Saturday, October 6, 2012

That's Just One Of My Personal Crusades

Mr. Who Am Us Anyway - you are right, autumn is here and its about time I posted something for the new season.  Today's post really doesn't have anything to do with the fall season but it is such a great song that I could not help myself.   First of all I am a sucker for a rock song that starts out with tubular bells!  Then a groovy bass line kicks in and time starts to fly.  By none other than Todd Rundgren's band The Nazz, this is the first track off of their second album Nazz Nazz.  Forget All About It has an off kilter rhythm that sets it firmly in the late 60s.   Todd finds just the right guitar tone throughout, sometimes jangly, sometimes psychedelic on the solo.  A softer middle section with harpsichord accompaniment is almost a jump forward to his Runt period wherein he became the male version of Carole King.  And a short but great bridge back to the chorus, a few bangs on the chimes and it is sadly over.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I've Been Hurt But I Still Love You

Now that the Yardbird's singles have been covered I am feeling a Zombies mood coming on.  Here is their great August 1965 single that sank like a stone - Whenever You're Ready.   The bridge section -  "you're not teaching me a new thing" - between the verse and the chorus is a thing of beauty.   Rod Argent was such an excellent songsmith, and of course Colin Blunstone was the perfect singer for his songs.  The b-side was the excellent I Love You, which unfortunately was a hit for another band - People.  The Zombies were sadly always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  For me though their music holds up and is nearly equal in quality to the Kinks and the Beatles when it comes to the 60s.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

She's Guaranteed Not To Fail You

Well, if the Yardbirds were going to be poured into a "pop" singles band mold, at least their final single was a rip-roaring farewell.  Thanks to Jimmy Page and his fuzzed out guitar work, Goodnight Sweet Josephine rocks and rolls in a very upbeat way.   Maybe the best pop song ever about a hooker!  After the gentle 12 string acoustic picking for the opening riff, on its second pass the electric guitar lets us know Mr. Page was not going to let the band pass away gently.

For the third single in a row neither Jim McCarty  (drummer) or Chris Dreja (bass) participated.  Clem Cattini played drums, John Paul Jones (future Led Zep) on bass, and Nicky Hopkins played piano.

Released in March of 1968 in only the US, the song bubbled up to #127 on the charts.  Such a sad showing for their last bit of official recording.  The B-side Think About It is a wonderful guitar-led workout that is more representative of the band at this late stage in their career.  The failure of the single in the US resulted in no release in the UK.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

At Six O'Clock The Moon Came Out

Although the previous single had a very lackluster chart showing, Mickey Most used another tune by an outside writer to try to boost the Yardbirds flailing career.   This time he chose Ten Little Indians by up-and-coming singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson.  Released in October of 1967, what an odd little song this is, and this time around Jimmy Page was allowed to participate.   To a martial snare beat, there are some odd brass parts that pop in from nowhere then disappear into the darkness.  Between "six" and "five" Jimmy adds a strange pulsating guitar figure, then the song just builds and builds until the final verse drops to a scream and whisper (together) then the guitar goes bananas and the ever present drum beat continues until the song collapses.   It was all for naught as the song climbed no higher than #91 in the US charts.  But I find it weirdly intriguing and worth repeated listenings.  Certainly not in the class of their epic Jeff Beck-led guitar freak outs, but seemingly a better direction than their previous attempt at pop.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is The Knight Being Tight On Romance?

With the Yardbirds previous two singles failing to rise high on the charts, management brought in producer Mickie Most to "rescue" the band.  Three pop oriented tunes would be the next singles, starting with Ha! Ha! Said The Clown, written by Tony Hazzard.   In the UK Manfred Mann had a hit with this tune, so Most hoped to replicate that success in the US with the Yardbirds version.  Rumor has it that the only Yardbird on this record is the singer Keith Relf, and that the backing band was the New York pop outfit Cyrkle.   Apparently Rick Neilsen - the awesome guitarist in Cheap Trick - played keyboards on this track.  Needless to say this enjoyable bit of pop fluff was totally at odds with the guitar-driven sound of the Jimmy Page-led Yardbirds.  It does have some odd time signatures and sprightly organ lines.  The lyric subject jumps from knights of the middle ages to a modern day carnival.  The US-only single climbed to #45 before disappearing from view.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mixing With Kinky Cats

