Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30: Willie Nelson, "Red Headed Stranger"

Artist: Willie Nelson
Song: "Red Headed Stranger"
Album: Red Headed Stranger
Year: 1975

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Within the world of music, there is a massive group of artists without whom music today would no exist, and yet their names remain virtually unknown.  As the architects for nearly every form of music, this group rarely receive as much credit as they deserve, as one simply does not have progress in music without writers.  If one looks back into each era of every genre, there are countless individuals who are responsible for massive hit songs, yet they themselves never took the stage.  Though they may have had musical talent, for one reason or another, it was their writing that reigned supreme, and it is truly tragic that a majority of these names never received their due.  Yet in each generation, one or two of these writers does manage to break through into the performance side of music, and there is one man who perfectly embodies this struggle in every aspect: Willie Nelson.  Having made his name writing hit songs throughout the 1960's (like Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Billy Walker's "Funny How Time Slips Away"), Nelson struggled to gain individual success as a performer, but found himself on failing record labels, and even with a handful of moderate-charting singles, he was simply unable to break into the mainstream.  So, in 1972, Willie Nelson "retired" from music, but after seeing the crossover potential between country and rock music, he returned to recording, and after a few albums, he unleashed his classic concept record, 1975's Red Headed Stranger.  Unquestionably one of the strangest themes every explored in depth, the album perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Willie Nelson such an amazing musician, and there is perhaps no song that defines him better than the albums' title track.

In reality, while Willie Nelson was trying to find the space between country and rock music, "Red Headed Stranger" is about as "classic country" as one will find anywhere.  Containing little more than an acoustic guitar, bass, and drums, the song is a slow, eerie story that one can easily picture being sung around a campfire.  Yet this seemed to matter very little, as the song played a vital role in the albums' success, and it remains one of Nelson's "signature" songs to this day.  The stripped down, simple instrumentation is, in fact, one of the most endearing aspects of the song, as bassist Bee Spears finds a way to make this basic arrangement avoid anything resembling "boring."  Similarly, the minimalist, waltz-style drumming of Paul English proves to be nothing short of perfect.  With Nelson rounding out the sound with his guitar strumming, the fact that this song was able to find success as overly-artificial and disco music were on the rise is almost inexplicable.  Yet it is this uncomplicated style that gives "Red Headed Stranger" its uncanny sense of intimacy, and the ability to create this sort of mood is one of the aspects that defined every turn fo Willie Nelson's career, as he was able to inject it into his early writing for others as easily as he did on his own recordings.  It is also perhaps this straightforward musical approach that makes the song so timeless, as the music never sounds "dated," and in many ways, the song would sound almost identical if it was recorded today.

Yet even with as distinctive as the sound of Willie Nelson's songs is, there is simply nothing that can compare to his voice, and it is without question one of the most uniquely recognizable voices in the entire history of music.  Constantly falling somewhere between singing and speaking, Willie Nelson possesses one of the most outright natural and honest voices ever, and the almost peculiar way in which he spaces his words further separates him from every other vocalist.  On "Red Headed Stranger," his voice is truly perfect, and it completes the feeling of sitting around a campfire, listening to the story being told.  Comforting, yet somewhat disturbing at the same time, Nelson is able to deliver the odd lyrics with a style in which most people completely miss the fact that these are some of the most haunting and questionable words ever recorded.  The overall theme of the song "Red Headed Stranger" makes the case that if a prostitute steals your dead wife's horse, it is alright to kill her for this crime.  Keeping the story completely ambiguous, the characters are only referred to as "red headed stranger" and "yellow haired lady," and this allows for interpretation across all boundaries.  Yet when the song is over, it leaves a rather large moral question in the air, defined when Nelson sings, "...the yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset, the stranger went free, of course. For you can't hang a man for killin' a woman, who's tryin' to steal your horse..."

Filled with amazing juxtapositions from every angle, Willie Nelson crafted a subtle musical masterpiece with his often misunderstood 1975 song, "Red Headed Stranger."  From the clash between the seedy, creepy lyrics and the cheery, yet simple music to the unwavering way in which Nelson sings these morally questionable words, the song is anything but the simple way in which it is largely perceived.  Though the stripped down instrumentation sticks firmly in the country style, one can make the case that there are only a few occasions previous where such a sound has been so perfectly set against such a disturbing tale.  Yet somehow, Willie Nelson is able to "get away" with this, and most listeners completely miss the underlying theme which is in no way buried within the song.  Perhaps lost on most due to the calm, yet distinctive nature of Nelson's voice, "Red Headed Stranger" is a true work of genius and firmly cemented Nelson's name as an individual who was as talented a performer as he had already proven to be a writer.  Though a majority of his songs were far more "traditional" in nature, it is within the "oddities" of the Willie Nelson catalog that one finds his finest work, as he is clearly one of the most uniquely talented performers in music history.  A true music icon to this day, the name "Willie Nelson" alone demands the utmost respect, and one would be hard pressed to find a better example of everything that makes him such a legend as one will find in his classic 1975 song, "Red Headed Stranger."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April 29: Agent Orange, "Bloodstains"

Artist: Agent Orange
Song: "Bloodstains"
Album: Living In Darkness
Year: 1981

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Album Version) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN ("Darkness" Version) (will open in new tab)

Though many may try to deny the connection, it is impossible to ignore the strong bond between the styles of surf rock and punk rock.  From the carefree feeling to the actual musical constructs of both genres, there are countless examples of how similar the two sounds are at their core.  Though clearly, the punk sound borrowed from the surf sound, when the two styles collide, it can yield some of the most exciting and original music ever recorded and few bands capture this idea as perfectly as one finds in the music of punk legends, Agent Orange.  Pulling heavily from the surf sound, as well as unquestionably incorporating a strong foundation in heavy metal, the group's music remains some of the most fierce and original ever recorded, and this core sound can be heard in the later projects of the band members.  This unique sound set them far apart from their peers, and few bands since have so brilliantly fused together these seemingly distant sounds.  Furthermore, though the band has gone through a handful of lineup changes, Agent Orange remains one of the few of the "early" punk bands that still performs and records to this day.  Though they are often overlooked, one cannot deny the fact that Agent Orange was leaps and bounds ahead of their peers, and the amount of influence that the band has had on later groups is similarly undeniable.  As is the case with many bands, it is Agent Orange's first full length recording, 1981's Living In Darkness, that stands as their best, and the album is powered by the classic song, "Bloodstains."

In reality, there are actually two rather distinct versions of "Bloodstains," though the second was not made widely available until Rhino Records re-released the album in 1992.  In fact, this "second" version of the song, dubbed the "Darkness" version, was originally recorded for the EP that got Agent Orange their record deal, and the song was then re-recorded for the full length album.  Both versions follow the exact same musical progression, yet the "Darkness" version is far more aggressive and has a faster pace.  Within the music itself, "Bloodstains" is driven by the brilliant guitar work of band founder, Mike Palm.  With the speedy, crunching riff, the song captures everything that makes punk rock great, and yet the solos are unquestionably derived from the surf rock sound.  Along with this, the winding, almost stalking bass of James Levesque (LP) and Steve Soto (EP) is a perfect compliment, and the fact that such a similar sound was able to be achieved by two different players is one of the things that makes "Bloodstains" such a distinctive track.  Rounded out by the drumming of Scott Miller, the song is a true punk anthem, and few recordings so perfectly mix together such distant musical sounds.  The fact that Palm is able to make the surf-style solo fit so flawlessly into a song that is unquestionably punk serves as a testament to his amazing abilities, and it is this fusion of sounds that makes "Bloodstains" so distinctive.  The entire band moves as a single unit as they careen around corners, and at its core, "Bloodstains" is a truly "fun" song, and this is clearly a key element in why it remains such a classic.

Along with writing and playing guitar, Mike Palm also handled vocal duties on "Bloodstains," and he proves to have one of the most ideal punk voices, and the sound of his singing is instantly recognizable.  Sounding most akin to Jello Biafra, Palm's voice has all the grit one could want in a punk singer, and the spirit he brings to the vocals pushes him into the most elite of all singers of his style.  When the rest of the band joins in for the chorus, it becomes clear that at its core, "Bloodstains" is a true punk anthem, and one can easily imagine the song being shouted at Agent Orange's live performances.  It is this group spirit that not only embodies the ethos of the punk style, but it is what makes "Bloodstains" so amazing, and along with the singing, one can find it in equal measure within the lyrics.  Truly a song that can be applied to nearly any situation, few lyrics so perfectly capture the angst and frustration of being "down and out."  While the opening verse speaks to being judged and looked down upon my parents and authority, Palm takes an almost passive-aggressive approach when he sings, "...they can tell me lots of things, but I can't see eye to eye..."  Clearly working around the idea of "listening but not buying in" with the ideals of others, Palm makes it easy for like-minded individuals to be "proud" of their unique views.  Yet in the second verse of "Bloodstains," Palm turns the pen on his peers, and questions the "authenticity" of the punk world at the time when he sings, "...things seem so much different now, the scene has died away..."  Bringing a brutal honesty with a vocal delivery that refused to be taken lightly, "Bloodstains" perfectly represents everything that makes punk rock great.

