David Bowie’s “Modern Love”, flowcharted:
I’d forgotten how much I liked that song. What the heck, let’s play the whole thing:
David Bowie’s “Modern Love”, flowcharted:
I’d forgotten how much I liked that song. What the heck, let’s play the whole thing:
David Jones – who had to change his surname to “Bowie” after the Monkees debuted in the UK, almost fifty years ago – passed away yesterday, way too early, at age 69.
He’s been a longtime candidate for one of my “Things I’m Supposed To Love…” bits. I have always been ambivalent about Bowie’s music – and like a lot of music I started out as ambivalent about, it’s probably something I should look into further.
Historically? It probably doesn’t help that I first encountered Bowie at at time when he was at his most pretentious – and I was, personally, at my most pretentious in my disdain for pretense. And even some of his biggest fans will cop to the fact that, especially earlier in his career, a lot of style had to cover for not all that much substance; he started out as a pretty rudimentary lyricist. And, duh – rock and roll is more about style than substance; never let anyone tell you rock and roll is “poetry set to music”; it’s doggerel set to music slathered in style!
But it wasn’t my style.
So one way or another, Bowie had very little music that really, truly grabbed me where I lived, at least initially.
But it’s not quite that simple. It never is with music, is it?
Elvis Presley was born 81 years ago today.
And while normally I’d write something…
…to talk about why it mattered to me (because that’s who the blog is about, after all)…
…I figure I’ll just throw some vids out there – including a fairly cool fifties-era live vid from the decks of the USS Hancock, which I’d never seen…
…and let Sheila O’Malley – a certifiable Elvis fanatic – do the writing – including this piece here, on what may be one of his best performances, “If I Can Dream”, the finale from his legendary 1968 “comeback” special:
Happy 81st, Elvis!
Lemmy Kilmister of Mötörhead dead at 70.
Lemmy was lead vocalist, bassist, principal songwriter and the founding, and the only constant member of Motörhead since the band’s formation in 1975. To date, Motörhead have released twenty studio albums and achieved 30 million in sales worldwide. Their last record, Bad Magic, was released in August 2015.
Over forty years, Kilmister was simultaneously one of the gödfathers of speed metäl and pünk.
Motörhead saw far more commercial success in the UK, though they achieved a cult status in the US. Their ferocious hard-rock style rejuvenated the metal genre in the late 1970s and inspired everyone from Metallica to Guns N’ Roses to Dave Grohl. Albums such as Ace of Spades, Orgasmatron, and Rock N’ Roll were critically lauded, though ironically the band’s only Grammy Award came via a cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash”, which they recorded for a tribute CD.
They were cult figures in the US – but I remember going to Europe in 1983. And while that was a great year for a lot of bands – U2, Little Steven, Duran Duran, Madness, Big Country and many others – what band did I see in the most graffiti, all over Europe, from Scotland to Switzerland?
Kilmister bragged of drinking a bottle of whiskey a day for the past forty years, and was a vocal advocate of amphetamines. As such, he makes Keith Richard look like Pat Boone.
And that’s the real kick in the teeth. Rock stars – in the romance of the genre – aren’t supposed to die of cancer at 70. They’re supposed to go out in a blaze of alcohol-and-drug-fueled glory at 29.
We’ll always have “Ace of Spades”.
RI whatever passes for P in your worldview, Lemmy.
Oh, yeah – I didin’t much care for synth-pop.
No, I did not. Not much at all.
Part of it was that synthesizer-based pop tended to sound like an electronics class experiment:
OK, so that’s the artsy, German, “now is ze time on Schprockets when ve dance!” strain of the form.
But let’s be frank; even synth-pop that emphasized the “pop” largely sounded like it’d traded in what passed for “souls” for circuit boards.
Now, of course there was synth-pop that sounded like it was written and performed by humans, that used all the cool electronic beeps and squawks as vehicles for the sorts of emotional stimuli that music, left alone and in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, actually elicits a human response.
