Monday, March 30, 2009

Rock of Ages: T.Rex - "Jeepster" (1971)

Marc Bolan is the high priest of glam rock. Taking the garage rockers out of the garage and sparkling them up was his game and with T.Rex, he created some of the greatest glam tunes of all time. This was before Ziggy Stardust, Roxy Music and the renaissance of Mott the Hoople. It's gritty and raw glitter music. 1971's Electric Warrior is an unsung hero in the rock and roll lexicon. With T.Rex's biggest hit "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" not much else is heard off of this amazing album. Where Marc Bolan shines is in his spastic and intriguing lyrics. The sexy, glam rock anthem "Jeepster" is where we find the best foray into the garage sound mixed with the wacky and sensual lyrics of Bolan and some of his best guitar work. The groove is otherworldly yet based in a basic blues structure. Even the lyrical structure is classicaly blues, but Bolan's penchant for glam and his lyrical craziness brings a fresh element to the table. Take this verse for example:

Just like a car
You're pleasing to behold
I'll call you Jag
If I may be so bold"

Bolan was a space aged, garage rocker. His songwriting ability and his sty
le would go on to influence an era, short lived, of great glam rockers. From Bowie to Roxy Music to Mott the Hoople, would come along and expound upon his druggy, gritty guitar stylings and zany and sexual lyrics. Bolan had a short lived career. He died in a car accident at a young age. T. Rex only ever received moderate world fame which is a shame as the band is easily one of the best of the classic rock eras and is sadly forgotten sometimes. "Jeepster" recently was used in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. His style is still emulated and I swear to Jesus that Alison Goldfrapp is Marc Bolan's soul reincarnated (well at least on the Supernatural album.) Her song "Satin Chic" is so T.Rex it hurts. It's good to see the glam rock style still holds up as it's definitely one of the most fun rock styles around.

Up Next: The Temptations dream of love

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rock of Ages: Don McLean - "American Pie" (1971)

Music changed leaps and bounds from February 3, 1959, The Day the Music Died, to 1971 when Don McLean released his song "American Pie." The world changed leaps and bounds. The 60's made everything different. The spirit of rock and roll went from a hated by parents art form to a sound of revolution to a paranoid statement of the times. One thing is certain, the music definitely didn't die. What died was the innocence and the masquerading of the 50's. Don McLean's fantastic folk rock epic is a poetic litany of what happened from 1959 to 1970. Vague references to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, the Hell's Angels, Charles Manson and Vladimir Lenin can be found in the song showing the difference in rock music, the end of the flower era and other paranoid events of the time (the communist threat, the Manson murders, etc.) The song became a huge hit and at eight minutes, that was a pretty intense feat to overcome. What makes "American Pie" so great is the honesty of the song. Don McLean is a forgotten poet pf the times. Just as good a songwriter as Paul Simon or Cat Stevens, McLean could weave a narrative just as well as the lot of them.

Don McLean is a family favorite. All his songs, from "Vincent" to "Empty Chairs,"are beautifully and simply played on acoustic guitars. "American Pie" has a great backing band with lots of piano and a rollicking rhythm, much in the vein of the eras greats that the song is an ode to. No matter how much I hear this track, I get teary eyed. It's a song of a simpler time trying to shine through a darker one. It's truly a beautiful song. McLean's voice is sweet and emotional and really hits the heart strings. You feel he really was devastated by the loss of one of his heroes and one of rocks greats. And although rock and roll music may have just been some sort of entertainment, it's a connection to the stars and to the artists who create great music that makes the loss of them so hard. "American Pie" is a perfect ode to a lost age.

Up Next: Marc Bolan sees the universe reclining in your hair

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rock of Ages: James Brown - "Get Up I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine" (1970)

The godfather of soul. Without Mr. James Brown, many a funk, soul and R&B artist would not sound the way they do. His career in the 60's was fantastic with such hits as "Night Train" and "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" are classics. For my dollar, it all came to a pinnacle in 1970 with the release of the live album Sex Machine that Brown brought the raw sexual power and ultimately fantastic catchy beat with his sprawling song "Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine." The precursor to sub genres of funk are laid in this foundation. This track was the introduction of sorts of Bootsy and Catfish Collins as well as the awesome call response that we'd see in go-go music as well as hip-hop. For the first time in a while, a song that is basically completely static comes along and shows how with one catchy riff and an explosive and dynamic lead vocal, you can keep people coming back for more.

It's really all about Mr. James Brown here. Nothing else can compare to the power he brings to the microphone. Without this bravado, the styles of Michael Jackson or even Iggy Pop may not have come about. James Brown flourished in the live forum and even on the Sex Machine record, we get a sense of this visceral performance. Having been in a local band, I found out how important it was when the only thing you have between yourself and the audience is your microphone that your body became your instrument. James Brown made it cool to flail onstage and get up (get on up) and allow his sexual energy transform into showmanship. And this never infringed on his singing. He would get tired, but the panting and primal rhythmic nature of his vocal performances allowed this. Truly riveting.

Up Next: 1971 begins with an ode to The Day the Music Died (all you naysayers, shut your mouth.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Velvet Underground - "Sweet Jane" (1970)

It was the end of The Velvet Underground. The final album Loaded seemed less like a Velvets album and more like Lou Reed's first foray into his solo career. Mo Tucker wasn't on the recordings and the music is mainly credited to Lou Reed at this point in time. That being said, Loaded is the most accessible Velvet Underground record and a fantastic piece of pop musicianship. From start to finish, the album is chock full of catchy songs that are less dark and introspective than past VU material. It's refreshing. One classic stands out, especially in the unedited original studio version. And that track is "Sweet Jane." The track is signature Reed with a simple guitar progression that is easy to play along with and Reed's psuedo-singing. His interjections and swooning warble are at an all time best here with adding great accents to the song. The bridge of the song jumps into an amazing "la-la-la" breakdown and by the end, everyone is wailing "Sweet Jaaaane!" along with Reed.

