Jordy: The history of the writing, recording, and mixing of this album is so convoluted as to render it fairly moot to the modern listener. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter one fig who was having tax, drug, or lady trouble or who wasn’t getting along with whom or who was bored with rock and roll. What matters on Exile on Main St. are the songs and there are a lot of them here so let’s get to it.
Jordy: Of all the great musical leaps forward in the 1960s, none is as beautiful or as much fun to listen to as Pet Sounds. The Beach Boys certainly did not have the sustained and focused creativity of Bob Dylan or the Beatles, but they were superior vocalists and more aggressive in exploring contemporary studio possibilities. Consequently, Pet Sounds stands above any other album of that era, both technically and melodically.
Jordy: It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been four years since this album dropped. I remember hearing it that fall of 2005 and thinking “This is exactly how I want rock to sound: fast, hooky, dark, and triumphant.” Isaac Brock earned his short keep as a Sub Pop A&R man and producer with this record and, in that light, I can only hope that his last four years’ energies haven’t been wasted on mere Modest Mouse albums. He found this band right when they needed it. They sound hungry. (Not that they made any money necessarily.)
The opener “You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son” is a real ass-kicker and introduces the listener to Spencer Krug’s two greatest offerings: really cool yelping vocals (which aren’t nearly as Tiny Tim-esque as some haters might assert) and pounding keyboard grooves. I was sticking my waxy earbuds in everyone’s face that October saying, “You have to hear this shit!”
I’ll leave some of the other highlights to Glenn but not before I claim the two greatest back-to-back tracks of the indie era. “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” features Krug’s very best lyrical turns powered by high swirling organ and en invigorating la-la-la chorus and you’d think you couldn’t get higher. Until the next track. “I’ll Believe in Anything” is nothing less than a glorious stomping hymn in earnest praise of, well, Anything. Incredible. This pair still gives me chills after hundreds of listens. The songs are truly durable in their form and sentiment.
Glenn: Durable is right, Jordy. I must admit that at first this album struck me as just another indie rock record. “Bound Arcade Pornographers, Broken Social Pitchfork….meh.” That stuff is good but it gets…old. It was about six months later that I found myself humming “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son” and “Grounds For Divorce” to myself, trying to keep my balance on the snow-slick streets of Chicago in winter. These are solid, catchy songs.
For me, this is a record that sounds like warmth in the midst of cold. I’m not sure why, exactly — perhaps because I first loved it in winter — but it might have to do with the sound of struggle on the record. While the band is a well-oiled groove machine (what indie rock is this furious and yet this danceable?), the songs seem to grapple their way upward from real pain toward sunlight and joy. And not in an emo way, either. When he says, “I need sunshine,” you believe him. Triumph, indeed.
One more thing: remember all those “Wolf” bands circa 2005? That was funny.
4 Essential Tracks:
“You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son”
“Grounds for Divorce”
“Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”
“I’ll Believe In Anything“
T’other day, Glenn mentioned that he was playing this song with his sometime band. I first heard it a few years ago and found it to be one the best ramblin’ tunes I’d ever heard. I still feel that way (I also dig the spare Wurlitzer piano). This whole album is terrific and showcases some of the very best lyrics in the genre (see “Instant Coffee Blues” in particular).
There are some songs that, when I listen to them on my headphones while walking around in public, I start to feel really, really cool – like I know something that no one else does. This song has such groove. Try it out.
Hearing Rep. Joe Wilson (R – SC) shout out “You lie!” at the President last night reminded me of a similar confrontation between Bob Dylan and a hostile audience at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England recorded on May 17, 1966.
Often mis-billed as the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert, the bootleg documents Dylan a week before his 25th birthday, enduring the tail-end of an ill-fated “World Tour.” Throughout Europe (and particularly in Britain) he had met with widespread distaste at his choice to tour with a full rock band (the Hawks here would later become The Band with the original and incomparable Levon Helm on drums. Sitting in here is Mickey Jones). Many fans who had deeply admired Dylan’s earlier folk music saw the electric set as crass if not an outright betrayal. In a scene from Marty Scorcese’s excellent documentary “No Direction Home”, a prying fan hounds Dylan, asking to inspect his left fingertips for callouses, somehow indicating that he’d been playing acoustic guitar rather than electric or, God forbid, the piano. Dylan bristles, “Left fingertips? I wouldn’t even show you my right hand.”
Dylan caught the same flack from an American audience of folkies at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival after playing in front of the very loud Paul Butterfield Blues Band. It seems fans thought they were owed something from Dylan and so anything apart from their expectations was angrily dismissed as selling out.
So in May 1966 when Dylan sat down at the piano with the Hawks behind him and rolled out a rock-n-wailing version of “Ballad of a Thin Man” the sold-out crowd chafed madly. Amidst the intense between-song grumbling, someone (probably not Billy Bragg) shouted out “Judas!” and was met with loud cheering and clapping of agreement. And Dylan, not a quarter century old, couldn’t comprehend it: “I don’t believe you…you’re a liar!” His only advice for the set closer “Like a Rolling Stone” is “Play it fucking loud!”
