Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tony's Picks - Led Zeppelin's Top 50

Unlike other Top 50 lists I've done [The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who], I went the extra step and listed my favorites in descending order.  Without further ado:

1.      Kashmir – Physical Graffiti – This is the essence of Led Zeppelin.  Once you figure out the DADGAD tuning it’s easy to play.    The orchestration makes this song sound otherworldly.

2.      Stairway to Heaven – LZ IV – It’s all been written.  What can I add?

3.      Achilles Last Stand – Presence – Jimmy Page’s guitar army in full flight.  I read somewhere a long time ago he did 18 guitar overdubs in one night on this song.  I never got to hear this song done live, but I’m sure Jimmy was one overworked guitarist for this.

4.      Heartbreaker – LZ II – This is as heavy as Led Zeppelin gets, and that’s good enough for me.  John Paul Jones brings the thunder, matching JP’s riffage note-for-note.  Zeppelin used to open their shows in 1972 with the one-two punch of Immigrant Song and Heartbreaker, which you can hear on How the West Was Won.

5.      Immigrant Song – LZ III – Hammer of the Gods!  Robert Plant and the Vikings come from the land of the ice and snow to pillage England and take all the women.  Only complaint – under three minutes long, it’s too short. 

6.      Black Dog – LZ IV – John Paul Jones had the riff, which you can hear him play one the bass.  This followed Immigrant Song and Heartbreaker in the 1972 setlists perfectly.  This is a blast of heavy metal thunder equal to those two songs.  There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe Bonham’s playing on Black Dog.

7.      Since I’ve Been Loving You – LZ III – With each successive remaster of this song, Bonham’s bass drum pedal becomes more squeaky.  This is Zeppelin’s best original Chicago-style electric blues, and it’s a great one.

8.      Trampled Under Foot – Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin’s version of Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues.  The whole girl/car lyric reminds me of what Ian Gillan did with Deep Purple’s Highway Star.  With JPJ rocking the clavinet a la Stevie Wonder, this is Zeppelin at its most funky. 

9.      In My Time of Dying – Physical Graffiti – A supercharged version of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel song Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, this is Zeppelin’s longest studio track.  Great slide playing from Page.  At the end Bonham yells “that’s gonna be the one, isn’t it?”  An equally powerful, detuned version can be heard on Celebration Day.

10.  No Quarter [live] – TSRTS – This is Zeppelin at its most trippy, thanks in no small part to JPJ’s spooky keyboards and Plant’s lyrics [“Walking side by side with death/The devil mocks their every step”].   JP gives the wah-wah quite a workout in the live setting.

11.  When the Levee Breaks – LZ IV – John Bonham’s drums were recorded at the bottom of a spiral staircase in a big Victorian house called Headley Grange.  In addition to the microphones placed at different spots on the floor, another was hung from one of the upper floors over Bonham’s head.

12.  The Song Remains the Same [Instrumental version] – Houses of the Holy.  A long time ago I heard that JP originally intended this as an instrumental overture that segued into The Rain Song.  I absolutely despise Robert Plant’s vocal on the studio original, as his voice has been vari-sped up so he sounds like his testicles are being strangled in his too-tight jeans.  I always wondered how the song would sound without the vocals, and with the newly-remastered HOTH and its “companion disc” there’s the instrumental version I’ve been craving all these years.  Wish granted!

13.  Gallows Pole – LZ III - This is probably the most hard-rocking acoustic folk song in existence.  This is Zeppelin’s version of The Maid Freed From the Gallows, an old English folk song that’s probably as old as England itself.  Like the song at #2 on this list it builds up in layers:  first an acoustic guitar and vocals, then JPJ’s mandolin, then JPJ’s bass, a rolling banjo played by JP, and Bonham being Bonham.  The song ceases to be acoustic-only when JP adds an electric guitar made to sound more like a fiddle than a guitar.  When this came out in 1970 music critics thought LZ III sounded like Crosby, Stills and Nash.  When they heard this song they couldn’t have gotten that more wrong if they tried – they totally missed the point.

