Archive for August, 2014


After the Gold Rush

When I was a kid, mi madre would always talk about how much she liked Neil Young.  She would quote lines from his songs a lot, and she would defend him in his ongoing feuds with the members of Crosby, Still, Nash, and occasionally Young (it was just recently that I realized that Young’s love-hate-love relationship with Stephen Stills dates all the way back to their days in Buffalo Springfield).  But I was always pretty much indifferent to Neil Young.  He had some good songs on the radio, but I could never really figure out whether he was a rocker or folk singer (I’m not sure he ever figured out which he is either), so I never really paid much attention.

And then one day back in 1993, Neil Young got up on stage with Pearl Jam at the MTV Music Video Awards, and together they cranked out a kick-ass rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World”.  And in that moment Neil Young became the Godfather of Grunge and my eyes were opened to his amazing career.  In fact, Neil Young went on to save Pearl Jam (one of my all time favorite bands) from breaking up when all the other nineties bands were disintegrating.  I only know this story from PJs point of view, as told in their PJ20 book, but at some point after the Vitology album, a rift started to develop between Eddie Louis Severson, Jr. and the rest of the band.  Basically, Eddie was having problems dealing with fame and celebrity, and he responded by withdrawing from the spotlight, even going so far as to drive to shows by himself in a beat up van to recapture his “punk rock ethos”.  Well, things hit a head at a show when Eddie was “bitten by a red mosquito” and had to leave the stage.  Fortunately, Neil Young was there that night, and he went on stage with the rest of PJ and finished the show.

At that point, Neil Young took PJ under his wing, and even invited them into the studio to be his substitute Crazy Horse for the Mirror Ball record.  Actually, that was the only Neil Young album I owned prior to this record, and I’m prolly biased because PJ plays on it, but it rocks.  Eddie wasn’t around for many of those sessions because he was dealing with a stalker issue (“I’m going to Lukin’s!”), but when he did stop in, Young contributed to two of my favorite PJ tracks, “I Got Id” and “Long Road” on the companion EP, Merkin Ball.  Young then took PJ, minus Eddie, to Europe with him for a tour in support of the record, giving Eddie some time to get his head right.  When they came back to the states, all was well, and two decades later Pearl Jam is still rockin’ in the free world.

So I guess I was expecting noisy rock ‘n roll Neil Young when I bought this album from Amazon for $4.94, but instead I got the folkier side of Neil Young.  Which is fine, because this album is pretty awesome.  The liner notes say it was inspired by a screenplay to a movie, also titled After the Gold Rush, that was never actually filmed.  I tried to find this screenplay, but apparently it has been lost and doesn’t even exist on the World Wide Interweb.  But I found enough detail to determine that it was an end-of-the-world/apocolypse type movie about a giant tidal wave destroying an artist community in Los Angeles.  Ok.  Sounds fun.  So this was originally going to be the soundtrack for that movie…but in some accounts Neil Young has said that only the title track and “Cripple Creek Ferry” were actually going to be on the soundtrack.  So who knows.  This album is fantastic regardless.  In fact, the title track may be the perfect song…Neil Young singing softly over a beautiful piano melody, lyrics that hint at a topic still relevant today (environmental destruction), and just at the perfect moment, a flugelhorn solo.  Yes, a freaking flugelhorn, and all it does is replay the vocal melody (kinda like a Kurt Cobain guitar solo), but it’s perfect.  Just perfect. Yup, it might be the perfect song (although local band Brainbow has contender for that title with the song “Ymir” from their self-titled 2008 album), and there is a great cover of it sung by Thom Yorke at one of Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit concerts floating around on YouTube.  Check it out. One of the only rockers on this album, “Southern Man” is also pretty great, offering such a scathing view of the south that Lynyrd Skynyrd felt they had to respond, leading to the creation of “Sweet Home Alabama”.  I’ll take the Neil Young song any day, thank you very much.  At least Kid Rock has never done a crappy cover of “Southern Man”…

Other lists: Rolling Stone ranks Neil Young at #17 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, #37 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #34 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped 3 spots from its original position at #71 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

My favorite track: “After the Gold Rush”

Honorable mention: “Southern Man”

Quote: “Don’t let it bring you down, it’s only castles burning.”

