Monday, January 30, 2006

Pop Songs I Have Known

I love a great pop song. Regardless of who it's recorded by. As snobbish as I pretend to be, I sometimes can't help but be snared by a brilliant hook, vocal line, or chorus. Here are a few I've succumbed to...

Beach Boys "Sail On Sailor": The 70's were not very kind to the boys. I'll be the first to admit that they released a lot of crap during this, and subsequent, eras. But this nugget is a shining jewel affixed to their otherwise off white leisure suit. Carl Wilson, having not been satisfied with lead vocal performances by brother Dennis and himself, asked then band member Blondie Chaplin to step up to the mike. What's delivered is a soul powered performance that propels this song from beginning to end. The organ line buzzes like a chainsaw while the magnificent chorus will have you lifting your palm to the clear blue sky. I even saw Darius Rucker(aka Hootie) deliver a power house version during the Tribute To Brian Wilson a few years back. Hootie can sing. He just chose to sing crap with the Blowfish.

Sheryl Crow "Soak Up The Sun": With a driving bass drum that even this white boy can twist his chicken neck to, Sheryl brings a smoky vocal line filled with acrobatics and a candy-coated chorus with help on harmonies from Liz Phair. Wonderfully produced with a lush vocal arrangement and a bouncy guitar riff that puts you right on the sandy beach of some tropical paradise wishing you had one or both of the singers by your side.

Level 42 "Something About You": Who the fuck are these guys? They're huge in Europe, from what I can tell. Another pulsating disco bass drum(I sense a pattern!) with what appears to be a white guy playing a sort of slapping bass line. Without a doubt, the thing that catches my attention is the soaring falsetto vocal hook. Chock full of bubbly 80's keyboards and 10cc type backing vocal "ooooh's" and "aaaah's".

The Outfield "Your Love": This was the first of their two hits(the other being "Say It Isn't So"). A perfect pop song if ever I've heard one. With its McCartneyesque vocals and infectious melody it never outstays its welcome. By that, I mean, it doesn't have any extra slapped on verses or bits that disappoint. It moves quickly and brilliantly from verse to chorus to middle eight with little effort or even a guitar solo to get in the way. This has probably my favorite middle eight of any pop song I've heard by any artist. OK, I'll admit that the middle section of Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" is in a neck and neck race with this one.

Naked Eyes "Always Something There To Remind Me": Electronic drums and a keyboard effect that sounds like a million wedding chapel bells ringing at the same time. Very appropriate considering the songs theme. The vocal line of the chorus wonderfully conveys the feeling of desire/yearning expressed by the singer. Man, the drum beats on this thing are outta this world! Very electronicy sounding(I just made that word up) with lots of "metallic" bits in the background for added effect. An excellent vocal performance to boot.

Carly Simon "Nobody Does It Better": A magnificent piano ballad with swirling violins and harp used to maximum effect. This was one of the very first singles I can remember being truly mesmerized by as a kid. I can recall sitting at my cousins turntable relaying the song countless times while never tiring of it. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Carly's timeless vocal on this one. The songs builds to a final crescendo that layers horns, strings, and a nearly hidden backing track("You're the best.") by Ms. Simon that is truly intoxicating.

Michael Jackson "Human Nature": Perhaps the only unmined treasure from his blockbuster Thriller album(It reached #7 on the charts, but could have easily been #1). The keyboards sound like they're high on Quaaludes and they take you to that place right along with them. It's like floating on a big satiny marshmallow with Michael voice as your pillow. The production on this is nothing short of genius. With the guitar neck high in a chorus effect and layer upon layer of Michael's gentle vocals leading the way, I could almost be convinced to follow him in to bedroom.

Sixpence None The Richer "Kiss Me": So sugary sweet you're bound to get a cavity on that molar at the back of your brain. Without a doubt the most addictive agents present are the jangling ever present 12 stringed guitar, the wispy vocals of Leigh Nash, and (believe it or not) the alliteration used throughout the lyric. I think you would be hard pressed to find a Billboard single in the last 30 years that had a squeeze box amongst its ingredients.

