Sunday, November 29, 2009

THE KINKS



ARTHUR (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

"You're gonna find out just how powerful America is, you Limey bastard!!"

Following backstage fist fight with a union official prior to taping one of Dick Clark's TV specials back in 1965, Raymond Douglas Davies would soon find his opponent's shouted threat to be all too prophetic. The Kinks would be banned from performing in the States for several years as a direct result of this incident and general bad behavior during their visit.

What type of shit do you have to cause to warrant such a decree? Watch this clip.



Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Kinks missed out on a golden opportunity to cash in on the lucrative US touring market. They played venues in Europe, while other acts rode the crest of the "British Invasion" marketing tsunami that roared ashore in America.

Fate would then steer Davies down an incredibly creative avenue.

Taking inspiration from his own backyard, he began to write from a decidedly "English" point of view and set the group up with a string of classic singles. With regard to his craft, I believe that he was without peer during this period as the quality of the work was nothing short of stunning. "Sunny Afternoon", "See My Friends", "A Well Respected Man", "Dedicated Follower of Fashion", "Waterloo Sunset" and "Autumn Almanac" are but a few examples of the truly fantastic output that poured forth from Davies in the mid-sixties.

If you do not know or own these songs, you are missing out on true works of art. I could not give more effusive praise to any of his contemporaries. His masterpiece, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society album, consolidated many of his pet subjects and presented several characters that populated his imaginary, ideal and very British locale.

Under-exposure, poor marketing and Davies determination not to cop out and distort his vision by co-opting the day-glo bullshit that was commonplace in the era of psychedelic rock almost finished off the KInks as a commercial entity. 1969 brought a series of seismic shifts in circumstance as charter member/bassist Pete Quaife quit the group and Ray, with screenwriter Julian Mitchell, embarked on writing material that would form the basis of a combination album/made for TV film, loosely based on the real life departure of his older sister, Rosie, who emigrated to Australia some years before with her husband Arthur. The production never made it past the preliminary stages.

Fortunately, the album did not meet the same fate. Beating Pete Townshend's Tommy to the stores by a month as the first "rock opera" (though the Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow pre-dates both), the premise is that Arthur’s children are planning to emigrate to "the promised land" of Australia. He sits by the fire, thinks back on where he and his country went wrong, argues with his son, and realizes that the world has passed him by.

Conversational marker.

In the midst of creating his masterwork, Ray found time to head to LA and produce Turtle Soup for the Turtles. While there, he helped broker a deal with the musicians union that would allow the Kinks to play live in America again.

Things were looking up.



"Victoria" could very well be the quintessential Kinks song. Setting up the listener for the things that the main character sees as an ideal, now lost, the tune itself sees Davies, in a rather dichotomous fashion, aping the stylings of American group Canned Heat, while singing the praises of the British monarch for whom an era was named.



In devising his paean to long gone traditions, Davies almost comes off as Evelyn Waugh in reverse. Waugh wrote one of my favorite novels, "A Handful of Dust" and was known for his dark, satiric take on landed gentry. (Tony Last, the main character in the book is a man out of time, preoccupied with the upkeep of Hetton Abbey, a sprawling, Victorian Gothic dwelling. Things quickly degenerate for the hapless protagonist, though who am I to ruin a good story.)

The point here is that, through Arthur's eyes, we look wistfully at an England that was, without any dark punchlines attached. "Victoria" is the sum total of everything that Davies had been writing about in the years leading up to its release. Driving the rhythm section with a pumping bass line was new recruit, John Dalton. He had stood in with the group briefly in 1966, when Quaife took leave due to an accident (and an intention to bail for good, though he came back). Dalton and drummer Mick Avory gel quite well on each track, leaving the Davies brothers a solid foundation upon which to layer guitars.

Brass arrangements also add a regal touch to the mix.

Arthur represents an extremely beneficial leap forward in terms of engineering and the final mixes. Despite the brilliance of Ray's songs, the finished product had always left little to be desired when it came to balance of sound. It seemed, at times, that certain basics were not adhered to in getting instrumental parts to tape. No such issues are present with this disc.

