Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Music Review: The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues

Full article first published as Music Review: The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues on Blogcritics.

Here is a brief excerpt of the review:
But I come here not to damn The Waterboys for their eccentric inconsistencies; rather, I come to praise them for a tremendous album. Fisherman’s Blues (1988) has a sawdust-on-wood-floor, backroom-of-the-pub feel that transcends the dreary 1980s, a droning era of tortured hair and angsty hermaphrodites. In fact, it is an album that defies the soulless in-synth-sibilities of that senseless decade, and draws deeply from the well of roots music with an eclectic mix of inspirations: Irish/Scottish traditional music, country-western, 60s folk, and even some of the grandiose rock sound from This is the Sea. It is an album both out of time with its epoch and timeless in its rustic appeal.

Mike Scott (expanding on the sleeve notes he wrote for the CD remaster of the album) stated, “Fisherman’s Blues was made in 1986-88, a period when third generation rock musicians, having learned their trade listening to 1960s and 70s pop or rock music, and finding themselves remote from the original roots of rock itself, went in search of a deeper resonance, a deeper grounding.” Nowhere is that sentiment better realized than on Fisherman’s Blues, an album steeped in tradition, yet brimming with the vitality of newfound revelation.

Go to Blogcritics for the rest. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

'Tis The Season: Great Christmas & Winter Rock Songs

Living in the frozen wasteland of the Upper Midwest as I do, Christmas and winter are interchangeable; in fact, it is said that Michigan has only two seasons -- winter and construction (ba-dump-bump!). Therefore, it is only natural, from a climatic sense, that I offer as a Yule gift -- to the one or two brave souls who actually read this blog -- a veritable avalanche of seasonal songs and holiday hits for your aural edification.

Of course, in the inimitable manner of the resident Dark Elf, these airs and arrangements are not necessarily your mother's cloying Carols or traditional rock tunes, so you won't see "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Brenda Lee, "Little Saint Nick" by the Beach Boys, "Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney, or "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John on this list, because whenever I hear them my nervous system immediately shuts down and I go into anaphylatic shock due to profanely excessive saccharine overdose (or PESO, the acronym for the dread syndrome I have just scientifically identified).

No, we who live through this bleak season enjoy perhaps a brief interlude of the fabled "Winter Wonderland" scenario (snow just on Christmas day, preferably, and only layering lawns, housetops and evergreens, thank you very much), before the season descends into bitter cold, biting ice and the grayish slush that greets us every dim morn as we haggardly inch our way through turgid traffic jams whilst sliding o'er black ice-slicked roads. Bah, humbug!

And so, in an effort to maintain a merry equilibrium from equinox through solstice, it would do us all well to refrain from excess, noxious holiday cheer and listen to somber songs of sober presentiment as well as darling ditties of dubious delight; thus, of course, keeping in mind that half the world is starving while we gleefully fill our iPods with Santa Clausal frivolity. After all, the birthday we celebrate is not based upon the profligate whims of greedy mass-marketers. There is something a bit more to this day than getting stuff while stuffing ourselves. Thus spake the agnostic who still holds a glimmer of hope for mankind.

Have a happy Christmas and a hopeful, healthy New Year!

A Christmas Song - Jethro Tull
My favorite Christmas song. It has a traditional Old English feel, with welling strings and whispering mandolin (in lieu of lute), but with a decidedly modern moral take on the season ("The Christmas Spirit is not what you drink"). "Hey, Santa, pass us that bottle, will ya?"

7 O'clock News/Silent Night - Simon & Garfunkel
The juxtaposition of the world's greatest carol and the grim recitation of nightly news made this rendition of "Silent Night" a politically potent anti-war, anti-hate, anti-establishment protest song.

Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band
Rousing and endearing, a tearful reminder of the loss of John Lennon, which echoes down the years and still touches some of us today.

Fairytale of New York - The Pogues
Perhaps the greatest Christmas song ever written. The pathos of a broken man reliving better days from a drunk tank on Christmas Eve reminds us that the highest incidence of suicides occur during the Christmas season. Cheers!

Wizards in Winter - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
I can just imagine this guy's electric bill.

Father Christmas - The Kinks
Pre-punk Christmas rock from snarky ol' Ray Davies.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
Bruce is not my favorite, but he knows how get into the Christmas spirit.

Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy - David Bowie & Bing Crosby
The original odd couple, David Bowie and Bing Crosby. Obviously, they didn't discuss Bowie's rampant drug abuse nor Crosby's inveterate alcoholism. Hey, to each his own in regards to holiday cheer.

Winter Wonderland - Eurythmics
Annie Lennox has a wonderful voice.

Christmas at Sea - Sting
If Ridley Scott was to ever cast Gladiator aboard a tall ship on a wintry sea, this song would fit right in. Throw in Orlando Bloom as Balian the Pirate as well, matey.

Wintertime Love - The Doors
Jim Morrison waltzes into winter without a coat, gloves or shoes, and doesn't even notice.

Snowbound - Genesis
Yes, we all prefer Peter Gabriel as opposed to Phil Collins as lead singer for Genesis, but Collins trumps Gabriel in the sentimentality department. Which isn't always a good thing, granted.

New Year's Day - U2
U2 captures the bleakness of New Year's Day separated from loved ones by war and strife, and the hope of returning once again. To the loved ones, not the war.

Hazy Shade of Winter - Simon & Garfunkel
Hey, this is a Bangles song! What do you mean it was originally composed and performed by someone else? As if.

The Coventry Carol - Alison Moyet
A dark rendering of a very dark subject, Herod's slaughter of newborns. Makes you merry, doesn't it?

Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
Elvis was once very charismatic before he became the pill-popping, peanut butter and 'nanner sandwich-eating mockery he later became.

Blue Christmas - Porky Pig
One of the funniest Christmas songs ever recorded. Th-th-th-at's all folks!

Ding Dong, Ding Dong - George Harrison
The silent Beatle makes some noise, and has a lot of fun while ringing in the new.

Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow - Jethro Tull
Another inspired Christmas tune from Ian Anderson and friends.

Girl From the North Country - Bob Dylan
I don't know how long this will be available on YouTube, given Sony's asinine greed, but this is a wonderful winter reverie from a very young Dylan.

California Dreamin' - The Mamas & The Papas
A perfect pour of icy pop into a frosty glass from 'Papa' John Phillips, 'Mama' Cass Elliot & Co.

I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake
A decidedly bitter Christmas present from Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Rather like that same, stale fruitcake that gets passed around every year. Lake, however, triumphs over his own pessimism by song's end with a few words of hope and a magnificent crescendo.

Star of Bethlehem - Neil Young
This isn't really about the star of Bethlehem. In fact, by songs end, I am not even sure what the song is about. But Neil Young and Emmylou Harris make a great team, even if I am unsure what they're talking about.

12 Days of Christmas - Bob & Doug McKenzie
Who says Canadians can't throw a Christmas party? In any case, Bob and Doug McKenzie (SCTV's Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) offer up a Canucklehead parody of the tiresome holiday tradition. From up in the Great White North, eh?

Santa Claus and His Old Lady - Cheech & Chong
Even if you don't smoke pot, this addled epic will have you craving snack foods and giggling uncontrollably by the time it ends. A contact buzz, I suppose.

Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12-24 - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Another house wasting immense amounts of energy just to impress the neighbors. Meanwhile, the North Pole is deluged and poor Santa's workshop is flooded.

Do They Know it's Christmas Time - Band Aid
I think its fun to watch this video just to see how many ex-stars from 1980s have been arrested for engaging in sex acts in public restrooms. Do they have protected sex at all?


Sting: A Winter's Night...Live from Durham Cathedral
If may seem off-putting to hear Sting singing in an 18th century style and sounding very unstingish, but this is a marvelous bit of winter musing recorded live in Northumbria's 10th century Durham Cathedral, with a host of talented musicians and vocalists. By the way, the title of Sting's studio recording of the same material If on a Winter's Night is from an Italo Calvino novel, If On a Winter's Night a Traveller.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album
If ever there was a band that could capture the season and not sound contrived or over-sentimental, it would be Tull. Giving traditional tunes and themes a new lease on life, the band bundles ballads both new and old into an engaging package. My only complaint is that Tull decided to rerecord several songs that were already available on other albums. Unnecessary in my book.

A Winter's Solstice: Windham Hill Artists
Windham Hills has released about a hundred of these themed packages featuring various artists, but the original is still the best, and well worth a listen. Of particular interest are "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", "Greensleeves", "High Plains, "Nollaig", and "Petite Aubade".

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Greatest Live Rock Albums of All Time, Part I

Live albums. Most are unnecessary. Most are not as good as the studio recordings from whence they were spawned. The vast majority feature tepid tracks and vapid vocals shrieking over the hiss of improper arena amplification. Here then are the select few I believe actually enhance or surpass their original rock album sires.

As with other such lists I have endeavored to formulate, these live albums are strictly from the rock genre and not a general overview of live recordings, which would undoubtedly include such standout albums as James Brown's Live at the Apollo, Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison or At San Quentin, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk's Miles and Monk at Newport, or Muddy Waters' Muddy 'Mississippi' Waters Live. I am not here to belabor the point, add erudition to music categories where I lack expertise, or merely act the sycophantic critic, regurgitating the general consensus and dismeboguing a veritable flood of albums that relatively few have heard (or care to listen to, for that matter).