While Agent Orange may not have as instantly recognizable a name as many other seminal punk bands, their influence on alter artists cannot be denied.  In reality, one can even make the claim that The Offspring completely lifted the core riff from "Bloodstains" on their own hit song, "Come Out And Play."  Though the later group denies this fact, simply listening to the two songs makes this denial very hard to believe.  Regardless, if nothing else, it solidifies the importance of Agent Orange, and one would be hard pressed to find a group that so seamlessly brings together the sounds of punk rock and surf rock.  The bands' debut record even features covers of surf classics like "Miserlou" and "Pipeline," yet there is also never a question of the groups' base within the punk style.  Largely the brainchild of Mike Palm, "Bloodstains" is perhaps the ultimate punk crossover, as the band makes no attempt to hide their love for surf rock, and somehow manages to make a clearly surf-based solo fit perfectly into the punk chaos that they created.  The trio bring as much power and angst as larger bands, and on both versions, the group manages to create an uncanny sense of tension that drives the song to a brilliant frenzy that surely set off any and every live crowd.  Based around Palm's core guitar riff, it is within this aspect of the music that one can also hear the influence of the heavy metal sound, and the fact that the group was able to incorporate this sound as well makes the song even more impressive.  Though often lost among the "larger names" of the punk movement, one would be hard pressed to find a more uniquely innovative band of the genre than Agent Orange, and their musical brilliance is perfectly captured on their legendary song, "Bloodstains."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 28: Lionel Hampton, "Midnight Sun"

Artist: Lionel Hampton
Song: "Midnight Sun"
Album: Hamp
Year: 1947

**Sorry, no recording link...I could not get a clean rip from my can find a number of versions all over the internet.**

Obviously, it goes without saying that every song has some sort of beginning, a point where it became known to the world.  Even the most oft-covered song has some moment of origin, and in many cases, these first incarnations occurred so early in the history of recorded music that they have been forgotten over the decades.  During these early years of the "recorded era," it was largely the single singers and the big bands that were responsible for bringing music to the masses, and due to this, many of the most significant songs in history were birthed by these artists.  While names like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong remain dominant to this day, when it comes to a true musical visionary, one cannot overlook the amazing contributions of the one and only Lionel Hampton.  Unquestionably the finest jazz vibraphonist in history, "Hamp" spent more than six decades making records, and he is responsible for not only some of the most significant recordings in history, but also for singlehandedly moving both the jazz and big band sounds forward.  Lionel Hampton is also credited as the first musician to ever formally record the vibraphones when he sat in with Armstrong for a session in 1930.  Easily one of the most open minded musicians in history, Hampton constantly sought new and exciting ways to fuse his signature sound into the new musical forms that emerged over the decades.  With a massive catalog of fantastic recordings from his entire career, it was one of his first recordings that stands as his most significant.  Since covered by countless artists across nearly every musical genre, there are few cover versions that can compare to the phenomenal musical experience that is Lionel Hampton's 1947 masterpiece, "Midnight Sun."

While there are a massive amount of cover versions of "Midnight Sun" that have been recorded over the years, Hampton himself also cut a number of different takes of the composition.  While it was a shorter, three and a half minute version that would become the standard for covers, it is the full, six minute take that stands as the definitive version.  Recorded with his full band in tow, it is very much Lionel Hampton's show, yet the manner in which his backing musicians move around his stunning playing must be noted.  While he rarely takes a break during the six minute run of the song, he does step back and let his pianist vamp on the songs' key phrase.  This brief solo proves to be perfectly timed, and the contrast between the soft, almost muted piano in comparison to Hampton's bright, almost aggressive vibraphone playing is truly fantastic.  Keeping things light and airy throughout, Lionel Hampton's rhythm section is able to perfectly walk the line between jazz and big band, as they keep things in a subdued mood over the course of the song, yet there is an unquestionable sense of swing that runs underneath their playing.  This ability to present a contrast in sound is not only what makes each of these musicians so fantastic, but it serves as a testament to the musical brilliance of Hampton, as well as his ability as a band leader.  As the song moves through the various sections of Hampton's composition, it quickly becomes one of the most unforgettable instrumentals in history, and along with its longevity, it is similarly one of the most beautiful pieces ever committed to recorded tape.

Throughout the original recording, Lionel Hampton himself quickly proves why he is such a unique talent, and also why there has never been another jazz vibraphonist that even comes close to his amazing abilities.  In many ways, his performance on "Midnight Sun" perfectly encapsulates the word "slinky," as he slides and jibes around the song, creating an absolutely amazing musical texture.  Dancing all over the instrument, Hampton is clearly "in the zone" throughout, and his performance music be experienced firsthand to be properly understood.  It is also "Midnight Sun" that solidified the vibraphones as a "legitimate" jazz instrument, and without Hampton's work, and more specifically this recording, one can easily make the case that the instrument would never have found fame via a number of later players.  However, while each of the musicians found on this instrumental version are truly fantastic, "Midnight Sun" stands as a bit of an oddity in the history of music, as there are lyrics to the song, but they were not revealed until later in the songs' history.  Artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Mel Tormé recorded versions of the song, and it was almost unrecognizable when compared to the original, mostly due to the addition of the lyrics penned by Hampton, along with writing partners Sonny Burke and Johnny Mercer.  Truth be told, the lyrics to the song take "Midnight Sun" to an entirely new level of sonic beauty, and one would be hard pressed to find finer words than, "...was there such a night, it's a thrill I still don't quite believe...but after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve..."  This combination of unguarded emotion and true elegance is a rarity anywhere in music, and this final touch is what makes "Midnight Sun" a song like no other.

As songs are covered and reworked over the decades, many of them take on such unique forms, that they barely show any resemblance to the place from which they originally came.  From alterations in tempo or instrumentation, as each artist puts their own spin on a song, it often makes the original become nothing more than a relic of the past.  However, in a handful of cases, this first recording is so unmatched in terms of musical brilliance that it simply cannot be surpassed.  Adding on the fact that it was the song that is largely responsible for the relevance of vibraphones as a jazz instrument, one cannot overstate the importance of Lionel Hampton's first recording of his song, "Midnight Sun."  The fact that this song remains so important, yet the original lacks the fantastic lyrics, makes it even more surprising that it has persevered over the decades, and it serves as a testament to just how amazing a performance one finds in this early recording.  Pianists from Oscar Peterson to Art Tatum have all taken shots at interpreting the composition, yet none come close to the amazing tone and performance that Hampton presents on his original.  Combining the swing of the big band sound with the more open and loose approach of jazz, "Midnight Sun" is very much an early example of "musical crossover," and it is yet another reason why the song is so significant.  Though his name is often an afterthought to the so-called "greats" of the early jazz and big band era, one need look no further than his 1947 masterpiece, "Midnight Sun" to understand why Lionel Hampton remains an artist like no other in music history.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27: Run-D.M.C., "Run's House"

Artist: Run-D.M.C.
Song: "Run's House"
Album: Tougher Than Leather
Year: 1988

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

While songs of boasting and self-promotion are nothing new to any musical genre, they are perhaps no more common than in the hip hop industry.  Whether bragging about their individual talents, the prowess of their group, how tough their hometown is, or simply how superior rap music is, it is nearly impossible to find any group or individual that has not recorded at least one song with such a theme.  While in a majority of cases, songs such as these are "throw out" tracks, and perhaps nothing more than "filler" for the record, there are a few instances in which these boasting songs are not only as good as the rest of the album, but true classics of the hip-hop genre.  Many of these rare occurrences happened during the so-called "golden age" of hip-hop, before emcees took the luxury of using a curse word every third word in their rhymes.  Taking all of this into account, whenever one is looking for an example of brilliant execution during the "golden age" of hip-hop, one rarely needs to look any further than the Kings Of Rock themselves, Run-D.M.C.  Their name alone remains one of the most highly respected across any genre in music history, and it goes without saying that without their massive contributions, the entire hip-hop genre likely would have never achieved the mainstream success that it enjoys to this day.  Having already taken over the world with their monumental 1986 record, Raising Hell, the group unleashed another powerful array of hip-hop classics two years later on Tougher Than Leather,  Addressing their own skills as well as the fact that hip-hop was "here to stay," Run-D.M.C. rarely sounds better than they do on their iconic 1988 single, "Run's House."

