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Monthly Archives: August 2011
What a great book about music! Even the preface of this book was worth reading. Alex Ross seems to listen to music the same way I do. Great music is not confined to one type. Great music can be found in every genre. This book spans the most amazing variety of subjects. The first chapter “Crossing the boarder from Classical to Pop” is one of the most interesting discussions about what music is, that I have ever read. He talks about how he hates the term “Classical” music because it locks this music in the past “and cancels out the possibility that music in the spirit of Beethoven could still be created today.” Alex takes us on a journey through the past to show us that “the walking blues” is a direct descendent of the chacona and lamento of medieval times. Then he takes on the challenge of explaining the genius of Mozart. You go on tour with Radiohead and discover that they are heavily influenced by the music of Olivier Messiaen and the first synthesizer the ondes Martenot. He explains how invention of the ability to record music changed music forever. He tells us about the “anti Maestro” Esa-Pekka Salonen and then searches the soul of Franz Schubert. Alex Ross goes to Iceland and interviews the massively individualistic Bjork. You get to learn about the “classical music” Renascence taking place in China today. He interviews the great American composer John Luther Adams and we also get a chapter on Opera as a Popular art. Then he takes us on a fascinating tour with the burgeoning St. Lawrence Quartet. ( A very different experience from being on tour with Radiohead.) Then you go to the “Edges of Pop” where Mr. Ross discusses such diverse elements as a local New York City performer, Sonic Youth, and Kurt Cobain. The crisis is music education in this country is studied and explained. A viable solution is offered as well. Other topics include Marian Anderson, The Marlboro Festival, going on tour with Bob Dylan, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Finally, the book closes with a magnificent discussion of the life and music of Brahms.
Another great aspect of this book is that Alex Ross coordinated it with his blog www.therestisnoise.com. You can go to his blog and listen to all the music he discusses in the book. This book is worth the journey. It will give you insight and enjoyment. It is a rare thing to be educated and entertained at the same time. Buy his book or get it at the library, but don’t miss this great book about the massive variety of music in all it’s glory.
You can find a link to his sight on my blogroll.
Live albums are usually considered to be only for the “hard core” fan of that particular artist. I’m not not sure that I agree with that. Sometimes the live album raises to the level of high art. So what follows is my list of the top live rock albums. I’d love to hear what your list would be. Review the list and make your own.
This album captures the Stones at the height of their powers. The 1969 American tour is considered to be one of the greatest rock-n-roll tours of all time. It was the first time a band toured with monitors on stage so they could hear themselves above the crowd noise. The Stones came back to England and told the Beatles “You need to go tour the U.S. again. Now you can actually hear yourself on stage.” The result was that they could do things musically on stage that could not be done before. A great example it the magnificent version of “Midnight Rambler” . The new deluxe version of this record contains The original LP on CD and vinyl as well as bonus cuts and the complete opening acts that toured with the Stones that year: Ike and Tina Turner and B.B. King.
2. Little Feat “Waiting for Columbus”
I get excited the second I hear the band warming up their voices back stage. This band is so good live that you wonder if it’s really a studio recording with a crowd overdub. Consummate musicianship and artistry!
3. The Who – “Live At Leeds”
This is another live album that caught a band at the height of their power. Tommy was still a new LP. Roger Daltry was young and had that powerful voice. Keith Moon was still alive and kickin’, and Pete Townsend wasn’t deaf. I love the 18 minute version of “My Generation” that becomes a highly complex medley of several of their best songs.
4. Jimi Hendrix – “Band of Gypsy’s”
What an album this is! It is spooky how good Hendrix was. Here he is only months before he died, with a new band, pushing his music in an entirely new direction. This album was recorded at Filmore East at the height of the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement. Jimi sings “Machine Gun” and dedicates it “to all the cats fighting in Chicago, and New York and, oh yea; all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam”. In many ways this is my favorite Hendrix LP.