But it was all largely academic, because I just didn’t care that much. While the late seventies and early eighties were the heyday of synth pop, they were also the glory days of a lot of genres that I unabashedly liked: Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhodes were ushering in the air of the guitar hero with panache; post-punks like Big Country, the Alarm and U2 were showing the world that a couple of guitars, a bass and drums and a singer with some balls could still rip the roof off of any room in the place. Prince and a lot of his compatriots and imitators put rock and pop and funk and electronics into a big blender and hit “puree”, with glorious results.
And so it came to pass that I didn’t listen to Berlin a whole lot. Oh, I heard them, of course; you couldn’t escape “Take My Breath Away”, when Top Gun was the biggest movie in the world. They had a few other songs that mostly came and went in my consciousness, mostly in college or working one bar or another back in the day.
And I’m not exactly sure what it was that caused me to listen again. But it occurred to me – unlike the vast, vast, va-ha-ha-haaast majority of synthesizer pop, Berlin at its best had that immutable, utterly subjective quality that makes music migrate from my frontal lobe, where I appreciate music on an intellectual, techical, logical level, as a musician (or, more often, don’t appreciate it, to be perfectly honest) and migrate back to a deeper level; to my hypothalamus, or medulla, or heart, or liver for all I know; the part of me that says “this music has soul“.
And at their best, they did:
I’ve seen a few synth-pop bands over the years – I mean, I was in the Minneapolis music scene in the eighties, right? And the thing most of them had in common was that they’d bury their noses in their electronics, and treat the act of creating music – the most evocative of art forms – like they were playing a video game. Being tied to a keyboard, generally, implies being more or less stationary (Jerry Lee Lewis notwithstanding) and, at least in a sense, hiding behind an instrument; it’s a very different stance than playing the guitar.
And in terms of performing music live? Most synth-pop bands were hapless, stiff, dismal. On the other hand, at the height of their game, Berlin could take synth-pop and make it sizzle live:
Most of it had to do with the lead singer, Terri Nunn, who had a knack for throwing in little asides into her performances that filled what could have been dry, soulless electronic beeping and squawking with blood and flesh and passion; she was no Levi Stubbs, but her knack for the loaded interjection filled the same role in Berlin’s very different medium as Stubbs’ did for the Four Seasons. A better comparison, perhaps? Terri Nunn and Chrissy Hynde could do each other’s stuff at Karaoke night and have one of those “OMG, we sound just alike!” moments, and the comparison is about a lot more than just vocal timbre.
And it took me – kid you not – 33 years to discover it.
Because I was just too damn cool for it.
Speaking of too damn cool – it was exactly that, discovering (in this 2003-vintage VH1 epi of “Bands Reunited” – that Berlin grew up to be…
…pretty much a bunch of workadaddy, hugamommy schlubs like the rest of us:
Well, most of them did. Not Terri Nunn.
I can’t remember the band that was playing the first time I went to the First Avenue, in Minneapolis, when I first moved here in 1985 – although I have some fairly clear memories of my first impressions of the bar itself. It was probably one of any number of punk bar bands that were vying to be “The Next Replacements” – not much unlike the band I’d be starting myself in future months.
But I do remember clearly the first concert I went to: October 15, 1986 – Richard Thompson. It was on tour with this band…:
…and it was on my list of my top three concerts, ever.
I also remember the last concert I saw at the First Avenue (and the last club gig I attended at all, until I saw Katrina “and the Waves” Leskanich last spring at the Amsterdam); yep, it was Richard Thompson, in September of 1997. There were two other gigs – ’88 and ’90 – in between.
And so when I got a late tip that Thompson was coming to town this past Wednesday, I had to check it out.
It was a chilly night in downtown Minneapolis – which, in my memory, was always what it felt like on concert nights in Minneapolis when I was in my 20s:
The, er, disconcerting part? The first time I saw Thompson, the average age in the audience was 25-40. On Wednesday, it was more like 50-60…:
…although there were a gratifying share of twentysomethings in the house. Upside? While concerts with bands catering to twentysomethings routinely find themselves getting patted down or run through metal detectors, security was pretty irrelevant at the Thompson gig.
The opening act – Richard Thompson, doing a solo acoustic set – was predictably amazing. And when I say “amazing”, it’s not just an idle conversational space-filler; I’m not a bad guitar player, but every time I see Thompson, I say that very quietly, and go home afterward and ponder starting over on the instrument from scatch, just to try to get it right.
