Archive for May, 2012

For the week of 5/28/2012…

“Steppin’ Out” by Paul Revere & The Raiders

Here are two things to know about Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The first is that while the lead singer was named Mark Lindsay, the keyboardist’s honest-to-God birth name is Paul Revere.

The second is that they were one of the most successful American bands of the 1960s, and possibly the most successful of the ’60s garage rock bands.  But are they given their due?  My mom remembers them as “afternoon TV teeny-boppers,” and according to Australian writer Ian McFarlane, “when the history of American pop and rock music was being examined authoritatively in encyclopaedic tones during the 1970s and early 1980s, Paul Revere & The Raiders were inevitably overlooked” as “their good time style became less fashionable in the late 1960s.”  Nevertheless, he argues, their music was a touchstone in the progression of garage rock towards punk.

One of my ongoing music fixations is tracing the lineage of punk rock, and specifically the line from the blues to punk rock by way of ’50s rhythm-and-blues, ’60s garage rock, and early ’70s proto-punk.  With a song like “Steppin’ Out” – a single from the Raiders’ 1966 album Just Like Us! – I like to think about how the music serves as a link along that chain of development.  Musically, this earlier Raiders song is very much an example of the guitar-and-organ rhythm-and-blues style epitomized by the Animals.  But what really interests me are Lindsay’s snarled vocals, which have all the attitude and punch of similar vocals from contemporaries like Mick Jagger, Eric Burdon, and the guy from the Troggs.  But most interesting of all is the way these vocals point directly to the sneering delivery of Iggy Pop, the singer from the Stooges and one of the progenitors of punk rock.  Now, how about that?


Now that I’ve gotten your attention with that absurdly over-the-top headline…

Stone Temple Pilots’ debut album, Core, was released in September 1992 to much derision; many a grunge fan cried foul over the way the San Diego band shamelessly aped Seattle titans like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains.  (And one of the album’s singles,  “Creep,”  might as well be singer Scott Weiland’s mediocre entry into a Kurt Cobain soundalike contest.)  Whatever the merits of their subsequent work, STP has an indelible scarlet letter on their record because of the way they started out with Core.  They are condemned to be forever remembered as recyclers, imitators, and coattail-riders.

What I’m trying to get at, I suppose, is that no one should be shocked to a discover that an early ’90s STP song has unoriginal elements.  But since I’m writing this post, I’m hoping you’ll be mildly surprised — or at least a little amused — to learn that one of those songs is even more unoriginal than you previously thought.  Specifically, I’m talking about “Sex Type Thing,” the band’s very first single, perhaps most recognizable for its memorable guitar riff.

Yes, it’s a very memorable hook indeed — so memorable, in fact, that I instantly recognized it when I heard in the car this afternoon.  Only one problem:  I wasn’t listening to the Stone Temple Pilots.  Instead, I was listening to the Dictators’ adrenaline-pumping third album, Bloodbrothers, which was released in 1978.  Ross the Boss, their lead guitarist, was playing the riff during the verses of a song called “The Minnesota Strip,” and the rhythm guitar picked it up during Ross’s solo.  Sure, the heavy grunge distortion used in “Sex Type Thing” wasn’t used in the Dictators’ song, and sure, the STP song’s tempo is a bit faster, but the riff is pretty much the same.

Is it a rip-off?  Consider this:  Not only do the songs use the same riff, but both are about the same subject — sexual exploitation.  Then again, one is a Scott Weiland rape fantasy, while the other is just about Handsome Dick Manitoba picking up prostitutes, so… maybe not.

