Thursday, July 31, 2008
Gem Music Video of the Week # 30: Democracy in the Studio
Song: What’s the Frequency Kenneth by R.E.M.
(Songwriter: Michael Stipe)
July 31, 2008
I would think it’s an honor to a band when their music is identified as representing a particular genre: Punk = The Clash; Reggae = Bob Marley; Glam Rock =
; Grunge = Nirvana; Folk = Joan Baez; and so on. Bowie
Then there are the bands that don’t quite fit any niche. These bands are just as likely to be revolutionary, and are consistently evolving their sound. R.E.M. is one of these bands. They are not easily categorized which is one of the main reasons R.E.M., more than any other band, have carried the Rock n Roll torch thru the 90’s and into this century. Their songs, albums, and live sound all stand up to any comparison.
R.E.M. has always had a complex studio sound, but somehow can pull it off live. Converting a studio sound to the stage has been the downfall of many bands over the years: Several that come to mind are The Cars,
, Yes, and Alan Parsons Project. A typical R.E.M. concert will see them dig at most 3 albums deep into their war chest. They are not about reminiscing, and like to keep current (they were one of the very last long-term successful music acts to release a greatest hits album). So, if you are catching a show and are enjoying the most recent album release, you are all set. I’ve had a chance to see them 3 times, two of which immediately followed my favorite R.E.M. albums: Monster and Up. The shows were fantastic (the Up show was a great birthday gift from brother, Pat). Boston
I believe that one of the main reasons R.E.M. is so successful is that the band is balanced talent wise. They are also balanced in their decision making. This is rare for a band and it’s been fun to see how it has played out over the years as it’s impossible to get a sense on who is leading and who is following. Finally, R.E.M. as a band seems free of the pressures of fame and conformity more so than most musicians, giving them a limitless palate to work on. This is not so hard to find in individual musicians (Dylan, N. Young, Tom Waits). It is very hard to find in an entire band.
One of the songs I found impressive for R.E.M to pull off live was ‘What’s the Frequency Kenneth’, off the Monster album, hence its choice as this week’s Gem Video. The lyrics are obscure (as many R.E.M. lyrics are) but to me that's no biggie...the energy, originality, and bass lines are enough in this case.
Because it’s a heavy rock song, I’m also including a great Gem Light video ‘Day Sleeper’ off the Up album.
* There may be a short (20 secs) add previewed before these videos since they are both from a VH1 site (which runs adds).
Gem Music Video: What’s the Frequency Kenneth (VH1 site: you have to register)
About the Video: Made for MTV video (as is the Gem Light).
Video Rating: 1
Best Feedback: Madelline:
Hey, you are so fun doing this while on the
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Gem Music Video of the Week # 29: Innocent Until Proven Guilty
Song: Rock Lobster by The B52s
(Songwriters: Fred Schneider and Ricky Wilson)
July 24, 2008
Place: Serious Rocker Tribunal made up of 9 judges
Time: A futuristic ‘What If’ scenario
Setting: An interrogation. Spotlight on me
Chief Justice: So, Steeves, you consider yourself a serious rocker?
Me: ahh, yes, I do
Chief Justice: Someone who takes his music seriously?
Chief Justice: Let’s review your records. Going way back now, there are reports that you listened frequently to Neil Diamond and the Carpenters with your family on the way to swimming lessons as a teenager.
Me (sheepishly): Yes, but Rock n Roll initially passed my parents by. They were busy being parents, and, well, Dad’s a big time classical music kind of guy. You can’t knock classical, particularly Mozart. Mom, she came around. Started enjoying Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John, The Beatles.
Chief Justice: Hmmm. You did stoop pretty low, though. Do the words “Sky Rockets in Flight” ring a bell?!!!
Me: Ouch, that hurt. Believe me though, by that time some basic instinct was starting to kick in. I was not quite as duped as others my age. They were sliding down a slippery slope, like John Travolta under that mirror ball.
Chief Justice: Back to you. One of your first album purchases: ‘Breakfast in America’
Me: Chalk it up to Late Bloomer Syndrome
Chief Justice: Moving on to the late 80’s. We have reports of your car’s radio having every fixed station tuned to KISS 108 for the better part of a long weekend!
Me: I can explain! My then soon-to-be sister-in-law pulled off a cunning, diabolical and, I must admit, smooth maneuver.
Chief Justice and other judges < huddling and murmuring >
Chief Justice: ok we will let that one slide.
Chief Justice: < shuffling thru documents >: The rest of your records look pretty good….. Wait! What’s this! Right up to the present day, we see a love for the music of the B52s… and you consider yourself a serious rocker!
Me: I was hoping you would have missed that
Chief Justice: You better have an explanation for this! What’s to keep us from banishing you to a deserted island with nothing but a collection of ABBA albums?
Me: Yow! < pause > ….no, I can’t abandon them now… the B52s are a great band!
