Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parting Shots...

Ok, so last week I wrote about great songs that opened albums.  Beatles producer George Martin is oft quoted that an album needs to start with what he called a good “potboiler.”  But how does one finish an album?  I would think songs that finish an album have to have two things – 1) leave your audience wanting more for the next album.  The listener’s reaction should not “meh”; 2) have a song that can’t possibly be followed by any other on a given album.  I haven’t found nearly as many closing songs as I have opening songs, hence a much shorter list.

The End [The Doors, The Doors, 1967] – The surviving Doors themselves will play any song except this one. Remember, this was the mid-1960s, and songs like this were just starting to be accepted as something to be listened to.  This was the era when music was getting away from the very tight 3-minute format and has to have a good beat you can dance to.  How does one dance to a “kill the father, fuck the mother” story, especially an entrancing 11-minute epic like this one?  This got the Doors fired from the Whiskey A Go-Go, but it also got them a recording contract.  After 45 years it’s still amazing music.

Whipping Post [Allman Brothers Band, The Allman Brothers Band, 1969] – Gregg Allman is mistreated by a woman and boy is he pissed about it.  This song follows Dreams, the slow 7-minute spellbinding glimpse into Gregg Allman’s Southern Gothic visions.  Berry Oakley’s thunderous bass intro sets the ominous tone, the drummers are relentless, Duane and Dickey are blistering.  Gregg is channeling bluesmen from years past to give a vocal performance that belies his 22 years.  How could such a young guy be so world-weary? 

Won't Get Fooled Again [The Who, Who's Next, 1971] – Who’s Next was quite an album.  It has their best opening song [Baba O’Riley] and their best closing song [Won’t Get Fooled Again].  There’s a lot of good stuff in-between as well.  The live version from The Kids Are Alright is even better because of John Entwistle.

Hallowed Be Thy Name [Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast, 1982] – Iron Maiden’s best song and it’s a beauty.  It opens with an atmosphere of doom as the song’s protagonist is waiting in a jail cell to be hanged.  There are quite a few tempo changes throughout, and Bruce Dickinson sings his butt off.  This is a master class in progressive metal.  Their version from Rock in Rio is even better.

Desolation Row [Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, 1965] – “They’re selling postcards of the hanging…  Eleven minutes with a lot of singing – how does Dylan [or anyone else] remember all the words?

Truckin' [Grateful Dead, American Beauty, 1970] – “Living on reds, Vitamin C and cocaine, all a friend can say is ‘ain’t it a shame’….  What a long strange trip indeed.

A Day in the Life [The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967] – The Beatles had lots of great songs to start albums, but not a lot to finish them.  There’s A Day in the Life and Tomorrow Never Knows, both of which can’t possibly be followed by another song on their respective albums.  I chose this one with the flip of a coin.

When the Levee Breaks [Led Zeppelin, LZ IV, 1971] – Two words – John Bonham.  Undoubtedly the best drum sound he ever got on any Led Zeppelin recording was recorded in a spiral staircase at Headley Grange.  The bass drum sounds like a cannon shot.  The rest of the band doesn’t sound too bad either.

Brain Damage/Eclipse [Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973] – Technically these are two songs, but like ZZ Tops’ Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago, you never hear one without the other.  On most of Pink Floyd’s albums, the last song was an anti-climax, but this is a great climax.  There’s no dark side of the moon really…matter of fact it’s all dark…

Moonlight Mile [Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, 1971] – This is one of the best ballads the Stones ever recorded. It’s about life as a coked-up rock star keeping up appearances on the road that gently closes Sticky Fingers. It’s an oriental-sounding piece with a string section courtesy of Paul Buckmaster. There’s no Keith in sight on this one – there doesn’t need to be as both Micks have the musical end covered very well.

Voodoo Child [Slight Return] [Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland, 1968] – At first I thought Are You Experienced? would be the Hendrix song, but something in the back of my mind said there was something better, and I remembered this song [Doh!].  Hendrix’s best album ends with a one-two punch of All Along the Watchtower and Voodoo Child [Slight Return].  How could I forget?

Redemption Song [Bob Marley, Uprising, 1980] – This is the last song from Bob Marley’s last album to be released in his lifetime.  It’s just him and an acoustic guitar – very un-reggae.  There is an electric band version, but it doesn’t convey the power of the message as the solo acoustic version. The lines "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds" come from a speech by Marcus Garvey.  Political anthems don’t get much more enduring than this.

