Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The saga of the Chilean miners is perhaps the ultimate Good News-Bad News scenario. The good news, of course, is that all 33 of the miners trapped since August 5 are, miraculously, still alive. The bad news is they'll be down there through Christmas, or at least until someone can drill down through three miles of rock. But as this footage shows, they're keeping their spirits up.
When you’re three miles down with nothing to do but wait, it would be nice to have some tunes to pass the time, so Rock Turtleneck has mined its archives to put together a short but inspired playlist.
The Police, "Canary in a Coalmine"
This bouncy throwaway from Zenyatta Mondatta shows the boys at the fun-loving, tight-playing best, and beyond the subject matter, can lift anyone's spirit in the material world.
Maureen McGovern, "The Morning After"
This haunting theme from the 1972 disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure might seem like a last gasp, but its spirit is ultimately uplifting. A cruise liner flipped upside down; a Chilean mine disaster – same shit, different day.
Tennessee Ernie Ford, "16 Tons"
"You load 16 tons and what do you get/Another day older and deeper in debt," sang Ernie. Would like to know whose idea it was to do this go-go style.
The Rolling Stones, "Shine a Light"
These guys can only wish they were stretched out in Room 1009. Nevertheless, the refrain from this Exile on Main Street classic — "Let the good Lord shine a light on you" — says it all.
Bob Dylan, "Shelter from the Storm"
"Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm/'Come in,' she said, 'I'll give you shelter from the storm.'" If lovin' from your old lady's not enough to keep you going, what is? This road-weary live version from the 1976 Hard Rain film and album is great for many reasons, one being it's the only time I've ever seen Dylan play slide guitar.
The Velvet Underground, "Who Loves the Sun"
Who loves the sun? Someone who's trapped three miles underground for the forseeable future, that's who. This upbeat ditty kicked off the VU's swan song Loaded, which is what these guys are going to get the second they get out of there.
Lee Dorsey, "Working in a Coal Mine"
Some prefer the Devo remake but I have a feeling the miners would prefer to kick it old school.
Loretta Lynn, "Coal Miner's Daughter"
All fathers dream of having a daughter who understands their plight. Ms. Lynn certainly does.
Bee Gees, "New York Mining Disaster, 1941"
One of the Brothers Gibb's first big hits, this shameless rip off of the Sgt. Pepper sound (and Dylan's Mr. Jones character) is nevertheless a must. Thinking about it, all the Bee Gees' titles seemed to relate to the miners: "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever," "I've Got to Get a Message to You," "Lonely Days/Lonely Nights," "How Deep is Your Love?" Eerie. It's like they knew.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Despite loving their song "The Walls Came Down" and hearing it at pretty much every on- or off-campus party I attended in college and New Wave Night at the UConn watering hole Huskies, the only thing I knew about The Call is that their name was The Call.
Then the great music site expectingrain.com put out the word that their leader, singer/bassist/writer Michael Been (2nd from left) died yesterday from a heart attack, and pointed the way to this great video, and I was reminded how much pleasure Been and his band had given me back in the day.
The video, which is either shot live or an excellent job of lip synching and air-playing, features The Band's Garth Hudson on keyboards. Been has a Van Morrison-esque disposition here, so the presence of Hudson seems more than appropriate in a Last Waltz kind of way.
"The Walls Came Down" was a prime expample of the dominant strain of Alternative Rock in the mid 1980s: explicitly anti-Reagan/ Thatcher/ Gorbachev (a triumverate though despised by artistes around the world, gave freedom to millions by helping to end Communism, but I digress), with a martial beat and call-to-arms lyrics like these:
I don't think there are any Russians
And there ain't no Yanks
Just corporate criminals
Playin' with tanks
It's a thread that ran through the work of U2, Big Country, Gang of Four, The Alarm, Midnight Oil and Document/Green-era R.E.M., and seemingly every other band featured on MTV's 120 Minutes. In many of these songs, the heavy-handed politics overwhelmed the melody, but "The Walls Came Down" would have been a great tune if it had been about going to the Limited for spandex leggings and mousse.
R.I.P. and TCB Mr. Been, it's been a pleasure.
Here are a couple more great slices of 80s agit-pop from The Call.
"Everywhere I Go"
"I Still Believe"
Buy The Best of The Call on iTunes here
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wish I could have been at the Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival on the grounds of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art this past weekend. In addition to what was no doubt a transcendent Wilco performance, the festival also featured performances by Mavis Staples (who has a Jeff Tweedy-curated record coming out soon) and performances by all of Wilco’s members in their various offshoot projects, plus an eclectic mix of bands, comics, puppets, and other fun stuff. A ticket for all three days was less than $100, including parking.