Chief Justice and other judges < exasperated >
Chief Justice: You must be joking.
Me: No I’m not.
Chief Justice: <looking through B-52s lyrics>: How can learning the Camel Walk be serious stuff? The Coo-ca-choo? The Aqua-velva?
Me: ahhh well….
Chief Justice: < interrupting >: Let’s read a few lyrics, shall we? “She came from Planet Claire, I know she came from there, she drove a Plymouth Satellite, faster than the speed of light”. Here’s another: “His ear lobe fell in the deep. Someone reached in and grabbed it. It was the Rock Lobster”. What the…..
Me: Great stuff, actually. Sorry you didn’t connect. You missed out!
Chief Justice: Your time is running out. Explain please.
Me: ok, the lyrics were a little out there. But the lyrics worked because they fit well with the music. The guitarist was very original. The interplay between the 3 lead singers was brilliant. The stage presence of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson was absolutely hypnotizing. I relate it to watching Natalie Merchant spinning like a top in front of her band, 10,000 Maniacs, or the imposing figure of Peter Garrett strutting his stuff in front of Midnight Oil
Chief Justice: Keep going…
Me: Well, and then there is my sister, Jen.
Chief Justice: Jen?
Me: Actually, her alter ego, Jenzo. Jenzo immersed herself into the New Wave scene and brought the rest of the family along for the ride. Jen had added the ‘zo’ to her name in order to spell it out along her 5-hole pierced ear lobe.
Chief Justice: Pretty hot shit. But how is that supposed to sell us?
Me: Jen(zo) also brought Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin into our household. She introduced the family to these bands.
Chief Justice: I see. Please give us a few moments.
< A few moments >
Chief Justice: We have come to a consensus. We would like to hear ‘Rock Lobster’
Me: Let me take you back to Gem Music Video of the Week #29
Chief Justice: I’m already Froogin! Pass the tanning butter!
Gem Music Video: Rock Lobster
About the Video: Made for MTV like video (rare and strange). Includes footage of the band and other things (like a hover craft and dancing lobsters).
Video Rating: 1
Best Feedback: Jen(zo)
If you consider any and all sorts of music influences that we bring into each other's lives, CJ would certainly have banished you to an island, or better yet, a desert - with mirages of Olivia Newton John, Bobby Sherman and The Partridge Family appearing ahead of you. Thankfully, I saw the light, too, eventually. Thanks in part to Dale, with his enjoyment of classic American sounds from Queen, Boston, and from funky, new sounds from B-52's, Talking Heads, Lena Lovitch (anybody remember her?). We all bring music to each other.
** Jen later corrected Queen as an American band reference
One of my fondest memories was sleeping over Pete's house during April vacation. This is when I got exposed to BOMGA (Benevolent Order of Maloon the Goon Antagonists". I can tell you for a fact that the defendant was NOT perjuring himself under oath. The first morning I woke up, there were two things permanently engrained on my mind. The large grandfather clock that made a noise every 15, and Dotsy playing her stereo aloud with the song, "Music Box Dancer". No Zepplin, No Aerosmith, strictly Lawrence Welk fare. It was then that Pete introduced me to the Red Album! :)
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Gem Music Video of the Week # 28: Hootenanny!
Song: Just Like A Woman by Bob Dylan
(Songwriter: Bob Dylan)
Covered Here By: Richie Havens
July 17, 2008
Consummate professional musicians all have the ability to develop momentum in their concerts. It’s something you see a lot of at outdoor festivals. Folks will be milling about at the beginning of a set, but slowly the musician grabs their attention, and as the show progresses the crowd settles down and locks in. This is also what distinguishes a great live album. A great example is the Who Live at
Leeds. I did not truly enjoy this album until they added the entire set list to the dozen or so songs that were selected out of the Leeds show in the original release. Once the entire concert played out in the re-release the music flowed and built up in intensity. Now it’s one of my favorite albums to play when I have the luxury of listening to something loud!
As for the festivals, the 2 musicians I can think of that are great at creating momentum in their sets are Arlo Guthrie and Richie Havens. They both can be deceiving. At first your thinking, “hmmm, maybe I’ll go to the beer booth” as they fidget about with tuning guitars, chumming with the crowd and telling stories. The first few songs are usually nothing special. However, the set soon gathers moss and before you know it your knee deep in Hootenanny!
When Richie Havens played at the ‘Bob Fest’ (in honor of Bob Dylan’s 35 years with Atlantic Records… also discussed in Gem # 9) he had to pack this momentum into one song and he does it brilliantly in this weeks Gem video, his cover of Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’. It helps that the song itself is intense. A great many critics believe Dylan to be an overly private individual, but I believe that one of the secrets to his success is his openness and ability to throw caution and privacy to the wind in his lyrics, which comes out in this song.
