Archive for May, 2013


Please Please Me

 

One…two…three…four!  Aww, the mop-top Beatles.  So young, so innocent (well, maybe not so innocent…Capitol records wouldn’t release the song “Please Please Me” in the U.S. because they thought it was about oral sex)…so different than the psychedelic Beatles.  And honestly, I never liked the mop-top era nearly as much as the psychedelic era.  I don’t know…it’s just too lovey-dovey.  But I guess everybody has to start somewhere, and the Beatles pretty much started here.  This was their debut album…in England.  Actually, the first two Beatles albums (this and “With the Beatles”) were not officially released in the United States until the advent of the CD in the late 80s.  I’ve read differing accounts of why this happened, and one is that Capitol records, their U.S. label (Parlophone was their lable in England), wanted a more sanitized content (she was just 17 would make her underage in most states…except West Virginia).  The other plausible reason is that there are 6 covers apiece on the Beatles first two albums and Capitol did not want to pay royalties to the other artists.  Either way, the U.S. would have to wait a year until Capitol released “Meet the Beatles” (although a Chicago label called VeeJay Records released a record called “Introducing the Beatles” 4 months after this album was released).

So I picked this up for $5 at Used Kids back in October after work and before a class I was taking.  Right away I noticed that the young Fab Four wore their influences right on their sleeves…this album sounds like 50s sock hop rock.  Chuck Berry’s influence is all over this record, as well as Buddy Holly’s and even a little Elvis Presley.  There are several covers (presumably because they hadn’t written enough original material for a full-length record yet), the highlight of which is John Lennon’s scorching rendition of “Twist and Shout” (forever immortalized in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”).  Okay, its a little weird when Ringo sings the Shirelles’ “Boys”, but whatever…it’s Ringo.  The historically important thing here is the formation of the McCartney/Lennon songwriting team.  And while the songwriting still had a long way to go at this point, you can hear the beginnings of the great vocal harmonies for which the Beatles became famous.  You can also feel a youthful energy on this record, seemingly of four guys who just were happy to be playing rock ‘n roll (well, 4 guys on the tracks that George Martin let Ringo play more than just the tambourine).

Other lists: “I Saw Her Standing There” is #140 and “Please Please Me” is #186 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.  Also, “I Saw Her Standing There” is #16, “Please Please Me” is #20, and “Love Me Do” is #87 on the list of the 100 Greatest Beatles Songs.  Finally, the album ranks 17th on Rolling Stone’s relatively new list of the 100 Greatest Debut Albums (released this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of “Please Please Me”).

My favourite track: “I Saw Her Standing There”

Honourable mention: “Twist and Shout”

Quote: “In my mind there’s no sorrow.  Don’t you know that it’s so there’ll be no sad tomorrow?”

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The Athology

 

Muddy Waters…the great blues-man who inspired the chorus of the greatest Bob Dylan song, the name of one of the world’s most famous rock bands, and also named the world’s most influential rock music magazine…all from one famous lyric (“Sho nuff, he’s a rollin’ stone”).  Historically, Muddy Waters is one of the most influential musicians ever…yet I had never bothered to listen to him much until I purchased this anthology from Amazon for the steep price of $19.73 (at least I bought it before Amazon raised their shipping rates!).  But for that price, you get 50 tracks that span his entire career, so its not such a bad deal.

This starts off similarly to the Robert Johnson set with very straight-forward Mississippi Delta blues style songs that show off Muddy’s guitar chops.  However, as you get farther into the set, Muddy progresses to a full blues band sound (apparently out of necessity from playing in loud Chicago blues clubs) and eventually he develops into a full bar rock sound with a country influence.  At this later point in his career, he stops playing guitar and focuses exclusively on his singing.  However, the guitar work doesn’t suffer at all in this latter stage of his career, as Jimmy Rogers picks up the slack.  Buddy Guy even makes an appearance on a couple of the tracks near the end of the anthology.  This is a pretty massive set (over 2 and half hours worth of music) but the variety keeps it interesting, and from a historical perspective, virtually every famous blues lick is represented here somewhere.

Other lists: Four songs from this set make the Rolling Stone list of the Top 500 Songs of All-Time: “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” at #226, “Mannish Boy” at #230, “Got My Mojo Working” at #368, and “Rollin’ Stone” at #465.  Rolling Stone (the magazine) also ranks Muddy as the #17 Greatest Artist, the #53 Greatest Singer, and the #49 Greatest Guitarist (Buddy Guy, who plays on two tracks on this anthology, beats him out at #23).

My favorite track: “I Just Want to Make Love to You”

Honorable mention: “Mannish Boy”

Quote: “Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five, my mother said I would be the greatest man alive.  But now I’m a man, I made 21.  I want you to believe me honey, we havin’ lots of fun!”