I used to think this was the best introduction to The Velvet Underground. It truly isn't only because the rest of their work is much darker and harsher. However, I feel that those songs don't have the same kind of "anytime" connection that "Sweet Jane" does. In that respect, it makes it a great song. A perfect piece of pop music. Sadly at this time, John Cale was no longer in the Velvets, persuing his own solo career and released his first album, Vintage Violence, in the same year (more on John Cale in 1973.) His songwriting and style is definitely missed on Loaded, but in the same respect this showed the kind of awesome heights that Lou Reed would take in his own career (more on Lou Reed in 1972.) "Sweet Jane" is an adult campfire song where anyone can grab an acoustic guitar and singalong. There aren't many VU songs that could be described as singalongs, but "Sweet Jane" is far and away the only one. And, for my dollar, to it's advantage. Their days of art rock were done, but they proved at the end that they new how to rock and still be different.

Up Next: James Brown is ready to do his thang

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rock of Ages: Tim Buckley - "Song to the Siren" (1970)

Tim Buckley was ahead of his time. His style was unlike any other folk artist at the time. He incorporated jazz, funk, R&B into the avante garde and made it accessible. Almost like Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, Tim Buckley crafted a fantastic mixture of classic folk and interesting arrangments. That being said, his finest song comes in the form of a very stripped down and ehtereal track. A love song that floats upon the oceans and to the hearts of lovers all over. "Song to the Siren" is a gorgeous track that appears on Buckley's finest record Starsailor. Moderately arranged with swooning vocals, both his lead and the back-up vocals that peirce in and out, as well as sparse guitars emote a feeling of desperate longing. It's a gorgeous song that drips with beauty. The lyrics are romantic. A choice line:

"I'm as puzzled as a newborn child.
I'm as riddled as the tide.
Should I stand amid the breakers?
Or shall I lie with death my bride?
Here me sing: Swim to me, swim to me,
Let me enfold you.
Here I am, Here I am, waiting to hold you."

Originally I knew of this song through the This Mortal Coil version which has appeared in various movies and TV shows. David Lynch has said that it's his favorite song of all time. Originally, that version was my favorite. But what comes out as more striking in the original version is the vast emptiness in between the singing and the music. It's the "shipless ocean" where there is nothing around except the song of the siren calling you. Sadly, Tim Buckley would die young leaving his wife and child behind. That child would go on to write amazing music and also pass young. Tim Buckley is a musical legacy much forgotten, but his songs and albums are treasures. "Song to the Siren" being the crowned jewel. Not only could Tim sing beautifully, his musicianship and producing skills were incredible. A true assest to the early psych folk movement and someone to be honored and remembered for his vast talents.

Editors Note: It was hard to find a video with the actual song. Sucks. Nims Island will hafta do. Play the video and close your eyes.

Up Next: The Kinks song of unlikely companionship

Rock of Ages: McCartney - "Maybe I'm Amazed"; Harrison - "Beware of Darkness"; Lennon - "God"; (1970)

After the Beatles broke up, a fountain of music exploded from the three main songwriters minds. We got three great albums filled with songs from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison (whose album was three LP's long!) Beatles fans should have shut up since now they were getting more great material from their favorite artists, just separately. Let's take a look at three different, but ultimately great tracks.

First released out of the gate was Paul McCartney's first self titled release. It is a collection of collected home recordings and some other more well produced nuggets of personal pop glory. It's not the most memorable posthumous Beatles release for McCartney (that would either be Wings' Band on the Run or McCartney's second solo effort in '71 Ram.) On this record, McCartney writes easily his greatest love song to date in "Maybe I'm Amazed." Lyricaly simple and honest, McCartney shows how he's amazed at the dedication of his love and questions his own ability to return the deep love he is shown. The song was a dedication to Linda McCartney who helped him during the Beatles break-up. Musically, it's a simple song and on this recording, McCartney plays all instruments himself. The song is beautiful and simple thus making it memorable. McCartney would release a live version as a single in '77 and many other artists would interpret this great love song.

George Harrison would be the next Beatle to release a solo effort and it is easily my favorite of the three. All Things Must Pass is a collection of songs that were shelved due to contractual obligations that Harrison was only alloted one song per side of an LP during the Beatles career. The album is exploding with greatness. Signature Harrison spirituality with a slew of guest stars (Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, John Lennon, Phil Collins, Ginger Baker, Ringo Starr and Badfinger to name a few... oh and Phil Spector produced.) My personal favorite track is "Beware of Darkness." It's a cautionary tale to those in search for happiness and enlightenment that pain and suffering is all around. However, it's a message of hope to look past the "greedy leaders" and "soft shoe shufflers" that fill this world with greed. It's also a gorgeous composition with some great guitar work and very deep, lush and sweeping waves of sound. A poetic delight from the most contemplative and deepest Beatle.

Finally near the tail end of 1970, John Lennon released his amazingly deep and personal album. Lennon was trying to excise his demons with his first solo run. The album is very stirpped down and bare, quite like McCartney's, but rather a collection of collected brain musings, Lennon rips his soul out through Plastic Ono Band. Specifically heartbreaking and introspective is Lennon's song "God." Musically, the song has gorgeous piano chords during the main verse that turns into an chreschendo of emotions in the mid section bridge that builds and builds as the pain of politics, religion and his own career are washed aside for what he really needs to believe in: himself and his love. His vocals are angry and melancholy during the bridge and then reflective yet optimistic by the end. Such straightforward soul searching is rarely felt on record, especially coming from one of the members of the biggest pop band to ever record music. It's an astonishing acheivment.

