Saturday, June 30, 2012

THE KINKS FIFTH



SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS

Occasionally, I turn off the old Victrola and actively search for new music. While there are lots of great artists/bands out there doing interesting stuff, much of it never finds a home on mainstream radio. What does get marketed is often devoid of ideas and barely tied to a tune.

Rinse, lather, repeat…verse, pitch corrected chorus, verse...

Remember when radio had room for a wide variety of sounds/great songs?

Something Else By the Kinks is filled with them.

1967 witnessed an explosion of rock music that was outrageously bent and filtered through a prism of drug induced “experiences”. Many writers of the era saw pot and psychedelics as useful tools to enhance their creativity, with some successfully taking their listeners on wondrous sonic journeys. Others under this same narcotic spell managed little more than self indulgent, pretentious attempts at profundity which should have been left on the cutting room floor. The Kinks steered well clear of “happenings” in the year of flowers and beads, opting instead to focus on making great records.

Disclaimer: If you approach this album expecting "You Really Got Me" or "All Day and All of the Night" type stuff, you will be disappointed.

The ability of the quartet to lock in and let the riffs steer the ship was merely one facet of the band’s personality. This template would inspire countless imitators, with each subsequent generation increasing the decibel count. Their previous effort (Face to Face) took a giant step away from the power chords that initially made them such an important band. Virtually all of the material here (“Love Me Til the Sun Shines” excepted) was constructed with a more subtle approach in terms of style and arrangement. Augmented only by occasional brass or keyboard parts, Something Else sounds like nothing else released in the year of grandiose productions. This in itself has given these lovely melodies a life outside of the time frame in which they were created.

Opening strong, "David Watts" ingeniously deploys the note that follows “so” repeatedly, for maximum impact:

Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa


Serious rock criticism at work here!

Primarily inspired by a bi-sexual, former officer who became obsessed with Dave Davies, the tune is driven along by Mick Avory in suitable military fashion, though it is piano based, leaving the guitars muted. The hook is infectious as is the energy generated in the performance.

“And all the girls in the neighborhood /try to go out with David Watts / They try their best but can’t succeed"

Indeed...

Further surprises came with the emergence of Dave Davies as a writer. His “Death of a Clown” is a definite highlight, holding its own amongst the compositions that brother Ray brought to the table. Combining the surrealism of Dylan's wordplay with a truly eerie but enjoyable turnaround (listen to that backing vocal courtesy of Ray's ex-wife Rasa), the sing-a-long chorus sealed its place in the UK top five during the summer of '67. Ray did contribute to this one, to give credit where it's due.

Won't someone help me to break up this crown?




Elsewhere, Dave's other two offerings ("Love Me Til the Sun Shines" and "Funny Face") bring a bit of a balance to the disc and in the case of the the former, an uptempo rock piece to open side two. The BBC radio version of this one is faster with some dexterous drum breaks toward the end courtesy of Avory.

Reality, the stock in trade of Ray's vignettes, features prominently as a theme throughout. Whether he is imagining missing the female companionship of the girl who joined him for the daily, most English ritual of taking tea ("Afternoon Tea"), musing about the drudgery of working class life, punctuated by the small reward of rolling your own ("Harry Rag") there is a sense of sadness behind some of these creations. “Lazy Old Sun” sonically demonstrates this aspect of "down", yet showcases Ray’s depth as a wordsmith. “That Lucky Old Sun”, a popular tune from 1949 (Louis Armstrong and Frankie Laine both had success with it) has a lyrical theme that finds the singer bemoaning all of the toil and struggles that life brings, “while that lucky old sun has nothin' to do /But roll around heaven all day”. Whether Davies projected this subconsciously or not, his old sun is depicted as “lazy” for not casting its glow upon him. Incorporating sun worship into the mix, he is as quick to praise our solar orb as he is to chastise it.

