Posts Tagged ‘Beatles’

January 6, 2015

Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks from Face to Face

The Kinks get overlooked or given short shrift when discussing 60s British Invasion bands.  They shouldn’t. They started out belting blues-based rock numbers  with harder edge that equaled anything the early Stones were putting out in their attempts to recreate American blues.  Then, they switched gears and mellowed out and got a bit folky (relatively) with some beautiful songs that have Ray Davies’ personal touch of acerbic lyrical wit that sometimes, when they were hitting all cylinders, out-Beatled the Beatles.  A prime example would be 1966’s Sunny Afternoon.

The song starts off with a lament about how “the taxman’s taken all my dough.”  Released around the same time as the Beatle’s lead song Taxman from Revolver, apparently the tax situation in England was a sore subject for rockers at the time.  However, unlike the Beatles’ song which is written from the perspective of the evil taxman, the Kinks come at it from the angle of the sympathetic taxpayer.  Ok, maybe not so sympathetic.  The next line of the song is “and left me in this stately home/lazing on a sunny afternoon/and I can’t sail my yacht”.  Yeah, maybe sympathetic to Donald Trump but not to much anyone else.

Davies’ singing of the lines dramatically add to the lack of sympathy for our overtaxed gentlemen narrator.  It’s a bit of a hang-dog delivery that is at the same time a bit detached and blessedly unaware of anyone else.  He cries to “help me help me help me sail away” as if this is a mode of transportation everyone should have access to.  He loses more points when he complains about his girlfriend running off to her parents to tell tales “of drunkenness and cruelty.”

Musically, the underlying riff plods along with with Davies’ morose, self-absorbed narrator, but there’s some beautiful harmonizing behind it and in the choruses that is in stark contrast to the ugliness of our “hero” and makes you pine for that sunny summer afternoon that our narrator is left with in the absence of his money.  There’s some country elements I hear in parts, the piano flourishes resemble something you’d imagine walking into an old Western saloon and seeing someone pounding on the keys.

It’s not hard to see how modern English bands like Pulp and Blur are so indebted to the Kinks, and Ray Davies in particular.  Here’s a video of the band performing the song, not surprising that the band would play it in the snow.  Sunny afternoon indeed.

Best of 2010

December 19, 2010

It wouldn’t be a music blog if I didn’t do some sort of end of year wrapup.  Problem is, while I listen to a lot of music, new music isn’t always on the menu.  I’m not sure I could even come up with a top ten albums released in 2010 since I’m not sure I listened to 10 entire albums that were made this year.  So, instead I wanted to highlight some good stuff I found this year regardless of its age (I thought this was an ingenious idea until I saw that AVCLUB had already done the same thing, oh well).

  • LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (album, 2010).  A terrific album from beginning to end.  The album opener, Dance Yrself Clean, is also one of my favorite songs of the year.  Lyrically, James Murphy is at his wittiest and musically he continues to evolve from just floor-burning dance tunes to really nuanced, but still danceable, songs.  And seeing them live was a revelation.  It was one of the best shows I’ve been to in quite awhile.
  • Black Keys – Brothers (album, 2010).  I’ve been a huge fan of the Keys since their first album, but I think on this album they took it to another level.  For their first couple albums it was straightforward blues-based rock, but here they are spreading their wings, with some definite glam-rock influences and adding other instrumentation beyond that bruising drum and guitar.  Another band I finally got to see live this year and they didn’t disappoint either.
  • Broken Bells – The High Road (single, 2010).  Pairing the sonic tapestries of Dangermouse with the crystal clear voice of Shins lead singer James Mercer sounds like a good idea to me, and this song is proof it was.  The song begins with playful electronic noises and then gets a more orchestral bent as the music and Mercer’s vocals soar.  This song really has a positive and inspiring vibe; it’s a great pick-me-up.
  • Gang Starr – Obviously this was going back to one of early 90s rap’s signature groups.  With the passing of MC Guru this year, I spent some time revisiting their music.  I had never realized how many of their songs I really liked.  Everyone knows Mass Appeal, but there are a bunch of other songs they have that are just a notch below that masterpiece.  Premier’s beats are almost always exquisite and Guru’s gravelly delivery worked so well with those beats.  RIP Guru.
  • White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights (album and documentary, 2010).  I have never gotten to see the White Stripes live, but this album and the documentary which I saw do a pretty great job of making you feel like you’ve been to a show.  Even harder and louder than in the studio, these are great foot-stomping rock n’ roll songs.   The documentary bares the painful shyness of Meg White, leaving one to wonder how many more times we’ll get to hear these two play together.
  • Taj Mahal and Vampire Weekend – Why do I mention these two artists together.  Because whenever I hear one of their songs, I feel happy and upbeat.  Both are artists I know only marginally, and I’m trying to get up to speed on both.  Taj is nominally a blues artist, but he puts a lot of other musical styles into his songs, including reggae and Caribbean rhythms.  Vampire Weekend also is nominally a rock band, but they also let their other influences show, including various Afro styles.
  • Sleigh Bells – Treats (album, 2010) – When I went to see them at this year’s VirginFest I wondered why they only were given a half hour set, but then realized their debut album was only a couple minutes longer.  But boy do they pack a lot of sound into that 32 minutes.  While some see the loud guitar/beats with the bubble-gummy lyrics as a gimmick, I don’t see it any more of a gimmick than a lot of other bands in 2010 (and before) doing similar things.  Sleigh Bells just does it more over the top than anyone else.  For me, the beats are what keep me coming back.
  • Scott Down and DJ Cutler – Ultimate Breaks and Beatles (album, 2010).  Found about this interesting project via Soulsides, this is not an attempt to create another Grey Album.  Instead, they blend all kinds of Beatles music (including covers by Jimi Hendrix and others) with famous hip-hop breaks.  While there are some misses, when it all locks together it’s pretty amazing stuff.  Also, trying to identify what song a break is from is fun too.
  • KMD – Boy Who Cried Wolf (from Mr. Hood, 1991).  Sometimes a song just clicks for you.  I’d finally gotten a copy of KMD’s Mr. Hood and it’s a really good album.  But when I heard this song, I was mesmerized.  I could listen to the beat all day long, loping and laid-back but with a bite.  The chorus “he’s a woolllfff, and you a sheep” his super-catchy and the verses pop along with the snare in the beat.

I didn’t include Kanye’s new album, which I have but haven’t had a chance to really listen to yet, though I’ve heard nothing but good things.  Same goes for the new Walkmen album and Sharon Jones’ latest.  Enjoy the holidays and looking forward to another new year of music.

Two Beatles Songs Possibly Worth $1.29 a Song

November 18, 2010

The End – The Beatles from Abbey Road

I’m So Tired – The Beatles from The White Album

You might have heard that Apple had a big announcement this week…that the Beatles albums were finally coming to Itunes.  Yeah, not quite earth-splitting news for most music fans since I think they are like me in that we already own whatever portion of the Beatles catalogue we wanted long ago.  I guess it is a big announcement for the two Apples (Apple Computers and Apple Records) and the remaining Beatles (or their estates) since undoubtedly they will generate more revenue from new generations of Beatles fans.

So, I wanted to mention two lesser known Beatles songs which might get overlooked in the Beatles canon.  Both songs are short, clocking in at around two minutes, but memorable.  First, probably the better known of these two songs is The End from Abbey Road.  The end of a medley of songs on Side 2 of the album, the song starts off upbeat and includes the only drum solo on a Beatles song.  Competently played by Ringo, it’s not going to make anyone forget about Ginger Baker, but the Beatles sound I never felt relied heavily on drums like say Led Zeppelin.  I can imagine Ringo in studio sessions pleading for a drum solo over and over until the other guys succumbed (thinking of the “can we have a pool” bit from The Simpsons).

Ringo’s shining moment over, the rest of the guys get in some good guitar licks.  I’d never known this, but apparently each of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon got a few bars of the guitar solo following the drum solo.  Knowing that,  you can definitely hear differences in the style of the guitar-playing, and makes the solo even more enjoyable.  Then, just as you’re getting revved up by the guitar, they slam on the brakes and hit you with a simple plinking of a piano that leads into that beautiful place that Beatles songs can take you.  First of all, while the sudden change of pace and tenor seems like it should not work, the transition is seamless.  The building of McCartney’s sweet voice singing over several bars “and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” over the piano,  then joined by guitar, swelling strings and vocal harmonies, and capped by bringing Ringo back into the fold, comes together to make some  of the most beautiful music I think the Beatles ever made.

