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the-bends

“Anyone can play guitar and they won’t be a nothing anymore” – T. Yorke

It was the spring of 1994 and I had just finished seeing my first real rock and roll show (at least since coming of age).  It was Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center and the story of that life changing event will be told in full when (and if) I ever get to the entry for PJ’s Ten.  But I was there with the Artistic One, and immediately we ran into Lord Bacchus and Lightning 101 inside the arena, and after the show was over and we had all purchased our black bootleg concert T-shirts in the parking lot and had a slice at a nearby establishment, the Artistic One and I jumped in his mother’s blue Chevy Lumina mini-van (his family used to call it the Lumi), and we proceeded to have an experience not unlike the movie Judgement Night (a movie whose soundtrack is more memorable than the movie itself), minus Jeremy Piven of course (nobody died).  But we got lost driving around the east side of the Land for about two hours, which is especially idiotic of us since the freeway ramp to route 90 is literally a block from CSU campus.  But oh well, we were young and dumb and indestructible (and directionally challenged).

So we had a case full of CDs that we had just gotten from BMG and a cassette-adaptor that plugged into the tape deck and a portable CD player powered by the lighter jack, so at least we had music on this impromptu journey (C-town radio is sketchy at best).  By that point we were pretty much PJ’d out (we had listened to them all day, and then they essentially played every track off Ten and Vs plus all the b-sides at the show), and so we decided to branch out into some new material.  And the two albums I remember playing as we wound our way through the boarded up houses and abandoned factories were the Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, which is typically remembered as their best release, and Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, which was generally regarded as their worst album up until TKoL was released.  But at the time, I remember liking Pablo, even if it wasn’t that great.  It still had some really teen angsty defiance (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”) mixed with a keen sarcastic bite (“I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be Jim Morrison!”).  And I remember quipping that they need some original song titles, as Stone Temple Pilots (ugh) already had a hit with a song called “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You” on the charts (oh, the irony!).  But the main problem was Pablo is just kind of noisy.  Radiohead’s “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) essentially had strings ringing all over the place, and even though there was some Nirvanaesque crunch, it lacked Cobain’s precision.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Lord Bacchus and I had both moved down to the Bus to pursue our higher edumacations and as so often happened, we were spinning some tunes while we threw a few back on the weekend.  He was prolly living in the Briar Patch at the time.  Anyway, at some point he was like “you gotta check this out” and he put on the new Radiohead album (how he always got new tunes first, even before the days of digital file sharing, I still don’t understand).  But he put on The Bends and I just remember being blown away by the whole album.  It was totally unexepected…the little one-hit wonder Britpop band who had largely been overshadowed by Oasis and Blur had suddenly grown up and released one of the best albums I had ever heard.  The songwriting was light years ahead of where it had been on Pablo Honey, and while the lyrics were still pretty angsty, they weren’t teen angsty.  In fact, it resonated pretty well with the college life.  But I think the main thing was that the “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) had been refined with Thom playing acoustic rhythm, Ed playing electric rhythm, and Jonny doing leads and effects.  The ringing strings and general dissonance had been replaced (mostly) by just very focused and driven guitar work.  I liked it so much, Lord Bacchus dubbed it onto a tape for me (hey, I was a poor college student and I only bought CDs when I found them used) so I could listen to it back in my dorm room.

Eventually I must have bought it, and I must have bought it new because my copy doesn’t have a sticker on it anywhere.  And actually, there is some residue on the case from those stupid long white stickers they still put along the top spine of a new CD.  But regardless, it has remained a treasured album in my collection for 20+ years.  Personally, it is my 2nd favorite Radiohead album (most of the time, but from time to time In Rainbows sneaks up into that #2 spot) and I go back and listen to it quite frequently.  I even have the Collector’s Edition (I pretty much hate all the money grabbing re-releases aimed at my g-g-generation these days), and there are some pretty awesome b-sides and live performances on it.  And the My Iron Lung EP bears mentioning, as it also has some pretty awesome non-album tracks (and also starts the tradition of every Radiohead album having a companion EP).  Only OK Computer eclipses this album in my mind in the Radiohead catalogue, and even then the two are pretty close.  Ironically, The Bends wasn’t a commercial hit, and it didn’t have a hit single nearly as popular as “Creep”, but it’s a true masterpiece and it established Radiohead as a post-grunge force to be reckoned with.

Other lists: “Fake Plastic Trees” is #385 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The Bends also clocks in at #21 on the list of the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties (even though it is above most of the top 20 on this list…way to be consistent Rolling Stone!).

