Don’t Forget About Melanie When It Comes To Odes To Woodstock


zzzmelanieI’m a child of the 80′s, and like many of my friends I’ve always been obsessed with 60′s culture. The decade seemed so different from everything I grew up with that as a child I was always amazed by the fact that Woodstock had only happened a decade before I was born. Thus, I thought I had seen and researched every artist involved, but it turns out I seemed to have let Melanie slip past. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the time of Tiffany, so I had a misconstrued image of what one-named female pop singers were all about. So sure, in hindsight I was obviously familiar with “Brand New Key“, but despite a lingering fascination with the raw peace in her voice I had never delved deeper into her catalog. But then a few days ago I watched the trailer for Low Down, the new awesome-looking biopic about jazz pianist, Joe Albany. There’s a killer gospel-esque track playing in the background, that upon further insight I discovered was Melanie’s “Lay Down”.

Melanie wrote “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)” about what she had seen from the stage while playing at Woodstock. And while it may not have as iconic a line as Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” and its reference to us being stardust, it does have this killer verse: “We were so close, there was no room/ We bled inside each other’s wounds/ We all had caught the same disease/ And we all sang the songs of peace.”  So in terms of songs about Woodstock that were written by people who actually attended the fest, (sorry Joni), this has to be number one. And despite it reaching number six on the Billboard charts, it’s been lost to my generation. 

The real power of the song comes from the backing vocals by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. I became familiar with that group after hearing Spirtitualized’s Royal Albert Hall October 10,1997 on which the closing track is “Oh Happy Day,” which is a cover of The Singers’ 1967 version, which itself if a gospel arrangement of a 18th century hymn. Long story short, there’s a whole lot of pipes pouring out from that crew and when you add them to Melanie’s pseudo-magical voice, you get some true power. Melanie, whose last name is Safka, still performs today so hopefully there’s some unwillingly ignorant folks like myself who are still getting blown away by this tune live. Maybe the use of it in Low Down will get her a little late-career recognition. Check out this blistering performance from 1970 in front of a Dutch audience who still haven’t learned to clap on the backbeat.

Portsmouth Sinfonia – The Greatest Worst Classical Orchestra


zzzzpsThe true essence of playing music is all about going for it and not giving a shit what other people think, and no group has ever embodied this better than the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Founded in 1970 at England’s Portsmouth School Of Art, the genius premise of the orchestra was that to be a member you either had to have never played an instrument, or you had to play on an instrument that you had never played before. They stuck to classics that everyone was familiar with, so that they at least had some grasp of how the song was supposed to sound. And also, they were required to really try – there was no intentional badness here, just the legitimate butchered attempts.

The resulting sound is one of the purest musical experiences any ears would ever be blessed to hear. Obviously, it’s rough – like really rough. It’s hard not to imagine it being a performance on The Muppet Show with Bill Murray as a guest conductor. But there’s something undeniably awesome about it; perhaps it’s how bold the attempts are. More over, it’s the fact that that the notion of the song is there, and it’s great to realize that music can spring forth from an apparent nothingness. Brian Eno was so fascinated with the project that he joined the orchestra on clarinet and produced their first two albums. They gained quite a large degree of fame in the 70′s – selling out the Royal Albert Hall and doing remarkably well in album sales. Unfortunately, as time went by the band members began to get better at their instruments and the initial charm of the project began to slip away.

But that first record… oh baby, is it ever hot shit. I think it touches a nerve with the listener because humanity itself is far from perfect. And thus the process of not only listening to, but celebrating a creation of true imperfection seems to fall much closer in line with the soundtrack to daily life that we should all have playing behind us. This music actually effects a wider swath of emotions within me than any of my most beloved or most hated records. I laugh, I cry, I become solemn, I let out sighs of bittersweetness… Long story short, if you’ve never heard the Portsmouth Sinfonia before, then welcome to the new life you’ll have afterwards. Here’s some of my favorites – “Also Sprach Zarathrusta” is an obvious number one pick.

