Monday, January 31, 2011

January 31: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #57"

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 commentary from "The Guru" himself.

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that band, song, or album) :
1. Allman Brothers Band, "One Way Out"  Eat A Peach
2. Oysterhead, "Pseudo Suicide"  The Grand Pecking Order
3. Múm, "We Have A Map Of The Piano"  Finally We Are No One
4. Circle Jerks, "Product Of My Environment"  Golden Shower Of Hits
5. Lucinda Williams, "Right In Time"  Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
6. Reflection Eternal, "Eternalists"  Train Of Thought
7. Alice Cooper, "Desperado"  Killer
8. Greg Aranda, "Double Jeopardy"  Outlaw Blue
9. The Clash, "What's My Name"  The Clash (UK)
10. Lou Reed, "Street Hassle"  Street Hassle
11. Martha & The Vandellas, "Nowhere To Run"  Nowhere To Run (single)
12. Bad Manners, "Sally Brown (live)"  Trojan Ska Revivial Box Set
13. The Avett Brothers, "Tin Man"  I And Love And You
14. This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, "Selma"  Front Seat Solidarity

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30: Killing Joke, "Eighties"

Artist: Killing Joke
Song: "Eighties"
Album: Night Time
Year: 1985

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Though there are many, there are few things more difficult in music than to be truly ahead of your time.  While an overwhelming majority of artists alter their sound in some way to be more appealing to the current music scene, those performers that stick to their sound, regardless of the reaction, are almost always those that become legends.  In the case of "being ahead of your time," it is something that can take decades to be fully realized, and even at that later point, some bands still do not receive all of the credit that they deserve.  This is exactly the case when one considers the entire career of hardcore-post punk-new wave-heavy metal pioneers, Killing Joke.  Quite simply, it is impossible to categorize their sound under any single genre, and one can hear their influence quite clearly across the following decades of popular music.  The way in which the band was able to fuse together a heavier, more aggressive musical approach with a dark mood, yet unquestionably danceable sound makes them amazingly unique, and there are few records that are on par with their monumental 1980 self-titled debut.  Yet if one wants to clearly understand just how influential they were as a band, it is all over their 1985 album, Night Time, and few songs are as musically brilliant or obviously crucial to the development of music than Killing Joke's, "Eighties."

From the moment that "Eighties" begins, a number of things become instantly clear, yet the most obvious may be the bassline being played by Paul Raven.  The combination of sonic distortion and the aggressive feeling here sets the perfect stage for the song, and yet most listeners will immediately hear the progression to a later, chart-topping hit.  Once one hears "Eighties," it is impossible to deny that Nirvana did anything but completely steal this progression note for note on their song, "Come As You Are," and simply slow it down, making it less musically appealing.  This in itself is the direct link from Killing Joke's sound to the so-called "grunge" movement, and yet after hearing "Eighties," it is quite clear that Killing Joke did it both first, as well as better.  The bassline is complimented by the stiff, dry drumming from Paul Ferguson, as well as a slightly higher, more distorted guitar from Kevin "Geordie" Walker.  Adding in synthesizer work from Jaz Coleman, and "Eighties" simply sounds like nothing else ever recorded, as the music is unquestionably aggressive, and yet one cannot deny the oddly danceable mood created by the band.  It is this unique ability to bridge these two sounds that makes Killing Joke so significant, and the way in which the songs retain an almost punk feel, yet are more musically full and complex than their peers in those fields is what pushes them into a category all their own.

Providing the perfect finishing touch to the song, it is on "Eighties" that one can hear Jaz Coleman making his final transition from the more scream-based vocal approach of their early records to the more formal singing that he would display from this point forward.  Retaining the powerful and heavily emotive approach that defined the band throughout their career, Coleman is absolutely mesmerizing on "Eighties," as the song takes on a chanting feel that seems to beg for the listener to join in with an almost "call and response" style.  Though he is just as angst-ridden and critical as ever, there is something strangely accessible about Coleman's performance here, and it is this aspect that shows another way in which Killing Joke were able to find a way to make more aggressive music more appealing to a wider range of music fans.  Leaving little to the imagination, throughout "Eighties," Coleman is on an all out attack against the society in which he feels trapped, and this is most clear when he sings, "...eighties, I have to push, I have to struggle...eighties, get out of my way, I'm not for sale no more..."  The way in which the song is positioned in complete opposition to what was becoming a quickly accepted "life of excess" approach embodies the bands' punk roots, and it would be this sound and stance that would fuel the rise of "alternative rock" as the 1980's began to come to an end.

For a large number of reasons, one can easily make the case that Killing Joke were one of the most important bands of the entire music scene of the 1980's.  However, they are rarely given such credit, and yet once one hears songs like "Eighties," it is almost impossible to argue otherwise.  The way in which they were able to take the angst-ridden, stripped down sound of punk rock and hardcore, and inject into it a distinctive sonic beauty is truly like nothing else ever recorded.  Furthermore, the fact that the music retains a groove and beat that is danceable in its own way places them far apart from any of their peers.  Adding in the final element of the sharp, often insightful and revealing lyrics, and there are few other bands from any point in history that have been able to boast as complete a musical package.  The way in which one can hear the bands' progression as musicians over their first few records is also an amazing experience, and one can easily see their 1985 album, Night Time, as the culmination of their efforts.  To put it simply, if one takes a song like "Eighties," slows it down, pulls out the synthesizer, and turns the vocals to screaming, what one is left with is in fact the entire "grunge" sound that was seen as "new" throughout the early 1990's.  It is this fact that serves as the final evidence in the massive influence and importance that Killing Joke played on nearly every style that formed in their wake, and one can hear how brilliant a band they were in their superb 1985 single, "Eighties."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29: Dick Dale, "Misirlou"

Artist: Dick Dale
Song: "Misirlou"
Album: Surfers' Choice
Year: 1962

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Though it is often looked down upon in the larger sense, some of the more interesting moments in the history of recorded music have come via artists covering the songs of other musicians.  While in most cases, the cover version cannot compete with the original, there are a few instances where the latter take on the song has opened entirely new roads in music.  Furthermore, there are a number of situations where the general public is simply not aware that the song is a cover, and the recording can take on an entirely new life due to this misconception.  If one adds into this equation a new, exciting sound and an exceptional level of musical talent, it becomes understandable why people assume the originality of the piece, and this is exactly what occurred in the early 1960's with guitar god, Dick Dale.  Though the progression had been first performed in the 1920's as a slow, Greek folk song, over the decades that followed, the song simply known as "Misirlou" took on a number of different forms as musicians and composers across the world modified it to keep with current musical trends.  Yet even with all of these different arrangements, it would take nearly forty years before the world as a whole were aware of the song, and since that point, it has become one of the most easily recognizable songs in history.  The year was 1962, and Dick Dale sped up the pace and re-arranged the progression, and he became an instant legend when he released his version of the classic song, "Misirlou."

Truth be told, there are actually three well known recordings of Dick Dale doing "Misirlou," with each of them having their own, distinctive sound.  The first version, found on his groundbreaking 1962 album, Surfers' Choice, was called "Misirlou Twist," and incorporates a full string section, giving the song an almost "spy movie" feel.  The way in which the strings both compliment and contrast the guitars is absolutely stunning, and the brief appearance of a horn section helps to heighten the tension and mood on the song.  This is also the longest take on the song, clocking in at over four minutes nearly twice the length of any other version he recorded.  Shortly after the release of the Surfers' Choice recording, Dale worked a second version, with his band, The Del-Tones, in tow, and it sheds a completely different light on the song.  On this take, there is a far greater Spanish influence to be heard, as well as the introduction of backing vocals, singing along with the track.  The drumming is also more forward in the mix, and take the place of the strings in terms of contrasting the guitar playing.  Finally, there was a third take on the song, and it is this version with which most people have become familiar.  On this take, Dale brings back the horns, and the backing band gives the song an almost intimidating swing.  It is also on this version where Dale features the trumpet solo to contrast his guitar, and in many ways, one can see this final recording as the culmination of the work on the previous two takes on "Misirlou."

