Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Wildside Walkers

In an age of RuPaul's Drag Race, the prurient reporting of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side may seem anachronistically tame. WotWS's style of chanson verité may feature enough grit to pave any wayward soul's road to hell when compared to the relative sanitized fluff of Drag Race. One could argue that both Lou Reed and RuPaul are playing up the subject matter for its sniggers. That aside, WotWS does have the distinction of being the only song to ever reach #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the line "she didn't lose her head even when she was giving head." This may point either to David Bowie's (and Mick Ronson's) great production (according to Wiki, the sax solo was played by the guy who taught Bowie to play) or the fact that people generally pay little attention to the lyrics.*

Walk on the Wild Side's descriptions of some of Andy Warhol's legendary "superstars" was a story apparently worthy of a BBC doc. (That's the amazing Candy Darling nee Jimmy Slatterly [1944 - 1974] shown above.)  According to the players consulted in the video, Lou Reed's version, which seems to revel in the tragedy, is mostly accurate. Part one of the six parter can be seen below. The remaining segments should be easily linked at the video's end. If not, you can find it on YouTube.

Walk on the Wild Side in a 1973 version from Lou Reed Live:

The doc is also entitled Walk on the Wild Side:

* Two cases in point: Ramones's Blitzkrieg Bop, a song of alleged "vague" meaning which clearly makes Nazi death camp references, was used in Diet Pepsi and iPod ads as well as being a popular sing along at sporting events; Brown Sugar, which is about the rape and abuse visited on female slaves by their white masters, was used to hawk Diet Pepsi and Kahlua.

And one more thing: You want to know who among us are the truest of the brass-balled cultural warriors of the human race? The transgendered (and the whole LGBT lot for that matter), whose very character seems to threaten the fabric of the priggish reactionary order. Props to y'all.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 8

72) BjorkThere's More to Life Than to This: Many of us first fell in love with her voice here. (She recorded her first album at age 11.) Clearly, her producer shared our infatuation during those ingenious couple of seconds where the backing track drops out and her voice goes cage-free. The effect puts her voice on a gilded pedestal and reveals more of its secrets: Her unique tone, its palette of sounds, her kundalini energy and spirit. Even her breathing is exalted. It's a moment that farts more rainbows that a herd of unicorns. It's also those seconds—bolstered by the background noise from a nightclub's toilets—that make the otherwise canned house backing immune to being a 90s anachronism. By the time song fades out you'll never hear her quite the same again.

73) The Cure, Hot Hot Hot: Of The Cure, I was never much of a fan—aside from a few: A Forest, Primary, Killing an Arab, Jumping Someone Else's Train, a few others—but this song is The Cure flying flat up against the sun. Here, Robert Smith comes out from behind his Tammy Faye Bakker makeover and concocts a whole other voice and energymore like a guy who actually believes in himself. And his guitar, those funked up grooves are very, well, un-Cure like. To me, most of The Cure's Wall of Flange sound was as draggy and plodding as a gimpy zoo bear, better suited for those who're tripping, and so unlike Hot Hot Hot which is a cheetah on B-12, Red Bull, and Viagra. With this Smith proved his muse could get up offa that thang and shake out a buzzkill. If only he had of done it more often. The trumpet was a nice touch, too.

74) Charles Mingus, Work Song: (Not to be confused with the Nat Adderley version.) Mingus's Work Song swings harder than Courtney Love's moods but what gets me especially, besides the great cool melody, are those booming fat clusters of piano and unison snare that together hit harder than John Hernry's sledge, an association that was completely intentional. The sax growls as melancholy as a Monday and the rest of them cats have a melodic back and forth that's unlike any office meeting you'll ever go to. If only our day jobs could be so blissful.

75) The Beatles, Tomorrow Never Knows: Yes, it was the song that changed everything  yet influenced practically nobody because who could touch it? McCartney and Lennon were geniuses both but with this McCartney became the Oppenheimer to Lennon's Einstein. Lyrically, Lennon went from singing of post-adolescent desire to mastering said desires and shuttling them off to another plane. You've heard artists say, "the work's not mine, it just comes through me." That could be never more true than for TNK. George Martin's head must've been in a full spin with the production of this one. They make the studio the fifth Beatle and then make it their slave like just another song hook. This song is still so far out into the stratosphere I wonder if it'll ever come to Earth.