Missing Persons "Destination Unknown": A pulsating beat with production that sounds like it came right out of the computer box. Was the bass line lifted straight off the Buggles "Video Killed The Radio Star" multi-track tape? Dale Bozzio's mousy vocals and stoners mantra, "Life is so strange!" make this irresistible electrofunkpop. Lots of high hat and cymbal splashes throughout add to the synthetic feel of the song.

The Faces "Stay With Me": Awwww, yeah! Funkinfuzzed-out geetar and a Rhodes piano played with all the machismo the band could steal from the Rolling Stones bag 'o mojo. This is party 'til the liquor and coke are all gone kinda music. Dueling guitars(one slide, one plucked). Rod's vocals are all sex and slime. The descending instrumental lines all lead to the same place...a bed with red satin sheets and pink champagne on ice.

Rod Stewart "Young Turks": What I find most appealing about this song is the fantastic universal story it manages to tell with its lyrics. I know it sounds crazy, doesn't it! Young, crazy love turned loose in a world that couldn't give a rats ass about them or their ten pound baby boy. Rod's exclamation at the conclusion of the story still gives me goose bumps to this day. The sincerity in his voice as he proclaims, "Don't let 'em put you down. Don't let 'em push you 'round. Don't let 'em ever change your point of view." is, well...inspiring.

Huey Lewis & The News "Do You Believe In Love": An early hit for the band, you can almost see ole Huey pumping his fist as he sings, "Oh, you can bet I believe it too!" The master stroke of this song are the "reply" backing vocals provided by the band and the chorus that sounds like its got about a million vocal tracks laid on top of one another. A bass driven tune where the other instruments do a kind of see-saw trade off in between pounding drum beats.

Climax Blues Band "I Love You": Another piano/Rhodes driven love ballad with amazing production that utilizes every trick in the book to its advantage. With a lush string arrangement and slide guitar solo that sounds so much like George Harrison, you'd swear it was the real thing. The lead vocals sound like they've come right off a mid-seventies Wings album. The lyrical hook at the end of the chorus changes each time to reflect the status of the relationship(i.e. "I want you", "I got you", "I love you"). Brilliant. I love the final proclamation of the song, "If ever a man had it all it would have to be me!" What's most interesting, about the band, is that this was a TOTAL departure from their normal "rock-oriented sound". They never made another song that even remotely came close to the sound they found here. The song is placed perfectly over the credits of the indie film "Cherish".

Geezus, I could go on all night. This was FUN! I'll do this again soon.

Neil Young's "On The Beach"(DVD-A)

"In this land of conditions I am not above suspicion."

