Archive for August, 2013


Here's Little Richard

 

Ima spilt hairs here for a minute.  There’s a lot of music that rocks, but there is very little music out there anymore that rocks and rolls.  It’s hard to really put a finger on the difference, but I think it has to do with the backbeat and maybe some piano and a horn line…or at least a little saxophone.  But it seems like their are countless acts our their that rock (think about how many times you’ve heard some California-surfer wanna be yell “That rocks!” at a show) but there are few acts out their actually rock and roll.  LIttle Richard certainly could rock and roll, as could many of his contemporaries…Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and of course Elvis come immediately to mind.  And in the next generation, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones could rock and roll, as could Dylan when he wanted too.  But after that the list gets really sparse.  Billy Joel? Probably.  Bob Seger? Maybe.  Bruce Springsteen? When the E Street Band was there.  U2? Ocassionally.  R.E.M? Not so much (but it’s still great).  Metallica?  Hell no.  See, its hard to define, but you know it when you hear it.

And Little Richard definitely had it.  The rock and the roll.  Actually, he may have been the first.  I know most people give that credit to Elvis, but the point where R&B mixed with gospel and rockabilly and became rock and roll may have happened right here.  Like most R&B tunes from this era, most of these songs actually had fairly lascivious lyrics (somebody could probably make a fortune recording “Tutti Frutti, tight booty” in the modern age), but they were cleaned up for mainstream radio.  But even highly censored, Little Richard has an energy and an excitement about him that no doubt helped to catapult rock and roll into the mainstream.  And without him and the songs on this record, I’m not sure the last 50-plus years of popular music would exist in the way that we know and love it.

I took mi madre to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month to see the Rolling Stones exhibit, and while I was there they had this album on sale in the gift shop.  But kind of like Barnes and Noble, they wanted a ridiculous amount of money for it, so I went home and bought it off Amazon for $8.95.  Apparently this edition of the CD has only been available since 2012, so I guess its good that I’m taking my sweet ass time with this blog.  It has all the original tracks plus a couple of bonus tracks, but unfortunately it ends with an interview with the producer, Art Rupe, who pretty much does nothing but bitch about how difficult Little Richard was to work with.  It is definitely an un-rock ‘n roll way to end the record.

Other lists: “Tutti Frutti” is #43 and “Long Tall Sally” is #55 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Little Richard ranks at #12 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and is #8 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “Tutti Frutti”

Honorable mention: “Slipin’ and Slidin'”

Quote: “A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!”

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At Fillmore East

 

I must admit I cringed a little when I saw this, the first Southern Rock album on the list, coming up.  See I’ve never been much of a fan of Southern Rock, or the South for that matter.  Maybe it was growing up in Northeast Ohio on a steady diet of folk, British rock, and Motown classics thanks to mi madre, or maybe it is the less than lukewarm reception my alma mater, the Ohio State University, gets from its counterparts in the SEC during football season.  Or perhaps it is my liberal, humanistic viewpoints that stand in stark contrast with the conservative southern bible-belt majority.  Regardless, I always feel out of place whenever I drive even as far south as Cincinnati (man I hate those “Hell Is Real” billboards on I-71 S), which is what prompted me to redraw the Mason-Dixon line at Stringtown Road in Grove City (just a few miles south of my beloved C-bus) a couple of years ago when the Buckeyes were playing the Bearcats in the Sweet 16.

But I digress.  My point is that I’ve never much cared for Southern Rock.  I’ve always associated the genre with bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, who obviously can’t spell (my only good memory of Lynyrd Skynyrd is Ohio State fans hijacking a cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” played by a bar band in New Orleans by screaming “Fuck you, Alabama” on every chorus…good times!) and are responsible for the worst joke in rock ‘n roll (Hey, play some “Freebird” man!).  So knowing nothing about the Allman Brothers Band, I assumed it would be in the same vein, and I was very surprised to instead find a very competent jam band rooted in the blues, but with some jazz influences.  Actually, I read recently that Duane Allman studied Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”, and it shows on his extended solos.  He and guitarist Dickey Betts really carry this record, especially on the long cuts like “You Don’t Love Me” and “Whipping Post”.  All throughout, Duane Allman shows some incredible guitar chops, and it truly is a shame he died so young.  This is only the second live album so far on the list, and having read in Joe Oestreich’s rock auto-biography “Hitless Wonder” I realize that there is no such thing as a true live album, so I wasn’t surprised when I discovered that there is some studio magic at work here, mixing different takes together to pair the best solos with the vocal performances and such, but it’s done in such a seamless way that it isn’t noticeable.

I paid $12.99 for this album at the Barnes & Noble on Sawmill Road, and it pained me to buy it there and pay that much (I have actually stood in Barnes & Noble and scanned items’ barcodes on my iphone and then purchased the items cheaper on Amazon), but it was the edition I wanted and it was right there in my hand.  Several editions of this album exist, including alternate four channel mixes and an extended version with more tracks.  This is the original two-channel stereo mix, pretty much as it was when it was first released on vinyl.