Without question, one of the biggest things that Run-D.M.C. had working in their favor on "Run's House" is the fact that the song was created before all of the royalty lawsuits began, and Jam Master Jay's sampling of James Brown's "Funky Drummer" remains one of the most memorable hooks in the history of the genre.  It is this looped horn hook that drives the song, and yet "Run's House" also stands as one of the earliest "heavy bass" tunes of the genre.  When the bass hits during the choruses, one can see it as a turning point in the genre, as before "Run's House," it is far more difficult to find the bass with the same tone and resonance.  Furthermore, Jam Master Jay uses this song to once again showcase his brilliant scratching skills, and the flawless execution that he displays in every aspect of DJing serves as a testament as to why he was as essential a member of the group as either of its emcees.  While in the overall picture of Run-D.M.C.'s catalog, "Run's House" might take a "backseat" to tracks like "It's Tricky" and "You Be Illin'," the fact of the matter is, "Run's House" found great chart success, as well as achieving an unpredictable cult-like status over the years.  When it was first released, the song climbed into the top ten on the singles charts, making it the highest charting song off of Tougher Than Leather and clearly making it the driving force behind the albums' overall sales success.  In more recent years, the song was used as the theme to the reality show of the same name, as well as making a hilarious, yet unexpected cameo in Kevin Smith's 1999 Dogma.

While the song itself is as catchy as anything else in the Run-D.M.C. catalog, when one looks over the entire history of hip-hop music, there is simply no other group that sounds quite like Run-D.M.C., and there are few groups that can hand off rhymes as perfectly as they do.  This, in many ways, has always been the aspect that made their records so fantastic, as Run and D.M.C. clearly have a chemistry unlike any other hip-hop pairing, and their lyrical interchanges remain unrivaled to this day.  Both emcees can flip a phrase with the best of all time, and the fact that they execute every rhyme without any need for curse words or other distractions serves as a testament to their uncanny talent as writers as well as rappers.  On "Run's House," one can argue that the primary theme is a brilliant commentary on the fact that, as a genre, hip-hop was not a "passing trend" as many were claiming it to be.  In the first lines, Run rhymes, "...once again my friend, not a trend for then, they said rap was crap but never had this band..."  He later drives the point home, destroying the myth that rapping took no talent or planning when he delivers the lines, "...another time I take, for the rhymes I make, makes me mad and sad because the fad is fake..."  Clearly taking up the case for the rest of the hip-hop world, the group makes it quite clear that rap music is not going anywhere, and such arguments are finally a "waste of breath."  On the flip-side, D.M.C. takes his verse on the song to bring a traditional boasting verse, yet in the process, he delivered what is now a truly iconic rhyme when he spoke, " name is D.M.C., the all time great, I bust the most rhymes in New York State.  While it may seem "old school" in comparison to modern sounds, the fact of the matter is, one can find the entire foundation of quality hip-hop music within the rhymes on "Run's House."

Across every genre of music, there is some clear point when the biggest trends and most commonly used musical phrasings originated, and in the case of the hip-hop world, a great number of these things came from the recordings of Run-D.M.C.  Unquestionably one of the most influential and important musical acts in the history of recorded music, the trio pioneered countless approaches and sounds, as well as gifting onto the world some of the most memorable and commonly quoted rhymes ever.  By the time 1988 rolled around, Run-D.M.C. were already the kings of the hip-hop world, and their legend had already been cemented with their 1986 record, Raising Hell.  Facing a massive amount of hype and pressure for the follow-up recording, the group delivered the brilliant album, Tougher Than Leather, and it was powered by the fantastic single, "Run's House."  With a far more aggressive and confrontational approach than on their previous records, the group addresses the media and fans, and any others who were hoping that rap music would be nothing more than a "passing trend."  Clearly, history shows that the genre not only survived, but quickly became a force on a world-wide level.  From the uniquely toned bass to the superb use of samples to the perfectly executed scratching, Jam Master Jay is in top form throughout "Run's House," and the song remains one of the groups' greatest musical moments.  As they are on every track, Run and D.M.C. are completely in sync with one another, and their dual rhymes have rarely sounded better than on this song.  While the song does perhaps live in the shadows of some of the groups bigger hits, one cannot deny the overall greatness and massive influence found within Run-D.M.C.'s 1988 classic, "Run's House."

Monday, April 26, 2010

April 26: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #17"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and SOME commentary from "The Guru" himself.

1. G Love & Special Sauce, "Don't Drop It"  The Hustle
2. Blondie, "Hanging On The Telephone"  Parallel Lines
3. digital underground, "The Odd Couple"  Who Got The Gravy?
4. Queen, "Killer Queen"  Sheer Heart Attack
5. The Clash, "Police On My Back"  Live At Shea Stadium
6. Willie Nelson (w/ Allison Kraus & Elvis Costello), "Crazy"  Live & Kickin'
7. Dead Meadow, "At The Edge Of The World"  Dead Meadow
8. Motörhead, "(We Are) The Road Crew"  Ace Of Spades
9. The Spinners, "It's A Shame"  It's A Shame (single)
10. Monie Love, "It's A Shame (My Sister)"  Down To Earth
11. Joy Division, "Disorder"  Unknown Pleasures
12. Dee Dee King, "Mashed Potato Time"  Standing In The Spotlight
13. Björk, "It's Not Up To You"  Vespertine
14. Dinosaur Jr., "Creepies"  Farm (bonus disc)
15. The Rondelles, "Mission: Irresistible"  Fiction Romance, Fast Machines
16. Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie, "Koko" Diz N' Bird At Carnegie Hall
17. Jim Morrison, "Angels & Sailors"  An American Prayer
18. Beastie Boys, "Egg Man"  Paul's Boutique

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 25: The Mark Of Cain, "Point Man"

Artist: The Mark Of Cain
Song: "Point Man"
Album: Ill At Ease
Year: 1995

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

When it comes to aggressive, hardcore music, it is not surprising that one of the most common themes is violence in one way or another.  The nature of the music simply works with such a theme, and though there are countless examples of hardcore music going on other directions with great success, it is often these more aggressive subjects that yield the finest results.  Similarly, though the hardcore style of music is dominated by bands based in the U.S., one can find a number of equally fantastic groups from all over the world.  Without question, one of the finest hardcore bands in history hailed from Australia, and there has never been another group that brought the sound and power that one finds within the music of The Mark Of Cain.  Taking heavy influence from groups like Helmet and Fugazi, the band debuted with one of the most powerful records in history, 1989's Battlesick.  Though the record was an instant classic of the genre, the group continued to refine their sound over the next few years, and through a few lineup changes, the group found their sound perfected as a trio, which in itself is a rarity in the hardcore style of music.  Crossing all subject matter, from lost love to rising against adversity, The Mark Of Cain proved to be one of the most talented and powerful groups on the planet, yet for some reason, they never gained much commercial traction.  It is, in fact, their third full length album, 1995's Ill At Ease, that contains their most stunning work, and the true brilliance and sheer power of The Mark Of Cain is perfectly captured on the song, "Point Man."

From the moment "Point Man" begins, it is clearly shaped to be a song that is so powerful, that it attacks the listener at every turn.  Kicking off with a tension filled, simple guitar riff from John Scott, the song quickly fills with a crunching, over-dubbed guitar piece, and then the other two members of the band drop in and the song explodes off of the album.  The cycling, hypnotizing core guitar riff keeps the song in a fantastic feeling of nervous, unsettling aggression, and drummer Aaron Hewson pushes this point home as he sounds as if he is destroying his drum kit during the song.  The tension that Hewson is able to create is truly uncanny, and it is clear that he understands the blues theory of "knowing where NOT to play."  Bassist Kim Scott adds the final, perfect element to "Point Man," and his winding bass gives the song a foreboding, dark mood, and the way in which the trio power through the song as a single unit is absolutely brilliant.  The production on the song is also a major factor, as the instruments move all over the mix, panning from side to side, as well as punching through at various points.  This is no doubt a purposeful plan to make the music "move," and due to this, one cannot overlook the fact that the entire record was produced by hardcore legend, Henry Rollins.  When compared to the rest of The Mark Of Cain's catalog, the album stands out in many ways, and one must give credit to Rollins for his influence on the band, as well as the absolutely brilliant way that he mixed "Point Man."