As with previous descents into musical subjectivity, I have a few caveats for the selection process: 1) I omitted live retrospectives such as Bruce Springsteen's Live/1975-85, concentrating on an artist's single performance, or at least performances within the same tour; 2) I didn't choose any recordings from this century, as I like to see how well music wears over time; 3) I referred strictly to the live recordings and not any extra DVD/CD package extravangas, or concert movies, save for the music and not the videos found therein; and 4) I did not include staged events like the stellar Eric Clapton Unplugged or Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special, as they present the artist in the best possible light and under controlled conditions. As Gollum would say, "I like my meat raw and wriggling."

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my selections:

"Live" Full House-- J. Geils Band
Many folks prefer Geils' Blow Your Face Out live album; however, there was something primal brewing on those spring nights in 1972 at Detroit's Cinderella Ballroom, and it spilled out all over everyone's elephant bells. Peter Wolf is a jibbering, jabbering maniac, and the band, led by sterling performances from Magic Dick on the lickin' stick (that would be blues harp in Geils' jargon) and Seth Justman on keyboards, blew the roof off the Cinderella with their rock and soul revue. No seriously, I think the building caught fire and burned down. Or not. In any case, it's not there any more. "First I look at the Purse" and "Looking for a Love" are extraordinary.

Worth the price of admission: "Whammer Jammer" and "Hard Drivin' Man" (the best versions of these from any album).

Made In Japan -- Deep Purple
If ever a band's essence was encapsulated on a single album, that recording would certainly be Made in Japan by Deep Purple. Nearly every cut on this live album is better than the studio versions; in fact, the studio albums sound flat and muffled compared to this. Ritchie Blackmore is ferocious on lead guitar and Ian Gillan screams better than anyone this side of Ozzy Osbourne. Even the 190 minute long "Space Truckin" (I jest, it only seems 190 minutes long -- it's probably 75 minutes long, tops) is monstrously fun. "Strange Kind of Woman", "Sweet Child in Time" and the omnipresent, bludgeoning dinosaur "Smoke on the Water" are all standout tracks. Gillan sums up the performance when he asks a soundman, "Yes, can we have everything louder than everything else?"

Worth the price of admission: "Highway Star" (with its Hall of Fame lead) and "Lazy".

Concert for Bangladesh -- George Harrison & Friends
The first and perhaps greatest charity rock event up until LiveAid. The passion of George Harrison is evident throughout the concert and his performances -- with the timely aid of Ringo, Clapton, Dylan, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, and a stellar back-up band with the likes of Jesse Ed Davis, Don Preston, Klaus Voorman, and members of Badfinger -- are some of the best post-Beatle material of any of the Fab Four. Ravi Shankar's grand performance of "Bangla Dhun" and his quiet eloquence as he spoke of the sadness of his music in relation to the despair of Bangladesh put the whole event in context. While George Harrison's songs like "Something", "Here Comes the Sun", "Wah-Wah", "My Sweet Lord", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", and "Beware of Darkness" are spectacular attractions, Bob Dylan performs a mini-concert of his own, performing several of his tunes (with "It Takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" being the best of the bunch).

Worth the price of admission: Leon Russell's version of "Jumping Jack Flash/Youngblood" (one of the greatest single concert performances of all time), and a slightly stoned Ringo Starr slurring over some lyrics on "It Don't Come Easy".

Live at Leeds -- The Who
The Who's 1970 album Live at Leeds, although it received near planetary praise when it was first released, always seemed ridiculously short to me. What, did a blotto Keith Moon run a tour bus through the hall halfway through the concert, causing preemption and near-fatal deaths? Well, the fortunate thing is that the 1995 reissue of the album on CD contains twice as much material, and a 2010 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collector's Edition (how's that title for recording industry overkill?) has double the content of the 1995 reissue, adding, in addition to the Leeds' concerts, another full set from Hull (which, if it were released separately, might be titled Half at Hull). In any case, the whole damn thing is great, and captures the boisterous Who at their booming best. Like the famous black and white Who concert poster trumpets: Maximum R&B. Turn it up.

Worth the price of admission: John Entwhistle's ominous parental growl on "Summertime Blues", and great covers of "Young Man Blues" and "Shakin' All Over".

'Live' Bullet -- Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band
To be honest, I have never really cared for Bob Seger's music (every time I hear "Like a Rock" or "Down on Main Street", I want to retch). Like Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp -- who were actually regional variants of Seger, and could be purchased in a set or separately -- I never got cozy with the down-home, populist, fumbling-in-the-backseat of a _ _ _ _ (pick any 1960s American car model, one of the three used it in a song). And yet, I have to admit that 'Live' Bullet is a truly great album (see, I can be objective!). As several critics have noted, there was a "desperation" about this performance, an all-or-nothing, winner-take-all, multi-hyphenated bit of hyperbolic gusto that lifted Seger from a local Detroit legend to national superstardom. One day he is playing the smallish Cobo Arena, and a few months later, he is playing sold-out shows on successive nights at the monstrous Silverdome. The music is infectious (but not requiring penicillin), and Seger's growl enhances Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits", and he gives the best performances of his life on his own compositions "Get Out of Denver", "Katmandu" and "Ramblin', Gamblin' Man".

Worth the price of admission: the medley "Traveling Man/Beautiful Loser" and the rock-and-road tune "Turn the Page".

Stop Making Sense -- Talking Heads
Alright, perhaps Jonathon Demme's superlative 1984 film of this concert has caused me to violate one of my caveats, but that was one fine concert to watch, and the Talking Heads, led by noted eccentric David Byrne, were on fire. From a personal standpoint, I really didn't like the Talking Heads until I saw the movie, but what I saw was revelatory. To my chagrin, when the soundtrack was released on vinyl (educational note for adolescents: prior to CDs and MP3s, they had what was called 'records', made of black vinyl or plastic) the idiotic editing of the album destroyed the song continuity of the film and chopped the songs up into indigestible bits, which basically pissed me off to no end. As a result, I cursed the recording industry (again) and lost track of Talking Heads. Lo and behold! Along came the 1999 CD reissue of Stop Making Sense, and me and the Talking Heads were like peas and carrots once again! Except for the Tom Tom Club crap, which I could live without hearing ever again.

Worth the price of admission: "Take Me to the River", "Once in a Lifetime", "Burning Down the House" and "Life During Wartime".

How the West was Won -- Led Zeppelin
I have very personal reasons for choosing this album. You see, I was going to see Led Zeppelin for the first time in the fall of 1980; unfortunately, John Bonham died about a month before Led Zep was scheduled to appear at the Pontiac Silverdome. I was robbed! Sadly, up until the release of "How the West Was Won", the only live material available for Zeppelin was the dreadful The Song Remains the Same from the film of the same name. I say "dreadful" and I mean it, as the film contains some of the most uninspired and sloppy rubbish the band has ever released. Therefore, it was with relief and renewed wonder that I heard How the West Was Won when it was released in 2003. My only question: what took you so damn long? Recorded at the L.A. Forum and Long Beach Arena in June of 1972, this is the definitive live album that Zeppelin fans have clamored for, and the tour to top all tours (an accompaniment to the release of Vol. IV, or ZoSo, if you prefer). Standout songs are numerous: "Heartbreaker", "Black Dog", "Dancing Days", "What Is and What Should Never Be" and "Bring It On Home".

Worth the price of admission: the acoustic set, which includes "Going to California", "That's the Way" and "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp".

Kick Out the Jams -- MC5
"I want to hear some revolution out there motherfuckers!" Rob Tyner's introduction to civil disobedience, while not as literate as Henry David Thoreau's, charged the air and propelled the MC5 into the song "Rambling Rose" as the band leveled Detroit's Grande Ballroom, appropriately enough, on Devil's Night and Halloween of 1968. Who needs punk rock? The MC5 make The Ramones sound dainty. The MC5's musical incitement to violence simply cannot be played at low volumes -- it is loud even coming out of the little speaker on the back of your iPod. "Come Together", "Rocket Reducer No. 62" and "I Want You Right Now" are all great big dollops of distortion.

Worth the price of admission: The title song and the cover of John Lee Hooker's "Motor City is Burning" (very appropriate for Detroit in the aftermath of the 1968 riots).

Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out -- The Rolling Stones
Raunchy and wretched, the reprobate Stones invaded Madison Square Garden in late 1969, and with illicit licks and lascivious leers stole away New York's daughters (and sons) with their toxic boogie. It's almost a sin what Keith Richards does with that Telecaster. But the late 60s Stones are a sinful delight -- like chocolate or cheating -- and Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out presents the band at their peak, halfway between the releases Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. Like The Who's Live at Leeds, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out is a splendid album as it was first released, but far too short; however, the 2009 40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set includes more material; unfortunately, it is also more than twice the price, and much of it is extraneous music performed by B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner (who were also on the bill). This would be great, if it were definitive songs from B.B. or Tina, but it aint. Ridiculous, I know. Doesn't Jagger and Richards have enough filthy lucre? Anyway, "Carol", "Stray Cat Blues", "Live With Me" and "Sympathy for the Devil" are all sublime from the original release.