Keep Me In Your Heart [Warren Zevon, The Wind, 2003] – Warren Zevon knew he was dying when he made this.  The song says “goodbye” in a very poignant, tender way.  This song kept running through my head at my brother-in-law’s funeral.

The Show Must Go On [Queen, Innuendo, 1991] – Freddie Mercury knew he was dying when he made this.  A most dramatic way to end a career – how typical of Freddie.

Let It Rain [Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970] – The first time I saw Eric Clapton was at Red Rocks in 1983.  We had good weather until this song.  When Clapton sang “Let It Rain…,” we got rain.  He really is God! J  That being said, this song, and the solo that goes with it, is really the first shot of Eric Clapton’s solo career.

The Thrill Is Gone [BB King, Completely Well, 1969] – BB King’s most famous song.  BB wrings a lot of emotion out of Lucille.  He’s finally away from a possessive woman, but he sounds more relieved than happy about the situation.  Originally, BB didn’t want the strings on the song, but after he slept on it he thought they were ok.  At the time, this was a departure for him.  This is one of the best “kiss-off” songs of all time.  An absolute necessity for any blues fan.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Opening Salvos...

The Ultimate Classic Rock website published a list of the 10 Best Opening Songs from classic rock albums.  Having read the list, I said “I can do better.”  The ground rules for my list are simple and few – don’t limit the list to just ten, and pick only one song from any band.  So here’s my list in no order whatsoever.  I know I left out a few.  Feel free to disagree and discuss...

Statesboro Blues [Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East, 1971] – Perhaps the best live album from a rock band, this song opens with the immortal words “Ok, the Allman Brothers Band…”  This song is the band’s calling card.

Black Sabbath [Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath, 1970] – awhile back I wrote a blog about Tony Iommi and I said that if one put a gun to my head and asked what is the quintessential Tony Iommi track, I said Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.  I also said that could change on any given day.  Well today is that given day.  This is the first song from the first album from the guys who invented heavy metal.

Like a Rolling Stone [Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, 1965] – Dylan’s electric phase starts here, and it begins literally with an “opening salvo;” the crack of a drum.

Highway Star [Deep Purple, Machine Head, 1972] – This song is Deep Purple at its finest.  As fate would have it, it is also the opening track from their live album Made in Japan [1973].

White Room [Cream, Wheels of Fire, 1968] – Wheels of Fire was the very first album to be certified “Platinum.”  White Room shows Cream at their studio best, with Ginger Baker’s uncredited 5/4 intro, Clapton’s wah-wah drenched soloing, and Jack Bruce doing a superb job singing Pete Brown’s goofy-assed lyrics.

Break On Through [The Doors, The Doors, 1967] – I had to flip a coin between this one Roadhouse Blues from Morrison Hotel.  This was the world’s introduction to The Lizard King.

Bertha [Grateful Dead, Skull & Roses, 1971] – After the pastoral acoustic albums that were Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, the Dead plug back in and record another live album.  Los Lobos did a better version, but this one still smokes!

Rocky Mountain Way [Joe Walsh, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get, 1973] -  Post-James Gang, pre-Eagles Joe Walsh at his finest.  This is Joe’s best song as a solo artist. 

Aqualung [Jethro Tull, Aqualung, 1971] – a classic rock staple from a “concept” album.  I have a warm place in my heart for this one.  My friend Alan and I were working sound for a Black Student Union party at USC.  After hearing too many rap and hip-hop songs, we went downstairs, cracked open a bottle of Black Velvet and turned on the stereo.  This was the song that came on and saved our sanity.

Enter Sandman [Metallica, The Black Album, 1991] – Metallica finally hit paydirt with this masterpiece when they ditched the long songs with the changing time signatures, shortened their songs and decided to do songs in 4/4 time. One from …And Justice For All finally got the public to notice the band.  Enter Sandman turned them into millionaires.

Ace of Spades [Motörhead, Ace of Spades, 1980] – Is this punk, is it metal, or is it a cross-pollination of both?  Who cares!  It’s Lemmy!

My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) [Neil Young, Rust Never Sleeps, 1978] – Neil Young’s acoustic ode to Elvis and Johnny Rotten, the electric version of which closes the album. 

Red Rain [Peter Gabriel, So, 1986] – Peter Gabriel finally hit the big time with So.  The big hit from that album was Sledgehammer, but I like this one much better.

Gimme Shelter [Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed, 1969] – this is the coolest song Keith Richards ever wrote, period.  Need I say more?

Wouldn't It Be Nice [The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, 1966] – Pet Sounds is Brian Wilson’s masterpiece.  A lot of times Carl Wilson or Mike Love had the main mike, but this time it’s Brian’s turn.

