Thursday, April 30, 2009

GMVW # 69: "Hyena Killers"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 69:  Hyena Killers
Song:  Jackie Brown by John Mellencamp
(Songwriter: John Mellencamp)
April 30, 2009

Although self-deprived of prime-time TV in high school (as documented for last week’s Gem), this does not mean I don’t have some favorite programs from those days (and earlier):  ‘Creature Double Feature’ (does anyone remember ‘War of the Gargantuas’?), The Three Stooges, and the Bruins were must sees, along with ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Fernwood Tonight’ (where I got my high school yearbook ‘favorite saying’: “Ya Jerry”).  

Right up there with all of these was ‘Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom’.  I would think most who are reading this enjoyed the show as well.  Marlin Perkins’ and Jim Fowler’s documentary footage opened minds to the wonders of Earth’s natural places and the beasts that inhabit them.  Of course Jim Fowler did all the hard work (“While Jim’s down in the swamp giving the crocodile an enema, I’m sitting in the copter sipping my pina colada” …. ok, a slight exaggeration).  However, without Marlin Perkins, there was no show.  His opening and closing remarks were always right on, giving Wild Kingdom a measure of decorum and relevance. 

Nature programming has only gotten better since that time.  I believe I’ve watched the 8-episode PBS show ‘Shape of Life’ (about the 8 most successful animal phyla) more often than any other movie or concert video (excepting perhaps, ‘The Kids Are Alright’).  Another PBS video about the Galapagos Islands (hosted by Richard Dreyfus) has also been a repeat watch.  When Charlotte and Peter were younger, I enjoyed watching the Eyewitness Videos (narrated by Martin Sheen) just as much as they did.  The same applies to ‘Walking with Prehistoric Dinosaurs’ and ‘Walking with Prehistoric Beasts’ and many episodes of the often hilarious ‘Jeff Corwin Experience’.  Every one of these shows was extremely insightful, and the camera work was so good, at times it was hard to comprehend how they pulled it off.  I remember one show about elk herds in Alaska.  The lone bulls that lead each of these herds are intensely competitive with one another.  The camera caught one of the bulls well past his prime and falling behind his herd.  All of the other herd’s bulls, who had not been seen anywhere near one another during the filming (other than one-on-one battles), surrounded this dying bull to protect him from a pack of wolves.  They remained there until he died. 

Another memorable program showed predators and prey in an African jungle getting inebriated side by side under an over-ripe fruit tree.  It looked like
Bourbon Street
during Mardi Gras. 

The singular nature show that stands most for me, however, was a video recommended by Dave Cronin, Father/Father-in-Law of our good friends, Jeff and Madeline Cronin (who have been on the receiving end of these weekly rantings along with everyone else).  At his home one evening years ago, Dave handed me the National Geographic video ‘Lions and Hyenas’ and stated “You have to watch this”.  Coming from Dave, this was like the nature-video equivalent of money in the bank (as when Dad recommends a good book) since Dave always had fascinating insights on most any topic.  When I got home, I slipped it into the VCR and watched.  I was not disappointed.  The video was an in-depth and sometimes brutal account of the competition between a lion pride and hyena clan.  In the early stages of the program, the hyena clan, which is lead by a female matriarch, has the upper hand, stealing food from the lions at an increasingly successful rate, as well as generally harassing the pride, and occasionally killing cubs.  The matriarch of the hyenas gets more and more confident and skillful with each raid. 

The video kicks into high gear, however, half way through, when the tide turns, as unbeknown to the hyenas, the lions have a wild card.  The pride includes a second adult (full-mane) male.  The show’s hosts find it unusual that this lion is allowed to remain in the pride since it’s clear he is not the leader and does not appear to be contributing anything substantive, lounging around and eating his fair share after the females make a successful kill. He’s a couch potato. But then, when the situation for the lions seems particularly dire, his role plays out.  He zeroes in and chases the matriarch of the hyenas in a way that no other member of the pride can pull off, catching up with and killing her. It’s all caught on film, and it is fascinating to see play out.  This lion’s role is discovered…. he is the hyena killer, who struts his stuff only after a matriarch hyena fully establishes herself.

Some recommendations stay with you year after year, and Dave’s ‘Lions and Hyenas’ certainly qualifies as one that them.

The role of ‘hyena killer’ can also play out in human form.  There’s a guy at work, not the most productive employee, but his unique skills are needed on occasion, not only in the office, but across the country in other offices.  What can you say? …he’s a hyena killer. Adam Vinatieri: Hyena killer.  Luca Brasi: Hyena klller.

There are also musician equivalents of the hyena killer, inclusive of any musician who demands recognition every so often.  I regard U2, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp in this category.  Although not a big fan of these acts, I have respect for all of them, since each has proven time and time again that you can never count them out of the mix.  All find ways to hit home at one time or another with a great song or album. It may not be frequently enough for me to want to see them in concert (of the 3, I’ve only seen Mellencamp, and that was Nancy’s doing), but often enough to recognize them as top notch talents.  This week’s Gem ‘Jackie Brown’ by John Mellencamp plays this out: It’s one of those hyena killer songs.

Have a great weekend.

- Pete

Gem Video, ‘Jackie Brown’

Since the topic of ‘Fernwood Tonight’ was breached, I’ve included this old clip.  Here’s Barth Gimble (Martin Mull) and Jerry Hubbard (Fred Willard) with Tom Wait’s on that great parody talk show.

