Wednesday, February 25, 2009
George Harrison: 25 February, 1943 - 29 November 2001
In 1997, the great George Harrison and his Indian home slice Ravi Shankar swung by a VH1 show hosted by John Fugelsang to plug Ravi's new album Chants of India, which George produced. Legend has it that a staffer on the show had brought in a guitar there in case George decided to play, and he did.
"All Things Must Pass" 1997, VH1
George is in great spirits throughout the interview, probably because he doesn't have to talk about the Beatles. It was one of Harrison's last TV appearances and of course, his choice of song takes on added poignancy in light of his passing four years later.
You can see more of the fascinating interview below.
And here's a nice clip of Macca doing "All Things Must Pass" in Madrid in 2004 for his fallen friend.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Today is Fat Tuesday, the last day of Mardi Gras, the biggest party in New Orleans and the world. As the last day of lent, it's a call to arms to get one's ya-ya's out before the obligatory act of sacrifice that is Lent.
While I am remiss to say I have never had the pleasure of attending Mardi Gras, I have grooved many a time to New Orleans: The Original Sound of Funk 1960-75, an incredible British import from Soul Jazz records filled with a gumbo of incredibly funky tracks from all of the heaviest hitters on the Gumbo circuit: The Nevilles, The Meters, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Lee Dorsey and many acts I've never heard of - like The Gaturs, Gentleman June Gardner and Huey "Piano" Smith & His Clowns - who are equally deserving of high praise.
The Gaturs: "Gator Bait" (from New Orleans: The Original Sound of Funk 1960-75)
Without further adeaux, get on your beads, whip up a tub full o' hurricanes and download this incredible, hard to find compilation right here.
Aaron Neville: "Hercules" (from New Orleans: The Original Sound of Funk 1960-75)
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Happy Birthday to Kurt Donald Cobain, born in Hoquiam, Washington on February 20, 1967. Had he not taken his own life in April of 1994 at age 27, Kurt would have turned 42.
Kurt and his band Nirvana came and went like a true rock & roll supernova, leaving a completely transformed musical landscape in their wake. Perhaps only Jimi Hendrix made as massive an impression in as short a time.
Rock Turtleneck will be paying a more complete tribute to this gifted, tragic artist in April as we approach the 15th anniversary of his passing. In the meantime, here's one of the best clips I've seen of the band. It's a live version of "Drain You," Kurt's ode to the bodily functions, fluids and secretions of childbirth, from a French TV show in February of 1994 — a mere two months before he died.
The band, with new rhythm guitarist Pat Smear in tow, looks sharp and Hamburg-era Beatlesque in their matching suits. Such is Kurt's passion at the end of the song that he puts down his guitar and just sings his heart out. R.I.P Kurt.
Nirvana: "Drain You" French TV Show, 4 February 1994
Friday, February 20, 2009
Just try and resist this toe-tapping anthem by indie rock svengali M. Ward. “Never Had Nobody Like You” is the lead single from his new record Hold Time. It’s a delicious mix of Lennon’s “Instant Karma,” Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part II” and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” He did a spirited performance on David Letterman’s show this week:
M. Ward (the M stands for Matt, not Maternity or Montgomery) a Portland-based musician’s musician and songwriter’s songwriter who favors vintage equipment, is at the center of a very Laurel Canyon-ish coterie of musicians who collaborate and cohabitate with each other with impressive and alarming fecundity.
Last year, Ward collaborated with Almost Famous ingénue Zooey Deschanel in a band called She and Him. Rather than a Hollywood vanity project like Don Johnson’s Heartbeat, their debut Volume One was a strong, fun set of songs, reminiscent of the Mamas & the Papas, most written by Zooey herself. She is also a fine singer and sings backup on “Never Had Nobody Like You.”
She & Him, "Why Don't You Let Me Stay Here?"
