VH goes acoustic

18 01 2012

and makes a documentary with Roth.  Interesting.




Christmas Songs that Don’t Suck (or my favorite rock and roll Christmas songs)

17 12 2011

I can hardly stand to be in earshot of the radio stations playing holiday music this time of year.  The stations with all Christmas programming play the same 40-ish songs over and over and over and over…  I’ve heard no more than 2 to 2 1/2 hours worth of holiday music this season (while in banks and stores, at work, etc.)  and have heard “Happy Holidays” by Andy Williams no less than 4 times.  I’ve heard Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” about as many times.  A song I loved as a kid, “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney is in constant rotation.  I could go on.

Besides most of them being trite and annoying, they’re simply overplayed.  When possible, I avoid “Christmas music,” at least the stuff not sung by choirs.  But I admit to having some fondness for a handful of more rocky holiday songs.  Some of them I probably like primarily because I like the artist who recorded them.  Others I like just because they’re catchy.  Here are some of my favorite rock Christmas songs.

“Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds” soars

28 10 2011

When I first fell in love with Oasis’s music, I was largely drawn to Liam’s vocals.  I don’t think there’s ever been a lead man quite like him, and his voice was one of a kind. But as the band rolled on, sliding out of their spot as most popular band in the world, Noel began to assert himself more as a vocalist (and less as a writer.)  He seemed to save some of the best songs for himself to sing.  Oasis’s best work was often b-sides and bonus tracks found on EP’s and the like; the work that never made the LP’s.  Most of those gems were sung by Noel.

In the meantime, Liam’s vocal work, with some exception, seemed to steadily decline in the 2000’s.  Frankly, his voice is shot, probably from too many cigarettes, Guinness and all night partying.  Sometimes it’s hard to listen to him, as is the case on Beady Eye’s debut album.  What became of Muhammad Ali’s body is kind of what happened to Liam’s voice.  If he could write great songs, perhaps that wouldn’t matter.

All that meant that the best work on the last few Oasis albums was created and sung by Noel.  It became inevitable, I think, that he would break away from the band and put out superior work.  That is what he has done.

On Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Noel put together a collection of songs stronger than the last couple of Oasis records.  His first solo album is much what you expect from him.  It sounds like a compilation of sorts of all the great Noel-sung b-sides and bonus tracks.   Admittedly, High Flying Birds sounds a bit like an Oasis album.  But it’s an album full of songs that are reminiscent of “Falling Down” and “The Importance of Being Idle,” and tunes of that quality.

His vocals are superb!  In some spots, unfortunately, he double tracks them, distorts them or obscures them with layers of other sounds.  If Noel weren’t a good singer, that would make sense.

“Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks” and “The Death of You and Me” have that jaunty bounce of a Kinks pop tune.  “The Death of You and Me” is quite similar to “The Importance of Being Idle,” mostly due to the heavy falsetto vocals.  “If I Had a Gun” channels “Wonderwall.”

“AKA…What A Life” is a bass heavy with a neo-disco beat.  You might hear it in a Eurotrash club someday. “(Stranded On) the Wrong Beach” is a nice mid-tempo rocker, with a bit of gritty guitar.  “Everbody’s on the Run” and has some oomph but relies heavily on sounds effects and psychedelic-tinged backing vocals.  It has a power and passion that makes it irresistible.  “AKA…Broken Arrow” is another track that borrows something from “Wonderwall,” though it’s a bit more uptempo.  It’s one of the weaker tracks.

The two most disappointing tracks are “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” and “Stop the Clocks.”  Both were demo’d for Oasis and leaked to the internet after Dig Out Your Soul was released.  To me, “Record Machine,” at least in demo form, was one of Noel’s top 5 best songs.  On High Flying Birds, he blunted the edge of the song by cluttering it with choir-like background vocals and swirly organs.  I hoped he would do something different with it for the album — we already had the demo to enjoy.  But he cluttered it in much the same way Phil Spector heaped vocals and layers of instrumentation on “Let it Be.”  “Stop the Clocks” is…well…a bit sad and dull.  He’d have been better off to bury that one or put it out as a bonus track.

Keep your ears peeled for the b-sides, “The Good Rebel” and “A Simple of Game of Genius.”  “Good Rebel’s” respectable and “Genius” should have displaced “Stop the Clocks” or “AKA…Broken Arrow.”  It has a stomping beat, nice slippery bass lines, nice rock guitar and solid vocal work.  It’s a happier “Let’s All Make Believe.”

All in all, this is a really nice disk.  It’s hard to say whether it will stand the test of time, as they say.  But it will almost surely sound better than “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” and “Heathen Chemistry” sound today.  And, for what it’s worth, it beats the living daylights out of Beady Eye’s thing.

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds



Noel Gallagher’s “The Death of You and Me” video

25 07 2011

This is a really good song.  It’s a bit of country, and ragtime, with a pinch of Kinks.  The falsetto lyrics and the beat are reminiscent of “The Importance of Being Idle.”   It’s a good example Noel Gallagher’s abilities, both as a songwriter and vocalist.  If the rest of the High Flying Birds album is of this quality — we know a few of the songs already, and they’re good — Noel will surpass what he has been doing with Oasis the better part of the last decade.  He’ll certainly leave Beady Eye in the dust.

