Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Donald Fagen's "The Nightfly" is a modern musical masterpiece. It is a quintessential concept album, never wavering from the theme of a teen-aged boy's (and a maladroit jazz geek at that!) fantasies circa 1960. Part autobiographical, the album captures the essence of the late 50's early 60's mixture of cold war paranoia ("New Frontier") and the hope for a better future through science ("I.G.Y".) Also included is an ironic love story set in the last days of Batista's Cuba ("The Goodbye Look") and a portrait of a lonely and sensitive jazz DJ("The Nightfly") who spends the night shift spinning bop records, smoking Chesterfield Kings and waiting for the phone to ring.
The record is perfect from beginning to end, from lyric to melody, and from meticulous yet soulful musicianship to sonic and tonal quality.
To call "Ruby Baby" a remake does a disservice to the work: the original is a piece of coal and Fagen’s take is a finely cut diamond. [I count Dion's version as the original as he had a minor hit with it, but there are some other sides floating around from the era and I don't know which one came first.] Penned by the seminal songwriting team of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller , in the hands of Dion it is a forgettable piece of fluff, catchy but unremarkable. Not so under the deft direction of Donald Fagen and producer Gary Katz. Donald heard a sublime jazz arrangement with a score of subtle chord changes hidden between the cracks of this standard 1-4-5 progression, and he made it sound simple and organic. This is one cool record, and I mean cool in the original jazz context. I never tire of it.
Click here to listen to Donald Fagen’s brilliant interpretation (or re-engineering) of “Ruby Baby.”
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I was 21 in my first all-original band. [That's me front far right with the faux fro.] We called ourselves “Free Trim.” Ironically, the name was not prophetic. We were influenced by Steely Dan and The Beatles, but you'd never know it from this one. Cramps was written by my brother (lead guitar and sometimes keys) and the singer rhythm / guitarist back when they were an acoustic duo in '75.
The lyric tells a true story from the life of their friend “Beauchamp.” (The nickname eventually morphed into “Cramps.”) The “A” section of the song is either a deliberate or accidental rewrite of “California Girls.” I didn’t notice back then, so I never asked. The keyboard player was the most adroit musician in the group. He arranged the track, and if I remember correctly lent a hand with the bass part. I think he noticed the nick from The Beach Boys and ran with it on the intro, mixing it up with some live Lou Reed. We threw everything into this one except for a Cathy Berberian roulade. Once the “B” section kicks in, (the part where our hapless protagonist works up the gumption to approach the barfly) it becomes clear that we had been digging some Joe Jackson as well. (I remember my brother came into rehearsal one night and told the story of how he heard “Sunday Papers” and couldn’t believe that Steve Miller was capable of making such a great record!)
I don't know if you can tell from this recording, but the drummer in The Trim was the shit. There isn't a kick pattern on the planet that he couldn't play. He could find the pocket on a billiard table. He made me sound good.
Over the years this song was reworked in about 4 different ways. This is not the best version, but I think it is the most interesting. It reveals both the band’s ambition and its fatal flaw, which was the fact that we over-arranged our songs to the point of absurdity. Still, we had a lot of fun and I can’t help but wax nostalgic for the days when I honestly believed that I could make it big in music. Check out the little Beatles nod on the outro.
Click here to listen to “Cramps,” recorded live in our rehearsal studio in 1978.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Please Mr. Postman
The very first album I bought with my own money was "The Beatles Second Album." I was in the second grade and I thought that was something. It wasn't really their second album, nor was it even a real album. It was a collection of songs culled from various UK releases, including tracks left off of "With The / Meet The Beatles," some singles, B-Sides and EP's, and even the as yet (in the US) unreleased "A Hard Day's Night."
(Incidentally, I rate "A Hard Day's Night" (UK edition) to be one of the greatest rock records of all time, definitely in my top 4 Beatles albums, and ahead of the much lauded "Revolver." Click here to read Neddie's excellent essay on the subject.)
The record rocks in spite of the fact that it was thrown together by Capitol with no regard to the artists original intentions. I still have it. I drew glasses, mustaches and beards on the fab 4, not knowing that I'd be sorry later. Not that sorry though as it is kind of amusing. There is this one picture of Ringo where I drew a goatee, and I thought it made him look like Maynard G. Krebs.
The Beatles were in a class by themselves in so many respects, including their remakes. They turned other people's songs into their own and made them sound like a Beatle Record.
"Please Mr. Postman" remains one of my favorites, and it reminds me why I count John Lennon as the greatest rock vocalist of all time.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Hey Simon, If You're Lurking...
