Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Liz Phair’s Exile on Guyville was literally one of the seminal albums of the 1990s, adored by fans and critics alike for its frank sexuality, brazen humour and rocking indie beats.
Today, Exile is being reissued in a 15th anniversary edition with a couple of outtakes and a “Guyville Redux” documentary directed by Phair herself. If you have never owned this potty-mouthed masterpiece, now is the time to pick it up.
In an era where one listens to a song for 10 seconds on one's iPod before skipping to the next shuffle track, Exile was, and remains, an album to get lost in. It brazenly mixes moments of Stones-like bravado, sexual longing, hillarious private thoughts and extreme vulnerability. And her very underrated guitar holds it all together.
And the fact that Pretty Miss Lizzy was a well-heeled lass from Winnetka, the tony Chicago suburb where John Hughes did his films, made her a feminist hero to similarly bred Gen-X women and a fantasy object to their men -- not an easy trick.
Alanis Morrisette must have picked up on it, as she stole Liz's worldview wholesale and sold 10 or 15 million copies of Jagged Little Pill.
Liz is doing a couple acoustic shows in NYC this week of Exile, front to back; or more appropriately, top to bottom.
She is also finishing up a new record for the artist-friendly label ATO Records, which bodes well for a return to the quirky sexy songwriting and performing that characterized her first three albums. All of us here at Rock Turtleneck look forward to her return.
Herewith, a trailer for the Exile doc, plus YouTube videos of two key Exile tracks.
“Guyville Redux” trailer
Monday, June 23, 2008
George Carlin, who died yesterday, was a true American Master. For almost 50 years, he tickled America's collective funny bone with Ginsu-sharp observations on language, hypocrisy, culture and our mundane existence.
Like all great observers, from Picasso to Bob Dylan to Jerry Seinfeld, Carlin had a gift for seeing things that no one else noticed and making them seem obvious. And he underscored his brilliant writing with a hillarious physicality that bolded, italicized and semi-coloned his points in just the right places.
If you grew up in the 70s or 80s, listening to his LP Class Clown or watching one of his many HBO specials was an unforgettable rite of passage between pleasantly intoxicated friends.
Unlike many comedians, who start out edgy and become bland over time, Carlin thrived on the edge of the mainstream, questioning authority to the ripe ol' age of 71.
Fortunately, Mr. Carlin lives on - on YouTube. Here are a few classic Carlin clips. RIP and TCB O Hippy Dippy One.
"The Hippy Dippy Weather Man"
"Baseball and Football"
Friday, June 20, 2008
Today my wife Liz and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. I have been blessed with a fabulous, funny, smart, brave and loving wife and three sweet, comically adorable kids who behave themselves from time to time.
In 1998, Liz and I were also blessed with the taste and foresight to choose a perfect wedding song: “Two of Us” by The Beatles.
Paul McCartney, who wrote “Two of Us” in late 1968, says the song was inspired by the aimless countryside drives he and future spouse Linda Eastman would take during their courtship, where they would purposely try to get lost: “Sunday driving, not arriving.”
Indeed, this wistful acoustic ballad perfectly captures the innocence and magic of a relationship in early bloom. It fumbles its way in and tries to keep up with a shared history of memories as they pile up.
But like many great songs, “Two of Us” works on at least one other level: as a song of love between Macca and his partner in genius John Lennon.
Now in the late stages of their partnership and knowing it, with Lennon hooked up with that kooky Japanese BS artist, McCartney found it within himself to bridge the growing chasm between himself and Lennon by writing a song perfectly suited for them to sing together Everly Brothers-style, just like the old days.
Thus McCartney, never a big one for confrontation, could say the tune was for Linda while sprinkling the song with unmistakable messages to Lennon like “you and me chasing paper, getting nowhere” and “you and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” Its mix of poignancy and optimism makes it one of the very best Beatles tracks.
With its refrain of “we’re going home,” “Two of Us” celebrates the simple joy of being together. It's a perfect song for a relationship that’s two weeks, ten years or four score old.
Liz: I know you’re not a daily RT reader but should you see this, Happy Anniversary!
Herewith, “Two of Us” in several incarnations from the January, 1969 Let it Be Sessions.
The Beatles, "Two of Us" Let it Be
The Beatles, "Two of Us" aka "On Our Way Home" (early rocking version)
mp3: The Beatles, "Two of Us" Let it Be... Naked
mp3: The Beatles, "Two of Us" aka "On Our Way Home" (early rocking version)
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I was very excited to see the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss show at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday. Alas, at the last minute I was called away on a business trip to Dallas, so instead of swaying my head to the dulcet tones of "Please Read the Letter" I found myself wedged in the middle seat on an overbooked flight for eight hours as we waited out delays due to East Coast storms.
All was not lost however, as I did receive a nice tidbit of Bob Dylan trivia via my brother "Super" Dave Walsh, who attended the show and purchased the tour program.
