The Rolling Stones – Dirty Work

So yesterday’s entry was a little phoned-in, I feel. I knew this was going to happen, because I knew taking on this project that I wasn’t always going to give 100% in my writing, no matter how much I love the album (and I do love that album). Today, I am feeling not any more journalistic, so I decided on a different approach. I put my Zune on shuffle and the first album it came across that piqued my interest, without actually reading the songs as they came by, would be the album I would listen to. I know for a fact that it would happen soon, because I now have over 9300 songs on the Zune and a total of 7200 plays in total. Anyway, as soon as I got to a very strange but compelling song indeed, I whipped the player out of my pocket and saw this:

Keith am I high on trillion-dollar heroin or are we all dressed in delicious candy, Keith? Keith? .... Keith?

Wow.

So today, using only Wikipedia’s citation-needed-packed entry on this album for fact-checking, I am going to be giving a first time run playthrough on this album.

Track one: One Hit (To The Body)

Ok, this track isn’t so bad so far, we’ve got sloppy electric guitars, kind of boring drums with an emphasis on the irregular bass hit (I guess the drums are punching you in the body). The guitar was apparently done by Jimmy Page, so uhh nice job there, I guess he needed someone to play guitars for at this point in the 80’s. You can tell just from the cover and from the way the vocals are reverbed that this is definitely 1986, and imagine this, the album was a bit of a flop!

Holy moley, the vocals just started. This sounds less like the soulful, bad-boy Mick Jagger that sang his heart out in 1969 on the wonderful Let It Bleed. It actually sounds like he didn’t have a microphone, and just screamed all his vocals right into the needle while the records were being scratched. Citation is needed on this, but Wikipedia says it’s a bit rough.

I’d tell you what this song is about, but my only synopsis so far is that it’s about Mick being punched in the body and trying to sing about it whilst vomiting. Nice guitar solos, though.

Track two: Fight

Whoah, as soon as the beat turns on you can tell that this is vile 80’s music. Somehow, the vocals have gotten even worse, too, as if Mick was singing through an oscillating fan. The chord progression is very typical bluesy-rock with that glitzy 80’s reverbed drum and flaccid bass tone. It’s not really “bad”, it just sounds more “contrived” (that means “bad”), as if they’re trying to quickly recreate their popular sound at gunpoint or something. Thankfully it’s only 3 minutes.

Track Three: Harlem Shuffle

This is apparently the first single off the album, and is a cover that Keith Richards discovered, presumably while travelling in outer space. It’s a single, all right, since the only discernable part of the song is where they’re like “Do the harlem shuffle!” The other parts are a mess of chord changes and uninteresting bits that really don’t bother capturing the imagination or anything. I do like the presence of a really deep, almost timpani-sounding drum on the upbeats, but that is not enough to save a song, particularly one that hit #5 on the charts. Why couldn’t Michael Jackson have taken away all the rights to THIS music?

Track Four: Hold Back

Oh no here are those 80’s drums again, only this time they’ve been mixed all the way to the front, so that machinery-sounding snare drum hits you right between the eyes. You may wish for the rest of the band to save you from this oppressive beat, but the guitars are too busy fighting with each other, and Mick’s voice has raised pitch to where it sounds like he’s been transformed by voodoo to a 3 foot tall Tom Waits. I swear to you he isn’t singing in English anymore, unless it’s like homeless people English.

Track Five: Too Rude

Well at least this a change. The drums are being played somewhere in the echo of the Grand Canyon, and there’s some kind of reggae thing going on with the bass. The vocals are not rough at all, just kind of weird. It’s a strange track, everything has so much reverb on it you’d think you were hearing it from inside an empty tank.

Track Six: Winning Ugly

Well we’re opening with a bassline, which is promising. WHOAH nevermind, this track has those 80’s good-feeling-synthy strings, you know the ones. It’s the kind of sound that makes you think about wearing clothes like the ones in that image above. Oh wow, those keyboards are torture. Mick is back to singing like he’s gargling battery acid. This song doesn’t stray very far from that one chord they’ve got going, until about 3 minutes in when the thing goes a little nuts with the random chord changes, and then we hit a kind of “standard guitar solo no. 2” and back to where we were. Holy man is this track still going? How long has it been… only 4 minutes? Wow, we’ve only got like a minute left, thankfully.

Track Seven: Back To Zero

Ha ha ha so now we’ve got funk and clavichord along with undistorted funk guitar and a standard non-funk beat. I must have gotten used to the vocals by now, because I barely even noticed that Mick Jagger sounds like he’s singing in some kind of shower-bathtub thing. There is this crescendo about 2 1/2 minutes in that makes no musical sense except that the instruments are playing seemingly random notes as Mick builds up to a WOOOO that reminds me much of Michael Jackson. I’m so glad I wasn’t into rock music in 1986, this is not my kind of music, clearly.

Track Eight: Dirty Work

All right, the title track! It’s, well, still 80’s-sounding, but it’s got that kind of fast-paced 80’s sound that is not so bad. The guitars are all kind of plastic-sounding, and the beat is again being played in the middle of Death Valley so by the time the echoes catch up you are already listening to another song. Mick might be getting tired of singing in general by this time, so he’s more or less going “BEH BEH BO GRRRR BETTY” by now, with about as much gargle as you can muster. Strangely enough, however, eventually some perfectly ungargly vocals come in and start talking some jittery reverb nonsense about 3 minutes in and then a WOOOOO again and then the “regular” vocals come back in.