The only constant factor throughout the three best-known recordings of "Misirlou" is the absolutely brilliant guitar work of Dick Dale, and it is largely due to this song that he remains such a legend.  Without question one of the fastest guitar players of the era, the level of technical expertise and emotion he is able to convey is what sets him far apart from his peers.  Furthermore, there i s almost always an upbeat, fun feeling within his playing, and in many ways, it is the music of Dick Dale that defines the pure joy of playing guitar.  Legend has it that at a live performance, Dale was challenged by a fan to play the song on a single string, and this incident had a heavy infleunce on the later recordings of "Misirlou."  One can easily make the case that it was this song that set in motion the style that is called "surf rock," and the way in which Dale is able to inject a more mysterious, almost dangerous feel to songs like "Misirlou" is what sets him far apart from others in the genre.  On the song, it is easy to here the almost fiery energy he brings, and one can hear how his performances influenced everything from punk to heavy metal and even the psychedelic sounds.  Even almost five decades later, there is simply nothing that can compare to Dick Dale's performance on "Misirlou," and it continues to sound just and fresh and exciting as it did upon first release.

Almost since the day Dick Dale released his first version of "Misirlou," it has been a constant part of popular culture.  Shortly after his recording, The Beach Boys took a swing at the song, and one can find other covers from nearly every musical genre.  Furthermore, the Dick Dale version reaffirmed its iconic status when a modified version of the song was used to open the now-classic 1994 film, Pulp Fiction.  It was its use in this film that reminded many of the amazing mood that Dale conveys on the song, and it also proved that even so many decades later, the song remained fresh and unmatched.  Though in recent years, the song was disgracefully cannibalized to form the backing track for one of the most under-talented and overrated groups in the current music scene, Dick Dale's take on "Misirlou" has proven its strength in that it remains an untouchable classic that cannot have its greatness damaged in any way.  The way in which Dale was able to create three completely distinctive takes on this folk song serve as a testament to his massive talents, and it is amazing to be able to experience his development of the song through these versions.  Though each of them has their own personality, one simply cannot get past the absolutely breathtaking performance that Dale gives on all three, and it is this consistent display of true musical genius that vaults Dick Dale's takes on "Misirlou" to the level of unquestionably iconic status.

Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28: Urban Species & Imogen Heap, "Blanket"

Artist: Urban Species & Imogen Heap
Song: "Blanket"
Album: Blanket
Year: 1998

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While there are constant cases that leave one wondering how a certain song found its way to international notoriety, there are similarly countless examples of songs that are truly amazing, yet rarely receive the accolades that they deserve.  The latter of these situations can occur due to a number of reasons, but in most cases, with bands on larger labels, it is simply due to the label itself not pushing the song as much as others.  Due to this fact, one must often dig deep into the seemingly endless list of groups to find exceptional songs and true musical art, and this is the case when one looks into the music of Urban Species.  Bringing together jazz, funk, blues, and a number of other styles, and finding a way to blend it all into a hip-hop form, the group had a handful of hits in Europe throughout the 1990's, and they remain one of the most unique groups of that decade.  Yet it was often their collaborations with other artists that yielded the most impressive results, and after a change in lineup in the late 1990's, this reality became far more apparent.  Finding a new balance in their sound, as well as the way in which they work in the superb vocal talents of Imogen Heap, the group managed to push their sound into "ambient" territory, and the resulting song, 1998's "Blanket," stands today as one of the most beautifully blissful tracks ever recorded.

If one only hears "Blanket," it may be difficult to understand the groups' hip-hop roots, as even from the opening notes, the delicate, yet musically full sound that Urban Species put forth makes them sound as if they were long-time veterans of the electronic music scene.  From the soft keyboard progression to the oddly tension-filled cymbal tapping, there are few songs that pull the listener in as quickly as "Blanket."  This sound and mood, largely the creation of producer Mintos, is absolutely perfect, and even when the core section of the song kicks in, though it is slightly more aggressive, the song never loses its smooth, almost hypnotic feel.  It is within the main musical portion of the song that one can easily pick up on Urban Species' love for funk music, as they deploy one of the most subtle, yet unquestionably deep grooves ever recorded  In an era of excessive bass, the group uses "Blanket" to prove that the same results can be achieved with a far more restrained approach.  This groove is highlighted by the keyboard interjections, as well as the way in which they make the percussion almost dance over the rest of the sounds.  As the song continues, the listener is drawn in further and further, and this is where the songs' title takes on a second meaning, as the sonic creation very much envelops the listener, creating what can easily be termed as a modern lullaby.

Working in perfect harmony with the music, the vocal team of Imogen Heap along with emcee work from Mintos, are able to present a fantastic vocal contrast, whilst somehow making both their styles flow with the song.  Though at the time she was still very much a rising star, Imogen Heap now stands as one of the most well known voices within a number of different groups such as Frou Frou, as well as a solo artist.  The way in which her voice soars across and above the music on "Blanket" is truly breathtaking, and it is her contributions that help the song to gain an almost ethereal feeling.  It is also within Heap's vocals that one can feel the sense of loneliness that the song perfectly conveys, and there are few other examples in music history where this emotion is captured as honestly as it is here.  Yet the song would not be as brilliant as it is without the contrasting vocal performance from Mintos, as he connects the group to hip-hop, and much like the music, shows the power of subtlety.  Bringing a smooth, almost soft-spoken delivery to "Blanket," his work here stands as one of a handful of cases where the rhymes seem to transcend the genre of hip-hop, and one can easily understand why this song can appeal to a much wider audience.  Furthermore, the pain and almost dark feelings can be heard clearly in his voice, and yet there is an honesty in his delivery that makes the song easy to relate to by people all across the globe.

The final piece of "Blanket," the lyrics, are just as important as the music and vocals, as they hit quite hard and to those who have experienced the feelings conveyed, there are few other examples in history that speak of these feelings as accurately.  Though it is not an emotion to which all can relate, for those who find safety and solace within music, "Blanket" perfectly defines an idea which has rarely been explored, and it brings a strange comfort to those who truly understand the mood of the song.  Both Heap and Mintos take slightly different approaches to the idea, but when Mintos delivers the lines, "...see the music I consume to escape the doom and gloom, all the beats and melodies they keep realities at bay, but what happen when the record drummin' start to fade away...," there is an almost tragic beauty that can be felt.  Later in the song, Heap sings of the emptiness that can quickly overtake such people in the absence of music, and it is is within the combined sound of the two that one can truly feel why the title of "Blanket" is so fitting.  Yet one cannot look past the fact that outside of Europe, the song remains virtually unknown, though it is similarly impossible to deny the musical brilliance that is found in every aspect of the song.  Perfectly deploying a unique balance of funk, blues, electronica, and hip-hop, there is simply no other song in history that carries the same power and emotion that one can find in the 1998 collaboration between Urban Species and Imogen Heap, "Blanket."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 27: Fela Kuti, "Gentleman"

Artist: Fela Kuti
Song: "Gentleman"
Album: Gentleman
Year: 1973

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Though in most cases, it requires a handful of artists or bands to properly give a complete definition of a given genre, there are one or two styles of music that both begin and end with a single group or individual.  While many other artists may have attempted to duplicate the mood and style being played, in these few elite instances, the core artist in question is so far beyond their peers that the comparison simply holds no water.  Though it is perhaps the most rare occurrence in all musical trends, one can easily understand the concept and how accurate it is when one considers the only artist able to be truly called a player of "afro-beat" music, the late great Fela Kuti.  The way in which his music seems to soar in directions previous unheard, as well as the undertones to all of his compositions, Fela is beyond an icon, and his activism and personality outside of the musical arena only adds to his legendary status.  Releasing a massive amount of music over nearly two decades, his playing influenced countless genres around the world, and the complexity of his arrangements is often so far beyond that of anything else from the era that it simply defies description.  Though it is almost impossible to find a "bad" song anywhere in his catalog, there is simply no other track in Fela Kuti's career that defines his sound, as well as the "afro-beat" style in general than one finds in his 1973 masterpiece, "Gentleman."

While the opening section of "Gentleman" may seem like little more than a funky, uniquely beautiful saxophone progression, the truth of the matter is, this is in fact Fela playing, and he had only picked up the instrument a few months earlier.  When the bands' previous sax player, Igo Chico, left the group, Fela decided that instead of finding a replacement, he would learn the instrument himself, and his performance throughout "Gentleman" is all the more breathtaking with this knowledge.  When his sound blends together with trumpet player Tunde Williams, there is something amazingly powerful about the combination that cannot be found anywhere else in music history.  The deep groove is made even more clear through the simple guitar playing, and it is also this element that gives the song an amazing amount of movement.  However, still standing today as one of the greatest musical pairings in history, there is simply no overlooking the fact that the most important element to all of Fela Kuti's music was the presence of drumming legend, Tony Allen.  Switching tempos and bringing some of the most uniquely complex fills ever recorded, there is no question that while Fela may have been the spirit of the band, Allen was its soul.  Throughout "Gentleman," the instruments blend together in a manner previously unheard, and this upbeat, almost jazzy sound is the very definition of "afro-beat," and it never sounded as majestic as it does on this song.

