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)