Up Next: Tim Buckley crafts an ethereal love song

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rock of Ages: Led Zeppelin - "Since I've Been Loving You" (1970)

Every teenager that doesn't go through a heavy punk rock phase goes through a phase where they discover Led Zeppelin. They see the electric blues band as a God. And rightfully so as they are easily one of the greatest hard rock bands to walk this great planet. Everything about them is rock and roll. This is another band where one song won't do any justice, but alas the format of this list only allows it. Led Zep's third LP is by far my favorite. They are at their bluesy best with a range of songs and on the epic classic blues track "Since I've Been Loving You" they pour every ounce of their angst, their raw power and their ability into a 7 minute blues anthem. It takes every convention of classic blues songs and bends and expands them into bombastic proportions. This is the song where Jimmy Page stands atop the mountian of rock gods and says "I am the man." It's the track where I find Robert Plant at his most primordial dripping every ounce of his being into this song. JPJ and Bohnahm are the skeleton of this song laying a heavy foundation for Jimmy Page to play his leads on.

Led Zeppelin is the band every rocker kid wants to aspire to be. Four guys creating this kind of muscular blues is about as manly as it gets, but a song like this shows that even with this uch testosterone flowing through the riffs, the pounding drums and the angry wails of a banshee, that every man can get his heart torn to shreds. "Since I've Been Loving You" is probably the greatest electric blues song written. Keeping as true to the blues whilst amplifying it to bone crushing size is a feat that only a few bands of this era were ever capable of acheiving and none other ever to this height of mastery. The Zep went on to write some more of these amazing anthems, although the straight blues would morph into the standard of Classic Rock with the forthcoming records. As far as blues rock giants go, this is the biggest and the best and it's an unforgettable track, even when your Led Zeppelin phase fades into your high school yearbook.

Up Next: The Beatles are Back? This time on their own. One post, three songs. BAM!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rock of Ages: Nick Drake - "Things Behind the Sun" (1970)

Nick Drake is the melancholy Bob Dylan. He has a very distinct voice that makes him stick out among many other singer/songwriters. His haunting yet beautiful moan sweeps over his utterly transcendent guitar playing on every track. On his final album Pink Moon, this is all we get. Guitar, vocals, the occasional embellishment from some piano and Drake's signature elegiac lyrics. Drake's most melancholy and beautiful poem comes in the form of his track "Things Behind the Sun." Drake's lyrics in this beautifully somber song have a very poetic structure. Each line has an intricate rhyme scheme. The lyrics sweep in and out on the vessel of Drake's sleepy and deep voice. It adds an element of dark beauty to an already haunting song. Equally intricate is Drake's wonderful guitar work. His guitars are always tuned in strange ways and they elicit these emotional unique chords that compliment his song writing style.

Nick Drake's whole final album is set up this way, but "Things Behind the Sun" is definitely a masterwork. To finish up this write up, which is short but sweet, I leave you with the words of this wonderful tune.

Please beware of them that stare
They'll only smile to see you while
Your time away
And once you've seen what they have been
To win the earth just won't seem worth
Your night or your day
Who'll hear what I say.
Look around you find the ground
Is not so far from where you are
Don´t too wise
For down below they never grow
They're always tired and charms are hired
From out of their eyes
Never surprise.

Take your time and you'll be fine
And say a prayer for people there
Who live on the floor
And if you see what's meant to be
Don't name the day or try to say
It happened before.

Don't be shy you learn to fly
And see the sun when day is done
If only you see
Just what you are beneath a star
That came to stay one rainy day
In autumn for free
Yes, be what you'll be.
Please beware of them that stare
They'll only smile to see you while
Your time away
And once you've seen what they have been
To win the earth just won't seem worth
Your night or your day
Who'll hear what I say.

Open up the broken cup
Let goodly sin and sunshine in
Yes that's today.
And open wide the hymns you hide
You find reknown while people frown
At things that you say
But say what you'll say
About the farmers and the fun
And the things behind the sun
And the people round your head
Who say everything's been said
And the movement in your brain
Sends you out into the rain.

Up Next: Led Zeppelin's Epic Electric Blues Track

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rock of Ages: Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Ramble Tamble" (1970)

Creedence to me is one of the single greatest rock entities to come from the USA in the late 60's. Most acts that I truly love are Brit Invasion bands, but CCR stood high as creators of truly perfect pop music that was not compromised by it's signature sound. In 1970, the released two stellar albums and hit their peak with Cosmo's Factory. The album housed such hits as "Run Through the Jungle," "Up Around the Bend" and "Lookin' Out My Back Door." This was all on one record as well as other smash hits. It also houses the most raucously jamtastic, yet utterly fantastic epic "Ramble Tamble." The track kicks the album off in a high gear stomp. The verse parts are some of John Fogerty's finest guitar slinging with a fast guitar riff that changes and swoops around the boogie beat of the ryhthm section and the fairly simple, but infectious guitar. Fogerty screams and howls about the hardships in life, the bills on cars and houses and his entire life, but he gives the simple advice in "Move/Down the Road/I go." He just goes with the flow.

