Posts Tagged ‘music’

So, just to be clear, these are not necessarily top road songs, but songs about cars or that use the car as a central metaphor. Cars were a huge part of my coming of age. My father had a 55 Ford Fairlane, the only new car that he ever purchased. His boys, including me, basically ran the car into the ground, doing brake stands and squealing tires down Churchill Drive in Winnipeg. Tragic. I’ve always had the fantasy of buying a reconditioned 55 and driving it up to my father’s house with a big ribbon and bow.   I picked my first love up in that car, got my driver’s license in it the day I turned sixteen, went fishing in it with my brothers and fathers to Hazel Creek at the crack of dawn. I drove it to Grand Beach, Lake Winnipeg for our weekend volleyball tournaments, and more times than I care to remember, she got this drunken sot home from the infamous Winnipeg “socials”. I wrote a song about her, which I’ll spare you, but here’s the first verse.

I was born in the year of the 55 Ford,
Pink and white two-tone on a prairie road.
Elvis was singing, my daddy was drinking
beers with the boys and makin’ lots of noise.
But my mom made him choose.
It was her or the booze.

1. The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe

Topping the list, Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys.

2. Bruce Springsteen, Pink Cadillac

The next one is still one of my favorite workout songs, third set of squats, when I’m tempted to bail early. Written by Jerry Lee Lewis, but Brooose’s version gives me the juice to finish strong.

3. Tracy Chapman, Fast Car

What is it about Tracy Chapman that when she starts singing you just feel like crying? Here the car is a metaphor for freedom. In a Fast Car, the subject innocently imagines that her boyfriend’s car has the power to transport them to a world free from poverty, class, and their dead-end life. Remember how the womb-like interior of a car was a place where dreams of your future gestated and sometimes even got fertilized!

4. Golden Earring, Radar Love

In the summers my buddies and I would worked planting trees for the city of Winnipeg at Bird’s Hill Park. Waso would pick us up in his father’s Ford LTD at the crack of dawn, laden with sandwiches and enough Kool Aid to make it through the hot prairie day. When we hit the perimeter, it was pedal to the metal the whole way. We’d get the old beast up to 130 mph, windows down, and more often than not we could count on Radar Love being on the set list of our favorite radio station.

5. Chuck Berry, No Particular Place to Go

There is a spiritual state associated with driving a car, especially when you are still young and are inclined to let life unfold rather than over-engineer it. Life comes to you, rather than you having to make it happen. And “driving around” with no particular agenda was a big part of my growing up was a kind of zen practice. I didn’t quite have the luxury of unfettered access to the car, as we had to share amongst five or six, but Dave Korven owned a very cool GTO (if I’m not mistaken). We’d pack five or six in and just start driving, with a supply of decent B.C. bud.  Chuck Berry captures this adventurous spirit (but with a girl and not the boys) in No Particular Place to Go.

This week’s post was written by my friend Bruce, who regularly blogs on spiritual matters. Check it out.

Next week I will be back on the keyboard with Top Five Live at the Fillmore Albums.

I debated changing this post to reflect a more upbeat topic, something more in keeping with the  fine weather we are having in Vancouver (the keen observer will note that I am now following two used bike blogs).  But it has been on my mind for awhile, partly because I have been on an Emmylou Harris kick-more in the Gram Parsons bit down the page-and partly because Ben, one of the folks I met at the Chuck Berry Show, suggested it.

Like all other Top Five lists this one has to be viewed as a sampling.  Young death is so prevalent Wiki will spit you out a list of I think fifteen rock artists who belong to the so called “27 club”, artists who died at 27. Perhaps, like acrimonious breakups, it is a hazard of the job. Or perhaps a hazard of the personality type.  Regardless, it was impossible for me write this piece without a lot of reflection on what might have been had any of these artists lived and continued to flourish.

So here is my list.  I can already hear any number of “But where is_______?”  No mind, he or she belongs too.

