Monday, 3 August 2015

A Rallying Soundtrack

It's been interesting to watch the debate surrounding the nationalist rallies in Australia over the last few weeks. An organisation known as "Reclaim Australia" had rallies in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney on the 19th of July and they quickly turned violent. On one hand, Reclaim Australia are protesting as what they perceive is the "Islamisation of Australia" and then the anti-racism protesters on the other clashed with police making some ugly scenes.

It is not the place on this blog for debate about these issues. We take a strong anti-racism view but we will not comment on our opinion any further.

However, the interesting part of the story is the use of music by the Reclaim protesters. If you wanted to make a statement about something, do you really think the use of the song "Khe Sanh" by Cold Chisel is the best choice of song to use?

Considering Reclaim Australia are protesting against immigration, using a song about a Vietnam Vet who returns to South East Asia a number of times on a soul-searching mission, the song's use is even more ridiculous.

It is admirable that Jimmy Barnes has spoken up to express his disgust at the use of his music at these rallies. As have a number of other musicians, such as Shane Howard of Goanna, Midnight Oil, John Williamson and John Farnham.

In all the above examples, the use of the music as a rallying cry to support their viewpoint is almost uniformly incongruous. I thought I'd take a look at why this is the case.

"Khe Sanh" is obviously an ill fit, but it's funny as to why this song is almost a de facto national anthem in the first place. The piece is a narrative of a Vietnam Veteran who finds like increasingly difficult back in Sydney after returning from his time in the war. Not an uncommon scenario for many of those who fought in the conflict, but quite a foreign premise for most people who weren't there to grasp onto, especially 20- and 30- somethings who are alive in 2015. As the lyric deals, in a non-partisan way, with Asian cultures it seems like an odd choice for a rally such as this.

Shane Howard, the writer of the iconic "Solid Rock", a hit for his band Goanna in 1982, states this song is about:
"Working to find our common identity and shared destiny, in this remarkable Aboriginal cultural reality is a more powerful, peaceful and rewarding way forward."
. It's more of a plea for racial harmony and integration, and not exclusion.

John Farnham's "You're The Voice" was written by Chris Thompson (ex-Manfred Mann's Earth Band), Maggie Ryder, Andy Quinta and Procol Harem lyricist Keith Reid. It was written as an anti-war missive at the height of the cold war in the 1980s, to protest against the use of force to find a peaceful solution. Keith Reid states, (From

"Chris called me and said, 'I've got something and I don't know what to do with it lyrically. It feels as though it should be slightly political, but I don't know. Have a listen.' And we sat down, he played me the tune, and I got the title idea, 'You're The Voice.' It's an anti-war song in a way, but it was more of a 'make your voice heard' kind of thing. Wake up to your own power."

"You're The Voice" is probably an easy one to misinterpret, but it's not an excuse in this case.

John Wiiliamson's "True Blue" is a typical one to go for if you want to push a purist racial agenda:

"Hey True Blue,
Don't Say You're Gone,
Say you've knocked off for a smoko,
And you'll be back later on..."

Even so, it misses the point. Sure "True Blue" may lament the loss of a certain way of things but JW is not an exclusionist. He is certainly not xenophobic line in this song anyway. He argues that politicians shouldn't "sell us out like sponge cake". He also puts it that there is a place for everybody and every culture.

It's hard to push an agenda conclusively using someone elses music as a backdrop if said agenda is not in the spirit of the musician's original intention. Doing even a cursory amount of research into the people who create the music we love will fill in any blanks one may have on the topic. This is why so many televangelists look ridiculous when they attack popular music. This is why politicians who use pop music get their song choices out of line, raising the ire of the songwriters.

What other misguided soundtracks exist that we haven't thought of?

Until next time...

Friday, 26 June 2015

Vale Ornette Coleman

Pioneering Jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman has died, ages 85. He leaves behind a legacy as a boundary-pushing artist with an ever restless muse. He was a composer who, similar to Miles Davis or John Coltrane, never stood still for very long, in a creative sense.

