Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Moody Blues - Seventh Sojourn

The flautist and founding Moody Blues member Ray Thomas died on January 4th at age 76.  He had been ill for some time [he had inoperable prostate cancer], so his death wasn’t unexpected [unlike other from the rock world the past couple of years], but that doesn’t make it any less sad.  But after I heard of his passing, as is my wont I went back to the music.  Instead of going back to the beginning, I went to my favorite Moody Blues album, Seventh Sojourn [released November 10, 1972 – the day I turned 10!].  The name is somewhat deceiving as this was the eighth album the Moody Blues released.  It happens to be the seventh album released with this group of people [Justin Hayward (guitar), John Lodge (bass), Ray Thomas (flute/sax/harmonica), Mike Pinder (keyboards), and Graeme Edge (drums)].  Beginning with Days of Future Passed in 1967, the group did seven classic albums in five years, with supporting tours between them.  Five straight years on the album-tour-album treadmill could and did get exhausting.  Deep Purple was on a similar mind-frying schedule, and by the time they made Who Do We Think We Are in 1973, the band’s fatigue was obvious.  Seventh Sojourn doesn’t exhibit the burnout shown by Deep Purple, but to be fair to Deep Purple the music of the Moody Blues was never as hard-driving as that of Deep Purple.  In retrospect however, Seventh Sojourn does close a chapter though they probably didn’t know it at the time.  There was a small [but not insignificant change] between Seventh Sojourn and the albums that came before it.

Lost in a Lost World [Pinder] - The lead-off song, Lost in a Lost World, is the first indication of change.  The ubiquitous Mellotron was replaced by the Chamberlin.  Both keyboard instruments are similar, but the Chamberlin was a more-reliable instrument.  It didn’t break down in mid-performance like the Mellotron, it sounds a little different, but just enough to be noticeable.  During either 1985 or 1986, I was making my monthly three-hour drive up to Fort Collins to see Carol.  After I got past Denver I was in range of Boulder’s KBCO.  That’s when I first heard Lost in a Lost World.  This song was different than other Moody Blues songs that I could remember at the time.  Instead of being hopeful, this one was full of despair.  Mike Pinder wrote this one.  His music, which is heavily Chamberlin-centric, conveyed the same mood as that of the vocals – despair.  But the word that always comes to mind when I think of the music in this piece is “apocalyptic”.  Lost in a Lost World is a dark piece, and a powerful one at that.  It is a compelling listen.  Once you hear it, you won’t forget it.  I didn’t…  The remastered CD has Pinder’s demo.  It’s very good without the vocals. 

New Horizons [Hayward] – Here’s what you’d expect from the Moody Blues – dreamy atmosphere, good guitar solos, and excellent vocals from Justin Hayward.

For My Lady [Thomas] – When I saw the Moody Blues with the Virginia Symphony in 1994/95-ish, Justin Hayward introduced this song by Ray Thomas as a “beautiful song”.  Those in the know knew immediately which song he was talking about.  This was only one of two lead vocals Ray Thomas sang that night.  Since he didn’t sing lead that much, he was hailed like a conquering hero.  The song is like a romantic sea chanty.  Justin Hayward was right – it is a beautiful song.  This is his only songwriting contribution to Seventh Sojourn.  The one song that Ray Thomas wrote that is better than this one is Legend of a Mind.

Isn’t Life Strange [Lodge] – A strong ballad that is probably two minutes longer than it needs to, and at 6:10, this is the short version.  The remastered CD includes the full version with a two- minute instrumental break.  Back in the days of vinyl, this song came at the end of Side 1, making it a fairly strong side.  Side 2 wasn’t as strong.

You and Me [Hayward/Edge] – This song begins Side 2.  A good beginning, musically this sounds like a cross-between Lovely to See You and Question.  Lyrically it references Vietnam with the first line “There's a leafless tree in Asia”…

The Land of Make-Believe [Hayward] – This song is an ode to peace, love, and hippie shit.  Not bad, but not essential either.  This song and the one that follows is a bit of a lull.  I would classify this and When You're a Free Man as “filler.” They aren’t horrendous filler – they just aren’t very interesting.

When You're a Free Man [Pinder] – More peace, love, and hippie shit.  Let's be God's Children ... And live in Perfect Peace…It is the second Moody Blues song with Timothy Leary in mind.  He isn’t mentioned by name, though his wife Rosemary and their children are.  The song addresses Timothy Leary’s self-imposed exile to Algeria and Switzerland to escape US justice for various drug offences –

You left your country for peace of mind
And something tells me you're doin' alright
How are the children and Rosemarie?
I long to see you and be in your company

I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band) [Lodge] – For many who saw the Moody Blues as truth-seeking gurus dispensing all kinds of knowledge about the meaning of life, John Lodge had a simple message for them – “don’t ask me because I’m just a singer.”  This is a great song, by far the one with the fastest tempo of the eight songs on the album.

Island [Hayward] – There was an aborted follow-up to Seventh Sojourn.  This song from that aborted album that’s included on the remastered re-release.  I like it.  It fits well with the rest of the Seventh Sojourn material.

When I saw the band with the orchestra, they played half of this album [New Horizons, For My Lady, Isn’t Life Strange, and I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)].  In the absence of Mike Pinder’s keyboards, these songs worked very well with the orchestra.

