Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pete Townshend - Empty Glass

"And when I did my first solo album, I called it 'Empty Glass', 'cause of this idea that when you go to the tavern -- which is to God, you know -- and you ask for His love -- He's the bartender, you know -- and He gives you a drink, and what you have to give Him is an empty glass. You know there's no point giving Him your heart if it's full already; there's no point going to God if your heart's full of Doris." – Pete Townshend

Empty Glass (1980) is Pete Townshend’s first proper solo album.  Who Came First (1972) is a collection of demos from the Lifehouse project [remnants of which became Who’s Next] and some tributes to his spiritual guru, Meher Baba.  Billy Nichols and Ronnie Lane also contribute.  Rough Mix (1977) was done with Ronnie Lane.  As a human being Pete Townshend was in constant crisis.  The guy who wrote “I hope I die before I get old” turned 30 in 1975.   He suffered a nervous breakdown after his Lifehouse project aborted.  Keith Moon died in 1978.  Eleven people were trampled to death before a Who concert in Cincinnati in 1979, for which he felt responsible.  He had marital problems, became an alcoholic, seemed destined to follow Keith Moon into an early grave, and was always full of self-doubt.  The Who by Numbers [1975] has been described by some as an open suicide letter where he chronicled his problems with booze, women, and life in general.  Empty Glass follows in this vein.

He was always questioning why he did the things he did,  He still does that to this day, as is evident in his memoir, Who I Am.  Pete Townshend was a storyteller.  Tommy was the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy.  Lifehouse was a story set in dystopian society.  Quadrophenia is the story of Jimmy, a mixed-up fucked up Mod with four personalities.  But instead of writing songs for the Who and have them pick the cream of the crop, he did a 180 and saved the best songs for himself.  This is just as well because by this time he was writing about himself.  Oftentimes when presented with material he thought was too personal, Roger Daltrey would give the song back to PT and say “you sing this, it’s too personal for me,” or words to that effect.   However Much I Booze or Blue, Red and Grey from The Who by Numbers is a great example of this.  The songs on Empty Glass would have given Roger plenty of opportunity to give songs back to PT.  Though the songs are quite personal, Empty Glass has the power and energy that would have made a great Who album.  It is definitely a stronger work than The Who’s Face Dances and It’s Hard.  But there is a sonic difference between this album and albums PT made with The Who.  The musical foci of Who albums are the guitar, bass, and drums – loud guitars, acoustic guitars, thunderous bass guitars, and hyperkinetic drums played by a maniac.  Empty Glass has its share of power chords, but keyboards [synthesizers, pianos] are given equal time here.  Whereas The Who used keyboards to color songs that are essentially guitar-based, some songs on Empty Glass have keyboards as the primary instrument [And I Moved, Let My Love Open the Door, A Little Is Enough] where there is no guitar to be heard.  PT gets to do stuff on his own that he could never do with The Who.  So in that sense, Empty Glass has more musical dynamics than the Who album that preceded it, Who Are You.

The songs:
Rough Boys – PT dedicated this one to his daughters Emma and Arminta and the Sex Pistols.  PT figured out the best way to scare macho punks would be to pretend to be gay, hence some words like “I want to bite and kiss you.”  I saw The Who play this one live in Oakland in 1989.

I Am an Animal – PT declares himself “queen of the fucking universe.”  Keith Moon trashed a lot of hotel rooms, but PT was no slouch when it came to rock and roll excess.      

And I Moved – 30 years ago people thought this song meant that PT was coming out of the closet as a gay man.  With the words “And I moved as I saw him looking in through my window…And I moved and his hands felt like ice exciting as he laid me back just like an empty dress…And I moved but I moved toward him…”  PT claimed to have written the song for Bette Midler.  
Let My Love Open the Door – Inspired by Meher Baba.  It’s short, it’s synth-driven.  I have no idea why this was a hit.  Ii guess it’s all about ‘taste.’  That’s the thing about some guys who write “love” songs who don’t usually write them.  If you substitute a woman for God in a song [like George Harrison did…a lot!], then it all starts to make sense.  So PT walks the fine line between romanticism and spiritualism.  I saw The Who play this one live, too.

Jools and Jim – This is the Pete Townshend I like – angry, pissed off and full of rage.  The objects of this poison pen are two music critics of the New Music Express [Julie Birchill and Tony Parsons], who said the world was better off without Keith Moon. They went as far as to compare The Who’s unique drummer with Sid Vicious. 

