Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dr. Dylan

Dylan Hears a Who

This is pretty awesome.

Five Best...Songs about Sex

Every other week, I'll post my Five Best list that appears in the newspaper I write for, Inprint. So, here it is:

5. "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd
-It's funny 'cause it's true.

4. "Femme Fatale" by The Velvet Underground
-It's not so much about sex as it is about a woman who leads a man (who happens to be "number 37" in her book) into thinking that he has a chance to "get" with her. Just like a woman, eh?

3. "Creatures of Love" by Talking Heads
-Extra! Extra! Hot of the presses: David Bryne has seen sex and thinks it's alright!

2. "The Mud Shark" by the Mothers of Invention
-Delivered with the sarcastic sincerity he's known for, Frank Zappa chronicles the adventures of a little lady and her dealings with the band The Vanilla Fudge.

1. "Sexuality" by Billy Bragg
- "I've had relations/with girls from many nations" is the first of many great lines this underrated songwriter sings in his ode to all women, especially if they're in their "naked body of work." This song would even work for Inprint's upcoming Queer Issue, with the lyric, "And just because you're gay/doesn't mean I'll turn you away."

Five Best...The Band Albums (#3)

#3. The Last Waltz

-So what if it’s not an actual original album? It’s damn good! The movie that Rolling Stone called “the greatest concert film of all-time” makes for a pretty good album too. Especially if you’ve got the four-disc set that came out in 2002.

Beginning the night with “Up on Cripple Creek,” The Band proceeded to play 12 of their songs without any guests. The highlights of this set include “The Shape I’m In,” the magnificent “It Makes No Difference,” (which happens to be my favorite song of all-time) “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “Ophelia,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Stagefright.”

The first guest of the night is Ronnie Hawkins who comes out to sing a blistering version of “Who Do You Love?” But if you listen carefully to the song, “The Hawk” mentions everyone but Levon and Richard. This song also contains one of my favorite corny moments of the film when Ronnie uses his hat to “cool” Robbie’s guitar.

The next songs—“Such a Night” and “Down South in New Orleans”—have a distinct New Orleans feel to them; not in the least because Allen Toussaint is leading the horn section that plays throughout the concert.

Over the following five songs, The Band and their guest play some great blues. This includes “Mystery Train” with Paul Butterfield, “Caldonia” and “Mannish Boy” with the invincible Muddy Waters and “All Our Past Times” and “Further On Up the Road” lead by Eric Clapton. “Mystery Train” features some great vocals by Levon while “Further On Up the Road” is one of the best songs played all night. Robbie and Eric are in complete sync with one another and their guitar solos are some of the best that I’ve ever heard.

The next act, Neil Young, slows things down a little but that doesn’t mean he plays a bad two song set; in fact, “Helpless” and, to a lesser extent, “Four Strong Winds” are actually quite good. And, of course, we all know about Neil’s “moustache” that got edited out of the film.

Now, I like some of Joni Mitchell’s work but her performance at The Last Waltz is pretty terrible. She performs “Coyote,” “Shadows and Light” and “Furry Sings the Blues” and all are stinkers. Why she got three songs is beyond me.

For my guilty pleasure of the concert, I’d have to elect Neil Diamond’s performance of “Dry Your Eyes.” I can vividly remember driving a friend back to her house while listening to this song and the both of us singing as loudly as possible. He’s such an asshole but I can’t help liking the song.

Van Morrison is the next guest and he gives a decent version of “Tura Lura Lural (That’s an Irish Lullaby)” followed by a great performance of “Caravan.” Much better than the album version from Moondance, the song is one of the highlights from the concert.

In sort of an odd place, Young and Mitchell come to help The Band with “Acadian Driftwood.” Before the song begins, Robbie says to the crowd that they’re going to play a “Canadian song” and that he’s “going to bring out some of the Canadians to help him do it.” What follows is a great performance that gets left out of the original soundtrack and the movie for some reason. Why couldn’t this Joni song have made it instead of “Coyote?”

