Thursday, April 29, 2010

From The Archives: Concept Albums

The Secret Museum

November 02, 2008

"This world is big and wild and half insane
Take me where real animals are playing
Just a dirty old shack
Where the hound dogs bark
That we called our home
I want to be back there
Among the cats and dogs
And the pigs and the goats
On animal farm
My animal home
On animal farm
My animal home

While I lay my head upon my pillow
Little girl, come play beneath my window
Though she’s far from home
She is free from harm
And she need not fear
She is by my side
And the sky is wide
So let the sun shine bright
On animal farm
My animal home
On animal farm
My animal home

Girl, its a hard, hard world, if it gets you down
Dreams often fade and die in a bad, bad world
I’ll take you where real animals are playing
And people are real people not just playing
It’s a quiet, quiet life
By a dirty old shack
That we called our home
I want to be back there
Among the cats and dogs
And the pigs and the goats
On animal farm
My animal home
On animal farm
My animal home
On animal farm"

-Jim Webb

Hey! That's where I live! It's also a song from one of my Top Ten Concept Albums of all-time (yours, too, I'll bet.)
-Michael Mooney

The Top Ten Concept LP’S of All Time

1.) Jesus Christ Superstar / 1970
Music – Andre Lloyd Webber
Lyrics – Tim Rice
A Rock Opera that has Jesus of Nazareth, Judas Iscariot, and King Herod, among others, brought into the 20th Century medium of Rock and Roll. Controversial in it’s approach that Jesus was “just a man.” Tim Rice’s lyrics bind this narrative together with such clarity and force that you’d think he’d located a Lost Scroll as a guide to chronicle the true story of Jesus’ last days. What’s the Buzz and Yvonne Elliman singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him are just two of the many standout tracks on what was originally a double LP release. Great songs, coherent story line, well recorded: a masterpiece in concept and execution (no pun intended.)
“ One thing to say for him, Jesus is cool.” – Caiaphus the High Priest

2.) The Who – Quadrophenia / 1973
A turbulent look at a week in the life of Jimmy the Mod, a U.K. teen circa 1964. While we Yankees may not totally understand the Mod vs. Rocker battles in mid 60’s England, the themes of despair, loneliness, and redemption are universal to any time period. Love Reign O’er Me is arguably Townshend and Daltrey’s finest effort ever. The Punk Meets the Godfather, The Real Me, and 5:15 are songs that show The Who flexing their muscles in the streets of Brighton, ready to take on all Rockers. Is Quadrophenia better than Tommy? I think it’s coming of age adolescent story is one which I can relate to more. The great thing about Quadrophenia is that the music will move you, even if the story line doesn’t. Don’t miss the film version, either.

3.) The Who – Tommy / 1969
Rightly praised as an instant classic, Pete Townshend reaches high and (mostly) delivers on the amazing journey of a deaf, dumb and blind boy “Tommy” Walker. The Beatles had taken small steps in turning Pop Music into certifiable Art with Rubber Soul and Revolver. Sgt. Pepper was a big advance, using recording technology to enhance the listening experience, and The LP suddenly was no longer a couple of hit singles with a lot of filler. Tommy was a giant leap forward in taking a complex story line and weaving a musical tale around it. Pete seemed to expound on and slightly alter what the story really meant through the years, but the spiritual essence never changed. This is Townshend’s baby as much as Mrs. Walker’s.

4.) The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow / 1969
Recording started in the summer of 1967 and was finished the following year. The delay in actually releasing the LP until 1969 was a huge factor in it’s getting lost in Tommy’s supernova explosion. The story of Sebastian Sorrow was (supposedly) heard by Pete Townshend. He in turn was influenced by the idea of using a conceptual theme for an entire album. Phil May and band deserve high praise for some excellent tunes like S.F. Sorrow is Born, She Says Good Morning and Balloon Burning. The overall song quality is high, but there are no classics to propel it into the stratosphere. FM radio didn’t grab onto it and make S.F. Sorrow a listening staple, unlike its more famous cousin Tommy. Maybe this should be number one for it’s importance as the first Rock story album. Sebastian will forgive me for putting this in the number four slot.

5.) The Kinks – Arthur / 1969
Ray Davies is a great songwriter who almost seemed destined to meld his keen eye for the workingman with his love of traditional Britain into themed stories. A tale about his sister and brother-in-law’s move to Australia, the poignant songs, celebrating the lost British Empire and its people’s simple lives, are extraordinary. Victoria and Shangri-la are two of Davies’ finest tunes in a career that has literally scores of them to choose from. Hard rocking tracks (like Brainwashed) compete with emotional remembrances of personal sacrifice (Some Mother’s Son) to create a varied and rich narrative that will have you brewing a pot of tea while wishing you had a Union Jack wrapped around your shoulders, as you listen to this beautiful creation.