Along with being one of the greatest composers of his generation, Fela Kuti also made his name as one of its most magnetic vocalists.  Much of his music was inspired by the struggles he saw around him, and this, combine with his activism, led to some of the most controversial, unapologetic lyrics ever recorded.  Within all of his vocals, there is an energy and allure similar to that of a preacher, and this is exactly what Fela was trying to do; to pull the listener into the song and inspire change within.  Yet even with this element, there is a soft touch to his vocal work, and even almost four decades later, his work on "Gentleman" remains just as moving.  It is within his vocal work that one can fully understand his mission to make his music accessible to all, as the lyrics beg for "call and response," and are written in simple terms that anyone could understand.  Sending a strong message to take pride in themselves, as well as a shot at the post-colonial English powers, when Fela sings, "...I am not a gentleman like that, I be Africa man original...," one can feel the pride in self he is attempting to instill in others.  Fela furthers this idea of self-identity when he rattles off a list of clothing that he sees others wearing that are clearly part of this English influence, and not the "true" dress that should be worn.  These seemingly subtle, yet powerful statements of self-pride help to give the song a rebellious, yet oddly upbeat feel, and the words, and the commanding way in which Fela delivers them, is what makes "Gentleman" such an extraordinary moment in music history.

It is truly impossible to fully capture just how unique and important Fela Kuti was to the overall development of music across the globe, as there has simply never been another artist that was capable of creating music with the same skill and spirit that one finds in his songs.  Due to this fact, one can argue that Fela stands as both the beginning and end of the "afro-beat" style, and those who claim this title in their music, while perhaps close, should be referred to by some different title.  Regardless, there are few personalities in music history that come close to that of Fela Kuti, and on "Gentleman," one can quickly understand why he retains such a revered status.  The way in which he blended together the bright brass sounds with the deep groove and found a way to fuse this together with a "native" sound is simply stunning, and the resulting product remains a true moment of musical genius.  Not only can this be heard in the various instruments, but the catchy hook that the band creates is second to none, and even those unfamiliar with such sounds cannot help but be drawn in by the infectious groove and progression deployed throughout "Gentleman."  Taking all of this and placing on top of it the almost scathing, scolding lyrics from Fela, there are simply not enough words one can say about this monumental achievement, and there is perhaps no other song in history that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated than one finds in Fela Kuti's 1973 masterpiece, "Gentleman."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 26: Sonic Youth, "Teen Age Riot"

Artist: Sonic Youth
Song: "Teen Age Riot"
Album: Daydream Nation
Year: 1988

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One aspect that links together every musical genre is the fact that within each of them, there are a few elite names that hold such reverence that they are almost sacred.  While the manner with which bands achieve this status are nearly always unique, the adoration and respect they command stands as a common bond.  Furthermore, bands of this caliber are also exclusive in the fact that the only accurate description of their music is to use the band name itself, and this is unquestionably the case with experimental, alternative rock pioneers, Sonic Youth.  One can easily argue that no other band played as vital a role in the development of music throughout the 1980's, and to this day, few groups still push the boundaries of music as much as this band.  Bringing together elements of early punk, "art rock," and all out free-form noise, the group stuck close to their want to be completely unique, and it was this ethos that spawned their monumental 1988 double-album, Daydream Nation.  The album brought their almost chaotic, yet stunning orchestrations into brilliant focus, and the sprawling musical passages found within remain some of the most beautiful in the entire history of recorded music.  Though every song on Daydream Nation is vitally important to the overall impact of the record, there are few songs that better display the sheer genius and talent of Sonic Youth than one finds in their 1988 single, "Teen Age Riot."

Not long after "Teen Age Riot" begins, the combination of sounds that the band creates becomes nothing short of hypnotic, and this is especially obvious in the first "part" of the songs' structure.  The manner with which the guitar progression of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo slowly pull the listener in and completely captivates the ear is the true magic of Sonic Youth, and the strange sound effects and noise behind the guitar somehow manages to work perfectly.  Furthermore, drummer Steve Shelley uses the first part of "Teen Age Riot" to show that one can have brilliant results as a drummer even without using the kit.  The way in which he strips things down to simply using his drum sticks at times is absolutely prefect, and the way that Kim Gordon's bass playing lies gently over this sound is the unique sonic bliss that defines Sonic Youth as a band.  Once the band has the listener hooked via the first progression, the song quickly drops into a heavy, slightly dark sound that is more aggressive, yet in no way alters the overall mood they have created.  The sense of movement that one can feel during the remainder of the song is uncanny, as the music seems to veer all over, and it helps the song itself feel like a journey.  It is in this aspect that one can hear how Sonic Youth has managed to give some form to their "noise rock," and it is this delicate balance that would serve as the blueprint for countless bands that followed.

"Teen Age Riot" also features two distinct vocal sections, the first from Kim Gordon, and the second, larger section sung by Moore.  These split vocal duties help to further highlight the two sections of the song, as Gordon's soft, almost detached sound helps to further the hypnotic sense of the opening passage.  In fact, during this almost free-verse poetic performance, Gordon gives a nod to one of the bands' influences, as she quotes the title of The Stooges' song, "We Will Fail."  However, once Thurston Moore takes over, the true personality of "Teen Age Riot" becomes apparent, and he proves to have one of the most unmistakable voices in all of music history.  Often sounding like an odd combination of Lou Reed and Evan Dando, it is this sound that largely defined the entire "alternative" music scene.  Yet along with his amazing voice, the lyrics found on "Teen Age Riot" are without question some of the greatest ever, and the band would eventually admit that the idea behind the song is that of a time when Dinosaur Jr's J. Mascis has become President, and the world that would be created to foster such an event.  The lyrics are almost strangely uplifting and hopeful, yet there is still the rock and roll attitude in lines like, " come running in on platform shoes, with Marshall stacks to at least just give us a clue..."  The fact that one can read this line as music being an educator and a savior rings true with many music fans, and one would be hard pressed to find a better icon of this idea than the way that Thurston Moore paints J. Mascis on "Teen Age Riot."

Truth be told, it is rather difficult to understand just how "Teen Age Riot" became the hit that it remains to this day.  Clocking in at just under seven minutes, it certainly was not what one would consider "radio friendly," and yet it gained a massive amount of popularity due to being played on college and modern rock radio stations.  Strangely enough, if one looks at the overall catalog of Sonic Youth, "Teen Age Riot" stands as a bit of an oddity, as it lacks the bands' signature feedback, and it contains an almost traditional "verse-chorus-verse" structure.  Yet even with these realities, the shaped chaos that defines the bands sound is quite clear, and the way that Sonic Youth has focused their efforts remains today a turning point in the development of music.  The final element that sets "Teen Age Riot" apart from its peers lives within the fact that both Moore and Ranaldo are playing their guitars in a non-traditional tuning, and this helps the song to truly sound like nothing else ever recorded.  This fact also shows just how creative the band was, as well as their general disdain for any of the conventions of music that had previously been established.  Whether it is the sprawling, hypnotic musical passages or the contrasting vocal work, there is simply no getting around the beautiful genius constructed here, and it is this idea in itself which defines Sonic Youth, and it was rarely deployed as perfectly as one finds on their legendary 1988 single, "Teen Age Riot."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25: The Easybeats, "Friday On My Mind"

Artist: The Easybeats
Song: "Friday On My Mind"
Album: Friday On My Mind (single)
Year: 1966

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Though it makes very little logical sense, the fact of the matter is, for whatever reason, most people tend to overlook the importance of Australia when it comes to the overall development of music over the past decades.  From The Saints to AC/DC to Nick Cave and countless other groups, music simply would not progress in the way that it has without the unique contributions of Australia's finest musicians.  Yet even before these bands made their names as legends, there was a group that stormed the world and significantly altered the face of popular music.  Bringing an edge and tempo to popular music that seem to somehow also blend elements of the growing psychedelic movement, there was simply no other group on the planet that sounded quite like The Easybeats.  It was this distinctive sound that brought the band comparisons to the greatest groups of their time, yet there was something far more accessible about their music.  Furthermore, though countless artists have spent their entire career trying to write a single song that reverberates across all cultures and generations, most of the time, they end up trying to dig too deep and miss the most universal of all human feelings.  Yet The Easybeats managed to hone in on this almost simple approach, and there are few songs from any point in music history that are as unforgettable as The Easybeats' classic 1966 single, "Friday On My Mind."

