Monthly Archives: January 2012

Album of the Week: “Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols”

Johnny Rotten turns 56 today, which would have put him around 20 or 21 around the time Nevermind the Bollocks was recorded. Much of the album’s lyrics are confrontational in nature, which makes sense considering these were young men intent on attacking everything around them. But Rotten’s lyrics also are intelligent social critiques of what was taking place in England at the time of the album’s release, which in a way makes him also wise beyond his years. The problem wasn’t just the Monarch, “the problem is you” as Rotten observed in “Problems”.

Like Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, and Nirvana’s Nevermind, Nevermind the Bollocks isn’t just an album or a mere collection of songs. It’s also a dividing line and a crossroad. To say music and culture were completely different after its release is a bit of an understatement. Youth culture was changing at an accelerated rate (especially in England) and musically rock and roll had become stagnant and overblown.  The older bands that were once rebellious seemed archaic.  Every single song on Nevermind the Bollocks was designed and played like the world around the band was coming apart. The music was chaotic and wild.  Steve Jones’ muscular riffs cast a line through both cultural and musical lines.  Long-winded solos and multi-suite songs seemed obsolete with the opening chords of “Holidays in the Sun”. Johnny Rotten sang every single line, as it was a heat-seeking missile directed at the heart of the English establishment. “God save the queen, she ain’t no human being,” wouldn’t have sounded so sinister if anybody else but Rotten sang it.

For all of their bravado and social critiques though, Nevermind the Bollocks is full of paranoia and even a descent into madness. On “Holidays in the Sun”, Rotten talks about going on the Berlin Wall, but sounds absolutely scared of it and his possessed spewing of the lyrics confirms this.  “Please don’t be waiting for me!” He screams at the end of the song as it to suggest that even he doesn’t know the outcome.  Then there’s “Bodies”, where he condemns a young woman named Pauline for having an abortion, before actually imagining himself as the aborted fetus crying out for help.  If you can write a song that twisted no wonder that throughout Bullocks, Rotten claims to have no feelings for anybody else but himself, declares to be an anti-Christ and wants to be the embodiment of anarchy itself.  With this going on, there’s little doubt that Nevermind the Bullocks is one of the most controversial albums ever put to print.

Despite everything, Nevermind the Bollocks wouldn’t have achieved its legendary status if the music itself weren’t great. The myth about the Sex Pistols is that they couldn’t play. Anybody who suggests that probably hasn’t heard the entire album.  Each song is layered with walls of Steve Jones’ monstrous riffs and blistering solos.  Without Jones’ playing, Rotten would seem like a whiney kid. Paul Cook’s drumming is forceful and pounding – giving the songs extra weight and energy.

In a way, I feel that Nevermind the Bollocks has spoiled me on punk rock. Because it’s so good, everything else in the genre seems to pale in comparison.  I’ll listen to a punk-record and think, “Damn I’d just rather listen to the Sex Pistols.” Even the Clash’s debut (while very good in and of itself) doesn’t connect the same way.  It would take them another two years for them to make a complete masterpiece (London Calling) and that really wasn’t even a punk album. The Sex Pistols could have only existed in that particular era, and even though they themselves saw no future, Nevermind the Bollocks still remains relevant as ever.

Song of the Week: “I Want You Back” – The Jackson 5

As soon as the piano swings its way in, it’s hard not to want get up and dance.  And if you haven’t within that one second, the guitar that comes following commands you to. It’s a circular chord progression that is commanding as it is funky. For the next 15 seconds, the piano and guitars are battling each other for dominance.  But it is the pre-teen Michael Jackson who steals the show here. All these years later “I Want You Back” stands as one of the best debut singles of all time, and has never lost its power or magnificence.

The verses are amazing by themselves, but is the chorus which is really the ace in the hall.        The young Michael Jackson nails it effortlessly. The voice is young and innocent, but Jackson’s performance is more akin to that of a seasoned professional who is not only in charge of his voice, but of the entire band.  Throughout the entire song the rest of them follow his lead. Even though the song is tightly constructed and no member is making  a single bum note, it seems as if the rest of the Jacksons seem to be waiting for Michael to show them where to go.  They slow down a bit around the two minute mark, but bounce back right as Michael shouts: “All I need!” triumphantly.

“I Want You” back is easily the Jackson’s best song.  “ABC” might be the song that everybody knows, but “I Want You Back” is where a legend began.

