What I’ve Been Listening To Lately: Between The Buttons

In 1967 I turned 11, and my aunt Dottie’s present was a copy of The Rolling Stones Between the Buttons.

It may be my greatest present ever, though I’m sure that’s a reckless statement. I’ve been gifted a lot, thank you totally.

The thing about Between the Buttons is it is not a Rolling Stones blues record. Though the blues are played, for sure. I’m terrible at these historical things, but the record seems to represent the apotheosis of Brian Jones. His influence is everywhere, and the music benefits from odd instrumentation and challenging harmonies.

It’s not like the 12×5 Stones were underachievers, but in many ways the Between the Buttons cuts are wilder and more creative than the more extravagant Beatles experiments at the same time. The Stones didn’t ever, I think, get totally absurd in their posture (even considering Gomper), while the Beatles got pretty mental in their days. In any case, Between the Buttons is an album of pop songs, some influenced by psychedelic experiences and styles of the time.

When I decided to write about this I had an “neglected elpee” angle, but everybody gives it five stars. Everyone considers Between the Button a masterpiece. So what I have to share are some clips, in case you didn’t know about masterpiece it is (it wasn’t really conceived as an album).

 

My two cents. These Stones are Brian Jones Stones. This is incredible music, orchestration, songs. The Stones went from great bluesimitators to pop meisters like the Beatles and the Kinks. Brian Jones was in charge of that.

We always think of Jagger and Richard, but this was a band that was led by Brian Jones, in the first part, and Mick Taylor in the classic part. And when Ron Wood came in the live magic didn’t end, but the songwriting and arrangements did.

Between the Buttons may be the high mark of the Brian Jones era. It’s a high mark indeed.

 

 

 

 

Cecil Taylor Died Today.

I’m a rockist, but I have some jazz leanings. And when I heard today that Cecil Taylor died, I thought about all of his music that moves through me.

One thing I can say is that the two times I saw Cecil Taylor live I felt my life change. Both times. I would play the records and get caught up in the thoughts of what he and his combos were doing, but seeing Cecil Taylor and his band live was living a musical experience that pushed you to places you could not possibly have known about. Some of this was referential, Taylor freely sampled, he loved other music, but a lot of it was structural. He loved breaking down the usual form.

His was music that demanded great playing, and even greater creativity in the improvisation. Watching/hearing Cecil Taylor and his combo create was like becoming privvy to great minds operating at maximum capacity, and letting you see how the magic is made.

I can’t think of another musician who operated on both the sensual ground level and engaged the absolutely intellectual spheres so directly.
And maybe I should mention that these shows I saw pulsed, were full of musical exuberance and passion.

I happened to be out walking today and stumbled into a great used bookstore in Prospect Heights I rarely get to. The music playing was frenetic and sort of atonal but clearly not, and my guess was that it was Cecil Taylor. I didn’t know he had died, at that point, but I also admired the bookstore for its amazing hipness (in the good sense) and love of great writing.

This clip gets at how percussive, melodic, energetic and disciplined Cecil Taylor’s music was. As with any musician, there are many more shades. But the point is, even if you don’t know about him, he was a giant.

Good Old Boys

Randy Newman’s first three albums are full of good songs. Songs that were hits for others, like Mama Told Me Not to Come, and songs that made his reputation as a song craftsman and satirist. But it was his fourth album, Good Old Boys, that I think is his masterpiece. Here the satire is scathing, and then the sentiment is true, and in a song like Birmingham, the two come together seamlessly.

Thinking about Alabama tonight, and thinking how in the 43 years since this great album came out, the same problems persist. Maybe things are worse.

