Saturday, August 24, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 15

147) Mott the Hoople, Violence, Crash City Kids, Marionette, One of the Boys: Before Freddy was constructing his show tune Taj Mahals with Mormon Tabernacle deep choirs (cf. Bohemian Rhapsody), Ian Hunter was weaving comparative grass huts of drama Queen of his own. Mott's Marionette, Violence, and Crash City Kids may've been much less for scale and ambition than Queen, and their technique was downright garagey when held against Queen's academic approach—call Hunter a Spike Jones next to Freddy's Leonard Bernstein (it's appropriate that Queen guitarist Brian May would pursue a PhD in astrophysics). In Marionette, some of Hunter's lyric lines don't quite seem to fit without a shoehorn and some of the word choices could've used a few more drafts, but the pomp and burlesque of the music hall are all over the place and may've provided Freddy a template. Plus, late stage Mott had established a sound entirely their own, departing from their earlier pub's version of a Jumpin' Jack Flash cum Blonde on Blonde. Though they were never far from their very anglicized versions Chuck Berry and Little Richard, it served them well.

Marionette by Mott the Hoople on Grooveshark

Crash City Kids and Violence are quintessential examples of Hunter's scaled up garage operas with broad strokes of humor, and in the case of Violence, well applied frenzy.

Crash Street Kidds by Mott the Hoople on Grooveshark

Violence by Mott the Hoople on Grooveshark

One of the Boys is no garage opera but another example of Mott's brilliant use of effects, cf. the dialing phone, middle interlude, and Hunter's continuous stream of yelps, shouts, and screams that even outdo Robert Plant for the guy who can't resist the sound of his own voice. Future Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralph's displays an encyclopedic turn on Keith Richard's Chuck Berryisms—neither man ever meeting a suspended chord they didn't like.

One of the Boys by Mott the Hoople on Grooveshark

148) Polysics, Peach Pie on the Beach: Hailing from Japan (which will be obvious when you hear it), Polysics are admitted Devo fanatics (also obvious) with a sound saturated in '80s effects and a playing style that you'd think could only come out of an amphetamine drip. Like most Japanese bands I've heard, the musicianship is ridiculously high if not always as innovative as you'd expect given the skills. Peach Pie on the Beach has enough punch to knock out a club bouncer, the musical equivalent of Japan's frenetic food packaging graphics. This tune makes a great little eye opener to bump up your morning coffee.

Peach Pie on the Beach by POLYSICS on Grooveshark

149) Black Randy and the Metro Squad, I Tell Lies Everyday: Judging from the work, I think it's safe to say that Black Randy—AKA the very white John Morris (d. 1988 from complications of AIDS)—likely didn't intend his racist humor to sound like satire or irony. It's pretty clear it he just thinks that sh*t is funny. That aside, the band, who play their little black hearts out, may well have been one of the best in Los Angeles at the time. Randy, for his part, wasn't much of a singer but then this band could make GG Allin sound good.

150) John Coltrane, My Favorite Things: One of the legacies of punk rock was to take classic gems and turn them into something more sinister, say, like the Sex Pistols' deconstruction of My Way. Long before the age of irony, beboppers had already put the flag in that territory. To wit: hear how Coltrane plunges his horn deep into favorite things and blows away all traces of Julie Andrews' perfumed innocence. He does this by stripping out chunks of the melody and schmearing it over with a gig bag's worth of jagged alien bits and eliminates the whole When the bee stings, when the dog bites bridge section (they hint at it but then move along, teasingly, just to let us know what they've done) until the very end as a way out. This is iconoclasm at its best. I'm sure my dad would've hated this, wondering Where the hell's the melody? It's still there, Pops. You can always count on Julie Andrews for her melodic piety and spoonfuls of sugar. Just don't look for it in Coltrane.

My Favorite Things by John Coltrane on Grooveshark

151) Scott JoplinBethena: A Concert Waltz (Joshua Rifkin): Firstly, this is one of the greatest American composers, ever. His music brought the salon into the whorehouse, marrying early 20th century dance music with the bittersweet tears of Chopin, the first hints of jazz, and like the tango, lots of sexual subtext. And he wrote so goddamn many great ones. Bethena is a departure from the rags (Joplin wrote serious music as well as pop) and throws together a suite of melodies with new piece of connecting tissue with every new verse. Bethana is the opus that no one could write but him and helps make him the singular giant he was. Ragtime would fall out of favor but great melodies Joplin could toss out like coins into a fountain. The modernists like Schoenberg and Berg, even a Tin Pan Alley cat like Gershwin, gathered all the glory of posterity. Rites of Spring still has devotees bending their knees in fealty (Stravinsky borrowed much from early jazz). I'd argue for Joplin is at least as deserving of knee bending. He doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves. (I think Rifkin plays it a little too fast but I'm not gonna hate him on it.)

