Monday, October 31, 2011

October 31: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #96"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself.

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that artist, song, or album):
1. Björk, "Army Of Me"  Post
2. Black Sabbath, "Black Sabbath"  Black Sabbath
3. Magazine, "The Great Beautician In The Sky"  Real Life
4. Tito And Tarantula, "After Dark"  From Dusk Till Dawn Soundtrack
5. White Zombie, "Super-Charger HeavenAstro-Creep 2000
6. Fiona Apple, "Sally's Song"  The Nightmare Before Christmas
7. Johnny Cash, "Thirteen"  American Recordings
8. Deadboy And The Elephantmen, "Stop, I'm Already DeadWe Are Night Sky
9. Beasts Of Bourbon, "Psycho"  The Axeman's Jazz
10. George Harrison, "Beware Of Darkness"  All Things Must Pass
11. Alice Cooper, "Is It My Body"  Love It To Death
12. The Clash, "City Of The Dead"  Black Market Clash
13. Nirvana, "Something In The Way"  Nevermind
14. The Birthday Party, "Release The BatsThe John Peel Sessions
15. Nekromantix, "Dead Girls Don't Cry"  Demons Are A Girl's Best Friend
16. The Misfits, "Halloween"  12 Hits From Hell

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30: The Drifters, "Up On The Roof"

Artist: The Drifters
Song: "Up On The Roof"
Album: Up On The Roof (single)
Year: 1962

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During the late 1950's and the first half of the 1960's, there were a massive number of groups that were perfecting the combined sound of the "doo-wop" vocal arrangement with a more pop-based r&b vocal.  All across this era, many of the most memorable songs in the entire history of music were recorded, and there were few groups that had a larger catalog of such hits than one finds in the songs of The Drifters.  Though the group were peers of many of the great vocal groups of the era, there is no question that they were far above almost any other collection of singers, and in many ways, it is the recordings of The Drifters that shaped the entire face of popular music for the entire second half of the century.  In both their exceptional vocal abilities, as well as the level of feeling and emotion that they injected into every one of their recordings, the collected work of The Drifters is as close to "pop bliss" as one can find anywhere, and nearly every one of their songs remains just as fresh and powerful today as it was when it was first released.  Due to their phenomenal level of talent, as well as the staggering number of songs they recorded that have since become "standards," it is impossible to cite a single recording as their finest or most representative.  However, while other songs they recorded may have fared better commercially, it is hard to argue that in terms of historical significance, as well as defining the groups' sound, one would be hard pressed to find a finer work than The Drifters' 1962 single, "Up On The Roof."

As soon as "Up On The Roof" begins, it is clear that on many levels, this is as "classic" sounding a song as one can find, as the piano progression stands as one of the most irresistible and catchy in all of music history.  Working in its own rhythm, the piano is in many ways playing a song all its own, and it gives "Up On The Roof" a far more unique dance appeal than almost any other song in history.  This can also be seen as one of the most important "bridges" between older music and the new style of popular music, and it enables "Up On The Roof" to continue to have a rather wide appeal to this day.  However, it is also the way that the guitars work into the mix that makes this such a uniquely important moment in music history.  The guitars play lightly near the back of the overall sound, and yet they present an alternative rhythm on the song, as well as bringing a bit of a rockabilly tone to the soundscape.  It is also the way that the guitar both contrasts and compliments the string section which turns "Up On The Roof" into such a completely mesmerizing musical achievement, lending an even wider appeal to the song.  Rounded out by perfectly placed punctuation by the horn section, and one would be hard pressed to find a song with more musical diversity, and yet it is the fact that each instrument works so seamlessly with the others that gives "Up On The Roof" an appeal and impact that has simply never been matched.

However, while there is no question that the musical arrangement found here would become a vital part in the development of pop music, there is no getting around the fact that the vocals found on "Up On The Roof" are were the true brilliance of the recording resides.  Though the entire group sounds fantastic throughout, it is the lead vocal performed by Rudy Lewis that shines not only on this recording, but stands today as one of the greatest single vocal tracks in the entire history of music.  Not only is he easily able to work all across the entire musical spectrum, but the level of emotion with which he delivers each word is rarely anything short of breathtaking, and it is in this complete commitment to every line where he separates himself from every one of his peers.  The way that Lewis is able to capture the somewhat dejected, almost exhausted feeling of the lyrics, yet never indicates as if he is anything less than completely hopeful is where the genius of his performance lives, and when he lets his voice oar without restraint, "Up On The Roof" takes on an almost religious feeling.  It is this unbroken spirit in the face of the grimy, clearly tough environment in which he lives that even more than four decades later, remains just as inspiring and can easily be applied to living situations within the modern day.  Though the sentiments of which he sings may still be applicable, there is no question that the way he delivers each line remains absolutely unmatched, and even after hearing the song countless times, the beauty and power are never lessened in the least.

Truth be told, "Up On The Roof" was actually penned by singer-songwriter Carole King, and the version she would record almost a decade later sheds a very different mood and light on the song than what one finds on The Drifters' recording.  Along with King's own take, "Up On The Roof" has been re-recorded by a wide range of artists over the years, and yet none even come close to the sound and mood that can be found on The Drifers' take.  There is a sense of authenticity within the singing and how Rudy Lewis seems to relate to the words that pushes it far beyond other versions, and it is this purity and proximity to the song itself that transports the listener to a stairwell deep in New York City.  This is somewhat understandable, as many see the song as directly referencing the legendary Brill Building, which has played a vital role in the music industry since the early 1930's.  Yet even without this secondary knowledge, the reality is that "Up On The Roof" remains one of the most musically powerful recordings in history, and on every level, it is absolutely perfect.  From the way that the array of instruments seem to melt into one another, creating a magnificent atmosphere, to the stunning vocal work from Lewis, to the simple, yet powerful lyrics, it would be this track that served as the blueprint for the new sound of popular music; and for this combination of reasons, there is no other song that can measure up to the impact and importance of The Drifters' magnificent 1962 single, "Up On The Roof."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 29: Midnight Oil, "Power And The Passion"

Artist: Midnight Oil
Song: "Power And The Passion"
Artist: 10, 9 , 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Year: 1982

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Going as far back as the earliest remnants of music in any form, it has been used as a vehicle for the expression of frustrations with the world as a whole, as well as a way to bring people together to create change.  In the context of the past century, one can find countless examples of music being used to expose corruption, and there are few better avenues for protest than that of music.  However, one can also make the case that during the 1970's an 1980's, much of the "deeper" purpose of music was pushed to the side in favor of songs of excess and self-indulgence, and in many ways, culture as a whole suffered due to this change.  Yet there were a handful of bands scattered across various genres that never lost sight of this more "useful" purpose of music, and among the finest to pursue such a path were Australian rockers, Midnight Oil.  In almost every aspect, Midnight Oil were truly unique within the world of music, as everything from their dealings with "the music industry" to the content of their lyrics to the actual form of their music was a far cry from that being done by any other band at the time.  Due to this absolute uniqueness, the recorded catalog of Midnight Oil is filled with amazing examples of the overall power of the band, and yet one can argue that they were at their finest on their 1982 album, 10, 9 , 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  Standing as the record that gave them more worldwide exposure, the album touches a number of different genres, and one can quickly understand why Midnight Oil remain one of the most highly respected bands in history by hearing their brilliant 1982 song, "Power And The Passion."

As soon as the music begins on "Power And The Passion," the wide range of Midnight Oil's own influences become clear, as one can hear elements of everything from jazz to punk to the rising "new wave" sound within their musical arrangement.  However, there is an edge and attitude that goes far beyond any of these genres on their own, and one can argue that there has never been another band that made even remotely similar music.  The core of "Power And The Passion" lives within the guitar of Martin Rotsey and how it is paired with the second guitar and keyboard playing from Jim Moginie.  There is an almost hypnotizing allure to this combination of sounds, and the progression which they play is nothing short of unforgettable.  Yet it is the fact that these performances are far more subtle than most with such impact, and it is in this somewhat unassuming nature where the true genius of Midnight Oil resides.  The overall sound on "Power And The Passion" is given a brilliant groove by the bass of Peter Gifford, and it is also the repeated pace which the dictates that gives the song its signature sense of movement.  The band is rounded out musically by drummer Robert Hirst, and along with his almost bouncing drum performance, "Power And The Passion" features the only studio drum solo the band ever recorded.  It is also the way that the additional instrumentation, including horns, fill out the song with an amazing presence that makes "Power And The Passion" such a powerful moment in music history.

