Thursday, 29 May 2014

Dean Martin versus The Rolling Stones

Chuck Berry couldn't have been more prescient when he wrote "Roll Over Beethoven". Its intention may have sprung up out of naive youthful bravado, however it turns out that it was a powerful statement of intent. Everybody thought rock and roll was a passing fad. Nobody knew that 60 years down the line just how influential it would be, and continues to be.

This video is another classic example signifying the changing of the guards. This is a clip of the Rolling Stones on the Dean Martin Show in 1964.

The band were huge in America at that point, as was pretty much every British band with guitars and drums. Variety shows all over America were rushing to book the new young bands at every opportunity. One thinks that maybe Dean Martin didn't have a lot of say in this booking. I assume Dean Martin knew his target audience well, and knew that the Stones wouldn't appeal to them - they were more likely to appeal to the kids of his fans. This was to be perfect comic fodder for Deano: the perfect opportunity to send them up.

The Stones' performance isn't exactly incendiary here. However the key thing to notice is that, within a few short years of this recording, Martin would no longer be a hit-maker. His record sales declined sharply from this point forward, and they never recovered. On the other hand, by the time he recorded his last LP in 1973, the Rolling Stones were one of the biggest bands in the world. The new guard had overtaken the old guard.

Dean Martin has clearly placed himself here as the top dog with the Stones as the underdogs. This wouldn't have happened if it was The Who. Ironically, it was the great crooners, while they disdained rock music, conceded defeat in a few short years. As the pop songwriters progressed in their skills, it was Dean's fellow Rat-Pack crooners, namely Frank Sinatra, who were recording Beatles', Jimmy Webb and Paul Simon songs. Go Figure.

Here, then, is the performance on the Dean Martin Show, circa 1964, perfoming "Not Fade Away" and their supercharged version of Muddy Waters' "I Just Wanna Make Love To You". Complete with Dean's facaetious intros and outros. Listening to him send up the Stones, it's no wonder kids of the day hated the older generation...

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Film soundtracks?

What difference does a film's soundtrack make? Do you actually notice the music in a film?

Having recently upgraded our television to a "bigger than Ben Hur" sized model, we've been watching more movies than usual. I noticed with recent films we've watched, like "RIPD", that there was a notorious lack of music through it, whether it be a bold idiosyncratic orchestral score, or a well chosen set of tunes from popular music (along with a lack of any other redeeming features as well). Even "The Fast And The Furious" has a soundtrack where all the songs sound identical to each other, and none of which make any impact or do much to enhance a scene.

And yet, in the kids movies we are often forced to endure, the music is often well chosen and perfectly suited to a scene. Even in films like "We Bought A Zoo", the scene where the zoo looked like being foreclosed on without a large capital injection was perfectly soundtracked by "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog. It's a great song on its own, but it lifts the scene in the film over and above the level of ordinary.

Last night's film on DVD was "Walking With Dinosaurs". It's a good, fun CGI romp through the pre-historic world (with a loose plot), but the use of well-chosen songs makes certain scenes stand out. For example, there is nothing particularly magical about the two main characters losing their herd and having to hide within another herd of animals heading south for the winter. Throw in Fleetwood Mac's drum-heavy track "Tusk" as a soundtrack and you have something special.

The use of Lord Huron's "Ends of the Earth" magnifies the power of the aurora borialis scenes in the middle of a slow point in the film.

What films have songs in key scenes that elevate the emotions for you? Let us know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Frente! Live

Melbourne folk-popsters Frente! (exclaimation point intentional) have reformed are touring Australia currently behind the 21st Anniversary reissue of their massive-selling first album Marvin - The Album. Our Melbourne correspondent, (who also happens to be my sister) RainbowStar, caught the band live recently and, in her debut post, shares her reflections of the show:

Frente!: 21 years of Marvin


It was a sultry autumn night with a slight breeze on the air. The city lights glistening across the river. The Arts Centre foyer was abuzz with chatter. Over the din could be heard exclamations of "I can't believe Frente! is playing tonight" and "can you believe it's been 21 years since Marvin was released?" The excitement was contagious. A colourful audience of 30 and 40-somethings were intrigued by the notion of the somewhat intimate setting of the Playhouse, with comfortable seating and absence of dance floor.