In a manner unlike any other song in history, the moment that "Friday On My Mind" begins, the entire mood and tone is set instantly, and even after countless listenings, it still manages to completely draw in the listener.  The guitar team of George Young (older brother of AC/DC's Malcolm and Angus Young) and Harry Vanda is nothing short of perfect, and the opening guitar phrase gives the song a strange, almost clock-like sound that runs throughout.  It is also through the guitar playing that one can immediately feel the tension on the song, and even without the song title, the frustrated, almost desperate tone of the song is clear.  The rhythm section of bassist Dick Diamonde and drummer Gordon Fleet are equally impressive, helping to push the song over the edge as the bridge and chorus sections almost explode across the track.  Fleet makes the song almost skip due to the uncommon way that he approaches this song, and there is so much movement on the song that it is almost as if there are a number of different rhythms simultaneously at play.  The high-energy, tension-filled arrangement that is "Friday On My Mind" has become one of the most instantly recognizable over the decades, and it is very much due to the way in which the band seems to start and stop as a single unit that gives the song much of its unforgettable sound.

Along with the music moving at an almost frenzied pace, the vocals of Stevie Wright have etched their way into history, and there is simply not enough that can be said about his performance here.  Easily showing that he possesses one of the finest voices of his generation, on "Friday On My Mind," Wright also shows just how much emotion he can convey in a single line, as the exhaustion, if not exasperation of his work day are quite clear to any listener.  It is this common feeling, which he manages to capture in an authentic, honest manner, that makes the song able to cross nearly any boundary, and much the reason that it is still as refreshing and powerful today as it was more than forty years ago.  That is to say, the plight of the overworked, underpaid employee is a lifestyle to which a majority of the world can relate, and this reality has not lessened at all as the decades have passed.  Though it has been reworked in countless ways over the years, there has never been a more simple, yet on point way of expressing this universal feeling than when Wright opens the song with the lines, "...Monday morning feels so bad, everybody seems to nag me..."  As the chorus explodes into a celebration of cutting loose from the toils of the week, there is a huge release that can be felt, and the way in which Wright conveys these feelings almost instantly solidified his place as one of the finest vocalists in history.

While there are a vast number of other songs that work on this same theme, there remains something simple, almost pure about The Easybeats' "Friday On My Mind," and it is due to this fact that even more than four decades later, the song still holds the place for many as the "official" cue that the work week has ended.  With this in mind, the fact remains that a massive number of radio stations across the globe have made it a tradition to spin the song at five o'clock on Friday's, and it is this fact that cements both the group and the song in music history.  Whether it is the fast-paced, almost nervous energy of the verses or the overjoyed, truly happy sound that comes across in the chorus, there are few songs from anywhere else in music that helped to push the song high into the charts across the globe, as well as making "Friday On My Mind" what remains largely the quintessential Australian rock song.  Though within the music one can detect a number of influences, it would be this song that would in many ways kick-start the next wave of Australian rock music, and even bands that formed well over a decade later pay tribute to these pioneers, as traces of their sound can still be heard.  Perfectly capturing the tedium and almost painful nature of "everyman" type work, there are simply no other songs in history that can compare to the universal appeal and musical perfection found on The Easybeats' legendary 1966 single, "Friday On My Mind."

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #56"

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

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

Tracklist (all links below are to MY review of that band, song, or album) :
1. The Pixies, "Tony's Theme"  Surfer Rosa
2. Black Sabbath, "Sabbra Cadabra"  Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
3. LL Cool J, "Rock The Bells"  Radio
4. Bob Marley, "Judge NotSongs Of Freedom
5. The Cranberries, "The Rebels"  To The Faithful Departed
6. The Clash, "One Emotion"  Clash On Broadway
7. Santana, "Mother's Daughter"  Abraxas
8. Nine Inch Nails, "Head Down"  The Slip
9. Gogol Bordello, "Start Wearing Purple"  Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike
10. Zero 7, "Somersault"  When It Falls
11. Is World, "Either/Or"  Turning EP
12. Gang Of Four, "Ether"  Entertainment!
13. Stubborn All-Stars, "Because Of You"  Back With A New Batch
14. Metallica, "Whiplash"  Kill 'em All

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23: Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"

Artist: Geto Boys
Song: "Mind Playing Tricks On Me"
Album: We Can't Be Stopped
Year: 1991

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Within almost every genre, there are a number of different takes on the base style, and it is within this range that one often finds singular groups that push a sound to the extreme in one way or another.  Whether it is the way in which thrash pushed the limit of heavy metal or how a number of artists raised the question of "what" could be considered jazz, this diversity in sound is one of the few consistent factors across both genres and decades.  Though in some genres, these differences are bit more difficult to see, they are always there, and within the hip-hop community, there has simply never been another group that sounded quite like the Geto Boys.  A group that can truly be seen as ahead of their time, they began to rise to notoriety in the late 1980's, and they made their name due to the controversy that occurred when Geffen Records refused to release their debut record due to the content within.  Though not as aggressive or violent in the same way as the rising "gangsta" rappers, Geto Boys were far more strange, if not outright disturbing than any of their peers.  The level or paranoia and clear psychological issues has rarely been explored as it is though their rhymes, and it is this aspect that pushes their music into a category all their own.  Though these traits can be found across their catalog, few songs better define the group than their 1991 classic, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

As "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" opens, the mood is instantly set, as the sample of a crackling record, combined with the songs' core sample, creates a dark, deep groove, and one is almost immediately drawn in completely to the sound.  The song is built around a piece of Isaac Hayes' song, "Hung Up On My Baby," and the downward guitar progression, contrasted by the strangely sad bassline helps to give "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" an amazing amount of sonic movement.  In between verses, more of the sample is played, and there are few interludes that sound more ideal for a song than that which one finds here.  Furthermore, the way in which the drums are placed gently over this sample is nothing short of perfect, and it is this aspect that gives the song more attitude.   It is this contrast between the somber, slow groove of the sample and the more fast paced, dry sound from the drums that pushed "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" beyond the rest of the groups' catalog, and helped to push the single all the way to the top of the "rap singles" charts in 1991.  The overall greatness of the song also lives in the fact that while the samples and rums are so fantastic, they are not overbearing at any point, and it leaves the main focus on the emcees, which is a trend that would become largely reversed over the next few years in hip-hop music.

While they are often overlooked for their rhyming talent, the fact of the matter is, there have never been other artists that can even come close to the style that one finds in the trio or emcees that comprised Geto Boys in 1991.  With all three bringing a different sound, yet sharing a disturbed, almost scary lyrical approach, it is within songs like "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" that one can quickly understand why the songs of Geto Boys are often referred to as "horror rap."  Each of their voices hits as hard as the other, and there is a level of seriousness and proximity to the words they speak that makes one almost uncomfortable, as it seems as if the lyrics hold some level of truth.  As previously stated, the level of outright paranoia that the group displays on "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" is second to none, as each of the three take the listener on a strange journey into their own psyche.  In the opening verse, Scarface rhymes on the visions he has in his sleep, culminating with the lines, "...I can see him when I'm deep in the covers, when I'm awake I don't see the motherfucker..."  Willie D continues this idea in the next veruse, pondering whether the "being" that he feels is watching him might be one of his former victims, and the listener is left feeling rather uncomfortable.  In the final verse, Bushwick Bill goes all out, speaking of stealing candy from kids to beating down a person that was never there, and the borderline insanity that the three convey is nothing short of indescribable, and th authenticity in their verses is what places Geto Boys into a musical category all their own.

