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The Freedom of Music: In Through The Out Door

August 16th, 2009
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Thirty years seems like a long time.  Long enough that if you fight for that long, they’ll call it the 30-year war, unlike, say WWII, which they don’t call the 6.002 year war. No, in warfare, thirty years is a long time. Not so many years ago, 5 times 30 or so, 30 years was pretty much a human lifespan, much less if the Germanic countries are in the middle of 30 years of killing each other. Yes, thirty years seems a long time.

Then I woke up yesterday and check my e mail to find out it’s a thirty year anniversary.  On August 15, 1979 Led Zeppelin released their final studio album, In Through The Out Door. It’s not just their last album, however, it is also the only one I have a direct reference to it’s release. Being sixteen in the summer of 1979, I was a huge Led Zeppelin fan and had spent the last two years loving learning their catalogue. In Through The Out Door I waited for anxiously all that summer, as the release date was more a suggestion, and nobody knew for sure when it would hit the stores. I was in London at the time, where Led Zeppelin was in the middle of their triumphant return to English soil and were kings (or despised aristocrats who weren’t fit to lick the boots of the punks like the Sex Pistols and the Clash: sometimes point of view is everything). I bought extra copies because rumour incorrectly suggested the album would be released in Europe before America, and how cool would it be to be the first on the block to have a copy of the new Led Zeppelin album?

Can it really be thirty years? Suddenly thirty years doesn’t seem like such a long time.

In Through The Out Door is a much maligned Led Zeppelin album, undeservedly so. Even Jimmy Page has disparaged it, citing All My Love as not a very Zeppelin song. However, the music world was changing leading into the 1980’s, and whether Jimmy Page likes it or not, the long solos and extended jams where not going to cut it much longer. The three to five minute song was back, and Led Zeppelin let it be known with In Through The out Door that they were ready to face the new decade. All My Love may not have been a very Zeppelin song, but was very much a song of it’s time.

Besides, the album also had Fool in the Rain and In The Evening on it. For all their great music through the years, Fool in the Rain belongs among the top few. A great song that sound so unlike something Zeppelin would do, and yet was immediately identifiable as Zeppelin. And it’s not just Robert Plant’s voice that gave the game away, John Bonham is recognizable as the drummer on Fool in the Rain within a few bars of the opening. Not many drummers have such a unique sound, but not many drummers back a band as good as Led Zeppelin.

As for In The Evening, When Guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Plant got together in the 90’s for a couple of albums and tours In The Evening was one of the songs they played. How bad can it be if they still considered it worthwhile fifteen years later, especially when you have Zeppelin’s catalogue to pick through.

In the world of rock and roll, however, a good to great album is not in the hits, not in the top three songs, it’s in the filler. Sometimes, the filler is just that, throw away music that had negligible impact on your listening life. In better albums, the filler is almost as good as the top songs. In Through The Out Door has some very effective fill. South Bound Saurez, full of honky tonk piano and vocal hooks. Hot Dog, the mock-country song that you can’t help but laugh along with.

In Through The Out Door is not one of the seminal Led Zeppelin works, although it ranks among my favourites. Historically it is important because it was Led Zeppelins last. But in truth, it’s anniversary is a big deal because I will never be sixteen again, never be that excited because band is releasing new music.

It can’t really have been thirteen years, can it?

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The Freedom of Music: fourty-five 45s at 45

July 12th, 2009
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freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

It’s not my 45th birthday, in fact I’m a mere two weeks away from leaving 45 in my rear view mirror, closer now to 50 than 40, worse yet closer to 60 than 30. But I am, as of this writing, 45 years old. And fairly well reputed for procrastination. So lets pretend I’m playing this game on my 45th birthday, but I procrastinated just a touch.

Credit to this post must be given to Rick Mcginnis who listed his top 45 45’s on his fourty-fifth birthday (Rick credits Dave Macintosh, former Nerve Magazine editor, who forwarded his list to former writers of the magazine last year).

And without further ado, my fourty-five favourite 45 RPM records, from the vantage point of being 45.

*********************

45. The Unicorn (Irish Rovers) – The first 45 I ever remember. It seemed to be always around the house, and when my own kids were young it was their introduction to the rotary music maker i.e. the record player.

44. Layla (The Acoustic Version) (Eric Clapton) – Probably the last 45 I bought as new. A timeless song re-done for a new era. The best Clapton had been for fifteen years, and the best he’s been since.

43. Burning Down One Side (Robert Plant) – Robert Plant’s first solo release I probably bought this because it was released before the album (a common practice back then). I can’t remember if it disappointed, but it shouldn’t have: great song.

42. Understanding (Bob Seger) – Some Bob Seger songs you just can’t get on a album, this is one of them. From the movie “Teacher,” one of those middle of the road piano based songs that Seger excelled at.

41. Classical Gas (Mason Williams) – The genius of this song is that it does fit on a 45. Many classical pieces would be too long for the 45, thus too long for radio play and too long to buy without forking over the extra money you need to buy an album.

40. Rasputin (Boney M.) – Singles – 45’s – are what you took to parties, what DJ’s lugged to weddings. Rasputin is one of those great dance songs that work so well at parties/ weddings &tc., thus is a great 45. I probably would never listen to the whole album, but I’d listen to this song more than once in a row.

39. Beat It! (Michael Jackson) – Obligatory Michael Jackson content, I include this one because it has the name “Jaimie” written on the label, which was the stage name of a stripper my buddy went out with. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a strip club, but I’m betting the girls don’t bring their own records anymore.

38. The Night the Lights Went Out in  Georgia (Vicky Lawrence) – Yes, the same Vicky Lawrence that was on the Carrol Burnett Show. One of those addictive songs that I had to pull out of the closet recently when the wife a) wanted to know if I could get the song for her and b) didn’t believe I had it.

37. Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot) – It’s expected if your Canadian that you will love Gordon Lightfoot. I don’t, but I don’t hate him either. This is by far his best song, and a great song with an amazing groove it is.

36. Sugar, Sugar (The Archies) – The only 45 I own that is performed by cartoon characters. Even if it wasn’t, it would probably be the catchiest.

35. Last Song (Edward Bear) – A very popular early 70’s Canadian Band, they will always be remembered for this, the schmaltziest song they did. I’ve always liked this song mostly because it was an important part of life when I was just the right age.

34 Help! (The Beatles) – Doesn’t everybody have some Beatles in their collection? I have half-a-dozen maybe, some even better songs. But was any Beatles song better suited to the 45RPM format? Two-and-a-half minutes of up tempo pop, perfect for the old portable record player.

33. I’m Into Something Good (Herman’s Hermits) – Like Help! a perfect single for the format, like  Rasputin, an addictive little ditty. Granted it’s no Henry the Eight or Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, but it’s the one I’ve got.

32. Free Ride (Edgar Winter Group) – One of the great rock ‘n’ roll hooks of all time. Turn it up.

31. I Was Only Joking (Rod Stewart) – I was going to put You’re In My Heart in this slot, mostly for the b/side, a relatively unknown and truly cruel little song, You Got a Nerve.  But in the end, I Was Only Joking is one of Rod the Bod’s best songs and far more deserving of this minor honour.

30. Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill) – I know, ack, gag, ptuii. Make all the choking, gagging, nausea noises you want, this is a lovely song and if you didn’t use it to rub up against a cute girl at the dance it’s only because your not the right age. I am, and this song stays on the list.

29. Fly at Night (Chilliwack) – Notice all the Canadian talent? The 70’s and 80’s really were the best of times for Canadian music. Chilliwack really was a great band, and this is a memorable piece.

28. Who Are You (The Who) – They cut the album version to make it fit on a single, then they cut it again to make it fit on a TV show. This is far better than the 30 second CSI version, not as good as the longer album version.

27. High on Emotion (Chris DeBurgh) – I have an affinity for up-tempo pop songs that serious music fans are not supposed to have, and this is a good one.

