I know I tend to go on and on about Neil Young on this blog, but you need to see this clip (now 20 years old) of the man and Crazy Horse (with some ersatz drummer) on SNL. It is unbelievable. Keep in mind that he was in his mid forties when this performance was recorded.
The middle eight has been a mainstay of Tin Pan Alley and popular songwriting generally for well over a century. To what can we attribute the durability of this scheme? In all honesty, the bridge can be downright perfunctory if not distractingly bad. But when those eight bars are right, they can elevate a song from good to great. Here are a few of my favorite eight-bar asides:
Bob Dylan – “I Want You” from Blonde on Blonde (1966): “All my fathers, they’ve gone down…”, This is a textbook middle-eight. It feels neither routine nor out of place and features some of Dylan’s most poignant lyrics.
The Beatles – “You Can’t Do That” from A Hard Day’s Night (1964): “Everybody’s greeeee-eeeen…”, I love the harmonies here. Like all truly great mid-eights, this one could quite possibly have been another fantastic song altogether.
Elvis Costello – “Welcome to the Working Week” from My Aim Is True (1977): “I hear you saying that the city’s alright…”, Though it clocks in at 1:23, this feels longer than it is because it’s so bursting with ideas. It sets the frenetic pace for the best album of 1977 (apologies to the Clash and Television).
While “It’s No Possible” is not Fela’s most political, angriest, funkiest, or even most danceable jam, it’s his spaciest, most trance-inducing, and, to my mind, best structured. And who doesn’t need an induced trance right about now?
On behalf of the blog, I’d like to extend a cordial ‘tough shit’ to Phil Spector after his recent murder 2 conviction. For better or worse, Spector has had a huge impact on the sound of popular music over the last 40 years. Check out a sample of his collaboration with Leonard Cohen, during which, he allegedly threatened Cohen at gunpoint.
There are periods when I get tired of every album I own. This is very painful because my music is so important to me. I’m sure you can relate. Songs that can satisfy in those moments are especially treasured. Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot it in People has been my salvation from ennui more than once. Its songs, instrumentation, arrangements, and production are all rock-solid. Furthermore, BSS has a real optimistic rock-n-roll sound which makes them, I think, more listenable than a group like, say, Boards of Canada (someone here needs to do a Boards of Canada post, by the way. Those guys are wunderbar).
Broken Social Scene – “Looks Just Like the Sun” from You Forgot It In People (2002)
Alas, job potentialities forbid me from inhabiting the legal gray areas of MP3 posting, so you will only get streaming audio from me. It’ s a good thing you come here for the musical insights and not just for free files, right? And everyone clicks on the “Buy [artist’s name or relevant pun]” links, right?
Since I am likely a little rusty, I need a slow pitch. So I’m sharing what may very well be my favorite Neil Young song, the title track from 1974’s On the Beach. Its Wurlitzer-powered alternations between minor-7 and major-7 verses are the perfect mixture of alienation and sweet, i-don’t-give-a-shit redemption. And check out the angsty, lyrical guitar solos. Great.
I guess it was a rough time in his life and I’ll be goddamned if he didn’t make the most of it.
Neil Young – “On the Beach” from On the Beach (1974)
Because of the recent hype around the 18th Anniversary reissue of Pearl Jam’s debut Ten, I’ve been diving back into the catalog of a band I haven’t listened to with any real interest in about 8 years. What I’m finding is that the first 4 PJ records are absolute monsters. Ten and Vs. reek of an earnest early ’90s obsessed with absent fathers, gun violence, homelessness, heroin, abortion, teenagers with “issues”–the sort of poker-faced stuff the culture wars of the early Clinton years fed itself with. Ten, which I thought for years was a.) overblown and b.) the genesis of the band I hate most in the world, turns out to have one-upped Loveless in the textured guitar department (this is how you do reverb and compression, folks); plus Eddie Vedder sings like Al Green or Van Morrison or somebody, a soul shouter always ready with a well-placed holler or mumble.
And Vitalogy. My god. This is one of the best albums of the ’90s. No joke. For all the talk about experiments and brittle punk rockers, don’t forget that Vitalogy is Pearl Jam’s most tuneful record. These are great melodies, well-played by a limber band. (Listen to the guitar solo on “Immortality.”) The songs on Vitalogy have a classic quality that seems to have started to elude PJ around Yield, when, not coincidentally, Ed Ved started letting the other guys write melodies and started trying to write Fugazi songs (“Grievance”? “Insignificance”? Yuck.).
That still doesn’t negate the fact that PJ’s albums are among the best-sounding albums of all time. Listen to these fuckers on headphones and they sound incredible.
Like Led Zeppelin and The Who, their two most frequent comparisons, Pearl Jam’s secret strength is an absolute killer bass player. Jeff Ament’s melodic licks are the tastiest parts of any Pearl Jam song — enough to distract you from the often-terrible lyrics.
God, what kind of dork am I, going on about Pearl Jam like this? Jesus.
Well I’ve been away, folks, but I’m back. This “real life” thing sometimes gets in the way of blogging. I hope you all understand, and I hope you’ll stick with us.
Anyway, this is another standout track featuring the harmonica. The Butterfield Blues Band is perhaps best known as Bob Dylan’s backing band (sans Butterfield himself) at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, which was Dylan’s first performance using electric instruments.
I love Butterfield’s beefy, amplified harp sound. My only qualm with this album is that there’s not enough harmonica.