The spirit of Neil looms large over my little shack today. First thing this morning, I grabbed NME magazine on the way to the head and read two articles from July and August 1974 reviewing On The Beach. One positive, one negative. As soon as I finished them, I immediately put the disc in the dvd player and ran through it 2 times. Just as the second listening was completed, I finished a two day download of a newly released soundboard recording from his solo acoustic tour in 1971. I thought I might write about Beach here but, it being Sunday and me being lazy, I put it off the whole day. So, just as I'm about to turn in for the night I read on the SXSW website that Neil has been chosen as the keynote speaker for the 20th annual music festival held in Austin each year. I decided that this was some kind of sign from Neil that I should go ahead and do it.
On the surface, this album is a rather melon collie collection of tunes with its heart pinned to its sleeve. But even with a cloud of doom seemingly hanging over it, there is an underlying current of hope for the future that permeates its thick exterior. It would be hard to argue that the opening track "Walk On" doesn't project a sense of forward momentum in its stride. I've found this to be one of the most inspiring tracks in his long eclectic career. "Big Time" is a close second. Even "See The Sky About To Rain" holds the promise of a wash over that will bring with it a new feeling of revival and forgiveness.
"Revolution Blues" emotes a chaotic and paranoid vision for the days ahead. Written after a meeting with Charles Manson, one can't help but think that maybe Manson wasn't so outrageous in his beliefs. Who hasn't thought about wiping the earth clean of the bloated, fevered egos that Hollywood dangles before our eyes every day? Don't think I'm advocating the brainwashing of nubile young women who will do anything and everything to stay in your favor. However, the desire to live a simple uncluttered life void of "pigs" and fucked up phonies sure does sound appealing to me. And I bet riding dune buggies in the desert is a gas, gas, gas!
"For The Turnstiles" has remained a constant in Neil's live repertoire to this day. The songs theme discusses the inevitable price those who seek out the Business of Fame must face sooner or later. Remember when baseball was just a game? Yeah, me neither.
"Vampire Blues" tells of our desire to rape and pillage this planet for all it's worth. Sucking the Earth of all its blood and selling it by the barrelful to the highest bidder. A drunken cousin to the rocky ride that Tonight's The Night had in spades. And the perfect metaphor for the variety of subjects that Neil sinks his teeth in to on this album. The guitar solo sounds like a smacked out bumble bee that's wandered in to the studio only to collide with the Telfunken U47 used to mike the vocals. Despite it's cerebral and weary mood, Neil seems to be looking toward greener pastures.
The title songs follows and you can almost hear the roar of the waves crashing gently on the sand as it melts between your toes. Lethargic and somber in its delivery, it's an intimate tale of needing and wanting the adulation of the crowd while despising it in the same breath. A double edged sword handed to him on a silver platter. His only recourse is to "...get out of town."
He's saves the best for last with "Ambulance Blues"(which is not a blues progression at all). Denouncing his critics, he injects a cheeky razor sharp wit that's shared only with Dylan and Leonard Cohen. A true epic in the vein of "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands". You experience so many twists and turns along the way that, by the end, you can't remember where it all began. But, by it's conclusion, you feel like you've grow by leaps and bounds throughout. One of my most memorable concert experiences was seeing him perform this live on the final evening of his epic 1999 acoustic tour of America.

"You're all just pissin' in the wind. You don't know it, but you are."

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Coachella: The Movie

Just got back from what I believe may have been the only Houston screening of a new documentary about the 2003/2004 Coachella music festival held in Indio,CA. Lots of fun. Crowd was in to it and the music was super-duper. A few thoughts.

Arcade Fire: Missed them at Vegoose. Great performance and excellent bass-driven song. Didn't know there were girls in the band. Red headed guitarist is taunted(playfully) with a black sheet by a fellow band member the whole song. Ends up completely tangled up in it and on the floor by the end of the song.

Belle & Sebastian: Another fun song. Band having a great time and really mixing it up with the crowd. Encouraging everyone to dance. Bringing dancers on stage. One of the funniest moments in the movie is, as the band arrives at a quiet moment in the song, you can hear the Foo Fighters gigantic volume floating above theirs as it comes in from across the concert grounds. In recognition of their noise, the singer of B&S adds lyrics to the song about hearing the Foo's from across the field. Very light hearted and hysterical.

Bjork: Sings like an angel and looks like a huge white butterfly in her outfit. Very sweet love song. She's always smiling and wonderfully beautiful.

Bright Eyes: My companion(Joe Bathroom) didn't like this cat at all. He made "ppfffft" sounds at his pretentious song. I agree, it was a bit hokey. But at times rang true. Googled it, and the song was called "Lua". Reading the lyrics didn't do much for me. But the singer seemed to be feeling it and that definitely translated on screen. Thinly veiled song about a long night of narcotic abuse. Not that I've ever done drugs. Both of us lost it though when, at the conclusion of the song, the camera turns to reveal a chubby sunburned girl on the rail whose eyes are bloodshot red from sobbing. Tragically funny.

