Thursday, 31 January 2013

Machine Translations

Here's an obscurity from about 10 years ago now, from Machine Translations, the nom de plume of one Jay Walker. It's a sublime pop piece called "She Wears a Mask" written, recorded and performed all by Jay.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Hottest 100 and Being Thrifty

Did you ever get the feeling that some musical artists just aren't trying very hard? Or is it that, as listeners, we've stopped caring?

These are the issues I have been pondering in the wake of the Triple J Hottest 100 of 2012. There was a very well considered piece on the Anonymous Theatre 3000 blog on the issue of the song that came Number 1: a certain "Thrift Shop" by Mackelmore. SPIN Magazine makes a very pointed critique of the song too, (found here) and it got me thinking about this rather odd success story of a song, grotesque as it is.

Firstly, a little background. Triple J is a national alternative music radio station run by the Government/tax-payer funded ABC. Their music choices are chosen and play-listed and then played on high rotation and then, every January on Australia Day (Jan 26th) they count down the top 100.

It is regarded as the "biggest musical democracy in the world". They boast some 1.5 million votes (which is a dubious number, since each person voting has to submit ten song choices, so does that count as 10 votes for each person? Or is it 1.5 million unique entries of 10 songs each, which is 15 million, almost 1 for every person in Australia?) this year and it is becoming a truly global phenomenon, with people listening to the countdown on the Internet around the world these days (usually Aussie expatriates). Not to mention the thousands of registered "Hottest 100" parties around the country.

This year they opened the voting up to Social Media and some rather enterprising Queensland-based marketing whizz-kids analysed about 30,000 of the social media votes to come up with a list that they dubbed the "Warmest 100". It turns out that they correctly picked the top 10 songs, although songs 4-8 were in the wrong order, the top 3 were indeed correct.

The song they picked for #1 was disturbing: "Thrift Shop" by a Seattle-based rapper named Macklemore and a producer named Ryan Lewis. This song as inescapably bounced out of radios on commercial networks for months and its ubiquity is maddening. In the above SPIN article, it is savaged. What disturbs me is that a hell of a lot of people found the song appealing enough to vote it the most popular song of the year. But why? As a piece of music, it is shallow in its disparaging view of shopping at Thrift stores and patronises the clientele of those stores and their products. Macklemore buys stuff at these stores to go out in public and to parties and be a dickhead. There's nothing funny about that. The music is uninspired, repetitive and bland. There are but 3 sections of the song and they have all been independently assembled and then copied-and-pasted into an audio editor. This is Audio Basics 101 - grade school stuff. They could have done so much better.

Not surprisingly, the backlash from Triple J fans on Facebook and Twitter was almost universally negative in response to this song becoming #1. And yet, this crappy little home-made ditty is still the biggest selling record in the US and in Australia, and it's not even on a major label. It is independently produced, and it is intended to be a satire/comment on rampant consumerism and the prevailing fashion trend of buying ridiculously overpriced brand-name clothing. All of this makes it perfect fodder for Triple J, who pride themselves on promoting so-called "Independent Music".

Usually, with Triple J, they will start flogging a piece of music and then, when the commercial networks get hold of it, they flog it to death even more. In this sense, Triple J are mostly the tastemakers of the nation. Granted, not all their choices make it onto the commercials. Certainly, hearing Mumford and Sons played side by side next to Rhianna and Nicki Minaj on 2Day-FM makes a jarring genre clash, but that's what happened once "Little Lion Man" was voted #1 by Triple J listeners in 2010.

But in this case, it's not even music of any quality. It's throwaway stuff. It's a novelty record and it'll probably be forgotten in 12 months time, except that it won't be, as it will forever be brought back up in the history of the Hottest 100 and in best-sellers lists for years to come. From what I've read, Macklemore has done other songs much more deserving of attention. That maybe so, but it's discouraging to think that the public picked his worst effort, erroneously thinking it to the best.

