Oh, Not Whoa

Sometimes aesthetics call for an “oh” instead of a “whoa,” as in the chorus of this forgotten Wings song.  This overlooked album track is pretty good, with a good guitar riff, a decent enough hook, and some Stax horns.  Far better than this album’s single, “Listen to What the Man Said,” which is just dishwater.  The post-Beatles careers of Lennon-McCartney revealed that they needed each other, or at least assertive bandmates.

Musician?

I was bored at a relative’s home over the weekend and noticed a copy of the Neil Young biography, Shakey. I started reading random passages and ran across something interesting. Someone (I forgot who) recalls a meeting between Stephen Stills and Bob Dylan. After the meeting, Stills mentioned to the narrator that although he admired Dylan very much, he didn’t consider Dylan a musician. The narrator was horrified. The great Bob Dylan, not a musician?

Stills was correct.  Let’s look at the facts. As a guitarist, Dylan doesn’t display much that you couldn’t teach anyone. As for the harmonica (barely an instrument really, but let’s be thorough), his playing reminds me of why I hid our harmonica from my two sons when they were very young. As for his singing, you could argue that the younger Dylan’s voice gave an appropriate tone to some of his songs. But we’re talking about musicianship here, and his singing has never been good in purely musical terms. And as for his “mature” voice, it reminds me of the noise my stomach was making a couple of weeks ago after I ate too many ribs.

Then there’s songwriting. I won’t deny he’s written some good ones (hard not to do when you’ve written several million). At best, they are effective support for the main ingredient, his lyrics. Musically, there isn’t much going on in them. You can find great instrumental parts, but they’re the work of others such as Robbie Robertson, Al Kooper, et al.  Well-known covers of his songs are always better than the originals. Well, maybe not always.

So is Dylan a musician?  Nah.

Dylan’s talents lie in lyrics and self-promotion. But as a lyricist, he is not the infallible god of his most ardent fans. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that you can’t be “along” a watchtower. You can be in, on, around, or even buried under one (which might have been a better premise), but not along one. Nit-picking perhaps, but it has a reputation as a great song, and great writing must be precise, even where the meaning is obscure. Then, there are some real clunkers. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is just plain dumb. But to be fair, everyone has bad days, and you can’t write as much as he has without misfiring. I find the protest songs to be overly earnest and boring, but my anti-folkie bias might disqualify me as a judge of those.

His real genius has been in nurturing the cult of his own genius. I can’t think of an artist who has more deftly used aloofness and contempt to rope fans into a sort of narcissistic codependency. It has enabled him to carve out a career on his own terms, so good for him.  It has also worked so well that there will be no clear-sighted reassessment of Dylan until most boomers have downsized to the cemeteries.

That said, I’ve always liked his Live 1966 album where he gave a middle finger to the folkies by going electric. There’s real rock’n’roll tension there, and The Band play like gods. I also enjoyed his Theme Time radio show back in the aughties.

A Better Song

Since I posted an annoying song, here’s a good one.  A women’s prison riot, two-gun Mathilde, and a, um, suggestive arrival of State Troopers.  What, I ask, is not to love here?

Damn It Janet

The video won’t embed (SO ANNOYING), but this is a pretty cool little time capsule moment.

To my knowledge this is the only full interview that Tim Curry gave about his part in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Recorded during the week that the film was released in 1975, he talks about his roll in the film and whether or not he would play the part again! The Interviewer is Mark Caldwell and the Interview Director is Colin Grimshaw. Clips were provided by Fox-Rank. Fox has (June 2012) reviewed and released any copyright claim on the film footage appearing in this video. The interview was shot in black and white (the film is in colour)!

I always forget how much ass this soundtrack kicks. Mark and I were in a college cover band that played “Sweet Transvestite.”

Shameless Pop

I think the Association had the #1 song on Billboard or whatever during the week I was born, so there was never much hope for me.

Starchild and I

What do Paul Stanley and I have in common?  Chest hair?  Makeup?  Goofy stage banter?  Nope.  Not much, really, except for one formative event: at age 5, we were both pole-axed by Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto (Piano Concerto #5).  Here’s PS waxing eloquent on the subject:

I was absolutely god smacked. To know that music could have that kind of power, although I was so young, the music had such heroic qualities to it and mammoth chords. To this day it’s some of the heaviest and most glorious melodies ever. So that really was my introduction to the gravitas that music could have and how emotive it could be. So at the core of music for me is Beethoven.

As for me, it was the first piece of music I fell in love with when Col. Renfield brought home a copy and put it on the ol’ console.  The Beatles came a year or so later.

If you’re interested, there are many good recordings and a handful of great ones.  But to my ears, Rudolf Serkin owned this work.  Here he is with Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic competing with him for attention.  The winners are we, the listeners.

Bill, Post Cowsills

Sickeningly talented dude. Bill Cowsill was in Blue Northern from 1977 until they broke up in 1982.

Cowsill moved from Calgary to Vancouver as of 1977, and became a fan of the local band Blue Northern. He began sitting in with the band on a regular basis, and not long after he became a member. In 1979, the group released Blue, a four-song, 12″ EP. Two of the songs were written by Cowsill, who also produced the record. The band’s self-titled album was released on Polydor Records in early 1981, and was co-produced by Cowsill. The band broke up in 1982, notwithstanding continuing public interest, as well as Juno Award and Canadian Country Music Award nominations.

The Blue Shadows was his band from 1992 to 1996.

In 1992, Cowsill became the co-lead singer, with Jeffrey Hatcher, of The Blue Shadows. Cowsill and Hatcher became known for their Everly Brothers-like harmonies. Cowsill regarded his association with The Blue Shadows as his most positive experience as a musician, to that point in his career. In 1993, The Blue Shadows were signed to Sony and released their debut album, On The Floor of Heaven receiving positive reviews. The group found itself at the forefront of a Canadian Alt.country movement. In 2005, Cowsill stated that he considered the title track to the album to be the best song he had ever written.

I’m down the rabbit hole …

More Old Stuff

Paul Revere and The Raiders wore Minutemen uniforms, acted silly (a requirement following A Hard Day’s Night and Help), had a teen idol in singer Mark Lindsey, and perhaps suffered overexposure as the house band on the weekly pop music TV show, Happening ’68.  Earlier they were regulars on Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is, so they were all over television for a couple of years.  All that made them easy to dismiss later as tastes changed and bands were expected to dress more like hippies and act more seriously, or at least like they were on harder drugs.  That’s too bad.  They were a great band, and the proof is in the grooves. There’s the Stonesy song posted above.  Just Like Me ,  Steppin’ Out, and Hungry are among the best 60’s garage-rock songs.  Good Thing gets more sophisticated with the Beach Boys vocal bit in the bridge, but the blistering instrumental track takes no prisoners.  They earned their chops grinding it out in the Pacific Northwest club and teen-dance circuit, and you can hear it in Good Thing (no doubt some Raiders songs employed the Wrecking Crew, but this one sounds too unhinged to be the WC).  Kicks features an unforgettable twelve-string riff, and its chorus is a textbook on how to write and produce a simple, effective hook.  There’s nothing extraneous in that chorus, it just pounds in the hook.  It also pulls the amazing stunt of being a cool anti-drug song.  Does another even exist?

The Raiders ended up sort of like Max Baer post Beverly Hillbillies: once Jethro, always Jethro.  They did manage one hit with a new beards-and-blue-jeans look, but it wasn’t any good (it’s called Indian Reservation, if you really must). Just how the ball bounces.  This decade’s stars, next decade’s has-beens.