Song of the Day: “Welcome to the Jungle” – Jay Z & Kanye West

Last week, Kanye West declared that there would never be another Watch the Throne collaboration, due to Jay Z’s involvement with Tidal. If that’s actually true, it’s a shame because Watch the Throne was a pretty good album that contained some of the best moments of each rapper’s respective career.

One of the more interesting tracks on the album is the hypnotic “Welcome to the Jungle” due to its personal nature. Kanye only appears for a brief moment during the bridge, leaving Jay Z alone to channel his inner pain. For a man who loves portray himself larger than life and seems to have it all, it’s a harrowing moment when he reveals that he sometimes wonders why he was even born.

The “jungle” here isn’t the means street of Los Angeles found in Guns N’ Roses song. Rather, its life itself all the heartbreak and depression that comes with it. The song’s namesake  isn’t lost on Jay-Z who opens the song, declaring, “Black Axl Rose, move halfs and wholes/Come down to the jungle, just ask for Hov.” The Rose reference aside, the song starts withJay Z in autopilot mode, rapping once again about his hustling days. A few moments later though, he digs deeper and mourns the deaths of his nephew, uncle and father, leaving his faith in God tested.

The second verse is even more disturbing: his mother can’t see his smile and he numbs the pain with champagne and weed to no avail. Looking into the mirror, he doesn’t seem himself, but rather an opponent keeping him down. The song ends with Jay Z admitting, “I’m already dying, so fuck it.”

Throughout the song in various moments, Swizz Beats (who produced the song) shouts out “Godammit!”. It’s one of the few instances in recent years that I can think of, where the phrase retains its original power as an angry cry to God.

If Watch the Throne II never happens, at least we still have the original to listen to.

 

Song of the Day: “Day of the Lords” – Joy Division

Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is always a great album to break out in the fall. Even though much of the music is played with a with a sort of menace, Martin Hannet’s production creates an eerie atmosphere. The use of space and overall feeling of the performance is just as important as the songs. You put on Unknown Pleasures and you can feel the daylight fading early: the last rays of the sun closing down over the horizon.

I always think of Bernard Sumner’s guitar on Unknown Pleasures playing as a sort of slowed down version of James Williamson’s fiery slash, best evident on Raw Power. Raw Power is of course, the sound of the apocalypse reigning down all around with Iggy front and center, reveling in the destruction and hedonism. Unknown Pleasures is the album for the aftermath.

My favorite track on the album has always been “Day of the Lords”. It’s the song that made me fully appreciate the album and believe the hype and mythology surrounding Joy Division. There’s not much structure to the song other than dissonant noise courtesy of Sumner’s controlled feedback. The sludgy feeling of the song only heightens the tension of Ian Curtis’ bloodcurdling cries of “where will end?”

 

Song of the Day: “D’You Know What I Mean?” – Oasis

With the release of the documentary Supersonic and the release of Be Here Now, Oasis are once again having a bit of a moment. It’s easy to forget now how massive they were in the mid-90’s. Never ones to do things in small does, everything the band touched seemed to blow up to epic proportions. Being addicted to coke wasn’t enough for Noel Gallagher. He had to put that shit on his corn flakes in the morning like powdered sugar. Liam Gallagher hated his brother so much that he only stood the band up at Unplugged performance, but heckled them from the stands. Almost every single song Oasis recorded was a rip-off of a Beatles song, because of course they would steal from the world’s biggest band.

Following a hugely successful album can be difficult. The options are either to replicate what was done previously or dial it back and hope for the best. Oasis was having none of that for their follow-up to (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? “Champagne Supernova” stood out because it was an epic that closed an album full of classicist rock songs. Noel Gallagher decided in his drugged out state that he was going to release an entire album of “Champagne Supernova”s (without the majestic quality of the original), consequences be damned.

Enter “D’You Know What I Mean?” the first single from Be Here Now. It’s the kind of song that only an arrogant rock star, oblivious from everything else but the music inside his own head, could come up with.  In the first minute alone you have helicopter noises, multi-tracked feedback, backwards vocals, a noise that seems to be morse code, and a massive drum break.

By the time the actual song starts, it’s hard to truly care about the next minutes. To make matters worse, in another act of defiance, Noel Gallagher seems to have thrown his one true gift of melody out the window for this song. Save whatever you want about Oasis, but their most well-known songs were instantly memorable.

