Friday, December 15, 2017

The End: Surrender

Cheap Trick: Surrender (live)
[purchase the full concert—it’s cheaper than the original version!]

When you Surrender, it is The End, right?

I’m willing to bet that the first time that most of us heard the word “Budokan,” it was because of the release of Cheap Trick’s 1978 album, Cheap Trick at Budokan.” There was a slightly earlier release, Live at the Budokan by the Ian Gillan Band, so if you were a metal head or Deep Purple fan, you might have heard of that one first (John Gustafson, the bass player in the Ian Gillan Band, also played on Roxy Music’s “Both Ends Burning,” the subject of my last piece, which is a total coincidence.)

The Budokan is, according to Wikipedia, “an indoor arena located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan.. . .originally built for the judo competition in the 1964 Summer Olympics, hence its name, which translates in English as Martial Arts Hall.” The Beatles were the first rock band to play there, in 1966. Also according to Wikipedia, a couple of dozen or so live albums have been recorded there, by artists including Bob Dylan, Dream Theater, Quincy Jones, Avril Lavigne, John Hiatt and Sheryl Crow.

But I think that Cheap Trick’s album is the most well-known, and it is the only one that made Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 greatest live albums of all time (#13). Like 1976’s Frampton Comes Alive (Rolling Stone’s #41), the live set helped to break an act that had not really clicked with the public into the big time.

“Surrender” is a great, anthemic song, that appears to be about teenagers discovering that their parents aren’t as “uncool” as they believe—and, in fact, may even be cooler than they are. It is sort of an illustration of that point in your life when you realize that your parents actually are people, with experiences, who might have some wisdom that is worth listening to. What you are supposed to be surrendering to is, I think, unclear, especially since the chorus is:

Surrender, Surrender, but don’t give yourself away.

Away to what?

It really doesn’t matter, does it?

"Surrender" is a song that you can listen to over and over and over, and the live version has that little edge of excitement that the best live performances add to a song.

I remember listening to this with my kids when they were young, and bouncing around and singing at the top of our lungs:

Mommy's all right 
Daddy's all right 
They just seem a little weird 

Are we, though?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The End: Until the End of the World

U2 - Achtung Baby [purchase]

One blog post does not contrition make. I speak of my dereliction towards U2 over the years. I need to acknowledge and affirm their musical supremacy as part of my pre-New Years absolution (or is that resolution?)

Bono - of course, a major force for many things worldly: active, vocal, often right. U2 as a band: incredibly tight. I recall I "met" U2 at about the 1985 Live Aid event. I had heard of, but not listened much to them before. Then - off and on for 30 years- they've been on the edge of my radar. Bono - always in the news, so it's hard to ignore his [critical, in multiple senses] sound/voice. As for the band as a whole, various albums/outputs have caught my attention as being damn fine, but never enough to "convert" me to being a U2 <fan>.
Always excellent? Yes.
At the top of my list? Rarely.
Respected? Always.

There's an element of intelligence to U2's music [partly stemming from their  respect for the world at large] that over-rides most any faults in personalities or musical composition that touches on their brand/style.

The official video for U2s <Until the End of the World> is such a today-relevant parody. It's  the end of the end [well ... the end of 2017 AD at least]... And the lyrics come from years ago ... well before we were in the position we are in today. My words begin to  sound like the verbage coming out of the White House yesterday. I mean ... say what [junk]?

On another level, if you follow the MSM (need I spell it out: main stream media), you'd be right to think the <end of the world> is right around the corner: from the US > N. Korea; from the Middle East > Jerusalem; from Africa > Boko Haram or other unknowns; from the UK > Brexit. Seems like they are all "off their rockers" - but they won't be paying the price from deep inside their radiation-proof bunkers. The justified/mitigated cost is the 50-300,000 collateral victims  figured into their equations. Or so it seems.

But at least it's not the end of the world - some of us WILL survive. This is the message that U2 returns to time and again.

The end .. it's not over until ...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

THE END: The End Has No End

Purchase The Strokes, The End Has No End

The Strokes. In 2001, their debut, This Is It, was perhaps one of the greatest rock albums of the past 20 years. In retrospect, 15 plus years on, it's still an amazing album, but its greatness is measured against the disappointment of their subsequent albums. And I realize it is utterly subjective and a little unfair to hold The Strokes up to their freshman brilliance. The bar was set so high on This Is It that it would have been impossible for even the most steadfast band, with the deepest talent pool and the best of extracurricular habits, to repeat. And while the Strokes have had scattered and occasional genius on each release, it's been a game of a diminishing ratios.

