Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Only shades of gray...Davy Jones : an Appreciation

I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing today of one of my childhood heroes, Davy Jones of the Monkees.
 I was thinking of doing a blog about how great the Monkees were.
I will still do that and argue my case for their musical merits and why they should be in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame but that is for another time...

I was born in 1966, the year the Monkees TV series started, so ,obviously, I was too young to be a fan the first go round. I became a fan thru reruns in 1976-77. The local TV station here would play an episode everyday. I was hooked.
A school friend had turned me onto the Beatles and I was really starting to get in to 60's music.
 I was a fan of comedy as well ; Red Skelton, Tim Conway; Don Knotts,etc..
The Monkees were funny and the songs were great too.
I saved my money and mailed away for a Monkees 8-track tape they advertised during a commercial. This was pre-internet. There was no going online and ordering then getting that week in the mail.
You had to wait the "4-6 weeks for delivery"!
                                                                       Finally it came!
                                                  this is the one! (not my copy, it's long gone..)
      
Davy had been a jockey when he was young. He had a career as a stage actor. He was even part of a company of "Oliver" that appeared on the same Ed Sullivan Show that the Beatles debuted on! He also put out an album in 1965 that didn't do anything.

Davy was already signed to Screen Gems Studios and was the first one cast for the Monkees.
 He didn't have to audition.                                 
                                                              his "screen test"
             
 Davy was the one all the girls loved and he seem to always love them back falling hard  usually with stars in his eyes.
                             


                                                            

                       "Look Out Here Comes tomorrow"    (wrttien by Neil Diamond)
                      

                                                      
                                                                                     
              Davy was always more a song and dance man than a rock n roller.
                                             More "Anthony Newley" than "Elvis"...
                                          
                                   "Cuddly Toy" written by Harry Nilson

                                                    


                                      ....  Still he was a charming and funny guy. 
  



                         All of the Monkees were cool guys.
                                          I loved the Monkees and still do....



                                       R.I.P. Davy..thanks for the memories....
                                           
When the world and I were young, just yesterday,
Life was such a simple game, a child could play.
It was easy then to tell right from wrong,
Easy then to tell weak from strong,
When a man should stand and fight or just go along.
But today there is no day or night,
Today there is no dark or light,
Today there is no black or white, only shades of gray.
                              
                               



                                                      
         
                                                                 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

10 great Beatles covers

                           Adrian Belew started covering this almost as soon as it was out.
                                                              "Free as a Bird"
                               

            love this version of Robert Palmer covering "Not a Second Time"

                    
                    Aimee Mann and her husband Michael Penn's great cover of "Two of Us"

              
                   I really liked the Hooters version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
                             the mandolins sound amazing
                    

     the late Jeff Healey did a great version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" .
 Incredibly, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne sing backing vocals.

              
 Cheap Trick really does a good job covering Beatle songs.
They have live album out of them performing Sgt Pepper's in its entirety.
                                                         " Day Tripper" 



 I always thought this one was one of the best moments of the whole Live Aid concert.
  Perfect...
                                            Elvis Costello "All You Need is Love"

           
 I was surprised that Hall & Oates pulled this one out for their Unplugged special
Very Good.
                                                  "Don't Let Me Down"

      
        Jeff Beck never ceases to amaze me. He is one of the best. I love him more than Hendrix.
                          awesome take on  "A Day in the Life"

                         

                  Always liked this crazy one from Adrian Belew "I'm Down"

                  

Brian Jones would have been (70!) today. In His honor 20 good Brian-era Stones tunes


The late Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones would have been 70 today! But as Keith used to say Brian was never going to be an old guy.

 
Brian actually founded the band. He was the leader at first. He named the band.

                  
             
The first couple Stones albums are actually nothing special and certainly did not hint at the greatness that would soon come. They mostly covered other people’s songs. Their first hits were a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” and a version of the Beatles “I Wanna Be Your Man’. They definitely did not hit stride until they started wrting their own songs. “The Last Time” was a great start to the self-penned hits.
 
Brian is one of those figures in rock history whose contributions are either underrated or overrated .
 By all accounts he was a good rhythm guitar player and a very good slide guitar player as well as a good blues harmonica player..