14.  Rock and Roll – LZ IV - “All right, let’s go!”  This one came out of a jam after the band tried and failed to get Four Sticks down.  One of Page’s best solos.  That’s Ian Stewart on the piano.

15.  The Ocean – Houses of the Holy – The most unique count in to a song I’ve ever heard – “We’ve done four already and now we’re steady and then they went ‘one-two-three-four’…”  A great riff.

16.  Misty Mountain Hop – LZ IV - JPJ on the electric piano.  Like Black Dog from Side 1, the riff is his.

17.  Good Times Bad Times – LZ I – The first notes the record-buying public would hear from Led Zeppelin. 

18.  Custard Pie – Physical Graffiti – A crunchy riff to open Physical Graffiti, with many sexual innuendos borrowed from several blues sources. Plant’s mind was in the gutter…often.

19.  Sick Again – Physical Graffiti – A great strutting, swaggering ode to groupies that closed out Physical Graffiti.

20.  In The Evening – In Through the Out Door – This one has a spooky intro with JP playing something called a Gizmotron.  It is JPJ’s riff on the synthesizer until JP kicks the door in with a muscular solo [the 3:43 mark].  In Through the Out Door was a mixed bag, but this song showed that Zeppelin still had it after a two-year layoff. 

21.  Hey Hey, What Can I Do – B-side of Immigrant Song – This song should have been on Led Zeppelin III

22.  Babe I’m Gonna Leave You – LZ I – For some, Dazed and Confused or How Many More Times are the standout tracks on the first Zeppelin album.  But not me – it’s this one.

23.  Ramble On – LZ II – Acoustic in the verses, electric in the chorus.  The Lord of the Rings references are thrown in for good measure.

24.  That’s the Way – LZ III – JP on acoustic guitar, JPJ on mandolin.  More pedal steel from JP.  The only percussion you hear is tambourine, courtesy of John Bonham.

25.  Four Sticks – LZ IV - This is the most unusual song from the fourth album, and by “unusual” I mean “interesting.”  Where did Page get the idea of playing the riff three times then eleven times alternately?  This one also sounds cool with the Indian musicians on Unledded.

26.  Friends – LZ III – Jimmy Page has referred to his alternate tunings as his “CIA connection” [Celtic, Indian, Arab].  This is the Indian part of the connection.  In addition to the guitar tuning the orchestration takes you to a faraway place.  I’ve read Page and Plant went to India in 1972 to record this and Four Sticks with local musicians.  I wonder if they sound anything like what we hear on the Unledded album?

27.  How Many More Times – LZ I – Given the similarity of song titles with Howlin’ Wolf’s How Many More Years, at first I thought this might have “borrowed” heavily from the Wolf, but upon closer inspection they borrowed more lyrically from Albert King [The Hunter] than they did from the Wolf.  I love the transition from the bolero section into the violin bow solo.  Jimmy Page knew how to record drums – here’s the proof.

28.  Whole Lotta Love – LZ II – A great headphones song.  Imagine Jimmy Page playing pinball inside your head with a Theremin…oh wait – he does!

29.  Dazed and Confused – LZ I – “Inspired by Jake Holmes.”  Who else but Jimmy Page would think to play electric guitar with a violin bow, and then throw a wah-wah on top of that?  You gotta love the doom crawl of John Paul Jones’ bass.  Very cool…

30.  Celebration Day – TSRTS – This is a bit better than the studio version on LZ III.  A nice segue from Rock and Roll.

31.  Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp – LZ III – Jimmy Page has a reputation as a “sloppy” guitarist.  There’s some very precise acoustic picking going on here.  A live version [with Bonham on harmony vocals!] can be found on How the West Was Won.