Standing just as distinctive as the music over which he sings, there is no mistaking the voice and presence of singer Peter Garrett, and there is no question that he stands as one of the finest vocalists of all time.  Easily transitioning between speaking and singing, there is a tone within each word he delivers that demands complete attention, and this works perfectly with the deep meaning and intent that runs through nearly every song in the bands' catalog.  It is almost as if Garrett is trying to "teach" the listener at every turn that makes his performances so intriguing, and that is certainly the case throughout "Power And The Passion."  Though the subjects that are tackled on this song have certainly been explored both before and since, one can make the case that this song stands as one of the most brutal and unapologetic takes on society as a whole, and even nearly three decades later, many of the observations are still relevant.  Overall, "Power And The Passion" comes off as a scathing indictment of the materialistic culture that can be found across the entire planet, and the way that the song seems to suggest this will only lead to a societal downfall is a rather grim, but undeniably logical thought.  The song also takes some rather unsubtle shots at the foreign policy of the United States, and this turns the fact that it was a chart success in that country into one of the more ironic occurrences the world of music has ever seen.

In many way far beyond other songs that garner similar commentary, due to the amazingly distinctive musical fusion, as well as the brilliantly penned lyrics, "Power And The Passion"  stands as a song that must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood and appreciated.  Yet in many ways, this is true of the entire recorded catalog of Midnight Oil, as their musical approach simply does not fit into any previously established musical category.  From the almost bouncing energy to the sheer beauty in their musical orchestrations, Midnight Oil ignored every "rule" and norm within the world of music, and their resulting sounds continue to play a massive role within the current music scene.  The way that the instruments intertwine with one another gives "Power And The Passion" an almost classical feel at points, and yet there is a grind and an edge that makes it impossible to dismiss the hard rock attitude that runs throughout the song.  Furthermore, in the entire musical approach, as well as the content and style of the lyrics, "Power And The Passion"  clearly takes a great deal from the punk ethos, and yet the more sonically competent and restrained style with which they play almost makes it impossible to think these two styles could be connected.  However, the fact that there is so much going on beneath the surface is in many ways the definition of the sound and intent of Midnight Oil, and one would be hard pressed to find a better example of their unique genius than what can be heard on 1982's, "Power And The Passion."

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28: Mobb Deep, "Shook Ones, Part II"

Artist: Mobb Deep
Song: "Shook Ones, Part II"
Album: The Infamous
Year: 1995

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Though many may not have looked that far back in history, the reality is that the differences in the music from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States was apparent far before the media-created "coast wars" in hip-hop during the 1990's.  Looking all the way back to the jazz-era, there were massive contrasts in form, style, and content, and yet one can easily see that these unique approaches were necessary to the overall progression of music.  This remains true to the current era, and as the West-coast-based "gangsta" sound began to dominate the entire world of mainstream music, the more direct and raw sound of "hardcore rap" came forward from the East.  As has been the case for a majority of the musical history of the United States, it was those artists coming from New York City that dominated this rising form, and there were few performers that defined the new sound as perfectly as one finds within the music of Mobb Deep.  Compared to even their own peers, the duo's style was far more bleak, almost hopeless in nature, and it was this dark vision of reality that makes their songs still powerful to this day.  Reaching their own creative apex at the same time as hip-hop became the overly-dominant sound in mainstream music, the groups' second record, 1995's The Infamous, stands as one of the most pivotal recordings in music history, and there are few songs that define "hardcore' hip-hop as perfectly as Mobb Deep's 1995 single, "Shook Ones, Part II."

As soon as the song begins, it is clear that "Shook Ones, Part II" will be unlike almost any other hip-hop song of the era, as there is a stark, heavy mood that is instantly set into place by the music.  The bass-heavy trend that continues to dominate the genre to this day is almost completely absent, and yet there is no question that the musical arrangement found on "Shook Ones, Part II" hits just as hard as any other song of the time.  This ability to be musically unique is largely due to the fact that Mobb Deep pulled from non-traditional sources for their samples, avoiding the somewhat over-done funk and soul performers that are found throughout most hip-hop singles of the era.  The base of the unmistakable hook on "Shook Ones, Part II" is actually derived from Herbie Hancock's, "Jessica," and the drum loop is lifted from Daly Wilson Big Band's, "Dirty Feet."  One can also hear parts of Quincy Jones', "Kitty With A Bent Frame" on the track, and it is the way that the production team of Havoc and Prodigy fuse these sounds together which makes "Shook Ones, Part II" such a distinctive song.  While these samples are pulled from far lighter and more "friendly" styles of music, it is the fact that when properly manipulated, they can become such a dark and heavy sound which shows the talents of the producers, and the combined sound found on "Shook Ones, Part II" stands as one of the most heavily borrowed and highly revered musical arrangements in all of hip-hop history.

However, while the music on "Shook Ones, Part II" has become iconic in itself, there is no arguing that the true power and lasting impact of the track lives within the devastating vocal performance by Havoc and Prodigy.  In both their delivery style, as well as the content of the lyrics, "Shook Ones, Part II" knows few rivals, and it remains one of the hardest hitting and unapologetic hip-hop assaults ever recorded.  Distancing themselves further from their peers, there is a clarity within every line that the duo deliver, and this in many ways is one of the key aspects that separated the hardcore style, as there is a clear focus on ensuring that every word lands with maximum impact.  Not only are the lyrics on "Shook Ones, Part II" clear in terms of vocal style, but there is a somewhat slower, almost methodical pace to the flow, and it is almost as if the pair are attempting to pummel the listener with the repeating pounding in this lyrical assault.  Adding to the overall stark and tough feel of the song, the lyrics manage to take a new path on one of the most used themes in the world of hip-hop.  Largely revolving around the "street life" of inner-city youth, the song speaks of territory wars and financial struggles, and yet there is a fresh, raw edge to Mobb Deep's take on the subjects.  Yet it would be the songs' chorus that would create a cultural term onto itself, as the line, "…ain't no such things as halfway crooks…" has been sampled and reused in countless other songs over the past few decades.

Truth be told, "Shook Ones, Part II" has become a part of popular culture that reaches far beyond "just" its musical significance.  The song has appeared in many video games and been covered by a number of artists from a wide array of genres.  Yet it is perhaps now best known for the fact that fellow emcee, Eminem, pulls the iconic line from the hook during one of the "rap battle" scenes during his film, 8 Mile.  Though within the world of hip-hop, such a reminder of greatness was not needed, this reference introduced the track to an entirely new generation of music fans, as well as cemented the songs' legacy as one of the most enduring and powerful tracks in the history of hip-hop.  "Shook Ones, Part II" has also been sampled in almost every way imaginable, as artists ranging from Atmosphere to Lady Gaga have infused pieces of the track into their own recordings.  Taking all of this into account, one simply cannot overstate the importance of Mobb Deep's song, as it was able to find this success whilst in many ways standing in defiance of the more popular trends within music at the time.  The fact that the overbearing bass is completely absent is perhaps the most noticeable aspect, but it is the way that each line is delivered with such power and purpose that makes "Shook Ones, Part II" impossible to ignore, and even more difficult to forget.  Standing today as the very definition of the "hardcore" rap style, there is simply no other song in history that compares to Mobb Deep's superb 1995 single, "Shook Ones, Part II"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Daily Guru: "Something Old, Something New #20"

Thursday means another dose of “Something Old, Something New” with yours truly.

Share and enjoy!

October 27: James Chance, "Contort Yourself"

Artist: James Chance
Song: "Contort Yourself"
Album: Buy
Year: 1979

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While it almost goes without saying that music in itself is an art form, it is odd that many times, when music takes on a more "artsy" form, it is seen as being of lesser value or talent.  That is to say, when an artist or band takes a more avant, completely original take on music, often heavily influenced by other art forms, there are claims that it is "too out there," and not a "valid" form of music.  This has occurred many times throughout the history of recorded music, but it has rarely been more obvious than when one inspects the so-called "no wave" movement of the late 1970's.  Birthed out of the "performance art" community of New York City, this style of music stood in clear defiance of absolutely everything, and while many associate it with the punk sound, there is such a stark contrast between "no wave" and any other form of music, that it cannot be remotely compared to anything else.  While there were only a handful of "true" "no wave" bands, as the style itself was one of the mots short-lived moments in music history, there is no question that James Chance stands among the finest and most influential, and his 1979 debut, Buy, may be the definitive album of the time period and musical style.  Filled with wild musical arrangements and some of the most aggressive, if not confrontational vocals ever recorded, one can quickly understand the entire "no wave" sound by experiencing James Chance's extraordinary 1979 song, "Contort Yourself."