26. Takin’ Care of Business (Bachman Turner Overdrive) – The first song that was important to me, and the first 45 I bought that I just had to have.  The one I own is scratched irreparably from unsuccessfully trying to learn how to play it on the guitar.

25. Blinded By The Light (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) – Another song that was shrunk to fit, and thus became a radio song. It’s easy to say they bastardized the song by shrinking it, but if they hadn’t Manfred Mann would still be remembered as the guy who did Do Wah Da Ditty. If you know and like this song, this single is why, even if that’s not the version you hear anymore.

24. My Ding-a-ling (Chuck Berry) – So much important music, yet Chuck Berry is immortalized here for a novelty song. None the less I was in grade four when this song was being played on the radio and we got the joke. It may not be Berry’s best, but it introduced Chuck Berry to a whole new generation of fans, me included.

23. The Loco-Motion (Grand Funk) – This song rightfully belongs on everyones list. The only argument is which version – this is my favourite version.

22. Season’s in the Sun (Terry Jacks) – Well, somebody has to remember Terry Jacks.

21. King of the Road (Roger Miller) – The original of a song that has been covered by countless artists (Wikipedia lists 19). A fun song, somedays that’s all you want.

20. Indian Reservation (The Raiders) – I wonder if Brenda Miller wakes up some days and wonders what ever happened to that record?  The copy I own has my old babysitters name all over it, and I remember her playing it to death when she came to babysit us.

19. Heatwave (Linda Ronstadt) – Not the Martha and the Vandelles version but a young, very cute Linda Ronstadt’s. One of those songs with a great hook to it, when you hear it you can’t get it out of your head. If you don’t believe me search YouTube for Joan Osbourne doing this song from the Shadow of Mowtown DVD.

18. Closer to the Heart (Rush) – How many Rush songs are 45 friendly? Closer to the Heart really isn’t, but Rush was so big by the time it was released the radio stations had to have something.

17. Thinking of You (Harlequin) – Who knows who Harlequin even is anymore. Yet between this and Innocence you have two of the best Canadian songs.

16. Only Women (Alice Cooper) – They not only shortened the song to 3:29, they cut the title from the presumably controversial Only Women Bleed.

15. Patience (Guns and Roses) – You didn’t expect welcome to the Jungle, did you? G’n’R rocked as hard as anybody, but they also mastered the rock ballad and this is proof positive of that.

14. Benny and the Jets/Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Elton John) – My brother was away for the weekend, and I, who always competed with him for who had the best music (being three years younger I always lost) had bought both of these singles while he was away. When he came home I very deliberately put on Benny and the Jets, but was reading the picture sleeve of Lucy in the Sky, so when he walked in my room he would know immediately what I had bought. It was dumb, but it was the only time one of these little schemes actually worked, so I remember it fondly.

13. Shaddap You Face (Joe Dolce) – I love the novelty song, and I still laugh when I hear this one. My mom wasn’t even Italian, but she would say this to us. That may be the magic of Shaddap You Face. Mom’s don’t talk to their kids like that anymore, so today’s kids may not relate so well, but I bet they laugh anyway (I know mine do).

12. Mickey (Toni Basil) – Cheesy, yet a wonderful piece of pop music. A true one hit wonder, a former dancer there’s something infectious about this song. I don’t listen to it often, but I smile every time.

11. New York, New York (Frank Sinatra) – For years this was an end of the party song, and being the guy usually looked upon to provide the music, it made it’s way into my collection. I still feel like doing a rockette kick when I hear it.

10. Heavy Music (Bob Seger) – I spent some time a number of years ago collecting Bob Seger. Unlike most artists, there is a number of Bob Seger 45’s that aren’t otherwise available. Most people probably know Heavy Music from Live Bullet, but when it gets seperated from the pack the way a 45 seperates a song, you realize how good a song it is. Bob Seger at his best, before he know that this was what he does best.

9. Sweet City Woman (Stampeders) – The top Canadian act on the list, Sweet City Woman is the first 45 I remember being around the house. It was my brothers, but somehow I managed to end up with it (probably because it has a chip out of the edge).  Not even my favourite Stampeders song, but how can you not love the rock ‘n’ roll banjo?

8. Bop (Dan Seals) – Classic pop with a tinge of country. This probably wound up higher on the list because a) Seals passed recently, therefore I listened to this recently b) my wife is quite fond of it.

7. The Night Chicago Died (Paper Lace) – This gets treated as a bad piece of trite, obvious trash, as if it’s Billy Don’t Be  A Hero. It’s not. It’s a decent piece of rock ‘n’ roll that’s worth listening to just to remind yourself of a time when the throwaway trash was better than the best of the best today.

6.Ballroom Blitz (Sweet) – Will the music at grade six dances ever be this good again? I swore for years this would be the first dance at my wedding, and if I wasn’t so darn uncomfortable dancing in front of people, I might have insisted on it. Great song for all the right reasons.

5. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (Jim Croce) – I have been a Jim Croce fan as long as I can remember. this isn’t his best song, but it’s my introduction to him, and I still have the original 45. Longevity counts in this list, so it breaks the top 5.

4. Come On Eileen (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) – Probably the only song on the list I like more now than then.  Through the years I have heard more and more Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and I am always impressed by their musicianship, and the fact they come as close as you can in the pop world to doing something truly original.  They really do rock the banjo, along with a couple of fiddles, creating a danceable pop tune that’s neither understandable or forgettable. It’s one thing to have the words to a song stuck in your head, it’s another thing entirely when you have no clue what those words really are. That takes true genius, and Come on Eileen is an almost peerfect piece of pop music.

3. I Don’t Like Monday’s (Boomtown Rats) – If you bought 45’s in Britain, you didn’t need the little plastic piece to keep it centered on the turntable, they came with the center piece built in. My copy of I Don’t Like Monday’s was bought in Irelend in the summer of 1979, when I Don’t Like Mondays was Top of the Pops. It wouldn’t find a voice in North America until deep into the next winter, by which time I was telling people it was an old song and I was already tired of it. I wasn’t really, and still aren’t.

2. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen) – For all the talk about Springsteen being deep, meaningful, political, &tc. Springsteen is a truly brilliant writer of pure pop songs. Dancing in the Dark is the best example of that, as well as the song that turned Springsteen into a superstar. 

1. Immigrant Song/Hey Hey What Can I Do (Led Zeppelin) – The first record I went in search of. Led Zeppelin didn’t like singles, but the record company got Immigrant Song onto a 45, and released it with Hey, Hey What Can I do on the b/side. Hey Hey… was never released on an album, so when radio stations started playing it in the early 80’s, the Immigrant Song single became a must have. I searched to no avail, and then sometime around 1982, it got quietly re-released. I still have never seen an original, but still like to throw this 45 on from time to time.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

Freedom of Music: Starbucks Freebies

March 22nd, 2009
freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

If you have an i-pod and you like to pay $4.50 for you daily caffeine fix, as I do, you will know already that Starbucks gives away music. You can pick up a card at the cash for a free i-tunes download of a song by a featured artist. StarbucksTo be sure these are not songs you would normally otherwise buy: the point behind them is to create exposure for unheralded artists. Household names like Beast, The Waking Eyes, The Dears, Dido or Neko Case are only that in their own households, but they are each credible artists who in a different climate might be better known.

The commonality that runs through the pieces offered is the tendency for them to be of the alt or indy genres (can alternative really be a genre: once it is a genre doesn’t it lose it’s alternative status? And can anyone be independent and have their music available at Starbucks?) That said, of the sixteen songs I have downloaded there are several styles, including rock, pop, jazz, folk and alternative.

The music ranges in quality as well, with some being really quite good, and some less to my taste. The highlight of the group is a video download they gave out at Christmas. Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss performing the classic Wexford Carol. Other highlights include the jazzy Chances by Jill Barber, Neko Case’s People Got A Lot of Nerve, Land of Talk’s Some are Lakes, Greg Laswell’s How the Day Sounds and, my favourite of the unknowns Blink Pilot’s One Red Thread.