 

Friday News Round-Up: Joy Division Vs. Disney, Miles Davis & The Post Office, Fiona Apple

  • Perhaps by now you’ve seen the infamous Disney t-shirts which have “been inspired” by the Joy Division classic Unknown Pleasures.  At first, I thought the idea was awful and insulting to the legacy of the band.  Now, I find the concept extremely hilarious. Surely, Disney hasn’t heard the lyrics: “I’ve seen the nights, filled with bloodsport and pain, and the bodies obtained, the bodies obtained” from Day of the Lords from that album?  Or have they?  At any rate, two days after Disney put up the images of the shirts, the company said they were pulling them. The best reaction came from Joy Division bassist Peter Hook  (who is also suing New Order the band formed in the wake of Joy Division’s demise) who said this to Rolling Stone: “You never know, this might be just the thing that brings me, Bernard and Stephen together to have a laugh and a drink. And maybe Walt can achieve what no amount of people seem to be able to do in the world, and bring Joy Division back together.”  Personally, I think that if the dead Walt Disney himself  can bring back Ian Curtis who is also dead that would be more newsworthy than Joy Division getting back together.
  • The US Postal Service has announced that they will be issuing a commemorative Miles Davis stamp sometime in 2012. I love Miles, but damn, don’t you have more important things to worry about than a stamp Post Office?
  • Roxy Music’s 40th anniversary is coming up, so in celebration the band is prepping a massive career-spanning box-set which includes all 8 of their albums re-mastered as well as b-sides, remixes and out-takes.  Check out the full track-listing here.
  • LMFAO will apparently appear with Madonna at the Superbowl according to will.i.am.  I’m not a huge Madonna fan (though some of her songs in the 80s were good), but when you’re Madonna do you really need the current trends to back you up?
  • And finally, looks like Fiona Apple will be releasing a new album this year.  Her first since 2005’s Extraordinary Machine.

New Music Thursdays: The Elkcloner, Torgny

The Elkcloner – “Crossfire”

The first few seconds of Elkcloner’s “Crossfire” sounds like you’re being led into the world’s most horrifying carnival. Luckily, “Crossfire” doesn’t turn into campy shock (especially if you hate clowns like I do), but ends up becoming catchy and memorable through its dark underbelly, due in part to the haunting female vocals.  Elkcloner  is the  of new musical project of composer Filip Mitrovic, whose previous credits include co-scoring the movies Resident Evil: Afterlife and Echo.

Click for more info on The Elkcloner.

Torgny – “Big Day”

Torgny’s “Big Day” is the first track from the Norwegian electronic artist’s newest EP entitled Trilogy EP.  Even if you don’t like electronic music, “Big Day” offers subtle layers of real instrumentation evoking the icy work of some of Radiohead’s more experimental detours.  If only all electronic music were this interesting.

Click for more info on Torgny

10 Songs that Should Be Played on a Jukebox at a Bar

Following last week’s list “10 Songs that Should Absolutely Not Be Played on a Jukebox at a Bar”, at the suggestion of a friend I’ve decided to list the songs that should be played on a jukebox.

1.) “Jump” – Van Halen

“You got to ro-ooo-oooo-ll with the punches,” David Lee Roth declares in the first verse of this Van Halen classic.  And really, who are you to argue with Diamond Dave? Especially when this mantra is backed by the catchiest keyboard hook in rock and a ridiculous guitar solo that does not fit the rest of the song at all.  What to do?  Might as well jump.

2.) “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John

Personally, I prefer “Bennie and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, but “Tiny Dancer” has this magical quality that makes everyone sing along to its chorus.  It achieves the same effect as Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” except this song is far superior.

3.) “Hey Ya!” – Outkast

Another case where the biggest song of the year also happened to be the best.  It’s downright silly (the infamous “shake it like a polaroid picture” line, “what’s cooler than being cool?”), serious (“separate is always better when there’s feeling involved”) and most of all fun.

4.) “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder

What an opening drum beat, that if you’re into playing air drums is a definite must.  And that clarinet riff and Moog synthesizer still sound as wild today as it did 40 years ago. Anybody who thinks Stevie Wonder is cheesy (and I’ve met a few of those people) need to check this song out stat.

5.) “99 Problems” – Jay-Z

I listen to a fair amount of hip-hop, but this is one of the few hip-hop songs where I know all the words. And judging by the reaction the song usually gets, I’m guessing that I’m not the only one.  With its rocking beat and one of Jay-Z’s best performances, “99 Problems” is essential Jukebox listening.

