Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black and White: White Room

Cream: White Room


I'm still in overwhelmed/numb/mourning/introspective mode... and this song certainly fits the bill - "lie in the dark where the shadows run from themselves" indeed...


After bassist Jack Bruce wrote the guitar pieces, Cream’s lyricist, poet Pete Brown, grouped colorful four-syllable phrases, loosely organized around images of waiting in an English railway station influenced by the drugs he was taking. “White Room” is further noted for its unusual time signature of 5/4 in the introduction and bridge, with triplets played on toms by Ginger Baker, his thunderous bass drum part also lacing the verses. Finally, “White Room” is notable for showcasing guitarist Eric Clapton’s best known use of the Vox Clyde McCoy Picture Wah (a device used to turn off bass and treble as the pedal is rocked) in the bridge and extended solo.

Along with “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Crossroads”, White Room is one of Cream’s most notable songs, reaching number 6 on the U.S. pop charts.

A most vivid memory of my childhood is when the History of Eric Clapton album came out in March 1972 (my senior year of high school) and, since I didn't yet have my driver's license (long story there), I pitched a total tantrum until my dad gave in and took me up to the mall where I could purchase it on the release date - I still have the 2-LP set... and every snap, crackle and pop is accounted for from endless rotations in the white room of my angst-ridden teen years (is that a redundancy?)...

P.S. In researching this album to post for the purchase link, I note that White Room isn't even on it - I'd have bet money that it was...

Black and White: Black Magic Woman

Fleetwood Mac: Black Magic Woman


As I noted in back in February over at the coverblog, most folks have no idea that Santana signature tune Black Magic Woman is a cover song. But the 1968 original, which peaked at #37 on the UK Singles chart, is worth celebrating, too, and it's nothing like the smooth radiopop which most modern listeners associate with the classic literock radio era of Fleetwood Mac.

Instead, prepare yourself for a perfectly smooth, slightly trippy sixties sound straight out of a Vietnam-era documentary soundtrack, guitar-driven and full of funky feeling, that falls somewhere between the best of Cream and the Zombies. Note the sparse high production, which allows the listener to experience each instrument distinctly. And don't forget to stick around for the blues coda.

Black and White: My White Bicycle

Tomorrow: My White Bicycle


In 1966 the Dutch countercultural group Provo came up with a radical idea of scattering bicycles throughout Amsterdam for city residents to use whenever they needed. To make them easy to identify (and to prevent people from keeping them), they were painted white.

Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle" was apparently inspired by that program, but given the year (1967) and the genre (psychedelic pop), I'm betting that the title of the song is also a sly reference to LSD inventor Albert Hofmann's famous bicycle ride home from work after becoming the first person to ingest the psychedelic drug in 1943.

Tomorrow give the song an appropriately dizzy production, with backwards instruments, droning bass, sound effects, heavy panning, etc.

At the time, they were seen as psychedelic innovators. But they only managed to release one album, and now they are a a rock history footnote, known mostly for guitarist Steve Howe, who went on to make his name as a member of progressive rock band Yes.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Black and White: White Thread

Breedlove: White Thread

[purchase: warning, collector's prices only!]

I discovered the shortlived Austin-based jamband Breedlove through this song, a freebie on a mid-nineties H.O.R.D.E. festival second stage sampler; turns out it's the lead track from their only album, so I suppose they never made much of a splash. Today, lead guitarist and songwriter David Dyer enjoys a solid solo career, albeit not one successful enough to merit a Wikipedia entry.

Still, despite its somewhat unpolished arrangement, White Thread has a certain je ne sais quoi, enough to live on in my summer "funky backyard jam" playlist no matter how many times I update the damn thing.

Black and White: The White Tent The Raft

Jane Siberry: The White Tent The Raft


So far this week, my fellow Star Makers and I have done a good job of covering the black part of our theme. The white songs that have appeared so far have been linked to black musical counterparts. But there are many fine songs with white titles, that are not linked to anything. The White Tent The Raft is one of these.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Jane Siberry’s songs are always straightforward and sweet, based on what I’ve posted of hers before. But I usually think of her songs as being rushes of surreal imagery, with shifting musical settings under the words. It’s like being woken suddenly from a dream. You are left with a jumble of pictures and feelings that almost make sense. There are repeating motifs, whose meaning is just beyond your grasp. You want to go back to sleep, and reenter the dream, in hopes that it will sort itself out. And every time I listen to Jane Siberry’s best songs, I have that sense of reentering a dream. The White Tent The Raft is a fine example of what I mean.

Black and white : Black girl

Leadbelly : Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night ?)


Leadbelly is one of my personal heroes. He was a fantastic performer, and played these simple folk songs with a rare and infectious enthusiasm that is not so common nowadays.

The story of his life reads like a novel (one that I'd love to write), with murders, brothels, prisons, escapes, a pardon from a governor and finally the protection that the Lomax family provided him.

This country boy from Shreveport ended up playing for an audience of New York liberal intellectuals and scholars. Strange destiny.

How this ex-con and criminal spoke with a gentle and almost feminine voice in the interludes between his songs, and how he was said to be kind to children, has never ceased to surprise me.

This song, an adaptation of the folk number "In the Pines", is as dark and threatening as a night in the piney woods of West Louisiana and East Texas where Lead spent the beginning of his life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Black and White: X Edition

X: Under The Big Black Sun


X: White Girl


I have to take advantage of this week's topic to feature one of my all-time favorite bands, X. Considering how good they are, I can't believe they aren't more popular and acclaimed. So it goes.

But don't take it from me. Listen to the tunes, man.

Black and White: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

Richard Thompson: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning


We finally have a theme that allows me to post this.

There is, perhaps, no hoarier cliche in all of pop music than the tale of the “good” girl who falls for the “bad” boy on a motorcycle. The girl’s disapproving parents lurk in the background. And she is punished by the tragedy that ends these songs. Presumably, she learns her lesson. The classic example of this is Leader of the Pack. Here is teenaged angst, distilled for the edification of the masses.

But Richard Thompson takes this cliche and transforms it by the simple expedient of taking his characters seriously. These characters are a little older, and on their own, so the parents are not involved. So, the overblown emotions are gone, as is the morality tale. Instead, Thompson gives us a man and a woman who love their personal freedom. The romance of the story is real and heartfelt. James, the “bad boy”, has a noble spirit, and Thompson has us rooting for him. And, in Red Molly, James finds a worthy successor.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Black And White: Black And White

Time to claim some bonus points again, while simultaneously showcasing this gorgeous powerpop song by the underrated dB´s. Which stands for decibels of course.

Black and white : The Graham Parker 1976 edition

Graham Parker and the Rumour : White Honey


Graham Parker and the Rumour : Black Honey


This is the second contribution by an Acclaimed music forum member.
So, thanks to Harold Wexler for his great idea. Harold also provided the following comment :

Parker put these songs with diametrically opposed titles on each of his first two albums (which were both released in 1976). "White Honey" is the exuberant, soul-tinged lead track on Howlin' Wind ("White honey, get it from the candy man/White honey-EE, any time I think I can"); "Black Honey" is a downbeat, mostly acoustic, gypsy-flavored ballad from Heat Treatment ("Oh, black honey's in my soul").

Black and White: Paint It Black

The Rolling Stones: Paint It Black


Grieving takes you through a range of emotions. The one that most people don’t like to talk about is rage. But, really, it makes sense. Why wouldn’t you be angry that a loved one was taken from you? Still, just as we do not speak of it, I do not know of many songs that describe the anger of loss. That could be because it’s such a difficult subject. Or it could be because The Rolling Stones nailed it more than forty years ago, and there’s just nothing more to say.