There is no arguing just how unique an approach Geto Boys have shown throughout their career, and in many ways they still stand as the only group to properly perform the style that they largely invented.  Even after two decades, the overall creepy mood that one finds on "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" can still be felt, and it never loses its power, even after countless listenings.  The way in which the three emcees paint this disturbing picture of a psychological disorder is hauntingly vivid, and there is never a moment where one feels the group is being disingenuous.  Furthermore, the song never feels as if it is a "novelty" song, and as the years have passed, it has been hailed as one of the most influential songs in the entire history of the hip-hop genre.  "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" has been name-checked in countless other songs, most notably in Ice Cube's, "When Will They Shoot," and Notorious B.I.G.'s "One More Chance," and the fact that these two hip-hop icons have done this cements the songs' place as a true classic.  Furthermore, pieces from the song have been sampled by Outkast, and even rock groups in the years since its release, and there is simply no denying how vital a piece "Mind Playing Tricks On Me" was in the overall evolution of hip-hop music.  Though it is without question one of the darkest and most truly unsettling songs ever recorded, there is simply no denying the impact and innovation that one can hear on Geto Boys monumental 1991 single, "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22: Black Eyes, "Deformative"

Artist: Black Eyes
Song: "Deformative"
Album: Black Eyes
Year: 2003

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As the years pass, truly original music becomes more and more of a rare occurrence, as the general listening public seems to be becoming more satisfied with mediocre, copycat sounds that show no passion or imagination.  In an era when recording your own music has become increasingly more accessible, one would think that there would be countless new bands and sounds popping up all over the place, and yet it is almost tragic to stand by and watch the opposite become reality.  Thankfully, there are still a few record labels that pride themselves on finding creative, exciting bands, and even after thirty years, there is no more dependable a record label for this result than the iconic Dischord Records.  Boasting bands that play across the musical spectrum, there are few groups over the past decade that have brought an energy or aggression that compares to the short-lived project known as Black Eyes.  Taking the raw, in-your-face style of bands like Fugazi, there is a blunt, direct, and often almost overwhelming feel to the bands' music, and they stand as a band that is truly impossible to duplicate.  Releasing their absolutely stunning self-titled debut in 2003, the band proved that "real" music was still alive, and there are few songs that better define the group than one finds in Black Eyes song form that album, "Deformative."

From the moment that "Deformative" begins, the mission and tone of the band is instantly clear, as the tempo is almost spastic, and there is a dark, nervous, almost sinister feel to the song.  Overall, the term that best defines the song, and much of the groups' music is simply "unhinged," as there is a constant feel that everything can fall apart at any moment, and this delicate feel is perfectly deployed throughout each of their songs.  "Deformative" is breathtaking in a way unlike any other song, as it pace and feel quite literally have that effect, with drummers Dan Caldas and Mike Kanin spinning the song at a dizzying speed.  This dual-drum sound quickly makes the song completely unique, and the way in which the guitars from Daniel McCormick tear across the track and seemingly random times only adds to the mood, helping the song to define the word "unsettling."  The final addition of two bass players, Hugh MacElroy and Jacob Long, give "Deformative" a depth and sound that is nothing short of amazing, and it turns the entire album into a sound that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated.  The combined sound of the group shows a close tie to the punk and hardcore sounds, and yet it is far more experimental and musically courageous than almost anything else released in recent years.  It is this brilliant deployment of a completely unique sound that makes Black Eyes so fantastic, and "Deformative" stands as a song that once heard, cannot be forgotten.

Perhaps the only aspect that better defines the band than the wild music is the way in which the fast-paced, almost off-kilter lyrics fall across "Deformative."  Much in the same way that the band presents the rhythm section, there are two vocalists on the track as well, and the way in which the two voices seem to completely contrast one another, yet somehow blend together is yet another way in which the band truly knows no peers.  Combining speaking, shouting, and a unique singing sound, the vocals perfectly match the sound of the music, and the speed and tension within the vocal performance also presents an ideal compliment to the overall feel of the song.  Almost poetic in both delivery and content, there are few other instances in history where the live energy of a group has been so perfectly captured on tape, and it is within the lyrics that one can find some of the most vivid and passionate words recorded in recent history.  Largely a tale of youth, one can draw a number of interpretations from the lyrics on "Deformative," and yet it is the fury with which they are delivered that makes one able to understand the proximity of the vocalists to the scene to which they create.  Truth be told, there is simply nothing like the vocal performance on "Deformative," and while one can compare them to other bands, it is within the vocals that they separate themselves from anything else in the history of music.

To be truly unique in the modern music scene has become something which both record labels and the general public seem to look down upon.  This can be seen as the "dumbing down" of the music industry, and one can easily point to this as the cause for the massive decline in music sales, as well as the overall distraught appearance of the industry as a whole.  While the "big labels" are struggling to force-feed the public more bland "flash in the pan" acts, it is the smaller labels that continue to carry the torch for "real" music, and in the bands of these labels that one can find some of the most amazing sounds heard in years.  Though there are a number of labels with these credentials, they all continue to look up to the "first" label of this type, as Dischord Records still remains the standard for unique, highly talented music.  Among their recent bands, few brought an energy and creativity similar to Black Eyes, and the bands' 2003 self-titled debut remains one of the most destructive and absolutely brilliant records ever recorded.  The sense of nervous, almost insane energy that runs throughout the album is one of its most distinctive features, and there is also a sense of authenticity within the songs, proving that this band wasn't trying to be something they weren't.  With each song on Black Eyes grabbing the listener and never letting go, it remains one of the most superb musical achievements in recent years, and one can quickly understand just why the band is so extraordinary by hearing Black Eyes 2003 song, "Deformative."

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21: Big Youth, "The Killer"

Artist: Big Youth
Song: "The Killer"
Album: Screaming Target
Year: 1973

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For true music fans, there is perhaps no more disappointing reality than the way in which nearly every musical genre seems to have lost its way over the past twenty years.  Though many styles still boast the same name as earlier bands, the fact of the matter is, in most cases, the current acts are little more than watered down versions of their claimed influences.  Whether it is the way in which punk rock has turned into nothing but "boy bands" with dye jobs or the overly-artificial, almost cliché sound that is "hard rock," there are few bands even remotely worthy of connecting themselves to the founders of their particular genre.  While this reality is present in every musical style, it is perhaps no more apparent than in that of hip-hop, and if one traces the sound back to its true roots, it is almost embarrassing how far it has fallen.  Though many feel that hip-hop began in the late 1970's, there are far earlier roots of the genre that are undeniable.  However, to find these sources, one must look outside the presumed birthplace of hip-hop and travel to the "island sounds" of the late 1960's and early 1970's.  It is here that one finds a musical style known as "toasting," and there is no question that it is here where hip-hop music began.  Though there were a number of fantastic performers who made their name in the "sound system" parties in Jamaica at the time, few were as captivating as the great Big Youth, and there are few songs in history that can compare to his 1973 single, "The Killer."

The moment that the music kicks in on "The Killer," there are a number of influences that become immediately evident, and it is the way in which producer Gussie Clarke mixes them together so perfectly that makes the song so fantastic.  Bringing a steady, yet strangely dark beat, there is something almost menacing or dangerous about the overall mood of the song, and there are few instances elsewhere in music where this feeling is as authentic as one finds here.  It is also in the rhythm that one can hear the influences of the island sounds, with the guitar sending out a consistent ska sound, yet the overall tone retaining a rock-steady feel.  It is the interplay between the instruments where one can hear and understand the differences between these two styles, and they are both complimented in grand fashion by the piano that repeats a catchy melody in the background.  The way in which the entire band seems to surge back and forth as the song progresses is like nothing else previously recorded, and it is much the reason that "The Killer" stands so far above other singles of the "toasting" era.  It is also through the tight musical arrangement that one can completely feel and understand the entire idea of the "sound system," as the way in which this song would have moved such a gathering cannot be denied.  Furthermore, the fact that the song never loses the mood or becomes overly repetitive is a testament to the true musical perfection one finds on "The Killer."

However, while the musical arrangement is superb on "The Killer," there is simply no getting past the fact that Big Youth is in rare form, and it is this song that forever changed the musical landscape.  Though many have tried over the decades, no artist has come close to the sound and emotion found in Big Youth's voice, and there is also a sense of proximity to that which he sings about that makes his performances all the more impressive.  After hearing just a few moments of the song, the word "raw" comes to mind, and once one hears Big Youth's work here, it is almost impossible to use that term in reference to any other recording.  It is also through the vocal performance on "The Killer" that the live feel of the song is completed, as the opening "welcome" brings the listener into the song and almost transports them to the street party where the song was likely born.  Yet while one can tie the sound found here to the other "island styles," there is simply no denying the fact that "The Killer" can be seen as the final step into what would become rap music, and Big Youth sets the standard for vocal delivery as he flows perfectly along with the music.  There is an excitement and tension in his voice that is not lost on any listener, and it is this aspect that makes one want to hear the song over and over.  In many ways, one can feel Big Youth simply letting the music drive his vocals, and it is this loose, yet potent delivery that serves as a phenomenal finishing touch to "The Killer."