How amazing? I’m one of tens of thousands of guitarists who’ve tangled their fingers into bloody spaghetti trying to conquer his most famous acoustic tune, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, which see:
That was a fairly simple rendition, by the way. He closed his solo set with the song – and he’s taken up jamming on the bass part, throwing in a few dramatic, swooping descents, all the while picking the high part.
All the while singing the song. I can barely think the three things at the same time, much less pull them off on the guitar.
No, I can’t describe it any better.
After the acoustic set, the Richard Thompson Electric Trio – drummer David Jerome and bassist Michael Faraday (or so it sounded from the stage – I didn’t catch his name, and can’t find a reference to him online) – took over.
This being the first time I’d seen Thompson live in almost 18 years, it was a little odd seeing him without some permutation of the band he’d been touring with since the seventies; the first four times I saw him, the band was some combination of Dave Mattacks on drums, Dave Pegg or Danny Thompson on bass, Pete Zorn/Clive Gregson/Christine Collister on guitars, keyboards, backup vocals and (with Zorn) sax. That group of musicians was pretty much Thompson’s comfort zone for many years.
So the new band was a switch; Faraday (?) is a very solid, steady bass player – a human low-frequency metronome through the often-frenetic modulations in Thompson’s music.
Jerome, on the other hand, is a trip. Formerly with Better than Ezra as well as a dizzying range of session work with everyone from KD Lang and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama to the Toadies and John Cale, he’s also been Thompson’s go to drummer since 2002’s Mock Tudor album. Live, with an extremely stripped down kit, and plenty of room to stretch out in the power trio format, he’s every bit as eclectic and all over the map as Thompson himself – sort of an improvisational jazz drummer in an Brit folk-rock world.
The show was notably light on older material – which makes sense; how does someone who’s never had a “great hit” do a greatest hits tour?
Still, an artist like Thompson, with a body of work going back almost fifty years, could easily fill two hours with stuff that’d keep a crowd of long-time fans (like yours truly) happy without doing anything after 1990.
But with a few exceptions – “Valerie” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” from the solo set, and “For Shame of Doing Wrong”, “Wall of Death”, “Did She Jump (Or Was She Pushed)” and a madcap rave-up of “Tear-Stained Letter” with the band, most of the show was stuff from this past decade, mostly the last few albums.
And I could scarcely be happier. While it’d be fun to curl up with songs from I Want To See The Bright Lights or Shoot Out The Lights or Across A Crowded Room would be fun and comfortable, that’d make a Thompson tour just another Rolling Stones tour, without the piles and piles of money. If you’re not in it for the megabucks (not that Thompson doesn’t earn a respectable living as a touring cult favorite with a decent-sized fanatical following), I can see where staying creative can get pretty vital.
I’ll take a run at one highlight; the song “Guitar Heroes”, which Thompson dedicated with a wink and a nod to “Steve Vai and Joe Satriani”. The song has nothing to do with either of them; the song jumps from its own (minor-key rockabilly) theme into stylized passages from “Melodie au Crepuscule” by Django Reinhardt, “Caravan” by Duke Ellington (with Juan Tizol on guitar), “Brenda Lee” by Chuck Berry, “Susie Q” (the pre-Creedence version) “F.B.I.” by the Shadows.
But it’s hard to pick a highlight; like all Thompson shows, I spent most of the evening, slack-jawed, realizing that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to play a guitar like that.
Which, I guess, is comforting in its own way. After three and a half decades, five shows, a couple dozen albums, a marriage, three kids and three careers, at least that’s stayed a constant.
Look for a refund, if you bought tickets.
RIP, Scott Weiland, who apparently passed away in Bloomington last night.
We’ll always have 1995:
Bruce Springsteen turns 66 today.
Here’s a vid from 40 years ago, in case you don’t feel older enough already.
In the orthodox rock ‘n’ roll canon spread in the late 70s and early 80s by the curia of rock critics – the likes of Dave Marsh, Griel Marcus, Robert Christgau and the rest of Rolling Stone’s round-table of critics – the nadir of popular music was the six-year stretch between Elvis departing for the army, and the Beatles landing in New York.
