Posts filed under “Friday Night Jazz”
Here’s an odd little conversation starter from the office this week: Who is/was the greatest American Rock ‘n Roll band?
Before you answer, understand the masturbatory parameters of this debate:
Rule 1: Only U.S. groups
Thus, we eliminate the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the rest of the Brits who followed: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and Dire Straits, amongst others. You can argue about the order of this list, but it don’t matter — none can apply for the job.
Rule 2: Only bands, not solo artists
That eliminated Bruce Springsteen and a host of other rock stars. (I argued that the E Street Band counts as a band, but I eventually had to acknowledge that they are essentially a backing group).
The three qualifications for our list were: 1) Body of Work; 2) Influence; and 3) Live performance.
My colleague had narrowed his list down to 3 bands: The Eagles, Van Halen and the Beach Boys. I mostly disagreed. My choices were: Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Steely Dan, Talking Heads and R.E.M. (And though they are not a choice of mine, I can also see how some people would put the Grateful Dead into the mix; The same thought applies to Nirvana, but even less so).
Here are my choices, and then my colleagues (which I mostly challenged):
My nominations for the Greatest American Rock and Roll Band are:
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Consistently one of the most underated bands in U.S. musical history. Hugely influential, tremendous body of work. Where as most Beach Boy songs sound somewhat dated, CCR still sounds fresh and relevant today. Listen to the songs Fortunate Son, Green River or Run through the Jungle. Any of these could be credibly performed by many popular bands today (at least the ones that have chops).
The biggest issue with choosing CCR is that John Fogarty, their singer/songwriter/guitarist has such a substantial body of solo work, its sometimes hard to separate the two. Its also true that CCR was essentially Fogarty, so perhaps they only quasi-qualify as a Band. Upon reflection, I will admit that CCR is specific to a certain era, and while some may find they are somewhat dated — I think they still rock the house.
Their body of work was abbreviated due to Jim Morrison’s untimely death. Had they gone the distance, or even just another 5 years, they would have been a lock for the top slot. Despite their relatively short run, they still made the short list. But as matter of choice, I base my list on actual performance, not unrealized potential. So put The Doors into the top 5, and move on.
Steely Dan: Precise musicianship and song writing, effortlessly crossing boundaries into pop and jazz. An enormous body of work, known for its depth as well as breadth. One of the great things about Dan is that you can grab any CD of theirs, and play it straight thru. There ain’t much in the way of filler here.
Criticisms: Not the most raucous live bands you’ve ever seen. Too cerebral for some, while others find their work cold or distant. I think they’re great, but then again I like Dread Zeppelin, which some find unlistenable . . .
Talking Heads: Here’s where we start to get religious. You either ‘got’ and loved the T. Heads in the ’80s, or you didn’t, in which case you were probably a disco loving jerk — but lets not start with the name calling so soon, ok?
The Heads were enormously influential on so many bands that followed them. Their layered soundscapes of rythm and percussion still resonate today. Although their earlier work sounds very much tied to the early era of punk (when listened to today), and their latter stylizings are, well, very stylized. “Little Creatures,” which was a fun album when released, comes across a bit corny today. But their middle work reveals a powerful and innovative band: “Fear of Music” and “Remain in Light” are masterpieces; “Speaking In Tongues” still sounds great. The marvelously stripped down “Stop Making Sense” foreshadowed MTV unplugged by nearly a decade.
I understand that the Heads were somewhat inaccessible; its rock and roll, but not what some people think of as pure rock (like CCR); if you think Steely Dan is cerebral, Eno and Byrne drove the Heads intellectually light years ahead of their time. Still, if you’re looking for collaborative American genius, this is it.
R.E.M.: I guess we saved the best for last. An incredibly rich and varied body of work. Groundbreaking; Revitalizing. Just as rock n roll was becoming irrelevant, R.E.M. snatched it back with avengeance. Beautifully constructed melodies and lyrics, driving guitars, a thoughtful presence throughout.
I can’t find much to dislike about this choice, except some of their lesser, later work; Also, not everyone appreciates the occasional mandolin. Some of the much later albums lack some of the original creative spark.
Take Five may be the single best known Jazz recording of all time (argue amongst yourselves as to whats better known).
Brubeck is one of those rare musicians where you can just about randomly select anything he’s recorded — and its all pretty great. Its perfect music to just kick back and relax to.
