Monday, February 28, 2011
Happy Birthday to the late Brian Jones, who would have been 69 today had he not drowned or murdered (depending on whom you ask) in his swimming pool in 1969.
Jones actually founded the Rolling Stones, and was a bluesman to the core. But he was pushed to the margins of the band as the songwriting gifts of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards began to blossom.
According to Keef's must-read memoir Life, he and Jones were at loggerheads pretty much for the duration of the 60s, which culminated in Richards running off with Brian's shag-nificent bird Anita Pallenberg.
Nevertheless, Jones made fine use of his third-banana status in the Stones, becoming perhaps the most versatile multi-instrumentalist in rock history, with an amazing fecundity at seemingly any instrument. Here are a few examples, all from the mid to late 60s.
Guitar: "Little Red Rooster"
Harmonica: "Not Fade Away"
Sitar: "Paint It, Black"
Dulcimer: "Lady Jane"
Marimba: "Under My Thumb"
Piano: "Let's Spend the Night Together"
Recorder: "Ruby Tuesday"
Mellotron: "2000 Light Years from Home"
As if that weren't enough, Jones also played yet more instruments on a couple tracks by The Beatles.
Oboe: "Baby You're a Rich Man"
Saxophone: "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)"
R.I.P. and TCB, Mr. Jones.
Get the Rolling Stones on iTunes right here.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
In honor of George Harrison, who would have been 68 today, let us pause to take a look at one of his most enduring epics: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from 1968’s The Beatles, aka The White Album.
While George already had several great tunes under his belt by 1968 (including “Taxman” and “If I Needed Someone”), “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the first that was unquestionably as great as any Beatles track, one that would merit consideration on any top-10 list of the Beatles’ all-time greatest tunes.
For such an epic, it came close to not existing. As George said in the must-own Beatles Anthology book, he was learning techniques to keep his mind open to all types of possibilites.
"I wrote "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes... The Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence - every little item that's going down has a purpose. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book - as it would be a relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw 'gently weeps', then laid the book down again and started the song."
The first recorded version of the song is an absolutely stunning acoustic take that in its way is just as good as the finished album product.
George had something bigger in mind, however, and with the four Beatles at each other’s throats during the White Album sessions, he convinced his mate Eric Clapton to stop by and play a solo or two on the tune. Paul McCartney added a lovely piano intro and the rest is Fab history.
Harrison and Clapton played George’s stately stunner live over the years on several occasions, first at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, when Eric was in the midst of a life-threatening drinking-and-drugs problem.
Eric, Paul, Ringo, George's son Dhani and other luminaries did a heartfelt version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" a year after George's death, at the reverent and joyous Concert for George at the Royal Albert Hall. (GeorgeHarrison.com is streaming the show free all day Friday.)
In 2004, Harrison was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and fellow Wilbury Tom Petty led a band that included Dhani and fellow inductee Prince, who played a truly mind-boggling solo at the end. Had Prince been around in early-60s London, it wouldn’t have been Clapton they were calling God.
Happy Birthday George - you are missed.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Like every other rock geek on the planet, I spent a good part of the weekend listening to Radiohead’s latest surprise download The King of Limbs. My hopes were high - in my opinion, their previous record In Rainbows is their best LP start to finish besides their Beatles-quality masterwork OK Computer.
Listening to King of Limbs in my car, the first words that came to mind were “textures” “dub” “difficult” and “grower.” A grower is a record that seems incom-
prehensible for many listens until one has an epiphany-like moment and the genius of the record is suddenly revealed. Perhaps the most famous grower of all time is Murmur by Radiohead mentors R.E.M.
So far, The King of Limbs is still in the "difficult" category for me, but I’ve had inklings that there may be a grower in there. Driving home from the train station last night I was gripped by the Eno-esque rhythm generator that anchors track 3 “Little by Little.” And the first “single” if you can call it that is the very catchy (for Radiohead anyway) “Lotus Flower.”
Thom Yorke’s spastic dance moves in the “Lotus Flower” video have inspired a deluge of YouTube parodies and mash-ups, such as this one sent my way by RT friend and fan Josh Fleitas:
While Yorke is original in many ways, his dance stylings here are very reminiscent of David Byrne’s movements in the start of the classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.
This should be of little surprise to Radiohead fans, as Radiohead took their name from an obscure T-Heads song featured the 1986 Byrne film True Stories:
What is your take on The King of Limbs? Is it a grower or a dud? Vote in the RT Poll at the top of this page.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Happy Birthday to Yoko Ono, who turns a whopping 78 today.
