Tag Archive: music


Bridge Over Troubled Water

When I was a kid, mi madre had this ginormous wooden stereo cabinet.  It stood pretty tall, and the lid opened from the top to reveal a turntable, receiver, and an 8-track player.  I think that stereo was her prized possession, and I used to love standing over it watching the records spin as she played them.  I also loved to press my fingers up on the lights of the 8-track player until they they shone through my fingernails, but hey, I was young.  Like 4 or 5.  And I remember watching those records spin, and I can see the Beatles’ Apple label in my head and the red Columbia Records label and the split green and red Atlantic Records label spinning on that turntable even as I write this.  Of course there were a few Disney picture discs (I loved the Pinocchio soundtrack, but I couldn’t handle The Fox and the Hound back then) and the Chipmunks and the Muppets Christmas albums to appeal to me (I was a child after all), but I think I have better memories of all the grown-up music mi madre would play.  And one her favorites was Simon and Garfunkel.  I think it may have been the Greatest Hits album, since I remember hearing “The Sound of Silence”, “I Am a Rock”, and “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”, but maybe she had multiple Simon and Garfunkel albums.  The main thing is I also remember being introduced to “The Boxer”, “Cecilia”, and of course the title track from this album at a very young age and loving every minute of every song.

I bought this from Amazon for $4.98, and it instantaneously took me back in time to my childhood (I could have sworn I already owned the “Greatest Hits” album, but maybe it was just the Elusive One’s copy that we listened to back in the day).  Despite the somber tone of many of the songs, this album is fun.  Paul Simon was the primary songwriter, and you can hear the rhythmic playing on tracks like “Cecilia” and “Keep the Customer Satisfied” that would later come to full fruition on the “Graceland” album.  And Art Garfunkel’s voice…well, he elevates the title track to the level of art song with his soaring, melodic tenor voice…it is the stuff of Schubert and Schumann 200 years later.  I also have a recording of a local Andean band, Sumakta, playing the melody to the South American folk song “El Condor Pasa” on wooden pipes…cool stuff.  And of course “The Boxer” is just an amazing tune with the “lai-la-lai” chorus and the big drum explosions.  Timeless.

Other lists: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is #48 and “The Boxer” is #106 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Simon and Garfunkel rank #40 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists as a duo, while individually Paul Simon ranks #93 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists and Art Garfunkel ranks #86 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers.

My favorite track: “The Boxer”

Honorable mention: “Cecilia”

Quote: “I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told. I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles…such are promises: all lies and jest.  Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

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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!”

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”

A Love Supreme

 

When I was a kid, I played saxophone.  I started when I was in the fifth grade, which was the first year we had the opportunity to join the Spencer Elementary School band.  Truth be told, I had never really paid much attention in music class before that…it was only graded S or U and occasionally an O if you answered a few questions right, and pretty much the highlight was singing “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in the second grade.  But playing saxophone in the band really opened up my eyes to a whole new world of musical experiences and got me interested in music, and probably most importantly, forced me to learn how to read music.  My mom rented me an alto saxophone from the music store next to the old Carlisle’s building in Ashtabula, and we went went over to the town park right across the street and I used the lesson book to learn how to put the thing together.  I also learned how to play G, A, and B that day.

So playing saxophone kinda became a big thing in my life all through my schooling.  My elementary band teacher was fun and ironically, he warned us all not to become music teachers (sorry, Mr. Parker, I didn’t follow your advice!).  By the time I got to junior high, I was pretty decent and spent both years as the first chair player.  Then in high school, I joined the marching band, even though it wasn’t the cool thing to do, and I auditioned for and was accepted into the top wind ensemble, the Symphonic Band.  By my junior year I was first chair in the Symphonic Band and second chair All-County.  I was taking lessons and getting superior ratings at Solo and Ensemble Competion…and yet despite all that success I had one major frustration…I couldn’t play jazz.

See, jazz is a completely different world than the traditional style that you are taught in school.  Saxophone really has no place in an orchestra (it was invented too late), but in a traditional wind band, it sort of becomes a cross between a clarinet and a french horn, so for the most part, you learn traditional technique.  Jazz however, requires something different.  It requires an incredible ear and the ability to improvise.  I requires the ability to anticipate chord changes and to spell chords almost instantly.  Yeah, I know that I said some of this stuff in the entry about Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”, but my point is that jazz is a very intricate and complex style of music, and it takes an incredible musician to excel in it.  And despite the fact that I did play for a couple of years in my high school jazz band, I knew I just never had the touch.