But good or bad is somewhat irrelevant: if I handed you sixteen songs of my choosing, each by a different artist, none of whom you had even heard of before,  I probably wouldn’t fare much better picking songs you like than Starbucks does with me. Some I like, some not so much – that’s going to happen. What’s interesting is the distribution model.

As traditional methods of finding new music disappear, new ways must be found. Like or dislike Starbucks, there is a method here of promoting artists, of getting music in the hands of the consumer, of presenting new music for your consumption. Whether it is the method of the future, nobody knows. But at the very least, my i-pod has sixteen songs on it it wouldn’t otherwise have, some of which will get repetitive listens. And who knows, I may find my new favourite artist one day in the card dispenser at Starbucks. What more could you want with your four-and-a half dollar coffee?

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The Freedom of Music

March 1st, 2009

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

It was the late 90’s, around the time of his first album Industrial Lullaby, that I first heard Stephen Fearing. He was on TV, TVO’s In Studio if memory serves me correctly. His playing was virtually classical, with two and three separate lines of music weaving across his finger picked guitar. Yet unlike any classical player I had ever seen, he was singing as well as playing this complex music. I’ve been a fan since.
The Best of Stephen Fearing

The Best of Stephen Fearing

I saw him live once, in one of the most amazing shows I have ever been to. It was in a music store in Fearing’s hometown of Guelph. Expensive hand-made acoustic guitars lined the wall of Folkway Music, adding ambiance and sympathetic harmony while Fearing played acoustically and un-amplified for about 50 lucky fans. It was one of those deeply poetic moments when art reaches down and touches you deeply. A fabulous performance that left everybody feeling overawed.

Fearings problem has always been in his recorded output. Put simply, additional instrumentation, added harmonies and basic production mean that his virtuossidebar-6ic guitar playing gets either simplified or lost, his percussive right hand technique disappears for a drummer, always it seems, to the songs detriment. Buy the live CD would be my advice, not a studio one.

Putting his recent Best of CD, The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing on the stereo, it was a pleasure to hear the bulk of the music was stripped down to it’s basic elements the way a Stephen Fearing song should. Sure, some of the music is overly produced and subsequently uninteresting. And yes, Fearing’s habit of lyrically reaching unnecessarily for profundity and depth is on full display. But that does not mean this is not a very good CD.

I always wonder how a guy like Fearing chooses songs for a best of CD. If your Dan Hill or Bruce Cockburn it’s easy enough, you pick the songs that get, or got, radio airplay. But what if you rarely get radio time? Pick your favourites? The ones the fans tell you they love? Flip a coin? Either way, Fearing chose reasonably well, and the amount of paired down songs that made the collection tell you that Fearing understands his strengths as well as anyone.

The dichotomy between the two types of songs, heavily acoustic and heavily produced, is no more apparent than the collection’s second song, Yellow Jacket. The verses are stripped back, that right hand percussion and delicate finger-picking over a strongly melodic vocal line. At the chorus, however, in comes orchestration and extra vocals, and a nice song begins to fall down. It’s not enough to ruin the song, but it hurts the effort.

Under no circumstances should it be said that all tracks with band are not good, as someone throwing the CD on and playing from the beginning will quickly find out. The opening track, Home, is a mid tempo, almost poppy piece, crossing between Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young in a song that could easily get heavy radio rotation. And it is, for all my complaints about what makes a good Stephen Fearing song, a very listenable piece.

But the collections strengths are in it’s simple numbers: The Bells of Morning, played live; The Longest Road, also live; the marvellous guitar solo in Dog on a Chain/ James Melody. All predominately acoustic, all exceptional songs.

The highlight of the album is the very pretty title track The Man Who Married Music: a deeply sweet almost apologetic song to his wife, filled out wonderfully with banjo, Dobro guitar, mandolin and haunting background vocals, The Man Who Married Music is a testament to Fearing’s songwriting and an example of how production can benefit his songs. All the added instrumentation complements his wonderful guitar work, layering a finely honed song from the pen of a craftsman.

If you’re looking to pick up some quality Canadian music, but unsure what to get, grab Stephen Fearing’s The Man Who Married Music: The Best of Stephen Fearing, a solid collection of the best from one of Canada’s most respected music men.

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The Freedom of Music

February 1st, 2009
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freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Super Bowl Sunday. The end of the NFL season, where football pools, betting lines and ageing rockers credibility goes to die.

sidebar-1Ever since Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake proved without a doubt that you can no longer claim rebel status unless the cameras are rolling, Super Bowl half-time shows have featured acts that, 30 years ago, would have been apocalyptic if the record company said they should play the Super Bowl.

This years half-time show will feature Bruce Springsteen, the once future of rock and roll, now more like the farmer of rock and roll, milking every last drop from it’s drying teat. Bruce will be on full display, in a non-Janet Jackson way I hope, to promote his new album, Working On A Dream, which was released last Tuesday. The question I can’t help ask myself is, why? Why does Bruce Springsteen think he needs to play second fiddle to a football game to sell a few records?

The reason can probably be found in the record (bunch of MP3’s actually, but that doesn’t ring). It’s terrible. The interesting thing is it my first instinct is, not bad. Catchy, you might say. But upon further review, even that’s not really true.  Compared to other new releases this week, The Best of Hillary Duff say, or Mariah Carey or Liona Lewis, it may well be a work of genius. But when you compare it to Bruce Springsteen, this is a dismal failure of Springsteen’s quality filter.

It’s not a problem unique to Springsteen: The Stones and Paul McCartney are two prominent examples that come to mind. But who’s making music that you will listen to this time next year anymore?  The last Stones album, A Bigger Bang? Not when you have Let it Bleed or Made in the Shade to listen to? Bob Seger’s Face the Promise? Better choice than others mentioned here, but not compared to Live Bullet or Night Moves.  Even the newer acts I like. Will I really  listen to Kid Rock or the Foo Fighters five years from now? Maybe one of the above, but there won’t be many. So Springsteen is not unique in this regard.

Yet, if you are a fan of Springsteen, can you be faulted for expecting better? This is the guy who left Fire and Because the Night off of an album because they didn’t fit. How many songwriters never wrote a song as good as either? How many modern acts have zero songs in their repertoire as good as those two? Springsteen gave them away. And it’s not just the seventies. The Rising is one of the best albums of the last ten years. In fact, if you cut it down to eight songs, forty minutes – the same restrictions Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town were recorded under – you have an album that belongs with the aforementioned. It’s all the bloody filler that hurts the Rising, the extra time that CDs allow that turn every disk into a double album length epic.

But the downhill slide for Springsteen was not out of the blue: Magic, his last CD,  suffered from lack of quality songs, save for two or three. And The Seeger Sessions was clearly an ironic cash in on a socialist icon: political in intent, larcenous in fact. But this one. How did the guy who left Fire aside let every song on this album past his crap filter? Their is not a redeeming song, not a point to hang your hat on. It’s bad, boring and meaningless from start to finish. For the first time in twenty-five years, I won’t be buying a Springsteen album, I have no interest in going to see him live lest he play this rubbish, and then treat me to a political speech I have no ineterst in hearing. This is one working man who is fed up with the so called “working mans hero,” and will save my hard earned money for more deserving entertainers. And that is a sentence, I never thought I would type.

Springsteen is still Boss, The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Freedom of Music

January 25th, 2009
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freedom-of-music-headerOne likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

A friend lent me the Stephen Davis Book on The Rolling Stones, Old Gods Almost Dead. For such a high profile writer, it was really a poorly written book. Led Zeppelin fans have long complained how bad his Zeppelin tome, sidebar-4Hammer of the Gods, was, how sloppy his research, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

I have an older brother who is a huge Stones fan. Saw them in Buffalo in ’79 & ’81, saw them in Oshawa when Keith was ordered to give a benefit concert for the CNIB in lieu of prison for a heroin bust. (Surprisingly, he chose to do the concert). In 1977 when they released the live album that included the El Mocambo recordings, Love You Live, I picked it up. I was fourteen, just getting seriously into music and decided it was time to give these Stones guys a try. It was an awful album, and I never fully got into the Stones thereafter.