Along with providing the pulverizing guitar work on "Point Man," John Scott also handles the vocal duties; and in them, he brings a similar amount of aggression and talent.  Though nearly the entire song is done in a spoken vocal format, Scott proves to have an absolutely captivating voice, and it makes the vocals all the more powerful.  Similarly, it is clear that Scott fully understands how to build tension with vocals, and as he builds up to the explosive bridge and chorus sections, the energy and urgency within his voice moves in a similar fashion.  It is at moments like when Scott yells, "...I got a gun, I got the bullets..." and cues the band to erupt at full power, that one is able to fully appreciate the full scope of Scott's vocal talents and his understanding of timing and dramatics within the hardcore form.  When one looks at the subject matter of "Point Man," it is clear, yet one can make the case that it can be applied to a number of different eras.  As the title suggests, the lyrics speak of the Point Man from a military company; the man who goes out ahead of the rest to "scope out" the area and look for the enemy or traps.  Within the song, The Mark Of Cain capture the tension and dark nature of war brilliantly, and the group covers every aspect, from the fighting itself, to the internal struggles of an individual soldier.  Turning the song into a far darker space, Scott refers to a "third" way to die in battle, and that "...she's at home, with your best friend..."  It is this take on the internal battle that soldiers fight that sets "Point Man" apart from any other song about war or fighting, and it is also what makes it a far more grim and sobering song.  Furthermore, the band delves into the idea of "what happens when you get home," and Scott gives a brilliant look into the dark mind created by the war when he speaks, " makes me weak not being out there, I sit around, I can't think anymore..."  Keeping the powerful nature of the music a constant, it is the fact that the subject matter is so fleshed out that makes "Point Man" such an amazing song.

While one can easily make the case that aggressive, if not violent subject matters yield some of the finest hardcore music, one can see that completely fleshing out these ideas can create a far more impressive work of music.  Addressing a number of different aspects of the time-tested "war" theme, The Mark Of Cain created a true classic of the hardcore genre with their sobering, somber tale, "Point Man."  The song itself brings an absolutely unparalleled amount of sheer force, and the fact that all of this sonic power is being created by only three men makes the song all the more impressive.  Quickly making their case as Australia's finest hardcore band, the group unleashes one of the most mesmerizing, unforgettable musical arrangements, and the way in which it truly "moves" on the track is unlike any other hardcore recording in history.  With the unique tone of the guitars, and the crushing, unrelenting attack from the rhythm section, The Mark Of Cain perfectly displays the tension-filled, borderline chaotic nature of war, and it is this "complete picture" that they create that sets "Point Man" so far beyond its peers.  Though the band and album never quite got the worldwide recognition and credit that it truly deserves, the songs themselves have easily withstood the test of time and remain some of the most powerful and perfectly crafted songs to ever come form the hardcore genre.  At every turn, the band is bringing their sound at full force, and to properly understand and appreciate the awesome power of The Mark Of Cain, one must experience their stunning 1995 song, "Point Man."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

April 24: The Isley Brothers, "It's Your Thing"

Artist: The Isley Brothers
Song: "It's Your Thing"
Album: It's Your Thing (single)
Year: 1969

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

There are certain songs in history that have become so classic, so iconic, that many cannot remember the original artist, or even a time when that song did not exist.  Many of these songs emerged during the musical explosion that occurred as the 1960's transitioned into the 1970's, and nearly every genre found new ways to reinvent itself, yielding some of the most fantastic music in history.  While many bands were still firmly rooted in the "old school" sounds, there were a number of artists that took that sound and fused it together with the more "free" and aggressive sounds of the era.  Having already made their name as one of the finest acts to come out of Motown Records, in the late 1960's, The Isley Brothers left the label under rather negative circumstances, and it was then that they found they had a rather significant following in England.  After spending months in England, the band returned to the U.S., but they had found a new sound, and it was with this behind them that they entered the studio to record their first non-Motown songs.  With a far funkier, brighter sound that was a noticeable diversion from the Motown sound that they had become known for, this was clearly a "new" band with something to prove, and they accomplished this quite quickly.  Though their first single as a "new" band would become an anthem for the rights of countless minority groups, one can also hear the song as a "formal" statement against their former record label, and the amazing musical hook and brilliantly crafted lyric is what makes The Isley Brothers' 1969 classic, "It's Your Thing" one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

In truth, while "It's Your Thing" became the rallying cry for the women's rights movement of the alte 1960's and early 1970's, those "in the know" were quite aware of the songs' underlying theme, and the subject matter, combined with the songs' success, led Motown founder Berry Gordy to file a lawsuit against The Isley Brothers in an attempt to bring them back to Motown.  Though this legal battle would stir for nearly a two decades, a judge eventually ruled that the song was recorded after their Motown contract had lapsed, and The Isley Brothers went on to become the first former Motown act to win a Grammy when "It's Your Thing" took home the 1970 award for "Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group."  While their musical approach had no doubt changed with this song, perhaps the most significant change in The Isley Brothers is that "It's Your Thing" is the first of their songs to feature the then seventeen year-old Ernie Isley on bass guitar.  His work is clear immediately, as it is his grooving bassline that kicks the song off, playing alongside the notorious piano hook from Everett Collins.  That simple piano hook is without question one the most heavily sampled piece of music in history, most notably used by hip-hop divas, Salt N' Pepa.  The rest of the music brings the classic sound that made The Isley Brothers one of the most talented acts of the Motown era, and the arrangement by Ronald, O'Kelly, and Rudolph Isley is unquestionably one of their finest, with bright horns punctuating each measure.  Finishing off the brilliant sound is the almost ska-esque guitar work of Charles "Skip" Pitts, and the massive wall of sound that dominates the track is unforgettable and absolutely extraordinary.

With the bright, funky grooves behind him, the vocals of Ronald Isley are equally fantastic, and the soulful, funky way in which he delivers them is nothing short of amazing.  Though he never truly screams on the song, the power that emanates from his voice gives that perception, and it is this small characteristic that truly pushes the lyrics into something special.  Even with the more aggressive vocal approach, there is a wonderfully smooth quality to Ronand's voice, and the way in sets against the horns is nothing short of musical bliss.  Jumping all over the vocal spectrum, Ronald sings with a tight, funky swing, and there has truly never been another vocal track that even comes close to the unique sound he achieves on "It's Your Thing."  Along with the sensational music and top-notch vocal work, The Isley Brothers gave the world some of the most memorable lyrics in history, and the way in which they can be applied to countless situations is the key to their longevity.  It is the songs' chorus which can be interpreted most widely, as the lines, "'s your thing, do what you wanna do...I can't tell you, who to sock it to..." has become one of the most iconic refrains in music history.  Taken by many disenfranchised groups as their rallying cry, one can also clearly see the lines as a stand against the restrictions The Isley Brothers felt during their time at Motown Records.  Many infer that it was these very lines that ignited the lawsuit, and yet it is the same lines that turned the song into such a classic and make it instantly recognizable more than forty years later.

In every aspect, from the music to the lyrics, few songs in history are as instantly and widely recognizable as The Isley Brothers' 1969 classic, "It's Your Thing."  Flawlessly blending together the classic sound which they solidified in their years at Motown, with a bright spin that they developed from their touring in England, the song represents a true "rebirth" of the band, and it is the song for which they are best remembered.  The deep, yet upbeat groove makes "It's Your Thing" one of the most irresistible dance songs in history, as the second the song begins, it is impossible not to bob your head or shake your butt.  This, in essence, is the true key to a great song; one that is just as enjoyable after countless listenings, and few bands mastered the craft as perfect as The Isley Brothers on "It's Your Thing."  Though Charles "Skip" Pitts is perhaps best known for his playing on Isaac Hayes' "Shaft," his diversity in playing is highlighted here, and the saxophone from George Patterson creates an unrivaled balance in the musical presentation.  Bringing together all of these different musical elements, and then adding in the youthful aggression of Ernie Isley, "It's Your Thing" was destined for greatness, and the song is a shining example of how much adversity can lead to amazing accomplishments in artistic endeavors.  The song also serves as a turning point in music, as one can make the case that the song provides early traces of disco, and it was this later form that grew from the roots of the funk-soul fusion.  A truly perfect song in every aspect, one simply cannot picture a world in which The Isley Brothers' monumental 1969 song, "It's Your Thing" did not exist.

