Monday, 25 July 2011

Vale Amy Winehouse

Farewell Amy, I hardly knew thee...

I've never been much of a fan of the neo-Soul divas coming out of the UK lately. I've had a fleeting interest in Duffy, but that's about it.

Amy Winehouse was always someone that I just couldn't come at. I always vowed I wouldn't let the senseless media hype and sensationalism taint my view of the music, nor would I let what the muso looked like have an impact on my opinion of their music. But, I confess, Amy's beehive coiffure, eyelash extensions and grotesque tattoos turn me off. It's shallow, and I have no excuse. I've heard the music was great, however. Granted, the track "Rehab" didn't impress me, but she has other songs in her canon that I should check out.

Billy Bragg had it nailed, in my opinion, when explaining her acceptance into the "27 Club" - Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Cobain - all the members of said club all had well publicised battles with hard drugs. It could also be said they had significant amount of private pain that they were either unaware of or unable to deal with in a safe fashion, so they self medicated with whatever was available. When you are a celebrity and you have heaps of idle cash, usually there are plenty of people hanging around willing to separate you from it...

We need to remember that we shouldn't mythologise any of these people for the hard and fast way they lived. The vicariousness of their lives is great for tabloid reporters, but it is not a smart way to stay alive.

She should be remembered for her contribution to music - her voice and her songs. It's what's in the grooves that counts. Anything else is beside the point.

More tunes soon.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #13: Def Leppard - "Hysteria"

Even if this record wasn't spectacular for its great songs, if nothing else it would be legendary for the painful conception, gestation and birth alone.

Sheffield band Def Leppard started in the late 1970s as contemporaries to bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden. Their first two LPs sold respectably in the US, their third LP "Pyromania" sold 6 million in the US in 1983, but the band had hardly made a ripple in their native territory. In fact, while the heavy metal press in Britain thought the band was great, mainstream press thought they were actually American!

So how do you follow up a 6 million selling album? That was a big enough problem in itself, but it was nothing like what was to come...

Firstly, the band lost their producer of choice ("Mutt" Lange, who produced "Pyromania"), clashed badly with new producer Jim Steinman (songwriter on Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" album) and nursed their drummer through rehab after a horrific car accident which severed his left arm, causing him to have it amputated.

Drummer Rick Allen slowly learnt to play again with one arm, having a modified MIDI drum kit developed for him to make it easier to play. He eventually played on all the album sessions through 1986/87. The band also signed Lange back on as producer, but they had to wait 3 months for Lange to recover from his own car accident. And then the gruelling recording sessions filled with technical dramas with layering of guitars and synths and other technology.

The result however, was extraordinary. Released in the latter half of 1987, during the last 4 years the legend of Def Leppard grew in the UK to the point where the LP debuted at Number 1 on the British charts. The album took close to 12 months to climb the summit in Australia.

The album was superior in almost every respect to anything the band had done previously, and also to everything they have done since. Their sound was already big, but on "Hysteria" it was massive. It sold the most out of all their albums - some 20 million copies as of 2009 (source: Wikipedia). Of the 12 tracks on the original LP, it produced 7 hit singles (every track on the original side one of the LP plus the title track) equalling Michael Jackson's record on the Thriller LP. It was the most expensive production of any of their albums, and it was the longest to make.

This last point is notable because 4 years was unfashionably long for ANY BAND to make an album in the 1980s. Their contemporaries like Kiss and Iron Maiden were in the habit of turning out LPs every 12 months or so during this period. It was a huge risk, as most bands would have lost momentum and their first LP in 4 years would have bombed, but not this one...

So here it is, in order to remind yourself how great it was...

...and for Glen Ironman, to hear for the first time.

Monday, 11 July 2011

R.I.P. News of the World

Over at our sister blog Think Again we discuss and celebrate the closure of "The news of the World" tabloid in the UK.

I thought it would be good to listen to a few songs that were inspired by the dirty rag:

The Jam - "News of the World"
Wire - "Field Day For The Sundays"
The Beatles - "Polythene Pam"
Pretenders - "Back On The Chain gang"
Joe Jackson - "Sunday Papers"
U2 - "Last Night On Earth"
Elvis Costello - "Fish 'n' Chip paper"
Billy Bragg - "Never Buy The Sun"
The Smiths - "This Night Has Opened My Eyes"
ManBREAK - "News of The World"

and of course the classic Queen LP "News of the World"...

links to the songs coming soon....