After this album and the year-long tour that followed, the Moody Blues went on hiatus until 1978.  Seventh Sojourn capped a run of seven successful albums in five years.  The album they recorded after their hiatus [Octave] was very underwhelming.  The true comeback came in 1981 with Long Distance Voyager [Mike Pinder left the band before they finished Octave].  If you have the chance to get Seventh Sojourn, do it!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express [2017]

I’ve seen three different adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, and I read the book.  The first time I saw it was in the mid-1970s.  Albert Finney played Hercule Poirot, the retired Belgian police officer who is dubbed by Christie as “the world’s greatest detective”.  The next time was in 2010.  ITV produced a series spanning 24 years [1989-2013] called Agatha Christie’s Poirot.  It was shown weekly on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater.  If it wasn’t there, you could catch an episode on the A&E Network.  During that time, David Suchet was Poirot – Agatha Christie’s family wanted him to play Poirot, and for them [and me], Suchet is the quintessential Poirot.  He inhabited the role, or probably more correctly, the role inhabited him.  In 2010 ITV finally got around to doing their version of Murder on the Orient Express.  If you haven’t seen it, get it.  Last week I saw the latest version, with Sir Kenneth Branagh as Poirot.

If you have read all the Christie works that feature Hercule Poirot, or if you were like me and took the shortcut by watching the ITV series, you already know “whodunnit”.  When I learned there would be a new Murder on the Orient Express movie coming out this year, I had only one concern.  Could Branagh pull off a convincing Poirot?  I first saw him in Henry V, then other Shakespeare works Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet.  He was quite convincing as Reinhardt Heydrich, the mastermind of the Holocaust in HBO’s Conspiracy.  But could he make Poirot his own, knowing that David Suchet is the gold standard?  I’m happy to say the answer to that question is a resounding YES – he’s pretty good.  Instead of Suchet’s “fussy” Poirot, Branagh’s Poirot has a very acute case of OCD.  But like Suchet’s Poirot, Branagh’s Poirot tosses out the stinging one-liners with incredible ease.

There aren’t many differences between the latest Murder on the Orient Express and those that came before.  There are minor tweaks to some of the characters.  Instead of the story originating in Syria, this one begins in Jerusalem, where Poirot was called to solve a theft from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Once he solved this case he went to Istanbul to get some rest.  Here the story begins the familiar narrative.  The identities of some characters [but not very many] are changed.  The Swedish Greta Ohlsson [played in 1974 by Ingrid Bergman] is now Hispanic Pilar Estravados [Penélope Cruz].  The characters of Colonel Arbuthnott [Sean Connery] and Dr. Constantine [George Coulouris] are combined into a single character, Dr. Arbuthnot [Leslie Odom, Jr].  Cyrus Bethman Hardman [Colin Blakely] is now Gerhardt Hardman [Willem Dafoe].  The Italian chauffeur Antonio Foscarelli is now Cuban chauffeur Biniamino Marquez.  While the identities of some characters changed, their roles in the story remain essentially unchanged.  The location for the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping/murder was changed from Long Island to New Jersey.

Critics of the movie lament there were few surprises in this latest version of the Christie story.  One can take just so many poetic licenses without betraying the Christie faithful.  Another critic moaned that the movie was too Poirot-centric, but that misses the point entirely.  Christie’s Poirot stories were written from Poirot’s point of view.  The only person whose mind will be blown away by the solution of the crime is that person who has never heard of the story.  The attraction of the movie is the cast.  One look at Johnny Depp and you know he is the movie’s designated mort.  Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen is especially slimy.  Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard nearly steals the show.  

For the outdoor scenes I’m sure plenty of CGI was used, but it wasn’t CGI-overkill.  Instead of the train being stopped by a mere snowdrift, the train is almost derailed and thrown off a bridge by an avalanche.  The climactic scene where Poirot reveals his two theories about “whodunnit” wasn’t in the dining car, but at a railroad tunnel entrance.  There is but one twist to the narrative and that comes at the very end.  When Poirot leaves the train in Yugoslavia to tell the authorities of his investigation of the murder and his conclusions, he is met by someone who tells him that he is needed in Egypt to solve a murder there.  Death on the Nile will be a sequel.  One thing is certain – Kenneth Branagh is a better Poirot than either Albert Finney or Peter Ustinov [who played Poirot in Death on the Nile].  He’s still got some catching up to David Suchet, however.

In short, it’s a fun movie and I liked it, even if it is a remake.  Go see it.

In Memoriam...

At the end of last year, CNN labeled 2016 as “the year the music died”.  As is their wont, they got it wrong.  CNN’s “year that music died” began the last week of 2015, when cancer claimed Lemmy Kilmister on December 28th, 4 days after turning 70 and 17 days after his final show in Berlin.  No doubt that 2016 took its toll on the music.  Natural causes claimed all of these musicians except two [Keith Emerson and Prince].  Father Time began to take musicians in bunches from the time my favorite music was made [and these are just the ones I feel like mentioning]:

David Bowie - Jan. 10, 2016
Glenn Frey [The Eagles] - Jan. 18, 2016
Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson [Jefferson Airplane] - Jan. 28, 2016
Maurice White [Earth, Wind & Fire] - Feb. 4, 2016
Keith Emerson [Emerson, Lake & Palmer] - March 11, 2016
Merle Haggard - April 6, 2016
Prince - April 21, 2016
Guy Clark - May 17, 2016
Ralph Stanley - June 23, 2016
Bernie Worrell [Parliament-Funkadelic, Talking Heads] - June 24, 2016
Scotty Moore - June 28, 2016
Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr - Sept. 24, 2016
Leonard Cohen - Nov. 7, 2016
Leon Russell - Nov. 13, 2016
Greg Lake [King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer] - Dec. 7, 2016
George Michael – Dec. 25, 2016

