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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jonestown Punch

I was a late-comer to the rock'n'roll show. Sure, as a nine year old I mowed my grandparent's lawn to earn enough to buy a ticket to the premier of The Beatles A Hard Day's Night in 1964. But by 1967 the US TV debut of the Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane promo film left me lost in translation. Of course I have since come around to recognize it as a pinnacle of the Beatles work, but at the time I just was not ready. So I drifted away from rock until my sophmore year in college. Of course by then the 60s were well over and the rock establishment was petrifying.

So when New Wave/Punk hit, I was so there, buying every new release that I read about in the rock press. My college crowd was there with me, trading homemade cassettes of Elvis Costello, Lena Lovich, Television, Talking Heads, etc. The Pretenders walked a fine line between the old and the new. During the time frame of their two albums and assorted singles released by the original members, there was not a better band. Chrissie Hynde was (and sometimes still is) a fabulous songwriter, and as a singer she could move me with barely a whisper. Her husky voice never strained or screamed, yet managed to become one of the true original voices in R&R. James Honeyman-Scott was a guitarist of unlimited potential, able to produce pure ringing tones as well as blistering solos. Pete Farndon (bass) Martin Chambers (drums) were an exceptional rhythm section, able to fill the space between the vocals and guitar and yet also understanding the importance of empty beats.

In the summer of 1981 I was lucky enough to see the Pretenders live at the Oklahoma City Zoo Ampitheater with some of my friends. A yet-to-become-famous Go Gos - who wore matching polka dresses - put on a killer opening set. But the real deal was yet to come. Frankly I was so delirious at seeing Chrissie and company in person that I remember very little of the actual music other than that they were tight, aggressive, and had an amazing stage presence.

The following video has been on and off of YouTube for several years. I am sure this will get pulled soon so take a look while you can, to see a band that had it all for a few brief months before twin tragedies would occur.

p.s. the blog posting title comes from the heinous concocotion that my college friends put together (grape koolaid and everclear) for the infamous Enid Oklahoma punk roller skating party of 1980.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Borrowed from Merriam-Webster - marked by flawless craftsmanship, or by beautiful, ingenious, delicate, or elaborate execution

For me no power pop song brings this to fruition better than The Raspberries 1974 Overnight Sensation. It was somewhat of a flop upon release - I recall that it barely dented the top 20. Then the band broke up shortly thereafter. We have seen this before. Here is the drill - group hits its stride, produces their best work, then disbands as record sales fizzle. For instance, the Zombies and their magnum opus Odessey and Oracle, all of Big Star's 70s studio albums. Regardless of what should have been, this song lives on in my Power Pop hall of fame.
  • Opening with perhaps the finest piano riff in pop history
  • 0:38 the first appearance of the chorus "(I just ) Want a Hit Record". Just gorgeous.
  • 0:56 the middle eight "well the program director don't pull it..."
  • 1:21 Wally Bryson's guitar is on fire
  • 1:30 as the verse returns, stabbing guitar power chords barely registering in the background
  • 2:08 saxophone solo on a par with anything on a Bruce Springsteen album
  • 2:32 middle eight returns
  • 2:56 "while in my head I hear the record play, hear it play..."
  • 3:05 the bottom drops out and a very tinny mono version appears - a great tribute to the bygone era of listening to the hit parade on a transistor-radio
  • 3:15 gradually the modern stereo version overtakes the mono
  • 3:58 back to the intro piano riff and Eric Carmen's McCartney-esque vocalizations, which fades and fades
  • by 4:18 the sound has dwindled down to just the piano gently rolling through the opening chords
  • 4:24 - bam - fireworks from the drummer, then multi-tracked vocals, guitar pyrotechnics, the overload trailing off in the final for-real fade out

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

and they will dream the dream my Mother sends to them

During my first year in college '73-'74 I spent my Friday and Saturday evenings watching the amazing assortment of live rock acts on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, Saturday Night Special and ABC's In Concert. For those of you too young to remember those glory days, practically anyone and everyone associated with rock music made an appearance on one of these shows. On any given weekend evening you could watch mostly live performances by The Rolling Stones, Suzie Quatro, Janis Ian, Sparks, The Ramones, etc. I became fans of many of these musicians after first experiencing them on TV.

One performer who captured my attention was Buffy Sainte-Marie. A member of the Cree tribe from Saskatchewan, she burst onto the folk scene in the 1960's, too early for me to be aware of her. By the time Buffy was released in 1974 she had released more than ten LPs. Her 60s protest songs earned her a blacklisting in the recording industry. No doubt trouble ensued from this situation, and so her 1974 album was mostly a collection of pop songs, some written by others. Most reviews were negative, complaining that she had lost her way, punting on her folk background for a rockier, more contemporary sound.

Not knowing any of this, I tuned in one evening and caught her performing Hey Baby How'd You Do Me This Way and Sweet Fast Hooker Blues from Buffy. The former is a lovely, sad pop song that somehow managed to get some airlplay on WKY in Oklahoma City. She put on a powerful performance, and I was so curious that I bought the album the next week. With no expectations, I fell in love with that album. The track that begins side 2 is a potent, scathing, yet transcendental song about politics, Native America, and the future. Words cannot describe it, so rather than attempting to explain how it affects me, here it is for you to hear for yourself. Many thanks to hotskel2546 over at YouTube for posting it along with the lyrics.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Paul was in a band before Wings?

Mr. McCartney took his lumps after the Beatles split, and some of the reasoning behind it is valid. Without John to prod him, he could be a lazy lyricist, and the fill factor on his albums is often too high. And My Love ranks with the worst of 70s radio. But consider these observations about his songwriting:
  • His average number of songs on a Beatle's record was five or six.
  • His best songs were recorded methodically over a period of time. Unlike Lennon, he was not well-suited to off-the-cuff recordings.
  • He was in a deep depression in 1969/1970 over the breakup of the Beatles
  • It took some time to find his "solo" voice. John had a head start, as he was releasing solo records before the split.
Call me a McCartney apologist, but I believe that his overall track record up to 1975 (ed. previously stated 1980) was successful, and that his catalog has a few masterpieces. Ram is a sleeper, and my appraisal of it has only increased over the years. Band On The Run is considered overrated by some, but recent listenings tell me that it was the pinnacle of his post-Beatles work. The singles that came just before and after it are some of his finest rockers.
Before BOTR
  • Hi Hi Hi - chunky rocker with lyrics that dared radio stations to ban it
  • Live And Let Die - absolutely the best Bond theme song evah!
  • Helen Wheels - chunky rocker #2 with a thudding bass that rocks the planet
After BOTR
  • Junior's Farm - chunky rocker #4 (Jet from BOTR would be #3); perhaps his finest single, and it contains a phenomenal coda with soaring harmonies and Jimmy McCullough's white hot guitar work.
Mention Wings and expect to get some laughs, or rolling of the eyes. But once the group found its legs, they created a recognizable sound apart from that of the Beatles. Nowhere nearly as good for sure, but certainly acceptable and with a few gems to remember them by.