Thursday, February 26, 2009

GMVW # 60 : "Deep Cuts"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 60:  Deep Cuts
Song: Love on the Air by David Gilmour
(Songwriters: David Gilmour and Pete Townshend)
February 26, 2009

Thinking back on album releases, there are 3 that come immediately to mind.  The first was Led Zeppelin’s final studio album, “In Through the Out Door” back in 1979.  I remember this not so much for my own interest at the time as I do for that of several good friends (Jeff, Pete, Dave).  I also remember it for a brazen marketing ploy:  Six different album covers (several rare), which were individually wrapped in brown paper bags to lure kids into buying extra copies (I’m not sure it worked, as Zep fans in those days were not likely to be flush with extra cash in their wallets, excepting those who were selling loose joints).  Turned out it was a very innovative-sounding album for Led Zeppelin, and I believe it could have been the start of something new, but we will never know, since a few months after the release, their drummer (John Bonham) up and died on them and the rest of the group disbanded. 

The second album release that comes to mind was also a final studio effort (at least for the next 24 years): The Who’s 1982 album “It’s Hard”.  What I remember most about this release was delivering the album to several wholesale record stores in the area (my old trucking job, discussed for Gem Video # 45).  At one of these locations in Quincy, several of the employees came running outside as I pulled up.  The group of us went back inside, and a copy of the album was unwrapped and loaded on a turntable where we all kicked back and listened.  I’m certain we were among the first in the USA to do so. I liked this album, but in terms of expectations, it was a disappointment. 

The third is the one that pulled through for me: Pete Townshend’s 1985 album “White City”.   There are several things I recall about this album release.  One was turning on the radio in the car (driving down Emmons St) and catching the first single.  Or was it the first single?  The song was ‘Hiding Out’, and as it turned out, I was listening to the ‘B’ side song.  ‘B’ sides are rarely played by DJs, so I stumbled into a unique opportunity to get a glance behind the scenes before being introduced to the ‘big hit’.  I loved what I heard from this ‘B’ side song, and in terms of album depth, it was symbolic for what lay ahead. It was only later that day that I heard the ‘A’ side song, ‘Face the Face’.  A few nights later, Townshend was interviewed on BBC Radio-1 about the album, and several other songs were played.  These also sounded great. One thing I recall about the interview was Townshend being asked why he was calling the new album ‘White City: A Novel”.  He led off his answer with:  “I figured if I could get away with Rock Opera”…..getting a laugh from the interviewer.  He then went on to describe the album as a story about a guy in his 40’s (“Perhaps Jimmy from Quadrophenia”) reflecting back on his life.  A short White City movie was later produced, which focused on 24 hours in the life of this character (I watched it for the first time in many years the other night, which brought back some Lake Street memories). 

So, by the time the album was released, I was primed.  I purchased it as soon as possible and listened incessantly for weeks.  Turned out the songs I was enjoying the most were not the ones being played regularly on the radio.  The songs I enjoyed the most were the deep cuts: ‘Brilliant Blues’, ‘White City Fighting’, ‘Crashing by Design’, ‘Come to Mama’, ‘I am Secure’ and the aforementioned ‘Hiding Out’.  It got me thinking, a great album is not so much defined by its hits, as by its depth…. its deep cuts.  Isn’t this always the case?  If I’ve ever enjoyed an album thoroughly, it was the deep cuts that made it so. A metaphor for life itself I suppose, particularly in regards to the friendships you forge.

With many of the truly great albums though, it is not only what is on the album, but what is left off that defines them, which leads to this week’s Gem.  Pete Townshend was going through a particularly prolific period in the mid 80’s, first having released ‘All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes’ and then ‘White City’.  During this period, he was doing a noticeably Dylan-esque thing: Giving away songs to others.  This week’s Gem ‘Love on the Air’ is one of them.  The song was written by Townshend and given to David Gilmour for his 2nd solo album.  The video is a live version of the song done by the short-lived band ‘Deep End’ (which included Gilmour and Townshend). 

Following the Gem Video are a few of the bigger hits from the ‘White City’ album, and non-video (music only) links to several of the deep cuts.