The last of the Yardbird's great guitar-driven singles was also the first with Jimmy Page as lead guitarist.  Little Games was released in March of 1967, one month after Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane changed the universe of pop music.  The insistent repeated guitar chord telegraphs its message, later taken up by strings.   The lyrics have lost the cosmic philosophy of the previous singles and deal straight out with the free living of a young man in the swinging sixties.  The single bombed in the UK and barely scraped to #51 in the US.   In fact it would be the final UK single for the Yardbirds, though there are three more odd pop-leaning singles to come in the US.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sinking Deep Into The Well Of Time

In June of 1966 bassist Paul Samwell-Smith left the Yardbirds.  In his place they chose Jimmy Page to take the bass guitar chores until rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja could learn the bass.  By October of that year the change over was complete and Mr. Page was now the second lead guitarist.  For the next single Happenings Ten Years Time Ago both Page and Jeff Beck played guitar resulting in the only Yardbird's single to feature both.  Co-written by the entire band, the song features a chugging downward guitar line that sets off a vaguely Middle Eastern verse melody.  The dual guitar break in the middle is a psychedelic blast, with siren effects and Jeff Beck's spoken dialogue and laughter.  Perhaps a bit too ahead of its time, it reached only #30 in the US charts, and even lower at #43 in the UK.  Amazingly the band then fired Jeff Beck during a US tour stop in Texas due to his temper and tendency to miss gigs.  So from here on out it will be the Jimmy Page show, along with a strange collection of pop songs written by outside songwriters.

Monday, July 16, 2012

When Will It End

The next Yardbirds' single is attributed to all members of the band - Dreja, McCarty, Beck, Relf, and Samwell-Smith.  Over Under Sideways Down is a classic of the highest order.  From the first moment the swirling guitar riff announces its intention to rule the world.  And rule it does.  The rhythm section holds down the beat but is unable to reign in the guitar which goes stratospheric at the close.

Released in May of 1966, it climbed to #10 in the UK and #13 in the US.  Sadly it would be the last top ten single by a band at the top of its game.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Will Time Make Man More Wise

In February of 1966 the next Yardbirds single was released.  Co-written by bassist Paul Samuell-Smith, lead singer Keith Relf, and drummer Jim McCarty, Shapes of Things is chock-full of stunning guitar and drum work.  The over-amped guitar can be heard snarling menacingly throughout the verses, wherein the lyrics deal with philosophical questions about the human race and it's future (or lack thereof) on this planet.  The chorus contains the catchy but other-worldy "Come Tomorrow" chant.  At 1:35 the bottom drops out and Jeff Beck lets loose with a psychedelic guitar break that takes this song into uncharted territory for its time. This was another top ten hit for the Yardbirds in the UK, reaching #3, while it climbed to #11 in the US.

Jeff Beck's guitar prowess is improving exponentially with each single.   Meanwhile I have never understood why critics malign the rhythm section when my ears tell me that Mr. McCarty was a stellar drummer, with great fills a'la Ringo Starr.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm Going Back Down to Kansas

In the grand ol' USA the Yardbirds' single released in October 1965 had a different A-side than in the UK.  And what a change it was from Evil Hearted You.   They had originally recorded Bo Diddley's I'm A Man with Eric Clapton on lead guitar in 1964 and released it on their first LP.  While the Jeff Beck version of the 'birds was touring the US in 1965 they recorded a new version at Chess Studios in Chicago.  This version blew the roof off, with a suddenly double time coda, psychedelic guitar lead and then closing with Jeff Beck's scratch picking assault on his instrument.   Considering it was '65, not '67, the performance must have scared the pants off the radio listening public.  Even so it managed to climb to #17 on the US charts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Smiling, Beguiling

So on to the last of the three Graham Gouldman written singles released by the Yardbirds.   In October of 1965, Evil Hearted You was released in the UK and rose up to #3 in the charts.  The opening guitar chords just blow me away every time I hear this.  I like to think of it as the sound of Thor's hammer slamming into solid rock.  The little drum para-diddle that kicks off a brief second before the first chord is just awesome.   Listen for the amazing downward spiral guitar work at 1:06.   Then in the center, Mr. Beck lets fly with a slide guitar solo that mimics the main verse melody.

