Posts Tagged ‘The Rolling Stones’

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.

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.