Experimental Music

This tune made no one’s top 10 and I’m a little ashamed of myself. I’m also ashamed of you. You psychedelic guys anyway, for this is the Stones’ crowning psychedelic moment, I mean I love it but Dandelion notwithstanding. Actually, in England We Love You was the A side and Dandelion the B. Beatles guys should also revel in John and Paul on backup vocals, which are among the best they ever did. Absolute killer piano riff which I believe is Ian Stewart but I’m not sure.

 

Breakfast Blend: PJ Harvey, “Rid of Me”

I’ve been listening to a lot of PJ Harvey the last few days. Her early albums are full of crazy explosive rock songs that don’t conform to the regular rock forms, but respect them enough to be recognizable. I remember reading a paired review of one of her early elpees with Liz Phair’s latest (at that time) in Esquire. The writer’s point was these crazy neurotic women could make some compelling music, which at the time seemed a little stupid, as if it wasn’t crazy neurotic men making most of the compelling music.

Rid of Me is the title song from Harvey’s first album, which was somewhat distinguished by being followed some months later by a release of the demos for the first album’s song. Which is the comparison we’re raising here.

The demo is a little different. Simpler, more direct, though the same ideas are there. This album became my go to PJ Harvey album. Until the next one came out.

And then later, she was established, a performer. Different, but the same, too.

A Study In “Gimme Shelter” Live

Let’s start with “the best version ever”:

Cool:

The fish (the instrument).
The best Rolling Stones song ever is in there somewhere I guess. I can’t get past two minutes and the song hasn’t even started yet.

Uncool:

Stupid runway long enough for a plane to use.
Black lady wailing stuff that’s not even in the song.
Nine minutes? Really?
This is why I have no particular interest in seeing the Stones anymore. I missed the boat (but not the runway).
Sometimes more isn’t more.

Now we’ll move onto the real Rolling Stones (the ones I’d pay to see):

Cool:

The fish (instrument).
Jagger’s vocals, dancing and general swagger.
Jagger’s foreign accent on the word “shell-tah” toward the end.
Charlie Watts’ bored expressions – sleeping, smiling.
Charlie Watts’ tit t-shirt.
Mick Taylor smiling and hammering away the rhythm.
Sometimes less is more.

Uncool:

They don’t show who’s playing the fish.
Is most of the music recorded and Jagger’s just singing over it? Geez, I hope not. If so, shame on me.

And finally (there’s been way too little Hellacopters on this damn site lately):

Cool:

The fish (instrument).
The fish player puts down the fish to kick the ball.
Four guitars!!!
Two keyboardists and you can’t hear one note of keyboard!
The Hellacopters’ bass player.
Nicke Andersson plays an MC5 lick during the solo.
Sometimes more is more.

Uncool:

I don’t know who Soundtrack Of Our Lives is (nor do I care).
How the Soundtrack Of Our Lives guys look compared to the Hellacopters guys.
Hellacopters drummer is absent.
Two drummers would’ve been better in this case.

Conclusion:

What the Rolling Stones lost between the good video and the “best version ever” can be found in the Hellacopters video.

Thank you and goodnight.

READING: Exit 25 Utopia, by Steven Wishnia

exit25utopiaSteven Wishnia played in bands in New York City in the 70s and 80s. He played with our friend Gene at some point, or points, I don’t really know any of the story, but I know about the scene. Partly because I arrived in New York in 1976, I like to say that I was drawn after hearing Horses in a record store in San Francisco, and partly because Gene has written about some of it here. And now, more so, because Wishnia has written a collection of stories about a guy and his bands.

There is no character named Steven, so this isn’t avowed memoir, but the voice is strong and singular. I trust that all of it happened, except maybe a few of the jokey turns of phrase, which sometimes work, sometimes don’t. But that’s the only criticism I’m listing here.

Wishnia ferociously recounts the tales of tours and police actions, too much drinking and some times when the vibe worked and the sex was good. Or the music was great. If you don’t like stories about a life in rock and roll, the sacrifices made for it, and the scant rewards that came from it—yet how important those rewards were—Exit 25 Utopia might not be for you.