If Roy Moore wins in the Alabama race for the Senate seat tonight (Ed. Note: He didn’t.), we should probably all sing Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s Alabama Song, something of a hit for the Doors back in the day, (Show me the way to the next whisky bar, oh don’t ask why, oh don’t ask way. Show me the way to the next little girl, oh don’t ask why, oh don’t ask why.), but in the meantime, these three songs from Good Old Boys will get you started:

Cooking with Little Willie John

I was making dinner tonight. Sauteed green beans and broccoli rabe with a creamy lime dressing, and some shrimps. For some reason I put on Little Willie John, who I see has been referenced on the site only once. His biggest hit, a John Cooley/Otis Blackwell tune called Fever, is no remnant. But I think we’ve been neglecting a great singer who sang great songs.

Mr. John, as the Times would say (no they wouldn’t), was a hit making machine for a while, and like many hit making abusers of alcohol, he died in jail.

His brother wrote this song.

This is a terrific song. This is the version I hear when I think of the song.

This is great.

So is this. This is the blues.

Charming interview with LWJ’s sons and biographer. A story of Detroit.

The Clash, Armagideon Time

After hearing this Clash cover and profound remix I bought the Willie Williams version. Williams has all the parts, but doesn’t have the whatever it is that makes the Clash version epic.

The Clash version is also not religious. And while the whole Clash excursion into the Third World is culturally suspect. To their credit, they seemed to know that. At least a little bit.

If pressed, I’d call this my favorite (most powerful) Clash song.

The Selecter, Everyday

I found myself quoting this song to my internet service provider today. Bye bye Spectrum.

Which reminds me that this is a cover. The Pioneers version is great, but a little different. Maybe that’s the change of islands.

On YouTube there are also versions of the song by George Acard and George Dekkard that seem to be the Pioneers version. Can’t have too much of a good thing.

And little enough of crappy Spectrum internet.

Ps. The Selecter version of the tune is credited to Petty Harding, and is called Everyday, while the Pioneers much earlier version is called Time Hard.

Is it coincidence that Petty Hardin are the songwriters of Buddy Holly’s much different classic tune Everyday?

What is weird is that in the Wikipedia page’s exhaustive list of Pioneers singles, Time Hard isn’t listed.

But in a footnote the Selecter are credited with covering Time Hard as Everyday.

All Music credits the song to Composed by George Agard / Jackie Robinson / Sydney Crooks

In the UK the song was credited to George Dekker, the band’s lead singer.

What a mess. I suspect some royalties are owed somewhere. Or everywhere.

Are We Not Men? Pick Your Favorite Song from Devo’s Debut.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about Devo lately. Not in any profound way, just thinking about listening when I got a chance. I got a chance today while making dinner. On goes Are We Not Men? We are Devo, which starts with the brilliant Uncontrollable Urge, moves onto (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, which I owned on 7″ long before the elpee came out, and then goes all over the freaking place. And I do mean freaking.

Remembering, at the time, I grouped the band with the Talking Heads, who had a similar angular geeky-ness, and the Tubes, who had an over the top theatricality. When I listen now I hear mostly classic rock moves, filtered through a novel lens, a lens which made it both surprising the band existed and that they then made hits with mainstream success and surprising that we didn’t see just how inevitable that was on first listen.

I think what I mean is, we knew weird. We loved Zappa, dug Alice Cooper, admired Captain Beefheart, but each of those personalities carved out his own space on the edges of taste and sensibility. They had some pop exposure, but they were happy to exist as novelties.

Devo carved out that space, then tried to bring the whole dang world into it. They were weird, uncompromising, and ambitiously popular, not content to reside on the sidelines with the other freaks. That was cool.

So, while listening to their first elpee tonight, I was struck by how strong the songs are. How little there is that is thrown away. Maybe none of it. And as I went from song to song I said to myself, That’s a great tune. Then, Oh, that’s a good one. Oooh, love it. Which got me thinking that maybe we all have different favorite songs from Are We Not Men? We Are Devo.

I’m laying claim to Mongoloid. It was the first Devo song I heard, it is the one I know all the words to and compulsively sing along to, but I’m pretty sure there are strong cases for others. What’s your favorite song on Devo’s first album?