His shining moments on guitar seem to be on “Little Red Rooster” and one of his last contributions on “No Expectations”. The problem is back in the 60’s there really weren’t many albums with the musicians credits listed  saying who played what. 

Is that Brian on  the iconic main lick on “the Last Time”? Is he trading great riffs and notes with Keith on “19th Nervous Breakdown”?  Is the wonderful acoustic picking on “Sitting on a Fence” all Keith? 
Is that Brian playing the cool little guitar figure on the “but it’s all right now” part of “Jumpin Jack Flash”? I’m a huge Stones fan and I’ve never seen a clear answer and Keith never seems to clear up any of the confusion only describing  his musical relationship with Brian as the beginning of the “ancient art of weaving”; the idea of both guitar players  trading off playing lead and rhythm fairly seamlessly. 
So it is hard to judge how good of a guitar player Brian was.  Besides the afore mentioned “Little Red Rooster” are there really any songs where you can sight a great Brian Jones guitar solo? He ceratainly wasn't a Page, Clapton or Beck.

Let’s address that Brian apparently did not write songs. This obviously put him at a disadvantage when Mick & Keith started to write together and took over the band. The only writing credit Brian Jones ever got on Rolling Stones albums was on any song credited to the pseudonym  “Nanker-Phelge” for group compositions; usually pedestrian blues-oriented instrumental songs they used to use as album filler. 
Now some have insinuated that Brian did help Keith write “Ruby Tuesday” but I guess only Brian and Keith know and Keith always says he wrote it. 
There have even been some conspiracy theorists that claim Brian wrote the legendary riff to “Satisfaction” rather than Keith  recording the riff on his tape recorder before he feel asleep! Again, a certain segment of people trying to give Brian too much credit  I think.

Where the praise is often heaped upon Brian is for  his versatility on other instruments. Adding sitar to Stones songs like “Paint it Black”, “Mother’s Little Helper” and “Street Fighting Man”;

         


                                                & woodwinds to Ruby Tuesday”.

                  
 
                 mellotron on songs like “We Love You” and “2000 Light years From Home.
                                 
 
He can be seen at the piano on TV appearances like Ed Sullivan, but I’m not sure how much piano he really played on the albums. The Stones often used session legend Nicky Hopkins on piano as well as their longtime cohort Ian Stewart .
 
Overall does this make the guy a legend or even as crucial as the other members? 
There is a story that by the “Beggars Banquet” sessions Brian was pretty incapacitated by drugs and asked Mick “What can I play?”.. , 
“I dunno what can you play ?”  answered Mick.


Why has so much credit been heaped on Jones other than he founded the band? It may sound funny, but he was one of the coolest looking rock stars that ever lived
 
              










He was a 60's fashion icon a bit of a "dandy", and was known for his mane of blond hair. He was probably the most popular member with the girls until Mick eventually took over. 

  


I think people are more enamored of his image than of his actual contributions, sorry to say.  Guys wanted to look like him and girls wanted to be with him. 

                   
Unfortunately, he had a fragile ego and apparently vacillated between being a mean person and being the wounded victim-type. He dove deeper into drugs and in 1969 was asked to leave the band. 
Some say he was trying to get his act together and form a new band just before he tragically and mysteriously drowned in his pool in July of 1969. 

                                                         Brian near the end of his life

                                 
                                                  
In his honor, here are 20 great Brian-era Stones songs
                                     
    
“Paint it Black”- I believe in his book, Bill Wyman says he was playing these chords on the organ while Charlie drummed claiming he started the genesis of the music for the song. Of course the song is only credited to Jagger/Richards. Brian’s sitar is a key component of the song and is one of his finest moments.

                   
 
Lady Jane- an Elizabethian sounding piece with harpsichord and Brian on the dulcimer.
 A very “English” track from the guys.
                     


         
“Ruby Tuesday”- Keith claims he wrote the song by himself. Brian adds the flute like flourishes that do add to the song nicely.

                          
 
“Mother’s Little Helper”- an ode to the trials and tribulations of motherhood and being a housewife. All cured by valium…

                                       
 
“Connection” – a song mostly written by Keith (and played on his solo tours) describing the difficulties of getting thru customs in the 60’s. He thinks it was hard then?


