Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 30: Prince, "When Doves Cry"

Artist: Prince
Song: "When Doves Cry"
Album: Purple Rain
Year: 1984

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Though it is perhaps the most tossed around word by music critics and fans alike, there are only an elite few musicians in history that are truly worthy of the title of "genius."  While these performers who are beyond comparison are all able to be given this label, there are few common themes that run through them, aside from the fact that in nearly every case, they made music so unique, that it completely altered everything that came after.  In most cases, these musicians are masters at a particular instrument or style of performance, as to be able to be "that" gifted in multiple musical areas is perhaps the most rare occurrence in all of music history.  However, in at least one instance, a single performer proved to have no limits in any sense of the word, that that is the reason that Prince is held in the regard that he is to this day.  A master of every instrument, the music of Prince largely defines itself, as over the decades he has fused together blues, soul, psychedelic, funk, dance, and countless other styles into his unique rock sound.  Due to this, one can make the case for a number of his songs being his "best," and in some cases, one must consider entire albums of his work as true turning points in music history.  Yet it is his work in the early to mid 1980's where his talents shined brightest, and one would be hard pressed to find a more stunning or complete representation of his skills than one finds in Prince's unforgettable 1984 single, "When Doves Cry."

As the lead single from his equally legendary 1984 album, Purple Rain, "When Doves Cry" spun the talents of Prince in a light that had not yet been seen.  The song sounds a bit different than nearly every other track on the album, and this is perhaps due to the fact that Prince himself plays every instrument on the song.  As the legend goes, "When Doves Cry" was written overnight by Prince, when the director of the movie "Purple Rain" asked him to attempt to match a song with a particular scene in the film.  The fact that Prince was able to pull such a work together in that time period is nothing short of stunning, and on every front, the song represents his style perfectly.  Regardless of which instrument one keys into on "When Doves Cry," there is an odd groove that runs throughout the song, and it is this fact that shows the unique talent that "is" Prince.  After the song opens with a shredding of guitar that is far funkier and more powerful than those of his peers, "When Doves Cry" settles in with a brilliant combination of keyboards and programmed drums.  The fact that these are largely the only two instruments present leaves the song sounding rather sparse, and it is almost impossible to consider the fact that the song was a dance hit, even without any bassline at all.  There is also a uniquely dark feel to the song, and the way in which all these elements work perfectly together is the embodiment of the genius that makes Prince such an unparalleled talent.

By the time "When Doves Cry" was released, the world had already been introduced to the almost hypnotic quality of Prince's more spoken style of lyrical delivery.  Having proven his mastery of this a year previous with "Little Red Corvette," Prince seems to up the ante here, getting darker and more intense with his vocal performance.  It is this intensity that has proven to be one of the most consistent markers of the music of Prince, as he brings a level of passion and honesty that cannot be found elsewhere in music.  Throughout his vocal performance on "When Dove Cry," one can easily feel the mood coming through in his words, and it is musical moments like that found here tnat makes it appropriate to use terms like "ooze" to describe the quality of his vocals.  Yet Prince takes a slightly more subtle approach to his lyrics on "When Doves Cry," as he retains the alluring, almost seductive tone to his vocals, yet is not as over the top or exaggerated as he was on some of his previous singles.  This allows a certain vulnerability to come through in the lyrics, and this element only adds to the overall impact of the song.  While there are moments when his intentions are clear, there are points on "When Doves Cry" when Prince seems to almost contradict his regularly cool and confident persona.  His ability to convey a wide range of emotions, whilst keeping the song swaying and sexy throughout is the final piece that makes "When Doves Cry" an absolute work of genius, and unquestionably one of the most impressive moments of Prince's entire career.

For more than a month in 1984, "When Doves Cry" sat atop the charts, and it would be followed by four other singles from Purple Rain, each having its own distinctive sound.  The fact that Prince was able to find musical success with such a diverse range of sounds was all the proof anyone could ask for to show what an unparalleled talent lived within him.  The fact that these songs still retain their power and freshness nearly thirty years later supports this idea, and it also makes it clear what an exceptionally rare talent one can find in Prince's music.  Crafting "When Doves Cry" exactly as he wanted, Prince is almost showing off in the fact that each element of the song is nothing short of perfect, and the fact that he played every note of the song, composing it over a single night, only adds to the legend and status that Prince attained over the decades.  Quite literally, there has never been another artist that is even remotely similar to Prince, as he blends together so many different genres in ways not heard elsewhere.  Though there are a handful, the most common element that links all his songs together is the sensual quality of his performances, and this can be found in both the music and vocals alike.  The way in which Prince makes "When Doves Cry" move and groove, without bringing a bass into the song is nothing short of inexplicable, and this is perhaps all one needs to understand to appreciate the unparalleled talents that he possesses.  Due to this level of talent, there are many groundbreaking moments within the catalog of Prince, yet one cannot deny just how extraordinary an achievement one finds in his classic 1984 single, "When Doves Cry."

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 29: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #48"

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

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

1. The Black Keys, "Your Touch"  Magic Potion
2. Sharon Van Etten, "Save Yourself"  Epic
3. The Viceroys, "Work It"  Trojan Skinhead Revival Box Set
4. Fugazi, "In Defense Of Humans"  Live Series: Volume 1
5. Frankie Rose And The Outs, "Must Be Nice"  Frankie Rose And The Outs
6. The Clash, "Guns Of Brixton"  Live At Shea Stadium
7. Mudcrutch, "Six Days On The Road"  Mudcrutch
8. The Millennium, "To Claudia On Thursday"  Begin
9. Little Richard, "Long Tail Sally"  Here's Little Richard
10. PJ Harvey, "C'mon Billy"  To Bring You My Love
11. The Cinematic Orchestra, "To Build A Home"  Ma Fleur
12. Paul Simon, "Still Crazy After All These Years"  Still Crazy After All These Years
13. Brian Eno, "Small Craft On A Milk Sea"  Small Craft On A Milk Sea
14. R.E.M., "Bittersweet Me"  New Adventures In Hi-Fi
15. Street Dogs, "Katie Bar The Door"  Fading American Dream
16. Rolling Stones, "Midnight Rambler"  Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 28: Goldfinger, "Question"

Artist: Goldfinger
Song: "Question"
Album: Hang-Ups
Year: 1997

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To honestly and accurately capture the emotions and energy of youth simultaneously has proven to be one of the more difficult tasks throughout the history of recorded music.  While many believe that they have accomplished this by simply filling a song with angst-ridden words, they are often missing the spirit of the words to make the song complete.  Though there are great examples that can be found in a number of different genres, few have achieved this representation more accurately and more consistently than one finds in the style of punk rock.  While the early years of punk were more about "fighting everything and everyone," as the years have passed, many punk bands have become more focused on the struggle of "being young," and few bands represent this idea better than California's light-hearted punkers, Goldfinger.  One of the most important bands in terms of the ska-punk revival of the 1990's, they stand today as one of the most highly respected bands of the era, and their first few albums were nothing short of classics.  Though their self-titled 1996 debut is a perfect representation of everything that makes them such a fantastic band, it is their second record, 1997's Hang-Ups, that stands as their finest work.  Filled with a more complete sound and a wider range of styles, there is not an "off" moment anywhere on the record, and the energy and attitude that makes Goldfinger so fantastic can be found in their high-octane song, "Question."

As is the case on most of their songs, Goldfinger wastes no time setting the tone for "Question," and it is in this, as well as the actual sound, where the bands' punk rock roots live.  The moment the song begins, guitarist Charlie Paulson drops a fast paced, rather aggressive progression, and it is this sound that instantly starts building tension.  Moments later, the song absolutely explodes as drummer Darrin Pfeiffer and bassist Simon Williams enter the frey, bringing an attitude and energy that matches that which Paulson set.  With John Feldman adding a second guitar to the mix, the quartet continue to build the tension and push the song along at a break-neck speed.  While the studio recording of "Question" is sure to get the listener moving, in live performances, it is this song that is able to consistently blow the roof off of any venue, throwing the crowd into absolutely joyous mayhem.  It is this aspect of the music that shows the bands' aptitude as writers, as there is no "filler" on the song, and the direct line that "Question" takes is another nod to the bands' punk rock influences.  Later in the song, the band shows off their true genius, as they change the pace and tone on a dime, dropping into a ska-style breakdown, yet never letting the overall mood of the song slip.  The fact that the band is able to make such a stark change in tempo, as well as bring more melody than a majority of their peers is not only what makes "Question"" such an extraordinary song, but it also represents the true genius behind Goldfinger as a band.

