A while back, Jordy and I were talking about songs with dense, complicated arrangements, and how that density can enhance the meaning and emotion inherent in the song. He mentioned the late-60s/early-70s Beach Boys — Brian Wilson was nothing if not a genius of overload.
But the first thing that popped into my noggin was this ditty from the Flaming Lips’ best record. In fact, it is not especially dense, but I think that every guitar strum, every echoey mellotron yawn, every cymbal ping serves to create a sort of rock-and-roll tone poem. Toward the end the song itself begins to disintegrate.
What dense complicated platters do you love to spin, and why?
I think I can speak for my fellow SWR-ians by saying that the Books fucking rule. I heard them live once on a wintry night in Chicago; I was shushed during the boring-ass opening act by an overweight beardo hipster; the Books killed; in a blissed-out stupor I talked with one of the Books afterward. The cellist. His accent was too thick to understand. I tried to shake his hand and he wouldn’t have it. (Later, Jordy asked me, “Is that what you call him? Is he a Book?) Their live set, to be sure, was fantastic. The kind of show where time disappears.
At any rate, our pal Rob tipped me off to the fact that the Books are working on a new album, to be released in the next year. In the mean time, they’re touring. I missed ’em in NC; don’t make the same mistake.
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.
On the eve of the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival, I thought it would be appropriate to post a few songs that were played there. I’m not posting the Woodstock recordings, but studio versions of the songs. I recently acquired the original 3-LP Woodstock soundtrack for a mere $3 from a Salvation Army store. I only have the Woodstock recordings on LP, and I’m too cheap/lazy to buy it on CD or download the songs again.
So, 40 years on, what’s the big deal about Woodstock? There have been countless music festivals since, and several have attracted more fans than Woodstock. Music festivals today are designed to generate as much money as possible for the organizers and other vendors hawking their wares at festival sites. To be sure, the Woodstock festival was originally intended as a moneymaking venture as well, but the sheer mass of people converging unexpectedly on the site rendered ticket collection impossible. Also, some rather enterprising individuals cut the fences down, allowing people to walk right in. This ultimately made Woodstock about the music, instead of the dollar. Attending a music festival today, one is never allowed to forget that they are seen by the festival organizers as nothing more than a consumer, and that is truly unfortunate.
Also, Woodstock was pretty much the zenith of the hippie subculture. It was really all downhill from there. I’m reminded of a quote from The Simpsons, wherein a couple of old hippies reminisce about their VW Bus: “It was as if the Sixties ended the day we sold it, December 31st, 1969.” Woodstock being in August was in a way the beginning of the end of the Sixties.
Let us not forget that none of this music would have been possible without the invention of one recently deceased Les Paul.
Isaac Hayes – “Walk On By” from Hot Buttered Soul (1969)
I don’t love Isaac Hayes — at least not his gold-chain shaved-head solo career. His singing doesn’t usually do it for me — he often lacks poise and urgency. Few of his molasses-thick string arrangements hit the sweet spot. While his keyboard work tends to be quite good, I wish he let the funk grooves carry the songs. There’s a cheesiness to his music that tends toward the embarrassing.
All that said, his version of Bacharach/David’s “Walk On By” that opens the recently remastered Hot Buttered Soul is damn awesome. It’s a great song, with a great organ sound, a cool string melody, a funky bassline, spooky back-up singing, a simple in-the-pocket drumbeat, weird ringing noises, fuzzy guitar, triumphant brass, flutes, a helluva crescendo. And bad mixing toward the end that cuts and raises the volume of the song willy-nilly. Everything you want in a psych-soul masterpiece.
If you like your buttered soul appetizer sized, try the single edit:
Man does not live by psychedelic fusion freakouts alone. Those of you who like to nosh on, y’know, actual food would do well to check out my girlfriend’s new food/cooking blog, The Food Processor. Simple, tasty food, with simple, tasty commentary. Warning: you may get hungry. And you may find a photo of me chowing down on a delicious pita.
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.
Old-school SWR visitors might remember that I am batshit-crazy about jazz giant Charles Mingus. Some of his best work was done in the early-to-mid-1960s with alto sax/bass clarinet/flute whiz kid Eric Dolphy.
This is easily one of my favorite jazz recordings ever. The musical conversation between Mingus and Dolphy toward the end is both funny and moving, and Ted Curson’s trumpet solo kills. Drummer Dannie Richmond, as always, gives Mingus a unique rhythmic drive and texture. There’s another recording of this on the faux-live album Charles Mingus Present Charles Mingus, featuring the same lineup and much more Dolphy-Mingus interaction, but to me it doesn’t hold the same fire. Listen to it yourself:
Charles Mingus – “What Love” from Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (1960)
Mingus loosely based the chord changes of “What Love?” on the jazz standard “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Take a listen and see if you can hear the resemblance:
Clifford Brown & Max Roach – “What Is This Thing Called Love?” from Basin Street (1956)
Clifford Brown – trumpet
Sonny Rollins – tenor sax
Richie Powell – piano
George Morrow – bass
Max Roach – drums