5. Neil Young with Crazy Horse – “Live Rust“
This was one of the all time greatest tours of rock history. Neil toured in support of his masterpiece “Rust Never Sleeps”. All the hits are here. You gotta love “Cortez the Killer”, “Like A Hurricane”, and “Hey, Hey, My, my, Rock-n-roll will never die…” Crazy Horse at their sonic, dissonant best!
6. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young “Four Way Street”
I remember the first time I heard this record. It was in Art class in junior high school. This girl I had a crush on brought it in to listen to while the class painted. I loved it the moment I heard it. I loved how it was divided into a “wooden” disc and an “electric” disc. CSN&Y used to start their shows acoustic, take an intermission, then come back and do an electric set to close the show. There are so many great moments on this record. I love all the banter the band members have with the audience. It creates a very intimate atmosphere that is unique in live recordings.
7. The Allman Brothers “Live at Filmore East.”
This is without a doubt one of the most amazing live albums ever. The musicianship on display here is mind blowing. These guys were great! What a lose to rock-n-roll that Duane Allman died so young. “Whipping Post”, “Statesborro Blues”, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” are wired into the Psyche of roll-n-roll. This is a “must have” in any collection.
8. Talking Heads – “Stop Making Sense”
If you have never seen this concert film you should. This is a stunning performance by one of America’s best bands of all time. Talking Heads are a force of nature. The concert starts with just David Bryne on stage by himself. With each song another band member comes out to join him until finally the entire band is on stage. What is amazing is that each song retains it’s identity no matter who is on stage performing it. “Once in a Lifetime” is just unbelievable. Every song is great. The drama and musicianship is beyond belief.
9. U2 -“Live at Red Rocks”
I think this is one of the best live albums U2 ever did. I like it much more than “Rattle and Hum”. They are still young and full of piss and vinegar. I love “11 O’Clock tick-tock”. All these songs were still new and the power and outrage the band feels at the violence in Ireland is palpable.
10. Johnny Cash “Live at Folsom Prison”
You can hear prison guards in the background. You can even hear Prison doors clink and slam shut. A passionate performance from a man who really tried to make a difference in the lives of prisoners. By the way, although Johnny Cash is a country singer, he is one of only two country singers in the Rock-n-Roll Hall Of Fame; so, he belongs on the list. This is a powerful, and moving recording. If you ever get a chance to see the documentary about this concert don’t miss it. It will make you think. God Bless Johnny Cash.
This LP was one that I bought in the great garage sale heist. What can I say about “Something/Anything”? A Tour De Force? A masterpiece of sound and vision? What can be said about the massive talent of Todd Rundgren? When he made this album in 1972 he became known as the new “wunderkind” of Rock and Roll. He wrote every song, he played every instrument on sides 1-3, he sang every vocal part on side 1-3, and he produced the Record as well. There are very few musicians in the world who can pull that off and do it so well. Paul McCartney did it on his first solo album after he left The Beatles. Stevie Wonder did when he recorded the masterpiece “Intervisions”. Trent Reznor pulled this off on his debut CD Nine Inch Nails “Pretty Hate Machine.” (I think that Reznor was heavily influenced by Rundgren even down to his appearance in his early years.) I’m sure there are more examples. If you can think of some, I’d like to hear from you. It seems that you could count the musicians that have this capability on one hand. Maybe two hands…
Todd Rundgren is a musical, and technological Renascence Man. The number of multimedia firsts he has pulled off in his life are stunning. In 1978 he performed the first interactive Television concert. In 1979 he opened his own Video Studio. In 1980 he invented the first color graphics tablet and licensed it to Apple who released it as the Utopia Graphics Tablet. In 1981 his video “Time Heals” was the first video to combine live action and computer generated graphics at the same time. This video was one of the very first videos ever played on MTV and Todd produced, directed, and created the video. 1982 he performed the first live cablecast of a Rock Concert. In 1992 he released the first interactive CD called “New World Order”. In 1995 he launched the first interactive world concert tour. In 1998 he launched Patronet, the first direct artist subscription service. It goes on and on…
His long musical career really got going when he formed the now famous 1960’s “cult band” Nazz. After three albums he left and formed a band call Runt. He made two records under the band name of Runt. They had a well known hit that most people know as just a Todd Rundgren song. “We Gotta Get You A Woman”. It made the billboard charts. Then came Something/Anything and it catapulted him into the the pantheon of legend.
