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In Memoriam – January 2012

February 3rd, 2012 10 comments

Last month I announced the end of the In Memoriam column. The reaction, by comments and messages via email and Facebook, surprised me. I had been under the impression, acquired by the few comments they received and the very average hits recorded, that the feature was only mildly popular (which serves to stress the importance to comment on posts in features you enjoy).

The labour required for the In Memoriam feature remains prohibitive, but by cutting out what really took a lot of time ““ researching and collating the music and pictures ““ I can still provide a list, and at least some tunes, of the month’s music deaths.

The headline death of the month was that of Etta James on January 20, just three days after the death of the man who discovered her, R&B legend Johnny Otis. The father of Shuggie Otis, Johnny Otis was the son of Greek immigrants to the US (his real name was Ioannis Alexandros Veliotes) who decided to live and work in the black community. Along the way Otis produced Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog, and discovered artists such as Esther Philips, Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard.

January 17 was a sad day indeed for soul fans — much of the month was (and the passing of Don Cornelius on Wednesday didn’t lighten things up much). On the same day Johnny Otis went, a day after Jimmy Castor’s departure, Leroy Taylor of New Birth and Walter Gaines of The Originals (you might remember their Baby I’m For Real on Motown) passed away.


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Pissing off the Taste Police with John Denver

July 14th, 2008 12 comments

The cover of his first Greatest Hits album tells you everything you already think you know about John Denver. Looking like a feckless country boy (a status he thanked God for in song) dressed up like a scarecrow, wig and all, he does that boyish, goofy laugh which your granny found so reassuring. All that”s missing is the piece of straw clenched between his hick teeth. Released in 1973, the album cover communicates that this singer is so nice, he lacks the edge of the Carpenters and the raw sexuality of Donny Osmond. Who said we, the cool people, want our entertainers to be fucking nice?

The cover anticipates Denver”s kinship with the Muppets. He looks like one here, and a few years later he joined them. Where other musicians appeared on The Muppet Show giving it a knowing smile and a wink, Denver”s involvement was devoid of irony altogether. He was one of them. He exuded utter sincerity even when conversing with a toy frog. And the critics had always hated him for being so sincere anyway.

The country boy muppet was my formative image of John Denver. For decades, I loathed the man and his work without knowing either. I was just going with the flow. OK, so I liked Annie”s Song. If forced to account for my supposed lapse to the Taste Police, I”d apologise, explaining that it is a sweet song, even though John Denver ““ yeurgh ““ sang it. But a sweet song it is. If I was called Annie, I”d get wet hearing it.

I had no idea about John Denver. I consciously avoided exposure to his music, as if it might contaminate me. I mistakenly thought his original Take Me Home Country Road had the yokel C&W arrangement of yee-hah cliché. I thought Leaving On A Jet Plane was an excess in simplicity. I had heard Rocky Mountain High, but never listened to it. I didn”t even know the sublime Sunshine On My Shoulders (which became a US hit in 1974, three years after it was first released)! Until last year, when one of the bloggers I really respect, Whiteray from Echoes In The Wind, uploaded Denver”s Whose Garden Was This album from 1970. I downloaded it. I listened to it. I liked it. Notwithstanding Whiteray”s warning that Sunshine On My Shoulder is insipid (oh, he”s very wrong on that one), I became intrigued by the singer. I read up on Denver, learning that Whose Garden is not considered one of his best album. So there had to be better albums? I stocked up on John Denver”s earlier albums and found that my prejudice had been entirely foolish.

The truth is that John Denver, for all his guileless sincerity, knew how to write a good song and how to interpret those composed by others. Like most Beatles fans, I am wary of other people singing their songs. I can think of only a handful of covers which eclipse the originals (Cocker”s With A Little Help From My Friends, Stevie Wonder”s We Can Work It Out, Earth Wind & Fire”s Got To Get You Into My Life, perhaps Ray Charles” Eleanor Rigby). On Rocky Mountain High, Denver eclipses a Beatles original with his very lovely take on McCartney”s Mother Nature”s Son from the White Album (it had to be a McCartney song. Tough I can conceive of Denver singing Lennon”s Working Class Hero. Not that it would necessarily be any better than the turgid original).

Because of Denver”s conservative granny-friendly image ““ the Richard Clayderman of country ““ I had presumed he was a Republican (just like granny-unfriendly Neil Young in the “80s). Again, wrong. He was a vocal critic of Nixon and Reagan. Denver campaigned for Jimmy Carter in 1976, took up social issues such as HIV/Aids when it was not yet fashionable to do so, set up foundations for sustainable living, the environment, the poor. He possibly pissed off portions of his country constituency by denouncing the National Rifle Association. And in 1987, he played a benefit concert at Chernobyl. I”ve mentioned previously the pointed judgment by the British music writer John Doran: people who like his politics won”t like his music; people who like his music won”t like his politics (which means that I might be an anomaly). But doesn”t that make John Denver a subject worth further study?