“I don’t mind/To spend my time/Looking for you/For you are my one reality/When I’m dead and gone/Your light will shine eternally…”

The song’s most clever line shows him to be well ahead of many of his contemporaries in terms of wordplay.

“When I was young/My world was three foot, seven inch tall/When you were young/There was no world at all…”

Lethargic music complements the mood of the lyrics perfectly, with tumbling drums at half speed, droning keyboard parts and a stoned lead vocal. The overall sound drifts close to certain tracks from Their Satanic Majesties Request which also qualifies it as “Stoned”. Certainly the closest that R. Davies ever came to emulating the psychedelic experience on record.

Disappearing sunshine only adds to the air of melancholy that pervades throughout. Endings take precedence over beginnings. As the long happy afternoons of the summer of love began to shorten, bowing to the inevitable change that would usher in chilly fall evenings, this beautiful set was brought to the marketplace.

End of the Season

On a side note, if the brilliant "Autumn Almanac" had been included on the original release, it would have been a coup. I cannot think of a better fit with an album that is positively redolent of Fall.

(Kick off "Tin Soldier Man" and "No Return" to bring in this track and "Wonderboy" and you have a perfect 10.)

Nothing could have followed "Waterloo Sunset", wisely chosen as the closer. Originally titled "Liverpool Sunset", Davies intention was to create a tribute to the Northern port city, cradle of the "Mersey Sound" that spawned the Beatles and their Liverpudlian contemporaries. This approach was dropped, though it would be interesting to find out how this would have sounded had he followed his initial train of thought. The focus is shifted instead to the lonely observer ("but I don't need no friends"), who watches the lovers (Terry and Julie) meet at Waterloo Station. Pure poetry at its finest, working within the bounds of a melodic pop masterpiece.

Much has been written about this gem, so it's best to simply appreciate it.



Pity that people roundly ignored an album of such quality when it was originally released. It unfairly missed the charts and sank commercially. This was due in part to the fact that no attempt was made to run with fashionable themes of the day. Fortunately, the fullness of time has revealed the subtlety and ingenuity behind these songs. Ray Davies was ahead of the curve-audiences would simply have to catch up. Had they listened a bit more charitably, they would have realized just how strong this LP was.

One of the top five Kinks records, without question.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-TIME FADES AWAY



TIME FADES AWAY

Released as a document of the ill-starred 1973 tour with the Stray Gators, this is a very nervous record.

I like it a lot.

"My least favorite record is Time Fades Away. I think it's the worst record I ever made - but as a documentary of what was happening to me, it was a great record. I was onstage and I was playing all these songs that nobody had heard before, recording them, and I didn't have the right band. It was just an uncomfortable tour. It was supposed to be this big deal - I just had Harvest out, and they booked me into ninety cities. I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn't even look at each other. It was a total joke."

Out of print on vinyl and still not available on CD are the top two reasons that this rough gem is filed under forgotten music.

THE SETUP

"Harvest" was a huge hit, "Heart of Gold" went to number one and Neil was riding high following his work with CSNY and Crazy Horse. The next logical step was to bring the mellow, back porch sounds of his recent LP on a lucrative tour. Heavyweight players from the "Harvest" sessions were drafted, though one member of the band didn't make it past rehearsals.

Danny Whitten was Neil's right hand in the first incarnation of Crazy Horse on second guitar and vocals. He was talented but headed down a path of heavy substance abuse, leading Neil to dump Crazy Horse for awhile. Whitten was invited to join the new touring outfit based on word that he was in the process of straightening himself out.

He wasn't.

'We were rehearsing with him and he just couldn't cut it. He couldn't remember anything. He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. 'It's not happening, man. You're not together enough.' He just said, 'I've got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?' And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he'd ODed. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible. And from there, I had to go right out on this huge tour of huge arenas. I was very nervous and . . . insecure.'

Casting a pall over the tour, the negativity would only be exacerbated with disputes about money and a set of brand new songs that Young wanted to try out and record live.