Richie Havens was the opening act at
in 1969. I was just looking at the set list (url attachment below Gem), started reading thru other set lists (from the other musicians who played), and could not believe how many great songs were played there…the video and album of Woodstock only tell a very small part of the story. On the subject of Woodstock, I am also including a link showing a hilarious interpretation of Joe Cocker’s version of the Beatles ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’, which Cuz Jack sent to me. Woodstock
Gem Music Video: Just Like a Woman (This fantastic footage has been temporarily lost *Dec, 2009).
About the Video: Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert
Video Rating: 1
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Gem Music Video of the Week # 27: The Story Behind the Song
Song: Back on the Chain Gang by The Pretenders
(Songwriter: Chrissie Hynde)
July 10, 2008
It’s fascinating when there’s a good story behind the making of a great song. One of the best known examples is The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’. Take a little Lennon: “I read the news today, oh boy….”; add some McCartney: “Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…”; sprinkle in an orchestra in free fall, and Voila!: A classic Lennon/McCartney composition.
This week’s Gem came together in a similar way, but with this song there was only one lyricist, Chrissie Hynde. The similarity is in the piecing together of the song. In this case, however the pieces are event based…a before and after.
The Pretenders hit it off big with their first self-titled album in 1980 (few songs are as edgy as ‘Precious’) and followed it up with another stellar effort, Pretenders II, a year later. Their success hit a brick wall however, when their lead-guitarist/co-writer James Honeyman-Scott died of a (what’s been described as out-of-character) drug overdose. The band carried on, but was never the same (although few bands equal the success of early albums with later ones).
Before Honeyman-Scott died, Hynde had been writing a song about Ray Davies (Gem # 17), whom she had a long relationship with. After Honeyman-Scott’s death, the song took a more ambitious path and evolved into ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, notching up the sense of loss a few pegs in the process. What was probably a very good song had become a great one (my only qualification for a Gem). The ‘after’ part of the song appears to be primarily in the brilliant bridge, which plays out in the video after Hynde walks through the door into the chain-gang
The title alone tells the story.... Chrissie Hynde facing the realization that life at the top (in her case, success and relationships) can be fleeting.
Gem Music Video: Back on the Chain Gang
About the Video: Made for MTV type video (rare)
Video Rating: 1
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Gem Music Video of the Week # 26: Peace, Brother
Blues by The Grateful Dead U.S.
(Songwriters: Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia)
July 3, 2008
No other country could have produced a spectacle like the Grateful Dead. So on this most American of holidays (on which the Dead played often throughout their career, including a show with Dylan in Foxboro in 1987), I’ve dug up a Gem from their ‘74 tour, ‘U.S. Blues’. This song and many others by the band, reveals a unique insight into American life.
When it came to drawing a crowd, any band would have traded places with the Grateful Dead, as they proved to be a guaranteed sellout at any locale. Deadheads even came in droves to the pyramids in
to see the band (how they got there <the Deadheads, not the pyramids> remains a mystery that may never be solved). The shows were lively, fun and upbeat. You could probably say the same thing about Jimmy Buffet and his Parrot Heads. But there was something much deeper and more mysterious about Dead shows…. and when Jerry Garcia broke off into an extended riff and the band jammed around him, the music soared into the stratosphere. You wished it would never end. Egypt
The night Garcia died, I recall Ted Koppel on Nightline, scratching his head trying to make sense of the intensity of the reaction around him. Usually a man of far-ranging insight, he had no idea what the big deal was. David Crosby very eloquently tried to explain to him to no avail. I guess it can be equated to trying to explain the 60’s… as they say, if you remember it, you weren’t there. I’ll give it a try though. The Grateful Dead can be best understood through their shows. Sure there was an excess of drugs and a few too many drop outs in the parking lots for most folks liking. Nothings perfect. However, at the core of a Dead show was a message that was constantly played out in the crowd… a message of peace, love, and understanding. And as a wise man once said, what’s so funny about that? Quite a legacy if you ask me.
Since I equate the term ‘Deadhead’ with a limited ability to relate to other music, I refrain from categorizing Mac as one. However, Mac attended a great many of their shows, and was the connection for my occasional foray into this unique experience for which I am forever ‘Grateful’.
Happy 4th (and Happy <belated> Canada Day)
“I’m Uncle Sam, that’s who I am
Been hidin’ out in a rock-n-roll band
Shake the hand that shook the hand
Of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan”
Gem Music Video:
About the Video: A cartoon of Uncle Sam skeletons in a prison that switches over to the Dead live sometime in the mid 70s.
Video Rating: 1
Best Feedback: Fred
One of my top 3 shows of all time was Dead/Dylan on 4th of July in Foxboro approx. 1985......
One of my worst 3 was Grateful Dead in summer of 2004/5/6(?) in
Hope you had a good weekend....
PS: Kippy would love to be added to these.