Sunday, October 30, 2011

Paperback Writer, unabridged and un-neutered

According to Wiki, the studio version of Paperback Writer was the loudest recording The Beatles had done up to that time. The bass was also turned up in the mix in order to, as John Lennon said, sound more like Wilson Pickett records. But it's the vocals that we care most about: The repeated chorus we first encounter in the song's introduction sounds as if the three voices were double tracked. It's also possible they used vocal triple tracking as they'd done on Because.

But here, they do what they can with just the three.
Note: I've reposted the video. What I posted previously apparently no longer exists. This version appears to be of a lesser quality but you get the idea. The entire Tokyo concert can be seen here



An impressive display of skill especially when considering the often lackluster results of other bands who try to ape the complicated arrangements of their recorded versions (Bohemian Rhapsody leaps to mind). It's also a testament to how tight and polished this band could be (even with Paul's errant mike). The dues paid in their early days playing the clubs show well here. They don't even appear to be breaking a sweat: Note how John tries to make George laugh. Even with the distractions of a screaming audience it takes no toll on the quality of their performance.

Another reminder of the shame that their performance career was so brief. (The Let It Be movie being another glaring example.) The lads had no equals.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

1. Listen to the birds.
That's where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.
2. Your guitar is not really a guitar. Your guitar is a divining rod.
Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you're good, you'll land a big one.
3. Practice in front of a bush.
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush dosen't shake, eat another piece of bread.
4. Walk with the devil.
Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the "devil box." And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.
5. If you're guilty of thinking, you're out.
If your brain is part of the process, you're missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.
6. Never point your guitar at anyone.
Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.
7. Always carry a church key.
That's your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He's one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song "I Need a Hundred Dollars" is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty-making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.
8. Don't wipe the sweat off your instrument.
You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.
9. Keep your guitar in a dark place.
When you're not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don't play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.
10. You gotta have a hood for your engine.
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can't escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

The above shared from a blog worth visiting often: http://blog.wfmu.org/

Said he: "Van Gogh made work so good that upon walking out of the museum I said: 'The sun disappoints me so....'"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Billy busts, Jackie slides

Billy's keyboard credentials are unimpeachable. But you already know this. (I've gone on about him before.) Never was there a more hallowed sideman. (Check his credits here.) You also know that he had a handful of hits, wrote a standard, was more than a capable singer, a dynamic performer, and he could dance.

Yes he could.



The exuberance goes practically viral here. There's an explosion in his nerve center that splatters out to his hands and feet. It's a dance like James Brown trying to move a scorpion through his shirt without getting stung. A move Jagger might've tried if he only had Preston's chops. (Or course, Jagger would process Brown's moves into his own spastic brand of monkey steez®. 40 years later, that steez gets a song. )

That yellow suit is fly, too.




Master showman, "Mr Excitement", the O.G. singer of soul, Jackie Wilson was the pivot that moved R&B into Soul. Wilson's career began at the same time as James Brown's but it'd be Wilson who'd find his mojo first. He'd a succession of singles hit beginning in 1957. Though Brown was recording and performing extensively at this time, his funk wouldn't ripen until at least 1963 which was just about the time Wilson's faded. Brown's "hardest working man in show business" stage style was the yang to Wilson's cooler and more subdued yin. Brown for his part was a dance genius. (Some proof here.) Much of his signature style follows a thread through a history of various stage dance styles, mostly tap (although a more sexed tap than any tap you'll ever see anywhere else). Wilson for his part seems to sweat confidence. Throughout his entire performance above his face has the distracted look of a guy who believes his night is going to get better later.

It may be difficult to decipher exactly who was first; it's been argued that it was Wilson who copped Brown's moves. Maybe. But whoever was first, it's clear they both reached deep into the same trick bag. Though they both added their own stuff to the bag, the bag was deeper than both them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Death, Drugs, Devilry, Disfigurement, & Dirty Louie



1) Casey Kasem: Remember him? You'll be withering away somewhere in your forties (at least) if you do. His was the popular nationally syndicated radio show American Top 40 (1970 - 1988; 1998 - 2004) where the masses came to hear their favorite popular songs before they joined the dustbin of future Trivial Pursuit questions. (Another blog's waggish take on the show here.)

