Thursday, December 31, 2009
Well, there goes another decade. I was going to say the end of the year snuck up on us, but as with the Underpants Bomber, there have been warning signs a-plenty. In fact, as an owner of many calendars, I've known exactly when the decade would end, long before it even began.
Rock Turtleneck would like to thank you for your readership, support, suggestions and contributions this decade and look forward to serving hipsters as they continue to age in the '10s.
We'd planned to be done recapping the Records that Rocked the Aughts by now, but this historic series will now stretch into the new year, with reflections on masterworks by artists including Wilco, Radiohead, Beck, Jenny Lewis and Frank Black. We'll also salute and the absolute Worst Album of the Aughts, which I will reveal in the coming weeks.
The entire Rock Turtleneck staff of one wishes you a safe, happy and hangover-free New Year's. To that end, be sure to start with a Guinness, eat plenty of appetizers, and drink plenty of water throughout the evening. And if you don't believe me, ask Beck, who here warns of the evil consequences of New Year's over-indulgence in one of the best songs and videos of the Aughts.
Happy New Year. Cheers. Peace. One Love. Word. TCB.
Monday, December 28, 2009
For most, the Yuletide season is a time of joy, warmth and togetherness. But for many, the holidays are a total bummer.
In that spirit, December marks the 40th anniversary of the ultimate rock & roll bummer, Altamont. The Rolling Stones' West Coast version of Woodstock started out as a lousy idea and quickly deteriorated into the most bad-vibes scene in rock history, resulting in the death of a concert-goer at the beer-bloated hands of the Hell's Angels.
Herewith, Rock Turtleneck fan and contributor Kevin O' Connor weighs in with his take on Altamont, the Stones, the end of the 60s and the general lameness of the Jefferson Airplane. Take it away, Kev:
Happy anniversary to Jefferson Airplane vocalist Marty Balin, who forty years ago was relieved of his instrument by a pack of angry, drunken Hell's Angels (not to be confused with the docile, sober Hell's Angels) and beaten unconscious. Twice.
And who can blame them. Anyone who has suffered through Surrealistic Pillow has certainly had the urge to clobber the Airplane. Perhaps the simplest irony of the day was that just moments earlier, Grace Slick had been opining from the stage just how necessary the Angels' presence was. Perhaps the Angels' greatest crime was that they didn't take out Paul Kantner while they were at it.
Much ink has been wasted this week on this milestone, with the esteemed rock critic Robert Christgau declaring that "Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended." I will leave the critical commentary and mangled metaphors to others, at least for now, and simply trust the words of those who were there.
Hell's Angel leader Sonny Barger, always the voice of reason, had a simple approach. "They told me if I could sit on the edge of the stage so nobody could climb over me, I could drink beer until the show was over. And that's what I went there to do." No complex metaphors there.
But the last word, fair enough, should go to the singer, Sir Michael Jagger. Perhaps it was inevitable. "I thought the scene in San Francisco was supposed to be so groovy," said Jagger, "I don't know what happened; it was terrible. If Jesus had been there he would have been crucified."
Perhaps. But you can be sure that Jagger would have made sure that his own cross was front and center. And that officially licensed versions of said crucifixes would be available at the concession stand for 45 quid.
Oh, well. It's only rock and roll, but I like it.
Thanks, Kev, for your seething, acerbic, insightful rant. These clips and many others can be seen in the greatest rockumentary of all time, Albert Maysles' Gimme Shelter. A must for any music lover's DVD library.
Let's take things out with an Altamont photo essay set to the Airplane's one great song, "White Rabbit." Happy Holidays!!!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
With a good 38 or so hours left of the Christmas season, why not take a moment or two to download Bob Dylan's Christ- mas in the Heart? With Bob's one-of-a-kind take on the Yuletide season and all profits helping to put food on the tables of the less fortunate, it will get you in the Christmas spirit in every way. As Bob himself sez:
"It's a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone -- 12 million of those children -- often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season."
Christmas in the Heart has given my family & me much pleasure in recent weeks. Sure, on a few tracks, like "I'll Be Home for Christmas," Dylan sings like your Uncle Wally hopped up on egg nog, El Producto cigars and Robitussin. But did your Uncle Wally write "Tangled Up In Blue"? But elsewhere, as on "Christmas Blues" and "Christmas Island," his singing is sublime.
Dylan's care and attention to detail on every aspect of this project are most impressive, from the Currier & Ives-style cover to the musical arrangements - totally old-school in the tradition of holiday LPs by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley. Dylan produced the record under the never-more-appropriate pseudonym Jack Frost.
Even the two videos he released for the record are mini-masterpieces. Newest is this gorgeous hand-painted animation for "The Little Drummer Boy."
Rock Turtleneck has already waxed rhapsodic about the the Mad-Men era "Must Be Santa" video - probably the his best video since 1965's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Together these two videos capture the true spirit of the holidays, its togetherness, its festiveness its miracles and its broken barware.
So if you're looking for a last minute dose of holiday cheer for yourself or a friend, try Christmas in the Heart. You can also donate to Feeding America via the banner ad to your right. Season's Greetings!
Buy Christmas in the Heart on iTunes here
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The party line on Jack White is that he's a modern-day incarnation of an old-school bluesman. And while that is certainly true, he's also a lot like Prince.
Both Prince Rogers Nelson & John Anthony Gillis (Jack's real name) hail from gritty middle-American metropoli (Minneapolis and Detroit). Both are self-mythologizing, workaholic, color-oriented, multi-instumentalist bad-ass motherf$ck%rs that play a killer guitar, know how to put on a show, have models and actresses on their dating resumes and have a hottie behind the drum kit.
And if Jack White is the White Prince, then the White Stripes' 2003 record Elephant is his and his ex-wife Meg’s Purple Rain - the album where all the raw talent and promise of earlier records gelled into a perfect tour de force wherein the artist dazzles with talent and versatility, leaving the listener breathless in his wake. The record where they hit the bull's eye.
Like all monster records (this monster being a pachyderm), Elephant starts with a killer riff. In this case, it's the fake bass of "Seven Nation Army." It's a riff so ingrained in the popular culture that at a college basketball game I attended last week at Madison Square Garden, the UConn marching band was playing it. Unlike other sports anthems, like Queen's "We Will Rock You," it actually rocks. Rocks very hard indeed.
"Seven Nation Army" is the perfect opener, but things only get better from there. There's a mighty Burt Bachrach/Dusty Springfield cover ("I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself") a quiet torch song by Meg ("In the Cold, Cold Night") and a ballad that is perfectly McCartney-esque in the gorgeous vein of "Maybe I'm Amazed": the heartfelt "I Want to be the Boy Who Warms Your Mother's Heart."
But Jack really shows what he's made of when he takes us down to the crossroads with his "Ball and a Biscuit," a blues rave-up wherein Jack makes awesome use of an octave-shifiting effects pedal. It's every bit as fierce as any lemon-squeezer Led Zeppelin laid down back in the day.
So fierce is this blues that when Bob Dylan was in Detroit in 2004 and brought Jack on stage, they played not "Isis," "One More Cup of Coffee" or "Love Sick," all songs in the Stripes' repetoire, but "Ball and a Biscuit." You can hear their version here.
A shout-out must be given to oft-dismissed drummer Meg White, who many dismiss as being the Andrew Ridgely or John Oates of the band, a lucky duck who hitched a ride with a super-talented frontman. But Meg's drums can be mighty, and her and Jack's telepathic chemistry is undeniable, as this truly amazing live clip of Son House's "Death Letter" attests:
Elephant put the White Stripes on the very top shelf of Aughts alterna-artists, along with Wilco, Beck and Radiohead. And though the Stripes continued to make White-hot music on their records Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump, and Jack did amazing work with his new bands The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, Elephant is his one start-to-finish masterpiece -- so far. And making a masterpiece? Well, that's the Hardest Button to Button.
Buy Elephant on iTunes here
Monday, December 21, 2009
Last Monday, Rock Turtleneck reached a major milestone: our 100,000th visitor.
As it turns out, that visitor was not a Dylan fan in Deutchland or a Wilco-head in Walla Walla but friend, former roommate and fellow copywriter George Feinn of NYC. Mr. Feinn was so moved to be part of rock-blog history that he submitted this extremely moving, not-at-all-sarcastic tribute.
Good morning indeed!
by George Feinn
I’m not exactly what you’d call a morning person. It’s why I work in advertising. It allows me to get in late each morning, usually around ten or one. It’s not that I don’t love the three-martini lunches or watching Joan wiggle those sweet, curvaceous hips... oh wait, that’s Mad Men. Anyway, I was still half asleep when I crawled out of bed on Monday and began my morning ritual of coffee and Internet.
As always, I started by clicking on rockturtleneck.com and was instantly jolted to a level of consciousness that would startle even a Buddhist monk. For I was the 100,000th visitor to rock & roll’s greatest aging hipster blog. I’ve never been to Las Vegas but I now know what it’s like to pull a one-armed bandit and have it come up all cherries.
I just couldn’t believe what I was looking at. What timing. What luck. So many zeroes staring at me, I felt like a photographer taking the Palin family photo at the Wasilla Sears. Trust me when I tell you this old school ‘necker couldn’t be more proud to be the 100,000th visitor to the site. (For those of you keeping score at home, 100,000 hits is more than The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Boxcar Willie combined.)
As a long-time friend of the site’s founder, Mr. Stephen J. Walsh, I’d like to offer my sincere congratulates on this impressive achievement. Well done, my fellow rocker. On behalf of the ad world and all your fans I dedicate the video below to you.
Thank you Mr. Feinn for your marvelous essay, and to the legions of RT fans out there - I pledge to continue to serve my legions of aging hipsters with pithy rock & roll rants & raves.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Happy 66th Birthday to Keith Richards, the heart and soul of the Rolling Stones; the attentive apprentice to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Slim Harpo; the epitome and embodiment of elegantly wasted; the rhythm master of the 5-string open-G tuning.
For Rock Turtleneck's annual Keith tribute, let’s take a quick trip back to 1988 and his wonderful solo record Talk is Cheap.
Twenty years ago, the Stones were on the brink of actually breaking up. His mate Mick Jagger, more interested in contemporary pop sounds than the Stones, went on a solo tour of Australia and Japan to support his very 80's-sounding album Primitive Cool and prove to the kids he was as hip as Duran Duran:
Keith, meanwhile, wisely decided that playing well is the best revenge. He put together one of the great ad-hoc bands in rock, with Steve Jordan and Charley Drayton as interchangeable drummer and bassist, Warren Zevon’s fun-loving ace Waddy Wachtell on lead guitar and bayou royalty Ivan Neville on keyboards. Keef named the band the X-Pensive Winos, a reference to their shared love of quality libations.
Talk is Cheap came out on October 3, 1988 and sounded like a lost album from the Stones' Mick Taylor-golden era (Taylor actually plays on Talk as Cheap too, something I just learned from Wikipedia.). And the Winos had a chemistry that was Stones-like yet fresh and new. They took their act on the road for a series of rollicking club shows that were the hottest ticket in town:
Seeing Keith triumph while Mick embarrassed himself must have made Jagger realize he needed Keith after all. Only months later, the Glimmer Twins reunited for the generally well-received Steel Wheels album and tour, heralding in the era of the Stones as oldies act. Keith & the WInos made another solo album, Main Offender, a couple years later, but that was it for his solo career.
Personally, I find the 2009-era Stones a little tired and wouldn’t mind it if they hung it up for good. The world has enough Rolling Stones albums. But it could definitely use a couple more Keith Richards albums. To top things off, another goblet of X-Pensive Winos:
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
In terms of falls from grace by iconic athletes, only OJ Simpson has got a number on Tiger Woods. Here at Rock Turtleneck, we will leave it to the tabloids, Tiger's people and Tiger himself to sort out the huge mess he's gotten himself into.
And we'll take solace in the mighty master of the blues, Muddy Waters, and his once-again-timely tune "Put a Tiger In Your Tank."
"Put a Tiger in Your Tank" was one of the highlights of Muddy's set at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, released on LP as Muddy Waters at Newport 1960. This fantastic album also features perhaps his most famous performance of "Got My Mojo Workin'" and is an absolute must for any music lover's library.
The phrase "Put a Tiger in Your Tank" was not a Woods pickup line ala Warren Beatty's famous "What's New, Pussycat?" but the tagline for Esso, known today as Exxon, whose mascot was not a multicultural, chosen-one golf prodigy but an actual tiger.
While we ponder the ability of great words to adapt to the passage of time, and ponder if and when Tiger will get his golf mojo workin' again (I predict he takes a year off and then starts winning tournaments right away) dig Muddy and his great band TCBing "Put A Tiger in Your Tank." Maybe Tiger should pick up Live at Newport 1960; like Muddy, he's about to do some mighty hard travelin'.
RT Bonus clip: 2 year-old Tiger Woods and his dad Earl (good thing he's not here to see this) on the Mike Douglas Show:
Buy Live at Newport 1960 on iTunes here
Monday, December 14, 2009
"Love And Theft," Bob Dylan's 473rd studio album, was released on September 11, 2001. And like 9/11, Dylan's music on "Love And Theft" stands on a fulcrum betwixt the past, present and future with Dylan as the nostalgic prophet with his finger on the pulse.
At various moments, "Love and Theft" brings to mind World War II-era western swing and Korean-Conflict GI's on leave, blowing off steam at a USO dance hall. At other times, it conjures Chaplin's Little Tramp, a speakeasy, a Sinatra saloon or a Chicago blues joint.
But even when he's singing about the past, he sounds very plugged into the present and even the future. "Highwater (for Charley Patton)" could be a parable about the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, yet at the same time seems to foreshadow the lawlessness in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina:
High water risin', six inches 'bove my head
Coffins droppin' in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin' into Vicksburg, don't know what I'm going to do
"Don't reach out for me," she said
"Can't you see I'm drownin' too?"
It's rough out there
High water everywhere
But the mightiest undercurrent is Dylan himself, writing a flawless collection of tracks, with a richness, wisdom and humor that honestly puts it alongside his best work, whether it's Bringing It All Back Home, John Wesley Harding or Blood On The Tracks.
On "Sugar Baby," the eerily calm final track of the album, Bob alludes to the Dylan Bootleg cottage industry, drops a coy sexual innuendo and stares the Grim Reaper in the face, all in a single verse - I haven't heard Jon Bon Jovi do that lately:
Some of these bootleggers
They make pretty good stuff
Plenty of places to hide things here
If you wanna hide 'em bad enough
I'm staying with Aunt Sally
But you know, she's not really my aunt
Some of these memories you can learn to live with
And some of them you can't
Much of "Love And Theft"'s greatness also lies with his band; his best in fact, since The Band. Guitarists Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton, backed by longtime bassist Tony Garnier and drummer Larry Kemper were the tightest unit in the nation for several years running. I was fortunate enough to see them on several occasions. Here they are tearing up "Cry A While" on the Grammys in 2002.
"Love And Theft" was the High-Water mark in a truly amazing decade for the master.
'Twas a decade that also included the fine albums Modern Times and Together Through Life, the best-selling first volume of his memoir Chronicles, the film Masked and Anonymous which he wrote and co-starred in, his fantastic XM radio show Theme Time Radio Hour, the Bootleg Series release Tell Tale Signs, a Scorcese documentary, a Christmas album for charity, and an Oscar for his song "Things Have Changed" from the Michael Douglas film Wonder Boys. He also played over 1,000 shows in arenas, clubs, stadiums and state fairs. Wait, isn't this guy supposed to be a recluse?
One thing hasn't changed. Though his voice is ragged, Dylan is still hitting the notes, and is a creative force the likes of which will not be seen again in our lifetime. As this performance from a recent AFI tribute to Michael Douglas demonstrates, he also plays a pretty mean guitar. Take it away, Bob.
Buy on iTunes here
Thursday, December 10, 2009
U2 is a band that thrives on contradictions. They find intimacy in the most massive of stadiums, champion the poor while dining on champagne and caviar, celebrate the divine in the most decadent of art forms, and make a stunning comeback while still the biggest band in the world.
Released in September of 2000, All That You Can't Leave Behind was hailed as a return to the "classic" U2 sound: the soaring anthems, the chiming Edge guitar figures, the yearning for salvation. And while these elements were firmly in place, they also brought with them the lessons they had learned from more experimental (and underrated) fare like Zooropa and Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1. The title All That You Can't Leave Behind Is a reference to this point; unlike their masterpiece Achtung Baby, where the band shunned any sounds that would be thought of as U2-like, the point of Behind was to embrace their U2-ness, not run from it; to do whatever was best for the song, whether it was completely new or something they had done on The Joshua Tree.
It was the right move. The record was a smash right from the git-go, with "Beautiful Day" instantly taking its place in the U2 pantheon alongside "Where the Streets Have No Name and "One."
But the record took on an entirely new life after September 11, 2001, a day that started out beautiful but quickly turned much much worse.
The tragic events of that day left many looking for a connection that big-time anthemic rock music provides almost better than just about anything. All That You Can't Leave Behind - and U2 themselves - were tailor-made for the job. With global spirits at an all-time low and a gaping, smoking pit in downtown Manhattan, U2 were ready and willing to provide something we all needed: Elevation.
All You Can't Leave Behind even had a soaring anthem called "New York." Its charming, very Irish lyrics describe life in the city as can only be written by someone who has spent a lot of time there. My favorite line describes the pull of NYC's incomparable nightlife, i.e. you're going out, whether you want to or not:
In New York you can forget, forget how to sit still
Tell yorself you will stay in
But it's down to Alphavile
By "Alphaville" Mr. Bono means Alphabet City, the Avenues A through D, as they were still called before they were gentrified into the less colorful Lower East Side. U2 played the song on Late Show with David Letterman not long after 9/11, and re-wrote some lyrics to reflect the changin' times.
All That You Can't Leave Behind had many other, less grand charms to it as well, such as the throwaway gem "Wild Honey," the hungover "In a Little While" and the hymnlike closer "Grace." It was a perfect example of a great band rising to the occasion - in this case, a tragic occasion that had yet to happen.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
The great John Lennon was assassinated in New York City on this night 29 years ago. And as Rock Turtleneck wrote two years back on the very same night:
"Since then, his musical character has been assassinated repeatedly by his widow Yoko Ono. John, Yoko will remind us, was a Utopian dreamer. A lover of humanity. A champion for the downtrodden. A crusader for peace. A namby-pamby who dared to… Imagine.
Well Rock Turtleneck is here to reclaim John Lennon’s true legacy as one of the great balls-out rockers of all time. A nasty scruff from Liverpool who imagined infusing old time rock & roll with the hurt and anger of his youth. A pill-popping, booze-swilling sonofabitch who imagined using his beautiful voice to express not only Utopian dreams but earthly desires. A driving, underrated rhythm guitarist who imagined that sanding down the finish of his trusty Epiphone Casino would help him get tones as raw as his emotions."
This year, we celebrate his underrated, super-rocking nonsense song "Hey Bulldog." One of several new tracks recorded as filler for the 1968 soundtrack to their fab animated film Yellow Submarine, this piano-driven, nonsense ditty is easily the pick of the litter.
For the two or so years previous to "Hey Bulldog," Lennon had been in heavy psychedelic mode, writing odes to Olde Tyme Circus shows, Peter Fonda freakouts, childhood memories and the Tibetian Book of the Dead. But "Bulldog" found him back from his extended trip and with a renewed love for classic rock & roll, albeit with a very Liverpudlian twist. (As the pictures above and video below demonstrate, Lennon's ever-changing hairstyle was also in transition, from the Sgt. Pepper English dandy to the freak-flag-flying hippie of the White Album and beyond.)
Perhaps most interestingly, the recording session for "Hey Bulldog" is the only Beatles recording session that was filmed, where you can actually see the band playing the final version that ended up on record.
At the time, the footage was used as a video for the single "Lady Madonna" until the release of the Beatles Anthology project in 1996, when the music and the footage were finally put together. As you can see, the Fab Four's chemistry in Abbey Road studios was amazing, and watching Paul and John do their crazy canine overdubs at the end is like watching a comedy troupe at the top of their game.
"Hey Bulldog" was also animated for the Yellow Submarine film but was left on the cutting room floor. It was justly returned to its rightful place in the film upon its DVD release in 1999, and is one of the more, ahem, animated segments of the movie. Mick Jagger used to refer to the Beatles as "The Four-Headed Monster" due to their inseparability both onstage and off, and the bulldog here seems to be just that.
R.I.P. Mr. Lennon. Let's take things home with the charming live-action epilogue to Yellow Submarine, featuring the Fab Four and Lennon's sideburns. This clip used to freak me out when I was younger. Still does, actually.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
This week’s Time magazine wryly dubs the 2000s “The Decade from Hell.”
It was certainly a decade from hell for the bigwigs of the music industry. But musically it was far from hellish, with the August 2006 launch of Rock Turtleneck the unquestionable high-water mark. There was also some truly brilliant music and a few great runs of albums by some artists that would be top-shelf in any era.
So, throughout December, Rock Turtleneck will be celebrating the Records That Rocked The Aughts: albums that Rock Turtlenecked our decade to the core, featured in no particular order. Herewith, #1:
#1: PJ Harvey: Stories from the City, Stories From the Sea
It was pretty clear from her 1992 debut Dry that Polly Jean Harvey was a brilliant, unusual artist with a feral sexuality. But for all her raw talent, her music was sometimes abrasive and hard to enjoy.
That changed in 2000 with Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Inspired by some time living in pre-9/11 New York City with a coterie of independent-minded downtown hipsters, contrasted with her roots on the English seaside, she seemed liberated and full of confidence. She put her eccentricities on the shelf and wrote using classic pop song structures. Rather than a sellout, it was a perfect suit for her beautiful, powerful voice.
The album is a tour-de-force with no non-great cuts. Harvey had shed her oddball-wallflower persona and strutted her stuff like a female Jagger or Bowie or Freddie Mercury, full of brio, bravado and even machismo:
My favorite Stories song, and one of my absolute favorite songs of the decade by anyone, is “You Said Some-
thing,” which recalls a late-night tryst on a rooftop in Brooklyn:
Leaning against railings
Describing the colours
And the smells of our homeland
Acting like lovers
How did we get here
To this point of living?
I held my breath
And you said something
Throughout the song Polly tells us that her suitor said something that she’s never forgotten, something that was really important. But we never know what it was. Of course, we’re better off not knowing.
PJ Harvey - You said something (Live)
Carrie Warner | MySpace Video
After Stories from the City, Polly experimented with other, less commercial songforms. But for Rock Turtleneck, this is the album where she brought it all back home, and it still thrills nine years later.
Let's take things out with another Stories masterpiece: "This Mess We're In," her uber-sexy duet with Thom Yorke of Radiohead.