Entirely by coincidence, earlier today, published an article, “7 Famous Musicians Who Stole Some of Their Biggest Hits,” which is about exactly what the title says it’s about.  The writer, Mohammed Shariff, tried to pick out a few songs by each of seven artists — including, among others, the Beatles, Radiohead, the Strokes, and Green Day — and identify earlier songs whose elements were supposedly taken without permission for the later songs.  A couple of Shariff’s examples were correctly identified blatant rip-offs, but he was completely off-base with most of the rest.  While he did a good job of convincing his readership that he didn’t know a thing about chord progressions, he did a poor job of doing what he set out to do — that is, convincing readers that these bands are dirty, rotten music thieves.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering whether I’m taking the same approach to this post as Shariff took to his Cracked article.  Well, I’m not.  I’m not trying to convince you that Scott Weiland, Dean DeLeo, and Eric Kretz are a bunch of dirty, rotten music thieves.  I honestly don’t think that those three were stealing from the Dictators when they wrote “Sex Type Thing.”  Why not?  Well, to be honest, I just don’t think that any of the Stone Temple Pilots had ever listened to the Dictators prior to writing this song.  Even if they did listen to some punk rock while growing up, somehow I don’t think the geniuses who gave us “Wet My Bed” were quite sophisticated enough to “get” the Dictators.

Call it a hunch.


P.S.  The Dictators’ “The Minnesota Strip” is nowhere to be found on YouTube or Vimeo, but you can listen to it on Grooveshark by clicking here.  And below please find the loathsome music video for STP’s “Sex Type Thing.”

Song of the Week Twofer

Well it’s 92 degrees out today with 70% humidity and my motorcycle has a flat tire, which means its time to listen to some music!

Crecendolls – Daft Punk

So, I may kinda like techno now…..a little bit…..

Carolina Drama – The Raconteurs

Granted, I haven’t listened to much Raconteurs at all, but this song sounds like The White Stripes to me and I like it that way. Plus, it tells a story and I’m absolutely a sucker for that.

Also! I’m putting together my first summer playlist of the year right now. Stay tuned!

“Driftwood Heart” by Rain Machine

“Rain Machine” isn’t actually the name of a band; rather, it’s the moniker used by Kyp Malone, one of TV on the Radio’s singers and guitarists, for his obscure 2009 solo album.  If you’ve ever seen TV on the Radio play — live or in a clip on TV or the internet — then Malone is probably most recognizable to you as the one with the big, bushy beard.  If you’ve listened to their music but have never seen a video or picture of them, then you will probably recognize Malone’s voice, at least for his frequent use of his distinctive falsetto.

Malone apparently got the chance to record this solo album after the breakthrough success of TV on the Radio’s 2008 album, Dear Science.  Unfortunately, given the album’s obscurity, it doesn’t look like that gamble paid off for ANTI-, the record label which released Rain Machine.  That’s not surprising; little here is as immediate as the songs on Dear Science.  However, I find that listening patiently and letting these songs develop is very rewarding indeed.

If I had to point to one track that you should listen to even if you don’t listen to the rest of the album, it would be “Driftwood Heart.”  The song opens with the fade-in of a droning accordion, which will provide the base for much of the song; after one minute, it fades out, only to return subtly about halfway through the song, at the crest of the ballad.  (I say “crest” instead of “climax” because I think the latter would imply a melodramatic quality which this peaceful song simply does not possess.)  Also surprisingly subtle are the sleigh bells and claves which arrive towards the end of the track’s first minute to provide the song with some percussion.  The accordion and the percussion contribute to the hypnotic effect of the song, and they are more or less the last instruments to drop out at the end of the song, leaving only the sound of crashing waves.  Much as I appreciate these bookends, this Eastern-tinged acoustic ballad would be wonderful even without them.  Given the heavy use of synthesizers by TVotR, you might be surprised by how beautiful Malone’s guitar and mandolin playing is here.  On top of that, this particular song is, in my opinion, one of Malone’s best vocal performances on record.  And when he does use his falsetto, it fits the song perfectly.

For the week of 5/21/2012…

“Crown of Love” by Arcade Fire

I guess I might as well continue with the “notable bands of the 2000s” theme from the last couple of weeks, huh?  Funeral, the first Arcade Fire album, was released in 2004, and I bought it that year — one of the few wise musical purchases I made during my middle school years.  (If only I could get back the money I spent on those Green Day albums….)  I bought Funeral because it was critically lauded, but I didn’t really appreciate it until a few years later.