Other lists: “Whipping Post” is #393 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (and it specifically cites the live version from this record as the definitive version).  Duane Allman is #9 and Dickey Betts is #61 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  Gregg Allman is #70 on the list of the 100 Greatest Vocalists and the Allman Brothers Band is #53 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “You Don’t Love Me”

Honorable mention: “Whipping Post”

Quote: “Sometimes I feel like I’ve been tied to the whipping post”

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Yeahhhh boyyyyyy!

So this is the first rap album on the list, and part of me is glad that Public Enemy is the first group to represent rap here.  Rap music has always been controversial for many reasons, probably the greatest of which is for glorifying violence and misogyny, but PE has always stood for something bigger…human rights.  I can’t say that I’m a hardcore PE fan or that I own all of their albums, but I can say that I’ve always thought they were the torch bearers for what was good about hip-hop.  And admittedly, most of what passes for rap music since about 1993 has been pretty bad, but the Enemy was always good.  Back in college I took an African-American Music History class, and the professor, who I will refer to as Professor McJazzyPants since his main gig was being head of the jazz department, absolutely detested rap music.  As a jazz man, which is certainly one of the most complex forms of music, he hated the simplicity of rap music in as much as it eschewed any and all types of harmonic structure to focus almost entirely on rhythm.  Being somewhat conservative, he also despised the lewd lyrics of what he referred to as the “mumbling rappers” (a similar argument against rap was given several years later in the movie “Crash”, ironically delivered by a rap icon, Ludacris).  But Professor McJazzyPants was not a nice man, and one time when I was working in the OSU recording studio he insisted on taking the master tape to one of his jazz concerts from the archives, even though I insisted that the master was the property of the university and I could easily dub him a copy.  So I will discount his argument simply on that accord…

See I actually have a soft spot for the hippity hoppity music.  Back in the late 80s when I was in junior high, hip hop burst into the mainstream in a major way.  I remember listening to my MC Hammer “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em” cassette in my Sony Walkman while I was helping out with the equipment for the high school marching band (yes, I was that cool even then!).  Other favorites of mine were Young MC’s “Stone Cold Rhymin'” and of course Vanilla Ice’s “To The Extreme” (which I probably would not have been allowed to have if mi madre had realized that pretty much every song other than “Ice Ice Baby” was raunchy as hell).  So yeah, all that stuff was pretty trite, but it was fun dance music, and it brought attention to the genre.  I remember staying up late to watch “Yo! MTV Raps” with Doctor Dre (not the famous one) and Ed Lover, where I was exposed to the less mainstream rap acts.  Later in high school, I developed a fondness for LL Cool J (and his feud with Kool Moe Dee) and some of the Soul Assassins groups like Cypress Hill and House of Pain.

It was in these later days that I discovered Public Enemy, but it wasn’t this album.  It was actually the “Apocalypse  91…the Enemy Strikes Black” album that got me interested in them, especially the version of “Bring Tha Noise” with Anthrax (I once almost ran over Anthrax’s lead singer when I lived behind the Newport Music Hall…I stopped just in time and he gave me the finger…and by stopping I’m sure I saved humanity the tragic loss of at least three bad heavy metal albums).  But I also found other songs on that album such as “Can’t Truss It” and “Shut ‘Em Down” attractive due to their political nature.  And while Public Enemy has always stood mostly for black power, on a larger scale, the universal message of human rights and equality has always been of interest to me.  In a way, John Lennon taught me about power to the people, but it was Public Enemy who taught me that sometimes you have to fight the powers that be.  But then sometime around 1993 rap went gagsta and I started to lose interest…but that’s a story for another blog entry…

Here we go again!

So I picked this album up for $4.99 (minus my 10% edumacator discount) at the Half-Price Books in Westerville.  I had seen it quite a few times at Used Kids for about the same price, but I guess the time was never right.  The original version of “Bring the Noise” (yes, the original is “the” not “tha”) is on this record, and it’s cool although I still like the version with Anthrax more.  And speaking of noise, this album is noisy as hell.  I guess the Enemy intentionally seeded obnoxious noises throughout the songs to avoid mainstream radio airplay (that’s almost a punk rock mentality!)  Chuck D’s rap style is anything but smooth, but he delivers his message with strength and authority.  And then there is Flavor Flav…the ultimate hype man.  And even though he has since embarrassed himself with several VH1 reality shows and a couple of failed restaurent endeavors, Flava is the perfect foil to Chuch D’s hardcore politics, and it is that balance that makes PE work…fun and entertaining, but still meaningful.

Other lists: “Bring the Noise” is #162 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and Public Enemy is also #44 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.  “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” is also ranked at #12 on the list of the Best Albums of the 80s.

My favorite track: “Bring the Noise”

Honorable mention: “Don’t Believe the Hype”

Quote: “Whatcha gonna do?  Rap is not afraid of you!  Beat is for Sonny Bono.  Beat is for Yoko Ono.  Run DMC first said a DJ could be a band…stand on its feet, get you out your seet.  Beat is for Eric B and LL as well, hell…wax is for Anthrax, still it can rock bells!  Ever forever, universal, it will sell!”