The moment that "Contort Yourself" begins, the rather adversarial nature of the song is immediately apparent, as in every aspect, the song is a far cry from anything else that was being recorded at the time.  Almost the entire song revolves around the bassline from David Hofstra, and there is a looming, almost menacing feel to the unsettling groove that he deploys across the entire song.  Though the tone itself is rather soft, it is the spirit with which he plays that keeps "Contort Yourself" slightly off balance, ensuring that the listener is kept moving throughout the entire song.  The way that this sound combines with the almost scatter-shot drumming from Don Christensen stands as one of the finest rhythm pairings in history, and it is the dry, unrelenting pace he dictates that defines the energy throughout "Contort Yourself."  This nervous tempo is made even more intense by the guitar playing of Jodi Harris, as the main progression that he plays throughout the entire song borders on maddening, and the song as a whole manages to ride the edge of chaos in a way unlike any other recording in history.  Each time that he plays the riff, the song digs deeper into its own insanity, and it is the overall instability added by the slide guitar of Pat Place that makes "Contort Yourself' absolutely unlike anything else in the entire history of recorded music.  The final element of the music is the alto saxophone of James Chance, and the way that he randomly blurts and blares notes all across the track are the ideal finishing touch in terms of mood, and it also displays the songs' connection to the avant styles of jazz music.

Along with his dazzling performance on saxophone, James Chance's vocal display is nothing short of stunning, and there has never been another similar performer before or after his time.  It is the emotion with which he performs that makes Chance so unique, and on many levels, it is this style that cements the link between the "performance art" community an the entire world of "no wave" music.  Though for the most part, Chance's vocals on "Contort Yourself" can be heard as little more than borderline-insane ranting, when one digs deeper, there is without question a form and musicality to his performance.  Creating an additional rhythm that adds to those found within the music, Chance seems to let the sounds around him completely possess the lyrical flow, and there is no question that this stands as one of the most truly inspired vocal performances ever captured on tape.  Along with this rather distinctive style and pace, it is the focus and force with which Chance delivers each word that makes the lyrics themselves impossible to ignore; and this demand to be heard is where the "no wave" movement finds its connection to the word of punk rock.  However, the lyrics themselves separate "Contort Yourself' from an overwhelming majority of punk songs, as there is a poetic brilliance to every line that almost requires being studied.  The words themselves can be interpreted in a number of different ways, as while there is a rather literal meaning to each line, when taken as a whole, one can find far deeper meanings within this focused rant that is stunningly performed by Chance.

In almost every aspect, there is an unapologetic musical revolution to be found all across every note of James Chance's "Contort Yourself," and even more than thirty years after its initial release, the song remains decades ahead of the current music scene.  From the sheer mayhem of the musical arrangement to the unrelenting assault of the vocals, "Contort Yourself" seems to make a point of defying everything musically, and this is perhaps the most clear definition of the entire "no wave" sound.  However, it is impossible to write-off any of these contributions as anything less than vital to the progression of music, as the movement itself was a reminder that there was still plenty to be explored within that world, and the level of talent and quality on "Contort Yourself" is far beyond that of almost any other recording of the entire era.  However, perhaps the most confusing element of the entire song is the fact that when one breaks it down into pieces, it becomes a clear combination of the previous two decades of music.  Within the musical constructs, one can find everything from bop-style jazz to blues to hard rock, and it is impossible to deny the sonic similarity between this song and The Stooges' "L.A. Blues."  With that in mind, one can see "Contort Yourself" as the most balanced and accurate summary of "underground music" to that point in history, and to this day, the song knows no peers.  Though it may seem like musical chaos at first listen, once one digs deeper into the musical forms and intent, there is no denying the absolute genius that is James Chance's 1979 song, "Contort Yourself."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Daily Guru: "Daily Guru Soapbox: Local Music Stores"

In today’s special edition of The Daily Guru on YouTube, I hop on my soapbox to discuss how to turn around the economy by supporting local music stores. Share and enjoy.

October 26: The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"

Artist: The Ronettes
Song: "Be My Baby"
Album: Be My Baby (single)
Year: 1963

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Though every era of music certainly had a number of important developments and fresh approaches, one can easily argue that throughout the 1960's, musical creativity reached its apex, and nearly every sound in the years since can be directly linked to this time period.  While most concentrate such statements on the latter half of that decade, it was during the early years of the 1960's that most of the vital inroads and stylistic endeavors can be found, and one of the most vital to the progression of music was in the so-called "wall of sound" approach.  Pioneered through a number of bands, all under the direction of producer Phil Spector, one can find a number of examples of this brilliant technique, and yet it can be easily argued that the early phases of this approach were at their finest within the songs of The Ronettes.  Though there were certainly other "girl groups" that showed more ability in terms of sheer vocal talent, there is no question that The Ronettes had as much spirit and soul as any other group, and in many ways it was their more authentic, straightforward approach that set them so far apart from their peers.  Rattling off a string of hit singles all across the first half of the 1960's, a number of their songs remain nothing short of iconic within modern music, and there is no other recording that even comes close to the sound and overall impact that can be heard on The Ronettes' brilliant 1963 single, "Be My Baby."

While the entire musical arrangement on "Be My Baby" has become nothing short of legendary, the reality is that the most definitive aspect of the entire song may actually be the opening notes.  Drummer Hal Blaine kicks things off with a simple cadence, and yet this rather basic, unassuming few beats stands today as absolutely unmistakable, and this lead-in would be copied countless times in the years that followed.  Throughout the rest of the song, it is the percussion that takes a majority of the focus, and the ever-present castanets give "Be My Baby" an almost Latin feel, setting it further apart from the more popular "girl group" approach.  It is also this element that gives the track a completely unique sway, and it was largely due to this element that the song was a massive hit all across the globe.  The way that these rhythms are able to interact with the amazingly dramatic piano is like no other recording in history, and it is the rise and drop of tension within this instrument that makes "Be My Baby" completely unique.  As the horns and other instruments enter the overall mix, one can quickly understand what the "wall of sound" technique is all about, as the music becomes almost overwhelming, creating an amazing amount of reverberation within the music, thus defining Spector's musical goal.  This blending of musical and recording techniques would be further explored in many later recordings, and yet one can easily argue that it never sounded better than what one can hear on "Be My Baby."

Due to the fact that the musical arrangement is so powerful and historically significant, one might be able to give a "pass" to the vocalists if they were not up to par; and yet there is no question that the singing all across "Be My Baby" is equally fantastic.  Though she does not possess what might be considered the "classic" voice of the era, Veronica Bennett is nothing short of hypnotizing throughout her performance on "Be My Baby," and it is this more honest and raw sound that is in many ways superior to the recordings of her peers.  The amount of heartbreak and sorrow that the lyrics suggest are deployed in brilliant fashion at every turn by Bennett, and there is an allure within her "baby doll" voice that once heard, can never be forgotten.  In many ways, it is Bennett's more accessible voice that was surely what helped it catch on with the youth of the time, and it remains one of the greatest "sing along" songs that has ever been recorded.  At every turn, Bennett is able to extract the maximum amount of emotion and tone from the lyrics, and yet one can also make the case that while she may seem to be singing of longing for her man, the words are actually more accurate if one reverses the roles.  That is to say, Phil Spector was one of the authors of the lyrics, and the fact that he would eventually marry Bennett makes it easy to argue that these words were actually about Bennett, making the overall impact of "Be My Baby" even more enjoyable and significant.