His 1959 LP, possibly somewhat arrogant in title at the time, "The Shape of Jazz To Come" changed the rules for what Jazz could sound like. It was very divisive among critics at the time, but it turns out the title was rather prophetic. Then, in 1960, he broke the rule book of Jazz wide open with a collective improvisation piece for double quartet entitled "Free Jazz". "Free Jazz" is an album that does what it says on the tin: it is a free improv piece spread out across two sides of an LP (37 minutes in total).

For a man who was hailed as such an innovator, he was also derided in some circles by those who really should know better. It would appear if you were to push the boundaries of jazz to its ultimate limit (i.e having as fewer rules as possible) then that negates the value of any future work, according to some. And that couldn't be further from the truth.

Ornette's music removed the emphasis on rhythm and melody and gave equal weight to both, thus de-emphasising them. It's a hard concept to get one's head around, but it creates music that is both fascinating and challenging. Thankfully Jazz is a style that can both support and tolerate such a musical innovation, when several other styles would collapse in a fit of noise.

Thankfully, all the albums are there to appreciate and it's worth taking the time to appreciate the man's works once more. Vale Ornette.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Bargain Bin Review #6: Todd Rundgren - "2nd Wind"

We're back after a long absence!

"2nd Wind" is the 13th studio album from maverick rock musician Todd Rundgren and yet again it finds him following his muse and not kowtowing to the interests of his record company.

Todd is a virtuoso who has been know to record and produce entire LPs on his own in his own studio. He occasionally performs and records with his live band Utopia in addition to making solo albums.

This album is different inasmuch as "2nd Wind" is a record that Todd Rundgren recorded live in front of an audience. Performed in  a similar fashion to Joe Jackson's 1986 LP "Big World", where the audience were instructed to remain absolutely silent until the music was finished. From the perspective of an audience member, it must be an odd way to experience a show. And a strange way to perform for the band considering that most of the energy in a live performance comes from both audience and band feeding off each others's vibe.

Despite Warner Brothers' insistence that there was no "single-worthy" material on this album, there are plenty of songs that are eminently singable, even though they don't necessarily stand up well against the man's best work. The opening "Change Myself" contains a soaring melody but with a classic self-deprecating Todd lyric in the chorus: "How can I change the world of I can't change myself? Try again tomorrow."

Tracks four through to six inclusive are recorded excerpts from a stage version of the Joe Orton play "Up Against It", which explains the faux-Broadway nature of the music and the shprectstimme vocals.

"Public Servant" and "Love Science" have a cheeky playfulness about them, not to mention some of the slinkiest grooves he's ever written. "If I have to be alone" and "Who's Sorry Now" are the pick of an overly ballad-heavy record. Honourary mention goes to "Kindness" as a gorgeous slow song too.

But the real issue is the horribly dated late 80s production, with thin Electro-drums and awful dated synth strings and pianos. The core of the songs are strong but they are tarted up with a finish to make them sound plastic. Despite this fact, the videos for the album were expensive animated ventures made on the then-new "Video Toaster" graphics processors for the Commodore Amiga computer. According to Electronic Musician magazine (via Wikipedia): "Todd Rundgren's stunning video for his song "Change Myself" required no less than ten Toaster systems running in parallel for a period of five weeks."

In the end, the album bombed. Neither of the two singles from the LP attracted sufficient airplay ("Public Servant" was a bad choice for a single anyway) and The New York Times panned the stage show. Still, if you can find a copy of the album, there's still some great tunes here, if only for their good ideas and not their overlong arrangements.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

My Personal Spotify Song Analysis

Ok, I've been using this Spotify thing since it began its service in Australia in 2012.

Every month, I make a playlist that collects a song, or maybe two, by an artist from every album I've listened to during that period. It may even include songs that I occasionally hear in my head - my earworms, or they may be songs I've heard in passing, for example at someone's house, in a movie or over a shop PA, whatever and wherever, but only for the month of the playlist.

And once a song is added to the playlist for the month, it's my own little rule that they cannot be added again until the next year. This way we build a library of songs across a year with no repeats at all.

These are the playlists I share with you, dear reader, every month in these pages. They can include up to 300+ songs on them, and all of them unique.