Apparently God Is Really Upset About the U2 Instant Download On His iTunes


zzzzbonoThere were a lot of folks pretty upset when U2′s Songs of Innocence instantly downloaded into their iTunes two months ago, but with the way Bono’s luck is running as of late, it seems like the big man upstairs is really taking it to heart. In the past three weeks, the lead singer/self-imposed ambassador of the planet has had three brushes with death. It’s enough to presume he’s starring in the real life version of one of those horrible Final Destination flicks.

The first sign came during Phish’s Halloween set in Vegas, when one of the prop gravestones on the stage was inscribed with “Bono’s Humility.” I didn’t get close enough to see a death date on that stone, but I presume it was somewhere around 1995. All dates aside though, the gravestone seemed to portend of dangers in the future and perhaps the “humility” line was added later by a set designer who didn’t think the world was ready to know of his prophetic knowledge of Bono’s potential, upcoming demise.

The next brush with death came last Thursday when the rear hatch of a Learjet fell off mid flight as Bono was traveling from Dublin to Berlin. No one was hurt and the flight crew didn’t even notice the missing hatch til the plane landed, so no big deal right? Actually, it’s a huge deal. In fact, I couldn’t find any history of it happening ever before, and many people claim it’s physically impossible for a door or hatch to come off during flight due to the pressurization inside the plane. Thus, the only logical conclusion is that the hand of death itself ripped off the door in order to get vengeance for the 3 megabytes of data space Bono imposed on his phone.

Finally, we have this past Sunday where Bono got horrifically injured in a bicycling accident in Central Park. Reports released today say his injuries are pretty bad – arm broke into six pieces, eye socket all fucked up. There aren’t any reports yet saying how the accident happened. There are some streets that cut through the park, so I suppose he could have been hit by a car. Otherwise, these are some pretty brutal injuries for just falling off your bike – that is, unless some divine hand of the creator is trying to take you down because there was another song in the slot on his music list that is usually occupied by UB40′s “Red Red Wine.” C’mon, we all know Yahweh loves his white 80′s reggae.

Anyway, it definitely seems like somebody is gunning for Bono, and I personally wouldn’t be standing between him and any electrical outlets for a little while. Admittedly, I still haven’t listened to Songs Of Innocence  since I don’t have a smart phone and apparently the instant download didn’t go through to folks’ iTunes on their PCs. Ironically, I feel somewhat left out for not being able to share in the collective angst of millions. So in the meantime, here’s my favorite U2 track, which coincidentally fits in pretty well with what Bono is going through these days.

Photo by Helge Øverås 08/21/83

Tom Jones With CSNY Is The Greatest Pop-Rock Crossover Of All Time


zzzcsnySure, i get called out for my over-usage of the “all-time” tag line, but in this case it is surely and truly apt. I posted this video on facebook a month or so ago after getting turned onto it by Scott Gillan of the Garcia Birthday Band and his uniquely diverse tastes in music. This morning though, as I was going over my enormous list of bands I promised I would write posts about, I started to get those cold morning blues and found there was only one thing I wanted to listen to – motherfucking Tom Jones with motherfucking Crosby, Stills, Nash and motherfucking Young, playing the most bad-ass “Long Time Gone” that any human has ever heard. Admittedly, this sounds like a complete disaster on paper. But the energy level on the stage surpasses anything that seems possible to occur on Tom Jones’ network TV show.

Now there’s a lot of rumors circulating about the back-story of this whole situation. One Youtube commenter seems to think he knows it all, but some of his info is conflicting. He claims that Young was so nervous about the situation that he introduced himself as Neil Diamond, but that sounds like bullshit. Especially when you compare it to Young’s manager, Elliot Roberts’ telling of the story in Shakey, in which he claims Neil was so embarrassed playing on the show that he didn’t forgive the guy for years. However, that same anonymous commenter claims the following which seems potentially true: The boys were so excited about being on Tom’s show they rehearsed “What’s New Pussycat?” the entire week before the broadcast. Just before the show Jones announced he wanted to do this song instead. Never having played the song live since recording it in separate sessions, they all fell into pre-show hysterics.