Almost instantly upon its release, "Be My Baby" shot all the way up the charts, and as the decades have passed, it remains one of the most endearing and enduring songs of that era.  Even beyond the musical importance of the song, it has been used in countless films and television shows over the years, and "Be My Baby" still finds regular radio airplay to this day.  That fact in itself is enough to cement the songs' place as one of the greatest in history, and yet it is the advances in recording technique that may be the greatest gift of "Be My Baby."  Though it was not the first attempt by Spector at the "wall of sound," there is no question that this song represents the turning point for the approach, as in every way, this is the perfect balance of sound and substance.  It is the way that the vocals play against the musical textures that make the song so far beyond other recordings, and when one combines these elements with the wonderfully sweet sound and style of Bennett's vocals, it turns into absolute musical perfection.  In fact, countless later artists hailed this recording as far beyond all others of the era, with the great Brian Wilson even citing the song as, "the greatest pop record ever made."  This bold statement is easily supported by every aspect of the song, as in everything from the musical arrangement to the vocals to the lyrics, there is simply no other recording that can hold its own when compared to The Ronettes' phenomenal 1963 single, "Be My Baby."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Daily Guru: "Something Old, Something New #19"

It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for another dose of “Something Old, Something New” with The Daily Guru. Share and enjoy.

October 25: The Bobby Fuller Four, "I Fought The Law"

Artist: The Bobby Fuller Four
Song: "I Fought The Law"
Album: I Fought The Law (single)
Year: 1965

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Though it is not as blatantly clear in some genres, the reality is that the basis for most musical styles can be found well over a decade before it becomes part of the mainstream.  It is during these early years that it is often disguised as another form of music, and yet once one gives the sound a new inspection, the seeds for later styles can be found.  While many might wish to believe that the punk rock sound was a new idea in the 1970's, the truth of the matter is that one can find the roots of this style throughout a majority of the previous three decades.  A number of artists were clearly playing in the punk style in different ways during these years, and few can be more directly tied than what can be heard within the music of The Bobby Fuller Four.  Though their name may not be instantly recognizable, a number of the songs the band recorded stand today as vital to the progression of popular music, and they remain one of the most important links between rockabilly and rock and roll.  Pulling heavily from the style and sound of Buddy Holly, it would be one of their greatest tributes to their heroes that would cement The Bobby Fuller Four as true music legends; though the same track would also prove to be their final musical gift to the world.  In terms of style, sound, and lasting impact, there is no other song that carries the same weight as what can be experienced on The Bobby Fuller Four's 1965 recording of the classic song, "I Fought The Law."

The moment that "I Fought The Law" begins, a number of the bands' influences become quite clear, and one can hear everything from "surf rock" to punk rock within the arrangement and tone of the song.  Perhaps the most iconic aspect of the music is the guitar work of Bobby Fuller himself, as there is a slight tinge and heavy attitude within his playing that sets it far apart from almost anything else being recorded at the time.  While it is not distorted by more modern standards, the reality is that there is a force and slight hostility within this performance that is more aggressive and defiant than the approach being taken by his peers.  This in itself is where one can hear one of the keys to the later punk sound, and yet at the same time, Fuller is able to keep the classic rockabilly swing present within these same notes.  His sound is complimented by the second guitar from Jim Reese, and it is this doubled, yet almost softer sound that remains the defining element of "I Fought The Law." It is also the way that bassist Randy Fuller is able to give the song a bit of a swing that made it a massive hit during its time, and there are few other recordings in history that blend a musical pop appeal with a lyrical defiance as perfectly as one can find here.  Drummer DeWayne Quirico rounds out the band, and his playing gives an almost jazzy feel to the song, and the fact that one can hear so many influences blended so perfectly is the key to making the music on "I Fought The Law" remain absolutely unforgettable more than four decades after it was first released.

Along with his brilliant performance on guitar, the vocals that Bobby Fuller brings to "I Fought The Law" stand today as some of the most iconic and influential in the entire history of music.  Though the content is certainly something which one cannot look past, it is the voice and the style of Bobby Fuller that push the words to such greatness, and it is Fuller's performance that keeps the song so far above the myriad of covers that have emerged over the years.  There is a power and purity within his singing all across the song that makes "I Fought The Law" completely captivating, as one can hear Fuller give himself completely to the song, and it is this unique authenticity that enabled the track to crack the top ten on the charts in an era when so diversions from the "standard" pop formula were almost destined to fail.  Again, the clear influence from the rockabilly sound can be heard as the core of Bobby Fuller's vocal approach, and yet he gives it more attitude and power, inadvertently creating the style that almost every punk singer would attempt to make their own.  Working in perfect harmony with Fuller's vocal style, the lyrics to "I Fought The Law" can be interpreted on a number of levels, and there is no question that they remain some of the most iconic ever written.  Though in their time, they were able to live the "double life" of defiant and defeated, as the decades have passed the words have taken on far more of the defiant tone, and one can hear how both play perfectly within the flawless vocal work found here by Bobby Fuller.

Strangely enough, "I Fought The Law" is a cover song, and the original was recorded by one of the main influences on The Bobby Fuller Four.  All across their music, one can easily hear the heavy use of the sound of Buddy Holly, as the "edge" within their rockabilly sound is a clear nod to their fellow music icons.  Truth be told, "I Fought The Law" was actually penned by Crickets guitarist, Sonny Curtis, and they are recorded the original version of this song a few years after the death of Buddy Holly.  In many ways, one can see this link as the reason that the song seems to fit so perfectly within the style of The Bobby Fuller Four, and one can easily make the case that their cover version is far superior to the original recording.  Furthermore, it is almost impossible to cite all of the covers that emerged in the following decades, but one can easily argue that this version was never matched on any level.  Later covers of "I Fought The Law" each took a clear direction away from the version recorded by The Bobby Fuller Four, and this can be see in much the same way as what Fuller and his band did in comparison to the Crickets' original.  Though it may not have the venom or volume that has come to define the song in more recent years, there is no question that it has all the attitude one can want, and one can easily make the case that the later rock style, especially punk rock, would have never formed without the phenomenal 1965 recording by The Bobby Fuller Four, "I Fought The Law."

Monday, October 24, 2011

October 24: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #95"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself. 

Tracklist (all links are to MY review of that artist, song or album):
1. Pearl Jam, "Why Go"  Ten
2. The B-52's, "52 Girls"  The B-52's
3. Nick Drake, "Free Ride"  Pink Moon
4. The Clash, "Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad"  Give 'Em Enough Rope
5. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Great Balls Of Fire/Studio Chatter"  Classic Jerry Lee Lewis: The Definitive Collection
6. The Black Crowes, "Seeing Things"  Shake Your Money Maker
7. Television, "Friction"  Marquee Moon
8. The Sound, "Unwritten Lawn (Mike Read Session)"  The BBC Recordings
9. Atom Orr, "Tilt-A-Whirl"  This Was Tomorrow
10. Fela Kuti, "Water No Get Enemy"  The Best Of Fela Kuti
11. Metallica, "Motorbreath"  Kill 'Em All
12. Jurassic 5, "Break"  Power In Numbers
13. Primus, "Tragedy's A' Comin'"  Green Naugahyde
14. DEVO, "Jocko HomoQ: Are We Not Me?  A: We Are Devo

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23: Orbital, "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head"

Artist: Orbital
Song: "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head"
Album: In Sides
Year: 1996

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While "electronic music" has existed in some form or another all the way back to the 1940's, it took a very long time for it to catch on within the mainstream in any meaningful way.  Even as recently as the 1980's, as a whole the electronic style was seen as a "lesser form" of music that was exclusively enjoyed by a relatively small group of people.  However, as music and culture exploded during the first half of the 1990's, electronic music finally crossed-over into the mainstream, and few groups were more important to this transition than Orbital.  Bringing an edge to their music that seemed to be pulled from the hard rock sound, the duo proved that there were no limits within the electronic world, and yet even with this new melding of sounds, they never abandoned their "hardcore" fans within the dance and techno communities.  This ability to simultaneously work in multiple musical arenas opened the floodgates to a massive number of electronic-based artists, and this in turn had a ripple-effect on almost every genre of music as the decade came to a close.  However, few other artists came close to the sound and importance of Orbital, and each of their first five albums remain some of the finest that the electronic genre has ever produced.  Due to this high number of exceptional albums, there are a number of tracks that can be cited as the finest the group ever created, and yet one would be hard pressed to argue against both the sonic and artistic perfection that one can experience on Orbital's magnificent 1996 song, "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head."