A Hard Day's Night [The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night. 1964] – There are so many other great Beatles opening tracks to choose from [Help!, Taxman, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Back in the USSR, Come Together], but I choose this one.  This song is what Beatlemania sounds like.

Welcome to the Jungle [Guns ‘N Roses. Appetite for Destruction, 1987] – Let’s face it – the 1980s had a lot of real shitty hair metal.  Welcome to the Jungle was a great, refreshing, and real.   This kicked the crap out of poseurs everywhere.

London Calling [The Clash, London Calling, 1979] – Is there really any explanation needed for why this song is on my list?

Baba O'Riley [The Who, Who’s Next, 1971] – There is nothing The Who did before 1971 that came close to sounding like this.  There is a running argument between Carol and I about “the best Who song ever.”   This is Carol’s choice [mine is Won’t Get Fooled Again].

Highway to Hell [AC/DC. Highway to Hell, 1979] – The Ultimate Classic Rock website chose Hells Bells from Back in Black [a worthy choice].  I choose this one.  Why?  Bon Scott, that’s why.

21st Century Schizoid Man [King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King, 1969] – For better or for worse, this song is the template for progressive rock.  Gov’t Mule did a smokin’ version on Mulennium.

Born on the Bayou [Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country, 1969] – This song and Proud Mary define CCR.  If someone wants to know what “swampy” means, play them this song. 

Purple Haze [Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (US version), 1967] – When I bought this album on vinyl, this was the leadoff track.  The UK’s version had Foxey Lady.  It’s Jimi Freakin’ Hendrix!

Waitin' for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago [ZZ Top, Tres Hombres, 1973] – I know, it’s really two songs, but have you heard one without the other?  Didn’t think so…

Black Dog [Led Zeppelin, LZ IV (or ‘Zoso’ or ‘Untitled’), 1971] – No explanation required.

2112 [Rush, 2112, 1976] - Heavy metal meets science-fiction concept.  It's all one song with several movements.  In my feeble mind, that counts.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cream: Royal Albert Hall: London May 2-3-5-6 2005

When this band formed in the mid-1960s, Eric Clapton envisioned Cream as a blues trio. As history has shown, things didn't quite turn out that way. Forty years later, Slowhand finally got his wish. There are blues numbers here in abundance from the likes of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, and Skip James. Recorded 37 years after their final proper concert at this same venue in 1968, time may have ravaged their looks, but definitely not their playing. Cream acts like a band this time around rather than as a group of egotistical soloists going for the jugular night after night as they did "back in the day." The jams for which Cream are renowned are kept to a tolerable length. Most songs on this collection clock in around 5-6 minutes. Those that do go long (Stormy Monday, Spoonful, We're Going Wrong, Sunshine, Toad) do not suffer as a result.

As it was back in their heyday, each member is afforded his own showcase. For Jack Bruce, it's "Rollin' And Tumblin'." On this number Jack, accompanied by his harmonica (no bass), Eric playing the slide, and Ginger Baker on the drums, stuns and amazes the crowd with an energy that belies the fact that the man nearly died in 2003. Eric Clapton's showcase is the T-Bone Walker classic "Stormy Monday." This is a new song for Cream as it was never on an official Cream release until this collection came out. Slowhand demonstrates that when he wants to, he is a master of the blues guitar. The man was simply on fire the night they recorded this song. Ginger Baker's showcase was, of course, the drum solo "Toad." By and large, drum solos are usually excuses to head to the bathroom or the concession stand. Not so here. "Toad" is simply compelling. It's isn't boring - it's Ginger Baker demonstrating that yes, the drum IS a musical instrument. By the time the solo ends you don't realize it had gone on for over seven minutes. It's that good!

The big surprise of this whole collection is Ginger's song "Pressed Rat and Warthog" from "Wheels of Fire." On the DVD that visually documented this reunion, Ginger told the interviewer that he was "threatened with execution" by his family if he didn't play this song. At a little over three minutes, this is the only hint of psychedelia that Cream shows throughout the set. Slowhand plays it straight - not a wah-wah pedal to be heard, and frankly it isn't missed (much). Jack Bruce is in fine voice throughout. Of interest is the band's different take on White Room. Instead of Jack Bruce singing the entire song as he has done since he wrote it, Jack sings the first two verses, Eric takes the refrain of those two verses, then the two swap roles for the third verse and refrain. Eric's song "Badge" had never been played live by Cream as it was recorded at the end of their 1960s run, and here Jack Bruce proves once and for all to hear that if you took his bass lines away from the song, there would be no song.