Tough times never sounded so good. The mid section of the song is a fairly simple arpeggio guitar riff that slowly builds into a simple yet affective guitar howl reminiscent of Clapton's "slow hand" or even David Gilmour's calculated guitar mastery. It's grittier than both, but CCR's sound asks for a country grit that works perfectly. The long midsection breakdown is a jam that has very strict definition. In fact, I don't think it's a jam at all, but just a long winded build. "Ramble Tamble" is a perfect first track to an album. It engages and gets you ready for more rock and will amaze you. It is truly an amazing song for a band known for short pop hits. A sweeping jam epic that never gets old in it's long run-time, "Ramble Tamble" is one of those overlooked albm cuts from a band that had so many huge hits in just a short existence on the rock scene.

Up Next: Nick Drake's haunting elegy

Rock of Ages: Grand Funk Railroad - "Sin's a Good Man's Brother" (1970)

I found an unlikely rock and roll hero in Grand Funk Railroad. I never liked "We're An American Band" and their endless string of awful covers of great soul songs showed no possible depth of field. It wasn't until my Father, TGO, unleashed the epic "I'm Your Captain" on me and it seemed like a totally different band. I always enjoyed that track, but never delved deeper until I saw the album Closer to Home in a vinyl bin for a dollar. Figured "what the hell" and gave it a whirl. Plopped the needle down and to my surprise, I heard one of the best riffs rock music of the 70's had to offer. "Sin's a Good Man's Brother" is an angry rocker filled with conflicting emotions, very loud drums, an incredible bass line and a searing lead guitar track that rivals anything Jimmy Page was writing at the time. It's unabashed hard rock at it's best.

Most classic rock stations get these terrible blanket licenses, hence only hearing the abominations that Grand Funk has churned out. This epic rocker never gets the light of day. It's not a long song, but it's a track as furious as any other from the era. Local Philly stations like WMMR or WYSP should be playing this song a lot. It would fit in well with songs from Pearl Jam, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath very easily. It may not be the most recognizable song, but "Sin's A Good Man's Brother" is a song so rocking that even a former naysayer of the band has been swayed. I went on to check out other early Grand Funk records and they are much better than originally perceived. Grand Funk have this great bluesy feel on the record this song appears on that is drenched in awesome guitar work outs that are never pretentious. And talk about power trios! This band has a kick to them for being just three dudes with wicked hairdos. This song is probably the first on this list that will come out of left field for the common reader, but I implore you to check it out. It's fantastic.

Up Next: CCR jam away

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rock of Ages: Sly & The Family Stone "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" (1969)

When I found out that Sly & The Family Stone got there start in the late 60's and not the early 70's (which I know is only a matter of years) I was kind of stunned. For me, funk has always been associated with the 70's. Yes, James Brown had been around for a while at this point (altho he will come in 1970 on this list.) For some reason, funk always coincided with disco for me. James Brown may have started funk in a sense, but to me, Sly & The Family Stone really got it started. After a string of amazing singles like "Dance to the Music", "M'Lady", "Stand!" and "Everyday People", Sly stepped it up big time. 1969's single "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" changed the way funk approached things. The bass stepped up and said "I am the centerpiece." You would see the bass takeover funk rock more so than ever before after this and it's all thanks to Sly's bass player, pioneer Larry Graham. He basically invented the slap style of bass playing that is signature to this song. His bass has an amazing wah effect to it and has the slap and plucky bass style that would eb the M.O. of funk records to come. It all comes from this track.

The song is a sort of litany of song titles from the past. On the surface, it seems to be pretty straightforward, but it has a lot more going on. Beyond the self reference that goes on (many of the lyrics are past song titles,) but it's more a song of distaste for the world around them at the time. The flower power age was dying. Paranoia was at an all time high and the Civil Rights movement was at a fever pitch. The most powerful lyrics in the song come late in the last verse of the song:

Flamin' eyes of people fear
Burnin' into you
Many men are missin' much
Hatin' what they do
Youth and truth are makin' love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin' young is hard to take
Sellin' out is harder

The song is on so many levels amazing. Musically it's perfect. A funky bass groove, a fantastic guitar riff, a group vocal effort and a horn section that accentuates the entire groove. You wouldn't notice how intense the words are (hence the strange title) as they are lathered in a groove so amazing you can't help but dance. Sly knew what was going on and this is a protest song of sorts that makes you forget the protest and dance, but on closer listen makes you more aware of the troubles of the time.

This video makes up for all the crappy ones in the past few entries. Thank God!

UP NEXT!: 1970 finally begins. The best year in Rock music. It get's kicked off with an unlikely band in Grand Funk Railroad. Trust me. This next song is incredible.

Rock of Ages: Cream - "Badge" (1969)

Cream has written some of the most memorable guitar riffs and guitar solos of any band from the 60's. From "Sunshine of Your Love" to "White Room" to "Crossroads", there was no better blues rock trio in the 60's than Cream. Thanks mostly to Eric Clapton's prodigious talent and his amazing rhythm cohorts in Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. For some reason, when George Harrison returned Clapton's favor on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", we get a less memorable riff but a more bittersweet and beautiful rock song in the form of "Badge." The production of this song is some of the best of the era. The echoey piano accenting Clapton's quiet riffage during the verse parts is subdued beauty while Baker's pounding drums and Bruce's funky bass take the lead during these parts. When we get to the bridge, George Harrison's signature arpeggio guitar playing brings in a mystical change to the second half of the song and Clapton takes lead during these parts with a howling solo over the fantastic last half of the song. Although this tracks on Cream's final lackluster solo album Goodbye, it's definitely one of the most fantastic songs in their catalogue.