But if a book that has a long list of  permissions for the quoted lyrics in the back, which starts with More Fun, by the Blenders, We Are the Road Crew by Motorhead, and Book of Love by the Monotones, and ends with Queen Majesty by Ranking Trevor and the Jays, intrigues, find it, buy it and read it.

Here’s a quote from one of the later stories that is a good excuse to show Wishnia’s style and concerns (which are social as well as musical), and end with a song clip.

“Some people think being near death is romantic, like grabbing onto something before the nevermore. I don’t know about the white roses and wasting-disease shit. Yeah, but part of me still wants something that’s gonna make my heart beat like the drums on “Be My Baby,” wash over me like a wall of violins and reverb. When I fall in love with someone I even love her old zit scars. And part of me remembers waking out of a deep hangover in 1985 to find all my stuff piled on the living room floor of my old girlfriend’s apartment. She had the windows blacked out with black construction paper. She arrayed red candles on the table and was sitting there in a white nightgown with a glass of whiskey and a cigarette in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other. Marianne Faithfull was on the stereo purring with icy wrath. If you know the song you know what my sin was. The final touch was that she had been knitting.

I had to admire her sense of drama.”

 

Kreutzer’s Beatles Top 10

Ten Beatles Songs, ridiculous to say these are the best. But ridiculous not to try to make such a list. This one is as much personal as anything else.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1964)

This is the first song I remember hearing. It was their first No. 1 in the states, and along with it came a lot of talk about their hair and the screaming fainting girls. This song is a perfect piece of pop songwriting, totally catchy, but also varied by parts and tone, so that it’s not too sweet or too blue, not too dependent on one hook when a few will be better.

Yesterday (1965)

This is the one song I’ve played in public recital on the piano. It is also one of the songs I sang to my daughter every night for many years, as she fell asleep. But the reason I list it here is because as I’ve come to appreciate Paul McCartney as a lyricist, this is one of his finest poems. Spare, wonderfully structured, plainly said and deeply felt, and not at all sentimental in and of themselfs, these are words that don’t really need strings or any of the pop craft you hear here. A magnificent achievement.

Here There and Everywhere (1966)

Another McCartney perfection. John Lennon called this one of his favorite Beatles tunes, which says something.

Eight Days A Week (1964)

Lennon thought this one was lousy and the Beatles never played it live. I suppose I can pick it apart, it’s simple and some of the lyrics are just fine, not perfect, but I love the harmonies and the sentiment and those jangling guitars. If I’m having a party this is the Beatles tune that goes into the dance mix, no matter what John said.

Helter Skelter (1968)

McCartney goes all heavy metal, and comes up with a loud rocker that is most notable for it’s sweet harmonies and affability. But that doesn’t mean that the noise isn’t loud and the music less than assaultive. I kind of landed here because so much of The Beatles is novelty, in a cute and clever way. You can dress Helter Skelter in the same clothing, it was a challenge song, Paul trying to write the dirtiest sounding song he could, and for all it’s sonic sturm it isn’t really threatening until John talks about his blisters. I buried Paul, and all that. But it does rock until the extended coda and it does carve out new musical territory, and I always enjoy hearing it.

Hey Jude (1968)

Okay, more McCartney. This song is so simple, so perfectly simple, it’s hard to imagine how it became a seven minute epic, but at that it seems absolutely right. Variations and more variations, along with the lovely sing song consolation that will not take no for an answer, ending with sing along Na na na na na na monumental coda, which elevates everything to yet another higher level. Take a sad song and make it better. They did.

A Hard Days Night (1964)

Here’s the problem. This is a perfect song, with a great arrangement and fantastic harmonies. Give credit here to John Lennon, finally. The problem is that the Beatles have 30 others just as good. But I love this one for the opening chord and the lyrics, which (like Eight Days a Week) refer to a working life. That’s not a big deal, but it takes the pouffery of the pop song back into the grind of the working week, and that’s something I notice. Plus it sounds fantastic.

Get Back (1969)

I remember hearing this the first time, watching the video, which is a fantastic bit of expression of the Beatles’ power, and a world still trying to rein them and all of the youth in. The lyrics are nonsense, but sound great, and the song is a terribly affable rock song elevated by Billy Preston’s keyboards. I won’t claim this is one of the band’s great songs, but it is one of my favorites.