In what may or may not be ironic, while Wilco was in the Northeast, I was in Wilco’s hometown of Chicago for the weekend. My daughter and I took in the famous architectural boat tour of the Chicago River, where I snapped this photo of the Marina apartments, immortalized by the band on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. (By the way, did you know that Marina tenants must back their car into their parking space which is somehow supposed to make it less likely that one will drive off the ledge? I learned that on the tour.)
Anyway, right around the time I was taking this picture, Jeff Tweedy was doing a solo set on stage, featuring this lovely version of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.”
Tweedy first covered the tune of heartbreak, regret and innocence lost for the soundtrack of Todd Haynes’s Dylan biopic I’m Not There a couple years back. And while I have mixed feelings about the film itself (I’m generally not a fan of art-house bullshit), the effort was worthwhile if only to bring us this perfect marriage of my favorite contemporary artist doing my favorite Dylan track.
Interestingly, Tweedy covers the song not in its original 1974 Blood on the Tracks incarnation but the Rolling Thunder Revue version Dylan developed a year later with different words and chords, performed here on a tribute to the legendary talent scout John Hammond, who helped discover, in addition to Dylan, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Pete Seeger, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.
This says a lot about Tweedy, who deserves a phD in Dylanology for picking out a relatively obscure version of the tune, and of Dylan himself, whose covers of his own songs are often completely different that the originals.
Something else that says a lot about Tweedy: according to a New York Times review of the Festival, Tweedy spent some time before Wilco’s set sitting in a dunking book to raise money for a local charity and got dunked on the first try. Somehow I can’t see Axl Rose doing that.
Buy Jeff Tweedy's cover of "Simple Twist of Fate" on iTunes here
Buy Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder version here
Buy Blood on the Tracks here
Monday, August 16, 2010
While contemplating how to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the alleged passing of Elvis A(a)ron Presley, it occurred to me that in four years of Rock Turtleneck, I have never devoted a post to TCB, aka Taking Care of Business in a Flash, a holistic philosophy and worldview that encompassed everything Elvis in his later years, including his jewelry, his airplanes, his martial arts and his band.
"TCB" had been around for years before Elvis made it his own; in fact you can hear Aretha Franklin sing "take care, TCB" in her cover of Memphis-based Otis Redding's "Respect." But supposedly he received the chief inspiration for TCB from a 1968 TV special featuring the great Motown groups The Supremes and The Temptations. The name of the show? TCB.
Not long thereafter, as I recall from a book I read about Elvis many years ago, The King was in search of an all-encompassing ethos, and sketched up a Captain Marvel-esque logo with the letters TCB and a lightning bolt, meaning "Taking Care of Business in a Flash." This basically meant getting things done pronto — especially if it meant getting Elvis another plate of meatloaf.
In his 24/7 Dr. Nick-prescribed haze, Elvis also wrote up the legendary "TCB Oath" which is so insanely incoherent to the point of genius, one could be forgiven for thinking Sarah Palin wrote it.
More self-respect, more respect for fellow man.
Respect for fellow students and instructors.
Respect for all styles and techniques.
Body conditioning, mental conditioning, meditation for calming and stilling of the mind and body.
Sharpen your skills, increase mental awareness, for all those that might choose a new outlook and personal philosophy.
Freedom from constipation.
TCB TECHNIQUE ***
All techniques into one.
Elvis Presley 8th
Applying all techniques into one.
Elvis made dozens 14K gold TCB rings and necklaces for his friends and the members of his Memphis Mafia - and TLC (Tender Lovin' Care) necklaces for the ladies. (I proudly wear a knockoff TCB.) He stenciled the TCB on his planes, the Lisa Marie and Hounddog II, as seen in this photo taken by yours truly. HIs great, hugely underrated band from the 70s, featuring James Burton on guitar and Ronnie Tutt on drums was re-christened the TCB Band.
The application of "all techniques into one" from the TCB Oath is a reference to TCB, a style of martial arts that was yet another innovation of The King's, a mishmash of Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Judo and Boxing which he also applied to his electrifying 70s stage performances.
And while Elvis talked the TCB talk, and walked the TCB walk. Perhaps no one has ever TCB'd quite like the King in one of his last concerts in June of 1977. He'd seen many better days, and must have known his time wasn't long, but knew he had an audience out there who'd paid good money to see him. So he dug down deep and TCB'd an encore to remember: this devastating version of "Unchained Melody." It's become a Rock Turtleneck tradition to show this clip every Death Day, and we'll keep showing it till he comes out of seclusion.