- Pete

Gem Video: “Love on the Air”

“Secondhand Love”

“Give Blood”

Brilliant Blues (music only)

“White City Fighting” (music only)

“Hiding Out” (music only)

About the Video: The Live ‘Deep End’ video

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Dave

Pete, great choices as usual, bringing back memories. I think of the album every time I drive by the  White City Mall in Shrewsbury............

Thanks, Dave

Also: Fred

Awesome memories of that album and of
Lake Street
.  It was a bit of a life preserver for me during my post-college days.

....I am safe hidden here......

But it got me out.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

GMVW # 59: "I Got It"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 59:  I Got It
Song: You Got It by Roy Orbison
(Songwriters: Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty)
February 19, 2009

Last week I asked for suggestions to broaden my music-listening horizons. In bygone days, I was always trying to pick up on cues from friends, music reviewers, and DJ’s regarding their favorite musicians. Often the tips were eye-opening, and yet a recommendation did not always result in enlightenment, even for the most respected acts. In many cases, there eventually came a time when I had to accept the fact that I was not going to ‘get it’:  The brilliant guitarist, singer, or song-writer was just not going to connect with me.  It happens to everyone, and most of the time when coming to this conclusion, it sticks.

Occasionally, though, a musician breaks through the barrier:  After years of indifference, you may come to see what all the fuss is about.  For example, I’ve had delayed reaction to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing (actually, I’m still working on this), Michael McDonald’s vocals and Joni Mitchell’s songwriting skills.  This was also the case with Roy Orbison’s musical talent, but in this particular oversight I was not alone.  Roy Orbison was flying under the radar for years, even decades, before his career was resurrected with the Traveling Wilburys in the late 80’s. During this period, it seemed musicians were coming out of the woodwork to recognize his influence, including Dylan, Springsteen, and Elvis Costello.  Their sense of timing was amazing, considering he died not soon after, in December, 1988.

In terms of being enlightened by Roy Orbison’s talents, I can trace to the one moment which put my seemingly irreconcilable differences to rest.

The story actually starts with a regretful weekend evening in the winter of 1988, when Mac and I were sitting around in my Waltham home trying to think of something to do.  At times like this, we usually turned to the music venues for guidance, and on this night, Orbison was to play a show at the old Channel in South Boston.  We contemplated going for a good few hours, having never been to one of his shows, but ultimately decided the ticket prices too high for what we could afford at the time (not much).  The show got rave reviews.  Several weeks later, Orbison was dead, after suffering a heart attack.  We had missed out on a golden opportunity to say the least.

A few months later, a concert in memory of Roy Orbison was announced to be held at the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood.  I was an avid listener of WBCN (104.1) at the time, and the station was hosting drawings at selected record stores around Boston for an all-expenses paid trip for two to the show.  With the memory of missing the Channel show still lingering, Nancy and I made the drive up to Tweeter Etc. on
Moody Street
in Waltham and entered our names (an added motivation was Pete Townshend being billed as one of the headliners, and Townshend solo was a rare treat in those days).

I was not expecting much.  When it comes to luck in winning awards, drawings, lotteries, whatever, I’ve never had it.  This includes trophies.  Back in the day when most of us were playing sports as kids, trophies were only given to MVP types and 1st place teams.  I was never associated with either, and so my mantle remained empty through childhood.  There were 2 minor exceptions.  The first was a cub-scout pinewood derby race trophy which was awarded to me and then rescinded after the judges discovered my wooden car laced with a titanium-like substance.  The second was given to me at my bachelor party by my brothers and friends who were apparently sympathetic to my empty trophy case.  I opened the gift and observed the glimmering prize with glee.  I then read the inscription: “Eat Shit”.

Ok, so I’m not one for hitting the jackpot.  This made it all the more astonishing when it was announced on WBCN that I had won the trip.  By the time Nancy and I went to the radio station to pick up our package deal, the list of performers for the show had grown to include: Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Emmylou Harris, John Lee Hooker, John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Chris Isaak, Iggy Pop, John Hiatt, Dwight Yoakam, The Stray Cats, Michael McDonald, and a reunion of the Byrds (Townshend was out though, for reasons unexplained; he would end up doing a video podcast). 