Within You, Without You (1967)

I made a Beatles Top 11 earlier in the year, kind of a lark because I did it quickly, but I meant it. When I started putting this list together I did so without consulting the original, but I did remember that Within You, Without You was on that list, kind of representing Sgt. Pepper. Lawr commented that he didn’t think the Beatles could write a bad song, except for Within You, Without You and Revolution #9. I’m not tempted to put the goofy pastiche on my list, but I cannot escape this George Harrison song. I am not a religious person and certainly not going all gaga over some big religious personality, er fraud, so forget the horrible lyrics, but they don’t matter, I think. The propulsive rhythm and the sawing harmonies and the densely layered mix, are really beautiful and appealing in a way that trad Indian music isn’t. To my ears, I mean. I do feel bad that two of my top 10 Beatles songs are really solo acts, featuring no other Beatles but the composer. So be it. I just wish I’d included Gomper on my Stones list.

Can’t Be Me Love (1964)

I guess the plain speaking, harmonizing rockers are my favorite Beatles, and this tune, like Eight Days a Week and Hard Days Night is both insistently rocking and rolling a sophisticated metaphor around on its tongue. McCartney wrote this one, but my favorite Beatle was always John.

Extras

Every single other Beatles song could be listed here, except for Revolution #9, which isn’t really a song as much as a collage. A good collage I think, so let’s go out with that. Backwards!

 

 

 

One Last Stones Top 10

I’m a little late to this game but here’s my list.

Satisfaction
Putting together a Stones Top 10 List has been difficult for each of us. It seems like an impossible task. But you know, if I had to put together a list of my all-time Top 10 Rock songs, something by the Stones would have to be on it… and that something would be Satisfaction. Now that I’ve got the easy one out of the way I can move on.

2120 South Michigan Avenue
This instrumental was named after the address of the Chicago’s Chess Studios where it was recorded but was also home to many of the electric blues artists the Rolling Stones revered. I was originally familiar with the version on the US album 12 X 5 (1964). In the 80s I picked up a British import vinyl called Around and Around that also contained a version of the song – but it went on longer than the 12 X 5 version. Hearing the longer version was like discovering the song all over again.

Off the Hook
I always liked this little straight ahead, party song. Maybe it’s because of the cool performance of that they did for the T.A.M.I. Show. It was on the US album The Rolling Stones Now! that was released in 1965. It made its way onto countless mix tapes I gave away in the 80s.

The Last Time
Killer riff on this gospel influenced number.

Ruby Tuesday
This was a big hit that I seem to favor because it was so different than everything else when it came out. Brian Jones was the mastermind behind this arrangement. He played the recorder part (and piano) that lends the song its iconic sound. The melancholy verses blend perfectly with the anthemic chorus.

Stray Cat Blues
Filthy!

Midnight Rambler
This song debuted at the July 5, 1969 concert the band performed in Hyde Park, just 2 days after Brian Jones died. It made its recoded debut toward the end of ’69 on the Stones album Let It Bleed. But the definitive version was the one on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! with Mick Taylor on guitar.

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking
This 7+ minute cut begins like a pretty typical Stones song but after about 2:45 develops into an extended jam – they just kept the tape rolling, thank God. Fantastic guitar solos by Mick Taylor and Keith Richards, and a very nice sax solo by one of my heroes – Bobby Keys.

Hand of Fate
I’ve chosen this song because the guitar playing is so great. The guitar solos are fantastic, especially the one that burns through the final minute of the song. And who’s ripping off those cool riffs? Black and Blue’s mystery guitarist Wayne Perkins.

Shattered
The Stones at their most pissed off – calling out late 70s, squeegee NYC as they see it. “Go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots.”

ADJUNCT REMNANTS: Bret Sayre’s Beatles Top 10

My Top 10 Beatles Tracks

By Bret Sayre

We all go through it at some point–that point in your musical existence when you stop focusing on what’s here now, but what came before. My classic rock exploration phase started when I was a sophomore in high school, and the Beatles were not my main focus. For that first year or two, I was heavy into Zeppelin–which made sense based on the heavier music I was into at the time; however as I got older and started to write music myself, the Beatles’ influences and tendencies manifested themselves more and more loudly. The hooks, the harmonies, the depth, all of it.