In light of the fact that a song can only be added to a playlist once in any calendar year, I thought it would be interesting to look at the songs that have been added across the 2 and a half years of Spotify's existence to see which songs keep reappearing every year. This list would give anyone with a passing interest an idea what songs I consider to be classics. Well-worn standards that stand the test of time. As a discerning listener and one who takes music choices seriously, I would have thought you could take a list like this as a indication of quality, a list of songs that warrant repeated listening. Almost a list of songs to take to a desert island...

...well sort of. It's not quite the list I was expecting. And while there are many songs here that I would consider "Desert Island Discs", it's not an exhaustive list of said songs. It is NOT a list of how much I have played these songs, but rather how often I have returned to them and have had them important enough to be added to the playlist to take with me wherever I go.

The list does actually contain quite a few surprises. The criteria I looked at was if, in a list of over 7000 titles, how many appeared on the list three times (one for each year from 2012 to 2014 inclusive). I have no idea why "Dare Me" by the Pointer Sisters appears on this list three times. Or how anything by Motley Crue has ended up on here once in every year, let alone the same track three times. And why, out of all the Aerosmith tracks I adore, did the title track of a fairly mediocre album become the most selected song from them on here?

Take a look at the list below and have a listen to the Spotify playlist below. Let me know if you think these are the most worthy songs you've ever heard. What songs would you include by a band if not the ones listed here?


Aerosmith Get a Grip
Audioslave Cochise
America Sister Golden Hair
Anthrax Time
Bad Books You Wouldn't Have To Ask
Bernard Fanning Songbird
Billy Bragg Between The Wars
Blind Melon No Rain
Blondie Atomic
Bruce Springsteen Lucky Town
Cast Alright
Cats and Jammers Spitball
Cheap Trick Mighty Wings
Cosmic Rough Riders Justify The Rain
Cowboy Junkies Sweet Jane
D.R.I. Marriage
Dan Reed Brave New World
Donovan Sunshine Superman
Eddie Floyd Knock On Wood
Extreme Stop The World
Faces Ooh La la
Icehouse Walls
Focus Anonymous
Fountains of Wayne Stacy's Mom
Gary Clitter (aka HeeBeeGeeBees) Gary Clitter is Back
Genesis Turn It On Again
Guns 'n Roses Estranged
Holly and the Italians Tell That Girl To Shut Up
Icehouse Street Café
Iggy Pop I'm Bored
Joni Mitchell Come In From The Cold
Judas Priest The Green Manalishi
Liam Lynch United States of Whatever
Little River Band Help Is On Its Way
Models I Hear Motion
Models Local and/or General
Motley Crue Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Muse Supermassive Black Hole
Paul McCartney Coming Up
Paul Simon 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
Pete Townshend Face The Face
Pharrell Williams Happy
Powderfinger Turtle's Head
Powderfinger Up and Down and Back Again
Queen Scandal
Ramones Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
Redgum The Drover's Dog
Relient K Chapstick, Chapped Lips and Things Like Chemistry
Santana Well All Right
Screaming Trees Nearly Lost You
Small Faces Tin Soldier
Spiderbait Sam Gribbles
SpizzEnergi Soldier Soldier
Split Enz Nobody Takes Me Seriously
Squeeze Pulling Mussels From The Shell
Starship Sara
Steve Vai I Would Love To
Temple Of The Dog Hunger Strike
Ten Years After Positive Vibration
The Angels Mr Damage
The Byrds Welcome Back Home
The Damned Neat Neat Neat
The Gaslight Anthem Here Comes My Man
The Go-Gos Our Lips Are Sealed
The Hummingbirds Two Weeks With A Good Man In Niagara Falls
The Killers Mr Brightside
The Lemonheads Into Your Arms
The Lovin' Spoonful Summer In The City
The Master's Apprentices Rio De Camero
The Pointer Sisters Dare Me
The Promises Baby It's You
The Records Starry Eyes
The Rolling Stones Little T&A
The Roots The Seed 2.0
The Rubinoos I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
The Runaways Cherry Bomb
The Saboteurs (aka The Raconteurs) Steady As She Goes
The Saints Just Like Fire Would
The Saints This Perfect Day
The Sports Don't Throw Stones
The The Infected
The Who Love Reign O'er Me
Todd Rundgren I Saw The Light
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers American Girl
Toto Africa
Warhorse St Louis
Warren Zevon Tenderness On The Block

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Frank Turner Live!