6.) “I Want You To Want Me” – Cheap Trick

This song can be a bit precarious. Putting it up on too early can backfire and everybody will question your jukebox ability. However, putting it on about an hour after you’ve thought it was a good idea is a much wiser.  Then everyone will praise you for your selection and gloriously sing the chorus with you.

7.) “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen

The Boss is the only artist with the distinction of being included on both lists!  “Born to Run” achieves this honor in part because of Springsteen’s famous non-verbal yelps. And you who can’t resist jumping up and shouting: “One, two, three four….the highway is jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive!”

8.) “Body of an American” – The Pogues

Knowing the words to this song is akin to being in a secret society like the Masons or Illuminati.  If the guy next to you is singing with you in unison, a pact has been created.  There are few things better in the world than seeing a group shout out “I’m a free born man of the USA!”.  If you don’t believe me, watch The Wire and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

9.) “Beast of Burden” – The Rolling Stones

A funny thing about this song: if you’re listening to it on your stereo at home it’s an average Rolling Stones song but at a bar at midnight it sounds like one of the greatest songs ever written.  I’m guessing it’s because of the groove which is neither slow or overbearing.

10.) “Push It” – Salt-N-Pepa

No, I’m not kidding on this one. I’m including this one because every time it comes on everybody will at first assume you’re crazy but then change their minds half-way through the song. Is it nostalgia?  Probably, but who cares?

Album of the Week: “Purple Rain” – Prince & The Revolution

“Matt, when you grow up I hope you don’t end up liking Prince.”  This was something my older brother mentioned to me randomly one night. I had no idea who or what he was talking about. I couldn’t have been older than 10, and I just assumed that he meant a prince.  Who that prince was, I had no clue.

When I finally did discover Prince the musician, that statement suddenly made a whole lot of sense. By this time, it was the 90s and Prince was no longer Prince, but an unpronounceable symbol with the words “slave” written across his face with a sharpie.  My only knowledge of Prince’s music was from the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Batman, and that was awful.

For years, I was convinced that Prince was a joke. It didn’t help that in 1999, everybody in my high school was singing that damn song. Who cares if it was 1999? I might have been one of the few who was happy that the new Millennium came – if nothing else it meant that I didn’t have to hear “1999” played repeatedly.

It wasn’t until I read Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time in 2003. As I scoured the list for familiar names, I was surprised at how many Prince albums there were.  Ranking at Number 72, was Purple Rain which caught my attention.  Immediately, I decided that I would give Prince another chance.

I sheepishly entered Borders with the thought that everybody else probably had this album, and wondered if the cashier would call me out on it. (I say this, because if I were a cashier at a record store or a place that sold CDs, I totally would comment on what someone was buying.)  Once in my car, I waited in anticipation for what was about to come through the stereo.

The sound of a distorted church organ was the last thing I expected to hear.  Then came Prince’s voice:

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The afterworld
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night

I knew right then, that this was going to be a listening experience unlike other.  Every single song caught my attention whether it was the dueling vocals on “Take Me With U” or the atmospheric pop of “I Would Die For You”.  Then there is of course, “When Doves Cry” which can easily rank as one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

On the surface, Purple Rain is a fusion of genres with the final product defying all expectations and categories. It’s a dance record, but it’s also pop.  There are elements of hints of hard-rock, and power ballads. Every single song on Purple Rain takes a detour (small or large) which keeps it from being conventional.  The guitars are layered like a Phil Spector production, but there are also drum machines and synthesizers, which at the time made it a completely modern record.

If Purple Rain is a masterpiece of the 1980s, it is because Prince made sure it was.  There’s not a single note on the album that doesn’t belong.  Even the title song would not be the same without the extended ending and some great guitar work by the Purple One himself.  But most of all, Purple Rain remains one of the best albums of all time, because it was another moment in time when the most popular artist in the world was also the best and most innovative.

 

 

Song of the Week: “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” – Tom Waits

“I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” was the first Tom Waits song I ever heard. And I’m guessing that most people remember the first time they hear Tom Waits. That growl of a voice, that sounds like a disturbed Muppet sticks in your brain.  My older brother was picking me up from karate class (something I hate admitting and hated even more at the time), and was playing Waits’ Bone Machine in his car.

Usually I was excited when he picked me up, but not this time.  Even before I got in the car, I could hear the barrage of sounds and spooky singing coming from the car.  I was already embarrassed to be there, and this racket was not making it any easier.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” came on.  It sounded like it was something that belonged on Sesame Street – the very epitome of being of a kid. And like most teenagers, I couldn’t wait to grow up and not take this stupid karate class.  Here Who could take this dude seriously? Sounding like a monster and bitching about growing up just seemed moronic. “Augh,” I complained to my brother.  “Can we turn this crap off?” Usually, I liked the music he listened to, but I was not in the mood this particular night.