Drawing the listener so deftly into another world that you almost breathe in time with the characters presented, every line is thoughtfully integrated into the bigger picture, though the songs stand on their own outside of the concept. "Shangri-La" is the best example of this, another outstanding creation whose theme transcends the era in which it was constructed. In class-conscious England, climbing beyond your social standing, sitting contentedly in relative comfort is given an edgy lyrical treatment

The little man who gets the train, got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he's too scared to complain, cause he's conditioned that way
Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio, for seven shillings a week
Shangri-la


It is by far the best song on the record.



Elsewhere, there are a couple of clumsy moments. On "Australia" they shift into "jam band" mode toward the end and fail spectacularly due to lack of structure. Similarly, the reading of Winston Churchill's speeches ("Mr. Churchill Said") drives home the point in a less than subtle fashion. Davies usual flair for cloaking his messages smartly eludes him here, though as an integral part of the "plot" it remains. He also picks his own pocket for the main melody on "Drivin'", cribbing a bit from Village Green's "Picture Book". The chord structure is phenomenal, though it went nowhere when issued as a single.

"Brainwashed" marks the return of Dave Davies' patented distorted guitar, which had been muted somewhat over the course of recent albums and sees Ray hurling invective at the masses, calling them out for their complacency.

The aristocrats and bureaucrats
Are dirty rats
For making you what you are
They're up there and you re down here
You're on the ground and they're up with the stars
All your life they've kicked you around and pushed you around
Till you can't take any more
To them you're just a speck of dirt
But you don't want to get up off the floor
Mister you're just brainwashed


"She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" may be one of the album's saddest pieces, once again illustrating the tendency of the poorer classes to emulate those in the upper crust. Redolent of the music hall stylings that would soon become a trademark of the Kinks' sound in the early to mid seventies, it is another display of the versatility that made it tough for the trendy taste-makers to pin down and define from a marketing perspective. There's a great live version of it here, though you have to jump past the titles for the film "The Virgin Soldiers" in the middle of this video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tZXLTkUy30

Overall, this is work that simply needs to be heard. The playing is superb, with all of the elements that made them great firmly in place. All that was missing was a receptive audience. Sadly, the massive success of the Who's Tommy relegated this disc to the cut-out bins before it even had a chance to be evaluated.

Without the massive support that was thrown behind their contemporaries, the greatest crime to befall any band of this calibre saw little or no chart action for Arthur (# 105 was its highest placement) and weak sales. It is with conviction that I would urge anyone who has an appreciation for music to investigate this great lost treasure. Conceptually, Arthur does not grab the would-be listener, forcefully, demanding immediate attention. Rather, it charms with melody, ease of expression and takes you on a journey through the mental landscape of one of the greatest song writers of our time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

GET YER YA YAs OUT



Presenting the Rolling Stones on their much documented 1969 US tour.

They came, packed venues and laid a somewhat dubious claim to the title of "World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band". ( The Who, anyone?) This is not to say that they played poorly or were doing show tunes, though there were other groups that were firing on liquid hydrogen compared to Mick and his crew at that time.

Maybe they had the World's Greatest PR Firm on their side.

Arguments about branding aside, this is definitely an extremely worthwhile disc in many respects. Captured in excellent form in New York's hallowed Madison Square Garden over two nights, the Stones played with renewed fire thanks to their newest member, guitarist Mick Taylor. Brian Jones had been elbowed from the fold earlier that year and died under mysterious circumstances not long after. Taylor's public initiation with the band could have scarcely been more unnerving, as he found himself playing to 500,000 people in London's Hyde Park in July, just two days after Jones' passing.

Though you (regrettably) don't see him execute the brilliant slide solo that he lays down here on their reworking of Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain", you definitely hear and feel it. Panache wins the day.


Fast forward to the fall gigs in the States.

Working their way across North America, with new technology (monitors) that afforded everyone the luxury of hearing themselves on stage for the first time, they also had the means to project their sound to larger audiences. People now expected value for their concert dollar, had grown with their favorite artists and were now coming to the gigs to actually listen.