76) John Cale, Helen of Troy, My Maria: Two companion songs from what was likely Cale's greatest and more examples of great production: the touches of Maria's mortified nun choir and Helen's brass heraldry are just so. Then add to that Cale's much underrated voice. Though his early musical sensibility came straight out of avant grade, he would come to much prefer the three minute pop song, although slightly askewed. I'd argue this surpassed the work of his cranky former colleague in the Velvets. Of course, Chris Spedding's guitar is key: His tone and restraint are remarkable and his playing is always imbued with some sense of humor. A perfect match for Cale. One of the most underrated albums of the 70s.

77) Richard Hell & The VoidoidsLove Comes in Spurts (1977): Punk guitar in the late 70s fell into three categories (sure, it's arbitrary but just go with me), the overdriven Chuck Berry reductive variety (Sex Pistols, X, Dolls), the dumbed-down all barre chorded variety (Ramones, Germs, Buzzcocks), or the subdued psychedelia variety (Stooges, Fall, Gang of 4) or some combination thereof. And then there was Robert Quine. Check his solo here, laying the foundations of No Wave and a new mastery of singular style that never got its due. Hell and Quine were in another direction altogether that could never be anywhere but the margins, which is where they belonged, but it does unfortunately make for a short career.

78) Graham Central Station, Release Yourself: I love vintage analog keyboard sounds—the Wurly, those electro-harpsichord things The Doors played, Farfisa and Vox organs—but especially the Clavinet. This song is as larded up with 'em as Abuela's refried beans. Then there's Graham's bass playing, some of the most demonic thumbs to ever strike a fat round wound and his slaps and pops put him easily at the top of the funk bass heap—along with that Brother Johnson. Everything about this song gets right to the middle of the target. This was Graham's masterpiece.

Release Yourself by Graham Central Station on Grooveshark

79) Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, See Emily Play: The last throes of a brilliant mind battling mental illness. Shortly hereafter the illness would prevail (though he did manage to squeeze out a few more noteworthies). But for these three minutes, those swirling phantom voices and misfiring synapses colliding in his brain made for a glorious playground—glorious enough, one could argue, that the institution of Pink Floyd was never more innovative than this.

80) Pink Floyd, The Great Gig in the Sky: The fortunes of this album were no doubt intricately connected to the billowing clouds of 70s weed, the soundtrack to countless teenage bedroom bong sessions and late night drives for salty munchies not to mention trippy late night laser light shows. It should be obvious to everyone that this song owes its existence to vocalist-for-hire Clare Tory. Her dynamic wails, screams, moans, howls, and improvised arias breathed the very soul into this slow jam's nostrils. Without her efforts the song probably would've never even made it out of the can and of course without Pink Floyd no one would give a crap's ass about the whole affair.  Still, the fact that it took Floyd 30 years to give her any songwriting credit at all—she was paid £30 at the time—and only after ugly legal proceedings, is a fitting testament to rockstar hubris. For her 2o minutes of studio time Tory should retire very comfy now.

The Great Gig In The Sky by Floyd, Pink on Grooveshark

81) Sly & the Family Stone, If You Want Me to Stay: Toward the end of his classic period Sly was the cool jazz equivalent of soul and that was a good place to be. Cool little keyboard interludes, cool little horn breaks, tender little beats, and Sly gets more work out of his voice than most of those vain poppers working their way through the Star Spangled Banner. And that bass line of bass lines: When the bottom is high it really can take you higher.
82) King Crimson, Discipline: I wouldn't say this song swings exactly but it marches with a wiggle. Its 17/4 time signature ain't exactly your normal deep groove stuff but when the syncopations layer up this is a pretty sweet parfait. The genius of the song is how it takes the minimalist and repetitive academics of guys like Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, Stomu Yamash'ta, Steve Reich (Discipline borrows a large chunk from Reich), as a starting point and then dances and pisses all over it. It takes the staid math of its predecessors and brings it into the realm of the danceable and plays it tighter than leggings on a weekend Walmart shopper. This is nerd rock at its finest and something no other proggy band could ever do: to be both smart and unpretentious.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Eddie Van Halen Can Kiss Her A**

You've probably seen the videos of Chinese kids still in diapers playing Lizst at carpal tunnel inducing tempos. There's so many of these kids toiling in Asia under dragon moms and dads these days they're hardly worth noticing. And here's another one, only this one grew up and became a world class concert pianist. Her name is Yuja Wang, she's from Bejing (living in NYC), and she's really hot. She still plays the fusty long hair music of olde but she's does it in a club dress. In fact, nearly as much attention has been given to the torque and lengths of her skirts as to her actual playing. Well, who writes the stuff but nerdy too-long-behind-the-screen fan boys anyway? (Oops. Guilty as charged.)