In my opinion, each of the three Arcade Fire albums ranks among the greatest albums of the past decade, and Funeral and The Suburbs (their third record) are bona fide masterpieces.  During this rainy week, I’ve had Funeral in my car, and I’m rediscovering it all over again.  It’s still amazing to me just how good each and every track is — beautiful songs, lush arrangements, and an indie, album-oriented sensibility not without an ear for catchy melodies.  Of the album’s ten songs, “Crown of Love,” in particular, is sticking in my head at the moment.  I think that one of the coolest parts of the whole album is how this mournful, midtempo ballad suddenly sparks into a much faster lament, driven by frantic strings and a disco beat underneath Win Butler’s wailing towards the end.  I don’t really understand why it works, but it does.

For the week of 5/14/2012…

“15 Minutes” by The Strokes

First Impressions of Earth, the Strokes’ third album, in some ways is an anomaly in their catalog.  For one thing, it’s twice as long as each of their other albums in terms of run-time, and it’s the only album they’ve released with a full 14 tracks.  But more importantly, it’s the only one of the Strokes’ four albums to be widely panned by music critics.  I, for one, must sharply dissent.  Maybe “Juicebox” wasn’t the best choice for a first single, but damnit, I just don’t understand how there can be so much negativity towards a record with some of the Strokes’ all-time best songs (“Heart in a Cage,” “Vision of Division,” “You Only Live Once”) and a slew of lesser-known gems (“Red Light,” “Electricityscape,” “Fear of Sleep,” and my current song of the week, “15 Minutes”).  It’s not a perfect album by any means, but it’s a monument to the Strokes’ musical creativity and ability.  I get the sense that this album was, by and large, too weird, too experimental, or too different for a lot of fans of Is This It, the band’s blockbuster first album.  Look, I think that Is This It is a great album, but I’m perfectly happy to watch the Strokes expand on and stray from that formula.  In the grand scheme of things, First Impressions of Earth is not really all that experimental or weird.  It’s certainly different from the Strokes’ earlier work, but I personally think that their efforts here resulted in a pretty terrific set of songs, even if a few of the experiments didn’t work out.

Of all the songs on this album, “15 Minutes” is perhaps the weirdest or most experimental of the bunch.  One critic called it “a shambling mess of a ballad that eventually ignites into a rocker, [which] is so odd that it ends up being more surprising than disappointing.”  I don’t think I would be disappointed even if I weren’t surprised by it; besides, like the rest of the album, it gets better with repeated listens.  The “shambling mess of a ballad” part which opens the song brings an exciting revelation:  Julian Casablancas, having ditched the singing-through-a-payphone effect found in his band’s first two albums, stumbles drunkenly into the first verse sounding exactly like Shane McGowan, the singer from the Pogues.  Hilarious.  The lyrics of the song are often opaque and sometimes weird, including one of the stranger couplets to be found in Casablancas’ canon (“I saw worlds, they don’t stop, they’re like us/they go fast, like a sun, that’s been shot”) and an outro which is kind of like a rewrite of the Twelve Days of Christmas, except in reverse order, about music composition instead of Christmas presents, and set to an entirely different tune.

What really makes this track interesting to me is the instrumentation.  It seems like there’s a lot more variety in what the guitars and drums are doing here, compared to poppier, fundamentally simpler songs from earlier Strokes albums.  The “shambling mess of a ballad” part of the song finds Nick Valensi in a series of shimmering loops of guitar.  At 2:10, the song “ignites into a rocker” and the melody from the “it was all a dream…” part of the ballad is re-purposed as a somewhat punchy indie-punk chorus (which brings us the weird couplet mentioned above).  Then, at about 2:39, as Casablancas begins to sing “everybody at the party,” a plunky, Tripping Daisy-esque guitar lick replaces the driving guitar for a bit — maybe my favorite part of the song.  And why don’t we let the drummer have some?  Fab Moretti is a good drummer, but rarely an inventive one.  But in this song, far from being mechanical, he’s doing all kinds of different stuff at different points in the song; it’s a rare example of a Strokes song worth another listen-through just to pay attention what the drums are doing.