The reason – this according to a claque of people who build careers “criticizing” an art form that was immune to criticism – was that for those six years, control of the pop music industry reverted back to what had it had been before the rise of Sun records and “black” radio; groups of full-time, professional “song pluggers” cranking out music by the bushel basket in the Mad Men-era equivalent of Tin Pan Alley, in places like the legendary Brill Building, where is songwriters cranked out songs in bulk lots, matched them up with casting-agency generic singers, who recorded the songs with groups of anonymous studio musicians with all of the ceremony of running groceries past the scanner, applying mass production tactics not much different than Eli Whitney or Henry Ford had brought to their products.
According to this mythology, on the other hand, 1954-58, and again after 1964, music was the production of legions of plucky songwriter-performers, during Elvis’ heyday, and again from the Beatles through roughly Woodstock.
According to their orthodoxy, music in the early 70s started slipping, with the creative process falling into the hands of “corporations ” , From which it was saved first by the punks, then by the “new wave” and then…
… well, it doesn’t matter. History has gone on. The curia has obsolesced itself; who on earth reads Rolling Stone anymore, much less remembers, much less pays attention, to Greil Marcus or Robert Christgau or Dave Marsh?
Of course, both impressions were an illusion; a few songwriters, whether working in a song mill in Manhattan or in a row house in Liverpool, have always hoarded a disproportionate share of talent and sales. And plucky independents have always existed and upset the machine on occasion.
I list all of that background by way of saying something that would otherwise sound like the ravings of a curmudgeon; for all of the “critics” caterwauling about music before ’54, from ’54-’58, or during the early ’70s, the notion that every generation of parents has held – that all music sounds the same – has never been more true.
It’s not just a curmudgeonly illusion; it does largely sound the same, because most of what passes for popular music today is written and produced by, literally, the same five people.
Years ago, I was working in an “oldies” station. Still being in the middle of a radio career, and trying to keep my options open (I’d always wanted to do news and talk, and was chafing with life as a disc jockey – but “when in Rome…”, as they say), I asked the station’s program director what it was that made a song an “oldie”.
He replied that music directors operated on two key bits of psychology:
I was sitting in a Culver’s the other day. They were playing Sirius FM’s “Original MTV Veejay” station – the station where Martha Quinn and the rest of the original MTV VJs (no, I can’t remember anyone but Martha Quinn) voicetrack the songs that were in vogue from 1981-86ish.
And for some reason, they played a 4-5 song sweep of nothing but music that was on the radio and MTV when I moved to the Twin Cities, 30 years ago next month.
And, just like my old program director said, it was incredibly evocative. I remembered how it felt driving across the prairie for the last time as a North Dakota resident, listening to Rain on the Scarecrow. Driving down 494 and turning onto the Southtown Strip for the first time as “Money for Nothing” played on the radio. My first rush hour on 494 at Cedar, racing to my first job interview in the Cities to the tune of “Shout”, in WLOL. Watching MTV after a long day of cold calling and seeing “Take On Me” for the first time.
And I started writing this post on my phone.
(Warning: immense number of embedded videos below the jump. You’ve been warned).
Born to Run – for my money, one of the ten greatest albums in the history of American rock and roll, and of that list, one of my 2-3 favorites – turns thirty years old today.
No, wait – 1975? That’s forty years go.
I’m going to re-run a post I first did on the album’s thirtieth anniversary. Which is, itself, kind of a chronological whack in the head; I’ve been blogging long enough to cover two decennials of this album.
But it was one of my favorites when I first wrote it, and I’m glad to put it out there again.
Bruce Springsteen released Born To Run thirty years ago today.
Thirty years. The album is twice as old as I was when I first heard it.
I hear the album today, and it’s still just as fresh as it ever was. If Rock and Roll is a matter of crystalline moments that still cut and shine through the tarnish of the years and the background noise of everyday life, Born To Run is the mother of all diamonds.
I remember being a seventies-addled junior high kid, watching the guy at Mother’s Records in Jamestown – the one across from the high school – drop the needle on the first copy of Born To Run I ever saw, on the one hand thinking “no way it’s better thanBoston“, on the other hand looking at the sleeve – a 26 year old Bruce leaning on a 33 year old Clarence (with a Fender Freaking Telecaster Squire, in the middle of the heyday of the Gibson Les Paul, no less!), presaging the joy and tension and just plain ENERGY in the album, and thinking “Wow. That’s rock and roll”.