In the US a different A-side was released.  Stay tuned tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Sick At Heart and Lonely

As soon as For Your Love left the charts, the followup single was released in June of 1965.   Their second single in a row written by Graham Gouldman, Heart Full Of Soul gave Jeff Beck his first chance to be heard on a Yardbirds 45rpm.  And what an introduction it is!   Originally the lead guitar line was intended to be played on the sitar, but was replaced by the guitar due to its increased volume.  The guitar sound was processed by a fuzz box to give it that sitar-like sound.  During the chorus an acoustic twelve string guitar plays a vigorous rhythmic figure similar to what the Moody Blues would use several years later in Question.  Keith Relf delivers his best vocal to date, sounding somewhat like Eric Burdon.  This great recording sets the pattern for what is to follow - guitar-driven minor key A-sides with Mr. Beck showcasing his unique playing style.  This single peaked at #3 in the UK and #9 in the USA.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Les Yardbirds

In March of 1965 the Yardbirds next single was released in the UK.  Written by Graham Gouldman, the great sixties songwriter who furnished Bus Stop and Look Through Any Window for the Hollies and would later be a key member of 10cc.  For Your Love would be the first of three tunes penned by him that were recorded by the Yardbirds as singles.  Heart Full of Soul and Evil Hearted You were soon to follow.

The song was introduced to their manager in late 1964 by a representative of the music publisher.  Apparently he was hoping to shop it out to The Beatles, but the Yardbirds manager knew pure gold when he heard the demo and immediately snagged it for their next single.   The harpsichord opening with bongo accompaniment was light years away from the R&B sound that had been the bands hallmark up to that time.   Immediately the band had its first hit, reaching #6 in the US and #3 in the UK.  Eric Clapton was so incensed at the change in direction that he quit the band.  He suggested young session guitarist Jimmy Page as his replacement.   Mr. Page determined he was better off playing session work and suggested his friend Jeff Beck as the new lead guitarist.   Mr. Beck took the gig and the future course was set.  

You can see Jeff Beck in the French promo video below.  There is also a live YouTube performance in which he pretty darn well replicates the sound of the harpsichord with his guitar.   However this early attempt at a music video is a hoot so I went with it. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

If You Let Me I Can Tease You Baby

The first Yardbirds single in the previous post was a flop.  It failed to chart in either the UK or the US.   In October 1964 a second single was released in the UK only.  Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is definitely an improvement, with a red hot Clapton guitar solo about midway through, and the ratio of harmonica time is greatly reduced.  The old blues standard was first recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson, and the Yardbirds based their take on an updated version created by Don Level and Bob Love in 1961.

The Clapton era of the Yardbirds is about to end, and the next single will take off in a completely different direction.   Though blues tunes would remain in their repetoire, no further singles would be based on it with one amazing exception.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Early In The Morning By The Break Of Day

So here is the deal - I have been revisiting the music of the Yardbirds and have come to the conclusion that they were perhaps the most innnovative 60s band in terms of musical style and guitar work.   That said, their best work can be found on their 45rpm singles.   Their official LPs (ignoring the USA releases which cobble together singles, live takes, etc). are sadly lacking.   But not only are their singles much superior, they had a strange dual personality in that some singles were major rock'n'roll revelations into uncharted territory, while others were little pop tunes foisted on them from outside writers.   But more often than not, the pop stuff is quite good.  While the self-penned songs are sonic brick bats that pummel you into submission.

So I plan to write a post about each of their UK singles, in chronological order.  You  will note massive changes as the lead guitarist moves from Eric Clapton to Jeff Beck, and then again when Jimmy Page takes over the reigns

Starting off then with I Wish Your Would from May 1964.  Mr. Clapton keeps a lid on the guitar sound, letting lead singer Keith Relf fill the space with harmonica spasms.  This single is totally authentic to its time but frankly does not give a hint to what is just around the corner in 1965.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

You Could Tell I Was No Debutante

I'm in a Blondie mood tonight after listening to I Know But I Don't Know for the first time in years.  And that sent me on a YouTube spree which unearthed a real treasure that I had totally forgotten.  From 1979's "Eat To The Beat", Dreaming was Blondie's most overt power pop song.  They flirted with PowerPop early in their career, but for me this was where they achieved pure gold. This video is from the UK Top Of The Pops. Deborah Harry certainly had a stage presence.  I had a friend from Southern California named Debbie who danced on American Bandstand back in the early 80s, and she and Ms. Harry remind me of one another.   I lost track of Debbie years ago so Deborah will have to stand in.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dogs Part 2

Over at the always wonderful Burning Wood blog I learned of a 1968 single B-side featuring a rare and unusual quartet of 60's rock musicians.   The Dog Presides feature Paul Jones of Manfred Mann on vocals, Paul McCartney on drums, Jeff Beck on guitar and Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds on bass.   Amazing song - it rocks like nobody's business.   Beck and McCartney go to town and Paul Jones layers one of Beck's psychedelic guitar journeys with a ripping harmonica solo.   The world may not have been changed as a result of the recording of this song, but it sure is fun to hear a group of excellent musicians working outside of their usual band and having a blast doing it.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