These days, Triple J seem to be embarrassed by some of its previous #1s. In the 30th Anniversary podcasts from 2005, they were very dismissive of Dennis Leary's "Asshole" (#1 in 1993) and "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)" by Offspring* (#1 in 1999). Will they be the same about this one in years to come?

As Triple J basically determine the playlist for the listeners, in turn the listeners respond as to what they like, and so it is with the Hottest 100. They pick the songs, we vote for what we (supposedly) like. That 6% of the nation picked this piece of crap as the Hottest song of 2012 is ridiculous. Triple J are not at fault - the voters in the countdown are. Have we (as a music-listening populace) become so lazy as to stop demanding that artists produce music of decent quality and we just consume the shit they throw at us? In years gone by I'm sure songs like this would have died a quiet slow death, starved of life-giving media attention purely on the basis that it just plain sucks.

Maybe the song's budget sound is designed to be that way as a musical compliment to the lyrics? Who knows? The fact is that a lot of people bought a lemon, and that was confirmed by their choice for the top spot on Triple J's Hottest 100.

* Someone on Facebook even claimed that Triple J were so embarrassed by "Pretty Fly..." that it failed to include it on the commemorative CD that year. I don't agree - some bands and labels don't licence their music for compilation CDs, which could explain its absence.

Here's my story, sad but true...

Awww...I'm having a little nostalgia moment.

Here's a classic vid from 1990 by Scatterbrain, entitled "Don't Call Me Dude". Great song, great clip. If you've never heard this before, you're looking at a stylistic hybrid of neo-soul, doo-wop, blues and thrash metal. It's killer stuff.


Friday, 25 January 2013

100 LPs Shortlist #26: Kiss "Unplugged"

Kiss Unplugged happened late in 1995 and was released on album and video early in 1996.

I played the hell out of this record when it came out. And it literally was a record. I bought the double vinyl with the bonus track on it.

This is a record unlike other unplugged albums inasmuch as the playing is truly acoustic (with some additional mixing I think, especially on that bass), and it is also full of surprises.

This is literally what the fans were waiting for - not just because of the track selection which is full of obscure songs and often requested but rarely played fan favourites, but it also includes a reunion with the original members of the band. This was the first public fruits of the reunion. Granted it only happened here for two songs, but it sounds like a truly joyous occasion.

According to Peter Criss in his autobiography "Makeup to Breakup", rehearsals were fun but they had their tedious moments - like getting Ace Frehley to play acoustic guitar and then teaching him how to play "Beth" on it. But there was also the complexity of having 6 musicians all playing at once on stage for two songs - both Peter and Eric Singer on drums, Ace and Bruce Kulick trading lead lines and of course Gene and Paul. It was truly a great climax to a great set.

History also shows this record as a bittersweet bookend to the careers of Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer. Peter says that once the crowd roared in approval at Ace and Peter being back, he could see dollar signs and hastily shafted Bruce and Eric sideways and reinstated Ace and Peter and put the makeup back on, paving way for the biggest grossing tour of the decade (and of the band's career, mind you). Once out on the road, tensions erupted over money and song choice and things turned into a mess again.

But all that is for another time. This is one moment when all is harmonious in KISS, a joyous family reunion. It's refreshing to see and hear this moment, even if it didn't last all that long for the band members, it still is a pleasure to listen to, even now.


The Spotify album below is the standard CD release which doesn't include "Got To Choose" which was on the vinyl and Video/DVD. It wasn't released on CD until the 2003 Box Set.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

A bit of holiday reading

Over the Christmas and New Year break I've been devouring rock star biographies, as is my wont. I've chewed through three of them thus far and I'm now onto #4: Steve Tyler's memoir "Does the Noise In My Head Bother You?", but more on that one later.

The first one I started with was Jools Holland's "Baldfaced Lies and Boogie Woogie Boasts".

