Thursday, July 28, 2011
Once again, the untimely death of a talented musician has led to a spike in record sales.
Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black record is #2 on the iTunes chart; her relatively little-heard 2003 debut Frank is at #9; and in a refelection of her slim catalog, her collection of B-Sides is at #12.
The B-Sides are well worth getting , however, because they show that Winehuouse’s love of ska music was just as strong as the R&B for which she is known.
One of the best of the B's is her cover of the great reggae standard “Monkey Man” - not to be confused with the kickass Rolling Stones tune from Let it Bleed.
This "Monkey Man" has had a long and fascinating evolution. It's one of those tunes that everyone seems to take a crack at at some point, like "All Along the Watchtower," "Not Fade Away" or "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo."
The Specials did a famous version of the tune their must-own, Elvis Costello-produced 1980 debut LP:
But "Monkey Man" was originally written and performed by reggae pioneers Toots & the Maytals.
Toots is one of the giants of the reggae genre and he and his Maytals have many great songs, most famous being "Pressure Drop," which was featured on the legendary soundtrack to the Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come.
Here's Toots & Co. playing "Monkey Man" live in 1970 with a special cameo appearance by perhaps the greatest Monkey Man of them all, King Kong:
Get your Monkey Man on iTunes here Mon:
Toots & the Maytals
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Happy 68th to Sir Michael Jagger, lead singer of the hit-making, hip-shaking blues combo The Rolling Stones.
Befitting his status as a Knight, a title he’s held since 2003, let's cue up my favorite video by the Stones, "Respectable," from 1978's Some Girls.
In the tune, Jagger mocks a girl who used to be street trash but is now the toast of high society, sort of an inverse, interestingly enough, to Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." We don't know if it's a specific girl he's talking to, but my guess is the girl in question is Mick himself.
"Respectable" is cliearly inspired by the energy of the punk movement which was in full force at the time of the release of Some Girls. That Anarchy-in-the-UK spirit also shines thorugh in this no-frills video, with Jagger part of the band instead of singing out front. Very punk rock.
Jagger is such a force of nature, it's easy to forget how talented he is. In addition to singing, songwriting and playing guitar, he is also a world-class blues harmonica player, plays drums and piano as well, which he shows here in a funny Some Girls track influenced by Bakersfield country instead of Brixton punk, "Far Away Eyes."
HB & TCB, MJ - Don't take my wife, don't come back.
Buy Some GIrls on iTunes here
Sunday, July 24, 2011
The late great Amy Winehouse (1983-2011) posessed one of those once-in-a-generation voices, a smoky set of pipes that were drenched in whisky and sadness. Like Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith or Karen Carpenter, Amy could wring remarkable emotions from her material. She could make something lighthearted sound poignant and, in the case of her big brilliant hit "Rehab," (which she also wrote) something tragic seem entertaining and witty.
Winehouse's problems with drugs were at least as well known as her music. And music's loss is the so-called 27 Club's gain, for Ms. Winehouse is the latest gifted, doomed musician to pass away at that age.
Is it mere coincidence? Having survived my 27th year, I can guess that 27 is around the time when you stop being indestructible; the time when your body stops cashing the substance abuse checks you are writing. For someone who is hell bent on self destruction, like a Winehouse, Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison, 27 would be a natural time to go.
Anyway, Ms. Winehouse's 2008 record Back to Black is brilliant front to back. My favorite track is the bluesy and jazzy "Me and Mr. Jones," which shows abundant hints of where she could have taken her gifts.
R.I.P. Ms. Winehouse, and thanks for the music. On a lighter note, be sure to vote in the newest RT Poll at the top of this page, which poses the tragic question, Who is your favorite member of the 27 Club?
Buy Amy Winehouse's Back to Black on iTunes here
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
In a continuing effort to reverse the bad karma (and financial hemorraging) surrounding their Broadway show Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, Bono and The Edge of U2 stopped by for a wonderful appearance on Late Show with David Letterman.
After talking about the play for a couple segments, Dave asked the two about their songwriting process. The Edge pulled out a Gibson jumbo acoustic from behind his seat and the two discussed the origins of their soulful ballad "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" from 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind.
The tune began as a gospel number, but the tough-guy rhythm section of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. thought it was too feminine. So Bono changed the lyrics and created what he called "a one-sided argument" with his friend Michael Hutchence of INXS, who had recently died a horrible, supposedly accidental death by autoerotic asphyxiation. The more direct lyrics gave the song the edge (pardon the phrase) it had been lacking.
The two played the finished product sitting on their guest chairs, by far the most intimate performance I've ever seen by these globetrotting, stadium-accustomed rock legends. With all their massive stages and electronic window dressing, it's sometimes easy to forget that they are musicians and soul brothers at heart.
My favorite moment in "Stuck in a Moment" is when Bono breaks the so-called fourth wall and sings "I'm just trying to find a decent melody, a song that I can sing in my own company." Seek and you shall find, my fellow Irish soul-bro. Here's the full band playing the same tune on Letterman almost 10 years earlier, in October of 2001.
Buy U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind on iTunes here
Sunday, July 17, 2011
I am willing to forgive Paul McCartney for playing two nights at that monument to imperialist greed Yankee Stadum (and for supposedly being a Yankee fan) because he has clearly entered uncharted territory as an entertainer.
