Monthly Archives: May 2012

*Guest Post* – Album of the Week: “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” — The Monkees

 

 

(This week’s “Album of the Week” was written by the very first guest contributor, Carey Farrell. I’ve known Carey for about as long as I can remember (25 + years, which is still strange for me to think that I’m that old) and she graciously agreed to write this awesome post on The Monkees’ “Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.  Enjoy!  – Matt)

The Monkees have been one of my favorite bands for nearly 25 years, since their late-’80s revival courtesy of MTV and Nickelodeon. In that time, my love for them has gone from sincere to ironic and back again so many times I’ve lost count, and I’m just as likely to be mocking the promo video for “Oh My My” as I am to be practicing the riff from “Love Is Only Sleeping” or (let’s be honest) marveling at how Peter Tork can remain one of the sexiest men in America, year after year after year.

I know not everyone shares my love for the Prefab Four. I’ve heard it all before: “They didn’t write their own songs!” “They didn’t play their own instruments!” “That’s not even Mike Nesmith’s real hat!”

Just hear me–and the music–out.

Pisces Aquarius–the title comes from the Monkees’ star signs, with Mike and Davy as the birthday twin Capricorns–is a mix of the “Monkees and studio musicians” approach of the first two albums, and the “Monkees take total creative control” approach of their third album, Headquarters. There are musical contributions from Monkees songwriting vets like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart (“Words”), Gerry Goffin and Carole King (the single “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and the groupie-bashing “Star Collector”), and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich (“She Hangs Out”). But Mike contributes as a songwriter and a guitarist, and Peter plays guitar and keys, and Micky plays the Moog synthesizer (more on that later), and all four contribute lead and backing vocals.

Mike, always the leader of the band on the TV show, finally has his time to shine on an album, singing lead on five of the thirteen songs. “Love Is Only Sleeping,” a gorgeous piece of psychedelia that foreshadows what co-writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil would later create for the cult film Wild In The Streets, is one of the highlights.

Micky’s shining moment is, of course, “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” And yes, you’ve been hearing it on the oldies radio your entire life, but listen to it again, and pretend it’s for the first time.

Davy even has a cowriting credit on the love ballad “Hard To Believe.” Is it the weakest song on the album? Of course it is. But the horns and the incessant modulation will probably make you smile anyway.

And Peter? Peter sings in tune.

More or less.

Pisces Aquarius finds the Monkees exploring darker and more experimental territory. “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “The Door Into Summer” snark about the same grey flannel-suited suburban squares whose kids turned the band into superstars. “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?” is the story of a one-night stand (gasp!),”Salesman” includes a drug reference (won’t somebody please think of the children?), and “Daily Nightly” is Mike’s response to the November 1966 Sunset Strip riots. Whether or not Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy” is really about a gangbang, there’s no denying that perpetually perky Davy sounds a little creepy on it–and he sounds even creepier as he leers his way through “She Hangs Out” and snarls lines like, “How can I love her when I just don’t respect her?” in “Star Collector.” And then there’s the Moog synthesizer. According to Monkees legend, Micky was one of the first people to purchase a Moog, and he has a hell of a lot of fun figuring out how it works on “Daily Nightly.”

Is Pisces Aquarius a product of its time? Absolutely. But there’s something timeless about it as well. On Record Store Day this year, I dragged my husband and a friend up the street to our local record store to see a live performance of Pisces Aquarius by some of Chicago’s finest independent musicians. The store was crowded with three generations of Monkees fans, singing along to every word of every song. And every person in the room was smiling.

Not bad for a 45-year-old record by a band that didn’t even exist, huh?

Song of the Week: “Waiting on a Friend” – The Rolling Stones

 

 

(Sorry I’ve been MIA here.  I write most of these posts in my spare time, and over the past few weeks, other things have needed more attention.  I plan to rectify that – so don’t worry I’ll plenty of cool stuff coming up.)  

I first came across The Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” back when I was in high school while watching an episode of Vh1’s “Pop Up Video”.   It was a late humid summer evening, and even though the air conditioning was blasting, I could never seem to get cool.  Perhaps it was the video, where Mick Jagger waits on a New York City stoop waiting for Keith Richards (incidentally the same building that Led Zeppelin used for the cover of Physical Graffiti) or the song’s laid-back groove, but “Waiting on a Friend” seemed like the perfect song to hear at that particular moment.   Ever since then, I’ve always identified the song with summer-time.