After another short set with only The Band (Garth performs “The Genetic Method/Chest Fever” followed by concert versions of “Evangeline” and “The Weight”), Mr. Bob Dylan comes out to perform six songs. Beginning with “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” he goes on to perform “Hazel,” “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We’ve Never Met),” “Forever Young,” a reprise of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and, with the help of all previous guests and Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr, “I Shall Be Released.” Truth be told, it’s the only version of the song that I can stomach.

The concert ends with two jams—fittingly named “Jam #1” and “Jam #2”—and what’s possibly the greatest performance of the night, “Don’t Do It.” Adding something to the song that Marvin Gaye or The Who never could, this version is stunning in its intensity. It’s also the final song Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson would ever play together.

A great finish to a great band.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Five Best...The Band albums (#4)

#4. Cahoots

-I’m tempted to put Northern Lights, Southern Cross here but as a whole album, Cahoots works better. Like much of Stage Fright, this album leads off with a song, “Life is a Carnival,” that becomes stronger when performed at The Last Waltz. But it’s still a strong song with a great line in, “Hey, buddy, would you like to buy a watch?/ Here on the street/ I got six on each arm and two more ‘round my feet.” The next track is a Dylan cover but one that The Band takes to another level, “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Just like how Dylan only does Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” he also always uses the line The Band put into his song, “Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola.” Actually, “When I Paint…” is one of the stronger tracks from the Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration album, minus Robbie. The next great song on the album (and possibly its finest) is Richard Manuel’s duet with Van Morrison, “4% Pantomime.” It sounds exactly like a Morrison song (much repetition of words and names like “Oh, Richard!”) but with the sound that made The Band so classic. The rest of the album features no classics but a handful of good songs: “The Moon Struck One,” “Smoke Signal,” “Volcano” and “The River Hymn.”

On the re-mastered version that came out a few years ago, some of the bonus tracks include an alternate take of the stellar “Endless Highway,” an outtake of the great “Bessie Smith” from The Basement Tapes and an interesting version of the Marvin Gaye cover, “Don’t Do It.”

So, like I said, it’s a good album but nothing compared to the three albums that’ll be featured over the next three days. And no, High on the Hog is not one of them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Never over the 'tones

The Undertones go under the radar when it comes to very good punk bands. To prove my point, here's a live video of "Get Over You."

Five Best...The Band Albums (#5)

5. Stage Fright

-After the first two albums The Band released—both masterpieces—it was time for a slight fall. And although this album has some great tracks on it, there’s still something missing that was on the other two albums. Maybe it’s a lack of harmony between the members or because it’s too polished but Stage Fright, released in 1970, lacks that something The Band had beforehand.

Stage Fright is a rare album where the second half is much better than the first. The tracks on side two include “The Shape I’m In,” “The WS Walcott Medicine Show,” “Daniel and the Sacred Harp,” “Stage Fright” and “The Rumor.” Of course, during The Last Waltz, three of those tracks (especially “Stage Fright) would pack a punch not found on the album. In fact, Danko’s tortured vocals during “Stage Fright” is one of the highlights from the movie/album.

Sadly, this would also be the last album that Richard Manuel would co-write a track. He contributed “Sleeping” and “Just Another Whistle Stop,” both written with Robbie.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chelsea Boy

Last night, I got to spend a few hours in the Chelsea Hotel because a friend of a friend was holding a party within its historic walls. Upon walking in, I thought about all the greats who had stayed there: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, Andy Warhol, Sid Vicious, Leonard Cohen, Arthur Miller, Patti Smith and Stanley Kubrick, to name a few.

The room we stayed in was rather large for a hotel room and outside of one mini-painting on the wall, there was nothing else in terms of decoration. The best thing about it was the balcony overlooking 23rd Street which makes one think about all the lewd things that had happened on it. I also got to go to a room where a Bob Dylan had stayed and another where Janis resided for a period of time.

As for today's list...

Five Best...Songs about the Chelsea Hotel

5. "Chelsea Hotel #2" by Leonard Cohen

4. "We Will Fall" by The Stooges

3. "Hotel Chelsea Nights" by Ryan Adams

2. "Sara" by Bob Dylan

1. "Chelsea Girls" by Nico

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Five Best...Songs about Fields

5. "Mother Nature's Son" by The Beatles

-Mostly known for its opening of, "Born a poor, young country boy..." this song also contains the lyric, "Find me in my field of grass, Mother Nature's son/Swaying daises sing a lazy song beneath the sun." Sort of a Strawberry Fields' vision, eh?