So statistically, 2003's Room on Fire had more great songs on it than 2006's First Impressions of Earth, which is still a relatively cool album, but not nearly as luminous as the two before. 2011's Angles barley deserves a message--it sounds like bad disco, and you have to dig all the way to the end to get that good track ("Life is Simple in the Moonlight"). I don't even know what to say about 2013's Comedown Machine, except that perhaps The Strokes were just having is on, telling a little joke.

Which in the Strokes case, is at least interesting. As in, even bad, they are an interesting band.  They music they create is of its own genre, really. And when it doesn't work, its only disappointing in comparison to their stunning talent for making uncommon commotions. So, need I even say that I don't think anything will ever equal the stellar, stunning brilliance of This Is It? The stand out tracks are the ones that sound most like their first songs, and when the Strokes are good, my god, they're amazing. When they're not, they are oddly, still an interesting band. Just not a very good one.

One of the best songs from Room on Fire is "The End Has No End", a little bit of shaggy pop, with a brilliant sashaying rhythm guitar and a bubbling,  lead line that sounds like a computer from a 1970s cartoon--think Mr. Peabody feeding calculations into his machine. The drums are classic finger taps on thin glass until the whole thing winds out into a lit-up chorus and a dissonant back and forth between the guitars and Julian Casablanca's laconic snarling anger. It comes up, it goes down, it sounds like it comes from a space age that we read about in science fiction novels from the 60s. Like I said, when the Strokes are brilliant, they are nothing shy of first-class rocket ship pilots.

So, why aren't they always brilliant? I don't know, but its OK: we just don't understand.


Been thinking a bit about ends recently, as in end of times rather than the other ends of, well, anyone. That can be depressing thinking, either choice actually, but, let's face it, the world ain't actually being done any great favours by those that have earnt(?) the right to control it. So how best to lift the mood and bring a smile to proceedings? I find a rousing raggedy chorus of purpose to be an apt and welcome remedy. So who better than the never more ragged, vocally anyway, Jayhawks. Short of early 70s Lindisfarne, no-one does it better. Love it, especially when comes the awkward and never more effective collision of Mark Olson and Gary Louris is there, something that real life failed ever to make for a permanent connection. Their 1992 - 95 recordings, 'Hollywood Town Hall' and 'Tomorrow the Green Grass', albums 3 and 4 respectively, are perhaps the best examples of how to 'do' americana, and are certainly my favourite.

This song, however dates earlier than that, and one I first picked up on that green Rykodisc 20th anniversary sampler that you really ought to have. Rykodisc are one of those labels that just guarantee
satisfaction, always a reliable source of good music, in no small part due to the Joe Boyd connection, Ryko having bought his label, Hannibal, and thus granted much wider attention to his roster. A man who can do no wrong, his pedigree is impeccable. (Whaddya mean, you don't know who Joe Boyd is? Until I get round to a post wholly devoted, go here. Or better, read this.) Anyhow, I digress, the song, apart from that inclusion, that comes from the band's somewhat tentative second step, 'Blue Earth', in 1989. Their debut had been a low-key and local production and release, this being an attempt to woo the majors. Unfortunately circumstance allowed it to be little more than slightly enhanced demos, Louris having even left the band through an injury, wooed back to overdub his guitar and vocal parts onto the Olson penned songs. He stayed. Derided as primitive at the time, it is both template and masterclass for what would follow, with a little added rough polish.

The song is a treat, but I can't say I fully understand the lyrics, it may be best that way. But given the frequency with which live versions of it abound on the youtube, including the one I show, I can't help but feel it a metaphor for the on-off relationship between Louris and Olson. After Louris rejoined the band, Olson left in 1995, the band continuing without him. In a hiatus nearly a decade later, the pair hooked up as a duo, 'From the Jayhawks', and toured, ultimately appearing on each other's solo albums and, in 2009, a creditworthy acoustic duo effort, 'Ready for the Flood'. 2011 saw Jayhawks, the band,  reconvene, lasting 3 or so years before Olson again skipped camp, albeit after the excellent 'Mockingbird Time'. The band, helmed by Louris continues sporadically. I don't know (and I don't wish to check) whether the Olson-free band play 'Ain't No End' and hope they don't, as my vision of/for the song is that there ain't no end to the possibility of a Jayhawks band with both of 'em. Whimsy? Maybe. And probably deeply insulting to the exemplary other members, one also that fails to recognise the actual greater commercial success of the band between the Olson memberships. Such is life, I need both in my Jayhawks and it's my piece!

