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!
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
“Movin’ On” Bad Company
“Travelin’ Band” Creedence
“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
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.
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:
shelters and street sleeping, Donald Trump blasts California for homeless
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
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!
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.