Friday, April 23, 2010

April 23: Sons Of Elvis, "Formaldehyde"

Artist: Sons Of Elvis
Song: "Formaldehyde"
Album: Glodean
Year: 1994

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

While the idea of the "one hit wonder," the band that has a hit single and never finds similar success, has been well documented over the years, there is in fact another definition of this term, and it functions in a more strange, and far more rare manner.  If one looks deep into the history of recorded music, there are a handful of groups that found small success with their music, and largely due to the fumbling of record labels, were not given a "fair shot" at larger success, though their music is equal to, if not superior to the hits of the era in which they recorded.  Standing as a shining example of this exceptionally rare phenomena is the early 1990's rock act, Sons Of Elvis.  Bringing a bright, unique sound, these Cleveland, OH natives had a style and energy that provided a brilliant contrast to the more somber grunge music that dominated the music scene at the time.  After finding small success in their hometown, the quartet moved to New York City to attend college, and it was there a the group caught the attention of a number of record labels, eventually signing to an indie-label, American Empire Records.  Shortly after the signing, the label went under, and Sons Of Elvis were picked up by the newly-formed "rock division" at Priority Records.  Again, the band suffered the ills of inexperience and ineptitude on the part of their label, and their 1994 release, Glodean, was never really given a "fair" shot for success.  Regardless, the album is absolutely fantastic, putting to shame a majority of the albums that sold millions of copies that year.  With a strong, distinctive tone, the album is highlighted by one of the most tragically unheard songs of the 1990's, Sons Of Elvis' brilliant rocker, "Formaldehyde."

In nearly every aspect, "Formaldehyde" provides a stark, yet wonderful contrast to the morose sounds of the grunge movement that were taking over the world in 1994.  From the moment "Formaldehyde" begins, there is a bright, energizing tone to the song, set into place by the perfectly distorted guitar of Tim Parnin.  This mood is taken further by the fantastic interplay between Parnin's electric guitar and the acoustic guitar that handles the rhythm parts for the entire song.  Though it is an age-old technique, it rarely works as well as it does on "Formaldehyde," and this dual sound is one of the keys to the overall greatness of the song.  Also setting the tone for the song from the onset is the brilliant bassline from Dave Hill.  As it winds and pounds through the song, it quickly becomes one of the most unforgettable and uniquely funky bass progressions in history, and one can easily make the case that the fact that the bass is so far forward at the top of the song is one of the most alluring aspects of "Formaldehyde."  Rounding out the band is drummer Pat Casa, and his superb performance across his entire kit is one of the most uniquely fantastic displays of any drummer of the era.  In truth, Casa is able to make the song have an odd "shimmer" that is unlike anything else ever recorded, and yet he is simultaneously able to keep the band firmly rooted in a hard rock sound.  The overall sound put forth by Sons Of Elvis on "Formaldehyde" is truly the ideal sound of the growing "alternative" sound of the era, and after hearing it just once, one cannot help but ponder how the song did not take over the entire world.

Perfectly complimenting the beaming mood of the music on "Formaldehyde," the vocals of John Borland are equally fantastic in every aspect.  With a voice that has a tone and pitch unlike any other singer in history, one can easily hear the pure excitement that bursts from him at every turn of the song.  It is this sort of genuine enjoyment of performance that makes a song ruly special, and it is a rare occasion that one will find it captured in this manner.  Staying in the vocal range where he sounds strongest, Borland creates most of his emotion through the power with which he delivers each line.  From the more mellow verse to the jumping, almost screamed bridge and chorus, the inflection in his voice gives "Formaldehyde" an amazing sense of the dramatic and also gives the song an uncanny sense of depth and pure power.  Yet his upbeat singing and music is set in brilliant contrast to the subject matter of the song, as the title of "Formaldehyde" is a fantastic allusion to the theme about which Borland is singing.  While the song can be interpreted on multiple levels, perhaps the most intriguing is when one sees the song as commentary on a busted relationship.  Though many have referred to a relationship as "dead" over the decades, none have ever taken quite the approach that is found on "Formaldehyde," and when Borland sings lines like, "...keep digging my way up, from the hole you've got me in...I won't be back too soon..."  The contrast between the mood of the song and the lyrics is truly fantastic, and it is yet another reason why the songs' lack of world-wide success is more inexplicable.

When a record label brings on a new band and the group does not live up to their hype, it is understandable that the record label does not go "all out" to promote the record in question.  Yet when the situation is reversed, and the inexperience and ineptitude of the record label causes a truly amazing album to be denied proper publicity, it is nothing short of a musical tragedy.  Case in point is the alternative rock band Sons Of Elvis and their truly fantastic 1994 record, Glodean.  Standing far superior to a majority of the albums being released at the time, the group brings a distinctive tone and approach to their music, and everything from the musical arrangements to the lyrics are perfectly executed.  On an album filled with great songs, the single "Formaldehyde" stands out from the others, and it was able to find moderate chart success, as well as being featured in a few movies.  The fact that both of these instances occurred, and yet the record label was unable to properly market the band for success shows just how much the "swing" of the label can make or break an artist.  After hearing Glodean, one can easily make the case that had Sons Of Elvis been properly marketed, they would have been one of the most successful acts of the era.  Perfectly toned and mixed guitar work from Tim Parnin and the rhythm section of Hill and Casa are unlike any of their peers, and the production from Mr. Colson (of L7 fame) makes the album a truly special musical effort.  While there are countless songs labeled as "one hit wonders," one can ONLY wonder why the record label did not do more for Sons Of Elvis, as there is a true musical classic within their 1994 single, "Formaldehyde."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22: Otis Rush, "I Can't Quit You Baby"

Artist: Otis Rush
Song: "I Can't Quit You Baby"
Album: I Can't Quit You Baby (single)
Year: 1956

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (ORIGINAL) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (1967 VERSION) (will open in new tab)

As has been proven by countless artists of the decades, simple because a song is slow, it does not necessarily mean that the song lacks in soul or intensity.  In many cases, it is quite the opposite, and the most moving and powerful songs ever recorded ten to be slower and less overtly aggressive at first glance.  Many of the songs of this nature come from the blues genre, and when one looks deeper into the source of the music and lyrics, there are a stunning number of occasions when one will stumble across the name Willie Dixon.  From Little Walter to Chuck Berry to Muddy Waters, Dixon's writing credits boast many of the most iconic songs in history, and though he was not the performer, he is often given "full" credit for the songs when they were covered in later years.  Though he worked with a massive number of artists over his years, there were few that so perfectly captured the true emotion and soul behind his words than the gray Chicago bluesman, Otis Rush.  A many who was unquestionably one of the most important figures in the formation of the so-called "West side" guitar style, and he has one of the most instantly recognizable sounds in the history of recorded music.  On pure talent, there are few artists from any point in history that even come remotely close to Otis Rush, yet in comparison, he remains a "second tier" blues artist, though his influence can be heard across the musical spectrum.  While one can make the case that Otis Rush never made a "bad" recording, there are few songs in history that can compare to the tone and power of his 1956 collaboration with Dixon, the iconic single, "I Can't Quit You Baby."

There are actually a number of different recorded versions of "I Can't Quit You Baby," as Otis Rush revisited the song on a number of occasions over the decades.  While the 1956 version is an absolute classic, in many ways, it is the slightly longer version he recorded in 1967 that became the "standard" for covers over the years.  This second version is far more clear, and features a different musical arrangement, centered around a rather unorthodox "turnaround," where the guitar goes from a tonic chord into a half-step up, which makes it an instantly recognizable musical progression.  It is within the guitar playing of Otis Rush that one can hear influences on everyone from Jimmy Page to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and in the case of the former, the comparison goes further.  On their 1969 debut album, Led Zeppelin put their own spin on the tune, and yet it is nearly an exact copy of the later Rush version.  The Zeppelin version is without question one of the bright spots of their album, and yet the fact that the band often gave credit to Dixon only, raised a bit of controversy over the years.  Regardless, none of the covers compare to the original Otis Rush masterpiece, as the balance between the instruments and vocals are truly perfect, and the addition and placement of the horns on the 1967 recording truly makes "I Can't Quit You Baby" a blues recording like no other.  The amazing, unique sound, combined with the unparalleled amount of emotion coming from each musician drove the recording into the top ten on the charts, and the number of times it has been covered over the decades cements "I Can't Quit You Baby" as one of the most significant recordings in music history.