Again, not sure about how stoked they were for the show and for Jones, but there does seem to be a raw, of-the-moment feel to the whole thing that makes it seem like this wasn’t their original plan. It is true that this song had just been released a few months earlier, and that Young had just joined up with the band, and that they most likely hadn’t played a full-band version of it live up to this point. So let’s look at the facts we do know about this.

1) Tom Jones friggin’ straight-up owns this song on the stage, and seems to be surprising everybody with how much he’s killing it.

2) David Crosby and Graham Nash, (Croz Especially) are having the time of their lives. The smiles they give each other and the smirk Croz has on his face while watching Jones is the kind of thing that proves being in a band is one of the greatest feelings on Earth.

3) Despite donning his usual stoic face, Neil can’t help but let some side-eyed smirks slide out. You get the feeling that he was initially thinking it was a bullshit scenario, only to be totally absorbed by the awesomeness of the moment.

4) Stephen Stills hits those high-notes like a eunuch on fire. The man is going so deep that half of Croz and Hash’s smirks are directed at him.

5) The humble rhythm section in the back are laying down a devastatingly huge pocket. Ironically, both would be fired by the band in the next two years for being too flashy. Bassist Greg Reeves is rumored to only be 15 years old in this clip, and nobody still knows for sure since he was using a fake I.D. at the time that Rick James had provided. Reeves’s story is a wild one to dig into as it includes stints with some huge bands, and stories like Young paying off Mexican feds to get Reeves out of prison for pot smuggling. Drummer Dallas Taylor’s story isn’t as cool though, and more or less disappeared from the scene after a few tours with Stills in the 70′s. Thus, in many ways this is THE moment for both of these guys, and they don’t let it slip by.

Anyway, watch this clip of the most amazing pop-rock crossover to ever occur. I’d put this in my top 10 videos for reasons why planet Earth is fucking awesome.

Anna Maria Hefele Is Either The Greatest Polyphonic Vocalist Of All Time Or She’s From Neptune


zzzzamIt was hard to not be completely blown away last year when watching Lalah Hathaway’s performance of “Something” with Snarky Puppy. Besides the fact that everything the Snarky cats touch turns to gold, there was the mind-boggling moment when Hathaway started inserting polyphonic harmonics into her scat solo (around the 6-minute mark). In other words, she starts singing two tones at the exact same time to harmonize with herself. It’s astonishing enough to make the band freak the fuck out, and instantly reminded me of a sound I thought only the blue alien from The Fifth Element was capable of making. There are of course, the Tuvan and Mongolian throat singers who essentially invented the notion of overtone singing. But while Bela Fleck had brought Kongar-ool Ondar to the stage before, it wasn’t until the Hathaway performance that I had ever seen anyone so seamlessly involve polyphonic vocals within a song. But then this morning a friend sent me over this video of Anna Maria Hefele.

Hefele’s polyphonic control is nothing short of phenomenal. She can maintain a solid base tone while running overtone scales on top, she can hold an overtone while altering her base tones, and she can also willingly change both tones in both parallel and alternating harmonic motions. The resulting sound is something nearly post-human; it’s really more reminiscent of dueling theremins than it is of anything that should be able to come out of a human’s mouth. Thus, I’m not going to be fully sure of Hefele’s legitimate human credentials until I see full biometric scan results. Watch for yourself and decide.

Do We Give Tommy Hall of The 13th Floor Elevators As Much Respect As He Deserves?


zzzzthIf you were to name off the top bands that have a disproportionately higher degree of respect inside of record stores than out, The 13th Floor Elevators would be right up there, with Can following close behind (but that’s a whole other story.) The Elevators though, have this mystique to them which makes them legendary to folks who are aware, and non-existent to folks who’ve never heard their music. You will find countless major rock bands who cite them as a heavy influence, and note that Janis Joplin considered joining the band before moving to the bay area to play with Big Brother and The Holding Company. Still though, chalk it up to their obscure reputation, short-lived career, or just 45 years of history occurring since they last existed, but they don’t nearly have the reputation they deserve.

