Monday, September 28, 2009

Song of the Week: "New Rose", The Damned

For reasons of ignorance only, the Sex Pistols are regularly assumed to have been the first UK punk band. But they were not. That honor (?) goes to the Damned who pierced the airwaves with their song, New Rose, in October of 1976. While it is certainly true that the excellent Sex Pistols were kicking up some dust at the same time as The Damned -- and even receiving top billing over The Damned at shows around London -- the Sex Pistols couldn't seem to make it into a studio to record. So while the Sex Pistols were blowing through record deals faster than a baby goes through diapers, the Damned got signed and actually made it into a studio. What a freakin' novel idea Mr. McClaren!

On September 20, 1976, guitarist Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible, singer David Vanian and drummer Rat Scabies (not his real name me thinks), walked into Pathway Studios in London to work with the brilliant producer and always hip to new music, Nick Lowe. (for those of you who are into connections, that is the brilliant producer and always hip to new music Dave Edmunds playing guitar in that video). The product of that day's labor is our SoTW, New Rose, an original composition by the band's young guitarist, Brian James. New Rose is not just historically significant, it is also great. New Rose is relentlessly driven by the propulsive drums of Rat Scabies (drummers haven't gotten nearly enough kudos here at Flip-Side) and marked by the damn catchy barre chord riff laid down by James and his highly compressed, distorted 1961 Gibson SG through what we will assume is a Marshall amp. Those of us at the Flip-Side's Rocky Mountain offices can't get enough of that killer drum and guitar break at 1:41 and that little yelp Vanian gives out at the end of it. Nothing before (but many things after) sounded like this on the UK radio. The Damned had taken that first giant step for punk-kind in the UK, influencing bands like the Buzzcocks and the Undertones.

So on this September morning, 33 years and 8 days after this was recorded, we celebrate The Damned's New Rose as our SoTW. Click here to enjoy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Busker Days: Emily Bonn, "Big Apple"

You know, if you are in need of an upside to your living or working in a big city, the fact that you can regularly see and hear great music incidental to your daily journey should suffice. Listen to this weeks busker edition and you will understand. Here we have Emily Bonn on banjo (yes, banjo two posts in a row!) and Anna Levitt on fiddle playing the Bonn composition Big Apple. They were down in Montgomery Station recently honing their talent in preparation for a northwest mini-tour, and they had my ear instantly. Hope your tour went well!

Here is Emily's myspace page.

Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame Nominees for 2010

The usual R&R Hall o' Fame nominee nonsense begins again. Another list of obvious and questionable contenders. Never know what the 500 person voting committee will do.

There are certain folks past and present (Seymour Stein, Ahmet Ertegun) who have held a lot of influence and have gotten perhaps some less deserving people in while other, more seminal, artists remain shut out. Alice Cooper, The Stooges, The New York Dolls not in Hall, but Percy Sledge and Ritchie Valens are? I am always baffled by exactly what the criteria is to get into this goofy museum. It seems having the right lobbyists helps.

Would love to see such cult-ish types as Love and The Zombies in there, but I am probably dreaming.

The list:

KISS -- Love em' or hate em', they should have been in there long ago.

Genesis-- Same as above.

Stooges-- The godfathers of punk not in Hall, but Sex Pistols and Ramones (both directly influnenced by Iggy and co.) are? C'mon, dummies!

Laura Nyro -- Great songwriter. Cult-ish type artist who is certainly worthy, but not exactly rock and roll. If she makes it, then where is Harry Nilsson?

The Chantels -- Output is pretty slight, even by girl group standards, though they are credited with being R&R's first great female group.

The Hollies -- Great and underappreciated 60's pop group who had tons of hits. If they make it, well deserved.

Donna Summer -- This is disco or R&B, but the "Rock and Roll" moniker hardly seems to apply for this organisation. Miles Davis is in there, for god sakes! Miss Summer certainly sold a ton of disco records in her time.

ABBA -- Again, not what one would call Rock and Roll, but considering they have sold more records than anyone but the Beatles and the fact they cranked out a string of pop classics that for better and worse continue to influence pop music, they should be a shoo-in. If Madonna is in there, then ABBA should definitely be in there.

