Archive for December, 2013


Electric Ladyland

 

I picked this up at the Half-Price Books in Upper Arlington (U.A….where all the psychedelic hippies hang out) for $6.99 (minus my 10% edumacator discount).  This was Hendrix’s last studio album, and the only one he produced himself.  It was originally a double LP, and I noticed that each of the 4 “sides” has its own sort of character.  The first side is dominated by the electric blues of “Voodoo Chile”, the second is a collection short electric pop songs similar to the hits off of “Are You Experienced?”, the third side is pure psychedelic space rock (or maybe ocean rock would be a better term thanks to the subject matter or “1983”), and the fourth side is loud and heavy hard rock.  At least that’s how the American release turned out…I think the U.K. release had a different track order.

At any rate, the biggest thing I noticed about this album is the complete disregard for song structure in most of these tracks.  Even when Hendrix is playing the blues, he doesn’t always conform to traditional 12-bar structures.  Actually, the free form nature of most of these songs allows Hendrix the freedom to explore with his guitar and push himself far beyond the limits even the most exceptional guitar players.  In a way, it sort of reminds me of the transformation my favorite band, Radiohead, underwent in the 2000s when they began to disregard traditional song structures, freeing themselves from the standard “guitar band” approach and allowing themselves the freedom to explore beyond the boundaries of rock music.  Actually, it is this same sort of freedom that makes “Electric Ladyland” an exciting listen.

Other lists: Hendrix’ version of “All Along the Watchtower” is #47 and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is #102 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was also bumped down one spot from its position at #54 on the original 2003 list by the rise of “Meet the Beatles!”

My favorite track: “All Along the Watchtower”

Honorable mention: “1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be)”…although the pressing of the CD has a mistake and changes tracks in the middle of the song

Quote: “You jump in front of my car when you, you know all the time, ninety miles an hour, girl, is the speed I drive”

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The Birth of Soul 1The Birth of Soul 2The Birth of Soul 3

 

Brother Ray.  I can’t say I really listened to much Ray Charles growing up.  I mean, I knew who he was…he was that older blind piano guy.  The one who wasn’t Stevie Wonder.  Well, he was similar to Stevie Wonder…they both had appearances on Sesame Street.  And they both wore sunglasses.  But Stevie was younger and had the braids.  Ray Charles was older and was the guy in the Pepsi commercials.  That’s right, you got the right one baby, uh-huh.

So fast forward to 2005, and I was starting my annual tradition of trying to see all the movies that were nominated for major Oscars…you know, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, etc.  And that year a biopic called “Ray”, starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, was nominated in several categories, including the three big ones listed above.  The movie had been out for awhile by the time I saw it, but I remember going to the dollar theater at Carriage Place and just being memorized by Jamie Foxx’s performance as Brother Ray.  I mean, here was a guy I had only seen in bad comedies and TV sketch shows, and here he was playing one of the most iconic musicians of all time and absolutely killing it.  It was one of those rare performances in a biopic where you forget it’s an actor and not the real person, and Jamie Foxx deservedly won the Best Actor category that year.

Well, that movie introduced me to the world and music of Ray Charles.  I had never known about the controversy he stirred in the music community, especially among the gospel musicians, when he started to mix gospel music sounds and structures with secular blues and jazz.  Many people consider that mixture to be the actual birth of soul music, and this 3-disc boxset (which I snagged on Ebay for $27.00) collects all of Ray Charles’ early work with Atlantic Records (before he moved to ABC-Paramount Records and decided to become a country crossover artist).  And there is definitely a progression  in his sound across the three discs.  This first disc is very bluesy, and his voice sounds a lot younger and smoother.  On the second disc, the tempos speed up, he develops that trademark yowl, and his voice becomes more recognizable as Ray Charles.  By the third disc, the sound has finally developed into the reeling, rocking R&B/soul fusion that made him famous.  Yet, even though the sound progresses from disc to disc, one thing present on all three is an element of musical sophistication that many early recordings lack.  It seems from the very beginning, Ray Charles was arranging his band into a finely tuned, highly sensitive musical unit, and it shows throughout this boxset.  Every small nuance of Ray Charles’ singing or piano playing is reflected by his band, which makes this music that much better and definitely worth a listen.

The Birth of Soul Box Set

 

Other lists: “What’d I Say” is #10 and “I Got a Woman” is #239 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Ray Charles is also ranked #2 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #10 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album was dropped one spot from its original position on the 2003 list due to the rise of “Meet the Beatles!”.

My favorite track: “It Should Have Been Me”

Honorable mention: “I Got a Woman”

Quote: “So if you want to have fun in this man’s land, let Lincoln and Jackson start shaking hands”

Meet the Beatles

I made an interesting discovery when I went to listen to this album.  See, I had gone on a huge Beatles and John Lennon kick this past summer, and I thought I had every Beatles album in my collection.  So this album shows up on my list, and the cover picture looks familiar to me, so I go to listen to it and the CD is actually “With the Beatles” and I realize it’s different.  So I do a little Wikipedia research, and I discover that “Meet the Beatles!” is actually the first Beatles’ U.S. Capitol release (and technically the second Beatles album in the U.S. as Vee-Jay Records released “Introducing…the Beatles” 10 days earlier), and despite the fact that is has the same cover as “With the Beatles” (which is actually the second U.K. Beatles album), the track list is very different.

With the Beatles

So apparently there were major differences in the Beatles’ record releases worldwide, and this was especially true between the U.K. and the U.S. as they were being distributed by two different record labels (Parlophone/EMI in the U.K. and Capitol in the U.S.).  In fact, the releases were not standardized until “Sgt. Pepper’s”, so all of the albums up to that point were different between the two countries.  This was partly due to the U.S. getting a late start on Beatlemania, and also partly due to the fact that in the U.K. singles were traditionally not released on albums as the fans considered that to be double-dipping (man, I wish record companies still had the same principles, as I am really getting tired of the “Special 20th Anniversary Re-releases” of my favorite 90s albums!).  At any rate, in this particular case, Capitol Records dropped 5 covers from “With the Beatles” (I’m sure it was cheaper than paying the royalties), added two radio hits and a B-side and voila: “Meet the Beatles!” was born.

Well, once I figured all this out, the problem remained that I still didn’t own the album.  So back to the World Wide Interweb I go, only to discover it had never had an official stand-alone U.S. release.  Apparently way back in 1987 when the Beatles catalogue was being released on Compact Disc, the decision was made to standardize it worldwide based on the U.K. releases.  After all, the Beatles were British, and they did have more artistic control over the U.K. releases (the only U.S. release to make it into the standard catalogue was “Magical Mystery Tour”), so I guess I can see why.  But that didn’t change the fact that to get a CD copy of “Meet the Beatles!” I had to buy a boxset from Amazon for $29.90 called “The Capitol Albums Vol. 1” which contained the first for Beatles’ U.S. releases (in both mono and stereo…woo-hoo!).  But I guess I shouldn’t complain, as I actually found the U.S. releases to be pretty fun, and eventually I wound up buying “The Capitol Albums Vol. 2” as well.

Other lists: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is #16 and “I Saw Her Standing There” is #140 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Also, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is #2, “I Saw Her Standing There” is #16, “All My Loving” is #44, “It Won’t Be Long” is #53, and “All I’ve Got to Do” is #97 on the list of the 100 Greatest Beatles’ Songs.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 6 spots from its rank of #59 on the original Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums list in 2003.

My favourite track: “I Saw Her Standing There” (it was the best track on “Please Please Me”, and it’s the best track on this album too!)

Honourable mention: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

Quote: “And when I touch you, I feel happy inside” (heh-heh)