Track Nine: Had It With You

Ok here’s the song my shuffle picked that intrigued me so. The guitar tone is so strange, it almost sounds like a distorted keyboard, but it isn’t. The drums are also free of reverb, which is a welcome “thank you Jesus” kind of moment I’ll tell you. The vocals are still hopeless, but now we’ve got harmonica and a saxophone to kind of distract from it. Speaking of, though the “I Had It With You” message might be Mick talking about Keith Richards, since they were apparently fighting a lot at this point (citation needed), but really this song reflects my true feelings about this album, and there are two more tracks to go! JOY!

Track Ten: Sleep Tonight

Some wonderful little cheesy piano comes in to welcome this track in, and some people going “woo” in the background and impersonating cats. Kind of strange, but then the over-reverbed drums come in and make you think this is going to be a Celine Dion track. Sounds like Keith Richards is singing this one, presumably in a heroin-induced stupor, as he does that kind of Bob Dylan-esque drone in his singing. Also the instruments try to do interesting weird things with the timing, but it all sounds really messy, like Charlie Watts is trying to hit a mouse that landed on his drums while playing, and the rest of the band just kind of follows along. I can’t believe this song is 5 minutes long, I ran out of things to say about it like 2 minutes ago. It definitely suffers from “too many damn choruses” syndrome like so many songs from the 80’s onward.

Track Eleven: Key To The Highway

The best song on the album! It’s just a piano playing a ragtime blues number for 34 seconds. Apparenly this was a tribute to their keyboardist/pianist Ian Stewart, who had died just after this album was issued. Man, what a way to go. Still, the man had a great legacy with the Stones, and I’m sure his tickling of the ivories had bought the band many pounds of fresh cut long grain heroin with which their minds were turned into the kind of pulp that would allow an album like this to happen. So, while I appreciate the sentiment in dedicating the final track to Ian Stewart’s legacy, a much better favor would have been done by taking his parts out of the album entirely.

Oh I’m just being mean. This wasn’t a very good album, but was not as “80’s-tastic” as others I’ve heard, but given that this is the same band that gave us Let It Bleed, Aftermath, and so many other great albums, it really begs the question, why do we consider it a good thing that the Stones have endured for so many decades?

 

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Warren Zevon – Preludes: Rare And Unreleased Recordings

Ok ok, so I know this probably breaks a bunch of unspoken rules. For one, I JUST wrote about Warren Zevon like TWO DAYS AGO. For two, what I’m writing about isn’t exactly an album, in that it’s a posthumous release of collected rarities and demos and a second disc of an interview with the man, the legend, the sandwich-enjoyer, Warren Zevon.

Well, in response to these self-inflicted objections I say:

1. Deal with it
2. I have decided that this album is enough of an album because the recordings are all from the same time period, and none of the songs appear on other recordings, since they were all recovered long after being recorded. Anyway, if I wasn’t able to write about this collection, I wouldn’t be able to write about Personal File OR Unearthed, two of my favorite posthumous releases from Johnny Cash. So I have decided to concede that I CAN write about posthumous “discovered” period collections, because this blog is about what *I* want to write about, and it’s all music anyway, right?

Right. On with the show:

This picture is SO COOL I want to have babies with it

This collection is sold both as a one-disc and a two-disc version. I really recommend the two-disc version, as the second disc is an excellent eye-opening interview with Warren in one of the strangest periods of his life you could have picked to talk with him. It was recorded in 1999, which was about 3 years before he found out he had terminal cancer, but right as he released one of his most death-related albums, Life’ll Kill Ya. I’ll get to that in a moment, first some of the demos on Disc 1:

It starts off with a solo performance of an early song of Warren’s called “Empty Hearted Town”, which features L.A., a city about which Warren sang but didn’t like to be considered part of, musically. It contains the line “Shoulda done, shoulda done” that would become one of the lines from the album version of “Accidentally Like A Martyr”. It’s a beautiful song, and I particularly like the line “I’m walking through the streets of L.A./Wishing I had a warmer jacket”.

The next song is a demo featuring a full band, and contains some very interesting instrumentation. It’s called “Steady Rain” and opens up with a metronome (or maybe some other ticking instrument) and a 12-string guitar riff that sounds really spacey, in fact the whole thing kind of sounds spacey, with the organs and reverb and everything. In fact, I would say the minor-key bridge is a 20 year precursor to Radiohead’s sound. I often wonder what would have happened if Warren did more of the Radiohead sound while Radiohead were still in diapers.

We then get treated to an acoustic guitar/vocal rendition of “Join Me In L.A.”, which is fun to listen to, because Warren liked to party with this song even when it was just clearly him in a room by himself. Right after that is a beautiful solo performance of “Hasten Down The Wind”, which I nearly prefer to the album version, since it’s so sparse and his vocal performance is actually a little more emotional-sounding in this particular performance.

Then a sample from Shakespeare opens up a really strange rendition of “Werewolves Of London”, which features almost none of the crashy dynamics of the album version. The piano is replaced by an organ, the guitar is just reverbed staccato notes playing rhythm as if in a reggae setup, and the “A-HOOO’s” are pushed way in the background and are sung in 2-part harmony. Also there’s a lot of gutteral growling, snarling and panting in the background, ALSO the choruses are cut roughly in half. Quite an eccentric performance, and definitely worth hearing for the novelty, or if you wanted to hear what the song sounds like on heavy medication.

The next song, “Tule’s Blues”, is a different version than the demo that appears on the CD remaster of Excitable Boy, and is a pretty good song about love lost between the performer and another musician named Tule. That is then followed up with an acoustic guitar performance of “The French Inhaler”, which is a pretty interesting take, since I didn’t even think you could adequately play it on guitar. Warren was really an underrated guitarist, he could really pound it out on the 12-string.