32.  Tangerine – LZ III – Just when you thought you’ve heard Jimmy Page play everything that has strings on Gallows Pole, he surprises with one more skill in his bag of tricks – the pedal steel guitar.  Who would have thought an instrument normally associated with country music would appear on a Led Zeppelin album?

33.  Out on the Tiles – LZ III – Jimmy Page often played the opening riff from this as the intro to Black Dog.

34.  Going to California – LZ IV - The other all-acoustic song from LZ IV is ok.  It would not be out of place on LZ III.

35.  Bron-Yr-Aur – Physical Graffiti – originally recorded for LZ III, this short instrumental is a nice interlude between In The Light and Down By The Seaside.

36.  What Is and What Should Never Be – LZ II – Led Zeppelin plays the blues.  What starts with clean chords [no distortion] suddenly gets loud and crunchy with the chorus.  Superb slide solo from Page played in standard tuning.  Apparently it’s about an affair Robert Plant had with his sister-in-law.

37.  I Can’t Quit You – Coda – recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970.  Ferocious – much better than the studio version on the first album.

38.  The Battle of Evermore – LZ IV - In terms of quality of the eight songs on LZ IV, this one is number eight.  That’s not to say this song is bad – the other seven are just better.  JP had never played mandolin before he dreamed up this song.  On this song, he and JPJ switch instruments [JPJ on acoustic guitar].

39.  Communication Breakdown – LZ I – Manic.

40.  Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Presence – And on the eight-string Alembic bass, John Paul Jones.

41.  The Wanton Song – Physical Graffiti – A cool riff, a Leslie speaker and backwards echo!

42.  Night Flight – Physical Graffiti – This one is fairly ordinary, but I like it anyway, probably because or JPJ’s Hammond organ.  This is an outtake from LZ IV.

43.  I’m Gonna Crawl – In Through the Out Door – The last song from In Through the Out Door that is a bit of a downer, but at least you can understand Plant.  JPJ’s synth is just short of cheesy, but JP’s solo in the middle [the 2:41 mark] very emotional, a great example of feel over dexterity and speed.

44.  Wearing and Tearing – Coda – This was recorded during the sessions for In Through the Out Door.  To steal a phrase, this is ‘fast and furious.’  If it was up to me, In Through the Out Door would have ended with this song.  I like to hear I’m Gonna Crawl and this one right after the other.  I heard Plant and his band play it live in 1990, something Zeppelin never did.

45.  The Rover – Physical Graffiti – This one started out life as an outtake from Houses of the Holy.  It is as equally formidable as the song on Physical Graffiti that preceded it, Custard Pie.

46.  Houses of the Holy – Physical Graffiti – Ok, I finally found out why this was left of the album Houses of the Holy – JP thought it sounded too much like Dancing Days [which I don’t care for BTW].

47.  In The Light – Physical Graffiti – This track is spooky.  It sounds like Page is drawing up his violin bow on the Les Paul again, with JPJ’s synthesizer sounding like whale calls.  The song alternates between sounding dark and foreboding and bright and breezy.

48.  For Your Life – Presence – performed live by Led Zeppelin only once – 2007.

49.  The Rain Song – Houses of the Holy – This is one of the more delicate songs written and played by Jimmy Page.  It’s about two minutes too long, but that’s a minor complaint.

50.  Jennings Farm Blues – LZ III Companion Disc – This is an electric, instrumental version of Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp.  Given the number of guitar overdubs on this, the band apparently spent quite a bit of time on this before they decided to go the acoustic route

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ohio State - Luckeyes No More

I was born in Ohio. I lived there until I was 16, when I was dragged kicking and screaming to live in Colorado after my dad retired from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Being the token Yankee in a family full of Texans, I had two teams to root for – Ohio State and Texas. There’s also another team I root for – any team that plays Nebraska, but that’s another conversation for later. Texas hasn’t been doing so hot lately. Mack Brown, as good a coach as he was, allowed the program to slip into mediocrity. With new coach Charlie Strong, they’re in the process of rebuilding [I hope so, anyway]. So that really left me with only one team that I root for that had any chance of doing well this season – Ohio State.