6.) The Kinks – Village Green Preservation Society / 1968
A collection of songs whose central theme is loosely based on the life and people of a small English village, meanwhile showing how quickly the world has changed (mostly for the worse): this is possibly the best collection of songs of any concept LP in my top ten. Tracks like Animal Farm, Picture Book, Big Sky and The Village Green Preservation Society are all gems in their own right. The only thing holding back this effort from a higher position is that there is not a hard connecting story to these songs- some were written independently of each other, and later grouped together due to their neighborly connection to Old England and the everyday people who made it great- a small quibble about a wonderful basket of tunes that never grows old.

7.) Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick / 1972
One song (43 minutes long) that was written as a send up of all concept albums: Ian Anderson was exasperated by all the critics who bashed Tull’s previous release Aqualung for being too highbrow and conceptual for a rock band. He vowed to give them a pompous themed concept LP that they would really dislike. Somehow, Thick As A Brick found its way to number 1 in the U.S. charts. The most prog-rock sounding of all Tull albums up to that time, the centerpiece of the story is a poem written by a fictional 13 year-old. The biting and sarcastic lyrics and humor of Ian Anderson became a top selling response to the charges of “Jethro Dull.”

8.) David Bowie – Outside / 1995
Based on Bowie’s short story The Nathan Adler Diaries, this is a futuristic, Bladerunner-meets-Nine Inch Nails concept that is startling in it’s originality. Nathan Adler has a Government job to decide what is Art and what’s trash. Throw in a good murder mystery, coupled with a surreal Dali- Enoesque production, and you wind up with an unqualified success. No one on this list took a bigger chance than Bowie with this release. If the Tin Machine project turned off the Ziggy Stardust/Thin White Duke crowd, Outside absolutely buried Bowie’s past. The musical risk-taking alone should have pushed this much higher in the rankings, but some of Townshend’s and Davies’ songs are just too strong to overcome. Jagger, Page & Plant, and all the other groups stuck dishing out the same meal should take note. But they won’t. This is my favorite concept release of the last 30 years; the future is for those who can hear it.

9.) Lou Reed – Berlin / 1973
Lester Bangs called this the most depressing record ever made. I don’t disagree, but personally think it’s more dark and heavy than depressing. Lou Reed takes a detour from his walk on the wild side and writes about a relationship that breaks down due to drugs and suicidal tendencies. This record has great sound and arrangements from Alice Cooper producer Bob Ezrin. Berlin is a concept LP that I can’t play very often, but when I do, the beauty of it is unrivaled by anything that Lou Reed has ever written. I wouldn’t argue if someone called this their favorite record ever, but its black hole gravity makes me hesitate to put it higher on my list. I’m afraid that somehow while listening to it, I’ll enter into the same downward spiral with no escape possible.

10.) The Kinks – Soap Opera / 1975
Is there a Kinks bias on this list? Yes, because Raymond Douglas Davies is the greatest rock conceptual songwriter of all time. I could easily have put in the number ten position Muswell Hillbillies, Lola Vs Powerman And The Money-go-round, Preservation Act 1 and 2, or Schoolboys In Disgrace. I chose Soap Opera because of its simple tale that resonates so well with today’s celebrity-fixated culture. The story revolves around Norman, a common man who wants to be rock star in order to escape his mundane world. Ray Davies has always been in tune with everyday feelings and emotions. Is there a more real story than the idea that we all want to be famous? Soap Opera accurately foreshadows the beginning of the modern celebrity cult that we find so fascinating today. I envision a slightly revised Broadway show with Norman now playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band 2 on his play station as he rules the universe. With Ray Davies as the writer, everybody’s a star.

Honorable Mention:

You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown
Gong- Radio Gnome Trilogy
Pink Floyd- The Wall
Frank Zappa- Joe’s Garage
Spock’s Beard- Snow
Genesis- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
-Jim Webb

Some might argue that a few of my titles don't meet the minimum requirements of 'concept album.' I conclude that a concept can be dictated by the overall mood of the recording, particularly one that is not reflected elsewhere in the artist's body of work. Peculiarly, a good many of these records have an autumnal flavor, including the "rock opera" selections. Here's my list:

1. Forever Changes- Love (1967)
"We're all normal and we want our freedom"- Arthur Lee's eulogy to Los Angeles. Also his self-requiem: "When I did that album, I thought I was going to die at that particular time, so those were my last words."

2. Muswell Hillbillies- The Kinks (1971)
Life in the welfare state, North London (and Stereo Review's Album Of The Year- 1972): "Gotta stand and face it- life is so complicated."

3. The Who Sell Out (1967)
LP as pirate radio broadcast, but they drop the concept at the beginning of side two. Perfect!

