Thursday, May 29, 2008

GMVW # 21: "For Duty and Humanity"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 21: For Duty and Humanity
Song: Superman’s Song by The Crash Test Dummies
(Songwriter: Brad Roberts)
May 29, 2008

I’ve often wondered  if the band ‘Crash Test Dummies’ had a conversation along these lines:  “Ok, we have a very strange name for a group and a lead singer/songwriter who has a vocal range only a Mom could love and which most certainly will not survive the test of time.  We need to release something good right from the start and capitalize on it before wearing thin with the masses”.   If so, then they could not have done much better than this week’s Gem Video ‘Superman’s Song’.

Along with Mac & Bruce, I was a pretty avid comic book reader back in the mid 70’s.  In those days, Marvel Comics were at the height of their game, with great writers covering the X-Men, Spider Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and others.  Their closest rival, DC Comics, was way past its creative 40’s / 50’s hey day, slipping into predicable, one-dimensional story lines for the likes of Superman, Batman and other sad sacks.  To us, ‘DC’ stood for ‘Dog Crap’ and we avoided DC comics like the plague (although I still believe Bruce bought copies when we were not with him and hid them in places we could not find them for fear of ridicule).

Despite my slanted 70’s vantage point, ‘Superman’s Song’ captures the essence of what a superhero is all about to a kid.  It’s not so much about the power or the glory as it is the sacrifices super heroes make.  Often in Marvel storylines, the superhero was looked upon in misguided disdain by the very souls he/she was trying to protect.

Has anyone ever seen this video?  I never did until stumbling into it a few weeks ago.  It shed a new light on the song, with the singer giving the eulogy at a hypothetical Superman funeral….Wonder Woman, Flash, and others mourning the loss of a friend.  Very creative...

“Sometimes, when Supe was stopping crimes
I'll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back on man
Join Tarzan in the forest
But he stayed in the city
And kept on changing clothes in dirty old phone booths
Until his work was thru
With nothing to do
But go on home”

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Superman’s Song

About the Video:  Made for MTV type video. 

And: Pat

Hey -

How is Pepperell?  Good video - I had forgot about those guys.  How did you remember them?

Have you ever thought about "blogging" your gem music vid?

See ya, and 'hello to Nanc and the kids!



Best Feedback:  Dad

pete, thanks for starting my day on the right track-i'm on my way to a phone booth to change to my work clothes-love , dad


And: Fred

Another winner.  I shouldn't be surprised by your range. 

I spoke with Dad this morning.  He LOVED this Gem



Thursday, May 22, 2008

GMVW # 20: "Top Cat"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 20: Top Cat
Song: Shelter From the Storm by Bob Dylan
(Songwriter: Bob Dylan)
May 22, 2008

A big factor in my admiration for a band/musician is longevity, which usually comes with a maturity in music and lyrics.  It also must take a certain sacrifice to dig deeper, in order to maintain a creative edge after early success.  Two musicians have done an amazing job of keeping a consistent excellence in the quality of their music over the years.  Neil Young is one (more on him in a later Gem).  The other is Bob Dylan.

In practically all cases where I’ve enjoyed a good band from the 60’s, it’s their post-60’s period that I end up appreciating even more.  I believe the Who and the Stones made their best stuff in their 2nd decade as bands.  A case can even be made with the Beatles, who did not make it out of the 60’s as a group, but individually went on to make some great solo albums.  Van Morrison, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Clapton, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, and many others carried on as well.

On the flip side, I rarely latch on for very long to musicians or bands that were great in the 60’s, but in one way or another never really crossed that late 60’s / early 70’s finish line.  Whether they literally did not make it (Hendrix, Joplin, Jim Morrison), burned out (Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett) or lost their creative edge (Grace Slick, Eric Burdon, Ike Turner), I clearly recognize the talent, but the long-term interest doesn't stay with me.

Dylan could have fallen into this latter group as well, having supposedly survived a scare of his own in the mid 60’s (a near-fatal motorcycle accident).  Immediately following that incident, however, he reinvented himself (again) with his ‘John Wesley Harding’ album, and then later released ‘The Basement Tapes’ from the same period.  His sound has kept morphing to this day.  My connection to Dylan's post-60s music has included the albums ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Infidels’, ‘Oh Mercy’, ‘Slow Train Coming’, and ‘Time Out Of Mind’.   Others have latched onto entirely different sets of Dylan albums.  With Dylan, there is really no launch off point, no album where you can tell someone ‘start here’.  It’s ever changing, and almost always great.