I live in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. That means I’m deep in SEC territory. We are literally surrounded by SEC schools. LSU is to the west, Alabama is northwest, Auburn is northeast, and Florida is southeast. In addition, Florida State [an ACC school whom I call ‘Free Shoes University’ – thank you Steve Spurrier] is close by. All are within just a few hours’ drive from here. When it comes to college football, that’s all one hears about around here – SEC, SEC, SEC until you puke. Notre Dame has their own TV network [most people refer to it as ‘NBC’], and the SEC has ESPN. ESPN owns the SEC Network, which is on THREE cable TV stations. And their games are televised on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, and if that wasn’t enough CBS has a slice too. ESPN’s coverage of SEC sports is a bit, shall we say, biased. Since they have a financial stake in the SEC, ESPN is in the tank for them. No objectivity is allowed here. “Analyst” Mark May is notorious for his disdain for things not SEC, especially the Big 10. He argued Ohio State shouldn’t qualify for the playoff because the Buckeyes were down to their third string QB. I think he’s got a hard-on for Ohio State because when he played at Pitt, Ohio State beat his team 72-0. He’s a moron - period. If anybody says anything good about a Big 10 team, a sports fan might turn the TV dial to another network, and that affects ESPN’s bottom line. Is there objectivity at ESPN? I don’t think so, even with a homer like Kirk Herbstreit on staff. Sports radio on the Emerald Coast isn’t any better. Jim Rome’s national show used to be carried by the only sports station around here. When it was aired here, you could at least get some perspective on football played in other parts of the country. Now even that outlet is gone, replaced by talk shows that talk only about southern college sports. They don’t even touch on professional sports. The constant drumbeat of SEC sports is enough to make a displaced Yankee want to slit his wrists.

After Ohio State won the national championship against Miami [“The U”], they acquired the epithet “Luckeyes” from sports writer Skip Bayless. This all stemmed from a late pass interference flag thrown against Miami, which kept Ohio State’s scoring drive in overtime alive. I won’t debate whether the referee made the correct call, but there is no disputing that if it were not for the flag, Miami would have won the game. Guess who Skip Bayless worked for when he made that “Luckeye” crack? If you guessed “ESPN,” give yourself a prize. After Ohio State’s beatdown of Oregon, how does Skip like them now? It probably doesn’t matter anyway because Skip is ESPN’s resident troll. When you’re the Number 4 seed and you beat the Number 2 seed in the championship game by three touchdowns, you can’t put that down to “luck.” The Buckeyes are “Luckeyes” no longer.

What can be said about Cardale Jones? When I saw him play I thought I was seeing the second coming of Vince Young. You wouldn’t know by watching him that he was starting only his third game. He’s a third-string QB. In his first start, he won the Big 10 Championship Game. In his second start, he beat the Number One team in the country and won the Sugar Bowl. In his third start, he won the National Championship. What does he do for an encore? Ok, he didn’t win the games all by himself – he had lots of help. Considering he was an afterthought at quarterback when the season began, losing the first two QBs could have spelled disaster for Ohio State, but things didn’t turn out that way. Nothing fazed this kid – he refused to be rattled. What happens when Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett come back healthy? Miller was the #1 guy when he went down with a bum shoulder two weeks before the first game of the season. Redshirt freshman Barrett got them to the cusp of the Promised Land when he went down with a broken ankle against That School Up North. It might be hard to argue against the guy that won the ring, even though at times he looked like he did film study of Jameis Winston v. Oregon game films. That being said, he recovered and you know the rest. This is a good problem for Urban Meyer to have.

