Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 17

168) Peter Gabriel, The Passion: From for Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ—but you knew that—a soundtrack that surpassed the film it represented (see another example below) and deservedly so. The music itself is an admixture of world musicks (esp Middle Eastern, south Asian, and African), Bernard Hermann, exotic instruments, ecstatic vocalizations, earthy percussive layers, and misty banks of ethereal electronica. In the process Gabriel may've given us a glimpse of what prog might've been had it a few more stamps on its passport and spent more time looking forward and not back. But it also had something missing from most prog: great songs. Well, maybe not songs proper as much as hints and fragments of them. Enough to make this meditative, transportive, and sometimes ambient music much too engaging to be mere aural decoration. Released in 1988, it still stands as some of Gabriel's best work.

Of These, Hope by Passion: The Last Temptation of Christ OST on Grooveshark

The Feeling Begins by Passion: The Last Temptation of Christ OST on Grooveshark

169) Pearl Harbor and the Explosions eponymous album: Admittedly, it's the kind of down-the-middle-pop we usually eschew here at Jellyroll. But what made this record transcendent were its jazzy voicings and funky basslines of the kind that weren't and still aren't heard much outside of R and B. Though the band had some New Wave pretensions, its harmonic inventions and a rhythm section tighter than Miley Cyrus's latex were well outside the margins. (The bassist and drummer were brothers.) As a presence, singer Pearl Harbor/Pearl E. Gates (also former wife of Clash pretty boy Paul Simonon) was a cocktail of equal parts gorgeous and nerdy. Her voice had a distinctive sound if not style, and her unpretentiousness was downright infectious (see video below). Even with a song like Drivin', which one could argue is about as straight ahead example of pandering pop as it gets—with lyrics more than a trifle pedestrian, it's those dense chords and ethereal interludes that indicate something much deeper going on, as if in the latter bars the guitarist tried to squeeze in a funked up mini-opera.

You would've thought they could've been bigger.

Here's a vid of them playing live on ultra low-budget public access program ca. '79 - '80.

Drivin' by Pearl Harbor & The Explosions on Grooveshark

170) Rodger Collins, She's Looking Good: A horndog classic from 1967 with some amusingly sinister overtones (momma get your mojo/and poppa get your gun/I'm gonna steal your daughter...) guaranteed to put a stir in your loins. Collins had regional hits and some success in the UK in the late '60s and early '70s, did some years in Vegas until he went all Cat Stevens and converted to Islam and changed his name. And like Stevens, he'd get pulled back into secular music and would record as Rodger Collins. God may be great, but the devil always wins with the music.

A recent article on Oakland's greatest soul singer.

She's Looking Good by Rodger Collins on Grooveshark

171) Carla BleyRawalpindi Blues: From her little "j" jazz opera (too much rock to go all big "J"), Escalator Over the Hill. Bley is one of those players who couldn't play it straight if she tried and for which the perfect metaphor can be found in her hair: uncontrollable, unlike anyone else's, a bit kinky, otherworldly, and covering her eyes like a sheepdog's so you never know where she's looking or what she's thinking. (Her hair has its own genius.) Her  musical style is feminine—understated, introverted even, emotionally articulate and without much of the egoistic meat waggling that many of her male counterparts succumb to. Overall, her style is to whisper rather than a scream. In an argument you could imagine her as the kind of person who'd go to her room and lock the door rather than cut up all of your clothes and throw them out the window. Musically, screams have their place but a whisper can be very nice too. Many of the best things you'll ever hear will come in a whisper.

172) Universal Congress of, Prosperous and Glorified: One of Los Angeles's great jewels of the underground: Smart instrumental music with vocals, tasteful saxophone, and a rhythm section capable of making bitches out of other rhythm sections—altogether tight as a four-fingered fist. A kind of hard rock bebop with a heavier and garagier undercurrent with strains of jump blues that extend far beyond typical blues structures. I suspect these dudes had impressive record collections, all the right influences are there. They can swing and rock, sometimes like Miles, sometimes like Can, sometimes like a demolition derby between Coltrane and Richard (Little, that is) but always for the greater good. I discovered these guys by chance playing in an Orange County park one weekend and followed them to the end. This album was their peak and it's a mighty damn good one.