Existing from 1965 to 1969, their main mission was to be the most psychedelic band on the planet. Unfortunately, trying to be that while living in Texas turned out to be a little tricky and they essentially became the poster children for the lone star state’s war on drugs in the late 60′s. In fact, the main reason for their demise was when guitarist Roky Erickson was busted with one joint, and decided to claim insanity rather than serve prison time. The band was adamant about their LSD use, and consciously and somewhat publicly made the decision that they should be high on acid whenever they played, either live or in the studio. This led to the notorious story of when they were recording The Psychedelic Sounds of The 13th Floor Elevators in 1966, and upon realizing they couldn’t get their hands on any L, decided to just make the record high on DMT instead. But enough back story, let’s talk about what makes their music so special.

Their fast attack rock sound is the quintessential sound of the 60′s. It’s like if The Grateful Dead had used “Cream Puff War” as the foundation to all their music – which they did in a spiritual sense, but dabbled far more in other forms of Americana. But anyway, what really makes the Elevators stand out is Tommy Hall and his electric jug. Yes, the predominate instrument in all of their music is a guy playing jug. But far from content with just playing a couple whoots and whistles, Hall crafted his own unique technique of using the jug as more of a rhythmic echo chamber. Holding a microphone up to the mouth of the jug and then spatting out rapid-fire breaths of percussion into it, he ended up with a sound that was more reminiscent of a talking drum. It was completely unique, and utterly entrancing. It was so unique in fact, that nobody has ever really attempted it since.

This lack of any other electric jug players in Hall’s vein over the years is due to a couple factors. First off, it’s not the easiest instrument to play, and much of Hall’s sound was due to the way he vocalized not due to the jug itself. Secondly and most importantly, Hall crafted such a unique sound that there is no way anyone could attempt to play like him without instantly being called out for stealing his technique. Not only did he essentially create a new instrument, he straight up owned it. He owned it to the point where even 45 years later any attempt at playing said instrument would be seen more as an imitation of the player rather than an extension of the tool’s existence. There aren’t many artists out there in any medium who have carved out their own niche so perfectly that it doesn’t seem possible for the sound to exist anywhere else.

And yet, whenever anyone talks about the most influential artists of the 60′s, Hall and the elevators are most likely delegated to a footnote if anything. Usually his name is tossed out as the man who coined the term “psychedelic rock,” not as the man who essentially created his own instrumental sound. But give props to the man – a lot of the music you love wouldn’t be the same if the folks who made it hadn’t been turned on by what Hall was creating. And where is he today? Well according to this 2009 article in the Houston Press, Hall is in the bay area and has been getting spun regularly for 40 years. However, it does claim that he lost his LSD hookup several years back and so now only smokes grass, and it appears that he’s living out of shady motels in San Francisco. I feel like somebody out there would be more than willing to help the old cat get back on track – maybe he should do a record signing at Amoeba; I’m sure folks would show up bearing gifts. But regardless, you should not only know the man, but you should honor and respect him as well. Wherever he may be right now, he’s a living relic of one of the greatest moments of creation in the history of mankind. Let’s get him and the Elevators on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot already.

Who’s Going to Buy a YouTube Subscription?


zzzytThe murmurs have been escalating for quite some time, but today YouTube officially announced their new paid-subscription service known as YouTube Music Key. The gist of it is that they’ve signed a deal with the majority of both major and independent labels to have full albums streaming on the page. But you’re probably thinking that you can already do that – well now it will be official from the actual labels, so…um…yeah. But if you pay the fee of $9.99 a month, you won’t have to watch ads. But isn’t that how Spotify works already? Well, uh… yep. But now there will be an option to listen to a stream of music based on your choice of a specific song or artist. You mean, like Pandora? Errr…yes. So basically, it’s an ad-free Pandorify, or possibly a Spotora.

So sure, I get it – YouTube has been the number one place to stream music for a while anyway, so I suppose it makes sense to make some tweaks that add the advantages that the other sites have. But honestly, who’s going to pay for this? Here’s my top five guesses -

1) Your quasi-hip Grandmother will buy you a subscription for Christmas. You’ll think it’s actually a cool gift, but then you’ll forget you have it three months later.

2) Luddites who ignorantly think there’s something more “real” about Youtube than the other streaming services.