2016 was only the beginning.  More music “died” in 2017.  This year we said goodbye to two men who were there at the beginning of “rock & roll” – Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.  Natural causes claimed the “gentle giant” of country music, Don Williams.  Alzheimer’s claimed a legend, Glen Campbell.  Cancer took John Wetton, Grant Hart, Walter Becker, and Gregg Allman.  Depression reared its ugly head and prompted three musicians to take their own lives – Butch Trucks, Chris Cornell, and Chester Bennington.  A heart attack took Tom Petty from us, only one week after his final show at the Hollywood Bowl.  We didn’t see that one coming.  We’re still in a state of shock.  Wildflowers, Echo, Mojo, Hypnotic Eye and the two Mudcrutch albums have been in heavy rotation since that awful day.  Again, this list is not all-inclusive:

Butch Trucks [Allman Brothers Band] – Jan. 24, 2017
John Wetton – Jan. 31, 2017
Chuck Berry – March 18, 2017
J. Geils – Apr. 11, 2017
Col. Bruce Hampton [Ret.] - May 1, 2017
Chris Cornell – May 17, 2017
Gregg Allman – May 27, 2017
Chester Bennington – July 20, 2017
Glen Campbell – Aug. 8, 2017
Walter Becker – Sept. 3, 2017
Don Williams – Sept. 8, 2017
Troy Gentry – Sept. 8, 2017
Grant Hart [Hüsker Dü] – Sept. 13, 2017
Johnny Sandlin - Sept. 18, 2017
Tom Petty – Oct. 2, 2017
Gord Downie [Tragically Hip] – Oct. 8, 2017
Fats Domino – Oct. 25, 2017
Chuck Mosley [Faith No More] – Nov. 9, 2017
Malcolm Young – Nov. 18, 2017
Mel Tillis - Nov. 19, 2017
Pat DiNizio [The Smithereens] – Dec. 12, 2017

While I was caring for my wife as she was recovering from breast cancer, I discovered the industrial music of the German band Einstürzende Neubauten, and found Rammstein with all of their gratuitous pyrotechnic excess.  I reacquainted myself with the music of Alice Cooper, Steely Dan and the Smithereens.  My appreciation for the music of Jason Isbell [and his wife, Amanda Shires] grew by leaps and bounds.  My love for Tom Petty’s music was always there.

At the end of a calendar year, I look back and write a few words about the new music that I liked.  Usually I have a list.  This year I single out one album.  That album is Gregg Allman’s swan song, Southern Blood.  As Gregg Allman is my favorite singer, those who read these pages will not find this as a big surprise.  Released 3 ½ months after he died, Brother Gregg made his finest album in 44 years, and finally scored his first #1 [Billboard’s Americana Album chart].  What a shame he didn’t live to see it.

I wish that 2018 will see a smaller death toll among musicians that I enjoy, but seeing as how many are in their 60s and 70s I don’t see that happening.  Father Time is undefeated.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Smithereens - An Appreciation

Here is another case of you not knowing what you're missing until it's gone.  Pat DiNizio, the lead singer and chief songwriter for The Smithereens, died on December 12th.  The Smithereens weren't a household name, but they were a good little band from New Jersey.  They first appeared on my musical radar in 1986.  In a time where New Wave was beginning to fade away and hair metal ruled the airwaves, The Smithereens were a breath of fresh air.  Their first single, Blood and Roses, was the hook.  The song’s ominous bassline was the hook inside the hook.  Combine that big drums, a melody mostly in E Minor, played loudly on a Rickenbacker semi-hollow body guitar, and you have a hit.  At first listen, the music sounds simple (it isn’t), but herein lies the charm.

This four-piece band of guitars, bass and drums were a throwback to the 1960s.  Their formula, from which they rarely strayed (if at all), was simple - make concise pop songs with as little pretense or conceptual bullshit as possible.  Their music was direct and tightly constructed.  Overdubs were kept to a minimum.  All their songs sounded like they were recorded with all the band in the room at the same time.  These weren't big productions that took months of studio time to perfect.  Sometimes you would hear the odd keyboard instrument here or there (a piano, an organ, or maybe an accordion), and on a few occasions one might here a saxophone or a trumpet.  But one got the feeling that whatever song the band played on an album, they would be able to reproduce it note-for-note in your local bar (or wherever they would play).  Neil Young once described his own music as “it's all the same song”, and so it is with The Smithereens.  Not that there's anything wrong with that... 

The Smithereens recorded five albums of original material until grunge nearly killed them stone-dead.  After 1999s God Save the Smithereens, the Smithereens took an extended break.  When they returned, they recorded two Beatles tribute albums [one of which is a track-by-track interpretation of Meet the Beatles called Meet the Smithereens], an album of covers of their favorite songs, and a tribute to the Who’s album Tommy.  The Beatles albums are ok, but they won’t make you forget the real thing.  The Tommy tribute, however, is a knockout.  They didn’t do the entire album, just the songs that matter.  As much as these guys like the Beatles, they cover The Who better.  In 2011, they recorded their first album of Smithereens originals in 12 years, a collection imaginatively titled 2011.  It reminds me of their 1989 album 11, which I think was the point of the exercise.