Worth the price of admission: the definitive version of "Midnight Rambler" (original release) and great acoustic versions of "Prodigal Son" and "You Gotta Move" (from the deluxe reissue).

Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 -- Jethro Tull
This is Jethro Tull captured brimming with the piss and vinegar of youth prior to their superstardom. The songs are often inspired and so drenched with adrenaline that any gaffes and sloppiness are drowned in the exuberance and explosive craziness of Ian Anderson and gang. This live album is a real hoot to listen to. Standout songs are "Nothing is Easy", "My Sunday Feeling", and a spastic medley of "We Used to Know"/"For a Thousand Mothers". Tull's appearance at Wight can be seen as a coming out party for a band on the cusp of international fame, and they certainly outperformed most of the other acts at the festival. Tull's 1978 Bursting Out live album is a worthy look at Tull at the height of their stardom, but it in no way matches the energy found on the Isle of Wight recording, which is an important document of rock history and a damn fun one.

Worth the price of admission: "My God", with Ian Anderson doing his best 'Mad Dog Fagin' and still tinkering with the lyrics prior to its inclusion on the album Aqualung, and a towering "To Cry You a Song".

Live Rust -- Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Live Rust presents Neil Young at his schizophrenic best: the dark side exploding in a distortion-drenched rage, and the other, lighter side musing in an idyllic acoustic reverie. Fresh from reinventing himself for the punk age with the sublime release Rust Never Sleeps, Young took his cronies from Crazy Horse out on the road, and this blistering yet beautiful live album is the result. Half of the album contains his acoustic standards, like "Sugar Mountain", "After the Goldrush", and "Needle and the Damage Done", while the rest is a mix of middle-of-the-road ballads ("When You Dance I Can Really Love", "The Loner", and "Lotta Love") and angry avalanches ("Sedan Delivery, "Cortez the Killer", "Tonight's the Night").

Worth the price of admission: a vicious version of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)", and the epics "Cinammon Girl", "Powderfinger" and "Like a Hurricane".

At Fillmore East -- The Allman Brothers Band
The 2003 release of the Deluxe Edition of the Fillmore East Concerts finally puts the shows in the proper context and includes all the pertinent songs from the concerts (the missing songs were available elsewhere, on Eat a Peach, Duane Allman: An Anthology and the Dreams box-set). Forget about the Grateful Dead and their vaunted propensity for extended jamming, The Allman Brothers run circles around them (that, and Gregg Allman can actually sing, which is something no member of the Grateful Dead seemed able to accomplish in key). In any case, At Fillmore East is a remarkable recording, a big ol' heaping helping of Southern-fried blues. Duane Allman is great on slide-guitar, Dicky Betts does his best fleet-fingered accompaniment, and the addition of Thom Doucette on blues harp is an added bonus. There are so many important tunes here, I'd have to list them all to be fair.

Worth the price of admission: Okay, I'll list a few, "One Way Out", "Whipping Post", "Trouble No More", "Drunken Hearted Boy" and "Stormy Monday".

The Band of Gypsys -- Jimi Hendrix
This live album presents Jimi Hendrix at a departure point from his "Experience" days (he had disbanded his original group earlier that year, 1969). There is far more material available from the Fillmore East concerts, but because of legal issues, the Band of Gypsys only released new material (written by Hendrix or drummer Buddy Miles) for this record. That decision, perhaps, is just as well, as it gives glimmers of the musical direction in which Hendrix was heading. There is a jazz-inflected, heavy funk sound that permeates the album, and the band itself seems more attuned to one another; rather than the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" (Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding merely following Jimi's cues), this effort is more a shared venture, as "Band of Gypsys" implies. In addition to composing two of the numbers, Buddy Miles shares much of the vocals with Hendrix (and Miles has a much more powerful voice than Hendrix). "Machine Gun" is the most documented song on the album, but it certainly isn't the best. Listening to the album 40 years later, it is worth reiterating just how influential Band of Gypsys was to a legion of guitarists. As Band of Gypsys' bassist Billy Cox noted recently, "There's only two types of guitarists around today: there are those who admit being influenced by Jimi Hendrix, and those who try to pretend they aren't." All that being said, the best single live Hendrix track is the electrifying, 13 minute-long "Red House" from the legendary In The West album.

Worth the price of admission: "Message of Love", "Power of Soul" and Buddy Miles' "Them Changes".

Seconds Out -- Genesis
Perhaps it is blasphemous to say, but I consider Trick of the Tail, the first album Genesis released after Peter Gabriel left the group, as their best ever; however, I consider the material with Peter Gabriel far better overall than the output Genesis released afterwards. An incongruous proposition, you say? Not in the least, I reply. For at least two albums after Gabriel went solo (Trick of the Tail and Winds and Wuthering), Genesis maintained a semblance of one of the greatest progressive rock groups ever. Their demise as innovators and their descent into pop mediocrity was only markedly noticeable after guitarist Steve Hackett left the group (after Winds and Wuthering). And so, Genesis is captured on Seconds Out after the release of Trick of the Tail, without Peter Gabriel, but before Steve Hackett quit. Got it? Good. Phil Collins does a marvelous job covering Peter Gabriel's vocals from Genesis' earlier works (their voices are eerily alike at this point), and the addition of drummers Chester Thompson and Bill Bruford alternately sharing drumming chores with Collins is a revelation (the double drum sections of the release are astounding).

Worth the price of admission: "Firth of Forth", "The Musical Box", "Squonk", "Los Endos".

Mad Dogs & Englishmen -- Joe Cocker
Joe Cocker's travelling circus, otherwise known as "Mad Dogs & Englishmen", played the Fillmore East (which I guess is where one once went to assure a great live album) in March, 1972. The rambling, raucous revue included a choir, a few drummers, a horn section, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Don Preston, Carl Radle, Jim Gordon, and a host of other rock luminaries and top-flight studio performers. Oh yes, and the gravel and grit, drunken wit Joe Cocker. Cocker has reinvented more songs to suit his distinctive style than Thomas Edison had patents, and no where is this more evident than on Mad Dogs & Englishmen. The list of rousing renditions is astounding: "Honky Tonk Woman", "Bird on the Wire", "Feelin' Alright", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window", "Delta Lady", et cetera, ad infinitum. Leon Russell must be given his due as a great arranger for live performances.

Worth the price of admission: the sublime "Cry Me a River" and the definitive "The Letter".

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Review: Peter Gabriel -- Melt (1980)

Full article first published as Music Review: Peter Gabriel – Melt (1980) on Blogcritics.

Here is a brief excerpt for your dining and dancing pleasure:
From a compositional standpoint, the idiosyncratic Gabriel hasn’t merely chosen the path less traveled, he’s clear-cut a gaping glade clean through the forest. Whether as the outrageously caparisoned frontman and storyteller of Genesis, or as a visionary solo artist delving into world music and visual media, Gabriel is not only singing from leftfield, he’s up in the nosebleed bleacher seats with the field barely visible below. And it is precisely because of the unconventional vocals, the quirky beats, the irregular time signatures, and the unorthodox subject matter of Peter Gabriel’s third solo release (popularly christened Melt) that makes it an essential listening experience.

You have to hand it to Gabriel. With the release of Melt in May of 1980, he came out with one of the best albums of 1980s only six months into the decade. It is certainly on par with other stellar releases from the period, such as U2’s Joshua Tree, Paul Simon’s Graceland, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, or Gabriel’s own So album from 1986. But whereas So was more commercially successful (with the MTV hits “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time”) and far more huggable for the masses (don’t we all get nostalgic when we hear “In Your Eyes”?), the thorny Melt pricks one’s sensibilities and is satisfying from a visceral standpoint, with a psychological depth and intensity to the storytelling few albums from the 80s could match.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Music Review: Fairport Convention -- Liege & Lief

Full article first published as Music Review: Fairport Convention – Liege & Lief on Blogcritics.

Hear ye, supt thou on this barest of bodkins. Or this briefest of excerpts. Whichever. Then pop over to Blogcritics.org and check out the full review:

Yet, it was not merely a tweaking of musical elements that gave the album its undeniable dark character. There is an unremitting melancholy that pervades the recording — the emotional aftermath of a still-too-recent tragedy, perhaps — and sad partings, death, murder, betrayal, and insanity are frequent themes therein; however, there is a mysticism and an ancient but ageless wonder that underlies the sadness – a timeless sound that transcends both traditional and new material to a point where it is difficult to ascertain which songs were first sang in the 16th century and which were composed in 1969. It was from this remarkable synthesis of disparate elements that the landmark Liege & Lief album was created.

That Liege & Lief was eventually haled as the quintessential British folk-rock album, and recognized twice, in 2002 and again in 2006, as the Most influential Folk Album of all time by BBC Radio 2, is understandable, given the almost netherworldly quality of the recording. But what rankles is just how woefully underrated a folk-rock band Fairport Convention is in general terms. For instance, you most likely will not be seeing Fairport on a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voting ballot anytime soon, which is not so much surprising as it is infuriating, given the well-noted nearsightedness and blatant biases of Hall of Fame electors.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Music Review: Alice Cooper -- Love it to Death

Article first published as Music Review: Alice Cooper - Love It to Death on Blogcritics.