To sum up, this is one of the most obscure songs in the Strokes’ studio discography, but it’s a gem which rewards those who listen to it multiple times over.  So, go forth and listen!

You might be familiar with “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two),” a single from De La Soul’s top-notch third album, Buhloone Mindstate.  But what you might not know is that the predecessor whose existence is implied by that song’s title was not recorded by De La Soul.  In fact, Part One was a 1988 track by a different New York hip-hop group entirely, the Ultramagnetic MCs, with whom Kool Keith got his start.

Here’s the Ultramagnetic MCs’ “Ego Trippin'”:

And here’s De La Soul’s “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)” from five years later:

For the week of 5/7/2012…

“Ball & Biscuit” by The White Stripes

With a run-time of 7.5 minutes, this is easily the longest song in the White Stripes’ canon.  Now, when a band does a song this long, it’s generally classified as an “epic.”  That brings along with it certain responsibilities.  Despite its length, the song should make sense as a whole.  It can’t get too repetitive or otherwise boring.  And it probably should be something on the loud side, because 7.5 minutes of quiet music, while perhaps perfectly lovely, will probably put a lot of listeners to sleep.

Fortunately, “Ball and Biscuit” delivers.  It’s a coherent whole; it’s never boring; and it rocks hard and loud.  Although “Seven Nation Army,” “The Hardest Button to Button,” etc. are certainly better known, this is the track that serves as the centerpiece of the Stripes’ landmark album, Elephant.  It’s an electric blues about sex, or drugs, or both – I’m not sure which.  But this is a guitar showcase first and foremost, as Jack White feverishly works through captivating solo after captivating solo, each one full of distorted, overdriven blues licks.  This track defines Jack White as a guitarist, and it’s arguably the White Stripes’ masterpiece.  Recording an epic despite being labeled a “garage rock” band is no small feat.

So, while casually working in the shop last week the guys in charge got into a discussion on their favorite ye olde time spoken word acts, these are the highlights. I like to think that the “singer” from cake grew up listening to these songs.

Detachable Penis – King Missile

Make sure to keep an ear out for the haunting “detachable penis” vamp that goes on throughout this masterpiece

88 Lines About 44 Women – The Nails

I like the minimal instrumentation, also known as some talking, some humming, and a wonderfully 80s synth drum beat.

Take Stuff From Work – King Missile

I was a little bit saddened that I couldn’t find out about a third classic spoken word artist, but whatever, this song is weird as hell too.

For the week of 4/30/2012…

“It Hurts Me Too” by Elmore James

The original version of this song was recorded in 1940 by Tampa Red, but Elmore James recorded the definitive version in 1957; it’s been covered numerous times since then.  It’s not hard to see why James’ version is the definitive one:  It’s easily the best.  While this is certainly a blues song, some of its aspects encourage me to classify this as ’50s R&B, in the same vein as Fats Domino.  In fact, the impassioned vocals here belong more to early ’60s soul than to ’50s blues; those vocals are my favorite part of the song.  Honorable mentions:  the way the guitar kicks in during the chorus after James sings the line “when things go wrong”; the powerful fourth verse, which gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

As mentioned above, this is a cover, albeit one that James took and made his own.  His best known original is probably “The Sky Is Crying.”  James really should be considered one of the titans of ’50-’60s blues, alongside Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and John Lee Hooker.  Unfortunately, he died at the age of 45 in 1963, which prevented him from participating in the late ’60s blues revival that brought immortality to those other famous bluesmen.  That’s not to say that James isn’t remembered as a great; in fact, his legacy as a pioneer of the electric slide guitar lives on.  If I may quote from AllMusic:

“Mississippi born and raised, Elmore James learned his trade in the Delta in the 1930s, emerging in the early 1950s as the godfather of modern electric guitar, and no guitarist who ever plugged an instrument into an amp is free of his influence. Not only did he create the template for electric slide players everywhere, he also reworked his amps until they delivered a raw, overdriven sound that became endemic in pop and rock music a decade later, and no punk band ever sounded more ragged or passionate than Elmore James in full stride.”