First up was support act, Maples (Gabby Huber of Dead Letter Chorus), with her eclectic mix of, at times, ethereal vocals and pop-driven synth. After a brief intermission, the sounds of Frente! took flight, taking the audience on a journey of memories. One by one, the songs of Marvin – The Album were laid bare in front of an audience transported back in time to the upbeat sounds of old favourites such as ‘Accidentally Kelly Street’ and ‘Ordinary Angels’. The blunt reality of ‘Cuscutlan’ still rings true in light of the current socio-political climate.

The unapologetically organic sound mixed with lyrical depth with equal measure of intensity and quirkiness, synonymous with Frente!, was captured perfectly in the intimacy of the Playhouse. The honesty of Angie Hart’s vocals matched by Simon Austin on guitar, emphatically working through the tracks of Marvin, the local release and the additional tracks of the international release.

Frente! ensured the audience were not stranded alone in the world of Marvin, but rather danced through the journey of time reliving audience requests, such as ‘Horrible’ ‘Sit on my Hands’ and ‘Goodbye Goodguy’ from the 1996 follow-up album Shape. Frente! did not fail to deliver the magic and beauty inherent in Marvin which has captured and inspired the hearts and minds of many.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Best Count-ins in Rock

What are the best count-in intros in rock?

Well it's probably worth explaining exactly what a count-in actually is first. All bands, especially in rehearsals, start off a song by counting to 4. The purpose is to focus the band and to given then a cue when to start playing together. It is also used to give an indication of tempo - how fast to start playing when everybody starts. It is usually the drummer who counts the band in by counting to 4 (for want of a better drummer joke, if they can't do that, they tap their sticks together four times). Having said that, in the Ramones it is the bass player Dee Dee who does the counting in, and oftentimes his count-ins are not of the same tempo of the actual song!!

The count-in is fast becoming an anomaly on records these days as most bands don't actually play live in the studio anymore. Each musician lays down each part of the song one at a time, layer by layer. In this environment, there is no need for a count-in to unify the band. In years gone by, live recording in the studio was common, if only to get the backing tracks recorded, with the other parts layered over the top. The count in would have be used, but in most cases edited out before reaching the mastering stage.

One of the earliest of these count-ins opened the first Beatles album. It's a wonderfully exuberant count-in that, I believe, was left in accidentally. In 1963 it was considered unprofessional to have that sort of thing on a record. However, it added a sense of realism to the album - the human touch. It also indicates that this would be a fun album, and it kicks it off beautifully.

Every now and then you hear then on various tracks, but it's not altogether very common. (For the record we are not counting songs that have sequential numbers as lyrics or count-ins in the middle of songs). Here are some of the best:

"Good Lovin'" - The Young Rascals

On the subject of exuberant count-ins, they don't get much more joyful than this. And in the stereo version, the counting jumps around the room (or the headphone space, depending on how you are listening) courtesy of the placement of the vocals in the stereo spread.

"Taxman" - The Beatles

The opening of the the debut Beatles album may have been joyous, three years later, after touring the world and achieving things most of us only ever dream of, it sounds deflated. Opening their 1966 album "Revolver" with a slamming indictment of the British taxation model, the count-in sounds sinister, smarmy and seedy.

"Incendiary Device" - Johnny Moped

In 1978, with tensions running high between the punk kids and their parents, the count-in on this track sums up the tension beautifully: "1-2-Cut your hair!"

"Used To Love Her" - Guns 'n Roses

This count-in is rather odd. Guitarist Izzy Stradlin' does away with formal counting and just uses rhythmic language (or rather, mild profanity, as is their wont) : "ok...bitchin' fussin' pissin'..."

"Hot Pants" - James Brown

James Brown only gets as far as three in real numbers, but he indicates that things are about to get raunchy and sweaty. "One, Two, ah One Two Three Uh!"

"Living In The Real World" - Blondie

This count-in is indicative of the neurotic paranoia of the lyric, with urgent grunts and a full throated scream of "1!! 2!! 1-2-3-4!!!" from Debbie Harry to kick off the proceedings.

Granted, this is not a complete list. I'm sure there are more. Which ones have we missed? Let us know in the comments below.


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Greatest Live Albums, as selected by The Sound and the Fury

Just this morning I read yet another article going on about the greatest or most essential live albums.

This list again got me thinking about my favourite live albums. As is usually my taste, most of what critics say are the greatest albums of all time are not ones that I particularly rate. The Allman Brothers' "Live at the Fillmore East" is always touted as a classic, but I find it overlong and bloated. Ditto "Kiss Alive!". I love Kiss, but the poor recording quality and thin production always puts me off.

Putting on my thinking cap, I've come up with six live albums that, in my view, should be regarded as must have albums but generally don't rate a mention.