173) Marvin Gaye, Trouble Man: A titanic influencer of sub-genres, Marvin Gaye was a musical unicorn capable of farting rainbows at will. He was both a massive hit machine and artist's artist who showed considerable depth in his classic middle period. (We'll put aside his disco period.) Also, he may've had possession of the greatest falsetto that ever was. As a singer he sent out throaty missiles that were full bodied, intense, innovative, and strategic. His style was the model of casual intensity and to think he started out as a drummer—imagine our loss had he stuck to the stool. He could also write, arrange, and groove like a motherf**ker. He could drop panties with his high wail and had more sex appeal than is contained in a Superbowl beer commercial. There was just about nothing he couldn't do; he may've been the Leonardo da Vinci of soul and pop.

There are a lot of great Gaye tunes to choose from but this one in particular did something for me, especially that "I know some places..." word barrage. This is Gaye's slow jam groovy version of Jumpin' Jack Flash ("I come up hard baby, but now I'm cool") and beats his predecessor by a mile on passion. 

Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye on Grooveshark

174) Cocteau Twins, Persephone: Of the many great female rock singers available, there are but a few that guys who don't shave their chests will leave out when their friends come over: Chicks who've that certain quality that resonates in our testosterone, like black clad angels in Doc Martens with tool belts. Of the olde guard, singers like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Etta James were in the category; more recently PJ Harvey, Bj√∂rk maybe, viragos like Meshell Ndegeocello, Brody Dalle—and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Blame for shoe gaze, emo, and a dozen other little sub-categories as well as shameless addiction to all effects digital can probably all be laid at the Twins' feet. But then again, none of those other bands ever had an Elizabeth Fraser. Her voice was pretty but in an athletic way; it's ethereal and fey yet not airy-fairy; she has range, restrained power, and even some eccentric sexiness. (She's also geeky cute.) Plus, the fact that she doesn't even sing real words kind of goes right to the egghead part of my libido. She's the complete nerd package.

Persephone by Cocteau Twins on Grooveshark

175) Jimmy Cliff, others, The Harder They Come OST: Reggae for people who don't like reggae (and those who do). A bigger spliff-full of catchy classic tunes with the double riff and pounding third beat you'll never hear anywhere. Jimmy Cliff may've been the Sinatra of reggae, his singerly and melodic voice is a departure from the usual cottonmouth stylings attendant of the genre. A monster album, a great poster, and a pretty good movie, too.

The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff on Grooveshark

176) The Pop Group, Thief of Fire, Blind Faith: A dubbier, melody murdering version of Nick Cave of the Birthday
Party period. Also layered with little bits of Yoko Ono, Johnny Rotten, Ornette Coleman, Brother Theodore, Flying Lizards, and a slurry-load of an "I don't give a f**k" attitude. You've to wonder what kind of career suicide it took to sign these guys. Or maybe it was a a jokester's sabotage, like peeing into the office coffee pot, before quitting the company. Whatever, I'm glad someone had the guts to do it. The punk/post-punk era gave us a few avant-gardists (Residents, Birthday Party, Suicide, James Chance, etc) but by the Kaja Goo Goo/Flock of Seagulls '80s they were all but gone. It's a Shame. We could have used more of their antidote. This is the music of your nightmares and the sort of record to put on when you're hating on your parents.

Blind Faith by The Pop Group on Grooveshark

Thief of Fire by The Pop Group on Grooveshark

177) Peggy LeeIs that All There Is?: The Leiber/Stoller anthem to disillusion you would've never thought these composers of sweet bubblegum like Yakety Yak and Poison Ivy were capable of. Peggy Lee gives it some tongue and cheek, but like the best tongue and cheek, there's an oracle of truth behind it. Lee had a kind of three martini softness to her voice that gave whatever she sang an unmistakable sultriness. It's a voice that also sounds like it has tears in its eyes when she sings Let's break out the booze and have a ball. The arrangement, with the circusy tuba, winds, and banjo brings the right spoonfuls of pathos when stirred together with Lee's touches of humor, a humor that colored much of what she did. (She wrote lyrics for the songs in Lady and the Tramp, after all.)

Is That All There Is? by Peggy Lee on Grooveshark

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