While the entire "toasting" style was largely lost on foreign shores at the time, the fact of the matter is, such artists became massive hits across Jamaica.  Among all of these performers, few were as well known as Big Youth, and "The Killer" would become a huge hit, and remains one of his most beloved recordings.  After hearing the song, its longevity is no surprise, as there is something that remains captivating in the way that his vocals seem to bounce along with the musical backing.  Furthermore, one can feel how this song, in both the music and vocals, would have kept a live crowd dancing and interested, and this represents the true spirit of the "sound system."  While many see the "toasting" style as little more than an aggressive take on reggae, there is no question that it has had a massive influence in ways that cannot be tied to the reggae sound.  The similarity between the "toasting" sound and modern hip-hop is clear, and yet it is almost embarrassing to think that the largely uncreative, uninspiring sounds that dominate the current hip-hop scene have any relation to the raw, emotion-filled sounds of its origin.  Over the decades, Big Youth has been cited as an influence across a number of genres, and it is clear that beyond the style in which he performed, it was the passion and content of his lyrics that inspired many other bands.  Though the entire Screaming Target record is a mind-blowing musical experience, there are few songs in history that remain as enjoyable or as important as one finds in Big Youth's 1973 classic, "The Killer."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20: The Minutemen, "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing"

Artist: Minutemen
Song: "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing"
Album: Double Nickels On The Dime
Year: 1984

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Though the entire idea of punk rock is to be completely different and free thinking in the musical approach, the fact of the matter is, there is still a rather clear conformity within an overwhelming majority of punk bands.  Whether it is in their tone or the actual arrangement of their music, there are very few bands that truly represent the idea of punk as a formless, anarchic musical style.  Throughout the entire history of what one can see as the "punk progression," there is perhaps no other band that better represented this idea of being completely original and ignoring all previous musical conventions than one finds in the brilliant music of San Pedro, California's Minutemen.  Bringing together elements of funk, blues, and jazz, all under the overall style of punk, the influence of the group can still be heard in today's music scene, yet in the overall history of music, they are often overlooked.  Yet even if one ignores their musical approach, the truth of the matter is that lyrically, the band new few peers, and there are few records of any genre that are as stunning to experience as their 1984 masterpiece, Double Nickels On The Dime.  With forty-four tracks clocking in at just under seventy-five minutes, the group deploys their brilliance with mind-boggling speed and efficiency, leaving no musical thought unexplored.  Though each song on the album as it's own, unique feel, there are few songs in their catalog that better represent their entire ethos as a band than one finds in The Minutemen's 1984 song,"Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing."

Though it has been said of many songs, there is quite literally no time wasted at any point on "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing," as in many ways, the song "just starts."  There is no musical lead-in or introduction, as the entire band drops in at full speed.  Led by the fantastic guitar of the late, great D. Boon (real name: Dennes Boon), there is instantly a sense of urgency and frustration that can be heard.  The soft grind of his guitar sounds perfect with the overall arrangement, and yet there is a unique looseness in his playing that seems to simultaneously play in contrast to the song.  Mirroring the tone and mood of the guitar, bassist Mike Watt sounds as good here as anywhere else in his career.  The fast-paced, winding progression which he plays helps to highlight the almost nervous tension on the song, and it is this aspect that makes "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" such a unique musical experience.  Rounding out the band is drummer George Hurley, and the strict cadence with which be plays helps to give the song a far more imposing sound than the songs of their peers, as at many points, it almost feels like a military-style march.  The combined sound of the trio is far beyond that of nearly any other band at the time, and the group perfectly represents the punk sound as there is only a brief, almost sarcastic guitar solo that breaks up the ninety-three second song.  The fact that The Minutemen were able to accomplish so much musically in such a short song is a testament to their talents, and much the reason they stand so high above their peers.

Along with his amazing work on guitar, D. Boon also stands as one of the most prolific and influential vocalists in the history of punk, and he rarely sounded better than he does on "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing."  Though he is almost always speaking the lyrics, even when he pushes into more traditional signing, there is simply no mistaking the sound or urgency within his voice.  Certainly along the same lines as Ian MacKaye or David Thomas, there is a strange tone to Boon's voice that demands total respect, as it is clear that there is always a deeper message within his music.  Though the title may suggest a humorous, almost silly song, the fact of the matter is, "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" is one of the groups deepest and most philosophical lyrical achievements.  Penned by Mike Watt, the song is almost a train-of-thought approach, and it is one of the few songs in history that needs to be listened to a number of times so that even the slightest nuance of the words can be properly processed.  In many ways, the lyrics are like a Shakespearean poem, as they must be completely dissected to be completely understood; and this in itself shows the amazing writing talent of Watt, and the fact that he was able to work such complex thought into such a stripped down sound proves the high level of genius that was at play within The Minutemen.

Truth be told, one can see the overall idea of "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" as a bit of a ploy to see what radio stations might play the song.  Name-checking what was then the biggest pop star on the planet is a perfect representation of the intelligence and distinctive humor that one finds within the music of The Minutemen, and by all popular accounts, their idea worked, as a number of radio stations gave the song airplay.  This idea perfectly mirrors the overall feel of both the band and album, as there are countless juxtapositions at play throughout Double Nickels On The Dime.  Whether it is the succinct, yet amazingly complex musical arrangements or the unassumingly intellectual lyrics, on nearly every level, there is no better representation of the entire punk ethos than one finds in the music of The Minutemen.  Furthermore, the fact that their music was such a far cry from anything else being recorded, yet it is unquestionably catchy, serves as the final evidence that one needs to understand just why the group remains such an important piece in the overall progression of music.  Though they are often placed as a "second tier" group insofar as influence is concerned, after experiencing their music, it is obvious that they were far more important than many bands that gained a larger amount of hype.  Boasting countless examples of true musical perfection, there are few songs that pack a similar punch and overall level of musical achievement than one can experience within The Minutemen's 1984 classic, "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19: Barrett Strong, "Money (That's What I Want)"

Artist: Barrett Strong
Song: "Money (That's What I Want)"
Album: "Money (That's What I Want)" (single)
Year: 1959

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While it may seem at first glance as if there have been a handful of spontaneous musical revolutions across the course of music history, the fact of the matter is, if one looks closer, there is some sort of catalyst for every event.  However, in most of these situations, the songs or bands that came later were so famous that they completely overshadow the true originators, and cause this false sense of "coming out of nowhere" with their particular sound.  Though this has occurred a number of times over the decades, it is perhaps no more obvious then when one considers the seemingly meteoric rise of Motown Records, and yet even in that case, there was a "first."  While anyone can name off a number of the labels most famous artists, there are very few who can name the true first star of Motown, and it was in fact the one and only Barrett Strong.  It was late in 1959 when he released his first single, and it would be the success of this song that would provide the great Berry Gordy with the money he would need to turn the label into the iconic hit producer that it is known as today.  Furthermore, it is on this early single that one can hear the transition of the rhythm and blues sound into the "Motown sound," and there is perhaps no more clear a sign of things to come than one finds in Barrett Strong's aptly titled hit single, "Money (That's What I Want)."

From the moment that "Money (That's What I Want)" begins, it is clear that this song is a transitional tune, as one can easily hear both the old and new sounds.  There is no question that the song is rooted in the rhythm and blues sound, and one can hear the influence of the Sun Records sound in the opening piano progression.  However, as soon as the rest of the band drops in, "Money (That's What I Want)" takes on its own personality, and the way in which all the other instruments blend together is truly where the "Motown sound" began.  Whether it is the tambourine, which is almost oddly forward in the mix, or funky, somewhat surf-rock sound of the guitar, there is so much going on musically on the track that it is almost impossible to catch it all within a single listening.  However, even on this early single, the key to the "Motown sound" can be heard, as the bass progression has a deep groove and provides far more movement on the track than almost anything else heard previously.  The way in which the drums move back and forth on the track also gives an amazing amount of depth to "Money (That's What I Want)," and this is especially clear on the verses, as they seem to echo and bounce behind the vocals.  The fact that so much is going on musically, yet it does not seem overwhelming in many ways defines what Motown Records would become famous for, and in many ways, it rarely sounded better than it does on "Money (That's What I Want)."

Providing the ideal vocals for the funky, yet upbeat music behind him, Barrett Strong in many ways sets the standard for Motown singing on "Money (That's What I Want)."  Clearly able to work the entire vocal spectrum, one can sense that he was truly letting the song dictate where his vocals went, and this feeling provides an authenticity and honesty in his vocals that set them far apart from a majority of his peers.  Fusing together the sounds of soul, blues, and the emerging rock and roll style, as is the case with a majority of Motown singing, there is also an ever-present feeling that he is enjoying the singing that remains one of the signature sounds of the era.  Also on "Money (That's What I Want)," the way in which the backing vocals blend into the piece, as well as the sound itself would become a standard, and one can easily hear how these backing vocals would become the blueprint for the "girl group" sound that would explode over the following years.  Yet it is also the words to "Money (That's What I Want)" that remain iconic, and they are just as relevant today as they were more than fifty years ago.  There are few songs with more memorable an opening line, and the almost sarcastic, frustrated thought of, "...the best things in life are free, but you can keep 'em for the birds and bees..." is perhaps the ultimate "working man's" anthem.  In both what he is saying as well as the way in which it was delivered, the vocals of Barrett Strong on "Money (That's What I Want)" clearly stand as the blueprint for the next generation of pop music.

