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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

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

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

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