It was hard enough just to narrow this down to ten songs, I’m not masochistic enough to try and rank them amongst each other, so they sit below in alphabetical order:

“A Day in the Life”

There’s really no better example of the Lennon/McCarthy collaboration than this classic track from what is probably their most overrated album. The song meanders through five minutes of eclectic instrumentation, tempo changes and vocal trade-offs–and is spread out judiciously in the space. It’s both laid back and urgent. It’s rare that a track is both ahead of its time and properly appreciated when it’s released, but here we are.

“Day Tripper”

This song was one that I didn’t discover until late in my Beatles Finding phase, but it had one of the biggest influences on my songwriting. I always wished I could write a guitar hook half as cool as the one that drives this song, but it turns out that not being John Lennon is a trait many aspiring musicians share.

“Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight”

The second side of Abbey Road is one of my favorites of all time, and because it’s very tough to pick out a singular song from it, I’m not going to. Frankly, if I could pick the whole medley, I would. What are the rules of this thing anyway? The piano ballad of the former is a perfect appetizer, leading into the explosive chorus of the latter–and the reprise of You Never Give Me Your Money (horns again, I know) really ties the room together.

“Got to Get You Into My Life”

There’s no other way to put it, this song just makes me happy. It’s Paul through and through, which can be a turn off to some, but this is one his songs that needs to be played as close to full volume as possible. Another Bret musical fun fact: I have a very soft spot for well-placed horns, and that helps solidify this song’s placement.

“Happiness is a Warm Gun”

Unlike many of its predecessors, this song is a one-way street. The verse starts quiet and builds up with the jagged guitar before exploding into aural intensity. The combination of the playfulness of the music and the darkness of the lyrics is John Lennon as his finest, and his lead vocal track in the eventual chorus of the song is one of his finest moments in the band’s discography.

“Here Comes the Sun”

The lone George Harrison representative on the list, it’s really tough to think of the ten best Beatles since without this one. For me, I knew this song before I really knew all that much about the Beatles, as this was used at my summer camp when after we had “quiet time” on the bus to let us know we were getting close to whatever destination we were headed to. For that reason, it has a special place for me, but it is the pinnacle of George’s songwriting and is a key track on arguably the band’s strongest album.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face”

Of all the Paul acoustic songs, this is the one tha makes the list. It’s just two minutes of earnest perfection and having gotten into the song in my formative years, the earnestness was appreciated in a way that only a naive teenager can. It was also one of the first handful of songs I tried to learn on the guitar, though I was never quite able to nail playing and singing it at the same time.

“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”

There are plenty of “better” Beatles songs than this quirky Paul track, but for some reason this one has always stuck with me. I guess quirky doesn’t really do to justice, as the lyrics read like the ramblings of a man who can’t tell the floor from the ceiling. However, it’s one of the catchiest Beatles tracks, and suits me just fine.

“Paperback Writer”

Another track I didn’t pick up until later on, this quickly became a personal favorite with it’s sweeping vocals and crushing verses. Add in one of their finest guitar riffs and you get another in a long line of nearly perfect pop songs from the first stage of the Beatles’ career.

“Revolution”

The blaring of the opening guitar riff to this song signals that it aims to be something larger than just a Beatles song. It wants to be an anthem, and thanks to the indignant attitude, melody and vocal energy of John, it succeeds.

Near Misses:

“Back in the USSR”

“Get Back”

“Here, There and Everywhere”

“I Am the Walrus”

“She Said She Said”

Five More (because I can’t help myself):

“And Your Bird Can Sing”

“Drive My Car”

“Eight Days a Week”

“Helter Skelter”

“Julia”

 

ADJUNCT REMNANTS: Steve Gardner’s Stones Top 10!

As I told Lawr when he suggested I make out a top 10, taking a dive into the Rolling Stones catalog is more like wading in the kiddie pool to the rest of you guys. But what the heck, it’s a fun exercise no matter what the degree of difficulty.

I’m going with the Stones because the thing that differentiates them from the Beatles in my mind is that their songs conjure up much more iconic memories for me than Beatles tunes, which always seemed to be here, there and everywhere. At least in my case, you listened to the Beatles. But you experienced the Stones.