It is Halloween week, after all, and who better to review than dear ol' Alice? Here is an excerpt:
From a personal standpoint, my adoration for The Coop started in 1972, when I was snuck out of my house under false pretenses and brought surreptitiously to an Alice Cooper concert by my older (and infinitely cool) cousins. As a naïve and rather nerdy twelve-year-old at the time, Cooper gave me a vision of what one could do with Rock-and-Roll. He sang to a boa constrictor! He hacked up baby dolls! He was hung upon a gibbet in the middle of the stage! Oh, good lord, I had seen the Promised Land!

Upon returning home after the concert, I drew Alice Cooper eyes on all my sister's dolls, started growing my hair and borrowed money from my parents to buy a guitar, a used $35 Silvertone acoustic with strings about a half-inch off the fret board—my fingers bled for weeks! Life ain't been the same since, and I sincerely thank Alice Cooper for my blessed conversion to the dark side!

Have an ominous All Hallows' Eve, everyone!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Great Acoustic Rock Songs -- The Next Fifty

I wish to thank everyone for the positive feedback regarding my first list of Fifty Great Acoustic Rock Songs. Based on your suggestions, I threw caution to the wind and added a second fifty acoustic tunes for your listening edification. As with the first fifty, I chose songs with a minimum of electronic instruments, or at the least ones that have an acoustic guitar going through the entire song. I cheated here and there on that specific caveat, but it is a subjective list, after all, and not based on a pie-in-the-sky critical model designed by some twat New York reviewer like Marsh or Christgau, who claim objectivity but haven't a shred of it (having researched their critiques at length, I find I am usually diametrically opposed to what they think is important, or even listenable). In any case, who wants a list of critic's darlings, the kind that reviewers extol but no one actually listens to? Go elsewhere for wanker music.

-- Melissa is sweet, isn't she? An honorable mention from brother Gregg Allman is his masterful acoustic reworking of Midnight Rambler.

-- Perhaps the best song ever penned by Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs. "Seagull" has more emotion and feeling than whole Bad Company albums, or perhaps it is so much less formulaic than the usual Bad Company fare.

The Weight
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
-- Two great slices of authentic Americana that could only be composed by a primarily Canadian band (only drummer Levon Helm hales from south of the 49th parallel). I want to wave the maple leaf every time I hear them.

-- Well, I could list another ten or twenty Beatles' songs, but I would be accused of being ridiculously subjective. So here's one from Paul and one from John.

She Talks to Angels
-- Whatever happened to the Black Crowes? It seems that after Chris Robinson married Goldie Hawn's daughter, the band went to hell. Shades of Yoko Ono!

Rock and Roll Suicide
-- A delightfully deranged classic. I love the strident strings at the end.

Fast Car
-- There was nothing like this song on the music scene in 1988. The frank and almost brutal tale of quiet desperation and lost hope is breathtaking.

-- How does one improve on a classic? Well, if you're Eric Clapton, it's rather simple: Take the best song from your greatest album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970) and rework it as an acoustic piece. It was simple for Eric, but for the rest of us? Not so much.

Thorn Tree in the Garden
-- Speaking of Eric Clapton, here's another song from the same album that didn't require reworking, because it was an acoustic song to begin with. 'Domino' Bobby Whitlock wrote and sang this melancholy tune.

Black Water
-- You simply cannot feel down listening to this song. And admit it, you can't help singing along to the harmonies at the end of the song, can you? Do you sing the "I wanna honky-tonk", "Take me by the hand", or the "with you all night long" part? Or do you simply mumble them all together?

Catch The Wind
-- A beautifully simple song. That's all that needs to be said.

It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding
-- I am still irritated that I can't get the original studio version of Dylan songs on YouTube because of Sony 'Corpse' greed. I don't think it'd make a damn bit of difference if all of Dylan's songs were available to listen to; in fact, they probably even sell more songs and albums with folks like me advertising their product. Dumb asses.

Hotel California (Live)
-- I've never been a great fan of the Eagles, but I can appreciate their legacy of finely-crafted country-rock tunes. I included the live version of "Hotel California" from the Hell Freezes Over set because, like Clapton's reworking of "Layla", it gives the song a whole other dimension and tonal quality.

NOTE: It seems Warner, like Sony, pull the plug on studio versions of artist's songs, so Desperado has been deleted. Oh well, I won't be looking for another version. Funny thing, great and important bands like Zeppelin and the Beatles have all their songs accessible on line and they sell millions of albums yearly. Oh yeah, the Eagles sell their stuff at Walmart. I won't be advertising for them further. Fuck 'em.

Who Knows Where The Time Goes
-- Sandy Denny is the most underappreciated female singer in the rock pantheon. The ethereal quality of her voice casts a spell over the listener. Quietly, calmly, she weaves her spell, with a depth and sincerity few can match. Oh yes, and I've heard that former Fairport frontman Richard Thompson is quite a guitarist as well.

From the Beginning
C'est la Vie
-- ELP finally disintegrated under the weight of its own pretension, but not before leaving some undeniably beautiful compositions. Here are two songs from two different ELP eras: "From the Beginning" from Trilogy (1972), and "C'est la Vie" from the incredibly over-the-top Works, Vol. 1 (1977).

Blood on the Rooftops
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
-- I don't think Peter Gabriel leaving Genesis was necessarily the root cause for the band's descent into a campy, commercial quagmire. The two albums that followed Gabriel's departure, A Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind & Wuthering (also 1976), were both sterling examples of Genesis' eccentrically progressive style. However, when guitarist Steve Hackett left after Wind & Wuthering the band seemed to lose its moral and creative compass, opting for crass radio-friendliness as opposed to the classically-influenced rock fusion style for which the band should rightly receive accolades. But they weren't elected to the asinine Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the brilliant "Supper's Ready" or "Dance on a Volcano", but rather for such inane blandities as "We Can't Dance" or "Abacab".

Crazy on You
-- Yes, this song is perhaps too suffused with electric guitar to make it strictly an acoustic song, but the stunning and memorable acoustic intro by guitarist Nancy Wilson is worth the price of admission.

The Witch's Promise
Life's a Long Song
-- Two sublime acoustic songs from that phenomenal album of odds and ends Living in the Past (1972), the most unconventional conglomeration of B-sides, almost greatest hits and live performances ever created. I had a tough time just choosing two from Ian Anderson and Company, so here's another from Songs From The Wood (1977), The Whistler. Oh, and One Brown Mouse, a bit of Robert Burnsian musing from Heavy Horses (1978).

Mercedes Benz
-- Not just acoustic, it's a cappella! Very few singers have displayed the emotion Janis did on nearly every song. Gut-wrenching comes to mind as a descriptor. You may not like her voice, but you can't deny the passion.

Dust in the Wind
-- Possibly the most morose #1 hit from any band since The Beatles' ode to loneliness and depression "Eleanor Rigby". But "Dust in the Wind" carried the seeds of composer/guitarist's Kerry Livgren's subsequent conversion to evangelical Christianity. It is a very religious work if one listens closely. Not that any pot-smoking rockers in the 70's actually noticed.

Going to California
Black Country Woman
-- For a band known as the quintessential hard rock group, Zeppelin was equally adept at composing exquisite acoustic ballads and blues songs, and it is this dichotomy that really left its imprint on rock-and-roll. The list of great Led Zep acoustic tunes is manifold and illustrious. Another example is Babe I'm Gonna Leave You from their first album.

A House is not a Motel
-- Arthur Lee would've given Syd Barrett a run for his money in an acid-dropping contest. Syd eventually lost his band, Pink Floyd, and also his mind (not necessarily in that order), and Albert Lee took the same long, strange trip, losing his band 'Love', along with various other assorted catastrophes (like going to prison for twelve years on weapons charges). But before departing stage left, Lee and Love recorded the remarkable album Forever Changes, from whence the song "A House is not a Motel" appears. The best description of the music is psychedelic-era Pink Floyd meets The Moody Blues while playing acoustic guitars at a love-in. Don't bogart the joint, dude.

California Dreamin'
-- One of the finest pop-rock tunes ever crafted, and one of my favorite songs.

-- I know how to play this song. I know the chord structure, the lyrics and the subtle nuances of the composition. I just can't keep up with Justin Hayward's frenetic fretwork. The wrist strength required for the manic strum on this song is phenomenal. Which is probably one reason (of many) why The Moody Blues have accrued platinum albums in three different decades, and I have not. Bugger.

Into the Mystic
Sweet Thing
-- One of the those eccentric performers that the critics rave about, but which I heartily agree upon, Van Morrison is a musical treasure. And I'm not saying that because I think he should be buried.

Pigs on the Wing
-- Hey, it's Floyd. You! Yes, you! You can't have a bloody list of songs without mentioning Floyd! How can you not mention Floyd on your bloody list of songs?

Good Company
-- Hey, what can one say about a ukulele rock tune? It cracks me up! But if "Good Company" is too esoteric for you, musically-speaking, then there is always the infectious Elvicide of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which is much more radio-friendly.