After Wang, the market for liver-spotted Horowitzes and their crinkly derrières may be drying up. Could the tuxedo and gown set be hungering for leer-worthy rockstars of their own?  Maybe. Here's another one: Lola Astanova.

But watch this: a Flight of the Bumble Bee in a hands-blurring, amphetamine tempo––her left hand could be named Usain Bolt––that should put your favorite wanker metal guitarist behind granny's walker. Hers are some diamond tipped chops.

So, she's fast, but is she any good when she's not bangin'? Well, watch her play this thread-bare Chopin nugget that just about every third or fourth year piano student has to labor over. She wrings from it gobs of new nuance lets it reveal a story we haven't heard quite in this way before. She gives it a very, very wet kiss.

Her playing could be a little young yet and at times a bit rushed. That aside, I don't know about you but I'm sold. Rockstar piano divas: If I were Murray Perahia I'd be worried.

I don't even think of myself as a musician, really

People pay to see others believe in themselves. Kim Gordon

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gratuitous Arse: Synthpop from Chile but who cares? It's a video full o' naked arse

You'll see the smooth, supple and sexy ones you'd expect. There's also a couple of hairy ones plus a more sizable cottage cheese badonkadonk just to keep things fair and balanced.

(For the sake of journalistic integrity the song is Panda and the band is Astro in case you're interested. They're apparently "riding an international wave of buzz" at present. Videos like this can't hurt.)

As seen on Pocho.

Nina Says We're Already in Hell

"Go to Hell" she says, then smiles and does a little happy dance.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Music that Matters, pt 7

62) Linda Rondstadt and the Stone Ponies, Long, Long Time: This may be the quintessential paean to unrequited teenage love and gimpy self-absorption. Ronstadt's voice seems to capture its every pathetic nuance like flypaper. Sacrifice and raw nerves perforate her voice as she captures all the mystified callowness, overwrought emotion, and determined futility of a teen heart drowning in a state of being too young.

It's also a very realistic female response. Woundedness often expressing itself in the extreme language of absoluteness––at least with the women I've known––and this song puts a black bow and ribbon around it. It's superb melancholia to the point of ecstasy and I love the way her voice almost cracks every time she goes loud in the second half of the verses, practically drawing blood on the last verses bitter "and I've done everything I know/ to try and make you mine..." It's maudlin and mawkish and totally authentic––because to those who know what it's like to love somebody more out than coming in, they'll know the exact shape of young Ronstadt's feeling.

Love will abide, take things in stride
Sounds like good advice but there's no one at my side
And time washes clean love's wounds unseen
That's what someone told me but I don't know what it means

This is Shakespeare for the post-adolescent heartbroken. Also, part of what I love about this song is the baggage of my own that I bring to it: My deceased sister was a Ronstadt fan and this song, for several reasons, reminds me so clearly of her. Both were unconventionally adorable, both had great gams, and both knew too well what love is like going both out and in.

Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt on Grooveshark

63) Peter Gabriel, Intruder: (Here's the post-middle age, squishier grayhead version.) Why rock never embraced the edgy dissonance of the fat piano chord is a mystery. It should've been as ubiquitous as the fuzzy guitar. That thick, tonal chain-reaction can create tension and aggression like nothing else. Think of the shower scene from Psycho––nothing conveys the edginess, and terror even, like neighboring half-tones banging heads together. Little Richard hinted at this in his rollicking piano style but if his tones went by too quickly for you, you'd be forgiven for not catching them. Even Gabriel didn't explore this vain much outside this Intruder and it's a shame. Nicely articulated dissonance describes the mental state of the song's dangerous intruder perfectly. Back in the day, I'd left this record on my dad's turntable for a period of time as I was getting to know my girlfriend. Many nights spent on the carpet under the amplifier's green glow and this album. That experience helped to etch this song pleasantly into my juicy gray matter forever. I'm sure it'll pop up again when my life flashes before my eyes. I could do much worse.