But then she jumps off the edge, me holding on

My trip through the sonic wonderland of the Byrds comes to an end today with a single from very late in their career.  By the time of 1970's "Untitled" Roger McGuinn was trucking along as the only original member, still putting out new LPs every ten months or so.  The Byrds sound of old was long gone with the exception of this one amazing epic song.  Chestnut Mare was a left over from the aborted county rock musical Gene Tryp.  A modern day retelling of Peer Gynt, the few nuggets that survive are easily the best music the late period Byrds would produce.  Strangely enough this was a big hit single in the UK, but totally ignored in the US.   What with its odd lyrics referring to the wild mare as the object of an all consuming quest, it might have been just too odd for domestic consumption.  But McGuinn recaptured that classic Byrds sound, augmented by white lightning guitar runs by lead guitarist Clarence White and a middle section so lovely and antique that it could have come from a 16th century madrigal.   For me the goosebumps appear early and often, with the his voice climbing at the end of the chorus

and we'll be friends for life
she'll be just like a wife

Friday, June 29, 2012

Scientific Delerium Madness

It is only fair that a Roger McGuinn tune should be added to the quartet of Byrdsongs that have appeared here over the last week.   Fifth Dimension nails the Dylan sound with its loping rhythm and penetrating lyrics.  McGuinn would turn out to be laziest of the Byrds great songwriters, but when he was on - as he is here - he was as good as it gets.  Waynenet  has a great a blog post about this song so go there and read his words of wisdom.   I learned from his post that none other than Van Dyke Parks plays the organ on this recording!  I certainly never knew that.

Oh how is it
That I could come out to you
And be still floatin'
And never hit bottom
But keep falling through
Just relaxing and paying attention

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Joy of Man's Desiring

Although the first two Byrd's LPs are known for their famous cover versions - Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man and Pete Seeger's Turn! Turn! Turn! - the band had a first class songwriter/singer with Gene Clark.   His love of the Beatles sound turns up in many of his songs, but never in a derivative way.  He infused their sonic soundscaps with the cadences of Lennon/McCartney yet always allowing the Byrds own unique vision to come through with three part harmonies and jangly 12-string guitar.  Chris Hillman has been quoted as saying "He was the songwriter. He had the "gift" that none of the rest of us had developed yet."  He would be sorely missed after Eight Miles High except for the fact that Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman were just beginning to catch up as top notch songwriters on their own.  Regardless, he left a shining legacy with his fine work with them before departing. 

Lost on the B-side of the Turn! Turn! Turn! single is one of his most classic tunes, She Don't Care About Time.  My spine is tingling right now while listening to it.

She'll always be there, my love don't care about time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shut the door

I have nothing against arrogant pricks per se, although there is ample evidence that David Crosby fits that description to a tee.   But during his tenure in the Byrds he wrote some of the most gorgeous jangle pop ballads ever.  And not only could he construct a pretty melody but he often was a fine lyricist.   In fact - when he was "on" - his perceptions were insightful.   Perhaps the best example is his ode to broken hearts, Everybody's Been Burned from 1967's "Younger Than Yesterday".  His words of wisdom, coming at the very end of the song, shows him to be quite the optimist.   And I like that in a person.   Even if he is an arrogant prick.

I know all too well
How to turn, how to run
How to hide behind
A bitter wall of blue
But you die inside
If you choose to hide
So I guess instead, I'll love you...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It Took Me Twenty Years

What better way to make up for my inexcusable omission of the Byrds in this blog than to have two posts in a row?  From their 1968 masterpiece "Notorious Byrd Brothers" here is a lovely tune by bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist Roger McGuinn, written in the odd meter (for pop music) of 5/4.  "Get To You" is chock full of odd Lesley Speaker phased-vocals and a melody that just gets lovelier as it goes.  By this point Mr. Hillman was supplying about a third of the songs on the LP, matching that provided by the recently departed David Crosby.   One of pop music's great "if only" moments would have been to see Crosby stay in the band long enough to produce another LP.   The sheer variety of musical styles on this album is amazing.  But it was not meant to be, as the Byrds went country on the next release and soon thereafter Chris left, along with drummer Michael Clarke and suddenly the original Byrds were no more.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I Should Have Learned to Duck

This is one of those posts where I am not sure what to say, other than that I feel the need to share a song that I consider the high point of the career of a band that I have unbelievably ignored in previous posts.   I was very late discovering the wonders of The Byrds, other than a few of their early  12-string hits such as "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn Turn Turn".   My brother sent me a CD containing all of their LPs (excluding their short-lived reunion), and within a few days I was completely transfixed by the quality and diversity of their 60s output.  The magic exudes from those first five LPs and assorted singles that were produced by the original nucleus of the group. They were blessed with four fine singers, each with a real talent for songwriting, and some amazing instrumental chops to boot.   