Here's the original.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The End: Both Ends Burning

Roxy Music: Both Ends Burning

Roxy Music is one of those bands that have a handful of songs that I like (basically, the band’s “greatest hits”), but I never really spent time with their deeper tracks. Strangely, I think that it is Bryan Ferry’s voice that has put me off, despite the fact that I recognize that it is a fine voice. There’s a certain smarminess that I’ve never really liked, and his lounge lizard persona never appealed to me. I’ve been a bigger fan of guitarist Phil Manzanera and original synthesizer/effects man Brian Eno (and even multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, who was in the band for a few albums) than I ever was of Ferry or Roxy. Despite my reservations, I do recognize that the band was influential, straddling the worlds of prog, glam, dance and new wave music during their career.

“Both Ends Burning” is from Roxy’s fifth album, Siren, the blue one with Jerry Hall, one of many Ferry girlfriends to grace the band’s albums over the years, on the cover (see above). It’s the album that had “Love Is The Drug” on it, which I’m willing to bet was the first Roxy Music song that I ever heard. Siren is a transitional album, where the quirkier edges of their early work began to smooth out, and that is probably why it was popular, but also why some critics found it less compelling.  “Both Ends Burning” is a good example of this—it is a relatively straightforward, mid-tempo rock song about the rigors of living a hard life, including long stretches on the road, but it also has odd synth and guitar bits and textures that makes it memorable. And Ferry’s louche, world-weary delivery works perfectly for the song.

Over the next few years, Roxy Music became more of a Bryan Ferry vehicle (even as Ferry was releasing solo albums), and became slicker and slicker, culminating with Avalon, which was popular, lushly beautiful and to some degree, dull. And I say that, acknowledging that there are a couple of songs on it that I do really like. While the band performed live over the years, in various configurations, Avalon turned out to be Roxy Music’s last studio album, or, as we call it here, The End.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The End: End of the Innocence

purchase [End ]

I've seen cover after amazing cover of this song.
It's a pretty solid song: the lyrics can take you to all sorts of places:

it speaks to the future
it speaks to the end
it speaks to hope

At this time in history - because once it will be history - it's tough not not to get political. I got [too] political in my last post at considerable risk to being shut down (yes, that what happens in some parts of the world when you speak your voice)

What better chance to once again bring the issues to light:
In many ways, the days we are living through ARE in fact the end of our innocence.
Fake News - and worse - is all pushed aside to make room for ... less or worse ... Sudan's drought, N. Korea's nukes.. or things as mundane(!) as the UK's Brexit .. today's news ... WTF have we come to?!?!

How on Earth did Leno manage to bring this group together? It's like my dream team of music:
Jackson, Shawn, Bonnie, Bruce & David - The End Of The Innocence - TV Show

Saturday, December 2, 2017


Have Scritti Politti ever appeared in these pages? I don't believe so and that is a shame. They were, and indeed still are, a fine band, if sometimes unfairly lumped in with other flotsam and jetsam of the 80s, even if their sound is almost the epitome of all the studio tropes of that era, gated drums and stabbed synths. But, look below that exquisite candy coat of production sheen and there is a whole lot more going on. This song wasn't the first or only hit, there having been several more ahead of it, at least on my side of the pond, but it was the biggest in the US, a number 11 in 1985.

So who, or what, were Scritti Politti? Most people would agree that Green Gartside is Scritti Politti, the creator, influence and writer, sole standing presence throughout the history of the band. A lanky and somewhat serious young man, originally from Cardiff, at school, aged 14, he founded a branch of the Young Communist League, enthusiastically embracing Marxism, the ideology and imagery leaking through into his lyrics, even if the practicalities of living such a life later waned. The dawn of the punk era was manna to such thinking, all self-conscious espousal of the trappings of fame and a do-it-yourself ethos extinguishing the earlier expectations within the music scene; of polish, practice and perfection. So, in contrast with the counter-intuitive, even ironic polish of later work,  the first recordings were primitive and sparse, like this, P.A.s, from 1979. Watch the vid to see how every bit of the process was in-house and self-made, from the sleeves to the distribution. Hell, they even wrote a booklet on how. Unfortunately the struggling artist starving in a garret does not fame or fortune make, and the lifestyle prove disruptive to Gartside's health, a collapse on stage necessitating a tactical retreat to South Wales. During this time he gradually morphed his tastes from spiky guitars to the the soul and funk of Star and Motown, suddenly realising that pop didn't have to be pap. And, whilst he cast aside some of his political idealism, certain aspects remained. How many commercial breakthroughs stem from a diligent thesis on the theory, studiously researched and jotted down in student notebooks?

