Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I just realized I have four minutes to get this post in before the new year. So here is a great little lost tune by Colin Blunstone, a B-side to his first official solo single. I Hope I Didn't Say Too Much Last Night.

And Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Found All the Parts

If you want to make a damn good record there is no better start than to hire producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. In a nod to the 66-69 Beatles, Cheap Trick did just that for their 1980 LP All Shook Up. Sadly the record buying public missed the boat and the album sold considerably less than the previous year's Dream Police.

Regardless the album is full of odd little gems like Baby Loves to Rock which starts out like a 50's Elvis number and turns into a guitar riff driven cruncher in the chorus. Or the heavy metal Merseybeat tune Just Got Back. Or the proggy High Priest of Rhythmic Noise or even proggier Go For the Throat. Or the Stone-ish I Love You Honey But I Hate Your Friends with a stellar bass part by Tom Petersson.

But the killer track and initial single release was Stop This Game. Never mind that it tanked on the charts (though our Canadian neighbors put it in their top ten), for it kicks out the jams. Mr. Petersson delivers another classic bass part. Rick Neilson scales back his guitar pyrotechnics to allow the awesome Martin production to come through. I even detect a glockenspiel in there. And best of all Robin Zander delivers another top notch vocal. Is it just me or is he one of the most underappreciated rock vocalists ever? Not to worry Bun E. Carlos fans - I will sing his praises in another post.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

When I Go Anywhere I See Love

There is nothing like a day trip to the Oregon coast to clear one's mind. A spectacular hike at Cape Lookout with temps above freezing and no rain made for a memorable day. Upon return I had a yearning to listen to some Brian Wilson tunes. Today's post was a real toss-up among several of the Beach Boy's lesser-known singles. I settled on This Whole World from 1970. The single did not chart and the LP it came from - Sunflower - was the lowest charting BB album up to that point at 151. By that time Brian was no longer performing but he still provided a number of songs on the group's records. Invariably they were the highlights of the album.

After a two bar introduction with chugging guitar and Carl's solo vocal, the song immediately moves into the main verse:

"Late at night I think about the love of this whole world. Lots of different people everywhere. And when I go anywhere I see love I see love I see love."

Carl's voice never sounded more soulful. And dig the tubular bell chiming amongst the doo-wop background vocals by the rest of the band (something along the lines of aaauuummm bop dibit). Then a new section begins:

"When girls get mad at boys and go
Many times they're just putting on a show
But when they leave you wait alone"

The ultimate Spector-ism - a glockenspiel - plays a counter melody and the band adds their gorgeous "oh-s". The first and second sections are repeated, then at 1:35 the boys go acappella, soaring off into the distance as the track ends before two minutes have passed.

What really casts a glow over me is Brian's incomparable harmonic progressions. I know a thing or two about music theory, and the modulations here are way beyond the grasp of almost any pop group then or now. Brian Wilson has an ear for sounds and harmonies like no other.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Auf wiedersehen to the beat

Few bands engender such hostility as Sparks. In the first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide Billy Altman of Creem Magazine wrote "The(ir) objective was to hit it big in a foreign land and then return home to conquer the masses who ignored them before they went to England to get rich and famous". He also "docked" them "one star per album for being somewhat responsible for Queen." Of course the first statement is not true. Little did he know when he wrote that put-down in 1979 that Sparks would still be around in 2009 with a dedicated worldwide fanbase. And the second statement is way off the mark, as Queen was already well on their own upward path in 1974 when Sparks hit the big time in the UK.

From their first demo recording of oddball California Folk/Psych (the sadly never-released Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing) in 1968, to their most recent 2008 release Exotic Creatures of the Deep the Mael brothers have followed their own path. They have conquered, then jettisoned more musical styles (and bandmates) than even David Bowie. Frankly I never got into their Euro-electro-dance pop albums of the 80s and 90s, but what came before and after are essential pieces in my LP/CD collection.

The central nugget that ties their 21 albums together is Ron Mael's songwriting. He can pop out a killer hook in a heartbeat. And the lyrics - oh my - how does one begin to decipher the byzantine layers of psychological maneuvering that takes place in most of their songs? At the same time there is a junior high school sex-obsessed boy peeking out from under the sheet music.

Leaving my syntax back at school
I was thrown for a loss over gender and simple rules
You mentioned Kant and I was shocked ... so shocked
You know, where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues

That little nugget comes from Hasta Manana Monsieur on 1973's breakout LP Kimono My House. Here is a live performance from Don Kirchner's Rock Concert in 1974 at the Beacon Theatre NYC. I can only imagine the shocked look on the faces of the people in the crowd... what the heck IS this? Give a listen to the crackerjack band - Dinky Diamond was a powerhouse drummer, and guitarist Trevor White laid down a glam sound that kicks these songs into fifth gear.

Immediately following HMM is Thank God It's Not Christmas, which may be my favorite Sparks song ever. The opening guitar melody is genius. The music may be upbeat but the lyrics tell the tale of a man who spends 364 days of the year seeking thrills in the streets of the city

There I'll spend the night
Meeting fancy thins
At bistros and old haunts
Trying very hard to sin

That 365th day is the one he wishes to avoid at all costs - spending time with only his mate.

Thank God it's not Christmas
When there is only you
And nothing else to do
Thank God it's not Christmas
Where there's just you to do
The rest is closed to public view

Saturday, December 19, 2009

They Came From Birmingham

The Move were at least three bands rolled into one. The initial version to appear was a first class pop outfit, delivering two and a half minute hit singles with great regularity in the UK starting in 1967. The dandy Carl Wayne and slightly freaky Roy Wood were a killer pair of lead singers, and of course Roy had the secret formula to writing melodic hooks. And Trevor Burton, initially a rhythm guitarist then bass player, was a fine vocalist in his own right, and between the three of them their harmony work was right up their with their contemporaries. Last but not least, Bev Bevan was a force to be reckoned with on the drums.

The second incarnation grew organically from the first. Burton was replaced by Rick Price on bass, but the big change was an opening up of the musical scope. Roy was a fan of the new US West Coast sound, and all kinds of musical ideas from bands such as The Byrds and Love crept into their recordings in 1969. The musical forms were expanded and Roy began to experiment with the production. This culminated with their 1970 LP Shazam. There are only six tracks, but several of them are miniature rock symphonies with multi-part structures. And Roy's guitar playing comes front and center. There is no doubt he was one of the most gifted rock musicians of the flower power era. The first side was comprised of three original Wood tunes, the second side was all covers.

The last track is American folk singer Tom Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind. It takes a cue from the Byrd's twelve string interpretations of Dylan then carries it about as far as the fabric will stretch.

It's a lesson too late for the learnin'
Made of sand, made of sand.
In the wink of an eye my soul is turnin'
In your hand, in your hand.

The yearning for a lost love in the powerful original version is surrounded by a haze of ringing guitar arpeggios and harmonics. Adding to the sonic mix are repeating quaverings in both the vocals and the guitar lines. Mr. Bevan's percussion work is sensitive yet powerful throughout. Somewhere around 3:34 Roy lets loose with a multi-tracked psychedelic guitar solo for the ages.