Pat Dinizio’s solo work is stuff that he couldn’t do with The Smithereens.  Some of the productions are a little more elaborate [you can find these on 1997’s Songs and Sounds]. In 2009 he did an album full of Buddy Holly songs.  In 2012 he released This is Pat DiNizio.  This collection has voice and guitar/piano renderings of a wide range of covers – from Burt Bacharach to Black Sabbath, and seemingly all points in between [the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Henry Mancini, Roberta Flack, Jimmy Webb, etc].  Imagine a solo acoustic version of Paranoid with an entirely different melody…

Here’s my Smithereens iPod playlist:

Blood and Roses [Especially for You, 1986]
Behind the Wall of Sleep [Especially for You, 1986]
Crazy Mixed-up Kid [Especially for You, 1986]
White Castle Blues [Especially for You, 1986]
House We Used to Live In [Green Thoughts, 1988]
The World We Know [Green Thoughts, 1988]
Spellbound [Green Thoughts, 1988]
Drown in My Own Tears [Green Thoughts, 1988]
Yesterday Girl [11, 1989]
Blues Before and After [11, 1989]
A Girl Like You [11, 1989]
Room Without a View [11, 1989]
Top of the Pops [Blow Up, 1991]
Now and Then [Blow Up, 1991]
Indigo Blues [Blow Up, 1991]
Everything I Have Is Blue [A Date With The Smithereens, 1994]
Miles From Nowhere [A Date With The Smithereens, 1994]
Love Is Gone [A Date With The Smithereens, 1994]
Afternoon Tea [A Date With The Smithereens, 1994]
Long Way Back Again [A Date With The Smithereens, 1994] 
Gotti [A Date With The Smithereens, 1994]
Flowers in the Blood [God Save The Smithereens, 1999]
The Age of Innocence [God Save The Smithereens, 1999]
I Believe [God Save The Smithereens, 1999]
All Revved Up [God Save The Smithereens, 1999]
I Want To Tell You [God Save The Smithereens, 1999]
Afternoon Tea (Demo version) [God Save The Smithereens, 1999]
A World of Our Own [2011, 2011]
Keep On Running [2011, 2011]
Sorry [2011, 2011]
One Look At You [2011, 2011]
Overture/It’s a Boy [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
Amazing Journey/Sparks [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
Eyesight to the Blind [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
Christmas [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
Acid Queen [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
Pinball Wizard [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
Go To the Mirror [The Smithereens Play Tommy, 2009]
The Seeker [The Smithereens Cover Tunes Collection, 2014]
Shakin' All Over [The Smithereens Cover Tunes Collection, 2014]
Cry for a Shadow [B-Sides The Beatles, 2008]
Yer Blues [The Smithereens Cover Tunes Collection, 2014]

Nobody But Me [Pat DiNizio - Songs and Sounds, 1997]
Today It's You [Pat DiNizio - Songs and Sounds, 1997]
You Should Know [Pat DiNizio - Songs and Sounds, 1997]

This is approximately 3 hours of music.  If you want something a bit more concise, I highly recommend Smithereens 11 25th Anniversary Live At Electric Lady 1989.  The setlist is packed with songs from the first three Smithereens albums.  Good stuff.

RIP Pat DiNizio

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Neil Young Archives

The Neil Young Archives is now on-line, starting today [December 1, 2017]. 

“We developed this site, neilyoungarchives.com, to provide fans and music historians with unprecedented access to all of my music and to my entire archives in one convenient location. My team and I have spent years developing this site to make it both enjoyable and easy to use. The site allows me to share with the world the material I’ve spent a lifetime creating and collecting. I hope you enjoy it.”  Neil Young, December 1, 2017.

The NY Archives allows you to log on through your Facebook account.  Once you do so, you are presented with a picture of the front of a filing cabinet.  In big bold letters there is a “WELCOME MESSAGE FROM NEIL’.  After you click there, the man himself gives you a 10-minute tutorial video on how to navigate the archives.  He doesn’t walk you through every little detail – he leaves the exploration of things unexplained to you, the user.  I will show some of the features that I think are good.  To get to the main menu, you click on the “filing cabinet” in the upper left-hand corner, and then you can navigate accordingly.

Audio Setup.  NY has provided the master recordings of his music for you to hear.  If you have a screaming internet connection with blazing speed, this feature is for you.  But if you are a “disadvantaged user” like me, there is a toggle switch that lets you listen at 320 kbps.  For my ears, that’s good enough.

Find.  This is the search engine portion of the archive.  In this example, after I clicked on “FIND”, I typed in Cinnamon Girl.   The results include every album on which the song appears.

Info Card.  Once you click on one of the links presented by the FIND feature, you get an “Info Card” about the song.  Here’s where you find the who, what, where, and when this particular version of this song was recorded, and on which album it was released.  I clicked on the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere link.  Click on the “play” button at the top of the Info Card, and it will playback that version of the song you chose.

Buy.  NY doesn’t do any of this for free.  If you want to buy the version of the song you’re listening to, click on “BUY” and it will take you to Amazon.

Video.  If there is any video connected to the song, a VIDEO button appears.  Not every song in the archive has this feature.  After you click VIDEO, a “VIDEO TAPE LOG” appears.  For those songs that have the video feature, there is at least one video related to the song.  Some songs have more than one related video.  In the case of Cinnamon Girl, there’s a 53-second promo video.

Lyrics.  This one is self-explanatory.

File Cabinet.  If you have a lot of time, the File Cabinet feature will let you browse.  When you click on the song title you’re interested in, the Info Card pops up.

Timeline.  Another feature I like is the TIMELINE feature.  From the song’s Info Card, there is a TIMELINE link in the bottom right-hand corner.  When you click on that link, you go to the TIMELINE page [shocking, I know].  Here you find almost everything NY released – from his first single with his group The Squires [The Sultan – 1963] to his latest album, The Visitor [also released today].  For Cinnamon Girl, there is a metadata arrow that points to a blue bubble.  Click on it and it’ll take you back to the Info Card. I noticed there are two other blue bubbles under Cinnamon Girl.  These are for the songs Running Dry [Requiem for the Rockets] and The Losing End [When You’re On].  In the little metadata bubble, there is a “VIEW” button.  Notice that when you get to the song’s Info Card, there is a date on the bottom of that card.  For these three songs, the date is March 20, 1969.  NY and Crazy Horse recorded these three songs on that day.  When you go back to the TIMELINE, notice there is a band that indicates what month you’re looking at.  Below the band are the individual songs and their respective recording dates.  Above that band, you see the albums on which those songs were released.