As a Stones’ song – it seems slightly of character.  It’s not a flat-out rocker, and it’s not a ballad either.  Keith Richards riff on “Waiting on a Friend” would never be considered one of his best – but it is essential to the atmosphere of the song.  It pulls slightly – but never tugs – allowing the rest of the band to follow suit. Charlie Watts’ lays down a simple yet effective beat, locking with Nicky Hopkins beautiful piano playing.  Then there’s Sonny Rollins unforgettable saxophone which appears throughout and helps close the song.  The song never finds it way out of the groove they’ve created but that’s part of the song’s charm – once you’ve gotten inside it, the song never lets you go.

Mick Jagger gives one of his finest performances here, and just because of his impressive falsetto.  Too often, he seems preoccupied in creating the character of “Mick Jagger”.  That version of Jagger has been the basis of many of the Stones’ best songs, but sometimes it’s hard to know who the real Jagger is.  On “Waiting on a Friend” he seems to suggest that his wild life-style doesn’t seem to satisfy him anymore.  “Don’t need a whore, don’t need no booze, don’t need no virgin priest,” He sings softly.  “But I just need someone I can cry to, I’m just waiting on a friend.”

The obvious answer to the friend Jagger is waiting on, would be Keith Richards.  Even the video seems to suggest that.  If you know anything about The Rolling Stones’ it’s no secret that Jagger and Richards haven’t always seen eye to eye.  Sometimes this sparring has to led to uneven albums, other times it’s led to verbal barbs about each other in the press.  Most recently, Richards attacked Jagger’s manhood in his 2010 memoir Life – though Richards has since apologized for the remarks.

But after almost 50 years of playing and creating music together, Jagger and Richards have shared highs and lows together – and situations like those create a bond that can never be broken.  Each of them probably know that neither of them are at their best musically without the other.  In the world of the Rolling Stones, women have come and and gone but friends are worth waiting for.

 

New Music: “Superhero” – Keira LaShae

Courtesy of the Musebox:

With a dash of electrifying vocals, a smidgen of gravity defying choreography and a whole lot of Superhero Swag, newcomer R&B/Pop superstar Keaira LaShae is the epitome of all-encompassing talent. Having a natural flair for music, fitness and dance, the advocate for female empowerment is gearing up to make a permanent indentation in the industry with a summer release of her self-titled EP. Recording in Rodney Jerkins’ Studios in Los Angeles, Keaira LaShae is putting the final touches on Keaira LaShae in partnership with Duane “DaRock” Ramos (The Pussycat Dolls, Nicki Minaj & LL Cool) and Sanchez Holmes (T.I, Young Jeezy) amongst others. Songs on the EP reflecting love, female empowerment & a little bit of attitude are guaranteed to connect with audiences near and far as illustrated by “Superhero”, the first single from the EP, featuring production by The Audibles (Lupe Fiasco, Drake, Yela Wolf) and now available for free download.

New Music: “Dirty Side” – Caravan Palace

France’s Caravan Palace describe themselves as “electro-swing”.  If that description sounds a bit odd to you, check out their latest single “Dirty Side” to get an idea of what they mean.  Modern electronic beats and samples collide with 1940s-style trumpets and jazz singers on “Dirty Side”.  “Dirty Side” proves that Caravan Palace’s only limit is their own imagination.

Caravan Palace recently released their sophomore album Panic in March.

Check out “Dirty Side” here.

New Music: “I See You” – Truck Stop Darlin’

Truck Stop Darlin’s latest single “I See You” is a potent mix of country, punk and straight up rock.  The verses are fly right off the speaker as creating a tension between John Phelan’s weathered vocals and biting guitar and pedal steelthat drives the song.  The song slows down a little bit for the chorus with Phelan sounding positively scathing as he shouts out the title words of the song.

Truck Stop Darlin’ will release Hope and the Heart it Breaks on June 5th.

Check out “I See You” here.

Song of the Week: “Age of Consent” – New Order

If I’m being totally honest, I’ve never really given New Order a fair chance.  I like Joy Division too much, and thus any music made afterwards is automatically inferior.   Whether or not this is justified, I’m not entirely sure.