Shortly after the completion of Shazam Carl Wayne and Rick Price left The Move, and upon the entry of Jeff Lynne the third incarnation was off and running.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Zombie Heaven

Yeah, I am definitely into a Zombie's kick at the moment. There is magic around every corner, on the B-side of neglected singles, even on the post-breakup songs recorded by Rod Argent and Chris White to take advantage of the success of Time Of The Season.

For example, take She Does Everything For Me, the B-side to their November 1966 UK-only single with a slap-dash version of Goin' Out Of My Head on the A. Give a listen to this unbelievable rave-up. From the opening keyboard riff, to the vaguely middle eastern sounding guitar riff, to the wonderful Hollies-inspired harmonies this is a killer song. And that last note - wow!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

I have a "thing" for Southern gothic stories. Bring me a book by Carson McCullers or some short stories by William Faulkner and I will hole up for days to read until I can no longer stay awake. In 1967 the Zombies entered EMI's Abbey Road Studios to record what would become their swan song, the Odessey and Oracle album. Rod Argent used a Falkner short story as the basis for A Rose For Emily, which appears as the second track on side one. The dense five part construction of the original story is jettisoned for a simple tale of a spinster who never finds love. But the tune itself and its arrangement - like everything on this album - is one-of-a-kind baroque pop of the most beautiful variety imaginable. Colin Blunstone's breathy vocals are unparalleled in pop music, and on this occasion he used his choirboy simplicity to evoke something antique. He effortlessly handles the leaping melodic twists, and the band joins him for the middle eight, their harmony vocals echoing clear and stark, imbuing an emotional burden almost too intense to bear. The closing lines bring no final respite for Emily's plight.

"The roses are fading now. She keeps her pride somehow it's all she has protecting her from pain. And as the years go by, she will grow old and die. The roses in her garden fade away, not one left for her grave, not a rose for Emily."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Too Much Too Soon

Recently over at Clicks And Pops Alex Stein discussed one of his guilty pleasures, a holiday tune by the glam metal band Angel. The ugly beyond-belief album cover brought back memories for me of purchasing the first New York Dolls album. In the wheat country of Northwest Oklahoma in 1973 there was good reason to fear reaction of the locals to this photo of the boys dressed up in provocative derelict drag. I had read about the Dolls in various rock magazines and decided I had to hear it for myself.

I went to the local 5&10 cent store to buy it, expecting.. I'm not sure what.. but the fears were real in my mind. Amazingly they had the record in stock, and I bought several other LPs in hopes it would blend in with the crowd, so to speak. My fears turned out to be unnecessary as the big haired clerk rang up my purchases without blinking an eye. I took it home, placed the vinyl on my turntable, and about two seconds into Personality Crisis I was hooked. None of my college friends had much to say about it. To this day I may be the only Dolls fan who ever lived in Enid.

Generally the US rock press originally either ignored or dismissed the band, but now bestows honors upon them as if they had been in their corner all along. In a way I am happy to see them reincarnated and receiving the accolades they deserve, but then again would I have such a passion for them if they had met the same success in the early 70's that David Bowie encountered in the UK? Perhaps I enjoy the drama of a contender that never makes it to the big time. And certainly there was a thrill and daring for me in that LP cover that was taboo in the vast farmlands of middle America.

Recently there has been a wealth of live videos surfacing of the original New York Dolls in their prime. Few of these videos would have been allowed on broadcast TV back in the day. Here is Chatterbox off of their second LP In Too Much Too Soon. David Johansen struts across the stage in a killer cocktail dress while Silvain Silvain lays down majestic riffs and Johnny Thunders sings and coaxes devil sounds out of his guitar.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I'll feel much better on the other side

With the stroll through my Kink's LPs completed, first I need to tip my hat to Dave Emlen's Unofficial Kinks Web Site which is a treasure trove of all things Kinks. It is an invaluable resource. Great work Mr. Emlen.

So if you have visited here before you know I am a nut for British Invasion bands. But there were some damn fine 60's bands in the US too. And three of my favorites were from smoggy LA - The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and Love. I love Love. Founder Arthur Lee passed away in 2006 and it hit me hard. If there is a silver lining to his end of days, it is that he was released from prison in 2001 and the fabulous Baby Lemonade became his new "Love". The DVD of their concert performance of Forever Changes is a must have for Love fans. And better yet, they toured for several years and there is a wealth of video available on YouTube.

I just happened across this 2003 Glastonbury performance of Your Mind and We Belong Together, which was the final single released by the original incarnation of Love. It is a trip and a half, with Mr. Lee in fine form and the band literally rips it up. RIP Mr. Lee.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Kinkdom is a land populated exclusively by mods who wear shoulder-length hair which droops, boots, guitars who twang and baby doll eyes which turn you

...on and on.

With the release of Kinkdom in November 1965 the Kinks - or rather Reprise Records - had managed four LPs in the span of twelve months. There is no UK counterpart to this release, as it was cobbled together from singles A and B sides, the British EP Kwyet Kinks, and a leftover track from an early UK EP. That track - Louie Louie - makes its second US LP appearance as Reprise was desperate to fill up side two. By this point they had nearly emptied the vaults of Kinks material.

In terms of music this is an awesome album. All but two tracks were written by one of the Davies' brothers. But I would have ordered the tracks differently. For instance, why bury I Need You in the middle of side 2 when it cries out for either the lead-off track or the LP closer. But enough nitpicking. Reprise was right on to include A Well Respected Man, and even more so to release it as a single A side the previous month. Why it was relegated to an EP track in the UK by Pye is one of the great mysteries of Kinkdom. This would be the first of many character sketches to come in which Ray would explore the pompous and the pure. The amount of bile generated towards the "man" of this song is astonishing for a 1965 hit. Such a Shame is that rare early Kink's track to dwell in minor keys. Never Met A Girl Like You Before starts off with the opening riff from Tired Of Waiting For You, then completely switches gears into a perky R&B number. In the previously mentioned I Need You Ray Davies perfected the proto-metal genre he created with You Really Got Me. The sound is vastly improved over that earlier hit, as is the production which uses feedback to propel the song forward into the pile driving riff that carries through to the end. The Kinks would not return to this sort of raw rock until the late 70's, and even then they would never surpass it.

Today's bonus embedded video contains one of the oddest Kinks performances, this one of See My Friends, a single A side released the previous summer and also the closing track on side 1. The song's novel use of an Indian drone accompaniment (using western instruments) was no doubt ahead of its time. Ray produced one of his most touching lyrics in which he deals with the departure of his girl. We learn that she left by crossing the river, but why she left is never discussed. All we know is that she left him and he feels abandoned, but at least he does have his friends, who he watches playing across the river. The vocals on this performance are live, though I suspect the basic instrumental track may be canned. Ray uses a much more nasal voice for the "see my friends" lines, while Dave's harmony vocals during the "she is gone" are louder and fuller than Ray's lead. It is a very affected and affecting performance.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I Don't Need Nobody Else

Kinda Kinks hit the US record shelves in August 1965, five months after the UK release with the same name. Many of the same tracks appeared, augmented by two 45 single A-sides, Ev'rybody's Gonna Be Happy (UK March 1965) and Set Me Free (from May 1965). Ev'rybody failed to make the top ten in Britain so the A and B sides were switched for the US market with Who'll Be The Next In Line getting the A honors when it was released in July 1965. Meanwhile a new single was out in the UK . Confusing? Reprise and Pye were each attempting to keep the masses buying Kinks' product, unsure just how long the British Invasion was going to last. Neither Set Me Free nor WBTNIL would come close to the top ten in the US, a steep drop-off from their first three hits.

The US LP kicks off with Look For Me Baby, a Motown influenced number in which Ray chides his lover "In your desperation you're going to look for someone else". There is a clumsiness to Ray's lead vocal that endears it to me, and the background vocals are a dead-on swipe from the Motown girl's group of that period. On Nothin' In This World Can Stop Me Worryin' About That Girl Ray opens up a new sound for the Kinks with a bluesy acoustic opening, then midway through the electric guitar and bass play a unison riff underneath his gentle lead vocal and propel the song to a most satisfactory end. Of the two previously mentioned singles Set Me Free is far superior, containing one of Ray's first falsetto attempts and a middle eight of impeccable beauty.

On the LP's final track The Kinks offer up a brilliant combination of Merseybeat songwriting and a chiming guitar riff that sounds as if the boys had been transplanted from sunny Southern California. Given that Something Better Beginning was recorded in December 1964, months before the Byrds would make their big splash, one wonders where Dave came up with this unique sound. Ray plays out this story of young love on the dance floor, one of the first of many Kinks songs to do so. And for once Ray is feeling positive, believing that this time it might just work out.

"Is this the start of another heart breaker
Or something better beginning"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Sun Never Sets on English Quartets

Kinks-Size was the Kinks' second Reprise LP, released about the same time as the UK Kinda Kinks in March 1965. You know the drill - the contents were not same, although there are a few tracks in common. The US release contains All Day And All Of The Night, the hit single from fall of 1964. Two tracks from Kinks (UK) also made their first US appearance.

Because I grew up with them I really love these early US releases. The UK versions are generally longer but not necessarily better, even if they were what the band intended. For the Kinks were being rushed to put out product, so I do not believe they put in much effort to create a cohesive collection. That would come with their landmark post-1966 albums down the road.

Today I shall take the easy route for my song of the day. Tired Of Waiting For You was the third Kinks hit single in a row, and the first to slow down the tempo and offer more than a wall of guitar noise. The real kicker here is the gorgeous middle eight in which Ray grants his girl the freedom to make her own way, yet pleads with her to make a decision.
It's your life
And you can do what you want
Do what you like
But please don't keep-a me waiting

There are even some simple sweet harmony vocals to accompany his plea. The Kinks were growing and some real changes are just around the corner. Normally I prefer a live rather than lip-synced performance, but the Kinks have a priceless, purposely lame outdoor video with a surprise ending.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lord she almost touched the sky

Three Kinks LPs to go, but today I am taking a break to clear my head for the final volley. So in the interim it brings me the utmost pleasure to blather on about my most favorite lost cause. Do you remember the Rolling Stone Magazine 1970 album of the year? Let It Be? Nope. All Things Must Pass? Nein. Fun House? If only. Led Zeppelin III? Just kidding. Parachute? (yes) Huh? Am I referring to The Pretty Things LP? Indeed. The only RS Mag album of the year ever not to earn the RIAA gold certification. And probably the only time those RS dipwads got it right. Dumped on Motown's Rare Earth label in the USA with no promotional effort whatsoever, it died a lonely underground death on the charts.

This album was 36 years old the first time I heard it. And literally within two or three listens it rose to somewhere in my top ten favorite LPs ever. If I could distill this album into a single concise description I would, but it escapes my effort. All I can say is that it is a cohesive unit, a soundscape that never fails to set a mood when I listen.

It was recorded at EMI's Abbey Road studios and produced by Norman Smith of early Beatles fame. And like the Beatles' album named for that studio, it has a deep rich sound. And it also borrows some of that album's novel structures - a couple of song suites, and a couple of heavy rockers that are years ahead of their time. Here are the opening tracks that set the stage for the side 1 story of the pitfalls of life in the city. The bottom drops out when the story line descends into a dark back alley in tracks 7 & 8 but that will be a post for another day.
  1. Scene One - a prelude that sounds nothing like anything the Pretties had produced up to this point. "Stone spires rise high, lacerate warmer skies, iron laced populations, beneath molten fields"
  2. The Good Mr. Square - the Pretties are not the Hollies or Beatles when it comes to harmony singing, but their effort here is top notch. Lovely! Mr. Square could very well be the social hermit from Waterloo Sunset. The linkage to the next track is seemless.
  3. She Was Tall, She Was High - Ah that opening is so Beatle-worthy! More stellar harmonies.
  4. In the Square - The beginning of another song suite, with a breathtaking acoustic guitar and harpsichord-like mellotron accompaniment.
  5. The Letter - An upbeat melody hides the pain as the protaganist learns that his girlfriend has bailed to move out to the country
  6. Rain - a gradually building rave-up that starts acoustic and ends in blue-hot heat.
And we have yet to reach the REALLY good parts :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

They Really Got Me

The folks at Reprise Records in the USA were a crafty bunch. They figured out how to multiply two 12" LPs into four. By shuffling a few tracks across LPs, reducing the track count by two or three, and adding non-LP single A and B sides, they succeeded in creating twice as much Kinks product as their counterpart Pye in the UK.

In the US that meant the first LP - known as You Really Got Me - would have only 11 tracks compared to 14 on Kinks. I Took My Baby Home had already been released on the B-Side of The Kinks initial Long Tall Sally single on the Cameo label. I'm A Lover Not A Fighter and the instrumental Revenge would be moved to the next LP. Given the high percentage of covers already on the record, it does not take away from the overall feel to miss these tracks. In fact it makes the listening time just about right.

Of course the real deals here are that harbinger of metal You Really Got Me, and Stop Your Sobbing which would be covered by the Pretenders early in their career. The remaining songs are rough around the edges and yet there is a real joy in the performances. Mr. Quaife lays out some awesome bass lines. Dave's solos on the two Chuck Berry covers are wild and wooly in the best possible way. I will go out on a limb here and state that for me the early Kinks were a much more fun R&B band than the Rolling Stones at this stage of their careers. Yeah I know - the accepted opinion is that the Stones were hands down the best at covering American R&B - but the fact is I never listen to anything they released before Satisfaction. I will take Ray Davies' more natural attempt at blues vocals over Mick Jagger's exagerated cotton-balls-in-mouth slurry any day of the week. If you think I speak blasphemy - well, sue me.

Case in point - dig Ray's performance on this clip of The Kinks covering Got Love If You Want It. No need for any further words from me. It speaks for itself.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I bet you danced a good one in your time

Over two years had passed since The Kinks released Low Budget in 1979. Other than the One For the Road live double LP, there would be no new Kinks product until early 1982 with the release of Give The People What They Want. During that span I lost track of the band that had been such an important part of my life during the 60's and 70's. Fresh out of college I started a couple of synchronous but separate careers, one of those being a part time symphony musician. The duality of my professional life spilled over into my personal life, for as often as I listened to a Mahler symphony I was just as likely to put the latest Elvis Costello LP on my turntable. The pop side of my brain was voraciously consuming the great "new" music being produced on both sides of the Atlantic. In the span of a year I completely abandoned the latest output of the ex-Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, and all the other bands of my youth. In their stead came the Talking Heads, Pretenders, The Clash, Devo, B-52s, Madness, and a couple of dozen other bands of that period.

I was very aware of the Kinks' new found success with State of Confusion in 1983, as Come Dancing was all over MTV and the radio. And I was happy for them, but at the same time saddened that it just did not connect for me. I had become like a caffeine junky needing the latest fix of new wave outlandishness to keep my interest. There would be no more Kinks vinyl added to my collection after Low Budget. And in terms of my current Kinks blog project I have also come to the chronological end, although I will eventually go back to cover the first four US LPs that I skipped at the beginning of the month.

Years after the release of SOC I discovered a song that - believe it or not - had escaped my notice. This song had sneaked under my radar but once I heard it I was instantly addicted. Don't Forget to Dance may be the most touching song in the Ray Davies songbook. Who else would write a song about an lonely aging woman, the story told from Ray's vantage point, encouraging her to dance so that she can forget her loneliness and remember a time when she felt vital?

"But that's no reason to just stop living. That's no excuse to just give in to a sad and lonely heart."

And the line that just sends a quiver through my heart, as a retort to the younger apemen who taunt her for her age:

"And when they ask me how you dance, I say that you dance real close."

There is nothing in the synth-addled background that would identify this as a Kinks' song, but dammit the synths and the background vocals and Ray's lilting lead vocal and the percussion 101 drumming coalesce into a sum much greater than its parts.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some people say it blows your mind

Holy cow, Batman! I just finished my first listen to The Kinks Low Budget since the early eighties and it hit me that this is the killer follow-up to Some Girls that the Stones should have recorded. Scattered amidst the Keith Richard's riffs and driving drums are some juicy new wave nuggets too. At this point the Kinks had cast off most of their otherness that made them so special, but in return they were playing real honest-to-goodness rock'n'roll. And doing it as well as any band out there. There is no looking back.

Ray had his ear to the track and was picking up all sorts of interesting sounds from the burgeoning new wave and punk movements. Pressure pumps it up with a driving Ramone's fury. National Health takes the Stone's Shattered and adds a veneer of ska/reggae ala the Clash. Check out Holly Hughes bang-up posting on this LP's new wave influences over at the Ray Davies Forum. And there are some juicy Ray Davies' nuggets in the lyrics throughout. Misery has a couplet that really slays me:

"Until you learn to laugh you'll never come to any parties at my house/And if you go on like this the only house you'll ever visit is the nut house"

My only complaint about this LP is that a few of the songs go on too long, wearing out their welcome after they have had their say. In 1979 I bought the 12" single of (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman which is the extended 6:01 edit on the LP. But I really wish I had bought the 7" 45rpm edit because it is a real corker. It lays out all the juicy parts and then is done in 3:26.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The summer's all gone

It has been a busy weekend in the Mister Pleasant household so I had to delay the next Kinks' LP posts until things settle down a bit. In the meantime here is a non-LP single from October 1967, the exquisite Autumn Almanac. No bullsh*t from me this time, just one of the finest 45 rpm singles ever cut.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Cos when he puts on that dress he looks like a princess

The Kinks second LP release on Arista was Misfits, released in mid-1978. Cut from the same cloth as the previous year's Sleepwalker, the band takes a further step into the guitar rock of the pre-punk period. Of course the punk movement itself was already underway in the UK while in the USA the C.B.G.B.'s bands were beginning to make some noise. By this point the Kinks were a product of a different generation and yet somehow managed to tap into a market that had been so indifferent to them in their 60's heyday.

There are some good songs here, including Misfits, A Rock and Roll Fantasy, Black Messiah, Out of the Wardrobe, and Live Life. The band had developed into a very cohesive live unit at this point. I would rank it a few steps down from the previous effort but there is certainly nothing to be ashamed of here.

The Kinks pull out all the stops for the extremely Stones-ish Live Life. Ray takes a very pragmatic view about political causes and the extreme views of both ends of the social spectrum.

Trendy intellectuals always take action,
For every cause that's ever been in fashion
Weekend revolutionaries protest and sing
Because they're dedicated followers of any old thing

With a hilarious two word fragment from his 1966 single he puts a whole movement in its place.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ev'rybody got problems, buddy. I got mine

Putting the concept albums behind, The Kinks moved forward with an album that became a blueprint for what would follow until the end of their career. Sleepwalker paved a path into the rock mainstream for a band that had never been a follower. The glove did not quite fit - and for me that's why it works. Little bits of the real Ray Davies keeps popping up in both the lyrics and the music. Years later I read a quote from Dave about Ray's habit of sleepwalking. Coupled with Ray's insomnia, suddenly the song made sense to me. The sentiment reflected in Brother is carried aloft by a slow lilting melody in a gorgeous middle period Beach Boys style, with Ray sounding exactly like Carl Wilson on the high chorus parts.

The album produced a couple of entries into the pop charts in the USA. Sleepwalker kicks off with a great jangly guitar, a perky verse melody and a classic rock construction, ending with a repeated harmonic line over which the band plays with a real gusto and Ray and band literally bellow the chorus. It is a cathartic moment. Juke Box Music offers a glimpse at how great the Davies Brothers could be when sharing the vocal lines, and Dave lets loose with some very fine guitar playing. Listening to the radio in 1977 was wonderful for me because there was new Kinks music being heard by the masses.

If Ray had taken a further step down the path he had started with Preservation, The Kinks would likely have come to an end. I wonder what he might have produced on his own at the point, but the fact is he didn't, and the band moved ahead to reach their highest levels of success on this side of the Atlantic. This is the starting point for that next journey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Higher Education

The last of The Kinks musical theater albums hit the record bins in January 1976. Schoolboys In Disgrace is a prequel of sorts to the Preservation albums, as it covers the last of the school days of the character Flash. On the non-musical level, I think the LP cover is the best of The Kinks RCA years. The front comic drawing of a school boy smarting from corporal punishment has to be seen to be believed, and the back shows the now five Kinks in schoolboy attire, and Ray Davies' expression is worth the price of the LP.