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Physical Graffiti

So I have to admit I went a little Led Zeppelin crazy after I wrote about their first album about a year and a half ago.  At that time, the only other Zeppelin album I had was Lord Bachhus’ old copy of Zep IV, and so I started snatching up Zeppelin albums whenever I would see them used.  Within about six months, I had their entire studio output, but this particular album was one of the last ones I came across, and I finally found it at the Half-Price Books on Lane Avenue for $9.99 (minus my 10% teacher discount).  Thus, it was one of the last Zep albums that I heard, and when I listened to it I realized that only song on it that I really knew was “Kashmir” (which immediately brought back memories of working at the movie theater in college and the stupid Puff Daddy/P. Diddy version of “Kashmir” that used to play when the credits of the 1998 Godzilla remake would roll).

So I wish I had more to say about this album, but its pretty much just Zep rocking out for an hour and a half.  The first disc is mostly blues, and Robert Plant gets down and dirty with the innuendo on “Custard Pie” and “Trampled Under Food”, while Jimmy Page shows off his guitar chops with syncopated riffs, bluesy fills, and of course a few blistering solos.  The second disc is pretty much a hodgepodge of styles, but in listening to it, I seem to wonder if maybe it helped inspire the grunge rock movement of the nineties.  At least I know Led Zeppelin was very influential on quite a few of those early Seattle bands, especially Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and even Nirvana.  Here Page’s riffs start to get very grungy, and there is even some of the loud/soft/loud type dynamics that Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan loved to use in their songs.  The Rolling Stones have joked that Exile on Main Street was the first grunge album…maybe Physical Graffiti was the second.

Other lists: “Kashmir” is #141 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped 3 spots from its original position of #70 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

My favourite track: “Kashmir”

Honourable mention: “Down by the Seaside”

Quote: “In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn.  All I want for you to do is take my body home.”

 

Superfly

It was Christmas Day back in 1997.  I was dating the Drama Queen, and Black Cloud was dating her best friend. I was home from college, we had all finished up with family time, and we were excited to meet up and head out to a movie.  We were all Quentin Tarantino fans (who wasn’t back then?), and after the excruciatingly long three year wait since Pulp Fiction, it was finally the release date for his third film, Jackie Brown.  Little did I realize it at the time, but I was about to have my first experience with a blaxploitation flick.  Or at least an homage to a blaxploitation flick.  Actually, after the movie I was a little disappointed.  Yes, Jackie Brown had Samuel L. Jackson, but drug-pushing Ordell just didn’t seem nearly as cool as the wise hitman Jules from Pulp Fiction.  And although Tarantino found another aging-actor to be a lead, Robert Forster’s performance as Max Cherry seemed a little stiff compared to John Travolta’s masterful portrayal of Vincent Vega.  And there was only one scene out of sequence (the money exchange at the mall near the end of the movie)!

Well, it wasn’t until after the success of the  Kill Bill films that I went back and gave Jackie Brown a second chance.  By this time, DVDs had become the medium of choice, and in one of the special features on the Jackie Brown disc, Tarantino talked about many of his influences coming from exploitation movies, and specifically blaxploitation movies being the inspiration to take the lead character in Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch and change her into a black woman.  Then, he went out and hired the queen of blaxplotation movies, Pam Grier, to play the lead and even made the title an homage to one of her most famous films, Foxy Brown.  I was intrigued.  So of course, I went out and bought a box set of Pam Grier movies, as well as several other exploitation movies that Tarantino has sponsored for re-release, and I dug into the genre.  For those who aren’t in the know, exploitation movies were basically a genre of cheaply produced movies in the 70s that featured lots of sex, drugs, fast cars, and motorcycles.  Blaxploitation movies were the black version of the genre, and usually were set in the inner city and had stories about pimps and drug-pushers.