“Age of Consent” is one of the few songs I’ve heard by New Order that actually stands up to the standards of Joy Division.  Like many of Joy Division’s best songs, the song is driven by a melodic and pulsing bass line courtesy of Peter Hook.  Stephen Morris’ tight energetic drumming meshes perfectly with Hook’s bass.  I’ve always felt that these two were among the most under-rated rhythm sections in rock and “Age of Consent” is further proof of their talents.

What really makes “Age of Consent” is interesting is the tension between the synthesizers and the rest of the band.  Naturally, the synth plays a huge part of the song and provides much of the song’s hook but mid-way through there’s some noisy guitar work that fights for it life to be heard.  Hook and Morris’ playing provides a rhythm that makes you want to dance, but off kilter just enough so “rock” fans wouldn’t feel alienated.  Lots of other people would try and make similar songs, but “Age of Consent” is one of their few instances where new-wave pop and rock met gloriously.

The Legacy of “Tomorrow Never Knows”

(Picture Copyright AMC)

Last Sunday’s episode  of Mad Men ended with Don Draper putting on a copy of the Beatles’ Revolver on his turntable and listening to “Tomorrow Never Knows” at the suggestion of his wife, Megan.  Megan suggested that he pay specific attention to the track and that it would help him understand what The Beatles meant to the younger generation.  The scene ends with Draper confused by the adventurous track, turning it off about a third of the way through.

This isn’t the first time that Draper has come into contact with The Beatles.  In the previous season, he took his daughter to see them play at Shea Stadium, who screamed in delight when he told her the news over the phone.  A few episodes back, he was  caught humming the tune to “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, describing it as “catchy”.  It should come as no surprise that business man Draper would be turned off by “Tomorrow Never Knows” with its psychedelic sound, Hindi-inspired lyrics, tape-loops, distorted vocals and thumping drums.  It’s the sound of a revolution coming culturally and musically, and Draper’s decision to turn it off shows exactly which side he is on.

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is the most experimental song The Beatles would record as a band.  (True, they would release “Revolution #9” two years later, but that’s a collage of sounds, not really a song and the product of John and Yoko, not the entire band.)   It’s a far cry from the bouncy pop of “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “Love Me Do”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, etc.  The  Existential lyrics adapted from the The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, deal with the afterlife, the Hindu concept of Nirvana, and life itself.  “Lay down all thoughts and surrender to the void,” Lennon commands, something that the workaholic Draper would never even consider.

For The Beatles to record such a track was a brave and bold move.  They were the world’s biggest band, everything they did was seen as a significant cultural event. With Revolver and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, The Beatles were staking a claim that rock music was growing up and could go anywhere – even to the top of the Himalayas.  Even Bob Dylan who was recording highly influential and mind-bending songs around the same time, didn’t have the same mass appeal that the Beatles did.  I can’t see Megan asking Don Draper to play “Desolation Row” or Gate of Eden”.

Even today, “Tomorrow Never Knows” remains of The Beatles’ most acclaimed tracks.  It may not be a casual fans favorite like “Hey Jude” or “Yesterday” but it is constantly listed as one of the greatest songs of all time in numerous publications.  It’s a song that no matter how many times you hear it, it takes you somewhere unexpected. Sometimes its the lyrics, other times it’s the music.  When I bought The Beatles’ remasters in 2009, the first track I listened to was “Tomorrow Never Knows” and I played it 5 times in a row without getting tired of it.

And despite its drug-fueled vibe (and that has to be mentioned), the song never sounds dated or hokey.  It’s certainly tied to its time in some manners, but it still sounds fresh and exciting every single time.  The Beatles never recorded another track like it, and neither has anyone since.

 

 

 

Album of the Week: “To the 5 Boroughs” – Beastie Boys

To the 5 Boroughs was the first Beastie Boys album I ever bought.  For years I was aware of the Beastie Boys music and always liked the radio hits -“Sure Shot, “Intergalatic” (which probably remains my favorite song of theirs), “Fight For Your Right” and of course,”Sabotage”.   The singles were always on the radio station I listened to in high school, so I never felt the need to actually purchase an actual album.

