Archive for the ‘Rolling Stones’ Category

You never hear of a second violinist leaving a symphony in a huff, and still complaining about it years later. Not so in rock and roll. What surprised me while writing this piece is how common the acrimonious breakup is, and how wide spread they are over history. I am no psychologist, but I am guessing that perhaps it is rooted in the rebellion and independence that underpins the music. There have been some great ones. Here are my Top Five.

Next week: Top Five Chuck Berry Riffs (following my pilgrimage to St. Louis to see Chuck next Wednesday).

1. Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones

You have to know that to get kicked out of a band, of which Keith Richards is a member, for drug and alcohol abuse is going some.

Brian Jones was a founding and influential member of the Rolling Stones, even coming up with the name of the band. However, as the focus shifted from him to Mick and Keith (because of their increasing writing prowess), Jones became increasingly isolated, both personally and musically. To compound matters, Brian’s then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left him for Keith while the Brian was hospitalised for drug issues during a trip all three took to Morocco.

Brian officially left the band on June 9, 1969 after a string of drug related difficulties, legal and otherwise. The official statement was that his departure was voluntary; the otherwise un-contradicted real story is that he was asked to leave. He was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool a little over three weeks later on July 3, 1969. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman attended his funeral, while Keith and Mick were conspicuously absent.

Here is Brian with the Stones in a 1964 appearance on the Mike Douglas show, covering Chuck Berry’s “Carol”.

2. The Smiths

If I was to do a list of “Top Five Bands Who Were Together Only Five Years But Had and Still Have Enormous Influence”, The Smiths would be at the top. They ruled the so called “indie” world before there really was an indie world, from 1982 to 1987. Johnny Marr played guitar and shared writing duties with morose lyricist and frontman [Steven] Morrissey. While no real explanation for their breakup has ever been proffered, we can only assume it was most unpleasant: Morrissey once said “I would rather eat my own testicles than re-form The Smiths, and that’s saying something for a vegetarian.” I think would prefer to sit at home with my Smiths’ box set, recently remastered by Johnny Marr.

3. Tom Petty and MCA Records

Tom Petty, one of the great songwriters of my generation, was signed by ABC Records and recorded by that label’s Shelter Records division. Two albums later, ABC was sold to MCA. Petty refused to be assigned to a new record company without his consent. Rather than record for MCA, Petty put his money where his mouth was and went into debt to the tune of $500,000.00 to record the band’s next album. He then eventually declared bankruptcy, thereby (sorry, my day job’s language is intruding here) gaining another lever in his negotiations.

MCA eventually caved (another legal term), re-negotiated the deal and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went on to release their multi-platinum, named for the occasion album “Damn the Torpedos” on a subsidiary MCA created for them.

The story was chronicled for posterity in 1989′ s “I Won’t Back Down” on Petty’s first solo release “Full Moon Fever”. This is the official video. Pay particular attention to the identities of the drummer and the rhythm guitar player standing on the right.

4. Oasis

What is it about brothers in bands? The Davies, the Wilsons, the Fogertys: the list goes on. My favourites though are Liam and Noel Gallagher. They seem to have been intent on breaking up Oasis from the time the band was formed in 1991, there being one well publicised incident after another well publicised incident between the lads. The band split in 2009, after almost two decades of revolving side men, followed by (you guessed it) a libel suit brought by Liam against Noel. Not to be outdone, Noel counterclaimed for damages allegedly arising out of Liam’s conduct from 1994 to 2005. A lawyer’s dream this pair are.

The only appropriate Oasis song here is “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.

5. Guns n’ Roses

This is another band that has been breaking up for decades. Born in LA as an antidote to hair or glam metal Guns n’ Roses have had a rocky ride from the beginning. After drummer Steven Adler was kicked out for drug abuse in 1987 following the hugely successful album”Appetite for Destruction” (Adler being Brian Jones, with the rest of the band being Keith Richards) battles ensued between Slash and Duff McKagan, and Axl Rose over the band’s direction, along with the almost predictable law suits, no shows at concerts and every other thing upset rockstars do. At some point during all of this, it is clear that Rose demanded the rights to the band name. How it came to be transferred to him is less clear.

The boys are still not speaking: Axl was a no-show at the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“Welcome to the Jungle” indeed.