Ch-ch-changes: The fan favorite vs. the critical darling!  Even Radiohead is affected by their own success, this album falling one spot from its original position at #110 due to the critics pushing Kid A up to #67.

My favourite track: “Just”

Honorable mention: “Fake Plastic Trees”

Show: “Street Spirit [Fade Out]”

Quote 1: “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts is you do it to yourself, just you, you and no-one else.  You do it to yourself.”

Quote 2: “He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins, and it wears him out.”

Quote 3: “Blame it on the black star”

Quote 4: “Nice dream.”

 

 

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aftermath

About this time two years ago, the Stones announced that their Zip Code tour would be rolling through the Capitol City and that they would be playing at the holy shrine of collegiate American-style football, the Olde Horseshoe on the muddy banks of the Olentangy.  Well, I was interested in going, but the ticket prices were pretty steep, and I had half a mind to do what I did back in ’97 when the Stones came through town and sit on a hill outside the stadium and listen (Saylor Moon joined me that night).  It is an open air stadium, after all.  But then myyoungestniecia texted me because she wanted to buy a ticket to the concert for ma soeur for Mommy’s Day.  And since ma soeur was going, I decided to go too.  But then I thought I should get a ticket for mi madre too, as she is a huge Stones fan.  And then mon frere decided to tag along as well, so I became a family affair (and actually the same group that took me to Dylan, Petty, and the Dead back when I was a wee lad).

So the day of the concert was also my last day as a Cowboy, as I had recently been promoted, and we were gradiating the most recent class of cowboys and cowgirls.  And the Math Professor was retiring, and I wanted to put in an appearance at his farewell party.  Also, there was a minor monsoon hovering over the Capitol City, and it was threatening to put a damper on the evening’s festivities.  So I wound up running pretty late, and I was worried I would miss the rendezvous with my family, which was pretty important, since I had everybody’s ticket.  But it didn’t matter because my family was running late too, and when they finally arrived, I laughed to see the mon frere had duct taped ma soeur’s front bumper on after it had fallen off at a gas station in Medina.  So typical of my family!  Well, the monsoon was still raging and no-one really wanted to see Kid Rock perform as the opening act, so we hung out and had a few adult beverages before the show.  Then, miraculously, the clouds parted and the rain stopped just as we left for the ‘Shoe.

I had a tip from a friend that the parking lot by the Schottenstein Center would be free and mostly empty (a good combination), but it is quite a hike from there to the stadium.  And mi madre was in a wheelchair, but we all took turns pushing and we got there just before the Stones took the stage.  Now I had shelled out the big bucks for mi madre, ma soeur, and myself, but mon frere had opted for the cheapest ticket possible.  However, mi madre had a special ticket in the wheelchair section, and mon frere pushed her in like he belonged there and noone ever said anything to him.  So actually, he was the closest to the stage and he paid the least!  In retrospect, I gotta admit I wish I had thought of that.  Ingenious!  The concert itself was excellent.  A huge stage, three large video screens, and plenty of pyro-technics.  But all of that was just window dressing, because the band actually sounded great.  Kieth Richards actually sort of stole the show from Jagger…every strum on his guitar seemed to cut through the evening air and he had a huge smile like he was having more fun than anyone in the world.  Jagger was good too though, dancing like he was thirty years younger and generally being the archetypical leading man.  They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear, including “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the latter of which featured the choir from the other university named after the state of Ohio.  My only complaint was they didn’t play “Dead Flowers”…it was one of four potential songs in a pre-concert online vote and it lost out, not-surprisingly, to “Paint It, Black”.  Oh, and did I mention they had a Scarlet and Gray version of the famous mouth logo!  It was practically the perfect evening.

As for this album, meh.  I hate to say it, but I don’t really dig early Stones.  This is from the 60s, before they had their epic run in the 70s.  As such, it doesn’t really have that bad boy rock and roll identy of later Stones albums.  There’s some blues (“Dontcha Bother Me”), some county (“High and Dry”), some psychedelica (“Paint It, Black”), and weirdly even a little baroque (“Lady Jane”).  It’s a hodgepodge, but it just doesn’t gel.  I bought it for $11.88 off of Amazon Prime.  It’s the American version…the British version has a vastly different track list and order, adding four songs but deleting “Paint It, Black”, about the only song I really dig on the album.  Overall, it’s not bad, it’s just not great either.

Other lists: “Paint It, Black” and its oddly placed comma rank at #176 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes:  The ripple effect of Kid A has dropped this album one spot from its original spot at #108.

My favourite track: “Paint It, Black”

Honourable mention: “Under My Thumb”

Quote: “It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.”