Switching to a Gibson Flying V that refused to stay in tune, blowing out his voice (Crosby and Nash were brought on board late in the tour to help with vocals) and pissing off fans in packed stadia at every stop by presenting sets of unfamiliar material were all events that marred Young's 90 day trek.

The result was worth it.



Making no attempt to be cuddly, rough edges are left in, capturing things on the fly. Real, though not radio-friendly, Young would be frustrated with his audience and their inability to move with him. Opening with a pounding, uptempo country raver that introduces "fourteen junkies, too weak to work" down on "pain street", the subject matter stands apart from what his contemporaries were singing about. It was the antithesis of the sunny California, singer-songwriter trip which was then in vogue.

Canada features in the lyrics of the title track and "Journey Through the Past", which boasts a great melody and had been around in his set for some time before seeing official release on Time Fades Away. (you can hear it on the BBC session and the Massey Hall gig from 1971). A gentle song that catches the author in a reflective mood, it provides a softer contrast to the junkies on pain street. This was one of three solo piano spots on the disc, each offering a quiet musical snapshot.



"LA' is one of my favorites on the set, with a haunting refrain ("LA... city in the smog..uptight...") and creeping steel part (courtesy of the late Ben Keith) that comes closest in feel to the material on Harvest. Too many artists in the "alt-country" genre have based their sound completely on this musical model, though they fail to create the same mood. (weak songs, little originality) "Don't Be Denied" is autobiographical in tone, covering being beaten up in school through to jumping the border and helping to form Buffalo Springfield. There's an excellent version of it with CSNY at Wembley at the close of their 74 tour. The riff is simple, but effective when married to the pleading nature of the chorus.



"Last Dance" folks, but no one was dancing when a very drunk Young was screaming at the audience in Cleveland ("Get up!!") and making ungodly noise on his out of tune Flying V. That particular performance doesn't show up here, though I kind of wish that it did. Turgidity reigns: this one could have been edited to make room for another cut. Young always had songs in his back pocket and set lists from this tour reveal tunes that are unreleased to this day ("Sweet Joni" being a case in point.)

While it was not greeted warmly by fans or critics, charting outside the top 20, it's an important release. Never before had a major artist put out a live disc, comprised of all new material, with nary a hit single to be found.

Imagine the balls that it took to present this to the record company.

Now it's quite sought after and opinions have since (of course) been revised, though you won't see it released on CD anytime soon. The sonic problem with "Time Fades Away" is stated on the LP label: "This Recording Was Mastered16-Track/DirectToDisc (acetate) by Computer."

The multi-track master tape was recorded/mixed LIVE, leaving little room for remixing tape hiss, bad notes and crowd noise. To reassemble the album, someone would need to sort through fifty or so ¼" and/or 2" multi-track reels and "a few" cassettes. Finding the right version by date would be easy enough, but at what stage would the mix be at? Raw recording? Truck monitor mix? Mono PA monitor recording?



Right.

Best just to snag it on vinyl, as I did when my cassette copy finally died.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

RUSH: CLOCKWORK ANGELS

Rush has a fantastic new disc out called Clockwork Angels. Being over a week late to the party, I have only just picked it up and taken it for a spin. Two listens thus far have confirmed that this is top class work.

I would normally submit a review in this space, but in the words of Krusty the Klown...

"I'm a lazy, lazy man."


Fortunately, Paul Lesinski over at Isorski's Musings has solved my problem with his terrific write up on the new album. As a musician and longtime fan of the band, his take is informed and spot on. Before you head on over there, take a quick look at the cover art.


The time is 9:12...or as expressed in terms of the 24 hour clock in the evening, the time would then read as

21:12

That's not the only nod to their past here. The astute listener will hear choice samples of Rush riffs from the mists of the seventies (Bastille Day is quoted at one point).