The opening moments of "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" in themselves are some of the most instantly recognizable in the entire history of electronic music, as the soft heartbeat gives way to the central musical theme that runs throughout the track.  This transition gives the song a uniquely spiritual tone that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated, and it is an ideal beginning to what may very well be the finest arrangement that Orbital ever achieved.  The light touches and fugues that seem to dance over the beating heart ease the listener slowly into the core of the song, and with each passing moment, the overall tension of the track builds more and more.  As the almost startling chords ring forth from the keyboard, "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" takes on a somewhat regal feel, and one can hear similar approaches being copied by artists from all genres in the years that followed.  It is the way that these keyboards fade in and out of the following ten-plus minutes that create much of the hypnotic allure of "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head," and yet it is also the more subtle sound effects and instrumentation that vault the song so far beyond those of their peers.  There is a slight distortion on many of the sounds, and it is this "crunch," combined with the almost orchestral overall sound that enabled "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" to have an appeal that had never before been achieved by an electronic artist.

Yet even with this spinning and almost ornate orchestration, "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" stays firmly rooted within the electronic genre thanks to the brilliantly programmed drums that run throughout the track.  In both tone and pace, it is this element that is as "classic" a techno sound as one can find anywhere, and yet it also provides a perfect balance for the music under which it is placed.  The way that the hi-hat cymbal seems to skip across the musical landscape is nothing short of superb, and while many other electronic artists have deployed a similar sound, there is something wonderfully unique about Orbital's use on this song.  It is also the range in percussive sounds that the duo of producers bring to the track which would re-write the books on electronic music, and also the way that each blends with the others, creating a single wall of rhythm.  There are also a number of different rhythms operating simultaneously, and this again is a nod to the roots of Orbital, as one can easily picture the song being performed at a massive dance party.  However, this reality also shows one of the most uniquely fantastic juxtapositions that exist within "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head," as while there is no question this is a "party track," there is a level of quiet intimacy that cannot be argued.  The fact that these two tones can exist in such harmony is a testament to the talent of the producers, and the main reason the song stands so far above other electronic efforts.

Taking all of this into account, there is also a bit of a "story" to "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" which makes the track even more impressive.  The entire recording was actually made whilst harnessing power from a solar powered generator, and while in modern times this may not seem anything of note, in 1996, such events were nothing short of rare.  "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" was also created in memory of and dedicated to former Volume Magazine photographer, Sally Harding, who had passed away a few months earlier.  Once one takes into account these "subtexts," the entirety of the song becomes even more impressive, and yet without this knowledge, there is no question that "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head" still stands as one of the most uniquely powerful tracks in the history of electronic music.  Standing today as one of the finest works that Phil and Paul Hartnoll have ever created, even more than a decade after its initial release, the track still easily surpasses any other electronic effort.  It is the way that the duo were able to create an orchestration that appealed far beyond the "normal" barriers of electronic music, as there are elements of jazz and hard rock that are clearly present throughout the song.  The fact that they were able to do this without alienating any of their fanbase is a testament to the amazing balance they achieved here, and there has simply never been a finer example of the brilliance of electronic music than what one can hear on Orbital's phenomenal 1996 song, "The Girl With The Sun In Her Head."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22: The Andrews Sisters, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"

Artist: The Andrews Sisters
Song: "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"
Album: Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (single)
Year: 1941

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When one discusses the most famous and successful acts in the entire history of music, it is often forgotten than many artist who should be in such a conversation made their names in the 1940's and 1950's.  However, in most cases when such a discussion occurs, any artist from the "pre-rock and roll" era are left out, though in some cases they easily out-performed later acts.  From the tail-end of the "ragtime" era to early folk to the beginnings of jazz music, there are countless singers and bands that made a massive impact on the world of music to this day, and few performers from any era have been as important as The Andrews Sisters.  Charting with more than one hundred individual singles and selling more than seventy-five-million albums, there is no arguing that they stand as one of the most commercially successful acts in history, and yet their contributions are often tragically overlooked or downplayed.  The reality is that over the course of their career, The Andrews Sisters set the standard for many recording styles, mixing together blues, folk, r&b, and jazz in fantastic fashion, and it was the stunning way that their voices combined that turned the trio into absolute icons.  With so many memorable singles, it is impossible to cite just one as their "definitive" recording, and yet one can easily argue that in terms of both representing their sound, as well as historical significance, The Andrews Sisters never bested their iconic 1941 song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

While history boasts a number of memorable musical arrangements, that found on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" may very well be the most famous, if for no other reason, than the fact that it has been in existence far longer than almost any other contender.  Fittingly enough, the song opens with a lone bugle playing what sounds to be a variation on the traditional "Taps," and one can make the argument that such a performance may have been a bit controversial at the time.  But once this progression gives way to the entire orchestra, the song becomes absolutely unforgettable in both tone and arrangement.  It is the way that "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" manages to swing in a completely unique style that makes it such a fantastic track, and one is almost instantly transported to an "Officer's Club" in the 1940's.  Every instrument is in perfect sync with the others, and it is the slightly softer way that they move behind the vocals that makes the sound so superb.  The double-bass gives a subtle, yet captivating groove, and the rest of the band seems to take their cues off of his playing.  The way that the horns seem to "pop" and accentuate the down-beats is nothing short of perfect, and even in modern times, it is almost impossible to not swing along with the orchestra's rhythm.  In every aspect, the arrangement on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is the ultimate crossover between blues and jazz, and the song defines the term "classic" in every sense of the word.

Working in perfect harmony with both the orchestra and one another, it does not take long to understand why The Andrews Sisters had such a long and successful career.  One would be hard pressed to find an act with a greater level of sheer vocal talent than one finds here, and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in many ways redefines who the "jazz vocal" could be approached.  Seamlessly mixing together scat-style singing with delicately gorgeous verses, there is simply no parallel for the performance of the trio, and it is not surprising that this song dominated the charts for a rather lengthy period of time.  Whether they are taking brief moments on the lead or working together in harmony, there is not a note out of place, and one can easily hear how this performance played a vital role in the development of the "girl group" sound that would appear almost two decades later.  But one cannot ignore the rather timely nature of the song as an aid in its overall success, and yet it was actually written, recorded, and released before the United States "entered" World War Two.  Following the tale of a top Chicago horn player who was drafted into the Army, the story attempts to put a positive spin on "Army life," as the musicians' superior officer finds a way to surround him with other musicians, allowing him to be a far more content bugler.  The lyrics also suggest the impact that his sound has on the his fellow soldiers, as the line, "...and now the company jumps, when he plays reveille..." seem to paint a somewhat more light-hearted image of life in the Army.  Yet throughout the entire song, it is the magnificent combination of voices that have turned "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" into the iconic recording that it remains to this day.

In reality, there are actually two distinctive studio recordings of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" made by The Andrews Sisters.  The original, recorded in 1941, is the one that is most often heard, as the full, swinging orchestration perfectly captures the mood of the nation at the time.  Nearly twenty years later, in 1957, the trio recorded the song again, and this time, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" has a slightly faster, more jazz-based sound.  Much of the swing and "big band" sound is missing, and there is a bit of an echo on the vocals that makes this take unique.  However, when compared, there is little question that it is the original which stands as superior, as it highlights the vocals more directly, and in themselves, the vocals sound stronger and more balanced.  As the years passed, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" received a number of cover versions, the most famous being recorded by Bette Midler in 1973, introducing the song to an entirely new generation.  However, even without these covers, the fact of the matter is that "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" stood as not only a brilliant musical recording, but the sign of a shift in what was acceptable to the general public.  At its core, the song is a rather pro-military type of song, and the fact that this did not hinder the song, nor does it cast a negative light on it to this day is a testament to the exceptional power within the performances.  Simply put, there is not another song in the entire history of music that stands as historically significant and as musically stunning as The Andrews Sister's flawless 1941 single, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy."

Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21: King Diamond, "Abigail"

Artist: King Diamond
Song: "Abigail"
Album: Abigail
Year: 1987

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Throughout the course of music history, even long before it was a recorded commodity, the link between the art of musical creation and that of theatrical performance were closely linked.  As far back in history as one can find, there are songs for both entertainment, as well as historical documentation, and yet one can argue that over the past century, much of the "theatrics" within music has been lost.  While such a style would not have fit into many current musical trends, it is strange that given its history, those who do attempt to create a dramatic sense within their music are often looked down upon.  However, there are a handful of artists over the past few decades that have mastered this approach, and few are as unmistakable in every sense of the word than the one and only King Diamond.  Having made his name as a solo artist after creating quite a stir with his previous band, Mercyful Fate, there are few performers form any period of recorded music that have shown as much sheer charisma and creativity as one finds in King Diamond, and this works perfectly along with his truly unparalleled vocal range.  Perfecting the idea of "the concept album," there are few records as outright disturbing, yet flawlessly crafted as one can experience all across his 1987 release, Abigail, and it is the soaring, extravagant, and yet unquestionably haunting title track that stands as the definitive moment in the entire career of King Diamond.

In every aspect, the opening notes to "Abigail" make the entire intent and purpose of both the song and album completely clear.  The speed and ferocity with which every note is played finds perfect balance in the delicate drama that it suggests, and it is this equilibrium that in many ways defines the brilliance of King Diamond's songs.  There is no question that the core of the song revolves around the dual guitars of Andy LaRocque and Michael Denner, as they spin their sound in an almost dizzying manner, yet ensure that not a single note is lost in the process.  The tone with which they play perfectly match the overall intent of the song, as there is a looming, almost angry sound to be found, and yet the technical expertise they show pushes "Abigail" far beyond almost any other heavy metal recording.  It is also on this track that one can begin to hear LaRocque truly coming into his own as a player, and being a bit more aggressive, which would be a sign of things to come within the band.  However, it is also the almost maddening bassline from Timi Hansen that allows "Abigail" to have so much musical character.  Hansen seems to pummel the listener over and over, with a slightly slower, more methodical speed than might be expected, and it is this unique approach that sets the song further aside from those of their peers.  Finishing off the musical assault is drummer Mikkey Dee, and it is within his playing that one can hear a superb "second vocal," as he seems to push King Diamond further than any other backing musician in history.

But as is the case with every track that he touches, there is rarely a moment on "Abigail" where the focus moves from the vocal performance from King Diamond himself, and this is without question the definitive song from his entire career.  Simply put, King Diamond (real name: Kim Bendix Petersen) possesses a vocal range and dynamic that has never been matched in even the slightest by any singer from any genre or time period, and it is the control that he shows over this skill that makes him such a magnificent performer.  In terms of both pitch and mood, Diamond is an absolute master of singing, as he is able to jump all around the vocal scale with ease, and uses these different sounds to create a tone and atmosphere on "Abigail" that must be heard to be completely understood.  It is the way that Diamond is able to spin such a dark and disturbing tale, yet never come off as cliché as so many of his peers do, that makes his songs so unique, and on many levels, "Abigail" is the most unsettling set of lyrics he ever delivered.  Taking the story that was already in place by this point on the album, the character of Abigail manages to possess the unborn child of the parents within the story, and after experiencing this track, the plot and imagery of the film Rosemary's Baby seems rather mild.  At every turn, King Diamond allows the spirit and sound of the song to dictate his pace and pitch, and it is this reality that pushes his vocals on "Abigail" to stand as the finest moment of his long recording career.

While the ideas that King Diamond expresses throughout the entire sequence that is the Abigail record was not a new idea, it is the precision with which he carries out each song that sets it so far beyond similar works.  One can easily make the case that this album is the ultimate "goth-metal" achievement, as most other attempts at such a recording sound as if the band in question is "trying too hard," where this album has a potency and raw edge that cannot be denied.  It is the way that the musicians create such a massive wall out sound, and yet manage to find their own individual space to perform that makes "Abigail" stand out from other tracks on the record, and there is no question that each of these performers is at the top of their musical form.  Furthermore, King Diamond himself is at his finest throughout the entire five-minute run-time, and his singing here would redefine the standard for all heavy metal vocalists.  Yet while many have attempted to mimic his sound and style, the reality is that the talents of King Diamond are so unique that none other has come even remotely close on either front.  Along with the brilliant music and singing, the image and idea of the character of "Abigail" have made their way into culture, and from other songs referencing the character to video games taking a similar tact, she stands as one of the most iconic figures in heavy metal history.  While he recorded many great songs both before and after this, there is no question that King Diamond reached his creative apex in the form of his stunning 1987 song, "Abigail."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Daily Guru: "Something Old, Something New #18"

Thursday means another dose of “Something Old, Something New” with yours truly. Share and enjoy.

October 20: The Mama's & The Papa's, "California Dreamin'"

Artist: The Mama's & The Papa's
Song: "California Dreamin'"
Album: If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears
Year: 1965

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Though there may only be one or two in each generation, there are a handful of songs that were so perfectly crafted and fitting for their time, that they have gone on to completely represent and entire era of human history in their sound and style.  Whether it is the absolutely perfectly orchestrated recordings of Fats Waller and the way that they vividly depict the "depression era," or the way that Jerry Lee Lewis was able to define the mischievous rush of the 1950's, one can easily point to music perhaps more than any other form of art to understand the culture of a time period.  This was certainly true during the rise of the "counter culture" of the mid-to-late 1960's, and while there were many, few groups represented the sentiments of the youth of the time as perfectly as one finds in the music of The Mama's & The Papa's.  Blending together absolutely serene vocal harmonies with a perfect balance of folk, blues, soul, and rock and roll, the recordings of The Mama's & The Papa's stand as some of the finest representations of the "psychedelic sound," and many of their songs have perhaps even outshone the group themselves.  Most of these amazing singles can be found on the groups' sensational 1966 debut, If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, and there may be no better a definition of the group, nor the entire "hippie" movement than The Mama's & The Papa's unforgettable 1965 single, "California Dreamin'."

In almost every aspect, "California Dreamin'" is as iconic a song as has ever been recorded, and it stands as one of the songs which can be identified from its first few notes.  The beautiful, instantly hypnotizing acoustic guitar introduction played by John Phillips has been used countless times over the decades in various forms of popular culture, and the riff in itself stands as one of the most definitive "links" to the "Summer of Love" sound, though the song itself preceded that period by almost half a decade.  As the second guitar from P.F. Sloan winds into the sound, eventually giving way to the song proper, there is a dramatic, almost overwhelming tone that explodes off of the record, even after hearing it countless times.  It is the interplay between all of the instruments in the "main" part of the song that enables "California Dreamin'" to become such a powerful recording, as there is a swell within the arrangement that manages to transport the listener to the setting which the lyrics describe.  Yet the reality is that while the music has a rather full sound, it is actually a rather simple and stripped-down arrangement.  The inter-locked guitars are complimented by the almost "walking" bassline from Joe Osborn, and drummer Hal Blaine keeps a sturdy pace throughout the track.  It is the way that this combined sound seems to sway back and forth that makes "California Dreamin'" nothing short of mesmerizing, and it is much the reason the song is able to retain this quality more than four decades later.

However, there is no question that while the musical arrangement has made its own place in music history, the true "magic" behind "California Dreamin'," and the entire catalog of The Mama's & The Papa's lives within the stunning vocal performance that the quartet bring to every song.  One can easily argue that the four voices that comprise the group stand as the finest example of vocal chemistry, and yet it is also the way that their spirits and energy seem to match so perfectly that makes "California Dreamin'" such a blissful experience.  Regardless of whether it is a lead on the verses or a shared vocal on the bridge and chorus section, there is not a moment anywhere on the song that is anything less than absolutely beautiful, and the fact that the vocals are able to overpower the instrumentation makes one realize that "California Dreamin'" stands as one of the few songs of the "rock era" that in reality needs no musical backing.  Yet it is also the way in which the vocals so perfectly match the words which are being sung, as there is a fantastic balance between the "cold" of the winter night on which they were written, and the brighter, warmer sound about which they are singing.  The sheer enjoyment, if not glory, with which each of the four are singing is absolutely uplifting, and it is this sound and spirit which have pushed "California Dreamin'" to stand as one of the greatest and most definitive songs ever recorded.