At the time of its release, I had just graduated college and was working at Starbucks until I figured out exactly what it was I wanted to do.  It seemed that almost everybody I worked with – and numerous other people I knew – was excited about a new Beastie Boys album.  At that point, it had been 6 years since their last release Hello Nasty.  “It’s supposed to be a return to their old style,” an older co-worker told me. I didn’t really know what exactly that meant, so he informed me that  they were making “straight up hip hop album.”

Over the next few weeks, The Beastie Boys seemed to be everywhere – reviews in magazines, appearances on MTV and interviews.  The album’s release seemed to be a cultural event.  One night, I saw the video for the album’s first single “Ch-Check It Out” and

Out of sheer curiosity, I bought To the 5 Boroughs on the day of its release at the Borders nearby the Starbucks where I worked.  From the horn blast that opens “Ch-Check It Out” I was immediately hooked.  I never really listened to so intently to them before, and so was amazed by their seamless wordplay.  The way Adrock, MCA and Mike D weaved their lyrics in and out of each other was nothing short of amazing.  Clearly, I had been missing out all these years.

My coworker’s comment that The Beastie Boys were “returning to their roots” wasn’t entirely wrong, but that view is also a bit simplistic.  To the 5 Boroughs finds the Beastie Boys embracing an elder statesmen status and a slight maturity, but still retains their goofy lyrics and bizarre observations.  Musically, the album isn’t as adventurous as Check Your Head, Paul’s Boutique or Ill Communication and it’s not a retreading on the metallic hip-hop they invented on License to Ill.  Instead, the beats are straight forward and lean allowing all three Beasties to bust out some of their best rhymes in years.  Throughout the album the three comment on post 9/11 New York (“An Open Letter to NYC”), George W. Bush “Right Right Now Now”) and take down some of their competition in the process (“Hey Fuck You, “Three the Hard Way”).

Since this is a Beastie Boys album, there are plenty of pop culture jokes and references to Klingons, Yosemite Sam, Sasquatch and Miss Piggy.  With To the 5 Boroughs, The Beastie Boys proved that they could mix the serious with the goofy.  And who could ask for anything more from 3 fun-loving friends who were about to enter their 40s?

 

Song of the Week: “The Day is Coming” – My Morning Jacket

While driving this past weekend to Ohio for a wedding, I was listening to Sirius XM’s E-Street Radio (the all Springsteen channel).  Every so often, E-Street Radio has guest DJs who play their favorite Springsteen and share their experiences. That morning’s guest was actor/director Edward Burns.  In between songs, Burns told a story about attending one of Springsteen’s shows where he played Born in the U.S.A. in its entirety.  He admitted that hadn’t listened to it the whole way through for years, but as song as he heard the songs in sequence at the show, he was taken back to high school and was flooded with emotions and in his words, “a complete wreck.”

The great thing about music, is that it can take you back to a specific time or place.  Certain songs bring out emotions or moments in time you may have forgotten, like Burns’ reaction to hearing the songs from Born in the U.S.A. For me My Morning Jacket’s “The Day Is Coming” is one of those songs.  Every time I hear Jim James’ layered vocals that open the song, I’m automatically taken back to last summer.  It was an extremely hot summer, and I can almost feel the humidity surrounding me even if it is cold outside. I can even taste the Mojitos that I drank last summer. The feeling of anticipation for the final Harry Potter movie comes back.  It’s a very strange sensation to have, and even stranger to think that a 3 minute song (that was also released last year) would have such an effect.

When I first heard “The Day is Coming” I knew it was a special song.  Even before my emotional attachment, its dense and chilled-out sound with Jim James’ double tracked non-verbal vocals in the background, feels like the perfect soundtrack for a humid day.  There’s the keyboards and drums sync together as one, creating a sound that gets itself into your head, but is never over-bearing. The song is one of the more melodic songs off of Circuital, but in true My Morning Jacket fashion, its slightly off-kilter.  The aforementioned double-layed vocals, match the song’s signature keyboard line and appears throughout the song. Perhaps fitting the song’s feel, James’ offers a bit of advice for life: “If opportunity rears it head, will you answer or stay home in bed?”  Though the line could be seen a bit contrived and perhaps too simplistic, James’ makes it work.  Or perhaps it’s just my emotions talking.

Either way, reactions like the ones I have towards “The Day is Coming” remind me why I love music so much.