Fake Plastic Trees
-- The best tune from my favorite Radiohead album, The Bends. What? You prefer OK Computer? Write your own damn list on your own damn blog then!

Fall on Me
-- One of my favorite REM songs (and purportedly Michael Stipe's favorite as well). Very moving. And the lyrics are almost intelligible. I also like Don't Go Back to Rockville. And I promise I won't go back there. Ever.

Kathy's Song
The Sound of Silence
-- When compiling lists of great acoustic songs, one could just itemize numerous Simon and Garfunkel tunes and be done with it. The acoustic version of "The Sound of Silence" found here is from their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964), before some clever record producer decided it would sell better with electric guitars dubbed in. He was right, of course, but that's beside the point.

Nature's Way
-- Hastily written in a single afternoon prior to a concert at the Fillmore West, "Nature's Way" is an anthemic ode to ecology, and the ill effects the human parasite is having on Mother Earth.

-- Once again, Sony Corpse goes about YouTube deleting another major star's important songs. No studio versions available for Bruce, sorry. "Nebraska" is a rather sympathetic first-person narrative of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who in 1958 went on an unexplainable two-month killing spree through Nebraska and Wyoming. In the end, Starkweather was found guilty of murdering 11 people and was promptly executed, while Fugate, who was only 14 years-old at the time, received a 17 year prison sentence.

Wild World
Miles From Nowhere
-- When I was a teenager, Cat Stevens wrote how I felt. Unless, of course, I was more in a Black Sabbath mood, and then they wrote how I felt. In any case, Cat had a deep and instinctive perception of youth's hopes and fears. Then he became a Muslim, approved of the fatwa called down upon Salman Rushdie, and I have ignored him since. Once again, religion fucks up a perfectly good thing.

(Roamin' Thro' the Gloamin with) 40,000 Headmen
-- A drug-induced dream. It makes little sense. I guess you had to be there. I know I was at one time. What were we talking about again? Are you going to eat that brownie? Can I have it?

Lady in Black
-- Often mocked and derided, Uriah Heep still managed to compose many poignant and meaningful tunes in spite of critical contempt, "Lady in Black" being one of their best.

Rude Mood
-- Like Jimi Hendrix, there are few Stevie Ray acoustic recordings available. But it's certainly a riot listening to Vaughan shred the blues...on a twelve-string, no less. RIP SRV, you are missed.

California Stars
-- What could be better than hearing previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music? Nothing, save for the exceptional way the band Wilco and Brit guitarist Billy Bragg caught just the right feeling for the composition. Get the album Mermaid Avenue, you'll enjoy it!

Old Man
After the Goldrush
-- My favorite Martian. Well, if he is not an extraterrestrial, then Neil is certainly surreal, particularly in the post-apocalyptic "After the Goldrush", where the chosen few at world's end fly "Mother natures' silver seed to a new home in the sun".

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Music Review: The Moody Blues -- Days of Future Passed

Article first published as Music Review: The Moody Blues — Days of Future Passed on Blogcritics. Another album from the Dark Elf Essential Performances series.

Here is an excerpt from the review for your edification:
This is why there will never be another Days of Future Passed. Beauty, it would seem, is fast shuffling of this mortal coil. In this incredibly shrinking world of Twitter, Blackberry, and faceless friendships on Facebook, there is little time to stop and smell the roses, because many of us haven’t ventured outside the environs of the Internet since last April. Even what is sold as music currently is conveniently sequenced into repetitive digital sound-bytes – white noise on purple iPods – that leaves little room for considering the distinctive production and compositional prowess required to develop conceptual music in an album format. Why bother with an album when one can purchase greatest hits at .99 cents a download from Amazon or iTunes? If you have the time between tweets, chirps, and other fowl noises, I shall endeavor to explain it to you.


Music Review: The Pogues -- If I Should Fall From Grace With God

Article first published as Music Review: The Pogues — If I Should Fall From Grace With God on Blogcritics. Another in my Dark Elf Essential Performances series.

Sure'n, here's a bit of the blarney to wet yer whistle, me boyo:
But rather than focus on Shane MacGowan’s manic insistence on assuming the mantle of the stereotypical tortured Irish artist in search of a besotted Gaelic muse — following, like Brendan Behan before him, a wanton path to an early death — let us instead focus on the music. Because, after all, MacGowan is not dead yet, and perhaps he, along with Keith Richards and cockroaches, will survive global warming, nuclear detonations, or whatever disaster will consume the rest of humanity.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

'Friday Night in San Francisco' Music Review

Available for your perusal at blogcritics.org, another album review in my Dark Elf Essential Performances series:

Music Review: Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia — Friday Night in San Francisco

Here is an excerpt from the review:
As a longtime guitarist and bar-band blues bludgeoner, all I can tell you is that I am in awe of the technical ferocity, incredible dexterity, and concordant reciprocity by which these three musicians blend and bend. And to make this album all the more intriguing, these virtuoso guitarists are not shredding the old-fashioned way, with the ubiquitous and almost obligatory Stratocaster or Les Paul; on the contrary, they are frying the frets of acoustic guitars! This “unplugged” concert predates the staged versions on MTV by nearly a decade, and 'Friday Night' certainly eclipses anything from that overrated, overblown series, save perhaps the outstanding performance by Eric Clapton. But alas, poor Eric! For all his vaunted "Slowhand" moves, he couldn’t keep up with these three players with a vast quantity of anabolic steroids and an eight ball of coke.


Post-script: The reviews for Friday Night in San Francisco and Will the Circle Be Unbroken have both been selected as an 'eds-pick' (editor's selection) over at blogcritics.com! I thank the editors for their sagacity and evident good taste.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Album Reviews For Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken'

I've recently joined blogcritics.org in order to spread my snarky, but devilishly charismatic, curmudgeonliness further across the tediously tepid World Wide Web. After all, the crabbed and constipated Internet is need of an expository enema -- or perhaps a peripatetic pimp slap upside the blogoshpere. In either case, I will be doing long-form album reviews over there, essays on this blog and shorter reviews on RateYourMusic.com  .

I will be strictly reviewing albums I deem important to their genres or music in general over at blogcritics.org, in a series entitled Dark Elf Essential Performances (or, if you prefer snazzy acronyms, DEEP). The series will touch on a wide range of music (rock, country, jazz, classical, blues, etc.), with the defining factors being the uniqueness, the virtuosity, the excellence of the concept or thematic continuity, and the compositional excellence of the recordings -- all the things that make these sublime albums worthwhile for you to listen to, even if you have been living the life of an ascetic ensconced in a hermetic cell within a desert monastic community and have yet to hear them. Consider it an ascetic emetic.So, without further ado, the first two reviews for you:

Jethro Tull -- Aqualung
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band -- Will the Circle Be Unbroken


Monday, September 27, 2010

Classical Rock! The influence of Wolfgang, Ludwig and Johann Sebastian on Rock Music

Pachelbel's Canon in D as interpreted by Rob Paravonian

Yes, Rob Paravonian is a comedian, and this video is quite funny. But besides Rob's obvious love/hate relationship with Pachelbel, he slyly insinuates a much more profound message into his routine: the ofttimes subtle, sometimes overt, influence of classical composition on popular music in general and rock-and-roll in particular. Mr. Paravonian rattled off about fifteen rock tunes with almost the same chord structure as can be found in Canon in D. I am sure if Rob tried, he could add many more.

This essay is an exercise in revisionism, a follow-up to the almost infamous, nearly important, not quite legendary The Rock and Roll Hall of Shame article from a few weeks ago. In the previous piece I noted, somewhat flippantly at the time, that one might
"take the argument to its most illogical and over-the-top conclusion, then according to how the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chooses its inductees, Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Wagner, Mozart, Liszt, Grieg and other classical composers should all be inducted as 'Early Influences'."

Upon further consideration -- and looking at the absurd list of great soul, rap and R&B groups inductees in the 'Rock' Hall's 'performers category' -- I find the links to classical music (and jazz for that matter), certainly as germane to the rock idiom as all these other peripheral artists who are not directly related to the rock-and-roll genre (and not inducted as 'influences', which would be the correct designation, but as actual rock-and-roll 'performers'). I am sure there are critics who could present cogent cases for klezmer, polka, flamenco, Japanese kabuki and Brazilian samba music to take their rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall. I mean, after all, why only have rock-and-roll in a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? A preposterous, almost heretical idea, I know. But I will champion classical music composers and performers for induction into this homogenized, pasteurized, genre-hopping conglomeration of disparate musical categorization, particularly because there is a bias against classicism by many critics (in both popular music and modern literature), and a decided anti-intellectualism running through the media.

Induct Leonard Bernstein into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Well, he did write the first rock opera, West Side Story, didn't he?

Well, there was no actual rock in West Side Story, technically speaking, but Maestro Bernstein certainly knew his rock-and-roll -- perhaps more so than the rock composers themselves -- as shown here in Bernstein Boogies, where he identifies the rock tunes by their specific mode, either mixolydian or Dorian (terms for ancient Greek octave scales). Look, if you've already inducted Louis Armstrong into the RRHoF as an 'influence' of rock-and-roll, is too far-fetched that the passionate and heavily involved music-lover Bernstein should deserve equal status? After all, even a hell bound rocker like Alice Cooper venerated Bernstein: Gutter Cats vs.The Jets (a variation of Jet Song and The Rumble from West Side Story).