Clip from ‘War of the Gargantuas’


About the video: Made for MTV style video

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Madelline

When you wrote about David's video, i recalled fondly another memory of him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

GMVW # 68: "It's Like Night and Day"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 68:  It’s Like Night and Day
Song:  Another World by Joe Jackson
(Songwriter: Joe Jackson)
April 23, 2009

If it’s not broke, why fix it?  This has been the mantra for many a band:  They find a formula that works early in their careers and then try to stay with it.  Yet, often, the shtick gets old and the band is helpless as they watch once true-blue fans jump ship. These bands may suddenly find themselves trapped as a parody of their past selves.  Fame and fortune can be fleeting in these cases.

Stagnation has never been a problem with Joe Jackson.  Jackson’s music can best be described as a moving target, with each album representing a new beginning, a new formula.  He’s delved into punk, jazz, pop, blues, straight-up rock, and lounge music.  He is indeed a Jack(son) of all trades.

Joe Jackson’s fifth album, ‘Night and Day’ (1982) has often been described as a watershed disc in his career.  This album broke him into the mainstream, with top-10 hits and MTV presence, and soon landed him in larger live music venues than the clubs he had been playing in beforehand.  The music on the album was diverse, in many ways a microcosm of his entire heterogeneous catalog.  Each song on ‘Night and Day’ has a distinct mood, which was clearly intentional.  The album is a loose concept, with side one representing night-time experiences in New York City, and side two representing day time experiences. 

Being a great concept album, however, the meaning gets a bit deeper than simple day/night events.  Day time is presented as being that period typically when work gets done, yet night is when the real creative thinking evolves (someone should let Mitt Romney in on this secret), and when the real back door politics happens (in the form of lasting friendships).  Borrowing a 3-word phrase from the late Hunter S. Thompson, too much day without nightlife can bring “fear and loathing” based on worry.  Yet, too much night without day can bring fear and loathing based on over-indulgence. As with anything, a balance is best in ones diurnal/nocturnal adventures.  Joe Jackson gets these points across on this album. 

Listening to the night side of ‘Night and Day’, I’m reminded of high school and the old neighborhood Franklin crew (Phil, Mac, Jeff D, Dave, Bruce, Pete F, John and I), known in it’s varying assemblages as first ‘B.O.M.G.A.’ (The Benevolent Order of Maloon the Goon Antagonists as dubbed by Dad in recognition of our relationship with the security force sergeant at Dean Junior College) and later ‘The Blob Squad’ (as dubbed by Dave on a Hampton Beach road trip and subsequently advertised for years as a bright orange bumper sticker on my parents Chevy Van).  I recall for years heading outside with old faithful Nick after dinner (on any given night) taking in the night air, and sensing that I was stepping into ‘Another World’ (the appropriate title of this week’s Gem off the ‘Night and Day’ album’).  It was always an exhilarating feeling. 

One great thing about growing up in Franklin was that it was a diverse town, and we lived in a particularly diverse neighborhood.  Diversity in friendships is a blessing.  It is one of the many reasons why it has always been important for me to keep in contact with hometown friends who, in my case covered the spectrum.  Later in life, you may find yourself oriented towards others with similar interests be it work, hobbies, faith.  Not so with some childhood friendships.
I’ve often found that a conversation is far more interesting when in the company of people with a range of backgrounds and interests.  I would expect to have a far more interesting evening in conversation with, say, a group consisting of a doctor, a custodian, a painter and a housewife at a bar like Cheers than with 4 stockbrokers at a country club (although in the company of the latter, I would likely find ways to make more money) or 4 factory workers at a biker bar (although here I may improve my billiards game).

Looking back on the old Franklin gang, and our nights on the town, I recall many an interesting conversations that took place at locales like ‘The Wall’, ‘The Rock’, and the traveling road show known as ‘Bucko’s Kegs’ (and later ‘The Train Stop’).  Our evening experiences were far removed from those of other kids at school, who I would overhear talking about a new episode of M*A*S*H* from the night before, perhaps something funny Hawkeye did on the show.  I had no idea what they were talking about, and I remember being proud of this lack-of-insight.  We were out making our own laughs.  I would not trade those experiences for anything.

Below the Gem Video is a bonus track, ‘Common People’, written and performed by William Shatner with Joe Jackson (and Ben Folds on organ). If anyone can look good on stage singing with William Shatner, it’s Joe Jackson.  Jackson’s vocals have always been under appreciated, but are on full display here.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Another World

‘Common People’ >> Mac, you have to check this one out!


About the Video: Good but not great live version, which could be trumped with something better.  The 2nd link, however, is one of a kind, Jackson and Shatner on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Video Rating: 2

Thursday, April 16, 2009

GMVW # 67: "Can Guitars Sweat? Check!"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 67:  Can Guitars Sweat?  Check!
Song:  Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) by Neil Young
(Songwriter: Neil Young)
April 16, 2009

Following on the themes for Gem’s 15 (bass guitar) and 39 (lead vocal), this week’s Gem is a tribute to the lead guitar.  The first images that come to mind are Hendrix playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock; an old Rolling Stone magazine cover photo of Pete Townshend holding the neck of a guitar over his head with the caption “This guitar has seconds to live”;  Chuck Berry’s duck walk.

Anyone who has enjoyed Rock, Blues, or Jazz music likely has at least a few favorite guitar licks.  Here are several of my mine:  Mick Taylor’s lead guitar playing on the instrumental portion of the Rolling Stones ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’; Dicky Bett’s work on the Allman Brothers ‘Ramblin Man’; Mark Knopfler on the Dire Straits live ‘Alchemy’ version of ‘Sultan’s of Swing’; Townshend’s licks on ‘Slip Kid’, ‘Guitar and Pen’ and the live Woodstock version of ‘See Me, Feel Me’; Mick Ronson on Dylan’s live ‘Hard Rain’ album (particularly ‘Maggie’s Farm’); Dave Gilmour on ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’; Peter Buck on the entire ‘Monster’ album; Johnny Winter’s rendition of ‘Highway 61’. I’m sure I’ve missed a few hundred.