The music is a move back towards the rock'n'roll world. The spoken sections and theatrical interludes of the previous concept albums are gone. The musical styles run the gamut from 50s doo wop to contemporary rock. Its a fun romp but I wish it were better. Dave's guitar is front and center on several tunes, and he certainly proves that he has the chops. A further move towards a more mainstream 70s rock sound is just around the corner.

Here is one of the real rock'n'roll cuts - No More Looking Back.
Thanks to Vivalabeat for providing a live video on Youtube:

Monday, November 16, 2009


Coming out of the three album Preservation series, The Kinks were still an eight man band plus additional backup singers. At the time Ray Davies stated that after the intensity of the previous albums he wanted something lighter and less serious. The rest of the band - well, at least Dave for certain - were growing tired of the concept albums. But Ray persevered to complete and release A Soap Opera one year after Preservation Act 2.

This album tells its tale in a single LP with dialogue interspersed to assist with the story telling. It is cute and listenable but I rarely find myself pulling out the vinyl. There are not any songs that I would list as a favorite, although the first song opens the record with a wall of sound. Ray has been accused of "borrowing" from himself and other bands, though I do not hear it so much. But in this case the opening riff on Everybody's a Star (Starmaker) owes a heavy debt to The Move's awesome Do Ya. It loses some steam after the opening salvo but is one of the perkiest tunes on the album.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Four More Respected Gentlemen Part 2

Sunday is a day off for the official Kinks Chronological Album Listen. But I am so far into this thing now that I cannot let go, so let's take a look at an album that is not a part of the official canon. The Great Lost Kinks Album came out as a USA-only release in 1973 when Reprise decided to recover some of their investment after the Kinks bailed for RCA a few years earlier. It was a hodgepodge of unreleased tracks and singles B-sides mostly from 1968-69.

I bought the LP when it was released, as it came out soon after I became a Kinks fanatic. Little did I know that I have been sitting on one of the rarest Kinks' recordings around. Only recently has it come to my attention that it was pulled from distribution in 1975 as a result of a lawsuit filed by Ray Davies. The expanded CD releases include the B-sides as extra tracks but I don't know if the unreleased tracks are available elsewhere.

Maybe it is because I just cannot extricate myself from the Kinks "second" period music - Face to Face up through Lola - but the music on TGLKA seems so darned intimate and touching. Employing the classic four man Kinks sound, you will immediately feel at home here if you like The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society.

For a change of pace I am going to write just a little about each song. The first two rank fairly low on the Mister Pleasant-o-meter but the remaining dozen are charming and then some.
  1. Plastic Man - unfortunately this was released as a single A-side. Other than the cleverly Monkee-ish "ba-oom bah bah bah" section, this song is the one Kinks failure in their otherwise stellar 66-70 singles releases.
  2. Groovie Movies - ostensibly from Dave's never released first solo album. He wrote some great songs over the years but this is not one of them
  3. Pictures In The Sand - apparently an outtake from TVGPS, a slight country tune which points the way towards where the band would be heading in the 1970s.
  4. Lavender Hill - great drumming, bassoon!, one of the verses is instrumental with a wah wah guitar solo line, ethereal vocal harmonies, and a rare Beach Boys type vocal section at the end. Also a few hard-to-hear mellotron licks.
  5. The Way Love Used To Be - from the Percy soundtrack. As far as I can determine, Reprise included it on TGLKA because Percy was never released in the USA. A lovely contemplative song with acoustic guitar accompaniment. Ray sings as if his heart is in his throat. Touching.
  6. Mr. Songbird (yes another Kinks "Mr." song) - That rare truly happy Kinks song with a mellotron sounding like a duo of flutes and a very jazzy contrapuntal vocalized section sounding a bit like the Swingles Singers
  7. This Man He Weeps Tonight - Dave's best effort here. It opens with an awesome guitar riff doubled on bass. The guitar work throughout is gorgeous but way too much in the back of the mix. Mr. Avory gets in some really good hits.
  8. Till Death Us Do Part - Ray's great theme song for a 1969 film based on Britain's long running sitcom (and basis for the USA's All In The Family). Like Dead End Street, a trombone plays a major role here and its use is spot-on spectacular. The vocal harmonies in the chorus are a harbringer of that la-la-la-iest Kinks' tune - Wonderboy. This song is a little lost treasure.
  9. There Is No Life Without Love - credited to both Davies' brothers, a sweet little tune with simple accompaniment of mandolin bass and drums. I would guess that there are no more than twenty distinct words total in the lyrics, but you know it just doesn't matter when the melody is so wonderful and these two sometimes warring brothers are singing octave harmonies so peacefully.
  10. Misty Water - It starts with succinct piano chords beneath Ray's delicately delivered opening verse, but things really get rolling on the second verse when the guitar kicks in. But wait there is even more fun - the chorus transmogrifies this into a garage rock sing-a-long. There is even a cheesy 60's farfisa organ buried deep in the mix. Then a short ethereal vocalized section appears as if we suddenly dropped into Gogi Grant's The Wayward Wind only to be knocked off our feet with Dave's ferocious guitar chords to bring us back for another pass.
  11. When I Turn Off The Living Room Light - The opening line seems to get some people really angry but I think Ray is totally innocent of any sort of ethnic or racial slur. The lyrics may seem thoughtless at the beginning but by the final verse it is clear that the singer puts himself in the same boat as his less than lovely partner - "We don't feel so ugly, we don't feel so draggy, we don't feel so twisted up tight/and we don't feel as ugly as we really are, when we turn off the living room light."
  12. I'm Not Like Everybody Else - The B-side to Sunny Afternoon. It seems to me as if Ray is singing with his best Dave vocal immitation. Or maybe it is Dave - I am never sure. A true classic, this one bridges the gap between The Kinks and The Who, with a few dollops of garage rock thrown in for good measure. Dave's guitar is thunderous here.
  13. Where Did My Spring Go? - Opens with a piano and guitar intro, with Dave's guitar work sounding vaguely like something off of a Jefferson Airplane album. This contains some of Ray's most angry and bleak lyrics. "Remember all those sleepless nights, making love by candlelight, and every time you took my love, you were shortening my life."
  14. Rosemary Rose - Luckily Ray just cannot stop singing about his sister. Starting off like an early Del Shannon rocker with a mandolin standing in for the musitron, the song adds a harpsichord for the middle eight. And the priceless lyrics are scolding yet tender - "You look nothing like a child, yet you're such a little baby/Chewing on your liquorish gum, and cigarettes."
I love this album dearly and cannot for the life of me choose only one song for your listening pleasure. So here are two - first Rosemary Rose:

And the tale of Anne Maria and her daughters in Misty Water:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's painfully clear that the battle is near

Preservation Act 2 really gets down to the nitty gritty of the story of the two principal characters Flash and Mr. Black in Ray Davies epic saga. Act 1 is stronger in terms of the tunes, but the drama really hits hard in this follow-up. Overall I find the first two sides of this double LP very strong, and side four really pulls out all the stops. There is a definite Weill/Brecht feeling throughout, with the magnificent horn oompahs and woodwind runs in the verse parts of Second-Hand Car Spiv sounding as if they came from a lost manuscript for A Threepenny Opera.