Stole songs from Beethoven and gave Tchaikovsky the blues!

Sergei Rachmaninoff could certainly change with the times. By the mid-1970's he had become a pop-rock star, complete with curly wig and de rigueur hard-ass leather, even though he was over 100 years old -- and dead. Listen to the refrain of this song (if the tune makes you physically ill, skip 40 seconds into the song for the section I am referring to): Rachmaninoff in his 70's rock outfit. Now, compare it to the original: Symphony No.2, 3rd Movement. Okay, that wasn't Rachmaninoff in a blond wig, that was sappy Eric Carmen dribbling into the microphone over his lost love. But such a blatant lift of a classical melody in order to make a #1 hit isn't really new, Procul Harum did it with Whiter Shade of Pale, but they were far cleverer than Carmen, slurring together J.S. Bach's Sleepers Awake and Air on a G String, with a countermelody of Cantata No. 140 in a batch of Bach -- a Johann Sebastianish stew. Earlier than that, Elvis Presley's I Can't Help Falling in Love With You directly lifted its melody line from Plaisir d'amour, originally composed by Jean Paul Egide Martini in 1780 and later orchestrated by Hector Berlioz. Elvis, you aint nothing but a hound dog!

From a more overarching perspective, The Beatles' fledgling career was aided by the invaluable assistance of producer George Martin, an executive at EMI/Parlophone who had recorded many classical and baroque albums for the label. His arranging ability, production experience and musical skills (he played piano on several tracks) rightfully earned him the honorific 'The Fifth Beatle'. Martin's compositional influence and in-depth knowledge of the classics allowed The Beatles to achieve more in a short span of time than any performers in popular music history. And Beatles' music is suffused with classical scoring and arrangements: hints of Bach in Yesterday, the baroque piano lead in In My Life, the orchestrated 'Greensleeves' at the end of 'I am the Walrus', the direct influence of composer Bernard Herman in the string arrangement of Eleanor Rigby, as well as the entire orchestral score of 'Yellow Submarine' (from which the video of 'Eleanor Rigby' was culled). Martin even threw in some John Philip Sousa here and there!

Whether independently or taking their cue from The Beatles, cutting edge or progressively-minded bands and performers of the 60's delved into rock classicism: the avante-garde band The Velvet Underground was influenced by minimalist composer LaMonte Young, who John Cale, himself a classically-trained musician, had met before joining Andy Warhol's house band; Procol Harum's affection for Bach and Baroque has already been noted, but their release Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra cemented their indebtedness to the classical form; The Moody Blues' sublime Days of Future Passed, originally envisioned as a rock version of Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World", pioneered the progressive rock movement; Frank Zappa's eclecticism was evident in the classically-arranged orchestration on The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out; even Jimi Hendrix found a kindred spirit in the music of George Handel.

New car, caviar, four-star daydream, think I'll buy me a symphony orchestra -- and tour with it!

The late 1960's and early 1970's marked even greater forays into the classical form, as more and more rock bands abandoned the strictures of blues and R&B influence, because these simpler music forms could not feed the need for greater expression by accomplished musicians. The four-chord early rock tunes and twelve-bar blues that fueled the early rise of rock-and-roll were simply insufficient to sustain the more sophisticated palates of bands that matured after the original British Invasion. Therefore, classical music and jazz-fusion proved fertile ground for a more expansive sound and a greater challenge musically. Even a band like Deep Purple -- they of the plodding, prehistoric dinosaur 'Smoke on the Water' -- would release Concerto for Group and Orchestra in 1969; but that train wreck of an album is not worth expanding upon here.

As early as 1967, Jeff Beck offered an interpretation of Ravel's Bolero, and a couple years later, the highly eccentric King Crimson came on the scene with a wide range of influences that included both Béla Bartók and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded an entire album dedicated to the music of Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, but still managed to have some fun with Tchaikovsky, Nutrocker, on the same album. ELP also recorded arrangements for Alberto Ginastera's 1st Piano Concerto, 4th Movement: Toccata Concertata (which was favorably received by the original composer), as well as Aaron Copeland's Hoedown and Fanfare for the Common Man. Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett was an ardent admirer of Bach and his Horizons follows in style Bach's Cello suite No.1 Prelude in G - Major, and the 23 minute-long magnum opus 'Supper's Ready' was influenced by Liszt and the song itself is a variation of the sonata form.

Jethro Tull flautist Ian Anderson favored Bach as well (the famous lounge-lizard version of 'Bouree'), and Tull pianist John Evan also makes a notable plunge into Rachmaninoff's 'Prelude in G Sharp Minor', Claude Debussy's 'Golliwog's Cakewalk', and Beethoven's 'Sonate #8: Pathétique' on By Kind Permission of on the Living in the Past album. In addition, classical string orchestrations show up on many Tull songs, and were arranged by band member David (Dee) Palmer, who later went on to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra for several memorable symphonic rock recordings. The band Yes preferred Stravinsky, and his influence appears on such tunes as Gates of Delirium, as well as the band playing a recorded excerpt of The Firebird at the start of every show. Rick Wakeman, the classically-trained, on again, off again keyboardist of Yes, has released several classical-based solo projects, among them Journey to the Center of the Earth, which features Edvard Greig's work prominently, and the soundtrack for the movie Lisztomania.

By the mid-1970's bands such as Electric Light Orchestra had come to prominence, producing superlative, classically-influenced albums like Eldorado, and even a witty raved-up remake of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven, which put Ludwig in context with rock. But the apex and apogee of the melding of rock and classic music occurred in 1975, when Queen released the outrageous Bohemian Rhapsody. It was nearly six minutes long! It contained an operatic section! It was actually composed in a variation of rhapsodic form! It will never sell! Well, this wasn't the first time record producers erred in their lust to push mass-marketed product, given their general disdain for art and musical substance (and general lack of taste). Which is why rap and hip-hop are foisted so heavily on the public: it's cheap to make and requires little studio work or backing musicians. Get yourself a drum machine, sequencer and music samples and -- voila! Call the publicist. It's rather like bar owners opting for karaoke music over live bands. There's no union scale to worry about; one simply buys a karaoke machine and then lets the drunks warble 'til closing time.

Mozart, the world's first rock star! And he didn't need a meat suit like Lady Gaga. Talent trumps a beef bra every time.

The Punk and New Wave movements of the late 70's and early 80's brought an inevitable downturn in the music markets, a devolution of compositional form brought on by the stagnant, redundant interchangeability of corporate-rock bands such as Boston, Foreigner, Bad Company, Journey, Styx and REO Speedwagon (wash, rinse, repeat), and the death throes of superstar rock bands like Led Zeppelin (In Through the Out Door, after which drummer John Bonham died -- probably of chagrin), The Stones (Black and Blue & Some Girls -- they became irrelevant, or as critic Lester Bangs put it, the Stones "really don't matter anymore"), and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, arguably their worst album ever). It's as if the rock music genre suddenly and collectively had a massive brain fart, and out plopped the wailing wasteland that was the 1980's, as shown in a microcosm by Falco in his plasticine paean to Mozart, Rock Me Amadeus.

But then, by the mid-to-late 1980's, the maestro's baton was picked up by an unlikely group of performers, the metal-heads! Shredding to Chopin! Rocking to Rachmaninoff! Blistering Beethoven! Led by such metal guitar virtuosos as Yngwe Malmsteen and Vinnie Moore of UFO, their brand of neo-classical metal quickly splintered further into such odd sub-genres as 'symphonic power metal' (as propagated by the band Nightwish), or 'Gothic metal'. Currently, bands such as Muse are proponents of classicism, preferably Rachmaninoff -- Prelude in G Minor, as are Dream Theater, whose various influences include Rimsky-Korsakov -- Flight of the Bumblebee, and Apocalyptica, the cello metal band from Finland (yes, 'cello metal' is what I said). And let's not forget Metallica's foray into symphonic music, the live album S&M (which ranks right up there with Deep Purple's orchestral effort in the overblown pomposity department!).

In conclusion, the classical music world is woefully underrepresented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- in fact, it is not represented at all! And yet, party animals like Mozart and Liszt were the Jim Morrison's and Keith Moon's of their era; Paganini and Chopin were the instrument-shredding idols of their day; Beethoven went deaf, and Pete Townshend has tinnitus; Stravinsky was as much of an iconoclast in the early 20th century as Bob Dylan, John Lennon or Prince; Vivaldi's powdered wig, as opposed to Frampton's curly locks; Bach's monstrous 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' or Metallica's 'Master of Puppets'...

After all, it's only rock-and-roll.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Disco Blogger Has His Panties In A Bunch ! Mirrored Disco Balls Get Chafed!

It all started with the almost infamous The Rock and Roll Hall of Shame, or the Crock and Faux Hall of Disco Soul and Rap post from August 22. A fellow blogger named Tom Lame, who somehow believes he has a lock on all things musical, took exception to the fact that I do not believe that disco bands and rappers should be in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that great bands and performers of R&B and soul music should be inducted in the Early Influences category, and not the Performers category, because they definitely shaped certain aspects of rock-and-roll, but they were neither rock-and-roll performers by definition, nor did they ever consider themselves rock-and-roll performers.