4. Geek The Girl- Lisa Germano (1994)
Need to clear the room? Put this on. You'll probably leave, too. Lisa Germano: "Hi. This is the story of geek the girl, a girl who is confused about how to be sexual and cool in the world but finds out she isn't cool and gets constantly taken advantage of sexually, gets kind of sick and enjoys giving up but at the end still tries to believe in something beautiful and dreams of still loving a man in hopes that he can save her from her shit life.........ha ha ha, what a geek!"

5. Pet Sounds- The Beach Boys (1966)
Mike Love didn't 'get’ it': what better endorsement do you need??

6. Histoire de Melody Nelson- Serge Gainsbourg (1971)
Melody's riding a bicycle when Serge hits her with his Rolls. Age-gap romance ensues, only to end tragically when the cargo plane goes down over New Guinea. Don't ask.

7. Pink Flag- Wire (1977)
Media-informed Art Punk tour de force: 21 songs in 35 minutes 37 seconds that work best when experienced as a whole.

8. It Falleth Like The Gentle Rain From Heaven-The Mekons Story (1982)
A collection of outtakes, live tracks, b-sides, etc.: what ties it all together is David Spencer's (who?) drunken - on cider, to be precise- narration. Mine's another!

9. Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake- The Small Faces (1968)
"Are you all seated comfortable, too square on your botty? Then I'll begin..." Here the 'concept' starts on side two (see Sell Out), being the story of Happiness Stan's 'trip' to find the missing half of the moon. Hmm.

10. Odessey and Oracle- The Zombies (1968)
An Invasion-era beat group on the brink of disbandment give it one more try, and create a pop marvel. The theme, whether intended or not, alternates between desire/longing and resignation/acceptance. Seems to summarize The Zombies own career, sadly.


David Bowie- Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars
The Flaming Lips- The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
Horslips- The Man Who Built America
The Jam- Setting Sons
The Kinks- VGPS*, Face To Face, Arthur
The Pretty Things- SF Sorrow
Lou Reed- Berlin
Spirit- Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
The Who- Quadrophenia, Tommy

(*Village Green Preservation Society is truly my number one, but since it made your list, I left it off.)
-Michael Mooney

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

George Harrison; Art of Flying

The Secret Museum
By Jim Webb and Michael Mooney

George Harrison
I was listening to “The Radha Krishna Temple” CD recently and started to dig deeper into George Harrison’s involvement with the Hare Krishna movement in the late ’60s and ’70s. George produced and played harmonium on “The Hare Krishna Mantra” single, which was released in August of 1969 on Apple Records, and it quickly went to No. 12 in the U.K and No. 1 in Germany & Czechoslovakia. “Govinda” was the second single released in March of 1970 and it peaked at no. 23 on the British singles charts. George has said that watching the Hare Krishna devotees sing on the UK TV show Top of The Pops 40 years ago was one of the greatest thrills of his life. As big as The Beatles were, George Harrison’s role in helping The Pepsi Generation discover the sacred vibrations and religion of ancient India might be a bigger accomplishment than anything he ever recorded with The Fab Four. To all of the smart asses who want to know why, if Krishna (God) is so powerful, his devotees didn’t always have a no. 1 hit in every country—that’s just another mystery you can ask The Big Man (or gasp, Woman) about when you finally leave the material world. Chant and be happy.

George’s Spiritual Timeline:
- Born February 25, 1943 in Liverpool England
- First Holy Communion, age 11, 1954 (Anglican father/Roman Catholic mother)
- Spring 1965 takes LSD for first time
- June 1965 meets Indian musician Ravi Shankar in London
- October 1965 plays sitar for first time on Beatles record (“Norwegian Wood”)
- September 1966 visits India/Kashmir with Ravi
- July 1967 sings Hare Krishna Mantra for first time on holiday in Greece
- August 1967 meets Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
- February 1968, travels with Beatles to Rishikesh, India, for retreat with Maharishi
- December 1968 meets Hare Krishna devotees for first time
- August 1969 Apple releases “Hare Krishna Mantra” single, produced by George
- September 1969 meets Swami Prahbhupada, head of Hare Krishna movement
- March 1970 records “Govinda” single with devotees of The Radha Krishna Temple
- October 1970 finishes recording for his “All Things Must Pass” LP
- January 1971 “My Sweet Lord” single no. 1 around world with Hare Krishna refrain
- May 1971 “The Radha Krishna Temple” LP released, produced by George
- August 1971 organizes/performs at The Concert for Bangladesh in N.Y.C.
- March 1973 purchases Tudor Manor on 70 acres outside London for Krishna Temple
- February 1974 visits Krishna’s birthplace in Vrindavan, India
- November 1977 Swami Prahbhupada dies, Hare Krishna Movement struggles
- December 1980 John Lennon killed, George retreats to his Friar Park estate
- April 1996 travels to Vrindavan, India
- August 1997 undergoes surgery for throat cancer
- December 1999, attacked/stabbed repeatedly at his home outside London by intruder
- September 2000 makes trip to India
- March 2001 cancer spreads to lungs
- Spring 2001 visits India for last time to bathe in Ganges River
- November 29, 2001 dies at a friend’s home in Beverly Hills, California
- George’s body is cremated and his ashes are rumored to be scattered in the sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers of India