I even find his “goofy fun stuff” terrific — check out Quiet as the Moon. It is his “Peanuts inspired” work, and except for a song or two, its not the actual Peanuts music (that was Vince Guaraldi doing the actual Peanuts recording, A Boy Named Charlie Brown).
His Music Gave Jazz New Pop (NYT Obit)
When the World Was ‘Mad About Brubeck’: Dave Brubeck (Stop the Presses)
Friday Night Jazz: Gerry Mulligan II (May 23, 2008)
videos after the jump
Call it the luck of the random click: Chasing down some link, I happened across this fantastic collection of Prinmce songs
Matt Thorne, author of a new biography of the purple one, titled Prince: a Celebration, chooses 20 little-known Prince gems.
Click for songs
20. F.U.N.K. (internet-only, 2007)
19. U Will B … With Me (unreleased, 2011)
18. Just as Long As We’re Together (For You, 1978)
17. Can I Play With U? (unreleased, 1985)
16. Billy (unreleased, 1984)
15. Dance With The Devil (unreleased, 1989)
14 Future Soul Song (20Ten, 2010)
13 The War (tape-release, 1998)
12 Love (3121, 2006)
11 Moonbeam Levels (unreleased, 1982)
10 Xenophobia (One Nite Alone…Live!, 2002)
9 Space (Universal Love Remix, maxi-single, 1994)
8 Colonized Mind (Lotusflow3r, 2009)
7 Mutiny (The Family, 1985)
6 Empty Room (C-Note, 2003)
5 Wasted Kisses (New Power Soul, 1998)
4 All My Dreams (unreleased,1985)
3 Others Here With Us (unreleased, 1985)
2 Electric Intercourse (unreleased, 1983)
1 Crystal Ball (unreleased, 1998)
Videos after the jump
We are less than 5 full months into the calendar year, and I already have a leading contender for my favorite album of 2012: Alabama Shakes’ Boys & Girls.
I stumbled across them on a session broadcast from
KRCW KCRW. The music was raw and powerful, and I was excited at the prospect of their first album. It doesn’t disappoint. This killer debut album (referenced earlier in a PM reads) is a mix of roots rock, country blues, soul and gospel. It has a decidedly retro flavor to it, but at the same time is fresh and original. The song writing is powerful, the band tight, and they sound as if they really light it up on stage (Videos after the jump).
Alabama Shakes was formed in Athens, Alabama in 2009. Lead singer Brittany Howard has a powerful voice, full of soul and fire. Another reviewer called ner the love child of Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, and there is something to that. A potent power trio — Guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Steve Johnson — are behind her. In their live shows, the band covers James Brown to Otis Redding, as well Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. That eclectic taste informs their original recordings.
The Alabama Shakes’ first album, “Boys & Girls,” is an electric jolt that anyone who loves blues-based rock music should track down immediately. Consisting of three men and one young explosion named Brittany Howard on vocals and guitar, the group, which formed in northern Alabama in 2009, offers stripped down truth, minus any affectation, histrionics or irony.
Videos after the jump
We first mentioned Amy Winehouse in April 2007. She was yet another talented UK vocalist who took cues from the past, but with a modern twist. her style was to freshen up the classic soul sound of the 1950/60′s girl groups, with smoky depths of a jazz chanteuse. Stylistically, she was a mash up of Billie Holiday and Ronnie Spector.
On to the new album, Lioness: Hidden Treasures. To quote Rolling Stone, “This is a sad record. A grab bag of outtakes, unreleased tracks, demos, covers and song sketches, these recordings feel like a gut punch. They remind you, first and foremost, of that voice – one of pop music’s most instantly recognizable vocal imprints, a sound that leapt out of your speakers and seized you by the ears. Here, as always, Winehouse’s singing is both raggedy and dramatic, winking and insouciant, full of high drama and a breezy sense of play – sometimes all those things at the same time . . . It’s hard not to believe that Winehouse died with her best work in front of her. We’ll never hear those records, and the silence is deafening.”
Videos & Pictures and more after the jump . . .
I first mentioned Amy Winehouse back in April 30th, 2007: “A fierce English performer whose voice combines the smoky depths of a jazz chanteuse with the heated passion of a soul singer.” Her death at 27 was tragic but inevitable; Now comes news of a posthumous release of Lioness: Hidden Treasures. Its a full 12…Read More
See you tomorrow (hopefully!) Same song 25 years later:
Category: Friday Night Jazz
I just learned that one of my favorite bands, R.E.M., is coming up on the 25th anniversary of their breakout album, Lifes Rich Pageant. It is getting the full Expanded & Remastered treatment, according to Paste.