Clapton was only 23 when his best band broke up in '69. He would then go on to Blind Faith with Ginger Baker and Steve Winwood and have an interesting later career with Derek & The Dominos and his own solo effort. For my dime, "Badge" was the pinnacle of his songwriting. There is something so straight forward and honest about this song. Every element from the latter half mellotron organs to the funky bass work to Harrison's nice embelishment that make it a stellar track. Of all power trios that have come and gone, Cream was the best. No doubt in my mind. The raw power and amount of sound these three guys churn out track for track is impressive. "Badge" may be a simpler track for them, but it's still has the power of a heavy rocker like "White Room" or the tripped out "Tales of Brave Ulysses." Cream kills it everytime.

Editors Note: Sorry about the last clip for Badge. No idea it was a shitty cover. There are actually not a lot of Youtube videos for this amazing song so here is a live one from MSG. The sound isn't great but it's better than nothing.

Up Next: Sly & The Famliy Stone bring the funk

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rock of Ages: King Crimson - "21st Century Schizoid Man" (1969)

King Crimson came onto the music world like a swift roundhouse kick to the face. Their first album, In The Court of the Crimson King, is an ambitious album to say the least. It has jazzy jams, mellotron epics and a kick off track that will leave listeners floored. I first decided to dive into the world of King Crimson through an old WXPN article of most influential albums. It was in the top 5 and I only had vaguely heard of King Crimson. I immediately got the record and when "21st Century Schizoid Man" starts, I was floored. It's one of the most intense songs I've ever heard and it's one of the most fitfully brilliant songs at the same time. The verse riff is so intoxicatingly hard, listening to band slike Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin seem soft. It's heavy, feedback laden and excentuated by saxaphones. When the chorus kicks in, the prociscion of Robert Fripp and Co. is even more apparent. The mid section, titled "Mirrors" is exactly that. Each instrument mirrors the other in a cat-and-mouse chase of fast rock passages. It's truly fantastic.

What is most notable about King Crimson is how they were at least 10 years ahead of their time. Prog rock was yet to really get recognized. The only other prog band around was the hippie prog of The Moody Blues, and although the Moodys are great, they are nowhere near the transcendental rocking of King Crimson. has stated that Crimson is the thinking man's Pink Floyd and in a way it is. It's less hazy pop psychedelia and more post-psych brutality mixed with some baroque touches (not really present on this track.) "21st Century Schizoid Man" is such an epic track of mammoth proportions that it demands your attention. It needs you to not be doing anything else but listen to it. The various live recordings of the track sprawl upwards of 15 minutes, but the song never feels long. In fact, the recording, which is almost 8 minutes, has a hard time finding a coherent end and when the barrage of guitars and drums lulls, it quickly fades back in for another surge and then finally ends abruptly. It's a rock song that defies convention and for 1969, it was ages ahead of its time. It also happens to rock so hard that there is no way you can't enjoy it, unless you prefer The Carpenters to King Crimson. It's unlike anything you've heard on this list so far and you will notice that the sound of this song will soon be found in many of other songs on the list.

Up Next: Cream teams up with George Harrison for their great send off

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rock of Ages: Donovan - "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (1968)

My mother loves Donovan. She imposed a lot of these early songs into my mind. My father would get me into Talking Heads. More on them when we get to the 80's. Back to the hippie troubadour. Donovan is another one of the hippie generation who gets forgotten. He started off as a take on Dylan in the early 60's and then moved into the psychedelic sounds of the late 60's with relative ease. His stand out album, The Hurdy Gurdy Man spans genres from Eastern sitar laden tracks to groovy sax and bass jazz tracks. The titular track, a smokey blues rock song, stands as Donovan's most recognizable song and as his sonically most interesting. "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is most notable for it's warbley vocal delivery that Donovan gives. The words are almost inaudible the first time you listen. It's mystical and trippy. The echoey vibrations of the lead guitar and the sitar parts add to the ethereal nature of the tune while the pounding drums and bass come in to juxtapose the trippier elements of the track. Very cool, indeed.

There is speculation as to the personell on the track. In most liner notes, the backing band for Donovan on this song is comprised of John Paul Jones on bass and production, John Bohnahm on drums and Jimmy Page on guitar. Other sources say that JPJ is the only one from legends Led Zeppelin on the track, but alas, the fact that 3/4ths of a future legendary rock band got their start with Donovan is cool so I will stick with that as the personell. It also sounds a lot like a Zeppelin track. Donovan's voice is nothing like that of Robert Plant's but this song demands his eerie accent to carry it into the ether. Most recently, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was used in David Fincher's film Zodiac for both the opening and ending credits. Luckily the song has yet to become aged yet is still a fine capsule of hippie culture before hippies became annoying. Well, except Donovan who is still a huge hippie and yet probably the coolest one alive.

Up Next: King Crimson changes everything on the first track of their first album

Rock of Ages: The Beatles - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (1968)

Deciding what Beatles song to choose is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. However, it's much less awkward to say "this is the Beatles song that I like best." It changes all the time as to what Beatles song I truly love, but the one constant near the top of my list has been and always will be "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." George Harrison has always been my favorite Beatle. His songs are more spiritual, but in a spirit that isn't too preachy (although that changed sometimes when he went solo.) Anyway, the song was inspired by I Ching, which Harrison was reading at the time, which is about how everything is relative to everything as apposed to coincidence. Anyway, lyrically it's pretty ambigous. The notable factor of the greatness of this song is at it's core, the guitar that's gently weeping is not George Harrison's, but his friend and future wife stealer Eric Clapton's guitar.