According to the program, Raising Sand producer and occasional Dylan sideman T-Bone Burnett suggested in an August 27, 2006 letter Plant & Krauss that they record an unreleased Bob Dylan song from the 1997 Time Out of Mind sessions called "Red River Shore."
"This is a powerful and soulful song that I would think Robert could find his way into with Alison singing harmony as a duet," said the T-mail. "The phrasing is abstract so it would require some study. It is important to Bob (Dylan) that we keep this recording strictly between us."
Rock Turtleneck honors and respects Dylan's privacy as well, but if it's in the tourbook, then the cat is out of the bag, babe. No word on whether the song was actually recorded or whether it was just tossed around.
Nevertheless, the knowledge of an unreleased Dylan gem is always tantalizing, whether played by Dylan himself or by two master interpreters like Plant & Krauss. Perhaps "Red River Shore" will shore up on the rumoured upcoming Bootleg Series 8, which supposedly features leftovers from the last 20 years or so.
Anyone out there know anything about "Red River Shore"?
While we wait, here's a slow-burn version of Led Zep's cock-rock manifesto "Black Dog" by Plant & Krauss. Then Dylan and T-Bone jamming together in the most unlikely of venues: an episode of Dharma & Greg from right around the time of Time Out of Mind. Jenna Elfman is kinda cute but she's no Levon Helm.
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, "Black Dog" CMT's Crossroads
Bob Dylan & T-Bone Burnett, "The Ballad of Dharma & Greg"
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Happy 57th birthday wishes to Steve Walsh.
"Steve Walsh... I know that name," you say. "He is the brilliant but mercurial Rock Turtleneck uber-blogger." True, but today's birthday boy is the other Steve Walsh, lead singer and keyboardist for the ridiculously pretentious, hirsuite and popular 70s cock-rock band Kansas.
There's an adage amongst rock fans that one should beware of any band named after a geographic location, and this rule holds true largely because of Kansas.
In addition to singing and performing on pseudointellectual FM staples like "Carry On My Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind" and "Point of Know (sic) Return," Steve Walsh has also managed to squeeze in two completely undistinguished careers as a solo artist and with the 80s band The Streets.
30 years after hitting it big, Kansas is still on the road, playing to balding, paunchy prog-rock lovers across this great land of ours.
From one Steve Walsh to another, happy birthday. And remember: If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don't know.
Kansas, "Carry On My Wayward Son" (Grab your Swiffer)
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The latest issue of Rolling Stone counts down the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time." And like Rolling Stone in general, it’s partly right on the money and partly ridiculous.
The top of the list has the usual, well-deserved suspects: “Johnny B. Goode,” “You Really Got Me,” “Purple Haze,” “Eruption,” "Stairway to Heaven."
There are also some thoughtful selections: The Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” is smartly cited for great work by both Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. "Achilles' Last Stand" is rightly recognized as Jimmy Page's magnum opus. And the unflashy but ingenious soundscapes of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” and The Smiths’s “How Soon is Now?” are also given a nod.
Elsewhere, however, you’ll find Weezer (really?) Joan Jett (don't put another dime in the jukebox baby), Iggy & the Stooges (enough already) and John Mayer’s “Gravity.” Mayer is a talented guitarist and songwriter, but “Gravity” is nowhere near top-100 territory. Putting him in the list was surely a shrewd excuse to put the Aniston-shagging pretty boy on the (back) cover.
Fret not: Rock Turtleneck has set out to right Rolling Stone’s wrongs. A great guitar song should force the listener to turn up his or her music delivery system of choice and incite a frantic, fevered search for the nearest tennis racquet, 2x4, or Swiffer. An actual guitar won’t do.
Herewith, a few oversights, each followed by a handily illustrative YouTube clip.
Steely Dan, “Reeling in the Years” RS put “Kid Charlemagne” at #80, but this is the one that should be here. It’s basically one scorching solo with some verses thrown in every once in a while to give axeman Elliot Randall a breather. His trebly tone is magnificent. If you went to college in the 70s or 80s you probably spent more time aping this solo than you did studying.
Yes, “Yours is No Disgrace” In terms of critical acclaim prog rock bands are only a step or two above Limp Bizkit, but Yes and guitarist Steve Howe in particular are given a bum rap. While Howe may have classical pretentions, his playing is equally influenced by Rolling Stone approved players like Charlie Christian, Chet Atkins and George Harrison. Like "Reeling in the Years," this track from The Yes Album is basically a nine minute genre-hopping guitar showcase with an occasional verse thrown in.
R.E.M., “Pretty Persuasion” The newly resurgent Athens heroes are completely left off the list. And while they are more of a song-oriented band, Peter Buck's arpeggio-laden Rickenbacker sound is one of the cornerstones of "alternative" rock, second to the Edge and tied with Johnny Marr. And slightly ahead of Joan Jett.
Neil Young, “Cinnamon Girl.” The dudes at Rolling Stone selected “Down by the River” for its rambling one note solo, but this track, also from Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, has a more intense one-note solo. In terms of one-note solos, this is one worth noting.
Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend” Mr. Sweet's guitar epic was bolstered by two punk-era legends Television's Tom Verlaine and Robert Quine of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. In addition to being an ax-travaganza, it's one of those songs that sounds like it’s been around forever.
Talking Heads, “The Great Curve” Criminally left off the RS list is Adrian Belew, one of the most distinctive, otherworldly guitarists ever to strap on a Strat. This Afro-beat ode to the primal power of the earth mother features several dazzling solos from the Twang-Bar King, who has also worked with David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, King Crimson and the Bears.
The Beatles, “The End.” For their grand finale on Abbey Road, Paul, George and John stood in a circle and took turns soloing, each channeling their personality via axe: Macca, melodic and clean, Harrison, well rehearsed and passionate, and Lennon, angry, nasty dirty and brilliant. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. But plugging in and rocking out with your mates is what really matters.
Friday, June 06, 2008
Despite being the so-called “voice of a generation” and paragon of the protest song, Bob Dylan really isn’t all that political. Of the 40,000 or so songs in the Dylan catalog, relatively few are explicitly about any type of political situation.
Lines pop up here and there, but he has always been too sharp and subtle to succumb to heavy handed political pinko claptrap like Don Henley or Jackson Browne.
A prophetic line like “Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked” from 1965’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” got big applause when played on the 1974 Watergate-era tour with the Band. But that song also touches on consumerism, the apocalypse, loneliness, paranoia and desperation.
So it’s quite something to read today that Dylan, in an interview with the UK paper the Times Online, has more or less endorsed Barack Obama for president:
“Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up... Barack Obama. He's redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to. You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future."
Rock Turtleneck is throwing its hefty political influence behind the Junior Senator from Illinois as well. Now that the superdelegates of the rock blogosphere are falling in behind Obama, it should be smooth sailing from here to the White House.
Herewith, in keeping with the Obama campaign theme, some change-oriented Dylan mp3s.
Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” Live 1964: The Philharmonic Hall Concert
Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed” Wonder Boys soundtrack (1999)
Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin'" (Barack Obama video tribute)
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
In the wake of Bo Diddley's passing, and Rock Turtleneck's historic tribute, the far-reaching instances of the Bo Diddley beat are flowin' in like the mighty Mississippi. Unfortunately for Bo, beats cannot be copyrighted, otherwise he'd have been richer than Don Henley.
Grab your maracas - it's time for more of that Bo Diddley beat!
Elvis Presley, "His Latest Flame"
(If you think Elvis invented Rock & Roll, you don't know Diddley)
The Band w/Ronnie Hawkins, "Who Do You Love" (written by Bo Diddley) The Last Waltz
Bow Wow Wow, "I Want Candy"
Grateful Dead, "Not Fade Away" (7.4.89, Orchard Park, NY)
The White Stripes, "Screwdriver" (live Detroit 11.2.01)
WARNING: CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE
REO Speedwagon, "Don't Let Him Go" Hi Infidelity
(Hear that sound? It's Bo rolling over in his grave)
Thanks to Jeff Bazyk for this awesome suggestion
Bo-nus boffo Bo Diddley clip WITHOUT the Bo Diddley beat:
Bo Diddley, "Road Runner"
Monday, June 02, 2008
With our collective emotions an open wound following Friday's passing of Harvey Korman, now comes the death of another giant: Bo Diddley. Bo, who was born Otha Ellas Bates and died at 79, created a sound all his own, rhythmic and raw and completely infectious. And he kept at it for over a half century, spreading the gospel to venues large and small around the world.
If your idea of punk rock is Green Day, check out the following clip and see what do-it-yourself music really sounds like, and why The Clash picked Mr. Diddley as their opening act on the London Calling tour in 1980.
Bo Diddley, of course, is also the inventor of the Bo Diddley beat. A seemingly simple ba-bum-bum bum-bum, it has applications in blues, gospel, pop, stadium rock, college rock and Plymouth Rock. Rhythmically it might as well be E=MC2.
And really, how many people in the course of a lifetime, invent their own beat? Mozart was a genius no doubt, but is there a Mozart Beat? Not to my knowledge. Paul McCartney writes songs, plays bass, guitar, drums, piano and sings better than just about anyone. But is he talented enough to create the MaccaBeat? Apparently not.
Bo Diddley put his eponymous beat and homemade oblong guitar to work on hits like "Bo Diddley," "Who Do You Love" "Mona" and others, and his infectious beat spread faster than crabs at a Spring Break keg party. Here are just a few of the more famous uses of Bo Diddley's fantastic beat. RIP and TCB, Bo.
Bo Diddley, "Hey Bo Diddley" and "Bo Diddley"
The Rolling Stones, "Not Fade Away" (written by Buddy Holly), 1964
The Who, "Magic Bus"
Bruce Springsteen, "She's the One" Hammersmith Odeon, 1975
The Smiths, "How Soon is Now?"
U2, "Desire" (live at Irving Plaza, NYC, 2000)
Any more examples of that boffo Bo Diddley beat? Let us bo, I mean know!