4. "Stars Fell on Alabama" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

-Kissing in "the field of white," this is just one of many classic Ella and Louis cuts. But it's their only one about fields!

3. "America" by Simon and Garfunkel

-In this song of everything that epitomizes America, Paul and Art sing about how "the moon rose over an open field." A guilty pleasure of mine is David Bowie's cover version that he does to lead off 9/11 tribute, The Concert for New York City.

2. "Cotton Fields" by Creedence Clearwater Revival"

-Basically a sister song to "It Came Out of the Sky," this track on Willy and the Poor Boys epitomizes everything great about CCR: the lyrics, melodies and musical feel. Plus, there are not enough songs that mention "Texarkana."

1. "Field of Opportunity" by Neil Young

-The opening sounds exactly like "Comes a Time" but once you find out its a different songs, it's actually quite breezy and fun—just like Neil himself.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why are there so many songs about rainbows?

There's something totally lovable about a stoned Debbie Harry and Kermit T. Frog dueting on "The Rainbow Connection." Not to mention the little punk frogs that we see briefly in the background.

Here's the link from The Muppet Show: "The Rainbow Connection"

Five Best...Mel Brooks' Movies

5. Robin Hood: Men in Tights
-The first time I saw this movie, I wasn't terribly impressed and although it still isn't a classic, it has gotten better with time. Maybe its Cary "I Was in Saw" Elwes as Robin Hood or Dave Chapelle and Isaac Hayes as Ahchoo and Asneeze, but scenes like the musical are rather funny. Plus, there's always:

Prince John: Such an unusual name, "Latrine." How did your family come by it?
Latrine: We changed it in the 9th century.
Prince John: You mean you changed it TO "Latrine"?
Latrine: Yeah. Used to be "Shithouse."
Prince John: It's a good change. That's a good change!

4. History of the World Part I
-For the Spanish Inquisition scene and “ghetto blasters,” it deserves the fourth spot on this list over Spaceballs.

3. Young Frankenstein
-Picking the top three of Brooks’ movies is tough because they’re all absolute comedic masterpieces that any movie fun should at least once. But when they’re all this good (and feature so many great quotes), I guess it really doesn’t.

Igor: You know, I'll never forget my old dad. When these things would happen to him... the things he'd say to me.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: What did he say?
Igor: "What the hell are you doing in the bathroom day and night? Why don't you get out of there and give someone else a chance?"

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, would you give me a hand with the bags?
Igor: [doing a Groucho Marx] Certainly, you take the blonde and I'll take the one in the turban.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?
Igor: And you won't be angry?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.
Igor: Abby someone.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Abby someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Abby Normal?
Igor: I'm almost sure that was the name.

Igor: I didn't make a yummy sound, I just asked you what it is.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: If you're blue, and you don't know where to go to, why don't you go where fashion sits...

Igor: Where are you going?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: To wash up. I've got to look normal.
[his bowtie pops open]
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: We've all of us got to behave normally.

2. The Producers
-Having just recently watched this movie for seemingly the 10th time, I remembered why I love it so and why I didn’t want to see the remake. I mean, why bother re-making something already so perfect? And yes, I’m talking to you idiots who made another The Manchurian Candidate. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder are perfectly cast as Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, two schlubs who create an idea to make a million dollars by producing a Broadway flop. Of course, behind the end of it, they’ve created the amazing Springtime with Hitler. Some of the best quotes include:

Roger De Bris: Ah, Bialystock and Bloom, I presume! Heh heh, forgive the pun!
Leo Bloom: [to Max] What pun?
Max Bialystock: Shut up, he thinks he's witty.

Leo Bloom: Ah, gut da! Max, have you gone mad? A receptionist who can't speak English? What will people say?
Max Bialystock: They'll say, "A wuma wa wa wa wa!"