Reviewers back in the day considered the live road show version to be superior to the recordings. Having seen it then, I would agree that the combination of the expanded forces on the stage, projected images and a reduced, concise song lineup made for excellent theater. But the records really do hold their own, even with the spoken "announcements" in Act 2 which help to flesh out the story with a news announcer censoring the proceedings according to the wishes of Mr. Black's dictatorship.

It is weird and wonderful to hear female voices on a Kinks record, and especially the ladies-only Scrapheap City. I also picked up a 70s glam vibe on parts of Artificial Man and Salvation Road that I don't believe I ever noticed before - shades of Mott the Hoople! Some of the most heart-rending moments for me include the final lines in Nothing Lasts Forever - "Your love will fade but mine will last forever". This song would be a great companion to The Party's Over and the arrangement reminds me of a broken-heart love song in a big 50's musical. And Flash's plea for acceptance in Scum Of The Earth - "Before you condemn me my friends, I suggest that you look deep inside you" - he's not about to apologize for being human.

It may be the oddest combination of rock, musical theater, and political commentary ever produced. It is a very long way from Face to Face. Those Kinks no longer exist by this juncture. At the time I fought with myself on whether I would continue to follow them into their new world. I would like to think that as I grew older, I became wiser and more open to something different. Listening again after so many years I find Preservation to be refreshing and extremely current to today's world.

Who else was this musically adventurous in the mid 1970s? Preservation is one of Ray Davies' crowning moments.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where are all the angry young men now?

I sincerely hope that I did not chase away any hard-core Kinks fans with yesterday's post. There are no worries today. The demons of 1972 were thankfully gone by 1973. Ray Davies recovered his talent for composing stellar melodies on Preservation Act I. In fact this album is so tuneful that it really deserves a dozen listens just to let it all soak in.

The storyline of the Preservation LPs is fairly dense, and since this is Part 1 it serves as an introduction with more of the details to come with Part 2. My first live Kinks experience was about this time, though my rusty memory does not recall if Part 2 had been released yet. But I can tell you that it was like no other concert I have experienced. The stage was filled with a horn section, floozies, and the (at this point) five Kinks. There has always been a lot of conjecture about the alcohol level in the Kinks during their live shows from this period. If they were not tipsy they certainly put on a good act. But it fit perfectly in to the proceedings. For a detailed description of one of the live Preservation shows check out 10th December, 1974, Santa Monica. The end of the show was one encore after another of their well known hits. But the Preservation music already had the audience on its feet. So the encores were just gravy. (and delicious gravy too!)

This album is very even, in that every song is great in its own way. So it was a coin toss to pick a song for today's post. First is a short segment of a video for Sitting In the Midday Sun, followed by a the entire song without video. If anyone knows where the first video originated, and if it the full song is available I would love to know about it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's very hard to please the people every single time

Neither trend setters nor trend followers, the Kinks marched to their own drummer, at least up until the late 70s. As is the case with bands that have lengthy careers, changes in musical styles and structure affect fans differently. Beginning in 1972 the Kinks entered a period that would soon evolve into a series of musical theater pieces. The album that fills the gap between that future and what came before is Everybody's In Show-Biz. At the time of its release I was very fond of this record and the song from it that became a staple of progressive FM radio - Celluloid Heroes.

Over the years my initial feelings began to wane as I found myself pulled back to their 1960s output. After listening to this album today for the first time in a long spell I wish I could say that it stirred those good old memories. It pains me to say that it just does not pull me in. It is not the "poor me, being a rock star is so hard" sentiments expressed in the lyrics. I would easily grant Ray Davies his right to wail and moan if only the songs themselves carried the melodic invention that he so amply demonstrated heretofore. Muswell was a bit shy on the melody front but more than made up for it with its crisp country arrangements and biting lyrics. For the two songs here that actually have wonderful melodies, one has lyrics so clumsy that I find myself cringing.

On the other hand the second disk is quite a fun listen. A chance for the boys to bring their boozy on-stage persona to vinyl for some wonderfully sloppy live performances of tunes taken mostly from the previous year's Muswell Hillbillies.

Luckily for today's post there is one studio song here that is more than worthy of repeated listening. Sitting in My Hotel finds Ray in a reflective mood, musing about what his friends might think of his present situation. He is in a funk, treading water. One gets the feeling that he knows he has to find a way to move forward, but he is unsure of himself. When assuming the viewpoint of his friends he cast doubts over everything from his haute couture to feeding his insomnia by watching old movies on TV all night long. His self deprecating humor here is really quite touching, and the tune is one of his lovliest creations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

They're never gonna kill my cockney pride

In 1971 the Kinks jumped ship from Pye/Reprise records to RCA. And the first product from that move was Muswell Hillbillies, possibly the most surprising change of pace by any major long term rock band. The production is pared down to bare bones. Musically there are big changes too - the harpsichord is out, the electronic organ is in. Complex harmonies are replaced by sing-along choruses. But this is not a simple record by any means. The Kinks as a band had never played together so well before. There is a relaxed yet intense vibe, and the entire album holds together as a single piece. Perhaps the prospect of finally being paid some decent money for their troubles brought this about, but regardless of the genesis, the band delivers in spades.

The lyrics are also tighter and focused like a laser on the ills of modern society. Ray's singing takes on a whole new dimension. For each song he has devised a sound specific to the content therein. It works beautifully for me, but it does require shedding all my conceptions and expectations from what came before. This is a new Kinks.

20th Century Man is the lead off track, and serves as a blueprint for what is to follow. Listen to the chugging acoustic guitar lick after a brief intro, then kick into high gear when the drums enter. Midway through the electric guitar enters and a middle section begins. It is unearthly in its beauty. The melody has the clarity of an old English folksong. And Ray gets down to the dirty details of the cause of his melancholy:

I was born in a welfare state
Ruled by bureaucracy
Controlled by civil servants
And people dressed in grey
Got no privacy, got no liberty
Cos the twentieth century people
Took it all away from me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's Not the Size That Counts

I was thrilled when I noticed that the Kinks Chronological album listen at the Ray Davies Forum had reserved a day for Percy. You are probably asking yourself "why on earth" I would care about a soundtrack album that was never released on LP in the US and is half full of mediocre instrumentals. Well let me tell you - I consider the non-instrumentals on Percy to be every bit as wonderful as the songs from the Kinks 1966-69 glory years.

Check out Holly Hughes' assessment of The Way Love Used To Be. Or Animals In The Zoo to hear the next installment after Apeman of Ray Davies' Jamaican voice. Or the lovely Moments in which Dave turns in a short guitar solo in the style of Abbey Road period George Harrison.