View All Tracks/Zoom Out.  This feature can be accessed via the link in the bottom right-hand corner of the timeline.  It’s a toggle switch – if it says VIEW ALL TRACKS you see both the track recording date and the album on which the track appears.  If you don’t want that much information, click ZOOM OUT.  The track information disappears, but you still see where each album has been released.  In the lower left-hand corner, there are toggle switches for “ORIGINAL RELEASES” and “ADDITIONAL RELEASES”.  The additional release feature indicates various compilation albums.  If you see an album you want to know more about, click on the album icon you want. 

Significant Dates.  In the ZOOM OUT mode, you’ll see there are icons that look like price tags.  These indicate significant dates in NY’s history.  The example I provided shows when Danny Whitten died in 1972.

Video.  Also included among the “significant dates” are little video icons with the Shakey Pictures logo.  Here, I clicked on NY performing Birds [from the then yet-to-be released After the Gold Rush] during a CSN&Y show at the Fillmore East.

The good news.  There is a ton of stuff in this archive, and NY promises there will be more to follow.  The entire archive is very easy to navigate through.  The quality of the streaming audio is probably as good as it gets.  Since my internet connection usually as slow as dogshit, I have to settle for 320 kbps.  But on those odd occasions when I actually have some extra bandwidth, the audio is very good.  For amateur music historians like me, having the ability to find out the journalistic questions about all the songs included [who, what, where, and when] is literally at your fingertips and is very convenient.  The songs are in chronological order, so as you go from song to song, you can see that as he recorded songs, they wouldn’t all go on the same collection.  For example, one can see the sessions for the albums that became American Stars ‘n’ Bars, Comes a Time, Rust Never Sleeps, and Hawks and Doves overlap.  All the songs are cross-referenced to albums they appear on [original album, compilation, or live].

The bad news.  This is where I get to nit-pick, because there isn’t anything horribly wrong here.

- Truth in advertising.  In his announcement of the archives on Facebook, NY says people will have “unprecedented access to all of my music”.  This is slightly deceptive as the music available for listening is music that has already been released.  If there is previously-unreleased music in this on-line archive, I haven’t found it.  It isn’t “all” here – yet.  To be fair, the archive is a work-in-progress.

- Not all the music is available for streaming.  If you want to find streaming audio of the music he created during the Geffen years, you won’t find it here.  This appears to be a Warner Brothers/Reprise-only archive.  NY’s music at Geffen has gotten a bad rep over the years, but I think that is somewhat exaggerated.  I am biased – I actually like some of that stuff, most especially the Trans era.  Songs that NY didn’t write [such as Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower] aren’t streamed either.  Perhaps he couldn’t get the rights to do so from the publishers.

This is just my first exploration of NY’s Archive.  When he makes this a subscription service, I’ll probably join.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Malcolm Young - RIP

Malcolm Young died at age 64 on November 18th.  Back in 2008, Mal had trouble remembering the songs that he wrote, so he had to re-learn them constantly while on tour to support Black Ice.  In 2014, the band announced Mal retired from the band for medical reasons.  As it turns out, the medical reason was that Mal was suffering from dementia.  Dementia is what ultimately took Malcolm Young from us.  Though expected, news of Malcolm Young’s death isn’t any less sad.  His death came a little less than a month after that of his brother George.  George made his first musical mark in the group The Easybeats.  Their big hit was Friday On My Mind.  After the Easybeats dissolved in 1969, George and his guitar-playing partner Harry Vanda went into music production.  When Mal and Angus formed AC/DC in 1973, George Young and Harry Vanda took them under their wing.  Mal and Angus learned much from their older brother, which included a healthy mistrust of the music business.  AC/DC was the Young family business.

When one thinks of AC/DC, the image of Angus Young in the schoolboy uniform immediately comes to mind.  Angus may have been the star, but AC/DC was Malcolm Young’s band.  Mal and his little brother Angus had a simple formula – rock in the traditions of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and at high volume.  Mal wrote most of the riffs.  I think only Tony Iommi and Keith Richards are more prolific in creating enduring riffs.  Mark Evans, who played bass for AC/DC before they made it big, once wrote that Malcolm was “the driven one . . . the planner, the schemer, the ‘behind the scenes guy,’ ruthless and astute.”  The Youngs were stubborn.  AC/DC’s music had no room for keyboards or classical instruments.  The bagpipes would be as “exotic” as AC/DC would get [the Youngs and Bon Scott are Scots, after all…].  When you bought an AC/DC album, you knew what to expect – guitars, bass, and drums.  Angus Young was once quoted as saying “I'm sick to death of people saying we've made 11 albums that sounds exactly the same, In fact, we've made 12 albums that sound exactly the same.“  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  We need some constants in our ever-changing universe, and happily AC/DC was one of them [Motörhead fits in the same category].  The Young brothers were small in stature, but their sound was huge.  Mal was the rhythm guitar player.  His guitar of choice was a Gretsch ’63 Jet Firebird, a three-pickup guitar with two of those pickups ripped out.  He used heavy-gauge strings [Gibson pure nickel roundwound strings, .012 to .056].  He might as well have used bass guitar strings…