Next week:  Top Five Live at the Fillmore Albums

1. Kurt Cobain

Kurt died by his own hand in April, 1994 at the age of 27. His death is to his generation is what John Lennon’s was to mine.  Nirvana’s success brought him fame and the “spokesman for a generation” label that he did not ask for and certainly did not want. Shades of Bob Dylan really.

2. Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22.  It is not possible to overstate his influence on rock and roll, from establishing with the Crickets the two guitars, bass and drums lineup that is still the template for a rock band today, to the creation of the first guitar wielding rockstar, through the use of the riff to hook the listener in. All in 16 months.

Here is Buddy on the Arthur Murray Dance Party show in 1957, before Niki Sullivan joined on rhythm guitar.

3. Gram Parsons

Gram Parsons died of a drug overdose at the age of 26 in a motel in Joshua Tree, California.  Although enjoying success as a solo artist and with The Byrds (“Sweethearts of the Rodeo” is the seminal work), The Flying Burrito Brothers and the International Submarine Band, it was really only posthumously that his contribution to the creation of the country rock genre was recognised.  I also think it is fair to say that his friendship and exploits, musical and otherwise, with Keith Richards are what assisted in the creation of that string of Stones’ country flavoured songs such as “Wild Horses” and “Sweet Virginia”.

The clip here is Gram singing with Emmylou Harris, who he “discovered” in 1972 and enlisted to sing on his first solo album “GP”.  There has not been a finer pairing of  voices before or since.

4. Jimi Hendrix

My cousin Gordon had Jimi Hendrix albums in around 1967 when I was 10.  Defined cool.  Still does, 45 years later.

It is tough to write anything about Hendrix that has not already been written.  Really tough not to speculate on what might have been had he lived beyond the mere 27 years he did.  I post regularly on a fine moderated musician’s forum called “The Gear Page” where there was recently a thread posing the question as to whether if Hendrix was alive he would be recording and gigging with the hip hop crowd.  It garnered 396 responses and 10,404 views, which are big numbers at that site.  Lots of people have views on what might have become of Jimi.

5. Janis Joplin

Another drug overdose at 27, with a truly unique legacy.  Blues driven, with an assault on gender norms. Not much more for me to say, with so much unsaid.

The guilty pleasure song is the secret shag of the music lover: always there, always dependable but you sure don’t want your friends to know who you are spending quality time with.  I run some risk with this list as there are perhaps people who don’t consider these songs guilty pleasures at all, but rather simply damn fine music.  Whatever. We will know who these folks are by the Journey coasters on their coffee table and their faded, but still wearable, Looking Glass bandana.

Next week:  Top Five Rock and Roll Artists Who Met a Far Too Early Demise

1. Don’t Stop Believin’-Journey

“Don’t Stop Believin'” was a bona fide hit off the chart topping 1981 album “Escape”.  Escape to or from what is unkown, but Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone called it one of the worst number one albums of all time.  Regardless, I confess to actually quite liking this song:  it is catchy, tells a rags to riches story and the psuedo rock riffage is the bomb.  Not to mention Steve Perry’s ‘do.

2. Hold the Line-Toto

What is about staccato piano intro’s followed by overly compressed guitar riffage? Is it part of a secret cheese formula?  This tune has both in spades.  I will say one thing however, the band members’ wide ranging and top drawer studio experience (Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and Sonny and Cher among others) shows through here with some of the smoothest fromage one could hope for.  This song was top 5 in 1978 and 1979 and was eclipsed only, in my opinion, by “Africa” and only then because the writers managed to work the words “Serengeti” and “Kilimanjaro” into one verse of one lyric for the only time in music history.  I have mentioned this fact before, but it such an achievement that I had to mention it again.

3. Hot Girls in Love-Loverboy

A little bit of Vancouver flavour here.  I actually kind of liked this band back in the day.  Local boys made good and Mike Reno drove a Ferrari, if I recall, before they were a dime a dozen.  No staccato piano, just a little synth and organ to round out the power chords.  Produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn,who had gold plated producing credits that went on forever, this is a slick (and very likeable tune).

4. Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)-Looking Glass

Formed at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Looking Glass was a more or less one hit wonder (a tune subsequent to this gem charted, but not so well).  This is cool little song, and probably wouldn’t even be a guilty pleasure at all but for the lyrics. I remember listening to it on my transistor when I was about 15.  I might have even bought the 45.  Another Top Five list, another day.

5. Make it With You-Bread

Charting at number one in 1970, this song was by far Bread’s biggest hit, although there were numerous others.  Epitomising that oxymoron called “soft rock”, I am not sure exactly why this song has stuck with me the way it has; perhaps it is the ever hopeful lyric.  Who really knows.  Passing  the true test of a guilty pleasure, I might smile and even light up a bit when I hear it, but I sure won’t put it on when you come over.

What makes people like music? More particularly, why does a person chose one genre over another? Or, within a single genre, why does someone prefer one song to another? I do not have definitive answers to these questions, but I do know that what I listen to today is greatly influenced by what I was exposed to growing up in my parents’ home. Like a salmon fry imprinted by the stream he was born into, I must return to it. My mom did not collect records but my dad did. He was a talented musician and his tastes embraced classical music (including opera), jazz, calypso and popular music—especially show tunes from Broadway musicals. Whether through nature or nurture I acquired a taste for all of the above, except opera. My main passion, however, ever since hearing (of all things) Eddie Hodges sing “I’m Going to Knock On Your Door” in 1961, was rock and roll, which my dad couldn’t stand to hear.

The selections below are taken from my dad’s collection, which my mom inherited when he passed away in 1971 and which I now have. The collection is surprisingly small, which is probably why I am so familiar with it. My dad was not averse to playing the same record over again (and again) in the same evening—all at high volume.

[You will notice a bit of a change in both form and substance with this week’s post. Please thank my friend Gordon who is guest blogging this week].

Next week: Top Five Acrimonious Breakups in Rock and Roll.

1. Michael Rabin: Paganini Concerto No. 1 in D major

Even though he passed away in 1972 when he was only 35, Michael Rabin is still considered to be one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century. I treasure this recording, which was issued in 1960 on the Capital label, number SP 8534. When CDs became available I searched for a CD version of this record and was delighted to find a 6 CD compilation of much of Rabin’s recorded music, including his interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, which to my mind is the greatest piece of music ever written (of course, a completely subjective judgment). Rabin’s performance of Paganini is dazzling and on Tchaikovsky he surpasses himself. No one—and I have listened all of the greats-moves me as much as Rabin. He imprints his own unique signature on every piece he plays.

2. Shelly Manne & His Friends: modern jazz performances of songs from My Fair Lady

This mono recording, issued by Contemporary Records in 1956, is the first album ever made consisting entirely of jazz versions of tunes from a single Broadway musical. It falls into the West Coast sub-genre and became one of the best-selling jazz albums of its day. On piano is a young Andre Previn. He really sparkles. In later years Previn became associated with film music, racking up 4 Academy Awards and 11 Grammies. In this clip someone has added an intro by Julie Andrews which is not part of the recording. So skip ahead to 31 seconds. Very cooool.

3. Camelot: Original Broadway Cast Recording

I heard this album (released in 1960 on Columbia KOS 2031) so often that I almost know it note for note. Featuring Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, Camelot introduced the world to Robert Goulet. “If Ever I Would Leave You” became his signature tune.

4. Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody On a Theme From Paginini

The famous composer performs his own work on this album, which was issued in 1950 by RCA Victor Red Seal under number LCT 1118. I find the 18th variation especially moving. At a performance of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra earlier this year it brought tears to my eyes. For those of you who think that you’re not familiar with it just go to 5:30 in the clip and listen for 2 minutes or so. I expect you’ll recognize it.

5. Edmundo Ros and His Orchestra: Calypso Man

Edmundo Ros passed away last year just shy of his 101st birthday. In the 1940s and 1950s he was part of the huge calypso craze that swept across Europe and North America. Ros owned his own nightclub in London and often played at Buckingham Palace. “Calypso Man” was issued in 1957 as Decca LK 4202. The song “Magistrate Try Yourself” was one of my favourites as a little boy. The concept of a judge trying himself for speeding appealed to some part of my formative brain.