Lead guitar is best when it is played live, and as concert events that I have had the opportunity to witness go, no guitar playing hit me quite as hard as Neil Young’s, especially with Crazy Horse.   It was an intense experience to attend these shows, because Young took many of his songs to the edge of exhaustion.  Just when you thought he was ready to wind down and regroup for another song, he would kick into a gear that you would not think possible.  Then, he would shift into yet another gear beyond that.  Crazy Horse backed him up dutifully, always ready to follow him to wherever it was he was heading. 

Neil Young has had quite a unique career.  When Crosby, Stills and Nash took him into the fold as a fourth member, Neil refused to give up on his other musical ambitions.  This is a bit different from the likes of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, who would cut ties entirely with one band when they joined another.  I recently read that Crosby was upset about Young’s stance.  He wanted Neil Young to focus his creative energies on CSNY, and was not all that enamored by Young’s principle alternative, Crazy Horse.  But Neil Young knew that CSNY was restrictive to his guitar playing ambitions.  He needed Crazy Horse to broaden that aspect of his skills.  His decision to always leave his options open has played out brilliantly over the course of his career. 

Neil Young has continually balanced his on-the-edge approach to live performance with a respect for the rock music that he knows he represents on stage.   The guitar playing and lyrics in this week’s Gem Video ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ showcase this balance.  In this particular video performance, Young is not playing with Crazy Horse, but the band that backs him (yet another one of his incarnations) is just as ready to follow his lead.  I could have chosen the Crazy Horse version of this song on YouTube (‘Live Rust’), but I think this is even better. 

For whatever reason, when compiling this week’s email and viewing the Gem, I was reminded of old friend Jeff Dangelo.  Jeff was always the daredevil in the neighborhood growing up, always willing to push the envelope. He set up bike ramps for death-defying jumps that no one else would dare, took on different personas (‘Joe Cool’ in his younger days, ‘Pizarro’ later), and smoked cigarettes in second grade. Jeff also loved Rock music (particularly Led Zeppelin), played drums, and opened doors for me beyond the Beatles. Yet Jeff also had a respect for others that betrayed his rebel image.  He was genuinely polite with parental figures and was strong in his faith (for a teenager, which is when I knew him).  I chalk him up as an inspirational figure in my life. He moved to Alaska at the end of high school and we eventually lost touch.  Wherever he is now (likely Miami), I wish him well. 

Of the many songs that Neil Young took to the edge and back, several that stood out (aside from this week’s Gem) were ‘Powderfinger’ and ‘Cortez the Killer’.  I was reminded of Conquistador Cortez this past week when Boston University won the NCAA Hockey Championship.  Their motto all year was “Burn the Boats!” in reference to Cortez’s order to his men to burn their own boats, forcing them to the realization that they could only return to the main ship in the boats of their enemies, whom they were about to confront.  They then sacked Montezuma’s relatively peaceful Aztec Nation for their gold.  Not to take away from BU’s championship, but I found the reference a bit off color.   I believe Neil Young would agree.  I’m not sure about Jeff, as Conquistador Pizarro has an equally brutal reputation in his treatment of Central/South American Native Americans.  Then again, I’m sure it was the name more than the reputation that intrigued Jeff to adopt the nickname in his early teen years.  ** A music history reference: ‘Cortez the Killer’ was banned in Spain throughout Francisco Franco’s regime (who, by all accounts, is still dead!).  **

Hopefully, you get a little air guitar out of this one.

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) (This link has been temporarily lost)


About the Video:  Part of this video aired at the end of the “Rolling Stone (magazine) XX: 20 Years of Rock and Roll” video. 

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Fred


Another true Gem!.

Humpy says there is a Neil Young imitation band (Crazy Horse?) playing at
Patriots Place in May.  I would love to see them.

And Steve:

Hi Pete;

Neil Young is playing in Edmonton next Thursday. Never seen him live. Maybe I should go eh?

Great write up as usual.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

GMVW # 66: "Heartache"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 66:  Heartache
Song:  $1000 Dollar Wedding by Gram Parsons
(Songwriter: Gram Parsons)
April 9, 2009

I received plenty of great album recommendations after my request a month or so ago (the write-up for Gem # 58), so it is going to take a while to sift through…. a good thing.  However, the first returns are in, and a new Gem has been found.  The Gem is off the Gram Parson’s album ‘Grievous Angel’, released posthumously in 1973.  The album recommendation is from Jeff Strause, former fellow USGS employee (now retired), good friend and concert-attendee extraordinaire.    A Jeff Strause recommendation is nothing to shake a stick at.  On the contrary, I’m thankful for this and all his recommendations over the years, because Jeff has a keen ear for music.  He’s attended so many live shows that he has developed an osmosis-like ability to sift through gravel to find nuggets.  With that pressure hanging over me, I hope to do his recommendation justice here.

I’ll start with a bit of Rolling Stones history for some context.  Fans typically break up Stones albums into two categories: ‘Mick albums’ and ‘Keith albums’.  Mick Jagger has been credited as leading the Stones through a fair share of albums over the years (‘Emotional Rescue’, ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Tattoo You’ come to mind), but it was Keith Richards who was running the show in the early 70’s, and it was during this period that one of the Stones most critically acclaimed albums was produced: ‘Exile on Main Street’.   ‘Exile’ rounded out a sound that was slowly evolving in the Stones music over previous albums.  The music on the album straddled the boundaries between Country and Rock.  I once read that the Stones spent time in the Deep South during this period, so that was explanation enough for me.  However, as I listened to Gram Parsons music this past month, it became apparent that the influence was not so much a region as it was a person.  I should have pieced it together years ago….Parsons after all, was one of Keith Richards best friends.  

