Friday, September 6, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 16

158) Stevie Wonder, Maybe Your Baby: This from the period when Stevie was doing the Prince routine of playing and singing everything himself (except for Ray Parker Jr.—yes, the Ghostbusters guy—on the acid-toned guitar). Besides that epitome of funk underwater-Clavinet sound and his signature synth bass lines, what makes this Baby such a bitch are those layers of ecstatic background voices. I'm guessing they're all Stevie run through some sort of effects treatment. The humor and power of them are a shot of laser to your earhole. (The I'm a little boy line kills me everytime.) This is nasty funk with some thick rock barbecue sauce—which Wonder's best stuff always was—guaranteed to make your fingers sticky.

Maybe Your Baby by Stevie Wonder on Grooveshark

159) Traffic, Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory: Winwood's singing diction was closer to an infant choking on pablum than the Queen's English and that was part of its appeal. But put a phase on his voice, as done here, and it's utterly indecipherable and the song is all the better for it. (Read Capaldi's lyrics and you'll see that they're astute and imagistic but they could've also worked as utter gibberish and the song would've succeeded—it's a brilliant title, though.) An elemental fuzz of the riff plays over a drone of a bass line, Chris Wood's sweet flute, and bouncing-on-the-cobblestone-path of the conga and all of it fitting together like Tetris pieces. This was one those songs that drove a nail straight into my frontal lobe the first time I heard it. Why hasn't someone covered this already?

Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory by Traffic on Grooveshark

160) Otis Redding, Try a Little Tenderness; That's How Strong My Love Is: Redding was a ridiculously gifted singer with a tone as fat and wide as '75 Eldorado. It was a voice with an emotional core of truth, no histrionics or faux charm, and what British singer Lulu called a tear in his voice. In 1966 Redding took this standard from 1932, following treatments by Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, rearranged it with the help of Isaac Hayes and added equal parts church and sex (his father was a minister) and forever made the song his own. Ironic too because the publishers filed a restraining order against him for releasing it (probably found it too sexy and/or too black). Thankfully they didn't prevail. Wiki explains the intricacies of the arrangement, suffice to say the accompaniment provides a worthy parking spot for the vehicle of Redding's voice. Promoter Bill Graham claimed that Redding was one of the best performers he'd ever seen, and the video below gives a glimpse. He could write too: Check That's How Strong My Love Is. He must've been a charming guy because it just seems to ooze out of him all over the place.

A BBC documentary on "the ultimate soul singer of the American South" can be seen here.

That's How Strong My Love Is by Otis Redding on Grooveshark

161) Love, Forever Changes: With varying measures of baroque, psychedelia, folk, and even hints of Brian Wilson, Dylan, and The Music Man, a few spoonfuls of syrup and some straight up MOR, theirs was a sound that bounced between progressive and regressive at the same time—that was Love. This time out it was strings and horns instead of electric guitars (it was the era of Sgt. Pepper after all), session players filling in for the band as it was falling apart (this would be the last album with this line-up). The lyrics at times tend toward middle school sophism on life's big questions, Arthur Lee was no Jim Morrison, but he has his moments and he always sings 'em like he means 'em. Like another El Lay band, Spirit, Love was another spoke of the city's great Golden Age wheel of bands that didn't move the units nearly the way they deserved (e.g. The Seeds, Music Machine, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, Sparks, et al). But time has been good to Love and Forever Changes especially, not the least of which is that monster Alone Again Or which is just cake icing because the album would be great even without it.

Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale by Love on Grooveshark

162) Todd Rundgren, Hermit of Mink Hollow: Todd, the boy genius, often showered with praise for his craft and promise—he did write a bagful of great tunes—but he never seemed able to deliver on the promise with a great album. Until this one. Larded up with a career apogee of songs covering all of his favorite proclivities––the saccharine pretty ballad (Lucky Guy, Can't We Just Be Friends), the de rigueur Motown tribute (You Cried Wolf), the spotlight guitar wank (Out of Control), the life-affirming-up-tempo-please-use-this-in-a-commercial ditty (All the Children Sing, Fade Away), the Philly roots R and B throw down (Hurting for You), and straight up MOR (Bag Lady)––they're all here and more. Todd has also proven himself to be one of the most consistent producers-for-hire in the business, often taking artists to their own career high best work (Patti Smith, New York Dolls, XTC, The Tubes, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, and loads more). On Hermit of Mink Hollow he finally returns himself the favor.

