Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rock of Ages: Lou Reed - "Perfect Day" (1972)

I got ahead of myself with Stevie and 1973. There are a few more key tracks from '72 that need discussion. Lou Reed moved on from the Velvets to a very strange and varied career with sounds ranging from noise experiments to awkward punk rock. His 1972 album Transformer is a glam rock masterpiece. Much in the vein of some songs off of VU's Loaded, Transformer is much more pop oriented than some other Lou Reed efforts. Songs like "Satellite of Love" and "Walk on the Wild Side" are perfect pieces of pop rock mastery. It helped that David Bowie and Mick Ronson helmed the production of the record. The B-Side to "Walk on the Wild Side" is one of Reed's finest compositions, "Perfect Day." What sounds like a cliche and mundane lyrical balladry of a day spent with one's love comes off more like a strung out addict knowing that the life outside is sometimes hard to deal with without the help of drugs. Lord knows Lou Reed had his fair share of hard times battling with heroin, but "Perfect Day" is guised in lush orhcestration and beautiful imagery, then shadoweded with lines like "I thought I was someone else, someone good." Reality sets in sometimes.

Lou Reed's career is interesting to say the least. "Perfect Day" is a beautiful song and is a fantastic metaphor for the false security of drug use. Lou's guitar playing is usually a standout of most of the tracks on this album, but not here. Here we get pure, unadulturated Lou on vocals with sweeping piano and an orchestra to back up his frail and weak vocal performance that only soars during the choruses. It's a fantastic piece of music and a brilliant work of pop artistry from one of the fringe's best performers. Transformer is an album that exudes sheer pop mastery but is still enshrouded in mystery and intrigue. "Perfect Day" is a great example of this mixture of art and entertainment.

Up Next: Big Star influences the likes of Teenage Fanclub and Elliot Smith with this next track

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rock of Ages: Stevie Wonder - "Living For the City" (1973)

Stevie Wonder is a man of many sounds. From his early, more cookie cutter Motown sound as a child genius, to his late 60's early 70's funk high period to his more mellow adult contemporary sounds that he would alter morph into, Stevie has kept us guessing. The man is nothing short of a genius and on his crowning achievement, 1973's Innervisions, we get his best collection of tracks. "Higher Ground" or "He's Misstra Know It All" are standards as is this selection for the Rock of Ages mission. "Living for the City" is Stevie Wonder's finest musical acheivment filled with anger, frustration and desperation. With great help from Stevie's best instrument of the time, the synthesizer, we get a pulsating and scathing social commentary about the harsh realities of a still brewing Civil Rights conflict. The story shows a boy raised in the hateful South saving his dues and moving to the city only to find the same hatred and injustice. The music mirrors this perfectly with a brooding synth line that is accentuated by Stevie's voice.

Stevie Wonder is one of the best artists to come out of the Motown factory and it was in Innervisions that he really stretched his writing chops. "Living For the City" is still a pertinent social commentary. Wonder's gruff growl at the end shows desperation and fatigue for a struggle that has gone on too long and even today still goes on. Beyond that, the song is a powerful anthem with an intense musical structure that just plain rocks. This is Stevie's most powerful song by far.

Up Next: Lou Reed sums up a "Perfect Day"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rock of Ages: Deep Purple - "Highway Star" (1972)

Deep Purple has some of the most memorable riffs in hard rock history. The first riff many learn to play on the guitar is "Smoke on the Water." The howling wolf before "Hush" into the bombastic chugging guitars is easily one of the most recognizable rock songs ever. For me, the most kick ass Deep Purple track lies in 1972's lead-off track from Machine Head, "Highway Star." Thanks to Rock Band, new generations are learning of the monumental awesomeness of this song. The song is pretty straightforward. A testosterokk anthem about cars and girls and euphemisms for sex left and right. Ian Gillan, vocalist and underrated rock front man, blasts into the song with one of the most impressive salvos of rock screaming I've ever heard and his bravado does not let up throughout the song. Ritchie Blackmore's guitar work is furious and steady until the massive solo in the last bridge that just takes you to a new level of awesomeness. This is 1972, before the bombast of 70s metal and 80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal that would have these solos. This is the stuff that metal heads emulated and still do to this day.

Deep Purple is one of those bands that I just love. Everything they have recorded for the most part just plain rocks. I also love them because I feel like their back catalog, which you never hear on popular rock radio, is like a treasure trove of amazing rock anthems that don't get ruined by overexposure. Only a few of their songs get airplay anymore, and while that is a sin, it's a blessing. "Highway Star" doesn't get overplayed like many other classic rock anthems like it. This keeps it fresh and awesome every time I hear it. An epic rock anthem that is timeless and bold never gets old and "Highway Star" is just that.

Up Next: Stevie Wonder's anthem about inner city pressure

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rock of Ages: Faces - "Stay With Me" (1971)

Fact: I hate Rod Stewart's solo music. Almost with a feverish passion.

Fact: I love the Faces. With a feverish passion

I don't really get why, but something about the cocky bar blues rock of the Faces and the swagger of Rod Stewart work well together. The boogie organ sounds, the swarthy vocalizations and the mean guitar rock that drive the Faces is something to rock to. Driving down to the shore, relaxing on a summer day or just partying in your apartment is greatly enhanced by their sound. Their 1971 album A Nod is As Good As A Wink... to a Blind Horse may be a long title, but is a masterpiece of bar band music. The Faces magnum opus, "Stay With Me" is the epitome of rock and roll. A fast intro gives way to a bluesy riff and lyrics of sexual abandon... literally. Rod Stewart begs his woman to "stay with me" but only to use her and let her walk away the next day. "You best be gone when I wake up" is one of the most rock and roll things ever sung into the mic. Stewart's unabashed rasp demands attention.

The real kicker for this song is for the intense pace the Faces keep up with each other. Blasting forth at the beginning and end with crazy rock speed just electrifies the song. Ron Wood, who would later join The Stones shows off big time his ability as a rock guitarist. Ronnie Lane's bass fireworks also showcase some of the most intriguing rhythm elements, complimented by the drumming of Kenney Jones. Rod Stewart soars with the Faces and its enough to make me love him just enough, even if I hate pretty much everything else he's ever done. I like real rock and roll and "Stay With Me" is one of those rock songs that just oozes honesty, even if the subject matter is a little harsh to the woman at the brunt of the rock star ethos that lies within.

Up Next: Deep Purple blisters down the highway