During Malcolm Young’s lifetime, AC/DC released 175 songs.  I’m partial to those of the Bon Scott era.  The songs from this time are AC/DC at their most raw, most visceral.  Beginning with Highway to Hell [their last with Bon Scott], their recorded output became more polished [thanks to Mutt Lange].  The follow-up Back In Black was an homage to Bon Scott.  You know the rest of the story – you can count on one hand the number of albums that have sold more copies than Back In Black.  After that album, finding the nuggets on AC/DC albums became a harder task.  You can find them, but you have to sit through some extremely ordinary music to get to them, but that’s just one pinhead’s point of view.  That being said, each new AC/DC release gave the band a license to print money.  The formula worked.  Having Brendan O'Brien produce Black Ice [their last with Malcolm Young in 2008] and Rock or Bust [2014] was an inspired one.  The rough edges came back with these two records, but I think this may be the end for the band.  Whatever follows won’t be AC/DC.  Bassist Cliff Williams retired, drummer Phil Rudd is once again an outcast, and Brian Johnson is out [hearing problems].  With Mal having passed on, Angus is the last man standing [to steal a phrase from an upcoming biography].  With that, I give you ->

The Malcolm Young Memorial Playlist…

Highway to Hell [Highway to Hell, 1979] – when I hear this one, I must hear Hells Bells right after it.
Hells Bells [Back In Black, 1980]
Back In Black [Back In Black, 1980] – one of the best riffs ever.
Let’s Get It Up [For Those About to Rock, 1981] – the groove…
This House Is On Fire [Flick of the Switch, 1983] – more groove…
Thunderstruck [The Razor’s Edge, 1990]
Who Made Who [Who Made Who, 1986]
Sink the Pink [Fly on the Wall, 1985] – even more groove…
Jailbreak [’74 Jailbreak, 1984] – He made it out…with a bullet in his BACK!
Girls Got Rhythm [Highway to Hell, 1979]
Shot Down in Flames [Highway to Hell, 1979] – I said “baby, what’s the goin price?  She told me to go to Hell…”
Sin City [Powerage, 1978]
Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation [Powerage, 1978]
Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be [Let There Be Rock, 1977]
Let There Be Rock [Let There Be Rock, 1977] – The white man had the schmaltz, the black man had the blues…
Down Payment Blues [Powerage, 1978]
Overdose [Let There Be Rock, 1977]
Riff Raff [Powerage, 1978]
It’s a Long Way to the Top [Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976/1981] – bagpipes!
Kicked in the Teeth [Powerage, 1978]
Whole Lotta Rosie [Let There Be Rock, 1977] – 42-39-56
Have a Drink On Me [Back In Black, 1980] – Considering your last lead singer drank himself to death, a song like this might be in bad taste for other bands.  Not so for AC/DC.
For Those About to Rock [For Those About to Rock, 1981] – Fire!
What Do You Do For Money Honey [Back In Black, 1980]
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap [Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976/1981]
If You Want Blood (You've Got It) [Highway to Hell, 1979]
Dog Eat Dog [Let There Be Rock, 1977]
Ballbreaker [Ballbreaker, 1995]
Rock 'N Roll Train [Black Ice, 2008]
War Machine [Black Ice, 2008]
T.N.T. [High Voltage, 1976]
Big Balls [Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, 1976/1981] – Who’s got big balls?
Night Prowler [Highway to Hell, 1979]
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution [Back In Black, 1980]

Sorry…I just can’t add You Shook Me All Night Long.  It suffers the fate of being played on classic rock radio waaaaay too much.  A good song, but I don’t need to hear it ever again.

“As his brother, it is hard to express in words what he has meant to me during my life; the bond we had was unique and very special. He leaves behind an enormous legacy that will live on forever. Malcolm, job well done.” – Angus Young

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tom Petty - RIP

The past couple of years have been hard on musicians from my youth.  Of those who have shed their mortal coil and gone to the great gig in the sky, the passing of some was expected [Gregg Allman, BB King], and some unexpected [Prince, Chris Cornell, David Bowie].  Tom Petty’s death on October 2nd fits in the latter category.   One week he’s playing the last show of his band’s tour at the Hollywood Bowl, and the next week he drops dead of a heart attack.  He talked about this tour being the last long tour, and that he wanted to be around family more, especially his granddaughter.  When I heard the news, I did what I always do – complete immersion in the music.  I wanted to meditate for a good long time to rediscover the material that made Tom Petty a star, and I wanted to play catch up on the stuff that had come out since 1993.  That is a lot of music, and he and the Heartbreakers made it look so easy.  It’s not easy, but they made it look that way.  Such was his material that regardless if it’s the first time you’ve heard it or the hundredth time, you can’t help but think “anybody can do that”.  But you’d be wrong – creating good music is a craft that one has to work at for a long time.  And because Tom Petty had worked very hard on his craft, the music just flowed like it was always the soundtrack of your life.

I have three or four Tom Petty playlists on my iPod.  One playlist is the “no brainer” playlist.  It looks a lot like his Greatest Hits record for MCA, that covered everything Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did between 1976 and 1993.  It includes a couple of tunes from the Travelling Wilburys.  Another playlist is from that first pre-Heartbreakers, pre-fame band, Mudcrutch.  The other two playlists divvy up tracks from Wildflowers, Echo, Highway Companion, The Last DJ, Mojo, and the last TP and the Heartbreakers album, Hypnotic Eye.  I’ve got some stray tracks that didn’t make any albums, and a couple from a soundtrack album called She’s the One.  Why so many playlists?  Simple – I don’t really like long playlists.  I group my music by moods, sometimes by sounds, sometimes chronologically.  It just depends…

Free Girl Now [Echo, 1999]
Swingin' [Echo, 1999]
First Flash of Freedom [Mojo, 2010]
Running Man's Bible [Mojo, 2010]
The Trip to Pirate's Cove [Mojo, 2010]
I Should Have Known It [Mojo, 2010]
U.S. 41 [Mojo, 2010]
Takin' My Time [Mojo, 2010]
Lover's Touch [Mojo, 2010]
High in the Morning [Mojo, 2010]
Something Good Coming [Mojo, 2010]
Good Enough [Mojo, 2010]
Fault Lines [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Red River [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Full Grown Boy [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
All You Can Carry [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Power Drunk [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Forgotten Man [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Burnt Out Town [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Shadow People [Hypnotic Eye, 2010]
Rhino Skin [Echo, 1999]