Max Bialystock: "Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach." Nah, it's too good.

Franz Liebkind: Not many people know it, but the Fuhrer was a terrific dancer.

Franz Liebkind: Hitler... there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in ONE afternoon! TWO coats!

Max Bialystock: Roger, did you have a chance to read "Springtime for Hitler?"
Roger De Bris: [emerges from behind a partition wearing a dress] Remarkable, remarkable! A stunning piece of work.
Leo Bloom: [under his breath] Max... he's wearing a dress.
Max Bialystock: No kidding.
Roger De Bris: Did you know, I never knew that the Third Reich meant Germany. I mean it's just drenched with historical goodies like that... Oh dear, you're staring at my dress. I should explain. We are going to the choreographer's ball tonight and there's a prize for the best costume.
Carmen Giya: And we always win!
Roger De Bris: I don't know about tonight. I'm supposed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, but I think I look more like Tugboat Annie. What do you think, Mr. Bloom?
Leo Bloom: ...Where do you keep your wallet?

Hold me, Touch me: And after that, we'll play, "The Abduction and the Cruel Rape of Lucretia", and I'll be Lucretia.
Max Bialystock: And I'll be Rape!

1. Blazing Saddles
-The only movie that doesn’t star the Marx Brothers that I laugh from the first scene to the last, while only stopping at the musical scenes. For the Marx Brothers’ movies, its whatever Zeppo is singing while in Saddles, it’s “I’m So Tired.” But that’s just me being nitpicky because Blazing Saddles is perfectly done as both a comedy and, oddly enough, a western.

Hedley Lamarr: Go do that voodoo that you do so well!

Bart: Are we awake?
Jim: We're not sure. Are we black?
Bart: Yes, we are.
Jim: Then we're awake, but very puzzled.

Mongo: Mongo only pawn... in game of life.

Taggart: I got it. I got it.
Hedley Lamarr: You do?
Taggart: We'll work up a "Number 6" on 'em.
Hedley Lamarr: "Number 6"? I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that one...
Taggart: Well, that's where we go a-ridin' into town, a whampin' and whompin' every livin' thing that moves within an inch of its life. Except the women folks, of course.
Hedley Lamarr: You spare the women?
Taggart: NAW. We rape the shit out of them at the Number 6 Dance later on.
Hedley Lamarr: Marvelous.

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

Howard Johnson: As chairman of the welcoming committee, it's a pleasure to present a Laurel and Hardy handshake to our new
[finally looks up]
Howard Johnson: ... nigger.

Lili Von Shtupp: Would you like another schnitzengruben?
Bart: No, thank you. Fifteen is my limit on schnitzengruben.
Lili Von Shtupp: Well how about a little...
[whispers in his ear]
Bart: [shocked] Baby. I'm not from Havana.

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening thru a cosmic vapor of invention.
Taggart: Ditto.
Hedley Lamarr: "Ditto"? "Ditto," you provincial putz?

Jim: Where you headed, cowboy?
Bart: Nowhere special.
Jim: Nowhere special. I always wanted to go there.
Bart: Come on.

Taggart: [shouting] We'll head them off at the pass!
Hedley Lamarr: Head them off at the pass? I hate that cliché.

Bart: Well, raise my rent. You *are* The Kid.

Bart: Sir, he specifically requested two "niggers". Well, to tell the family secret, my grandmother was Dutch.

Buddy's Singers: They hurt Buddy! Let's get 'em, girls!

Charlie: Hey Bart, is it me or is the world rising?
Bart: I don't know, but whatever it is, I hate it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Five Best...Bob Dylan Albums (#1)

#1 Blonde on Blonde

It’s no wonder that what I consider the best Dylan album to be is also what I think the greatest rock ‘n’ roll album to be, not to mention my favorite album of all-time. It consists of track after track of pure, lyrical greatness that has not been topped since and probably never will.

The unofficial sessions began on November 30, 1965 when the Levon-less Hawks joined Dylan for an attempt at “Freeze Out,” later to be known as “Visions of Johanna.” Considering this attempt as a failure, another recording session would not occur until January of ’66 when they tried their hand at the sublime, “She’s Your Lover Now.” Of course, the track wouldn’t make Blonde (no complete take could be had and Dylan thought “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” was a better track) but would be included on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3.