Jools is a guy whose name I'd heard many times before, but I knew little about him. I knew he played in Squeeze, the great New Wave/Post Punk band from the UK in the late 70s-early 80s. I know he has a regular show on BBC Radio 2 and I know he's had a TV show on the BBC for years called "Later..." but I've never heard or watched either of them. I only really knew him from his work with Squeeze, of which at least their singles collection should be on everybody's regular listen list.

He writes well, and tells a good yarn. He seems to be a genuine sort of guy, likeable and personable, passionate about his work and who is right into his music. He's up front about his misguidedly premature solo career in the early 1980s, and also about the trouble he caused in Newcastle on the TV show "The Tube". His time with Squeeze was what fascinated me though. Worth a read.

Next up was Geoff Brown's substantial volume on James Brown. I'm a fan, as regular readers of this blog will know. This volume was a great read - very thorough, but it made it clear from the outset that it would only deal with James' life starting at age 19, when he was released from jail with a sponsorship from the family of Bobby Byrd, who would become James' right-hand-man for many years after. I know very little about James Brown's life so I was a little disappointed to see that this bit of the story was absent.

However, what is here is fascinating. His battles with record companies, his larger than life attitude to his music and his work, and his battles with his demons - drugs, his anger, his ego, his women, his musicians. There are many, many musicians who are pissed off at him, who feel that James ride on the back of their innovations and got none of the credit for them - it was James who got all the accolades.

His title "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" is no fluke - he really drove himself hard, and expected his band and those involved to work just as hard. He would do a show at night, then get the band into the studio straight after the gig to cut a new record! He sold millions of records and barely even disturbed the mainstream music industry - it was all done on independent labels. He truly was a hero to millions and his philanthropy and advocacy to and for the poorer members of the African-American community was legendary. He was truly amazing and the book doesn't shy away from his achievements.

This was quite a balanced view of a very talented, and yet internally troubled man.

Balance is not something that can be necessarily applied to Peter Criss' autobiography "Makeup to Breakup". He unreservedly pours out scorn on his former band mates Gene Simmonds and Paul Stanley, but he also puts a lot of the blame of his problems on his drinking and drugging habits. While under the influence of cocaine, he admits to signing away his share of KISS and the rights to his makeup image, and he regularly tends to complain about getting less money than other members of the band on reunion tours.

I grant that he feels ripped off, considering the amount of money that the band would have made over the years, but I found it hard to sympathise with him when he complained about only getting $40,000 per show on the 1996/7 reunion tour. Back then, it took me a year to earn that kind of money!!! It also gives an insight into the workings of KISS as an organisation, their penchant for trying to extract money from fans by any means necessary, whether that be by inflated ticket prices, overpriced T-shirts and shitty other crap like condoms, action figures and coffins.

It doesn't surprise me that (in Peter's view) Gene thinks the music is secondary to the product - selling product means making money - but it's hard to work out where Gene and Paul lost sight of what they were there to do - play good music and put on the best show for your money. I don't give a shit about KISS boxer shorts or keyrings. I just want the music to be good!

I also had no idea that he had and beat breast cancer in the last few years too. It was quite inspirational to read that bit too.

I was quite an interesting insight into one of the bigger bands in the world, and quite different to Gene Simmonds's memoir "Kiss and Makeup" which I have read some years ago, but I'd like to read again for the sake of balance. If I remember rightly he wasn't exactly complimentary about Peter or Ace either, so I guess what goes around comes around...

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Canadian Indie band "New Pornographers"

Dodgy name, great music. 

I've written about the New Pornographers on this site before, but this time I wanted to share with you a live performance on the Jimmy Fallon show playing the lead track from their most recent record "Together".  The track is called "Crash Years" and it's such a bouncy, summery track that it's worth listening to. Plus the studio audience are going off in this clip.

Plus, a classic from "Twin Cinema". It's a strange clip, but a great song, called "Use it".

That's it while I take a few days break. More great music next week.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Archive: SPEW!

