Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pet sounds...if your pet is a pit bull

The song "John B. Sails," better known as "Sloop John B" after the Beach Boys' version, has been covered by a lot of artists.

One such artist is Devasted. Their version is here.

No, there aren't any multi-tracked harmonies on this one.

Monday, July 20, 2015

When pop radio stations break the shackles of the three-minute format

Last week I was driving to work, flipping through the radio stations, when I landed on K-EARTH 101.

For those of you who do not live within the range of Los Angeles radio, you should know that K-EARTH is an oldies station. Of course, the definition of an oldies station changes over time. When I moved to southern California in the 1980s, K-EARTH was playing songs from the 1950s and 1960s. Today, they play songs from the 1990s.

But that morning, the station was playing a 1980s song - "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell.

That happens to be a song that I enjoy, so I left my dial (actually, not a dial any more) on K-EARTH 101, knowing that I would enjoy that song. Of course, I knew that K-EARTH wouldn't play the excellent medley that included both "Tainted Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go." Why not? Because oldies stations, like other pop stations, strictly adhere to the three-minute format and play the shortest version possible of any song. If you want to hear the full versions of songs, you need to go to a station where Zeptember and Rocktober are celebrated.

So I listened to the end of "Tainted Love," wondering what K-EARTH would play next.

But the song didn't end. Miracle of miracles, they began playing the opening notes of "Where Did Our Love Go."

As I was reflecting about the monumental and historical nature of this...K-EARTH faded the second song about a minute into it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Two of our greatest singers on one...um, unforgettable song

No, this has nothing to do with Nat King and Natalie Cole. But it's unforgettable nonetheless.

Lately I've been leaning toward a Bob Dylan song from his Nashville Skyline album, the recorded collaboration between Dylan and Johnny Cash. As you listen to "Girl From the North Country," you are struck by something. Dylan sings in his Dylan voice. Cash sings in his Cash voice. And then, in one magical moment, the two voices unite together in unison.

Well, sort of unison.

Dylan and Cash have/had dominant personalities and distinctive singing and musical styles. But what they don't/didn't have was technical facility. So when those two cantankerous souls reach the part where they sing in unison, it isn't quite there.

You can find the track on Spotify or on your favorite music service. Or perhaps you can find a subsequent recording that the two made on Cash's TV show. Back in 2007, D.A.N. helpfully shared a video of that performance. Unfortunately, by the time I reached D.A.N.'s post in 2015, I saw this when I tried to play the video.

So I have to rely upon D.A.N.'s description of that performance:

This live version has a little more spontaneity in its feel than the album version that I think it adds another level of authenticity and although both singers are definite in their "country voices", there is still a bit of a contrast between the two....

This live duet does seem slightly tentative as well actually. Dylan idolized Cash and I think that really comes through in the performance as he does seem a little star struck by the man in black, even though they worked together before.

If you read between the lines of the euphemistic words "spontaneity," "authenticity," and "tentative," you can just picture how the live performance sounded.

Actually, the recorded version of the duet is available on YouTube. The true magic occurs at 1:51.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The truth about Larry Norman...and Robert Johnson

I ran across an April 8, 2014 post, written by Allen Flemming, at a site called "The Truth About Larry Norman." It began like this:

The United States Library of Congress has chosen Larry Norman’s album Only Visiting This Planet album to be deemed a National Treasure. The only other Rock album was U2’s Joshua Tree (an album depicting U2’s vision of America).

When I first read that, I questioned the statement's accuracy, since it was hard to believe that only two rock albums were culturally significant. It turns out that the statement was correct - sort of. These were the only two rock albums in the 2013 class of inductions (source: Variety). For the 2013 class, non-rock albums such as Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" were included, and rock songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Fortunate Son" were included.

If you look at the entire Recording Registry, however, you can find a lot of rock albums that were included in the years before and after 2013, ranging from "The Velvet Underground and Nico" to "OK Computer." And there's a lot of other stuff also.

So, why is Larry Norman in there? The Library of Congress explains:

"Only Visiting This Planet" is the key work in the early history of Christian rock. Norman was a veteran of the American rock scene of the 1960s (as well as a street corner evangelist) and his songs were musically assured and socially aware. Many earlier efforts in this genre concentrated on joyful affirmations of faith, but Norman also commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches. "Only Visiting This Planet" was recorded at George Martin's AIR studio in London with a group of top studio musicians that included John Wetton of King Crimson (and, later, Asia) on bass. The album set new production standards for Christian music. For some, Norman and his work are still controversial, but, regardless, his influence remains strong. Selected for the 2013 registry.

On the other side of the spectrum is this culturally significant recording. This is another man who was only visiting this planet, but the common impression is that this man ended up in a different place than Norman did:

"The Complete Recordings." Robert Johnson. (1936-1937)

The recordings made by Delta bluesman Robert Johnson in 1936 and 1937 had a significant impact on fellow bluesmen, as well as on such rock musicians as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. Considered by some to be the "King of the Delta Blues Singers," Johnson's emotive vocals, combined with his varied and masterful guitar playing, continue to influence blues and popular music performers to this day. Selected for the 2003 registry.

I encourage you to visit the registry list. I may revisit it again in this blog.