The first “productive” session took place on Valentine’s Day but unlike “Freeze Out” and “She’s Your Lover Now,” they were recorded in Nashville. With the help of producer of Bob Johnson, Dylan would wrangle in some of Nashville’s finest, including Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Joe South, Kenny Buttrey, Jerry Kennedy, Hargus “Pig” Robinson and the ever-present Al Kooper. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson would also be present from time to time, with their playing definitely being heard on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).”

The recording of Blonde would last until on March 10th with the most productive days being February 16th (“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”), March 8th (“Absolutely Sweet Marie,” “Just Like a Woman” and “Pledging My Time”) and the final one ranging from the 9th to 10th with master takes of “Most Likely…,” “Temporary Like Achilles,” “Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35,” “Obviously Five Believers,” “I Want You” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” being recorded.

But on to the individual songs:

“Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35”
-On nearly every Dylan album, there is a track I skip. For instance, on Bringing It All Back Home, it’s “Maggie’s Farm”; on Highway 61 Revisited, it’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”; on Nashville Skyline, I never listen to “Lay, Lady, Lay,” and on Time Out of Mind, I can’t remember the last time I listened to “Dirt Road Blues.” On Blonde, it’s the first track. Although the boys are having fun—after all, they are in the middle of their “Salvation Army” sound—it just isn’t a very good track on the level of the rest of the album.

“Pledging My Time”
-Weird that such a great album starts off a little shaky but outside of containing one of Dylan’s best harmonica solos, “Pledging” is another lack-luster song; good, but not brilliant. Unlike the next track…

“Visions of Johanna”
-Taking off where no other song has left off, “Visions” might just be the masterpiece of Dylan’s entire career. I don’t say this as solely someone who lists this as his possible favorite Dylan track but rather, someone who enjoys lines like, “The fiddler, he now steps to the road/ He writes everything's been returned which was owed/ On the back of the fish truck that loads/ While my conscience explodes/ The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain/ And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.” This track went through many reconstructions from “Freeze Out” to the album version but every change is perfectly crafted around the mood and, well, vision that the song explains. I know someone who is named after this song and frankly, I’m very jealous. Also, check out the version included on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 in which the song becomes dreamier

“One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later”
-As mentioned before, this track is a further evolution of “She’s Your Lover Now” and for all its brilliance, I do wish “She’s” had made the final cut. There’s something so totally endearing about that song but maybe that has more to do with that I introduced to my friend and now it’s her favorite Dylan cut. However, I digress; “One of Us Must Know” is actually a very good song with interesting interactions between the male and female characters. In a good way, it sticks out a bit from the rest of the album for its “un-surreal” way of looking at a relationship.

“I Want You”
-Luckily, Dylan didn’t name the album after this song but its still a simple love song…actually, did I say simple? The theme in question is rather basic—guy loves girl—but the language Dylan uses is anything but. For instance, “The drunken politician leaps/ Upon the street where mothers weep/ And the saviors who are fast asleep/ They wait for you.” That’s our Bobby.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”
-A catchy ditty about, among other things, drugs. I mean, there’s so much that can be said about nearly every line of the song that its simpler to just refer to it as a “catchy ditty.” Not to mention quite lengthy and excellent.

“Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”
-Not one of my favorites and seems a little out of place between “Stuck” and “Just Like a Woman” but that’s not to say it’s a bad track; it’s just one that would be more at home on Highway 61 Revisited or a John Lee Hooker album.

“Just Like a Woman”
-A breathless plea to a woman that pains Dylan so very much, “Just Like a Woman” is one of the key tracks on Blonde. Lines like, “Till she sees finally that she's like all the rest/ With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls” are drenched with emotion and full of something similar to hurtful glee. The harmonica solo at its climax is a keeper for the ages too.

“Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”
-Outside of leading off his 1974 concerts with The Band with it, this is easily the most forgettable track on Blonde. The music is rather playful but Dylan doesn’t sound as if he totally believes in what he’s saying.