But the real deal here is God's Children. Considering that it was the theme song for a forgotten film about the first penis transplant (really I kid you not), it is quite amazing that the studio actually placed the song in the movie. As it takes a diametrically opposed view to any sort of organ transplant. Regardless of one's religious beliefs, there is no denying that the melody is of the first order of loveliness. And Ray's singing is so emotive and impassioned that I have no doubt that he meant every word.

"'Cause we are all God's children
And he got no right to change us
Oh, we gotta go back the way the good lord made us all"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Little man's weak and big man's strong

Even when his is pissed off, Ray Davies can be hilarious. And he was very po'd when he wrote many of the songs on Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One. Mostly ticked at big business, especially the record biz (more on that in a minute). Granted there are some warm and lovely songs here, including a beauty written by Dave - Strangers - and Ray's touching but subtle warning to his brother - A Long Way From Home. And of course there is Lola, which resurrected The Kinks career and proved without a doubt that Ray is the king of the 45 rpm single. Too bad that the glory days of top 40 radio were already on the wane.

The success of Ray's little ode to a transvestite resulted in his pithy recount of its effects in Top Of the Pops. His anger reaches even deeper in The Moneygoround, which includes his astute observation:

"Everyone take a little bit here and a little bit there
Do they all deserve money from a song that they've never heard
They don't know the tune and they don't know the words
But they don't give a damn"

The song could have been an ultimate downer if not for the cheery musical hall treatment that turns the anger into one of the funniest songs in the Kinks career.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Put on your slippers and sit by the fire

It is hard to believe that day seven of The Kinks album-a-day listen-a-thon is already here. Just around the corner the band will morph into something quite different, but on today's listen they melded the top notch songwriting of their last three LPs with a return to being a real rock'n'roll band. Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire was released in October 1969, with John Dalton replacing original member Peter Quaife on bass. This would be the first of several personnel changes soon to come. It was written for a never televised UK TV movie, and ushered in a return to the charts after The Village Green Preservation Society sadly managed to miss any chart in the known universe.

From the very first seconds it is clear that the guitar is back. Finally given the opportunity, Dave Davies' guitar work matures considerably. No longer dependent on power chords, his guitar lines becomes a counterpoint to the melody throughout the album. Along with a judicious and tasteful use of a horn section this album takes on a ruddy glow.

It turns out that Ray Davies had more than one masterpiece (Waterloo Sunset) in him. Shangri-La starts with a stunningly gorgeous melody to acoustic guitar accompaniment, soon augmented by a harpsichord and Dave's lovely high harmony vocal, and then by a lovely horn countermelody. The chorus arrives and builds with the band wailing "Shangri-La" as if their lives depended upon it. Then an amazing rockier section intrudes, with descending bass line a'la Sunny Afternoon, and Ray laying it out to the masses exactly why "Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-la". With the truth about the bourgeois lifestyle laid bare, the chorus section returns with a renewed vigor. The final stanzas are delivered in an all-out fury with the most ferocious drumming that Mick Avory had ever laid down on a Kinks LP.

The second embedded video is Ray's first ever live performance of Shangri-La from 2007. Given the Phil Spector treatment with an army of musicians, it bears up beautifully to the production.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Four More Respected Gentlemen

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. It is a mouthful. And on plenty of days, my favorite LP of all time. By anyone. Thirteen of its fifteen songs clock in at under three minutes. The full flowering of Ray Davies' melodicism runs rampant throughout. Never again would his muse maintain such a consistently high level of songwriting (the pleasures of the next LP to come notwithstanding). Mr. Davies pulled a rabbit of a hat for TVGPS, for the songs were cobbled together from a solo project and the aborted Kink's LP Four More Respected Gentlemen. I have always wondered if those four distinguished Gentlemen went by the names of Quaife, Davies, Avory, and Davies.

If one includes the two splendid Kinks singles A sides released in 1968 - Wonderboy and Days - Mr. Davies gives the Beatles and the Rolling Stones their fiercest competition in that incredible year of music. But make no mistake, The Kinks at this point are about as far from a rock and roll band as they will ever get. The focus here is on the past, things that no longer exist, and our attempts to recall that past via memories and photographs. Ray Davies was fighting to keep that past alive. And I suppose that by writing about it, I attempt to do the same.

If you do not own TVGPS in some media format, shame on you. But since I know you do, go listen. There is a wonderful live performance of Last of the Steam-Powered Trains and Picture Book on YouTube, but alas no embedding. Just click the link.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise

Something Else is a great album, no doubt about it. As Who Am Us Anyway mentioned in yesterday's comments , Death Of A Clown is Dave Davies' one-of-a-kind masterpiece. As much as I love it and David Watts, and frankly nearly every song here, the album itself is overshadowed by its finale. Waterloo Sunset is such a pinnacle, I cannot even attempt to describe it.

There are a number of fine live Ray Davies video performances from over the years. Even in later years his voice is still tender. But I decided to embed Terry Reid's shattering club performance, with Waddy Wachtel's churning guitar. Mr. Reid channels Laurence Olivier's Archie Rice from The Entertainer. A song as great as this deserves a bravura performance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

No one can penetrate me

Ray Davies first foray into East Indian music was See My Friends, the A-side of a 45-rpm single released by The Kinks in July 1965. It coupled a haunting melody with a simple, sad lyric whose subject of loneliness would be explored more fully in 1967 with Waterloo Sunset.

Fancy from 1966's Face To Face uses an even more exotic instrumentation and melody. The first verse is accompanied by two acoustic stringed instruments (guitar & ?), then at the 0:55 mark percussion instruments come aboard. No other song in the Kinks Kanon sounds at all like it. The lyrics are more difficult to decipher. Mr. Davies becomes opaque, and in the process tells us more about human nature in one short stanza than a lesser songwriter could with an entire LP.

"My love is like a ruby that no one can see,
Only my fancy, always.
No one can penetrate me,
They only see what's in their own fancy, always."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I've got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell

Holly Hughes and a bunch of Kink's Kooks at the Ray Davies Forum are listening to one Kinks (UK) album per day, in chronological order. They started on November 1st, and today they are listening to The Kink Kontroversy. See Holly's post at The Song In My Head Today.

Because my Kinks LP collection consists of the US releases I waited until today to join them, as from this point forward the UK and US albums contain virtually the same tracks. The Kink Kontroversy is also an entry point for what I consider to be the Kinks run of five consecutive studio LPs that are essential to any rock collection, along with The Kink Kronikles which collects all their exquisite 45 rpm only singles along with a few outstanding album tracks. The newer CDs include these singles A and B sides on the LP from the same period.

Till the End of the Day is the single that was pulled from today's LP. A great song that bridges the gap between their early guitar-riff oriented songs and the new direction they would take after this LP. But for sheer listening pleasure I'm On an Island is the song that grabs me and won't let go.