The lightbulb moment came with The Sweetest Girl, a digital remaster of the original demo which features above. Another (and still) devotee of the Marxist cause, one Robert Wyatt, is on piano. The familiar style is already present, chopped keyboard motifs and a slightly dubby rhythm, if here clearly programmed. But it was his voice, a clear and pure higher register croon, embalming the listener, that is the most striking feature. The boy can sing! Although distribution difficulties delayed the eventual release, Songs to Remember, the 1982 LP, was a substantive UK success, but Gartside was again disillusioned.

Again it was black music that was giving new motivations, this time the emergent rap and hip-hop scenes. No small coup was it then when he came to the ears of veteran producer Arif Mardin, who effectively relaunched the band as a slick and subtle dance act. I love the fact that the opening salvo, Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin), was produced by the producer of Aretha Franklin. Cupid and Psyche 85 is one of the consummate releases of the decade. I wholeheartedly love it, a listen of any of the tracks instantly spinning me back to times of mullets and shiny suits rolled up to the elbow. A minor dent in the US charts, as was the next single, The Word Girl, with its more overt reggae influence, it wasn't until Perfect Way broke that America really caught ear of Scritti Politti. Staying sure to this style, if expanding on all the the jazz-funk slants, 1988 brought Provision, another jewel of, now, Gartside's own production, along with now firmly cemented band member, Dave Gamson. Also featured on the record was, of all people, Miles Davis, who had himself separately covered Perfect Way, making for a second time round success. His appearance makes for one of the most exquisite brief appearance of a trumpet in popular music, as below.

So where now for SP/GG? True to pattern came another period of reflection and reconstitution in his homeland, effectively retiring for 7 years, ahead of 1999's Anomie and Bonhomie, hip-hop now dictating the main thrust. If honest, I here found myself losing my hitherto staunch patronage, although 2006's White Bread, Black Beer went some way to draw me back, being also a return to the more politicised statementing of his early career. There was now also a return to touring, after a 25 year hiatus, Gartside now sporting a beard and other trappings of conventionality, as befitting his elder statesman persona. But the voice is unchanged, remarkably, as this brief clip from this year can show.  I have yet to catch him/them but live in hope, the UK summer festival scene awash with the indian summers of seemingly every band ever.

A final aside are the extraordinary dual folkie side-projects that Gartside has embarked upon, appearing in many a Joe Boyd curated tribute show to the likes of Nick Drake and Sandy Denny. With little apparent influences showing previously, even Boyd himself was surprised by the knowledge and respect given by Gartside to this material. This is a guise within which I have witnessed him play, a shy quiet giant in a green corduroy suit and silver whiskers. Wonderful stuff to finish with. (This clip is 5 years earlier, but it looks the same suit!)

Here also is a wonderful short that gives a bit more of the backstory to this enigmatic man/band.

Find all these recordings and more here......

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Leftovers: Two Words: Empty Pages

purchase [John Barleycorn]

I was on the road when SMM did the Two Words theme back in late July, so I couldn't contribute. There aren't too many people these days who are able to take a few weeks off with no internet connection, but that's what I religiously do once or twice a year, often in July and August. Yes, I've got a smart phone that <can> connect, but when you're roaming in another country, you end up wanting to severely limit your connectivity due to the cost.

Take it from me, there's something cathartic about truly logging off. Forget connecting to the Internet, I don't even answer the phone. Overseas call? ... It just costs too much.

Cost it is, then. Penny-pinching, frugal, thrifty, parsimonious, miserly. Whatever.

This 2-word song <Empty Pages> didn't come to mind back in July - it is a leftover from Thanksgiving: John Barleycorn being one of my first thoughts about the Thanksgiving harvest. The album falls in the prime of Winwood's years. Yeah, Steve Winwood still does a very credible vocal and decent tickle of the 88 keys, but there hasn't been much composition since ... way back then.

Empty Pages, on the other hand, is a classic example of Winwood's sensibilities: the keyboard solo has a light touch and the melody is unforgettable. I think they call it ... classic. The right notes in the right place. Light notes. The song kinda trips along (if not the light fantastic, it's the rock alternative).

Following the  John Barleycorn album, the band headed off their own ways - each to his own. Winwood headed first to the short-lived Blind Faith and for some reason, like a moth, circles back around again and again to Clapton.

Heh! If they showed up again in my neighborhood, I wouldn't miss it - saw them together in Blind Faith in Seattle 1970 and then again in Istanbul in 2013?.  Me? Like a moth to the fame, it's worth every hassle each time. Whether they're alone or together.

Way back in 2010 SMM blogger bwrice (!?)  posted about this song under the Discoveries theme. The music for that link no linger resolves, so - although I repeat a previous SMM post, I am also bringing it up to date so that you can once again actually listen to the song.

And  a promo from the new album: