Saturday, July 27, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 13

126) The Yardbirds, Over Under Sideways Down; Mister, You're a Better Man than I; Happenings Ten Years Time Ago: Grayheads know that The Yardbirds was the Guitar Academy that incubated a troika of deities: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. In addition, it was a band that produced a mantle full of trophy singles and a legacy that'd inspire generations of guitar mortals. Of the three, Beck was probably the better Yardbird, despite the future glories of the other two. His skills on the whammy bar were nearly as impressive as his skills in self sabotage. Of the three, he's the only who seems to have gotten better with age. Match his legendary nitroglycerin-like temper with an uncanny habit of jumping the rails before the train arrives at the station of success and you could write the story of his career. (He also opted out of Woodstock in '69.) Be that as it may, we should still bow down to the solid body altar and cross ourselves for the Yardbirds. Even before Layla and Stairway to Heaven they were still the nazz.

Over, Under, Sideways, Down by The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

Recorded in 1964:
& The Yardbirds on Grooveshark">Mr. You're a Better Man Than I by Eric Clapton & The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

Happening Ten Years Time Ago by The Yardbirds on Grooveshark

A really corny scene from Antonioni's Blow Up with the Beck/Page version; Beck stomps a mean Hush Puppy:

127) Long Fin Killie, Godiva: From the cloudy riverbanks of Glasgow, Long Fin Killie (named for an exotic fish) is one of the reasons why the 90s were better than the 80s. Unlike the other many bands that might namedrop Can, these lads do the legacy proper. As well-buffed musicians, their sound has the muscle to bend toward the experimental. Besides the kraut rock, there's other various art rock influences, vestiges of kilted folk and a slab of Tim Buckley. Sometimes their sound veers off into the kind of dreamy of prog that littered the cut-out bins of olde—Gentle Giant, Robert Wyatt,  early Genesis, etc, but it's subtle. While contemporaries like Pavement gathered all the glory, Long Fin Killie did the actual work.

Godiva by Long Fin Killie on Grooveshark

128) Steppenwolf, Born to Be Wild: Loveable proto-metal built on a guitar that revs like a straight-piped Harley and an organ that sounds like wind blowing a chime of rusty knives: This is the garage band gone to graduate school. The lyric was a battle cry for a generation bound to war and looking to an escape to a freedom, the kind that only comes with a motorcycle between your legs. A flower generation caught in a culture war that'd dropped its biggest bomb only months before: The Summer of LoveIn the opening credits of Easy RiderBorn to Be Wild perfectly expressed the zeitgeist of the time (a film that also featured a very young Toni Basil): As Peter Fonda throws off his wristwatch and the shackles of the establishment to follow wherever cute chicks, acid trips, and the horizon takes him. Many have tried to recreate this sound; none have done it better.

Steppenwolf by Born To Be Wild on Grooveshark

This was a nice one:
Born To Be Wild by Blue Öyster Cult on Grooveshark

128) Van Der Graaf Generator, Pawn Hearts album: Like prog? I don't. Not usually. Most often it's laughably pretentious, dizzily conceited, and bloated like a lumbering giant that'd just swallowed a trailer park—pompous bombast was a description I once saw used in Rolling Stone. Dreadfully indulgent and boring is another. The lyrics usually read like delirium on stilts puffed up with a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary. On the spectrum of prog rock you might say Van Der Graaf Generator is so deep into its black hole that they come out the other end. They're like those low budget movies that Tarantino is always going on about, made by men of such stubbornly outside aesthetics—films so bad they're genius. Van Der Graaf Generator sound less like other prog bands and more like hallucinations of opera cut with avant-garde middle school musical theater, or Queen on a torture rack doing Phantom of the Paradise. Either way, add Stockhausen, Carl Stalling, Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy, free jazz, Liza Minelli and Tiny Tim and you end up with a sound like no one else's. This isn't toe tapping, whistle along music; it meanders, slows down and speeds up, crashes and whispers. At times their songs sound like a suitcase overstuffed with Russian nesting dolls, each one containing enough material for several more (the songs tend to be loooong). And then there's singer/songwriter Peter Hammill: A singular character whose lyrics are slathered in gothic images, dark anxieties, and hyperbolic drama. Over that he sprinkles clever analogies and the odd insight of sagely wisdom. His histrionic renderings are hilarious and tragic at once. This is Outsider Prog, a genre all their own: A prog so offensively prog it's genius.

der Graaf Generator on Grooveshark">A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers by Van der Graaf Generator on Grooveshark

129) Robert Fripp, Chicago, Disengage: Rare are the examples of songs with lyrics so damned good they outshine the music. (Leonard Cohen, Stephan Sondheim, and Dylan have been known to do it.) Chicago is one. (She smiles like Chicago/ I laugh like the breeze...) But then there's a very unFripp-like bluesy groove with Fripptronics, brilliant chase-scene piano riffs, and Peter Hammill's (see above) glorious cracked actor style singing: A jewel.

Disengage is Fripp paying a last homage to the '70s prog that he invented (and then later regretted) before taking another go at it with a completely reinvented King Crimson. Another lyric by his late girlfriend and poet Johanna Walton (she was killed in a terrorist bombing of her plane in 1988). The inimitable Hammill rages on again.

