Amazing Grace, the movie

Aretha Franklin died last year. A movie shot in 1972 with some tech problems and edited to everyone’s satisfaction but her’s in 2015, was shelved in 2015 for reasons never explained. The movie wasn’t released until she passed. Now it’s out. I guess there could be questions about that, about Aretha’s preferences, she’s the star, but the fact is that the movie made from these oddly stranded film clips from 47 years ago, film shot on 16mm supposedly for network TV, is awesome. Mainly because of Aretha’s performance, which is mind-boggling, but also because of the view our filmmakers got of life inside a Black church in LA in that moment when one of pop’s biggest stars went back to her origins. Sort of, but plenty enough. The vibe is powerful. It counts for a lot. This supposed network special is anything but what you might expect. It is raw, real, awkward, and totally winning, thanks to the collective spirit of the choir, the church and especially Aretha, who seems unhappy every moment she isn’t singing, which then seems unimportant every moment she sings.

Song of the Week – Natural High, Bloodstone

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

My friend Sean H. has been bugging me for months to feature Bloodstone’s “Natural High” as the SotW.  I’ve been trying to persuade him to write it up himself as a guest contributor, but he hasn’t.

Well a few weeks ago the song came up on one of my playlists and it occurred to me that I really like it!  So here you go Sean – this one’s for you.

“Natural High” is the perfect mid-‘70s soul ballad.  What does that mean?  It has sweet, falsetto vocals and harmonies, and a sexy, slow jam backing.  It also has a short, simple, but jazzy guitar solo about 2:30 in.  It reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973.

Demonstrating his impeccably good taste, Quentin Tarantino selected it for a scene in his blaxploitation influenced film Jackie Brown.

Bloodstone entered the blaxploitation field themselves in 1975 through a self-financed film that they cast themselves in — Train Ride to Hollywood.  Check out the zany trailer.

Last Train to Hollywood trailer

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Anthem, Greta Van Fleet

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Greta Van Fleet is a band out of Michigan that can’t seem to escape comparisons to Led Zeppelin.  That should make them very popular with the legions of Zep fans.

They have a pretty slight discography – so far consisting of two Eps released in 2017 and their late 2018, full-length debut, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.

So, what’s all the fuss about?  Take a listen to today’s SotW, “Anthem.”

“Anthem” focuses on acoustic guitar (Supertramp’s “Give a Little?), electric slide guitar and percussion, leaving the “heavy” aside.  It’s catchy!  The lyrics are sweet but their “peace and love” hippie idealism may be just a little too hokey.  The song climaxes with the final chorus:

And every glow

In the twilight knows
That the world is only what the world is made of

Just you and me

Can agree to disagree

That the world is only what the world is made of

I find myself on the fence regarding this group.  I like their approach but find the vocals a little too screechy.  But none other than Robert Plant has given GVF his blessing.  In an interview with Australia’s Network Ten, Plant said the band “are Led Zeppelin 1” and also described frontman Josh Kiszka as “a beautiful little singer.”  That’s a pretty high endorsement from someone that isn’t normally quick to hand out compliments.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, Walker Brothers & Jackie, Scott Walker

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

The enigmatic Scott Walker died on Friday, March 22nd, although the news was not released until this week.  Walker, who achieved more fame and fortune in the UK than here at home in the US, cultivated a 40-year career in three distinct phases.

The first was with his band, The Walker Brothers.  They were sort of a mid-‘60s version of a boy band and had a couple of hits here and in the UK.  “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” is a classic that often draws comparisons to the hits of the Righteous Brothers.

Starting in 1967, Walker released four solo albums, creatively titled Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, and Scott 4.  In this period, Walker moved toward a more crooning style of music featuring a mix of originals and covers – frequently favoring songs written by Jacques Brel.

“Jackie” was the lead track from Scott 2.  It was written by Brel and was released as a single in late 1967.

Lyrics that referenced “authentic queers and phony virgins,” bordellos, whiskey, and opium, especially in ’67, made clear that Walker’s teen idol days were behind him.