Ezekiel Elliott [“Zeke”] played like a man among boys last night. Whenever the Buckeyes needed a big play on third down, Zeke got the call [when Cardale Jones didn’t call his own number or improvise]. Pick whatever superlative you like about Zeke [Beast, Stud, etc], it applied to him. The man had three successive 200-yard plus games against stiff competition. It wasn’t for nothing that he was the offensive player of the championship game. Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the NCAA – Zeke is only a sophomore this year. The question for Zeke now is this - will he turn out like Eddie George or Maurice Clarett?

I must confess that in each of the last two games I had Ohio State as the underdog. I thought they’d do fine against Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship game, but I didn’t see a 59-0 blowout coming [I don’t think anyone else did, either]. I had my doubts against Alabama and Oregon since I saw more of them than I saw of Ohio State, but I was more than happy to be proven wrong. After the Buckeyes evened the score against Oregon, and the way they did it, my doubts went away.

Will the Buckeyes repeat next year? They have a good shot. Most of their starters from last night’s game are coming back. Their enemy will be complacency. And, everyone will paint a target on them. Will Jim Harbaugh work any miracles up north? Who knows, but one thing is certain – the playoff system worked. And since the Buckeyes ran the table against teams ranked ahead of them [and each of which had a Heisman Trophy finalist], their championship is legitimate. Nobody can argue that they lucked out to get where they are now. Well done, Buckeyes.

This is for Mark May, Skip Bayless, and all the other nay-sayers at ESPN...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Grand Prix (1966)

I’ll say it here – Grand Prix is a very fine movie about Formula One racing.  Director John Frankenheimer intended to make as real a movie as possible of what auto racing means to those who actually do it.  On the action level the movie succeeds beyond any expectations.  Scenes were filmed at actual racing venues in several different countries [Clermont-Ferrand in France, Brands Hatch in England, Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, Zandvoort in the Netherlands and wind up at Monza in Italy].   Footage from actual races was seamlessly included in the movie as well.  As for the camera work, it’s top notch.  You see what the driver sees.  You can almost feel the speed.  When the drivers race in the rain, you feel their insecurity of driving on a wet surface.  When there’s smoke on the track, you feel claustrophobic.  When there’s a yellow flag because of a wreck, there’s a real sense of danger.  The cinematography is beyond excellent – it’s top notch.  The movie was filmed in Panavision 70 rather than the normal 35 mm format.  This movie was a big event requiring a big canvas upon which to be presented.  1961 Formula One champion Phil Hill drove the camera car on the tracks, and there were many shots filmed from a helicopter.  There were a lot of quick cuts from camera-angle to camera-angle, heightening the sense of fast-paced action.  Real drivers are seen throughout – Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, etc – to add to the sense of realism.  The plot, such as it is, follows the lives of four racers during a Formula One season.  For me, I could have done with more racing scenes and less off-track scenes.

In The Princess Bride, Peter Falk is reading a bedtime story to a young Fred Savage.  But there were a lot of “kissing parts” that he wanted Peter Falk to skip over.  That’s how I feel about Grand Prix.  There were too many “kissing parts” with a few action sequences thrown in to keep the guys interested.  Given the taut stories of some of Frankenheimer’s previous work with political thrillers [Seven Days in May, The Manchurian Candidate] I expected a faster paced movie, no pun intended.  Between the races, the story lines of the private lives of the races drags to the point where audience members [like my wife and me for instance] keep saying “get on with it!” 

Jean-Pierre Sarti [Yves Montand] – A Frenchman and former Formula One racing champion who is tiring of the racing season grind and getting near the end of the road.  He has a marriage in name only and has an affair with a fashion magazine writer [Eva Marie Saint].  He makes it a point of telling her that his wife never comes to races, although she runs their auto company that bears his name.  But a lot of screen time is taken by this part of the story [too much if you ask me] – see Jean Pierre teach Louise how to fly fish, see Jean-Pierre and Louise go sightseeing in the country, see Jean-Pierre and Louise in bed, etc.  ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Scott Stoddard [Brian Bedford] – An Englishman who gets badly injured in a serious wreck during the Monaco Grand Prix.  His late older brother was a racing legend who died while racing.  He’s competing with a ghost.  His fashion-model wife Pat [Jessica Walter] doesn’t like what her husband does for a living and leaves him.