Musically, the song is very slow and methodical. It's chord progression is one that has been emulated in dozens of songs. Harrison weaves his poem through this structure while Clapton's guitar emulates the titular activity with beautiful percission. One of the best early era rock guitar solos, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" simple but eerie and beautiful. It reminds me a lot of what David Gilmour would do later with Pink Floyd (which we will get to circa 1973) as well as some oher guitarists who would coem down the pike and emulate Clapton's "slow hand." I wouldn't call this song the blues, even the Clapton brings his bluesey woozy guitar to it. It's an interesting track among the hodge podge on the double lp The Beatles known as The White Album. Each song is very different then the one before this and this song is sandwiched between "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Happiness is a Warm Gun." Three songs that flow well into each other, yet have no real musical connection. Fantastic.

The Beatles are obviously known as the greatest rock and roll band of all time. And rightfully so. I could have picked easily another 30 songs that are just as brilliant as this one. But so it goes. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" slowly mezmerizes everytime I hear it.

Up Next: Donovan warbles his way to become a hippie troubador

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Zombies - "Hung Up on a Dream" (1968)

As someone who as strange dreams, The Zombies track "Hung Up on a Dream" comes as a beautiful ode to those dreams that don't freak you out, but bring you some sort of solace. Rod Argent's dream in question is of a better place. His dream took him to a nameless place with sweet vibrations and men with flowers in there hair. He awakes soothed by the image of peace but is decidedly confounded that the images and the feelings were only a dream. I have had dreams where waking and realizing life is still going on and not the way the dream world has realistically showed you that I have indeed been hung up on a dream.

Luckily, The Zombies not only craft a great emotional image through the lyrics, but the music is equally dreamy and spacey. When the instrumental break comes before the bridge, you get the turmoil of tossing and turning and waking up via musical expression. It's a sumptuous treat musically. The Zombies as well as rock visionary Al Kooper helmed the production. With beautiful mellotron waves, jangly guitars and echoey vocals and amazing harmonies, "Hung Up on a Dream" is an overlooked classic in The Zombies all too short career. The band would break up before their masterpeice Odessey and Oracle would be released and before the song "Time of the Season" would become a huge hit.

Up Next: Do I really only get to pick one Beatles song?

Rock of Ages: Love - "The Red Telephone" (1967)

The paranoia of the 60's is beautifully realized in a lot of songs of the day and Love's "The Red Telephone" is no exception. Less specific than Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," "The Red Telephone" shows the sense of confusion, the possibility of the end of days and the apathy of the youth culture at the time are perfectly found on this song. The song can be found on the transcendent album Forever Changes. Just like Astral Weeks, Love's Forever Changes is something that will change you... forever. The album has a mystical psych-folk vibe with lots of strings and flamenco guitars. Arthur Lee's words are very poetic and lush with interesting images and even interesting structures. Words overlap to give more meaning and add another element of confusion to "The Red Telephone." It's a fairly simple song, but it is a summation of the minds of the counter culture of the 60's in a different way than other "protest" songs. I wouldn't say it's protest as much as observation.

Where the song truly hits me is the lyrics of the first verse. "Sitting on a hillside/Watching all the people die/I feel much better on the other side/I'll thumb a ride." Apathetic, dark yet optimistic. Violence and aggression and tumult were the signs of the times and while some people got into the thick of it, some losing their lives in the conflict, Lee's lyrics show how maybe it's better on the other side of the conflict as an observer. The rest of the song doesn't really stand by the opening statement and I feel it's intentional. Sure, it's good to watch from afar and say "things are better here." This is summed up in the bridge:

"Life goes on here
Day after day
I don't know if I am living or if I'm
Supposed to be
Sometimes my life is so eerie
And if you think I'm happy
Paint me (white)(yellow)"

It's contradictory to being happy away from the violence, but at the same time, he's unsure if he's supposed to even be alive. Maybe he should take a stand. It's a very interesting statement in a time where everyone had an opinion. Arthur Lee wasn't sure. It's an awesome song of confusion and uncertainty in a time of that same feeling and it doesn't decide what side of the coin it should be on.

Up Next: The Zombies can't get over the wanderings and musings of their subconscious

Rock of Ages: Van Morrison - "Astral Weeks" (1968)

Sometimes music has the ability to change you. It was 2004 - 2005. Junior year of college. A friend of mine asked me to listen to a song to see what I though of it. She couldn't quite wrap her head around it and knowing that I loved music, thought that I may have known the song or may have been able to give her some sort of analysis. This song was Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" from the album of the same name. I stood in her dorm room and literally had my mind blown. I demanded hearing the song over again as I myself was wrapping my head around it's greatness. I knew the great Irishman Van Morrison from his bigger hits and his unique croon. I never really delved deep into his works as songs like "Brown Eyed Girl" annoyed me and songs like "Moondance" got raped by the radio stations in the area ("Moondance" is an incredible song, but I have to want to listen to it to enjoy it anymore.) This song literally floored me. I needed to know everything about it and everything about the album it appeared on, which is equally transcendent.

The song is stream of conscious jazzy goodness. The lyrics are about seeing life from the other side of the spectrum of the living. The music is filled with strings, jazzy upright bass, beautifully interspersed flute and acoustic guitar parts that just flurry with emotion. Van's vocal performance is revelatory and stands above the rest of his career as a crowning achievement. The emotion he drips into his beautiful poetry is nothing short of breathtaking. I am forever indebted to my friend who imparted such lush beauty upon my ears. This song would have sounded awesome if performed by Nick Drake and sounds amazing done by present day psych rockers Secret Machines, but Van Morrison gives it a voice and an expression that is at once untouchable, yet seems easy to elaborate on. Something is unique about his version that any cover or alternate version is the same song yet completely changed. It's in this attribute that the song takes on a mystique of its own and makes it truly an experience to be heard.