One favorite of mine in the collection is “Going All The Way”, mostly because it is such a standard song for something Warren wrote. Well, the piano/glockenspiel melody played through about half of the song is really creative, but the whole song is half-finished anyway, so I guess there’s no sense wondering what might have come out of this track.

We’re then treated to a particulary screamy demo of “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, which starts out with a line that Warren didn’t sing in the album but did sing in the live album Stand In The Fire:

Well, I met a girl from the Vieux Carre
Down in Yokahama
She picked me up and she throwed me down
I said, “Please don’t hurt me, Mama”

Which, really I do prefer the song to start out with the album version’s lyrics, and I guess Warren felt the same way.

Then there’s a great song called “Studebaker” that I really would have liked to hear a finalized version of. It’s about having a Studebaker and regretting the fact that it breaks down all the time, and it unfortunately ends with a near-flub, so if there are other parts written, I guess we’ll never hear them!

We then are treated to an early, much wordier version of “Accidentally Like A Martyr”. It’s a bit more bitter and less sentimental, which would be the prevailing attitude in many more of his love-lost songs, but I’m kind of glad he went with the more sparse arrangement with the final album version. The song is also considerably faster in this demo version, and features some motown “hey hey hey”s at the end, which might have derailed the song in its slower arrangement. However, like with all the other demos, it’s great to hear how this stuff started out and what became of it.

It’s followed by a less-refined version of “Carmelita”, and then a very un-Zevon-like original called “I Used To Ride So High”. The latter doesn’t even sound like it’s sung by Warren for the most part, and it’s about 70% choruses, which would be a “thing” in Warren’s later albums, but still, it’s kind of a 70’s rock du jour song with falsetto to spare.

We’re then treated to a bit of a country song called “Stop Rainin’ Lord”, which is just a good song all around, though I can see where it wouldn’t fit on all but the later of Zevon’s albums. It references a town called “Mechanicsburg” which I really hope is a real town.

“The Rosalita Beach Cafe” is a really good song about being stuck in a cafe with an impossible to pay off tab, even though the singer “has a million dollar bill and they won’t let me change it”. Pretty great all around, but probably didn’t make it onto the album because it is rather close, lyrically, to “Desperadoes Under The Eaves”, which is the next song, actually! I don’t care how raw this version sounds, I always love hearing this song.

Next is an acoustic guitar song called “Workin’ Man’s Pay”, which is a very minory song about just what you think it’s about. Great song that quite reminds me of a Gentle Giant song called “Working All Day”, which I’m sure I’ll talk about later. This song is about half-finished on this collection, which is a shame. Also relatively unfinished is the silky smooth “Frozen Notes”, which I think is also a bonus on Excitable Boy. I am too lazy to check this.

Finally, we have the extremely scratchy and lo-fi “Some Kind Of Rider” which, despite its rough fidelity, has some really excellent harmonies. It sounds a lot like an old country record that has been buried in a pile of nails for centuries.

And with that, the collection’s first disc of 19 tracks comes to an end. Overall, an excellent collection, and really makes one wonder what might have been, and excepting the final few tracks, has excellent sound quality throughout.

The second disc, as I mentioned, is an interview Warren did for KGSR, Austin’s fancy-pants radio station. The interview is great to listen to, since Warren speaks with such articulation and everything he says is so genuine. Without giving away too much of the facts I’m sure to mention when I talk about Life’ll Kill Ya, I’ll reveal some things I learned about Warren:

1. He was a big Radiohead fan, and considered them “a favorite, which means out of 2 or 3 bands ever”.

2. He wrote a song from that album while driving to the Wal*Mart I live really close to!

3. He never considered himself an “unsuccessful rock singer”, but rather a “really successful folk singer”.

4. He played some songs at the inauguration of Minnesota Governor/ex-Wrestler/Actor who has no time for pain, Jesse Ventura. Ventura himself sang a rendition of “Werewolves Of London”.

And there are many more topics spoken of including mortality, being a “song noir” songwriter, and his views on music in general. Great stuff.

 

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Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy

Everybody’s desperate, trying to make ends meet
Work all day, still can’t pay the price of gasoline and meat
Alas, their lives are incomplete

Don’t it make you want to rock and roll, all night long?
Mohammed’s Radio
I heard somebody singing sweet and soulful on the radio
Mohammed’s Radio

These are lines from Warren Zevon’s previous album, which I’ve already talked about. Today, I have been inundated with all kinds of financial worry, which is unrelated to anything I couldn’t have prevented with a bit of sense, so no real big deal. Either way, I’m stressed, so today I am going to talk about one of my very favorite albums/artists to check into therapy with:

Doesn't he just LOOK excitable?

This album is likely in the record collection of just about anyone over the age of 40. It was, up until his final recording, the most successful album Warren ever put out. The success is certainly deserved, as it is a remarkable album.

Now, I usually recommend listening to the debut, Warren Zevon, before listening to this recording, to provide a sort of context for the sound and the lyricist, but I’ve realized lately that the album really stands on its own. It’s something of an evil cousin to the previous album, all of the wonderful production and top-shelf songwriting is there, only it lacks the introspection and redemption of the debut, and is mainly concerned with partying and presenting the dark themes of the lyrics in a very unapologetic, yet accessible, way.

The album starts off innocently enough with “Johnny Strikes Up The Band”, which is perfect for people looking for a bit of party therapy, as it opens up with:

Dry your eyes, my little friend
Let me take you by the hand
Freddy get ready, rock-steady
When Johnny strikes up the band

It’s a great little song, particularly the bridge portion with its fancy piano chords.