Denver reportedly sent hand-written letters to fans, which I think is very cool indeed. But it”s not Rock “n Roll. You don”t get Keef or Prince write you personal notes. Real music fans are like women who like bad guys: we don”t tend to go for the nice guys.

John Denver obviously lacked edge; even in his artistic prime, the early “70s, he produced some awfully saccharine garbage (For Baby with that kids” chorus, or fucking Jingle Bells). But at his best, John Denver was an extraordinary musician. His music is much more complex than it is being given credit for (witness the chord changes on Jet Plane, the song on which he, ahem, “predicted his death”), and the man had a fine way of phasing his lyrics (again, lisdten to Sunshine On My Shoulders). Denver”s songs have immense warmth as he reflects wistfully on geography, meterology and, of course, love. They have an ageless immediacy. I”m sorry for having misjudged John Denver for so long. If only he had looked a bit more cool, a bit more like John Prine”¦

John Denver – Poems, Prayers And Promises.mp3
John Denver – Darcy Farrow.mp3
John Denver – Mother Nature”s Son.mp3
John Denver – Annie”s Song.mp3
John Denver – Leaving On A Jet Plane.mp3
John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder.mp3
John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3

Previously on Pissing off the Taste Police:
Barry Manilow
Lionel Richie
The Carpenters
Billy Joel
Neil Diamond
America

The iPod (non-)Random 10-track Experiment

February 5th, 2008 2 comments

I’m about to wipe everything off my iPod, and reload it (for housekeeping purposes). So, for the pure fun of it, here are the top 10 most-listened to tracks. I have arbitrarily decided to exclude anything from the Beatles’ Love album, because I didn’t listen to it more than once, though my nephews played it ad nauseam over Christmas. Where an artist was represented more than once, their subsequent tracks have been skipped for the purpose of this post. Tracks marked with an asterisk have been featured on this blog before.

1. Nicole Atkins – Brooklyn’s On Fire.mp3*
No surprise here: this song has been an constant earworm, and her wonderful Neptune City album a frequent companion. On the album Atkins hops across and fuses genres, being Abba-esque one moment, then grabbing the singing-torch before going all B-52s on our asses. It’s magnificent. “Brooklyn’s On Fire” has an abundance of exuberance, and probably is the catchiest thing on the album.

2. Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Love Hurts.mp3
If CD plays counted, this song would easily head the list. The arrangement and harmonies make this the definitive version of this oft-covered Everly Brothers song (certainly better than that by bloody Cher, or the ludicrously OTT effort by Nazareth). Gram and the lovely Emmylou persuade us that love is indeed “just a lie made to make you blue”. An all-time favourite.

3. Rilo Kiley – Portions For Foxes.mp3*
Strange that this older Rilo Kiley track should still appear ahead of the great stuff from 2007’s Under The Blacklight. Jenny Lewis has never sounded sexier than here. When she commands, “COME HERE”, I’m inclined to obey.

4. Colbie Caillat – One Fine Wire*
I have a fear that the Taste Police will before long declare Colbie Caillat a punishable offence, seeing that “Bubbly” is now a big hit and getting airplay on MOR radio stations. I suspect that Caillat’s success is in part due to the buzz created by the blogging community. So she is ours, bloggers and blog readers. Her stardom will be due not to The Man, but to the music blogs who gave her exposure and to the MySpace phenomenon. A reader of this blog had a brief but good discussion about how The Man will try to exploit music blogs and interactive sites like MySpace as a new form of marketing. But better that, with all the independence the credible music blogs can offer and the power of the My Space browser to click to the next page, than letting Sony’s A&R goons dictate public taste. Hopefully more people of genuine talent like Colbie will find stardom through that route, not via corporate manufacture.

5. John Denver – Rocky Mountain High.mp3
John Denver is overdue a rehabilitation. The music writer John Doran once responded to my point along the lines that those who would applaud Denver’s liberal politics are reluctant to like his music, and those who like his music are likely to detest his politics. My point is that there is much in Denver’s pre-1974 canon that should not be ignored, or subjected to clichéd jokes about straw-chewing hicks. 1972’s “Rocky Mountain High” is drenched in beauty and is free of the hackneyed shtick which by the late ’70s had turned Denver into a granny’s favourite and party-time Muppet.

6. Ben Folds – Gone.mp3
When I don’t know what to play, Ben Folds is always a safe bet. “Gone” is a great track to sing along to, at least the backing vocals. But don’t let that detract from the excellent lyrics addressed to a lover who left him and now won’t even write to him. He says he’s over her, but clearly he isn’t: ” I thought I’d write, I thought I’d let you know: In the year since you’ve been gone I’ve finally let you go. And I hope you find some time to drop a note, but if you won’t, then you won’t, and I will consider you gone.” I can empathise.