The new originals (Part 1)

1 07 2011

My oh-so-clever title comes from a bit in This Is Spinal Tap.  One of the fictional band’s early incarnations was called The Originals.  But the name was taken, so the band changed its name to The New Originals.  That little joke best sums up how I would describe those artists that find that sweet spot between sounding unique but borrowing heavily from the past.

You can count them on two hands.  Maybe you’d have to count with your toes.  There aren’t many, but they’re out there.   Some singers and musicians have the knack for taking an old sound and making it entirely their own.  They don’t sound derivative.  They don’t sound like a cover or tribute artist.  They’re not blatant ripoffs.  At the same time, they sound entirely familiar.  Part of their appeal is that they have captured the best of what came before them.

Over the years, I’ve come to love some of these performers.  I recognized that they were heavily influenced by older styles or musicians, but I never understood that I liked them as much for the fresh spin they were able to put on the old stuff.  Some of these artists have been doing this seemingly forever and others are new to the game.   Here are the new originals that I like best:

  • Stray Cats — I grew up listening to 50’s music.  I was never lucky enough to hear pure rockabilly, but I heard enough old-time rock to know what rockabilly should sound like.  Along came Stray Cats, coming somewhere out of the 50’s revival of the late 70’s (think: Grease, “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” Sha-na-na’s TV show) and the punk scene.  They had the balls of a punk band but the soul of guys like Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins.  What was original about them was. . . well. . . they just had their own style.  It can’t be stated much clearer than that.  Brian Setzer also brought something of a crooning vocal style to throw into the punk-abilly mix.  While they were throwbacks, they were just themselves.  They can’t be accused of stealing any single artists style but no one has been able to imitate them.
  • Raphael Saadiq — I admit up front, I’m just discovering his music.  I remember Tony! Toni! Tone! but I had no idea who he was or even that he was still in the music business.  But I heard talk about his newest album and got my hands on his last one, The Way I See It.  I’m blown away.  His voice: amazing.  The sound: it could have been recorded at the Motown studios in Detroit 40 years ago.  The fell: old school R&B.  The lyrics: solid.  While he’s definitely a traditional R & B artist, I don’t think he could be fairly accused of unoriginality.  In a sea of crap music, he has made fresh again a sound older than most of his fans.
  • Brian Setzer — Since his Stray Cats days, Brian has wandered back and forth between rock-infused big band or swing and rockabilly, but his most notable solo work has been with the Brian Setzer Orchestra.  Out of all the so-called new originals I like, he has admittedly been the most derivative.   He’s covered swing and rock standards as well as old Stray Cats tunes.  Where he gets marks for originality is that he made swing and big band sound like a new style.  His sound, like grunge, felt like it was born in its own time, even though it was not.  It fit its era for reasons I can’t quite explain.   He was also largely responsible for launching the swing revival in both music and dance.  Bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy should pay royalties to him for having helped (re)popularize the style.  (Note: I’m not claiming Setzer/BSO was first in time, just early, highly influential and fresh.)
  • Young Veins — From the outset, understand that I’m not saying these guys have had any significant impact on the music business.  I only know one other person that likes them (and he only knows of them through me.)   Two of the guys, Ryan Ross and Jon Walker, left Panic! At the Disco to form Young Veins, probably doing more to upset Panic! fans than to generate positive buzz about the new band.  But their album, Take a Vacation, sounds like it was recorded in 1965.  It’s 4 parts Kinks, 1 part Beach Boys.  It’s so Kinks-esque that I’m sure some would call it a rip-off.  It’s arguable.  I felt, when I heard it, that YV had managed to capture a Kinks-like groove but make it their own.  It certainly isn’t Kinks for the 2000’s.  Their sound is all 1960’s.  For my money, it lands in that sweet spot between borrowing too much and not borrowing enough.

Here’s the thing: at least in the world of pop/rock or R&B, there is nothing truly original.  The foundations were laid long ago and artists can’t play in those styles without sounding like somebody.  It just can’t be done anymore.  As Beastie Boys once said, “Only 12 notes a man can play.”  So whether something sounds fresh depends on whether the artist can trick you into feeling like you’re getting something uniquely his or hers.  These performers, in my opinion, have done that to some degree.

To be continued…

Small Town

16 05 2010

I was listening to “Penny Lane” today — which, by the way sounds brilliant in remastered stereo! — one of several of the Beatles’ songs that so adeptly look back at the area of their youth.   I wondered if my hometown, in the Detroit suburbs, had a song that described it, at least implicitly.

The first song that came to mind was “Main Street” by Bob Seger.  But other than mentioning “Main Street,” the song bears no resemblance to where I grew up or where I live now (which, coincidentally, are not far from where Bob Seger was raised.)  That songs about the seedy side of town.  Then, of course, there’s “Detroit Rock City,” which really isn’t about Detroit.  It’s more about a vibe.

John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” kind of fits.  My current town is really a small town surrounded the more urban massive “Detroit metropolitan area.”  It’s still a town within miles and miles of city and the people have that “small town” feel, the good kind, not like a bunch of hayseeds.

It seems like English bands have a lot of songs like this.  Lennon and McCartney, as mentioned, were quite good at writing that kind of song.  The Kinks’ entire Village Green Preservation Society album is built around the theme of the then-vanishing 19th century English lifestyle.  My suspicion is that there are more American songs out there to be found.

Summer’s here and the time is right…

22 06 2009

In celebration of the solstice, here are some great “summer” songs.

There are a lot of songs that go well with summer but that aren’t specifically about summer.  I think I’ll write about some of those later.