It reminds me, really, of my favorite thing about Sgt. Pepper’s etc., the legendary Beatles album: it’s a “gateway” song, like the album is welcoming you with a song about the music you’ll be hearing, but not something as obvious as a “Theme to Album” song (something another band I like is known for).

So I bet you weren’t expecting to be floored with a haunting ballad of a Norweigan mercenary’s ghost immediately after that, were ya? Well, “Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner” is precisely that, and it is a song that floors, provided of course that you have a soul. The piano intro actually sounds a lot like “Frank And Jesse James” from Warren Zevon, but not close enough, merely in the same key. Anyway, “Roland” is a much better song. It’s got backstabbing, war, murder, revenge, and some extraordinary word-play, just about everything you could expect from a masterful ballad.

Of course, then it’s time to bring it all up to speed with another type of ballad, and that is the song’s title track. Oh, how I love this song. It’s so twisted:

Well he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
Excitable boy, they all said
And he rubbed the pot-roast all over his chest
Well he’s just an excitable boy

Every stanza of the 4 verses are arranged like this, with each “activity” becoming all the more sickening. You’ll just have to hear it for yourself. The fact that the tune is so pleasant against all this makes this an incredibly fun song for deviants or people with superior senses of humor.

Speaking of, the party doesn’t stop there! The next song is the one Warren is best known for: “Werewolves Of London”. I really want to say that this song isn’t worth a dime because it was written in 15 minutes and Warren was outspoken in his “hatred” of the song, and I totally relate to that (despite not being a “successful” musician, the song I play that people like the most is the one that took 15 minutes to write). However, I am not strong enough of a cynic to dismiss this song. It’s an amazing song, and just you try to listen to it in the car without howling along with the over-simplified chorus.

“Werewolves Of London”, despite the lack of time spent writing it, has some great alliterative lines and some very interesting imagery in the lyrics. It’s what one should expect from a genius, I suppose.

After that, it’s finally time to take a break for a love-lost song. Though Warren has written a couple dozen love songs, “Accidentally Like A Martyr” is one of the more raw and emotionally honest ones, and goes to show that genius can be applied to emotional issues as well as party songs about rape or werewolves:

The phone didn’t ring, no no
And the sun refused to shine
Never thought I’d have to pay so dearly
For what was already mine
For such a long, long time

We made mad love, shadow love
Random love, abandoned love
Accidentally, like a martyr
The hurt gets worse, and the heart gets harder

It’s got some crazy chord changes after the choruses too, which is always a fun separation from the 3 chord structure used in the previous couple of songs.

Next is a funky jam called “Nighttime In The Switching Yard”, which isn’t really much lyrically, but has some awesome drum and bass work throughout, and a great breakdown with a horn section in the chorus. I dig this song, it reminds me of something really familiar, but I can’t quite place my finger on it. I guess it’s just got that kind of 70’s funk feel to it that kids my age just know.

Man, hard to believe we’re already almost through the album… next is “Vera Cruz”, which is a historical ballad co-written by Jorge Calderón (who is musically Zevon’s faithful sidekick), and is written from the perspective of a rich Mexican family fleeing from “Woodrow Wilson’s guns”. I kick myself that I can’t remember anything about the particular struggle, because that would PROBABLY make this song a lot more significant to me. It features some Spanish language in the bridge, which wouldn’t be the last time Warren uses that language (legitimately, though, as he was a resident of Spain for a while before getting signed).

We then have a song that, well, I am not too crazy about. It’s called “Tenderness On The Block” and it’s a very insightful song instructing fathers to learn how to let go of their daughters when they come of age. It’s not the theme that bothers me, I guess I just find the instrumentation a little grating on this one, which is bound to happen at some point or another, I suppose. Still, I listen to this song when it comes up about half the time.

Finally, in case you forgot this album was about destroying the pressures of modern day life by singing absurd songs of excess and wrongdoing, we have the legendary “Lawyers, Guns, And Money”, which is better explained by Zevon himself than I could ever do:

“Back in the late 70’s, I was working on the album Excitable Boy, and I decided I needed a vacation, so I went to Kawai in the Hawaiian islands. I wrote this song, late one night, on wet cocktail napkins after a long day of improbable and grotesque mischief. Obviously, I survived all that, but I learned something from the experience. I never take vacations.”

There are a few songs that, even after getting clean and kicking the alcoholism that plagued Warren’s early career, that deal with unapologetic excess and the hilarious consequences that ensue. Warren is usually the victor in this regard, as he enjoyed writing himself as a victorious villian, to be redeemed whenever he feels appropriate. That redemption would come much later, so until then, Excitable Boy stands as a wonderfully mischievous album which makes for perfect listening for potential trouble-makers.

 

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Deep Purple – In Rock

Ok, I know I JUST did a writeup on Muse, so throwing Deep Purple MK II music in right after that is in danger of being too much rock, but I am willing to risk that for you. I have been a fan of Deep Purple for a couple of years now (though a fan of Highway Star the song ever since its inclusion in the Super Nintendo racing masterpiece Rock N’ Roll Racing) , especially the “Mk II” lineup, which included Ian Gillan on vocals, Ritchie Blackmoore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass, Jon Lord on keys, and last but most certainly first, the ever-present Ian Paice on drums. Of the few albums (4, I think?) that this lineup put out, I have a lot of trouble deciding between the band’s Magnum Opus, Machine Head, and the album which directly precedes it, In Rock, which has what I consider one of the undisputed best album covers in history:

My friend Greg calls this picture Mt. Blackmoore which is SO FITTING

Albums like this are a little harder to write-up, I feel, because the fair, objective reviewer in me would simply repeat the word “YES!” about 1000 times to convey his true feelings about In Rock. I feel that that’s cheating, so I’ll do my best to describe what’s really going on here.

