Tag Archives: On Music

About bloody time: Yes is in!

By Dennis Hartley

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Last year, when Yes was nominated for the umpteenth time for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  I made my case:

Long before MTV (or YouTube), my teenage self would while away many hours listening to Yes with a good set of cans, staring at Roger Dean’s art, envisioning my own music videos (special effects courtesy of the joint that I rolled on the inside of the convenient gate-fold sleeve). Good times (OP sighs, takes moment of silence to reflect on a life tragically misspent). Anyway, why this band hasn’t been inducted yet is beyond me. Complex compositions informed by deeply layered textures, impeccable musicianship, heavenly harmonies, topped off by Jon Anderson’s ethereal vocals; an embodiment of all that is good about progressive rock (I know the genre has its detractors, to whom  I say…”You weren’t there, man!”)

Uh…what I said. At any rate, when it was announced today that Yes finally made the grade, I was overjoyed. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overreaction to something that is relatively inconsequential when contrasted with larger concerns going on in the world right now…but you know what? I’ve seen an inordinate number of my personal musical icons shuffled off to that great gig in the sky this year, so its nice to savor a little happy news about those who are still rockin’, eh?

And you know what else I’ve seen?

 

So he laid down…R.I.P. Greg Lake

By Dennis Hartley

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1947-2016

You know what, 2016? Fuck you. Seriously. This is really too much.

Bowie. Prince. Sir George Martin. Leonard Cohen. Leon Russell. Glenn Frey. Paul Kantner. Keith Emerson…now, Greg Lake.

This is the toughest one for me since Bowie at the beginning of this year. Greg Lake was not only one of the gods of prog-rock, but for my money, owned the greatest set of pipes in any musical genre.

That voice has captivated me from the first time I heard “In the Court of the Crimson King” wafting from my radio back in 1969. Even through a tinny 4″ speaker, that beautiful, cathedral voice shot directly through my medulla oblongata and took my breath away.     Instrumental accompaniment was always purely optional:

And speaking of “cathedral”…

The angels can retire now.

Iggy Popcorn: Gimme Danger *** & Danny Says **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 19, 2016)

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Well it’s 1969 OK, all across the USA

It’s another year for me and you

Another year with nuthin’ to do,

Last year I was 21, I didn’t have a lot of fun

And now I’m gonna be 22

I say oh my, and a boo-hoo

-from “1969” by The Stooges

They sure don’t write ‘em like that anymore. The composer is one Mr. James Osterberg, perhaps best known by his show biz nom de plume, Iggy Pop. Did you know that this economical lyric style was inspired by Buffalo Bob…who used to encourage Howdy Doody’s followers to limit fan letters and postcards to “25 words or less”? That’s one of the revelations in Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch’s cinematic fan letter to one of his idols.

Jarmusch dutifully traces the history of Iggy and the Stooges, from Iggy’s initial foray as a drummer, to the Stooges’ 1967 debut (then billing themselves as “The Psychedelic Stooges”), to their signing with Elektra Records the following year (which yielded two seminal proto-punk albums before the label unceremoniously dropped them in 1971) to the association with David Bowie that gave birth to 1973’s Raw Power, up to the present.

While LP sales were less than stellar (and forget about radio exposure, outside of free-form and underground FM formats), the band’s legend was largely built on their gigs. From day one, Iggy was a live wire on stage; unpredictable, dangerous, possessed. Whether smearing peanut butter (or blood) on his chest while growling out songs, undulating his weirdly flexible body into gymnastic contortions, or impulsively flinging himself into the crowd (he invented the “stage dive”), Iggy Pop was anything but boring.

Keep in mind, this was a decade before Sid Vicious was to engage in similar stage antics. The peace ‘n’ love ethos was still lingering in the air when the Stooges stormed onstage, undoubtedly scaring the shit out of a lot of hippies. However, once they hitched their wagon to fellow Detroit music rebels/agitprop pioneers the MC5 (their manifesto: “Loud rock ‘n’ roll, dope, and fucking in the streets!”) they began to build a solid fan base, which became rabid. Unfortunately, film footage from this period is scant; but Jarmusch manages to dig up enough clips to give us a rough idea of what the vibe was at the time.

Jarmusch is a bit nebulous regarding the breakups, reunions, and shuffling of personnel that ensued during the band’s heyday (1967-1974), but that may not be so much his conscious choice as it is acquiescing to (present day) Iggy’s selective recollections (Iggy does admit drugs were a factor). While Jarmusch also interviews original Stooges Ron Asheton (guitar), and his brother Scott Asheton (drums), their footage is sparse (sadly, both have since passed away). Bassist Dave Alexander, who died in 1975, is relegated to archival interviews. Guitarist James Williamson (who played on Raw Power) and alt-rock Renaissance man Mike Watt (the latter-day Stooges bassist) contribute anecdotes as well.

