Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Pink Funk

All of us of a certain age passed through the progressive rock era. In this case, the term "progressive" does not refer to a living wage or the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but instead refers to the expansion of rock and roll beyond rock and into something deeply meaningful.

While there was certainly a lot of progressive rock in the United States, somewhat centered around the city of Boston, the true pioneering spirit of progressive rock was found in the United Kingdom. Two famous examples of progressive rock from the UK are the songs "The Court of the Crimson King (Including The Return of the Fire Witch, The Dance of the Puppets, and The Payment to Inland Revenue Expressed in Pre- and Post-Decimalisation Terms)," and the equally famous song "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo." But those who wished to explore progressive rock still further could find wonderful gems, including an entire album devoted to the castles of King Henry VII, and an even more notable album in which a performer examined a spitting incident at a concert and wrote a two-album opus dedicated to it. Perhaps you remember the song "Another Spit in the Hall (Part 19)."

Thankfully, the United Kingdom was not completely dominated by progressive music, and there was a great funk band from England that scored a couple of hits to break up the boredom. The funk band's first hit, "Money," caused a bunch of people to forget all that progressive rock junk and just get their groove on. Granted, there was a slight progressive influence due to the unusual time signature, but for the most part it was a straight out funk song.

Proving that they weren't a one-hit wonder, the funk band came back with a vengeance in 1979. Remember that this was the time when a number of English artists were adopting disco - the Rolling Stones, Wings, Rod Stewart, and the like. Well, it wasn't too hard to take a funk sound and make it into a danceable disco beat, and as a result the all-night denizens of Studio 54 had another song that they could dance to.

(OK, this sounds ridiculous at first glance, but it really isn't. It's remarkable that a number of these progressive bands were able to put out songs that shattered the progressive stereotype. But the biggest shattering was when the re-formed band Yes, composers of "I've Seen All Good People," made their own dance appearance with "Owner of a Lonely Heart.")

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

How do you say "violate the space-time continuum" in Portuguese?

Almost ten years ago, there was a concert in Lisbon, Portugal - a concert with the (English) name "Lisbon Calling."

Now Madness played at this June 9, 2009, concert, but I'm not going to talk about them.

And the Tubes played, but I'm not going to talk about them either.

I'm going to mention a little band named Carbon/Silicon. It's entirely fitting that Carbon/Silicon would choose to perform at Lisbon Calling, because one of the members of the band is ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones, co-writer of the song "London Calling."

Oh, and one other band performed at Lisbon Calling - a band called Foreigner.

And the name is apt, because the band is not Portuguese. It's British/American, including English guitarist Mick Jones.

You can see where this is going.

And if you can't, let's say that you were in Lisbon on June 9, 2009 and wanted to find Mick Jones.

Mick Jones the guitarist.

Mick Jones the English guitarist.

Even with this level of specificity, you'd have to ask, Which one?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

My Valentine's Day Empoprise-MU music post on the de-evolution of choices

So on Valentine's Day I'm going to talk about a love song.

(Or, perhaps I should say a LOOOOOVVVVVVVVE song, as one of the students put it when I briefly co-taught junior high Sunday school.)

Not a song from Dove, the Band of Love.

But from a related band.

As the only person in the known universe who likes the Devo album "Total Devo," I was thinking about the song "Happy Guy" recently.



Then something hit me.

One portion of the song lyrics sounds like something I've heard before.

Let me tell you about a boy
An average spud
He was twice in love
With two very different girls
Knowing life is short
He told them both the truth
But they already knew


If you can't figure it out from the song title, this is a very happy circumstance.

But that wasn't the case for a song on the album that a lot of people liked:

In ancient Rome
There was a poem
About a dog
Who found two bones
He peeked at one
He licked the other
He went in circles
Then he dropped dead


Many would argue that the softer version of the story in the later "Total Devo" album provides proof that Devo had succumbed to its own de-evolution. If you follow this train of thought, then you would argue that the newer song should have been entitled "Sad Guy," and the guy's confession to his two loves should have resulted in a Kent State-like murder.

But it didn't happen that way. The bouncing disco ball wouldn't allow it.

Incidentally, Aesop was Greek. But we spudboys didn't think that hard about that.



Oh, and one more thing. If "Happy Guy" is a LOOOOOVVVVVVVVE song, then this is not a love song. Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 4, 2019

From secondary geographical perspectives - when an artist's music is released haphazardly in another country

DISCLOSURE: I live in the United States of America. And that affects how I view things.

For example, lately I've been thinking about Egypt a lot, and therefore this song has been going through my head.



And, as is my wont, as the non-Egyptian strings fade into the background, I immediately think of this song:



(ASIDE TO VIRGINIA POLITICIANS: Yes, you saw that.)