That’s not to say that I don’t like them. I actually think their late 60’s and most of the 70’s work is brilliant. Gimme Shelter, Ain’t to Proud to Beg, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Beast of Burden, Angie &tc. There’s a huge catalogue of great material. I even saw them in 1991, and thoroughly enjoyed the show. But I never fully bought into the Rolling Stones myth of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band and I suspect the reason for this is Love You Live.

First impressions count, we know that. They matter when you meet a possible future spouse, they matter at a job interview, they matter when you meet new people. And they matter for rock bands. Here’s a tip for any would be rock star: never let inferior product out the door, no matter how big you get. It may be your one bad album in ten, but for somebody, somewhere, it’s going to create a bad first impression.

So while nosing through a large part of the Stones catalogue while reading, I decided to re-familiarize myself with Love You Live. I haven’t listened to it in years and, in truth, probably didn’t listen to it twice even back then.

Second impression? I wasn’t fair the first time. This isn’t awful, neither is Jagger, whom I always remember singing terrible in this album. It’s not a work of genius, not a mind blowing live album, but it captures something.

During the recording of Love You Live in Paris, after two of three shows, Keith Richard’s eleven week old son suffocated in his crib at home in Switzerland. He continued on, and reports from the third Paris show were that Keith came to life on that third night. “Most of the tracks used on the concert album Love You Live were taken from this show,” according to Davis. He “played long and luscious blues guitar solos on Hot Stuff and a painful crying aria on You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

What I hear is a pretty sloppy band. Not a bad one as first impression dictated, but a sloppy one.  And that aria in You Can’t Always Get What You Want? I hear it, but would need to hear another night to compare how painful and crying it was. It’s no Since I’ve Been Loving You, but there’s something there.

Overall, a better album than I remember, a better live band than I remember, and a fine piece of history. But the World’s Greatest Rock and Band? Not a chance.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Freedom of Music: Novelty Christmas Circa 2008

December 14th, 2008
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Christmas always brings with it novelty songs. Whether it’s Irish Rovers singing about Grandmas and Reindeer, or Bruce Springsteen warning of Santa Claus’s imminent arrival. Corey Harts Rudolph phase or anybody and everybody going for a Sleigh Ride, Christmas is littered with music that would never get made otherwise. It is one of the things I love about Christmas.

This year is like any other with a plethora of new Christmas music, whether your taste runs to Melissa Etheridge, Faith Hill or Cheryl Crow there’s a Christmas CD for you. Sadly, this year seems to lack the heavy metal title to make it interesting, unlike 2006’s Twisted Sister entry into the canon.

This years more interesting Christmas music are of the single song variety. There are two, specifically, that have caught my attention this year. Two songs that sit at the opposite end of the musical spectrum, as different as the Pogues and Bing Crosby (although the Pogues probably did a song with Bing Crosby at some point; everyone else certainly seems to have done). In fact, my two favourites from 2008 are being compared to The Pogues/Kirsty Mccall and Bing Crosby.

The first I heard about on a gossip mailer I get called Popbitch. They referred to the new Cyndi Lauper and The Hives song, A Christmas Duel, thus:

This week we are listening to Xmas songs:

1. The Hives v Cyndi Lauper:
The new Kirsty MacColl/Pogues?

For those unfamiliar, The Pogues song being referred to it is Fairytale of New York, a wonderful song that blends wonderfully the romance of Christmas, New York City and those old Bing Crosby movies with punk sensibilities, a verse full of insults and an opening stanza that occurs in a drunk tank. A deft bit of writing and a magical performance have made it a Christmas favourite among the under 50 set.

The Hives v Cyndi Lauper on the other hand, is just a song of two people fighting. A load of insults, some sexual innuendo, an unapologetic drunk and a death threat finished off with a promise to “spend-spend-spend this Christmas together.” A different take on Christmas it certainly is; the best thing Cyndi Lauper has done since, well ever, very possibly (What is it with the Brits anyway? If you were a Minor celebrity once, 20 years ago, you’re a celebrity forever?); The new Kirsty MacColl/Pogues? Not a chance.

All that said, it’s listenable, it’s fun and it has one of the all time great lines in song:

So whatever you say, it’s all fine by me
Who the f@#k anyway wants a Christmas tree.

So I’ll take it, I’ll listen to it with a sly smile, and I’ll turn it off when my mother-in-law walks in the room. But it’s no Fairytale of New York.

The second song comes from a different world altogether. Canada’s Conservative savant, Mark Steyn has teamed up with comedienne Jessica Martin in a duet of A Marshmallow World. The 1949 song originally popularized by Bing Crosby has induced MacLean’s magazine to call Steyn, “the new Bing Crosby.” It’s a fun song, a catchy ditty and Steyn is an alright singer, for a writer. In truth, it’s enjoyable because of the spirit of the thing more so than the singing talents of Mark Steyn (Jessica Martin on the other hand is not a bad singer).

I offer fair warning, however. This song has infested my brain and it won’t shut up. If you want to go around between now and Dec 25th with Mark Steyn warbling “It’s a marshmallow wooooorld,” incessantly playing in your head, by all means blow $0.99 on the MP3. Although it has been noted I seem in an awfully good mood the past few days: don’t say you weren’t warned.

Christmas, The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Freedom of Music: Up Close with Steve Howe

October 5th, 2008
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

I noted a year and a half ago that I’m a big Steve Howe fan. When I was a teenage guitar player with big ideas about what I would do with my life, I learned early that versatility was what I wanted in my playing. Can you play country? they would ask, and I would reply with some crying guitar in a major scale. Acoustic guitar? I would flat pick, finger pick and toe tap. Jazz? I’m a hot cat who plays it cool. Classical? Baching right.

It started with Jimmy Page. He can comfortably handle any style, all the while sounding like a rock player. But when it comes to playing in many varied styles with virtuosity no one can compare to Yes guitarist Steve Howe.

I cottoned on to Howe with Yes’s Fragile album. The rock/classical album features the legendary Roundabout that has Howe starting the piece with a classical intro, segueing into some jazzy harmonics before flat out rocking the chorus. Truly an awe inspiring song to a young impressionable with a penchant for guitar versatility. Fragile also features the Spanish tinged rock/classical masterpiece Mood For a Day. A few years ago the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet covered this song a really brought out the flamenco side of it. It was, in fact, the first classical style song I ever played, and I was tickled when the LAGQ legitimized it in the guitar repertoire.

So a few months ago when I received an e-mail from fingerstyleguitar.ca announcing a Steve Howe performance I didn’t think twice, I didn’t call anybody, I didn’t send around e-mail seeing who was interested. I immediately ordered a single ticket, knowing that every second I waited I would get farther from the stage. It paid off, and Thursday night I sat in the fifth row, almost dead centre, and watched one of the great guitar players doing what he does best. Half a show with a nylon string playing his classical tinged material, and half with a steel string playing fingerpicking stuff. His playing is elegant and almost flawless, even if his memory isn’t what it used to be.

There is something truly magical about seeing a master musician, up close and personal, nothing but his instrument. When it is someone who’s music, and musicianship, you have admired for many years it is magical. To have a chance at a meet and signing afterwards is worth every penny. To hear Mood for a Day and The Clap from 25 feet away: priceless

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Freedom of Music: Clapton’s God Period

September 28th, 2008
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.

Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Now that it’s available at a more reasonable paperback price, I picked up the Eric Clapton autobiography Clapton. I have never not liked Clapton, but I have never loved him either. I have a friend who thinks he’s the greatest guitar player ever, a position I think is absurd. However, he’s done some good things through the years.

Interesting reading is his early career, back in the Clapton is God days. The Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominoes. All bands that have good reputations, all bands that I am less familiar with than I should. Thing is, I own a number of the records: Cream Disraeli Gears, Blind Faith, and Derek and the Dominoes Layla and Other Love Songs. Seems like a good excuse to spend a few hours with some Clapton records.