But listening to Coltrane, yeah, he had it.  His quartet is good, but he is the one carrying the load.  Practically the whole 32 minute suite is an extended Coltrane solo, with just short interludes for the string bass, piano, and drums to have their moments.  Apparently in a moment of divine inspiration, Coltrane wrote this entire piece as a statement to his devotion to his religion, and the suite is composed as almost a four part jazz mass with each movement named after a stage in his spiritual journey.  Despite its connection to religion, this suite remains firmly rooted in the jazz genre and never even ventures near the more traditional church musics of gospel, spirituals, or hymnody.  Coltrane himself oscillates between intense wailing and a softer, more reflective side.  In the last movement, “Psalm”, he even tries to play on his instrument the words to a poem he wrote about his faith.  Kinda cool.  I picked this album up at the Half-Price Books near me on Bethel Road for $5.99 (minus my educator’s discount) and I have to admit that along with Charlie Parker, John Coltrane is one of the best saxophone players I have ever heard.  And it’s certainly better than that Kenny G “Duotones” CD mi madre bought me when I got my first CD player back in high school…

Other lists: Like the Miles Davis album, this record does not appear on any other Rolling Stone lists that I am aware of.  This is probably because the writers and editors at Rolling Stone are much better equipped to write about rock, R&B,  and pop music than jazz.

My favorite track: “Part 4 – Psalm”

Honorable mention: “Part 3 – Pursuance”

Quote: “A love supreme…a love supreme…a love supreme…”

Please Please Me

 

One…two…three…four!  Aww, the mop-top Beatles.  So young, so innocent (well, maybe not so innocent…Capitol records wouldn’t release the song “Please Please Me” in the U.S. because they thought it was about oral sex)…so different than the psychedelic Beatles.  And honestly, I never liked the mop-top era nearly as much as the psychedelic era.  I don’t know…it’s just too lovey-dovey.  But I guess everybody has to start somewhere, and the Beatles pretty much started here.  This was their debut album…in England.  Actually, the first two Beatles albums (this and “With the Beatles”) were not officially released in the United States until the advent of the CD in the late 80s.  I’ve read differing accounts of why this happened, and one is that Capitol records, their U.S. label (Parlophone was their lable in England), wanted a more sanitized content (she was just 17 would make her underage in most states…except West Virginia).  The other plausible reason is that there are 6 covers apiece on the Beatles first two albums and Capitol did not want to pay royalties to the other artists.  Either way, the U.S. would have to wait a year until Capitol released “Meet the Beatles” (although a Chicago label called VeeJay Records released a record called “Introducing the Beatles” 4 months after this album was released).

So I picked this up for $5 at Used Kids back in October after work and before a class I was taking.  Right away I noticed that the young Fab Four wore their influences right on their sleeves…this album sounds like 50s sock hop rock.  Chuck Berry’s influence is all over this record, as well as Buddy Holly’s and even a little Elvis Presley.  There are several covers (presumably because they hadn’t written enough original material for a full-length record yet), the highlight of which is John Lennon’s scorching rendition of “Twist and Shout” (forever immortalized in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”).  Okay, its a little weird when Ringo sings the Shirelles’ “Boys”, but whatever…it’s Ringo.  The historically important thing here is the formation of the McCartney/Lennon songwriting team.  And while the songwriting still had a long way to go at this point, you can hear the beginnings of the great vocal harmonies for which the Beatles became famous.  You can also feel a youthful energy on this record, seemingly of four guys who just were happy to be playing rock ‘n roll (well, 4 guys on the tracks that George Martin let Ringo play more than just the tambourine).

Other lists: “I Saw Her Standing There” is #140 and “Please Please Me” is #186 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.  Also, “I Saw Her Standing There” is #16, “Please Please Me” is #20, and “Love Me Do” is #87 on the list of the 100 Greatest Beatles Songs.  Finally, the album ranks 17th on Rolling Stone’s relatively new list of the 100 Greatest Debut Albums (released this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of “Please Please Me”).

My favourite track: “I Saw Her Standing There”

Honourable mention: “Twist and Shout”

Quote: “In my mind there’s no sorrow.  Don’t you know that it’s so there’ll be no sad tomorrow?”