Country and Rock music have both had their fair share of deep thinking musicians with fine music writing abilities, but those musicians who are recognized as the trailblazers for having a foot in both realms are statistical anomalies, since most ALL of them have depth.  There’s The Band, Booker T and the MGs, Emmylou Harris, Towns Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin, and Nils Lofgren among others.  The guy who did it first, however, was Gram Parsons.  The Byrds certainly found this out when they welcomed him into their ranks for the ground breaking Country/Rock album ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’.  Parsons was also a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, an under-the-radar band in the late 60’s who had Country listeners thinking ‘Rock’ and Rock listeners thinking ‘Country’…. just the way Parsons wanted it. 

Gram Parsons personal life had more than its share of heartache, which is why this week’s Gem follows on-the-heals of the last.  Where last week’s Gem reveals the thrill of love in good times, it is part of the human condition that love can also bring anguish.  The saying goes that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.  This may have been taken to the extreme in the case of Gram Parsons, who lost his Dad and Mom in separate tragic incidents in his teen years.  Then there was his called off wedding, the story behind this week’s Gem, “$1000 Wedding”, one of the best songs on ‘Grievous Angel’, which is full of great songs.   The lyrics switch from third person to first and back again, as if he could not accept the fact he was singing about himself.  It’s one of the few songs I know that is too personal for anyone to cover it appropriately, although Emmylou Harris does an amazing job backing up the vocals in this version.

There are plenty of great songs about love lost.  I was watching ‘Saving Private Ryan’ yet again the other night and the moments just before the German tanks role into the bombed out French village (as intense of a scene as any I’ve viewed in film), when the rag-tag group of soldiers are waiting for the inevitable.  One of them puts an Edith Piaf song on the phonograph and another interprets her French lyrics, which are of intense heartache.  More recent songs that come to mind: Richard and Linda Thompson ‘Withered and Died’ (an earlier Gem), The Beatles ‘Oh Darling’, The Pretenders, ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ (another Gem), Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’, Green Day ‘September Ends’, Dylan’s ‘Simple Twist of Fate, The Who ‘Don’t Let Go the Coat’, The Everly Brothers ‘Love Hurts’.  This Gem, however, takes the cake.

Gram Parsons favorite place was the 800,000 acre Joshua Tree National Park where the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts meet in Southeast California, and which is where Parsons ultimately passed on.  One location in Joshua Tree, Cap Rock, was a particularly fascinating place to him.  I had an opportunity to go there a number of years ago.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, many miles from the nearest anything, but naturally spectacular.  There’s a plaque there which reads “Gram Safe at Home”. 

Parsons was a compassionate soul, which can be heard in his music, but can also be seen in a letter he wrote to his lone sibling, Avis, written at the time of their mother’s death when Avis was being sent to boarding school against her will.  The letter was part of a short story of his life I read recently.  Here is an extract:  “The best thing we can do is learn from the past and live our lives the right way so, in time, when we can do something to change things, we will be real people.  Not sick or haunted by what life has done to us.  We have the advantage of seeing definite examples of what can happen when people permit life to tangle them so badly that there is no escape.  For us there is time – life can be real and beautiful if you build it that way honestly so there will be no lies or shadows to be afraid of later….it requires a lot of work, knowledge, and love”. 

It’s no wonder Keith Richards is renowned for his all-nighter lifestyle. With friends like Gram Parsons, there was much to hash out.

Now, the one problem with new music recommendations is that finding Gem Videos becomes all that more difficult.  This is particularly the case with Gram Parsons, as there is precious little footage of him, so this still-shot Gem of “$1000.00 Wedding” is all I have to offer.  To make up for the lack of video, I suggest the audio be played loudly.

Thanks again, Jeff. 

- Pete

“I hate to tell you how he acted when the news arrived
 He took some friends out drinking and it’s lucky they survived”

Gem Music Video: $1000 Dollar Wedding

About the Video: still shots with the studio version

Video Rating: 2 (although I can’t imagine there is a live recording of Parsons performing this song)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

GMVW # 65: "The True Spice of Life"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 65:  The True Spice of Life
Song:  Sweet Thing by Van Morrison
(Songwriter: Van Morrison)
April 2, 2009

Love can cause bizarre behavior in those afflicted.  Ladies can find themselves tagging along at motocross events, bowling matches and George Thorogood concerts.  Gents may catch themselves singing in the rain, attending an opera, or enjoying Styx music (yow!).  John Lennon was enamored for certain, and his music got softer and softer as he got older.  Although critical of McCartney’s “silly love songs”, toward the end of his life it was getting harder to distinguish Lennon’s music from that of his former songwriting partner.  Closer to home, I believe I’ve seen and heard it all, and have had the opportunity to commiserate with fellow smitten friends and family over the years.  Few moments or conversations can be more memorable than those focused on the true spice of life.

I believe music has always had love as a core theme.  In the late 60’s, however, many rock musicians prided themselves in broadening the horizons for what songs could be about.  They saw musicians from earlier genres as composing songs that were lyrically shallow, rarely expanding beyond the bounds of simple love songs.  From their perspective, the music of the late 60’s tore those walls down.  Songs were written about practically anything, including the key words that define the era:  Peace, protest, and non-conformity. 