Two albums before Abbey Road, the Beatles put out the double album known as the White Album (for obvious reasons if you look at the album art to your right).  Hidden among some of the most well-known Beatles songs is a gem called I’m So Tired.  Written by John Lennon, it was apparently inspired by insomnia he experienced in India while missing Yoko Ono.  Lennon’s vocals on this are sublime, delicate at one moment and then cracking with emotion the next.  The instrumentation seems attached by strings to Lennon’s vocal chords, rising and falling with each vibration from his pipes.

I love how the song makes you feel like when you can’t sleep, you are sitting there quietly trying to force yourself to sleep and the more you stay quiet, the more you start to think and the more you can’t sleep.  The song starts quiet, builds to a crescendo in the first chorus, pauses, then quiets down again before building up again.  And the high point of those crescendos is the chorus, which I absolutely could listen to over and over again.  I think it’s the chugging guitar/drum combo that’s so markedly different from the slow beginning of the song.

So, hopefully you already have these, but if not, dig some change out of your pocket and add a few dollars to the coffers of our Apple overlords.

Versus

March 8, 2010

Back in the USA – Chuck Berry V. Back in the USSR – Beatles

Think this will become a recurring post topic, cause I love covers and remakes of songs.  This isn’t exactly a battle of covers, but a song by the Beatles at least in part inspired by a song of one of the pioneers of rock n’ roll.

I was obviously familiar with the Beatles song, but didn’t hear the Berry song until I recently downloaded his best-of CD.  I thought Berry’s song was a response to the Beatles.  Berry was one of the originators of rock n’ roll, and it had to bother him a bit that these four kids from across the pond had become the biggest band on the planet.  But, in fact, Berry’s song was first, almost ten years before the Beatles song.  The title of the Beatles song was in tribute to Berry’s early song, and the chorus is actually a play on the Beach Boys’ California Girls.

Enough with the history lesson.  Berry’s song starts out with a riff identical except the key to the one in Johnny B Goode, which is pretty sweet riff, but then it fades and the guitar really takes a back seat to the drums and organ.  The Beatles start out with a sound effect of a plane taking off, then the drums kick right in with some guitar stabs, then the piano.  The sound effect works, but its repeat throughout the song gets annoying to me.  The piano/organ are really the star of both of these songs. Surprisingly, Berry doesn’t have a guitar solo, while the Beatles do.  Except for the chorus and the sound effects, the main instrumentation of the Beatles song could be the backing track to a Berry tune.  Musically, a tie.

The Beatles take the traditional verse/chorus approach to their song, while Berry begins with the chorus.  It works because instead of having a chorus you’d expect along the lines of “Back in the USA”, the chorus is a playful combo of woah-hos, yeahs and hee-dill-has.  It gets your attention.  The Beatle’s chorus doesn’t have that grab-ya, and the fact it’s just a tongue-in-cheek ripoff of the Beach Boys that seems to have just been plugged into the existing song gives an advantage to Berry.

Lyrically is where Berry’s song wins it for me.  The Beatles song is obviously a parody, and the lyrics are understandably silly.   Berry though seems to be singing from the heart, and his happiness at returning to the simple pleasure of a diner with a jukebox and sizzling hamburgers is great.  And he ends the song with the line “I’m so happy to be living in the USA”, which is a testament coming from an African-American man in 1959.  Game over.  The teacher beats the pupil this time.

Another related Beatles/Berry note.  I was psyched to see Berry play two years ago at the Virgin Fest in Baltimore. I mean, yeah he was 82, but still this would have been like seeing Jerry Lee Lewis or Muddy Waters.  He was going to be playing with the Silver Beats, a Japanese Beatles cover band.  Unfortunately, he canceled at the last minute.  The Silver Beats were tolerable, but I was sad to miss one of the pioneers of rock n’ roll.