….and then there’s Dylan’s live act.  I’ve seen Dylan 4 times and must admit that I’ve been consistently under whelmed.  It’s not the song selection or the music (which in all 4 shows was superb on both accounts).  It’s Dylan’s vocal effort. Even for those of us who enjoy Dylan’s studio vocals (to this day), it’s a tough pill to swallow when he hits the road and tosses his lyrics out like they are one long word. 

It was this frame of mind I had back on a winter nite in the early 90’s (after having already seen Dylan several times), as I was driving thru Inman Square, trying to find a parking spot so I could hook up with Phil & Mac at the Ryles Jazz Club.  As I circled the neighborhood, a live Dylan sound came on the radio that I had never heard before.  Wow!  Even as I found a spot to park, I stayed in the car and turned up the volume.  Gem Music Video of the Week ‘Shelter from the Storm’, was intense and solid, but most important, the vocals were great. After the song ended, the DJ stated the song was from a Dylan mid-70’s tour with the Rolling Thunder Review.  I later found out this was just the temporary name given to the musicians who toured with Dylan on this loosely organized gypsy-caravan road show, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, T-Bone Burnett, and Joan Baez.  This live version of ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and a number of other songs from the same show were later released on the live Dylan album ‘Hard Rain’. 

The audio quality is nowhere near as good on the link below as it is on the album, but hopefully the talent is revealing of one of the most important figures of our time.  I’ve included a 2nd video, ‘I Pity the Poor Immigrant’ from the same show (including Dylan's impromptu ‘Ha, Ha!’ after the line ‘who fills his mouth with laughing’, while singing to Baez in the 3rd stanza) to round out some understanding of what this tour with the Rolling Thunder Review must have been like. 

“The Deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, its doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
Come in she said I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Shelter From the Storm

I Pity the Poor Imigrant


About the Video: Footage from The Rolling Thunder Review Tour, ‘76 (I believe this is a Texas concert)


Best Feedback: Tom

Hi Pete

Yet another great write-up, full of new info and a couple of great song choices.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

GMVW # 19: "Interchangeable Parts"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 19: Interchangeable Parts
Song: Shape I’m In by The Band
(Songwriter: Richard Manuel)
May 15, 2008

There are 2 bands I know of where the talent was/is pretty well evenly distributed amongst the members.  One is R.E.M.  The other was The Band.  The members of The Band, Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (bass), Richard Manuel (piano), Garth Hudson (organ), and Levon Helm (drums), were in many ways interchangeable parts:  They could all play multiple instruments; other than Hudson, everyone sang; and they all wrote lyrics and songs.  They were big fans of early Americana music (although all but Helm were Canadian), which was likely a big appeal to Bob Dylan when he asked them to be his backing band in the mid 60’s. 

Perhaps due to this distributed talent, there was no center piece to The Band as a stage act.  Looking thru a variety of live video footage, it appears they were always shuffling the deck on who was where.  On New Year’s Eve, 1994, when Nancy (then pregnant with Charlotte) and I went to see them at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston,  the stage set up was as funky as any I had ever seen:  Helm (on drums) was on a circular sub-stage, jutting out into the crowd right of center. Danko mostly played on a plank-like runway.  Hudson, on his massive Hammond organ, took up the entire left side of the stage.  What a show!  The Band stopped at midnight to pop a few bottles of champagne and chum up with the crowd, saluting the New Year in the process.

If any of them could be recognized as the leader of The Band, it was probably Robertson.  On the flip side, Richard Manuel is probably the most overlooked talent, partially due to his self abuse life-style.  It was this road-weary life style that Robbie Robertson felt compelled to end when he convinced the remaining members of The Band to host a breakup party in 1976.  Many other musicians were invited to play in the event (including Dylan, N. Young, and Van Morrison), which was dubbed The Last Waltz (the remaining members of The Band later rescinded on this 'agreement' and carried on without Robertson). 

Gem Music Video, “Shape I’m In” is a clip from that farewell show.  Richard Manuel sings lead, and his appearance and demeanor fit the lyrics well.  As with many great singers of the blues, his (and the rest of The Bands) personal struggles were the audiences gain. The Last Waltz reveals The Band as cohesive a unit as you could ever expect to see from 5 musicians. 