Still though, I have a soft spot for Be Here Now and “D’You Know What I Mean?”.  In a way, Be Here Now is the last of a kind: the big rock album that was an event. And somehow, it seems only appropriate that something this ridiculous would blow up in Oasis’ face with a massive thud. They wouldn’t have it any other way.

Song of the Day: “Jesus of Suburbia” – Green Day

 

Admit it: prior to the fall of 2004 the very thought of Green Day putting out a 9-minute song seemed quite ridiculous. After all, before American Idiot, these guys were mostly known for songs about smoking weed and masturbating. While “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” showed a hint of maturity, most people miss the scathing intent behind the sweet melody.  I read an article about Green Day’s new direction a weeks before American Idiot’s release and told a friend. His response? “Shut the fuck up, Matt. Never talk to me about this ever again.” Naturally, both of us ended up loving the song, though one of us warmed up to it quicker than the other.

Amazingly, American Idiot was not only a great rock and roll record, it summed up the turbulent mid-2000’s better than almost any record I can think of. “Jesus of Suburbia” is the album’s centerpiece: without the nine minute, 5 part suite, the rest of the record would come unhinged and fall under the weight of its own ambitions. But with the simple declaration of “I’m the son of rage and love,” at the beginning of the song, Green Day pulls you into a twisted, messed up world where everything seems to be falling apart. Heartbreak, debt, deception and a “hurricane of fucking lies” all feelings that were very in 2004 (and in 2016, horribly enough) are all contained here. If you don’t get through “Jesus of Suburbia”, there’s no point in listening to the rest of the record.

None of this would matter though, if the music wasn’t great. Each section of “Jesus of Suburbia” is a fantastic piece of music in its own right and they flow together seamlessly. The musical breakdown between the first two sections with a tour de force performance from Tre Cool still sends shivers down my spine. And the guitar solo near the end of the song? It’s a pretty much a note for note melodic rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”.

“Jesus of Suburbia” and American Idiot is the type of rare rock and roll record that comes along every once in a while: the kind we didn’t know we needed at the time, but couldn’t live without.

Song of the Day: “Around the World” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

This song always reminds me of my senior year of high school. I had a radio clock that I used as my alarm. At 6:45 A.M. when the alarm went off, “Around the World” almost always seemed to be the song that came blasting out of the tiny speaker to wake me up. The loud, distorted bass from Flea that opens the song is quite unnerving when you’re half-asleep let me tell you.

Though quite popular upon its release, “Around the World” seems to be one of the forgotten singles from Californication. You mostly hear “Scar Tissue”, “Otherside” and the title track on ‘90s oriented stations. It’s a shame, because “Around the World” is probably one of their better singles from that period. It’s certainly better than “Otherside” and I get kind of tired of hearing “Scar Tissue”.

“Around the World” is also a perfect showcase for John Frusciante’s preference for restraint. He could have ended the song with a wild solo, but instead chose a repeated circular rhythm. Bonus points to Anthony Kiedis using non-sense lyrics as a melody line in the third chorus.

Song(s) of the Day: Desert Trip Edition

There have been plenty of jokes about Desert Trip being called “Oldchella”. And while all the acts are certainly older, let’s not forget that they are rock royalty and all of them in some way or another have contributed to some of the greatest albums and songs ever made. So, today’s Song of the Day is a six-pack of awesomeness in honor of Desert Trip.

“I’ve Just Seen a Face” – The Beatles 

I’m not particularly fond of McCartney’s solo works, so I’m cheating a bit here and going with The Beatles. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is probably one of my favorite Beatles’ songs and in my opinion it’s severely under-rated. It’s got one of McCartney’s best melodies and chord progressions.

“One of These Days” – Pink Floyd

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note I wrote about this song several months ago. “One of These Days” is Pink Floyd at their best: dark, mysterious and menacing all at once. As with most classic Floyd, David Gilmour conjures up some wild sounds with his guitar, but the real highlight is the double-tracked bass played both Gilmour and Roger Waters.

“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” – Neil Young

For me, Neil Young is the weakest link in Desert Trip’s line up. He’s an old curmudgeon like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison but without the catalogue to really back it up. That said, he does have some great songs and the country-rock of  “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” would have been the best song he ever wrote, if he hadn’t recorded “Rocking in the Free World”.