By mid 1967 they had not had a top 40 hit since "My Back Pages" in March of the previous year.  Gene Clark was long gone, and David Crosby was months away from departing the group.  And yet the quality of their output was still on an upward path.   Prior to the release of "The Notorious Byrds Brothers" in early 1968, their fifth LP and last of their great masterworks,  they produced a single that to my ears was a pinnacle of 60s pop/rock.   It was clearly radio friendly, with amazing chiming guitar lines, gorgeous harmonies, an instrumental break capped by trumpet volleys, and one of Mr. Crosby's finest melodies.    "Lady Friend" was a culmination of the Byrds sound and deserved a lofty status in their canon.  But like a lot of other great music, it was lost in the sea of other great tunes in mid-67 and sank like a stone on the charts.    Because of internal struggles in the band it was omitted from the following LP, and for years was not available other than on an import "best of" LP.

Here it comes, it looks just like the last wave I drowned in.
Here it comes, and I'm so far from shore.
She's going to go, and take her trinkets.
And I will have to live without her and survive

Friday, June 22, 2012

Could'a Should'a Would'a

I have this theory - totally unprovable - that the key moment when things went wrong with the internal chemistry with the Beatles was not mid-68 during the White Album sessions, nor early the next year for the Get Back sessions.   My theory is that everything went awry during the "Magical Mystery Tour" sessions up through the scattered recordings done just before they left for India in early 1968.  Bare with me as I list some events during that period.

  • Paul commandeered the group into making the MMT movie and EP.   Yes the music was top notch, and John provided perhaps one of his finest moments with "I Am The Walrus".   But it was clearly Paul's brainchild and the other three were just along for the ride.  It is possible that John's resentment of Paul's attempts to lead the group had been building since "Sgt Pepper's". 
  • John's heyday for getting singles A-sides were on the wain.  "Strawberry Fields" in early 1967 had to share double-A side status with "Penny Lane".   Totally understandable as both songs are revolutionary, but still John did not get full A-side credit.   So that leaves "All You Need Is Love" in the summer as John's last A-side until mid-1969.
  • John hated "Hello Goodbye" and has been quoted trashing Paul's lyrics.  He also was pushing to make "I Am The Walrus" as the A-side.   I should note that I love "Hello Goodbye" for its sunshine pop and the clever production, but regardless it was another put down for John to see Paul get another A-side.
  • During the short recording windows before they left for India in early 1968, the band worked on "Lady Madonna" and "Across the Universe".   John contended that Paul purposely undercut him by bringing in a couple of young ladies off the street to sing backup vocals on "Across the Universe".    Although I greatly prefer this original version, which only saw the light of day on a charity album until it reappeared on the "Rarities" LP in the 80s, I can see John's point that the vocals add nothing to the song and the singers are less than stellar.   Later after the Beatles break-up Paul was quoted complaining about Phil Spector's work on "Let It Be", in part because he added female chorus voices to a Beatles song!  Now that was a twist.
  • The day the band was set to record a video for the new "Lady Madonna" single, John arrived in the studio with a new song  "Hey Bulldog" - and the band decided to film themselves recording it instead, although the official video superimposed LM on the audio track.   HB is a cracker-jack piece of rock and roll and should never have been relegated as a toss-off for inclusion on the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack.
So how could things have gone differently? Perhaps one of George's shelved 1967 tunes such as "Only a Northern Song" could have been the B-side for "Hello Goodbye", and "I Am The Walrus" could have been its own A-side.   Yes, it is the most pyschedelic song they ever recorded, but the world would have eaten it up at that time during the height of their popularity.

While the Beatles were off in India two more singles should have been issued.  "Hey Bulldog" b/w "It's All Too Much" as a follow up to "Lady Madonna".   I say follow up one rocker with another! Then early summer, before "Hey Jude" conquers the universe, "Across The Universe" b/w "All Together Now" would have given light to perhaps the most beautiful, touching, and spiritual song that John ever wrote. It would have required wiping the female harmony vocals but Geoff E. and George M. would have been up to the task, and possibly could have added a minimal string arrangement in its place.