Yet most people are unaware that the now-iconic backing vocal was actually taken from a previous recording.  This section of the song was lifted from Barry McGuire's This Precious Time album, where the group served as backing vocalists.  In fact, if one listens closely to the opening of "California Dreamin'," the "original" lead vocals can briefly be heard in the left channel, as they were not completely mixed out of the later recording.  However, this in no way detracts from the song in any way, as there is little arguing that it is the "formal" arrangement by The Mama's & The Papa's that is far superior, as the mood and tone are far superior.  The way that the group is able to turn their voices into instruments is the finest representation of what a beautiful vocal can do, and the song remains one of the most heavily covered in all of music history.  As the years have passed, everyone from Eddie Hazel to R.E.M. to Queen Latifah have taken a shot at the classic track, and yet there is no question that it is the emotion and sound of the original that makes it impossible to top.  Every element of the original recording of "California Dreamin'" is absolutely perfect, and one can also see how the harmonies displayed on this song would go on to influence artists from nearly every style of music.  Standing as one of the most important musical achievements, as well as a track that completely defines the cultural movement that would follow, there is simply no other song in history that can measure up to the power and significance of The Mama's & The Papa's legendary 1965 single, "California Dreamin'."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19: Pere Ubu, "Non-Alignment Pact"

Artist: Pere Ubu
Song: "Non-Alignment Pact"
Album: The Modern Dance
Year: 1978

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While they are extremely few and far between, the handful of bands that have proven to make music that fits into no previously established category seem to go one of only two ways within the eyes of the general public.  They are either quickly hailed as geniuses and visionaries of the "new sound," or they are written off as "noise" and forced to fly under the radar most of their career.  Regardless of which direction they end up in, the reality is that the impact and significance of their musical efforts are clearly equal, and there are few bands that have pushed forward music as a whole as forcefully as one can find in the catalog of Pere Ubu.  In many ways responsible for the entire "underground" music scene of the past three decades, Pere Ubu brought a sharp, completely unique sound that pulled from a wide variety of influences.  Within their songs, one can hear everything from Jimi Hendrix to Can to Howlin' Wolf, and it is the way that the group was able to blend these examples that makes their music so significant.  It is also the powerful, perhaps even harsh musical arrangements that the band created which makes Pere Ubu so unique from their peers, and one can hear everything that makes the band so great all across their 1978 debut, The Modern Dance.  Filled with a controlled musical chaos that is unlike anything else, and some of the most unforgettable vocals in history, there are few recordings more important to the progression of music than Pere Ubu's brilliant song, "Non-Alignment Pact."

From the moment that "Non-Alignment Pact" begins, it is clear that Pere Ubu are a band playing by their own rules, and the fact that this song serves as the introduction to the album (and by that placement, to the band as well for many) makes the sound of the track even more startling.  The song begins with high-pitched feedback, and the fact that Pere Ubu seem to be trying to make the listener uncomfortable is not only indicative of their overall sound, but also of their general ethos in their songs.  However, as this note fades, the entire band jumps in with full power, and it is led by the fantastic guitar work of Tom Herman.  The tone with which he plays is as true to the punk rock spirit as one can find anywhere, and yet there is a tinge of psychedelic sound that runs along with it, and the combination is nothing short of perfect.  Bassist Tony Maimone is noticeably far forward in the mix, and it is the almost dizzying progression that he plays which gives "Non-Alignment Pact" a wonderfully unique groove and presence.  It is due to Maimone's performance that there is a dark, almost menacing feel to the song, and it is also his playing that makes the musical arrangement a bit unsettling.  Drummer Scott Krauss brings a uniquely "pop" sound to the song, as his drumming seems to bounce perfectly around the other instruments, and it is this sound, combined with a handful of "random" instruments that make "Non-Alignment Pact" sound absolutely nothing like anything else ever recorded.

However, while the musical all across "Non-Alignment Pact" is clearly revolutionary, one would also be hard pressed to find another voice in the history of music that sounds even remotely like that of David Thomas.  In both the pitch of his voice, as well as the way that he sings, Thomas clearly innovated a completely new vocal approach, and one can find his influence all across a wide range of bands that followed Pere Ubu.  In many ways, there there are simply no words that can accurately describe the actual tone of Thomas' voice, as it is one of the few in history that must be heard firsthand to be properly understood and appreciated.  Yet the way that he sings all across "Non-Alignment Pact" can easily be seen as one of the key elements in the development of the "post punk" and hardcore vocal sounds.  While Thomas' performance is not as loud or forceful as one might typically associate with such styles, it is the attitude and almost detached sound with which he sings that clearly makes this a pivotal vocal recording.  There is also a rather blunt, straightforward tone within his vocals, and it is this sharp, almost "in your face" sound that makes the track unforgettable.  Along with this brilliant vocal performance, the lyrics to "Non-Alignment Pact" stand as some of the sharpest and most clever ever penned, and one can actually read the words in two completely contrasting ways, and this serves as the ideal finishing touch to a perfectly crafted song.

As the decades have passed, countless bands have cited Pere Ubu as a massive influence on their sound, and yet the band remains tragically underrepresented all across the world of music.  In so many ways, it was the efforts of Pere Ubu that allowed both the post-punk and hardcore scenes to develop, as both their musical and vocal approaches were a far cry from the "standard" punk sound that was being over-done all across the globe at the time.  It is the almost stark musical nature that one can experience all across The Modern Dance that makes the record so unique, and yet the album also puts many of the more "flashy" punk bands into perspective, as one can argue this record as the punk form at its most pure.  The fact that Pere Ubu seem to care very little for any modern musical norm or convention is in itself the ideal representation of the punk ethos, and it is largely due to this reality that so many of the "second wave" punk bands took their cues from Pere Ubu as opposed to more commercially successful acts.  However, while there is no question that the record is based in the punk style, "Non-Alignment Pact" serves as a reminder that Pere Ubu were capable of writing some of the finest and most direct rock and roll songs the world has ever heard, as the track has a massive amount of crossover appeal.  From the superb, yet simple guitar progressions to the unforgettable vocal performance, there are few recordings that can even remotely compare to the sheer musical brilliance found on Pere Ubu's 1978 song, "Non-Alignment Pact."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Daily Guru: "Something Old, Something New #17:

It’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for another dose of “Something Old, Something New” with The Daily Guru. Share and enjoy.

October 18: Steppenwolf, "Born To Be Wild"

Artist: Steppenwolf
Song: "Born To Be Wild"
Album: Steppenwolf
Year: 1968

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Throughout the long history of recorded music, there are a handful of bands and songs that while are without question important to the progression of music, are often misconstrued as the decades pass.  While it is rarely the result of something that the artist in question has done, the actual meaning and impact of a song can be altered by urban legends and simple miscalculations.  However, even when this occurs, it rarely detracts from the artist or music in question, and this can be seen many times throughout the late 1960's.  As various aspects of culture found their way into the music of the time, new sounds and approaches were being displayed, and their distinctive take on the psychedelic sound is what set Steppenwolf far apart from their peers.  In modern times, the name of the band is recognized all over the world, as they are responsible for some of the most treasured songs of the entire decade, and it is also this band that coined one of the most heavily used terms in all of music history.  Finding an amazing balance between the soaring, almost experimental sounds of the world in which they lived, and the slightly more aggressive spirit of a different counter-culture, there are few records that can measure up to Steppenwolf's fantastic 1968 self-titled debut.  While the entire album is impressive in itself, there are few songs that are more important to the progression of music, or simply more iconic than Steppenwolf's unforgettable 1968 single, "Born To Be Wild."

While there are many that can make such a claim, "Born To Be Wild" can easily be argued as one of the most iconic guitar riffs in all of music history, and it remains just as powerful today as it was ore than forty years ago.  The combined sound of John Kay and Michael Monarch is beyond nearly every other riff in history, as it is not only the simple, yet powerful progression that they deploy, but the fuzzy, crunching distortion as well.  From the opening power chords to the small "stings" that lace the verses, the guitar part on "Born To Be Wild" stands as one of the finest in history, and there are few recordings that better display the musical link between blues and rock and roll.  It is this tone and attitude that in many ways defines what "hard rock" is all about, and there are few later bands that did not in some way pull from the guitar work on "Born To Be Wild."  However, while one cannot overlook the guitar work, bassist Rushton Moreve is in top form as well, and it is the massive amount of groove and movement he and drummer Jerry Edmonton bring to the track that gives it a high-energy, almost chaotic feel.  The band is rounded out by Goldy McJohn on a Hammond organ, and it is the presence of this final instrument that sets "Born To Be Wild" so far apart from other singles, as the mood and bite McJohn adds gives the song a sharp, almost Latin-tinged feel that remains unparalleled to this day.