“I, Me, Mine” by George Harrison
“Here Comes The Sun” by Joshua M. Greene
-Jim Webb

Art Of Flying
Interview: David Costanza, Anne Speroni, and Peter Halter

(For Anne and David): Your press kit states that you were both participants in the 1980s Los Angeles Free Rock/improv scene through your membership in The Whitefronts (I presume this was during the Downtown/loft heyday, e.g. Blue Daisies, Party Boys, Savage Republic, etc., so correct me if I'm wrong.) Tell me about those times, the San Francisco connection and what led you here. Also, a word or two about The Lords of Howling.

Anne: ’80s-’90s- When we started out in the ’80s it was kind of the heyday of college rock and we were pretty tuned into that stuff, though I don't remember being crazy into any one thing. The Minutemen were a big inspiration, and older stuff like Velvet Underground, but we were also exploring stuff like Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor. We moved away from song and form for a while and connected with some free improv players from the Boulder/Denver area. That was when we started playing with Lords of Howling, a move back into song and deeper into language, and met Peter, our drummer, who we have been playing with since then.

David: I think the L.A. part is a bit over-stated—we once stopped at the MUSIC MACHINE in Santa Monica or West Hollywood & saw five bands play—"blood on the saddle” was one & a band I forget the name of that had Hilel Slovak & Flea & would be later called “red-hot-chile-peppers” & of course the MINUTEMEN which would be the reason we were there—BUT, basically—the band lived in Santa Barbara which isn't as cool—we played parties in people's little apartments & we tried to play 'second-wave' ska like the selector & english beat—these parties deepened our love for improvisation—as we just kept the few songs we knew going & going & going until the keg ran out—later we would hear the MINUTEMEN & meat puppets & husker DU & mixed that into the ska bit & the improv bit—the whitefronts ended up in San Francisco—which was very cool musically & had 4 guitarists & 2 bass players & really started making some NOISE & having fun—& weren't really appreciated all that much—we hooked up with Camper van beethoven & played shows with them & then turned down an offer for a record on their pitch-a-tent/rough-trade label & high-tailed it for the land of enchantment—I toured with camper once as a trumpet player in 1986 or thereabouts & played on their first album for VIRGIN “our beloved revolutionary sweetheart” & made a little $$$dough which I really thought was cool. the guy from savage republic—Bruce Licher—had a label & a letter-press & put out a bunch of beautiful albums—camper's first being one of them—that letter-press stuff was a big influence—-'let's move out to new mexico & get a letter press & record our own albums & release them'—lots to learn—ThOUGH the LIGHT seem SMALL is AoF's 6th CD—we did get to do an album—GALALA—that was on a label in SF & was all beautiful & letter-pressed by our friend Shane De Leon in Portland, OR.

The Lords of Howling started around 1990 after the demise of the whitefronts—we had a crazy great time & recorded 12 cassettes at the barn & one CD—toured the NorthWest maybe five or six times & really learned—again—how to play—we made some beautiful music & I got to be around an amazing & scary-prolific songwriter—which influences me to this day.

Your songs seem particularly well suited to this region. Is that by design? To what extent, if any, does the physical environment of Northern New Mexico, specifically your neck of the woods, influence the music you create?

Anne: PLACE, well, I'm sure it plays heavily into our writing and sound. All that vastness and beauty, and even the isolation, in terms of not really being part of something scene-wise certainly feels inspiring. The intention or design was not necessarily an artistic one, but rather a lifestyle choice. Choosing to live in a place where the music we created was rarely heard by anyone, was obviously not very wise in a career sense, but brilliant in the sense that we have been able to continue to go deeper into the realms that really interest us, and in turn, the music has kept us well fed spiritually and artistically for all these years and hopefully many more. I just look at it as the soundtrack to our lives.
David: I like to mention places/people/things around me in a song—when I can—I don't know how this town affects the music—other than being so far from a 'current' music scene—it allows us to breathe & make music & let it sound like whatever the song wants to sound like—we've been making music in the BARN for over 20 years—all kinds of music—the 'marching band' kind of stuff & the free-improv stuff & the folky song singing kind of stuff—the People central to Art Of Flying & the friends around them—they make as much music as they can—always working towards some sort of beauty & playfulness—never mentioning the words 'genre' & 'style.'

CD Baby recommends your music to fans of Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and Tom Waits. However, your latest release, thOUGH the Light seem SMALL (am I getting the cases correct here?), reveals other, less-obvious influences. I'll go out on a limb and suggest Syd Barrett, early Milhaud, Peter Perrett, Dr. Strangely Strange, Van Dyke Parks and The Plugz. How wrong am I?

