Thursday, July 26, 2007
Columbia Records recently announced “DYLAN,” a“definitive” 3-CD retrospective set for release October 1. According to the press release, this triptych will contain “51 Tracks spanning five decades” and include “extensive liner notes and never-before-seen photos.”
My first reaction upon hearing about this imaginatively titled box set was “I think this album already came out in 1985. It was called Biograph.”Biograph, you may recall, was the first “box set” of the CD era (it was also available on LP and cassette - how quaint). ‘Twas a sumptuous banquet of 53 Dylan standards, key album tracks and gems from the vault, sequenced by feel rather than chronology.
The previously unreleased tracks were stunning. “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” from The Times They Are A-Changin’ sessions, was one of his best-ever songs, with words worthy of Whitman (Walt, not Slim). “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was a barn burner with the Hawks in his plugged-in prime. And it staggered the mind to think how “Up to Me” was left off Blood on the Tracks.
If you knew Dylan only by his heavy-airplay classics (as I did at the time), Biograph was the ideal entry point into the heart, soul and stunning versatility of this genius for the ages. A surprise hit, Biograph paved the way for a deluge of boxes from the sublime (James Brown’s Star Time, Rhino’s Sun Records Collection) to the ridiculous (100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong).
Dylan deserves better than to be repackaged like chicken past its expiration date. Since he has blazed so many trails already, perhaps it is time for him to reinvent the box set medium and pave the way to a new era of music consumption. Here are a few suggestions:
• "This Is Ten Times Worse". 3 CDs of live performances arranged by quality: one inspired, one forgettable and one god-awful.
• "I Mumbled Something Underneath My Breath". 88 incomprehensible late-period performances with no track listing. Part retrospective, part parlor game, it will allow hard-core fans to spend hours debating what song Dylan is actually playing. Is he doing “To Ramona” or “Boots of Spanish Leather”? Is that “Drifter’s Escape” sped up or “Tombstone Blues” slowed down? Is he covering the Carter Family or Warren Zevon?
• "How Many Times..." A 41-CD box containing all 1,027 known performances of "Blowin’ in the Wind."
• TV Talkin’ Songs. A deluxe CD/DVD set of Dylan’s most bizarre TV appearances and acceptance speeches. Highlights include his 1991 Lifetime Acheivement Grammy speech (“It is possible to become so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you”); his appearances on the 1986, 1989 and 1991 Chabad telethons; and the episode of Dharma and Greg where he jams with T-Bone Burnett and Jenna Elfman.
Suggestions? Rock Turtleneck welcomes them wholeheartedly.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Talking Heads are probably best known for their innovative concert film Stop Making Sense. And while it is indeed among the greatest rock films ever made, Heads-heads know that their true peak came a few years earlier, at the dawn of the Reagan era.
Someone — whom Rock Turtleneck believes should be knighted and/or nominated for sainthood — has posted on YouTube a full Talking Heads show from Rome in 1980, and it is absolutely astounding to watch this band in action.
After three groundbreaking, brilliant albums — Talking Heads ’77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, and Fear of Music — the band had grown from quirkily melodic art-school dropouts to leading-edge visionaries. But they had taken their four-man band sound as far as they could.
So David Byrne did what any sensible genius would do. With the help of egghead producer/svengali Brian Eno, he transformed his tight little band into the white man’s P-Funk All-Stars, with an additional keyboardist, bassist, backup singers and most memorably, Adrian Belew on lead guitar.
The subsequent album, Remain in Light, was their masterpiece, highlighted by “Once in a Lifetime” and a side-long suite of polyrhythmic jams: “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On),” “Crosseyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve.” Twenty-seven years (gasp) after its release, it still sounds weirdly ahead of its time.
As the Rome clips demonstrate, the live shows somehow managed to take the groove even further. Whereas the Stop Making Sense shows were as much art concept as concert, here it is still all about the music, baby. Watch in awe as this 10-person new wave mothership simmer and soar, such as “Crosseyed and Painless” when Byrne waddles around the stage like a sweaty ostrich while Belew's guitar screams like a flamingo finally freed from an African zoo.