               
 
“She Smiled Sweetly”- I must admit this one didn’t hit me until seeing “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Sometimes a song being effectively used in a movie can really give it life.

                    
         
 
“Play With Fire”- great minor-key moody piece. 

                                       
 
“Sittin on a Fence”- lesser known but a favorite of mine. Great lyrics examining how people can rush into adulthood, marriage , mortages, etc without giving it too much thought because it’s seems like what you are supposed to do.

             


 
“Something Happened to Me yesterday”- an attempt at a Dylan-esque type track. Keith helping Mick out on vocals.  The band didn’t seem quite sure which direction to go on “Between the Buttons”.

        
 
“19th Nervous Breakdown”-stress! Some nice guitar riffs, not sure who played what.

               

 "Under my Thumb" - Brian on the marimbas 
                              

 
“Get Off of My Cloud”- Of their best early singles. Saw them do this live in 2006 and the whole place was shouting the “hey!” parts.

            
 
“Dandelion” – a great psychedelic pop track. Not sure if that is Brian on some of the odd sounds on here.
              
“She’s a Rainbow”- Psychedeilia was never really the Stones forte but this is probably the Stones best “psychedelic” track. 

                                   
 
“We Love You”- written to their fans after Mick and Keith were cleared of drug charges where they were threatened with going to prison. Supposedly John and Paul join in on backing vocals. Brian on the mellotron keyboard.
                                    
 
“2000 Light Years From Home”- a definite attempt at something along the line of what the Doors and some of the San Francisco bands were doing. Used to kind of creep me out when I was kid. Brian on the mellotron keyboard.
                                                   

“Jumpin Jack Flash”- an incredible comeback single from the band and one of their most loved songs. Great riff and that may be Brian on the little fills on the “It’s all right now” part. Another creepy vid. Freaked me out as a kid.


            

            
“Street Fighting Man”- Brian adds some subtle sitar to his one. Keith overloads his acoustic to sound like electrics..

             
            
   
“No Expectations”- That is supposedly Brian on slide guitar, considered by most to be his last shining musical moment.

                            
 
             “Sympathy for the Devil” – You can see them trying to work it out here 
                                


                            
                                    But the finished product is really Mick and Keith’s baby..




     


bonus:      
“You Can’t Always get What you Want” Rock n Roll Circus. I think is Brian last public appearance with the band and he didn’t make the album version the songs. He seems to be just strumming along here.


    

   
                

Fighting fatigue? me too. 7 "tired (and sleepy)" songs

I don't know bout you, but I am often dealing with chronic fatigue. It sucks.
Of course, then for some of us we have trouble sleeping at the end of the day, things racing thru our minds, too much caffeine intake during the day , etc.

                          


Here are some tunes that sympathize with our plight


1.  The first tune that I always hum in my mind when I'm dragging...
               John Lennon's ode to fatigue, "I'm So Tired"

                                                  The Beatles "I'm So Tired'



2. In 1983 , Ozzy Osbourne seemed to just say "what the heck, let's make the most unlikely type of song    that I would ever sing", a big sweeping ballad with strings.
 It's actually very good! I'm always singing this one to myself as well on painfully long workdays...

.the video is pretty damn hilarious...

                                                                 Ozzy-"So Tired"

                                               

   3.        Next up is one from Roger Daltrey's 1984 solo album "Parting should be Painless".
                                     In this rock track Roger is "walking" in his sleep...
                                            Roger Daltrey "Walking in My Sleep"
                                 
                           
4   Ray Davies is of often "tired", "Tired of Waiting for you", etc...
                                                        Here he's a "Sleepwalker"

                                                    the Kinks "Sleepwalker"

                 
                                          
5.On their 2nd album, The Pretenders covered another of Ray Davies sleep-oriented songs,
                                          the beautiful "I Go to Sleep"
                                                
                                         The Pretenders "I Go to Sleep"

          
 6.   This singer in this one is tired too, of course his woman is bumming him out and wearing him down.

                                        Rocky Burnette- "Tired of Toein the Line"
                                     


7. Richard Butler and the Psychedelic Furs ode to insomnia and depression
                                       "Sleep Comes Down"

                         

Monday, February 27, 2012

The weakest tracks on Classic albums (Part 2)

I am continuing my series on the weakest tracks on iconic, classic albums. Even the greatest albums can have a weak track or two and when compared to the great material on the album, they can stick out like a sore thumb.
These are the tracks you press the > button on your cd player or IPod.