The package deal started with a tour of Universal Studios.  After the tour, we loaded on a bus with other nation-wide winners to take us to the show.  The bus passed through a check point, and dropped us off in front of a giant backstage tent.  Upon entering we were given a bag of memorabilia, which included commemorative jackets.  The tent was filled with many of the performers playing that evening.  While we hobnobbed with several of The Stray Cats, everyone was asked to turn their attention to a man with a paint brush standing in front of a blank canvas.  While the music of Roy Orbison’s ‘You Got It’ (this week’s Gem) blared in the background, the artist began to speed-paint Orbison’s features onto the canvas.  Something about it captured my imagination and opened my eyes to the brilliant music of that gentle man.  The barrier was broken, just in time for the show.

The show itself was great.  We were ushered to 2nd row seats and one act after another rolled out and gave top-notch performances of Roy Orbison songs.  The Byrds (including Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and David Crosby) also played a set of their own songs.  The only bad vibes were when Dylan stared me down from the stage after I took his picture.  Yow! 

The show was being filmed all around us, and is still available on dvd (“A Tribute To Roy Orbison”) at many video stores.  At one time the camera stops on Nancy and I cheering in the 2nd row…. our 3 seconds of fame.

Below the Gem Video are several performances of Roy Orbison covers done that evening.

Gem Video: Roy Orbison “You Got It”

John Hiatt “You Got It”

John Fogerty singing “Ooby Dooby”

Levon Helm “Mean Woman Blues”

Chris Isaak “Leah”


About the Video: Made For MTV original video

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Tom

Awesome write-up Pete - his Pretty Woman is one of those twenty-odd jingles that still come to my head quite often, finding myself singing it under my breath even at work doing mundane tasks, etc. (helps keep one a bit sane still, I 'spose)


Thursday, February 12, 2009

GMVW # 58: "In Search Of"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 58:  In Search Of
Song: Way Down Now by World Party
(Songwriter: Karl Wllinger)
February 12, 2009

It’s a grand thing, discovering quality music from a new band/musician, or one who has been around a while and whose music you’ve always wanted to dive into beyond the surface, but for one reason or other never got around to it.  If it is someone who is already established, the next big step is to pick the right album.  Often, it takes a bit of research, in part because a hit song is not always the best indicator of a strong album.   Most of the time, you need a good tip from someone in the know.

This week, I’m looking for that tip.  Below is a list of musicians I’ve had interest in, but I have not yet seized the moment.  I’m hoping for a compelling argument within the next month for purchasing an album of a musician on the list.  I will consider any feedback and weigh out a choice based on power of persuasion (no need to be verbose).  I will then make a purchase, listen intently, and do a future write up with an attached Gem.  If there are none on the below list whom you can make a case for, I will contemplate another suggestion.  My only criteria are that: 1) I’m not already a fan (if you email me a suggestion, I will let you know); 2) the album is an original studio album (not a greatest hits/compilation); and 3) I can bear the thought of giving it a go.  The best bets though, are albums from the following:

Ø             Tom Waits
Ø             Leon Russell
Ø             Graham Parker
Ø             Billie Holiday
Ø             Hank Williams (Sr.)
Ø             Waylon Jennings
Ø             Link Wray
Ø             The English Beat
Ø             Jolie Holland
Ø             Ray Charles
Ø             Gram Parsons
Ø             Leon Redbone
Ø             Mozart
Ø             The Small  Faces
Ø             Muddy Waters
Ø             Woody Guthrie
Ø             Anyone who released their first album in the last 5 years

While on the subject of being introduced to new music, I want to thank cousin, Tom, who has been tossing me a few bones over the past year, including songs by newer acts like Spoon and The Kaiser Chiefs (it helps that he has a son who plays a mean guitar).  Below this week’s Gem are some of the videos he has sent my way, which go to show that there’s still innovative music brewing out there.

Oh yeah, this week’s Gem….

What got me to think of this week’s theme was a hot-off-the-presses album purchase I made back in 1990 by the then emerging band, World Party.  The lead singer songwriter, Karl Wallinger, broke off from The Waterboys in 1986 to form World Party. The song “Way Down Now” was a favorite of mine off that 2nd World Party album (“Goodbye Jumbo”) and qualifies here as Gem # 58.