3) Folks who really hate ads on Youtube, but then realize after purchasing it that it only blocks ads on music not on the cat videos they’re trying to watch. And then they find out about adblocker after they’ve already paid for a 5-year subscription.

4) Bob Lefestz, who’ll then rant about how great it is to be able to hear the new Kenny Chesney tune without a Coors Light ad before it, and how progressive that makes the whole process.

5) Me. Because I’m sure eventually everybody will be all about it, and it will have some awesome advantages that aren’t obviously blatant right now, and people will tell me what an idiot I am for bashing it in the first place, and by that point the subscription will be $50 a month, but I’ll buy it because it’s the only way I can hear the new U2 album, which I need to be able to hear so I can argue with people about how shitty the new U2 album is.

You Don’t Need To Love Jesus To Love Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir


zzzzpycI first became aware of the album Like A Ship (Without A Sail) after a raging Phish show in some place which I can’t remember on some date which also slips my mind. Regardless, the Vermont jam-rockers are known for having quality music playing pre-shows, mid-sets and after-shows, and it was on one such night that “Like A Ship” started ripping out of the p.a. once the house-lights came on. Knowing that my friend Julia occasionally is in charge of the post-show music, the next time I ran into her I asked what the gospel track playing at said gig had been. And she, knowing my nerdy obsession with all music replied with something along the lines of, “I can’t believe I’m about to tell Adam King about Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir.” 

That moment leads me to a quick tip – never, ever pretend like you know a band or a song which you are actually clueless about. Any embarrassment stemming from your ignorance is far worth the moment of embracing and bringing a new love into your life.

Anyway, from that moment on this 1971 gospel record has become a cornerstone of my inherent, personal musical catalog. The funk/gospel genre is one that is sadly ignored by large swaths of music fans, due to the perceived necessity to have a connection with Jesus Christ in order to enjoy the music. And that’s sad, because many of those same people will listen to music that they don’t pay attention to the lyrics of anyway. But I’m here to tell you, regardless of how deep or non-existent your passion for J.C. may be, you need Like a Ship in your life. For starters, despite the fact that it’s the Youth For Christ Choir, the name of Christ is actually never mentioned once on the record. Rather, the common term used is the multi-faceted “Lord” which can refer not only to the overseeing God of whatever religion you adhere to, but in my opinion can also be used by atheists as simply a term to delegate the feeling of joy and love you have for this plane of existence.

But again, regardless of who or what you sing your praises to, this soul pocket is for all of humanity. Built upon solid, basic, and seemingly huge piano progressions, the choir and accompanying instrumentation bounce off the back-beat in a fashion that makes all and any other music seem overly complicated. In fact, it’s the raw simplicity to most of these songs which grants them universal appeal. The majority of the players on the album are Chicago studio cats, and thus the foundation of this album isn’t necessarily stemming from the church. But each funk groove on the record is big enough to make even the most ardent non-believers think about popping into the local Baptist groove-sesh on Sunday. Bassist Richard Evans, who actually just passed away last month, was a key studio man with Chicago’s Cadet Records, and a few of the other players are fellas from Chess Records. Barrett was and still is a real preacher in Chicago, although many in the area know him more for some sketchy pyramid schemes he fronted in the area. The point is that this record wasn’t a church record intended for church folk – it was a funk/gospel record intended for everybody.

The record was re-released on vinyl a few years back, and it usually only takes most folks one listen through to realize this is an album they want to own on wax. There’s no need to skip any tracks, but highlights include the infectious uplift of the title track, the slanky groove of “It’s Me O Lord,” the dark redemption of “Nobody Knows,” and the down-right strut of “These Are The Words.” So take any preconceptions, both good or bad, you may have about gospel music and throw them out the window. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir made the definitive gospel/funk/soul record of all time back in 1971, and if Jesus is the only thing keeping you away, then you have a far more closed mind than all those religious fanatics who you’re ashamed to be associated with. Bring it in.

What We’re Listening To – ISM Playlist #3 – 11/10/14


zzzzzdcWhen Autumn starts officially rolling in, there’s always this instinct to be slightly deterred from any new releases. Despite my passion for fresh sounds, the rain and the accompanying cold of Pacific Northwest Falls draws out the comfort blanket in me. Thus, much of the past couple weeks’ focuses have been in the noggin-warming realm. Hopefully there’s something on here that still fresh to you.