    I'm gonna start off with a track from Bruce. "Born to Run" was the album that finally broke Springsteen and probably saved his career. It has iconic tracks like the title track, "Jungleland", "Backstreets" "Thunder Road", "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out".If you go to a Springsteen concert, chances are you are going to hear these. While album cuts like "Night"  "She's the One" , and "Backstreets" make the cut as good quality tracks.

That leaves Just the oddly jazzy (?) "Meeting Across the River".
I can kind of picture maybe Tom Waits singing it? There's not much of a melody.
 The chord progression makes it sound like something someone would sing on Broadway and the featured instrument is not even Clarence's sax??!!!! it's a trumpet!!

Surprisingly , Bruce has played this live in recent years. I know he did the entire "Born to Run" album live a couple of tours ago so I guess he had to.

I suggest skip it!                >


                                                           "Meeting Across the River"



                                                           





Well, here is the one that might be the "Mother" (sorry couldn't resist) of all bad tracks on a great album! I can't believe I didn't include it in my first post!.  

The Police "Mother"!. Andy Summers dissonant contribution to "Synchronicity".
Musically it seems to be influenced by his recent collaborator King Crimson's Robert Fripp and vocally a bit by some of the Adrian Belew's vocals on  King Crimson's "Discipline" album,... but that's being kind....

  This is the best Andy could do? He had written one of my favorite Police songs, "Omegaman", on the previous album.  The record company even wanted that song to be a single, but Sting wouldn't have it , even though he sang the lead vocal!                                             

Apparently Sting had now started to refuse to sing Andy's songs and Andy is not much of a singer, so maybe Andy just said " F*%k it. I'll give them a piece of crap and dare them to put it on the album."
Well Sting claimed he loved it! So on the album it went!
Not only is this song considered the worse song on the album, it is considered one of the worse songs ever done by a major rock band! 


                                               
                                                 
 
 Don't get me wrong, I'm not crazy about the Stewart Copeland penned "Miss Gradenko"; and Sting himself turned in the weak "Walking in Your Footsteps". But "Mother" takes the cake.

 It is baffling that the song Summers and Sting co-wrote, "Murder by Numbers", a good little track, was only on the cassette of "Synchronicity". They could have easily swapped it with the hated Mother"



                                                                    The Police - "Mother"

                              



                       With the next entry I'm going to go with the Stones.
 I'm sure I could pick thru "Exile on Main Street" and find a couple of unnecessary tracks but I will leave it alone for now and tackle "Tattoo You", a huge album for the Stones in 1981.
 It contained hits like "Start Me Up" and "Waiting on a Friend". Great pub-rock style tracks like "Hang Fire" and "Neighbors". More bluesy numbers like "Black Limousine" and "Slave""Little T&A" is one of Keith Richards' greatest songs!
 It is amazing that most of the tracks were leftovers from previous albums that just needed some lyrics and vocals added. It turned out really good!


but then you get to side 2 (if you ever got there at all)..Suddenly there is a run of ballads that seem to all be more "Mick" songs. For "Worried About You" Mick breaks out his "Emotional Rescue" falsetto for the verses and you know its not gonna be a great one. This was a leftover from the 1975 sessions and Wayne Perkins (who?) plays the lead guitar on it! But they did make a video for it and they actually played it live a couple of tours ago..

Side 2 also has "No Use in Crying" which isn't a bad ballad and sounds like a leftover from "Emotional Rescue".; The experimental, eastern-flavored "Heaven", which only features Mick, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and producer Chris Kimsey on it is worth a listen.It's more of the kind of track Mick would do on his later solo albums.
Side 2 ends with"Waiting on a Friend" which is actually a great song and features amazing sax playing from jazzman Sonny Rollins!