At this point, nearly 7 billion people are asking why I would connect the two songs. Yes, they are both by the English band Madness, but they were recorded several years apart and are different stylistically.

Well, go back to my disclosure.

Madness' recording career is a very odd jumble of things, with multiple record labels and the like. And that's just in the United Kingdom - cross over to the United States, and it gets even more jumbled.

In 1982, Madness released its fourth studio album, The Rise & Fall. A semi-concept album, it offered a more thoughtful perspective from the band - not that "Baggy Trousers" didn't have its own thoughtful lyrics, but it was, as the late Graham Chapman would say, rather silly. The album got very un-nutty in its pointed song "Blue Skinned Beast," and even the more rollicking numbers such as "Our House" had a wistfulness about them. While the album didn't place as high in the album charts as Madness' previous albums, it did hit #10, and is today a well-respected album.

The Rise & Fall was not released in the United States.

Perhaps because they were so danged English, Madness hadn't really made a dent over here, so when Geffen Records decided to build an album around the hit song "Our House," it created a compilation from most (not all) of Madness' existing UK albums.

This resulted in some oddities. As I know all too well, side two started with "Night Boat to Cairo," a track taken from Madness' debut album "One Step Beyond." On the Geffen album, this nutty track was followed by the title track from Madness' latest semi-conceptual album. Quite a divergence in style, and one that would only occur to American minds.

But what if Geffen had waited a couple of years to issue its compilation?







Familial DNA when the family is breaking apart

I recently read two diametrically opposed articles about familial DNA - a positive article entitled A popular genealogy website just helped solve a serial killer cold case in Oregon, and a negative article entitled One Of The Biggest At-Home DNA Testing Companies Is Working With The FBI.

The juxtaposition immediately made me think of the 1968 album The Beatles.

By Beat 768 - Own work, Public Domain, Link

What can I say? I'm obviously on a Lennon kick at the moment.

For those of you who consider early Taylor Swift songs as golden oldies, I should clarify that the thing that people love (and hate) about this album - popularly known as "The White Album" because of its black album cover - is the wide variety of stylistic changes from song to song. This happened for three reasons: (1) there were four songwriters on the album (yes, Ringo's first solo[1] composition is here), (2) there were a lot of songs, and (3) they felt like it.

For a small sample of the wide ranging nature of the songs, take Side Three. It starts with "Birthday," a rocker composed on the spot, followed by four wildly divergent songs that are all related to India in some way. Three of those songs are Paul's mellow "Mother Nature's Son," John's jumbled-word rocker "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey," and John's beautiful scathing attack song "Sexy Sadie." That was followed by Paul's unintentionally deadly rocker "Helter Skelter," and the record concluded with George's pastoral "Long Long Long" that ended with a lawn mower or whatever.

Whoops - I seem to have left out the song that appeared between the fast rocker "Birthday" and the slow soft "Mother Nature's Son."

By UDiscoverMusic - https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/lennon-clapton-richards-the-dirty-mac/, PD-US, Link

This song was (mostly) slow, but not soft. And there's a bit of background behind this song:

The Beatles were just as observant of musical trends as anyone else was. One case in point was the re-emergence of the genre of music called the Blues. British groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Yardbirds infused the Blues into their songwriting as well as incorporating classic Blues compositions into their repertoire. By 1968, a British Blues boom was developing, with Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience among others leading the way.

Now Lennon and the other Beatles admired Hendrix, and would work with Clapton on that very album. But that didn't stop Lennon from making a bit of fun at their expense. Hence the Beatles entered the British Blues movement with their over-the-top song that started as follows:

Yes, I'm lonely
Want to die
Yes, I'm lonely
Want to die
If I ain't dead already
Oh, girl, you know the reason why

In the morning
Want to die
In the evening
Want to die
If I ain't dead already
Oh, girl, you know the reason why


White suburban British boys belting out Mississippi blues, just like the white suburban British boys had belted out Elvis a decade before.

Well, except for one thing. Lennon was lonely and did want to die:

“The funny thing about the camp was that although it was very beautiful and I was meditating about eight hours a day, I was writing the most miserable songs on earth. In 'Yer Blues,' when I wrote, 'I'm so lonely I want to die,' I'm not kidding. That's how I felt.” In his 1980 Playboy interview, John explains that the song was “written in India...up there trying to reach God and feeling suicidal.”

Add it up. He was meditating separately from his then-wife, he was about to confess all of his previous affairs to her, he was disillusioned with the Maharishi, his relationship with his songwriting partner was falling apart, and this weird Japanese artist kept on mailing him letters that sounded like

My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth


And you know what it's worth.