 

1. The Apples in Stereo – “Radiation” – 2007
2. Built to Spill – “They Got Away” – 2007
3. Paul Revere and The Raiders – “Kicks” – 1967
4. Lesser Bangs – “Leave Me Be” – 2013
5. Real Estate – “How Might I Live” – 2014
6. Dr. Dog – “Livin’ A Dream” – 2006
7. Yuck – “Cousin Corona” – 2011
8. Thurston Moore – “Benediction” – 2011
9. Caribou – “Lalibela” – 2010
10. Pastor T.L. Barrett and The Youth For Christ Choir – “Like a Ship (Without A Sail) – 1971
11. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Share The Red” – 2011
12. Deerhunter – “VHS Dream” – 2008
13. Phish – “Slave To The Traffic Light” – Hampton – 11/21/97

How Rare Is Dickey Betts’ Shafting?


zzzzabbSo in case you missed it, The Allman Brothers Band played their last gig ever on October 28th. Forty-five years is a good run in rock, even if it means that only three of the seven members performing at your finale were original members of the band. What makes the Allman’s situation unique though, is the fact that a fourth original member is still alive and well, and playing music, and his old band is playing his songs without him. Which leads me to wonder – how rare of a situation is this?

When Dickey Betts essentially got fired from ABB in 2000 for drinking too much, I thought it was the most hypocritical bullshit I’d ever heard. I mean, Gregg Allman is on what, his 5th liver by now? And sure, there’s probably a tad more to the story, but all accounts seem to say that’s the gist of it. Anyway, I think most folks assumed there would be some magical reunion with Betts on this last run of shows and apparently, it was talked about. Derek Trucks insists there was “a lot of communication between his camp and our camp” in regards to getting him to sit in for some songs, but it seemingly fell apart due to lack of motivation. Derek claims that nobody was jumping on the idea too tough. My best guess is that he was welcomed to join them but received no formal invitation – like Gregg told somebody to tell somebody he could show up if he wanted to, and Dickey was looking for more outreach. I could be wrong though – I’m just speculating.

But here’s the weird part of this situation. Dickey Betts wrote some of the Allman’s greatest songs, and when he left the band they performed his songs at the very first gigs they played without him. Betts did receive a cash settlement, which we can presume was basically the band buying his own songs off of him. But can you think of any other band in rock where this situation has occurred – where one of the frontmen of the band is fired and yet the band continues to play his songs? I’ve been rackign my brain all morning trying to think of other situations.

The first that comes to mind is Van Halen, as Sammy Hagar sang David Lee Roth’s songs after he replaced him in the band. But in that situation, Eddie Van Halen at least shared song-writing credits on those songs. For Betts’ best tunes, he was the sole writer attributed to the tracks. “Revival,” “Blue Sky,” and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” were all strictly Betts compositions, and were all performed by the band without him up until this very last performance. I suppose the biggest comparison would be John Fogerty’s falling out with the other guys in Creedence Clearwater Revival, as at one point they had more of a legal binding to Fogerty’s songs then the man himself. The difference there is that nobody gives a fuck about anybody in CCR except Fogerty, and they just sound completely horrible without him. Seriously, if you want to watch some truly cringe-worthy performances check out some recent CCR footage.

But who else does that leave us with? Maybe an apt comparison would be Kiss replacing Ace Frehley and Peter Criss with folks dressed up in their makeup. I suppose there’s all that stuff that happened with Doo-Wop acts in the 50′s too, where the band was basically controlled by the producers and they could replace anybody they wanted to. But in terms of the actual guy who wrote the actual songs being tossed out by the actual band who continues to play his songs, I think Betts and ABB are in a league of their own. It’s really friggin’ sad that they couldn’t come to even the slightest degree of reconciliation before the whole thing ended but nobody ever said rock and roll was a fairy-tale. Let me know in the comments section if there’s any other bands that I’m missing where this scenario has happened before.