The problem is none of this is all that good. Well, that’s not right, Derek and the Dominoes Layla and other Assorted Love Songs is strong. But even then, it’s not double album strong. Put side one on (I looked Away; Bell Bottom Blues; Keep On Growing; Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out) and your doing OK. Or even side four, with Hendrix’s Little Wing and Layla isn’t bad. So that’s OK. As for the rest…

Frankly everything else here sounds like what it really is, the out of tune musical meanderings of a perpetually stoned guy, and his buddies. In modern day term, these albums are jam sessions at the crack house. Long, meandering songs with no real direction, no real tuning. But perhaps I’m being unfair. Cream is an alright band and Disraeli Gears is a well reputed album. Granted Disraeli Gears has Strange Brew, Sunshine of Your Love and Tales of Brave Ulysses on it, good songs all. The problem is the rest of the album, it’s just weak.

Then there’s the Blind Faith album. It’s virtually unlistenable outside of Can’t Find My Way Home. Long, poorly tuned, clearly drug infused jam ups with no coherent structure. If Clapton is God then frankly after listening to Blind Faith, intelligent design makes less and less sense. There’s simply no room for design in something this chaotic. And that’s the Clapton experience as I’ve always found it, either it’s really not very good and makes little sense, or it makes sense, is musically sound, and is really quite boring. Either way, I didn’t buy into the Clapton mystique before this little exercise, and I don’t buy into it now.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Freedom of Music: The Springsteen Time Machine

September 21st, 2008
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

If you gave a group of Bruce Springsteen fans a time machine and said, you have one use, and return it in six hours, that machine would undoubtedly be making a bee-line for 1978: the golden age of Bruce. 1978: The Darkness on the Edge of Town tour. 1978: The legendary period of Bruce Springsteen concerts that bootleg recording today confirm Springsteen’s band was as tight as any band in the business, and video shows the Springsteen showmanship at it’s absolute peak.
Whenever I hit the gym in the corner of our basement for a run on the treadmill, I throw a video in the DVD player that the treadmill faces. I often chose music videos for a couple of reasons: 1) if I only watch 40 minutes of the video I’m not walking away feeling like I missed something; 2) I can keep the video on through the whole work out – stretching & weights on top of running – as back ground music. This week, it’s been Springsteen circa 1978.

A couple of years ago I downloaded a video called “Pièce De Résistance: Capital Theater, 19th September 1978.” Here’s part of the blurb:

This release features what many consider a peak of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band [sic] incredible 1978 Darkness on the Edge of Town tour; a three show stand in an intimate theater on home ground in New Jersey. This was the first of those shows and was broadcast live on the New York station W??W (it’s indecipherable), which is the excellent source recording for the main body of this release…

An amazing document of one of the highest moments on Springsteen career[sic], black and white professional multicamera footage…

Who “professional, multicamera black and white” films in 1978, I don’t know, but it’s a stunning watch. Springsteen is that good here, a 24 song set list with no weakness, an almost three hour show of raw emotional musical energy. That, however, is not enough. To have kind of show is one thing, to capture it is another trick altogether. This DVD manages to capture it, and it is spine tingling good.

Moment in history captures are often disappointing, making the watcher yawn with unfulfilled expectation. The great thing about this DVD is not just the sense of history, but the fulfilment of expectation. You watch it and think, oh man, if only I didn’t go to see Nirvana in 1991 when I had that time machine. But Nirvana it sadly was and I’m left with a black and white DVD, which thankfully is an entirely satisfactory replacement.

Springsteen is still Boss, The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Freedom of Music

September 14th, 2008

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio

I changed the name of this feature for a reason. It has always been my little celebration of music, but with a title like This Week in My i-pod I always felt constrained by what I heard through ear buds. Ear buds, however, are not the only way to listen to music. There’s always, for example, the car. It has always been a great place for listening and many an artist has road tested a new album pre-release by going for a drive. How does it work in the car? It can be a defining test for a good rock and roll album.

There’s also concerts, and I attend a few – although at today’s prices not nearly as many as I would like. But concerts are valid area of listening and not unworthy of mention. It should be added that a lot of music gets heard while out in public or on TV, possibly even something worthy of mention.

Then there’s the record player. I’m one of those guys who believe a record on a turntable is the best way to listen to, and absorb music. But there are caveats: a good turntable, a large space and decent speakers are required. I have a lot of records and have always had a working turntable. But it’s always been in a small space. For a while my turntable was in the closet where I keep my records. My son and I used to sit on the floor, close the door and listen for ages. But I’m 45, sitting on the floot of a closet isn’t as easy as it used to be. Then I put it in my office, but it to is a small skinny space, completely devoid of any real comfort. Last winter I put a projector in the basement, painted a screen on the wall and hooked up a 5.1 surround sound system. This summer it occurred to me I had a free input, so a couple of clicks to phonopreamps.com, and I have proper turntable sound with couch seating. Perfect.

Once the turntable is hooked up, then what? I have a few thousand LPs, now I’m supposed to pick one over all others? It turns out I had one in mind. In July they re-released a couple of early Elton John albums: his first, Elton John and a later release, Tumbleweed Connection . They reminded me how good some of Elton John’s very early material is, why he stood out above the crowd from early on. And it put me to mind of an all time favourite album, John’s fourth studio album, Madman Across the Water.

One of the great things about LPs is sides. A side of a record was 17 – 25 minutes long, usually coming in around 20. Both sides combined rarely exceeded 45 minutes. If an artist could piece together 4 – 5 good songs, they had a good side, consequently a good record. By this standard, Madman Across the Water is an excellent album. Here’s side one:

Tiny Dance
Levon
Razor Face
Madman Across he Water

We can ignore Razor face, because it’s the unknown, average not bad not great song that almost every album has. But look at those other three.

Remember when I said turntable is the best way to listen to music? Tiny Dancer is an excellent example. All that orchestration on CD, or MP3, or FM Stereo (I have listened to all three many times) give a nice song. On LP, the song is so warm. The orchestration wraps around you like a blanket, it has depth and, here’s the real key, dynamics. Dynamics in music are the basic: louder softer. But they are so much more, and any good musician gets this. It’s a change in the energy. And Tiny Dancer, LP version, has that: energy that comes in, and goes out, that charges the song with motion, and feeling and warmth. It’s not just a pretty song, it’s a moving song.

The same can be said for the rest of the album, Levon being another good example. Madman Across the Water deserves mention as one of Elton John’s less known underrated songs. What a marvellous piece of music and writing, yet its an unknown in the Elton John canon simply because it gets overwhelmed by the music he was writing at the time.

It’s hard to discuss Elton John and album sides, without discussing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, side one. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was John’s double album, with three big hits, Bennie and the Jets, the title track, and Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting, as well as a later hit, Candle in the Wind. Here’s side one:

Funeral For a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding
Candle in the Wind
Bennie and the Jets

Top it off with side two sing one: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and you may have one the best starting five in any album. An amazing listen, and one of the few times it’s worth turning the album over for just one song. It’s hard to imagine that Elton John was ever a serious musical artist, but he truly was. Sides one of Madman Across the Water and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road prove it, and prove he’s worthy of fame, even if we he seems to be famous for much of the wrong reasons.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

The Best of This Week on my i-pod: Music to Die For

August 31st, 2008
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Whenever I sit and write this feature, or anything else, there’s a style and voice I’m aiming for. I rarely seem to fully find it, but when I do, I like the results. Music to Die For from August two years ago is one of those times when I hit that voice exactly the way I like. Going over it again there are changes I might make, the kind of thing an editor would do for me. But I wouldn’t change the tone, the style or the voice one bit:

Sunday, August 06, 2006
This Week on my i-pod: Music to Die For

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I play guitar: I know because it says so in my profile at the top left corner of this page (I play Guitar, mostly classical because that’s easy to do in the basement after the kids go to bed:)). Classical mostly, although lots of other styles as well. I didn’t start a classical player; in fact many people who know me would be surprised to hear me call myself a classical player. I have done the rock band thing, became quite a folk/children’s music picker when my daughter was young and I would sing to her every night, play slide poorly, and dabble in mandolin. But mostly I play classical, practice it every day in fact.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I have been thinking a lot about death this week. Specifically, my own. Not for the usual reasons that someone I know died, or they found something in my tests. It’s not even because of Fidel’s intestines that I have been pondering my mortality this week. A couple of years ago someone, in a drunken conversation around a kitchen table, asked what music I would want played at my funeral. I had no idea.