A brief interview leading up to the song on the attached Gem, shows Robertson (along with Danko and Manuel) discussing a show they played many years earlier in Texas.  The story is great, but equally revealing is how burned out all three of them appear.  Life on the road had certainly taken its toll.

Eric Clapton, a veteran of several great bands, has stated that the only band he would have stuck it out with would have been The Band.  Seeing them click on all cylinders in 'The Last Waltz' movie, I can certainly see why.

“Over yonder, peace in the valley
 Come down town you have to rumble in the alley”

- Pete (just in the door from a week on the road myself)

Gem Music Video: Shape I’m In


About the Video: Footage from The Last Waltz movie

Video Rating: 1


Best Feedback: Fred

Awesome again.  I loved that video of the last waltz

Thursday, May 8, 2008

GMVW # 18: "Album Orientation"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 18: Album Orientation
Song: Working Class Hero by John Lennon
Covered Here By: Green Day
(Songwriter: John Lennon)
May 8, 2008

On my way out of the Citarell residence several years ago (picking up the kids from another sleep-over with their cousins), Paul lead me out to the driveway, reached into his car and said “Dude, you should listen to this”, handing me his copy of the recently released Green Day album ‘American Idiot’.  I balked, but he insisted I take it with me and give it a listen.  He was sure I would like what I heard.

I was willing to take Paul’s word for it.  After all, it wasn’t every day that he recommended a new album to me….but Green Day?  Weren’t these guys just in it for the goof?  Their first hit album, Dookie (1994), came across that way, and they had done nothing since then to change my mind.  Don’t get me wrong….I can enjoy a band that’s all about the yuks (the Knack & Devo come to mind), but I have to like the sound, and Green Day simply did not connect with me on that most important level.  I did enjoy the single off the new album ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, but it’s a far stretch from a hit single to a solid album.  

Paul was right, however….very much so! This album began to grow on me from the minute I popped it into the cd player.  I listened to it (loudly) for weeks driving into work, and was reminded of just how great a feeling it could be to experience an instant classic, particularly from an unexpected source like Green Day.  The song ‘Holiday’ was sensational, but the entire album was solid and more important, the songs worked together as a cohesive unit.  How Green Day pulled it off at that stage in their career was to me, quite a feat.  There’s nothing I can compare it to in terms of a band kicking into a higher gear.

Many musicians have proven they can pen the occasional hit song, but in my mind, it’s the entire album that is the true measure of a bands success in the studio.  This is something you see much less of today.  With the advent of MP3 and downloading music, the heyday of the studio album may have passed us by.  It would be a pity if this were the case.  Whether a true concept (‘Tommy’, ‘The Wall’, ‘School Boys in Disgrace’) or not, a good album has a certain feel and flow that can go much deeper with a theme (musically and lyrically) than a hit song can do on its own.  The album ‘Who Are You’ by the Who has a loose theme related to the advent of punk rock and ‘out with the old (music), in with the new’.  ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is a Bob Dylan autobiography.  ‘Revolver’ by the Beatles may be the first great album, with a flow to the songs, one to the next, from beginning to end.  .  ‘Exile on Main Street' by the Rolling Stones lifts each song to another level, simply based on the fact that together they make for a great album.  Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' is an extraordinary collection of songs written about social awareness. 

These are factors that cannot be captured in a ‘Greatest Hits’ album.  Whether it’s a ‘Greatest Hits’, ‘Best of’, or more disguised titles like ‘Hot Rocks’, ‘Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy’; ‘Decade’, or ‘Shaved Fish’ (although I give credit to John Lennon for that creative title), the blending of hits collected from a variety of albums does little to capture the true essence of a band/musician in the way that an original studio album can do (live albums are another matter entirely).

To honor the album-centric focus of 'American Idiot', this week’s Gem Video will extract nothing from it.  Instead, the Gem Video is a follow up single, Green Day's cover version of John Lennon's 'Working Class Hero'.  I think it's the best studio cover since the Jimi Hendrix version of 'All Along the Watch Tower', and it's clear listening to it that the intensity Green Day brought to the album immediately preceding it was no flash-in-the-pan.  

So, a thank you to Green Day, for keeping the faith alive, and to brother-in-law Paul for recognizing a great album when he hears one, and insisting I do so as well.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Working Class Hero


About the Video: Made for MTV like video.  “Green Day Idiot Club” off  Filmed in black and white.  Music straight through.