Imagine that.

Having been away from the US touring circuit for three years, the pressure was on to bring a monumental spectacle to each city. To their credit, the Stones delivered. Kicking off with a trippy collage of overlapping introductions, the album opens with "Jumping Jack Flash".

Jagger, resplendent in his Uncle Sam top hat, cape and stage uniform emblazoned with the Omega symbol provides the ultimate lesson in how to front a band with aplomb. Charlie and Bill hold down the rhythm expertly, leaving Keith and Mick Taylor a solid foundation over which they weave their six-string magic. There is a certain energy that emanates from this record that you feel across all of the forty years that have elapsed since they played these shows. Dirtier than the toilet on the cover of Beggars Banquet, there is no doubt that they tapped into a fantastic vibe, amplifying it considerably. "Sympathy For the Devil" finds them particularly inspired and deep in their own groove.

Here is something to ponder as you pound the tabletop in time with Charlie Watts' impeccable playing. Why is it that kids in the early 80s were not rushing out to buy Glenn Miller records on the fortieth anniversary of his passing? Surely, live recordings of "In the Mood" should have been repackaged and had people clamoring to get their hands on them?

The same amount of water has drifted under the bridge since these performances and the expanded, 40th anniversary edition of "Ya Ya's" is available, with legions of fans going out of pocket to possess it. The reissue contains five extra tunes, plus a bonus disc featuring the opening sets by both B B King AND Ike and Tina Turner. You also get the DVD, vinyl copy and a small vial of the special serum that has allowed Keith Richards to avoid many scheduled lunch dates with the Grim Reaper since 1966.

"Prodigal Son" is a highlight amongst the extras.

Personally, I have a soft spot for this disc. It sits proudly in my collection (vinyl copy), gets dusted off every so often and cranked. Fixed up with some post production work, mainly to correct vocals, it remains a great testament to the tight-knit, live powerhouse that the Rolling Stones became as the calendar page turned to close out the tumultuous sixties. The material on the official release was culled from their most recent LPs at that time (Beggars Banquet and Let it Bleed) with two Chuck Berry covers ("Carol" and "Little Queenie") and the aforementioned "Love In Vain". I can't ever listen to them doing "Carol" without thinking of Berry giving Keith shit about the opening bend in the riff while they were rehearsing for the concert that ends Taylor Hackford's brilliant film, "Hail.Hail Rock and Roll".



"Midnight Rambler" is a high watermark in showcasing the live blues tightrope that they walked so well, complete with dark subject matter and dynamite, gritty harp playing from Jagger. "Stray Cat Blues" is literally attacked in performance, put across beautifully with a different arrangement than the album version. There is a great sense of purpose in this endeavor, almost as if to let people know that they were still vital, sharp and not about to relinquish their position in the commercial arena. Quite funny to think about now, when you consider that they were all still quite young, though, to be fair, so was rock music and a year away from the scene meant that you ran the risk of ending up as yesterday's news.

Bootleg recordings of their 1969 shows started circulating following the tour, not a penny of which was making its way back to the group. "Live'r Than You'll Ever Be" was an audience recording of a gig in Oakland (in fairly decent fidelity) that had record executives nervous and was even treated to a review in the music papers of that era. The official release was far superior, yet there is a treasure trove of live recordings to be found from this period, if you are a collector.

The final word belongs to Keith Richards.

You've got the sun, you've got the moon, and you've got the Rolling Stones.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PETE TOWNSHEND



ALL THE BEST COWBOYS HAVE CHINESE EYES

Mid-points in any journey or experience are a curious place at which to arrive. You can look over your shoulder and cringe at some of the things you have said/done, over-analyzing just about every step that carried you to your present destination. At the same time, the wisdom gained along the way will (hopefully) prepare you for the second leg of the journey.

Would you like the rest of that mid-life crisis packed up to go?