64) The Birthday Party, Zoo Music Girl, Cry: Intense, less brutal than The Swans but more temperamental than most of the No Wave bands, and like those bands The Birthday Party was angry enough to eschew chord changes. Changes only distract from the single mindedness of the rage that are the fundamental tissue of their canon. Though, if Zoo Music Girl is a kind of love song, it's a very abstract one. (Obviously, the band spent some time with Captain Beefheart records.) Guitars scream and cry, drums have tantrums, and the bass beats its head against the wall while Nick Cave offers an elegantly lemony spew and I just lurv his scream out that ends Cry: If their groove is, as they say, in the a pocket then this one is a pocket full of broken glass. I don't know about the ladies but us guys feel those screams sometimes. Of course, the healthier thing to do would be not to give your rage a soundtrack, but, for better or worse, sometimes it's more comfortable to just rage.

Zoo-music Girl by The Birthday Party on Grooveshark

Cry by The Birthday Party on Grooveshark

65) James Bond Theme, John Barry: (John Barry arranged the original and composed music for 11 other Bond films (incl. Goldfinger's theme); The tune was composed by erstwhile singer, Monty Norman.) Culturally, this song goes so far back (1962) and is buried so deep into our psyches that it's so beyond archetypal it's practically instinctual. It's sound is so instantly recognizable (the up and down 5th, #5th, 6th, #5th, 5th just seems to ooze cloak and dagger), and hangs so easily on the front brain, it couldn't help but be quintessentially exploitable. (Henry Mancini ingeniously offered a twisted reiteration of it for the Pink Panther Theme.) Composer Norman took a large bite out of the surf-like guitar styles of the day, esp. Duane Eddy and Dick Dale, throws in a bit of reggae skank (Dr No takes place in Jamaica), and then shoehorn's in some jazzier vernacular themes in-between. Everybody loves this song, whether they know it or not.

James Bond Theme by John Barry on Grooveshark

66) Johnny Rivers, Secret Agent Man: An oft covered song, especially during the punk era, but this use was its first and best. In college I had the great fortune of studying art history under the great Phil Leider (one of the early editors at Artforum) and he told a story of how Caravaggio innovated the dramatic style of the deep shadowy light but it was Rembrandt who stole it and elevated into more. The opening riff is the James Bond theme note for note yet brilliantly rejiggered for a rock band. This what Picasso or Ezra Pound or whoever meant when he said "Don't borrow, steal." Stealing is forgiven, in art anyway, when it's done for such a high purpose. I was a babe when I first heard its opening riff and the subsequent minor key lament that follows. Because of it, this song probably helped form my adult tastes as much as anything.

67) The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers: Anyone old enough to have several relationships under their belt will know of the spectacular things that can happen in love's first weeks, magic often unrepeatable later into the process. Similarly, the creator's relationship with their creations can also suffer a certain loss of intensity when compared to their earlier promise. Case in point: However noteworthy Jonathan Richman's later work, none of it matches the concentrated brilliance of this first record. The more worldly of you know the tunes––the oft covered Road Runner and Pablo Picasso, the less known but worthy Astral Plane, Girlfriend, and others––there was a spirit and attitude and feel in this moment that Richman would never quite find again (and maybe the future celebrities in this band had something to do with it). And it's not like authenticity was ever a problem for Richman, earnestness and sincerity being his currency. Whatever the quality was it was ineffable and magic. Consider this as a lesson as you contemplate your own art: What the lesson is exactly I don't know, but there's one in there somewhere.

Astral Plane by The Modern Lovers on Grooveshark

68) Pablo Picasso, John Cale's version preferably: Velvet Underground alum Cale discovered and produced The Modern Lovers album so it may be for this reason his version hits closest to its center. A feat due in no small part to the great slide guitar from Chris Spedding. The song was built on a one chord groove that in Richman's version tends to make even the great People pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso joke run out too soon. With Cale and Spedding, the beast never runs out of vitality. And then there's this line: Be not schmuck, be not obnoxious, be not bell bottom bummer or asshole, remember the story of Pablo Picasso... On the page or in the head it reads like a mouthful of potatoes, but Cale is able to press Richman's raw limestone into marble.

Pablo Picasso by John Cale on Grooveshark

69) Marc Ribot, Shortly Before Take-off: On music, my Swing Era dad was like a gun crazy NRA radical. He never budged from his old perceptions. When I played him this song his response was "It sounds like rush hour traffic." (My dad was a funny guy.) Despite Ribot's wonderfully whacky sonic aesthetic, it's managed to find a niche in the work of others as his session resumé is both fat and impressive. The opening riff tells you all you need to know and what follows is a beautiful collision of music and consciously strategic random sound. I especially love the raucus guitar break and band catharsis bridge (Ribot ingeniously constructs an anti-guitar solo) undergirded with an ascending bass line that deceptively takes a step down after every repeat. I don't know about you but these are the kinds of musical moments I live for. Though, I'd advise you not to try to think of this song the next time you're boarding a plane.

Shortly After Takeoff by Marc Ribot on Grooveshark

70) Thinking Plague, Fountain of All Tears: This was a case of hearing it playing in a record store and it snuck into me so immediately I knew I had to have it. An experience most young 'uns will never enjoy with the death of brick and mortar music retailing. There's a whole smorgasbord of stuff here that drew me in that probably won't translate to most of you. This also explains why Thinking Plague won't be doing any stadium tours this summer like those plodding prog Godzillas Yes or Asia. The chord changes, the voicings, the structures, the colors, even the flat singing (which here seems like a conscious choice) could be the bane of existence in the wrong hands (Yes or Asia). Here, taste wins over indulgence and the additional strata only add more interest. This is avant garde with restraint and a rock beat that mercifully eschews too many exotic meters. If Stravinsky had of grown up in Denver listening to Jandek, Ornette Coleman, and The Stones and busked requests for Gypsy folk music and King Crimson he might've sounded like this: Call it savant outsider prog.

Fountain of all Tears by Thinking Plague on Grooveshark

71) Echo and the Bunnymen, Heaven Up Here: It's been argued that the genius of U2's The Edge was his ability to push modest chops and musical naiveté into the stratospheres of extreme success. Less successful but even more transcendent was the guitar of The Bunnymen's Will Sergeant. He and the band took fertile instincts and astute taste and manufactured something sonically akin to a Lego built Taj Mahal. The Bunneymen's sound was orderly and controlled and swept clean of all the funky vestiges of the garage. Heaven Up Here is an exception, a kind zen version of Fisher-Price style free jazz drawn in blood on graph paper, if that makes sense. You could easily assemble the pieces of this in, say, Garageband but you'd never get close to approximating its power and sweep. And the mad sticks of drummer Pete de Frietas, it's not what he's playing––which is completely compartmentalized––but the bangs he makes are always the exact right ones.

A sweatier though not definitive live version:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Beating the meat: Drum Solo

This may be going viral but just in case you haven't seen it. (For me that resonant hollow tone over the navel is a highlight.) Kudos to the big guy for sportsmanship (though I suspect he may've kicked everyone's ass immediately after).

Thx to Jason Flynn for the heads up.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Power Surge: Prisoner (Love Theme from The Eyes of Laura Mars)

OMG! Where to begin? A bubble-gum hair metal band takes on a minor Streisand gobbet ca. 1991: Words will not suffice. Hear for yourself:

From deep within the dusty bowels of the waning metal years is the Long Island bar band Power Surge. (Google searches offered no history.) Clearly, they are a band that understood Spinal Tap as a template and not a parody. (My wife had friends in bands like these.) The band's vocal stylist Corey Bond, whose squeal imagines a cross of Bruce Dickinson with Geddy Lee tased and has a vibrato with swells that could splash over the deck of the Titanic. His castrato upper register is impressive and muscular yet his hapless uvula has a habit of going rogue at times. Some of the upper register notes get flattened into linguini shapes. Poodle-cut guitarist Michael Klotz solos like a ream of Berlitz Hanon finger exercises (though thankfully spares us the shopworn Van Halen tapping), and drummer Tom Pizzela (man, if those aren't Long Island names!) proves his metallic ecstasy by screwing his visage into an ever-present duck face. No mention in the credits of the platinum pretty boy bass player. (Perhaps lost in a later acrimonious Power Surge divorce.) Head banging and devil horns are, of course, de rigueur.

The appropriate soundtrack for cracking twelvers of Rolling Rock and toking on pipes made in shop class.