The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
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.
Filed under 1960s, Pop, Rock
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (1969)
Adam: What can we say about Trout Mask Replica?
Jordy: Probably too much. Continue reading
The Band: The Band (1969)
Glenn: I should probably admit up front that until about six months ago I had no feelings whatsoever for The Band. Sure, they rocked it with Dylan, and I’d seen enough of The Last Waltz to be glad that punk rock was able to dispose of the coke-crusted cremains of dinosaur rock (seriously, there’s so much self-congratulatory bullshit smeared all over the celluloid that it’s hard to see what’s happening). But I’d never been interested in The Band’s music, per se. At best, they provided fodder to late-night acoustic guitar jams (“The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek”). At worst, they seemed to typify all that was wrong with rock: way-too-sorrowful ballads, pretentious romanticizing of rural life, too-earnest singing, “funky” but actually leaden drumming, bad organ solos (there’s a special place in hell for “Chest Fever,” ugh). I hated their version of “Long Black Veil” — and I hated that my brothers always tried to play their too-damn-slow version instead of the superior Johnny Cash version.
Suffice it to say that I was blaming The Band for things beyond their control. Just because one can hear the roots of Journey and Foreigner in “Chest Fever” doesn’t mean that The Band is to blame. In fact, they should be celebrated for their very real accomplishments and general awesomeness. I was blind, but now I see.
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground (1969)
Glenn: Let’s clear one thing up: “The Murder Mystery” is awesome. Anybody who disagrees hasn’t caught onto the Velvet’s project, which is to use drones, pulse, and deadpan-specific lyrics to create a trance that contains an entire world. Anything else the Velvets do — sing, change chords, play feedback, take speed, let Nico do her thing — is extra. While “The Murder Mystery” isn’t a typical Velvets song, it does have the elements I’ve just identified, plus a wild bouncy-piano-with-vocals outro.
After listening to the demos and live stuff from the Peel Slowly And See box (see below for a live “What Goes On” that kills), I’m convinced that the Velvets were after some kind of secret chord-pulse-noise mechanism that could transcend space and time. In other words, they were trying to be Can or Bitches-era Miles Davis, before Can or Miles dreamed a way to the astral plane. The thing is that the Velvets were also Long Island dopes who wrote folk-pop songs. The tension in their music is the tension between trying to get free and trying to keep together — the dichotomy Dave Hickey traces in his classic essay about the differences between jazz and rock and roll. Continue reading
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (1968)
Glenn: I was lucky enough to meet magisterial bassist Richard Davis during college. When I asked Davis about Astral Weeks, to which he contributed genre-busting bass lines, Davis smiled down and said, “Oh, yes. Of course. Well, you know, Van was a mama’s boy.” And smirked. I’m not quite sure what Davis meant, but his pat response means he wanted to shed some humanizing light on Astral Weeks, as it is so revered. Davis is on record saying that Morrison didn’t know what he wanted from the musicians — or is it that Morrison couldn’t say what he wanted? Certainly the questioning delicacy of Davis’s bass, Connie Kay’s drums, and Jay Berliner’s guitar is what makes the record so unique. It sounds like a balancing act, as if no one is sure where these songs will go — except, that is, for Morrison. His singing is assured and forceful even as it is exploratory. And yet these adjectives don’t seem to quite do it. So: what is it about Astral Weeks?
Bob Dylan: Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert
Jordy: It has always been difficult for me to listen to the man-and-his-guitar format. Rock, in the end, is how a small group of musicians produces a singular, simultaneous sound. Dylan’s acoustic set on the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert is the former yearning to be the latter. Each of the songs he performs in it was originally recorded with an ensemble (“Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” are the closest to their original studio releases, lacking only the electric guitar and electric bass counterpoints, respectively). The stripped-down acoustic versions from this bootleg sound raw and that’s not a compliment. Furthermore, Dylan is in a fog throughout the set, allowing his strumming, vocals, and harmonica to wander arbitrarily.
Adam: The Dylan we hear on the acoustic half of this show is unique. We know he’s burned out and quite possibly high on amphetamines. He sounds detached from the music, and he sings in a slightly lower register than we are used to. I think the unique sound of his voice here, coupled with the sparse instrumentation and the hushed reverence of the crowd (it’s easy to forget there is a crowd at all except when we hear applause between songs) makes the set feel intimate and romantic. I think the best example of what I’m trying to say is in “Visions of Johanna.” Listen to Dylan’s phrasing here: “The country music sta-tion-plays-soft” and “Just Louieeeeese and her lover soooooo entwiiieeeeened/and these visions of Johanna that connnnnnn-quer my mieeeennnd.” It obvious he wants no one but Johanna. Paradoxically, given the detachment present in the performance, I think that this version is more expressive and romantic than the studio version.
The Velvet Underground – “I Heard Her Call My Name” from White Light/White Heat (1968)
Last night, after drinking a wonderful Sazerac cocktail, I heard Yo La Tengo play Durham NC. The cavernous acoustics of the Carolina Theater didn’t help the sound, but the show still split my mind. One of YLT’s encores was a noisy version of the Velvets classic “I Heard Her Call My Name.”
Back in ’94, Yo La Tengo portrayed the Velvets in the film I Shot Andy Warhol. Watch a clip (but no YLT) here.
Catch Yo La Tengo live
Buy the Velvet Underground
Posted by Glenn