Pacifier Live

The only double live album from New Zealand-via-Melbourne hard rock band Shihad (aka Pacifier, post 9/11). This is an album that runs through key album tracks and radio hits with fierce-some power panache, and the pace rarely drops across the entire two LPs. The live version of "My Mind's Sedate" is worth the price of the album alone. Also issued on double vinyl in a limited run of 500 with an amazing looking gatefold sleeve.

Bruce Springsteen - Live 1975/85

Bruce is renowned for his epic live shows, sometimes lasting up to four hours in duration. About the only way to emulate that on a record is to release a multi-disc boxed set. While pretty much every record on this list is at least two discs long (on vinyl at least), "Live 1975-85" is a whopping five LPs long (three CDs and three cassettes back in the day) and over three and a half hours long. It includes songs that he never released on a record himself, as well as a few covers of other people's songs, band versions of tracks from his solo album "Nebraska" and a stunning piano-led version of "Thunder Road" that is one of the greatest things he ever committed to vinyl. Absolutely Essential.

Wings - Wings Over America

In 1976 Paul McCartney and his first post-Beatles band Wings traipsed across the States on an epic tour that broke records for ticket sales. It was years before he toured so widely again. This album is a beautifully recorded triple vinyl souvenir of that tour with any highlights including the opening medley, a gorgeous version of Paul Simon's "Richard Cory", and great song previously unreleased called "Soily".

The Tea Party - Live in Australia

The Tea Party are an amazing live band, and one that care deeply for their fans, by travelling off the beaten track to play small shows in regional clubs and pubs as well as larger venues in capital cities. A Canadian band, they combine middle eastern influences with a few sub-continental influences, with a hard rock punch. A live CD is never going to replicate the experience perfectly, but this is as close as we'll ever get. The music is superb and well worth a listen. This crowd-funded album was also pressed in a limited edition on double vinyl.

Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al DiMiola - Friday Night In San Francisco

Jazz fans are spoilt for choice when it comes to great live albums, so choosing one was a hard choice. This one is a guitar players' dream come true. Flamenco master Paco De Lucia meets fusion greats John McLaughlin and Al DiMiola for a fun album full of tight playing and camaraderie. At only five tracks long and just over 40 minutes, it was not originally issued as a double vinyl in 1981. It has recently been reissued on a double audiophile-grade vinyl LP cut at 45 RPM.

Ramones - It's Alive!

Take it Dee Dee...
1! 2! 3! 4! goes pretty much every song on this record - all 28 of 'em. They all rip through in under an hour (54 minutes to be precise. Do the math - it's less than 2 minutes per song on average). It's a full-throttle rip through the highlights of the first four Ramones albums. When taken in one sitting it is utterly exhausting listening, but it's definitely worthwhile.

So what are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below. Cheers.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

R.E.M. - "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?"

Driving to work this morning, the last song that was played on the stereo was a fairly well known song by REM - "What's The Frequency, Kenneth", from their rather unusual album "Monster" in 1994.

The song is fairly familiar to most. However, what may not be so well known is the rather fascinating inspiration for the song.

In 1986, a journalist and newsreader by the name of Dan Rather, was walking along a New York City street, when he was accosted by two men. One asked the question "Kenneth what is the frequency?" Assuming it was a case of mistaken identity, Rather kept on going and ignored it. However he was pushed to the ground and beaten up; the assailants pausing only to re-ask the question "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" The fight was eventually broken up by two doormen from a nearby apartment block.

The main attacker was arrested in 1997 after shooting a stage hand at NBC television studios. He claimed that television stations were taking control of his brain and monitoring him by eaming signals directly into his head. He felt he could stop them by finding the correct frequency to block them out. The attacker served 10 years of his 25 year sentence...

The song itself, by R.E.M., also tackles looking at youth culture from an older person's perspective, and not understanding it. It also attacks the media's fascination with sensationalizing non-issue stories and glorifying celebrities.

"I can't understand!"

With all that in mind, take a listen again to R.E.M. - "What's The Frequency, Kenneth?"

Monday, 12 May 2014

New Music: Forest - "Box"

Forest are a band based in Cambridge in the UK. The band are barely out of their teens and are pushing a style not unlike that of The Arctic Monkeys or the Strokes.

There is an adage relating to pop music that goes "Nice Video...shame about the song". That's not really the problem here. The song is interesting enough - it grows more appealing with each subsequent listen. But personally I probably wouldn't have listened a second (and third) time if it wasn't for the amazing stop-motion video. It was made with over 1300 unique Post-it Notes, hand drawn. It is a truly inspiring piece of art.

