Monday, December 24, 2012

Music that Matters, pt 4

32. Sam Cooke, Bring It on Home to Me: There's a long tradition of wordless yelping in music, that space where no word can express the inexpressible so well as an unadorned jet of hard wind thru the pipes. I love this song for so many reasons but especially this: Before every refrain of "bring it to me" both Cooke and Lou Rawls launch a long, loud "Oh!" For me, this is the highest form of prayer; What sums it up better for our Maker than that?

33. Sparks, Propaganda: From 1974 but ageless. Helium-fueled vocals no one else on earth could sing over intricate melodies that keep the music's skin taut and wrinkle-free after all these years. My sister thought they sounded like a bad dream (she said that a lot about my record collection) and she was probably right. But once we begin our working life the dreams are mostly bad anyway; better to marry with it a melody that could raise you up like a meat hook.

Something for the Girl with Everything on German TV done sometime in the 70s.

And for those who don't know Sparks, this:

34. Piano: I once took piano lessons so I'm a little predisposed to the keys. For my money the piano is the coolest drum ever invented and in the imaginations of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Scott Joplin, Gershwin, Scriabin, Schoenberg, Janacek, etc, it is the voice of God and not Patrick Stewart or Morgan Freeman like some people may think.

35. Blind Faith: As a child I loved this record from the first listen, a deep melancholy resonance riveted together with great hooks. I always thought Stevie Winwood sounded like he was singing through a mouthful of spicy Pad Thai. As inspiredly crappy as his elocution was, for me it only made his voice all the better. Every song on this record is brilliant; Nearly as enchanting to me as was the naked pubescent girl holding the vintage hood ornament on the cover. (The whole friggin' album can be heard here.)

36. Gang of Four, If I Could Be: Electric guitar had been around for, what, 40 years?, and then this guy comes along. A guitar that sounds like a combination of Don King's hair and growling dogs and unlike anyone else. Anxious white Brit funk with perfect proportions of dissonance and polyrhythms that's neither derivative nor inauthentic; How'd they do that? Who knows, but they did.

37. Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live, Them Changes: This Buddy Miles song was decent enough in its earlier incarnations but this version from '72—both in Santana's latinate grooves and punchy rhythm guitar and Buddy's testifying soul shouts that are the vocal equivalent of a Marshall stack—is beyond stellar. Buddy's nearly supernatural screams may only have two or three recorded peers in existence (that I know of). Also, usually a singer's shouts of "say yeah!" are worth little more than eye rolls for the pandering salt licks they are, but here they're utterly brilliant. May've been the career peak for both of them.

38. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country: These guys were monstrous when I was a kid. They were in advance of grunge by 30 years and more authentic than the whole of it by at least 100. Fogerty's solo on Born on the Bayou was the quintessential example of Blues Theft 101, no machine gun runs of blazing notes just the guitar solo as haiku narrative. Another reason this record is branded into my psyche: I was 11 years old at our neighbors' Fourth of July party when one of the girls the host and I had been flirting with all night (in the typical under-cover-of-teasing pre-adolescent style) began dancing with a couple of drunk adults in front of the living room stereo. This record played and suddenly on the hips of this beskirted, giggly girl the world changed forever. (Bootleg here.)

39. Thin White Rope, Sackful of Silver: There are many records you learn to love over time, kind of like in an arranged marriage. For me, Sackful was more like the drunken hook up you still wanted to wake up with 10 years later. Their nary-a-keyboard, dual guitar sound carved through with mid-range tempos and streamlined rhythms may've been the de rigueur of 90s alt rock but their harder and darker version was more gestalt than alt––less Sunny Day Real Estate and more Swans (they did cover Can after all). It's a combination of a-fifth-and-two-packs vocal rasps and the clean-and-sober melodic lead guitar lines that can still, to carry on the metaphor, make the bed springs squeak. (On the Floe here.)

40. The Isley Brothers, Fight the Power: Punk rock as testifying shout from 1975; there wouldn't have been enough coke in the world to even make Rick James this punk funky. These guys love to sing even when they're telling you how pissed off they are. The whole of side one is so dense with hard beats, funky synth curlicues, and let-baby-brother-play-like-Jimi riffs that not even gamma rays could pass through. This record should've influenced a whole generation of guitar hard soul bands but didn't. Maybe the problem was the fluffy ballads stuck on side two. Still, a great one-sided record.

41. Funkadelic, Tales of Kidd Funkadelic: These guys also should've influenced generations of bands, black rock especially, but their anorexic legacy has been criminally small (save the Chili Peppers, Prince, & a few others). Wiki credits them as funk fathers: Maybe, but I think they transcend standard forms. (Should sampling count as an influence?) In the early days they were equal parts funk and psychedelia and didn't really jack their stiz until the five albums of the '73 - '76 period. Funkadelic's deep bench included a busload of great guitar players and singers, some James Brown refugees, madman George Clinton, and the amazing Bernie Worrell who steals the show often (how many times is that said about a synth player?). Salted with absurdist humor and inspired insanities, a batch of great riffs, a canon of songs begging to be covered, and those great Pedro Bell covers––they were a band as a brand and one hell of one at that. (I'm Never Gonna Tell It here.)

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