Yet through that tumultuous period and beyond, the love song endured in rock music.  It had to.  I can’t think of a single songwriter I respect who has not produced at least one great love song.  In fact, I’m not sure it’s possible to have much talent in music without a core understanding of the main driving force behind it all and the ability to express it in song.  A small sample of great love songs and the artists who penned them include: “Allison” (Elvis Costello), “Love Reign O’er Me” (The Who), “Memory Motel” (The Rolling Stones), “Angelina” (Bob Dylan), “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen) , “Jealous Guy” (John Lennon), “Blue Sky” (The Allman Brothers), “Everyday Clothes” (Jonathan Richman), “Romeo and Juliet” (Dire Straits), “Dreams” (The Cranberries), “Because the Night” (Patti Smith), “A Little is Enough” (Pete Townshend), and “Come In From the Cold” (Joni Mitchell).

One musician from that 60’s era, who has rarely deviated from the love song, is Van Morrison.  In his music you can hear all of the different subjects a love song can be about.  The most obvious, of course are songs where the subject is a significant other, but Morrison sings with equal intensity on other subjects including God, family, friends, home, country, and music.  He even makes a compelling case for his love of water (“It Stoned Me”).  In these ways, his music is very much tied to the traditional music of his home country, Ireland. 

Van the Man’s music has seeped into my life frequently over the years.  Besides catching several of his concerts, two memories bear mention.  The first was already discussed last year around this time, as part of the story line for Gem Video # 14 (Nick Lowe’s “I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock n Roll”), so aside from a short intro below for the 2nd url link, I will leave it at that.  The second took place not long after Nancy gave birth to Charlotte.  I had to travel to Colorado for a week-long USGS meeting.  While out there, I took a sunset drive up to a natural amphitheater, Red Rocks, which is tucked in the foothills of the Rockies just west of Denver (this is the location of the famous live footage of U2 performing ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’). 

At the time, I was just getting into Morrison’s album, ‘Tupelo Honey’, and so I popped the cd into the rental car stereo.  A song came on half way through the album, ‘You’re My Woman’, which I had played several times before, but not yet really listened.  The song caught my ear this moment, however, in a big way.  I played it several more times on the way back out of the mountains that night and frequently over the following weeks.  ‘You’re My Woman’ is Van’s ode to his wife and also to all ‘our’ friends who ‘came through’ after his child’s birth.  It was right on in terms of how I experienced the big event.  Unfortunately, there is no video of this song (a limiting factor to Gem Videos), so those compelled can go out and track it down if they have not heard it before, or if you have the album ‘Tupelo Honey’ pop it on the stereo and forward to track 5.  Although primarily a song that brings Nancy to mind, it’s also a song that has me reflecting on all on this list, as everyone did indeed ‘come through’ the weeks after Charlotte’s birth.

Now, on to the Gem…. 

Well, as just explained, Gem’s of great songs can at times be hard to come by, particularly those of Van Morrison, because, as I discussed for an earlier Gem, he is constantly having his ‘gremlins’ removing his videos from the Web, claiming copyright infringement.  That’s ok, I guess….it fits his curmudgeon image (Morrison may write and sing great love songs, but his treatment of the media is another story, an artifact of his disdain for fame).  However, this past year, Van Morrison has been touring his best-ever album, 1968’s ‘Astral Weeks’.  Morrison has opened up a bit since he’s been on tour, and has allowed fans to view parts of his concerts on the web (the window may close soon, however, maybe even tonight).  Gem Video ‘Sweet Thing’ (the title refers to a feeling, not a person) is one of the best songs on the album, and a love song.  Morrison mumbles his way through half of it here (ala Bob Dylan’s approach to live singing in recent years), but the music is intense and includes several of the original musicians from the studio album.  To help translate, I’ve included a live Dylan version of the song… just kidding.  To help translate, I’ve included the lyrics to ‘Sweet Thing’, which can be found after the links.

The second link is also from the recent tour (though not on the ‘Astral Weeks’ album), “Have I Told You Lately?” which is about Morrison’s relationship with God and which was Nancy and my first dance song at our wedding.  I’ve shown this song before (the studio version in an original video), but this live version was hard to pass up.

With that, I wish Nancy a Very Happy Birthday (Saturday), which is what inspired this week’s Gem in the first place! 

-              Pete

Gem Music Video ‘Sweet Thing’ Live at the Hollywood Bowl

“Have I Told You Lately”

Lyrics to ‘Sweet Thing’. 

And I will stroll the merry way
And jump the hedges first
And I will drink the clear
Clean water for to quench my thirst
And I shall watch the ferry-boats
And theyll get high
On a bluer ocean
Against tomorrows sky
And I will never grow so old again
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain

Oh sweet thing, sweet thing
My, my, my, my, my sweet thing
And I shall drive my chariot
Down your streets and cry
hey, its me, Im dynamite
And I dont know why
And you shall take me strongly
In your arms again
And I will not remember
That I even felt the pain.
We shall walk and talk
In gardens all misty and wet with rain
And I will never, never, never
Grow so old again.

Oh sweet thing, sweet thing
My, my, my, my, my sweet thing
And I will raise my hand up
Into the night time sky
And count the stars
Thats shining in your eye
Just to dig it all an not to wonder
Thats just fine
And Ill be satisfied
Not to read in between the lines
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever
Grow so old again.
Oh sweet thing, sweet thing
Sugar-baby with your champagne eyes
And your saint-like smile....


About the video: Live show of Van Morrison performing the Astral Weeks album during a mini 2009 tour.  Likely, it was officially released by Van Morrison for viewing on YouTube.

Video Rating: 1

Best feedback:  Nancy

Hi Hon,
Just got a chance tonight to reach Gem #65.  I'm happy I was able to inspire you. Thanks again for all the birthday wishes. I LOVE all of our week-end (except barfing).  Love you!!


Also: Jen

A nice write-up, and a great Gem, Pete.