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- This one may ruffle a few feathers too, but they have had a 25 year career of critical and commercial success. I know, there are those who hate them with a passion, but I have liked some of their stuff and the musicianship from Flea, John Frusciante and Chad Smith is phenomenal. Now if the voting committee can just forget about the socks on cocks episodes or some of Anthony Kiedis' raps, they should be in there.

LL Cool J -- WTF. Another example of the East Coast bias of this organisation. How many rap acts are you going to include in this thing? And if I had to pick 5 or 10 of them for inclusion, I don't think Ladies Love (who has had his moments) would be one of them. Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC are in. Wouldn't The Beastie Boys or Public Enemy be the most obvious next choice?

Darlene Love -- Great girl group singer. Not sure she has accomplished enough to get in, but you never know.

Jimmy Cliff -- This would make reggae artist number two in the hall behind you-know-who. If called upon to induct another reggae artist,would not be my next logical pick. That would probably be Toots & the Maytals. He had a few gems in the early 70's and helped to popularize reggae on an international level, but I just don't think his work warrants inclusion here.

Why should we care? It is a tourist trap that celebrates a populist history of,well not even rock exactly, but popular music of the last 50-odd years. I would like to check it out some day,but would never make a special trip to see it. Strange to see such vibrant music reduced to a stuffy museum exhibit. Does not take into account all of the glorious one-offs or notable but not best-selling acts that have made the music so interesting over the years.

Still, it is nice to see the music taken seriously and some of those old timers commemorated somehow. You and I know Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and so on,but future generations may need some guidance. Will they be looked upon with the same interest or relevance that such legandary but mostly forgotten Baseball Hall of Fame players as Pie Traynor or Tris Speaker are today? At least the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members have something that will endure and can be experienced:their music.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Song of the Week: "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago", The Yardbirds

The Yardbirds are one of those bands whose shadow is larger than the actual profile of the band. They are a band that is revered by musicians and musicologists alike. They were inventive, musically stylish, aggressive, unpredictable and explosive. They are also known for spawning three of the greatest guitarists to step into the limelight in the nascent era of guitar heroes. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page would all be birthed from the ranks of The Yardbirds. But any real follower of The Yardbirds bristles when the group is remembered for this selection of alums alone. The Yardbirds were much more than these three guitar legends.

The Yardbirds started in London with a fine young guitarist at the helm, Anthony "Top" Topham. Top Topham's parents (he was 16) thought little of his future and forced him from the supposedly deadbeat group. Good thing for the other members -- vocalist and harmonica player Keith Relf, drummer Jim McCarty, bassist Paul Samwell Smith, and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja -- they new this introverted and moody kid from art school that used to play at the coffee house. He even was rumored to have a killer record collection. So off the 4 went courting their classmate. That classmate was none other than one Eric Clapton. The year was 1963 and the up and coming band made a play to get the residency at the Crawdaddy Club that was being vacated by a group who had to leave the residency to start touring. That group is of course, The Rolling Stones. The Yardbirds quickly built a following of blues enthusiasts who were attracted to the band for it's overdriven versions of obscure blues songs and the stellar finger work of their young lead guitarist as seen here performing Louise. Clapton was with the group when they recorded one of their finest works, a cover of the Billy Boy Arnold song, I Wish You Would. But Clapton bristled at requests to do the pop song, For Your Love, and departed the group for browner fields in the middle of the recording of their first album.

Half way through the recording of their first album, in steps publicly unknown guitarist Jeff Beck. While Beck was also a blues enthusiast, unlike Clapton, he was not a purist. Jeff Beck ushered in the era of musical experimentation that became the pinnacle of The Yardbirds' existence. The Yardbirds began drawing inspiration from disparate sources such as blues, jazz, country, raga, and rockabilly. (See this Flip-Side post from December, 2008 for an example of Beck's guitar work.) The result was a sonic explosion that sounded like nothing else in the UK or the US and had a tremendous impact on fellow musicians from Love to Jimi Hendrix to Aerosmith. Bassist Paul Samwell-Smith stepped forward as the group's primary songwriter, arranger and eventually producer. With Beck the group was at top form, as seen here in this live rendition of Bo Diddley's I'm A Man.