There’s no specific analogy to the altercation at the joint session of congress last night. They just both seemed like similar moments of intense anxiety: one in politics and one in art.
I pre-ordered a few of the albums already to fill in gaps in my collection or to replace damaged discs. It’s gonna take all my self-control to not go out and buy a PS3 just to play this game.
What do you think? Is all of this a crass attempt by Apple Records, the remaining Beatles, and the estates of the dead ones to make millions and millions of dollars? Or, is it simply a way to turn a whole new generation on to the greatest, most influential pop music of all time?
The New Pornographers are, in large part, responsible for indie rock’s ascension to broader popularity over the last 8 years or so. Its supergroup make-up has resulted neither in self-destructive clashes of ego nor a stagnation of pop song ideas. Helmed by kick-ass songwriter A.C. Newman, they rarely cut a dud tune. I’ve seen them live a couple times and they have always been exuberant and tight.
This Dan Bejar (of Destroyer) tune is a perfect example of the band’s high caliber and features terrific vocal harmonies from Neko Case.
John Hartford was one of the great unsung heroes of the American roots music revival. His banjo and fiddle chops were top-notch. His songwriting was robust. He made some great records in the late 60s, including “Gentle On My Mind,” which later became a hit for Glen Campbell. During that time he was a staple musician on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Johnny Cash Show, and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. He also contributed mightily to the countrified sound of the Byrds’ watershed Sweetheart of the Rodeo (hear his fiddle on “I Am a Pilgrim”). His early-70s albums reinvented bluegrass, particularly 1970′s Aereo-Plain. Often considered his masterpiece, Aereo-Plain has long been out of print and is now very difficult to find. For more about it, check the Rising Storm.
In addition to composing and performing music, Hartford was a writer, a dancer, a licensed steamboat pilot, and even provided some narration for Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. Hartford was the weird heart and soul of newgrass music – a true and vibrant individual.
Check out this incredible 1973 set from the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the Century Theater in Buffalo, NY on the very first King Biscuit Flower Hour program. The band is tight as hell and really injects life and length into songs like “Open Country Joy” from Birds of Fire, released the year prior.
Few instruments play melancholia like the famed Wurlitzer Electronic Piano. Its touching tremolo is often overlooked but always critical to whatever tune employs it. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
-Neil Young – “See the Sky About to Rain” from On the Beach (1974) [buy]
Neil brings the piano to the center of this song, often sending Ben Keith’s slide guitar to the side. Nevertheless, they complement each other very well.
-Kris Kristofferson – “Epitaph (Black and Blue)” from The Silver Tongued Devil and I (1971)
This song inspired the post. The Wurlitzer is probably meant to lend a more funereal mood as if it wasn’t morbid enough with the vocal and string arrangements. (Buy this album. Fans of John Prine, take note.)
-Wilco – “Jesus, Etc.” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) [buy]
Leave it to Wilco, classicists that they are, to prop the Wurlitzer up in the modern era. Its use here is primarily as a rhythm instrument under all the strings and plucking. It doesn’t so much sing as propel the song. A lot like Supertramp might use it. Did somebody mention Supertramp?! Man, that was a great band… like Boston, but not as loud and better.
-Supertramp – “The Logical Song” from Breakfast in America (1979) [buy]
The piano is the spine of this song and, indeed, much of the album. How about that sax solo halfway through? That’s killer. What a slick song, eh?
Any other examples you’d care to cite?
*Update (7-30-09): Adam brings up the Fender Rhodes piano, which certainly has its place among the great gear of the 60s and 70s. The Rhodes’ sound is a bit sharper and jazzier than the Wurlitzer. I usually associate it with Bitches Brew as played by the late, great Joe Zawinul. See Glenn’s homage and hear the Rhodes in action. Also hear Zawinul and Jan Hammer in two different fusion outfits featuring the Rhodes.
As for rock, Pink Floyd owed a lot of its sound on Dark Side to the Rhodes. Also, see the intro to “Sheep” from 1977′s Animals.
I’ve been listening to a shit-ton of James Brown lately and have been captivated by Brown’s on-record bandleading. While the grooves are lean and funky, Brown improvises widely and effortlessly above it all, calling out horn breaks and bridges to his band. “The Payback” is a great example of how the Godfather worked his craft in the studio (“I need those hits!”).
James Brown – “The Payback” from The Payback (1973)
I didn’t even realize that we’d passed the solstice. But that’s how Summer goes.
I don’t know why I haven’t made a Beau Brummels post yet. Though not as prolific or flashy as their LA contemporaries the Byrds (in all candor, they even scooped the Byrds, having formed earlier in 1964), this band played a critical role in the development of countrified pop rock. This tune is from their outstanding and mature Nashville session Bradley’s Barn. I also include the Everly Brothers cover from their Roots record which was arranged in part by Brummels founder Ron Elliott.
The Beau Brummels – “Turn Around” from Bradley’s Barn (1968)
The Everly Brothers – “Turn Around” from Roots (1968)