I occasionally play guitar and sing at the same time in The Falcon Band (as it has come to be known) on Friday nights. It used to be a regular occurrence but then we got a real singer, allowing me to concentrate on playing.  During my tenure as a singing guitar player, I discovered that attempting singing over anything more than  strummed cowboy chords made me realise why there is both a Keith and a Mick.  Drumming and singing at the same time takes matters to a whole other level.

Despite the fact that the dexterity required to practise their craft is akin to that required to fly a helicopter, drummers take all sorts of knocks from other musicians and are the brunt of many a joke (Q: How can you tell  a drummer is at the door? A: The knocking speeds up).   I have attempted to play the drums several times (usually in the darkness of night, with no one around) but have never even flirted with the idea of singing while pounding away. So my hat is off to drummers that sing. Here are my Top Five (not counting, of course, the Falcon Band drummer  John who sings from time to time).

Speaking of hats, here is a tip to Foremost for the topic and one of the links. Guess which one?

Next week:  Special Canada Day Edition:  Top Five Canadian Bands.

1. Levon Helm

Without hesitation, Levon is at the top of my list.  He may have even invented the singing drummer.  What I like about Levon is that both his singing and playing are so distinctive that I can’t envision The Band having done what they did without both of Levon’s voice and sticks.  Here is clip from a Band rehearsal in 1969, that is well worth watching despite the annoying watermark.

2. Karen Carpenter

Karen was not only a singing  drummer, but the double rarity of a female singing drummer.  With her brother Richard, the Carpenters proved to be a highly successful soft rock act in the early 1970’s  when mega bands like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were at their creative zeniths.  It is I think easy to be dismissive of the Carpenters in general and Karen’s abilities behind the kit in particular.  But watch this compilation. You may change your mind as I did.

3. Ringo Starr

Ringo is frequently dissed by non-drummers but his skills are praised by every drummer I have met,  and by  those who know what they are talking about when it comes to music, whether drummers or not. Ringo really didn’t sing much with The Beatles (about twelve songs plus backing vocals on another four or five) but his contributions stand out.  Here is my favourite.

4. Phil Collins

Phil was a drummer first (who coincidentally says Ringo was his greatest influence) and only started singing when Peter Gabriel left the proggish rock group Genesis to pursue a solo career.  After a hugely successful solo career himself, his latter output was less stellar and he became almost Elton John like in terms of writing pop music for the screen.  Here he is at is finest.  Does everyone remember the “Miami Vice” episode where Crockett and Tubbs were driving off in the Testarossa to get the bad guys, accompanied by this song?  I know, the general plot description really doesn’t narrow it down much does it?

5. Sheila E.

Another double winner, the “E” stands for Escovedo.  Sheila is the niece of Alejandro Escovedo who  I wrote about in my “Top Five Bands You Really Should Listen to if the Last Record You Bought is Led Zeppelin II” (you can find a link on the left).  Sheila is best known for her work with Prince and Ringo Starr, although she has enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist.  Here she is in 1984’s “Glamorous Life”, produced by Prince.

This week’s post comes about as a result of a friend’s observation that I have not been writing a whole lot (okay, nothing) about newer music. I am not quite sure why that is. While there is lots of music made in the last decade I don’t listen to, there are a large number of more or less contemporary artists whose music I enjoy. So here is a sampler. I would love to hear your choices.

Next week: Top Five Glam Rock Songs

1. My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket was formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1998 by the truly charismatic singer, songwriter, guitarist and consummate front man Jim James. Their first album “Tennessee Fire” was released in 1999. A half dozen or so studio and a couple of live albums have followed since. I was first introduced to them in about 2004 or so when my friend Chris gave me a copy of “It Still Moves” which had been released a couple years prior. I loved them out of the gate, and became a card carrying convert when I saw them at The Commodore Ballroom around the same time. If venue is any measure of success, I saw them at the far larger and upscale Orpheum in Vancouver this spring.