Shortly after producing the group's second album, Paul Samwell-Smith, tired of the touring, departed the group. In steps session guitarist Jimmy Page to replace Samwell-Smith on bass. The idea was to train Dreja how to play bass and have Page move over to guitar, giving the band perhaps the greatest guitar duo in history. That's where we pick up today's SoTW. It is the best of the three songs the two guitar legends recorded together. The song is Happening Ten Years Time Ago. It features Beck and Page and session bassist, John Paul Jones on bass. It was recorded in the summer of '66 and features some of the finest guitar tone you will ever here as Page and Beck duel with their Fender Telecasters through the lead as we hear distant voices under the siren swells.

This line up lasted for only three recordings and one film session, which can be seen here. Beck began to crack under pressure and left the group while on the road in California. Jimmy Page was left to carry the load for the band, and did a more than able job as the lone guitarist.

But all was not well in Yardbird land. Bad management, the loss of Jeff Beck coupled with the loss of Samwell-Smith and the changes in the music market, saw The Yardbirds playing a high school dance in Illinois one night, and a double theater show performance in Alabama the next night. With little enthusiasm left, in 1967, Relf and McCarty quit the band they founded.

Jimmy Page was still fresh and soldiered on for contractual purposes with The New Yardbirds, morphing the band into his new lineup he called Led Zeppelin (after The Who's Keith Moon stated that trying to keep the band afloat would go over like a Led Zeppelin). They would continue on with The Yardbirds set-list for a few months (as seen here) and eventually, become their own group and have one or two hits on their own accord.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Song of the Week: "Strollin' With Bone", T-Bone Walker

Can it get any better? Nope. Today we listen to T-Bone Walker, one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th Century.

Aaron Thibeaux Walker grew up in Dallas, Texas in a very musical family and at a very early age began busking on street corners for change. On the streets Walker worked as T-Bone (a play on words from his middle name) and supported and competed with guitarists like piedmont style guitarist Scrapper Blackwell, the jazzy, inventive and sadly overlooked Lonnie Johnson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, for whom Walker apprenticed. Walker would often accompany Jefferson on guitar but he would just as often perform as the warm up act, the MC, the dancer and the pass-the-hat guy for Mr. Jefferson. T-Bone Walker began working more and more on his own and even recorded for Columbia Records in Dallas as early as 1929!

Walker's guitar and singing skills had him traveling around the country spreading his skills. After a short stint in the Count Basie band, Walker Settled in as the guitarist for the Los Angeles based Les Hite band where Walker started using an amplified guitar as early as 1939. (Some say this is the first instance of an amplified guitar in recording. Others say it is Walker's Dallas protege, Charlie Christian. I don't know.) Regardless, T-Bone Walker was soon using his amplification to get heard in the band and start taking leads (previously the guitar had been purely a rhythm instrument) and began singing leads as well. The writing was on the wall and T-Bone Walker was now a frontman of his own band and his own blend of big band jazz and blues which was newly christened West Coast Blues. Walker's blues was an upbeat, swinging blues with a strong reference to the nascent jazz movement. A style that Lonnie Johnson had been hinting at years earlier. In 1947, T-Bone Walker hit it big time composing and recording a song that has become a "standard". That song is the ubiquitous Stormy Monday Blues, which you can see Walker performing here. Walker was quite the act to catch. He would play with the guitar behind his head while performing the splits and playing leads with the guitar facing straight up as if it was laying flat on a table.

Our SoTW is one of the most rollicking songs of the pre-Rock-n-Roll era that you will ever here. It's the Walker-penned instrumental, Strollin' with Bone. Not only is the guitar work just stellar, but the entire arrangement is just wonderful. The bouncing piano, the exclamation mark of the multiple horn breaks and the jazzy drums. And dig that guitar digging in with those bends at 2:04 right after the third horn break. Do you think Chuck Berry may have owned this record?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Busker Days: Sean Lee, "The Drum Stringer"

Sean Lee. The one man banjo! He's got two hands on a banjo, one foot tapping a tambourine and the other thumping a foot pedal on to a bass drum. The rhythmic possibilities seem to arise naturally from there with Sean, whose muse equipped him with a cunning beat. Add to the mix his honkwood lyrics and a punk pan alley delivery and it's just contagious. Click here to hear him tear it up with his song The Drum Stringer, also the title of his yet to be recorded next album.