"But did you read the stuff that Julie said / Or little Jimmy with his hair dyed red / They don't give a shit Keith Moon is dead / Is that exactly what I thought I read / Typewriter tappers / You're all just crappers / You listen to love with your intellect / A4 pushers / You're all just cushions / Morality ain't measured in a room / He wrecked"

"But did you read the stuff that Julie said? / Or little Jimmy with his hair dyed red / They have a standard of perfection there / That you and me can never share / Typewriter bangers on / You're all just hangers on / Everyone's human 'cept Jools and Jim / Late copy churners / Rock and Roll learners / Your heart's are melting in pools of gin"

Keep On Working – PT’s first “drug” of choice has always been overwork.  This one has a bit of a “Gilbert & Sullivan” feel to it.  I always hit the “skip” button when this song comes on.

Cat’s in the Cupboard – I haven’t a clue what PT is talking about.  For me this song has always been about aggression and attitude.  PT sounds like he’s pissed off about something, and he’s got some angry, aggressive music to convey the mood.  If you want to smash your guitar, wreck a hotel room, or just go around your house and break stuff for no other reason than to release your inner “fuck you” child, play this song.

A Little Is Enough – I had no idea what this one was about until I read PT’s book.  This little bit came out of a conversation between PT and his wife Karen.  She apparently told him she didn’t love him anymore.  He asked “just a little?”  She said “maybe,” and a song is born.

Empty Glass – There is a demo of this song on the remastered version of Who Are You.  John Entwistle and Keith Moon both play on it.  Whether it was seriously being considered for inclusion on that album, I haven’t a clue.  But the fact that two other Who members were part of the demo tells me this is a long, lost Who song that PT decided to keep for himself.  I think Who Are You would have been a better with it.  Play this one back-to-back with John Entwistle’s Trick of the Light and you’ll hear for yourself.  This one is extremely personal.  He’s having an existential crisis as the song opens – “Why was I born today?  ‘Life is useless’ like Ecclesiastes say… “ But these were the lines that I took all too literally in the early 1980s – “My life’s a mess I wait for you to pass/I sit here at the bar I hold an empty glass…Don’t worry, smile and dance, you just can’t work life out/Don’t let down moods entrance you, take the wine and shout… 

Gonna Get Ya – Whoever he’s pursuing, he’s going to get [somehow…].  Lots of power chords and Rabbit Bundrick plays a very good piano solo in the middle.  This one could have easily been a Who song.

Empty Glass proved that Pete Townshend did not need The Who to make a great record.  IMHO, this album spelled doom for The Who.  The two Who albums that followed this release, Face Dances and It’s Hard, pale in comparison to Empty Glass.  The Who sounded like they were going through the motions on those two releases.  The Who had always been about “big statements,” but after Keith Moon died there were no “big statements” to be found on Who records.  It wasn’t Kenny Jones fault that those two albums paled in comparison to other Who works.  Empty Glass had better songs – period. 

Empty Glass in essential for any Who fan.  It’s one of my “Desert Island Discs.”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

U2: From the Sky Down

“What people are doing when they’re forming a band is they’re forming what an anthropologist would call a clan.  It’s a group of people who may not be genetically related but share interests of some kind, and have pledged loyalty to each other.  I think men in particular have a kind of instinct in for banding together and being in a group together.  Most of the identity of that group is formed by a “separateness” from everybody else.”  – Brian Eno, 2011

“Making Achtung Baby is the reason we’re still here now.  That was the pivot point where we were either going forward or ‘is this our moment to implode?’” I thought to myself ‘this is it – we’ve come to the end of the road’ – band breaks up over ‘artistic differences’ – classic cliché.” – Bono, 2011

2011 marked the twentieth anniversary of U2’s Achtung Baby album.  To commemorate this anniversary the band released a super deluxe version of the album.  The documentary U2: From the Sky Down is included as part of this mammoth box set.  This documentary was made by Davis Guggenheim, the same man who made It Might Get Loud.  This documentary chronicles captures a band which faced an existential crisis.  It is a fairly thorough look at the making of Achtung Baby.  What is especially good about the documentary is all the participants from those events that occurred twenty-two years ago aided in the making of the film.  U2: From the Sky Down is told from a first-person point of view, not by an outsider looking in.