And then – Thunder Road:
The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch. As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again, I just can’t face myself alone again
A girl! Dancing on the porch! Sign me up!
All prelude of course, to the burst of energy to come that washed over me, that shot a chill up my spine:
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
This two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, Heaven’s waiting on down the tracks…
Bruce has done better albums (Darkness on the Edge of Town, Tunnel of Love), he’s had records that sold more albums (Born In The USA) – but no album, before or since, has ever had moments like Born To Run.
Moments – it’s a prosaic word, but in the world of Mitch, as applied to Rock and Roll, it has a very specific meaning that, for purposes of explanation, I should make clear; a “moment” is something, some tiny snippet of a song, that sends a chill up your spine, that rattles you to the core of your being. They can be huge and dramatic (Roger Daltrey’s scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”), or light and subtle (Susannah Hoffs’ cooing “to a perfect world” at the end of “Dover Beach”, from the first Bangles album); they can be part of a great song (the final “to bring the victory Jesus won…” in U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, the murderous guitar hooks in Big Country’s “Where The Rose Is Sown”, the bridge in Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’”), a mediocre one (the final coda in the Alarm’s “Blaze of Glory”, the bridges in the Babies’ “Isn’t It Time”), even a crappy one (Neil Schon’s entrance in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”), it can beat you over the head (the beginning of Barry Goudreau’s blazing final solo in Boston’s “Long Time”), it can seduce you (the mournful, whispered chorus of Richard Thompson’s “Jenny”, Aimee Mann’s transclucent last line of the last verse of Til Tuesday’s “Coming Up Close”). You get the picture.
Moments are ephemeral, unpredictable. Most artists never have one (Laura Brannigan and Dee Snider searched their whole careers in vain); most albums never send a single chill up a lonely spine. A single such moment can redeem an otherwise mediocre career; the world could forget the Monkees, Roxette, 10,000 Maniacs, the Cars and Abba tomorrow, but I’d love them for a grand total of maybe fifteen seconds worth of moments among them (brief snippets of “I’m A Believer”, “It’s All Over Now”, “These Are Days”, “Bye Bye Love” and “SOS”, two-second flares of pop brilliance that are all I need). A talent for such moments – the ability to create more than one or two on a couple of albums – is a rare thing indeed, almost mythical. Pete Townsend, Ray Davies, Chuck D, Lennon/McCartney, Paul Westerberg, Chrissy Hynde (until about 1985), Bono/The Edge, Stuart Adamson, Smokey Robinson, Levi Stubbs, Aimee Mann – it’s a small, select list.
And in no album are there more such moments jammed so tightly together, moments enough to define the careers of a dozen other artists, moments that, thirty years later, still thrill and chill and drag you out into onto the Jersey Turnpike of the mind in Dad’s jalopy. None. Ever:
Born To Run is the encyclopedia of rock and roll – one moment at a time.
And thirty years later, it still crackles like static from the speakers, feeling barely controlled, throbbing with potential energy (“Backstreets’” ominous buildup) and thundering with explosive release (“Night”), careening from smokey barroom to dragstrip to rumble to backseat like one of those lost weekend evenings from your teens – or the teenage years you imagined other people having – packed into a sleeve.
Born to Run is one of those rare records that feels as good today as the day it was released; it hasn’t aged or dated itself one iota; one of those bits of art that will long outlive its creator.
One moment at a time.
My writing has changed a bit in the past ten years. So has Bruce’s.
But Born to Run has stuck with me, through my own 35 or so years of over-the-top fandom, like few other albums ever.
Politics? Who cares. I mean, yes – between 1975 and 1987 Bruce wrote a cavalcade of songs that couldn’t resonate with conservatives more if he had campaigned for Steve Forbes in 2000 – but again, some things are just more important than politics.
Anyway. I’m outta here for the rest of the day, hanging out with the Duke Street Kings.
This album, when it comes out.
(Via Fresch Fisch)
…or at least musicians…
…who stayed awake in science class…
It was sixty years ago today – when Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets officially reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is generally regarded as the beginning of the “Rock and Roll Era”.