Many might assume, judging purely by the simple riffs, minimal lyrics and primal stage persona that there wouldn’t be much going on upstairs with the Ig…but that would be a highly inaccurate assumption. To the contrary, Iggy is much smarter than you think he is; a surprisingly erudite raconteur who is highly self-aware and actually quite thoughtful when it comes to his art. It might surprise you to learn that one of his earliest creative influences (aside from space-jazz maestro Sun Ra and, erm, Soupy Sales) was American avant-garde composer Harry Partch, who utilized instruments made out of found objects.

A few nitpicks aside, this is the most comprehensive retrospective to date regarding this truly influential band; it was enough to make this long-time fan happy, and to perhaps enlighten casual fans, or the curious. As for the rest of you, I say: Oh my, and a boo hoo!

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Interestingly, Iggy pops up in another new documentary. In fact, there is much cross-pollination between Gimme Danger and Danny Says (on PPV), Brendan Toller’s uneven yet quaffable portrait of NYC scenester/music publicist/DJ/fanzine editor Danny Fields.

Fields was the talent scout/A&R guy/whatever (his job title is never made 100% clear…more on that in a moment) who “discovered” The Stooges while on assignment from Elektra Records to scope out the Detroit music scene in 1968. While the record company was primarily interested in the MC5, Fields convinced the suits to tack the Stooges on as a “two-fer” signing deal: $20,000 for the MC5 + $5,000 for the Stooges (!)

That’s jumping a bit ahead in Fields’ involvement with the music biz, which appears (according to Toller’s film) to have been attributable to a series of happy accidents, which begins with him falling into a managing editor position with the teenybopper fanzine Datebook in 1966. Within months of landing the gig, Fields found himself at the center of the infamous John Lennon “bigger than Jesus” controversy, stemming from a highlighted quote in a Datebook interview (his editorial decision). The consequences? Death threats against the band, Beatle record bonfires in the Deep South, universal condemnation by church leaders…essentially putting the kibosh on touring for the Fabs.

Whoops. I think we all owe Yoko an apology.

Thanks to his music journalist cred, he soon gains entree with the Warhol Factory crowd, which leads to his association with The Velvet Underground and a long-time friendship with Lou Reed, Nico, et al. This essentially plants him perennially thereafter at the epicenter of the New York arts scene, where, like a rock ‘n’ roll Forrest Gump, he manages to pal around with everybody who’s anybody from the late 60s ‘til now. He did publicity for The Doors, “discovered” and co-managed The Ramones, did windows, etc.

So why haven’t most people on the planet heard of him? I like to think of myself as a rock ‘n’ roll geek, with an encyclopedic brain full of worthless music trivia…and even I was blissfully unaware of this person until I stumbled across the film on cable the other night. So I am going to have to take all of the gushing interviewees’ word for it that Fields was a “punk pioneer” and essentially the musical taste-maker of the last 5 decades.

Fields proves a raconteur of sorts (the one about a meeting he arranged between Jim Morrison and Nico is amusing) but many anecdotes lead nowhere. For someone allegedly at the vanguard of the music scene for 50 years, he offers little insight. Most of Fields’ reminiscences are variations on “Well, I thought these guys were kinda cute, and I liked their music, so I told so-and-so about them, then I introduced these guys to some other famous guys.” For the most part, it adds up to 104 minutes of glorified name-dropping.

Still, the film is perfectly serviceable as a loose historical chronicle of the NYC music scene during its richest period (via numerous snippets of archival footage), and nostalgic boomers will likely find cameos by the likes of Alice Cooper, Judy Collins, Lenny Kaye, Wayne Kramer, John Sinclair, Jonathan Richman, Iggy Pop, etc. to be enough to hold their interest (although again, more context and/or insight would have sweetened the pot).

The film reminded me of another rock documentary, George Hickenlooper’s The Mayor of Sunset Strip (my review), which profiled L.A. scenester/club manager/DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, who, like Danny Fields, managed to stumble into the midst of every major music sea change from the 1960s onward, rubbing shoulders with any rock ‘n’ roll luminary you’d care to name. Which begs the same question regarding Fields that I posed of Bingenheimer: Is he a true music “impresario”, or merely a lottery-winning super fan?