Pete Townshend has never been shy about laundering his thoughts and hanging them out to dry in full view of the general public. All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes followed a spectacular crash and rehabilitation period that caught him with his feet straddling two very different sides of the artistic fence. One had him writing songs for the group that he had been a part of since the early sixties, while the other was pointed toward an exit from said situation. The sticking point with the Who was a need to tailor the lyrics so that they would sit well with frontman/interpreter Roger Daltrey. Townshend needed to express himself as freely as possible, which is why his solo work sat so uncomfortably in juxtaposition with the Who LPs of the early 80s.

Writing from the gut, his inner treasures/turmoils could be voiced by no one other than himself.

"I've now decided that there is one kind of writing for the band and one kind for me."

Sporting the then- trendy "New Wave" coiffure, he retired the past to the closet in favor of the synthisizer-driven leanings that were beginning to grab the ear of the masses. Never one to reduce his work to faddish, inconsequential bullshit, he infused the tunes with enough imagination to escape the gravity imposed by the universal time/date stamp. Production was handled by Chris Thomas, who saw that the artist's vision was delivered in an immaculately wrapped aural package. Supporting players hit their marks with clean precision, with special mention going to the percussive wizardry that Simon Phillips brought to the table.

Pretension creeps in (not for the first time), but I ask one question: Would you rather put up with a great artist erring toward pomposity in an attempt to reach a bit higher or sit and listen to homogeneously produced banality until someone plunges knitting needles through both of your eardrums in an act of mercy?

Effectively, the problems that plagued Townshend from his earliest days were always, by alchemic process, filtered into wonderful songs. This isn't to say that he sat around the house, interminably unhappy, writing self-pitying slabs of desiderata. He could have, considering that his marriage was failing, old friends were meeting untimely ends and the clock was winding down on his membership in the Who, soon to embark on a "Farewell Tour". Drink had always been a factor, though he had long since forsworn drug use, only to take it up again with a vengeance following several monumental personal losses.

"Somebody saved me, from a fate worse than Heaven"

He sought treatment for his addictions, escaping having his name carved into rock's obituary section prematurely. Putting a group together, he wrote material specifically for them to perform ("The Sea Refuses No River", "Slit Skirts") and started into pre-production rehearsals. Townshend's continued maturation as a writer is the main draw here, although no attempt is made to sketch out an album length conceptual piece. Some of the music was written originally for the Who ("Somebody Saved Me"), while other selections touch on recovery period in California ("Exquisitely Bored"). Ultimately, the songs are stronger because he lends his own voice to them, with emotions emerging undiluted as they amy have been if placed in the hands of a surrogate vocalist.

" 'Comunication' is a song about people pretending to relate to one another when they're actually not."

Spoken word interludes come into play, as they do in the brilliant "Stop Hurting People", easing some poetry into the mix, which may be the root cause of some fans intense dislike of this record. Poppier synth tones probably drove off those who yearned for the guitars to be pummeled with windmilling fury.

Had no one taken notice of the Who's transition from 'rock' to 'pop' band? Certainly shouldn't have been a huge shock, given the haircuts and the complete sonic overhaul that was previewed on Face Dances.

Interestingly enough, the album title spawned a sequel-song/bizarre video called "Face Dances Part 2". Somewhat amusing now, these videos only serve to point out just how unnecessary they were.

Melodic, overwrought at times, with slight shades of Andrew Lloyd-Webber-itis, he still manages to mingle deeply personal revelation with more universal statements. Balancing his synthesizer orchestrations with driving bed-tracks, steps are also taken not to completely submerge guitars or stray down the dangerous path of complete self absorption. It's ultimately a very satisfying listen.

Feeling no great urge to lean on the heavier side of his multi-faceted musical gifts, Townshend put a great deal of care into arrangements, not making any concessions to past triumphs by merely recycling them in the guise of new work. The best track is saved for the end and "Slit Skirts" burns with barely veiled themes that reveal the insecurities so many feel when approaching the changes wrought by middle age.

"Can't pretend that growing older never hurts"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

BOBBY DARIN



One of the most versatile singer/songwriter/instrumentalists to ever grace the stage, Bobby Darin packed quite a bit of accomplishment into his 37 years. Throw in acting/production credits and you begin to get a picture of the ambition that pushed him to work to the end, despite frail health.