The Athology

 

Muddy Waters…the great blues-man who inspired the chorus of the greatest Bob Dylan song, the name of one of the world’s most famous rock bands, and also named the world’s most influential rock music magazine…all from one famous lyric (“Sho nuff, he’s a rollin’ stone”).  Historically, Muddy Waters is one of the most influential musicians ever…yet I had never bothered to listen to him much until I purchased this anthology from Amazon for the steep price of $19.73 (at least I bought it before Amazon raised their shipping rates!).  But for that price, you get 50 tracks that span his entire career, so its not such a bad deal.

This starts off similarly to the Robert Johnson set with very straight-forward Mississippi Delta blues style songs that show off Muddy’s guitar chops.  However, as you get farther into the set, Muddy progresses to a full blues band sound (apparently out of necessity from playing in loud Chicago blues clubs) and eventually he develops into a full bar rock sound with a country influence.  At this later point in his career, he stops playing guitar and focuses exclusively on his singing.  However, the guitar work doesn’t suffer at all in this latter stage of his career, as Jimmy Rogers picks up the slack.  Buddy Guy even makes an appearance on a couple of the tracks near the end of the anthology.  This is a pretty massive set (over 2 and half hours worth of music) but the variety keeps it interesting, and from a historical perspective, virtually every famous blues lick is represented here somewhere.

Other lists: Four songs from this set make the Rolling Stone list of the Top 500 Songs of All-Time: “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” at #226, “Mannish Boy” at #230, “Got My Mojo Working” at #368, and “Rollin’ Stone” at #465.  Rolling Stone (the magazine) also ranks Muddy as the #17 Greatest Artist, the #53 Greatest Singer, and the #49 Greatest Guitarist (Buddy Guy, who plays on two tracks on this anthology, beats him out at #23).

My favorite track: “I Just Want to Make Love to You”

Honorable mention: “Mannish Boy”

Quote: “Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five, my mother said I would be the greatest man alive.  But now I’m a man, I made 21.  I want you to believe me honey, we havin’ lots of fun!”

Music from Big Pink

Ah, the Band.  The band called “the Band” because they started off as a backing band (first for Ronnie Hawkins, and then later for some guy named Bob Dylan).  A band that rented a big pink house in Woodstock, New York so they could be close to their frontman while he recovered from a motorcycle accident and wound up recording an album of their own.  It’s a nice story, and it’s how this album came into existence.

So they had two copies of this album right by me at the Half Price Books on Bethel Road, but I kept passing on it because I wasn’t ready to listen to it yet.  So when it finally came up on the list and I was ready for it, of course it was gone.  So I bought it from Amazon for $8.42, which is a little more than they were charging at HPB, but its okay.  I expected this to be some folky Dylanesque sort of thing, but I was surprised to hear a little bit of everything on this record.  Sure there is some folk, but there is also some country, some rockabilly, some bluegrass, and actually quite a bit of R&B.  I guess they picked up a little bit of everything while they were touring the country as a back-up band, and they were able to incorporate it all into their sound.  Pretty neat.  And I like the fact that they are mostly Canadian (although I’m glad they didn’t let their record label stick them with “the Canadian Squires” as a band name).

Other lists: “The Weight” is #41 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  The Band is #50 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Levon Helm is #91 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Robbie Robertson is #59 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.

My favourite track: “We Can Talk”

Honourable mention: “Long Black Veil”

Quote: “Oh, stop me if I sound kinda down in the mouth, but I’d rather be burned in Canada than to freeze here in the south”

Let It Bleed

 

I think mi madre’s favorite response to me whenever I would as for something as a child was “You can’t always get what you want”.  I say as a child, but I think it continued into my teenage years, and maybe into my adult life as well.  At least it kept me from being spoiled…too badly.  At any rate, this is my second Rolling Stones album and I bought this older edition off of Amazon for $8.93 because I did not want to buy the most current remastered edition for $9.99 at Best Buy.  Like I’ve said before, I am not a fan of any post-mp3 era remasters, so I was happy to get this edition.