The first half of the documentary is a brief history of U2, from the very beginning until they made The Joshua Tree album and the subsequent Rattle and Hum movie.  When they made The Joshua Tree, this was their big artistic statement.  This was the time when they were a very popular band and suddenly they became a HUGE band that had to tour stadiums so that all the people who wanted to see them live could do so.  Then they got this idea – let’s make a movie!  Perhaps they had visions of making their version of A Hard Day’s Night, which captured the zeitgeist that was Beatlemania.  Rattle and Hum was like a home movie a four guys looking to discover American music, and a joyless home movie at that.  Bono said they had lots of fun making the movie, but that fun was never captured when the cameras were on. They thought it would be ‘interesting’ to watch them ‘discover’ American music.  They knew nothing of the blues, knew nothing of country music.  It didn’t occur to them that their naiveté wasn’t as interesting to us as it was to them.  The reviews of Rattle and Hum were scathing:

When self-importance interferes with the music – NY Times

It’s a tad early for the band to be lobbying for admission to the pantheon – Washington Post

Rattle and Hum is the sound of four men who still haven’t found what they’re looking for – Rolling Stone

The guys in U2 were a bit shell-shocked.  Bono’s wife told him “you’ve gotten so serious.  The boy I fell in love with was so full of mischief, so full of madness.  You were a much more experimental character – what’s happened to you?”  Ali Hewson nailed what was ‘wrong’ with U2.

“A group is a collective ego in a sense, and that ego is very easily offended.” – Brian Eno

As long as I’ve been following this band [since 1983], U2 have been critical darlings.  But with the perceived pretense of Rattle and Hum, it was “open season” on U2.  Music critics are renowned for building up musical acts, only to tear them down again.  U2 was no exception to this rule.  This was their first time of getting extreme negative feedback from their critics, and they were unsure how to take it. According to Bono, the band was exhausted and thought they’d ‘run out of steam.’ He said that “‘you start to believe what people are saying about you.  You start to think ‘maybe this is the end.’”  By the time they played a hometown gig on Dec 30, 1989, Bono told the audience ‘We have to go away and just dream it all up again.’”  “We looked like a big overblown rock band running amok…When we were kids, 16-, 17-years old, gone to see the Clash in Dublin, this was ‘the enemy.’   Have we become they enemy?  We hadn’t created any great crimes against humanity or art. All we had done was been a little self-conscious and overblown.”  The answer to the band’s problem – “Let’s get a big fuckin’ chain saw and cut down the Joshua Tree!”

They wanted to go to Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin, where great things happened, like David Bowie’s Low and Heroes and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot.  They felt that just by being there, the “greatness” of what had happened there previously would just ‘magically’ visit upon them.  Inspiration was lacking, as was the “greatness” they thought would visit them.  Bono - “We felt as we walked into this place ’well, you know, it’s so full of greatness, that greatness will visit with us.’  So we’re there, and greatness is nowhere to be seen.  Greatness has left the building, it seems, years ago.”

Before they went to Berlin they all had a sense that something was “not quite right,” that they were all on completely different pages.  It was like “each man for himself,” which betrayed the concept of a band.  There is a nice piece of animation that was very illustrative of what was happening to U2 at the time.  As the time the Berlin Wall came down and the separation between East and West was disappearing, walls between all the band members were coming up, and communication was lacking.  There were musical walls coming up within the band.  After Rattle and Hum, The Edge listened to and was influenced by the work of KMFDM, the Young Gods, Einstürzende Neubauten.  He was into that “machine age music” that took the humanity out of things. He also liked what he heard from what was called the “Madchester” scene.  Bono told his interviewer the first album he bought for Ali [his girlfriend then, now his wife] was Man Machine from Kraftwerk.  Bono and the Edge were in the same musical headspace, but Larry Mullen went the other way.  He went back to classic rock.  He liked Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Blind Faith.  He liked to hear Ginger Baker play.  How does one reconcile such disparate tastes in music?  U2’s method of songwriting up until this time was that of getting together in a room, jamming together, and seeing what comes out the other end.  Suddenly, Bono and the Edge worked on stuff together beforehand, and awaited input from the rhythm section.  Adam Clayton said this method gave him a sense of abandonment that led him to some unpleasant places.

U2 flew into Berlin the night Germany reunified in October 1990.  They were on the last jet to land there while it was still a divided city.  Knowing there would be celebrations all over the city to mark the momentous occasion of German reunification, the band set out to join such a celebration.  What they found was something quite the opposite.  They ran into a bunch of people who wanted the wall to go back up.  They were a grim bunch.  They soon found out they were in the midst of a demonstration to put the wall back up!  They ended up in the Palast Hotel – everything was brown.  The walls were brown, the carpeting was brown, the furniture was brown.  The weather was cold and gloomy.  It was a depressing place.