Walden Robert Cassotto passed away on December 20, 1973.

Monday, November 09, 2009

BAT OUT OF HELL: THE ORIGINAL TOUR



Bat Out of Hell-Live

Filmed at the Stadthalle Offenbach, Bat Out of Hell: The Original Tour captures the raw excitement of Meat Loaf’s epic stage show. Larger-than-life songs like “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” sounded absolutely extravagant performed live. Not only does Meat Loaf dominate the stage, but he also captivates audiences with the riveting nature of his songs, with the help of the album’s songwriter Jim Steinman and female vocalist Karla DeVito.

Bruce Kulick's presence in the band gave the tunes a heavier edge that trumped the album versions.

Its visual proof of the power of Bat Out Of Hell, which certified 10x Platinum and sold over 40 million copies. Also included is a bonus interview from 1978 with Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.

Track Listing:
1.) Great Boleros Of Fire
2.) Bat Out Of Hell
3.) You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)
4.) All Revved Up With No Place To Go
5.) Paradise By The Dashboard Light
6.) Introducing The Band
7.) Johnny B Goode
8.) River Deep, Mountain High
9.) Johnny B Goode (reprise)
10.) Two Out Of Three Ain¹t Bad
11.) All Revved Up With No Place To Go (reprise)



It sees official release on Nov 10th, so check it out.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

LED ZEPPELIN



LED ZEPPELIN II

Some of the finest albums of the rock era are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, with Abbey Road, Tommy and Let It Bleed being just a few notable releases that hit turntables for the first time in 1969. When a quartet of hirsute Englishmen released their sophomore disc in the fall of that year, which came wrapped in appropriate autumnal colors, it heralded another great sea change in popular music.

Grandiloquence aside, Led Zeppelin II remains a mainstay of classic rock play lists and continues to attract scores of new converts.

Around the time that they exploded on the scene, a rock writer joked that the Beatles battled the Rolling Stones in a parking lot and Led Zeppelin won. Sonically, Zeppelin helped usher in the 70s with this massive, mind-blowing head trip that borrowed (very liberally) from the blues, refashioned it into a precision assault and marketed it to an unsuspecting public. A friend of mine saw them in 1970 (he was 15) and his brain was pinned against the back of his skull, cowering, for a week. There were heavy bands out there, though very few were this loud and exceptionally gifted all at once.

Comprised of two session-playing veterans (Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones) and two young upstarts (Robert Plant and John Bonham), Led Zeppelin was formed out of the wreckage of The Yardbirds in 1968 from which Page was left as the last man standing. The now-famous name came out of a drinking session that involved Keith Moon and John Entwistle, who were seriously considering leaving the Who to team up with Page and possibly Steve Marriot to embark on a project that would follow the blueprint of the Jeff Beck Group. Moon quipped that they would likely go over like a lead balloon or a lead zeppelin.

You never know what will come out of having a few pints.

When the actual lineup coalesced, they recorded the first LP quickly and the response was overwhelming. Touted as a “supergroup”, anticipation grew in advance of the follow up. Ultimately, they delivered a glimpse of a future where “guitar hero” would enter the rock vocabulary. Devising an aural template that has been widely imitated but never successfully duplicated, the combined talents of Jimmy Page and engineer Eddie Kramer were enough to ensure that rock records would never sound the same again. Despite the fact that the Zep II tracks were recorded on the fly while they were on tour, utilizing a number of different studios, the overall production does not sound piecemeal. It is an incredibly fresh sounding disc that, frankly, put all of their competitors to shame in terms of fidelity. Audiophiles of that era had to have been overjoyed that they weren’t straining to pick out the nuances in the contributions of the individual players. Power and clarity make for a gripping listening experience, though the key to most everything they did was an inherent understanding of dynamics. There is plenty of evidence that the three instrumentalists were in lock-step with each other, especially if you have spent any serious time listening to quality bootleg recordings of their better performances (preferably before 1975). Telepathy is the best descriptor of the interplay amongst them on stage as even mistakes were turned around, on the fly, into gold.