He is also one of the greatest producers of Rock and Roll. The list is unbelievable. XTC –Skylarking, Grand Funk Railroad – Were An American Band, also albums for Patti Smith, Hall and Oates, The Psychedelic Furs, Cheap Trick, and the 5 best selling record of all time “Bat Out Of Hell” by Meatloaf. This is the tip of the iceberg because there are at least 40 albums that Todd has produced.
So we are in the presence of genius.
The lyric sheet has some great personal notes from Todd that I will share as I go through the songs. So let’s begin:
Todd sub-titled this side as follows: “A bouquet of ear-catching melodies.” I think you will agree.
I Saw The Light
This was one of Todd’s biggest hits. It sounds like a hit the second the song starts. Here is what Todd has to say about this great song: “If there’s a single on this album, this is it, so I put it first, like at Motown. Dedicated to Paul Fishkin, the man with the 45 rpm ears (but still no woman).” Paul Fishkin is a well known record producer. It is proof of Todd Rundgren’s musical instincts that he knew before the record was released that this would be a hit! It takes me back to being a kid and listening to AM radio. A great example of what Todd became credit with inventing: Power Pop. Here’s the song…
It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
Todd writes, “The meaning of this song is open to interpretation. Most people think it means “It wouldn’t have made any difference to me if you loved me or not.” I always thought it meant “If you really did, then why did you act like such a shmuck?”
I think that says it all. Here’s the tune…
Todd writes: “I have a dream that I am cruising along Mulholland Drive late at night and the wolfman plays this record over the air, screaming his jive and singing along at the bottom of his lungs. “Hey baby, you’re on a subliminal trip to nowhere. You better get your trip together before you step in here with us! (Tony Sales, 1971)
Tony Sales was one of the members of Todd Rundgren’s band Runt. This is one of many songs about Wolfman Jack, the famous DJ. I also like The Guess Who’s “Cry For The Wolfman”. Here’s the song…
Cold Morning Light
Todd writes: “I really don’t know what this song is about. It was sort of an accident.” The creative process is usually a mystery to the creators. Many musicians have trouble verbalizing where their ideas come from. Todd Rundgren himself has been quoted many times saying things like “the songs just write themselves…” Here’s the song…
It Takes Two To Tango (This Is For The Girls)
Todd writes: “This one could just as easily be for the boys. Change the words if you like.” We always hurt the ones we love the most. It definitely cuts both ways. Here’s the song…
Todd writes: “No, this is not a drug song. Yes, I stole the drum part from Levon.” The drum reference is to the great Levon Helm, the drummer of The Band. Todd produced their album Stage Fright. It sounds like Levon Helm to me too. Here’s the song…
Todd sub-titles side 2 as follows…”This is the cerebral side. In fact the last song is so cerebral it’s almost embarrassing.
