Sunday, January 30, 2011
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, many hopeless romantics are combing store shelves for a stuffed bear emblazoned with a heart or making reservations for the perfect night out.
Setting the atmosphere with the rightsoundtrack is a key ingredient.
Love, exciting and new! Come aboard, we're expecting you...
For some folks, the very idea of choosing a top ten list of favorite love songs is likely to conjure up sickly images of couples in matching sweaters, eyes locked, while listening to Air Supply.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Love is far more complex than this. Don't be fooled by the bubblegum version that has automatically written thousands of songs so horrific that even the worst hack at the Hallmark corporation wouldn't admit to penning them.
The following ten examples are "love songs" with a twist.
1) In My Life (Rubber Soul LP-1965)- What more can be said about this gem? The lyrics have their feet planted in both the past and present. Lennon deftly assumes the role of a person taking stock of those "people and places" that were dear to him, while also taking care to remind his present partner of her place at the top of the list. Clever and concise, without straying into maudlin territory.
2) For No One (Revolver LP-1966)-One of the most vivid portraits of love's "end game" ever committed to tape. The passion long departed, much imagery is conjured of two people with nothing left to say. One of McCartney's finest constructions, with nary a word wasted. It was a long journey from Love Me Do.
3) Waterloo Sunset (Something Else By the Kinks LP-1967)- Terry and Julie meet at Waterloo Station every Friday night, pass over a bridge across the Thames and the narrator reflects upon the couple with a lovely series of images. Pure poetry that has aged beautifully.
4) Days (Single release, 1968)- Set to a fetching melody, this is a song aimed at a departed lover without a tinge of regret. They don't come much better than this. Note that the word love does not appear in either of these tunes, further testament to the genius of Ray Davies, at the peak of his powers as a wordsmith.
5) The Last Time I Saw Richard (Blue LP-1970)-You must simply listen to this one as it defies description. It is the crowning achievement on an album that saw Joni Mitchell paint her relationship pain in a very naked fashion, yet without the self indulgence that may have reared its ugly head in the hands of a lesser talent.
6) 45 Years (Fogarty's Cove LP-1976)- Evoking emotions without resorting to cliche or overt sentimentality, this is a shining example of song craft that continues to inspire. If you haven't heard this, seek it out. A lovely refrain with every word and bar carefully considered. One of the late Stan Rogers' most touching compositions, it was dedicated to his wife.
7) You Better You Bet (Face Dances LP-1981)-Nothing like coming right out and just saying-nay, demanding it, albeit with a slew of free-wheeling lines involving everything from getting trashed while listening to old records (T-Rex and, with a wink, Who's Next) to showing up at your lover's place in the middle of the night, following consumption of the aforementioned adult beverages. It's a fine "love" song, dressed in the crappy clothes of anti-love. One of Pete Townshend's great, late period Who offerings.
Are you half-way through that heart-shaped box of chocolates yet?
8) Back on the Chain Gang (Learning to Crawl LP-1984)-Love and loss mingle with a nod to an old Sam Cooke tune in the chorus. Sheer emotion drips from every pore of this stunner. Chrissie Hynde's brush with perfection drew on some very significant events in her life at that time.
9) Up the Junction (Cool or Cats LP-1979)- This one will definitely choke you up. Difford and Tilbrook bring some heavy cards to the table, providing lines so perfect that the characters are positively three-dimensional. No happy endings for this couple, though such is often the case when you tell the rest of the story.
10) Only Love Can Break Your Heart (After the Gold Rush-1970)Neil Young took a quick look at the entire process of relationships and summed it all up with aching precision. Uncle Neil has always had a way with words and the message here is conveyed with grace.
There you have it.
So many other worthy contenders could have found their way onto this list. By no means do I believe that these choices are the final or definitive word when it comes to songs that pull on your heartstrings. I just wanted to take a walk down a different path. Feel free to bring your own "top ten" to the comment section.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
For those familiar with the series of events leading up to release of the Who's pristine fifth disc, there is a certainly a sense that the finished product could have been yet a notch higher in terms of excellence. Even a cursory look at the tracks from these sessions that didn't find a home on Who's Next is enough to give you a "one that got away" feeling about the project. ("Pure and Easy", "The Relay", "Let's See Action", "Join Together", "Slip Kid"...there are more as well)
Nevertheless, the album was a stunning exercise in technological and creative terms that was well ahead of its time upon issue in the summer of 1971. Townshend, aided and abetted by Glyn Johns, actually managed to top Tommy as opposed to merely following it up. In doing so, he worked himself to the brink of nervous collapse and was forced to abandon his original concept in the process.
Determined to push rock to greater heights, Pete intended for the Lifehouse project to be his magnum opus. In truth, the idea was another version of the Legend of the Lost Chord or the Universal Note which, when sounded, will restore humanity to its original state of harmony with the Creator.
Music and vibration are at the basis of all
Still, it was fairly heady stuff for that time.
Rather than go tumbling through the looking glass, recounting the Lifehouse saga here, I leave you to go to this link which offers a superb, concise synopsis of the story.