My Morning Jacket’s music embraces rock, hard rock, folk, funk, gospel, pop, prog, psychedelia, country, alt-country and probably a couple other genres I missed. Their live shows are legendary, attaining almost mythical status after a four hour, thirty five song, two set performance at Bonnaroo in 2008. If everyone who says they were there were really was, it was an event bigger than Woodstock.

This track is from an appearance on the Letterman show in 2006 and will give you some sense of the musicality of the band in general and the presence of Jim James in particular.

2. Jack White

I was late to Jack White and first started listening when “Icky Thump” was released in 2007, ten years into the White Stripes’ career. It turns out this was their last album. The White Stripes consisted of Jack on guitar, keyboards and vocals and his then wife Meg on drums. Low fi and highly esthetic from the beginning, they took blues and rock motifs, stripped them down further and then blew the doors off them. It really is what he is still doing.

Jack has since become a producer of renown, winning a Grammy for his work with Loretta Lynn on the recent “Van Lear Rose” and reviving the career of Wanda Jackson. He is also the owner and operator of Third Man records, a drummer and occasional vocalist with Dead Weather, a guitarist and vocalist with The Raconteurs and most recently a solo artist. I saw him last week in Vancouver, with the all female version of one of his two touring bands, the other being all male. Jack wears his musical influences on his tailored sleeve, and they are “Americana eclectic”, a phrase I just made up but kind of like. Authentic rock and roll boys and girls, the kind you used to hear in garages around the land, albeit polished up a bit, but still with a wailing distorted guitar. Refreshing actually.

This is “Love Interruption” off Jack’s very first, very recent and very eclectic solo album. It is great song but what I really like is that you would be hard pressed to assign it to a decade if you were hearing it blind.

3. Alejandro Escovedo

My friend Evie turned me onto Alejandro Escovedo a couple years ago. I will be forever grateful. It turns out that although he is from and still resides in San Antonio, Texas, he also has roots in Vancouver, having been part of the local punk scene here in the early 1980’s. Punk influences still show through in his alt country tinged rock music. Playing in a succession of bands through the 1990’s (including a wonderful collaboration with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown in 1997) and two critically received solo releases, he has nevertheless remained below the radar. He has however been enormously well received by many musicians of note, including Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle.

My favourite Alejandro anecdote involves his song “Castanets”. At some point he heard that George W. Bush had the song on his favourite iPod playlist. It was dropped from live play, with explanation, until W left office.

Here is the offending song. More garage rock, except this time with a fiddler and a cellist. Outstanding really.

4. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is singer/songwriter from Jacksonville, South Carolina. Originally part of the band Whiskeytown, Ryan’s first solo release was “Heartbreaker” in 2000, and featured prominently Gillian Welch and David Rawliings. He has recorded with several bands (including his death metal band Werewolph) , the finest being, in my opinion, The Cardinals. Ryan’s music-most of it-takes off directly from Gram Parsons. Usually labelled as alt-country, I like to think that it is “real” country, respectful of Hank and Johnny, not the pop music with a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle that you hear on the radio.

Ryan has hearing loss as a result of having contracted Meniere’s disease. He has said that this has contributed to his decision to quit the Cardinals, although he did tour solo last year, and is apparently currently recording two albums.

This clip, with the Cardinals, is from Letterman’s show in 2007.

5. Ron Sexsmith

Rox Sexsmith hails from St. Catharines, Ontario. Praised by the likes of Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Paul McCartney and Ray Davies, he has critical success that has not been matched commercially. I have seen him twice in very small venues (good for me, not so good for Ron) and both times have wondered aloud why I am not walking out of a place that seats thousands. His story (quest really) was very well told in a recent documentary called “Love Shines” which premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival in 2010, and is shown on HBO Canada from time to time.

Ron has many gifts, but the greatest is that of songwriting. His music is wonderfully expressive, intimate really, a word I think is overused when describing music but which I think is entirely appropriate here.

Here is Ron on Elvis’ show “Spectacle” in 2009. Watch the expressions on the faces of Jesse Winchester, Neko Case, Cheryl Crowe and Elvis, which say it all.

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.