I read some very favorable reviews of
the fourth album (and second released in 2019) – Two Hands – by the Brooklyn based band, Big Thief, so I decided to
give it a listen. Singer Adrianne Lenker’s
breathy vocals are very pretty, but after several cuts, nothing was really
Then the seventh song, “Not,” came on and I was hooked. And it is worthy to be featured as the SotW.
Instead of the “indie-Americana” (I just
made that up) that describes most of Big Thief’s material, this track veers off
into a cacophony of grungy guitar distortion – and I mean that in the best way. Neil Young would approve!
The “negativity” of the lyrics is complemented
and reinforced by the noisy accompaniment.
It’s not the room
Not the crowd
Not the planet
Not a ruse
Not the fire lapping up the creek
That you eat
In 1927, Joseph Ravel was commissioned
to compose his final and most famous piece – Boléro. Though most people
know Bolero as a musical composition, the commission was originally to provide
a score for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet company.
But Boléro has become most
famous as the score to a different dance.
(More on that later.)
Is the SotW venturing into classical
music? Hell no! There are quite a few notable rock songs that
reference Boléro, and that’s today’s
Roy Orbison (aka “Lefty Wilbury”) is often credited as the first rock musician to use the Boléro theme in a rock song – “Running Scared” (1961).
“… Scared” opens with a simple guitar
strumming, then builds with each verse, much like Ravel’s piece. All of the instruments are layered on, piece
by piece, building to an immense climax.
It is also notable that the song has no chorus.
In 1966 Jeff Beck, soon after leaving the Yardbirds, decided to record his first single and called on his old friend Jimmy Page to help out. They proceeded to lay down “Beck’s Boléro,” which would become the b-side to the “Hi Ho Silver Lining” single.
They called on John Paul Jones to play bass and Keith Moon for drums. Page agreed to play 12-string electric rhythm so Beck could take on lead guitar responsibilities.
The Jefferson Airplane hired Grace Slick to replace Signe Anderson as their lead singer in 1966. Slick brought a couple of her own songs to the group, including the Boléro based classic, “White Rabbit.”
“White Rabbit” reached #8 on the
Billboard pop chart in 1967. The
military march that ties back to Ravel’s Bolero is immediately
recognizable. The song is currently
featured in an ad for a cruise line!
Joe Walsh, of the James Gang (and later Eagles), was also influenced by Boléro. The Gang’s second album, Rides Again (1970), included a suite — “The Bomber: Closet Queen”/ “Bolero”/ “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”
The rights holders to Ravel’s Boléro objected to the James Gang’s use
of the composition in their recording and forced the band to delete that
section from future pressings of the album, instantly creating a collector’s
Ravel’s Bolero received a boost in popularity in 1979 when it was featured in the movie 10. In the movie, Bo Derek’s character (physically a perfect “10”) tells Dudley Moore’s character “Boléro was the most descriptive sex music ever written” and asks “Did you ever do it to Ravel’s Boléro?” Millions of copies of Bolérowere sold following the commercial success of 10.
In 2012, London based music psychologist
Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen analyzed the results of a Spotify survey of songs in “music
to make love to” playlists. The
winner? Marvin Gaye for “Sexual Healing”
and “Let’s Get It On.” But Ravel’s Boléro was next in line.
Back in the early ‘80s, I tuned in to
Austin City Limits one night to see an episode featuring a guitarist named
Stevie Ray Vaughan. At the time I hadn’t
heard of the guy. But I was really
impressed with his guitar playing even though I wasn’t familiar with most of
his repertoire because, as I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t yet know who he
was. But when he played the familiar
cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” I was blown away. I knew immediately this guy could play
From that point I began to follow Vaughan
and became a big fan. Too bad his life
was cut short in a helicopter crash in 1990, at the age of 35. The real shame of it is that after many years
of drug and alcohol abuse, Vaughan was finally getting straight. In fact, his last studio album with his band
Double Trouble, In Step (1989), was a
reference to the sobriety he reached through a 12 Step program.
So, today’s SotW is my favorite track from In Step, “Crossfire.”
“Crossfire” opens with a funky baseline
and solid beat that leaves room for an organ riff and a few nicely placed
guitar stabs. Vaughan gives an
impassioned vocal performance and whips off some tasteful guitar solos. In the last 30 seconds, Vaughan plays a very
cool, staccato run of notes that lifts the song to another level just before it
The “Crossfire” writing credit was given
to the full band – Vaughan, Tommy Shannon (bass), Chris Layton (drums) and Reese
Wynans (keyboards). The cut also has a
horn section made up of Joe Sublett on sax and Darrell Leonard on trumpet.