[1] Ringo's first songwriting credit was for "What Goes On," which was a Lennon-McCartney-Starkey composition. And since I already included a video of The Dirty Mac singing a Beatles song, I might as well post this.



But in an effort to get ourselves back on the topic of familial DNA, Zak Starkey apparently did not perform with the band in this clip.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Just starting to shave the fish

I've been thinking about shaved fish a lot recently.

If the term "shaved fish" sounds like the ravings of a madman, well, many would agree with you.

As some of you know, "Shaved Fish" was the title of the first best-of album issued by John Lennon, and the only best-of album issued before his death. Because the tracks are mostly chronological, it records the progression of Lennon as a solo artist.

And now some of you are probably nitpicking my characterization of these as solo recordings. "What about the Plastic Ono Band? What about Yoko?" So for the benefit of nitpickers, go ahead and mentally replace every mention of Lennon as a solo artist as mentions of Lennon as one of the key contributors to a band that did not include Paul McCartney.

McCartney looms large over the first three songs on the album, because they were released during the period that Lennon was (at least publicly) a member of the Beatles. He hadn't made the commitment to a solo career yet, so these were just songs that he put out on his co-owned record label because he felt like it. No albums or months of recording or anything - just "hey, I recorded a song, let's put it out."

The first song, "Give Peace a Chance," illustrates this precisely. (I'm familiar with the "Shaved Fish" version, which is a minute-long abbreviation of the originally-released single.) Lennon fans know the story behind the recording. Lennon was using the notoriety of his marriage to Yoko Ono to promote the cause of peace, and originally wanted to do this in the United States but could not because Nixon. So he went to Montreal and announced that he and Yoko were going to bed, thus stirring up the publicity that he wanted. Journalists were disappointed to discover that the Lennons were NOT engaging in wild sex in Room 1742 at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (yes, even today we know the room in which they were staying). Instead, they were hanging out with some friends and talking about peace.

By Roy Kerwood - Originally uploaded to English Wikipedia by Roy Kerwood, CC BY 2.5, Link

So one day (June 1, 1969), John was sitting in the room with his guitar, and his friend Tommy (Smothers) had his guitar, and there were a bunch of other people in the room, and the tape recorder began rolling.

Of course, it was obvious that this was not a professional recording session. When John Lennon went to a professional recording session, he would go to Abbey Road Studios in faraway England, and George Martin and various assistants would man[1] the controls, and (especially after 1966) it would take a long time to get anything done. So naturally, Lennon took this nearly-spontaneous recording and issued it as a single the very next month, because he co-owned a record label and could do stuff like that. And the song was a top 20 song in the United States and made it to number 2 in the United Kingdom, but who cares? This was just a fun interlude by a Beatle, kinda like when George Harrison recorded Wonderwall - and the Beatles were working on a new album.

Back at Abbey Road, the Beatles were assembling the songs for Abbey Road - not quite as diverse (and long) as their 1968 album, but diverse enough. All four members received composing credits, the song styles went all over the place, and Ringo even performed a drum solo which was followed by dueling Harrison-Lennon guitar solos. As the story goes, Lennon came up with a song to include in the album, but it was rejected. So he got another guitarist - not Tommy Smothers this time, but a guy named Eric Clapton - and recorded the song right there at Abbey Road. This wasn't a folk song like "Give Peace a Chance," but very much a late 60s rock song along the lines of Led Zeppelin and the Beatles themselves ("I Want You (She's So Heavy)"). This song was released the month after it was recorded, but it didn't hit number 2 in the UK like his last song - something that Lennon subsequently referenced in a communication to Queen Elizabeth.

Oh, and by the way, Lennon secretly quit the Beatles around this time, the third to do so (although previous quitters Ringo and George returned to the band). And he continued to like the idea of releasing singles very quickly. But the third single sounded a bit different than the other two, primarily because of the producer who Lennon got to produce the song - one Phil Spector. Phil cast a shadow over music as large as Lennon's - after all, to know Phil was to love him - or maybe not. "Instant Karma!" was the first time that Spector produced a Lennon song, and the marriage of Lennon's immediacy with Spector's Wall of Sound had spectacular results. And people heard the results very quickly - the song was recorded on January 27 and released in the UK on February 6. THIS song was top 5 in the US and the UK, which meant that he could appear on Top of the Pops. (Yoko knitted.)



After these three singles, Lennon settled into a more traditional recording schedule - well, as traditional as you can get when you're married to Yoko Ono and then separated from her, and when your "band" has no permanent members. And of course, by the time he released his first real album, everyone knew that the Beatles had broken up. But those first three single still stand out today.

[1] Yeah, it's sexist, but this was the 1960s, and woman was the n- whoops, this is 2019; I can't quote that Lennon song title any more.