Zooey also sang backup vocals on Jenny Lewis’s album Acid Tongue, Rock Turtleneck’s favorite album of 2008. Here's Jenny doing the very Laurel Canyon-ish title track:
Jenny, like Zooey, is also an actress turned musician. In addition to leading the fine LA pop group Rilo Kiley, Lewis sings for The Postal Service, a side project of Ben Gibbard. Gibbard is the creative force behind the band Death Cab for Cutie. He recently got engaged to … Zooey Deschanel. Here are Ben & Jenny playing an acoustic version of the excellent Postal Service track "Such Great Heights":
According to a recent profile in the New York Times, M. Ward is working on a Monsters of Folk, a collaboration with Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes) and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. Will this be a CSN for the Obama Era? Judging by this clip from a 2008 rally, it looks like Deja Vu all over again.
Crosby, Stills & Nash: "Deja Vu," 1991
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Last week’s post about “Warm Leatherette,” the Normal's New Wave ode to car-crash necrophilia, has sparked a plea for more lost classics from this self-loathing, synth-heavy era.
“Dear Rock Turtleneck” writes reader Kevin O’Connor. “I dug the piece about ‘Warm Leatherette.’ Rock Turtleneck is easily the best music blog ever written – all others are an insult to music. You deserve the Pulitzer Prize for music blogging. What about ’88 Lines About 44 Women’?”
Thanks, Kevin. Perhaps no song has ever had a more self-explanatory song title than The Nails’ 1984 hit “88 Lines About 44 Women.”
It’s a brilliantly simple concept: with a Lou Reed-like deadpan, the singer rattles off two-line factoids about 44 women that he has presumably dated and kept extensive notes on. Like “Warm Leatherette,” “88 Lines” explores on the dark underbelly of human existence, touching on S&M, self-gratification and even Scientology:
Full lyrics to "88 Lines About 44 Women."
A 70s-style feminist would no doubt argue that because the narrator has devoted a mere two lines to almost four dozen women, he is a filthy sexist pig. I would beg to differ. How many of us could come up with the names and distinctive archetypes of every single woman we ever sucked face with at a college kegger or work Christmas party? This is clearly a man who loves women – in fact it’s surprising that he never wrote a follow up called “88 More Lines about 44 Subsequent Women”:
Hillary was a grunge rocker
She shot herself when Cobain died
Jenny worked nights at IHOP
She liked her sausage on the side
Tracy was a moll from Bayside Queens
She was married to the mob
Stacy was a conspiracy nut
She thought 9/11 was an inside job
Here's the Nails’ only hit for your downloading pleasure. Learn it, know it, live it.
mp3: The Nails, "88 Lines About 44 Women"
Friday, February 13, 2009
Mid-60's "classic era" Bob Dylan is famous for his sneers, put-ons and put-downs, but for every "Positively 4th Street" or "Like a Rolling Stone," there is a beautiful ballad, such Dylan's ode to his Valentine, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit." It's one of the true gems of the Dylan catalog, a highlight of Dylan’s 1965 masterpiece Bringing it Back Home.
Bob is, of course, known for his lyrics, and the words to “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” could be straight out of a Shakespeare sonnet:
My love she speaks like silence
Without ideas or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true like ice, like fire
People carry roses
And make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
It's pretty heady stuff for early 1965, when even the Beatles hadn't made it past the beautiful but relatively simplistic "Yesterday." In "Yesterday" you learn nothing about the woman in Macca's life, only that he said something wrong and she split.
The woman in "Love Minus Zero" however, is complicated and three-dimensional: she's a one-man woman, she has mood swings, a great sense of humor and plenty of integrity. Later in the song, we learn that "She knows there's no success like failure/And that failure's no success at all."
And yet for all the talk of Dylan’s prowess with words, he wrote many melodies that were as pretty as anything by Lennon or McCartney, and this is one of them. With its folk-rock backing band, "Love Minus Zero" would fit right in on Rubber Soul.
Zimmy was juggling a lot of birds back then, so it's hard to say who "Love Minus Zero" is about. But the haunting last line "My love she's like some raven/At my window with a broken wing" leads one it could be a valentine to his future wife, the raven haired beauty Sara Lowndes.
With its enigmatic title and subject, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" has been a fan favorite and a mainstay of his setlist for a whopping 44 years now.