152) Duke EllingtonPrelude to a Kiss: Pure sweet melody: There's so many little golden nuggets in this tune, just drop the needle in anywhere and it's achingly beautiful. Though, I think Prelude is a misnomer: I hear a Post-Mortem to a Kiss. It's too beautiful to be happy and sadness is where all the beauty comes from because, as we know, everything ends—beauty most dramatically. It's too precious to exist for long. (Forgive me, that was a downer.) Anyway, Ellington could never have existed without Joplin first and let's just thank the universe that they both did.

153) Spirit, Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus album: From Los Angeles and 1970 and quite possibly one of the great neglected classics of all time. Every track is a gem of craft and chock full o' bits of jazz, proto-prog and metal, electric folk, psychedelia, blue-eyed soul, and funk back in a time when rock and roll was all of that. Possibilities, man! Just like any new relationship when you don't know any better and believe you can do anything. And people were listening––Jimmy Page for one. Spirit was one of a crop from an historically fertile Los Angeles period and blah-blah-blah that we'll never see again. Just be glad it happened once. I love this @*%$ing town!

Nature's Way by Spirit on Grooveshark

Animal Zoo by Spirit on Grooveshark

Mr. Skin by Spirit on Grooveshark

154) Magazine, TV Baby: A b-side with three lines of lyric probably tossed off as filler in an hour or two of unused studio time and it ends up being one of the best things the band ever did. Easily one of Howard Devoto's most intense vocals demonstrating what he was capable of before his latter period descent into self parody as an auditioner for a Keenan Wayans directed Music Man. Also why, IMHO, Magazine was (briefly) one of the best bands of their period. All accomplished with some of the hardest ass boogie woogie styled piano you'll hear, no guitar, a first-year student level saxophone (that's perfect), and a drummer who drives the whole dirty thing straight into its adorable little heart of darkness. Later this song would pop up on their leftovers album Scree and I'd play it over and over on repeat. It went straight into my own little heart of darkness which is what the best music is supposed to do.

T.V. Baby by Magazine on Grooveshark

155) Supergrass, I Should Coco album: The first Supergrass album sounds a little like Pablo Honey Radiohead on happy meds and the best of '70s era Brit Invasion. If you, like me, believe in songs ├╝ber alles then this is a band you should know. This trio of young 'uns obviously spent some time with their parent's record collections and to good effect—guitars, analog keys, harmonica, hooky falsetto background choruses, it's like the '90s never happened and that's just fine all right. These are songs that bring you in on the first hearing. Verily.

P.S. As to "She's So Loose": Why are boys always complaining about "loose" women? Why hate the giver of the gift so? Jesus, stop with the judging, thank your good fortune, and STFU!

She's So Loose by Supergrass on Grooveshark

Caught by the Fuzz by Supergrass on Grooveshark

156) Miles Davis, Fat Time: Sure, Miles was some phat cat with that whole Birth of Cool, Gil Evans collabs, and Bitches Brew thing. Sacreligious maybe but I really dig this album and the later period rock stuff with all the guitar noodling. Miles knew what he was doing. He could've made Kind of Blue in his sleep for 30 years but that wasn't Miles. He was the Peck's Bad Boy of jazz. He liked to kick his fans' expectations in the shins and The Man with the Horn was where it really began in earnest. He's not shouting here, just whispering (note that he never pulls the mute out of his horn). A groove as deep as a foxhole, no changes so the players didn't have distract themselves with any charts, just dynamics, bangin' and blowing while the maestro sits by and smokes a pack, shoots up, snorts a brick, tilts back a bottle or whatever he was doing in those days while he waits his turn to blow that shriek at the end. This is cool because Miles was cool and that's that.

Fat Time by Miles Davis on Grooveshark

157) The StranglersThe Raven album: I had a girlfriend once who was a Stranglers evangelist and tried to convert me to them for years. I'll say I liked their 'boards and by the '80s no one played them like that anymore (it was all one finger thin synth lines and harmonic anorexia), but much of the rest sounded like a rehash in faux punk drag with some edging of New Wave. There was also an uncomfortable malevolence and misogyny (Bring on the Nubiles, et al). Not that there weren't moments, but The Raven was different. It's baroque sound sucked me in (I'm a sucker for harpsichords) and it was much more restrained and mature than anything previous. (They needed some maturity.) The rockers rocked (The Raven below, Dead Loss Angeles) and the slow ballad (Don't Bring Harry, also below) is one of the best things they ever did. From this album their sound continued on a trajectory of softening. But The Raven was their peak and it's a pretty tall one.

Ice by The Stranglers on Grooveshark

The Raven by The Stranglers on Grooveshark

Don’t Bring Harry by The Stranglers on Grooveshark

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