We are all concerned. You know who I mean by we. I suspect some Christer scared the 'ell(oquence) out of you to the point of severing all your ties. I can understand, because they scare the shit out of me, and I don't share the nerve that you showed, posting whatever the hell you felt like. Believe me, sometimes some of the things you wrote made me a bit uncomfortable myself, but I admired the hell out of you for your honesty, and just accepted you as you were.
Also, I realize that a lot of us have blogger pseudonyms and you don't always know who you are dealing with, so you might suspect a friendly spectre. I know I would, because an anonymous threat can be frightening to the point of paralysis.
If you can, do us a favor, will ya mate? Drop an anonymous comment and tell us you are ok. You can just say something like, "yeah, I'm alright mate," but include a reference that will tip us to the fact that it is really you.
I'm hoping that all is well with you and that you did what you felt you had to do, but are otherwise fine. We miss you, and we care...
Monday, January 15, 2007
I Want You Back
Before Elvis and before Joe Jackson, there was Graham Parker. While he didn’t achieve the same level of fame as the other two, he did make some fine records with his rockin’ band The Rumour, and he did help author and usher-in new-wave music. Many count “Squeezing Out Sparks” (released 1979) as his finest moment, and perhaps one of the greatest rock records of all-time. This track was recorded live around the same time and was included in the radio promo album “Live Sparks.” It has since become available on the CD version of “Squeezing Out Sparks” which includes both the original record and the “Live Sparks” collection.
Let’s listen to Graham Parker & The Rumour's fine remake of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
Damn, but wasn't 1979 (through about '81!) a great time for music? What the hell happened anyway...
Buy it here. (or at your favorite record store!)
Graham Parker's Official Site.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Best Put-Down Ever
Is it a poem? Is it a rant?
It's John Cooper Clarke.
Listen to Tw@.
Like a Night Club in the morning, you’re the bitter end.
Like a recently disinfected shit-house, you’re clean round the bend.
You give me the horrors
too bad to be true
All of my tomorrow’s
are lousy coz of you.
You put the Shat in Shatter
Put the Pain in Spain
Your germs are splattered about
Your face is just a stain
You’re certainly no raver, commonly known as a drag.
Do us all a favour, here... wear this polythene bag.
You’re like a dose of scabies,
I’ve got you under my skin.
You make life a fairy tale... Grimm!
People mention murder, the moment you arrive.
I’d consider killing you if I thought you were alive.
You’ve got this slippery quality,
it makes me think of phlegm,
and a dual personality
I hate both of them.
Your bad breath, vamps disease, destruction, and decay.
Please, please, please, please, take yourself away.
Like a death a birthday party,
you ruin all the fun.
Like a sucked and spat our smartie,
you’re no use to anyone.
Like the shadow of the guillotine
on a dead consumptive’s face.
Speaking as an outsider,
what do you think of the human race
You went to a progressive psychiatrist.
He recommended suicide...
before scratching your bad name off his list,
and pointing the way outside.
You hear laughter breaking through, it makes you want to fart.
You’re heading for a breakdown,
better pull yourself apart.
Your dirty name gets passed about when something goes amiss.
Your attitudes are platitudes,
just make me wanna piss.
What kind of creature bore you
Was is some kind of bat
They can’t find a good word for you,
but I can...
LYRICS © JOHN COOPER CLARKE
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Monday, January 01, 2007
Introducing Remake Mondays
A new year, and a new feature here at The Viscount's. Each Monday (or Sunday or Tuesday!) I am going to post a link to a favorite remake. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for good covers. You know how it is - you already know the song and you like the artist.
I have posted about my love for the Allman Brothers Band a few times, and am still amazed at their unexpected rebirth and return to their roots at the beginning of this century. Derek Trucks some 30 years after Duane Allman's tragic death has handily filled the shoes of the legendary slide/blues guitarist to the point of forcing me to face that he may actually be a better guitarist.* Warren Haynes (no slouch himself on the gitbox) has done a brilliant job on vocals (lead and background) and songwriting. Together they have rescued what had become a band of aging has-beens and revitalized them into the best blues-rock band in the world.
Last week, I was visiting over at BG's place and listened to Van Morrison singing the David Gilmour part of "Comfortably Numb" with Roger Waters and members of The Band, and it reminded me of The Allman Brothers not-often-heard remake of Van's beautiful "Into The Mystic" featuring Warren Haynes on lead vocals and Derek Trucks tearing it up on the slide.
*No doubt he would himself dispute this claim, as would legions of Allman Brothers fans. While Duane Allman actually invented the genre, and while his vision has remained unmatched to his day, as a soloist I judge Derek Trucks to be a virtuoso, on par with the likes of John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. He has taken Duane Allman's sensibilities to new and previously uncharted territories, merging the seminal slide guitarst's style with jazz and eastern melodies and tones.