Shady Grove [Mudcrutch, 2008]
Orphan of the Storm [Mudcrutch, 2008]
The Wrong Thing To Do [Mudcrutch, 2008]
Scare Easy [Mudcrutch, 2008]
Six Days on the Road [Mudcrutch, 2008] – Mudcrutch channels the Flying Burrito Brothers.
Queen of the Go-Go Girls [Mudcrutch, 2008] - Tom Leadon sings!
Lover of the Bayou [Mudcrutch, 2008] – A great Roger McGuinn song from the Byrds’ Untitled.
Bootleg Flyer [Mudcrutch, 2008]
Topanga Cowgirl [Mudcrutch, 2008]
Queen of the Go-Go Girls [Mudcrutch, 2008]
Trailer [2, 2016]
Dreams of Flying [2, 2016]
Beautiful Blue [2, 2016]
I Forgive It All [2, 2016]
The Other Side of the Mountain [2, 2016] – Tom Leadon sings!
Hope [2, 2016]
Welcome To Hell [2, 2016] – Benmont Tench sings!
Victim of Circumstance [2, 2016] – Mike Campbell sings!
Hungry No More [2, 2016]
Crystal River [Mudcrutch, 2008]

Got My Mind Made Up [Nobody’s Children, 2015] – there are two versions.  Bob Dylan has the other one…
Can't Get Her Out [Nobody’s Children, 2015]
Waiting For Tonight [Nobody’s Children, 2015] – The Bangles!
Come On Down To My House [Nobody’s Children, 2015]
Wildflowers [Wildflowers, 1994]
You Don't Know How It Feels [Wildflowers, 1994]
You Wreck Me [Wildflowers, 1994]
Honey Bee [Wildflowers, 1994]
To Find a Friend [Wildflowers, 1994]
Crawling Back to You [Wildflowers, 1994]
Don’t Fade On Me [Wildflowers, 1994]
Cabin Down Below [Wildflowers, 1994]
To Find a Friend [Wildflowers, 1994]
Walls (No. 3) [She’s the One, 1996]
Angel Dream (No. 4) [She’s the One, 1996]
Rusty Cage with Johnny Cash [Unchained. 1996]
Room at the Top [Echo, 1999]
Counting on You [Echo, 1999]
No More [Echo, 1999]
The Last DJ [The Last DJ, 2002]
Money Becomes King [The Last DJ, 2002]
Dreamville [The Last DJ, 2002]
Saving Grace [Highway Companion, 2005]
Square One [Highway Companion, 2005]
Down South [Highway Companion, 2005]
Ankle Deep [Highway Companion, 2005]

Mary Jane's Last Dance [Greatest Hits, 1993]
Into the Great Wide Open [Into the Great Wide Open, 1991]
Learning to Fly [Into the Great Wide Open, 1991]
I Won't Back Down [Full Moon Fever, 1989]
Runnin' Down a Dream [Full Moon Fever, 1989]
A Face in the Crowd [Full Moon Fever, 1989]
Yet So Bad [Full Moon Fever, 1989]
Tweeter and the Monkey Man [Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988]
Last Night [Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988]
Wilbury Twist [Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, 1990]
Southern Accents [Southern Accents, 1985]
So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star [Live] [Pack Up the Plantation, 1986]
Keeping Me Alive [Nobody’s Children, 2015]
You Got Lucky [Long After Dark, 1982]
Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (w/ Stevie Nicks) [Bella Donna, 1981]
The Waiting [Hard Promises, 1981]
A Woman in Love (It's Not Me) [Hard Promises, 1981]
Even the Losers [Damn the Torpedoes, 1979]
Here Comes My Girl [Damn the Torpedoes, 1979]
Refugee [Damn the Torpedoes, 1979]
Don't Do Me Like That [Damn the Torpedoes, 1979]
I Need to Know [You're Gonna Get It!, 1978]
You're Gonna Get It! [You're Gonna Get It!, 1978]
Listen to Her Heart [You're Gonna Get It!, 1978]
Breakdown [Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976]
American Girl [Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976]

Sorry – no Free Fallin’.  The chorus ruins it for me.  It’s bad enough Jeff Lynne ruined the drum sound, but then he had to sing, too!

“I’ve read that Echo is my ‘divorce album,’ but Wildflowers is the divorce album.  That’s me getting ready to leave. I don’t even know how conscious I was of it when I was writing it. I don’t go into this stuff with elaborate plans. But I’m positive that’s what Wildflowers is. It just took me getting up the guts to leave this huge empire that we had built, to walk out. My kids … I knew this was going to be devastating to the whole family.”

According to biographer Warren Zanes -“Time to Move On,” “Hard on Me,” “Only a Broken Heart,” “To Find a Friend,” “Don’t Fade on Me”—they were all snapshots in a dark family album. When the Pettys gathered at their beach house in Florida to listen to the finished record, as they always did, Adria Petty says she “knew the marriage was over.”

Wildflowers is a very good “singer-songwriter” album.  There’s a lot of good stuff to be heard here, hence so many songs from that album on my playlist.  For many, the title track is their favorite from this album.  For me, It’s Good To Be King.

In the video for You Don’t Know How It Feels, is that a well made-up female impersonator, or a very tall, very striking lady?