David: I don't know any of those bands except Syd Barrett that I listened to maybe twice—I wasn't that into him—I might listen to it again if an LP was lying around the studio—I listed a bunch of influences above—& they were really LIVE stuff influences—watching D. Boon (minutemen) sing & jump up & down—just watching people play—in real time—like—shit—how do they play & sing at the same time—on record I listened to DESIRE by Bobby D a thousand times—& slow train coming—& Peter Tosh & Richard & Linda Thompson & rolling stones—Art Ensemble of Chicago & Cecil Taylor—monk, mingus & the Clash- tons of Glenn Gould bach piano solo stuff- & now I'm listening to the bach cello stuff & a little beethoven violin/piano sonatas—I listened to ziggy stardust (bowie) a bunch before making the last CD hoping that would leak in a bit—

Anne: I don't know about influences really. I love Dylan. I like Nick Drake. I like Tom Waits. Dylan is always on the top of my list. The other stuff I’m not that familiar with, Syd Barrett a little.

What’s your opinion of the local music scene?

David: My favorite parts of the 'music seen' around here are: the people I get to play music with; the seco pearl; KUNM free-form & my recording studio up in Questa: the BARN.

Anne: I love Two Ton Strap

(For Peter Halter): Sir, explain yourself.

Peter: At age 13 I watched Count Basie turn a high school auditorium into a hip joint. The drummer Sonny Payne became my idol, with his driving laid back beat. Since elementary school I played the drums and my brother played the trumpet. We'd listen to albums along with my father, a lover of jazz. Rock and roll (from my older sisters) and jazz were my first musical influences, which led to free jazz, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler and Art Ensemble of Chicago. Listening to free jazz led to Fred Frith, John Zorn and avant-garde music, which expanded to more obscure groups. Then working with community radio, KGNU in Boulder opened me to all musical genres. But, the most fulfilling influence is playing music, the language of music and camaraderie. Currently, I play with Art of Flying and The Marching Band. In the past I've played with Frio (Front Range Improv Orchestra), Oriental Surfer Head and The Lords of Howling.

You are in the unique position of owning your own analog studio. Setting aside my envy for a moment, doesn't that particular method of recording require a degree of preparedness and/or patience beyond what's normally expected of a 21st century Rock group?

Anne: Having our own studio (Dave's studio) has always been our saving grace. We've never had to work with the pressure of the clock ticking away. Though there have been numerous other technical challenges which continue to try our patience, we all have a good sense of humor about it. The Barn (the studio) has been as much a part of our process as anything else, and for me, it doesn't ever get any better than playing there. I enjoy going out and playing for other people to a certain extent, but really, it's all there, all the feedback I need is in the energy of that room that has accumulated over the years.

David: pATIENCe is (sometimes) ALL there is ... well ... there IS more ... but how to see IT without patience?
-when I returned to the BARN in 2006 the first thing I put in the (out of) control room was a cast-iron BuddhA I got at a flea-market. "what do you have to teach me, mr. Buddha?" I asked. "PATIENCE." he replied—"GREAT!" I said, "I'll be here 'til 4:0-clock!"—then I bought the old QUAD EIGHT conSOUL...
It took me two years of wiring & crying to get a sound to come out of the new (old) thing; another year before we finished the first record: thOUGH the LIGHT seem SMALL ... patience—yes—I am beginning to understand ... ALL during that time I was writing the songs—my impatience being slowly peeled off of me like an old skin ... no more use for it ... impatience ...
Chris the Beautiful said: "no one can stop us from making records ... not even by not listening to them."
I guess I'm not interested in what is expected from a 21st century rock group—how about a 19th century rock group? Herman Melville on guitar. Walt Whitman on turn-tables. Emily Dickinson on bass. Abe Lincoln on drums.

thOUGH the Light seem SMALL is truly an exceptional record. Why are your local appearances so infrequent?

Anne: Where would we play??????????

David: right now—other than the Seco Pearl—there isn't any place in town that's a very good fit for us—we love to play LIVE—& we play quite a bit at the BARN—our musical 'bat-cave' so-to-speak—going out 'into the world' needs to be something special—

Choose one: Melville or Hawthorne?

Anne: Hawthorne

David: Melville … and even if it isn't a photo-finish- I would have trouble saying sayanara to all Hawthorne forever ... (I've only read the Scarlett Letter—& it was so great—I couldn't put it down—unlike theWHALE which I've put down maybe 25 times—maybe only 10 ... BUT, it seems like 100!) like BOWie—Hawthorne reached th'MILLION-which I have great respect for ... the title: ThOUGH the LIGHT seem SMALL- is either hawthorne or Melville—I took a bunch of notes a few winters back & I no longer remember which book it came from—the chorus from 'the LOVE song for LARRY YES' is definitely Moby Dick—

You've got some European shows set for late spring. What comes after?