I apologize that I do not have a youtube video of Van doing the song. He recently played the entire Astral Weeks album at the Hollywood Bowl and youtube is only giving me other versions of the song. Kinda sucks that I can't get a version for you, humble reader. But again, I advise you to get this album without hearing it, plop it on your turntable/stereo/iPod and close your eyes and venture the slipstream with Van the Man.

Up Next: Quick stop back to 1967 with Love

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Rock of Ages: Jimi Hendrix Experience - "The Wind Cries Mary" (1967)

Jimi Hendrix is the man responsible for making the Electric guitar cool. No one else can stake this claim. In 1967 when the Jimi Hendrix Experience's stellar debut Are You Experienced? was released, rock and roll guitar playing changed forever. You could say that the wailings of "Purple Haze" or the fast pacing of "Fire" or "Manic Depression" are the most notable Hendrix tunes, but I think it's in the simply sublime structure of "The Wind Cries Mary" that Jimi's true prowess on record is shown. The other tracks are much more intense live and his bravado for stage antics makes songs like "Foxey Lady" enhanced by his live recordings and films. "The Wind Cries Mary" stands on it's own. It's also the most poetic of Jimi Hendrix's songs lyrically. Dylan inspirado aside, Jimi still weaves a poem of lost love and how both sides of this relationship are missing the other half.

One of my all time favorite lines in a song comes from this fine track. "A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterdays life" is one of those lines that just stays with you. The imagery is fantastic and the emotion of the lyric definitely hits you hard. The image of "happiness shuffling on down the street" is pretty depressing. When the thing that makes you happy shuffles away, it makes it even more emotional. Hendrix guitar playing, although elaborate and fantastic, is very subdued. Not any distortion or too many effects on this track give it an honest tone. The bluesy tone mirrors the bluesy, yet psychedelic lyrics. It's definitely Hendrix's finest achievment all around. The band also backs him up with mild but structured ryhthm which swells and sways as the song progresses. Obviously we all know the fate of Jimi Hendrix, but he left us with one of rock musics most subtle and sublime tracks.

Up Next: Van Morrison ventures in the slipstream

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Rock of Ages: Buffalo Springfield - "For What It's Worth" (1967)

"There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." The paranoia of the 60's is best summed up in Buffalo Springfield's opening line in their transcendent protest song "For What It's Worth." As much as the song is used over and over again in anything dealing with the Vietnam War and the 60's, it just shows the power of it's message. Buffalo Springfield, which was a short lived group, left a huge mark on the world of rock and roll with this folky, psychedelic anthem. The band, which consisted of some of rocks best including Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Jim Messina, creates a perfect piece of psych folk. Neil Young's wailing guitar, Messina and Stills backing rhythm section and the all to famous chorus are memorable enough, but the song spoke to a generation and is still to this day something that speaks volumes.

The song is apparently about a specific account of a run in with police and youths in a club on the Sunset Strip. Somehow these clashes with youth rebellion and "the man" spoke beyond just a single incident and showed the general air of paranoia and the lack of trust among the youth culture and the powers at be. It became an anthem for the 60's just as much as Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" or The Beatles "Revolution. It's also a damn good song musically. The careers of Young, Stills and Messina would go beyond this super group and would output some of the generations best music. It all started with Buffalo Springfield and their first, transcendental single. It's truly timeless and is just as important today as it was in 1966.

Up Next: Jimi Hendrix hears name's in the wind... and it's not Gale.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Rock of Ages: The Beach Boys - "God Only Know" (1966)

I was always a skeptic of The Beach Boys. Growing up named after Paul McCartney, you can tell that my family was a Beatles family. It was a while before I ever gave them a chance. I always assumed they were just annoying songs about surfing and driving cars. Pet Sounds is obviously a classic, but I always assumed it would be pure crap, but sonically interesting or something. Well, the more you listen to it, the more Pet Sounds becomes something more than just a great pop record and it becomes a pop music masterpiece. If anything, the song "God Only Knows" stands so high above the rest of this album that Pet Sounds is worth owning for just one song. It's easily one of the greatest pop music recordings of all time. This song is a love song to the ears.

Brian Wilson masterfully crafted a brilliant pop love song and one for the ages. The song is almost untouchable, atlhough Petra Haden using only her voice and an eight track was able to recreate the melody and magic of the tune. The song is rather untraditional for a pop song. The percussion is lush but sparse all at once, the harmonies carry the song out into the ether and above it all. Brian's brother Carl sings lead here and although Brian initially intended to sing it, I think this was the better move. Carl's sweeter voice really adds an endearing element to the beautiful music that surrounds it.

The Beach Boys were never able to top Pet Sounds and Brian Wilson lost his mind. Regardless, this song has gone on to inspire some of todays best acts. The melodies created here are some of the best.

Up Next: Buffalo Springfield's protest song

Rock of Ages: Otis Redding - "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (1965)

The first time I was familiar with the beautiful love song "I've Been Loving You Too Long" was when I watched Heaven Help Us religiously on Comedy Central. Otis Redding crooned as the young lovers, who were soon to be torn apart, grasped each other underneath a boardwalk on Long Island as a spring rain comes down. They embrace and kiss passionately for the first time. It's a movie moment forever melted into the romance lobe of my brain, wherever that may be. The next time I associated the song with anything, and when I finally fell in love with the song itself, was during the Monterey Pop festival movie and the separate DVD of just his performance. His performance at that first rock festival was electric. It was watching life. You can't take your eyes off of him and when he sings this song, you are filled with the same love and emotion that he exudes on stage.