I consider myself a music aficionado, very specifically rock and roll. But what rock and roll really belongs at a funeral? Dust in the Wind? Please, I want people to weep knowingly, not gag. Stairway to Heaven? Yea, because my funeral should resemble a grade eight dance as much as humanly possible. See the problem? Even the serious rock and roll stuff just doesn’t cut it here. Nick Hornby, in his defense of Pop music “songbook” says he wants Van Morison’s Caravan. Problem is, it’s the live version, with an extended string section, where “the sax weaves gently in and out of the cute, witty, neochamber strings…” Anyway, it has a part where Morrison introduces the band and, “isn’t that too weird?” So rock and roll presents problems, unless your sense of humour is far more interesting than mine (Jamie’s Cryin’ or No Particular Place to Go sproing to mind here).

But Classical guitar! As I play (did I mention that?) I thought I should know a nice classical guitar piece or two that’s appropriate. But the more I thought about it, the less I came up with. Nothing I knew would fill the bill. So for the last few years I have been wondering, what song? And who would play it? Surely a live performance is in order, not a CD recording of, say Segovia, who’s already been dead 19 years, and I’m only 42 (OK, OK 43 -honest I forgot I had a birthday (again)), and how long will Segovia have been dead by the time my turn comes (more than 20 years, I hope).

Which brings me to another problem. I don’t belong to a church. I don’t have any great desire to give up my Sunday mornings, except when I attend a funeral. Any funeral I go to is in one of two places, a funeral home, in which case I always think, I want my funeral to be so much more. Warmer, gentler, a minister who has met me, dealt with me, understands why there’s a guy in the corner playing classical guitar. The second kind is in a church, in which case the deceased, having been a member, gets a proper send off. Real music, by musicians, A nice organ sending heavenly air breathing through it’s pipes, imploring the Lord to accept my poor sinning, carcass.

I want, however, the kind of church that are hard to find anymore. One with a large choir box, and a large, talented choir. A proper organ, with pipes rising up the wall, imploring God to Hear thy Music (can’t expect Him to accept my carcass with less), and a proper organist, playing the great music written in His name. No folk musicians need apply at my church, please. I could even contribute to the music once in a while, if I could just have the place when my funeral comes.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I won a book from a radio show, “Classical Guitar Alive.” It’s a real show, mostly on PBS stations, but I listen to it as MP3 downloads after the fact. The book is an autobiography of Classical Guitarist Christopher Parkening, called Grace Like A River. My review is here. The long in short is, as an extreme Christian, Parkening is as annoying as he is talented. And talented he is: the book came with a sampler CD, with Jesu Joy of Man Desiring; Albeniz’s Rumores de la Caleta; and the Adagio from Joaquín Rodrigo ‘s Concierto de Aranjuez.

I am playing at a friends wedding in October, and I have started working some music for it. Lots of basic stuff, Romance, another Romance by Nikita Koshkin (Classical composers tend to lack the Led Zeppelin knack for interesting titles), Jesu Joy of Man Desiring, and the Bach/Genoud Ave Maria (not the more typical Schubert, which translates to guitar awkwardly). As well, I found an interesting composition called Canco trista on the internet, which I’m working up, and a rather lousy Russian reduction of the Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez.

When the Parkening book came in, I threw on the CD and realized, the Adagio, while possibly the most stunningly beautiful for any instrument (go to your library and rent a CD with it on, trust me it is shivers up the spine beautiful, even when poorly done), it’s quite sad. There’s a reason they play Ob La Di Ob La Da on the organ before a wedding, cause weddings are happy occasions.

Legend has it the Rodrigo was writing the Concierto de Aranjuez while his wife was pregnant. The first and third sections where written, but the slower middle section was leaving him a touch befuddled. His wife lost the baby in childbirth (or miscarried it, or the baby died an infant, I’ve read different things on this) and, upon returning from the hospital wrote the adagio. It shows! If ever God chose to put his touch on a piece of music, ever the Divine intervened for the strict purpose of entertaining man, this was the moment. It is a haunting, mesmerizing piece of music.

So I thought, my funeral. That’s it, that’s the piece I want played at my funeral. But how? The logistics are a nightmare. It’s a guitar Concierto, for crying out loud. For those that don’t know, that means guitar with orchestra. This will never work in one of those tinny funeral homes, so you see; I really must find a proper church, with space for an orchestra.

Then who? There’s a reason only the best in the world play this concerto, it’s very difficult. And the one thing I don’t want (are you listening honey?) is a lame version of any music at my funeral. My God I’m dead, I deserve the music to be well done. Then there’s the problem of rehearsing an orchestra and guitarist in such a time frame. I expect my demise to be somewhat of a surprise. Let’s face it, unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson, you don’t plan your dying down to the day. Even if you have a protracted illness, the exact day isn’t a known variable. And I don’t really want to be kept on ice for two weeks while the musicians work up their parts up. So a live performance probably isn’t going to work.

But, does a CD really cut it? It will have to and, fortunately I have a number of performances of this piece on my MP3 player. John Williams, Julian Bream and Paco DeLucia come to mind, as well as Parkening’s. I have spent the week listening to them to decide, and frankly can’t. Williams is my favourite player, but his Adagio leaves me a touch cold, and lets face it, I’ll be cold enough. Parkening’s is nice, but not preferred. Bream does a lovely job of it and DeLucia’s while superbly performed, is a touch flamenco-y for me. So I guess I need to keep digging, to find the person who captured my death perfectly.

The truth is, I would really like to have the whole concerto performed, but it’s a good half an hour long. I suppose I could request no eulogy, just play the music. The Priest could say something about me, then announce the piece, much like a DJ would, and everybody could hear it. The exciting Allegro con spirito, followed by that lovely 13 minute Adagio. People would cry, I know they would. They would cry because it’s a sad piece, but also they would cry because it would prove, when it is most wanting proven, that God exists and I am with him. Of this I am sure, more than anything the Priest or my forlorn family could utter, That Adagio would say to all, he is with Him now. Finally the Allegro gentile, quicker and quirkier, somewhat like me. Something for people to dry their eyes to, before the Reverend DJ announces there will be “tea and cakes at such and such a place after the interment.”

But it’s probably not feasible, the priest might even not approve of being usurped in such a way. Probably best is having the lovely Adagio playing when people came in and took a seat. People could sit, marvel at the sheer beauty of the music, and know that they weren’t just at a funeral, but they where at a celebration of life, and that the life lived was touched by beauty, and knew a good piece of music when he heard it.

That’s it for best ofs, in fact that’s it for this feature. Starting next Sunday there will be a new feature, with new title and format, but an expanded repertoire of musical possibilities.

This Week on my I-Pod

The Best of This Week on my i-pod: More Bob Seger

August 24th, 2008
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Sometimes on this feature, I have fell into sheer review. It’s a mistake. This was never meant to be, “what a great CD.” It is much more about the effect music has, the feel I get from listening, how life is improved through the sheer act of music. This was one of the moments when I almost fell into review, but escaped through expansion of the original idea. Thus one of my all time favourite musicians, and people, Bob Seger, got some Looking Back:

Sunday, September 17, 2006
This week on my i-pod – More Bob Seger

With the new album out, I have spent much of the week with Bob Seger playing. Whether the new CD, or a classic album I have covered a lot of Seger ground this week. By Friday afternoon, I decided to pick a bunch of songs and have the MP3 play them randomly. It’s always interesting to pick songs instead of full albums, as it gives you a closer look at what is moving you.