Having two brilliant arrangers in the band didn’t hurt either.

Retrospectively, Zeppelin is often seen as the band that slammed the door shut on the sixties and sonically vanquished all existing groups with an unprecedented volume that was as subtle as a charging rhino. Indeed, the cover of Led Zep II pretty much says it all. Equating themselves with Germany’s deadly WW I aviation squadron, Jasta 11, (the Flying Circus) you see the band member’s (plus Richard Cole and Peter Grant) faces superimposed on a now famous photograph of that division, which was led by Manfred von Richthofen aka The Red Baron. Tying themselves by name to another German invention, the dirigible that terrorized Britons during the first world war, the underlying message was clear:

When you put this record on, it’s going to carpet bomb you back to the Stone Age.


Opening with a muffled laugh, the monstrous, Les Paul/Marshall driven riff that heralds “Whole Lotta Love” is quickly joined by the bass and Plant’s vocal. When Bonham lays into his kit, it is with the power of a screaming formation of Messerschmitts darkening the skies, ready to drop their destructive payload on targets below. The blues have mutated here into a punishing, relentless blast designed and engineered to shock the already blown minds of the hippies and deliver the ultimate headphone trip-out, replete with noises equipped to rouse the dead. Page and Kramer apparently went to great lengths in manipulating the board to achieve the insanity unleashed in the mid-section of the tune. Utilizing a mad percussive base, snippets of extreme vocalizations from Plant and a theramin, love never sounded so deranged.

There was something that rang all too familiar about this track, though. Patterned on Willie Dixon’s composition "You Need Love" and the Small Faces take on it, from which Plant heavily drew on the vocal mannerisms of Steve Marriott, blues purists immediately began to cry foul when no credit was listed for Dixon on the LP.





Musically, it was a revelation, though Page would later lament the fact that Plant didn’t tweak the lyric enough for them to escape charges of plagiarism. Regardless of this, the impact of “Whole Lotta Love” was undeniable, especially the turnaround after the wig-out in the middle as Bonham comes back in hard and Page tromps his Wah pedal to the floor and spits out three, picture perfect lead lines that bring us back to the main theme, which fades with Plant’s primal screams.

There’s a reason for those “Get the Led Out” specials that still factor heavily in the formats of rock stations.

“What Is and What Should Never Be” is an exercise in “light and shade”, with a languid, jazzy intro in which the star of the show is the bassmanship of John Paul Jones. Just as you’re lulled into a false sense of security, Bonham’s bricklayer hands smack the snare and the dynamic is altered. Rather than bulldozing their way through ten tracks, without stopping to take a breath, they generally chose to vary the pace of their program and this is a wonderful example. Page’s slide solo straddles the two themes and the outro is pure gold, with guitar panned madly across the stereo divide, gong and more histrionics from Plant.

The remainder of the first side is devoted to a reworking of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” during the course of which everyone has a chance to go ballistic on their respective instruments, while Plant gives specific instructions on how to deal with his lemon, which no doubt inspired the re-titling of said tune. “Thank you” is a gentle, mid-temp affair, with prominent Hammond fills from JPJ and an excellent acoustic solo, though it trails off with a slightly meandering keyboard theme that follows the trick ending. You can imagine the faithful snapped out of their reverie in a smoke filled room, with a roach or two in the ashtray, thinking that the needle should have skidded into the run-out groove by that point.

Surprise!

Speaking of vinyl, those that turned over the disc for the first time to hear side two were treated to another monster riff over a groovy shuffle. “Heartbreaker” must certainly be in the top ten when it comes to songs that originally inspired the concept of “air guitar”. Building in intensity, the main figure changes key signatures at several points until it comes to a dead stop.

It is here that Page enshrines himself in the guitar god hall of fame by peeling off the now-famous solo lines that have been imitated thousands of times in the intervening years since this LP first appeared. In performance, this section was filled with every imaginable improvisation, ranging from Bach to "The 59th Street Bridge Song" . Back on record, the band joins him in a furious Yardbirds-esque rave up to continue the mayhem at maximum speed (for 1969 anyway) dragged along by another excellent Page-ism (later to be co-opted by Alex Lifeson to form the bulk of Rush’s “Beneath, Between and Behind”). This scorching solo comes to a screeching halt once again and we're back into the verse, heading for the homestretch.