Now, on with the countdown …

R.S. 10 Extra: Honky Tonk Women always makes me smile because of the intro where Charlie Watts does the tink-tink-tink. When I was working at a radio station back in the day, we had a fake commercial produced to coincide with Mick’s 44th birthday for “Mick’s Formula 44″ cough medicine. (Fake Mick: “When I’m on stage hackin’ me lungs out, I get me a spoonful of Mick’s Formula 44.”) At the end he hits the spoon on the bottle to make his point — tink-tink-tink — and says, “Hey, that gives me an idea” as the song starts in the background. Yeah, we were easily amused back then.

10. Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker). I’m not a lyrics guy. It’s always the rhythm, the melody, the harmony and the tune that make me like a song way before any lyrics. With this one, the intro is really catchy and the lyrics jump out at you from “the PO-lice in New York City” and slap you around like a crooked cop. I’m also a sucker for horns in rock n roll, and this one is a great example.

9. Shattered. This one always reminds me of Beach Week in high school. The Stones were quite prolific during those years with Some Girls, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You all out in a four-year period. Some Girls was the one we kept coming back to. The rapid-fire lyrics here may have been Mick’s nod to rapping (“what a mess/this town’s in tatters/I’ve been shattered/my brain’s been battered/spread it all over Manhattan”). Fun to sing with a group of others who’ve also had a few beers along the way. The cold ending caps everything perfectly.

8. Sympathy for the Devil. This song reminds me of a youth event at church during high school when we had 3WV, Charlottesville’s album rock station, cranked up in the fellowship hall while we were setting up for something. This song came on and those of us familiar with it didn’t really know how to react to the irony of the situation. So we sang the “Woo Woo!” part really loud. And no one really paid any attention, except to shake their heads at those silly kids.

7. Torn and Frayed. Everything on Exile on Main Street is fantastic, so this tune serves as a representative of that album and the Stones’ ability to do country-roots-rock with the best of ‘em. It also gets extra points for Phish covering it the first time I saw them live. What an unexpected treat that was.

6. Under My Thumb (live version, from Still Life). I didn’t like the studio version of this one at all, but the live version has so much more oomph. This was a staple of my listening rotation in college. Friday afternoon … crank up some live Stones.

5. Just My Imagination (live). Same deal here with the Temptations cover. Mick substitutes “strictly” in the line “To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.” And as was the case with so many of those parties in college, the song perfectly describes my chances of hooking up with one of those beautiful girls.

4. Monkey Man. I couldn’t tell you what the hell this tune is about, but it’s incredibly haunting and it kicks ass. The slide guitar stuff on Let It Bleed like this one and Midnight Rambler is great. When Mick starts screaming like an actual monkey, you can’t help but picture him strutting around on stage. And maybe needing to be caged.

3. Brown Sugar. The Stones at their rockin’ best. Love the guitar interplay. Throw in the horns and the sax solo. Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo! This could easily have been No. 1.

2. Jumpin’ Jack Flash. You can have Satisfaction; this is my pick for the definitive Stones guitar riff of all time. It’s meatier with the chords and dramatic pauses before the hook kicks in. The bass line also gets plenty of love here too. Unlike some of their biggest hits, I never get tired of hearing this one.

1. Gimme Shelter. I’m not alone in giving this one top billing. It has everything from soulful vocals (with an incredible guest performance), a memorable chorus, head-bopping drums, classic Keith on guitar and lyrics that make a powerful statement, even to a non-lyrics guy.

 

 

Night Music: Mink DeVille, “Venus of Avenue D”

It’s funny. WFMU added a station up here in the Hudson Valley, where I spend a lot more time in the car than I do in the city. So I listen to the radio more.

This cut was playing as I left the farmer’s market this afternoon. It’s the first cut on the first Mink DeVille album, Cabretta. There was some shtick to Willy’s persona, but he lived the romance of his music, and the arrangements and production and songcraft and performances on these first two elpees (Cabretta followed by Return to Magenta) was impeccable. And enduring. What a great song to hear on the radio by surprise.

Breakfast Blend: Frank Zappa and Steve Allen

John Cage opens the door to this bit of silliness, which was also broadcast on a popular TV show on a network when there were only three channels. Lots of civilians watched.

Zappa is similarly affable, aware that he’s crossing the line and at the same time using that to expose people to a pretty radical idea. And Steve Allen is funny.