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls,
9th April 2015, the Small Ballroom, Newcastle NSW Australia

It's not often I get out to gigs these days, but when I do, I make them count.

And so it was with some excitement that I approached this Frank Turner show in my old home town, but I misunderstood how much appeal he had in this city. and indeed this country. Sure he's been written about in these here pages, and indeed in the pages of various local music periodicals, but that doesn't always amount to a following. I assumed there'd only be about 20 people at this gig, but how wrong I was.

The Small Ballroom is a venue with an apposite name. Although whether it was a ballroom or not is a point of conjecture, it's bloody small, holding 350 people at the most. There's at least 200+ here tonight, which made things just comfortable enough.

Frank Turner both on stage and off, is a personable chap. He was out the front having a cigarette with fans before his set, and then he joined his support act Jon Snodgrass for a couple of songs from their duet album "Buddies". However he really shined on stage with his band the Sleeping Souls.

Even in the tiny venue and cramped stage, all 5 guys on stage played like it was their last ever gig on Earth. They threw everything they had at the songs and the energy was almost tangible. This didn't send the crowd into a moshpit frenzy however, but it did put the crowd into a lively mood. Everything they played was tight and rampaging. When playing my personal favourite "Try This At Home", which already is a fast song, was played so fast that even I felt breathless after singing along to it.

The sense of fun in the crowd was warm and genuine. The great thing about Frank's music is that the melodic, sing-along nature of it fosters a sense of uplift and community amongst those in the audience. And that's exactly what Frank likes at his shows - the crowd to be singing along in full voice and to make friends, both of which happened from where I was standing.

The real charm of Frank's work is to be literate and melodic all at once, but to turn those songs and experiences into pieces that can be enjoyed by large groups of people. He infuses his work with enough empathy that, even though we may not know exactly who Frank is singing about, the experience he sings about is often common to us all, even with the names changed.

A case in point is the track "Long Live The Queen", a song detailing the last few times Frank saw his good friend Lex, who was dying of cancer. As a communal sing-along, no-one in the crowd knew who Lex was, but we understand the significance of the story and can feel the pain of the writer. We all sang along with the lyrics knowing it could happen to someone we know. or already has. It is a true mark of Frank's artistry that he can take a personal story and turn it into a song that people on the other side of the world can sing their hearts out to with respect and reverence to the people depicted in the story, despite having never met them.

I walked out of the show a bigger fan than I already was to start with and that is a mark of quality of the performance. It was of such a high standard that I can't wait until he comes back next year (He says he's always in the country around Easter). I just hope that next year he brings his good mate Jay, aka Beans on Toast to the party.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bargain Bin Review #5: KISS - "Music From 'The Elder'"

KISS - Music From The Elder

Firstly a bit of disclosure. I didn't buy this in a bargain bin. I bought it second hand on vinyl. However, as the initial sales of this album were poor on first release, I imagine copies of this would have languished in bargain bins for a long time in the early 1980s.

At the end of the day, you either love or you hate Kiss. Even those who are in the former camp are divided over their 1981 concept album "Music From 'The Elder'". Paul Stanley himself even introduces a song on 1996's "MTV Unplugged" as "from an album that some people can't ever hear enough of and for some people, it's always too much". And in the context of the band's career trajectory, it really wouldn't matter when this album was released, the outcome would probably still have been the same.

In short, this was the wrong idea for the wrong band at the wrong time. The band were confused by their direction. Their record label thought they were a risk and the critics loved to sink the boot into them. The idea was to pull off a grand concept that would make the critics love them, sell loads of records for the company and and inflate KISS' collective egos even further by becoming "serious" musicians.

