83) Roxy Music, Remake Re-model: The first Roxy album was something special. Back then Ferry's croon contained some actual spit and wasn't the pomaded warble we'd later come to love. Eno and Andy Mackay added layers of uniquely fruitful tension––Eno with his Dada science fiction (his flourishes are particularly brilliant here) and Mackay with a touch of a-yob-goes-to-Cotton-Club lacquer (and no one, NO ONE, brought the oboe like Mackay)––after the first two LPs and Eno's departure things got smoother: more great records would follow but thicker polish replacing raggedier edges. And then smoother still for the 80s output. Still, every corner of their sound was uniquely theirs all the way down to the fabulous beats of Paul Thompson and their take on girly record covers. This is what sexy eccentricity should sound like.
Yoo Doo Right e.g. providing hipster cred to a number of alt bands wanting to prove the coolness of their record collections. I stumbled on Can as their record blared from one of those now long gone Sunset Boulevard elephantine record outlets. I was hooked immediately. Their cool-bordering-on-cold sound is like a breeze coming down the German Alps. Their improvised ditties drip with a healthy serving of psychedelic barbecue sauce and a hint of jazzy phrasing but not too much. It's a formula that other bands, like ELP, could clone into bloated run-throughs of self-indulgent bombast but Can manages with self-restraint. Mother Sky may be long but it earns every second of its length (probably owing to their German efficiency) and may also contain the epitome of cool psychedelic melody lines. Their lyrics sometimes read like movie dialogue in Chinese-English translations but that's OK, it only makes their brand more Dadaesque. My nine year-old daughter heard this playing in the car recently and remarked that it sounded like old time music––1970, actually, which for her may as well be the ice age. Yeah, well call me a neanderthal. I dig it.
Here's a "blistering" live version from German television in 1970.
86) Booker T. and the M.G.'s, Hang 'em High: The M.G.'s were always smooth, suave, succinct, not too spicy but always right to the point. They were the model of unpretentiousness. This song, though, is a little out of their usual range. The melody is more narrative and Booker T.'s organ is like a zen calliope running Wagner rolls. No one massages the Leslie speaker better. The melody is short but the band makes every refrain count. The Hammond has too often been the instrumental vector of musical misdeeds but I can promise you that Booker T. will make you love it again.
Oh! Calcutta!, it still wouldn't happen. Cultural proclivities aside, it's easy to imagine how this song might inspire otherwise manly men to dance like fools: it's one nasty groove. Plus, Philip Bailey's voice goes into some mad whistle tones that could crack Mariah Carey's ovaries––I kid you not. In its pre-disco days, EWF's marriage of ecstatic funk lite and R&B juiced up with horn and rhythm sections tighter than Cee Lo's cummerbund was the sh*t. It didn't get anymore ecstatic than Mighty Mighty. I've seen its potency firsthand and it can shoot some serious dilly voodoo straight into your onion.
La Valse D'Amelie probably being the only recent example). Preston is arguably the grandmaster of the Clavinet and legend has it that Outa Space was an improv that he was calling out the changes to the band on the fly. One of those rare moments where the thumbnail is the masterpiece. For its full effect the Clavinet demanded a plucky kind of technique which gets a turbocharge with a wah-wah and it's a technique that Billy nails with a railroad spike. Still as fresh and space age as it ever was.
this article makes an exhaustive case (if it's to be believed, Lurie and his friends say don't), as does his quirky and short lived show Fishing with John––then Lurie has got it in spades.
The Lizards never got their due. That's a shame.
countless reworkings. No matter who does it, it seems to bring out the best in everyone. It's a democratizer and that's pretty cool if you ask me.
93) Artie Shaw and his orchestra, One Foot in the Groove: This is what rawked the bobby-soxers ca. 1939. My dad was a Shaw fanboy until his dying day, having dropped the needle on Shaw's records since the time they were 78s (about 60 years). As for this song, I'm a sucker for repeated phrases spread out over chord changes. It's an elemental vibrational buzz that probably goes back to our cave dwelling days––one dude carves eight holes in his flute while the other guy's mud god told him it was more righteous with one and, voilà, jazz was born.
The song also may also be the essential showcase on what was best about the big band era: Listen as each reiteration of the song gets a different color treatment along the way––trombones one time, saxes the next, some sexy low grooving followed next by some growling love-call brass. They could blow 100 choruses and change it up every time.
And then there's the cat of Shaw himself. He must've oozed some kind of cool because this guy who looked like an insurance salesman managed to marry two of the butteriest omega babes of the swing era, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. (His bedpost was notched with "an array of America's best sexual trophies.") This eight-time married swinger could also be an abusive a**hole. (He allegedly drove Lana Turner to a nervous breakdown. Babes love their bastards, don't they?) And he treated his audience no better, famously calling them a "bunch of morons."And just to prove that old age could soften no edge on this rough diamond, he'd accuse clarinet colleague Benny Goodman of basically being retarded. Along the way this middle school dropout studied advanced mathematics, became the #4 ranked marksmen in the US, hung with the communists during the McCarthy years, wrote three novels (Terry Southern was a fan), fronted one of the first small combos with electric guitar, was said to be "one of the greatest musicians that has ever lived" by no less than Ray Charles, was one of the first to bring latin sounds north (Frenesi, Carioca), and just generally freebased on his own stubborn awesomeness. As a bandleader and player he's considered one of the best of the era––and most erratic which may explain why he abruptly stopped playing forever in 1954: He was an inveterate perfectionist, a self-described "difficult man," as much Axel Rose as da Vinci. His claimed reason for giving up music was because that after attaining mastery, what could he do but slide downhill? (Goodman for his part died with a clarinet in his mouth.)
Like so many who're abandoned by their fathers at an early age, Shaw would return the favor by walking out on his own kids and everything else he loved. Fortunately, he blew the clarinet long enough to bring my dad some happy.