Would all of this had made a difference?   Would John have been pacified enough to prevent him from instilling Yoko at every recording session going forward, thus removing one of the major hindrances to the working relationship between the four Beatles?   Totally unknowable but I do believe that it might have bought more time before the eventual split.   That said, I love "Abbey Road" so much that I am afraid a different path might have resulted in it never being made. 

Anyway, here is the unofficial video for "Hey Bulldog" - which as you can see is what they were actually singing/recording, not "Lady Madonna".  This song just kills me.   And Paul's bass line is just amazing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

She Smiles

And while I am on a post-Zombies kick, how about the opening track from Colin Blunstone's first solo LP "One Year".   Yep, that unmistakable Zombies sound is here, and no wonder as the song was written by Rod Argent and Chris White, the Z's principal songwriters and the men responsible for "Odessey and Oracle".   For my money Colin's soft wispy voice was a key ingredient to the miraculous sound of his former band.   His first solo album is a extremely fine work, full of fine piano pop as well as some gorgeous acoustic ballads.  In fact he had a #15 hit in the UK with "Say You Don't Mind" from this LP, a bouncy piece of early 70's pop written by ex-Moody Blues/future-Wings guitarist Denny Laine.

So here is "She Loves The Way They Love Her", which is also available in a post-Zombies version sung by Rod Argent.  Though Colin's take is the better of the two, with his tenor voice rising high and clear, and a killer production by Rod and Chris with an excellent electric guitar counter melody throughout.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Second Time Around

Even though I have been a Zombies fan since the 60s, I never really investigated the recorded legacy of their sequel, "Argent".   Sure, I heard their hit single "Hold Your Head Up", and I even bought one of their later LPs, but was put off by their prog-ishness as well as the operatic warbling of singer Russ Ballard.  Over the years several Zombies CD compilations have included songs that were written by the Rod Argent/Chris White team and recorded by a rag tag group including some of the ex-Zombies just after the breakup, about the time that "Time Of The Season" nearly topped the charts in the USA.  The quality of those songs - "Imagine The Swan", "Smokey Day" - along with the body of work left behind from the Zombies should have been a hint that there was still some good music lurking from Mr. Argent.

Well ladies and gentlemen, I missed the boat.  Recent posts by George Starostin on his wonderful Only Solitaire blog  indicate that the early Argent records are not so far removed from the Zombies brand of keyboard-driven pop. So I went to my local record store (I want to help keep them in business) and ordered a recently out-of-print CD containing their first two albums, "Argent" and "Ring of Hands".  The first is somewhat of a natural musical progression from "Time Of the Season", with more instrumental bite.  Keep in mind there is no vocalist who could replace Colin Blunstone, but I actually think the Rod Argent has a little bit of Colin's angel in his voice at times.   Rod, Russ, and bassist Jim Rodford were all able to carry a tune, and their combined harmonies are somewhat of a trademark of the Argent sound.  The second album begins to stray a bit further from familiar territory but still has a half dozen Argent/White tunes that contain breathtaking harmonies and melodies.

Here is a great example in "Like Honey", the opening track from the first Argent LP.  I love the way the chorus is just Rod's voice the first time through, then each succeeding iteration piles on more voices, and the harmonies get crunchier.  And in the lovely bridge section, Rod does his best Colin imitation, and it is quite good.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The new release of Paul McCartney's "Ram" is a jaw-dropper.   The enhanced sound is a revelation.   I took the easy way out and bought the 2-CD edition, but am now having seconds thoughts about purchasing the 4-CD/1-DVD special version.  Listen to the bass on "Smile Away" - it simply couldn't be deeper or stronger than if it emanated from the center of the Earth.

This was an LP that took time to grow on me.  Like everyone else back in '71 I was tuned in to hear "Beatles".  But over time the songs began to hook me more and more, and now I consider this - along with "Band On the Run" - as the pinnacle of Paul's solo output.  I will go out on a limb here to mention that one of the joys of "Ram" for me is Paul's inclusion of Linda, both as a backup singer as well as subject matter for many of the songs.  It makes it personal in such a way that it clearly shows how much affection he felt for her.  As for her singing - here at least - I actually dig it.  She doesn't have a lot of emotional range but she can be really snotty/scolding, as when she counters "is this the only thing you want me for?"in "Long Haired Lady".  Her harmonies in "Too Many People" are actually part of the charm of what may be one of Paul's finest post-Beatles songs. I will not get into a John/Yoko vs. Paul/Linda comparison because it is like comparing apples to oranges.   Let's just say that I feel no need to pull out any of my Yoko/Plastic Ono Band LPs to revisit her musical legacy.