Pete Aron [James Garner] – He’s an American racer in a sport dominated by Europeans.  He’s involved in the crash that injured Stoddard.  Immediately after the crash, Aron’s racing team owner fires him from the team, leaving Aron without a ride for awhile.  During the time he’s without a racing team, Aron becomes a sportscaster who by the way takes up with Aron’s estranged wife.  Luckily, Aron is soon hired by Izo Yamura as the third driver for his fledgling Formula One team, and this romantic storyline dies a quick death.  It’s as if Pat was merely something to occupy Aron’s time while he was between employers.

Nino Barlini [Antonio Sabàto] – He’s an Italian driver who is the #2 driver for the Ferrari team [Sarti is #1].  He’s a rookie who made the switch from motorcycle racing to auto racing.  He’s the stereotypical Italian playboy who hooks up with a stereotypic blonde model who doesn’t drink, doesn’t dance, and doesn’t smoke, which narrows it down to what she does do [it rhymes with “luck”]. 

One theme that runs throughout the movie is the danger involved auto racing, and the interest of the public at large in car crashes.  You hear this particular slant three times.  The first time is after Scott Stoddard has his crash, and his wife [who at the time didn’t know the crash involved her husband] opined “that’s what they came to see.”  The second time is after Pete Aron finishes second in the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.  A fuel line broke on his car while coming down the home stretch, turning his car into a fireball as he races toward the finish line.  He’s helped out of his car as the car bursts into flames.  Meanwhile, photographers gather to see if Aron has turned into a bronto-crisp ex-racer.  The third and final time is after Sarti crashed at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.  As his blood-soaked carcass is loaded into the ambulance, a distraught Louise [who shows more concern for the dying Sarti than does his wife] shows her blood-stained hands to all the gathered photographers and screams at them to ask if “is this what you came for.”

There are non-racing parts of the story that stand up as being necessary to the plot.  While Stoddard recuperated from his injuries that he suffered at Monaco, he’s taken to his family’s mansion in the English countryside.  The room in which he sleeps is filled with memorabilia [paintings, trophies, etc] from his late brother Roger’s career.  His team owner opines that having all this stuff from his dead brother in his room was a bit morbid, but Stoddard tells him that all the memorabilia serves as a constant motivator for his own career.  Ok, we’ve established that he’s competing with a ghost.

As for Aron, we see him struggle as a new broadcaster.  Then we see him pay a visit to the Ferrari factory in Italy, where he asks his former team owner for a job.  But the team owner, Agostini Manetta, refused.  Manetta didn’t mince words. He told Aron that he didn’t appreciate Aron’s time with the team when he constantly blamed the cars he drove for his lack of success.  He also told Aron he was a reckless driver who wasn’t qualified to drive in Formula One competition.  But then Aron found a letter slipped under his door.  It was an invitation from Izo Yamura to visit the Yamura garage.  The two men talk – Yamura tells Aron about his racing philosophy and his desire to win.  After Aron is offered a spot on Yamura’s team, Aron revisits the garage, then retires to Yamura’s estate for tea.  Yamura tells Aron of his experience as a fighter pilot during World War II, during which he shot down 17 American planes.   The two men hit it off, which comes in handy when the two men review films of Aron’s performance in the Mexican Grand Prix.  It was like football players studying game film, and when Yamura points out that Aron was too reckless and spun out on a particular turn, Aron agrees with him whereas he would argue with other team owners for whom he’s driven.