The first song, “Speed King” is a bit of a spiritual predecessor to “Highway Star”, in that it’s a song about partying and having a good time wrapped loosely around a central idea of moving really fast, presumably in a car. The first stanza refers to about 3 different rock songs, at least that I can tell:

Good golly, said little miss molly
When she was rockin in the house of blue light
Tutti frutti was oh so rooty
When she was rockin to the east and west
Lucille was oh so real
When she didnt do her daddies will
Come on baby, drive me crazy–do it, do it

The band, at this point, covered some old rock songs like “Lucille” so it’s a matter of course that they would pay omage to their forefathers. The song does what I love for a rock album to do: just drops you into the middle of the rock with no warning (I found out, however, that this is simply due to the American release cutting out the minute-long intro to the song, bastards) and doesn’t let up for quite a while, even when the song slows down to a jazzy drum beat with a light organ solo, you still know that the rock is coming right back. One of the main features of this song and perhaps most of Deep Purple’s early album is the “searing vocals” of Ian Gillan, one of the best screamers of rock when screaming was at its high-point (no pun intended). However, the vocals do not take the center stage, there’s still a smoking rhythm section (my favorite of the period aside from The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and the combination of distorted keyboards and distorted guitars to compete with. At least in the case of In Rock, those elements all come together perfectly, and give no indication of the ego-battles that would drive the band apart so many times that it’s a wonder they’re still around today. Still, that’s a story for another album.

The next song, “Bloodsucker”, again features very prominent, screamy vocals (especially the song’s hook, the “AHHH NO NO NO”, man I love that), but the bluesy guitar riffs that give way to a wicked cool solo halfway through bring it right up to the same level. The vocals just might win this one, over all, since towards the end they’re filtered through some really cool sweeping effects. It’s all right though, the guitar gets its turn in the next song.

“Child In Time” is a 10-minute long jam that starts off slow because that’s the only way to introduce the incredible instrumental jam halfway through. The vocals play an important, yet brief, part though as Ian hits some of his highest notes right before the song goes crazy/nuts. This song is so incredible I can’t hardly believe it’s real, but the live performance is even better. Seriously best 20 minutes you can spend watching a single song. I think this must be why some people label Deep Purple as “progressive” sometimes. Just in case the instrumental break wasn’t completely awesome enough for you, the song explodes at the end, which is the only way to really end a proper rock song, in my opinion.

This song may leave you feeling like this album may be far too intense for normal listening, which is why the “feel good” major keys prevail over the next portion of the listening experience. “Flight Of The Rat” is great in its own right, namely for the rotation of punchy solos from the keyboards and guitars, all kept together by a great upbeat rhythm delivered by Roger Glover and quite possibly my favorite drummer still alive today: Ian Paice, who gets his own little funk thing going right at the 5 minute mark and again at the 6 minute mark and AGAIN at the 7 minute mark of the song. It’s hard to call them proper “solos” however, since the average Ian Paice solo is about 6 minutes long on its own (if you’re wondering where his shirt is in that video, he rocked it off around the 3rd song).

The next song, “Into The Fire”, is a chunky, plodding straight-up rock number. If “metal” had been invented by this album’s time, one might consider it an early metal song. It’s not a particular favorite of mine, it’s at least mercifully short at about 3 1/2 minutes. Also, it serves as a great segue into the radical change of style between “Flight Of The Rat” and the super-funky “Living Wreck”, which contains one my absolute favorite bassline on the album and perhaps in Deep Purple’s entire catalogue. Man, what a song, the right combination of blues, funk, and some crazy-ass organ blats.

The final song (what, only 7 songs?) is a bit of a psychedelic track featuring lots of noise against a driving beat, with Ian Gillan once again bringing out the big screamy notes that had been a little more low-key in the songs between “Child In Time” and this one. Since apparently Jon Lord’s favorite keyboard solos have to do with crashy sounds and lots of chaos, this is probably his favorite track on the album, especially since he gets the most solo time. Honestly, since the song doesn’t change much and is about 8 minutes long, it’s kind of easy to pass this one up unless you are a really big fan of noisy solos.

This album in general is great though, and certainly cheap enough if you pick up the CD version released in ’95. I may have to check out the 25th Anniversary edition, however, since it has “Black Night” on it, which is a pretty great track. Well, until tomorrow!

Motörhead – Ace Of Spades

I have found myself today at a loss for time. I just woke up, am due in at work in about an hour, and have all my time afterward booked up well past midnight, so basically this brief amount of time here is the only time I have to write about an album. I figured the best way to write about an album quickly is to write about a very quick album:

They look like such nice boys!

It’s also easy to write about this album because I have heard is about a billion times.

I am really glad this band exists. Motörhead is, without stretching too far into the realm of hard rock and metal, one of the uglier bands out there, but make up for it handily with their raw power and speed. In particular, Ace Of Spades is a shot of pure adrenaline, administered in an almost lethal amount of doses (12 songs on the album proper, 15 on the release I have with some bonus songs). From the opening distorted bass riff of “Ace Of Spades” to the ending track, the even faster “The Hammer”, the album is relentlessly punchy, fast, and grunty.