Herewith, the Bard of Hibbing playing his new song for Donovan in a London hotel room in this outtake from the great rock-doc Dont Look Back:
...A couple months later at the Newport Folk Festival (from the Dylan-at-Newport documentary The Other Side of the Mirror)...
... With George Harrison and Leon Russell at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971
A coule audio-only versions: from Live 1975: The Rollling Thunder Revue...
...And an Elvis-style big-band arrangement from 1978's At Budokan:
... And to wrap things up, a road-tested version from Prague in 1994:
Thursday, February 12, 2009
One of the great things about music is that there’s a song for every emotion – even if that emotion is grisly, self-loathing nihilism.
“Warm Leatherette” was a 1978 single by The Normal, aka Daniel Miller, who was just starting his own record label Mute Records. He based the song on the J.G. Ballard novel Crash, about a band of fetishists who become sexually aroused by grisly car wrecks. David Cronenberg made Crash into a film in 1997, not to be confused with the overrated Best Picture winner of the same name.
A tear of petrol
Is in your eye
The hand brake
Penetrates your thigh
Quick - Let's make love
Before you die
"Warm Leatherette" was the B-side to "TVOD" but “Warm Leatherette” quickly outshone it. With its minimalist synthesizer line and icily narcissistic vocal delivery, the singer and song sound completely detached from and disdainful of the realities of the human condition, making it a can't-miss smash with the Eurotrash dance-club set.
“Warm Leatherette,” while never a mainstream blockbuster, has enjoyed a long life in the darkest recesses of the public consciousness. It was covered in 1985 by Grace Jones on the album of the same name.
A couple years back, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, two groups who picked up where "Warm Leatherette" left off, did a remarkably effective cover of the tune on a self-loathing, nihilistic radio show somewhere:
And Duran Duran, those AARP-worthy teen heartthrobs, covered “Warm Leatherette in concert in 2007.
As for Miller, he concentrated on running Mute Records and hit it big with two other acts who were fond of life’s dark side: Nick Cave and Depeche Mode. But he also found time to create a fake teenybopper act called the Silicon Teens, who did synth-pop versions of early rock & roll classics like Chuck Berry's "Memphis, Tennessee":
I picked up “Warm Leatherette” on iTunes for a mere 99 cents. Why don’t you do the same? You’ll love yourself -and loathe yourself - for it.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Kudos to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for winning five trophies at Sunday’s Grammy Awards in LA. Raising Sand, their collaboration with T-Bone Burnett won awards for Album of the Year, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (“Rich Woman”), Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (“Killing the Blues”), Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album and Record of the Year (“Please Read the Letter”).
The trio also performed a nice medley of "Rich Woman" & "Gone Gone Gone":
The five-Grammy sweep is a well-deserved honor, but not very surprising. Raising Sand is a brilliantly rich record, but also classic Grammy bait: stately, reverent, tinged with country and blues, with plenty of previous Grammy winners on board. The album rewards close listening but also works nicely as background music, which is how I imagine most Grammy voters listen to it. It’s a safe choice and a bold choice at the same time.
Ms. Krauss has now won an astounding 26 Grammys in her career, making her the winningest female recording artist in history. Burnett is also a Grammy mainstay since cleaning up a few years back with the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (which featured Krauss.) A Burnett producing credit is an imprimatur of quality, the musical equivalent of having Ben Kingsley in your film.
Mr. Plant, however, went Grammy-less as the golden-locked, leonine, cocksure lead singer of Led Zeppelin, but had picked up three for his solo work (one last year with Krauss for “Gone Gone Gone”). As Plant noted in one of his acceptance speeches, it’s been almost 40 years to the day since the band first took L.A. by storm, with their explosive concerts and decadent after-parties at the Riot House.
Rock Turtleneck sources tell us that Alison, Robert and T-Bone are already at work on a follow-up to Raising Sand in Nashville. Hopefully it will include at least one of the many successful reinterpretations of Zeppelin songs that worked so well on the Raising Sand tour, such as “Black Country Woman”:
By contrast, here's a live performance of the Physical Graffiti chestnut from 1977.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Perhaps the greatest testament to Buddy Holly's songwriting genius is the variety of artists who have reinterpreted his songs. Fortunately YouTube is chock ablock with great Holly covers.