I'll admit it, as a kid I'd listen in from time to time. I, like teeming millions of others, was a sucker for the show's shtick, a formula both simple and effective: Countdown each week's Billboard Top 40 backwards while larding up the introductions with teases and juicy nuggets to hang the audience up through commercial breaks. (And as it was AM radio, there were many). It didn't hurt that these infotainment gumballs were dispensed from the depths of Kasem's unctuous baritone, a sound as smooth as pureed frog. For one particularly memorable edition, in June of 1971, the #1 was Indian Reservation (a take on
Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)) by Paul Revere and the Raiders. In his introduction Kasem served up a story curious enough to hike even the most seasoned eyebrows: The song's composer was taken prisoner by Cherokee Indians and released only after promising to write a song dramatizing their plight. American Top 40, as it turned out, had all the fact checking vigilance of your average reactionary political blog. The story was a ruse and a good one as it went undetected for years; John D. Loudermilk (who also wrote Tobacco Road) made up the tale on the spot in response to being awaken by a late night call from a writer from the show. Writers looking to dig up juicier information might do well to call interviewees in non-prime time hours: This might explain Weekly World News.

2) Legend was that Robert Johnson's prodigiousness on the guitar and his voice capable of such wretched depths of human experience could've only wafted straight up from the smoke of Hell. As a younger man Johnson was reputedly a journeyman blues musician at best. After disappearing for a year or two (to hone his new found Hell-sprung skills) he'd return as the full-fledged King of the Delta Blues Singers that history now remembers. (A schlocky version of the tale was told in the 80s film Crossroads with much added narrative prostheses.) As an original member of the Forever 27 Club Johnson wouldn't have much time for legacy building; what he left behind was a compact canon of 29 songs. The truth is, everything we know about the man and his life is limited to those 29 songs. The rest is, as they say, marketing. 

3) The Paul Is Dead Myth and the birth of backmasking: Surely, everyone is familiar with the manufactured legend of Sir Paul's untimely demise. Though the legend began independently of The Beatles, the Fabs would quickly embrace it for themselves. Their records, beginning with Magical Mystery Tour, would come salted with clues. Besides being the likely progenitor of the many Is he dead? tabloid myths to follow — Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, Jimmy Hoffa, et al.it's also the starting point for that ne plus ultra of legend-seeding tools, the backwards messaging of backmasking. (An exhaustive list of examples is available here.) 

One example of note would be Judas Priest and their cover of the Gary Wright-penned Spooky Tooth ditty, Better by You, Better than Me (from the 1978 album Stained Glass): The song made national news when the mother of a depressed Priest fan who'd botched his part in a double-suicide attempt sued the band for claims the band drove her son to do it. Following the successful suicide of his friend from a shotgun blast to the head, 20 year old Reno NV resident James Vance would only discover even new depths of tragedy (the results at left). Besides leading the boys into morbid hopelessness, the lawsuit alleged that the band, through one backmasked phrase in particular ("do it, do it"), provided the teens their suicidal tipping point. The story and all its parties were covered in the excellent 1992 documentary The Dream Deceivers: The Story of James Vance vs. Judas Priest. Before the judge ultimately dismissed the case, James Vance would make another suicide attempt: In 1988 he ended his life with an overdose of prescription drugs. (For a more detailed view of this story, check here.)


 4) While on the subject of musical suicide inducers, long before Judas Priest began darkening young minds, there was the once and still all-time body count champion: The Hungarian Suicide Song, or as it was better known in its English translation, Gloomy Sunday. A song thought to be so crushing in its hopelessness, many feared it could bring the dispirited multitudes into lemming waves of self-annihilation. It was reported that in Hungary alone the song was responsible for 17 deaths (see more on this here) and eventually, 200 worldwide. First recorded in 1933 in its original form, Vége a világnak (End of the World), by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress, lyrics by László Jávor. As Snopes.com notes in its breakdown of the legend, for many years Hungary had the highest suicide rate of any other country. It may be that this song was just one expression from a grand tradition. At any rate, by the time World War II had spread through Europe the tragedies of war would've far overshadowed any wiles of lachrymose noodling. The song would find its greatest popularity in Billy Holiday's 1941 version (English lyric by Sam Lewis). If anything, Holiday's version only deepened the legend and many broadcasters at the time banned the song from the airwaves in the interests of public safety, including the BBC.
One verified suicide of note: Composer Rezső Seress took his own life in 1968.


5) Newsweek magazine ran a cover story in 1964 (as best as I can tell from Googling) making claims on the rampant coded drug messaging going on in rock music. Infamously caught up in this generational hysteria was the otherwise current and future children's favorite Puff the Magic Dragon. Recorded in 1963 by Peter, Paul, and Mary and written by Peter Yarrow (the Peter of PPaM) and Leonard Lipton (based on his 1959 poem written while in college) the song would achieve great success on both sides of the Atlantic (a song still collecting royalties and recently turning up as a children's picture book). Those looking to indite made much hay over the use of words like paper, dragon (draggin'), and puff. Both the group and Yarrow vigorously denied any such intentions. Even 47 years later the association hasn't gone away. It continues to find its way into pop culture like a flashback contact high (a reference was made recently in an episode Lie to Me).