This is an archive piece written and posted on LiveJournal in 2006, albeit slightly edited and re-published in 2013: 


Based on a short column in one of the those teeny-bopper pop magazines from the late 1980s (Smash Hits it was, I think) these are some song lyrics that make me spew:

The Cure:
“Let me take your hand I’m shaking like milk” ("Let's Go To Bed")

Eskimo Joe:
“Black fingernails, red wine…I’m gonna make you…all mine” ("Black Fingernails, Red Wine")

“I know a girl called Elsa, she’s into Alka Seltzer…” ("Supersonic")

Bill Withers:
“I know I know...” times 27 ("Ain't No Sunshine")

“I like your pants around your feet
And I like the dirt that's on your knees...” ("Figured You Out")

Lee Harding, aka The Punk that should not be:
"She's a Wasabi, she looks like a Barbie, Just too hot for me. She's like a tsunami, could wipe out an army..." ("Wasabi")

Eiffel 65:
“I’m Blue ba da bee ba dee dah ba dah ba dee dah de dah ba dah dee ba dee dah” ("Blue")

Shannon Noll:
“I’ve got a car, I’ve got a big black shiny car, maybe tonight we can go for a ride” ("Drive", and this one is not really Shannon's fault: Bryan Adams wrote this one, proving that he is well and truly past it)

Avril Lavigne:
“He was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious...” ("Skater Boy")

Richard Harris:
“…someone left the cake out in the rain. I don’t think I can take it, ‘cos it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe agaaaaaaaain, ooooooooohhhhh nooooooooooooooo!” ("MacArthur Park". Again, Richard didn't write this. The writer, Jimmy Webb, is a songwriter of some substantial repute, but in this case he should have known better.)


EDIT: I notice that most of the songs cited here are ones that have been released mostly within the last 7-8 years, a handful of them notwithstanding. Is this further proof that popular music has gone to crap of late? Discuss...

Archive: playing guitar changes the man

This is the first of a series of articles first published on LiveJournal in 2006

Playing guitar changes the man...

...Not by choice but maybe by a freudian slip, I came out with something in conversation yesterday that was quite profound, but, in hindsight, rather obvious at the same time:

"playing a musical instrument really changes your perspective on music."

I've never thought about that before, but it really does. Along with that, and in tandem with my music studies throughout school and elsewhere, I have tended to become highly analytical and critical of music. So much so that my analysis of certain styles and artists has led me to hate them passionately on the basis that they talentless and creatively redundant (this is probably the only occasion whereby Doof Doof music and Nickelback can be grouped in the same category).

I was explaining to someone yesterday the process in which the change in my tastes occurred. I started playing guitar when I was 13, and up to that point I followed the top 40 religiously, but mainly delighting in the music that was less "pure-pop". By that I mean I avoided the Kylie Minogues and the Debbie Gibsons that plagued the charts back then (Debbie Gibson was so talented that we have all but forgotten her all these years later, thank God!)

But by 1990 (within 12 months of me starting on the instrument), I was almost totally weaned off top 40 music and began hating local commercial radio. There was no Triple J at the time but when I got wind that Triple J was going national, I was all for it coming to Newcastle. We needed something new to listen to. It turned out that we were the first regional pocket in the country to receive the transmission, and I listened intently for about a fortnight after it started but then turned again back to the local commercials channels, and when the weather was right, the Sydney commercials like Triple M, which at the time I thought was far superior to NEW-FM and NX-FM. On those stations I picked up a few things that were outside the regular mainstream. If I look at the singles I purchased around 1992, by bands like The Smithereens, Matthew Sweet, Pearl Jam and local band Killing Time, because they were lucky enough to have a lower chart placement they made it onto the commercials. But then they were only played in select time slots, like after 7pm on weeknights. If I had have listened to JJJ, these bands were being played all day every day as part of their playlist. Go figure!