There really is a certain quality to singer/bassist Lemmy’s grunting, too. It’s the type of voice that other voices in metal just crumble and blow away in the wind against. It’s certainly a good thing that Motörhead is NOT a metal band. They insist on not being called that, since they (like me) consider conventional medal to be like “geezers plodding around the bottom of a lake with lead shoes on”, and metal is indeed ploddy, whereas Motörhead are all about fast presentation with no reverb, glitz, or ANY non-singing portion of a song NOT being filled with an incredible guitar solo.

There’s not a lot to say to differentiate one track from another on the album, since they’re all awesome, but I’ll try anyway. “Ace Of Spades” is certainly the best known song, at least to me, since it’s the first one I ever saw the band play on the British punk-rock comedy show The Young Ones. A lot of other people may know the song from its inclusion in both Guitar Hero and (I think) Rock Band. From what I can tell, it’s about a guy who likes to play cards and doesn’t mind losing all the time because he only ever plays with one card, which may not be sensible card-playing behaviour but trust me I am not going to question.

The next song, “Love Me Like A Reptile“, is a signature Lemmy-penned love ballad:

Knew I had to bite you baby when I first laid eyes on you
That moment turned me on, I can’t believe it’s true
And I like to watch your body sway
I got no choice, I’m gonna twist your tail

One of the things I’ve always loved about Lemmy’s songwriting is how it uses conventional lines like “I can’t believe it’s true” amidst the dirtiest themes. I can’t really explain how that’s hilarious, only that it is.

Then a vibroslap brings us into the next song, “Shoot You In The Back“, a quick song about being in a Western movie, with an underlying cautionary message of living on pride, which is actually a big theme for this particular album. Certainly Motörhead is not a band of ego, they’re just there to rock.

In fact, the next song “Live To Win” is a really great loser’s motivational anthem:

You mustn’t shout it out loud,
Don’t create a scene,
It’s no good being proud
That only feeds the scheme,
Break down the wall,
Live it up it’s their time to fall,
Anarchy is coming in,
If you know we Live To Win

Which is a really inspirational message of hope to those of us dragged down by the system. One may also refer to the bizarre but hilarious movie Eat The Rich, which stars a few of the guys from The Young Ones and Lemmy himself.

Now that we’ve gotten the fighting and shooting all done, it’s time for some lovin’, in a way only Lemmy can really convey with the next song, “Fast And Loose“:

Two o’ clock in the morning baby
I know it’s late, I know it’s late
I’m dark and I like the night
And I can make you feel alright

I’ve been around for quite a while
And I’ve learned how I can make you smile
I know you won’t refuse
You know I’m Fast And Loose

How any lady could resist such a romantic plea? At the very least, he seems fairly sincere.

We then move on to another type of ballad, a tribute to the dirtiest and lowliest bunch in music, “(We Are) The Road Crew“, which is an all-too-honest tribute to life on the road in general.

Just in case you felt that song was a bit slow, however, the next track, “Fire, Fire” brings it right back up. The lyrics aren’t without their charm of course:

Fire, Fire! Holocaust
Fire, Fire! Given up for lost
Fire, Fire! Strike one, strike two
Fire, Fire! I’m a match for you

Who says there isn’t perfection in songwriting? Really you may be thinking at this point that Lemmy is quite the maniac with the ladies, and you’re probably right, particularly with the younger class of ladies, as evidenced in the next song, “Jailbait“, about which the less said, the better.

The song “Dance” is a slightly less distorted song, I suppose for the old people. It’s got more of a blues/swing style of hard rock than the previous songs, but by the chorus you realize that it’s still the same Motörhead, they’re just showing a brief bit of variety, which isn’t really the name of the game with Ace Of Spades, which is probably why it’s at the back of the album.

The very best song, at least lyrically, is “Bite The Bullet“, which is the very best breakup song I have ever heard where the writer of the song is the antagonist to the breakup:

Stepping out, I’m leaving here,
No use crying, crying in my beer,
Enough’s enough, believe it’s true,
Bite The Bullet, I’m leaving you
Said goodbye, I left a note,
But I don’t remember, just what I wrote,
The same old words, to say we’re through,
Bite The Bullet, I’m leaving you
So that’s the way it always ends,
Get sympathy from all your friends,
Seems there’s nothing, nothing else to do,
Bite The Bullet, I’m leaving you

That’s not an excerpt, that’s the entire song. The whole thing is about 1:38 in length, which is quite possibly the fastest breakup song in existence. I really wish I had time to research that one to find out if there’s anything quicker. Oh well.

The penultimate track to Ace Of Spades is “The Chase Is Better Than The Catch“, which is the slow-song of the album. It’s really quite tender, compared to the rest of the album, and you can tell with lines like these:

I like a little innocent bitch
You know I ain’t just screwing

The last and final song on the album, as I mentioned before, is “The Hammer“, which is a song about justice. Justice brought… with a hammer.

And I am now out of time, so I had better get before the hammer makes me die. I will probably have to listen to this album again to give me the shot of adrenaline I need to get to work that much faster. Until then, rock on!

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Gentle Giant – Gentle Giant

I decided, based on a friend’s advice, to tackle writing about my favorite band as a once-a-month thing. It works out, you see, Gentle Giant put out 12 albums, and there are 12 months in the year. I decided that “roughly the middle” is a good time of month to write these articles, so the 15th is now known as Gentle Giant Day, and what a lovely day!

Wow a forehead bigger than my own!

If nothing else can be said about Gentle Giant, it’s that they were certainly unusual. It was a band comprised of 5 members (6 for their first four albums, including this one) who could play 30 or so instruments between them, and didn’t mind switching instruments mid-song, and 4 of the original 6 members were classically trained. The keyboardist/cellist/vibesist, Kerry Minnear, trained in one of the greatest musical conservatories in the world, and apparently the degree he got there was the only one of its kind given out within 10 years there. So it’s safe to say that this is certainly one of the more “qualified” bands out there. Though not as present on their first album, the band’s signature and lasting legacy would be their ultra-precise and enormously complicated arrangements, which the band attacked with gusto.