Todd writes: “Realized at Runt Recorders, 2501 Astral Drive. If you want time, don’t bother the guy who lives there now. The studio moved and he doesn’t know anything about it.” 2501 Astral was Todd house up off of Mulholland Drive in L.A. You can see “Runt Records” in the photo gallery. The center fold of this 2 LP set has an awesome photo of Todd recording Something/Anything. You can see a piano, a synthesizer, and an 8 track reel to reel recorder among the other rubble that had accumulated in the room. The game Todd talks about at the beginning of this track is real. You can hear every example as you listen closely to the rest of the record. See how many you can spot. Here’s the track and get your headphones ready…
The Night The Carousel Burnt Down
Todd writes: “My first movie score. Unfortunately, there is no movie to go with it.” Here’s the song…
Todd writes: “The There song of a generation, yea. of all Mankind. My publisher will be overjoyed.” It is a universal thought and feeling we have all had at one time or another. Here’s the song…
Todd simply states: “A Shiver and a sigh.” Again, Todd has pretty much said it all. Here’s the song…
Song Of The Viking
Todd writes: “Written in the feverish grip of the dreaded “d’oyle carte”, a chronic disease dating back to my youth. Dedicated to Miss Patti Lee Smith.” The D’oyle reference is about the famous producer of Gilbert and Sullivan, the great operetta composers of 19th century England. Todd has had a life long love affair with Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta’s. Patti Lee Smith is the famous Patti Smith that was part of the punk rock movement and is a rock and roll hall of fame inductee. Todd produced one of her albums. I guess they both dig Gilbert and Sullivan. Here comes a bit of silliness. Have fun with it. It won’t hurt you at all…
I Went To The Mirror
Todd writes: “This song is sort of an experiment in mixed media. As far as AM programming goes, it’s a piece of crap. The idea is to lay with your head between the speakers and look into a hand mirror while the song is playing. Headphones will do if you can’t take it lying down. Let me know if it works.” This is the song Todd referenced at the beginning of side 2 as the most cerebral cut on the record. I dare you to try the lying on the floor with a mirror thing. Here’s the song…
Todd sub-titles side 3 as follows: “The kid gets heavy.”
Todd writes: “I wish I knew what this song is about. I could swear I’ve heard it before.” This highlights another interesting point about the creative arts. Sometimes art has no meaning. I hear people at concerts or art galleries experience art and then ask “what do you think it means?” Sometimes it means nothing at all… This is classic Todd Rundgren power pop. Here is one of the best songs on the album…
One More Day (No Word)
Todd writes: “Another track from Runt Recorders. It’s a song about people with all the time in the world. What a drag.” I think I know what he means. A very sad song. Here it is…
Couldn’t I Just Tell You
Todd writes: “The hits just keep on coming.” This song was a hit song on the radio. I had forgotten all about it till I heard it again. It was like catching up with an old friend. I really enjoyed hearing it again. Once again, how did Todd know it would be a hit? Again his instincts were dead on. Here’s the song…
Todd writes: “The original version was recorded at Runt Recorders (see inside cover) but the sudden appearance of a motorbike in the second verse and the sound of a radio station playing a Dixieland rendition of ‘Hello Dolly’ in the repeat chorus caused it to be junked.” That is too bad. There’s something cool about making a major hit record while standing on your coffee table in your living room. Here’s the song…
Little Red Lights
Todd adds cryptically: “A song about the joys and hazards of driving. Also a “you know what” to “you know who.” The instrumental section in the middle of the song is given the following description from Todd Rundgren: “Instrumental in 3 movements: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gears.” I think you get the meaning. Here’s the song…
As a reminder, on these first three sides of the LP every note, every voice, everything you hear was performed, written, and produced by Todd Rundgren. On side four he invites other musicians and friends in to the studio to help out. The list is very long.
Todd writes: “Baby Needs A New Pair Of Snakeskin Boots” A Pop Operetta. My original idea for this side was a series of songs with sing along choruses. All the songs were performed live and there were no over-dubs. The people that showed up were the people who snag and played, meaning that anyone who happened to be in the studio or in the neighborhood and didn’t have anything better to do came in to play. Everybody, including me, learned the songs immediately prior to recording them, so most of it is spontaneous to a degree. Anyway, I decided it would scan better if I drafted it into a sort of operetta , that kind of thing being very popular nowadays.” This is really stunning in light of the success of one of the songs on this side of the record. Hello , It’s Me… was Todd Rundgren’s biggest hit. He’s telling us it was rehearsed with musicians that just showed up and they all learned the song and immediately cut it live with out any corrections. Essentially what you are hearing on this side of the record is a live recording of a studio session. Amazing!
Overture – My Roots
Todd writes: “Money – Performed by a group of the same name, circa 1966. Rick Valente – lead vocal. Randy Read – rhythm guitar and owner of the equipment. Collie Read – bass and Randy’s brother. Some guy named Stockman plays the strange rhythms. That’s me on guitar.
