Archive for June, 2015

20 Golden Greats

“Something touched me deep inside, the day the music died” – Don McLean (w/cheese)

“Oo-ee-oh I look just like Buddy Holly” – Rivers Cuomo (w/out cheese)

Back in the summer of ’96, the Gear Head and I were in a production of Grease at the Ashtabula Arts Center.  I had a chorus role, and I think the Gear Head was Sonny, and to get into character every night we rolled the sleeves up on our white t-shirts and slicked our hair back greaser style.  We even tried smoking the Lucky Strikes we had for props backstage (nasty things).  And even though the music from Grease is largely terrible, there was this CD of 50s songs they played for house music every night before and after the show, and during intermission.  It had all those great 50s style sock-hop hits that take you back in time to classic cars and chrome diners with cheeseburgers and milk shakes (the closest thing I’ve ever experienced in real life is Eddie’s Grill at Geneva-On-The-Lake).  Buddy Holly was the only artist with two songs on that CD (“That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”), and the Big Bopper and Richie Valens (the other victims of the fateful plane crash) were represented as well.  It was a really fun cast, and we all probably had more fun dancing backstage to the music on that CD than we had doing the actual show.  Years later, I found a copy of it at Half-Price Books: it’s called Only Rock and Roll 1955-1959.  Fitting.  I think it’s part of a series.

Anyhow, other than that goofy Weezer song (I love Weezer’s first two albums…too bad everything they’ve put out since has been crap) that came out right before I started college, that summer was my only real experience with Buddy Holly’s music.  But since I started writing this blog, I’ve gotten a much better sense of rock history, which helps me to put Buddy Holly into perspective.  If he would have lived, it seems like Buddy Holly would have rivaled Elvis for the title of King of Rock and Roll.  Holly was a prolific song writer (emphasis on song writer…he was one of the first to write his own material), churning out 3 albums and 16 singles in his brief 18 months of stardom.  Furthermore, he was the first artist to use the now standard rock band instrumentation of 2 guitars, bass, and drums.  He was a huge influence on the Beatles (in fact, they named themselves partially in honor of the Crickets) and the Rolling Stones, and a young Robert Zimmerman was in the audience at a Buddy Holly show in Duluth, Minnesota two nights before the plane crash that claimed Holly’s life.  And what is truly tragic about the plane crash was that Holly didn’t actually have to be on that plane…he had chartered the flight himself to get off of a miserable tour bus with no heat in the middle of a harsh midwest winter, and he was trying to get to the next venue early so he could wash his clothes and get a little extra sleep after the tour manager had scheduled an extra performance on an off day.  So sad.

As for this particular album, it’s out of print.  Actually, I couldn’t find a copy for a decent price here in the States, but I found a seller in Spain who sold me a copy for $2.80 (plus international shipping, ugh!) on Ebay.  As far as I know, it has all the songs you’d expect to hear on a Buddy Holly greatest hits package.  The gems are certainly “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”, but there are a few other great songs like “Not Fade Away” and “It’s So Easy” as well.  There are a few songs that he did with the NBC Symphony Orchestra that I really don’t care for (“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, “Raining In My Heart”, “True Love Ways”), but the stuff he does with the Crickets as his backing band are all decent rock tunes.

Other lists: “That’ll Be the Day” is #39, “Not Fade Away” is #108, “Rave On” is #155, “Peggy Sue” is #197, and “Everyday” is #238 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Buddy Holly ranks #80 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, #48 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #13 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “That’ll Be the Day” (the moment in the last chorus when the drummer changes the rhythm under the line “when you make me cry” is just sooooo cool.)

Honorable mention: “Not Fade Away” (a cool variation on Bo Diddley’s famous one-two-three, one-two pattern)

Quote: “People tell me love’s for fools.  So, here I go breaking all the rules.”


Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

So imagine you are in one of those dueling piano bars they have in just about every major city…you know, Howl at the Moon, Big Bang, whatever.  And it’s the weekend, so it’s pretty crowded.  There is a bachelorette party front and center shouting requests, and some frat boys in the back who only know the words to the Billy Joel songs.  And there are a bunch of tourists wearing ugly vacation shirts.  Everybody is singing along, and as the night goes on the songs get somewhat more suggestive, until everyone is pretty drunk and it gets downright raunchy for awhile.  Then, it slows down and everybody starts to gets sentimental, until suddenly you look around and the only people left in the bar are a couple of overweight guys in Steelers jerseys demanding one last chorus of “Tiny Dancer”.  That is this album in a nutshell.  Or maybe it’s just my experience with dueling piano bars.  Either way, it fits.

So I’ve never been Sir Reginald Kenneth Dwight’s biggest fan.  That’s not to say I dislike him either.  He’s one of those artists you don’t have to seek out to know the bulk of his songs because his stuff is always on the radio.  Actually, I had two Elton compilations in my collection prior to buying this album on Ebay for $2.50 (one of them is the compilation that the Evil Empire sold while I was working there in high school).  But rock history will always link Elton John and Billy Joel together as the two “piano guys” in rock and roll.  And while I give props to Elton for being the more talented piano player, and by far the more flamboyant rock personality, I was brought up on a steady diet of late 70s/early 80s Billy Joel, and I give Billy the credit for being the better songwriter.  Not to take anything away from Sir Elton, but I just realized when I was doing my background research on this album that he only writes the music…his long term songwriting partner Bernie Taupin writes all his lyrics.  Actually, my favorite Elton moments are his collaborations with other artists…the pinball wizard scene in the movie version of “Tommy”, his vocals and piano on John Lennon’s “Whatever Get You Through the Night”, and of course the groundbreaking moment when he played piano with Axl Rose on “Novemeber Rain” at the MTV Music Awards (it always comes back to the Guns, folks).

As for this album, there are some great singles here.  “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” has that Beatelesque sing-a-long quality of a megahit.  “Candle in the Wind” was a classic even before he remade it for Princess Di in the late 90s.  Add in “Bennie and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and you have a list of hits that ranks up there with the best of ’em.  There is a lot of filler here two though, which makes me wonder why this had to be a double album.  But there are moments of grandeur in the instrumental half of “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)” that make me wish he had done it with a full orchestra instead of with a synth.  And similarly, “This Song Has No Name” starts to go in amazing places, but just never quite gets there.

Other lists: “Candle in the Wind” is #356 and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is #390 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Elton is #38 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #49 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favourite track: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

Honourable mention: “Candle in the Wind”

Quote: “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl.  You can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.”




Talking Book

“Superstition” is probably my favorite Stevie Wonder song.  I can’t remember the first time I heard it…for all I know it could have been on a rerun of Sesame Street…but I’ve always dug the song’s groove.  It may be the perfect funk song…killer guitar riff, funky drums and bass, an ascending horn line, and a big fat chorus that bleeds right back into the guitar riff.  Not surprisingly, this whole album is pretty funky.  The Boy Wonder is pretty much a one-man band throughout, but there are some great guest appearances, especially Ray Parker Jr.’s guitar (who you gonna call?) on “Maybe Your Baby” and Dave Sanborne’s alto sax solo on “Tuesday Heartbreak”.

Stevie Wonder actually played Cbus just a couple months ago.  And he was in Nashville a day after the Princess and I were passing through on our way to Memphis.  He’s out on tour playing the entire Songs in the Key of Life album (see entry #57), and I would have been interested in seeing it, but I’ve been a bit short on rubles lately, so I guess I’ll have to settle for listening to this CD, which I managed to pick up brand spanking new at the local f.y.e. (how does that chain stay in business?) for the bargain basement price of $6.99.  And it is the 2000 edition that has the transcription of Wonder’s Braille inscription from the original pressing.  Very cool.  Anyhow, the band director at my school actually went to the show here in the Bus and he said that Wonder is still an incredible musician and that he still has that “it” factor when he’s performing live.

Other lists: “Superstition” is #73 and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” is #287 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the entry for Innervisions (#24) for Wonder’s other RS accolades.

My favorite track: “Superstition”

Honorable mention: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”

A word from the Princess: “Why does this sound like Britney Spears?” (regarding Wonder’s vocals on “Maybe Your Baby”)

Quote: “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer.”