Please also check out his music and more here.

Song of the Week: "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down", Temptations

The Flip-Side is digging a new analog to digital recording set up this week. And that means more vinyl is being raised from the deepest reaches of the analog cave we live in. Of all the vinyl we've been digging, The Temptations' Greatest Hits Vol. II (1970) is catching our attention the most. This is a collection of songs the Temptations recorded from '67-'69 with a new attitude (funkier), new producer (Bob Whitfield), new members of the Funk Brothers (the Motown house band) and a new lead singer (Dennis Edwards). The result was pretty funking cool!

Today we look at The Temptations' 1968 number, Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down. It features some pretty killer wah-pedal inflected guitar work (I never thought I would say that) and great bass work from what we think is brand new Funk Brother, Bob Babbitt who had the unenviable job of replacing one of the greatest bassists ever, James Jamerson. Dennis Edwards, the new lead singer for The Temps, adds a much grittier, more "pentecost preacher on a bender" feel to the band. And of course falsetto king, Eddie Kendricks is still there getting that classic Temptations sound: "Remember that old sayin', 'all the glitters ain't gold.' Take heed, don't ignore it, and to your money tightly hold."

Click here to listen to The Temptations' Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Song of the Week: "Shakin' All Over", Johnny Kidd & the Pirates

The final installment of "under the covers" has us Shakin' All Over. Most people under the age of 60 know this song as one of the more powerful numbers from The Who's legendary Live at Leeds album recorded in 1970. Pete Townshend and his cohorts did a pretty serious rework of the number and it is their version that prevails as the norm today. Under The Who's spell the song becomes a slower, brooding and dangerous song driven by Pete Townshend's Gibson SG with P-90 pickups and a host of funky and obscure chords thrown in.

However, that's not how the song started. The song was hugely popular before The Who turned it into a staple of their live set. In fact, the song was number one in the UK singles charts in 1960 when Johnny Kidd and The Pirates first wrote and recorded it. Johnny Kidd and The Pirates get major props from Flip-Side for wearing piratey outfits on stage and Kidd even sported a pirate eye patch. Argh. No sightings of a parrot, sadly. The Pirates were one of England's first pop rock bands and a major influence on bands like The Beatles and, obviously, The Who. The Guitar work by Joe Morretti, who played guitar on yesterday's selection of Brand New Cadillac, is inventive, clean and catchy as hell. It's what makes this song work. In the rock movement of the early and mid 60's this song became a staple of every band who had a halfway decent guitarist.

Now I must say, neither the original or The Who's version is my favorite. Nope, that honor belongs to a version done in 1965 by West Berlin, Germany band, The Lords. Check that killer version out here from YouTube. "Shakin' down da zee vone!"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Song of the Week: "Brand New Cadillac", Vince Taylor & The Playboys

In a little exercise we're calling "Under the Covers", we're still exploring the original versions of songs that have been made popular by the cover artist. Today we're getting under the covers with a Brand New Cadillac.

Brand New Cadillac hit the ears of the masses when The Clash recorded it for their third album, the mega great London Calling. The song is a powerful romp that doesn't stray all that far away from it's roots as a rockabilly song. Joe Strummer, one of my all time favorite singers, rasps away in perfection as he makes the song his own: "I said 'Jesus Christ, where'd you get that Cadillac?' She said, 'balls to you daddy'. She ain't never coming back." Strummer's use of a vintage 50's Fender Telecaster to play the main riff ensures that the song keeps it's original feel and restraint. Mick Jones' use of the Gibson Les Paul and Marshall amps ensures the song is given a fresh coat of paint.