David: we're booking an Italian tour right now—15 shows & a festival—we're rehearsing a bunch for it—we have a show in Albuquerque at a place called the KOSMOS April 30th then May 1st at SHADOWs w/ Manby's Head & then May 15th at Seco Pearl—those 3 shows should get us warmed up for Italy—I want to head back to the NorthWest in the fall—in between I want to continue on this new record we started—we have a bunch of stuff on tape—some old methods of making sounds & layering it & seeing where it goes & some folk songs just sung on to the tape wondering if something/anything is needed to be added to it—we have SUANFEST #11 this summer—lots of music going on.

Anne: I am dying to get back in the studio. There is never any shortage of material, and after the last session of recording we did, which was a bit of a departure, i'm really anxious to get into a different space and experiment a bit more, leave space for some more unknown elements to emerge.

Art Of Flying releases can be obtained at their performances, and website:
Also, here:
thOUGH the LIGHT seem SMALL is available locally at Taosound.
Art of Flying calendar:
April 30 @ The Kosmos, 1715 5th Street NW, Albuquerque
May 1 @ Shadows Lounge & Grille 330A Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos
May 15 @ Seco Pearl, 590 Hondo-Seco Road, Arroyo Seco
-Michael Mooney

Sunday, April 11, 2010

From the archives: Rock Guitar Blowout

Today’s assignment: The epitome of kick-ass rock. Uptempo guitar riff blowouts, heavy and smokin': the MOTHER list of all foot stompin' rock tunes that we were raised on.

Unfortunately, heavy and smokin’ ain’t always uptempo. In fact, because it’s so heavy, it’s frequently very slow, and unable to stomp it’s feet at all. Here’s a random sampling:

Love- Seven and Seven is (Da Capo LP- 1967, single- 1966)
Proto-something or other and the baddest dude on the Sunset Strip.
Oop-bip-bip, oop-bip-bip, YEAH!

MC5- Looking At You (single- 1968)
Frantic testimony from Brother Tyner over a furious fuzzy squall recorded on a Radio Shack condenser mic at the far end of the airplane hangar.

Beatles- I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (Abbey Road LP- 1969)
Shit. Judging by this monster track, if The Beatles had stuck around, every proggy girl’s blouse would have their clocks cleaned REAL quick. So long, ELP!

Randy Holden- Guitar Song (Population II- 1969 LP)Like it says: just Randy, a drummer, sixteen 200-watt Sunn amplifiers, and Dickie Peterson nowhere in sight. Far-out.

Free- All Right Now (Fire and Water LP- 1970, single- 1970)
Black Sabbath- Paranoid (Paranoid LP- 1970)
1970: being a good year for the chance indelible guitar figure (see below).

Fleetwood Mac- The Green Manalishi (single- 1970)
Peter Green didn’t want the money or fame, and gave us this instead (see The Clash: Jail Guitar Doors). Thanks, Pete!

Sir Lord Baltimore- Hell Hound (Kingdom Come LP- 1970)
Slippery, choppy- how can that be? And it feels like this: “Woo-muhn is uh hal-hown-duh, you know I got the fee-vuh”!

Chicago- 25 or 6 to 4 (Chicago LP- 1970)
The fastest gun in the (Mid-) West (sorry, Ted) versus Chicago’s horn section, and wastes them cold (careful with that pistol, Terry)

The Stooges- T.V. Eye (Funhouse LP- 1970)
Ron Asheton finds a chord sequence he can almost master, repeats till he needs to use the bathroom halfway through, but returns in time to remember where he left off. A Rock masterpiece is born. I’m kidding.

Groundhogs- Cherry Red (Split LP- 1971)
Spartan power-rock. One tap of the cowbell (rock percussion’s most effective weapon) and TS McPhee’s greatest distillation of Heavy Blues is off and running with dynamics galore. Feverish.

Focus- Hocus Pocus (Moving Waves LP- 1971, single- 1973)
Alternating between wickedly fluid guitar turns by Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer’s keys, flute, and truly bizarre gnomic vocalizing, plus an ace rhythm section, this bears no resemblance to anything else from these Dutch Prog masters. The single edit belatedly hit the US Top Ten in ’73. So someone bought it. Now fess up.

Deep Purple- Highway Star (Made In Japan LP- 1972)
I chose this over the studio version (Machine Head) simply because it’s more muscular and loosey-goosey. Ian Gillan sounds like he knows he’s the luckiest man in the world. See Amboy Dukes (below).

