Song of the Week – Not, Big Thief

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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 grabbing me.

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 beginning
Not the crowd
Not winning
Not the planet
That’s spinning
Not a ruse
Not heat
Not the fire lapping up the creek
Not food
That you eat

Keep an eye on Big Thief.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Running Scared, Roy Orbison; Beck’s Bolero, Jeff Beck; White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane; The Bomber: Closet Queen / Bolero / Cast Your Fate to the Wind, James Gang

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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 topic.

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!  Ugh!!!

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 item.

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 Boléro were 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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Crossfire, Stevie Ray Vaughan

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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 guitar.

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 ends.

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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – If I Didn’t Love You, Squeeze

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“A healthy marriage is composed of windows and walls.  The windows, which must stay open, are between you and your spouse.  The walls are between the two of you (together) and the outside world.”

These quotes come from a very interesting article I read recently that you can check out here:

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 musical arrangement.

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.”

I guess that’s it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ruby, Kaiser Chiefs

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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 2013!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What a Bringdown, Cream

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Flash, Coloured Balls & Some Mutts, Amyl and the Sniffers

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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!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Motel Blues, Loudon Wainwright III & Sitting in My Hotel, The Kinks

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There are dozens of songs written by rock bands about life on the road.  To name a few…

“Load Out”                              Jackson Browne

“Torn and Frayed”                   Rolling Stones

“Movin’ On”                             Bad Company

“Travelin’ Band”                      Creedence Clearwater Revival

“We’re an American Band”      Grand Funk

I’m familiar with a couple of relatively obscure “road” songs that chronicle life on the road with a different tone.  They are more emotionally impactful and depressing – and that’s what I like about them.

The first is “Motel Blues” by Loudon Wainwright III.

In this town television shuts off at two
What can a lonely rock and roller do?
The bed’s so big and the sheets are clean
Your girlfriend said that you were 19
The styrofoam ice bucket’s full of ice
Come up to my motel room, treat me nice

And ends…

There’s a Bible in the drawer don’t be afraid
I’ll put up the sign to warn the cleanup maid
There’s lots of soap and lots of towels
Never mind those desk clerk’s scowls
I’ll buy you breakfast, they’ll think you’re my wife
Come up to my motel room, save my life

Another is “Sitting in My Hotel” by the Kinks.

If my friends could see me now, driving round just like a film star,
In a chauffeur driven jam jar, they would laugh.
They would all be saying that it’s not really me,
They would all be asking who I’m trying to be.
If my friends could see me now,
Looking out my hotel window,
Dressed in satin strides and two-tone daisy roots,
If my friends could see me now I know they would smile.

Sitting in my hotel, hiding from the dramas of this great big world,
Seven stories high, looking at the world go by-y.
Sitting in my hotel room, thinking about the countryside and sunny days in June.
Trying to hide the gloom, sitting in my hotel room.

For those of you not up on your British slang, daisy roots are boots.

Apparently, life on the road isn’t all fun and games and often result in loneliness and isolation.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Mr. Wendal, Arrested Development

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President Trump was in California for fundraising this week, and couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the state’s homeless situation.  USA Today covered the story with the headline:

Blaming shelters and street sleeping, Donald Trump blasts California for homeless crisis

Now, I live in the San Francisco Bay area, so I’m well aware we have become the homeless capital of the world.  But we do our best to come up with effective policies to deal with this challenging situation; and treat the homeless population with dignity and respect.

This reminded me of the Arrested Development song “Mr. Wendal.”

This song was written in 1992 about the homeless condition but looks at it from an interesting perspective.  It calls on us to see the homeless as people we can learn from – that there is wisdom in choosing a lifestyle that isn’t concerned with materialistic trappings.

Mr. Wendal has freedom
A free that you and I think is dumb
Free to be without the worries of a quick to diss society
For Mr. Wendal’s a bum

Yeah, I know, that POV may be a tad naïve and oversimplified, but it comes from a genuine sense of kindness and understanding.  And those are things we can use a little more of today.

Arrested Development was one of the first rap groups to make it their mission to record music with positive messages.

Musically, the song uses a couple of cool samples to great effect.  The most obvious one comes from Steely Dan’s “Peg.”  The other is a vocal sample from “Sing a Simple Song” by Sly and the Family Stone.  Dig it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What a Man, Linda Lyndell

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Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Mark Vincent. Mark is a multi instrumental musician (guitar, bass and recently drums) with The Occasionalists – Brooklyn, NY’s premiere live karaoke band. When he’s not playing with the band, he makes music of a different kind for the patients of his chiropractic practice in Manhattan.

In 1993 the rap group Salt n Pepa teamed with En Vogue for a massive hit with a version of “What a Man,” a Stax single that had reached #50 on Billboard in 1968.  Although they added new provocative lyrics to the verses; the chorus, main guitar riff and general vibe of the song were lifted directly from the original.  I had only been familiar with the original from an Oxford compilation CD someone had burned for me, so I never had access to the artist or any credits.  It was only when my band decided to cover it, that I discovered the origins — which turned out to have an interesting backstory.

Linda Lyndell was a white gospel singer in Gainesville, FL.  She began singing with RnB groups as a teenager and after singing back up for James Brown and Ike & Tina Turner, she recorded with Stax producers Issac Hayes and David Porter in 1967 and 1968.  The second of these sessions produced “What a Man.”

Between the funky R&B sound and references to James Brown in the lyrics, the song caught the unwanted attention of the KKK and other white supremacist groups, who did not approve of a white girl singing in such a manner.  After getting death threats from the KKK, she retreated from the music business, living in seclusion back in Gainesville for the next 25 years. She only learned about the Salt n Pepa cover after she received her first royalty check in the mail.  Inspired by the success of the remake, she began performing again and sang “What a Man” in public for the first time in 2003 at the opening of the Stax Museum.

No disrespect to Salt n Pepa, but Lyndell’s version has a warmer, more soulful feel to it and is musically more interesting.   The guitars, piano, and horns are all more expansive and the song moves around more despite being only half the length.  At the risk of being racially inappropriate, I played that song for 15 years without the slightest notion I was listening to a 22-year old white girl from FL.

Enjoy… until next week.