The band‘s groundbreaking fourth album, Lifes Rich Pageant re-release date is July 12, the album’s 25th anniversary. A special 2-disc edition will feature a digitally remastered version of the original album plus 19 previously unreleased demo recordings.
The album recorded by vocalist Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry was R.E.M.’s first Gold record, reaching #21 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. It included the hit singles Fall On Me and Superman.
I was a huge R.E.M. fan in grad school, and their first few albums were enormously powerful and influential on me personally. It was one of the first examples a younger me realized you could go on your own path and still be successful.
Most of you young’uns probably are familiar with the band’s later bigger commercial hits — “Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People, Everybody Hurts, Stand, etc.” That stuff is all good for what it is — better than most of the pop on the radio at the same time, anyway.
You may not realize that R.E.M. was the original alternative rock band. Their first album, 1983′s Murmur, transformed the post-punk, underground college-rock era into brand new genre: What you take for granted as alternative rock was essentially created out of whole cloth by R.E.M. way back then. Its oin my top, 100 list.
For those of you who only know their latter, shiny happy, pop stuff, delve into this seminal, influential band’s best work — these 4 albums; Genius that way lay.
A little context: In 1983, the US Stock market had just awoken from a 16 year slumber. Reagan was President, polyester had not yet gone away. The movie Saturday Night Fever was still relatively fresh in people’s minds, and there was plenty of Disco on the air, along with Journey, Boston, and Foreigner. It was a simple, if uglier time.
Along comes R.E.M., from of all places Athens, GA. Murmur broke boundaries, and literally created a new musical genre. The sound lay somewhere between the jangling guitar work of ’60s bands (Beatles, Byrds), with a drive that was not unlike later bands (Clash, Elvis Costello).
The original versions of Murmur and Reckoning are $7.97. (About time the music industry started to price discs dynamically, especially on artists’ back catalogues). They are probably a decade too late, and have already lost a generation of CD buyers.
R.E.M. was overtly political. Their songs were barbed attacks on the status quo, hidden beneath hauntingly beautiful melodies, arcane lyrical language, driving drumbeats, jangly guitars, and
mumbled vocals. It was a completely idiosyncratic approach, but it worked well.
What stood out most of all were their collections of
songs, alternatively beautiful and compelling. Dramatic structures, majestic melodies, lush vocal harmonies and somewhat archaic language combined for a unique sound.
The band became a critical darling, and sold increasingly well. Each subsequent album sharpened the band’s focus, and saw their writing become increasingly layered and complex, culminating in the tight, driving rock of Document. This was the album that catapulted R.E.M. from college radio favorites to mainstream stardom — and with good cause, too. It also marked their critical (but not their commercial) peak.
A WSJ piece noted the commercial decline:
“It has been a long, slow fade for a band that came to be known both as one of the founders of alternative rock and one of the genre’s most bankable names. Its 1996 contract turned out to be the high-water mark of a five-year frenzy of wildly expensive superstar contracts across the music industry, whipped up by interlabel bidding wars and CD sales’ seemingly boundless potential for growth. Most of these deals, such as Sony Music’s $60 million contract with Michael Jackson in 1991, and Virgin’s $70 million 1996 pact with his sister Janet, proved overly optimistic about the commercial prospects of artists who were past their prime.”
That sound about right. None of these artists have since achieved any level of their former commercial — or critical — success.
Must Own Albums:
• Murmur (1983)
• Reckoning (1984)
• Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)
• Document (1987)
Hey, its a special Saturday night edition of Friday Night Jazz! I mentioned Vaughn Trapp’s terrific first release, Amerika, back in 2006. I loved the rich, Beatles-like melodies and topical lyrics.(Hear it at Yahoo Music; review here). Now, Vaughn Trapp has released a new album called “Songs Of The Great Depression.” You can stream it…Read More
Its that time: We present our annual “Different Kind of Music List” for 2010; If you missed prior versions, then here’s the deal with what makes this list different: There are lots of Best of Lists out there, but most of them aren’t relevant to real people, i.e. adults (a group I have only recently…Read More