But in 1990, at the ripe old age of 14, I was tired of the charts. There was nothing really that floated my boat musically and that made me want to play guitar. I'd spent the last 12 months thrashing to death albums like "Appetite for Destruction", "Dr Feelgood", "Trash", "New Jersey" and "Pump" and really needed something different.

And it came from a very unusual source - my mates and their parents records. My dad didn't have anything of worth to me besides "Bat Out Of Hell", but through my mates I found Suzi Quatro, Slade, The Sweet, Alice Cooper, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Who, Creedence Clearwater and heaps of others that were simple and easy to play, and direct enough in their energy to make you excited about your music again. I kept my musical outlook retro for a while until 1991 when Guns and Roses released Use Your Illusions 1 and 2 and the self titled Metallica LP came along, and then the grunge explosion in early 1992.  I learnt to play songs hand over fist because they were simple, but I was hopelessly out of step with current music and trends, thus making my life in rock bands quite tedious.

Then I got a car that didn't have a tape or CD player in it in 1995...only a radio. Welcome back Triple J! Alternative rock here we come and I'm so glad I did.

The point is it is so easy now for young kids to check out new music. You have the Js on the Radio, they're also now on TV too. You have the internet and you still have word of mouth, but the latter is less and less powerful than it used to be. I wonder if the kids of today have the same sense of excitement I had when I discovered new music, retro or current, after a fair bit of unearthing.

It is also true that kids of today are gaining a broader view of music too. Look at their iPod lists and you may be surprised to see amongst the Ludacris and Snoop Dog tracks to find a track from Bowie's Ziggy Stardust LP in there. That is what's really cool, but it isn't always the case....

...what a strange world we live in, and how it has changed since 1990....

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Dale Hawkins - "Suzy-Q"

As much as I love Creedence Clearwater Revival, I always had a problem with their track "Suzy-Q". For some reason it never sat right with me.  I've always been a fan of long songs, so that wasn't it.  Maybe it was their weird psychedelic vocal treatments after the first guitar solo, I don't know.  Either way, the single edit I always thought was enough, but even then it didn't really float my boat.

So when I was watching "Billy Connolly's Route 66" during 2012 that I heard Dale Hawkins' original "Suzy-Q", originally released on Checker (a subsidiary of Chicago blues label Chess) in 1957 and featured a young James Burton on guitar (he went on to play for Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley).  I was blown away by it.

Just that slightly swinging drum groove, with some added reverb, steady bass pedal and slightly distorted guitar by Mr Burton make this one of the rawest records ever recorded.  That great sound recorded in mono and slightly saturated by volume levels committed to the tape.  It sounds edgy and manic even now, some 55 years later.

It blows bloody Creedence off the stage, lets put it that way.

Check it out - here below is the American Bandstand performance (well, it's mimed to the record anyway) of the original version of Suzy Q.  Enjoy.

RIP Tony Greig

Growing up in the 80s and 90s in Australia, at this time of year the Channel 9 cricket on TV was inescapable and one of the constant voices on the box was of the late Tony Greig.  A south African who played for England and then moved to Australia to be part of the commentary team and to be a much loved sports broadcaster.  

He was lovingly and mercilessly taken the piss out of by Billy Birmingham, aka The 12th Man, and listening to those albums again has brought back many great memories,  

He battled cancer and it is a great shame that he left us so aburptly, but he will be sadly missed around here. Here's some of the great man's moments, and a tribute - of sorts - from the 12th Man.  

Rest in peace, mate.

TSATF Best of the 2012 Playlists

As you may or may not know, I really hate writing end-of-year wrap-up columns, and this one is similarly painful for me to write.  However, this is no ordinary wrap up - this is just a brief summary of what happened this year that caught my eye and changed my world if ever so slightly.

Firstly, Spotify finally launched in Australia this year and the way I discovered new music has been turned on it's head.

Pandora also launched this year and that will also add some interesting dimensions to music listening.  It'll be interesting to see what happens with that one.