Yet as extraordinary and unique as the music on the recordings is, there is simply nothing that can compare to the sound and power of the voice of Otis Rush.  From the startling yell that opens the 1967 version to his slightly gritty, yet overly emotional voice that dominates both of the main recordings, Rush displays more soul and pure power than nearly any other singer in history.  Even with the occasisonal gruff in his voice, one cannot deny the fact that Otis Rush possesses one of the finest and most pure voices ever in blues history, and it is this unguarded, raw sound that makes his songs so different than those of his peers.  At times singing in a different key than the music, the way in which Rush almost harmonizes with himself is a truly uncanny talent, and one of many reasons why his voice remains so iconic.  Yet as good as Otis Rush's voice is, one cannot deny the fact that he was given an amazingly moving set of lyrics with which to work.  Without question one of Dixon's finest pieces, "I Can't Quit You Baby" strikes a unique balance between tragedy and comedy, and the opening line of, "I can't quit you, baby, but I've got to put you down for a while..." perfectly displays this duality.  While one can take the song at face value, as a man who needs a break from his woman, one can similarly read the lyrics as a mans struggle with drug abuse, and nearly every other line in the song can be read with this double meaning.  Rush pushes Dixon's lyrics deeper into this ambiguous meaning when he sings, "...when you hear me moanin' and groanin', baby, you know it hurts me way down inside..."  Simply put, "I Can't Quit You Baby" makes a quick case for the combination of Otis Rush and Willie Dixon as one of the most powerful and important musical pairings in history.

The connection between blues and rock music is simply undeniable, and it is within the countless covers of Otis Rush's "I Can't Quit You Baby" that this link is cemented.  With everyone from Little Milton to John Mayall to the aforementioned Zeppelin version, the song is one of the most iconic blues-rock compositions ever, and yet one can experience everything great about the song within the original 1956 recording.  Otis Rush's sharp, hey crying guitar style is nearly as important as his singing, and the influence that his approach had on later guitar players is equally as important as the song itself.  His fingers almost dance around the fret board, giving a fantastic contrast to his singing in terms of both tone as well as the "open" spaces that are left on the recording.  Taking all this into account, "I Can't Quit You Baby" follows the standard twelve-bar Chicago-blues style, and it proves that nearly all of musical greatness is not "what" you are playing, but "how" you are playing.  The song overflows with soul and heartache, and the multiple interpretations of the lyrics offers the song a wider audience, and the range of artists who covered the songs solidifies this broad appeal.  Yet even with all of the fantastic covers, there is nothing that comes close to the original, and the sheer power and soul behind the voice of Otis Rush is something that must be experienced to be properly appreciated.  Though history has tragically relegated him to a "second tier" status within the names of great bluesman, one cannot deny the extraordinary sound and unparalleled impact of Otis Rush and his 1956 recording, "I Can't Quit You Baby."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 21: Iggy Pop, "Lust For Life"

Artist: Iggy Pop
Song: "Lust For Life"
Album: Lust For Life
Year: 1977

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Throughout the course of music history, there are a handful of performers that are so dynamic, so massively influential, that it is nearly impossible to properly express just how essential their presence is to the development of their specific genre.  Whether they innovated a new style or approach with an instrument, or they developed a completely new style of musical arrangement, this list contains only the most elite musicians in music history.  Then of course, there is the man known as Iggy Pop.  In many ways defining everything it meant to be a rock and roll frontman, nearly every performer that followed owes at least some of their stage presence to the style and approach of Iggy Pop.  A true pioneer in his approach to singing and performing, even at more than sixty years of age, he continues to perform with such energy that few modern acts can even come close to his power.  From his early days as the frontman of punk pioneers, The Stooges, to his long string of amazing solo records, Iggy Pop has unquestionably earned the title of "Godfather of Punk," and one simply does not have the rise of hard rock or punk without his contributions.  Using his early years fronting The Stooges as a road map, when Iggy Pop found himself performing as a solo artist at the tail-end of the 1970's, he was able to unleash some of the most powerful records in an era dominated by artists following in his footsteps.  Perfectly capturing everything it meant to "be" punk, and breathing new life into his musical career, to this day there are few songs that can bring the raw power that one can find in Iggy Pop's 1977 single, "Lust For Life."

Clearly something he perfected in his days with The Stooges, "Lust For Life" opens the album of the same name, and the moment the song begins, it is already in top gear, and yanks the listener along for the ride.  Much of the overall superiority of the music undoubtedly comes from the songs' composer, none other than David Bowie.  Having worked with Iggy Pop during his time with The Stooges, the pair clearly had an amazing connection, and with "Lust For Life," Bowie was able to compose what can only be described as a perfect vehicle for Iggy Pop's vocals.  The songs' opening drum progression, played by Hunt Sales, is without question one of the finest and most recognizable in history.  Somewhat simple in nature, it instantly creates a fantastic, tension filled mood, and mesmerizes listeners as easily on the thousandth listen as on the first.  The drums are clearly the key to the song, as they bounce and wildly fly around the song, keeping "Lust For Life" right on the edge of chaos.  The other half of the rhythm section, Hunt's brother, bassist Tony Sales, drops into the song and is able to give it the trademark "menace" that makes the songs of Iggy Pop so distinctive.  The almost unassuming guitar that drops in, and one can make the case that there is really no "lead" guitar on the song, as Carlos Alomar seems to use the drums as his second guitarist.  Moving as a single unit, the band is able to inject an amazing amount of attitude into the simple, swinging composition, and this unique sound is what makes the song so unforgettable.

Yet as good as the musicians all are on "Lust For Life," as he has proven over his entire career, there is simply no other artist that can compare to the sound and energy of Iggy Pop.  In retrospect, "Lust For Life" is easily the most upbeat song of Iggy Pop's career, and his vocal approach makes the listener want to shake their hips as much as the music, and this alone is a feat which very few performers have ever achieved.  Furthermore, the voice of Iggy Pop has rarely sounded better than it does here, as he belts out the lyrics full force, and his unmistakable attitude rings through clearly on each line.  Within the words of "Lust For Life," one can make the case that this song represents as autobiographical as anything Iggy Pop ever wrote, and the close truth behind the words may be much of the reason that he is able to deliver them with such amazing power and style.  Filled with references to literature, drugs, as well as himself, Iggy Pop spins a magnificent play on words throughout the entire song.  Making clear allusions to the writing of William S. Burroughs, the character of "Johnny Yen," as well as the unforgettable description of "hypnotizing chickens" are both lifted from Burroughs' novel, The Ticket That Exploded.  However, as Iggy Pop has done throughout his entire career, he also sings lines which one must question the truth behind, like when he sings, " more beating my brains, with the liquor and drugs..."  As one of rock musics' more notorious "indulgers," it is a bit of a questionable sentiment, yet Iggy Pop's performance throughout the song makes this fact forgettable, as he is nothing short of extraordinary on every word.

When one looks over the entire history of recorded music, there are a handful of songs that have been borrowed from and reworked so many times over the decades, that one simply cannot deny the massive significance of the original song in question.  Among these unparalleled compositions, one must include Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life," as from songs by more modern artists to commercials to movies, the influence of the song can clearly be heard more than thirty years after it was first released.  Led by the unique musical approach of David Bowie, he clearly understood how to best form a song that would bring out the best in the vocal style of Iggy Pop.  "Lust For Life" bounces off the record in a manner unlike any other song in history, and the fantastic tension that is present throughout the song is also wonderfully unique.  From the winding guitar to the bass which is almost antagonizing in nature, the musicians on "Lust For Life" create an amazing mood and strong base from which James Osterberg can jump and truly unleash the creature known as Iggy Pop.  Kicking off with a level of intensity that is almost exclusive to his own performances, it is on "Lust For Life" that Iggy Pop proved that while he may have already been one of the "elder statesmen" of punk rock, he could still blow any other performer off the stage with his style and energy.  Still standing high above nearly every current musical act, there has never been another performer quite like Iggy Pop, and he can be experienced in all his glory and mastery of musical mayhem on his 1977 classic, "Lust For Life."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20: Pink Floyd, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)

Artist: Pink Floyd
Song: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)"
Album: Wish You Were Here
Year: 1975


Writing a "tribute" song to a fallen friend or fellow performer is nothing new to the world of music, and from Elton John's "Candle In The Wind" to Joe Strummer's "Long Shadow," this type of song nearly always excels in terms of beauty in every aspect.  Due to the nature of the song, the compositions are often a bit slower and quieter, and in nearly every case, the lyrics and singing are clearly more powerful due to the heartfelt words.  However, in the long line of "tribute" songs and records, there is one that stands far above the rest.  By the time 1975 rolled around, Pink Floyd had already been through a rather significant line-up change, and was still riding high off of the success of their legendary 1973 album, Dark Side Of The Moon.  Yet even with the iconic status which that album holds, one can make the case that the follow-up, 1975's Wish You Were Here, was, in fact, musically superior and perhaps even a better overall record.  On Wish You Were Here, the compositions are far more complex and lengthy, and far more dependent on the raw talent of the band as opposed to heavy synthesizer and sound effects as are found on their previous release.  With each of the five songs on the album having their own distinct personality, the album very much shows Pink Floyd at their creative height, as they are album to fuse the five sounds together into a single, stunning musical unit.  Without question, the most impressive song on the album comes in the form of the two songs that bookend the record, and they remain today the most beautiful and fitting musical tribute in history: "Shine On Your Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-IX)."