Read Steyn, of course; it’s worth it.
The parlor game for me, of course, is noting what parts of pop music history are before and after the half-way mark of Rock and Roll history.
Music that was released closer to Rock around the Clock than to the present day?
And the 1/3 point? July 9, 1975? Anything before then is half as far from the beginning of the era as from today.
And the 1/4 point? Music that is three times as far from today than from the beginning of the era, before July 9, 1970?
Anyway – read Steyn.
Music geeks over the weekend noted the passing of Chris Squire, longtime bassist for prog-rock icons Yes.
Now, as I’ve written innumerable times, I really listen to music on two levels; is the music technically adept in some way – singing, instrumental chops, production – and does it grab me in the liver and say “this song is something important to you”.
Much Noise, Signifying…: Speaking for me? Yes – of whom Squire was the only constant member from 1968 through his passing, as the band went through 18 other members over the years – was always plenty of the former, and only rarely any of the latter.
As to the former, the musical talent? It was always the band’s long suit. I, like a lot of guitar players of a certain age, grew up very pleased with myself for nailing the first part of “Roundabout”, and bobbing my head in awe at the rest of the song:
Admit it; if it weren’t for “I’ve Seen Good People” and “Roundabout”, you don’t know the words to the chorus of a single “Yes” song before 1984. It’s not the most ornate Yes song of their first 16 years as a band – they frequently had songs that filled entire 20 minute album sides – and far from their least accessible.
But there’s no doubting the technical chops; Rick Wakeman’s virtuosic but gaseous keyboards, Jon Anderson’s fluid lead singing, and Steve Howe’s technically-impeccable and occasionally-brilliant guitar (why does he always look like he’s getting a prostate exam when he’s playing?).
But Squire’s bass is the most notable thing about the song; from the blazingly ornate yet reliable sixteenth-note runs during the verses, to the off-kilter pulse of the chorus, it’s really brilliant stuff.
Which, of course, made me nod my head and go “yeah, pretty brilliant – now where’s some music I actually feel?”
Worse, Yes committed some terrible crimes against music. Their trite, mawkish cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” deserves a tribunal, somewhere:
It was the first time I had actually felt some emotion besides admiration for their technical chops when listening to a Yes song. In this case, it was unbridled hatred for murdering a great song.
But it wasn’t the last.
So – wanna start an argument with a “Yes” fan? Tell him you didn’t hear a “Yes” song that you actually enjoyed until “Owner of a Lonely Heart”:
The band shed Howe (who went to join the dull as dry toast “GTR” for a few years) and added South African guitar whiz Trevor Rabin. They also did three albums in a row produced by Trevor Rabin, the former lead singer of “Buggles” (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), who’d sung lead for Yes for a year before becoming one of the defining producers of the 1980s.
And again – underneath Rabin’s guitar and Wakeman’s un-Wakeman-y keyboards, Squire’s bass is absolutely subtle and ingenious.
The best way to get an old-school “Yes” fan to try to assassinate you is to say you prefer the song to their earlier work. But I do. Far and away. Assassinate me? Bring it.
No Respect: I wasn’t the only one who didn’t much care for Yes. The Rock and Roll hall of fame has been cool to them:
In February 2013, Rolling Stone spoke to Squire about Yes’ legacy and the fact that Rush, but not Yes, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Logistically, it’s probably difficult for whoever the committee is to bring in Yes,” Squire said. “Rush is fairly simple. It’s the same three guys and always has been. They deserve to be there, no doubt about that. But there still seems to be a certain bias towards early-Seventies prog rock bands like Yes and King Crimson… In our case, we’re on our 18th member. If we ever do get inducted, it would be only fair to have all the members, old and new. So that may be a problem for the committee. I don’t know.”