Thanks ahead if you have a suggestion.  Here are the prompts for the 3 part response:


- Pete…and Peter (hovering over my shoulder) who says ‘Hi’

Gem Video ‘Way Down Now’

Snow Patrol ‘Take Back the City’

Spoon ‘Don’t You Evah’

Kaiser Chief’s ‘Never Miss A Beat’

Vampire Weekend ‘Oxford Comma’

The Killers ‘Human’

About the Video: Rare made-for-MTV type video

Video Rating: 1 (unless there is a great live version out there)

Feedback: Jeff

holyshit PETE!!! well there are a few on that list I couldn't do without,

gram, WoodyG, and Billie Holiday to begin with.  I played a lot of Billie in that window room next to you at the Marlboro office.  Lately I have been seeding several bittorrents (filesharing) of Ribbon of Highway shows I recorded.  These are shows where several singer-singwriters play Woody songs.  Some include Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband  Johnnie Irion, most include Jimmy LaFave , also Eliza Gilkyson, Ellis Paul, and others,  All great musicians in their own write.

I can make you a copy of the Gram GP/Grevious Angel compilation, some of the Ribbon of Highway stuff, and a recent Gandalf Murphy recording. I've been hesitant to suggest youtube links for Gandalf, because you really have to see them live, or at least listen to a whole recording, to get the idea.  I have a number of decent Chris Hillman live shows where he invariably does some of the songs he wrote with Gram, and songs they did in the Byrds.

Also: John

I don't know if you like country music, but I respectfully suggest "Hillbilly Deluxe" by Dwight Yokam.  It's almost 20 years old by now, but every song on the album is a good one, he is backed by a talented band of guitarists and percussionists, and he sings with a relaxed, even lazy measure, but still very tight and precise, with that distinctive Nashville sound (although the album was recorded in Los Angeles) long after the Nashville sound had been abandoned by most country artists.  Every song is about a part of America that is gone, probably forever, and you'll no doubt wax nostalgic. 

It’s good driving music on long rides, and you will find yourself singing along. 

If you have seen the movie "Wedding Crashers", he plays the husband in the hilarious opening scene, where he is trying to mediate a divorce settlement with his wife, played by the looking better than ever Rebecca De Mornay.  In a fit of rage, she calls him a "hillbilly", an irony not lost on this old timer.


And: Pat Shea

Hey Pete

I haven't checked my email for a week or so otherwise you would have gotten this message immediately.  I like to think I am partly responsible for you having placed Tom Waits at the top of this list. And if I'm not solely responsible then my job to convince you of your need to listen to this man will be that much easier. I first came across his music when I was watching a movie called Smoke. Oddball movie - just my thing and great soundtrack with one song called Innocent When You Dream. I went out and bought the album, Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years. It starts with one of his best, Hang On St Christopher, through Clap Hands and the Black Rider, more classics, to a spoken word story, Frank's Wild Years and the surreal lyrics of Shore Leave (The captain is a one-armed dwarf, He's throwing dice along the wharf). Closing with I Don't Wanna Grow Up, an upbeat lament on the desire for non-conformism, and Time, one of the best (as I see it) bar closing songs ever.  My nephew had the pleasure of seeing Tom Waits live twice this past summer.  He flew from New Brunswick to Houston solely for this purpose, then drove to St. Louis for the next concert the very next night. He would do it again in a minute given the opportunity.  This is a great album to start with, you will either be hooked for life, (my expectation) or you will think "what is this shit" (what my kids think of him). Try it Pete, he will not disappoint.

And: Steve

Hi Pete;

I've been thinking about your list of albums that you wanted to tackle or if someone could come up with something worth listening to. I've been pretty mainstream over the years on music. You introduced me to The Who and the Stones which really opened my eyes to how music is made and the personalities behind the artists. I remember you, me and Maria sitting in your little room smoking funny things and you telling us Kieth Moon party stories while we listened to Who's Next or Who Are You albums. Good times my friend, good times!