And: Tina
happy birthday, nancy. and pete, what a lovely gift.
celebrate well,
And Jack
Hi Pete:

  XX       Songs were written about practically anything, including the key words that define the era:  Peace, protest, and non-conformity.
The first song that came to my mind when I read your statement above was "Piggies" by George on the White Album.  :-)  I suspect it was this type of genre that inspired songs like "Tin Soldiers" by Neil Young!



Finally, an exchange between Tim Gilligan and I:

Tim # 1:

Thanks Tom  - good and interesting Gem write-up from Peter.  Just one further thing regarding the reference to Lennon's song style as time went on, with focus on his Beatles period....

If you look the last couple Beatles albums after the White Album ---- while keeping in mind Lennon's brilliance in writing fully half of the early and mid- Beatles' best melodic and/or innovative songs from '63 - '67 --- 1969/1970 was, in my opinion, the least creative Beatles period for Lennon especially (disintegration, really) possibly due to overuse of drugs affecting his work and possibly due to his not caring anymore (as he basically moved on by 1969).  The last couple albums (Abbey Road and Let It Be, if you want to call the second a real Beatles album) have very few Lennon gems, while in contrast most of 1964's "A Hard Day's Night" album was written by Lennon, including "If I Fell", "I'll Be Back", "I Should Have Known Better" - songs that, despite Lennon's media-manufactured reputation as a different kind of songwriter than McCartney, are hallmark early-Beatles melodies. Also, on Rubber Soul (1965) Lennon wrote a majority of the best songs .  After Rubber Soul, however, McCartney would pretty consistently write at least 50% of the best songs on any given album.

In any case, I think it's basically a media-calculated myth that Lennon wrote less melodic stuff but was more innovative than McCartney - if you look at the overall catalog of who wrote what below you have to say that the synthesis of McCartney and Lennon in the Beatles is unusual in songwriting history in that you had a truly non-lopsided songwriting partnership --- in most if not all other groups, one guy is clearly the better songwriter, but not so with Lennon-McCartney
They both had their own melodic styles to some degree, but both were phenomenal at writing simple beautiful melodies as well as complex innovative masterpieces:

My reply # 1


Thanks for the feedback.  I would have to agree with most of the 'whowrotethat' comments.  No doubt, it's McCartney who penned some of the best material on the last 3 Beatles albums (White, Let It Be,

Abbey Road
).  Several of my favorite Beatles songs during this period are McCartney's:  'Martha My Dear', 'Oh Darling' and much of the side-2 'medley' on Abbey Road (an aside on 'Oh Darling':  McCartney wanted a rough vocal, and Lennon offered, but McCartney decided to do it, stretching out his vocal chords by singing ceaselessly for days > I used to think it was Lennon singing). 

However, this Beatles period ('68, '69) kind of fits my discussion of a Gem a few weeks ago about depth vs breadth (Gem = Dire Straits 'Skateaway').  McCartney needed Lennon more than the other way around.  Lennon added the depth to the Beatles (where McCartney supplied the breadth), and this took them into some strange territory.  But it is what made the Beatles fascinating.  If the Beatles were all hits in the late 60's, they would not have connected with the counter culture like they did.  Dylan, and to a lesser degree, The Who, The Stones and others would have left them in the dust. The article was right, however.  Lennon was souring on the Beatles in 1969 and took it out on them (bickering) and himself (drugs).  Immediately after the Beatles broke up, Lennon released 2 of his best ever albums, 'Plastic Ono Band' and 'Imagine'.  He was ready to move on.

This week's comments about Lennon for the Gem video, I was referring primarily to his last 2 albums ('Double Fantasy' and the posthumous 'Milk and Honey')

- Pete
Tim # 2

Hi Pete and Tom,

     My own comments, actually - glad you agree with most of it - I forgot that italics + reference usually means attribution to the reference source, while I wrote w/italics for effect only.

     The 'whowrotethat' link is decent, but has some oversimplifications in the list, like attributing A Day In the Life (the main melody/body of this song was [in this case obviously] Lennon's) to both Lennon and McCartney (McCartney having written middle bridge section).  I referenced that website link as I'd remembered seeing the list one time when searching for which Beatle wrote which song, and had found the site before - but as you'll see from other pages on the website, some of the guy's articles seem as though they were copy-pasted from papers for a grade school class.

     I agree with you on excellence of 'Martha My Dear' (one of the best of several great ones by all three major Beatles songwriters on the White Album) and on the excellence of McCartney's

Abbey Road
medley - the latter sounds in a sense like it's the Beatles' farewell.  Regarding Lennon's early and late solo work - while I don't know all of Lennon's '70's stuff, based on what I do know, your assessment of mood/style in his first solo albums vs. his last ones is right.  First time I actually got to hear much of Lennon's '70's work was on a CD at the library music center at the school where I did my Masters, I listened while I worked through some boring math problems and it kept things interesting. 

     Agree with you also on the depth/breadth comparison - for example, I don't think anyone but Lennon could have written the essence of the last song to the Sgt. Pepper's album, a song that makes the album not merely a great collection of songs but rather a complete masterpiece. The song 'Rain' is another innovative mid-Beatles Lennon song (though melodically simple when compared to even many of his early songs) - but then, the songs 'Rain' and 'Paperback Writer' are Lennon and McCartney respectively but in fact are actually extremely similar songs, really --- which makes one wonder if the two writers wrote the songs as contrasting styles for the same basic melody just for experimentation.  They even sing the song 'Frere Jacques' in the background on Paperback Writer, perhaps a musical joke by them that these two songs are actually based on that.