Triple J's Hottest 100 Australian Albums...

Here we go again, yet another list of albums to inspire debate and arguments. This time, compiled from listener votes from Australia's youth radio station (or, if you like, antipodean equivalent to the BBC's Radio 1) Triple J.

I'll be honest here - lists like this both amuse and infuriate the hell out of me, and this one is no different.

One of my main complaints is with this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. It is claiming that listeners are showing their age in their choices of albums, and how a great deal of "old" albums are showing up next to recent favourites, reducing the "hipness" of the countdown. I totally disagree. And I disagree on the count of the fact that most of the records in this list date from between 1994 and 2011, with only a handful of real "classics" from the 1970s and 1980s. The immediately recent 15 or so years does NOT class as "all time", and most of those that feature here from this period are not really all that great.

Some albums in the list should come as no surprise for anyone with an ounce of knowledge of Triple J's 30+ year history. The writer of the article above cites a record like Skyhooks' "Living In The 70s" as "Zimmer frame music". The writer, however, neglected the fact that this record is almost synonymous with Triple J. It was, after all, the first record played on air when it began in 1975, playing one of the 6 banned songs from the LP in the form of "You Just Like Me 'Cos I'm Good In Bed".

It's no surprise that there was quite a few Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel LPs, plus The Go-Betweens, AC/DC and the immortal "(I'm) Stranded" by The Saints: all these bands were championed by the Js back in the day long before the mainstream radio stations caught on. It's also no surprise that this music is also what is regarded as "classic" by mainstream media, and that it would be something that the 20-something listeners of JJJ would be highly familiar with from their parents.

What WAS a real shock was that John Farnham's "Whispering Jack" made it into the top 50. This was a record that Triple J wouldn't touch with a barge pole back then, and usually wouldn't go near now.

This list is also filled with records that are also so fresh that they haven't really been out long enough to be time-tested for greatness. I mean Washington's "I Believe You, Liar" may be a good record, but will it still have legs in 10 years time?

One record that certainly has not stood up well, in my opinion, is "Frogstomp" by Silverchair. I still think this record sucked when it came out and it still hasn't gotten any better, and yet it turns up at #2 on the list? Youthful enthusiasm and energy counts for a lot on a good record, but the songs contained within are forced and naive at best, even cringe-worthy. Frogstomp? More like Frog shit. For a few years around the time this came out I was embarrassed to refer to myself as a "Newcastle" person, even though I am, simply because of the fact that most people would associate "Newcastle" with this crap band, but I digress...

One cannot blame the voters for this list and what's here, nor the compilers. You can blame the media and the crap they push on the voters, who are simply regurgitating it back at the providers. Media outlets create a demand for stuff simply by keeping it firmly in the mind's eye of the audience. If it's out of sight, it's out of mind. So play it repeatedly until they never forget it, such is what the Js have done with all the music here on this list. Silverchair were never very good, but constant airplay has created an audience, and that's how we get things like this.

I've said for a long time we need an outlet for Triple J to play music that they used to play, so that music fans can get the best of both worlds - if the hipness gets too much, flip over to J classic and hear the cool stuff we grew up with. Triple J have access to a monster music library, but they only play about 1% of it regularly, at most. Their audience is not getting a wide-ranging coverage of Australian music, and that's what is being reflected in this countdown. Compare this list to the list put together by industry professionals on the same site, and even the list in John O'Donnell's book 100 Greatest Australian Albums. Even they cross broader boundaries and present a more broader perspective on what Australian music "of all time" is, flawed as they are.

There will be no "definitive" list of Australian albums. No-one is ever going to be completely satisfied with any list that is produced. But there sure could be some more coverage of it in the airwaves.

Now, if I could just get my own commercial radio show...

Oh, and for the record, the number one on the list was "Odyssey Number 5" by Powderfinger. Not a great record by any stretch, but if a Powderfinger record had to top the chart, I'm kinda glad it was that one. "Internationalist" and "Vulture Street" were much more successful and popular, but the former suffered from some poor production choices and some questionable arrangements throughout (plus it has the worst ever opening track on an album in the gawd-awful "Hindley Street") while the latter was filled with mundane and uninspired songs, played very, very loudly. "Odyssey..." also contained pointless filler (the title track), crap guitar sounds ("My Happiness"), and a poor remake of a brilliant, previously released track ("These Days"). But it also had it's share of strong songs like "Up and Down and Back Again", and "Waiting for the Sun".