 

rocket-to-russia

So the last time I wrote about the Ramones (entry #33), I actually spent most of the entry writing about the Dead Schembechlers, the “legendary” Wolverine Hate-Core band from C-bus whose first album was actually titled “Rocket to Ann Arbor” in homage to this album.  So as I sit here in the Capitol City, in the midst of *ichigan week, in anticipation of the second biggest matchup in the history of the two schools with OSU currently ranked #2 and scUM chiming in at #3 (not quite as good as #1 vs. #2 in 2006, but I’ll take it) and a potential berth in the third annual college football playoff on the line, it only seems fitting that I continue the trend by writing more about the Schembechlers.  So indulge me for a bit…

I’ve seen every Schembechlers show here in the ‘Bus (6 total), and I have tix to my 7th show this upcoming Black Friday (I missed one in C-town one year, but it was the same show they played here in Cowtown).  In terms of sheer popularity, the band peeked with the show I wrote about last time (entry #33) in 2006 when the teams were ranked #1 and #2 and Bo tragically died the day of the show.  That night they donated the proceeds from the show to Bo’s Heart of a Champion charity and promised to change their name to the “Bastard Sons of Woody”.  That name didn’t stick though, and after a two year hiatus they returned as the Dead Schembechlers.  They had the show booked for the former LC (I don’t even know what the name of the place is now), the biggest venue they had ever played.  However, the week of the show, ESPN had some sort of crappy college football tour sponsored by Samsung and headlined by the All-American Rejects come into town, and the LC bumped the Schembechers to the former House of Crave (crappy name inspired by then White Castle sponsorship…it’s now called the A&R Music Bar), a tiny rock bar next to the LC.  Ticket holders could move freely between the two venues, and ironically the House of Crave was packed to capacity and there were about 3 teenagers in the LC to see the Rejects.

After that, the shows got progressively smaller and more sporadic.  In 2010 they played a “Farewell to Rich Rodriguez” show at Skully’s Music Diner, a small rock club in the Short North.  Then there was a long hiatus (Bo Biafra was kidnapped and spent several years in a Wolverine Death Camp), until the group returned in 2014 to play a “Farewell to Brady Hoke” show at Ace of Cups, a very small rock club in the Olde North district.  This year there is no new music, but the band is playing at Ace of Cups again in anticipation of another Buckeye victory over the Big, Blue Meanies.

Ok, thanks for indulging me.  Now to the Ramones.  I picked up this album for $4.99 at the Barnes & Noble in Mentor last holiday season.  It pretty much sticks to the Ramones formula of simple verse-chorus-verse songs with witty lyrics and no guitar solos.  The subject matter is pretty much tongue-in-cheek teen angst with the occasional fake-surfer song thrown in (“Rockaway Beach”, “Surfin’ Bird”).  It has a little less energy overall than their debut, but it’s still a fun album.

Other lists: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” is #461 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: We are still in the wake of the meteoric rise of Kid A, so this album is one spot lower than its original ranking of #105.

My favorite track: “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”

Honorable mention: “We’re a Happy Family”

Quote: “There’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin'” (so true after the recent election…)

Otis Blue

It’s been awhile, I know.  Too long.  Grad school has been kicking my ass.  Finished the first draft of a 25 page paper yesterday, and while I wait for my professor to rip it apart and send it back for revisions, I thought I’d get back to the Exile.  Been waiting to write about this album for awhile.  I wish I had more to say about it, but I loves me some Otis.  I grew up with Otis around the house (and when I say house, I mean that ugly brown and yellow trailer on Myers Road).  Mi madre is a huge Otis fan, and to this day she is still sad that he died so young.  She played a lot of Otis while I was growing up, and she was forever going on about how great the Stax horn line was and stuff like that.  Otis Redding’s posthumous album, “The Dock of the Bay” was actually one of my first CDs back in the day, but I guess I’ll talk more about that when that album comes up on the list (along with a discussion of Pearl Jam’s stellar cover of that album’s title track).  This album was one I picked up at the Half Price Books on High Street near Worthington a year or so ago.  I snagged it for $6.99 (minus my 10% teacher-of-children discount), and I frequently use it to psyche myself up for work in the morning.