Though Pink Floyd made their name over the years for their unparalleled ability to create stunning sonic soundscapes, they rarely topped the massive walls of music that are found on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."  The combined parts clock in at over twenty-six minutes of music, and the variety of music instruments and sounds that the band implements is nearly unparalleled anywhere else in music history.  From the sparse, slow opening, punctuated by the pulsing sounds of the EMS-VCS3 oscillator, to the wild, winding guitar progressions, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is a true musical masterpiece, and one that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated.  The deep, morose sounds of the Moog organs of Richard Wright perfectly captures the sad tone of the song, and the bluesy guitar solos from David Gilmour remain perhaps the finest work of his entire career.  As he did his entire career, Nick Mason is truly a drummer like no other, as he is able to create sounds that are light and airy, yet powerful, punctuated by crashing cymbals which often sound like cloud-bursts.  The final core element of the sound on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is the bass and vocals of Roger Waters, and he takes the idea of the tribute a step further, as when the song fades out at the end, one can clearly hear him playing the refrain from the Barrett composition "See Emily Run."  Mixing in everything from saxophones to the sound of a finger on the rim of a wineglass, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is far more organic in sound than the bands' previous effort, and it is largely due to this fact that one can make the case that the complete twenty-six minute movement is the finest moment of the bands' career.

If there was ever a band that was buried in myths and legends, there is no group that had more than Pink Floyd.  On this point, the entire idea of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" may be one of the most unbelievably heartbreaking tales in music history.  The lyrics themselves were written in tribute to the bands' first singer, the iconic Syd Barrett.  Having gone slightly mad due to heavy usage of psychedelic drugs, he was released from the band in 1968 and one can hear a massive difference in their sound without Barrett.  By the time the band was set to record the album that would become Wish You Were Here, nobody had seen Barrett in years, and the entire lyric of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" is was penned by Waters as a tribute to his lost friend.  Filled with clear references to Barrett's drug use like, " there's a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky..." as well as absolutely gorgeous lines like,  "..come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!" few songs in history are so raw and soul-bearing as one finds here.  Yet it is the factual event that occurred during the final days or recording that makes "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" an truly unbelievable story.  The tale tells that on June 5, 1975, the band was mixing the song when an overweight man with a shaved head entered the recording studio.  It took the band members many minutes before they realized that the man was, in fact, their old friend and bandmate Barrett, as he looked in such horrible health that some of them were reduced to tears.  After having a bit of conversation with the band that most agree was disjointed, as Barrett was clearly mentally unstable, Barrett quietly left the studio unnoticed and none of the band members saw him again to his death in 2006.

Creating a twenty-six minute composition is in itself an achievement that few musicians are capable of doing, and keeping the interest of the listener throughout such a time period is an even more daunting task.  Yet by mixing in a wide range of sounds, and the manner in which each "section" of the song flows into the next, Pink Floyd's 1975 opus, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)" achieves this goal with unparalleled success.  At every turn of the song, the pain the band members feel for the late Syd Barrett is clear, and one can make the case that it is this deep personal connection that enabled the band to create such beauty throughout the composition.  At its core, the song presents Pink Floyd's trademark "sonic landscape" approach, as the lyrics seem to float across the music, with various aspects of the music pushing the lyrics into different "musical spaces."  In truth, the band was rarely as focused as they are on "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," and their ability to move as a single unit, as opposed to four musicians playing on the same song, is not as cohesive or stunning anywhere else in their recorded catalog.  From the deep, dark organs to the crying guitars to the absolutely breathtaking percussion, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" perfectly captures everything that makes Pink Floyd such a highly respected band, and each of the musicians performs in a  truly inspired manner throughout the entire song-cycle.  Though it is often pushed into the shadow of Dark Side Of The Moon, upon closer inspection, there is little question or argument that Pink Floyd's 1975 musical tribute, "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)" is not only their finest moment, but a song that remains completely unrivaled throughout the entire course of music history.

Monday, April 19, 2010

April 19: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #16"

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and SOME commentary from "The Guru" himself.


1. The Stooges, "Raw Power"  Raw Power
2. Ice-T, "Police Story"  Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs To Benefit The WM3
3. Lou Reed, "Gimme Some Good Times"  Street Hassle
4. The Sea And Cake, "Coconut"  Everybody
5. Type O Negative, "Love You To DeathOctober Rust
6. This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, "Mouseteeth"  Front Seat Solidarity
7. The Clash, "Ghetto Defendant"  Combat Rock
8. Silverchair, "Israel's Son"  Frogstomp
9. Tinariwen, "Assouf"  Aman Iman: Water Is Life
10. Reflection Eternal (W/Mos Def), "This Means You"  Train Of Thought
11. The Damned, "Noise, Noise, Noise"  Machine Gun Etiquette
12. Soundgarden, "Spoonman"  Superunknown
13. Fats Waller, "Sugar Rose"  Ain't Misbehavin': 25 Greatest Hits
14. The Fall, "Garden"  Perverted By Language

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April 18: Circle Jerks, "Wild In The Streets"

Artist: Circle Jerks
Song: "Wild In The Streets"
Album: Wild In The Streets
Year: 1982

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Throughout history, so-called "beach towns," specifically those in California, have earned the reputation for being extremely laid back places, and has been the inspiration for everything from the "surf rock" of Dick Dale to the iconic harmonies of The Beach Boys.  While this perceived attitude certainly has a massive amount of evidence to support it, the truth of the matter is, these same beaches are largely responsible for some of the most aggressive and fierce punk and hardcore music that the world has ever heard.  Many of the beaches in the greater Los Angeles area are synonymous with the hardcore music movement, and largely due to their legendary live performances and the unique, "in your face" style on their albums, few bands better represent this idea than Hermosa Beach's own Circle Jerks.  Originally formed by former Black Flag singer, Keith Morris and former Redd Kross guitarist Greg Heston, the band took the attitude of the punk rock movement and fused it together with the aggressive, violent reality of life in these beach towns.  It is the music of the Circle Jerks that would pave the way for bands ranging from Pennywise to Operation Ivy to Dropkick Murphys, and one can easily make the case as Circle Jerks being one of the most important influential bands of the entire West coast punk/hardcore scene.  Having already solidified their sound with their lightning fast debut, Group Sex, the band unleashed another round of provocative, rage-filled anthems with their follow up, 1982's Wild In The Streets.  While the entire album is pure hardcore bliss, it is the title track that stands far above the rest and remains one of the most memorable songs in the history of the genre.

While many know the song, most are not aware that "Wild In The Streets" is in fact a cover song, as it was originally written and recorded in 1969 by Garland Jeffreys.  The sentiment of the song remains the same with the Circle Jerks version, yet it is far more savage and menacing in nature, which is a reflection of the general population from which they came.  Though they share a similarity with the likes of Minor Threat and The Germs, the pure, unrestrained ferocity that emanates from every one of their songs is what makes Circle Jerks so instantly recognizable, and it is rarely more present than on "Wild In The Streets."  Greg Heston is on the attack from the onset of the song, and he never relents, delivering a guitar performance that is still able to tear the roff off of any club in the world.  The rhythm section of bassist Roger Rogerson and drummer Lucky Lehrer are equally fantastic, and the combined sound surely whipped any and every audience into a frenzy, and gives an idea of how intense their live performances must have been.   It is this combined sound that sets the Circle Jerks aside from their peers, and it is also the sound that in many ways defines the specific style of hardcore which came almost exclusively from the L.A. beaches.  The band sounds as if they are riding the edge of chaos the entire song, and as the energy keeps building, it almost seems as if the song is simply going to explode.  It is this amazing power that separates the Circle Jerks version of "Wild In The Streets" from the host of other covers, and one of the key reasons that the song remains one of their finest recordings.