Chemical Bros./Crystal Method: Lots of very high people dancing and having hallucinations all over the place. Some very cool visuals. Lots of tripping tents for all the high people. Some funny interviews with tripping people. Lots of break dancing, too. GOOD break dancing. Guess it's a West Coast thang.

Flaming Lips: Sang "Yoshimi pt.1". Wayne's so killer. I luvs him THIS much. Brief montage of them setting up their equipment. Fixing problems. Wayne with the nun puppet during the sing along. It just never gets old. Especially when he has the puppet enunciate the "ts" at the end of "robots". Has him descending on to the audience in a gigantic bubble. Cool. Love this band more than I can ever say.

Iggy & The Stooges: Unbelievable performance. Iggy Pop is all over the stage. Hurling the microphone all over the place. Wrapping himself up in the chord. Jumping around like a hypnotized chicken. Hurls his body off the stage and on to the security and crowd while screaming something about wanting to "fuck things up!!!" Ends up climbing on top of a strapped down 6 ft tall Ampeg bass stack and dry humping it with all his might. Rest of the band looks surprised/confused at the songs conclusion. Like they don't know what kind of crazy-ass shit to expect from him next. True dat.

Kool Keith: "WHEN I SAY BLACK, YOU SAY ELVIS!!" Complete with Elvis wig and a satin collar a mile high. He should have let his performance do the talking for him, though. In an interview following his set, he rambles on about his band catching up with time or something like that.

Mars Volta: We got in a bit late and they were playing when we walked in. I believe several instruments were destroyed in the process.

Morrissey: High-larious interview with a guy who looks just like Morrissey but is identified on screen as "Not Morrissey". Tells the story of a girl he just met who had traveled all the way from Japan to see the show. She was bummed when he cancelled in Las Vegas a few days before and now the question in everyone's mouths(of the voices in this guys head)was whether Morrissey was gonna show at the festival at all. Obviously, Morrissey was a way of life for this guy. Another gut busting part of the film is during Morrissey's performance, the camera catches several "frat" type guys scaling the barrier in order to get on stage to hug him.

Nu-Mark & Cut Chemist: I don't know who this is.

Oasis: Song was good but seemed like it was edited toward the end. Song & band very much petered-out at its conclusion. Or maybe they just lost interest. These guys are too cool for school. Interview with a VERY stoned/drunk Noel that has him strumming on an a beautiful acoustic Gipson guitar. Bunch of inane shit about it being great to be here and all and how at England's festivals they like to get dirty. However, in one of the most compelling parts of the film, the screen cuts between Noel Gallagher and Saul Williams as they each discuss their personal views on the power of music. Not surprisingly, Noel is jaded and bitter claiming the "men in suits" control everything. While Saul is very positive, stating music can have a significant change/effect on the world/people. I feel like I'm crazy pills. On any given day, I have the same feelings as both.

Pixies: Numerous interviews with concert goers and bands members professing their respect for this band. Band closes their set with a spellbinding "Where is My Mind". Frank howling out a droning vocal line as Kim wails the "Oooooohs" along with a crowd of 70,000+. An interview with Wayne Coyne of the Lips has him discussing the beauty of that moment the following day. Saying the world could have ended ended there and probably should have. Describes a fantasy scene in which, at the conclusion of the song, Kim Deal yields her bass above her head and triumphantly smashes "Charles" aka Frank Black with it, bringing their renunion to an end after only 1 show. Very very funny.

The Polyphonic Spree: Fun song. I don't know why I hate the lead singer of this band so much. He's a bit too corny for my tastes. And the band in matching robes has that kind of an "Up With People"/crazy religious cult feeling to me. Spooky and stupid don't mix well with me. I did love Ghostbusters I & II, though.

Prodigy: These guys are very high and very intense. Insane British techno-something.

Radiohead: Never seen them perform live before(even on television). Thom Yorke seemed less intense and less brooding than I would have expected. Smiling and making goofy shapes with his mouth the whole time. Dig the band and it's music. Maybe someday I will dive in feet first.