Determination by Todd Rundgren on Grooveshark

Bread by Todd Rundgren on Grooveshark

163) Dillinger, Cocaine Running Around My Brain: A knife, a fork, A bottle and a cork, that's the way we spell New York. Prolific reggae singer Dillinger created this seemingly naive little rude boy shuffle exercise in 1976 with a near outsider art, backwoods folk art style lyrical flow undergirded with a Playskool butt-shaking vamp. Had it been anything more and the song would be less than it is. Maybe it was done as a kind of method singing to demonstrate the destructive power of cocaine. Whatever it was, it works. (Accept no substitutes: there's a remake floating around out there but this is the definitive '76 version.)

Cocaine In My Brain by Dillinger on Grooveshark

164) Good Bait: A jazz evergreen written by Count Basie and pianist Tadd Dameron (based on the Rhythm Changes) drops you into the tiger pit somewhere in the second and third measures, that duh-da-da-duh da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-duh... right there. If that doesn't get you then forget it, I don't want to talk to you. It's the note that goes that goes in a slightly different direction than what you're expecting is where the magic is. There are musicks where we want to know where it's going, demand it—folk, traditional blues, hymns, and I'd argue even modern urban folk music like Hip Hop and Metal—and there are musicks we want to enjoy the little hidden Easter eggs; Good Bait is one of those. It goes out of the gate with a major chord and immediately steps into a broodier couple of minor chords that have the song trampolining between yuks and melancholy like a pre-menstrual clown. It's a oner.

Two completely different treatments: Nina Simone makes it into a blockbuster salon piece, and Coltrane posts it up like a game-winning penalty kick—fakes going down the middle and then sticks it in the top left corner.

Good Bait by Nina Simone on Grooveshark

Good Bait by John Coltrane on Grooveshark

165) Nino Rota, Cadillac from La Docle Vita and others: He wrote some of the sweetest, most melancholy, and most quintessentially Italian soundtracks to ever be cut into a scene––The Godfather (AFI puts it #5 on the greatest soundtracks of all time), Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, La Dolce Vita––and then, not unike his countryman Ennio Morricone, he keeps the achingly beautiful never too far away from the Felliniesque grotesquerie. I suppose we should expect no less from a country that'd give us Sophia Loren, Cicciolina, Il Duce, and Roberto Benini.

One my all time favorite movies featuring one the greatest pairs of thespian eyeballs anywhere, Giancarlo Giannini from d'Amore e Anarchia (Love and Anarchy):

What Is A Youth by Nino Rota on Grooveshark

La Poupée Automate by Nino Rota on Grooveshark

Cadillac (La Dolce Vita) by Nino Rota on Grooveshark

Cupido Ha Sonno - La Maestra D'Amore by Nino Rota on Grooveshark

166) Jeff Beck Group, Ain't Superstitious: One the best guitarists of the rock and roll era is also one of the most overlooked. The album, Truth, is what many consider the first hard rock album and with Ain't Superstitious Beck bangs out a quintessential, light on the chords, bent-up, channel surfing Jeff Beck guitar showcase (try listening on headphones). In case you didn't know, if these guys could've gotten along better they may've been the British supergroup (from 1968, out of the gate a year before that other supergroup, Blind Faith, and Led Zeppelin) and might've been made into legends had they chosen not to think Woodstock was a waste of time: also featuring a very restrained Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood with a very guitarist kind of bass playing, and star blues drummer Micky Waller. Many pretenders fooled with their Cry Baby pedals (Santana, Eric Clapton) but Beck here teaches a master class. If you're a guitar player and you're not listening to this guy, well then brothers and sisters, you're fools.

I Ain't Superstitious by Jeff Beck on Grooveshark

167) Tupelo Chain Sex: Let's just call it years ago, I moved to NY's East Village. At the time New York had an extraordinarily fertile downtown music scene with musicians working outside of traditional rock idioms––No Wave, post-rock, improvised music and fake jazz, world music, fusions and hybrids all over the place with the one common thread of rock indoctrination. There was some great stuff and astonishingly little crap as is most often the case. Before my journey to the East I discovered Tupelo Chain Sex. Now, granted, they weren't quite as exciting as their moniker promised, still, they were starting to scratch at something interesting. They were probably more retro that post-rock but it was an experiment worth taking. This was the blowback to the moussed and over programmed synth starched bands of the '80s, in that space before shoegazers and grungers stole the groove and took us back to plaid shirts and bong smokers tempos again. 

I suspect that the video below dates somewhere from the late '80s. Note the appearance erstwhile young, sometime scribe, and always foxy Pleasant Gehman (in the leopard overcoat and garter belt).

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