Historically, this album has some gems on it.  There is the original version of “Respect”, which Otis wrote, but of course it was the Aretha version that became famous.  There are some other great Otis originals as well, like “Ole Man Trouble” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, but otherwise it is the covers that stand out.  Chief among them are Otis’ version of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change is Gonna Come”, Smokey Robinson/the Temptations’ “My Girl”, and the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”.  All throughout, that famous horn line brings the energy to the music, but it is Otis Redding’s voice that dominates this record.  Otis had none of the smoothness associated with his Motown R&B contemporaries (think the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, young Marvin Gaye, etc.).  No, Otis  was a southern soul artist in the vein of Little Richard and Ray Charles who always seemed to be pushing his voice to the breaking point.  It is that powerful, yet scratchy voice, that made Otis such a stellar musician.  There really isn’t much range to his voice, just pure emotion.  He did most of his own arranging too. It is a shame that his life was cut short so prematurely, but like so many others, I am grateful for the music he gave the world before he died.

Other lists: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is #111 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Otis is ranked #8 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and he is #21 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped four spots from its original position at #74 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and James Brown’s Star Time.

My favorite track: “Ole Man Trouble”

Honorable mention: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”

Quote: “All I’m asking for is a little respect when I come home”

Greatest Hits

 

I skipped the part about love…it seems so shallow.  Michael Stipe.

In the movie Pulp Fiction, the scene in which we are introduced to Butch and Marsellus Wallace is underscored by Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”.  In this scene, all we see is the back of Marsellus’ head (and the mysterious band-aid…was his soul really removed?  was that what in the briefcase?) as he bribes Butch to throw the upcoming fight.  This is also the scene where Marsellus offers this sage advice: “[The night of the fight] you might feel a slight sting: that’s pride fucking with you…pride only hurts, it never helps”.  Of course, Butch ignores Marsullus’ advice and double-crosses him by winning the fight, but as is foreshadowed by the Al Green song, they get their chance to “stay together” when they are eventually captured by redneck rapist hillbillies.  Hilarity ensues.  Bring out the gimp!

Well, other than that scene in Pulp Fiction, I really don’t have much to say about Al Green.  This is solid 70s soul music.  Unlike Marvin Gaye, there is nothing political at all here…it’s all love songs all the time.  Maybe that’s why I can’t quite get into it as much…I dig protest songs and songs that uncover social injustice, and well, love songs just seem so shallow. But the Reverend is a talented singer, and while he lacks the smoothness usually associated with R&B, he has that almost James Brownesque edge to his voice and a piercing falsetto.  And actually, I can kinda see the softness in this music that eventually led Al Green to pursue ministry, as unlike many of his R&B contemporaries, these songs are not overtly sexual at all.  These songs are more subtle lyrically, although I’m sure the intent was pretty much the same.  It’s also funny to me that Al Green decided to become a reverend after falling off the stage in Cincinnati…something about that town just makes people conservative.

This is the second greatest hits package on the list, after Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Legend”.  I bought it from Amazon for $4.98, which isn’t too bad considering $3.99 of that was the shipping cost.

Other lists: “Let’s Stay Together” is #60, “Love and Happiness” is #98, and “Tired of Being Alone” is #299 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Al Green is also ranked #14 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #66 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “Let’s Stay Together”

Honorable mention: “Tired of Being Alone”

Quote: “Happiness is when you feel really good about somebody”

Hello world!

Hiya.  This is my first ever attempt at a blog, so we will see how this goes.  A few weeks ago I was grocery shopping when I saw the special edition of Rolling Stone that listed the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Now I have never been fond of Rolling Stone, but I have always been fond of music, so I bought the issue mainly out of curiosity to see how many of the top 500 albums I actually owned.  After reading the issue and discovering that I owned about 60 of the albums, I realized that I wanted to hear the other 440.  Thanks to the digital music revolution, CDs are now really inexpensive on Amazon, so I figured I could get most of them pretty cheap.  Also, I live in a city with some fantastic used record stores, so this project will give me an excuse to comb the bins at some local record shops.  It was just recently that I had the idea for this blog, and my plan is to write about each album after I listen to it.

Here’s a little bit about my background.  As I said above, I have always loved music.  In fact, I loved music so much that I majored in it in college.  After college I became a music teacher, and thus far I have had a fairly successful and rewarding career.  However, there has always been a huge disconnect between the music that I study and teach in school and the music that I listen to in my personal life.  I came of age in the nineties listening to the Seattle bands everyone else was listening to: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.  In my free time in college I got into some great classic rock like the Beatles and the Doors.  In the 2000s, I discovered some fantastic indie bands and I became of huge fan of Flogging Molly, Gogol Bordello, and the Decemberists.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention my all time favorite band, Radiohead, whose music has been an inspiration to me for the last 20 years.

Well, thanks for reading, and I hope you check back in with me as I work my way through the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time!