Check out "Box" by Forest. Here's hoping they come up with some more innovating clips.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Toto - Hand Picked

Image Source: Smooth Vibes

Toto is a band made up of some of the most prolific session musicians in the Los Angeles music scene. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s they played on countless albums of all genres, but probably the most famous was Boz Scaggs' massive million seller "Silk Degrees" in 1976.

Being musicians for hire before forming the band made them critics targets. As William Ruhlmann writes in the Allmusic Guide:

Toto's rock-studio chops allowed them to play any current pop style at the drop of a hi-hat: one minute prog rock, the next hard rock, the next funky R&B. It all sounded great, but it also implied that music-making took craft rather than inspiration..."

There is an element of truth in that: in a career spanning over 30 years, there's very few recordings they have made that sound distinctive and idiosyncratic. It's too easy to confuse their music for something by Boston, Kansas, Journey, Foreigner or, in some cases, Little River Band. They know exactly how to make music that is user-friendly, radio-friendly, catchy and familiar that is not daring enough to be challenging for the listener, but familiar enough to be catchy, marketable enough to sell records by the bucketload.

It is competently played, slickly produced and, at times, bland and soulless. That said, there are moments where the music is sensational.

Musically they were perfect for commercial radio, and considering this their commercial fortunes were quite unpredictable. Their first record sold millions, while the far superior (in my view) follow up "Hydra" only went Gold in the US. Third LP "Turn Back" fared worse, while "Toto IV" sold 10 million. Subsequent records never hit those lofty heights every again.

The band were capable of playing almost any style of music you could ask for. They could do outright pop fluff like "Rosanna" (one of a long line of pop songs where the female protagonist is named in the title, like "Angela", "Lorraine", "Hollyanna", "Goodbye Eleanor"), solid rock like "Hold The Line", and then turn out a totally sublime and moody piece like "Africa" - probably the most identifiable song they ever recorded.

And then, on occasion they could turn out a song like "99" and manage to confuse the hell out of everybody. A stunning piano piece, it is apparently a love song to Maxwell Smart's sassy female offsider. Few people apparently got the hint and it killed their fortunes at radio at the time. Luckily they had their session work to fall back on....

The selections in the playlist below are cherry picked from Toto's first four LPs. This playlist has its roots in a mid-priced compilation called "Hold The Line" that I owned on cassette for years. The album selects tunes from the band's first three albums, including the massive hit title track, a few lesser singles and a swag of interesting album tracks. When I transferred the cassette to CD, I dropped a few lame tracks, added a bunch from "Toto IV".

The great thing about a Spotify playlist is that the length is not confined to the limitations of a physical medium. I have only ever heard the first few albums, and I intend to add to this list as time goes on, once I go back and listen to the rest of their catalog. Subscribe to the playlist to hear the rest of the playlist as it continues to be built.

Tracks 1-3 from "Toto"
Tracks 3-9 from "Hydra"
Tracks 10-11 from "Turn Back"
Tracks 12-18 from "Toto IV"

Take a listen and let me know in the comments what tracks need to be added.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Stop Motion Mozart

I love a bit of animation, especially when it is done cleverly and done well.

As much as I love it, I don't have the time or the skills to do animation.

Besides that, when you see it done as well as the Mystery Guitar Man does it on his YouTube channel, it just makes me want to concentrate on what I do best: admiring from a distance and alerting people like you to these things via this web page.

This is a Mozart piece, "The Marriage of Figaro", done completely in stop-motion animation. Short frames, most likely of one note, looped and edited together to make this piece. Each guitar line has been edited in this way and then played back over each other, multi-track style making a piece that is as eerie as it is mindblowing.

Take a listen: Mozart as only you'd hear it in the 21st Century.

Thanks to the Mystery Guitar Man. You can see more of his videos here, on his YouTube Channel.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

April 2014 Playlist

Welcome to the start of a new month. The air is getting cooler here on the east coast of NSW, and so we bring you a new playlist to warm up your heart and raise your blood pressure.

Taking in tracks from artists as diverse as Miles Davis, Do Re Mi, Swoop, Osibisa, Babaganouj, Nirvana, Killing Joke, Charlie Hunter and heaps more.

There's over 250 songs within to heat the home with. Set the playlist to shuffle, crank it up, pour out some of your favourite vino and ENJOY!