Of course, the Hall of Fame – for whatever it’s worth, which is really not much – is dominated by critics. And critics have always savaged the band, except for their brief flirtation with New Wave during the Rabin years. Dave Marsh wrote in the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Buyer’s Guide:
Classical rockers with hearts of cold, Yes entered the Seventies as a creative example of post-Pepper‘s artistic aspirations, a musicianly alternative to the growing metal monster rock was becoming. It left the decade as perhaps the epitome of uninvolved, pretentious and decidedly nonprogressive music, so flaccid and conservative that it became the symbol of uncaring platinum success, spawning more stylistic opponents than adherents. … On Tales from Topographic Oceans, the bottom fell out …
Now, I had that particular Record Buyer’s Guide. And I was as “rockist” as Marsh, who is most famous as the definitive biographer of The Who and Springsteen, and who has always compared all rock and roll to the MC5, and always will.
At it was via watching rock critics’ treatment of Yes during its various stylistic gyrations in the eighties – especially Marsh, my favorite as a teenager, and the single most promiscuous mixer of art and politics in the English language – that I finally realized something; that the real gaseous, bloated, self-important, pretentious, overblown, in-love-with-the-sounds-of-their-precious-creativity ones…
…are the rock critics.
RIP Chris Squire,
Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:
I’m working my way through two inches of abstract of title to a parcel of real estate, preparing to write an Attorney’s Opinion on Title, while listening to “Truckin” by the Grateful Dead. Enjoying my job today, the music is a big part of it.
What do other SITD readers listen to?
The last ten songs on my rotation:
Ben Beaumont-Thomas of the Guardian on the Roland TR808 drum machine, which turns 35 this year:
It struck a chord as an instrument that truly reflected the 80s. “Home computers were coming on the scene, and it just fitted in with that,” says Joe Mansfield, a drum machine collector who wrote this year’s pictorial history Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession. “It sounded futuristic, what you thought a computer would sound like if it could play the drums.” It began to seep into the mainstream, as the backbeat to Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, and across the Atlantic to the UK into, firstly, the industrial and post-punk scenes, where Graham Massey of Manchester acid house act 808 State first encountered it.
“It had that industrial heritage, but had that soul heritage,” he says. “The Roland gear began to be a kind of Esperanto in music. The whole world began to be less separated through this technology, and there was a classiness to it – you could transcend your provincial music with this equipment.” Massey made hip-hop with the 808, and then, because he couldn’t afford anything else, used it for house too, making “dense, jungle-like” tracks that also deployed the 909. “On the 909 the kick was a bit more in your chest, a bit more of an aggressive drum machine. The 808 almost seems feminine next to it … the cowbell on the 808, that’s the thing that says mid-80s R&B to me – SOS Band, big dancefloor anthems, which were a massive thing in the north-west of England. It wasn’t just nerdy DJ culture, it was a ‘ladies’ night’ kind of music.”
It was a commercial flop – but the TR808 has influenced music of the 1980s through 2010s the same way the Fender Stratocaster influenced the fifties through the seventies.
No, really; you’ve heard it, whether you know it or not:
When I bought my first multitrack recorder (a Fostex four-track cassette machine), I got the next generation – smaller and cheaper, not more authentic-sounding. And while the sound quality of digital sampling drum simulators, software and hardware, has improved, they haven’t done much to improve the control a producer has over the way his “drummer” plays. Trying to make drum “loops” on a computer just isn’t the same.
I’m not the world’s biggest Madonna fan (except as otherwise established).
And I’m even less of a Jimmy Fallon fan.
But this was kinda cool:
In my heart, I’m still a rock and roll musician. The urge to start another band – if only for the fun of it – someday still lurks deep in my heart.
But it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to make the time. The last time I played a gig in public was July of 1996. The last time I actually had a band was the winter of 2001 – we never played out. And the last time I actually saw a band live in a bar was probably sometime in the fall of 2002.
So when I was walking up Wabasha in downtown Saint Paul back around the end of March, by the Amsterdam Bar, and saw a poster for “Katrina, formerly of The Waves” doing a show on April 4, the idea of actually seeing it flashed briefly, then went out.
And then I stopped, and turned around, and looked at the poster.
And thought “why not?”
And so when I got home, I got on Ticketfly, and ordered a ticket. And thought; “how do I do club concerts anymore?
Going Down To Uppertown To Do Nothing: We’ve talked about Katrina and the Waves; their past as a “one hit wonder” that shouldn’t have been here in the US, combined with a slew of really excellent pop music that had a bunch of hits in Canada and Europe.