Speaking of gusto, the band decided to open the gates to their music with an epic, sweeping number called “Giant“.

The birth of the realization
The rise of a high expectation

The band likens the building up and the tearing down of their opening song as a giant made up of several parts, which of course is a self-reference. Indeed, Giant has a really big sound, there are so many parts that come and go or compliment the overall sound while sitting in the background, yet the whole thing is a bit more subtle than a lot of the “over-the-top” bands that were around, especially in the “progressive rock” genre that people often put Gentle Giant in.

I’m really not of the opinion that they belong in any one genre, though, and the second song is a testament to that. “Funny Ways” opens up with a 12 string acoustic guitar playing a very dirge-like minor progression as violin and cello set you up for a very sad time with the introspective lyrics. Fortunately, the band doesn’t like to just leave a song conveying one mood, so after the second chorus, it becomes something else altogether as the bass, tympani and trumpet come in to welcome the oncoming guitar solo or, in the case of live performances, a wicked cool vibraphone solo by Kerry. This song is apparently quite the live staple, as all 4 of the concerts I’ve seen/heard by the band had it as a feature at one point.

The band, in interviews and what-not, considered themselves more “experimental” in their first two albums, and certainly that can be heard in the oppressive third song, “Alucard”, which is a fitting title since the lyrics sound like they are being sung backwards thanks to a neat studio trick. The synthesizers that help open up the song almost seem to be playing random notes to add to the dissonance of the track, but like everything else, is totally intentional. I adore this song for its disturbing tone and funky beat, provided by the band’s short-lived (and unfortunately now deceased) original drummer, Martin Smith.

Not ones to finish out the first half of the album on a disturbing note, Gentle Giant calls on the powers of jazzy guitar and a string duo (or is it a trio?) to bring the mellow tribute to midnight solitude, “Isn’t It Quiet And Cold?” (that video contains a “remixed” version of the song, and is not exactly what appears on the album, best I could do), a song about someone who missed the bus and had to walk home in the middle of the night. The pizzicato strings and the flow of the rhythm give the song the feel of walking, and the whole thing is very peaceful.

The peaceful sound is carried through to the next track, the antepenultimate “Nothing At All“, which starts as a tender melancholy ballad of lonliness and heartbreak. The band would eventually be known for its extraordinary complex and often arhythmical vocal polyphony, but in their first album, this is pretty much the only instance of vocal harmony. It gives way to a gentle guitar/bass riff that builds up into a rock number where “lead singer” Derek displays his raw singing power (he and 2 other members of the band were in a soul group previous to Gentle Giant). The song then takes an unusual turn; it goes into a drum solo being fed through a phase shifting loop that travels from side-to-side, and then a classical piano piece (specifically  Liebestraum No. 3 by Liszt) comes in, almost unwittingly, since it doesn’t really “follow” the drums, and then the drums, seeming to sense the piano’s presence, starts wildly soloing in what sounds (in a pair of headphones anyway since it’s panning from left to write in a circular motion) like a vortex forming, and it drags the piano in, which holds its own for a little while but then cascades down some diminished jazz chords as if getting sucked into the vortex. How I wish I was clever enough to make something like that up! The song then goes back to the melancholy mode it started in, unaware of what happened, and the song ends at over 9 minutes long, the longest in the band’s catalogue save for some live shenanigans.

Having gone through a few different genres and an exploration of various sonic experiments, how could one possibly end an album appropriately? By totally rocking the funk out, the track “Why Not?” is for sure my favorite song on the album, and in fact starts a trend among Gentle Giant’s 12 albums that is almost always followed: the last track on the album has to be the rockingest.

“Why Not” actually trades off the rocking guitar/organ riffs for a medieval-sounding flute/bass passage where Derek’s powerful vocal work is replaced by Kerry’s gentle voice as he sings:

Why not climb a hill with someone who hates you?
Why not hate someone who climbs a hill with you?
And as time passes by, your feet are slipping
And you are wondering why there’s no forgetting

And then a guitar solo brings the whole thing back to a veritable wall of vocals resounding the song’s fairly clever lyrics:

Don’t sing a tune to yourself, you might believe this one
Try not to sew it yourself, the threading don’t stretch none
Who said the things that go in the song is only saying
Dead thoughts can kill a good thing, the band is only playing

Then, historians take note, the band goes into what is probably the only blues-jam in its history, and they play the blues as masterfully as any other genre. What a grand finish!

Oh right, actually there is one more track. Just so you know that Gentle Giant, despite being an extraordinary group of untold talent, is not a band that ever took itself too seriously, they jam out a synth-laden rock jam version of England’s (and, to a lesser extent, Canada’s) national anthem, which they titled “The Queen”. I’m not terribly fond of it, but it’s certainly fun.

Gentle Giant is a great debut album, and the only complaint I could possibly draw of it is that the recording itself is distorted in parts and just generally too quiet throughout. The U.S. release of the album, through Vertigo, sounds particularly grating. There have been many “remasters” released to try and rectify this, and the only one I have heard that qualifies as “really great” is the Universal Japan release. Then again, it’s out of print and at the time I bought it the price was generally in the $30-$40 range. Despite the extreme care the Japanese took in remastering this album (the band, due to legal issues, actually can’t re-release the thing themselves like they did with 7 of their other albums), it still sounds muddy in parts, and the volume has to be cranked at all times.