Echo is the post-divorce, deep, dark depression album by a guy with a heroin problem.  Again from Zanes - “Counting on You,” “Free Girl Now,” “Room at the Top,” “Swingin’”—these were songs written by a man fumbling for his keys in the darkness of unmanageable loss. If Petty and Mike Campbell have a hard time listening to the record, it’s likely because they’re seeing that man. And another: Howie Epstein.  Howie Epstein also had a heroin problem, but his was much worse, and heroin killed him.  Tom Petty cleaned up after he began the relationship with the woman who would be Mrs. Tom Petty #2, but Echo is the sound of a songwriter who is really pissed.  There’s heartache, melancholy, regret, and anger.  And look closely at the album cover – somebody is missing.  It was Howie Epstein.  No doubt the sight of their bass player wasting away before them cast a pall over the proceedings as they recorded Echo.  Despite all the problems, Echo is still a good listen.  Regardless of what TP thought at the time, I think Echo is TP’s Blood on the Tracks – it’s that good.  My favorite from Echo is Swingin’.

Rhino Skin is TP’s commentary on the survival techniques needed in the world.  It included the thick, tough skin of a rhino, with a dose of elephant balls thrown in.  Rhino Skin is a moody piece, but I really like it.

For all of the work he’s done with the Heartbreakers, currently my favorite stuff is also his most recent.  Mojo [2010] and Hypnotic Eye [2014] were the last two albums he did with the Heartbreakers. 

Before the Heartbreakers, there was a band from Gainesville, Florida called Mudcrutch.  They included TP, fellow Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, Tom Leadon [brother of Eagle/Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon], and drummer Randall Marsh. They moved to Los Angeles around 1974, got a record deal, but then broke up before they could make their first album.  In 2008, TP got the band back together.  I think only he knows why he did it, but they finally recorded that debut album [Mudcrutch, 2008].  Mudcrutch was the sum of a lot of things - Laurel Canyon folk-rock, psychedelic-infused bluegrass, scrappy boogie-woogie, the country rock of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the swampiness of Clarence White-era Byrds, and extended excursions into Allman Brothers territory.  Mudcrutch screamed “roots”.  The album was recorded in the Heartbreakers’ rehearsal spaces, live on the floor.  Having captured that rootsy vibe in Mudcrutch, Petty, Campbell and Tench carried that over to the next Heartbreakers album, Mojo [2010]. 

Many critics have labelled Mojo a “blues album”, but this album is more than that.  The one thing Tom Petty wanted to do with Mojo was to give Mike Campbell’s guitar another “voice”.

“I really wanted to get Mike up to the front.  He’s such an incredible guitarist.  He also plays with a lot of taste.  He edits himself back a lot of the time.  And I told him “this time I really want you right up front. Let’s look at this like it’s a John Mayall record or a Jeff Beck record where the guitar is right up in the front.  You’re gonna be the other voice on the record.”

Mike got a 1959 Les Paul…and all hell broke loose.

Normally, Mike Campbell is a guitarist in the George Harrison mold – he plays whatever the song requires and doesn’t overstay his welcome.  But on Mojo, Tom Petty uncaged a guitar god beast.  Campbell and Petty do a great imitation of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, playing harmony guitar parts in First Flash of Freedom.  Campbell throws down the Led Zeppelin “hammer of the gods” with I Should Have Known It, and he summons the ghost of John Lennon’s I Want You [She’s So Heavy] on the album’s final cut, Good Enough.  Not content with just “blues rock”, there’s real honest-to-God blues with U.S. 41 and Lover’s Touch, there’s what I like to call “music noir” [like 1940s film noir, only musical] with The Trip to Pirate’s Cove and Something Good Coming.  The band even throws in a little white-boy reggae with Don’t Pull Me Over [full disclosure – I don’t like this one, but I mention it to highlight this album’s musical diversity].  Benmont Tench is his usual, superb self, providing the right colors with acoustic piano, Hammond C-3 organ, and Wurlitzer piano.

The Heartbreakers’ next [and so far, last] album, Hypnotic Eye [2014], returned to shorter songs. 
When asked about the direction of Hypnotic Eye“As far as being a rock and roll record, you know where the first things we caught were some blues, we got three or four blues that came out very well.  I didn’t feel that that was the road to go down.  I felt like we’d been down that road, and though they came out really well, the next batch of songs tended to be different and when we recorded those suddenly we’re in rock-and-roll world and it’s going really well and I think that kind of dictated – this is all very subliminal – I mean, do I sit down and think about, you know, what direction I’m going?  I’m going with what’s working…

I really wanted a groove more than anything…you know, I just wanted the bass and drums to really groove.  I want the groove to be good on everything, and that’s missing from a lot of people that still try to do the rock-and-roll.  The rhythm section is so important, you know, it must be, it must create almost a trance, you know, between the bass drums and the rhythm instruments.  And that’s easy to say and hard to do – it’s not so easy but I guess our opinion is if we’re gonna do this as old men, then we should probably bring some level of sophistication to the table like we’ve gotten better at this and there’s actually a reason for us to do it…

Campbell’s guitar sound is razor sharp, and he plays his share of face-melting solos.  But it’s bassist Ron Blair who stands out.  On first listen to the groove-fest that is Fault Lines, I wondered when Ron Blair turned into Jack Bruce.  Not that Blair’s playing is overly busy, but his bass sound is huge.  I’ve never heard the bass so prominent in the mix on a Heartbreakers album.  Check out Fault Lines, Red River, and Forgotten Man and you can hear for yourself the bass’s newfound prominence on a Heartbreakers record.  Ron Blair and drummer Steve Ferrone are as solid a rhythm section as they come.  For each song, they get right in the pocket [Duck Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr would be proud].  They never make a misstep.  There is some blues on Burnt Out Town [the piano of Benmont Tench is especially impressive], and the Heartbreakers throw us a curveball with the jazzy [in a good way] Full Grown Boy.

Tom Petty is gone now, but he left us a lot of good stuff to listen to.  Rest in peace.