Forty years after the fact, and 30 after the assassination of her husband, Rock Turtleneck has decided to forgive Yoko for breaking up The Beatles. We aren't ones to hold grudges.
While by all accounts she is a nice, generous person, I find most of her music unlistenable, particularly her primal scream thing, which she claims is art. Here she is being an artist and stuff with her boyfriend's band in a groovy outtake from Let it Be.
Her vocal stylings were put to much better use as the inspiration for Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson's's shrieks on the B-52's party classic "Rock Lobster."
Yoko does have one song that I absolutely love: "Walking on Thin Ice," the track John and Yoko were working on the evening he was murdered. According to Wikipedia, John's lead guitar playing on the tune was his final creative act, and he died holding a mix of the tune in his hands. "Thin Ice" got some airplay when it was released as a single in 1981 and was a big danceclub hit as well.
On a Sunday morning in 1995 or so, I was crossing through Central Park and saw Yoko walking with what appeared to be a bodyguard and a gentleman friend. Everyone was wearing black head to toe. It was thrilling to be so close to someone who was so close to the Fab Four.
Let's go out with John's charming tribute to Yoko, who can get on with her life now that she has patched things up with the RT.
Buy "Walking on Thin Ice" on iTunes here
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
The breakup of the White Stripes last week has led me again and again to YouTube, which hosts a plethora of absolutely incredible performances by spouses turned siblings Jack and Meg White.
One of my favorites is this cover of "Death Letter Blues" by the legendary bluesman Son House.
Jack takes many flights of fancy with his slide guitar and octave-shifting effects pedal, yet still stays true to his idol Son House's haunting original, which you can see below.
Son House is one of the titans of the blues, right up there with Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and was a huge influence on the Rolling Stones as well.
In Davis Guggenheim's 2009 guitar documentary It Might Get Loud, White names Mr. House (as the New York Times would call him) as his favorite artist, and recalls the first time he heard him sing.
One of my favorite Stripes recordings is a session they did at the legendary John Peel's Maida Vale Studios in London in 2001. It includes an incendiary version of "Death Letter Blues" plus some fantastic versions of other blues covers and Stripes originals. For a limited time, Rock Turtleneck is making it available for download right here.
You can get the original versions of "Death Letter Blues" by Son House and his protoges Jack & Meg right now on iTunes.
Buy on iTunes:
Son House, The Original Delta Blues - a mere $5.99
The White Stripes, De Stijl
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
The White Stripes broke up officially today. In their own way, they owned the 2000s the way The Beatles owned the 60s and broke up in early 1970 and Led Zeppelin owned the 70s and broke up in 1980 with the death of John Bonham. Some bands and some decades are meant for each other.
Their breakup was annonuced in a touching statement on their website which you can read here. As you can see, Jack and Meg knew that the Stripes had said all they needed to say.
Like Bob Dylan or Neil Young, the White Stipes seemed to have arrived from another, less complicated time. They blew the doors of popular music wide open in 2002 with “Fell in Love with a Girl” and made everything else sound phony, as Nirvana had done a decade earlier.
Throughout the decade, as technology expanded and seemed to almost spiral out of control, the Stripes worked within their own set of primitive limitations - two players, three colors, minimal overdubs, great songwriting - and made anyone enslaved to ProTools or AutoTune sound like amateurs.
I saw the Stripes do a free lunchtime show in NYC’s Union Square in October 2002, between the White Blood Cells and Elephant records. There were flyers scattered front of my office building announcing the show that morning. Wish I’d kept one.
Yet for all their blues raveups, Jack and Meg were just as strong with a McCartney-esque ballad. Let’s go out with their best.
Thanks for a great decade Jack & Meg.
Buy the White Stripes on iTunes here
With the weather in the Northeast laughably annoying at this point, my thoughts turned to “Like the Weather” a lovely folk-rock gem from 10,000 Maniacs’ 1987 LP In My Tribe. This was the first song I ever heard from Natalie Merchant and company, who hail from Jamestown in upstate New York and surely know the woes of the Wintry Mix.
In My Tribe is one of those true rarities: a record with no weak tracks.
It quickly became one of the staples of my collegiate musical diet, a folk-rock ramen noodles if you will, alongside R.E.M.’s Document, Prince's Sign "O" the Times and Globe of Frogs by Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians.
In any case, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning, meaning spring is right around the corner. I don't believe him either, but right now it's all we've got.
Buy In My Tribe on iTunes here