Somehow, I’m not sure I can explain why, that story reminded me of a song I love – today’s SotW, “If I Didn’t Love You” by Squeeze on the album Argybargy (1980).
This is a typical Squeeze (Chris Difford
and Glenn Tilbrook) composition that has wonderfully detailed lyrics and a quirky
If I didn’t love you, I’d hate you
Watching you play in the bath
A soap suds stickleback navy
A scrubbing brush landing craft
Your skin gets softer and warmer
I pat you down with a towel
Tonight it’s love by the fire
My mind goes out on the prowl
If I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I
And later, they goof on their own repetition
of the “If I” lyric in another verse that includes the line “The record jumps
on a scratch.”
And if that’s not enough for you, check
out Tillbrook’s slide guitar solo at the 2:10 mark. Amazing!
But back to the windows and walls… — Difford
was quoted as saying the lyrics mean “at
the back of your mind you’ve got that insecurity about your inability to have a
proper relationship with somebody.”
The first time I attended Coachella was
in 2007. 2007 was the first year that
the festival was expanded to three days, adding a Friday bill. The lineup was outstanding, including an as
yet little known British singer named Amy Winehouse, who had an early Friday
afternoon timeslot. I’ve always felt
lucky to see her that day since she left us just a few years later.
Another band I was excited to see was Kaiser
Chiefs, who were on the Sunday lineup. The
band was good but it turned out lead singer Ricky Wilson was an a-hole. He was pissed off that, in his opinion, the
audience wasn’t showing him enough love – and let us know several times. The more he complained, the more I was
inclined to sit on my hands.
But I won’t let that diminish my fondness for their biggest hit, “Ruby.”
“Ruby” is a power pop gem. It has a catchy riff and even catchier chorus that begs you to sing along. It reached #1 in the UK, but only #14 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart in the US. It has a very cool video too.
Oh, and that guy who saw himself as a
giant rock star worthy of worship? He ended
up as a coach on The Voice UK in
Last Sunday, October 6th, the
world said goodbye to drummer Ginger Baker.
To learn more about him, read the New
York Times obituary or watch the Beware
of Mr. Baker documentary.
The SotW MUST pay tribute to such an influential
and wacky rock star. My first thought
was to select a song that featured one of Baker’s famous drum solos. Maybe the live version of “Toad” from Cream’s
Wheels of Fire, with its 13 minute
blast of drums. Nope, that’s a bit too
much. Maybe another long jam, Blind
Faith’s “Do What You Like.” This is another
tour de force of stick work. But, nah,
that’s not it either (though I suggest you listen to both on your own).
Then it hit me! Today’s SotW should be one of my favorite Cream deep cuts – “What a Bringdown”, written by Baker.
“… Bringdown” is a wild, psychedelic ride
that uses unusual time signatures (5/4 to 3/4?) and has ‘60s style, surreally lysergic
lyrics. It also has some interesting and
innovative sonics. Felix Pappalardi (the
“4th Cream member”) plays a violin bass. Jack Bruce, who was ordinarily on bass, moves
to keys. Clapton layers guitars,
including a spacey, high pitched wah-wah solo after the bridge and on the fade
out. Baker pounds away at his kit and also
plays tubular bells (listen carefully at the end). This all adds up to a recording that sounds
more like early Jethro Tull than Cream.
“…Bringdown” was the last song on Cream’s
last album – Goodbye (1969), making
it an apropos way to acknowledge Baker’s passing.
In the decade from the mid-‘60s to mid-‘70s, there was a thriving youth subculture in Melbourne Australia called the Sharpies. The Sharpies were a gang of hooligans whose culture was centered around raw guitar music and their own style in dance (sharp elbows), dress (chisel toed shoes, jeans, tight-fitting cardigans) and haircuts – let’s say they were punks with mullets. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, watch this and you’ll get it.
Perhaps the most important band to the Sharpies was Coloured Balls, led by guitarist Lobby Loyde. Coloured Balls were known for playing the loud and aggressive music that was favored by the Sharpies.
Coloured Balls were influenced by the
MC5 and Flamin’ Groovies but you can also draw a straight line to their
influence on AC/DC.
A contemporary band out of Australia is Amyl and the Sniffers. Led by singer Amy Louise (Amyl) Taylor, they have full adopted the Sharpie aesthetic.
So if you enjoy your music loud, fast
and snotty, these bands are for you!