Responsible for nearly all of the music and lyrics found on the first two Goldfinger albums, John Feldman has also made his name as one of the most perfect frontmen in the history of the entire punk genre.  Much like the music, Feldman shows a wide range in hist vocal abilities, and whether he is singing or shouting his words, the emotion and energy in them always comes through with perfect clarity.  Furthermore, the style with which he sings makes nearly every song in the Goldfinger catalog a true crowd anthem, and this is also due to the universal nature of a majority of his lyrics.  This latter point is perfectly represented on "Question," as few artists in history have as accurately captured the essence of the frustrations of youth, and there is a sense of honesty in his words that help it to avoid coming off as cliché.  Centering around the idea of how "tough" growing up can be, Feldman gets almost philosophical when he states, "...'cause in the end its all you got, memories to tell about your life, and how you lived it..."  The brilliance of "Question" is how the song simultaneously speaks on how short life is and living every moment, yet there is also a sense of reckless abandon and "just going for it" that runs throughout the song.  The moment and lyrics that lead into the songs' ska-breakdown have become a live fan-favorite, and it is in these two words that the aggressive, yet amusing style of Goldfinger lives.

"Question" also stands out in the Goldfinger catalog due to the presence of Dicky Barrett making a quick vocal cameo.  Both Goldfinger and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were part of the ska/punk revivial of the 1990's, and this is much the reason that Barrett fits in so perfectly on this track.  Yet even without his contributions, "Question" is the absolute stand-out track on Hang-Ups, as it represents everything that makes Goldfinger such an extraordinary band.  Finding the ideal balance between attitude, aggression, and amplification, there are few bands in history that bring a similarly authentic and honest sound as one finds in the music of Goldfinger.  While their later albums would come off as a bit "preachy" at times, their early records are the embodiment of the frustration and energy of youth, and while many other bands attempt to represent these ideas, few did so without coming off as "trying too hard."  It is this fact that sets Goldfinger far above their peers, and the fact that the four band members are exceptional musicians only adds to their status.  Throughout "Question," Pfeiffer seems hell-bent on either destroying his kit or simply playing so fast, that the other band members can't keep up.  This speed makes the mood on the song nothing short of mesmerizing, and the energy and tension on the song are still as powerful even after countless listenings.  Whether it is the musicianship, the spot-on lyrics, or the overall attitude of the song, there is simply no other song in history that represents feelings of frustration in quite the same way as one finds on Goldfinger's 1997 song, "Question."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November 27: The Marvelettes, "Please Mr. Postman"

Artist: The Marvelettes
Song: "Please Mr. Postman"
Album: Please Mr. Postman (single)
Year: 1961

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When one looks at the most important female artists of the 1960's, there are certainly a number to choose from, as one can make the case that it was the changing of roles of women in music that largely dictated the overall changes in the musical landscape.  Furthermore, many of the most memorable, historical moments of that era were also achieved by female performers, and there are many parallels between their presence in the world of music, and their rise to more equality in the world as a whole.  Though there are many singular examples of this idea, one can look at the long history of Motown Records for some of the most clear and undeniable instances.  While one can easily rattle off a list of bands that made their names at the legendary label, when one digs a bit deeper, it is easy to see that much of the labels' overall success was due to the unique sounds and styles of the female groups on their roster.  While artists like The Supremes and Martha And The Vandellas are unquestionably legendary, there was another "girl group" from Motown Records that holds perhaps the most significant claim to fame in the labels' entire history.  The year was 1961, and a trio from Inkster, Michigan named The Marvelettes would give Motown Records their first number one hit with their unforgettable song, "Please Mr. Postman."

Even in this early Motown recording, much of the sound that would become the labels' trademark sound can be clearly heard.  On "Please Mr. Postman," most of the most legendary members of The Funk Brothers are present, and this list is led by perhaps the most important figure in the labels' history, bassist James Jameson.  Deploying an early version of his "walking" bassline, it is his playing that gives the song its movement, yet it is a bit more back in the mix than many of his later performances.  Pianist Richard "Popcorn" Wylie is quite forward in the mix, and the tone on his piano almost sounds like they are trying to infuse a bit of country-western into the sound.  However, while both of these music icons play brilliantly, it is the dual drummers on the song that lead the lineup card.  Joining Benny Benjamin on the drums is none other than a still unknown musician named Marvin Gaye.  It is this interplay between them, as well as their work with Jameson that gives "Please Mr. Postman" a funky feel that was nearly a decade ahead of its time.  This not only shows just how forward thinking The Funk Brothers were, but it also gives unimpeachable proof of just how many genres they were responsible for in later years.  As usual, there is not a missed note anywhere on the song, and "Please Mr. Postman" stands as one of The Funk Brothers most covered progressions in history.

However, the music on "Please Mr. Postman" is a bit sparse in comparison to later songs, and this is perhaps due to the fact that the trio of singers performed in such a way that it was necessary.  The harmonized parts on the song are about as distinctive as have ever been recorded, and it is here that one can see Motown's purposeful ignoring of the "sweet" sound that most female performers had taken to this date.  The lead vocals, performed by Gladys Hotron, have a grit and swing to them that can rarely be found previously, and it is this "toughness" that would set the trend for the next decades of female vocal performances.  Yet even within this tough exterior, there is still a clear sense of vulnerability and anticipation, and it is this balance that makes Horton's vocal work so extraordinary.  The interplay between the three vocalists throughout the song also set the standard for so-called "girl groups," and one can feel the tension build and release a number of times.  The fact that the song topped the charts is quite understandable, as even in modern times, the sense of longing and frustration comes through clearly and is just as applicable.  While many songs have approached the topic of love and longing, few have done so in as charming and vocally revolutionary a style as one finds on "Please Mr. Postman."

The lasting impact of "Please Mr. Postman" can be found in the countless number of covers the song has been given over the decades, with artists ranging from The Carpenters to Uruguayan rap-rockers El Cuarteto de Nos.  Perhaps the most well-known cover of the song was recorded in 1963 by The Beatles, though their version is certainly not among their best known songs.  While there are literally hundreds of cover versions available, none can compare to the original, both in terms of historical importance, but also in terms of matching the attitude that is put forth by The Marvelettes.  There is a sense of vulnerability within their singing, yet one cannot overlook the fact that throughout the song, they are nothing short of harassing their postman, bringing the sense of teenage drama to an almost ironic level.  The grit in the voice of Horton is perfectly balanced by the high-pitched backing vocals of Wanda Young and Georgeanna Tillman, and this contrast of sounds remains unmatched nearly five decades later.  Add in the phenomenal sounds of The Funk Brothers, and the early sparks of funk grooves, and it is not very surprising that the song went to the top of the charts and stands today as one of the most definitive songs of the entire Motown era.  While they would have a handful of singles that would find respectable commercial success, there is simply no other song in history that occupies a similar place to that of The Marvelettes and their legendary 1961 single, "Please Mr. Postman."

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 26: The Rascals, "Good Lovin'"

Artist: The Rascals
Song: "Good Lovin'"
Album: The Young Rascals
Year: 1966

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Perhaps due to the fact that many of the most commercially successful bands in history were hitting their stride during the era, there are a number of massively influential bands from the mid-1960's that remain slightly "under the radar."  Yet these bands and their songs demand no less respect, as in many cases, it was their work that dictated the next moves of the "larger" bands, and in at least one case, an album sold so many copies, it quite literally makes no sense that the band is not better known today.  While there were a number of bands at this time that were blending together the sounds of gospel, blues, rock, and jazz, none did so with as much talent or originality as New York City rockers, The Rascals.  As one of the few bands of this time period and style that wrote much of their own music, their songs had and edge and a freshness that went far beyond their peers.  Originally called The Young Rascals, their self-titled 1966 debut record stands today as one of the most amazing works of the entire decade, and it far outsold nearly every other release of that year.  The record is packed from end to end with some of the most memorable songs of the era, and though some are not aware of who the band is, these same songs still find regular airplay today.  While the entire album is well worth owning, few songs better define the era than one finds in The Rascal's classic 1966 single, "Good Lovin'."

From the moment that "Good Lovin'" begins, it is easily to make a case that it defines the sound and mood of the 1960's better than any other recording.  The way in which the band combines an almost "garage rock" sound with a fast paced, carefree sound is the embodiment of musical freedom, and it has rarely sounded better than it does here.  The way in which guitarist Gene Cornish and organ player Felix Cavaliere blend together is one of the most distinctive and fantastic aspects of "Good Lovin'."  It is here where the drive that is almost punk fuses together with a tone that is almost psychedelic.  Throughout the song, Cornish's guitar has a bite and drive that make it easy to distinguish from other players of the era, and it is his tone that links the song and band to the later sounds of heavy metal and punk rock.  There is also an undeniable tone of "surf rock" in his playing, and this ability to bring together so many sounds on a single instrument is a testament to his unparalleled abilities as a guitarist.  Drummer Dino Danelli and percussionist Eddie Brigati give the song a fast-paced swing that makes "Good Lovin'" and irresistible dance song, and there is little doubt that it was this aspect that helped the album to sell so many copies.  Bringing all of these elements together, there is simply no other recording that combines a dance feel and hard rock growl in the same way that one finds on "Good Lovin'."