The only bits we see about Barlini are when he’s racing [he wins at Brands Hatch], playing drinking games with his trophy in an English pub, dancing in a disco where he met the model, or flirting with [and exiting an elevator with] two Japanese girls.  We get the idea – he’s the Italian playboy.  Even though he is seen to win only one race during the movie, somehow he is the points leader heading into the final race at Monza.  Prior to the race at Monza he’s engaged in small talk with Sarti’s wife, but it doesn’t really add anything.  If anything, the Ferrari team owner Agostini Manetta adds more to the plot than Barlini.  After he tells Pete Aron his reasons for not wanting to rehire him, at least we’ve established there is something that drives Aron, the need to prove Manetta wrong.  Before the Monza race, Manetta brings Sarti’s wife Monique [who never goes to races – this means trouble].  To compound this sense of impending doom Manetta argues with Sarti about whether it’s time for Sarti to retire.  He also intimates that the reason for Sarti’s on-the-track troubles stems from his romance with Louise, hence Monique’s presence at Monza.  On top of this there’s a pre-race argument between Sarti and Monique.  He the point is driven home that theirs is a marriage of convenience, and as long as Sarti lives and breathes, he will be the face of the “Sarti brand.”  She’ll never let him have a divorce.  We get the sense that something in Sarti’s life is going to give, and we find out the hard way what it is. 

It all came down to the last race.  The four drivers were within two or three points of one another, so Monza was a winner-take-all situation.  Sarti had a crappy start.  His car stalled when the green flag dropped, and when he got the car restarted he was thirty seconds behind everyone.  He soon began to make up lost ground, but as he closed in on Barlini, Stoddard and Aron, one of the slower cars in front of him loses an exhaust pipe.  Sarti ran over it, which causes him spin off the high bank and go airborne.  The car leaves the track, crashes and explodes while Sarti is left hanging in a tree.  He’s fatally injured, and with Barlini leading Manetta “black flags” him, which withdrew Barlini from the race.  Unbeknownst to Aron and Stoddard, Sarti dies but they keep racing.  For the two drivers it was neck-and-neck, with each driver passing and repassing each other until the checkered flag.  Aron won by a wheel.  After Yamura told him of Sarti’s death, Aron quietly got out of the car to accept his laurels.  He asked Stoddard to join him on the winner’s podium to drink champagne.  Aron has won the season’s championship, but not in the way he would have preferred.  After the race, Aron walks the track alone, with the sound of engines still in his ears.

Grand Prix is an excellent movie that could have been better without many of the off-track stories.  Nevertheless, it is the gold standard for racing movies.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Gimme Shelter - The Movie

For some reason Turner Classic Movies decided they would show music-themed movies on New Year’s Eve – A Hard Day’s Night, Gimme Shelter, Tommy, and Jimi Hendrix.  I don’t want to talk about A Hard Day’s Night, Tommy was just too weird [and a really crappy movie], Jimi Hendrix was mostly interviews and concert footage, which leaves Gimme Shelter.  Here are my thoughts about Gimme Shelter.

A little bit of background – The year was 1969 - the Rolling Stones hadn’t toured America since 1966.  In the interim, they made one crappy album [Their Satanic Majesties Request] and two classics [Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed].  Mick and Keith were busted for drugs once in 1967.  Brian Jones was busted for drugs three times.  Brian’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for Keith.  Brian did more drugs, became increasingly dissipated and increasingly unreliable.  In June 1969 the Stones fired Brian and replaced him with Mick Taylor.  Three weeks later Brian was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool.  Two days after that the Stones played their free concert in Hyde Park.

After they finished making Let It Bleed they toured America.  Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles made “fly on the wall” documentaries.  They filmed the Stones playing one of their first shows of the tour at Madison Square Garden [audio from which made up the live Get Your Ya-Yas Out].  Filming went well there so the Stones invited them along to film the rest of the tour.  Not only did they film the show in New York, they also filmed a photo session for Get Your Ya-Yas Out, the band at Muscle Shoals, and the free concert at Altamont.  