A collection of good films with good soundtracks is the desert island entertainment solution for me, combining my two foremost entertainment passions. Assuming my desert island has a power source of course.  There are many, many good examples of songs being used in films. Some directors seem to excel at it.  Quentin Tarantino (no surprise he is represented here twice)  is one, Martin Scorcese is another.

Akira Kurosawa said “Cinematic sound is never merely accompaniment, never merely what the sound machine caught while you took the scene. Real sound does not merely add to the images, it multiplies it.”  All of these  songs do that. But in my opinion what sets them apart is that they have come to be synonymous with the films they are in.  No easy task.

Next week: Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought Was Led Zeppelin II

1. Stuck in the Middle With You-Stealers Wheel-Reservoir Dogs

“Reservoir Dogs” was Tarantino’s directorial debut.  Made for a mere $1.5 million, likely less than the budget for the opening credits in “Avatar”, the film was a commercial and critical success, despite an abundance of graphic violence.  Woven through it is some very good music, often introduced by the radio voice of “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” in the background.

This clip is not for the faint of heart nor for those who have a fondness for this boppy little number from the Scottish folk group founded by Gerry Rafferty. If the former, I will warn you it is not easy to watch.  Michael Madsen reportedly had difficulty finishing the scene.  If the latter, you will never again hear the song without thinking about the scene. Guaranteed.

2. Misirlou-Dick Dale and His Del Tones-Pulp Fiction

I can’t think of a song which does a better job of opening a movie.  Period. Like a good opening track on the first side of an album, this song let’s you know where you are going.  And in this case, you realise, following the “honey bunny” and “this is a robbery” scene, that you are in for one wild, frantic ride.

Derived from a Turkish folk song, Misirlou was first released by Dick Dale in 1962.  It quickly became a staple of Calfornia surf rock bands including the Beach Boys and the Ventures.  Although Dick Dale had without doubt already achieved legendary status before “Pulp Fiction” was released in 1994, the use of this song while the opening credits ran  brought him  a new generation of recognition.

3. Oh, Pretty Woman-Roy Orbison-Pretty Woman

This song was suggested by someone far wiser than me. It is included to show that I am open minded and serious about my work here as I have no real fondness (nor dislike either for that matter) for the two principal actors in “Pretty Woman”.  It is tough however to ignore a film that takes its title from a (very very good) song.  This is the late great Roy Orbison at his best.  It was a worldwide success for him in the early 1960’s and he was awarded, posthumously, a Grammy for his performance of it in the 1991 TV special, “Roy Orbison and Friends,  A Black and White Night”.

4. Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-The Rolling Stones-Casino

Scorcese has a thing for music in general and the Rolling Stones in particular.  He co-edited “Woodstock”, directed “The Last Waltz” and also directed “Shine a Light”, a Rolling Stone’s concert film recorded over two nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York in 2008.  He has used Rolling Stones’ songs extensively in his films.

The opening riff to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is Keith Richards guitar at its distorted, slippery, sleazy, missing a string, open G tuned best. To my ears, it is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.  The song itself takes a wonderful (apparently unscripted) detour with extended solos by Bobby Keys on sax and Mick Taylor on guitar.   Scorcese uses all of this to maximum effect, the “cocaine eyes” reference more or less summing up the Sharon Stone character, the portrayal of which earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

5. I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever)-Stevie Wonder-High Fidelity

Given that the film provided my blog with its name, it had to be included.  What makes the song work so well in my opinion is that we hear all of it, and not just a snippet (like the way Scorcese used “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”), while Rob is making a mix tape for Laura.  And somehow, Stevie Wonder’s talent pulls off a schmaltzy song without sounding schmaltzy.  Genius all round.

I live in the oldest part of Vancouver, in a neighbourhood that one could gently describe as “interesting”.  To put a finer point on it,  my wonderful loft space is kitty corner from a women’s shelter and a half block west of a men’s detox. I am also a block from Nesters Market (“Where the locals shop!”) a full service grocery store at Woodwards, that also happens to play great music.