After you watch the YouTube clips, you should immediately pick up The Name of this Band is Talking Heads, reissued by Rhino a couple of years ago. The expanded two-CD set traces their startling evolution from downtown preppies in 1977 to world-music messiahs only three or four years later. Perhaps only The Beatles or Dylan changed more in such a short period of time.
YouTube: Talking Heads Rome 1980
Amazon.com: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Several months back, Rock Turtleneck praised the advance eponymous single from Icky Thump, the latest record from the White Stripes. At the time, “Icky Thump” seemed to be Jack White’s most accomplished Led Zeppelin homage to date. This is saying something, given the very Lemon-Songish “Ball & Biscuit” from Elephant and the Levee-breaking title track to the Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers.
Listening to Icky Thump in full today, it became clear that Jack White had found a way to get even more of the Led out, in a way which separates him from almost all other Zep worshipers.
The track is called “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and its genius in Zep rippery lies not in the replication of their one-of-a-kind blues bombast, but in perhaps the best Zep of all – the Scottish folk cottage Zeppelin. Think “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” “Gallows Pole,” "That's the Way" or “The Battle of Evermore.” This is the Zep that many of us gravitate to most often. The Zeppelin that can be enjoyed equally on Saturday night or Sunday morning. It’s high time someone who understands where all this music comes from paid loving tribute to it.
Listening to “Prickly Thorn,” it’s easy to imagine Jack & Meg sitting around a peaty hearth in the Scottish highlands, trading instruments with Pagey & Percy, passing barley wine and a peace pipe whilst experimenting with ancient tunings.
As with all great tributes, the genius is in the details. Note how Meg's very Bonzo-esque floor tom stomp comes in on the second verse. And how Jack White's double tracked vocals put a bustle in your hedgegrow. Speaking of which, the lyrics to "Prikly Thorn" could have come straight from Robert Plant’s Zo-So feather pen:
The silver birches pierce through an icy fog
Which covers the ground most daily
And the angels which carry St. Andrew high
Are singing a tune most gaily
Led Zeppelin is a very misunderstood group. For all their heavy metal swordsmanship, the band was just as enthralled with Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Fairport Convention. Not to mention rockabilly and eastern music. It was their omnivorous love of music from all over the globe that made them the mighty force they were. You could say they were the White Stripes of their day.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Last weekend, Al Gore brought the earth’s climate crisis to the world’s attention by staging energy-guzzling concerts on every continent. Isn’t that like promoting vegetarianism with a global hot dog eating contest?
Anyway, let us breathe a carbon dioxide-heavy sigh of relief, for Live Earth is finally over. And despite interesting sets by the Police and a Les Paul-wielding Madonna, and Bon Jovi reminding us all that the “New York” concert was actually very much in New Jersey (JBJ introduced their best song, “Wanted: Dead or Alive” as “the national anthem”), Live Earth has to go down as the lamest major benefit concert ever.
The once-noble tradition of rocking for a good cause began in 1967 with the epic Monterey Pop Festival. Although it started out as an answer to the myriad jazz and folk festivals of the day, organizer “Papa” John Phillips turned into a charitable show in order to lure the most high-minded artists of the day. It was a coming-out party for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who, Ravi Shankar, Otis Redding and many other now-legends.
A few years later, George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh brought the plight of the third world to America’s attention, highlighted by Bob Dylan’s magnificent out-of-seclusion set. Bangladesh also pioneered the tradition of raised funds not making it to their intended beneficiary, which Live Aid gamely followed in 1985.
Now, 40 years after Monterey, the rock fundraiser has de-evolved into a model of vague hypocrisy, best exemplified by the insufferable Melissa Etheridge. Watching her self-aggrandizing, patronizing, pinko party-line mid-song monologues, it’s almost impossible to believe she’s serious.
How many carbon offsets will it take to offset the hot air Gore, Etheridge and friends released into the world’s dwindling oxygen supply on 7.07.07? Start switching your lightbulbs now.