As powerful and aggressive as the music is, it is the phenomenal vocals of Keith Morris that truly make "Wild In The Street" an absolute classic of the genre.  While one can easily hear remnants of his former band within both the music and vocal approach, there is no question that the Circle Jerks are an entity onto themselves, and it is on songs like "Wild In The Streets" that Morris makes his claim as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of the genre.  Though he takes the "standard" screaming-singing approach that most vocalists within the hardcore genre do, the tone of his voice, as well as the natural grit within it makes his sound instantly recognizable.  As he rips through each verse of the song, he keeps building the energy and tension until it drops in brilliant fashion at the onset of the songs' final chorus.  It is at this moment that the tongue-in-cheek nature of the band comes across clearly, as one can feel the grin when Morris questions, "...Mrs.'s your favorite son? Do you care just what he's done?"  The snide, almost menacing feel that climaxes at this point is where one can see that although it is not their song, Morris and the band easily make the lyrics their own.  One can easily feel the emotional connection he has to the words, as they once again become a rallying cry for youth.  This, in many ways, is the true brilliance of the vocals of Keith Morris, as his ability to get a listener up and moving is largely unparalleled across music, and the images of youth in the streets that he songs of here are as inspiring as any other lyrics in history.

Thankfully for music, one can feel secure in the knowledge that teen angst and rebellion will never fade, and with each new generation, new musicians will put their spin on this theme.  During the youth uprisings of the late 1960's, Garland Jeffreys released a song called "Wild In The Streets," which attempted to grasp the mood and anger of the youth of that time.  Though his version is worth hearing, just over a decade later, the Circle Jerks would take the song and turn it into an absolute classic of the hardcore genre.  Driven by the proven, yet somewhat inexplicable aggression that emanated from the beaches of the greater Los Angeles area, "Wild In The Streets" remains one of the Circle Jerks greatest anthems, and it remains as relevant and powerful today as it was nearly thirty years ago.  With the core of Greg Heston's screaming guitars, "Wild In The Streets" remains one of just a handful of songs from the genre that never loses even a bit of "steam" at any point.  At times, it almost seems as if Lucky Lehrer is trying to destroy his drum kit as he plays with a vicious style that is almost unsettling at some points.  Yet even with the entire band playing as loud and aggressively as possible, the song simply would be nothing without the extraordinary vocal prowess of Keith Morris.  Standing today as one of the most important figures in the history of the hardcore movement, "Wild In The Streets" remains one of his finest performances, and the unforgiving, yet inspiring vocals here are nothing short of legendary.  While many bands attempt to make it seem as if they "are" hardcore, few bands have clearly "walked the walk," and it is on songs like the Circle Jerks' 1982 classic, "Wild In The Streets" that one can learn to separate the posers from the authentic.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 17: Eddie Cochran, "Summertime Blues"

Artist: Eddie Cochran
Song: "Summertime Blues"
Album: Love Again/Summertime Blues (single)
Year: 1958

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Much like the random formula for "what" makes a song a hit, history works in just as strange a manner when it comes to which artists will be remembered forever.  More specifically, the history of music is littered with tragic stories of musicians who passed away far too early in their lives, and yet many of the most important have been largely forgotten when compared to others who, in many cases, did not have significant an impact on music as a whole.  While most people can recall the events leading to the death of names like Holly, Hendrix, and Hoon, it is truly tragic how few people can recall the circumstances and influence of one performer who was take at the age of twenty-one.  Unquestionably in the same company as early rock legends like Gene Vincent and Ricky Nelson, one simply does not have music in the state that it is without the music and influence of the one and only Eddie Cochran.  Though he died at a very early age, he had already found success with a handful of singles, and one can easily argue that he was poised to be one of the most famous performers in history, as his sound and image were exactly what was "selling" at the time.  Blending together R&B, blues, and country, in his short career, Eddie Cochran managed to write some of the most timeless songs in history, and the fact of the matter is, many of them sound just as good today as they did when he recorded them more than fifty years ago.  Standing high atop this list of singles stands what may be his greatest song, and many are not aware that it was Eddie Cochran who is responsible for the classic 1958 single, "Summertime Blues."

While his name may have become somewhat lost overtime, the fact of the matter is, "Summertime Blues" is one of the most heavily covered songs ever written, and it remains one of the most instantly recognizable songs in every aspect.  From the iconic bass riff to the simple "rockabilly" sound to the universal lyrics, in many ways, it is not surprising that "Summertime Blues" has remained such a timeless song over the decades.  Strangely enough, "Summertime Blues" was not even considered to be a possibility for success, as it was originally released as a B-side to "Love Again" in July of 1958.  While the A-side found moderate success, "Summertime Blues" shot into the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic, and propelled Eddie Cochran into the highest ranks of music stardom.  Musically, "Summertime Blues" stands as one of the many songs that proves "simpler is better," as it is little more than Cochran's guitar, a bit of bass, drums, and hand clapping.  The fact that this uncluttered, straightforward instrumentation still finds a place in the modern music scene serves as a testament to the true perfection found in the musical arrangement.  Drummer Earl Palmer is present on the track, and though he played alongside everyone from Little Richard to Tom Waits, one can make the case that it is his work here for which he will be best remembered.  The other side of the percussion, the hand clapping, was performed by Cochran's fiancé, a woman who co-wrote songs for both Nelson and Brenda Lee among others, Sharon Sheeley.  Rounded out by the steady bass and perfectly toned acoustic guitar of Cochran, "Summertime Blues" perfectly captures a moment in time, and yet resonates just as wonderfully more than five decades later.

Along with the music of "Summertime Blues" being instantly recognizable, Eddie Cochran's voice and lyrics still have a similar amount of easy identification.  Like other artists of the time, Cochran's voice is a perfect blend of grit, attitude, and true talent that made famous names like Presley, Lewis, and so many others.  Within his voice, Cochran perfectly encapsulates the angst and spirit of rebellion within the youth, as well as the agony that so many face in trying to balance making some sort of money with having fun and "being young." This frustration in finding that balance is perfectly captured in one of the most iconic lines in history when Cochran sings, "...every time I call my baby, and try to get a boss says, no dice son, you gotta work late...."  It is ideas like this that helped to propel the song to success, and also why the song remains relevant to this day, as every generation can relate to the sentiments about which Cochran is singing.  However, within this classic song, there is a bit of history that is buried, as Cochran slips in a bit of a rallying cry against the government.  In the final verse, when he sings of taking this "problem" of not being able to work and "be a kid" simultaneously, Cochran sings, "...well I called my congressman and he said Quote: I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote..."  While it may seem nothing more than an amusing line, the fact of the matter is, at the time the song was written, there was a growing movement in the U.S. to have the legal voting age lowered from twenty-one, and the fact that Cochran was able to slip this line in certainly gave the song an even wider appeal, as it was "rebellious" in nature within the time it was first released.

Throughout the long history of recorded music, one would truly be hard pressed to find a pop song that has been covered by more people in more genres than Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues."  Artists ranging from Alan Jackson to De La Soul to The Clash to Cheech Marin have all put their own spin on the song, and there are well over 300 different covers of the version from the past five decades.  This in itself should be "enough" to prove what a significant song "Summertime Blues" remains, and yet it's writer and original performer, Eddie Cochran, is somehow still a "second note" in discussions of the overall history of music.  The fact that his name often follows the likes of Ricky Nelson and Glen Campbell simply makes no sense, as while the two may have achieved greater recognition in their time and certainly are amazing artists in their own right, it is the song of Eddie Cochran that remains most relevant all these decades later.  In nearly every aspect, "Summertime Blues" is a "perfect" song, as the instrumentation is simple yet unforgettable, Cochran's voice is pure and powerful, and the lyrics represent the feelings of literally every generation of youth, nearly anywhere on the planet.  Furthermore, one can make the case that "Summertime Blues" is, in fact, the greatest and most concise "summer style" record ever recorded, as no other artist has come close to so simply and perfectly capturing the emotions found on this song.  Though it has been covered and reworked countless times over the decades, one cannot argue that nothing beats the original, and that the appeal of Eddie Cochran's monumental 1958 single, "Summertime Blues" will never go out of style.