So the connection here is that this album is the soundtrack for the blaxploitation movie Super Fly (yes, the movie title is almost always printed as two worlds while the album and song title is usually printed as one).  So I picked up this album for $5.82 on Amazon, and as I listened it I thought in my head that this would make a lot more sense if I watched the movie.  Fortunately DVD copies of Super Fly are super cheap (the sequel was never released on DVD and VHS copies of that are super pricey), so I picked on up on Ebay for $6.89, and after I watched it, the stories behind all of the songs all sort of clicked into place.  In a way, this is sort of an answer to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.  Marvin Gaye released that album in 1971, and here in 1972 Curtis Mayfield answers this is what’s going on…drugs, violence, death, and a never ending vicious cycle of life in the inner city.  The two albums even share many musical commonalities, including the smooth, high voices of the singers the string arrangements that soar overtop of the horns and the Congo drums.  Superfly is a bit funkier though, probably due to Mayfield’s wah-wah guitar playing and some phat bass lines.

As for the movie, Super Fly is interesting in as much as it doesn’t glorify “the life”.  In fact, it shares a major commonality with Jackie Brown in that the leads in both movies are trying to get out of “the life”.  And to do so, both characters are trying to pull one last big score that will let them escape to a new life and a chance to go straight.  The obstacles in both movies are pretty much the same…drug lords who won’t let anybody leave their business, cops who may or may not be on the up-and-up, and friends of questionable character and trustworthiness.  Hell, the climax of both movies is virtually the same, with both Priest (the lead in Super Fly) and Jackie using a decoy to smuggle the money out while he/she allows him/herself to be captured and ultimately confront the bad guys.  Oh well, nothing Tarantino does is truly original…he just improves on things…

Super Fly

Other lists: Curtis Mayfield ranks at #40 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, #34 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, and #98 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped three spots from its original position at #69 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

My favorite track: “Pusherman”

Honorable mention: “Superfly”

Quote: “We’re all built up with progress, but sometimes I must confess: We can deal with rockets and dreams, but reality…what does it mean?”

Graceland

So I think I mentioned in the Bridge Over Troubled Water post that mi madre was a big Simon and Garfunkel fan, and growing up there were always S&G albums around the house.  Well, when I look back, maybe it would be better to say that she was a big Paul Simon fan, because she also had a bunch of his solo records.  And she always liked to quote the song “Still Crazy After All These Years”…well, actually, she still quotes it from time to time.  So when this album came out, she didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  It was the 80s and she had it on cassette (I’m guessing it was probably a delivery from Columbia House), and we had a small cassette stereo in the living room that she would play this on.  At the time, the “You Can Call Me Al” video was out with Chevy Chase (who was probably at the height of his career) lip-syncing Paul Simon’s part, chair dancing, and playing trumpet (it is a funny video).  Years later, we even played “You Can Call Me Al” in marching band, and we even had horn motions modeled after that Chevy Chase dance.

So yeah, all of this was probably my first exposure to “world music”.  Due to the success of this album, Paul Simon seemed to be all over the place on T.V. performing with African choirs and such in the background.  And I put “world music” in quotation marks because it really is world music lite.  I don’t mean any disrespect to Paul Simon or any of the performers on the record (it really is a great record), and there certainly are African rhythms and vocal parts and stuff, but its all filtered through a very western lens of electric bass, guitar, and drum set.  Hell, even some of the African choir parts on “Homeless” have some distinctly western harmonies (no doubt due to the plethora of Christian missionaries that flooded Africa trying to bring religion to the masses).  Really, the only distinctly African part on the album to my ear are the Gaza Sisters’ background vocals on “I Know What I Know”.  But as I listen now to this CD copy of the album that I bought for $3 at Used Kids Records (actually it’s an enhanced CD, but I need to find a computer that’s still running Windows 95 to see what’s on it!), I realize how ground breaking this album was back in 1986 when it was released.  And kudos to Paul Simon for braving the political ramifications of going to South Africa and doing something that actually helped to bring about the end of apartheid.

Other lists: Paul Simon doesn’t seem to get as much acclaim for his solo work as he does for the stuff he did with Art Garfunkel, but this album does rank at #5 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the Eighties.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 10 spots from its original position of #81 on the 2003 list.  I don’t know why.

My favorite track: “You Can Call Me Al”

Honorable mention: “The Boy in the Bubble”

Quote: “A man walks down the street, he says ‘Why am I soft in the middle now? Why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard! I need a photo-opportunity!  I want a shot at redemption! Don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard!'”