The American Music Awards get real (for once)

By Dennis Hartley

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So I was fast-forwarding  past the vapid, over-choreographed, auto-tuned corporate muzak on the AMAs tonight (thank the gods for DVRs), hoping against hope I’d stumble across something that resembled an organic, analog performance…when this happened:

No, you heard it right: “No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”

Oh, yeah. Kick out the jams, motherfuckers.

Can’t wait to see the president-elect’s 3am tweets about that one…

…and one is hope: So long, Leon

By Dennis Hartley

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Leon Russell 1942-2016

It’s getting crowded up there. Leonard Cohen on Friday, now Leon Russell on Sunday? All in all, the weekend’s been a bit of a bummer.

Oh well, we’ll always have their music.

Russell was one of the heavyweights; an in-demand session player for decades, he cut his teeth with the legendary “Wrecking Crew”, who  were profiled in Denny Tedesco’s eponymous 2015 doc (my review).

He also had a prolific recording career as a solo artist, and was a truly  outstanding songwriter. So many classics. Here is but a sampling…

The saddest song in the world: R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

By Dennis Hartley

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1934-2016

It sounds like a bad joke: Man, what a depressing week! [“How depressing was it, Johnny?”]. I’ll tell you, Ed.  American democracy died on Tuesday…and Leonard Cohen was only able to make it to Friday.

(SFX: rim shot)

Hiyo!

Of course that’s not funny. But if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. I’m all cried out.

It goes like this: The fourth, the fifth; the minor fall, the major lift

I’m uplifted already. Halle-fuckin’-lujah. Make the angels cry, Leonard:

Was anyone’s music more cinematic? Robert Altman was an early fan:

From his final album, released just weeks ago.  A true poet to the end:

Start drinking now: A mixtape for election eve

By Dennis Hartley

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Well, this is it.

We find out tomorrow if we still have a future. Drinks/meds on standby? Excellent! I brought chips ‘n’ dip. And tunes. Let’s rock:

  1. Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention – “Plastic People”

2. Barry McGuire – “Eve of Destruction”

3. R.E.M. – “It’s the End of the World”

4.  King Crimson – “Epitaph” (isolated vocal track version)

5. The Youngbloods – “Darkness, Darkness”

6. Roy Orbison – “It’s Over”

7. The Doors – “The End”

8.  John Martyn – “I Don’t Want to Know”

9.  The Ramones – “I Wanna Be Sedated”

10. Styx – “Come Sail Away”

PLEASE VOTE.

Bono drops the mic on Trump

By Dennis Hartley

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From The Los Angeles Times:

Donald Trump has “hijacked” the Republican Party and comes in as possibly the “worst” idea ever for America, the lead singer of the band U2 said.

“America is the best idea the world ever came up with,” Irish singer-songwriter Bono told “CBS This Morning” in an interview that aired Tuesday. “But Donald Trump is potentially the worst idea that ever happened to America – potentially.”

Bono, whose real name is Paul David Hewson, argued that the Republican presidential nominee threatens America’s underlying values of justice and equality for all.

“He’s hijacked the party. I think he’s trying to hijack the idea of America,” he said. And I think it’s bigger than all of us. I think it’s …really dangerous.”

BOOM! Couldn’t have summarized it better myself.

I can’t wait to see Trump’s flurry of after-midnight tweets, firing back:

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Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

“Pudgy Bono” said bad things about me. Ivanka tells me he’s this big deal rock singer. I bet I can do what he does so much better. Believe me.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

I hear Pudgy Bono does lots of work for charities. I don’t know, but that’s what people say. Maybe someone should investigate these “charities”.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

So I hear Pudgy Bono has been performing concerts in America. He’s not even a citizen. Does he have a work visa? I don’t know. We should check.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

Have you seen Pudgy Bono’s tiny little hands? And he’s so short. I think he actually might be a leprechaun. I’m not sure. We’re looking into that.

Stay tuned…

Strictly rude: R.I.P. Prince Buster

By Dennis Hartley

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He may not have been as big of a household name as another Prince we lost earlier this year (what is it with 2016?), but Cecil Bustamente Campbell (aka Prince Buster) was no less an important figure in the music world, particularly to fans of Jamaican ska and rocksteady.

(from the Jamaica Observer)

Ska legend Prince Buster died Thursday morning in a South Florida hospital, his son Kareem Ali has confirmed.

The singer/producer, born Cecil Bustamante Campbell, was 78.

Prince Buster was ailing for some time, after suffering a series of strokes.

From West Kingston, Prince Buster was a protégé of producer Clement ‘Coxson’ Dodd. In the late 1950s, he launched his Voice Of The People sound system and label, which released a number of his self-produced hits including Wash Wash, Blackhead Chineyman and Judge Dread.

He also produced the Ffolkes Brothers Oh Carolina in 1961.

Buster had an enduring following in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom where he performed regularly up to 12 years ago.

Here’s one of his classic productions/compositions:

Hush up! My favorite by the man himself:

Seen.

An elpee’s worth of covers: A Labor Day mixtape

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 4, 2016)

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It’s Labor Day…so I’m taking the day off as a film critic. And, I’m giving the original artists a day off so I can share an LP’s worth of my favorite cover songs. Enjoy!

  1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “All Along the Watchtower” – “And the wind began to HOWL!” Jimi’s soaring, immaculately produced rendition (from Electric Ladyland) came out 6 months after the original appeared on Dylan’s 1967 John Wesley Harding LP.

  1. Patti Smith– “Because the Night” – OK, Springsteen gave Patti first crack, so it could be argued that his version (recorded later) is technically the “cover”. I do feel Smith’s version is definitive (Bruce wins either way…so long as royalty checks keep rolling in).

  1. Isaac Hayes– “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” – Got 20 minutes? Hayes deconstructs Glen Campbell’s Jimmy Webb-penned hit and builds it into an epic suite that eats up side 2 of Hot Buttered Soul. This is his magnum opus…symphonic, heartbreaking, beautiful.

  1. Savoy Brown– “Can’t Get Next To You” – A bluesy take on the Temptations hit (written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Stong). The song features fine work from Dave Walker (vocals), Paul Raymond (piano) and founding member Kim Simmonds (guitar).

  1. Judas Priest– “Diamonds and Rust” – It sounds like a comedy bit: “Here’s my impression of Judas Priest covering a Joan Baez song.” But it happened, and it’s become one of Priest’s signature tunes. This is a rare stripped-down version, from a VH-1 broadcast.

  1. Julian Cope– “5 o’clock World” – The Teardrop Explodes founder reworks a memorable Top 40 hit by 1960s pop outfit The Vogues. I love how Cope cleverly (and seamlessly) incorporates quotes from Petula Clark’s “I Know a Place” for good measure!

  1. Fanny– “Hey Bulldog” – Pre-dating The Runaways, this all-female rock band kicked ass and took names. Unfortunately, they may have been too early for the party, because they never quite caught fire. This strident Beatles cover is from their 1972 LP Fanny Hill.

  1. Clive Gregson & Christine Collister- “How Men Are” – Gregson (founder of 80s power-pop band Any Trouble) teamed up with singer-songwriter Collister to cut 5 superb albums in the 80s and 90s. Collister’s vocal on this Aztec Camera cover is transcendent.

  1. Chris Spedding– “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” – Spedding is the Zelig of the U.K. music scene; an official member of 11 bands over the years, and a session guitarist who’s played with everybody since the 70s. This Kinks cover is the title cut of his 1980 album.

  1. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes– “Leaving on a Jet Plane” – Definitely not as originally envisioned by the late John Denver…but you can dance to it. This punk pop outfit (specializing in covers) is a communal side project for members of various bands.

  1. Paul Jones – “Pretty Vacant” – I realize the gimmick of doing ironic lounge covers of punk songs is now as “ho-hum” as arrhythmic white guys trying to rap, but when this winking take on a Sex Pistols song was released in 1978, it was a novel idea at the time.

  1. David Bowie– “See Emily Play” – Bowie was always ahead of the curve; even when he went retro. All-cover theme albums weren’t quite the rage yet in 1973, which is when Bowie issued Pin Ups in homage to the 60s artists who influenced him…like Pink Floyd.

  1. The Isley Brothers– “Summer Breeze” – You could always count on the Isleys to inject just as much heart and soul into covers as they did for their own original material. This take on a Seals & Crofts classic is no exception. Ernie Isley’s guitar solo is amazing.

  1. Julee Cruise– “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears” – David Lynch’s favorite chanteuse recorded this Elvis cover for the soundtrack of Wim Wender’s 1991 film Until the End of the World. This haunting rendition is quite reminiscent of the Doors’ “End of the Night”.

  1. Ronnie Montrose – “Town Without Pity” – I had the privilege of seeing this extraordinary guitarist perform in San Francisco in 1980, and 2011 in Seattle (sadly, he died in 2012). He was one of the best. This is an instrumental cover of Gene Pitney’s hit.