Years ago, I received as a Christmas present a book called The Beatles Recording Sessions - The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes by a guy named Mark Lewisohn (who, I think, is considered the authority on the Beatles) -the book has day-by-day recording session notes/descriptions of what went on (it's a cool rainy-Saturday afternoon book).  It has 1962-1970 session listings of songs worked on, along with which takes of which songs took place each day, and it gives a pretty thorough attribution for who wrote what.  Reading this was a revelation as I didn't grow up in an era that emphasized the Beatles other than superficially, and as a result I had always heard the whole 'Lennon wrote Strawberry Fields, McCartney wrote Yesterday' typecast of them, so I was pretty surprised when I read Lewisohn's work and saw the variety of songs written by both/either Lennon and/or McCartney (with fair regard to Harrison as well of course (in reference to your latest mails)  Lennon himself said that Harrison's 'Something' was the best single song on Abbey Road).  Also read about how much pioneering studio engineering the Beatles, George Martin and their engineers did at - of course - none other than
Abbey Road
Studios itself.

My reply # 2:


Very nice.  I like these thoughts, particularly the idea of the
Abbey Road
medley sounding like a Beatles farewell.  It certainly does sound that way, and it goes far beyond the closing lyrics (" and in the end.....").  Everything from "Because" to the closing notes sounds like a goodbye, and done in an amazingly classy way.

Funny, I think that some of Lennon's best songs near the end of the Beatles were on singles that did not make albums: "All You Need is Love", "Ballad of John and Yoko", "Baby You're a Rich Man" (the last of which can truly be attributed to both Lennon and McCartney).  As for the late albums, my fav Lennon songs are 'I'm so Tired', 'Dear Prudence', and 'Across the Universe'.

Lewishon's book sounds intriguing.  My favorite Beatles read is the Anthology book.  One comment, by George about John, has always stuck with me.  Fair or not (to Paul), he discusses the post-acid trip period ('67) thusly:

"John and I had a very interesting relationship.  That I was younger or I was smaller was no longer any embarrassment with John.  Paul still says 'I suppose we looked down on George because he was younger', That is an illusion people are under.  It's nothing to do with how many years old you are or how big your body is.  It's down to what your greater consciousness is and if you can live in harmony with what's going on in creation.  John and I spent a lot of time together from then on and I felt closer to him than all the other, right through until his death.  As Yoko came into the picture, I lost a lot of personal contact with John, but on the odd occasion I did see him, just by the look in his eyes I felt we were connected."

-       Pete
Tom interjecting his thoughts:

Very interesting exchanges guys - I enjoyed them a lot, and must admit that while other groups just copied sounds from eachother John, Paul & George marched to unique drummers that trailblazed Rock and Melody music into whole new paths leading up to what we have today.  Jeff Beck just got inducted into the R&RHofFame this weekend, and his good friend Jimmy Page was there to tell of his tremendous influence on millions who now understand so much better, thanks to Jeff, what an electric guitar can do.  So those trailblazers are few and far between - and there will likely never be another band with so much creative talent together again, as The Beatles ... for sure.

Back to cold again - brrrrr ....

My reply # 3 ** after a few disconnected exchnges **


Don't get the Anthology book.... you can borrow mine for as long as you like.  I will get it to you somehow.

Yes, Jeff Beck was also inducted as a member of the Yardbirds.  A number of musicians have gotten in twice, including the 3 key songwriting Beatles (with the group and as solo artists).  I'm still waiting for Pete Townshend to get in as a solo artist.  He deserves it.  I plan on doing a Gem on the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, as I have a (hopefully) interesting take on it.  Tom, the 3rd member of Cream was Jack Bruce, bassist and primary singer.

Yes, the mid-period Beatles surely rival the late-period Beatles.  Revolver was the first album I really enjoyed as an album and not just a collection of songs.

Back to the White Album.  I just did a quick wiki on it and clicked on the link to what I thought was the most underrated song on the album, Harrison's 'Long, Long, Long'.  I thought I was alone in this thought, but I was amazed what I read:,_Long,_Long

- Pete
Tim # 3

Thanks Peter - would love to see Anthology book some time, maybe summer, no rush.

On the Rock Hall of Fame - isn't that the institution that won't give an award to Hall & Oates? Even if it's not one's favorite music - this seems odd.

Like Long, Long, Long --- as with

Abbey Road
, George Harrison ended up being on a par with others in producing excellent songs for the last couple of albums (not counting Let It Be, again though it has excellent songs).  They say timing was a lot - All Things Must Pass was hailed as a great album as Harrison's first solo effort, some say the best first solo effort of the four Beatles.  In the case of McCartney, he actually could have released the Abbey Road Medley as part of his own first album McCartney and thus been the solo artist frontrunner for sure, but he didn't.  Also could have taken some beautiful songs he wrote for other groups and artists like Mary Hopkins and done them as part of his first solo album.
My reply # 4

I'm not sure about McCartney releasing something like the  medley on his own.  I think it's a lot more complicated than assuming he was creatively independent in the medley
endeavor.  If that was the case, why did he never release anything as good in all his solo efforts?  John,
George and Ringo were still brining out the best in him, and the guitars and backing vocals were absolutely essential to the elite album status of

Abbey Road

George on the other hand, proved he was being creatively restrained in the Beatles when he released 'All Things Must Pass'.  John just wanted out.  He was creatively restrained in a different way, which he proved with the albums 'Plastic Ono Band' and 'Imagine'.
 Paul did release a great solo album effort out of the gate as well, 'Ram'. It's not in the same league with the
Abbey Road
medley (or John & George's first solo efforts), but it's darn good. 
As for Hall & Oates, I can't go there.
 - Pete
Tim # 4
 Hi Pete,