Why Berlin?  There was a lot of experimental music, avant garde music that was coming out of Berlin in the early 1990s.  Berlin was a place the band perceived where a culture collision was going on.  They’d heard about Hansa from Brian Eno, who had worked with David Bowie during his “Berlin” period.  Their engineer [Flood] had worked in Berlin before.  They wanted to get away from Dublin in order to become more focused to make a record.  Away from Ireland, the members of the band didn’t have the domestic issues [family] to deal with while they were making a record.  The Edge played a solo acoustic version of Love is Blindness.  While this is playing you hear the story of Edge’s bad times.  He was going through a marriage breakup.  For him, leaving Dublin for Berlin was a refuge, a distraction from his failing marriage.  He wasn’t in a good, positive headspace.  Adam Clayton described the time in Berlin as going down a lot of blind alleys, a lot of friction, a lot of tension. 

Nobody was happy.  Within the band Bono and the Edge were trying the hardest to try new things.  The idea was to do something rhythmic, something rooted in dance club culture.  They were trying to find their way into dance music that wasn’t clichéd.  Larry was the most resistant and questioned why Bono and the Edge were taking the musical direction they were taking.  Larry had no idea that The Edge was using a lot of loop and drum machine elements, and the hard part was trying to mesh that mechanical sound with his own live playing.  There was a lot of tension, a lot of grumbling.  They felt like they were getting nowhere.  And then…

My favorite part of the film happened when they played back a rough mix of Mysterious Ways.   Edge threw in a new bridge he was trying out and it had this chord sequence – Am-D-F-G.  Bono was reading something when he heard this chord sequence, and he had the same reaction I did when I first heard it.  He suddenly whipped his head around and his reaction was “hey – I know those changes.”  Apparently they all had the same reaction twenty years prior, for that was the moment that the elusive “greatness” they had been seeking, that they had been praying for had finally found them.  The Edge had another chord sequence – C-Am-F-C.  Daniel Lanois asked the Edge to play the two chord sequences together.  Voila! A new song was born – One.  Bono said a way to get through writer’s block was to write a bittersweet thing about division, about disunity.  U2 were definitely in that state, but coming up with that one song [no pun intended] proved to them they could continue as a band.  They stayed in Berlin for two months, then went home for Christmas.  At least they left Berlin with two things – Mysterious Ways and One.

Adam Clayton described the Berlin experience as a “baptism of fire.” It was something that they had to go through to realize that the “thing” they were looking for wasn’t in a particular geographic location.  The “thing” they were looking for was inside them, not in some other city.  They just simply had to put the work in, figure out the ideas and hone them.  Back in Ireland, things finally began to click.  Bono had an epiphany – if we’re being accused of megalomania, why not confound his critics by inventing a character that was the complete opposite of his serious, unsmiling, pompous and pretentious public persona?  Bono described it as sort of judo, to use the very thing that is attacking you against those doing the attacking.  Here comes “The Fly.”  There was this over-the-top character, wearing leather, wraparound black shades, jet-black hair, and a very distorted voice.  Bono said that if he was going to go into the gutter, he wanted some body armor [The Fly] to protect him.  He could sing about all the personal stuff he wanted, but since it was a character and not Bono that was doing the singing he could just say that he was ‘playing a part.’  There was a film clip of him in full Fly gear where he’s telling the interviewer that he’s ‘learning how to lie, learning how to be insincere.’  For his ‘Fly’ character, he took Lou Reed’s sunglasses, Jim Morrison’s leather pants, Elvis’ jacket and a little of his haircut, and poof! – instant rock star!  With this device, the band discovered they could have fun.  They could make people laugh.  They didn’t have to be quite so earnest. 

Brian Eno had this bit of insight into U2 - “They’re very, very loyal to each other, and they’re really, really kind to each other.  It’s no good to have somebody ‘not well’ in the unit or ‘not happy.’  The others don’t say ‘hard luck, mate, we’re carrying on.’  The others say ‘ok, we’ve got to get that person happy again.  We’ve got to draw them back into the circle.’”  It’s this attitude that accounts for the band’s longevity.  I don’t think they wouldn’t have lasted this long otherwise.