Along with the brilliant musical arrangement all across "Born To Be Wild," John Kay delivers what is now one of the most legendary vocals in all of music history.  Matching the tone and attitude of the guitars, there is a gritty, almost menacing sound to his singing, and yet he manages to deploy this sound without ever sacrificing any of the musicality of his vocal range.  It is the way that Kay seems to be teetering on the edge of pure mayhem within his singing that makes "Born To Be Wild" so exciting, and even after hearing the song countless times, this element remains firmly intact.  While there had been other artists that brought this gritty, perhaps dangerous sound before Kay, he was able to take it in a completely new direction, and his sound remains one of the most pure and outright captivating ever to be captured on tape.  However, it is the way that Kay's attitude matches the lyrics which he sings that stands as the key to the appeal of "Born To Be Wild," and yet he himself did not pen the song.  The lyrics were actually written by "Mars Bonfire," which was a pseudonym for Dennis Edmonton, who was the brother of Steppenwolf's drummer.  Each line of the song finds a way to capture the spirit of youth in a manner that was a far cry from other such songs, and it is this difference and "nod" to a secondary counter-culture that made "Born To Be Wild" so appealing at the time, as well as giving it a truly timeless sound.

Truth be told, "Born To Be Wild" was actually the third single released off of Steppenwolf, as at first listen, the band and label did not thing it had the appeal necessary for good chart performance.  However, the track quickly rose to the second spot on the chart, and it was perhaps made most famous when it was used in the opening sequence of the classic film, Easy Rider.  It was due to its appearance in the movie that "Born To Be Wild" gained its connection to the world of motorcycles, and it is the fact that the song works so well in this environment, as well as that of a general counter-culture that has enabled it to "catch on" with so many different groups and generations.  Yet there is one rather common misconception about "Born To Be Wild," and that is that many people believe it to be the song that "invented" heavy metal.  While the song was the first to use the term on record when Kay sings, "...heavy metal thunder...," it is actually a reference to the sound of a motorcycle engine, and not to the sound or attitude with which the band was playing.  Furthermore, when one looks at the entire history of the "heavy metal" sound, "Born To Be Wild" simply does not fit "the formula," but can easily be argued as a precursor to the later sound.  Regardless of "where" the song fits in categorically, there is no question that it remains one of the most revered and timeless songs ever recorded, and there are few songs from any era that can compare to Steppenwolf's magnificent 1968 single, "Born To Be Wild."

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #94"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and commentary from "The Guru" himself.

Tracklist (all links are to my review of that artist, song, or album):
1. The Clash, "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A."  The Clash (UK)
2. Dinosaur Jr, "Sludgefest"  You're Living All Over Me
3. L'Altra, "It Follows Me Around"  Different Days
4. Fugazi, "Sieve-Fisted Find"  Live Series: Volume 16
5. The Slackers, "Watch This"  Lost And Found
6. The Pixies, "Break My Body"  Surfer Rosa
7. Goldfrapp, "Paper Bag"  Felt Mountain
8. Morphine, "Scratch"  Yes
9. Eddie Hazel, "So Goes The Story"  Game, Dames, And Guitar Thangs
10. Blonde Redhead, "Loved Despite Of Great Faults"  Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons
11. Björk, "Possibly Maybe"  Post Live (Live Box Disc 2)
12. Charlie Parker, "Scrapple From The Apple"  The Complete Live Performances
13. The Mark Of Cain, "Point ManIll At Ease
14. State Of Alert, "Warzone"  Dischord 1981: The Year In Seven Inches

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16: Don McLean, "American Pie"

Artist: Don McLean
Song: "American Pie"
Album: American Pie
Year: 1971

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Though they are without question the most rare of all occurrences within the history of recorded music, there are a handful of singular moments that completely defy every logical and justifiable trend to date.  These elite songs quickly take on a life of their own, and not only do they obscure every other song of the era, but they also tend to eclipse the artist in question as well.  Furthermore, songs that fit into this category have a timeless quality that is far beyond that of other recordings, and they are the few songs that one simply cannot picture not existing.  While such songs can be found across the entire history of music, regardless of genre or time period, each such recording is almost synonymous with the artist that performs it, and the name alone brings the song to mind instantly.  Standing among these very special songs is a performer who "accidentally" found his way in, finding an unsurpassed balance between rock and folk, and the perfection he achieved is even more impressive given the fact that the song in question can be found on Don McLean's second studio album.  While his debut was certainly not a failure, it garnered McLean some attention due to other artists covering the song, but after his second album was released, his name would become nothing short of legendary.  Penning what remains one of the greatest melodies and lyrics ever composed, there is simply no other song in history that carries the same weight as Don McLean's 1971 classic, "American Pie."

While there are a number of riffs and progressions that stand today as unmistakable, the soft, almost unassuming piano piece that opens "American Pie" easily ranks among the greatest, as McLean is able to extract a great deal of blues feeling within the first notes of the song.  It is the fact that he is able to have such a strong mood set into place so quickly that serves as one of the keys to the appeal of "American Pie," as even when the tempo increases, the feeling of lament is never lost.  In many ways, it is the solitude that one can feel in the piano that makes the most impact within the song, as one can picture McLean playing it in a large, empty room, as he uses the medium of music to its fullest, expressing his deepest emotions.  However, later in the song, "American Pie" takes on a far more "modern" feel, as the swing that comes via the acoustic guitar is nothing short of perfect.  On many levels, it is this sway and bounce that is reminiscent of many of the mid-to-late 1950's "pop stars," and this is a fitting tribute when one considers the many "reasons" that the song came into existence.  It is also this more up-tempo approach of the song that prevents "American Pie" from becoming "too down" for wide appeal, and yet it is the sense of melancholy that runs through every instrument that makes the entire musical arrangement stand as absolutely unforgettable more than forty years after it was first released.

Adding to this extraordinary musical perfection, both the vocals and lyrics from McLean are as ideal as one can find anywhere, and one would be hard pressed to find another song that has as universally memorized lyrics.  McLean's voice is strong throughout the track, as he matches the mood of the music over which he is singing, and yet there is a somewhat soothing undertone to his pitch at every turn. It is also through his vocal performance that the blues of "American Pie" are most apparent, as he is clearly letting the music itself dictate the length and emphasis within many of the words, and it is this element which pushes the song to further greatness.  Even when he seems to be singing of celebration, there is a darkness within his voice, and this balance cannot be heard in the work of any other song in history.  However, one would be remiss to not take into account that the lyrics to "American Pie" stand today as some of the most treasured of all time, and yet one can interpret many of the words in a number of different ways.  While it is well-known that the opening verse was written in reference to when McLean learned of the death of Buddy Holly, one can find reflections of other historic events within the remainder of the song.  Yet while these words certainly echo significant moments in the years leading up to the recording of "American Pie," they can also be seen as more philosophical musings, and the multiple ways that one can read the lyrics serves as the final element which makes the song truly extraordinary.

When one looks all across the long history of recorded music, there is no question that "American Pie" rises quickly to the top, as it easily stands as one of the most important songs ever captured on tape.  From the way in which Don McLean blends together folk, rock and blues to the overall tone of the song to the words themselves, this sort of musical perfection and impact is beyond a rare achievement, and this is much the reason that it remains one of the longest songs (in terms of length) to still receive widespread, regular radio airplay.  The song has also been covered countless times, with a handful of performers releasing their own studio versions and finding moderate chart success.  However, there is no question that even with the myriad of later covers, it is the Don McLean version which stands high above all others, as there is an endearing, timeless nature to his voice as well as the orchestration over which he sings.  Furthermore, while "American Pie" is almost overflowing with references and imagery, the fact that it can be enjoyed just the same if one knows nothing of the "true meaning" behind the words is the final testament to what a spectacular song McLean recorded.  Quite literally every element of the song is perfect, and it stands as one of the few recordings in history that can easily appeal to fans of almost any style of music.  Whether it is due to its historical significance or simply the sheer beauty of the musical form, there is no other song in history that can measure up to the pure genius found within Don McLean's monumental 1971 recording, "American Pie."