Alice Cooper- School’s Out (School’s Out LP- 1972, single- 1972)
An anthem to those of us leaving life-phase one (8th grade/Junior High), while assuming things would improve for phase two (it didn’t). Also, Hard Rock was becoming more rare on AM radio that summer. Need a reminder? Here’s the Billboard Top Ten from August 5, 1972:
1. Alone Again (Naturally)- See?
2. Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)- I do like this one, though. A LOT.
3. If Loving You Is Wrong…
4. Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast- I said SEE?
5. Too Late To Turn Back Now
6. Where Is The Love
7. School’s Out
8. How Do You Do- Man, this one didn’t waste ANY time on its trip to History’s dustbin.
9. Long Cool Woman- Fake CCR (doesn’t count).
10. Layla- And neither does this.

From Wikipedia: Cooper has said he was inspired to write the song when answering the question, "What's the greatest three minutes of your life?", Cooper said: "There's two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you're just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you're sitting there and it's like a slow fuse burning. I said, 'If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it's going to be so big.'"

Blue Oyster Cult- The Red and The Black (Tyranny and Mutation LP- 1973)

They get their man in the end: hyper riff-o-rama, tight as a bull’s arse, but it ain’t no sheep (it’s Buck)

Amboy Dukes- Pony Express (Call Of The Wild LP- 1973)
Most anything from Nugent is going to have a killer riff. This album is full of them (and THIS one happens to be borrowed from Highway Star)

The Troggs- Strange Movies (single- 1973)
Reg Presley encounters porn and (shock!) approves, while minimalist guitar master Chris Britton riffs on Joe Meek’s staircase, and Ronnie Bond thumps between pulls on the jug. A Rock masterpiece is born. No kidding.

ZZ Top- Tush (Fandango LP- 1975)
This one reached the Top Twenty in the sweltering summer of 1975, but in Philly I’ll bet it went way higher than that. Smart and ballsy, just the right length (2:14), and loud enough to drown out Jive Talkin’ playing on that dude’s transistor over there.

Television- Friction (Marquee Moon LP- 1977)
Tense and slashing raga-punk rave-up stretched to the breaking point.

Buzzcocks- Fiction Romance (Another Music In A Different Kitchen LP- 1978)
Why do people find the Buzzcocks wimpy? This driving, angular dual-lead workout starts Motorik, then careens all over the M1 before missing the J42 interchange.

Black Flag- Rise Above (Damaged LP- 1981)
I wasn’t thinking of including anything more recent than the 1970s here, but I just counted 19 songs on the list, needed 20, and this one came immediately to mind. A furious, funny anthem from an adult record made especially for kids, or School’s Out for Gen X tykes.
-Michael Mooney

After mulling it over I pretty much knew where I was headed, but used a couple of Google searches after the fact to see if I forgot something important. The searches were ultimately weak and pathetic (that's why we are doing this damn guide). The only song found that made me think twice was Ram Jam - Black Betty. I concluded that if I didn't think of Black Betty originally, it must not be in my bonecrushing best of pile. Maybe this should've been split into separate lists for the 60's/70's/80's. The 70's obviously dominated my list; some might say it shows my bias from early listening habits. I simply think that the guitar was king in the 70's and the producers made sure it was up front in the mix.

1.) The Kinks - You Really Got Me - Dave Davies bludgeons the world. Bonus points that it's from 1964,and such a brutal riff that was copied and slightly varied into so many other classics that it's rightful influence can't be denied.

2.) MC5- Kick Out The Jams - I feel like I'm at the 1968 Chicago riots.

3.) Mountain - Mississippi Queen - The Great Fatsby's finest hour.

4.) Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild - The most perfect match of music to lyrics in the history of the planet.

5.) Led Zeppelin - Communication Breakdown - Page stole Whole Lotta Love from Willie Dixon; at least here I don't know who he nicked it from (I still love the thieving bastard).

6.) ZZ Top - Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers - I'm dreaming of an ice cold Lone Star

7.) Deep Purple - Burn - Spinal Tap idiots will pick Smoke On The Water or Highway Star (nota bene: I picked Highway Star!- mm). Ian Gillan was at his best as Jesus. A room full of apes could've come up with Smoke On The Water (some say did). Burn does sound like a witch is being burned at the stake, and has the added bonus of Ian Paice's finest drum track ever.

8.) Johnny Winter - Still Alive And Well - The albino is back with a vengeance.

9.) Robin Trower - Day of the Eagle - A 70's guitar rock classic. Robin never topped Bridge of Sighs.

10.) The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog - This is so primitive I almost left it off, but the Darwinian connection between animals and certain rock musicians was too great to pass up.

11.) The Clash - Complete Control - A true buzz saw riff.

12.) Black Sabbath - Paranoid - A lot to choose from with these guys.

13.) Blue Oyster Cult - Hot Rails to Hell - Buck Dharma has to be on the list somewhere.

14.) Focus - Hocus Pocus - A ferocious riff, it dropped down because of the yodeling.

15.) Guns & Roses - Welcome To The Jungle - I hate to put this on because Axl is such an ass, but this is more about Slash.