Happy Death Day, Elvis. Come back soon. Oh, and TCB.
More Elvis with the TCB Band: That's the Way it Is
Monday, August 09, 2010
I was up at my in-laws’ house in the Adirondacks a month or so ago throwing back a few whiskey sours with a bunch of relatives when my father in-law pulled an old LP off a shellac-y stack of his records and placed it on the vintage hi-fi. It was the sound of a dozen or so grown white men singing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” in unison.
My father in-law enjoys the fact that I know and appreciate music outside my target demographic, so he asked me if I knew who was playing.
“Of course I do,” I said. “It’s Mitch f&$%ing Miller.”
OK, so I didn’t use the expleteive, but the point is that Mitch Miller, who died last week at age 99, holds a special place in my heart and in the hearts of many. And while his accomplishments as an in-house producer, hit-maker and executive at Columbia Records were legion, (You can read about his impressive CV in his New York Times obituary.) it is as the svengali of the Sing Along with Mitch series of LP and hit TV show for which he will be remembered through the ages.
On paper, the sound of a roomful of while men in primary-color sweaters, bow ties and khakis singing standards with no irony for miles is a horrible idea. Yet like many godawful concepts, it's quite pleasant in actuality.
If you grew up in the 60s or 70s, the first few bars of “Must Be Santa,” from Holiday SIng Along with Mitch will reduce you or even the most Type-A hedge fund manager to a blubbering puddle of jello begging for a Slinky and a Snurfer.
Another fan of Mitch’s is Bob Dylan, who was signed to Columbia by the legendary talent scout John Hammond when Miller was running the company. Dylan paid homage to Mitch last year with a fantastic cover (and even better video) of “Must Be Santa” on his Chrismas in the Heart collection.
Drinking the whiskey sours and sitting on the porch on a raucous Adirondack evening, it was clear that Singin' Along with Mitch had taken the evening up a notch or two. It wasn't the first time, and it certainly won't be the last.
Next time you’re having a party on your deck or rooftop, download some Mitch beforehand. Then when all the guests that you had to invite have left, don't reach for Sticky Fingers, Achtung Baby or some other stale, safe party standby. Whip up some whisky sours, throw on a Mitch Miller playlist and show your guests what true rocking is all about.
RIP and TCB Mitch.
Buy Mitch Miller on iTunes:
Sing Along with Mitch
Holiday Sing Along with Mitch
Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Last Wednesday I had the good fortune to catch a fantastically rocking show by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at Madison Square Garden. They kicked things off with the jingle-jangle genius of "Listen to Her Heart."
Watching them trailblaze thorugh that song and several dozen other unforgettable, indestructible rock classics — plus a mini-set of his amazing new blues record MOJO that may have been the best part of the show — I thought to myself that Tom Petty is the rock & roll equivalent of the Millionaire Next Door.
While other artists of his stature collect platititudes and hosannas like the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band, Voice of a Generation, The Boss or simply God, Petty, by himself and with his band, has amassed a sound, songbook, consistency, likability and longevitiy that puts him shoulder to shoulder with any of those hossanahed artists.
Yet Petty, despite selling 80 million records or so and racking up more hits than David Crosby’s freebase pipe, somehow manages to avoid close scrutiny or over-the-top praise (at least until Peter Bogdonovich's recent four-hour doc Runnin' Down a Dream). In fact, despite being a big fan of his for years and owning and loving many of his records, Rock Turtleneck has never written a word about him in four years until right now.
Why? I think it's because Petty has the super-rare gift of being able to write songs that don’t sound written. They sound like they’ve always been around. Which is not the sign of not of a hack but of a true craftsman. Just listen to this version of "The Waiting" with Eddie Vedder . I wish Pearl Jam had more songs like this.
A Bruce Springsteen on the other hand, wears his working class ethos on the outside. He breaks into a sweat five minutes into a show and he still has four hours left, and when he writes an anthem, even a great one like "Born to Run," you can tell he had sat at his desk to Write An Anthem. But w/Petty it sounds easy, so a song like "Free Fallin'," as anthemic as anything by the Boss, sounds casually tossed off.
I could go on but with TP, it's always been all about the music, so let's go out with a personal favorite, "Yer So Bad," a Dylanesque ditty from Full Moon Fever that holds a special place in my heart for being the first song I ever figured out on the guitar.
And if you have 12 minutes to spare, check out this making of MOJO documentary. Then get the record.