The Rolling Stones scored their first hit with a cover of "Not Fade Away." Here's a ferocious live version from the early days.
The Grateful Dead did many kind versions of "Not Fade Away" over the years. Here's one from New Year's Eve 1985. I remember watching this concert on TV with a friend after we had returned from watching the ball drop in Times Square.
The heavily-hyped, short lived supergroup Blind Faith stretched out fave rave "Well All Right" to fit their blues-rock leanings on their 1969 debut. Here are Winwood, Clapton & co. playing it at their debut show in Hyde Park.
Golden-voiced kitten Linda Ronstadt turned several Holly songs into big hits in the 1970s, showing that Buddy's music translated remarkably easily to the laid-back LA rock genre. Here she is belting out "When Will I Be Loved"...
... And "It's So Easy":
And of course, there are The Beatles, who might not have even existed were it not for Holly's inspiration. In fact, the first recording they ever made, in 1962, was a relatively by-the-numbers cover of "That'll Be the Day."
Paul McCartney of course was the biggest Buddy fan in the band and even bought his publishing catalog many years ago. Here's Macca paying himself some royalties with this rare 1975 cover of "Peggy Sue."
And to close things out, here's a nice Macca version of "Words of Love," which the fabs released on Beatles for Sale.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Lux Interior, the ghoulishly campy singer for The Cramps, passed away today at age 60 from a longtime heart ailment.
Taking their cues from 50s rock & roll, 60s garage-band rock like the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" and Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" and adding a postmodern, B-52's-like twist, The Cramps created a new rock subgenre known as psychobilly. I am not too familiar with their whole catalog, but "Goo Goo Muck" has always been a fave rave, and was one of the great new wave singles of the 80s.
The Cramps, "Goo Goo Muck" (live, 1981)
Ironically, the passing of Lux Interior comes only weeks after the death of swarthy, suave heartthrob Ricardo Montalban, who famously touted the Luxurious Interior of the Chrysler Cordoba. A friend pointed out to me recently that the "Corinthian leather" was not actually from Corinthia (wherever that is) but from New Jersey. Might as well have been from Fantasy Island.
Ricardo Montalban, 1975 Chrysler Cordoba commercial
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Fifty years ago today, a puddle-jumper plane crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa killing Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper.
While Valens and Bopper were more in the One-Hit Wonder category, the loss of Buddy Holly was a truly devastating blow to music. By age 22, the Bud-meister had already written many of the greatest songs in rock & roll history, including "Rave On," "Not Fade Away" "Well... Alright" and "That'll Be the Day." It's perfectly conceivable that he could have been McCartneyesque in stature and success.
Buddy Holly, "Peggy Sue" Arthur Murray Dance Party, 1957
Richie Valens, "Ooh My Head"
The Big Bopper, "Chantilly Lace" American Bandstand
Thanks to Don McLean's early-70s anthem "American Pie." February 3, 1959 is known as The Day the Music Died. And so is any other day marked by the tragic death of a rock star, from Jim Croce to John Lennon to Stevie Ray Vaughn to Kurt Cobain to Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon (well maybe not that one.)
"American Pie" contains thinly veiled references to not only Holly, but Dylan, the Stones, the Byrds and Elvis, among others. When asked a few years ago what "American Pie" meant, McLean tartly replied "It means I don't have to work anymore."
Don McLean, "American Pie"
In accepting his Album of the Year Grammy for Time Out of Mind in 1998, Bob Dylan remarked that, as a teenager, he saw Holly live in Deluth Minnesota National Guard Armory three nights before the crash, and that "he looked at me" and felt Holly's spirit during the making of the record. Funny, I just saw an episode of Medium last night with the exact same plotline.
Bob Dylan, Grammy Acceptance Speech, 1998
Cheers to Buddy, Richie, Bopper and all other rockers who fly those single engine deathtraps. May all your future flights be piloted by "Sully" Sullenberger.