Of course, the Waves broke up in 1999, after a brief comeback in 1997 in the UK; their lead-singer, the iron-lunged Katrina Leskanich, has had a spotty solo career since then.
So I figured why not?
Red Wine And Jack Daniels: I’d never been to the Amsterdam before (at least not since it was “Pop”, back around 2010-ish). The front of the house – the bar and restaurant – is “bohemian” with an uptown sheen. The back of the joint – the “Hall” – affects “rock and roll club”, all black and worn and rough-hewn, without the whole “sticking to the seats” and “getting pounded by bouncers” experience that the real thing always gave you back in your twenties.
I got there late; I missed the first act, and caught the last two songs of the mid-card act, “The Flaming Ohs”, a band I first saw during Ronald Reagan’s first term, and didn’t like much during the second (and only two of whose original members are still alive).
I was a little gratified to notice that on this, my first venture back to a club in 12 years, I was actually right around median age; lots of forty and fiftysomething fans turned out for this, the band’s first stop in the Twin Cities since Mikhail Gorbachev was in power.
Walking On Stage Light: The surest sign everyone involved had grown up? The band got onstage promptly at the advertised time, 9:50:
And they were on!
The setlist was concise, and actually a pretty decent mix of crowd faves from the eighties and Katrina’s new stuff (or, for all I know, stuff from after 1988; let’s be honest, I didn’t pay that much more attention to them than anyone else…):
Cry To Me: Katrina is not Katrina and the Waves. That’s neither and both bad and good.
Comparing the material from her post-Waves albums, it’s easy to see how the
Waves-era material benefited from being a team effort (“Walking on Sunshine” was written by Waves guitarist Kim Rew; “Do You Want Crying” by bassist Vince De La Cruz). A team effort that catches a stray bit of fire, like the Rew/De La Cruz/Leskanich efforts did for couple of glorious years in the eighties, is a rare and largely very focused thing.
The newer material is all over the map; “Texas Cloud” sounds like one of the ZZ Top songs that Leskanich performed in cover bands before the Waves made it big; “Sun’s Coming Upper” was moody and introspective and a big swerve from the stuff that put the band on the map.
I went there expecting a musical roller coaster ride; most gigs from musicians that have been and out of the public eye for a generation are. The muse is a fickle critter.
The band – journeyman session drummer Kevin Tooley, guitarist Jimi K Bones (of one of later-era versions of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, as well as Kix), and bass player Sean Koos (another former Blackheart, among many other bands) was actually a lot tighter than I’d ever seen the Waves; they took what could have come across as a Holiday Inn lounge nostalgia act and made it crackle with energy.
And that was by no means a given; the show at the Amsterdam was the final stop on a fifteen-gig tour that started Saint Patrick’s Day in New York. And for bands that aren’t currently lighting up the Top Forty, that means road travel, not flying, for the most part.
Second sign that everyone had grown up in the past thirty years? The show was over not too terribly long after 11, and most of the crowd hit the doors; there was no chanting for an encore.
Which meant it was a nice, relaxed little group that greeted Leskanich and the rest of the band when they came out into the hall about half an hour later. I got a chance to talk rock and roll history with Bones, and tell Leskanich how much I’d enjoyed her music. Nothing major, just fun.
Sort of like the show as a whole.
Things like this almost never happen in church.
To: Thom Yorke; Leader, Radiohead
From: Mhitch Berge, uppity music buff
Re: Marketing Idea
While I’ve never been a big fan of Radiohead’s music, I’ve always enjoyed your marketing innovations.
You were the first major artist to put all your music online. You were the first to try a “pay us what you want” pricing model.
Of course, other models have come and gone. But I’m going to propose something to vault you ahead of everyone else.
Post your master recordings online.
Make the Logic or ProTools masters (or get really radical and export them to GarageBand and Audacity) available for anyone to download, remix, re-record, add their own vocals, or whatever. Become the first open-source superstars.
Have your people call my people.
That is all.
Hard to believe it was fifteen years ago last Saturday that Kids in Philly by Marah was released.
Here they are on the old Conan show:
They’re still out there, and still putting out enough great stuff that it’s a shock it’s been so long.
This is only news because of government-run media.
It’s been happening in the US for half a decade.
Yet another advantage of the free market.