Assembling the band at the Old Vic Theater, the concerts that were to be filmed as a key to the plot didn't work as the audience would not play ball. They wanted the group to play "My Generation" and smash the shit out of their gear. The other members of the Who had no significant roles to play (or input) nor did they fully understand the storyline. This realization drove Townshend to the precipice of madness:
Every technical bridge that we came to was very hard to cross, because we were trying to do everything all at once: Trying to make the film, invent the new Who, make incredibly big strides in music, write a whole load of new numbers. I was trying to write a film script, we were trying to service a quadraphonic PA we were up to our ears in it and getting nowhere very fast. In the end, about halfway through the recording, I just phoned up Chris Stamp, our manager and said let's just knock it on the head and put out an album, otherwise I really will go crazy. And I would have done, no doubt about it. I'd be sitting in a room and everybody in the room would suddenly turn into frogs and the whole room would start to go. It was brought on by problems and none of them ever getting solved-not being able to see anything in the distance. Everybody was treating me as if I was some kind of loony, and I think for a while I lost touch with reality. The self control required to prevent my total nervous disintegration was absolutely unbelievable. I had the first nervous breakdown of my life.
There were many songs to sift through and remix/record. In March 1971, Kit Lambert made an attempt to do just that with the band in New York, though these sessions flopped miserably.
Enter Glyn Johns.
Offering his services for a week as a test, Johns stated that if it didn't work out then The Who would be free to carry on and they could keep the results without paying for a second of his time. Things went exceptionally well as Johns captured the band firing on all cylinders, utilizing the Stones' mobile recording unit in the process. Agreeing to move the operation to Olympic Studios in London, they went to work and laid down two records worth of material in just a few weeks. All that was left to do was mix and choose the tracks that would make the final master tape.
Four of the LP's nine songs stand pretty tall and are virtual staples of classic rock playlists almost forty years after they first appeared.
"Baba O'Reilly" must have been an obvious choice to kick off this groundbreaking set. Opening with a wildly inventive pattern that was taken from Pete's nine minute demo version on ARP synthesizer, a tension of sorts is created by this patchwork quilt of electronic sound. Reportedly, Townshend translated Meher Baba's vital numerical statistics to the synth to achieve this hypnotic sequence. Bricklayers hands come down on the ivories to introduce those iconic three chords and Moon quickly joins in with a flourish on the kit. Entwistle and Daltrey enter the fray together and the building blocks of an anthem are nearly complete. The icing on the aural cake are those big power slashes on the electric, which arrive close to the two minute mark.
Don't cry, don't raise your eye, it's only teenage wasteland
Blasting back to the main riff temporarily, everything hangs in the air with a final scream from Daltrey and a series of punches. What follows is a wild violin solo from Dave Arbus that moves across this transition as the band goes from mock jig to wild abandon. Moon shifts to a scattershot snare roll that climbs to a ridiculous crescendo, sweeping everyone else into his madness, and the rush of beautiful noise ends abruptly.
All is presented with a clarity that had escaped their grasp in the studio up to this point.
"Bargain" is another stunner, cleverly employing the moog synth for the hook. The lyric ("I'd gladly lose me to find you") can be construed on several levels, though according to Pete, "This song is simply about 'losing' one's ego as a devotee of Meher Baba. I constantly try to lose myself, and find him. I'm not very successful I'm afraid, but this song expresses how much of a bargain it would be to lose everything in order to be one with God."
Moon and Entwistle are inspired throughout, both playing with their usual fire. Their recorded contributions now cut through powerfully, no longer strangled or off balance in the mix.
Moving ahead to the two monumental tracks that close out Who's Next, the electric thrill that pervades each performance is more than enough to send listeners back to repeat the experience over and over again. Beginning with delicate acoustic picking, "Behind Blue Eyes" was designed as a vehicle for a shady character named Jumbo in the scheme of Lifehouse. Outside that context, there does seem to be more than a hint of bile in the lyric ("I have hours only lonely/my love is vengeance/that's never free), though the melody is fantastic. After two cycles of muted rumination about how it feels to live behind those aforementioned eyes, the arrangement roars to life. It is almost as if Keith had been tied to a chair for the first bit and freed himself in time to turn in a series of rolls that amaze as Daltrey practically spat out the words:
When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool
And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat
Power chords fly, bass runs blaze and drums tumble back to earth only to go quiet again as we are returned to where we began.
No time is allotted for recovery as the soft landing gives way to a quick shot of adrenaline. Another synthesizer envelope heralds "Won't Get Fooled Again", prefacing nearly nine minutes of this startling call to arms. Curiously, the use of the ARP to set up the final shot across bow serves to bookend the disc in grand style. Isn't this where we came in?
The subject matter also served to disabuse certain followers from any notion that The Who would lend their support to radical movements that sought societal change by revolutionary or violent means in that era.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Again the theme of change coming from within and not by following the lead of another crop of idiots in Harris tweed suits was expressed beautifully by one of rock's most eloquent spokesmen. The sheer power of these four songs alone could light several large cities for a year.
Out of the remaining five tunes, there are very charming highlights. Entwistle's "My Wife" is hilarious, with nice changes and punchy brass parts that hit the spot. Similarly, "Love Ain't For Keeping" features immaculate acoustic work and very tasteful playing from the rhythm section. Daltrey should have let Townshend sing lead, though.
"Going Mobile" is one of my personal favorites out of the second string numbers. While the remaining two selections boast nice melodies and are certainly inoffensive, I would have left them off. Make no mistake, this is a top shelf piece of vinyl as it is, though allow me to tamper with the time machine a bit.
Love Ain't For Keeping
Let's See Action
Pure And Easy
Behind Blue Eyes
Won't Get Fooled Again
Five fuckin' stars!
This is work that anyone would be proud of. With Townshend's creativity at a peak and the focus that Glyn Johns brought to the table, The Who pulled themselves back from the abyss. They were now able to put the Walker boy aside for awhile to follow their own act with grace. Surviving the sixties, which had wrought its share of casualties and wreckage, the band now took a step ahead of the pack as the seventies began.
The next act would see them looking to the past for inspiration.