Woodwards was a family owned Vancouver retailer that had been around since the turn of the century. It fell on hard times in the late 1980’s, eventually going bankrupt. The once flagship Woodwards’ store was on a site  that had at one time been at the city’s centre but eventually became an extension of skid road-as my parents called it- when other retailers and businesses moved south to the mall and the office towers that came with it.   After years of studies and discussions, and a lot of politics,  the site was redeveloped with a mix of market and social housing,  Simon Fraser University’s “School for the Contemporary Arts”, and an assortment of shops and services, including Nesters.  The Nesters brand  has something of a history itself, originating at Whistler, BC, but I digress.

I think of Nesters as “my” grocery store.  I am in there frequently,  often daily, in part because it is on my walking route home and in part because I find daily shopping suits cooking for one.  It is rare that I am in the store and don’t notice the music that is being played. This is not muzak, nor is it is some kind of bland, please everyone pap.  It is good music. Remarkably good music actually. Mike the store manager and I had a brief chat this week.  He tells me it is a satellite feed.  Someone is doing some fine channel choosing.

Here are the Top Five Songs Recently Heard in My Grocery Store.  What music has your grocery store been playing?

1. Love Shack-B52’s

This song is infectious and it is virtually impossible not to sway, tap your toes, sing along with etc. So there I was in the cereal aisle…   You get the picture.  It is not a wonder that they are named the “World’s Greatest Party Band”.   By the way, on my bucket list is to go stay at the the cabins run by Kate Pierson (the red head) near Woodstock, NY.

2. Instant Karma-John Lennon

Whenever I hear a John Lennon song it is very difficult for me not to reflect, at least momentarily, on what might have been.  Written and recorded in a single day, this was another Lennon recording produced by Phil Spector.  If anyone can shed any light on why Yoko is knitting blindfolded, I would be happy to hear from you.

3. Africa-Toto

What redeems this borderline cheese masterpiece is that it is the only song ever to use the words “Kilimanjaro” and “Serengeti” in the same verse.  EVER.

4. While You See a Chance-Steve Winwood

This was on Steve’s enormously popular 1980 album, “Arc of a Diver”.  A veteran of many influential and successful groups (Traffic, Blind Faith, The Spencer Davis Group), this album cemented his status as as solo act.  Steve played every instrument on every track.  I was in university, toiling at torts, when this was released.  It was a favourite of my friend Pat and got played to death at marathon Risk sessions, the lyrics offering some vague hope for the future.  Hearing it at Nesters on Friday immediately brought back those memories.  I love how music does that.

5. Sympathy for the Devil-The Rolling Stones

Who wouldn’t shop daily if this was being played while you were in the cashier’s line up?  This is the well aged Stones showing why, still, no band does the big show better.

Listening to an entire album, eight or ten songs in a row from beginning to end and getting up in the middle to flip it over, is almost as anachronistic as the mix tape. If you haven’t done it in awhile, I highly recommend it, if only on CD (skipping the flipping part). In addition to hearing things in the order they were intended to be heard, it will give you a sense of accomplishment and make you feel good about yourself. Guaranteed. The first track on the first side should be an introduction of sorts and should set the stage for what is to come. Here are my Top Five.

1. Rocks Off, Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones

Recorded in 1971 in the basement of Nêlcotte, Keith Richards’ villa in the south of France, “Rocks Off” immediately lets you know that you have not embarked upon child’s play and that this is serious business. Enter at your own risk. Ragged and rough, it comes complete with a psychedelic bridge, and provides a wholly decadent, sleazy and glorious opening to one of my all time favorite albums. The Robert Frank video here is an added bonus.

2. Come Together, Abbey Road, The Beatles

“Abbey Road” was the last Beatles’ album, although “Let it Be” was the last one released. Books have been written on the infighting taking place in the band and the reasons for it when this album was recorded in 1969. How fitting that the opening track (the genesis of which was written by Lennon for Timothy Leary’s gubernatorial campaign in California) was about coming together when the band was falling apart. Great song to open the The Beatles’ closing triumph.

3. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Crosby Stills and Nash, Crosby Stills and Nash

Double winner here as this is the also the first cut on the first side of the first album by Crosby Stills and Nash. What a beginning. Makes you want to pick up an acoustic guitar and play along. Makes you want to learn to play if you don’t already. The song structure is certainly not your parents’ rock and roll, let alone that it is over 7 minutes long. What makes this a splendid introduction to a fine album is that it alerts to you to the the classically drawn harmonies which are to come and then very much became this band’s signature.