Later, in the ‘90s, Walker moved even farther out of the mainstream and recorded works that would most aptly be described as avant-garde.  This became increasingly evident with each album, culminating with his final release, Bish Bosch (2012).

A wonderful documentary of Walker’s career – Scott Walker – 30th Century Man – was released in 2006.  It is available for rent on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime.  It is worth checking out.

David Bowie was the executive producer of the documentary.  He often professed his admiration for Walker.  Influence on Bowie’s more experimental recordings such as his final release, Blackstar, can be traced directly back to Walker – musically and the vocal style of their similarly matched baritone voices.

Enjoy… until next week.

Liz Phair in Denver, God Loves Baseball

She was here at the Ogden Theater on Sunday night. I went to see her. It’s not an easy trip. Boulder to Denver is a snap, but Denver is a weird mix of elegant street scenes and aggressive street psychos. I come from NY, so I think I know my street people, but in NY I get them. Out here, I’m on uneven ground. Liz played a greatest hits set in front of a terrific band that was both more rocking than the originals but just as airy in the arrangements. The terrific guitar player was understated, but on the few occasions he solo’ed he ripped the cover off. Which brings us to the one new song of the night. I go to live shows because there are differences with the records, and on this night, in addition to having a better band than played on Exile in Guyville and Whip-smart, Phair played a new song that hasn’t been recorded, called God Loves Baseball.

Like most baseball songs it’s too sentimental and this doesn’t rock at all, but I agree. And I think I like god less than Liz and baseball more. Here’s a clip, though this was far from the high point of the show, even though it was kind of nice.

The Dirt

So Mötley Cruë made the movie of their story, and it’s on Netflix. It’s called The Dirt, and it is about the band’s life told through the voices of its members. This is standard modern narrative. You have a narrator or narrators who know more than the characters, and who know where the story ends up, cracking wise while moving the story along quickly. And, if you like naked women, eye poppingly. I spent all of watching The Dirt wishing I was sitting in my TV room with Steve Moyer, not because he admired the Cruë, but because he loved tales of rock ‘n’ roll life, and this is definitely that. I’m ambivalent. The scenes of debauchery are debauched, but are mostly offensive because the premise seems skewed. What is misogyny is played for the cutes. The naked ladies are jokes, at least until the lady leaves, at which point love is lost. Boo hoo, and boys are sad. This isn’t a sophisticated look at the way the world works, but the movie feels like a somewhat accurate look at the adolescent rock life, and the way it changes with rehab and maturity. It way underplays the tunes, which you would think a movie produced by the band would try to promote. But they’re all sober now, and maybe better understand their weird moment in rock history. Steve, how do you feel about this one? I watched the whole thing, even though Vince Neil looked like Wayne or Garth from Wayne’s World (I forget which one), which bothered me a lot. You may not have. No link to a Cruë song. I never paid attention to them, but I did watch their movie. Weird.

Song of the Week – I Don’t Like Mondays, Boomtown Rats

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Can we all agree on one thing – that there is too much gun violence in the world today.  Muslim extremists killing “infidels,” racists going into churches, synagogues and mosques to kill worshipers, and just plain crazies shooting people at schools, workplaces and concerts!

Enough is enough.  “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all JUST get along?”

Today’s SotW was written about a very early school shooting that occurred 40 years ago, on January 29, 1979.  On that day, a 16-year-old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on the children arriving for the day’s lessons at the Cleveland Elementary School in the Lake Murray section of San Diego.  Two men (the school principal and a custodian) were killed.  Eight children and one adult were injured.

In a telephone interview, a reporter with The Evening Tribune asked Spencer why she did it.  She responded, “I just don’t like Mondays… this livens up the day.”

Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers, of the Irish band The Boomtown Rats, used this awful backstory to write the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

“… Mondays” was a #1 hit in the UK but only managed to reach #73 here in the US – though it did receive quite a bit of airplay in the US on college campuses and alternative rock radio.

The piano based composition renders it a perfect vehicle to be taken up by Tori Amos, as she did on her 2001 covers album, Strange Little Girls.

After 40 years, what have we learned?  Mass shootings seem to happen more and more frequently each year.  “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all JUST get along?”

Enjoy… until next week.