Hotel California

“If I had known then what I know now…”, Edward Louis Severson III

Listening to this album brings back bittersweet memories to me.  I first heard it when I was pretty young.  Mi madre was (and still is) a huge Don Henley fan, and she had several Eagles albums when I was a kid.  This album was released the year I was born, 1976, and growing up in Northeast Ohio, it seemed like the Eagles were always on the radio.  And because of their crossover country pop rock genre, it seems like they were on every radio station format.  But most of all, I remember “Hotel California” and “New Kid In Town” being on the jukebox at Eddie’s Grill in Geneva-On-The-Lake.  Pretty much every time we went to Eddie’s, mi madre would drop a quarter in the table-side jukebox and we would wait for those two songs to play while we ate our burgers and drank our root beer.  And, as the only thing that ever changes at Eddie’s are the prices (you can see the paint spots on the wall where they paint over last year’s prices), those two songs are still on the jukebox there to this very day.

The above memories are the sweet ones.  The bitter ones happened later in my teenage years when I was trying to learn the intricacies of high school dating.  It was toward the beginning of my junior year of high school and I had just had my first ever summer fling while working as a carnie at Eriewview Park.  I was single again and doing a fantastic job striking out with every girl I had a crush on.  Sometime in the late fall there was a school dance and a bunch of us (Gear Head, Black Cloud, and the gang) were hanging out and acting stupid and dancing in a big circle (there will always be safety in numbers).  Suddenly on the periphery of our group a girl appeared, and by some strange miracle of fate, she seemed interested in me.  And the Gear Head.  The game was on…which young, socially awkward, sheltered, innocent teenage boy would win the girl?  Somehow I started saying all the right things…she was laughing at my lame jokes and she seemed genuinely interested in my mundane topics of conversation.  Things were going well, but I knew I needed a slow song to seal the deal.  I happened to know the DJs (it was a small school, everybody knew everybody), so I ran over to the booth and asked for a slow song…any slow song!  He played “Hotel California”…and thus the major relationship of my high school years (we dated for a year and a half after the dance) began to a song about being trapped in a  bad situation. And for the entire time we dated, “Hotel California” was “our song”.   Oh the irony!  I guess its no surprise the relationship didn’t work out.  C’est la vie.  Youth is wasted on the young.

So I must have gotten this CD sometime during those mushy years of high school romance.  It is definitely used, and the case has “CAM” written on the back in black magic marker.  So Cam, if you’re out there, rest easy knowing that I’ve taken good care of your CD over the years.  I’m guessing I probably bought it at the flea market in the old Nichol’s department store building, as that was the only place that had used CDs when I was in high school.  Nichol’s was a great department store when I was a kid (I remember they had a playable Atari and Intellivision display when I was young, and I also used to find Transformers and Super Powers action figures there), but they went under sometime in the mid-to-late 80s.  After that the building was used for a flea market, and there was a guy there that always had a pretty good selection of used CDs.  Gear Head, Black Cloud, and I would go there often to buy CDs by crappy bands like Warrant, Whitesnake, and Skid Row.  So yeah, my guess is that I bought this CD there when I was a lovestruck teenager.

Other lists: “Hotel California” is #49 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.  Don Henley is ranked at #87 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Joe Walsh, who makes his first appearance with the Eagles on this album, is ranked as #54 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  The Eagles also make the list of the 100 Greatest Artists, coming in at #75.

My favorite track: “Hotel California”

Honorable mention: “Victim of Love”

Quote 1: “We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”

Quote 2: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”

Tapestry

So I picked this up at Used Kids after my “Social and Political Contexts of Education” class (much more interesting than it sounds from the course title) back in January.  Actually, I went into Used Kids before class and saw it, but I was running late (as usual) and I needed coffee (it’s so obvious if you fall asleep in a class of 7), so I left it.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if it was the edition I wanted. But my students have taught me how to surf the web on a smart phone while you’re supposed to be paying attention in class, and I figured out it was the one I wanted and fortunately it was still there 3 hours later.

I recognized some of the songs title before I listened to it, but they were mostly from songs that were hits for other people such as “You’ve Got A Friend” (James Taylor), “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha), and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (the Shirelles).  I had not realized that these songs were actually written by Carole King.  When I listened to the album, I recognized several of the other songs like “So Far Away” and “I Feel the Earth Move” from listening to top 40 radio while I was riding around in mi madre’s car in northeast Ohio as a child.  I just had never realized they were sung by Carole King.  Sadly, I guess that really sums up my impressions of Carole King…she has written tons of famous songs, I just never really noticed they were hers.

This album basically consists of really well-crafted pop songs.  Unlike Joni Mitchell, King’s friend and contemporary, King stays withing the typical strophic pop song structures.  It actually reminds me quite a bit of a female version of Jim Croce, although it is less depressing.  King’s voice is a little brassy, but she has just a touch of white soul that sounds best when she is accompanying herself on piano.  JT puts in another appearance playing acoustic guitar on some tracks…hey wait, he played on Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” as well.  I guess in the 70s that was probably considered free love…but in today’s vernacular, JT was a playa!

Other lists: Unfortunately, Carole King doesn’t make any other Rolling Stone lists on her own merits, but the Shirelles’ version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” comes in at #126 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.

My favorite track: “So Far Away”

Honorable mention: “You’ve Got a Friend” (JT’s version is better though)

Quote: “There came a man of fortune, a drifter passing by.  He wore a torn and tattered cloth around his leathered hide and a coat of many colors, yellow-green on either side.  He moved with some uncertainty, as if he didn’t know just what he was there for or where he ought to go.”