Messin’ with the Kidd – performed by a group known as Woody’s Trcuk Sstop at the Artists Hut in Philidelphia, late ’66. The personnel changed so many times that I don’t remember who played except for the demonic guitar work.
Scene 1 – The back room at Max’s Kansas City. All around are barely familiar faces, each with the same look of despair. At the back corner table under a hideous red fluorescent light sculpture sits our hero. a salad is set before him and he begins to sing and sob into it:”
I have combined the Overture with Dust In The Wind. Here it goes…
Todd writes: “As the stains of the song die away everyone leaves our hero alone to despair his miserable life of struggling for stardom. Enter o covey of N.Y.C. rock critics. They are despairing the low ebb in popular opinion toward rock critics. Every night they meet to tell stories about high school (what else?). Our Hero (In disgust): ‘It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as it’s…you know…stupid enough, it’s cool.’ Richard Meltzer (played by Amos garret) “ah, my meat!’
Hello It’s Me
Todd writes: “Scene 2 – The next day. Our Hero is doing a demo for a record company of dubious competence. When he arrives at the studio, he becomes taken with one of the background singers, so much so that he has trouble counting the song in. It is a tune from his past.”
Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Others
Todd writes: “He gets a little nervous on the second middle-8, but regains his cookies and chalks up an above average performance.. The kid waxes funky for the fadeout. There are many people now in the studio, dancing and gyrating in a hypnotic manner. But when the song is over, he finds that the girl is gone. Again he is alone, meandering around the giant studio complex (which has been operating at a loss for several months.) He passes an open door where a bunch of ‘hepcats’ (studio musicians) are doing a date. He is recognized. Serge: ‘There goes Todd’ O.H. ‘Yipes!’ They decide to ‘jam’. The kid waxes jive and breaks into a message song a la New Tempts (not to demean anyone’s sincere intentions, including mine).
You Left Me Sore
Todd writes: “Scene 3 – Three weeks later. Our hero is back in the studio, this time under contract (one week with 900 three day options). The company’s new president is a young hot shot hoping to up the corporate image. At the urging of the AMA, he has convinced the kid to write a public service kind of message song t hip people to the dangers of V.D. The kid has had other things on his mind, hoverer, particularly the cute little background singer. She is there today to sing, and he is there to sing to her. She confesses a love for him. O.H.: ‘Love is infectious…’ The Big Singer: ‘I’m falling in love with the singer.’ The Producer: ‘The was the take!’
Todd Writes: “Scene 4 – The Whiskey a Go Go L.A. Our hero is slumped in a chair in the corner of the dressing room, half conscious. Mario, the manager, splashes a Coke in his face to revive him. O.H.: ‘The sugar in that water was enough to revitalize me and that Coke syrup there that was in that glass and the saccharine…Mario (snapping him out of it.): ‘Todd, there’s that nation of fans you can’t let down.’ O.H.: ‘Oh, I’m sorry fans. I balked for a moment, but I’ll play all night if you want me to.’ He babbles meaninglessly as he is led to the stage. He breaks into a song of everyday degeneracy in the pop world.”
Todd concludes the Operetta: “Our hero has sung his heart out. His throat is ripped to shreds. As the last chords die, the merciless silence bears witness to the fact that everyone in the audience has split. Our hero sighs and drops dead on the spot.
So what has happened to Todd Rundgren? I assure you he is still alive and kickin’! Check out his MySpace page and his web site: www.tr-i.com. He just released a new CD of music of Robert Johnson called: “Todd Rundgren’s Johnson” if you can believe that! I look forward to seeing what trail he blazes next. I also will look forward to seeing him perform in Dallas again some day soon. I saw him in Chicago as one of the members of The New Cars. He did some of his old songs including “Hello It’s Me…” If I were you, I’d make sure I was there next time he comes to your town to perform. Don’t miss a chance to see this great Rock and Roll living legend. Life is short. Play hard…