However, as fantastic as "Money (That's What I Want)" is, one cannot overlook the fact that the source of the lyrics and idea are perhaps the longest standing musical dispute in history.  While the Barrett Strong recording was made in August of 1959, for years preceding it, the great John Lee Hooker had been performing his song, titled "I Need Some Money."  The lyrics are almost an exact copy, and Hooker's trademark sound can be heard as a slightly slower, stripped-down version of the Barrett Strong single.  Though it never went to court, the similarity between the two songs is undeniable, and yet they both manage to retain their own personality.  The way in which Barrett Strong and the Motown team took the overall theme of Hooker's song and spun it into something completely new can be seen as "the" revolutionary moment that spawned the "Motown sound," and the fact of the matter is, it was this song that provided the financial means for Berry Gordy to get his label off the ground.  It is in this fact that one can find the amazing irony of the song, as it was perhaps the most truthful song ever recorded.  Furthermore, few songs have persevered as well as "Money (That's What I Want)" has over the decades, and everyone from The Stooges to Etta James to Smashing Pumpkins have recorded their own version of the song.  Though it is often overlooked for its massive historical significance, there is simply no arguing that the revolution that was the "Motown sound" began with Barrett Strong and his monumental 1959 single, "Money (That's What I Want)."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18: Elvis Costello, "Radio Radio"

Artist: Elvis Costello
Song: "Radio Radio"
Album: This Year's Model
Year: 1978

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While there is certainly something to be said for subtlety, there are times when a far more aggressive, in-your-face type approach is more fitting for the situation.  In most cases, a writer or band is good at one or the other, as each takes their own special understanding.  Yet in the latter of the two approaches, one must still temper themselves in some way if there is a hope of getting a message across, and in many ways, this can be seen as the reason many of the early punk songs did not resonate with a larger audience.  Then of course, there was Elvis Costello.  Unquestionably one of the most uniquely talented musicians in history, it was his brand of cynicism and distinctively catchy songs that made him into a true music legend, yet it is also through his music that one can see the beginnings of many new styles.  By the time Costello released his third record, 1978's This Year's Model, he had already established himself as one of the finest writers of his generation, and yet it would be this record that would highlight his connection to punk rock, as well as the venomous attacks that seemed to come so easily with his writing.  Clearly fed up with the machine that is the music industry, Elvis Costello held nothing back, penning one of the most scathing, yet musically brilliant songs ever in the form of his phenomenal 1978 single, "Radio Radio."

From the moment that "Radio Radio" begins, a number of different genres are clearly at play, and one can hear just how closely connected the styles of punk and new wave are through the music found here.  Led by the strangely toned organ of Steve Nieve, the songs' hook is immediately set into play, and it remains one of the most recognizable progressions in all of music history.  The pace at which this hook is played also gives "Radio Radio" a unique sense of urgency, and this mood is highlighted by the drumming of Pete Thomas.  As the song moves into the verse section, the song drops into a sparse arrangement featuring little more than bassist Bruce Thomas and light touches from Costello's guitar.  Yet even with this change in the sound, the mood of the song is never lost, and the drive that lies underneath the music is in many ways the concentrated spirit of the punk movement.  The way in which the band spins back into the bridge and chorus sections is where "Radio Radio" gains its wide range of appeal, as even with the frustration that is evident in the sound, there is something upbeat, almost sweet within the sound that cannot be denied.  It is this juxtaposition of sounds that defines Costello's sound and proves the true genius of his musical arrangements.  On "Radio Radio," Elvis Costello also makes it quite clear that one need not use heavy distortion or excessive volume to make a musical point.

Perfectly aligning with the mood and sound set forth by the music, the vocals of Elvis Costello on "Radio Radio" are his finest in a number of different ways.  Though he had already shown his amazing voice on his previous releases, on this song he displays an angry sneer that was in many ways lying underneath all of his earler work, and when it is unleashed here, the complete picture of Costello as an artist becomes clear.  There is an attitude within his voice that is nothing short of captivating, and it is his ability to make these feelings almost universally understood that serve as further evidence of his skill as a musician.  Yet even with the music and singing in the top notch form which they are, there is simply no getting past the fact that "Radio Radio" boasts what are without question some of the greatest lyrics ever penned.  Taking full aim at the music industry, from the lack of "real" musical understanding and love in those who run it to the unfair practices used in promoting certain music above other, Costello holds nothing back and in the process created an absolute classic.  Speaking to the feeling that he was little more than a number to industry heads, few artists have captured the feeling as perfect as when he sings, "'s only inches on the reel-to-reel..."  Costello continues his assault when he slams the industry heads with the lines, "...and the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools, tryin' to anaesthetise the way that you feel..."  Though many have tried to take similar shots over the years, in comparison, nothing even comes close to the powerful, yet catchy approach found on "Radio Radio."

Truth be told, "Radio Radio" does not appear on the original U.K. release of This Year's Model, and it became the albums' thirteenth song when the record was released in the U.S. By the time This Year's Model was released in the U.S., the single had already made waves due to Costello's notorious performance on Saturday Night Live in December of 1977. Serving as a last minute replacement for the Sex Pistols, Columbia Records insisted that Costello play "Less Than Zero" in an effort to promote the release of his first two records in the U.S.  Costello felt the song had little resonance in the U.S., but reluctantly agreed to play it after a lengthy battle with studio executives.  However, a few bars into the song, Costello famously stopped the band and stated, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here..." The band then launched into a blistering version of "Radio Radio," instantly becoming one of the most famous moments in music history.  The event lives on in the lore of the show, and on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the event, Costello "interrupted" a performance by the Beastie Boys on SNL, and they all launched into "Radio Radio."  Even without these unforgettable live incidents, the song would have achieved its iconic status, as in every way, it is absolute musical perfection.  Forever altering his image and becoming a legend of the punk spirit, there is simply no other song in history that can compare to the sheer musical genius that one finds in Elvis Costello's 1978 single, "Radio Radio."

Monday, January 17, 2011

January 17: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #55"

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

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

Tracklist (all links are to my write-ups of that artist, song, or album):
1. The Ramones, "Rockaway Beach"  1978/01/07, NYC
2. Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade, "Up On The Roof"  Purple Onion
3. Goldfrapp, "Lovely Head"  Felt Mountain
4. John Lee Hooker, "Boogie Chillun"  I'm John Lee Hooker
5. Tenacious D, "Rock Your Socks"  Tenacious D
6. Kraftwerk, "The Robots"  The Man Machine
7. Tom Waits, "Chocolate Jesus"  Mule Variations
8. Dead Meadow, "Beyond The Fields We Know"  Dead Meadow
9. The Clash, "Janie Jones"  The Clash (UK)
10. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Little Wing"  Live In Paris
11. Notorious BIG, "Things Done Changed"  Ready To Die
12. The Raconteurs, "Old Enough"  Consolers Of The Lonely
13. Black Eyes, "Day Turns Night"  Black Eyes
14. The Adverts, "Safety In Numbers"  Crossing The Red Sea
15. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Down The Line"  Live At The Star Club, Hamburg

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 16: Deadboy And The Elephantmen, "Stop, I'm Already Dead"

Artist: Deadboy And The Elephantmen
Song: "Stop, I'm Already Dead"
Album: We Are Night Sky
Year: 2005

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In an era where a majority of music comes off as embarrassingly disingenuous and annoyingly artificial, it is understandable that many have lost faith in the continued existence of "real" music.  As the major labels and mass media push more and more sub-par music onto the masses, one is forced to dig deeper and rally behind the few groups that prove the presence of truly talented and inspiring musicians.  Thankfully, there are a handful of record labels that consistently produce such acts, and few are better at finding these bands than Mississippi-based Fat Possum Records.  Whether it's The Black Keys, Bob Log III, or a number of other groups, the label is unquestionably one of the finest today, and few acts on that label showed more promise than the short-lived project, Deadboy And The Elephantmen.  Though it is arguably their second full length album, many saw 2005's We Are Night Sky as the groups' debut, yet whichever way one sees it, it is impossible to deny the musical brilliance on display throughout the record.  Combining an overall dark, almost haunting mood with an attack and distortion that is absolutely perfect, the album remains one of the finest and most refreshing musical efforts in recent history, and it served as the introduction of Dax Riggs to many music fans.  Though every track on the album is fantastic, the essence of the group can be heard clearly within Deadboy And The Elephantmen's 2005 song, "Stop, I'm Already Dead."