There’s a quote from Bono that Guggenheim uses twice in the film [so it must be important], so I’m thinking that this is the central theme to the film.  It sums up what U2 went through to create Achtung Baby - “You have to reject one expression of the band first before you get to the next expression.  And in between, you have nothing.  You have to risk it all…”  What he’s saying is that in order to enjoy the ‘fun’ U2 that came after Achtung Baby, you need to exorcise the ‘preachy’ U2 that came before.   I think there’s a bit of truth to that.  When I go back and see Rattle and Hum, I’m annoyed to watch Bono’s posturing and hectoring for social justice.  Just put me in the ‘shut up and sing” category.   When I see a rock show, I don’t want to be lectured to.  Apparently that occurred to them as well, because now when I watch a show like U2: 360 I can watch U2 without cringing or without wanting to reach through the TV and strangle Bono.

And there you have it.  This film might not interest you if you’re not a fan of the band or their music. I am quite sure that if you’re only a casual fan, you won’t be interested in the pangs of rich Irish rock stars.  But if you’re a fan and can’t get enough of all things U2, you need to see this.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Deep Purple - Machine Head

For those who don’t already know it, here’s the story of the making of Machine Head:  Deep Purple didn’t like recording studios.  They would rather record anywhere but a recording studio.  Other bands didn’t like them much either.  Led Zeppelin was famous for recording much of their untitled fourth album and most of Physical Graffiti with a mobile studio at a house called Headley Grange.  The Rolling Stones built a mobile recording studio so they could record at Mick Jagger’s house, Stargroves.  They used it to record the bulk of Sticky Fingers in 1970 and Exile on Main Street in 1972.  The Who used the Mobile to record Won’t Get Fooled Again for Who’s Next.  So recording an album anywhere but a proper studio in London was become less and less of an unusual thing.  DP had played in the Casino in Montreux, Switzerland in in spring 1971.  It was a regular stop on the European touring circuit.  It was the home of the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had also performed there.  They liked the place and decided to record there if they had the chance.  DP went to Montreux to record a new album, and took the Rolling Stones Mobile with them.   
When they arrived in Montreux in December 1971, they were greeted with gift baskets from Claude Nobs, the founder and director of the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Included in the gift baskets were tickets to see a matinee show of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.  Since FZ was playing the Casino, DP decided not to unload their equipment until after FZ was gone [a most fortuitous decision].  During the FZ show, somebody shot a flare gun from behind where Ian Gillan was sitting.  The flare got stuck in the wooden trunking above the stage and caught the building on fire.  I was listening to a bootleg of the FZ show last night, and you can hear FZ directing people to calmly head for the exits on the sides of the building.  In a matter of a few minutes the Casino turned into an inferno.  While people were evacuating the building Nobs knew of some places where people might hide to get away from the flames.  He kept going into the building and pulling people out of these hidden places.  As the smoke rose from the Casino, drafts from the nearby Swiss Alps pushed the smoke out over Lake Geneva, hence the title Smoke on the Water.

The Mobile Studio

With the Casino in ruins, the band had no place to record.  Claude Nobs found them a place called Le Pavilion, located in the center of Montreux.  They recorded one song there [called 'Title #1'] before they got complaints about the noise from the townspeople of Montreux.  Their roadies held off the police just long enough for them to finish 'THE take.'  Claude Nobs found them a more suitable, more isolated location to record.  The location was the Grand Hotel. It was a hotel that was closed for the season.   Jon Lord described it as a very forbidding place, a Victorian-era pile.  They found an alcove at the end of a corridor off the main lobby to record in.  It was a "T" shaped alcove, so that's where they stuck Ian Paice's drum kit.  The rest of the band recorded in the corridor.  They parked the Rolling Stones Mobile studio outside the front door, so it took some gymnastics to get from the recording area to the Mobile to hear any playbacks.  Maybe it was because of this set-up that the band usually nailed a song in only one or two takes.

Le Pavilion

The Grand Hotel

The songs:
Highway Star - This was the only song the band had written and performed before they went to Switzerland to record Machine Head.  During a fall tour of the UK in 1971, Deep Purple and some members of the music press were taking a bus to a gig in Portsmouth.  On this trip, they asked "how do you write a song?"  Ritchie Blackmore said 'like this,' picked up a guitar and started playing a one-note rhythm part.  Ian Gillan started to ad-lib a vocal about being on the road in a rock and roll band. A song was born.  When they got to Portsmouth Guild Hall, the rest of the band worked out the song during the soundcheck, and Highway Star was in the set that night. Roger Glover said that about the only things he contributed to Highway Star were the title [he was the band's 'title' man] and a few words.  It's mostly Ian Gillan's lyrics. Ritchie did most of the music.  Jon Lord came up with the chords over which he played his solo. He called it a quasi-Bach chord sequence.  He showed these chords on the Classic Albums episode for Machine Head.  Some and members didn’t think it would work, but Ritchie thought it would, and would be proven to be right.  As for Ritchie, he usually made up his solos of the cuff, but for Highway Star he worked one out ahead of time and committed it to memory.  Ritchie once confirmed the chord sequence was, like Jon Lord’s part, inspired by Bach.  His solo is probably his best in Deep Purple.  Roger Glover called Highway Star the quintessential Deep Purple song.