Interspersed among all the music is the behind-the-scenes negotiating for the Stones to put on a free concert at the end of their tour.  After getting some grief from fans and journalists about ticket prices the Stones decided they would put on a show for free.  They hired attorney Melvin Belli [who apparently liked the sound of his own voice] to negotiate the details for putting on the show.  Belli got a lot of screen time in a movie about the Stones.   The first location was supposed to be Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, but the city said “no!” The second option was Sears Point Raceway.  The owners said “no” – they wanted $300,000 up front to cover potential damages.  The owner of Altamont Speedway said he wanted the publicity, so he said yes.  Let the games begin!

Songs in the film:

New York – Madison Square Garden
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Love In Vain
Honky Tonk Women
Street Fighting Man

Ike & Tina Turner [they opened for the Stones] – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.  Tina looked great!

Muscle Shoals [no actual recording – just listening to playbacks only]
Wild Horses
Brown Sugar
You Got to Move

Then the scene shifted from Alabama to California.  The Stones arrived by helicopter to see a huge mass of humanity there waiting to see them perform.  Michael Lang of Woodstock fame is there.  For me that was a foreshadowing of doom since Woodstock was a mess, but I digress.  People were finding places to camp out and watch the show, a white woman was soliciting funds for the Panther Defense Fund, another woman was dragged off-stage before the show – “I wanna see Mick Jagger Goddammit!”  Then the Hell’s Angels showed up with their pool cues, and the games began.

Flying Burrito Brothers – Six Days on the Road.  The Angels beat the shit out of one guy as the song was ending.

Jefferson Airplane - The Other Side of This Life.  They didn’t finish the song.  Marty Balin jumped off stage into the crowd, only to have his face smashed by a pool cue.  He got better… Paul Kantner and one of the Angels got into an argument - "Hey, man, I'd like to mention that the Hell’s Angels just smashed Marty Balin in the face, and knocked him out for a bit. I'd like to thank you for that." To which a Hell’s Angel sitting on stage grabs a microphone, and replies: "You're talking to my people. Let me tell you what's happening. You, man, you're not happening!"   Grace Slick pled for sanity…Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh got the scoop of what was happening from Michael Shrieve [Santana’s drummer] – the Dead opted not to play.  Smart move…

The Stones went on after dark.  The relative calm that was the Flying Burrito Brothers vanished almost immediately.  From this movie one gets the impression that things were so bad at Altamont that the Stones played only three songs and got the hell out of Dodge.  The concert didn’t happen that way.  Things were pretty bad, but the editing made it look even worse.  They played a full set, but only three numbers from Altamont were shown, including:

Sympathy for the Devil – they stopped playing, Mick tried to “cool out” the crowd because the Angels were wreaking havoc in front of the stage. 
Mick - “Always something funny happens when we start that number”… ya think?
Keith – “Either those cats cool it or we don’t play!”

Under My Thumb – as the song finishes, then a black guy in a lime green suit holding a gun gets stabbed in the back by one of the Angels.  He died at the scene.  He went to the show with a white girl.  In slow-motion, you can see his gun silhouetted against her.  I did a little research, and according to what I found the guy who did the stabbing was acquitted of a murder charge.  He claimed self-defense because of the gun, and the jury bought it.  What the film doesn’t show is how the Angels were hassling this poor guy for bringing a white girl to the show.

Street Fighting Man – just a few seconds was shown.  Then they quick-cut to the Stones hauling ass out of Altamont on a helicopter.  There are lots of people staggering out in the darkness, like some post-apocalyptic scene.  Jagger looks at the camera in horror after seeing the guy getting stabbed.  The freeze-frame makes him look like he’s seen a ghost [maybe he did…].  Cue the song Gimme Shelter

The Joe Bob Briggs Score - One dead body, four naked bodies, drunk angry Hell’s Angels tripping on bad acid, unconscious singers, Charlie Watts actually speaking, pool-cue fu, knife fu, wasted concert-goers fighting, and the hippie dream born at Woodstock killed dead.