Still, despite the sound issues, it is an amazing album, and the rest of their stuff only gets better from here… well… until the final 2 albums, but we’ll get to those by the end of this year. Until then, happy Gentle Giant Day!

 

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The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed

It’s about time I talked about an album other people have heard of, right?

Keith, if we're rock-stars and also billionaires, why do we have an album cover comprisin' a pizza and tire and clock-face on top of a whirly-gig type thing with us in little doll form on top of a cake Keith? ...Keith??

I dig the Rolling Stones, say what you will about them. I have all of their studio albums, but this one has a very special significance to me, because it’s the first for me. This is where it all began, the crossroads where I went from not knowing who sang “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as an naive and kind of stupid teenager, to being a man. A man who had nothing better to do but listen to Let It Bleed about a hundred times.

Nearly a decade has passed since I first purchased this album after hearing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on the classic radio and needing to purchase it. I have since collected Rolling Stones albums wherever I could get them, and though this album does not contain my favorite Stones song, it DOES contain the 3 runners-up. One of those runner-ups is the opener, “Gimme Shelter“. I can’t explain why this is one of the best rock songs of all time, it just is. You know a song has earned its credibility when rumors go around that Merry Clayton singing backup on this song caused her to have a miscarriage. That’s Rock N’ Roll, my friends.

The song starts the album on a theme of chaos and darkness, though not on a level quite as obvious as the song “Paint It, Black” which appeared on the earlier album Aftermath. Songs like “Gimme Shelter” kind of paint a picture of a war-torn world where everything’s going wrong, “Monkey Man” sort of gives an existential if not nihilistic message that the singer (like the rest of us) is just an ape who’s been abused all his life, and the only right thing to do is party with songs like “Live With Me” and “Let It Bleed”, and then the album ends on the best album-ending song ever. Not too shabby, really.

After “Gimme Shelter”, the band instantly tones it down for not one, but two songs. The Robert Johnson delta blues cover “Love In Vain” and “Country Honk”, the embryonic version of “Honky Tonk Women”, which I consider to be one of the best country songs ever written by an English whitey.

Then the party is back on again with “Live With Me”, which paints a great portrait of the more reasonable side of the free-lovin’ 60’s movement:

Whoa, the servants they’re so helpful, dear
The cook she is a whore
Yes, the butler has a place for her
Behind the pantry door
The maid, she’s French, she’s got no sense
She’s wild for Crazy Horse
And when she strips, the chauffeur flips
The footman’s eyes get crossed

The Rolling Stones were always at their best when just throwing some Blues, Country, and good ol’ Rock N’ Roll out there. It’s really hard to believe that, not two years previous, they were tripping out in psychedelic outer space with the “it’s barely an album” Their Satanic Majesties Request (not to put that album down, the 2 actual songs that are on it amidst the noise are really great). It’s also surprising how well the album turned out amidst the turmoil of original member Brian Jones falling out with and being dismissed from the band and being replaced by Mick Taylor, only to die shortly afterward. His contributions to Let It Bleed, though his final album, are pretty minimal, so pressing on…

“Midnight Rambler” is the only song I’m not super-crazy about, perhaps just for its length of 7 minutes, though that was certainly needed to accommodate the tempo changes that occur. Actually, I’m listening to the song right now and I think not listening to it lately made me like it again. It should stand on the record, though, that usually I don’t care much for the song.

Part-time guitarist and full-time junkie Keith Richards makes his singing debut on the next track, “You Got The Silver”, which features some nice slide guitar and that kind of blues-country blend that the band started up with “Love In Vain” and “Country Honk”. It’s really quite a nice song despite being overshadowed by the next two songs, which, along with the opening track, make up those 3 follow-up favorite songs of mine.

The song “Monkey Man” is a song that, to my own personal sensibilities, is about as perfect as songs get. For one, it starts with a really hot bass-line, which should be well-documented as one of my favorite things in songs. The piano chords played in the background are wonderfully… I don’t know, mysterious… The mystery is solved when we find out that the guitar did it, and the drums helped, because man both of those instruments are in top form for this track. The thing I’ve always said about Charlie Watts is that he is one of the best drummers in rock not so much because he is fast or flashy, quite the opposite, it’s because he plays the song on the drums. It’s as if his drumming has its own hold on the melody, in a way that can only be really told by this fact: once, when Mick Jagger, perhaps due to a slip of the tongue, called Charlie “his drummer”, Charlie punched him right in the gol’dern mouth. THAT’S Rock N’ Roll, my friends.

The vocals in “Monkey Man” can’t be ignored, either (and apparently can’t be shown on Youtube either, so you’ll have to settle for that video up there with the hideous mic-cam). By the end when Mick screams “I’m a monkeeeeeey”, you can try to emulate that in the shower, car, or clothing store changing room, but you will wreck your voice.

Speaking of voices, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, which starts with an all-boy orchestra choir, is the closer to this album. I once considered putting together a list of the all-time best songs to end an album with (and might still someday, even though I am not a fan of objective lists), and of the hundreds of albums I have heard, I am convinced that this would sit at number 1. After everything the album goes through, darkness, parties, love, and being a monkey, at the end of it all, it comes down to the message of this song. The vocals are astounding, from Mick’s own performance and the wonderful backup vocals in the chorus, to the entire choir of young boys bringing the song in and coming back in at the end to crescendo with the song so intensely that all that can possibly happen at that point, in accordance with God’s own law of Thermodynamics, is a fade-out complete with double-time on the drums.

And that is Rock N’ Roll, my friends.

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