“Temporary Like Achilles”
-More like poetry than a song, “Achilles” sounds lazy in its pacing but don’t let that distract you from its greatness. With four out of five verses ending with, “You know I want your lovin’/ Honey, why are you so hard?,” it’s pretty similar to “I Want You” in that Dylan strives for the female in question. But unlike the one featured on “I Want You,” this girl is much harder to break through (although she doesn’t have a “dancing child in his Chinese suit.”)

“Absolutely Sweet Marie”
-In 1991, Dylan had this to say about “Marie”: That's about as complete as you can be. Every single letter in that line. It's all true. On a literal and on an escapist level... Like, ‘yellow railroad’ could have been a blinding day when the sun was so bright on a railroad someplace and it stayed on my mind.... These aren't contrived images. These are images which are just in there and have got to come out.” It’s odd that he would pick this song to discuss but it’s still a rather interesting look into his creative process.

“Fourth Time Around”
-Inspired by The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” this song has some of Dylan’s oddest phrasing and lyrical structures. On a simple level, it’s a rather easy song (I mean, it does rhyme “boot,” “suit” and cute”) but looking beyond that, there’s an interesting triangular relationship with the girl that Dylan gives his last piece of gum and the other girl who Dylan fills up his shoe for. I have no idea what to make of the song but do know that it being played in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky is the only interesting thing about the movie.

“Obviously Five Believers”
-C’mon, doesn’t it sound like he’s singing, “Early in the morning, I’m calling YouTube”? Well, it does to me…

“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”
-Possibly the most ambitious song in Dylan’s career (the other qualified for that title might be “Brownsville Girl”), this is what I want being played during my wedding. I mean, there’s nothing quite like an 11 minute dance, right? Written about Sara Lownds, “Sad-Eyed” contains line after line of interesting ways of describing your lover and the music accompanying it is perfect. Frankly, that’s pretty amazing because none of the musicians knew the song was going to be so lengthy which is why you can hear the group hitting their peak about three minutes in and constantly trying to top it for the next eight.

For releasing this, I thank you Bob Dylan. And to my father, I thank you for playing it so consistently when I was young and even more impressionable than I am now.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Heart Shaped Cake

I'd like to wish Kurt Cobain a happy 40th birthday. Can you imagine what he'd been doing if he were still alive? For me, the idea of Cobain being 40 is simply confounding. Sort of like how Nirvana comes between Nina Simone and NRBQ on my iPod.

We had two beautiful children, Nathaniel and Superfly!

Great video of a live performance of Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly."

Five Best...Bob Dylan Albums (#2)

#2. Highway 61 Revisited

In late August of 1965, Highway 61 Revisited was released. And the music world is still trying to catch up. Dylan’s pre-“mercury” sound is best heard through Kooper’s organ and Bloomfield leading the boys with his guitar licks on such tracks as “Tombstone Blues.”

As someone born in 1987, its quite unfathomable to me how an album could be so essential and revolutionary, and still not sell that many albums; in fact, it has sold less than 2 million copies, which is about 9 million less than Kid Rock’s Devil Without a Cause.

A few years ago, when Rolling Stone released their top-500 albums of all-time, Highway ranked #4 (it was wedged between The Beatles’ Revolver and Rubber Soul) and that’s about as true as anything RS has written about music in quite some time.

The recording session truly began on June 15, 1965, when the band (Dylan, Kooper, Bloomfield, Bobby Gregg, Frank Owens and Russ Savakus) took their first shot at “Phantom Engineer,” later re-titled “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” “Sitting on a Barbed Wire Fence” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

The fascinating process behind the recording of “Like a Rolling Stone” is well documented in Greil Marcus’ book, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads. Personally, I’ve listened to the song countless times and every time, I tend to hear something new. Whether it’s the timing of Kooper’s organ or the excellent piano playing of Frank Owens, this song doesn’t leave much else to be accomplished. And yet, when you listen to the version of “Like a Rolling Stone” included The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 or No Direction Home, Bobby and the Hawks do add an extra something. Whether its just adding more of a “fuck you” attitude to the girl in question is up for interpretation…

Of “Like a Rolling Stone,” Frank Zappa once said, “When I heard 'Like A Rolling Stone,' I wanted to quit the music business, because I felt: 'If this wins and it does what it's supposed to do, I don't need to do anything else.' ... It sold, but nobody responded to it the way that they should have.”