Understandably none of the new enhanced recordings are available on YouTube, so here is a rare mono version of one of my favorite rockers on the album - "Smile Away". Have always loved this tune because Paul just lets loose and kicks up a dust storm.  Sure the lyrics are silly but the joy is so present that I just laugh along with him.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Don't Cover it Up

Generally I am not a big fan of covers albums, but in 1994 "If I Were a Carpenter" paid tribute to the sugar sweet body of work left behind by Karen and Richard Carpenter in a way that made me realize that with the right touch, many of their songs were actually great tunes needing a little harder edge.  Nothing against Karen's voice, for in fact I think she had one of the great pop voices of my lifetime.  And when placed in the right context, such as their almost power-pop hit "Goodbye To Love", the fuzz guitar explosions propel the song into a universe that the Carpenters rarely chose to enter.

Case in point for the covers album, check out the version of "Hurting Each Other" by Johnette Napolitano and Marc Moreland.   With an almost metal Spector wall-of-sound arrangement and a thundering bass propelling it along, it becomes a mantra to end the pain.   Other than an ill-advised cover of "Close to You" by the Cranberries the CD is really worth checking out.

Monday, May 28, 2012


When I was eleven years old, I had little understanding of the dramatic changes that were taking place in pop music.   As a diehard Beatle fan I was of course on board with their 1966 single "Paperback Writer/Rain".   That b-side though was a sign post that things were changing.   Droning guitar, stop/start drumming, a vocal melody that moves at a glacial pace at odds with the instruments.

Looking back it seems clear that 1966 was a watershed year for a lot of bands, not just the Fab Four. And in fact one of my all time favorite Kinks albums was released that year.  With "Face to Face" Ray Davies took a big step forward with his songwriting, beginning his investigation of the minutia of modern life and those who live it.  There is of course the great three song arc (though not occurring consecutively on the LP) that traces the rise and fall of a man who once rode the wave of capitalism to its heights, only to lose everything and find himself with only a "Sunny Afternoon" to enjoy.   That album is chock full of great tunes and arrangements.   And for some reason the closing song - which tells no tawdry story but more than makes up for it with a joyful guitar lick, jaunty rhythm, and a lyrical precursor to Mr. Davies' songs which deal with memories -  has always been a personal favorite just because it makes me happy.  Really happy.  So if you wish to get happy with me, give a listen to "I'll Remember".

Monday, May 7, 2012

For Some Signpost That Is Not There

Many bands would have called it quits after the departure of two major contributors.  In 1969, Matthew Fisher left Procol Harum after producing their third (and perhaps finest) LP - A Salty Dog.  As the second major songwriter and singer in the group, his presence would be greatly missed.  Then in 1971 lead guitarist extraordinaire Robin Trower left the band for a solo career.  However the band did soldier on successfully mostly due to the charisma of singer/songwriter/pianist Gary Brooker.  But I would be negligent if I did not mention the other long time member who stayed the course - their drummer, B.J. Wilson. In many quarters he is considered to be one the of top rock drummers of all time.  Luckily there are few live recorded videos of the post-Fisher/Trower Harum which give an inkling of just what a force of nature Mr. Wilson could be.

Here is a TV performance from 1971 with Dave Ball as lead guitarist.  His stay with the band was so short that he never appeared on any studio albums.  But he had chops sufficient to play Robin Trower's licks with fire and intensity.   And what better tune to do so than Shine On Brightly, with its deep space beacon/siren as accompaniment to a fine tale of descent into madness.   And best of all - B.J. Wilson putting on a clinic on how to be a rock drummer.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Can’t find work since the band left town

Sometimes I just wanna rock out.   And when I really want to let go, the first tune I want to hear is the Guess Who's Heartbroken Bopper from 1972's tragically ignored Rockin' LP.  By this point Randy Bachmann had departed (after American Woman) and was replaced by - count 'em - two guitarists.  Both of these guys, Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw, were excellent in their own right, but on those occasions when they paired for a twin lead guitar attack they could absolute pummel the listener. IMHO Kurt was every bit as fine a songwriter and guitarist as Bachmann, with a harder edge.  Accounts from back in the day paint him as somewhat of a Canadian hoser a'la Bob and Doug McKenzie of the Great White North on SCTV. In other words, he liked to party.