“Long Live Rock” – The Who

One of the things that a lot of people often forget about The Who’s music is that they actually have a lot of funny songs. That side of them went to the wayside, when Pete Townshend decided to write “important” musical pieces. “Long Live Rock” is one of the few examples where The Who marry the muscular rock they forged in the ’70s, with the witticism of their early days. Best line: “We were the first band to vomit in the bar.”

“19th Nervous Breakdown” – The Rolling Stones

One of Keith Richards’ classic riffs – and lord know he’s got a shitload of them. But there’s something about the intro that just pulls you in and pummels you over the head. And Jagger is at his frantic best, barely able to keep up with Richards and Charlie Watts’ steady drumming. “19th Nervous Breakdown” is also somewhat famous for inspiring Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to pick up the guitar and for that we should all be thankful.

“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” – Bob Dylan

I get chills every time I listen to this song. On this monumental track, Dylan takes on society as a whole and takes down everyone within earshot. The most disturbing part about it, is that it seems to grow more pertinent with each passing year. There are tons of memorable lines, but for me the best is, “it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to.”

 

New Music: “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone” – Slothrust

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Boston’s Slothrust will be releasing their third album, Everyone Else on October 28th. The band’s trademarks sounds of 90’s Alternative meets blues-y undertones is well evident on the single, “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone”.  The verses contain some intricate bluesy leads with tons of distorted guitars for the chorus. Comparisons have been made to Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr., but Slothrust are clearly carving their own path with lead singer Leah Wellbaum’s dynamic vocals at the helm.

Take a listen to “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone” via NPR Music. The band will be starting a fall tour next week on October 13.  For info and dates, check out the band’s Facebook and Twitter.

Song of the Day: “No Expectations” – The Rolling Stones

In honor of the news that The Rolling Stones will (finally) be releasing a full album of blues covers titled, “Blue and Lonesome”, I thought it would be time to look back at one of their best original blues songs, “No Expectations”.

The Stones have always been the best rock and roll interpreters of Blues since their formation. Take a listen to their few first albums for good measure. Though their original material was blues-based, the songs were (mostly) more rock oriented. That changed when they released Beggars Banquet in 1968, which was designed as a sort of return to their blues roots.

“No Expectations” follows “Sympathy for the Devi” and the two couldn’t be more different. “Sympathy” is well known for its controversial (at the time) lyrics, samba-styled drum beats and Keith Richards’ fiery guitar solos. “No Expectations” is somber and restrained, highlighted by Brian Jones’ brilliant slide guitar. In the 2012 documentary Crossfire Hurricane, Mick Jagger refers to Jones’ performance here as his last big contribution to the band.

The Blues found on “No Expectations” isn’t Chicago sound that The Stones favored in the beginning, but the Delta Blues of Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson and Lead Belly. Even the lyrics with references to trains, being poor and loneliness feel like a Delta Blues song. Jagger’s weary vocals here are one of his finest. “No Expectations” sounds like it could have been written much earlier than 1968. As much as Clapton and Led Zeppelin used The Blues as a jumping point, even they didn’t write a song this authentic early in their career. (Clapton would of course, later on in his career.)

New Music: “Tripwire” – ExSage

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Los Angeles duo ExSage recently released the dark and moody “Tripwire” which will be released on their debut EP, Out of the Blue (due out in October) produced by Alain Johannes who has worked with such artists as Mark Lanegan, Them Crooked Vultures, Brody Dalle and Queens of the Stone Age.

“Tripwire” makes uses of distorted guitars, menacing guitars and great vocal interplay between members Tim Foley and Kate Clover. The interplay between the two extremes create a nice contrast between dark and light.

Take a listen to “Tripwire” and check out ExSage on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Song of the Day: “If Not For You” – George Harrison

Fall is the perfect time to break out George Harrison’s triple-album masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. Thanks in no small part to Phil Spector’s “Wall-Of-Sound” production, Harrison’s songs are given are a ethereal treatment that feels like a crisp morning walk in the woods.

Perhaps the best example of this, is Harrison’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”.  For what it’s worth, this is probably the greatest Dylan cover besides Hendrix’ immortal reading of “All Along the Watchtower”.  And like Hendrix, Harrison not only turns the song inside out  – giving it a more melancholic treatment than the original – but completely makes it his own, despite having played it in a similar fashion with Dylan in an out-take that was left unreleased for decades.

The most recognized part of the song is Harrison’s famed slide guitar work which acts as a sort of second melody to his vocals. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful progression that never ceases to amaze.