There are lots of plusses on this collection. The jamming is kept to a tolerable length, hence more songs to enjoy. The volume is lower than in their heyday, so the musicians can hear each other, and the interplay between the musicians makes for some outstanding music. One need look no further for proof of this than Cream's take on "We're Going Wrong". Thirty-seven years ago this band was full volume pedal to the metal jamming. Today this band plays like adults - it swings! Credit that to Ginger Baker, who plays more like a jazzer these days (when he does play). There is one minus - no "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (they fixed this oversight when they played MSG in October 2005). Other than that, this collection is a worthy addition to Cream's legacy.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Joe Satriani - Satchurated: Live in Montreal

Awhile back I was TDY in Northern California, and I was doing what I normally do while I’m there with nothing better to do – I was wandering about the independent music stores I could find, waiting for the one CD that would jump out and say “buy me!” While I was doing said wandering, one of the people working in the store played a familiar tune. It was Joe Satriani’s Flying in a Blue Dream. This version was live, and I thought it sounded pretty good. I always liked that song. Now fast forward a few weeks to another TDY, this one in Phoenix. I wondered through a nearby Best Buy and spotted Satriani’s new live 2-CD set, Satchurated: Live in Montreal. After I spotted it, I heard the little voice say “buy me!” This is quite a step for me because many years ago I tired of Joe Satriani’s music. I had Surfing With the Alien, Flying in a Blue Dream, and The Extremist. This was so long ago that Satch still had a full head of hair. I had these albums, but the songs all started to sound the same to me. When all the songs start to sound the same, I lose quickly interest.

The guy is an astounding guitarist, but here’s my beef with Satch’s music. Have you watched the movie Amadeus? Mozart presented a four-hour piece of music, during which the Hapsburg Emperor yawned. When Mozart asked the Emperor what he thought of his music, the Emperor said “too many notes.” That is my criticism of Satch’s music. But I bought Satchurated anyway to see if any of his music since The Extremist has mellowed any. I also wanted to see if my own attitude to his music has changed in almost twenty years. In short, my attitude is unchanged. I can take Satch’s music in small doses, but after hearing one shredfest after another, that “sameness” that I mentioned earlier was still there. Satchurated comes roaring out the gates with Ice 9, and doesn’t let up until Pyrrhic Victoria – nine songs later. The first thing resembling a slow song doesn’t come until the second disc’s Littleworth Lane. For those keeping track, it’s the seventeenth song in the set. That’s a long time to wait for a change of pace. One of his more deliberate and better known songs, Always With You, Always With Me doesn’t show up until near the end of the set. I read one author say this of Satch’s live presentation – “Joe Satriani knows almost everything about playing the electric guitar. He knows very little about how to effectively pace a concert… most of Satriani's solos emphasize technique over feeling.” Let me echo that sentiment – I tried to watch a Chickenfoot show on the Palladia channel awhile ago. For the first time ever, a rock show bored me. Need I say more?

Not all is lost on Satchurated. There is some fine music here – one just has to have the patience to sit and wait for it. Songs I really like – the aforementioned Flying in a Blue Dream, Dream Song, Premonition, Revelation [I’m sensing a theme here…], God Is Crying [a good guitar-keyboard duel with keyboardist Mike Keneally, the same guy who used to work with Frank Zappa], Andalusia [acoustic!], War, Why, Pyrrhic Victoria, Crystal Planet, Satch Boogie [ALWAYS a good one]. There are two new studio tracks at the end – Two Sides to Every Story and The Golden Room. Satch successfully resists the urge to shred his brains out and produced something [dare I say] melodic.  These two songs are very, very good. As a result of listening to this album, will I be going out of my mind to acquire all the solo stuff and the Chickenfoot stuff there is? Carol will be glad to read this – the answer to that question is “no.” This CD will serve as my fix for wanting to hear awe-inspiring technique, if I don’t already get that fix from the otherworldly guitarists that I listen to [David Gilmour, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi, et al]. Since this a 2-CD set, I’m glad I paid only $14.99 + tax for it. Otherwise I think I’d really be pissed. If non-stop shredding and jaw-dropping technique is your thing, this collection is for you. Satchurated: Live in Montreal is a bit of a mixed bag. There are some excellent songs here, but those take up about only half of the album. I wanted to like this album, but after hearing a few songs I want something else in the CD player. It’s small doses of Satch for this guy.