As the song opens, the mood for both the song and album are immediately set into place, as there is a somber, yet almost nervous energy created by the lone guitar and dual vocals of Dax Riggs and Tessie Brunet.  The guitar seems to be the source of the mood, as it feel as if it is ready to lash out and attack at any moment.  The fact that such mood is able to be conveyed through a simple, unassuming progression is the perfect example of the overall ability of Deadboy And The Elephantmen, and this minimalist approach is where one can see close ties to the punk rock ethos.  However, "Stop, I'm Already Dead" quickly drops into an all-out rock and roll masterpiece, and the heavy drumming becomes just as essential to the feel of the song as the guitar work.  During the latter half of the song, this cadence becomes far more present, and the sharp stutter that the song creates is as heavy metal as it is punk, and it is this combination of sounds that makes both the song and band so uniquely brilliant.  It is also in the simple combination of instrumentation where one can hear the fantastic chemistry between Riggs and Brunet, and while many other acts at the time were attempting to play the "lo fi" or "garage" sound, it is "Stop, I'm Already Dead" that unquestionably sets the standard. The difference here is that along with having a far more authentic punch and grind than the "major label" acts they can be compared to, "Stop, I'm Already Dead" is amazingly catchy, and this is the final element that sets the band far above their peers.

Along with showing a unique musical rapport through their playing, Riggs and Brunet also share a fantastic chemistry within their vocal performances.  Both bringing distinctive voices, the way in which they blend together gives "Stop, "I'm Already Dead" a amazing depth, and this is highlighted in the emotion conveyed in the songs' opening.  With nothing to hide their singing, there is an almost tragic beauty within this portion of the song, and there the vocals often come off as detached, which manages to work perfectly with the overall feel of the song.  After the main musical portion kicks in, Riggs takes center stage, and the energy and attitude with which he sings is absolutely mesmerizing, often mimicking the staggered feel of the drumming.  Holding nothing back, the raw, almost unhinged sound in his voice echoes back to the likes of Iggy Pop among others, and it is the somehow gentle ferocity in his voice that makes it unforgettable.  Along with the way he sings, the lyrics on "Stop, I'm Already Dead" perfectly reflect the overall mood of the song, and it is these uniquely dark lyrics that would prove to be a trademark of Riggs' music.  When he delivers lines like, "... heaven's on one shoulder, but baby hell is on the other...," Riggs injects an almost gothic element into the song, yet it brings this mood in a completely original manner, and it is both the lyrics as well as his overall attitude that makes "Stop, I'm Already Dead" such an enjoyably unique musical experience.

Even as amazing as the overall end-product stands, Deadboy And The Elephantmen remains one of many bands that one wished would have created more music.  While there are a number of studio outtakes and a second LP, shortly after the release of We Are Night Sky, Riggs rearranged his band and began releasing music under his own name.  The similarity between the lineups is clear, and yet there is something one can only find within the Deadboy And The Elephantmen recordings that makes one yearn for more.  Throughout We Are Night Sky, the duo deploy their mood across a number of styles, and even in the more reserved, quieter moments on the record, the overall level of talent within the group is more than obvious.  It is perhaps the fact that they are able to retain this mood across so many styles that proves just how superior they were to their contemporaries, and also why the album remains proof that "true" rock music is not a thing of the past.  Serving as one of the finest opening tracks in history, "Stop, I'm Already Dead" is everything one can hope for in a rock song, from the heavy guitar work to the aggressive drumming to the almost chaotic energy in the vocals.  The way in which these elements are all brought together is what defines the band, and there are few songs of the past decades that can compare to the brilliant sound and energy one finds on Deadboy And The Elephantmen's 2005 song, "Stop, I'm Already Dead."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15: Joy Division, "Disorder"

Artist: Joy Division
Song: "Disorder"
Album: Unknown Pleasures
Year: 1979

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While many people use the term "post punk," the truth of the matter is, most do not fully understand exactly how the term came to be, as well as exactly what defines that sound.  This has led to a number of bands sharing this title, many of whom do not exactly represent the original meaning of the term.  Only a few short months after the period in 1977 that most cite as the "punk explosion," a number of bands began to emerge that seemed to share the minimalist ethos, yet distanced themselves by emphasizing mood and feeling over the speed and aggression that was the basis of punk.  This combination of sounds is where the "true" meaning of "post punk" can be found, and few bands better define this style than one finds in the music of Joy Division.  With their deep, often haunting melodies combined with an undeniably catchy overall sound, it was this music that opened the door for countless other bands and genres, and one simply cannot say enough about the lasting impact of their magnificent 1979 debut record, Unknown Pleasures.  The way in which the songs on the album work together to create a single piece is nothing short of stunning, and there are few other records that can be seen as revolutionary as one finds here.  Filled with some of the darkest, yet most sonically beautiful songs ever recorded, there are few tracks that better define Joy Division than 1979's "Disorder."

As both an introduction to the album, and for most people, to the band itself, "Disorder" is one of the most instantly catchy and definitive songs in history.  Kicking off with the oddly echoing, distinctive drumming of Stephen Morris, the song almost immediately gains its entire identity.  When it is joined by the fast-paced bass of Peter Hook, it is clear that there is something different about the bands' sound, and this almost undefinable element is what makes the music of Joy Division so fantastic.  It is the way in which both the music and lyrics seem completely detached, yet powerfully emotive that stands out, and there are very few other bands that have been able to achieve this sound to the same level that one can experience on "Disorder."  When Bernard Summer drops into the song with his guitar, it is almost breathtaking, as the tone he brings is absolutely amazing, as his playing seems to almost sweep across the song, taking the listener along for the ride.  All three musicians here clearly have their own space on "Disorder," and the fact that there is such a separation, yet they somehow meld together is the key to making the song so unique.  This was largely due to the work of legendary producer Martin Hannett, and the almost random sound effects that he deploys throughout the track provide the ideal finishing touch to make "Disorder" nothing short of legendary.

Though there have been many great examples of the idea throughout the history of recorded music, there are few instances that surpass "Disorder" when it comes to a vocalist perfectly matching the mood of the music over which he sings.  Ian Curtis brings a detached, almost disinterested tone to his lyrics, and yet there is a sense of frustration and despair in his words that one cannot deny.  Though for nearly the entire song Curtis offers the lyrics in little more than his speaking voice, there is still a great deal of emotion behind the words, and it is this contrast of ideas that in many ways defines both his style as well as the overall approach of the band.  As "Disorder" opens, Curtis delivers what has become one of the most iconic lines in music history, as when he sings, "...I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand...," one can interpret this line on a number of levels.  One can see this phrase as an almost warning of the musical change that the listener is about to experience, and yet one can also see this as the defining moment that explains much of the lyrical content as well.  Regardless of the way in which one reads this line, the remainder of the lyrics of the song echo the ideals of the punk rock sound, and yet the heavy level of emotion that one can feel within them is perhaps the clearest definition of the idea of "post punk."  The way in which Ian Curtis performs here also stands as one of the most unforgettable moments in music history, and it is truly the type of song that once it is heard for the first time, it sticks with the listener forever.

Though it is difficult to separate "Disorder" from the entire work of Unknown Pleasures, the song itself helps to highlight the amazing work that is found throughout the album.  Whether it is the sparse arrangement of the music or the heavy mood that persists throughout, there was simply nothing on par with this record that can be found previously.  Each musician is in top form and then some, and the fact that there is so much space between them on the song helps to highlight each of their fantastic performances.  This formula would become the blueprint for countless bands that followed, and one can still hear echoes of this sound within the modern music scene.  Though the overall feeling of space between the band members and the almost overbearing sense of sorrow never relents, there is also a feeling of warmth and closeness in the music that cannot be denied.  The fact that these opposites are able to co-exist throughout all of "Disorder" is a testament to the band and Hannett, and it is this fact alone that demands the song be experienced firsthand.  Furthermore, the tension that can be felt on the song is second to none, and it almost feels as if the song might fall apart at any moment.  In reality, there are simply not enough words that can describe the extraordinary musical achievements found throughout the song, and it is perhaps this fact alone that makes Joy Division's 1979 song, "Disorder," such an incredible and massively influential moment in music history.