Those would-be imitators who followed them never quite got it, either.

Seriously evaluating the remainder of the disc, you have a quick, non-descript rocker ("Living Loving Maid") followed up by a really fantastic acoustic-electric gem with outstanding bass lines. "Ramble On" really stands out as a key to the versatility of Zeppelin. This tune qualifies my previous remark about those groups that fell short in their attempts to follow LZ's lead. Beautifully understated, there is a serious degree of finesse displayed by everyone involved, with an intentionally insane amount of panning between the channels in the fade (listen with headphones). One thing has always bothered me in reading the musings of various rock critics on Zep is the ink that has been devoted to Plant's love of Tolkien's prose and his incorporation of Middle Earth into the lyrics.

I don't hear it.

Aside from mentioning "the darkest depths of Mordor" and the slithery Gollum in the verse of "Ramble On", there is no sword and sorcery action at all on this disc. Worse yet, the same idiot rock writiers all trashed this excellent platter when it was new, preferring to list what drug they were on while listening, rather than fairly taking in the work.These scribes either had their ears packed with gauze or were frightened by the muscular sounds they were hearing. For a good laugh, look up John Mendelsohn's cringe worthy description of the LP, which appeared in Rolling Stone shortly after it was released.

If you ran out and bought everything recommended within the pages of Rolling Stone, you would be in possession of the shittiest collection of music on the planet.

"Moby Dick" is introduced by the riff from Bobby Parker’s 1961 hit, "Watch your Step" which mirrors the model, but not the music, set up by Cream for Ginger Baker in “Toad”. This development would lead to the stadium rock syndrome of allowing the drummer to flail away, interminably, as the other band members trooped off-stage for booze, drugs, sex or all three.

Bonham made his showcase count, as he knew how to tune his drum heads properly, was technically skilled and went the extra mile by playing a good portion of the solo with his bare hands.

Now, that’s rock and roll.

Snapping off abruptly, the end game is set up with a scratchy, 12 bar snippet that features Plant blowing a mean harp, slurring his words in the guise of an old bluesman. Some have singled this out as an embarrassingly racist pastiche, though I truly believe that it was performed as a genuine, fulsome tribute to the blues artists that both Plant and Page were obsessed with. Had they seen fit to list proper song writing credits, where they were due, they would have completely leveled their karma. Just as this interlude ends on one breath drawn in on Plant's harmonica, Page cuts in with a bold, distorted guitar line, which became epic in his hands with harmonized overdubs. The rhythm section burns with the intensity of a blast furnace as everyone truly "brings it on home". Nothing of this magnitude had ever graced a disc and yet sounded so precise. Countless needles were offered up in ritual sacrifice as kids bought the LP by the truckload, wearing it out from continuous play. Knocking Abbey Road out of the number one spot (twice) in those fateful, dying months of the 1960's, Led Zeppelin II made everything that came before seem quaint by comparison.

Critical opinion has long since been revised with respect to Zeppelin's output, though at the time their very existence was seen as a cynical, money-grabbing ploy by record executives. The sheer force of their collective talents went a long way in dispelling the ideas that they hadn't payed their dues playing dives and were merely the product of hype.

Led Zeppelin II sealed their position in the stratosphere and rock grew several feet taller, losing its baby fat in the process.

Monday, November 02, 2009

CLARENCE CLEMONS



BIG MAN

October 21st saw the release of "Big Man", the larger than life autobiography of Clarence Clemons.

Recognized as the most accomplished and well known member of the E-Street Band, saxophonist Clarence Clemons is delivering the inside story of his life before, during and beyond the E-Street Band, including unbelievable, never-before-told adventures with Bruce Springsteen, the band, and an incredible cast of other famous characters recounted by himself and his best friend, television writer/ producer Don Reo in Big Man.

This is a must-read for all fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.