Maybe I'm a Leo - This song originated from a Roger Glover riff.  On the Classic Albums series, he said he got the idea for the riff after hearing John Lennon’s song How Do You Sleep [from Imagine].  He liked the idea that the riff didn’t start on the down beat.  Gov’t Mule covered this song on their The Deep End, Volume 1 CD.  It was one of Allen Woody’s favorite songs so Warren Haynes decided to cover it.  As a bonus, Roger Glover played on their version.

Pictures of Home - This is Ian Gillan being homesick, singing about 'emptiness, eagles and snow' [though there weren't any eagles].  Jon Lord said he thought Ritchie got the idea for the song from a short wave radio that he kept hidden in his hat [he used to wear pilgrim hats back then - see below].  Ritchie did hear the riff from either Bulgaria or Turkey on his short wave radio. The revelation on this song was Ian Paice’s drumming.   Included besides the Blackmore/Lord interplay, Roger Glover played a brief bass solo.  On the deluxe version of Machine Head, Roger Glover [who remixed the album for the deluxe release] opted to let the song progress to its conclusion rather than to fade it.  During that extended ending you can hear Ian Paice make up the drum bits on the fly.  Paicey demonstrated what a truly talented drummer he is.


Never Before – This song closes out Side One.  The band was very sure this would be a hit single.  Little did they know the next song on the album would be the big hit, not this one.  It’s a good song, but not a great one.  I’ve heard one live version – from the In Concert 1970-72 album of BBC shows.  They rarely played it live.  On their 2004 tour they played it because they were playing the entire Machine Head album for the tour.

Smoke on the Water – On the live Made in Japan album Ian Gillan introduced this song thusly - “This song is also from the last album.  It tells the story of how we recorded it and what went wrong when we did it.  It happened in Switzerland – the song is a thing called Smoke on the Water…  This was 'Title #1' that the band recorded at Le Pavilion.  Ritchie came up with the riff, one of the most simple, indestructible and unforgettable riffs in rock history.  It is such an insistent riff that when you hear it you can't get it out of your head.  People used to tease Ritchie about the riff's simplicity, but his comeback to that was always 'what about Beethoven's Fifth?'  Then his teasers would shut up.  As for the riff itself, don't strum it - pluck it.  Roger came up with the title in a dream.  The words are mostly Gillan's.  He tells the entire story of the recording of Machine Head all in one song.  On the deluxe version of Machine Head, as the song is ending you can hear Gillan say "ah, break a leg, Frank..."  The show Frank Zappa did after the disaster in Montreux was at London's Rainbow Theatre.  For some reason, a member of the audience who was jealous of FZ, was jealous of him, leaped on stage and pushed him into the orchestra pit.  He broke his leg, his pelvis and fractured his larynx.   This incident nearly killed him.   It was not a good week for FZ.  Of note, the fire in Montreux and the assault on him in London happened during the same song [King Kong].

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn't have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky, smoke on the water

They burned down the gamblin' house,
It died with an awful sound
and Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
But Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky, smoke on the water

We ended up at the Grand Hotel
It was empty cold and bare
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside
Making our music there
With a few red lights and a few old beds
We make a place to sweat
No matter what we get out of this
I know, I know we'll never forget
Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky, smoke on the water…

Lazy – Deep Purple plays the blues with a long introduction from Jon Lord.  Ritchie’s riff sounds like Steppin’ Out, an old blues song Cream used to play in concert.  The guitar/organ back and forth went on for over four minutes until Gillan started to sing.  He didn’t sing much – he didn’t have to because the soloists were driving the song.  In concert, Jon Lord’s long intro got even longer.  His Hammond would be so overdriven and distorted it sounded like a spaceship about to land.