Truth be told, The Rascals benefited from having three capable singers in the band, and this is evident in the large number of shared vocals and harmonies throughout all of their songs.  However, Eddie Brigati served as the groups' primary vocalist, and his work on "Good Lovin'" is nothing short of perfect.  It is on this song that, much like the music, Brigati finds the ideal balance between a growling, more edgy sound, as well as hitting every note he needs with beautiful results.  There is also an extremely obvious feeling of joy, if not hyperactivity, and this perfectly captures the energy of adolescence, again making it understandable why the song and album became such massive hits.  The energy of the vocals on "Good Lovin'" is what makes it so unforgettable, and it is also the aspect of the song that makes it irresistible, as one cannot help but sing or bounce along to the song, proving what a superb recording the band made here.  The final piece that made "Good Lovin'" such a hit lives within the words of the song, and they perfectly echo the youthful tone that is found in the music and vocals.  Ignoring the idea of "true love," The Rascals take a far more temporary view on love, and one can easily see the lyrics as the embodiment of youthful lust and experimentation.  Taking the idea that the "cure" to the "illness" from which they are suffering is some good times with another, the song again hits home with the feelings of youth, and this tone is why the song remains relevant and fresh with each new generation.

While The Rascals did write a large majority of their own songs, "Good Lovin'" was actually recorded a few years earlier by a r&b group from the West coast called The Olympics.  Both versions do have some similarities, but it is the version from The Rascals that has the drive and bite that made the song destined for success.  The way in which the band takes a slightly distorted, hard driven sound and makes it somehow have a soft, pop feel to it can be seen as one of the most important moments in music history, as countless hard rock bands would follow this formula in ensuing decades.  This sound comes mostly from the guitars, but the way in which The Rascals are able to seamlessly blend this with the more moody, psychedelic organ progression is where the true genius of "Good Lovin'" lives.  The vocal performance from Brigati is in a category all its own, and even from this studio recording, one can easily sense and picture the almost reckless style with which he performed during live shows.  In nearly every aspect, "Good Lovin'" embodies the mood and style of the youth of the mid-1960's, and it is executed with such accuracy and perfection here that the song retains its appeal and edge more than four decades later.  Though they are often somewhat lost behind the massively commercially successful bands of the era, one can easily argue that music would not have reached its current state had it not been for The Rascals and their unforgettable 1966 single, "Good Lovin'."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25: Lucinda Williams, "Right In Time"

Artist: Lucinda Williams
Song: "Right In Time"
Album: Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
Year: 1998

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Though there are many consistencies that can be seen throughout the overall history of recorded music, one of the most important lies in the fact that, while it often takes a great deal of time, the truly talented and unique artists always find a way to make themselves known to the general public.  Many times, even though an artist has been making brilliant music for years, it takes so-called critics and the music loving public as a whole a bit longer to fully realize the greatness in the artist in question.  Granted, in at least one case, one cannot fully "blame" the general public, as the artist in question released albums so infrequently, and on smaller labels, that it certainly did not help their situation.  However, at the end of the day, one simply cannot deny the beauty and genius that lives within the music of Lucinda Williams.  Over the course of nearly twenty years, she released just five albums, and while they were all phenomenal, the labels could not promote them properly, and the time in between kept Williams in an odd cult-obscurity.  Then, in 1998, she released an album that was nothing short of a masterpiece in the form of her Grammy winning record, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.  Filled with some of the most distinctive folk-rock-country sounds ever recorded, there was no way to deny her spot as one of the most talented musicians in history, and this fantastic sound, as well as her unparalleled abilities as a songwriter can be summed up in the albums' lead track, "Right In Time."

As soon as "Right In Time" begins, the wide range of stylistic influences become completely obvious, as one can clearly hear the "twang" of country music, the deep connection of folk, as well as traces of blues.  The sound is all wrapped in an arrangement that has an unquestionably "poppy" feel, and the fact that Lucinda Williams is able to take so many genres and blend them into something that appeals to every audience is one of the main reasons why she is such a brilliant artist.  Though it has been done countless times over the decades, the combination of acoustic and electric guitars that are found on "Right In Time" have a presence and progression that place them into a category all their own.  Perfectly mirroring the words that follow, the guitars have a very warm and welcoming feel to them, and the way in which they seem to sway across the track makes them almost seductive in a way never presented elsewhere.  Drummer Donald Lindley furthers this sense of movement and gives the song a strong, steady pace, and it is also within his playing that much of the songs' "rock" feel lives.  The band are clearly in sync with one another, as even when the song grows louder, the intimate mood is never lost, and "Right In Time" proves that when done correctly, such is possible.  This ability to keep the mood intact, as well as the full, superbly arrangement musical progressions made it largely impossible for the world NOT to take notice, and it is one of the reasons "Right In Time" remains fresh and exciting more than a decade later.

While the music on all of Lucinda Williams' songs is consistently fantastic, there are truly no other artists in history that have a similar voice, and it is her tone, as well as her heavy emotions that push the song to a status far beyond that of her peers.  Few artists in history have displayed a voice that is as honest and untouched as that of Williams, and this makes her singing completely distinctive, and it is often the most mesmerizing aspect of her songs.  Able to easily work the entire vocal range, Williams captures more emotion than most, and it is nothing short of stunning on "Right In Time" when she quickly jumps from what is almost a low growl to a glorious, higher vocal explosion.  This also enables Williams to bring a great deal of intimacy to her songs, and one would be hard pressed to find a song that better defines this word in its entirely than one finds on "Right In Time."  Though many artists have tried, none have ever reached the same level of closeness and yearning that Williams does on "Right In Time."  In both how she sings, as well as what she is singing, the song might normally border on risqué, but there is such a feeling of absolute honesty and beauty, that is becomes more a thing of art than anything else.  Even in the songs' final verse, when Williams takes out any subtleties, there is a sense of raw emotion and splendor that leaves the listener in complete awe.  This sense of honesty, and perfection in execution is yet another reason why one cannot deny the overall impact of Lucinda Williams and "Right In Time."

Truth be told, there are virtually no other moments anywhere in music history that are as truly honest and intimate as one can find on "Right In Time."  The lyrics and singing are so sensual and raw that there are times when one almost feels like a voyeur whilst listening to the song.  As Williams shifts the scene from room to room, the tension builds, and the song was even once labeled as a "masturbation moaner."  Yet even with what one might see as a negative label, there is simply no getting around the sheer beauty that one finds on "Right In Time," and one can easily see it as the product of decades of tireless perfectionism from Williams herself.  The musical arrangement gives the song a swing and a tone that are able to build and release the overall tension at will, and this serves as a testament to the amazing talent of each of the musicians on the track.  The fact that one can picture the scene taking place in a quite country cabin as easily as one can picture it in a loud city apartment displays the genius of Williams as a writer, as her words are so simple, yet profound, that it should not be surprising that many point to her as one of the most talented writers in music history.  Fusing together all of her musical roots, the way in which her songs dance between country, blues, folk, and rock makes them completely unique, and one can find nothing short of sheer musical beauty and absolute perfection in the form of Lucinda Williams' 1998 song, "Right In Time."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24: Queen, "Killer Queen"

Artist: Queen
Song: "Killer Queen"
Album: Sheer Heart Attack
Year: 1974

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For many of the greatest and most influential bands in history, there are a number of ways in which they can be categorized, so it is often best to simply use their name as the defining term.  Whether it is due to their unique musical approach or how much they defined a singular style, these are the bands without whom modern music would not exist in its current form.  Though many may seem them as nothing more than a hard rock band, there are few groups in history that created as complete and as diverse a sound on record as one finds within the catalog of Queen.  Fusing together everything from heavy metal to vaudeville, the band were in many ways the first "progressive rock" act, and the also boasted some of the most talented musicians of their generations.  Many of their singles remain today as some of the most beloved songs in history, and yet even within these singles, their amazing ability to bring their distinctive tone to every song can style can clearly be heard.  Whether it was the almost operatic feel of "Bohemian Rhapsody," the more straightforward rock of "Stone Cold Crazy," or the almost rockabilly sound of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," there is simply no way to sum the band up in a single song, as their musical range was simply too diverse.  However, to understand their abilities as musicians, writers, and masters of mood, one needs to look no further than their superb 1974 single, "Killer Queen."