Chicago by Robert Fripp (vocals by Peter Hammill) on Grooveshark

Disengage by Robert Fripp on Grooveshark

130) Split EnzLate Last Night: Not the Split Enz you remember from the '80s. This version wore face paint and mushroom haircuts while playing Victrola style crooner's jazz minus the crooning and the jazz. (Roxy Music was so taken by them they invited the band to tour with them. Phil Manzanera would produce an album.) The band's virtuoso pianist tended to take over the sound which gave them the bawdy and burlesque edge of Weimar Republic cruise ship entertainers: Music appropriate for a dark room and cocktails with umbrellas. As for their songwriting, though the best was still down the road, this troupe was the far more interesting one.

131) Bert Kaempfert, Blue Midnight album: For my wife, the sound of Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 it takes her back to the honeyed glazes of childhood. For me, it's this: A record my dad threw on the changer as his go-to cocktail party soundtrack. Don't be misled by the trumpet blown balloons of European jazz lite, there's much more going on here. Listen to Kaempfert's alternative vision of the orchestra, the ethereal choruses, the picked electric bass (check Wiki, it's famous), strumming guitar, bittersweet string arrangements, and a sauerkraut topping of a saxophone-less horn section that might've been playing beer garden oompahs the night before. (Kaempfert was German and served in the Nazi military—as a musician: still, an ugly fact never mentioned.) Besides leading an orchestra that specialized in custard soft versions of contemporary hits and standards, Kaempfert wrote a lederhosen load of standard tunes of his own: Strangers in the Night, L-O-V-E, Spanish Eyes, Danke Schoen and others you'd have to dig into your grandparents attic to find. He also wrote piles of instrumentals that were just so goddamned infectious, lighter than air, happier than hell and borderline Muzak but impossible to erase from memory once heard. More formal than Herb Alpert and not cheesy like Martin Denny or Esquival, but slick, shiny, and out of date like a head full of Brylcream. You want to lighten your day? Throw some of this on.

A Swingin' Safari by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

Three O'Clock in the Morning by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

Free as a Bird by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

Blue Midnight by Bert Kaempfert on Grooveshark

132) Steve Hackett, Clocks: Again, a fan of prog I'm not and Hackett is admittedly one of its worst culprits. He being the guitarist of classic period Genesis ('71 - '77),  the model for prog and progenitor of its many overwrought offenders. Those crimes aside, this album was surprisingly clear of prog's usual mire of technique for its own sake and was at the same time reasonably melodic in an unprog-like way. It was also not entirely unGenesis-like, though—the reason I never bought it—but it had its moments. Harmonically, it was unlike anything you'd hear on rock radio—more cinematic and dissonant—more like something Bernard Herrmann might've done had he grown up on Guitar Hero. Clocks could've made for a great movie theme. Or even better, a porn soundtrack.

04 Clocks - The Angel Of Mons by Hackett (Steve) on Grooveshark

133) Wild Colonials, This Can't Be Life album: (Not to be confused with the '60s Austrailain band.) Another reason to love the '90s. This is one of those extraordinary albums that has no lulls or low points—every song sparkles, at times like a gem and others like a snarling dog's wet teeth. Distinctive singer Angela McCluskey had a voice that sounded as if it'd been cured in jar of broken hearts. Every song here is as tight as a fist and every lyric rings true—every word is sung as if it'd been lived in first. It also may be the best use of violin in a rock band ever. 

The Colonials weren't known much outside of Los Angeles and that is a crime. This album should be a %$#@ing classic.

Blue by Wild Colonials on Grooveshark

If by Wild Colonials on Grooveshark

134) Marianne Faithful, Why'd Ya Do It?: Another example of the daunting power of well applied anger—loose and dirty and acutely inartful and yet exactly in the bullseye. Marianne Faithfull's ability to sell a song like this probably has much to do with her personal history, both the actual and the tabloidal, and no one could give this song quite the kind of justice she could. (You can easily imagine her spitting this theme at Jagger in '66.) Why'd Ya Do It's simple three chord vamp remains throughout as it should—too much background would only have diminished its fire-breathing foreground. The use of the bouncing reggae beat counterpoints the lyric not unlike the way Stuck in the Middle with You underscores the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs. And never has the word cunt been so elegantly applied.

Why d'Ya Do It? by Marianne Faithfull on Grooveshark

135) The Fall, Live at the Witch Trials: Watch this documentary on The Fall's figurehead Mark E. Smith and hear various managers, mediaratti, ex-band members (nobody plays with Smith for very long), and Smith himself go on for 50 minutes about what a difficult genius he is. Smith's vocal style is somewhere between Johnny Rotten, early Dylan, and a snarling feral dog after three pints. He's been pushing what is essentially the same melody, or for want of one, for 30 albums over 37 years and it's not a half bad one at that: His voice is a mixture of an unwieldy pitch in its own dimension and a vocal recoil that ends each line in a Rotten-esque uh! The quality of the material goes up and down with the quality of the groove but Smith himself is consistently evergreen in whatever it is he's trying to say. One of the few vintage artists/bands that's still as good as they ever were. But Witch Trials, the spitting raw and tetanus contaminated debut album from '79, is the one that mattered most—with all of its overzealous drums and ingenius preschool electric piano and a guitar almost funky by post-punk standards. Live at the Witch Trials represents the first time this sound entered the atmosphere and it was stunning moment. Still is.

Rebellious Jukebox by The Fall on Grooveshark

Two Steps Back by The Fall on Grooveshark

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