” is a shot of that feeling we’ve all had, when our hometown music god or goddess hits the big time.  You can still see in your mind’s eye, the large constellation they were in your small universe.  “Joe” takes aim at those notorious producers that seduce and use all the dreamers with stars in their eyes, just trying to score a record deal.  Once again, not about fire, but I think the world of those tracks.

The track that I first thought of at the mention of Burn/Fire is “Have Love, Will Travel” (track 11 on the album.)  Let me preface, that since his passing, this is the song of his I have most turned to most. It speaks to me now in ways it never did before.  His lines stand out it this song and stirs up imagery of what I have always viewed music to be.  Two lines or stanzas stand out most to me.

How about a cheer for all those bad girls
And all those boys that play that rock n roll  
They love it like you love Jesus
It does the same thing to their souls
That is the first one.  Music is by its nature spiritual.  It moves people to dance, to sing, to feel that you are no longer alone in the world, much like the Pentecostal denomination does for its parishioners.  A concert, whether it rock, rap, country, or polka dotted dinosaurs that play tambourines, is nothing but revival church writ large.  It stirs everyone deep down in their souls, at least it always has for my friends and I.

The next stanza is:

Maggie’s still trying to rope a tornado
Joe’s in the backyard trying to keep things simple
And the lonely dj’s digging a ditch,
Trying to keep the flames from the temple

And now you know why I chose this track.  The imagery in that one stanza gets me every single time.  I don’t what tornado Maggie’s chasing, but her hope is still there that she will rope it.  The simplicity of Joe, a man that appreciates the simple things in life, makes him loveable in his own. And then there’s that DJ.  He’s already tried creating a  line to keep the flames away and he’s down to his last line of defense, digging that forsaken ditch.  The flames are approaching, rising, burning the very air he breathes into his lungs, and still he won’t relent, won’t give up, won’t wave that white flag or won’t back down, if you will.  The temple is sacrosanct, the temple is all, the temple must survive at all costs.  And what is in the temple pray tell?  Why music of course.  The one thing that will never let us down.  The one thing that is there through the smiles and the tears.  The one fragile thing that protects our souls from the evil, vindictive, insane world.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Burn/Fire: Crash and Burn

Crash and Burn is a pretty popular phrase (Wikipedia says it's a "euphemism" for fail utterly, often with spectacle.) It's the title of several movies, some video games, and numerous songs - many of them unrelated except in title.

I had originally picked out the song by Yngwie Malmsteen, partly because I hadn't listened to him in a long time and recalled that I thought he was pretty good. But a little deeper digging revealed all the other songs with the same name. (I confess I am left a little confused about the role of copyright when so many can use the same without infringement.)

Starting with Yngwie [purchase]: the name immediately places us somewhere north or Europe (at least originally), and, yes if for some reason you never picked up on him, he's a hard rock guitarist with a classical background who hails from Sweden. And he's got lots of accolades dating back to the 80s. Apparently, if you can hit 1000 notes in succession in Guitar Hero II, you achieve the Yngwie Malsteen award.

Moving on: I linked to Sheryl Crow a few posts back and now again. Her "version" of Crash and Burn [purchase] has essentially no relation to the Malsteen song. To me - it's much nmore accessible (I don't really care for pyro-technic guitar behind Malsteen's style although I appreciate the skill involved). Sheryl Crow's more <Clapton> style is what I generally look for.

And then there's Thomas Rhett, country singer who has piled up a few hits, including Crash and Burn from 2015. You keep waiting for the girl in the video clip to change her mind, but then ... it is called Crash and Burn [purchase], so ... not.

And finally Savage Garden, another band whose name I know but am confessedly pretty ignorant of except for what I found online: to my loss. Like the above, they've got a Crash and Burn [purchase] song off their second and last album before they disbanded.