In many ways, "Killer Queen" represents the final stage in the process of Queen understanding how to completely capture their musical visions in a single song.  Previous to its release, many of their songs seemed a bit unfinished or scattered, and "Killer Queen" plays as a complete musical thought, and proves this band could write in ways unlike any other performer in history.  The moment "Killer Queen" begins, it may almost seem a bit odd when one considers that at their core, Queen was a hard rock band.  The upright piano, played by Freddie Mercury, has a playful, almost vaudevillian sound to it, and later in the song, it is doubled by a grand piano.  The tone from the piano gives a fantastic sense of balance one the unmistakable sound of Brian May's guitar enters the picture.  May is also in what seems rare form on "Killer Queen" as he almost dances across the fret-board, presenting one of his most truly beautiful progressions of his career.  The solo he takes later in the song stands as perhaps his most vocal solo in the history of Queen, and it is in this part of the song that it becomes clear that his talents as a player know no limits.  The rhythm section of bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor play brilliantly as well, and it is their contributions that give "Killer Queen" a flow and pace that blend together jazz and rock in a way never heard elsewhere.  With all four musicians completely focused on the mood and tone they wish to achieve, it is not surprising that "Killer Queen" became a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

While the musical arrangement on "Killer Queen" is without question one of the most phenomenal pieces in history, it goes without saying that one cannot discuss anything about Queen without speaking of the one and only Freddie Mercury.  Certainly one of the most dynamic and captivating, and also possessing one of the widest vocal ranges in history, there are simply no words that can do justice to his ability as a frontman and vocalist.  On "Killer Queen," Mercury shows off his voice, as he works the entire vocal scale, as well as creating brilliant harmonies throughout the song.  Furthermore, his knack for creating a dramatic feel on songs has rarely played better than it does here, and there is a very theatrical feel to his performance.  As Mercury works every single word of the song, many different interpretations arise from his lyrics.  Mercury stated many times that "Killer Queen" was one of the first songs on which the lyrics came before the music, and this is perhaps the reason that there are so many meanings which one can derive.  Clearly, the song is about a woman who is rather "high maintenance," and while this cannot be argued, her actual profession is the place from which many debates have arisen.  Though the lyrics speak of a woman with the most expensive of tastes, there are many moments during "Killer Queen" that suggest she may have a job of "ill repute," and the fact that Mercury was able to disguise this within his amazing words and singing is one of the keys that makes "Killer Queen" such an extraordinary musical achievement.

Quite literally everything on "Killer Queen," from the music to the vocals to the lyrics are absolutely perfect, and it is also on this song that one begins to realize the full power of Queen as a band.  Bringing a complete and tightly focused musical vision, the song can easily be seen as the beginning of Queen's rise to legendary status, and the fact that they were able to so brilliantly blend together their hard rock roots with a mood that is almost that of a live theater show is what set them so far apart from their peers.  In both the music and the lyrics, there is a certain sense of sleaze, and yet it is played so brilliantly, that it sounds far more classy that it is when broken down into smaller elements.  This in many ways was the true genius of Queen, as throughout their career, they showed and uncanny ability for burying subtexts within their stunning rock arrangements.  On "Killer Queen," it is the mood that becomes the most overpowering, as one can feel the cabaret-style piano almost dictating the pace of the guitar, and yet there is no question that Brian May's work here is anything short of the embodiment of the term "rock and roll."  It is this talent for blending together so many sounds and ideas that makes Queen impossible to define in any way other than their actual music, and everything that makes them such a uniquely phenomenal band can be experienced in their 1974 single, "Killer Queen."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23: Snoop Dogg, "Gin And Juice"

Artist: Snoop Dogg
Song: "Gin And Juice"
Album: Doggystyle
Year: 1993

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While it is an exceptionally rare occurrence, every once in awhile, music fans are able to watch an artist develop from a very early stage.  The fact of the matter is, in nearly every case, by the time a performer "hits it big," they have already honed their skills and are already in the spotlight.  When this is not the case, one can then look at the early recordings of an artist and clearly see how they got to the sound and persona that made them famous.  Though it is now almost a footnote in his career, this was exactly the situation that happened with hip-hop legend, Snoop Dogg.  Playing the part of "sidekick" to Dr. Dre on his earliest widely released recordings, by the time Dr. Dre dropped his iconic Chronic album, it was clear that Snoop Dogg was a phenomenal talent in his own right.  It was due to his performance on that record that makes it a bit less surprising that just over a year later, Snoop Dogg released his own solo debut, and 1993's Doggystyle remains an absolute icon of both hip-hop music, as well as the entire decade in music.  Filled with some of Dr. Dre's most impressive musical arrangements, as well as Snoop's unique, yet diverse delivery styles, the album was without question the most heavily anticipated release of the year.  Doggystyle contains Snoop's biggest hits, and few are more memorable, more iconic, and more defining of who he is as a performer than Snoop Dogg's 1993 classic, "Gin And Juice."

Though there were many great songs of the 1990's, one can make the case that no other has as instantly recognizable an opening hook as one finds on "Gin And Juice."  The smooth, grooving bassline, which is quickly joined by the unmistakable keyboard riff has been sampled and covered so many times since its first release that it is almost impossible to remember a time when the song did not exist.  This sound in many ways defines the so called "G Funk" style of music, and it is without question Dr. Dre's finest moment as a producer.  The way in which he mixes in samples from George McRae's, "I Get Lifted" and Slave's, "Watchin' You" adds the perfect balance to the song, and "Gin And Juice" brings a sense of movement that is rarely heard in hip-hop music.  Though the bass is enough to get any car "bumpin," there is also a softness to the programmed beats that give it a far more relaxed feel than the other songs found on Doggystyle.  Yet even with this more mellow mood, the intensity is never lost, and the song pulls the listener into a late night ride from party to party, and the song remains just as enjoyable and mesmerizing even after countless listenings.  Dr. Dre mixes in other fills and a bit more keyboard as the song progresses, but he clearly understood just what a powerful musical arrangement he had created, and was smart enough to just leave it as is, looping it to create an absolutely unforgettable backing track to "Gin And Juice."

The voice of Snoop Dogg stands today as instantly recognizable, and his rhymes on "Gin And Juice" are without question some of the most memorable in all of hip-hop history.  Much like the music, Snoop takes a bit more of a laid back approach to the vocals here, and the relaxed feel shows the depth he has as an emcee.  Unlike many of his peers, Snoop's delivery sounds completely unforced and organic, and it is the way in which his voice blends seamlessly with the backing track that makes "Gin And Juice" such an extraordinary musical achievement.  Furthermore, anyone who was "of age" when the song was released can attest to the fact that the lyrics are nothing short of fantastic, and one cannot help themselves and NOT sing along.  Both from the clarity of his delivery, as well as the almost jovial nature of the words, the lyrics to "Gin And Juice" have become nearly as iconic as the music, and the chorus of, "...rollin' down the street smokin' indo, sippin' on gin and juice...laid back, with my mind on my money and my money on my mind..." may very well be the most memorable lines of the entire decade.  The overall atmosphere of a party continues throughout the song, and as the song comes to a close, Snoop drops another line that stands as nothing short of iconic when he says almost as an aside, "...I don't love you hoes, I'm out the door..."  This line has been lifted and altered countless times since, and the other lines, as well as the way in which Snoop delivers them is what makes the song an absolute classic.

In retrospect, few songs have crossed into as many other genres as "Gin And Juice," and it remains a heavily covered song nearly two decades after its first release.  Everyone from Paul Simon to Hot Rod Circuit to Ben Folds have covered the song outright, and lines from "Gin And Juice" have made their way into countless other songs.  While the internet heavily circulates a bluegrass cover of the song that is often attributed to the band Phish, it is in fact a group called The Gourds that are responsible for this version of the song.  The line "...laid back..." has become an icon of popular cultre onto itself, and few adolescents of the 1990's can hear those words without following it with the rest of the chorus.  This in itself proves just what a significant part of music history that "Gin And Juice" represents, and it is also the song that permanently cemented Snoop Dogg as one of the greatest emcees in hip-hop history.  Whether it is his smooth, clear delivery, or the bounce and mood that he brings to the track, the song is without question one of his finest lyrical moments, and it sounds just as fresh and powerful today as it did in 1993.  Adding in the brilliant musical arrangement from Dr. Dre, and there was simply no way that the song was going to be anything less than a classic.  One can see this combination as the perfect sound at the perfect time, and there is no song that defines the hip-hop movement of the early 1990's better than Snoop Dogg's monumental 1993 single, "Gin And Juice."