That leaves just track 2 on side two "Tops" an old leftover song of about an ambitious girl trying to make it (as an actress we assume). The track is so old that Mick Taylor who had left the band 7 years earlier plays lead guitar! He had to sue to get paid for this track!
The track kind of sounds like a weak 70's Philly soul ballad, think O'Jays or the Spinners.
 I'm going with "Tops" as the dud. It's not "the tops"....


                                                           "Tops"
                            



Peter Gabriel is probably one of the least likely pop stars ever. He never intended to be one. In 1986 he released the single "Sledgehammer" and the album "So" and away he went.
Pretty crazy that a guy who used to dress in crazy costumes in a prog-rock band (Genesis) would have the biggest hit of 1986!

                                               

This was an album even girls would buy! Especially after Cameron Crowe used Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" in the "boombox" famous scene in the movie "Say Anything".  Personally, I never need to hear the "hits" on this album  ever again. They aren't bad just incredibly overplayed.
And, sorry, but if you ever tried that whole boombox schtick on a girl , like John Cusack did in the movie, you're a dope...
I'm not against trying to show someone how you feel with music but this was a little too corny...

                          

The album featured some good tracks like "Here that Voice Again", "Red Rain", the duet with Kate Bush "Don't Give Up" and more. It's when you get to the end that things get weak.

The experimental track ""This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" he does with Laurie Anderson doesn't really go anywhere but I'd had to say the weakest track is "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)", which sounds like the soundtrack to getting a lobotomy...

                                                    "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)"

                                                     



For the final entry on this edition, I am going to look at John Cougar Mellencamp's "Uh-Huh" album, was of the better rock albums released in the 80's. I know we are tired of hearing songs like "Pink Houses", "Crumblin Down (always thought it sounded like a cool 70's Paul Rodgers type song for some reason" and "Authority Song" (heavily influenced by the song "I Fought the Law") but they were great down-to-earth rock tunes at a time when Michael Jackson and the "Footloose" soundtrack ruled the airwaves.
"Warmer Place to Sleep" had the bite of a Rolling Stones song. "Play Guitar", had  a "Gloria"-like hook and was a fun look at how playing guitar would get you the chicks. "Serious Business" was tongue in cheek look at the hard partying life of either a rock star or a biker, with an early-70's Stones feel.
"Golden Gates" was actually a beaut that closes the album, a hint of things to come on his future albums.  "Lovin Mother For Ya" was a throwaway that was AC/DC meets "Land of a Thousand Dances".

          

 That leaves just "Jackie O" written with  folkie John Prine; known for his dark humor.
 For some reason they decided to just use something that sounds like a cheap Casio keyboard to be the musical accompaniment!? Believe or not Mellencamp actually closed his 1984 live shows with this track!!!

                       It's the one to skip on here >
                                                                  "Jackie O"
                           






                                        



         

Eric Clapton & Jeff Beck "Moon River" (Live 2010)

Would have loved to have seen this tour. Wish they would put out a DVD of it!


                                   Here they are on the beautiful classic "Moon River"
                     

RUSH- "Open Secrets" 1987

From 1987; for some Rush-die hards not their favorite period; "too many synths", "guitars not heavy enough", "glossy production", etc..


 
But there are still some good tracks with great Neil Peart lyrics. As time went on in their career, Neil's lyrics became more personal,  examining deeper thoughts and feelings and, in general, the human condition and our struggles to grow and enjoy life. Some prefer the earlier Rush stuff with more of the fantasy oriented lyrics, but I prefer these type of lyrics. I always find comfort in knowing I'm not the only one grappling with such thoughts and feelings..

                                            "  Closed for my protection
                                                Open to your scorn
                                                Between these two directions
                                                My heart is sometimes torn
                                                I lie awake with my secrets
                                                Spinning around my head
                                                Something that somehow escaped me
                                                Something you shouldn’t have said
                                                 I was looking out the window
                                                 I should have looked at your face instead."


                                                            "Open Secrets"

                           
If you are a fan of Neil's lyrics and thoughts, I would highly recommend you read his book "Ghost Rider", an incredibly open and honest account of his struggle to go on after the deaths of his daughter and his wife.

                          Amazon link