6) There may be no song that comes more loaded with pop cultural mystique than Louie Louie: Not only the primogenitor of the over-driven three-chord rock roundelay — which, considering the history of rock that followed, is saying a lot — and one of the most covered songs ever recorded. It has also been reputed to be the filthiest song to ever get mainstream airplay. Originally released in 1955, Louie Louie was "composer" Richard Berry's response to a Cuban Cha-cha he'd heard on the radio, and stealing its theme from Calypso and more than a healthy wad from Chuck Berry's Havana Moon. Berry's version achieved some modest regional success and gained cred from other musicians who'd added the song to their own stage repertoires. By 1963 at least one of these incarnations had brought the song to the attention of the Portland band The Kingsmen. As the legend goes the song was recorded for a $36 studio fee in one extremely fortuitous, unedited take (note the singer's flub after the guitar break). It's inauspicious radio debut would be on a Boston station as "The Worst Record of the Week." Fortunately, listeners of the station didn't agree and the song would ascend all the way to #2 on the Billboard chart (denied its #1 by both the Singing Nun and Bobby Vinton). Even without the prurient legend, The Kingsmen's shambolic, proto-garage rock sound should've still been enough to raise their version to classic status: A sound as funky and booze-soaked as a bartender's rag. But the song's real kernel of genius came from singer Jack Ely's energetic, slurred, and to the song's great fortune, indecipherable reading. The song was actually banned by the governor in the state of Louisiana. When questioned about the song's lyrics the band was instructed by their manager to offer only "no comment." It was that mystery that launched many fan-penned revisions of the song's lyrics based on wishful obscene mishearings. As a result, the song would be subjected to a 31 month long FBI investigation (the grand jury convened for White Water lasted only 30 months). The stain of obscenity would prove to be a stroke of (maybe not so) inadvertent marketing genius. Listen for yourself:

Louie Louie by The Kingsmen on Grooveshark

It's interesting to note according to Dwight Rounds, author of The Year the Music Died, 1964-1972, the FBI tried to track down Richard Berry, The Kingsmen, and various record company executives in their investigation (it's not clear whether they were successful). But one person they chose not to interview was singer Jack Ely. Seems an awfully obvious choice: No? 

Anyone who's been in a band themselves will appreciate this dynamic: Shortly after Louie Louie became a hit, Ely was relieved of his singerly duties. Drummer Lynn Easton's mother had registered the name The Kingsman and as a result owned the band's name. Apparently, Easton used this as leverage to become the singer and move Ely to the drummer's stool. Ely and the band's bassist quit in protest. Louie Louie was Ely's only lead vocal and contemporary live versions of the song on YouTube feature only Easton on vocals. Watch and note that Easton was no Ely: Not even close. Ely for his part would later attempt to capitalize on Louie's success by releasing a series songs with pandering titles like "Louie Louie 66," "Love that Louie," and "Louie Go Home."

To hear the smutty version you'll need to check out The Stooges (from Metallic KO).
As for the lyrics themselves, first, the dirty version:
Louie, Louie,
grab her down low.
Louie, Louie,
grab her way down low.

A fine little bitch, she waits for me;
she gets her kicks on top of me.
Each night I take her out all alone;
she ain't the kind I lay at home.

Each night at ten, I lay her again;
I fuck my girl all kinds of ways.
And on that chair, I lay her there;
I felt my boner in her hair.

If she's got a rag on, I'll move above;
It won't be long, she'll slip it off.
I'll take her in my arms again;
tell her I'd rather lay her again.


And this, the actual Jack Ely version:
Louie, Louie,
me gotta go.
Louie, Louie,
me gotta go.

A fine little girl, she wait for me;
me catch a ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone;
I never think I'll make it home,

Three nights and days we sailed the sea;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose in her hair.

Me see Jamaica moon above;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose in her hair.

Me see Jamaica moon above;
It won't be long me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again.


And for the sake of completism, here are some antecedent Louie versions The Kingsmen would've no doubt been familiar:
The first video includes three versions performed by these artists, 1) The Richard Berry original; 2) Rockin Robin Roberts and The Fabulous Wailers; 3) Little Bill and the BlueNotes:




And The Kingsmen with spotlight stealer Lynn Eastman frontin':