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #47"

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

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

1. Phish, "Cities"  1997/03/01 Hamburg, Germany
2. Jerry Lee Lewis, "High School Confidential"  Live At The Star Club, Hamburg
3. Dan Auerbach, "When The Night Comes"  Keep It Hid
4. Stubborn All-Stars, "Thankful"  Back With A New Batch
5. Neil Young, "Throw Your Hatred Down"  Mirror Ball
6. The Clash, "The Right Profile"  London Calling
7. Sepultura, "Territory"  Chaos A.D.
8. John Coltrane, "Naima"  Giant Steps
9. The Black Angels, "Black Grease"  Passover
10. Patsy Cline, "I Fall To Pieces"  The Patsy Cline Story
11. G Love, "Thanks And Praise (featuring Jasper)"  Lemonade
12. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Conscience Killer"  Beat The Devil's Tattoo
13. Johnny Cash, Tennessee Stud"  American Recordings14. 25 Suaves, "1938"  1938
15. Monsters Of Folk, "Ahead Of The Curve"  Monsters Of Folk
16. Ryan Adams, "Tennessee Sucks"  Demolition

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21: Björk, "Hyperballad"

Artist: Björk
Song: "Hyperballad"
Album: Post
Year: 1995

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While at some level, almost every artist or band can be placed into one genre or another, there are once-in-a-generation performers that simply defy all description, and can only be defined by their name alone.  Though these completely unique artists are scattered across the decades, as well as the distant connections to their sound, they all remain some of the most innovative and important contributors to the overall existence of music.  Many artists may vie for such a distinction, but very few are worthy of such a status, and over the past two decades, few performers have set themselves aside from others as consistently and in as amazing a style as one finds in the music of Iceland’s own Björk.  With her soaring voice and some of the most mind-bending musical arrangements ever committed to tape, there are simply no words that can even remotely provide and accurate description of the musical landscapes which she creates.  Furthermore, as her career has progressed, she has forged into new territory, with her albums yielding new approaches with each release.  From the strangely danceable sounds of her 1993 album, Debut, to the instrument-less masterpiece, Medúlla, one can easily point to Björk as the most courageous musician of her generation.  Due to the massive diversity in her albums, it is rather difficult to find a single song or even group of songs that accurately represent her vast musical talents.  However, it is her 1995 album, Post, in which she brings all of her various sounds together in stunning fashion.  There is not a moment anywhere on the record that is anything less than awe-inspiring, and yet one cannot deny that the albums' final single, "Hyperballad," stands not only as the best track, but also perhaps the finest moment in Björk's career.

One of the keys to Björk's amazing sound is her ability to seamlessly work high-energy moods into some of the most blissful, soothing musical arrangements.  While countless musicians have attempted this juxtaposition of sounds, no other has been able to do so as successfully as Björk.  On "Hyperballad," Björk brings in producer Nellee Hooper, and the duo create a complex musical background that defies all categorization.  The way in which the two work the programmed drums alongside the orchestral arrangement defines the term "ambient," and it is done to such an amazing level that the song becomes almost hypnotic.  The pulsing, almost echoing keyboards dance lightly across the track, and it is this melody that makes "Hyperballad" border on euphoric.  It is this ability uncanny to truly carry the listener away that defines Björk's musical approach, and the way in which the almost space-like keyboard blends with the violins, then giving way to the speedy programmed drums that gives "Hyperballad" such fantastic depth.  The superb combination of sound, speed, and mood is also what has made "Hyperballad" a favorite of DJ's, and there have been countless remixes of the song from everyone from Broadsky Quartet to Wu-Tang Clan's RZA.  This also enforces what a wide appeal Björk has gained through her uncommon sound, and further adds to the overall greatness of "Hyperballad."

Though the musical arrangement over which she performs on "Hyperballad" is nothing short of phenomenal, as is almost always the case, it is Björk's voice that quickly becomes the centerpiece of the song.  While on many songs, she stuns listeners with her amazing range and power, on "Hyperballad," it is the level of intimacy and perfect pitch that becomes so breathtaking.  Keeping her vocals as restrained and hypnotic as the music, Björk sings in a style which is almost akin to a lullaby, yet when she moves into the bridge and chorus sections, the unparalleled power and emotion in her voice becomes apparent.  In many ways, both in her vocal approach, as well as the lyrics, one can see "Hyperballad" as a strange, perhaps futuristic love song.  The combination of her voice and the music give it a futuristic feel, and yet one can easily interpret the words of a person looking to keep excitement in a long-time relationship.  As she sings of creating massive destruction by throwing objects from a cliff while her lover sleeps, when she delivers the lines, "...I go through all this before you wake up, so I can feel happier to be safe again with you...," one can quickly understand that this is one of the most pure testaments of love that has ever been captured on tape.  The honest emotion comes through clearly in her voice, and it is obvious that this song is close to her heart, and it is this proximity to her music that further sets Björk apart from her peers.

If there was any artist in history that could make a case for being misunderstood by the masses, few can make as good an argument as Icelandic musical pioneer, Björk.  Never caring for what critics thought of her music, or what musical norms came and went, she perfectly defines the term of "unique artist."  Whether it is her unmatched voice, the emotion with which she sings, or the wildly eclectic musical arrangements over which she sings, there is simply no other artist in music history that even comes remotely close to her sound.  Serving as a perfect transition from the almost poppy sound of her first record to the far more complex and adventurous sounds of her later record, 1995's Post may very well be Björk's crowning musical achievement.  The album presents a vast range of musical landscapes, from dark, aggressive songs to some of the most sparse and delicate tracks of her entire career.  Serving a similar role on the album as the record does to her overall career, "Hyperballad" pulls the best of all of these sounds, bringing a quiet but intense mood, and presenting some of Björk's most alluring vocals.  Even with all of this, one cannot deny the fact that it is a love song at its core, and in many ways, it is perhaps the love song for the technology generation.  Regardless of which aspect one points to, in terms of both its uniqueness, as well as the sheer beauty of the song, there is simply nothing else in music history that compares to Björk's 1995 masterpiece, "Hyperballad."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 20: B.B. King, "Sweet Little Angel"

Artist: B.B. King
Song: "Sweet Little Angel"
Album: Sweet Little Angel (single)
Year: 1956

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For certain genres, there is one artist that is so heavily associated with the sound, that it is quite literally impossible to separate one from the other.  Due to their massive amount of impact on shaping the sound of the genre in question, across the globe, the two are forever linked, and they often stand as the most highly revered artists in history.  While every style of music ever recorded has an artist that fits this description, none have the world-wide name recognition and instant understanding of what type of music is being discussed as one finds in the name B.B. King.  Universally seen as the architect of the modern blues sound, there are so many artists across such a wide range of genres that have borrowed from his style, that one can make the case that there would be very little music of any type had it not been for his contributions over the decades.  With this in mind, it is also nothing short of impossible to choose a single song from his massive catalog as a "best" moment.  From his core sound in the blues, to moments when he bridged both jazz and rock into his music, B.B. King has a catalog that is diverse like none other.  However, there are a handful of recordings from B.B. King that stand out above others both in terms of quality, as well as impact on future generations.  One of these came quite early in his career, and one can only stand in awe of the sonic beauty that is B.B. King's 1956 single, "Sweet Little Angel."

Though it is clearly a blues song from start to finish, one can also instantly hear on "Sweet Little Angel" how B.B. King is able to blend his blues sound with the more popular sound of the day.  This ability to operate as a hybrid sound over the decades has been one of the most unique aspects of B.B. King's music, and it seems there is no genre with which he is unable to blend his sound.  Bringing a slight doo-wop sound, as well as a very solid "slow dance" groove, "Sweet Little Angel" sways as it goes, with King's guitar sounding nothing short of phenomenal.  Though it was new to the world then, it would be this distinctive tone that would become the trademark sound of B.B. King, and it sounded just as good and pure then as it does more than fifty years later.  King seems to use the guitar as almost a second vocalist on "Sweet Little Angel," letting it perfectly fill the gaps when he is not singing.  This, in many ways, is the essence of the blues, as King proves the ability to channel his emotion both verbally and musically, letting the mood build higher and higher as the song progresses.  As the song begins to wind down, King takes a quick solo, and it is here that one can hear his ability to perfectly place notes where needed, but leave optimal open space for the tension and mood to build even more.  The final part of "Sweet Little Angel" brings the listener a classic blues closing, and at just under three minutes, B.B. King delivers everything one could ever ask for in the blues style.

Yet one can easily make the case that the songs of B.B. King are simply not complete without his voice over-top the musical arrangement.  Sounding as strong and pure as his guitar playing, there is never a moment when the song sounds anything less than completely authentic, and this sense of getting "the real deal" is what set B.B. King apart from his peers.  Though his voice is not suited for some parts of the vocal spectrum, King rarely shows any sign of caring, and he lets the emotion of the song guide him, providing a completely honest and raw vocal on every song.  With "Sweet Little Angel," the way in which he cries and pines for the woman in question is as classic as blues singing can get, and one can easily feel the emotions which he is trying to convey.  The fact that "Sweet Little Angel" was able to find its way quite high on the charts is almost a shock, as such innuendos as one finds here were certainly beyond risqué in 1956.  As King sings the lines, "...I've got a sweet little angel, I love the way she spread her wings...," his euphemism becomes quite clear, and yet his is able to brilliantly bury the songs' true intentions behind his stunning guitar and moving voice.  Later in the song, King drops what has become a signature blues line, as he sings, "I asked my baby for a nickel, and she gave me a $20 bill..."  Singing exactly what he wants in a manner that is completely controlled by the energy of the music, B.B. King showed the world exactly how blues were supposed to be sung when he released "Sweet Little Angel."