By 1981 the band's audience had changed from teenagers and young adults to kids and their parents, after the hit singles "I Was Made For Loving You" and "Shandii". They had sold their image by commercially branding every product that could be invented at that point (they still do, but it is now even more ridiculous). They had flooded the record buying market with product. They had released two albums a year between 1974 and 1977 inclusive and then in 1978 released 4 solo albums on the same day, 5 months after releasing a double LP best of album. Then, 7 months after the solo records comes "Dynasty". By the time of the softer sounding LP "Unmasked" in 1980, the pre-teens were well and truly lapping it up and the older fans were switching off, having grown up and moved on, having been over-saturated by the band's omnipresence, or just not wanting to attend gigs standing next to little kids and their parents.

"Unmasked" highlighted the problem. It was beloved by kids as young as 4 and it was bland and inoffensive enough to not outrage parents. The members of KISS may well have been aware of this trend and started to plot their next move. They were always slagged off by critics, but they were being written off as kiddies entertainers now. They needed to be serious artists once again.

They decided to enlist the services of Bob Ezrin once again, who had helmed production on one of the most successful records to date, "Destroyer". He was riding high with a massive selling concept record he'd produced for Pink Floyd called "The Wall". Gene Simmons had come up with this film script idea and Bob was keen to make an album of songs based around the central concept of the script.

It was supposed to be fantasy-styled good vs evil plot with Tolkien-esque overtones. The film had no chance of being made (despite a fair performance of their previous film "KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park") but a concept album seemed like a good idea at the time. And why not? Peers of their like Rush and Yes were turning out obscurely premised and yet successful albums, what was there to lose?

Well, everything, as it turns out. Lead guitarist Ace Frehley went missing for most of the sessions and ended up either leaving, or was fired depending on whose autobiography you believe. The record company pulled funding from the album, preventing it from becoming a double album, and the fans deserted them in droves when the album was released. Even Gene's hair disappeared, cutting most of it off for the ensuing tour (he looked more ridiculous in person than the action figurine bearing his likeness)

What we're left with is an album that is supposed to hang together around a concept, but tells no story and has no narrative. That's no big deal when you consider The Who's "Who's Next" album was supposed to be an album of songs from the abandoned "Lifehouse" project, but it doesn't depend on the listener having any context. "The Elder" is supposed to revolve around a story that no-one is ever told, either in the music or in the sleeve notes, and it leaves the listener with the impression that there supposed to be some other media element of object to accompany this for it to make sense, hence the "Music from..." in the title.

To make matters worse, the original release (excluding the altogether different Japanese release) has the songs sequenced in such a way that even if you wanted to piece together the rather weedy plot, you'd send yourself demented attempting it.

Narrative of concept aside for a moment, there is some surprisingly strong music here. Opening the original vinyl LP "The Oath" possesses some of the heaviest riffs on a KISS album to date, as does the album closer "I". The former sounds like a lyric that has some bearing to the plot, while the latter could be woven into the story but mostly spends its lyrics having a go at Ace and his drink'n'drugs lifestyle. Elsewhere on the album there are some widescreen cinematic excursions in the form of "The Odyssey", "Just A Boy" and "Under The Rose". Some melodramatic introspection in "A World Without Heroes", good old Ace Frehley rock in the form of "Dark Light" and the surging instrumental "Escape From The Island", and their strangely-odd and yet oddly compelling Lou Reed co-write "Mr Blackwell", who appears to be the villain of this misguided saga.

Maligned by critics and fans alike, it was the poorest selling record in the KISS catalog for many years and a hard album to find. It was also one of the last to be reissued in the 1997 reissue program and now the standard release follows the original mix issued in Japan, resequenced in the original order as the band and Bob Ezrin intended it to be. At the end of the day it still doesn't make any bloody sense as a narrative, but musically there is a lot of great music here to make it work listening to. For those who don't like KISS, at least there is something to be gained from the one KISS album that doesn't sound all that much like KISS.

Take a listen to the album below and see for yourself. Enjoy.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Underrated Live Albums #4: Redgum - "Caught In The Act"

Where the hell are Redgum these days when we need them?