So where did The Clash find this gem? From 1950's British Rockabilly artist Vince Taylor. The leather-clad Vince Taylor and his Play-Boys recorded the number for Parlaphone records in 1959. The guitarist was one Joe Moretti who played on the original version of Shakin' All Over. The drummer was none other than Tony Meehan who went on to drum for The Shadows and later for Jet Harris.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Song of the Week: "That's All Right", Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup

We're back under the covers this morning. Today we're snuggling up with a very young Elvis Presley. In fact, musically, it doesn't get any younger. Today we're looking at Elvis' first ever recording: That's All Right, Mama made for Sam Phillips' Memphis based Sun Records in 1954. Everyone should know this recording. After all, it was one of the earliest "rock" recordings ever made and has made every Elvis Greatest Hits collection out there. It's a great upbeat song and deserves all the praise one can give it. It's just Elvis, Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black slapping away at the bass in a live performance in the tiny studio.

The break-out hit for Elvis has its origins from 8 years earlier when it was recorded by it's composer, Mississippi based delta blues musician Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Crudup's version is a surprisingly upbeat total band performance that features Crudup's tinny guitar front and center.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Song of the Week: The Everly Brothers -- Gone, Gone, Gone

Back for day two of "under the covers". Today we look at the origins of the recent Robert Plant & Alison Krauss mega hit and cover song, Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On) from the duo's wildly successful Raising Sand album.

I'll state right here and now that I've never been a huge fan of Robert Plant. That was until I heard his work on Gone, Gone, Gone. I guess you need to know that the original version, by the Everly Brothers, is one of my favorite Everly songs of all time. It's hardly one of the Everly's biggest hits -- coming well after their heyday on the charts -- and one might even call it a bit obscure as the record has been out of print since the mid 60's. So when I was driving down the street and heard a new version of Gone, Gone, Gone, I was flabbergasted. At first I thought it was a remix of the original. Not so much. Then I turned to my wife and said, "whoever this is is a hell of a singer. They are nailing the harmonies but also changing them ever so slightly. And the production is perfect." It wasn't for a few more weeks that I would find out that it was Robert Plant (and Alison Krauss). "Whoa" says me. Then I find out it is produced by one of my favorite producers, T-Bone Burnett (whom I used to see play at the Coffee House in Davis, California in the early 80's). "Cool", says me.

My paradigm of appreciation for Robert Plant changed in one instant. Plant's vocal style has been totally contradictory to that of the Everly Brothers. Plant is famous for big, rounded, swoops to hit the note he is seeking. I think he would tell you that. But on this song -- and the album -- he sings in a more traditional country style -- jagged, right angles. A style performed to perfection by the freakishly tight harmonies of the Everly Brothers. The change in Plant's style on Raising Sand is a necessity because of his collaboration with country singer, Krauss. You can't harmonize with big, looping vocal swells. You need to hit the note and hit it hard and fast. Plant still gets in some of those swells on this song in between harmonies, but for the most part, he is sticking the note nicely.

The Everly Brothers wrote and recorded Gone, Gone, Gone in 1964. By this time they were stuck in a rock-n-roll purgatory. The hits were behind them and they were too country for the pop charts and too pop for the country charts and too square for the hipsters. Need proof? Take a look at this video of the Everly Brothers performing Gone, Gone, Gone. Tuxedos. Not cool. Spastic dancers wearing knee length skirts. Not cool. But their harmonies on this live vocal version of the song? Cool. (Note the sax addition).

As a whole, rock-n-roll in the US was on life support at this time and the Everly Brothers were not going to be part of the resurrection. They were just left to make great records and influence singers like McCartney, Lennon and Harrison who knew how cool the Everly Brothers still were. (Look no further than Baby's In Black to hear that Everly influence).

Nobody hit the note more precisely than the Everly Brothers. They sing a harmony like only two siblings can. Don Everly taking the lead and Phil Everly hitting the harmony (usually on the 4th note). They nail it on Gone, Gone, Gone. Stop and listen to Phil's precise note climbing harmonization at the second go-round of the chorus starting around 1:05. Whoo-wee. The song is a huge romp of floor-tom drums, piano and big open chords on the guitar that ends quicker than it begins. If you are lucky enough to own the original Gone, Gone, Gone album, you aren't so disappointed at the brevity of the song as the whole album is killer. But for the rest of you, just hit replay a few times.

Click here to listen to both versions of Gone, Gone, Gone.