There have been lots of albums to cross my path since then but none compare to staying up all night playing Risk and listening to The Tragically Hip - Fully Completely over and over! The Best Canadian Rock Band Ever! They have over 10 albums out but I still like this one the best for overall quality and sing along ability. It came out is 1992. Ever listen to it? If not - buy it - listen to it twice and you'll be hooked.

Also: There were several other recommendations that should play out in the upcoming Gems.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

GMVW # 57: "Rust Free"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 57:  Rust Free
Song: Not Fade Away by Buddy Holly
Covered Here By: The Greatful Dead
(Songwriter: Buddy Holly)
February 5, 2009

Not many have tried to define rock ‘n’ roll.  Pete Townshend has, though.  His definition:

“If it screams for truth rather than help, if it commits itself with a courage it can’t be sure it really has, if it stands up and admits something is wrong but doesn’t insist on blood then it’s rock ‘n’ roll.”

He doesn’t touch on the fact that rock ‘n’ roll is actually music, but not bad.  It certainly states much of what I search for when I listen. 

So, if there is a definition for rock ‘n’ roll, is there also a defining song, a song that takes Townshend’s words and makes them real?  Putting aside the definition for a moment, if the sole criteria were “What rock song is covered by more bands than any other?” then I believe there is a clear winner: Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’.  What makes this song so popular for so many rock musicians to play live?  Well, I think it connects on a number of levels.  For one, it was written by a founding rocker who had his heart in the right place.  It also has a simple signature riff that many fledging guitarists learned how to play early on.   Most importantly though, the song can be interpreted in a number of powerful ways: A straight-up unabashed love song that hits home with a bulls-eye message; a way to approach life in general; a statement for rock itself.  With any of these meanings, Townshend’s definition is covered. 

It’ been 50 years since the day ‘the music died’, when the single engine plane Buddy Holly was flying in crashed in a frozen field in rural Iowa.  For a guy who died at the age of 27, he left quite a legacy, (even with just with this song alone).

I’ve seen ‘Not Fade Away’ covered admirably by many bands over the years.  There was one band, however, that captured the spirit of the song better than all others: The Grateful Dead.  They would often play it near the end of their shows, and when they the hit the phrase “I’m gonna tell you how it’s going to be!” or “My love is bigger than a Cadillac!” the vocals would reverberate through the concert hall and the stage lighting would illuminate the crowd. 
Near the end of the song, the band would stop the music (and sometimes leave the stage), letting the crowd repeat the mantra ‘Not Fade Away’ for a good 5 minutes or so before picking up the beat again with their instruments.  

This week’s Gem is a Grateful Dead version of ‘Not Fade Away’ from a late-80’s show.  They are clearly having a great time, and the camera work is right on, rotating between all 6 band members.  Following the Dead’s version are a number of other versions covered by well know acts. 

Many surviving rockers have taken the concept of ‘Not Fade Away’ to heart, now touring well into their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Back in rock ‘n’ roll’s early days, many thought the music to be a young man’s game.  What we have witnessed, however, is that this is not necessarily true.  Neil Young is still up on stage singing ‘It’s better to burn-out than it is to rust’.  Bob Dylan continues his ‘Never Ending Tour’.  The Who have overcome the loss of another founding member and carry on. The Stones somehow keep going.  The list goes on: The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Chrissie Hynde, Elvis Costello, Cream, Roger Waters, Ray Davies.  These acts refuse to go quietly into the night, and rarely do they disappoint. In some ways, the tours are even more impressive than earlier ones because they inspire staying power, and when I catch one now, I can faintly hear a constant echo in the background.  I believe I’ve pieced it together and it goes something like this:

 “Not Fade Away! Not Fade Away!”

- Pete

Gem Music Vide of the Week
The Grateful Dead “Not Fade Away”

 The Byrds “Not Fade Away”

The Rolling Stones “Not Fade Away”

Tom Petty “Not Fade Away”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band “Not Fade Away”

Bob Dylan “Not Fade Away”


About the Video: The Greatful Dead performing Not Fade Away in the Late 80’s…. Brent Midland on piano/organ

Video Rating: 1.5 (Good, but there could possibly be a better clip out there considering how often the Dead have performed this song)

Best Feedback: Joe

Pete - good message...I think Mom and Dad live that message every day....happy birthday to Momzo today.