Truth be told, "Sweet Little Angel" is actually a take on the traditional song, "Black Angel Blues" which was first recorded in the early 1930's.  Countless musicians have recorded their own take on the song, yet B.B. King's reworking as "Sweet Little Angel" has become a standard onto itself.  This is supported by the fact that dozens of artists, ranging from The Rolling Stones to The Allman Brothers Band have made their own versions of the King lyrics.  There are even moments on B.B. King's original recording where it almost sounds as if he is playing pedal-steel, and his ability to give his instrument such a diverse sound is yet another reason why he retains such a highly vaulted status to this day.  Though many artists have made their name in blues music, none have quite the same persona or presence as B.B. King.  His image alone represents blues music, and he has proved over the decades that it is a sound that is truly timeless.  On "Sweet Little Angel," King strips the blues down to their most basic, and the 1-4-5 chord progression that he deploys leaves ample room for his captivating voice to move the listener just as effectively as the music.  In literally every aspect, from the singing to the music to the lyrics, one will find nothing short of pure musical perfection and bliss within B.B. King's monumental 1956 single, "Sweet Little Angel."

Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19: Marilyn Manson, "Lunchbox"

Artist: Marylin Manson
Song: "Lunchbox"
Album: Portrait Of An American Family
Year: 1994

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Though it is sometimes unjust, there are a handful of cases across music history where the persona or actions of a musician outshine their achievements as a performer.  While in some instances, this is a good thing, as their musical talent may have been lacking, there is at least one situation where the reputation given by "the general public" seemed to slightly alter a performer's sound, and certainly overshadowed their musical achievements.  Though he stands as one of the most impressive heavy metal frontmen in history, it is a sad case that this is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people thing of Marilyn Manson.  Due to his over-the-top persona and apparently controversial subject matters, it is his personality that seems far more well known than the fantastic work that he and his band have recorded over the past two decades.  Making himself into the easiest target for right-wing ignorance with his 1996 release, Antichrist Superstar, those who were longtime fans of the band will agree that while this record was good, it was perhaps his second best album.  As is the case with many groups, it is the debut album that best represents the true spirit of the band, and this is certainly true with Marilyn Manson's 1994 record, Portrait Of An American Family.  Filled with overly aggressive riffs and lyrics, the album is an absolute classic, and one can experience the true musical brilliance of Marilyn Manson in their 1994 single, "Lunchbox."

Though it may be the most overlooked aspect of Marilyn Manson as a band, the fact of the matter is, as early as their debut record, the band members were already showing off their talents in the fact that nearly every one of them played multiple instruments on the album.  Though Twiggy Ramirez (AKA Jeordie White) contributes both bass and guitar parts, it is the performance of Daisy Berkowitz (AKA Scott Putesky) that stands as the high-point of "Lunchbox."  From the moment the distorted opening riff begins, the aggression and energy of the song is immediately clear.  The dual guitar sound that follows makes the song quite distinctive, and at times, it almost sounds as if the song itself is rearing back, ready to attack the listener.  The dark, deep, grooving bassline from Gidget Gein (AKA Brad Stewart) on "Lunchbox" is without question one of the finest moments of his career, as it is just as intimidating as the guitar, and the trio of guitarists show that Marilyn Manson is far more than just "an image."  Add in drummer Sara Lee Lucas (AKA Fredrick Streithorst) and multi-instrumentalist Madonna Wayne Gacy (AKA Stephen Bier), and both literally and figuratively, you have one of the most fearsome bands in music history.  The way in which they move as a single unit, creating a beautifully destructive sound, is what makes "Lunchbox" so amazing as well as proves the exceptional level of talent within the band, and it is this aspect that is often lost behind the image the they put forth.

Yet even as fantastic as the musical performance is on "Lunchbox," there is simply nothing in Marilyn Manson that shines brighter than their lead singer and the bands namesake.  Without question one of the most unmistakable and unforgettable personalities of his generation, Marilyn Manson (AKA Brian Warner) has proven that he has both the presence and vocal power to endure nearly two decades in a genre that rarely has bands with such a lifespan.  Working a large vocal range in his distinctive ranting and screaming style, Manson proves to have an understanding of the dramatic vocal approach which is far beyond that of most of his peers.  Furthermore, on a majority of his early songs, one can sense a very close relationship between Manson and the lyrics which he sings, indicating that he was likely an outcast during his childhood.  Though most of the songs of Marilyn Manson have an "anti-everyone" feel, on "Lunchbox," Manson turns back the clock, bringing one of the most intense stories of childhood bullying that has ever been recorded.  While the opening lines are, "...the big bully try to stick his finger in my chest, try to tell me, tell me he's the best...," there is a sense of rebellion in the words, and Manson paints his character as one ready to take down the bully by any means necessary.  In many ways, the song has become an anthem of the outcast, and it is Manson's almost hypnotic performance that makes the song remain such a classic nearly two decades later.

Truth be told, while it may seem like a slightly stereotypical song at face value, "Lunchbox" directly attacks a rather controversial moment in history.  In 1972, the U.S. Government officially banned metal lunchboxes in schools, as they were being used as crude weapons by many children.  This idea can be heard in the repeated line, "...I've got my lunchbox and I'm armed real well...," and the mood set by the band certainly reflects this intent.  Furthermore, when Manson sings, "...I wanna grow up, I wanna be a big rock and roll star...," it is in fact a nod to one of Manson's own heroes, Nikki Sixx of the band Mötley Crüe.  Even without these two pieces of knowledge, "Lunchbox" stands as one of the most powerful heavy metal songs ever recorded, and it was almost instantly condemned by conservative parents and politicians due to its content, as well as its extremely aggressive nature.  In many ways, it is these two things that have created the persona that now follows Marilyn Manson, and it has somewhat overshadowed the fact that he and his band make some of the most unapologetic, yet complex and pioneering music of their generation.  With most of the band members able to easily switch instruments, it gives the music of Marilyn Manson far more of a diverse sound that nearly any of their peers, and yet the intensity and authenticity behind the music never seem to vary.  Though they are certainly better known for their later, more controversial work, the fact of the matter is, one can quickly understand why Marilyn Manson stand today as one of the finest heavy metal bands in history by experiencing their brilliant 1994 song, "Lunchbox."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 18: Boogie Down Productions, "The Bridge Is Over"

Artist: Boogie Down Productions
Song: "The Bridge Is Over"
Album: Criminal Minded
Year: 1987

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While the progression and formation of most musical styles can easily be seen as an evolutionary process, there are a few moments in music history where due to a singular event, a new style was created.  These rare events, scattered across the entire history of music, are almost always seen "in the moment" as breakthrough events, and as the years pass, their importance becomes larger.  Case in point: throughout the early and mid-1980's, there was a battle of sorts being fought with words as to "where" one could call the specific "home" of hip-hop music.  In the end, it came down to two neighborhoods of New York City: Queens and The Bronx.  It was due to this feud that some of the most impressive tracks in hip-hop history were created, and one song and artist in particular almost single-handedly took the style from clever poetic rhyming to the more modern sense of the genre.  Though there were many influential hip-hop groups during this time period, there were few (if any) that carry the same respect and display of sheer talent that one finds within the music of Boogie Down Productions.  Taking the hip-hop formula and making far deeper and more socially aware songs than any of their peers, everyone from Public Enemy to Jurassic 5 owes much of their style to these pioneers.  It is also due to Boogie Down Productions that the idea of the "dis" track rose to prominence, and the genre simply would not exist as it does today without their groundbreaking 1987 song, "The Bridge Is Over."

Quite literally, every aspect of Boogie Down Productions stands as absolutely legendary today, and one would be hard pressed to find a more innovative and complete DJ, producer, and writer than one finds in the late Scott LaRock.  On tracks like "The Bridge Is Over," it becomes clear that he has an uncanny understanding of how to present a powerful, unforgettable musical background without the music becoming overwhelming, as well as leaving more than enough space for the emcees to perform.  On this track, LaRock deploys a classic break-beat, and in many ways, hip-hop does not get any more pure than one finds on this song.  Furthermore, there is really only one sample being used, and it is more of an interpretation than the more "standard" lifting of a previously recorded songs' loop.  The music is actually KRS-One playing the progression from Super Cat's "Boops" on a studio piano, and it is looped throughout the entire song.  Quite literally, this is all there is to the music on "The Bridge Is Over," and while it is certainly a sparse arrangement, Scott LaRock is able to make it more powerful and mesmerizing than many later producers who felt the need to "fill" the entire track with sound.  In many ways, this shows the true power of hip-hop in its most basic form, and it leaves nothing in the way of the vocals, which are clearly the focal point of the track.