In fact, the inane RRHOF voters have half the blues performers in the Early Influences category (such as Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon) and the other half under the Performers category (like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy). Which is it, RRHOF? Or have you, like Tom Lame, gotten your musical genres so crossed, you don't even know what blues is? No need to answer, I was being rhetorical.

Now, I don't know this Tom Lame fellow from Adam, nor was I even aware that there were still disco fans proudly clad in powder-blue polyester and two-tone platform heels, but I must say he needs to expand his limited vocabulary. He has labeled my article numerous variants of ignorant. Let's see, he's used the words or phrases "dumb", "a classic of ignorance", "stupidity","joker", "vacuous", "Clueless", "Stupidest", "Dumbest", "Irrelevant", and also "Mind-boggling idiocy" to maintain his redundancy.

If you'd like, Tom, I can direct you to an online thesaurus so that you may expand your limited grasp of the language and, perhaps, actually say something sentient and worthwhile. Or not. When you are a likely lad such as Tom, you're too busy listening to Barry White in a bubble bath. He claims to want a debate, but I have made it a point to refrain from engaging the mentally disturbed in a dialogue that may drive them over the edge. It is the humanitarian in me.

For you see, poor Tom is either suffering from dementia or has a multiple personality disorder. Back on September 13, 2010, Tom posted a rather odd apology to me Please Forgive Me Dark Elf that I took as sarcasm. It certainly reads like sarcasm, doesn't it? But on September 14, 2010 he suddenly made the bizarre claim that his blog was hacked by a "Uriah Heep roadie" and that he did not write the apology. Then with the indignance of the oblivious he proclaimed: "but rest assured I will use all my resources to find out" where that roadie was and whether Uriah Heep was still touring. Get a mirror, Tom, and then take your meds.

If that wasn't amusing enough (in a pathetic manner), he then repeated nearly the same rant on September 16, 2010 as he first did on August 29, 2010. Tom, save yourself some time: in between trips to the psychiatrist, just cut and paste. But make sure they let you use those dull, plastic kindergarten scissors so you don't hurt yourself.

He did make another strange comment:
So when I blogged about R&B and Disco artists that should be in there, he ran with it. Because his knowledge of music is so limited he doesn't know that there is a world outside of his preferred genres, Prog and "Rock". So, he's posted my name on Rock forums and called me out. But you know the old cliche about payback? It's a .....

Yes, I called you out, Tom. Barry White? Irene Cara (how come I'm not surprised you love the movie Flashdance -- 'what a feeling', eh Tom?), Chic, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder (again, that Flashdance connection)? If this were a coke-snorting session in the women's bathroom at Studio 54, I am sure all those names would apply. But there are musical genres outside rock-and-roll, Tom. There is classical, country, polka, flamenco, jazz, barbershop quartet and countless others. And, not surprisingly, each has contributed as an influence to rock: classical (ELP, Procol Harum), country (The Eagles), flamenco (Kiko Veneno), polka (Weird Al Yankovic), jazz (King Crimson), and even barbershop music (Peter Gabriel). But they are still separate genres. They aren't rock-and-roll.

So Tom, take your meds, get counselling and maybe, if your doctor sends a note, we can actually have a meaningful discussion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fifty Great Acoustic Rock Songs

Acoustic songs. Some rock bands go through their entire career cycle (from garages and basements, up to bars, to arenas, to stadiums, back down to arenas, to county fairs, to bowling alleys and, finally, VFW Hall keg parties) without ever recording one. Other bands have acoustic tunes that are integral parts of their repertoire. Obviously, we shall eschew the former for the latter in this latest installment in musical subjectivity. The 50 acoustic songs I've selected (I had to stop eventually!) range wildly in tone, mood and lyrical content, but they all have that elusive compositional quality that sets them apart from the single, requisite, run-of-the-mill anthemic acoustic ballad that big-haired 80's bands played to allow their beer-soaked drummer time to take a piss break.

These songs are not merely replacing electric guitars for acoustics just for effect (and played in the same manner); on the contrary, most are contemplative and exhibit an air of vulnerability, because rock bands that usually rely on a barrage of high-decibel electrics and explosive percussion are suddenly left exposed with merely an acoustic guitar and a microphone between them and the audience. There is no wall of sound to mask imperfection, and no pyrotechnics to draw attention away from what is sung. There is only reflective music, or in the case of The Pogues and Violent Femmes, a bit of manic acoustic madness. It is, after all, still rock 'n' roll.

P.S. Here is a follow-up to this article: Great Acoustic Rock Songs - The Next Fifty

Here Comes The Sun
Eleanor Rigby
Norwegian Wood
-- What more can be said about the inestimable contribution to music that The Beatles have given over the last 50 years? There are no other artists who can repackage masters nearly a half a century after their original release and go to number one: with their whole catalog! There are many stunning Beatles' acoustic pieces, but these three seem to me to be the most important. 'Here Comes The Sun', along with 'Something' on the 'Abbey Road' album mark the greatest contributions to The Beatles by George Harrison. 'Eleanor Rigby' is important in rock history because there is absolutely no guitars, no drums and no bass. The accompaniment to Paul McCartney's vocals are a double string quartet. Not to mention that 'Eleanor Rigby' is a pop tune that hit number one with lyrics that dealt with depression, loneliness and death. 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)' marks the first time a rock band used a sitar in a recording. I don't know if that turned out to be a good thing, given the instrument's overuse in the psychedelic era; nonetheless, The Beatles did it first.

Can't Find My Way Home
-- One wonders, yes one does, why Blind Faith couldn't have put together a more cohesive album. The talent collectively assembled (Steve Windwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Ric Grech) is hall-of-fame caliber, yet we only get flashes of brilliance on their one and only album. 'Can't Find My Way Home' is just such a streak of sunlight in an otherwise overcast sky.

-- Many people swear by Jeff Buckley's more sexually-charged version of this song, but I prefer Cale's take of Leonard Cohen's great composition, particularly the brilliant strings in this video. There is sadness and regret and desire -- a mature man reflecting on a fiery relationship that burned brightly but faded like a falling star. Buckley's youthful version is certainly well done, but it lacks the rueful conviction of age and experience.

Helplessly Hoping
-- I hate YouTube. Half the time, I can't find the proper version of the song I want to discuss, and the other half is overladen with silly homemade videos that do nothing but cause lag. What do you mean, 'I need more memory'? This Commodore 386 works just fine. I don't even feel I have to upgrade to an Amiga. Anyway, Crosby, Stills & Nash + acoustic guitars = peas and carrots.

Crazy Man Michael
-- Two different plaintive and melancholy tunes from Fairport's 'What We did on Our Holiday' and the landmark 'Liege and Lief' albums. The first, 'Fotheringay', recounts the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots in Fotheringay Castle, and the second, 'Crazy Man Michael', deals with the growing insanity of the character, Michael, and his conversation with a raven who haunts him (much like in Poe's immortal poem). Both songs feature the ethereal vocals of the late Sandy Denny, one of the most underappreciated singers in all of rock.

-- Good lord, was Stevie Nicks hot in the 70's! What she saw in that scrawny peacock Lindsey Buckingham, I'll never know. 'Landslide' was recorded before Stevie burnt a hole through her nasal passages snorting coke, which eventually left her sounding like a singing goat: J-u-u-u-u-st like the white w-i-i-inged d-o-o-o-ove sings the song, sounds like she's singing, Bah-baby,bah-bah-bah. 'Landslide', along with 'The Chain' are, in my humble opinion, the best songs from the post-Peter Green Fleetwood Mac.

Solsbury Hill
-- Released after Gabriel's somewhat acrimonious breakup with Genesis, 'Solsbury Hill' turns uncertainty of the future into a thrilling anthem of hope, as Gabriel has an epiphany while sitting atop Solsbury Hill near a home he owned in the nearby city of Bath. Instruments are continually layered upon the acoustic guitar line throughout the song until it reaches a lengthy crescendo at the end. The allusory and highly poetic lyrics are some of the best Gabriel ever wrote.

-- One of the best songs on 'Trick of the Tail', the last great Genesis album, 'Entangled' purposely evokes a mesmerizing, dreamlike quality because it deals with a patient being anesthetized prior to surgery. The last post-op lines are hilarious.

Good Riddance
-- And the punk establishment rolls their eyes. Whatever. You can't wear your Joey Ramone Fright Wig® forever. 'Good Riddance' became the 90's version of a graduation song in the same manner Lynryd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' was in the 70's. It hit all the right chords, so to speak, and has an inner meaning shared by millions of listeners who can all claim a piece of it as their own, whether you have blue hair, a skinhead or a mohawk.

Hear My Train a' Comin'
-- This is a great song and a fascinating video. Imagine, Hendrix being nervous and apologetic about playing a guitar! But one gets a look at the shy, introspective Hendrix personality behind the burning and smashed guitars and wildly psychedelic clothes. Just imagine, September 18th marks the 40th anniversary of his death. He still touches countless lives and influences new generations of guitarists.

Fat Man
Dun Ringill
-- A seemingly well-kept secret about Jethro Tull is that Ian Anderson isn't just a flautist, but an exceptional acoustic guitarist as well; in fact, the legend goes that Ian only picked up the flute in the first place because it was easy to carry around from gig to gig. The selections I offer here present the devilishly tricky chord progressions and stylized structure of Tull's acoustic songs. Of particular note is the highly complex dual guitars on 'Salamander', Ian Anderson's turn on mandocello in 'Fat Man' and the triple-tracked poem intro and eerie phasing of vocals and guitar on 'Dun Ringill'.

Battle of Evermore
Gallows Pole
Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
-- 'The Battle of Evermore', with its legendary allusions to Tolkien's Middle-earth, is a duet between Robert Plant and Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention along with Jimmy Page featured on mandolin. 'Gallows Pole' is a traditional ballad popularized by Leadbelly, with Jimmy Page taking turns on acoustic guitar and banjo. The difference on the Zeppelin version is that the hangman eventually kills the man in spite of all his enticements, whereas traditionally the hangman sets him free. 'Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp' is about Robert Plant's dog (a 'blue-eyed merle' border collie), and a crazy, capoed, drop D alternative tuning with slide played by Page.

Working Class Hero
-- Lennon drops the f-bomb! No, that's not why I chose this song -- well, in a way, it is. Lennon's 'Plastic Ono Band' album marks the point-of-no-return for The Beatles, the final nail in the coffin, and Lennon's compositions on this masterpiece are sparsely arranged, angry and unapologetic. There are no top-ten radio hits here, and there is no over-produced Beatlemania. It is just Lennon venting and expressing himself in a more introverted style than he ever showed within the confines of the Fab Four. The finest song is 'Working Class Hero', and it is a simple but devastating piece. It is, as Lennon mentioned in an interview, about the processing of average working class people into the mold of the middle class. Into the machine.

Can't You See
-- 'Can't You See' is one of the most gut-wrenching songs of love lost ever written. One can't write a song with that much emotion without experiencing the pangs of loss firsthand. I would say that Marshall Tucker was a great songwriter, however there was never a Marshall Tucker in the band. The group saw the name on a key ring in a studio and thought it would make a nifty name. Such is the stuff of rock legend.

-- Perhaps the best lyrical interpretation of a painter's work, the starkly beautiful poetry McLean uses invokes Van Gogh's vivid portraits and frames them with languid and lush words. 'American Pie' may have been Don McLean's biggest hit, but 'Vincent' is the best song he ever wrote.

The Actor
For My Lady
-- The Moody Blues have consistently recorded stunningly beautiful compositions throughout their career. Here are just two, 'The Actor' from 'In Search of the Lost Chord', and the sea-chantey 'For My Lady' from 'Seventh Sojourn'.

Look What They've Done to My Song
-- Some folks like the Nina Simone version of this song, others prefer the one by Melanie; I, however, love this demented cover by The New Seekers who, besides this twisted bit of Brechtian balladry, were best known for the song 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing' (the legendary Coca Cola theme song of the 70's). Other than that, I know or care nothing for them. But this one song is fabulous!

Wish You Were Here
Goodbye Blue Sky
-- "Wish You Were Here' has one of the most recognizable intro guitar riffs ever recorded. This song of alienation and regret was, ironically, composed by David Gilmour and Rogers Waters in separate pieces, as Gilmour had nearly completed the main theme and refrain and Waters had already assembled the lyric about ex-bandmate Syd Barret and Water's grandmother, who died around that time from complications of Alzheimer's disease. In an interview, Waters explained he would go to see his grandmother and "she would look at me with an anguished expression and go, 'Robert!' Robert was her husband, who had been dead for twenty years. It was very tortured and moving." The song 'Goodbye Blue Sky' is another happy, carefree tune about 'The Blitz' from 'The Wall', with an excellent descending scale on acoustic guitar mirrored by Gilmour's vocals.

-- The album 'Wildflowers' is Tom Petty's best, with or without The Heartbreakers, and the title track is simply a tranquil bit of acoustic harmoniousness. Mellifluousness, even. One needn't deal in musical complexities all the time. There is something to be said of simplicity on occasion.

Sickbed of Cuchullain
If I Should Fall From Grace With God
-- What goes better with traditional Irish music than drunken English Punks? Okay, only half were Brits, but the influential manner in which the punk ethic (a mutually exclusive term, I know) and Gaelic melodies found strong accord in the hands and track-marked arms of The Pogues. Few punk bands were so original; in fact, you can count them on Shane MacGowan's teeth. If he has any left. This is not your mother's acoustic music -- this aint no 'Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore' (alleluia!).

Sweet Virginia
Wild Horses
-- When the Stones really tried, they could make some magnificent acoustic gems. But that could also be said for their entire catalog. Here are three: 'Angie' the best song from the abysmal 'Goats Head Soup', 'Sweet Virginia' from the sublime 'Exile on Main Street' and 'Wild Horses' from 'Sticky Fingers', which is probably The Stones' third or fourth best album. Give or take.

For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her
The Boxer
Homeward Bound
-- Simon & Garfunkel brought the acoustic guitar to the forefront of rock, creating aural landscapes and deeply personal reflections with lush harmonies and a depth in lyrical content that is too often missing in rock music. Songwriting of this magnitude is utterly missing in this sequenced era of sloppy, muttered rhymes and measuring one's manhood based on the gold content of one's dental work.

Father and Son
-- Cat Stevens was the voice of youth in the early and mid-70's, with songs that mirrored the hopes and fears and the search for meaning that defined the fractured era that followed the more hopeful 60's. Looking back on Steven's songbook, it is easy to see now that his spiritual journey via music would eventually lead him to a religious epiphany. It is unfortunate that that odyssey led him to Islam and, like Botticelli's religious conversion by Savonarola during the height of the Renaissance, caused Stevens to abandon many of his greatest songs for many decades.

Sweet Baby James
Carolina on My Mind
-- I've seen James Taylor a few times in concert, and his music has such a calming effect that I think they should pipe it through federal penitentiaries. Yes sir, saltpeter mixed in with the meals and James Taylor on the P.A. -- a natural means of pacification. And if Taylor is relaxing, then these two songs are quintessential. Taylor closes each show with 'Sweet Baby James' (possibly my favorite tune of his) and listening to 'Carolina on My Mind' makes me want to drive to Greensboro right then and there.

John Barleycorn
-- This song, from Traffic's great 'John Barleycorn Must Die', is an allegorical story of the cereal crop barley, and its sowing, reaping and finally distilling into alcohol in the personification of one 'John Barleycorn' who is treated "most barbarously" throughout the entire process, but gets his revenge at the end by turning men into hopeless drunks. This traditional song dates back to at least the mid-16th century.

Blister in the Sun
-- Perhaps the most manic acoustic guitar tune ever recorded. The conventional interpretation of this song is that it is about masturbation ("Body and beats, I stain my sheets, I don't even know why"), or about latent homsexuality ("big hands I know you're the one"), or about a girlfriend turned off by the singer's small penis and who is seeking a man with 'bigger hands' ("My girl friend, she's at the end, she is starting to cry"). Whichever theory you subscribe to, the Violent Femmes offered an anthem to sexual ambiguity that is hilariously edgy.

Fisherman's Blues
Raggle Taggle Gypsy
-- The Waterboys released two of the best folk rock albums of the 80's: 'Fisherman's Blues' and 'Room to Roam'; in fact, aside from The Pogues and Fairport Convention, there was very little happening on the folk rock front in that squalid decade. The song 'Fisherman's Blues' is the title track from The Waterboys' best album, and 'Raggle Taggle Gypsy' is the best-ever cover of that traditional song, and it appears on the underrated 'Room to Roam' album.

And You and I
-- It was difficult to choose a Yes song for this list, particularly due to the eclectic jazz and classically influenced variation from hard to quiescent material in the same composition. If you've seen Yes in concert, you'll recall how guitarist Steve Howe accomplishes this musical sleight of hand: he keeps his electric guitar strapped on, while his acoustic is mounted to a specially designed stand that allows him to trade back and forth at a moment's notice. 'And You and I' carries an acoustic guitar theme throughout the song.

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
Needle and the Damage Done
For the Turnstiles
-- Whether as part of Buffalo Springfield or CSN&Y, backed by Crazy Horse or The Stray Gators, or appearing solo as he often does, Neil Young music is a dichotomy of gritty, growling guitar distortion and stark acoustic ruminations. Young is one of the few rock stars who is known just as much for high-wattage electrics ('Rockin' the Free World', 'Cortez the Killer', 'Cinnamon Girl', 'Hurricane', etc.) as he is for acoustics ('Old Man', 'Heart of Gold', 'Pocahontas', etc.). Here are three from different periods: 'Needle and the Damage Done' is from 1972 and tells the story of his friend, guitarist Danny Whitten, and his heroin addiction (which eventually killed him); 'For the Turnstiles is a highly quirky, off key bit of poetic musing from 1974's 'On the Beach'; and 'My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)' is from the 1979 masterpiece 'Rust Never Sleeps'.