Flirting with 70 as if the age was a leggy blonde bird at the Bag O' Nails club in Swinging Sixties London, Macca has seemed to gain energy and power as a performer as he has gotten older. This weekend, the Cute One and his crack band played two 2-1/2 hour shows with over 30 songs per evening. Keep in mind that the legendary Beatles shows at Shea Stadium were under 30 minutes.
Macca sang, played bass, guitar, piano, ukelele (in a tribute to George Harrison of "Something") and left fans and critics alike in awe of his talent and generosity. He obviously doesn't need the money, and does it out of sheer love of entertaining and adoration, something that was apparent from his earliest days as a musician.
In addition to playing the musts like "Hey Jude" and "Band on the Run," Macca threw in some real chestnuts from his bottomless catalog, including a ditty he'd never played live before: "The Night Before."
McCartney probably wrote "The Night Before" in five or six minutes while sitting on the loo, but just about any songwriter of the era would have killed for something that catchy. Here are the lads playing it in the film "Help!" 46 years ago. Seems like only... yesterday.
Cheers, Macca. Keep up the good work.
Buy "The Night Before" on iTunes here
Monday, July 11, 2011
With the mercury rising up toward the triple-digit mark, one song keeps playing in my head as I walk to my office in New York City's Flatiron District: "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama. This 1983 girl-group classic has aged remarkably well, and captures the sound of the hot city streets better than any song I can think of, with the possible exception of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City."
It probably has a lot to do with the video, which features the three lovely lasses galavanting around early 80s pre-gentrification Big Apple. It was right around the time I started going into the city for wild times with my high school friends and that's exactly how I remember it looking - only we weren't hanging out with Bananarama.
Whilst contemplating Bananarama today, it occured to me that all of their songs are sung by all three members together - Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin. No one ever takes a lead vocal or sings a soaring counter-melody. Every word is sung by all of them, all at once.
Bananarama had a string of radio friendly classics in the 80s, and sold over 40 million records worldwide. Fahey left the group in 1988 after marrying Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics (Talk about your Banana Splits! - thanks, I'll be here all week), but the other two still perform as Bananarama to this day.
Here's another favorite from their 1983 record Deep Sea Skiving called "Really Saying Something," recorded with Fun Boy Three, an accurately named spinoff group from ska pioneers The Specials.
Get a bunch o' Bananarama on iTunes here.
Friday, July 08, 2011
Every summer should have a song that captures it and Rock Turtleneck's 2011 summer song thus far is “Holdin On to Black Metal” from My Morning Jacket’s wonderful new record Circuital.
"Black Metal" captures that feeling of running around outside on a hot humid day, with a sprinkler going strong and the Good Humor truck coming up the street. The vibe of the record is sweltering yet at the same time very fun and liberating, not unlike summer itself.
A recent Rolling Stone profile notes that Circuital was recorded in an abandoned high school gymnasium during some oppressive heat and A/C not an option due to recording purposes. Some of the sessions the “studio” was 100 degrees or so - and it sounds like it.
As with many MMJ tunes, “Black Metal” carries an eclectic mix of influences, few of which are metal, but some of which are black. I hear some innervisions-era Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield-style Superfly soul for sure, conjured up by the background chorus of what sounds like inner-city schoolkids. I also detect a soupcon of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils' "Jackie Blue."
But after a few listens, I realized the tune has and influence from the opposite side of the musical spectrum: "Owner of a Lonely Heart," the Yes comeback single from 1984 that was a radical departure from their dreamier prog-rock sound. Jim James' Jon Anderson-like falsetto, the synth horn charts (they might be real horns), the fuzz bass line - it's all there, baby. "Black Metal" sounds like "Lonely Heart" but sweaty instead of sterile, like it was recorded by living, breathing humanoids.
"Black Metal" and all of Circuital is a must for the remainder of backyard BBQ season.
Buy My Morning Jacket's Circuital on iTunes for a mere $7.99 here
While you're at it, add "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes to the mix here
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Ruth Roberts, co-writer of the timeless New York Metropolitans theme song "Meet the Mets," passed away over the weekend at age 84.
With its Mad Men-era optimism, the tune helped you feel good about a team that would go on to lose 120 games its first season, and has continued to work its charms in good times and bad.
Composing a song that has brought so much pleasure to the Mets' hundreds of fans is accomplishment enough for most. But Ruth also wrote a song that was covered by both Buddy Holly and The Beatles: "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues."
Buddy's version was the B-side of his "Words of Love" 45 (a tune also covered by the Fab Four)
The Beatles took a stab at "Mailman" (and just about every other song known to mankind) during their "winter of discontent" Get Back sessions in early 1969, which became the film Let it Be. Their version of Roberts' tune went unreleased until the Anthology 3 compilation was released in 1996. Bet she got some scratch for that.
R.I.P. and TCB Ruth. I raise my Rheingold to thee.
Get "Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues" on iTunes here:
Friday, July 01, 2011
Rock Turtleneck & staff are headed up to the Adirondacks to clear our heads for more great rock blogging in the second half of 2011, so until then we will leave you with a few doses of sunny, summery pop to get you through the weekend, courtesy of some of our favorite artists. Happy 4th of July!
She & Him, "Wouldn't it Be Nice" LA Times Wine Festival, 2010
Elliott Smith (R.I.P.), "Independence Day"
Wilco, "I Might" (NEW SONG from forthcoming September reocrd)