The track is fairly standard as soul songs go. His backing band is filled with some of musics greatest session workers of the time including Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass and soon to be legend in his own right, Isaac Hayes. Sonically the song goes through waves and swells of horns accentuating the vocal performance that Redding delivers. The passion in Otis' voice is outstanding and is what makes the track so electrifying and identifiable. You feel his passion toward whomever he is singing about and in turn, if you are loving someone, you can relate to this passion. Like many of rocks early visionaries, Otis Redding passed on way too young. He died in a plane crash along with his band he was touring with, The Bar-Kays. Such promise lost early.

"I've Been Loving You Too Long" is easily one of my favorite love songs. It's about not wanting to give in, unlike Bob Dylan who was ready for it to end. Sometimes love is that important that you just don't want it to stop. When Otis Redding sings about it, you can understand why.

Up Next: Higher powers know what The Beach Boys would be without this song

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Rock of Ages: Bob Dylan - "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (1965)

Bob Dylan is a poet first and foremost. His words are where you see the genius. Many people harsh on his rough vocals that are very nasally and sometimes grating. However, on the greatest kiss-off song ever written, Dylan proves that his singing can take on a beautiful tone and one that really compliments the lyrics. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is a song that, unlike other songs about losing love, is about wanting love to go and needing it to realize that it's over. Instead of "crying" over lost love, Dylan is ready for it to go and wants to to go faster. Love isn't always something that ends in melancholy, but many times ends with the need for it to be over. In this case, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" perfectly and poetically shows this emotion.

Dylan on the cusp of turning his back on traditional folk gives us his last greatest folk love song. I still consider this a love song even if he's telling you to walk out the door. Sometimes when you love someone, it ends and you need them to go. Cliche, yes. But true. All of the sagely advice that Dylan gives his lover as he's telling her to go shows that he still loves her and wants well for her, but it's all over. The track is pretty simple and straight forward. Dylan's classic guitar strumming with a quiet electric guitar picking out a melancholy tune and some classic Dylan harmonica. It's a sad song but it's also hopeful. You have to let go of someone sometimes so you might as well give them a tad of advice as they are getting thrown out.

To end this post, it would do justice to post these lyrics. Definitely my favorite Dylan outing.

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last.
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast.
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,
Crying like a fire in the sun.
Look out the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.
Take what you have gathered from coincidence.
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home.
All your reindeer armies, are all going home.
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor.
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, Baby Blue.

Up Next: The next song makes me want to make out in the rain under the boardwalk

Rock of Ages: The Ronettes - "Be My Baby" (1963)

When the drum beat of "Be My Baby" kicks in, you know that you are in for an amazing classic rock and roll standard. The Morse Code like snap of the kick drum into the snap of the snare is an unforgettable staple and when The Ronettes start to sing over the lush swirl of guitars, piano, strings and the famous drums that continue to sound amazing throughout the song. Phil Spector wrote the song and his signature "Wall fo Sound" production is perfectly realized here. There is no denying the power of this song. It may be one of the best sounding singles from the 60's as it was emulated for years. Spector went on to produce and work with some of the best musicians including The Crystals, The Beatles, The Ramones & Leonard Cohen to name a few. Still, with all this power under his belt, it was with The Ronettes that he nailed it out of the park.

"Be My Baby" isn't only thanks to Phil Spector, but his then wife Ronnie Spector is what makes this track. Her unforgettable vocal delivery shows confidence. An era where women were still not as respected as would come later, Ronnie Spector was that confident female voice who knew what she wanted. As much as the music sounds lush and full and swirls in the eardrums, it's the voice of Ronnie and the Ronettes that make this track unforgettable. As much as Motown had some of the great girl groups, I feel that The Ronettes still gave us one of the most confident female vocal performances of the 60's.

The song is a definite trail blazer. The list of tracks that have emulated the opening drum beat goes on for pages. Ronnie Spector was employed to sing with Eddie Money on his hit "Take Me Home Tonight" to reprise the chorus and the track has been used in countless movies, most notably in the opening credits of Martin Scorsese's gritty neo-noir Mean Streets. The Wall fo Sound went on to influence tons of acts and be incorporated in creating some of the most atmospheric records. Without the technique, modern day musical recordings would be totally different.

Up Next: Bob Dylan's kiss off song

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rock of Ages: Roy Orbison - "Crying" (1961)

Roy Orbison seems to be a forgotten name among my generation. The man passed away just around the time I could remember him being apart of The Traveling Wilburys and after his equally awesome song "You Got It" was a big hit. His career goes beyond inspiring a Richard Gere film and the song "Crying" is probably his crowning achievement in lush beauty. It's a heartbreakingly sad song, but Roy fills in the cracks of the heart with his beautiful voice. He trembles his way through the song and behind those signature shades, a tear is probably collecting. The instrumentation is equally beautiful with strings that swirl behind his voice, xylaphones tinkling and great back-up cooing.

The song itself is structured interestingly as well. The song builds slowly as the singers lyrics swell and build with melancholy. Each verse gains more elements of sound and comes to a very gorgeous peak right at the end. Roy Orbison's songs all have elements of this track somewhere in them. Whether it's the equally sad "Love Hurts" or the woozy "In Dreams," Roy Orbison always delivered a stellar vocal performance among some of the best early rock and roll guitar and instrumentation. "Crying" is the gold standard of his catalog.

The song has been covered many times, but the most memorable one was when Rebekah del Rio sang the song for the David Lynch film Mullholland Drive. It takes on another level of eerie loss when sung in Spanish and a capella. Roy Orbison's songs are some of the best that pop music has to offer and his voice is a timeless addition to the lexicon of rock and roll history. "Crying" is where this all started.

Up Next: The Wall of Sound

(Side Note: Mr. Ealer is right that I have three movies left to blog about. Those are coming, I promise.)