Standing as the other half of what is without question the most influential duo in the entire history of hip-hop music, one would be very hard pressed to find a more impressive and complete emcee than one finds in the iconic KRS-One.  Whether it is his voice or the intense lyrics he brings, his clear and concise voice quickly became the blueprint for nearly every other rapper.  On "The Bridge Is Over," KRS-One brings a steady rhyming pace, and this is likely due to the fact that with the content he was bringing, he wanted to be sure that every word could be clearly heard.  Though the sound of his voice is fantastic, "The Bridge Is Over" is all about the lyrics he brings, and there are few more potent and destructive "dis" tracks that have ever been recorded.  The aim of his attack is clear from the onset, as in the first few lines, KRS-One states, "...ya can't sound like Shan or the one Marley, because Shan and Marley Marl dem a'rhymin like they gay..."  The entire song is an all-out verbal assault on the emcees from the Queensbridge projects, and at every turn, KRS-One is either destroying them as rappers, or making it clear that it was The Bronx from whence "real" hip-hop emerged.  Serving as one of the most harsh, yet brilliant lines in history, KRS-One absolutely destroys the pair during the final verse when he states, "...you'd better change what comes out your speaker, you're better off talkin' 'bout your whack Puma sneaker, 'cause Bronx created hip-hop, Queens will only get dropped..."  In both how he delivers each word of this verbal shellacking, as well as the content therein, KRS-One makes no apologies, and in the process, he forever changed the entire face of hip-hop music.

Though it is nothing short of a classic, "The Bridge Is Over" was one of a handful of songs off of Criminal Minded that ushered in the more aggressive, almost hardcore style of rapping, and it is this change that would create the environment for the next two decades of hip-hop music.  With "The Bridge Is Over," KRS-One made the style of bragging about ones' neighborhood "acceptable" in "commercial" hip-hop, and one can find countless followers of this style throughout the decades that came after.  Yet one must also note that even when he is at his most fierce, KRS-One never resorts to cursing on the track, and this aspect proves that as was the case with a majority of early emcees, the "true" talent was in finding more creative ways to express a feeling, without resorting to the "easy" way out.  Due to this, every line on "The Bridge Is Over" is extremely potent, and KRS-One never lets up the attack in even the slightest way.  Combined with the equally powerful, yet almost inexplicably sparse musical arrangement from Scott LaRock, and the song was an instant classic, retaining its power more than two decades later.  In reality, the song served its purpose, as those whom it attacked were rarely heard from after its release, and to this day, most critics point to The Bronx as the "true" birthplace of hip-hop music.  Quite literally perfect in every aspect, there are simply no other songs in the entire history of hip-hop that are as flawless, nor as pivotal to the development of the genre as one finds in Boogie Down Productions' iconic 1987 single, "The Bridge Is Over."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 17: Operation Ivy, "Sound System"

Artist: Operation Ivy
Song: "Sound System"
Album: Energy
Year: 1989

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Though every band preaches "keeping it real" and not wanting to "sell out," when faced with a large record deal, nearly every band compromises in some way, shape, or form.  The few bands that don't cave to such pressure often find difficulty in gaining notoriety, as such a move is sure to incur the wrath of those whom they scorn.  Yet in at least one case, such a move stands as the defining moment of the band, and their subsequent album stands as nothing short of legendary for a number of reasons.  After quickly becoming one of the most talked about local bands, EMI offered a recording contract to ska-revival, hardcore icons, Operation Ivy.  Instead of signing the contract, the band decided to break up, and in that same month, their masterpiece of an album, 1989's Energy was released.  Nearly every song on the album has become an absolute classic, and the band members went on to various other projects, though they never lost sight of the sound this group created.  Bringing together the foundations of punk and hardcore, along with a heavy dose of ska and dub, Operation Ivy have had a massive impact on nearly every band that has formed since.  Depending on the mood of the listener, each song on the album can be considered the "best" at one time or another, but there is no way one can overlook the amazing mood and sound found on Operation Ivy's 1989 song, "Sound System."

With the opening notes of the song, all of the influences of Operation Ivy immediately become clear, as traces of punk, hardcore, dub, and ska are all quite evident, and one cannot overlook the songs' title being a direct reference to the legendary block parties in Jamaica where both ska and dub where born.   "Sound System" instantly brings an amazing bounce and mood, and the band perfectly blends it into their far more aggressive musical approach.  This sound and mood are largely due to the playing of the man called Lint, who is better known as Tim Armstrong.  As the song progresses, Armstrong seems to be trying to push the song faster and faster, and it is why one cannot help but get caught up in "Sound System."  The bass playing from Matt McCall is nothing short of deadly, as he flies all over the fret-board, bringing a fantastic groove to the song.  The more aggressive strains of the song, marking the punk and hardcore influences of Operation Ivy can most clearly be heard via the drumming of Dave Mello, and his speedy playing and fills became the blueprint for an entire generation of players that followed.  The combined sound has the distortion and drive of the classic punk rock sound, and yet it retains the light energy that defines the ska sound.  While many bands attempted to blend these styles, none did it as perfectly as one finds on "Sound System."

As much as the musical portion of "Sound System" is a mixture of many styles, the vocals from Jesse Michaels are as classic punk as one will find anywhere.  In both the tone in his voice, as well as the way in which he delivers the lyrics, would have fit in just as perfectly in 1977 as they did in 1987.  While there is a growl and grit to his voice, there is also a far lighter and almost inviting sound to his singing that is lacking from a majority of punk and hardcore singers, and this can be seen as one of the few links his vocals have to the mood which the band sets on "Sound System."  The drive in Michaels' voice forms a fantastic parallel with the music, and it is also due to the upbeat, if not inspiring nature of the lyrics that his sound becomes so distant from that of his peers.  The song itself largely speaks to the power of music, and the idea that even at the worst of times, "...sound system gonna bring me back up, one thing that I can depend on..."  For many music lovers, especially those within the punk and hardcore scenes, it is a common thought that it is music that has "saved" their lives, and it is lyrics like this that perfectly echo that sentiment.  Furthermore, the raw and straightforward manner with which Michaels sings the words make it quite clear that he, as well as the entire band, have shared this feeling.  The fact that it is such a universal feeling is one of the keys to "Sound System" being such a phenomenal song, and the idea of shared experience is, in many ways, what the punk/hardcore scene in which Operation Ivy existed was "all about."

The fact that even with an album full of brilliant songs ready to be unleashed on the world, Operation Ivy decided to end their career as opposed to sign to a major label is the most impressive and clear embodiment of "keeping it real" that has ever existed in music.  It is this act that has left the bands' legacy and the Energy album as two of the most sacred entities in music history, and at some level, the bands' vision and integrity are completely beyond reproach.  While any band doing a similar act would certainly be worthy of note, the fact that Operation Ivy did it whilst having an unquestionably legendary album at their fingertips makes the act all the more admirable.  It was this act that proved that the "true" punk rock spirit was still alive and well, and one can not only see it in their dissolving the band, but the roots can also be heard throughout every song on Energy.  The way in which Operation Ivy blends together this sound with their clear love for ska and dub music remains largely unparalleled, as there is not a moment on the album that seems forced, and the sincerity with which they play each note makes every song nothing short of anthemic.  Almost every song on Energy has been covered a number of times since its release, and this makes it difficult to pick a single song as the "best" to represent the band.  However, in terms of both musical influences, as well as the spirit of the band, one would be hard pressed to top the mood and sound found on Operation Ivy's 1989 song, "Sound System."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 16: Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Suck My Kiss"

Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song: "Suck My Kiss"
Album: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Year: 1991

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In a handful of cases, the face and sound of a band has changed so much that it can often be difficult to remember exactly why the band in question was once seen in such a different light.  This may be due to changes in lineup, a particular producer, or a life-altering even in the bands’ primary writers.  Then of course, there is the ever present “exploring new musical directions” line that has served as the excuse for band groups who have clearly lost sight of what once made them so great.  With this in mind, though they now write little more than pop songs, there was a time when Red Hot Chili Peppers were one of the most potent and progressive bands on the planet.  Bringing a blend of funk and punk along with some of the most talented musicians of their day, the group wore their emotions on their sleeves, and their songs remain some of the most prolific and moving of their generation.  Having already sent ripples through the water of the music scene with their first few albums, the would could never have expected the musical tidal wave that would arrive with their groundbreaking 1991 album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  Creating far more concise musical arrangements and some of the finest signing in the bands history, the album completely separated Red Hot Chili Peppers from the rest of the so-called “alternative” music scene.  Though one can make a case for many songs on the record being their finest, one can find the unrestrained punk-funk brilliance that defines Red Hot Chili Peppers in the form of their 1991 single, “Suck My Kiss.”