In an age where politicians in this country are either embarrassing, uninspiring or just batshit-boring, we need Redgum more than ever. We need a band not afraid to poke fun at the party political, satirise the policies and lampoon the people who stride the corridors of power and who are supposed to lead the nation through its struggles.

Some would argue that we can take our pollies to task quite nicely on our own, thanks to the Twittersphere (ever seen the #auspol thread lately?). But when Redgum started out there were very few Australian acts who dared to be so outspoken on sensitive issues, call the government out in direct terms and to write songs that sing of the plight of the downtrodden and the forgotten.

Redgum's one and only live album was released in 1983, recorded in front of a rambunctious crowd at the Rose, Shamrock and Thistle Hotel in Rozelle in Sydney. The band are alive, playing their hearts out and give the crowd everything they have. Their songs are pointed and forthright, the monologues are at turns sardonic and funny, and the live recording is superbly recorded.

The problem however, is that after many years after its release, it can be a little bit difficult to work out what they are talking about. You see, Redgum's problem was that not only did they sing about topics that are still a problem today, they spoke about issues affecting the people of the time. This instantly dates the album and it makes it somewhat harder to relate to years down the track. In fact, the first statement on the record ties it inextricably to 1983 before a note of music has even been played. John Schumann starts out by greeting the crowd and says

Ladies and Gentleman, we haven't seen you since the March the 5th result...

Now, when I purchased my own second hand vinyl copy of this album in 2005, I hadn't heard the record since the mid-1980s. I couldn't remember what the hell happened on March the 5th that year, let alone what was the major news story of the day. Upon further reflection, the "March the 5th result" was when the then current federal Liberal government led by Malcolm Fraser lost the election by a landslide to the Labor party, led by Mr Charisma himself, Bob Hawke. Mr Hawke himself would come in for his own piece of satire a few years after this one, so really the Liberal party are mostly the targets of the barbs on this one.

Two of the songs on this album stretch out over 9 minutes and are padded out with some humourous and amusing shaggy dog stories. Each song here is preceded with a short explanatory note from the band for listeners to get an idea what the song is about, as all good folk groups do. Topics include the horrors of war ("I Was Only 19"), the selling out of our country's natural resources out from underneath us ("Lear Jets Over Kulgera", "Nuclear Cop"), the upper class "born to rule" mentality certain sectors of the community have ("Beaumont Rag), apathy ("It Doesn't Matter To Me"), corporate greed ("Caught In The Act"), rampant consumerism ("Fabulon"), poverty ("Brown Rice and Kerosene", "Where Ya Gonna Run To") and even some optimism for a brighter future ("The Long Run").

There is plenty of great music here and plenty of topical songs that are still relevant to the political debate today, especially a song like "Nuclear Cop" or "It Doesn't Matter To Me". It is a lot of fun for a topical album. There's plenty of laughs and plenty of tears along the way too. If nothing else, the gentle listener will get a better understanding of Australian geography and it would be wise to keep a detailed map handy to work out where places like Beaumont, Nareen, Kingoonya, Puckapunyal, Cairns, Canungra, Kulgera, Pine Gap, Hawker, Pimba, Wyalla, The Diamantina River and many others.

It is also worth noting that the version of "I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)" is NOT the #1 hit single studio version, but rather a live version from the same concert. The single version is available on a number of compilation albums, the best of which is "The Essential Redgum".

The CD version of the album contains all 15 tracks but the original vinyl version which is still common and fairly cheap, but it had a strange format. Using the CD track list as a reference point, the original LP had tracks 1-5 on side one, track 6 as the A-side of a "bonus" 7-inch single, tracks 7-8 on the b-side of the single and tracks 9-15 on the second side of the LP. For the sake of continuity, that is the sequence that the album should be played in. However, on the second-hand market, the LP is easy to come by but it is usually without the bonus single. The orphaned "Caught In The Act" single with "Stewie" and "Lear Jets Over Kulgera" on the b-side is also fairly common if your LP doesn't have a copy, but any and all prospective buyers should be aware that you really need to have both.

Or, you could just listen to it here on Spotify below. Enjoy!