On this week, I picked two of the new songs: Wreck This Heart and Wait For Me, the first two tracks on the album. Working backwards, there is only one song from the last album, “It’s a Mystery”, that I bother much to listen to, but it’s one of the greats. Lock and Load is a great Seger rocker, possibly even the best in the last 30 years.

Of course The Real Love from “The Fire Inside”, Like a Rock and American Storm from “Like a Rock”, and Even Now from 1982’s “The Distance”. The mid 70’s is his best years and was well represented. However, it was one old and one new (fairly) that where the true gems of the listen.

Turn the Page is the Seger song. All other pale in comparison. Not just Turn the Page though – Turn the Page from the “Live Bullet” album. I have the “Back in ’72” album that the song comes from originally, have quite a few bootlegs and have seen him numerous times. I can assure you, that one performance of “Turn the Page” is heads and shoulders above the rest. It’s not really surprising. He was playing the mid-west bar circuit, travelling club to club. Then he came home to Detroit to sell out Cobo Hall on two consecutive nights; 10,000 people a night. And you sing this song:

Say, here I am, on the road again. there I am, up on the stage.
Here I go, playing star again.
There I go, turn the page…

Out there in the spotlight your a million miles away,
Every ounce of energy, you try and give away,
As the sweat pours out your body like the music that you play.
Later in the evening as you lie awake in bed,
With the echo from the amplifiers ringing in your head,
You smoke the days last cigarette, remembering what she said.
Now here I am, on the road again. there I am, up on the stage.
Here I go, playing star again.
There I go, turn the page.
Here I am, on the road again. there I am, up on the stage.
Ah here I go, playing star again.
There I go, there I go.

Is it any wonder the song had a little something extra in it. After all the years of living the song, finally he wasn’t playing star, he was a star. Yea, that night was special and it came across in one of rock and rolls greatest moments. Turn the Page is a good song – even Metallica couldn’t ruin it (God help them, they tried though. They tried!) – but on this night a great song was born.

The other song was 1998’s Chances Are with Martina McBride, from the Sandra Bullock movie “Hope Floats”. I don’t have much time for country music, mostly because I can’t take the whiny twang of the singers. But there’s a couple of the lady singers I like: Shania Twain is one; Martina McBride the other. Martina McBride might just have the nicest voice in music. It is stunningly beautiful, clear as a bell and pitch perfect note for note. Bob Seger, on the other hand, has a “smoke too much, ah hell it was close” kind of voice. A singer I have always loved, a distinctive interesting voice, but let’s not kid the troops. Like Seger himself, it is a working man’s voice, a voice not presented upon birth as a gift from the Gods, but a voice that is solid only through hard work and years of performing. And when McBride and Seger put them together, it’s magic.

I have discussed my wife’s romantic dances on the deck before, how I’m responsible to a) attend and b) supply the music. I have decided that Chances Are belongs on our deck next time, is a song that I can comfortably sing to my bride, knowing she would appreciate it:

Chances are you’ll find me
Somewhere on your road tonight
Seems I always end up driving by
Ever since I’ve known you
It seems you’re on my way

All the rules of logic don’t apply
I long to see you in the night
Be with you ’til morning light

I remember clearly how you looked
The night we met
I recall your laughter and your smile
I remember how you made me
Feel so at ease
I remember all your grace and your style

And now you’re all I long to see
You’ve come to mean so much to me

Chances are I’ll see you
In my dreams tonight
You’ll be smiling like the night we met
Chances are I’ll hold you and I’ll offer
All I have

You’re the only one I can’t forget
Baby you’re the best I’ve ever met

And I’ll be dreaming of the future
And hoping you’ll be by my side
And in the morning I’ll be longing for the night
For the night

Chances are I’ll see you
Somewhere in my dreams tonight
You’ll be smiling like the night we met
Chances are I’ll hold you and I’ll offer
All I have

You’re the only one I can’t forget
Baby you’re the best I’ve ever met

It’s the kind of song you expect Bob Seger to write. According to Greatest Hits 2, he wrote it in 1990. There where rumours at the time of an album that got mostly scrubbed because the centre-piece was Tom Waits’ Downtown Train. He told Rod Stewart about it, Stewart recorded and released Downtown Train first, so Seger returned to the studio and released “The Fire Inside” in 1991 instead. If 1990 is the date for Chances Are, then we can assume it is from the lost album, and we can are left to speculate how good an album we missed.

Bob Seger, This Week on my I-Pod

The Best of This Week on my i-pod: To Dance

August 17th, 2008
Comments Off on The Best of This Week on my i-pod: To Dance

This one comes from my fifteenth anniversary. A little different in that it didn’t involve quiet listening of MP3’s, this is more what I hope the new feature will be like. Current addendums to the list would include Bon Jovi’s Seat Next To Me, Kid Rock’s Blue Jeans and a Rosary, Bob Seger and Martina McBride’s Chances Are (from the movie Hope Floats) and for fun, Delbert McClinton’s One of the Fortunate Few:

Sunday, April 30, 2006
This Week on my i-pod #8 – To Dance

This week I am doing this a little different as it is my 15th anniversary. I have tried to express in this feature how music is an important, vital part if my life. This holds true in my marriage as well. My wife is a great music lover and has said my passion for it is one of the things that attracted her to me in the first place. A couple of years ago on her birthday, my wife’s one request was a dance on the patio: it’s romantic or something. So this year for our anniversary, I offer the following dance on our virtual patio.

Any talk of anniversary music must begin with our first dance. We struggled to come up with the perfect song, and were having no luck. Then we saw an episode of the Wonder Years, where Kevin and Winnie have there first kiss, and they played an Elton John song called Seasons, from his album the soundtrack from the movie Friends:

For our world, the circle turns again
Throughout the year we’ve seen the seasons change
It’s meant a lot to me to start anew
Oh the winter’s cold but I’m so warm with you

Out there there’s not a sound to be heard
And the seasons seem to sleep upon their words
As the waters freeze up with the summer’s end

Oh it’s funny how young lovers start as friends
Yes it’s funny how young lovers start as friends

It was perfect and we went to some trouble to make it work perfectly, editing the orchestral section for brevity, even finding the song took some work. Nobody cared, nobody listened but it was without question a special song to us. We still have the cassette with the edited version on it, and have played it for our kids, to great yawning indifference.

But through the years other songs have taken prominence, probably too many to mention here. But the last few years when she has a yearning for some romance and asks me to dance on the deck, always the music is my part of the responsibility. What the neighbor’s think when they look outside their kitchen window and see us fools dancing I have never heard, nor do I really care. But for our anniversary, if she wants a dance, this is my choice of music:

Shania Twain – You’re Still The One. Not the old Orleans song, but the far more modern Shania song. I’m not a big country fan, and neither is she, but Shania Twain isn’t bad. Our daughter is a fan so we have her Greatest Hits around, and I always think of my wife when I hear this song:

Looks like we made it
look how far we’ve come my baby.
We might have took the long way,
We knew we’d get there some day
They said, I bet, they’ll never make it
But just look at us holding on
We’re still together still going strong.

Still the One
Still the one I run too
The one that I belong too
Still the one I want for Life
Still the one that I love
The only one I dream of
Still the one I kiss goodnight

Ain’t nothin’ better
we beat the odds together
I’m glad we didn’t listen
look at what we’d be missin’

Can you beat those lyrics to sing to your lady or man? Especially when they are true. And for my wife let me say, you are Still the one.

Next up is some Dave Matthews Band from his latest album Stand Up. There’s a few lines on the song Dream Girl that are so appropriate:

You’re my best friend
And after a good, good drunk
You and me wake up and make love after a deep sleep
Where I was Dreamin’, I was Dreamin’ of a
Dreamgirl, Dreamgirl, Dreamgirl, Dreamgirl

I was feelin’ like a creep
As I watched you asleep
Face down in the grass,
in the park, in the middle
of a hot afternoon
Your top was untied
And I thought how nice
It’d be to follow the sweat down your spine

But that’s not the song of choice here. For this dance, I choose Steady as We Go.

I’ll walk halfway around the world
Just to sit down by your side
And I would do most anything, girl
To be the apple of your eye
Well troubles, they may come and go
But good times, they’re the gold
And if the road gets rocky, girl
Just steady as we go

Any place you wanna go
Know I’ll be next to you
If it’s treasure, baby, you’re looking for
I’ll search the whole world through
I know troubles, they may come and go
But good times, they’re the gold
So if the road gets rocky, girl
Just steady as we go

So if your heart wrings dry, my love
I will fill your cup
And if your load gets heavy, girl
I will lift you up
Well troubles, they may come and go
But good times be the gold
So if the road gets rocky, girl
Just steady as we go

The sentiment is syrupy, but true. After all, how do you survive 15 years of marriage? Steady As We Go.

When the storm comes down you shelter me
When I don’t say a word and you know exactly what i mean
In the darkest times, oh, you shine on me
You set me free and keep me steady as we go

It’s simple sentiment, but honest. If not Steady As We Go, I would replace it with John Hiatt’s Have A Little Faith in Me, the Delbert McCLinton version:

When the road gets dark
And you can no longer see
Just let my love throw a spark
And have a little faith in me

And when the tears you cry
Are all you can believe
Just give these loving arms a try
And have a little faith in me
And

And when your back’s against the wall
Just turn around and you will see
I will catch, I will catch your fall baby
Just have a little faith in me

That’s what we have done all these years, have faith in each other and it has never let us down. This one would usually be higher on this list, except it’s old to us, so down she goes.

Finally, I offer The Temptations Sugar Pie Honey Bunch because it’s an anniversary, not a funeral, and what’s wrong with having a little fun on our anniversary?

Oooooooooooooooh!
Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch
You know that I love you
I can’t help myself
I love you and nobody else…

‘Cause, Sugar Pie Honey Bunch
I’m weaker than a man should be
I can’t help myself
I’m a fool in love ‘ya see

Besides, she married me, and fell in love with me, when there was more playful child than man ready to take on the challenges of family life about me. Doesn’t she deserve that guy once in a while?

So there it is. If my neighbours read this wonder no more, we are dancing. And sometime this week, next week or next month we will no doubt be doing so again. I’m sure you’ll find the soundtrack familiar.

This Week on my I-Pod

The Best of This Week on my i-pod: Don Henley and the Summer of 1985

August 10th, 2008
Comments Off on The Best of This Week on my i-pod: Don Henley and the Summer of 1985

For much of 2006 I wrote a Sunday item called “This Week On My i-pod.” Here’s how I described it on the first one, back in Feb 2006:

Starting today, I ‘m going to do a new feature “this week on my i-pod.” I listen to an mp3 player all week. Over time a variety of stuff gets listened to and, as my job is dead boring, the mind wanders. Often what I listen to provokes a thought, a connection maybe even an idea. Sometimes I just end up analyzing some piece of music that I have fallen in love with, or fallen in love with all over again. In this place every Sunday morning, I will ruminate on the music and the thoughts created through the music. So grab a coffee, and spend a few minutes this Sunday morning remembering along with me:

Beginning in September I am going to replace this week on my i-pod with similar feature, but with a broader musical scope: I listen to music in the car and at home without an i-pod. In fact all but 2 of the this week on my i-pod’s I didn’t actually own an i-pod, but an RCA 40gig Lyra. Nice MP3 player, but not an i-pod. As well, I have hooked up a turntable to my basement surround sound system, so record listening just got easier. So I will expand the feature to include other forms of listening, give it a new name, a new look and, hopefully, an old feel. Meanwhile, for the next three weeks, I will offer my favourite three from this week on my i-pod:

Sunday, March 26, 2006
This week on my i-pod #6 – Henley and the Summer of 85

Music is at it’s best when it moves you beyond all rational reason. For me music can create an emotional connection that visual art or movies simply can’t. It can be for different reasons: sometimes it’s a memory that it returns me too. Sometimes it just stirs an emotion in me that is unexpected.

This week, I turned on Don Henley’s greatest hits and was immediately, wonderfully transported to the summer of 1985. A lot happened that summer, two that matter here. I had broke up with the ‘love of my life’ that spring, and I went to a Don Henley concert. The break up is relevant because the Boys of Summer always, always reminded me of her. To this day it is like Don Henley is describing her in that song:

But I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got your hair combed back and your
Sunglasses on, baby…

I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
I see you walkin’ real slow and you’re smilin’ at everyone…

I can see you-
Your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got that top pulled down and that radio on baby…

I can see you-
Your brown skin shining in the sun
You got that hair slicked back and
Those wayfarers on, baby…

That’s her all right, the slicked back her, brown skin on the beach. I can sense her still in that song, all these years later. And his Henley’s response to her is so visceral, so copmpletely on the mark to what I was feeling then:

And I can tell you my love for you
Will still be strong after the boys of
Summer have gone…

I never will forget those nights
I wonder if it was a dream
Remember how you made me crazy?
Remember how I made you scream?
Now I don’t understand what’s happened
To our love,
But babe, I’m gonna get you back
I’m gonna show you what I’m made of…

Out on the road today I saw a deadhead sticker
On a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said, don’t
Look back. you can never look back.
I thought I knew what love was,
What did I know?
Those days are gone forever
I should just let them go but-

That was it exactly. I was going to wait her out and I was going to show her. Here it is, more than 20 years on I think of her rarely, unless Boys of Summer comes on, then she gets some memory time. All the girls I knew, all the times I was heartbroken, there is not one song that brings back a person and time like Boys of Summer does for me.

Then there was the concert. I dated a girl that summer whose name, sadly, escapes me. She was one of the nicest women I ever dated, and she was in the process of mending her own broken heart. We were dating really casually, more like friends than lovers, and it was her birthday. Nothing was planned because, well that’s not the kind of relationship we had going. But I heard an ad for Don Henley at Kingswood (Wonderland), part of the $5.00 concert series, and called to see if she wanted to go. So off we went, caught a couple of rides, then to a show neither of us had any expectations for.

I don’t know why I didn’t know what to expect, I had been a big fan of Henley’s first solo album, I Can’t Stand Still, when it first came out, had been an Eagles fan all thorough high school, Sunset Grill and All She Wants to Do is Dance had been hits off the Building the Perfect Beast Album, and Boys of Summer was on the charts at the time. But for some reason I had tuned out Henley that summer, and had forgotten I was ever a fan.

Then a funny thing happened, the rains came. It poured an hour before the show, and we had lawn seats. Huddled under a one of those cheap plastic dollar rain ponchos, unable to sit because our seat for the night was now mud, we met our neighbours up on the hill. The next thing you know, we are having a good time with a good group of people, who haven’t much to do except a) complain about the weather/mud seats or b) enjoy themselves. We enjoyed. Dancing to the pre-show music, sharing laughs and (if I remember right) somebody’s smuggled bottle.

Katrina and The Waves were the opening act – Walking On Sunshine was a hit that summer as well – and they were OK. I expected bland pop, but they were better than that. It was a good omen, but who knew. Then Henley came on. What I remember so distinctly was he opened with the song Building The Perfect Beast. It has an 80’s electronic feel, and he came out robot dancing, everybody choreographed like they were Devo. We are wet, standing on the hill looking at each other and thinking, how many songs do we give this? I’m planning on getting some rides in within 20 minutes, and my date is thinking the same thing. Then Building The Perfect Beast ended, and Henley says “Now that we got the crap out of the way…”

From there on it was one of the best shows I have ever attended. He played nothing but great songs, all the solo hits plus some Eagles material. The only choreography was at the very end, when he tangoed with one of the singers while the band played the solo section from Hotel California. He played a song I was unfamiliar with, A Month of Sundays and we all stood on the grass weaving back and forth, like they do on TV concerts. It was a perfect night, a great concert, made all that much better because it was unexpected.

So now when I listen to Don Henley, I always manage to remember that night – and Boys of Summer takes me even further into the summer of 85.

This Week on my I-Pod