This brings up a great point that is one of the central ones for songs & music - what is the source of creativity?  In an interview just after the Beatles, Lennon says the Beatles were a place where he just lost himself to some degree, that he knew he was a genius when he was very young, that he used to 'alpha-out' all the time when he was young, and why wasn't it recognized in school, something to that effect.  I certainly don't think that the source of musical creativity is just musical competence - there are plenty of musicians in local community orchestras with better playing abilities than all of the Beatles - but they will not [and probably can't] write an Abbey Road, a Rubber Soul, a Revolver, a White Album, a Schumann song, a Beethoven, Moody Blues or Mozart piece.  Why didn't McCartney while solo write a 'For No One' again, or an 'Eleanor Rigby' again? 'Another Day' from his solo time is more his Beatles style than most of his later hits though - and I don't know all of his songs to say if I'm completely right on this. Then again, why didn't Lennon write more songs like 'No Reply', 'Girl', or  'Nowhere Man'?  'Watching the Wheels' is definitely a Beatles-level Lennon song though.  Maybe it was just because of what he and they chose to focus on.  Maybe the Beatles were simply best being around each other with George Martin as a sort of father bringing it all together.  A great approximate quote-of-a-quote from George Martin in the studio book I mentioned:
 'There will be one Beatle there, fine.  Two Beatles, great.  Three Beatles, fantastic.  But the minute the four of them are there that is when the inexplicable charismatic thing happens, the special magic no one has been able to explain.  It will be very friendly between you and them but you'll be aware of this inexplicable presence.'....[the engineer quoting George Martin also said] "I've never felt it in any other circumstances, it was the special chemistry of the four of them which nobody since has ever had."
 The 'alpha-out' thing Lennon mentioned happens to many --- you can just sit down at the piano, zone out and play a melody that just came to you out of nowhere.  McCartney said he really wrote the song 'Martha My Dear' to his muse, 'the voice in his head telling him what words and music to write'.   Also, people can write differently, when deliberately writing a song, depending on what instrument they use - McCartney said this himself about when he's trying to write a song with piano vs. guitar.  I think the creativity part is spiritually linked to some degree, otherwise numerous too-mathematical musical types would be writing many great Beatles-level songs today (they're clearly not if there's any connection with what's on the radio).
It may also be a question of one's mood and how time is spent.  Maybe the process of actually showing up at the studio or other places with Lennon and bouncing off song ideas is not to be underestimated.
My reply # 5

Now that's what I call a Gem reply!  Great stuff, Tim.  A few thoughts:
 Spiritual link, yes.  Certainly George. At the very least, a different set of priorities. Recall, the Beatles invested their fortunes in the new Apple label in the mid-late 60's.  They were all on board with this, and lost their shirts supporting new talent (including James Taylor) and an Apple Productions payroll that was bloated beyond belief (hangers on).  They were not thinking about the money until the split.  Brian Epstein had a role along with George Martin as a father type.  Lennon has commented that once Epstein died (in '67?) it was the beginning of the end.
After discussing George, John, and Paul's solo debut's it occurred to me that in each case, the debut album may have been the best from each of them.  Certainly Harrison never release another 'All Things Must Pass' level of album.  Interesting, particularly after reading some of what you say below. I'm thinking part of it had to do with connecting with their own eccentricities.  They had already established themselves, so they had nothing to prove after the release of their first set of solo albums.

You zeroed in on Watching the Wheels.  I can tell you have a good taste in Beatles/post Beatles music after these exchanges.
 I like your comment on the local community orchestas... well put.

This all started as a reply to Gem # 65.  I recommend you get the Van Morrison 'Astral Weeks' album.  I believe you will like it.

Happy Easter

- Pete
Tim # 5

Hi Pete,

Thanks for the compliment!  Reading your articles is great too, and whereI have knowledge I enjoy commenting where I can.  I will definitely check out Astral Weeks....Van Morrison is truly a guy in the pantheon of modern songwriters.  He's an internationally renowned musician's musician/writer, which is probably why the oft superficial radio failed to play a lot more than just his (hit classic) most famous songs when I was growing up - just like they pretty much never played the Beatles songs I really like the most and which I only heard much later.

Now to your points - a) agreed, George was clearly the most spiritual of the Beatles, and he seemed to have an inner peace about him that related to this - which most other famous musicians certainly didn't seem to have.  Re: creativity and Beatles vs. post Beatles, I think you're right, priorities changed, which is all that needs to happen for these guys to get in a different vein of thinking and therefore songwriting.

b) I read that Lennon called Epstein the fifth Beatle - this may very well have been the case, that maybe their success on many levels owed a great deal to him.  Regardless of the Beatles' individual talents, one has to say that they were at a minimum luckier than average to have such highly intelligent managers and producers working with them, people who could perhaps as easily have worked with Rodgers and Hammerstein as the Beatles.

c) I think you may be right about debuts if you include 'Ram' as a debut - and I'm sure they all felt the need to move on with other life priorities, that the Beatles was in a sense like a suspended adolescence for them in that they probably never had to wake up in the morning and think about what tasks they needed to get done - other than music it was probably pretty much taken care of for them.

d) and e) Thanks - I've gleaned your good taste in theirs and others' music from the emails as well -  also I'll have to listen to more of Harrison's and the others' stuff to hear some of the things I haven't and be able to form a better opinion about their 70's work.  As for the community orchestras comment - I think what I said is correct insofar as sightreading and stuff like that is concerned (virtuoso-type stuff) , but for playing and on-the-spot song creation, unique style of playing, improvisation and just enjoyable sound maybe I stretched it a little, probably not many as good as the four Beatles together - thanks for generosity in not noting that.