“I don’t wanna be a good Boy Scout,” Waits sang through the speakers.  That particular line pissed me off.  I was also in the Boy Scouts at the time, and would have rather been in that in a second than the karate class.  (Looking back, it’s hilarious that I was involved in both of these activities and favored one over the other.)

It would take me years to truly appreciate Tom Waits.  On the recommendations of some friends I purchased The Heart of Saturday Night, Frank’s Wild Years and Closing Time. I as surprised by how much I actually enjoyed them considering my disdain for Bone Machine, which I avoided purchasing for a long time.

And I also avoided “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”.  I wasn’t sure what it was – but that song annoyed the shit out of me. Surely it wasn’t Waits’ voice – I had gotten used to that over the years. I could never put my finger on it, but “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” hit a nerve every time I thought about the song.

One night I randomly decided to give it a listen. As the lone guitar kicked in, I found myself slowly liking it.  After several repeated listens, I found myself singing along:

When I’m lyin’ in my bed at night
I don’t wanna grow up
Nothin’ ever seems to turn out right
I don’t wanna grow up
How do you move in a world of fog
That’s always changing things
Makes me wish that I could be a dog
When I see the price that you pay
I don’t wanna grow up
I don’t ever wanna be that way
I don’t wanna grow up

Suddenly the whole song made sense. All those years of not hearing it, I had convinced myself that the song was sincere.  Of course I should have known better, but this is what years of hating a song will do to you.  Waits’ singing in cigarette/whiskey/Grover howl bitching about growing up was entirely the point, and hilariously ironic.

Maybe if I discovered that earlier on, my teenager years would have been easier.

 

Friday News Round-Up: Megaupload, Johnny Ramone, Johnny Otis

  • Damn, it has been a bad week for Megaupload. First, the site felt the wrath of Universal Music Group who objected to a promotional video which starred Kanye West, Diddy, and Will.i.am and even the likes of Kim Kardashian.  Universal demanded that the ad be pulled from Youtube because none of their artists were authorized or given permission.  In the midst of all of this, it was revealed that Swizz Beatz was the company’s CEO (which helps explains the celebrities in the video).  Since then, Beatz role in the company has been debated – so who knows for sure? And yesterday, the Feds came cracking down on the site, officially shutting it down.  (Update 1/21/12: Swizz Beatz was actually not the CEO contrary to reports.)
  • Eight years after his death, Johnny Ramone’s widow is releasing a memoir of the famed punk rocker.  Pretty cool stuff, though I’m not sure about the title: Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone.
  • Johnny Otis, the “Godfather or R&B” died Tuesday at the age of 90.  Otis was a pioneer in jazz, blues and Gospel.  He was also a talent scout as well, discovering Etta James and Jackie Wilson among others.

New Music Thursdays: Bruce Springsteen: “We Take Care of Our Own”

A lot has been already been written about Bruce Springsteen’s newest album, Wrecking Ball due out March 6th.  According to some reports, the album will have unexpected textures – loops, electronic percussion… influences and rhythms from hip-hop to Irish folk rhythms.”  Springsteen’s manager told Rolling Stone that Wrecking Ball is a “big-picture piece of work. It’s a rock record that combines elements of both Bruce’s classic sound and his Seeger Sessions experience, with new textures and styles.” Other sources have described it as Springsteen’s “angriest album yet”.  I have to admit I’m skeptical about that claim, since Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska were both pretty angry.

So today we have our first official offering off of Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care of Our Own”.  Upon first listen, the up-beat rocker is an improvement over most of the work that was found on Working on a Dream.

“We Take Care of Our Own” has a majestic and sweeping introduction very reminiscent of “Born to Run” and “Badlands” – complete with hand claps, piano and naturally, guitar. For such an upbeat song, Springsteen does sound fairly agitated (something that was missing from Working on a Dream) at the state of the country. He stumbles on “good hearts turned to stone” and later wonders “where is the love that has not forsaken me?” The sing-along chorus of “we take our of own, wherever this flag is flown” is also reminiscent of “Born in the USA” – upbeat but laced with irony and bitterness.

If “We Take Care Of Our Own” is any indication, Wrecking Ball could easily be Springsteen’s best since The Rising.  (I don’t count the Seeger Sessions, since those weren’t Springsteen originals.)