More so than most rock singers, Ray Davies sings with a vast array of inflections, and when he forces out the words "I'm..On..An..Island" I cannot help but smile and chuckle. The unusual calypso beat and hilarious entry of the cowbell take this song to a whole new level. Ray moans wistfully that "my girl left me behind. She said that I'm not her kind" but hoping against hope "there is nowhere else on Earth I'd rather be, than if my long, lost little girl was here with me". The island in question is no doubt an analogy to the lonely state of his heart, so setting the song to a Caribbean beat not only deflects the pain of his loss but creates one of the finest happy tune/sad lyrics pop songs of the 60s.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I've Got Mine Together Too

Thanks to Alex over at Clicks and Pops for a bunch of great links in a recent post. There are so many great music blogs that I am beginning to lose track. Via those links I came across a couple of excellent posts on one of my favorite "should have been" contenders from the 1990s - Jellyfish. From Australia, Peter's Power Pop Why I Adore Jellyfish, and My hmphs has a three part My Ode to Jellyfish. Both give a fine overview of the band.

Reading those posts got me to thinking about the amazing talent in that band. Possibly the most talented musician of the bunch is guitarist Jason Falkner, who bailed after the first album, rumored to be due to the unwillingness of his bandmates to perform his songs. Remind you of any other bands wherein a fine musician/guitarist/songwriter had trouble getting his tunes on their albums?

Mr. Falkner stepped out into a solo career that has had its ups and downs. His most recent work was released only in Japan, although a comment by artintodust over at Burning Wood Jason Falkner - All Quiet on the Noise Floor indicates that this will be rectified with a couple of USA releases in 2010.

I own only one Falkner album, but what a doozy it is. Can You Still Feel? from 1999 is a guitar-driven power pop paradise. Sometimes I listen to Holiday an unnatural number of times in a row. I will not even attempt to enumerate the number of hooks in this song. This live performance lacks the sound quality of the studio version but gives a glimpse of his awesome guitar work. The baroque contrapuntal section that appears out of nowhere about two minutes in is simply to-die-for. And when he takes the melody up an octave in the last couple of runs through the chorus - well it just sends shivers down my spine. 2010 cannot get here quickly enough.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fulfillingness' First Finale

The Beatles Abbey Road was/is a miracle. Personal, financial, and musical battles had shattered their ability to work together. Geoff Emerick (their long-time chief recording engineer) stated in his book Here, There and Everywhere regarding the 1968 sessions for The Beatles "for weeks I had been incensed about what had been going on, with the horrible, unsettled atmosphere, the constant bickering." He was so distraught that he demanded to be reassigned by EMI, leaving the project in midstream. By all accounts the Get Back sessions the following January were even worse. George Harrison temporarily quit the band, the music degenerated into long jam sessions, John Lennon told George Martin that these session were no place for his slick production work.

With the Get Back project on the shelf, the realization set in that the end was near. McCartney and George Martin decided to attempt a recording done the way they used to do it, with Martin guiding the production, and the Beatles once again playing together as a cohesive band. Sensing that it might be their last shot, the other three agreed to the terms, and Geoff Emerick was persuaded to return.

Various rock critics have referred to the mini-suite on the second side as a pop symphony. But if one must attribute classical forms to this work, I think a more apt description is tone poem. From the Wikipedia page for Tone Poem: combined or compressed multiple movements into a single principal section. Most folks consider the suite to start with a song which in itself is a multi-part composition - Paul's amazing You Never Give Me Your Money. For me the entire LP side constitutes the tone poem. The lyrics from the chorus of Here Comes the Sun return in Sun King, as do the transplendent multi-layered vocal harmonies from Because. Outside of the Beach Boys, 11th chords have never been used so effectively in a pop framework.

From George's most sunny and possibly finest melody until Paul's little throwaway ode to the Queen, everything that made the Beatles a force of nature can be found here. Frankly I prefer to listen to it non-stop from start to finish. Even John's two little character studies Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pan - which taken on their own are a bit slight (especially the former) - in the context of the suite, and glued together with Beatle's magic, are an essential portion of the experience.

Nicholas Schaffner, in his fine book The Beatles Forever said "The album as it stands shows four musicians, all at the height of their powers but each tuned into very different wavelengths, making one final effort to work together creatively and efficiently. McCartney, who hasn't yet given up on Art, attempts to weld a glittering scrapheap of fragments into an ambitious song cycle. Between them, the sparks fly." Indeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Teenage Angst

In yesterday's post I mentioned that I moved away from rock music in the late 60s. In truth I did not completely shutdown to what was currently playing on the radio, and I did acquire The Beatles aka. White Album. That spurred me to purchase Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band several years after its release. Oddly enough I would not venture into Abbey Road for many years - and was totally blown away when I finally heard it for the first time.

But I digress from the point of this post regarding the three Beatle's singles that ruled my life during my junior high school years. My family was dysfunctional for sure, but at the time I did not imagine it to be any different than any other. There was usually a lot of drama going around, and I found the best cure was to place some vinyl on my nifty General Electric turntable and tune out what was going on around the household.

The three 45rpms that I would repeatedly play ad naseum have been labeled by some as the Beatle's "Indian Summer" singles, coming between the pyschedelic year of 1967 and the White Album in late 1968. These songs are etched into my inner fiber, a part of who I am, and to this day they elicit a feeling of euphoria. After 40 years and thousands of listens I never tire of them. At the time of their release, I was oblivious to the notion that they were "Paul" songs, although it was clear to me that he was they lead singer on them.

Hello Goodbye got the short straw for some folks, John Lennon included. He called it "three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions". It is mentioned that it is too repetitious, but I never want it to end. For me, the clever harmonies, delicious guitar fragments, and overall sunny disposition have always been a soul lifter. And Mr. McCartney knows his way around a chord progression or two. More than any other song, this would go on the turntable as a mood changer, a relief from the sturm und drang of being a teenager.

Lady Madonna is the odd one out here, the first Beatle single not to go to number one in the USA since Yellow Submarine just barely missed the top spot in August of 1966. Both would be chart toppers in the U.K. The first time I heard it on AM radio in early 1968 I was blown away by the opening piano riff. And speaking of chord progressions, the middle eight skillfully constructs a bass line that carries the tune like a baroque passacaglia. Everything about the production works for me - the gorgeous vocal harmonies at the end of each verse ("see how they run"), the tight little guitar riff that pops in for maximum effect, the saxophone, the hand claps, the kazoo middle eight. Paul's meaningless yet clever lyrics leave everything to interpretation. This is the pinnacle of the lost art of writing a hit single. At barely two and a quarter minutes in length, it says what is has to say and rolls to an end with some of the most delicious pop piano pounding in history.

Hey Jude Speaking of feel-good songs, one must have a stone heart to avoid the vibe that came out of the EMI studio on that day in 1968. Even John knew this was the real deal. "Hey Jude is a damn good set of lyrics and I made no contribution to that." I will leave the genesis of the lyrics to you to decide who it was really written for (John? Julian? Paul?, Francie?, Dylan?). I do not spend much energy pondering, I just listen. And listen. And listen some more. For a real treat, try the new mono remaster version. When that build up to the first "la... la la ladda da da" occurs, my life is transfigured. Just as when I was 13 sitting in my room hiding from the world.