Space Truckin' - Ian Gillan thought it might be cool to combine the ideas of rock and roll and space travel in one song.  He was inspired somewhat by the old "Keep on Truckin'" cartoon from the early '70s.  Gillan demonstrates why he was one of the greatest hard rock singers of his generation.  He could do a scream and sing at the same time, and you could understand him when he did it.  My son and I still don’t know how he did that without losing his voice for a week.  [Note:  he’s 67 now and can’t do it like that anymore…]  Ian Paice got to show off for about 30 seconds before the whole band comes back full throttle with Gillan screaming at the top of his lungs.  In concert, this 4 and a half minute song stretched out to over twenty minutes.  They added the instrumental part from Mandrake Root onto the end of Space Truckin’, where both Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore would solo their brains out.  I saw them do this in ’85 – most excellent!

When a Blind Man Cries – This is the song that didn’t make Machine Head.  It ended up as the B-side of the single Never Before.  It’s a ballad that Ritchie didn’t like.  They never played it live when he was around.  I don’t know why he didn’t like it because his playing is very emotional, like any good blues player.  Someone else must have written it.  Immediately after Ritchie left the band for the final time in 1993, this song has been a staple of the band’s setlists.

DP recorded Machine Head in two weeks in December 1971.  They just went in, wrote the songs on the spot, banged them out, and they were done.  That kind of efficiency is unheard of these days.  It cost them £8,000 to make the album, £5,000 of which was rent for the Mobile.  Machine Head ended up becoming a good chunk of DP’s setlist until this particular line-up [Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, & Paice] broke up in June 1973.  A live document of the tour that supported Machine Head was released as Made In Japan [December 1972 – UK, April 1973 – US].

DP had been on the constant album/tour/album/tour treadmill since these five guys came together in 1969.  The cracks were starting to appear, and you can find them in Ian Gillan’s lyrics.

Here in this prison
Of my own making
Year after day I have grown
Into a hero
But there's no worship
Where have they hidden my thrown...
Pictures of Home

Had a friend once in a room
Had a good time but it ended much too soon
In a cold month in that room
We found a reason for the things we had to do… When a Blind Man Cries

This is foreshadowing of the problems that led to this line-up disintegrating.  The problems apparently began during the making of Fireball.  Blackmore wanted to continue in the heavy rock direction of Deep Purple In Rock, while Gillan wanted to experiment, be more “progressive” [whatever that means].  Blackmore and Gillan didn’t see eye-to-eye, and the overwork from constant touring didn’t help.  The DP Mark II lineup wouldn’t last long after Machine Head.

Machine Head is a very good album.  With Highway Star, Lazy, Space Truckin’ and Smoke on the Water, it’s a bonafide classic.  If you’re a serious hard rock fan, you need a copy.  Absolutely essential.

As a postscript, I read that Claude Nobs died at age 76 last week from injuries he sustained in a Nordic skiing accident.  It is not an understatement to say that were it not for him, Machine Head wouldn’t have been made.  Rock in peace, Funky Claude.

Claude Nobs
February 4, 1936 – January 10, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

More Movies I Can Watch Anytime...

A couple of years ago I wrote Movies I Can Watch Anytime.  As I was watching It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World last night, I realized my list was incomplete.  The following is a continuation of the list from 2011.  There's plenty of comedy, drama, suspense, but no musicals.  So, as with all my lists, here are more movies I can watch at anytime, in no particular order...

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - This movie is quite possibly the funniest movie ever made.  If Hollywood tried to do a remake today, it would [no doubt] suck.  This one from the early 1960s is a rarity - a movie with a ton of known stars in it that's actually good.  As we were watching it the other night, we came to the conclusion that the only people who WEREN'T in it were the Rat Pack guys. Jimmy Durante literally kicked the bucket after his car "just sailed right out there" off the highway.  His buried treasure from a robbery fifteen years earlier was in Santa Rosita"under a big W." Everybody wanted some free money, and I mean everybody -  Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hacket, Terry-Thomas, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Edie Adams, Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers, Peter Falk, Rochester, Dick Shawn...Jack Benny made a cameo.  Jim Backus convinced me he was always drunk.  Milton Berle's character is beyond henpecked because his mother in law is Ethel Merman, who is always yelling at somebody "shut up, stupid!"  What was Dick Shawn's bikini-clad girlfriend staring at while they danced in his shack?  In their own ways, most of these characters are really quite stupid and inept, which just increases the hilarity factor because you know that no matter what they, disaster isn’t far behind.   My favorite part of the movie - Jonathan Winters destroyed a gas station - singlehandedly.