The instant the song begins, the entire band drops in with a stunning presence, and they instantly set the tone not only for the song, but for a majority of the album as well.  Led by the stomping groove of Flea’s bass, it is performances like this that have vaulted him into the highest and most respected places in the history of bass players.  His down-beat, emphasized by the drums from Chad Smith, and in many ways, Smith’s playing seems far more natural and authentic than his first album with the group.  These two remain today one of the most powerful rhythm sections of their generation, and the groove they create falls somewhere between punk, metal, funk, and hip hop.  The fact that the group seems to cross into hip-hop territory is where the song begins to become indefinable, as the verse sections feature little more than these two players, giving a sparse, but extremely potent groove.  The bands’ newest member, John Frusciante, makes a seamless transition into the group, and his high-strung fills serve as a fantastic counter to the vocals.  His brief solo near the end of the song shows just how perfectly he fits into the bands sound, as his dizzying solo pushes the overall energy to a level rarely achieved by any band in history.  Nearly two decades after “Suck My Kiss” first hit airwaves, the sound and mood can still light up a room, and the fact that it retains its power even after such a period of time is a testament to what a uniquely amazing musical moment it represents.

Though the bass playing of Flea defines the groups’ sound, the band simply would not be complete without the unmistakable vocals of Anthony Kiedis.  In both the pitch of his voice as well as his cadence, there has never been another vocalist with a similar approach, and it is this style which so perfectly blends with the almost stuttering sound of Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Having already proven that he can work the entire vocal scale, Kiedis stays close to the sound of his spoken voice, but he brings a punch to the lyrics that again give a nod to hip-hop style.  The pulse with which he performs adds yet another rhythm to the song, and these multiple beats is one of the key aspects that makes the song so fantastic.  However, one cannot discuss “Suck My Kiss” without looking to the lyrics, and the words perfectly display the slightly adolescent, yet fun loving style that many came to love about Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Certainly one of the most unsubtle word plays ever recorded, one can almost understand why the single was given the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker when it was released.  Though he never slips on the words, one cannot help but grin when Kiedis delivers the lines, “…give to me sweet sacred bliss, your mouth was made to suck my kiss…”  Regardless of the intent of the song, it is the high energy, almost ecstatic manner with which Anthony Kiedis delivers the words that make the song so fantastic.

Though the band had a few songs that charted higher, there is no song that better defines the sound of Red Hot Chili Peppers than “Suck My Kiss.”  Clearly displaying their influences of funk and punk, the sound and energy of the sound can be linked to an odd combination of The J.B.’s and The Stooges.  In fact, the b-side of the “Suck My Kiss” single features the bands’ take on The Stooges classic, “Search And Destroy.”  The fact that the group was so completely unique was one of the reasons that so many bands attempted to follow in their path, yet none have been able to compare to the talent and sheer energy found in the music of Red Hot Chili Peppers.  It is almost impossible to think of a time when Blood Sugar Sex Magik did not exist, as many of the songs have become truly anthemic over the years, and the record instantly placed the band into the most elite group of musicians in history. The core interplay between Flea and Kiedis has rarely been as powerful as it is here, and the addition of John Frusciante stands as one of the most perfect band-member-transitions in history.  Though his time with the band would be short-lived, his work on the album, especially his splintering sound on "Suck My Kiss" are nothing short of phenomenal.  Though they have seemed to move further and further from their funk-punk roots as the years have passed, one can be quickly reminded of just why Red Hot Chili Peppers remain so highly respected by listening to their unmatched 1991 single, "Suck My Kiss."

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #46"

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

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

1. Special Beat, "Enjoy Yourself"  Trojan Ska Revival Box Set
2. Grinderman, "Palaces Of Montezuma"  Grinderman 2
3. The Sea And Cake, "Middlenight"  Everybody
4. The Clash, "48 Hours"  The Clash (UK)
5. B-52's, "Cosmic Thing"  Cosmic Thing
6. Wirepony, "Right Hook Of Love"  Right Hook Of Love
7. King Khan & The Shrines, "Took My Lady Out To Dinner"  The Supreme Genius Of King Khan & The Shrines
8. Billie Holiday, "I Cover The Waterfront"  The Commodore Master Takes
9. Nirvana, "Oh, Me"  MTV Unplugged In New York
10. 10,000 Maniacs, "Candy Everybody Wants (With Michael Stipe)" Few And Far Between
11. James Brown, "Call Me Super Bad"  Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III
12. The Evens, "Blessed Not Lucky"  The Evens
13. Dr. Dre, "Been There, Done That"  Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermanth
14. Counting Crows, "Mercury"  Across A Wire: Live In New York
15. The Ramones, "Beat On The Brat"  Ramones

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 14: Junior Brown, "I Hung It Up"

Artist: Junior Brown
Song: "I Hung It Up"
Album: Semi-Crazy
Year: 1996

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There are few things in making music that are more difficult than being completely unique, as somewhere at some point in history, there was likely another performer that sounded similar.  While some bands try and make a point of being odd, there is another approach that is very rarely attempted.  One sure way to be competelu distinctive within the entire history of music is to create your own instrument, and this is precisely the sort of genius that one finds within the music of Junior Brown.  In the mid-1980's, Brown created his own double-neck guitar, which he calls a "guit-steel," and it allows him to play with a sound and tone that is completely unique.  Blending together a number of different inlfuences, ranging from blus to country, and adding in his own brand of humor and attitude, Junior Brown remains in a category all his own, and he seems to be getting better with each album he releases.  While there is certainly no "bad" record in his catalog, there is something strangely brilliant found within his 1996 release, Semi-Crazy, and the album as a whole perfectly sums up everything that makes him so extraordinary.  Though many of his songs are a bit slower in nature, pulling more from blues and a bit of jazz, when Junior Brown completely lets loose, it is pure rock and roll bliss, and this is what one finds in his 1996 song, "I Hung It Up."

There is no single category that completely encompasses the sound that Junior Brown creates on “I Hung It Up,” as it is far too fast for blues, jazz, or country, yet there is a unique element that makes one unable to properly call it rock or even rockabilly.  The speed and swagger with which Brown plays his one-of-a-kind guitar is one of the most distinctive features of “I Hung It Up,” as the opening implies a fast-paced rockabilly jam, yet as the song progresses, it fades into something completely different.  Finding little need for other instrumentation, Brown’s guitar dominates the entire musical landscape as he seamlessly switches between “standard” playing and riffs along the slide portion of his guitar.  There are points on the song where the guitar is almost a second vocalist, as Brown uses it to fill the places between his lyrics.  It is at these moments that the blues influence become clear, as Brown clearly understands the idea of “where the notes are not played.”  While one can find his amazing tone and style on nearly every song he has ever recorded, it is the solo section on “I Hung It Up” that makes this a stand-out track.  Brown rips across the song, showing both his speed and technical skills, and the amount of emotion he is able to bring forth via his guitar is largely unparalleled elsewhere in music history.  Throughout all of “I Hung It Up,” Brown’s playing completely mesmerizes the listener, and the pace and tone never fall anything short of perfect.

Though there is no other guitar player in history that can match the tone of Junior Brown, he manages to make his voice play out as the ideal counterpart.  The way in which his deep, bass voice contrasts with the twangy, upbeat sound of his guitar is often stunning, and it is this combination where Brown gives a nod to his country and western roots.  There is a certain sound in his voice and playing that gives “I Hung It Up” a sound that would have fit in perfectly in the rockabilly movement of the 1950’s, and yet there is no question that it also brings a very modern feel.  The fact that he is able to combine all these sounds and influences into his vocal performance is what makes it so enjoyable, and the light-hearted lyrics he sings serves as the perfect finishing touch.  At its core, “I Hung It Up” is a love song, yet Junior Brown’s unique way of conveying this emotion makes the song truly unforgettable.  Whether he is singing about quitting drinking, smoking, or other women, Brown brings a smirk to every line, yet there is no question of the sincerity of his words.  Brown pushes the level of humor, also giving a large compliment to the women for who he pines when he sings, “..I took out my car for a Sunday drive, but I ran it through a fence watching you walk by…”  It is rather unconventional, yet clearly genuine expressions of his emotions that make “I Hung It Up” such a uniquely enjoyable musical experience.

While many musicians would prefer people think otherwise, the truth of the matter is, to be completely unique is perhaps the most difficult achievement in all of music.  Add in the task of combining a large number of different musical styles, and one can only stand in awe at the music of Junior Brown.  Taking the rockabilly format and infusing elements of jazz, blues, and a solid dose of his own odd personality, and there is simply nothing else in recorded history quite like the music of Junior Brown.  After listening to Brown for only a few minutes, it becomes abundantly clear that his creation of his own guitar was out of necessity, as one cannot imagine the sounds he creates coming from any other combination of instruments.  It is the fact that Brown’s music is so completely distinctive that makes him able to appeal to nearly every musical audience, and he proves that one can be witty and still make music that must be taken seriously.  Along with his oddly welcoming vocals, there is no arguing that Brown is one of the most talented guitar players in history, as both the speed and skill with which he plays are nothing short of phenomenal.  Simply put, there is absolutely nothing in the music of Junior Brown that is anything less that superb, and it is much the reason that he has become such a highly respected figure within the music scene of the past few decades.  Unquestionably one of the most truly unique artists in history, one can experience everything that makes Junior Brown such a legend in his 1996 song, “I Hung It Up.”