My apologies to the boys from Powderfinger. I just really liked "Double Allergic" better. I'm really glad you beat "Nirvana In Pyjamas" to the top spot though...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Video hits gets Axed

So Channel 10 Australia has finally decided to axe the only music program on its network. I'm not surprised, but I am annoyed about some aspects of the reporting coverage of it.

Take a look here at the story from the Sydney Morning Herald.

I'm sure I remember the show starting on air in 1986 (I'm pretty sure that's the show where I discovered the track "Infected" by The The, which was a hit in 1986) playing the top 40 videos of the week, much like Rage on the ABC was doing at the time. Over the years it has changed its format to now include interviews and funky presenters, including one Dylan Lewis, although he is not as edgy and quirky on VH as he was back in the 1990s on the ABC.

I had to laugh when it said that VH was instrumental in assisting the careers of Australian artists like Missy Higgins and Angus & Julie Stone. Umm, I'm pretty sure that there's a think called Triple J radio that got them started somehow, especially in the case of Missy Higgins who won Triple J's Unearthed competition.

So what's the problem here? Would it be a fair assumption to assume that Australians don't consider music an art-form worthy of any serious consideration?

Who were the producers of the show marketing it to? Did they miss their audience demographic?

Are we so blase about music that we can't be bothered watching it on TV?

Has the iPod mentality reduced our consumption of music down into bite-size pieces of our own choosing, thus rendering a 2 hour music show pre-programmed by someone else redundant?

My view is that music programs on commercial TV have always been about the ultra-commercial. The ABC has been prone to this too, with Rage playing top 50 hits every Saturday morning since the show started.* However, targeting music shows on TV has always been risky simply because there's already a number of channels on PayTV who arguably do music programming better, and for longer, plus now we have the Internet, where you can just watch YouTube videos ad nauseum.

So is a music TV show on free-to-air TV really necessary? Given all that, plus the rapidly declining attention spans of viewers means that it's harder and harder to find a ratings-winning format.

For the most part, the ABC provides a tele-visual compliment to the content on radio JJJ at the expense of almost everything else. But then the ABC are not worried about ratings either...

Seeing as though Ten want to ditch the 24 hour HD sport channel OneHD, maybe they could try a 24 hour music channel and see how it stacks up...? Then again, if they've ditched Video Hits after 24 years, that idea will probably float like a brick...

* This ended about 4 years ago when ARIA, the company who issues the sales charts every week, decided they were enough of a recognisable brand name now and wanted to have their own marketable show with their name on it, and refused to give their charts to the ABC for Rage to compile the show. Now, saturday morning Rage is just filled with whatever the hell the programmers felt like selecting at the time.

Monday, 4 July 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #12: Sly and The Family Stone - "Stand!"

Sly and the Family Stone - Stand!

Sly and the Family Stone are the classic personification of 1960s egalitarianism. A funk-rock-psychedelic-soul-R&B band with a mixture of white, black, male AND female musicians, singing songs of joy and peace during the revolutionary hippy era.

Their fourth LP, "Stand!", released in 1969, 4 months before they appeared at Woodstock, is their finest moment.

It could be argued that only a band of this type, playing this kind of music could have come from San Francisco in the 1960s; a product of it's time, maybe. However, the music contained within is timeless. It still has the power to move hearts, minds and booties all these years later. It was unique-sounding then, and it still is now.

I first heard this one after I found a copy at my local Salvation Army store in 1994 for $1. It was scratched to the shithouse. I bought it anyway. Despite the surface noise created from years of neglect, the music was still powerful. "I Want To Take You Higher" and "Sing A Simple Song" hit like electric shocks - simply amazing.

Over the 8 songs here, you have flat out party jams in the form of "I Want To Take You Higher", pleas for equality in "Stand!" and "Everyday People", hope and positivity in "You Can Make It if You Try", pointed civil rights criticism with "Don't Call Me N*****, Whitey" and inner-city paranoia (the kind that would come to its full fruition on 1971's "There's a Riot Goin' On") with "Somebody's Watching You". The only real flat spot on the record is the 13+ minute instrumental blues jam "Sex Machine", which is about 8 minutes too long, however, still worth the listen.

Taken as a whole, this is one stellar collection. Enjoy!