Red Hot Chili Peppers: This band just isn't my thing. A bit too "Hollywood" for me, ya know? There is a cool reply and respond duet jam between Flea and guitarist John Frusciant that precedes the song, though. Song performed is "Californication". Ehh

Roni Size/Spearhead/Squarepusher: I don't know who or don't recall seeing them in the movie.

The White Stripes: In a backstage interview during the 2003 festival with Mos Def, we see him ranting on about why the Stripes were not performing at that years festivities. "Too much bass in their songs?!", "'Cause they're from Detroit!?", "'Cause there are only 2 of them in the band!?". Quite funny. Of course the film them immediately cuts to "The Following Year..." where the band is just coming on to a darkened stage to thousands of flash bulbs and cheering fans. And then proceeds to blast their way through a frantic "Hotel Yorba" sing along. I love Meg White. I mean it. I love Meg White. Let it ring from the muthafucking hills. I_FUCKING_LOVE_FUCKING_MEG_FUCKING_WHITE. There.

Zero 7: Lovely R&B song wrapping up the final day of the festival. Love is everywhere and all that nice stuff. A nice cool down from the Flaming Lips performance that came just before.

Beck: No performance. Just quietly tooting his own horn in a interview about how he comes to check out the festival every year regardless of whether he's performing or not. Too cool for school all dressed up like an innocent hipster. Love him. Lots.

Perry Farrell: Surprisingly no mention of his own Lolapayola. Lots of cosmicspeak from him, though. If you can dig it, man.

Great movie. Great music. Six thumbs up.
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Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Greatest Music Video Ever Made: Weezer "Keep Fishin'"

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There's trouble in Weezerland. Pat, the drummer, is missing and the band is scheduled to play The Muppet Show any minute now. So, what does the ever fearless Kermit the Frog do? He panics, naturally. Not to worry, though. Pepe the King Prawn has come to the rescue and to assure all everything will be fine.
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With that, the band takes the stage with none other than "Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhems" Animal behind the kit. And aaaawaaaay we go! As Rivers begins to strum the opening chords of "Keep Fishin'", we discover that Miss Piggy has taken Pat as her love hostage by tying him to a chair in the dressing room. Unable to reject her advances, Pat watches as Piggy heads for the closet to find something "a little more comfortable" to slip in to. Seeing his opportunity, he locks Miss Piggy in the closet and looks for the best way to release him from the chair he's been tied to.
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Meanwhile, the band, with help from Kermit, Pepe, and Gonzo on backing vocals do their best to rock the house full of stuffed critters(the penguin go-go dancers on top of the Marshall stacks seem to be having a great time!).
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With help from the Swedish Chef(who's been chasing chickens with a large meat cleaver), Pat is freed from his bindings. However, he's not out of the woods just yet. There's the little matter of a furious Miss Piggy to deal with. Taking shelter under a lamp shade, he narrowly averts tragedy and Piggy.
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But now we have another issue to tackle! You see, in the melee, Miss Piggy has found her way on stage and is now showboating for the cameras and anyone who gets in her way receives a karate chop to the solar plexus(or worse!). Feeling her wrath, both Rivers and Brian step aside to give Piggy the spotlight she so rightly deserves.
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Just in time for the final chorus, Pat makes his way to the skins where he pounds out the triumphant finale to the greatest video ever made.
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A commentary from Statler & Woldorf naturally follows:
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Statler: Hey, they're not half bad!

Woldorf: Nope, they're ALL bad!

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the Class of 2002!
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The expressions on Rivers face during his scenes with Kermit are priceless. This is every kids dream to be on The Muppet Show and he's living it. The smiles are genuine and infectious.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
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In the attempt to get it "just exactly perfect", the band recorded no less than three versions of the song. Here they are for you grooving pleasure.

The demo track:

Maladroit album track:

Radio & video track: