Monday, July 26, 2010
Betamax Alert: This Wednesday night, PBS will air the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song tribute to Paul McCartney. It's a lifetime achievement award named in honor of George & Ira Gershwin, given out annually since 2007 at the White House. Previous recipients have been Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. (Jon Bon Jovi is slated for 2038, the year Hell is due to freeze over.)
Artists paying tribute to Sir Paul include Mr. Wonder, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and Jack White, seen here doing a heartfelt version of the White Album chestnut "Mother Nature's Son" with McCartney and the Obamas in the front row and Secret Service agents in the balcony and wings (thanks to PBS, Pitchfork and Twenty-Four Bit for the clip)
Jack White doing the White Album at the White House? That's pretty hard to beat.
But trying his darndest is another guitarist/drummer with at least three bands, Dave Grohl, who does a terrific version of "Band on the Run" with McCartney's touring band.
Of course, no McCartney tribute would be complete without legendary singer/songwriter Jerry Seinfeld. Whoever invited him was surely inspired by Rock Turtleneck's legendary June, 2007 piece which posed that the biting, misanthropic Larry David and brilliantly loveable Jerry Seinfeld are the Lennon & McCartney of comedy. You can read it here:
Rock Turtleneck: "I Am He As You Are He As You Are Me"
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Summer is a great time to finally read those classic books you missed or skipped in high school or college. For the layperson, that might mean picking up The Grapes of Wrath or The Brothers Karamazov. But at Rock Turtleneck it means cozying up with Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis.
Hammer of the Gods was a best-seller upon its release in 1985, and is considered a high point (or low point) in the chronicles of rock star decadence.
The band, who was not interviewed for the book, says it is full of lies, which probably means it’s 100% accurate. The most rock-starish behavior tends to happen at hotels like the Riot House in LA, Seattle's Edgewater Inn, and the Royal Orleans in N'Awlins, while the band is on tour, away from their incredibly naive families. The worst behaved of the lot, however, are Zeppelin's boorish road manager Richard Cole (who seems to be the primary source of information) and the large manager Peter Grant. Which reminds me of one of my all time favorite exchanges in rock & roll, upon the occasion of Grant meeting Bob Dylan in the mid-70s.
GRANT: Hi, Bob, I’m Peter Grant. I manage Led Zeppelin.
DYLAN: Hey Man, I don’t come to you with my problems!
One of the great things about a music book is that it sends you back to the music. In these sun-splashed days of July, I have found myself returning to the band’s fifth and most summery album, 1973's Houses of the Holy.
Faced with the impossible task of trying to top their fourth record ZoSo, the band set up shop at Mick Jagger's English country manor Stargroves and recorded a bunch of tunes that generally had a more relaxed and positive feel to them than the brilliant but heavy tunes on ZoSo like "When the Levee Breaks" and "Black Dog."
Houses of the Holy starts with one of my favorite Zeppelin tunes, which was originally an instrumental titled "Overture." Deciding it was too good to be an instrumental, Plant added some globe-trotting lyrics and it became known as "The Campaign" and finally, "The Song Remains the Same."
Next we get one of their best light-and-shade ballads, "The Rain Song", three top drawer Zeppelin party classics; "Over the Hills and Far Away," "Dancing Days" and the ersatz reggae "D'yer Maker,", plus a fun James Brown homage called "The Crunge" (I'm just trying to find the bridge) and the black-light special "No Quarter."
Then we wrap things up "The Ocean," anchored by one of Jimmy Page's mightiest riffs. Who among us hasn’t sang Robert Plant's hushed "na na na" bridge with their friends driving in the car, sitting on the beach or foggy in your dorm room?
Houses of the Holy is the sound of a band at the top of their game, using their black magic for good instead of evil. You should add it to your summer playlist immediately. Here's Percy, Pagey, Jonesy and Bonzo ripping through "The Ocean" live at MSG in 1973. Damn they were good.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Singer-songwriter. Gen-X icon. Single Mom. Uber-MILF. Provocateur. Potty Mouth. Indie Queen. Has-Been. Sellout. Liz Phair is many things, but a Bore is not one of them.
After an ill-fated grab for some Sheryl Crow dollars with Capitol Records, and an equally frustrating relationship with the boutique label ATO (run in part by Dave Matthews), Liz dropped out of site for a few years. She scored a few TV shows. Wrote a book review for the New York Times. Did some modeling for Banana Republic (as seen above) Many, myself included, thought she was done making Liz Phair records.
Then, over the Independence Day weekend, with no publicity or advance notice, she released a new record called Funstyle on her website lizphair.com for just $5.99.
And in a career full of oddly fascinating moves, Funstyle is perhaps the oddest of them all with three strange, seriously funny comedy numbers that lampoon her nightmarish run through the music business wringer.
One of them, "Bollywood" has Liz rapping about her financial and professional woes over a bed of Middle Eastern-sounding instrument loops I'm 99% sure she got from GarageBand, the free Apple program that turns anyone into a studio svengali. If that's not DIY or Indie, what is?
Funstyle also features a good half-dozen tunes in the classic Liz Phair idiom: melodic, insightful and slightly twisted, such as "Oh, Bangladesh":
"Beat is Up" meanwhile, mixes Gloria Estefan beats with self-help-book gibberish spoken by overbearing moms of the Scarsdale variety. If Madonna had done this, she'd be hailed as a genius.
Funstyle is an odd record, but then again so were Exile in Guyville and whitechocolatespacegg. It's no masterpiece, but like many great records, it's a cry of freedom in the super-compartmentalized, focus-grouped, database driven world of commerce we live in.
As Liz says on her website:
"Here is the thing you need to know about these songs and the ones coming next: these are all me. Love them, or hate them, but don't mistake them for anything other than an entirely personal, un-tethered-from-the-machine, free-for-all view of the world, refracted through my own crazy lens."
Austin, TX has a great slogan: KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD. The sentiment also applies to Liz Phair. If you appreciate an artist doing her own thing because that's what she does, then get your keester over to lizphair.com and drop a measly $5.99 so she can put out more weird, fun records like Funstyle. If you like your female singer-songwriters a little more straight and narrow, I believe Sheryl Crow has a new record coming out next week.
KEEP LIZ PHAIR WEIRD
Buy Funstyle for $5.99 here: lizphair.com
Thursday, July 08, 2010
As if a lavish tribute from Rock Turtleneck wasn't enough, Ringo Starr got another great gift for his 70th birthday: a "surprise" walk-on by his Beatle bud Paul McCartney at Ringo's All-Starr Band show at Radio City Music Hall last night.
Macca came out at the very end of the show and took Ringo & Co. through a spirited and, in The End, touching version of the White Album raver "Birthday." Both RIngo and Paul look and sound way younger than their years. Too bad fellow Fabs John and George couldn't have been on hand - it's just the kind of event that would have brought them all together again one more time.
Seeing the cameraman in the background on the stage, I couldn't help but think this great moment will someday make a nice last reel in a life-spanning documentary about The Beatles. It would go right before the part when Yoko finally wrestles complete control over the band's legacy and changes the band's name back to Johnny & the Moondogs.
Anyway, it's amazing to see how far these two chaps have come in their lives, all the way back to at least 1962, when they were just a bunch of Liverpool scruffs poppin' pills and playing lunchtime shows at the Cavern Club, a long, long, long way from Radio City.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Rock Turtleneck extends a Happy 70th Birthday to Richard Starkey, aka Ringo Starr. If you're wondering what to get him, all Ringo wants is a little Peace and Love:
Ringo is the first Beatle to hit the big 7-0 (John Lennon wouldn't have made it till October) and it is sobering for many of us who grew up with their music to have one of our heroes in the age group I associate with old-timers like Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.
Ringo has often been called "the luckiest man in show business" for hooking up with the Beatles just before they broke and for not being a visionary type like the other three. But Ringo is more an embodiment of the saying that "luck is when preparation meets opportunity."
For while he was lucky to be on the Liverpool rock scene when The Beatles decided Pete Best wasn’t cutting it, he was also prepared, a much superior drummer who could really swing. Paul McCartney has said that The Fabs didn’t really gel as a live act until Ringo came on board. Plus he was an agreeable fellow and they all got on with him. When you have two geniuses calling the shots, it’s good to have someone to keep things grounded. And there's no doubt that The Beatles would have been a lot less loveable had Ringo not been on board.
When asked if Ringo was the best drummer in rock & roll, John Lennon tartly replied "He's not even the best drummer in the band." But that was just John's way of being nice. Like no one else, Ringo could work the band and the audience into a frenzy, as this dynamite clip of "Long Tall Sally" demonstrates.
Here's Ringo doing one of his most famous numbers with a little help from mate George Harrison, the usual cast of UK rock royalty, and some Britpop flavours of the month at the Prince's Trust Concert in 1987.
Happy Birthday Ringo. Peace and Love.