16.) Sex Pistols- Anarchy in U.K. And to think no one at first believed they were playing their own instruments.

17.) Cactus - The Swim - Blistering.

18.) Ted Nugent - Great White Buffalo - Michigan is well represented in the top 20

19.) Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready - A live staple of the band.

20.) N.Y. Dolls - Puss N' Boots - Johnny Thunders fat riff rounds out the list.

Honorable Mention:

Aeroshite- Train Kept A Rollin', Black Flag- Six Pack, Blue Cheer - Summertime Blues, Foghat- Honey Hush, Guess Who- American Woman, Rory Gallagher- Shin Kicker, Montrose- Space Station No. 5, Nazareth- Razamanazz, Romantics- What I Like About You, Stiff Little Fingers- Suspect Device, Undertones- You’ve Got My Number .
-Jim Webb

Sunday, April 4, 2010

From The Archives: The Clash

From Notting Hill to the Five Points Riot

The Clash: The Clash

I don't know why this record (UK edition) did not immediately resonate with me when I first heard it in Jim's room that Year Zero summer- too dole-queue English in outlook? Too harsh and trebly? Not enough hooks? Was it Joe Strummer's one-dimensional croak? Or a message I just wasn't ready to hear? It’s difficult to say. As a more-typical-than-I'd-hoped-to-be 19 year-old barely coping in the Teenage Wasteland of suburban Philadelphia, I certainly had enough distractions to keep my increasingly short attention span occupied. In any event, after several spins of Jim's copy (apparently it worked for him), I decided to give a pass on The Clash. But when CBS released a re-sequenced domestic version two years later (replacing four original songs with seven non-lp single tracks), I bought it (in tandem with Give 'Em Enough Rope), and suddenly everything clicked. THIS was MY music.

By the summer of 1979, I'd spent a few miserable post-high school years living the very things the Clash sang about- being bored, working a series of go-nowhere jobs, loving rock 'n' roll, feeling alienated, getting stoned, lacking social status, and (most-profoundly) jail guitar doors- just like, except for that last one, several million other dumb American kids (so why were they all listening to Toto, Benatar and Breakfast In America and not THIS?). The contrast to Give 'Em Enough Rope (released six months prior) was extreme, and not just because of Sandy Pearlman's big and slick production (someday we'll need to take a closer look at that one; it definitely isn’t the Sophomore Slump). A comparison of the two puts the former into perspective, but requires it's own juxtaposition with the original UK release.

Stated simply, I didn't realize what I was missing. While the US version is the meatier prospect, song for song, and displays to fuller effect the humanity, humor and reach of the band (adding the excellent- and free- bonus single, it sets the stage for London Calling), The UK edition is the one for me. There's an immediacy here that is unparalleled in the annals of Rock, a low-fi fury of tightly wound working-class frustration, sulphate-driven riffing (Mick Jones- guitar HERO), and the rabid bark of THE quintessential acquired taste in Rock vocals. The Clash is an attestation to the disaffected, a permission slip to act up (which I took literally for the next twenty years) and ask questions (ditto- plus ten). And the hooks were there all along. When I listen to this record now, I can see the boy who became the man, and hear the voice of Strummer reminding that boy that he is not alone.
-Michael Mooney

I bought the White Riot 45 at Plastic Fantastic in Bryn Mawr, Pa. It sounded like an ambulance racing by at 90 miles an hour, sirens wailing. The power and fury were extraordinary. The Ramones had led the way, and The Damned's New Rose was one hot track, but The Clash were serious from start to finish, and were on the Front Line. Listening to the first Clash LP was like a radio transmission from Mars that suddenly came blasting through my stereo speakers. Certain words and phrases jumped out of the distortion... “I'm So Bored With The USA”, “Career Opportunities, the ones that never knock”, “We come from Garageland”, “Hate and War- the only things we got today”, “London’s Burning with boredom now”, “Monday’s coming like a jail on wheels”…

It felt like a nuclear blast when you consider the weak crap Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Frampton were pushing. This wasn't just a music group; it was the complete package. Clothes, style, music, political beliefs all rolled up inside that ambulance heading past your house at breakneck speed with the windows rolled down, flames and massive sound pouring out. The raw power and style of Punk was an earthquake that forced major changes in our lives. Mike and I left for London Town on October 31, 1977. Nothing could stop us from being part of that scene.

December 13, 1977, Rainbow Theater, Finsbury Park, North London: The Clash, Sham 69, The Valves. The electric jolt of Complete Control short-circuited every brain cell. I had found the actual center of the Universe. “The Only Band That Mattered”- true for a while. No wonder the sheer force of Punk Rock buried all the 70's dinosaur bands like ELP and Yes.

Rest in peace, Joe. Mission accomplished.
-Jim Webb

The Clash: The Clash (Epic UK, 1977; Epic US, 1979)
Site Meter