Best Feedback: I’ve misplaced the feedback to this email from Paul

Thursday, May 1, 2008

GMVW # 17: "Neither Rain nor Snow nor Sleet....."

Gem Music Video of the Week # 17: Neither Rain nor Snow nor Sleet
Song: Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks
Covered Here By: Ray Davies
(Songwriter: Ray Davies)
May 1, 2008

I've traveled many a mile to see concerts over the years, but there is only one show for which I may have risked life and limb, driving thru a blizzard from Boston to the Big Apple back in the winter of 1997.  Looking back, there appear to be 3 reasons for this behavior: 1) the musician (Ray Davies; as discussed below); 2) the location (The Westbeth Theater Center in Greenwich Village; historic hotbed of folk & rock music); and 3) the company (Mac; a true friend, and the real rock music aficionado in this crowd <along with Jeff Strause>... thou shalt not pass on an opportunity to see a good show with Mac).  Take any out of the equation, and I would likely have stayed home, but that was not to be the case.  By the time we got South of Hartford CT, it was a white out.  The only vehicles on the road were ours and snow plows the size of Godzilla.  It was about here where Mac went pale.  The drive down Merritt Parkway (a long version of Storrow Drive) was more like skiing.  However we made it into Manhattan by dusk and found the Village under 2 feet of fresh snow.  We even had enough time to wine and dine before heading to the theatre to see Davies, which was very memorable (likely bolstered by the challenge it took to get there).

Fred gets all the credit for bringing knowledge of the Kinks (of whom the aforementioned Ray Davies is the lead singer/songwriter) into our home back in high school.  This was quite a stroke of good fortune for me considering how easily this band can get overlooked among their many contemporaries.  I believe the Kinks to be the most under-rated band of their time.  There are a number of reasons for this.  For one, the Kinks signed their share of bad record contracts in the early years which resulted in a glut of overlapping albums and songs, making it hard for fans to track the bands musical progression thru their first decade.  Second, in a world of eccentric Rock musicians Ray Davies just may take the cake.  He has the talent to hobnob with other musical geniuses of his era, but for whatever reason, has never made those connections (the Kinks are the one 60's super group to have not played any of the big music events of the last 40 years, including Monterey, Woodstock, Altamont, Watkins Glenn, No Nukes, Live Aid Farm Aid, etc).  Finally, the Kinks may be a victim of their own great music.  Many bands, you can identify right off when you hear a new song.  The Kinks sound is so diverse it’s hard to zero in on them unless you are trying.

You can’t blame Franklin Massachusetts for this lack of recognition. The Brady & Nicholson families alone have certainly done their fair share of marketing.  The beginning of the Kinks 1980 concert video ‘One For the Road’ shows a number of Franklin-ites walking into the show (Providence RI).  When Dave Davies (lead guitarist, Ray’s brother) played at a small club in Maynard MA (several times over 3 years) it seemed half the crowd was from Franklin (Jenny Nicholson even started a ‘Franklin’ chant half way thru the show).

Ray Davies and the Kinks bring a feel of nostalgia and historical context into their music.  By listening, you can get a good sense of the world around them, particularly the Davies brothers (Ray & Dave), who were the 2 youngest in a family full of older sisters living in a poor section of London (Muswell Hill).  Like Leonard Cohen (Gem # 13), their early music is also very poetic (Pete Townshend has often stated that Ray Davies should have been Britain’s Poet Laureate in the 60's).  A perfect example is this weeks Gem video 'Waterloo Sunset', one of many great early Kinks songs.  The linked version is from a recent event at the Roundhouse in London.  Below that is a second song from that same event, 'Shangri La' (no one is better at cynical singing than Ray Davies, and this is one of his best).  Finally, I have attached an early video of the Kinks singing 'Waterloo Sunset'.

“Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, flowing into the night…”

-- Pete

Gem Music Video: Waterloo Sunset (this link has been temporarily lost *Dec, 2009*. It’s a fantastic link without substitute (professionally done, huge choir backup).  To get an early Kinks version, see the link 2 links below)


About the Video: Ray Davies Live at the Roundhouse, 2007 (Gem and 2nd video).  The 3rd video is staged early Kinks.


Best Feedback: Fred

Bravo.....that was awesome.

There is also a link to dedicated follower of fashion on the right side which I just listened to.  Ray is very underrated.

"slip on your slippers and sit by the fire; you've reached your peak and you just cant get any higher...."

Good shite


And: Madeline

Thanks Pete.  I enjoyed that!