We all sat and held our breath as US President Obama was re-elected.  Whatever your opinion on the man and his presidency, he was re-elected, and there's no escaping that fact.  Now in 2013 we have to stomach our own federal electoral circus in Australia.  The mud-slinging hasn't started yet, but I'm sure it won't be long...

The family of the late John Peel started scanning in the covers of the first 100 LPs of each alphabetical letter of his 26,000+ record collection on their site this year, and it was a revelation.  Plus there were links to a lot of the records on Spotify which made for some very interesting musical discoveries.  Plus, it was a lot of fun. Check it out here.

Bob Dylan, Bob Mould, Best Coast, Band of Horses, Mystery Jets, Jack White, Trail of Dead, The Evens and Alabama Shakes all released some pretty decent music this year.

On the local front: Cactus Channel released one hell of a killer record in the form of "Haptics", Drawn From Bees released some great music this year too.  Other great local releases this year include albums from Alpine, Something For Kate, Tame Impala, Jonathon Boulet, The Jezabels and San Cisco.

Some of the bands I had never heard of previously, but nonetheless blew my mind at times this year were: Parry Gripp
Heywood Banks
Frank Turner
Jake Bugg
Best Coast
A Rocket To The Moon
Skipping Girl Vinegar
Rob Clarkson
Dale Hawkins, whose original version of "Suzy-Q" blows the crappy Creedence version out of the water

and of course: RASTAMOUSE!

The RIP list is exhaustive, but we lost
Dave Brubeck,
Ravi Shankar,
Frank Sidebottom,
Fontella Bass,
Jon Lord (Deep Purple),
Charles Durning (aka "Doc Hopper" in the Muppet Movie),
Johnny Otis
Etta James
Whitney Houston
Davy Jones (The Monkees)
Levon Helm (The Band)
Adam Yaunch (aka MCA, The Beastie Boys)
Donald "Duck" Dunn
Donna Summer
Chuck Brown, go-go-pioneer
Robin Gibb (The Bee Gees)
Hal David, songwriter
Daryl Cotton (Zoot)

Apologies if I have missed anything.

Here, for your listening pleasure is a best-of playlist of the Sound and the Fury Spotify playlists from 2012 featuring a selection of all the cool music we have championed on the site this year, and on our Twitter feed.  Here's to a great 2013 for everyone.

December 2012 Playlist

Here now, for your listening pleasure, is the December 2012 Sound and the Fury playlist.  I apologise for being tardy, but it's the holidays! It's summer and I've been in the water having fun.

Anyway, it's a shorter playlist than normal - only 130 songs - but as usual it's a fairly colourful mix.

We lost Dave Brubeck, Ravi Shankar and Fontella Bass during the month, and so there is a track from each of them in the mix.  

The Mayans, or more specifically those who were stupid enough not to know when the Mayans celebrate the new year, thought the world was going to end, but we're still here, so we have some armageddon music on here too from REM and Europe.  

Plus, school finished in December, not to start again until February, and so it was obligatory that Alice Cooper's immortal "School's Out" is on the list.

There's a whole bunch more to enjoy so crank it up and get into it.  


Happy New Year!

Happy 2013 to all our readers.  I hope you had a great time over the Christmas and New year period.

I apologise for the tardiness, but there will be a new monthly playlist up on the site shortly, as well as some new music to keep you guessing.

I didn't get any new music to listen to this christmas, but I have been taking in a heap of muso biographies. I've just finished one on Jools Holland, I'm halfway through one on James Brown and I'm then going to start one on Peter Criss, the drummer from Kiss.  That one should be interesting, if for no other reason but to compare and contrast against Gene Simmons' auto-biography that I have read previously.  I'm looking forward to procuring ones on Prince, Pete Townshend and Steve Tyler in the near future and I look forward to lapping them up too.

I have good intentions of starting up a Pandora radio station compiling all the music featured on the blog and more this year.  I'll let you know how that goes, so stay tuned.

Other than that, kick back and enjoy the tunes.