So wait for it - those introductory :43 seconds of noodling are setting up the listener for one of the most thuddingly powerful guitar intros ever.  And then when singer/jokester Burton Cummings comes at 1:13 he proceeds to tell the short and sad story of an unidentified hoser.   Mr. Cummings has a dossier filled with songs about similar losers and down-and-out individuals - remember Albert Flasher, or John with the gun in Rain Dance?   Maybe someday I will make an inventory of them.

Night school strutter just struttin’ around
Can’t find work since the band left town
Can’t get up cause he can’t get down

He’s a heartbroken bopper

Honor roll student graduation day
Summa cum laude is a big okay
Car wash king is havin' beans today

He’s a heartbroken bopper

Monday, April 23, 2012

Gunpowder Treason Day

John Lennon's first solo LP - Plastic Ono Band - has been on my mind a lot.  I recently watched a documentary about the making of the album on Netflix.   Then caught a blog post over at Alex's place and felt compelled to write something about it here.

When the album was released in 1970 I was a sophomore in high school.  For a period of a few years I had detached from popular music and culture and so missed out on most of the hoopla relating to the break up of the Beatles and their individual ventures into solo work. But a few years later when I entered college, I suddenly and vociferously began to investigate the back catalog of the ex Beatles.  I made up for lost time and bought everything I could get my hands on.  In the span of a few weeks I was introduced to Ram, Imagine, All Things Must Pass, McCartney, as well as some lesser output such as George's odd Wonderwall Music.   Friends had warned me that John's early solo output was depressing and tuneless.   So I waited a bit before jumping in.   But once I did, my perception of John Lennon changed dramatically.

Stripped of the high varnish of a George Martin production, POB immediately took me out into left field.   Comprised only of John's raw singing, angry guitar work, pounding piano chords, and the amazing rhythm section of Ringo and Klaus Voorman, there was something so new, so different in these sounds that I scarcely recognized it as John Lennon.   Ringo and Klaus formed a nucleus around each song from which John was freed to emote and/or scorch.  This was a soul baring exercise from a man who excelled at hiding his true feelings behind layers of words and images.  Immediately upon first listen I was captivated.  To me the music is liberating and in most cases even uplifting.  Even when John is pulling the scabs off of wounds - as in "Mother" - the experience is both devastating and yet cleansing.  I understand why he wanted to sing about it.

Overall the quality of the POB documentary was excellent.  The interviews were pertinent, most of the interviewees had insights to offer, and the breakdown of the music into single tracks (vocal, drums, etc.) was enlightening.   My one complaint is that a few of the songs were glossed over.  This was most evident for "Remember", which was barely heard for a few seconds.   Totally undeserving of being ignored, as it has some of the most interesting music on the LP.  To this day I have not figured out the changing meters.  And for the longest time I never understood the last line - "Remember the 5th of November" - which is followed by the sound of an explosion.   But thanks for Google I now know that John was referring to an annual fireworks night in Britain which celebrates the failure of a group attempting to blow up King James I.  Such a typical John Lennon prank to add this reference.

Did you ever feel so bad, and the whole world is slightly mad.  Remember, remember today.  Don't feel sorry, how fate has gone.   Don't you worry 'bout what you done.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mountains pop out of the cake

Whatever I was doing in 1998 I somehow missed one of the great power pop albums of the last twenty years. The Wondermints may be familiar to you as the backing band for Brian Wilson over the last decade, so needless to say they have instrumental chops and vocal harmony prowess in spades. Early on they released a covers album well worth a listen. Their power pop take on Abba's Knowing You Knowing Me is mega tasty. In 1998 they released Bali - their debut of original material. The Beach Boys and Beatles debt is instantly apparent, although to their credit the songwriting is quite original in its synthesis of the last 40 years of pop music.

It was a difficult choice to cull just one song from the album for this blog, but I decided to go with In And Around Greg Lake. Yes that really is the title and I have not a clue as to what it is really about. The lyrics contain references to MacArthur park ("left the cake out in the rain"), the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and of course the obtuse geographical place name attributed to the fine guitarist from ELP.

On a side note, Mr. Lake was the only member of ELP that I have much appreciation for, and to this day it is his songs From the Beginning and Lucky Man that remain listenable to me. But I digress. From the opening piano ostinato chords pumping away, IAAGL hooked me from first listen. There is definitely an Abbey Road vibe to this song, especially the searing guitar and bass hooks that come out of nowhere. Consider this a one-off as nothing else on the album sounds remotely like it - but believe me it is all just as compelling.