Don't take it from me, though. Click here

Monday, June 18, 2012

SIR PAUL TURNS 70




He's been a Beatle, an MBE, he's been dead, high, a solo artist, a Wing commander, a father, a widower, prisoner, humanitarian crusader, vegetarian, multi-instrumentalist, award winner, influence on millions, Guinness world record holder and a knight.

Above all, James Paul McCartney is without question the most successful and widely interpreted composer of his generation.

Today he becomes a septuagenarian.

He also happens to be one of my favorite musicians. Happy Birthday, Macca!

Here are a ton of Sir Paul clips. Enjoy... (cue the Theme from Mahogany)





























Tuesday, June 05, 2012

RUSH

Rush Fly By Night (1975) album cover

FLY BY NIGHT

Packing more flash on stage than Neil Diamond's jacket, Rush have long been respected for their instrumental prowess. Heading toward the forty year mark as a recording unit, they will soon be unveiling a new disc called "Clockwork Angels".

What more can be said about this venerable rock trio?

Plenty.

Traveling back to the summer of 1974, the group had a debut album under their belt and faced the difficult task of replacing their drummer (John Rutsey), whose health issues precluded his involvement with an upcoming US tour.

Enter Neil Peart.


Rutsey had been a fine drummer, though Peart was an explosive player with technical skills beyond those of his predecessor. He also was/is somewhat of an introverted sort, who preferred the charms of good literature over throwing himself headlong into crowds to socialize. Seizing upon the fact that they had a writer in their midst, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson handed off the task of creating lyrics to their new member.

Creatively, Fly By Night was an astounding leap forward for the band. With their first record, they had been merely reflecting the styles of early 70s hard rock (Led Zep), rather than charting their own course. Stylistically, residual bits from their debut are still present ("Best I Can", "In the End"), though it's no coincidence that both tunes have zero input from Peart in terms of writing credits.

"Anthem" heralds the arrival of a new attitude.

Anthem of the heart and anthem of the mind
A funeral dirge for eyes gone blind
We marvel after those who sought
The wonders of the world, wonders of the world,
Wonders of the world they wrought


Light years distant from "Hey baby, it's a quarter to eight", Peart drove home these couplets with fierce triplets, beautifully executed rolls and galloping ride cymbal work. Geddy's virtuoso bass lines followed the drummer around each hairpin turn, while Lifeson turned heads with guitar acrobatics that rivaled all of his peers. Lee's battle cry sealed the deal: this is where they truly became RUSH. Extra points awarded for the technical side of Fly by Night, as Terry Brown took great care to ensure that everything went to tape in pristine fashion. His not so secret weapons? Studer 24-track recorder + Neve mixing console. Haul out your vinyl copy and compare it to other hard rock recordings of that period: the final mix is worthy of any audiophile's wet dream.

If you do own the LP, don't stare too long into the owl's eyes or you will feel a sudden urge to start sleeping through the day...

Critically, this set hasn't received a fair shake, which is a shame, as it is certainly not a minor work. The title track still garners heavy play on classic rock radio, hanging its hat on Lifeson's rippling arpeggios. Epic piece here is "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" which would serve as a signpost of the long-form, album side-gobbling compositions lurking just around the corner. "Beneath, Between and Behind" is another stand-out, obviously a group favorite, too, as it remained a staple of their live show into the next decade. Peart takes a not so thinly veiled swipe at the culture that he viewed south of the Canadian border while touring. His scattershot wordplay is earnest as it is interesting, while the riff is taken wholly from the solo section of Zep II's "Heartbreaker". To be fair, they run it through a shifting series of time signatures with monster chops supporting the entire affair.

"Making Memories" still grabs my ear as being a one-off in the Rush discography. They never quite structured anything in this manner before or since. Very underrated early tune complete with a tasty slide solo.

Fly By Night won new converts with an infusion of experimentation, yet their collective feet were still planted in the "rock" camp. Still, it was a bold stake in the ground that would forge an entirely new identity for the musicians.