Lawrence of Arabia - There are not enough superlatives in the English language to praise this classic by David Lean.  The word "masterpiece" doesn't go far enough to express how good this movie is.  Peter O'Toole IS Lawrence - he always will be.  The only movie I like more than this one is Patton.

North by Northwest - Alfred Hitchcock made many suspense thrillers, but this one always seems to be on TV somewhere. And when I come across it, it's usually at the same point in the movie - where the airplane is chasing Cary Grant all over an empty field.  Hitchcock liked blondes in his movies. He once said they make the best victims. He had plenty of blonde victims - Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren. Eva Marie Saint is the blonde leading lady of NxNW.

Goldfinger - This James Bond movie has probably the best exchange ever between a hero and a villain.  It occurs while Bond is tied down to a table, while a gold laser is slowly cutting the table in half.  As the laser inches its way toward Bond he asks Goldfinger "Do you expect me to talk?"  To which Goldfinger replies "No Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die!" Goldfinger's Oriental henchman Oddjob is a badass dude who cuts things in half with his bowler hat.  He crushes golf balls, too.  And besides, how could you not like a movie where one of the characters is named 'Pussy Galore'?

Young Frankenstein - That's "Fronkensteen." Would you go for a roll in the hay with Teri Garr? Blücher! 

The Princess Bride - A wonderful fairy tale read by Peter Falk to Fred Savage, his sick grandson.  My name is Inigo Montoya...you killed my father...prepare to die! 

The Pink Panther/A Shot in the Dark/The Return of the Pink Panther/The Pink Panther Strikes Again/Revenge of the Pink Panther – Five movies, yes, but they’re really all the same movie.  Peter Sellers was a genius.

A Clockwork Orange - Is there a happy medium between violence and non-violence?  Is violent behavior a sickness that can be cured?  Come my little Droogs and find out...

No Country for Old Men – It all started with a drug deal gone horribly wrong.  Josh Brolin’s character. Llewelyn Moss, comes across the carnage as he’s hunting.  He found $2 million and keeps it for himself.  The drug lords want their money back.  The hire Anton Chigurh to get it back.  Anton Chigurh is a killing machine. A cattle gun is his weapon of choice.  Josh Brolin's character never stood a chance against this guy.  The only way anybody could survive contact with this guy is if he/she won a coin toss.  Tommy Lee Jones is the local sheriff [Ed Tom Bell] who is laments how things have gotten much more violent in his time that it was when his father and grandfather were both sheriffs.

Amadeus – Poor Salieri.  He always refers to Mozart as “the creature.”  He recognizes Mozart’s genius but despises him as a human being.  Salieri devotes his life to God in order to make music, but his is a mediocre composer.  Mozart is a genius, a child prodigy who lewd, crude and socially unacceptable.  Salieri’s faith is shaken when he realizes that God is mocking him through the vile creature that is Mozart. 

The Great Escape - When I was in college at USC I had the pleasure to meet a Canadian gentleman who had taken part in the real Great Escape.  He told our class there were only two things wrong with the movie.  1 - there was no Steve McQueen-type character that rode a motorcycle. 2 - the escape took place in cold weather, not the warm weather as depicted in the movie.  He said the moviemakers got everything else right.  Note: the claymation movie Chicken Run is really a kids’ version of The Great Escape.

Stalag 17 – Lots of prisoners try to escape this POW camp, but they usually end up getting shot.  Since William Holden is the camp entrepreneur and will do anything to make a buck and make his own life as a POW easier, he is suspected by everybody of being the stool pigeon, including Peter Graves, the real snitch.

Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino makes movies where his characters talk...and talk...and talk.  But every now and then the dialog produces something memorable. For instance -
Jules:  What does Marsellus Wallace look like?
Brett: What?
Jules: What country are you from?
Brett: What? What? Wh - ?
Jules: "What" ain't no country I've ever heard of. They speak English in What?
Brett: What?
Jules: English,motherfucker,do you speak it?
Brett: Yes! Yes!
Jules: Then you know what I'm sayin'!
Brett: Yes! Jules: Describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!
Brett: What? Jules: Say 'what' again. Say 'what' again,I dare you,I double dare you motherfucker, say 'what' one more Goddamn time!

So what are my favorite parts of the movie?  Besides this bit where Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are fetching Marcellus Wallace's briefcase, there's the vignette of Vinvent Vega and Marcellus's wife Mia.  Then there's the vignette where John Travolta accidently shoots the guy in the back of the car, and Harvey Keitel has to get them out of trouble.  I still have no idea what the shiny thing is in the briefcase.

To be continued…