The only song I knew on this album other than “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was “Gimm[i]e Shelter”, as that song was featured in the original Rock Band game and I spent quite a bit of time trying to 5-star the drum track (dear Harmonix: why are your drum tracks always so hard?).  I guess I also knew “Country Honk”, but I knew it in its more popular single version, “Honky Tonk Women”.  And “Love In Vain” is a Robert Johnson song I had heard on “The Complete Recordings” boxset, but the Rolling Stone’s version sounds completely different.  But yeah, as always the Stones are a fun listen.  I was surprised at how graphic the lyrics were on the song “Let It Bleed” (“yeah, we all need someone we can cream on”), and I hear a lot of sounds that definitely shaped the direction one of my all-time favorite bands, Guns ‘N Roses, would take on the Illusion albums.  The Stones were the original bad boys of rock ‘n roll, and this record certainly shows it.

Other lists: “Gimm[i]e Shelter” is #38 and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is #101 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.

My favourite track: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Honourable mention: “Gimm[i]e Shelter”

Quote: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find you get what you need”

Bringing It All Back Home

 

I remember seeing the video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” when I was a kid and thinking it was funny.  I can’t remember if they actually showed it on MTV, or if it was on a video that mi madre had.  Either way, I liked it even at an early age, and for just about my entire life I have always noticed when the vandals have stolen the handles in public places.  And I always watch my pawking metaws too.  Anyhow, I was excited to see that song and “Maggie’s Farm”, a song mi madre would always quote when she was frustrated with her job, on this album when I found it for $3.99 (minus my 10% teacher discount) at the Half-Price Books on High Street (fitting, eh?) north of Clintonville.

 

So this was Dylan’s first electric album, and apparently there was a bit of controversy when Dylan first went electric?  Yeah, I know that’s an understatement…the man got booed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 for playing electric.  It’s a shame if people missed out on this album back in the day because of the electric/acoustic controversy because this album has some of Dylan’s best stuff.  Lyrically, he is at times laugh out loud funny (“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”), witty (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”), defiant (“Maggie’s Farm”), tender (“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”), dismissive (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”), and of course, political (“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”).  And the first half is electric and the second half is acoustic, so everybody should be happy right?

Other lists: “Mr. Tambourine Man” is #107 (funny that the Byrd’s version ranks higher at #79) and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is #340 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

My favorite track: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (it might be my favorite Dylan song)

Honorable mention: “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” (only Dylan could write stuff like this and have it still make sense)

Quote: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”

 

#29: “Led Zeppelin” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin

 

So yeah, Led Zeppelin.  The original gods of rock.  The innovators of heavy metal.  The band that influenced just about every band I ever listened to.  And somehow I never actually got into them.  Not sure how I missed that boat…I remember buying Zep IV off of Lord Bacchus back in college (because I liked “Black Dog”, not “Stairway”!) when he got some sort of Zeppelin box set and was getting rid of his regular copies, but up until now that was the only Zeppelin album I ever owned, which is kind of a shame because this stuff really rocks.  I mean really rocks.  Oh well, better late than never.

I got this album off Amazon for $7.73, and I’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop for the past few days.  The first thing that jumped out at me was that this is actually a blues record, albeit a very experimental one with lots of distortion.  In addition to the 3 actual blues covers on the album (“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, “You Shook Me”, and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”), all of the other songs have a very strong blues influence as well.  Obviously, one of the things that made this band special was the interplay between Jimmy Page’s guitar and Robert Plant’s vocals, and this dynamic is showcased in amazing fashion at the end of “You Shook Me” when Page and Plant trade licks back and forth in a call-and-response style that is usually reserved for gospel choirs.  Amazing stuff.

The originals on this record are great too.  And as I listen to it, I can’t help but realize the incredible influence these guys had on so many other bands.  Practically every hard rock and heavy metal act of the 70s, 80s, and 90s owes some little bit to Led Zeppelin.  I can now hear Robert Plant in Axl Rose’s wail and Chris Cornell’s yowl, and Jimmy Page in Mike McCready’s leads and Jerry Cantrell’s riffs.  And to think that it all started here.  Pretty cool.  Absolutely nothing political at all on this record either…just songs about chicks.  But that’s okay…it’s still awesome.  And well, rock gods don’t need to save the world…they just need girls, right?

Other lists: Led Zeppelin is #14 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Robert Plant is #15 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Jimmy Page is #3 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists (only Hendrix and Clapton rank higher).

My favourite track: “Dazed and Confused”

Honourable mention: “Communication Breakdown”

Quote: “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man.  Now I’ve reached that age, I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can.”