4. London Calling, London Calling, The Clash

“London Calling”, the song and the album, are musically literate punk manifestos. The song is one big hook, big, brash, and bold, with a reggae bass line rhythm welded to Joe Strummer’s frantic guitar. Damn I miss this band.

5. Whole Lotta Love, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin

There is this moment in “It Might Get Loud”, a documentary about Jimmy Page, Edge and Jack White, when the three have come together in what appears to be a warehouse to make music. Jimmy is playing the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love” with Edge and Jack watching and listening. The looks of the two of them sitting at the foot of the master while listening to him playing one of rock’s all time great riffs are pure schoolboy awe. Worth the price of admission if you haven’t seen the film. A fine opening to what is my most listened to Led Zeppelin album.

I saw Elvis Costello last night at the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver.   It was once again an enormous treat. The two and a half hour show, with no opening act, came complete with audience participation, a spinning song picker, a cage dancer or two, and Diana Krall.

An ex girlfriend,  who has been a Bob Dylan fan forever, once remarked that Elvis was my Dylan, in part because of the length of time I had enjoyed his music and in part because of the many musical shifts in his career.  These were keen observations.  From the first note of “Welcome to My Working Week” on his debut album “My Aim is True” in 1976, I have been a fan.  I have followed him from the early “songs of sneer” as he now describes them,  through his embrace of any number of genres of music including country, pop, bluegrass and indeed classical.

Along the way Elvis has collaborated with many musicians including such unlikely candidates as Bill Clinton and Smokey Robinson.  My list of his Top Five collaborations are:

1. Nick Lowe

Elvis and Nick go way back, Nick having produced Elvis’ first five albums.  They here performs Nick’s song made famous by Elvis “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”, turning it into a county music ballad.  Having no less than James Burton on guitar helps to achieve that vibe considerably I should think.

2. Lucinda Williams

Elvis and Lucinda have recorded together a number of times.  This clip is from a CMT (Country Music Television) series called “Crossroads” which brings together rock and country artists.  It debuted with an Elvis and Lucinda episode in 2002.  The two songs here, the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and Lucinda’s “Blue”, are a display of combined artistry that is nothing short of magical.

3. Paul McCartney

Elvis and Paul recorded a album together in 1998 (not released on vinyl so far as I know and rare on disc) called “The Studio Collaboration”.  “So Like Candy” is one of the gems off it.  Cool song.

4. Alan Toussaint

Alan Toussaint is a New  Orleans writer, producer and musician of enormous influence.  He and Elvis met at a benefit for Katrina victims.  In 2006, they released to wide acclaim “The River in Reverse” which came out of the first major recording session in New Orleans after the storm. I saw and heard them in Vancouver around that time.  They played for three hours with palpable joy at sharing their gifts.  One of my all time favourite concert experiences. This track is called “Ascension Day” and is illustrative of the theme of the album.

5. Burt Bacharach

Elvis had been a long time Burt fan when he recorded an album of entirely original co-written material with him in 1998, a busy year apparently.  This famous Burt tune (performed by Elvis and Burt), “Never Fall in Love Again” is from the Austin Powers’ soundtrack. It is worth a watch and a listen even if you don’t like Heather Graham.

Now serving Goats Head Soup

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Rolling Stones

I played Goats Head Soup today, a 1974 Rolling Stones release.  Often overlooked and sometimes outright maligned, it gets nowhere near the recognition that the Holy Trinity of Stones albums which preceded it did, being Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street.  (I actually think Beggars Banquet belongs in the list but I would not have been able to use the Holy Trinity phrase had I included it, so I didn’t).

It is however, a pretty good record and has some fine songs on it including Angie, Coming Down Again and Doo Doo Doo Doo Heartbreaker.  Mick Taylor is still doing his wonderful thing on guitar and there is lots of Nicky Hopkins on piano.  All of which is to be contrasted against, however, the just plain bad album cover.

Some have suggested the album has been overlooked because it came after such a fine run, others because the Stones were perceived as becoming soft. Although I tend to agree with the first notion, I really think the lack of recognition was a sign of the times. Disco was on the rise, and the Sex Pistols were around the corner.  Musical tastes were changing and Goats Head Soup landed more or less at the junction.

If you haven’t heard it in awhile, give it a listen. If nothing else Star Star will make you smile.