7. Billie the Vision & the Dancers (feat Hello Saferide) – Overdosing With You.mp3
One of the large group of fine Swedish Indie groups, this lot is as twee as they come, in a very enjoyable way (though clumsily monikered). This track features the wonderful Hello Saferide a.k.a. Annika Norlin, whom I’m possibly in love with. The lyrics to this song may be weak at times, but you have to love a song about couch potatoing the blues away with DVD box sets of NYPD Blue and Desperate Housewives (clearly not a bit too much sci-fi on Billie the Vision’s shelf, Ms Norlin). Did I mention, it has Hello Safreide, whom I’m possibly in love with, on it? You can legally download Billie the Vision etc’s albums on their webpage.

8. Scott Walker – Joanna.mp3
Walker’s vocal performance on this glorious Tin Pan Alley piece of treacle is stunning (it usually was stunning, but even more so here). Try singing this song; it is no accident that in the abominable Love, Actually, Liam Neeson mimes it to his son, doesn’t sing it. Which I would probably do, ill-advisedly or not.

9. Foo Fighters – Statues.mp3*
The more I hear the new Foo Fighters album, Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace, the more convinced I am that it is the best thing Grohl and pals have ever done, and that the album deserves to be regarded as a classic in its genre already. Without any hyperbole. Just as it had come out, I expressed my dislike for “Erase/Replace”. Someone commented that I was very wrong about the song. And quite rightly so. It’s majestic! But “Statues” remains my favourite song off the album, a track whose simplicity disguises its depths.

10. Perez – Picture Perfect.mp3
Perez were a South African rock group which subsequently split. Which is a shame, because they were pretty good in an alt.rock sort of way. “Picture Perfect”, from 2002, is certainly superior to much that has been released in the genre. A fine song to sing while driving, and not a bad way to spend five minutes secretly playing the air guitar.

Music for Bloggers Vol.4

January 8th, 2008 5 comments

After some months without, here’s more love for blogs I enjoy. As always, if your blog isn’t featured, but you think it should be, there will be more music for bloggers. I like an awful lot of blogs. Please open the links (in the red headings) by right-clicking and opening a new window or tab; I’d hate to lose you. In each entry, the first dedicated song is a new upload, the second has been posted here previously (except in the bit for Sunset Over Slawit, who gets two fresh tunes).

Popdose
Many mourned the sudden death at the hands of moronic interfereniks of the much beloved jefitoblog. Good news is, Jeff is back and has roped in a few skilled pals to create an Internet culture magazine called Popdose (among these pals is John Hughes, who used to write the excellent Lost in the ’80s blog). Popdose runs articles on music, film & TV, current events and more, and represents a welcome addition to my bookmarks. There are loads of fine MP3s, and best of all, Jefito still presents his weekly mix tape. Hooray!
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town.mp3
Clout – Substitute.mp3

Todger Talk
Men tend to talk about sex like they might talk about automotive mechanics. But would you ask your mates for advice if you had blood gushing out of your fractured penis? It was that experience (hilariously related) which moved “Nottingham’s Mr Sex” to start up a blog, with two qualified colleagues, which will dispense sound, valuable advice on sex and relationships specifically to men. But don’t expect condescending earnesty or laddish phwoarisms (it will be in the dictionary one day, you’ll see). If the first couple of posts are an indicator, the serious subject matter (you don’t think sex is fun, do you?) will be interlaced with a healthy dose of humour. And to get you in the mood, this horny soul classic from the ’70s, followed by Serge’s seduction technique.
Sylvia – Pillow Talk.mp3
Serge Gainsbourg – Cargo Culte.mp3

Holy Goof
Another fairly new site, Holy Goof is an absolute treasure trove of comedy albums from the ’60s up to last year (some ripped audio from DVD), with perceptive commentary. And, best of all, everything’s available on Sharebee, which serves those of us who are excluded by Rapidshare and Megaupload. Get your Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard, Woody Allen, David Cross, Tom Lehrer, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Billy Connolly, Ellen Degeneris, Albert Brooks, Richard Pryor, Bill Maher, Dave Attell, Paul F Tompkins, George Carlin, Kathy Griffin, Denis Leary, Patton Oswalt, Steve Martin, Sara Silverman and a shitload more (even the deathly unamusing Robin Williams, if you must) at the Holy Goof.
Dave Davis – Death A Clown.mp3
Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3

Echoes In The Wind
One of the Major Dude winners in the music blogs category last month. Some might have chosen a blog that features obscure, cutting edge artists or provide acute and learned reviews. There are many such blogs I like to visit. Echoes In The Wind isn’t such a blog. Whiteray writes from his own, seemingly vast personal experience. Reading his blog is like enjoying a visit from an erudite friend who, over a few bottles of good dark beer (or, in my case, a pot of coffee and a pack of smokes) shares his stories, and of himself. Whiteray’s music selection is almost exclusively and unsentimentally nostalgic, sometimes featuring stuff that is obscure and surprising, and occasionally exceedingly rare. It was Whiteray who had me give John Denver a chance when he uploaded Whose Garden Was This, a long-forgotten but rather lovely 1970s album by the man whom I had dismissed as a bit of a grinning muppet (which at one point he had actually become). Early in his career, Denver might not have been cool, but he was pretty good. Check out “Sunshine On My Shoulders” from 1971’s gorgeous Poems, Prayers & Promises, and imagine it, if you need to, being sung by somebody else, without prejudice. The second song is a lovely slice of sentimentality by a South African artist. If you like Whiteray’s stuff, you should like this.
John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder.mp3
Andr̩ de Villiers РMemories.mp3

Sunset Over Slawit
Much as Whiteray is a regular visitor to my monitor, so is Rol Hirst, another blogger with whose prose I feel instantly comfortable. Rol’s blog does not offer conspiracy theories, profound sociological analysis, political polemic or comedy writing (though he knows how to turn a witty phrase when circumstances demand it). There are fine blogs that offer these, sometimes all in one, and I appreciate these. Rol’s blog appeals on a different level. It succeeds in making you feel that he is a friend sharing his engaging thoughts with you (even though you’ve never met him); his writings suggest that he is a really nice guy… Conveying one’s {perceived) personality in such a persuasive way is a skill not many writers have.
Iron & Wine – Sunset Soon Forgotten.mp3
Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown.mp3

The Hits Just Keep On Coming
A self-confessed angry ex-radio DJ lets rip on his blog, which he presents as a music station of sorts. The concept works very well. JB apparently still presents a weekly radio show. If it is anything like his well-written blog with such judiciously selected music, it should be required listening wherever it is broadcast. The One Day In Your Life feature is especially good, a time travelling blitz. And I wholeheartedly agree with JB about how the Hype Machine aggregator has become less inviting since the redesign, which I think has a terribly cluttered corporate feel now. Like JB, I very rarely venture there any longer. For JB, a great 1995 song from alt.country-rock supergroup Golden Smog, and a fine track by one of the underrated songbirds.
Golden Smog – Radio King.mp3
Kathleen Edwards – Another Song The Radio Won’t Like.mp3

The Ghost of Elecricity
In my lists of links, The Ghost of Electricity is filed in the non-music section, which isn’t strictly accurate, because it does feature MP3s. It would also not be strictly accurate to file Davy H’s site among the music bloggers, because his subject matter isn’t always music. Rather, the music Davy posts often is intended to illustrate his entertaining and frequently insightful ruminations on any given subject. Much in the same way as the songs dedicated to the bloggers in this series fulfill an ancillary function. Wherever one may want to file The Ghost of Electricity, it’s a bloody good read with some fine music (check out the funk here).
The Strokes – Electricityscape.mp3
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Davy’s On The Road Again.mp3

Guitariotabs
Two and a half years ago my son, then 10, decided he wanted to learn to play the guitar. After securing a firm commitment from him, we enrolled him with a first-class tutor, a former session musician for South African blues-rock legend Robin Auld, who continues to verse him in the technically correct mechanics of string plucking (or whatever). Occasionally Michael visits sites offering guitar tabs, and sometimes finds that the authors have failed in providing scrupulously correct tabs. So he decided to set up his own tabs blog, with relevant MP3 files and links to the lyrics as an added service. The lazy sod hasn’t updated it in a while “” apparently it’s not a simple task to write tabs, and time consuming as well. Still, I’m immensely proud of my boy, now 13. So visit his blog. In the meantime, here’s something by the wonderful guitarist Kaki King, who featured on the new Foo Fighters album, and the Beatles song Michael announced he really liked when he got into the Help! album, and which happens to be my all-time favourite Beatles tune.
Kaki King – Happy As A Dead Pig In The Sunshine.mp3
The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.mp3

Previously featured:
Music For Bloggers Vol. 1: Totally Fuzzy, Not Rock On, Serenity Now (RIP), Stay At Home Indie Pop, The Late Greats, Tsururadio, 200percent, Jefitoblog (RIP), Television Without Pity, Michael’s World
Music For Bloggers Vol. 2: Fullundie, Mr Agreeable, Greatest Films, Peanut’s Playground, Just Good Tunes, Csíkszereda Musings, Mulberry Panda, The Black Hole, Secret Love, Hot Chicks With Douchebags
Music For Bloggers Vol. 3: Girl On A Train, Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore, Earbleedingcountry, Spangly Princess, Ill Folks, Deacon Blues, One-Man Publisher, CD Rated