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'.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inducts Disco Blogger in the 'Fawning Lackey' Category

It all started when I posted the following piece: The Rock and Roll Hall of Shame, or The Crock and Faux Hall of Disco, Soul and Rap, which questioned the very nature of how artists, and particularly non-rock artists, are inducted into an 'alleged' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, yet have literally nothing to do with rock, and were never considered rock musicians/performers during their careers; while, at the same time, whole genres of rock are routinely ignored in the induction process. This obviously did not sit well with a few sycophants, brown-nosers and bootlickers who naturally came to defend the status quo. For instance, I received this comment from a certain Tom Lane:
"This has to be one of the stupidest Rock Hall posts ever written.
Uriah Heep, Supertramp, Rainbow, Harry Chapin, Humble Pie and some of the other laughable bands named that you want inducted had me thinking this whole post was satire. It was, right. Humble Pie!!"

I rebutted his rather callow commentary with a comment of my own, pointing out that he failed to read the piece in total (reading comprehension is a lost art, it seems), and that I had chosen six bands (Alice Cooper, Rush, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues and Yes) as examples of bands that have been totally and inexcusably ignored for induction, while performers like The Bee Gees and ABBA are inducted with apparent glee. Then at the end of my post I listed another 35-40 rock bands that did not have the obvious 'rock star' status that these sterling examples of rock and roll had: The Four Seasons, LaVern Baker, Martha and the Vandellas, Dusty Springfield, Solomon Burke, and Earth, Wind & Fire (all RRHoF inductes). Do you see the irony? Stevie Ray Vaughan and Deep Purple are not in the ROCK AND ROLL HALL but Solomon Burke and Martha and the Vandellas are -- even though they were never, ever considered rock-and-roll artists during their careers.

Needless to say, I let it go after the rebuttal, as it was obvious Tom Lane had some warped agenda to replace Jimi Hendrix's Strat with mirrored disco balls and polyester leisure suits as Hall exhibits. To each his own. That was until a kind reader pointed out that Tom Lane decided to attack again, actually posting this on his blog Most Ignorant Rock Hall Rant Ever?, wherein he continues to ignore the gist of the essay (the six bands who deserve induction), and instead continues to bitch and moan about the list of 40 artists that ended the piece. By the way, here is that list:

Blue Oyster Cult
Canned Heat
The Cars
Harry Chapin
Joe Cocker
Jim Croce
Dick Dale
Deep Purple
Dire Straits
The Doobie Brothers
Electric Light Orchestra
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Fairport Convention
J. Geils Band
Peter Gabriel (solo career)
The Guess Who
Ian Hunter (solo career)
Humble Pie
Carole King
John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
Jefferson Airplane/Starship
Mott the Hoople
The Pogues
Procol Harum
Roxy Music
Cat Stevens
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Uriah Heep
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Warren Zevon

Now, from a rock-and-roll standpoint, wouldn't you think that this list represents a great cross-section of rock bands and performers? Couldn't you choose 10, 20, even 30 bands that deserve immediate induction from that list and an apology from the Hall for not putting them in sooner? Why does Tom Lane have such a hard-on about certain bands I placed on the list? If one had actually read my piece (again, that reading comprehension thing), it is quite clear I never said that all these bands deserved induction, rather, that non-rock performers were inducted that took precedence over them and they weren't even considered. Rock performers ignored, non-rock performers inducted. I naturally assumed any imbecile would catch that; unfortunately, some dolts are wading so low in the gene pool that they may well drown in a teaspoonful of common sense.

Now, to Tom Lane's agenda. Going through his several lists of favorites for Hall of Fame induction, I found several questionable, if not downright laughably pathetic, selections. It makes one wonder if Mr. Lane should even be commenting on rock-and-roll at all:

The Commodores
Hall and Oates
Kool and the Gang
Teddy Pendergrass
The Stylistics
Barry White
Donna Summer
The Spinners

Barry White? Donna Summer? What exactly do these performer have to do with rock-and-roll, Mr. Lane? Have you ever heard anyone say "Man, The Stylistics really rock!" What next, Mr. Lane? KC & The Sunshine Band or The Village People? I assume you weren't at Chicago's Comiskey Park on 'Disco Demolition Night' in 1979 when thousands of rock fans were setting fire to disco albums. Were you too busy prepping for a 'Tony Manero Look-alike Contest' at a New York 'Saturday Night Fever Appreciation Day'?

Again, let's drop the pretext of having a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and merely have a Popular Music Hall of Fame if Tom Lane and his sorry, stultified ilk continue to frantically wave their disco balls for these non-rock entities. As I stated previously, it all has to do with selling tickets and homogenizing the process to such an extent that rap and disco are suddenly genres of rock-and-roll. But they aren't. The only reason they are there is so that the Hall can draw from a larger pool to bring in more money. It has nothing to do with music, and certainly not rock music. It has everything to do with the music industry promoting whatever flavor of the month it wishes to foist on the listening public.