There are very few songs that I can say this about but there’s nothing quite like “Tombstone Blues” out there. I mean, where else can you hear lines like, “Where Ma Raney and Beethoven once unwrapped their bed roll/ Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole”? The track also has one of Dylan’s catchier rhythm to it; one that’s actually quite complex.

“It Takes a Lot…,” outside of being one of Dylan’s lengthier song titles, is a good slow down from the first two tracks and although the alternate from seemingly every Bootleg Series (Vol. 1-3, Vol. 5 and No Direction Home) works by itself, it wouldn’t work well on the finished album.

Book ended around the rather boring “Ballad of a Thin Man” are two gems that don’t get spoken about nearly enough: “From a Buick 6” and “Queen Jane Approximately.” Both are rocking pieces—although “Queen Jane” has a depressed rocking sound to it-- with some classic Dylan lines (For instance, “She walks like Bo Diddley/ And she don’t need no crutch”). Some of Dylan’s finest vocals can be heard on this version “Queen Jane,” and not the one that was released over 20 years later on Dylan & the Dead.

Once past the title track, you’ve got two of Dylan’s all-time greatest songs, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Desolation Row.” During this past winter break, when I was stuck in upstate New York instead of the city, I would sing myself the line, “I’m going back to New York City/ I do believe I’ve had enough,” which, of course, I would take out of its drug-filled context so it’d fit my situation. But while that line would bring me happiness, “Tom Thumb’s” is tough to listen to because Dylan sounds so worn out; as if he has just given up on life. Things aren’t much cheerier on the next track, “Desolation Row,” because the world has been pretty much been torn apart and all that’s left is this freak show parade that Dylan somehow got front row tickets to. The topic of the last verse of the album? Everyone you name check is so lame that I need to change them around for the sake of them being relevant and as for you letters, don’t bother sending them…”not unless you mail them from Desolation Row.”

"...To remove your anatomy from that mahogany"

Here's a wonderful video that I watched in my Music in Film class yesterday of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra in Black and Tan Fantasy. Contains such classic comebacks to "Wait, you ain't gonna take my piano, are you?" with "Well, I ain't gonna take your icebox."

That's only part I so another search will need to be done to get the other two.

But even better, here's Louis Armstrong in A Rhapsody in Black and Blue. The racism is outrageous but the music and um...plot? are quite good. Plus Louis has such a great presence on film. Check out his version of "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead."

More later.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Super Duper Sessions

In yesterday's posting, I made reference to five misconceptions found in music and one of those is that today's music is actually better than some would ever admit. A name I should have added to prove my point is Sondre Lerche. Although I haven't heard his recently released album, I am a big fan of previous albums like Don't Be Shallow, Faces Down and the Duper Sessions. He's a jazz vocalist with more than just a hint of rock in his music. The thing that grabs me is his voice: although there's a certain rasp around the edges, its undeniably smooth.

Here's his website.

Is it Synchronicity or Scrantonicity?

I found a certain sense of redemption this morning when I bought a thermometer and saw my temperature to be 100 degrees. As long as I'm going to be sick, I'd might as well be sick with a temperature. Otherwise, it's like cheating on an exam but only aiming for a 73, not a perfect grade.

Due to the aforementioned illness, I'll be withholding my Dylan list for another day but do present, in lieu of Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland announcing last week that they'll reunite together as The Police for a 30th anniversary tour, the...

Five Best...Police songs

5- "On Any Other Day"

-It starts out with "The other ones are complete bullshit...You want something corny? Ya got it" and the rest of the song chronicles a father's wishing that his wife would burn the eggs, his dog could bite his leg, his teenage daughter can run away and his son can end up gay, but on any other day but today. Inevitably, tomorrow never comes.

4- "Walking on the Moon"

-A sentimental favorite because I remember when I was about 8 or 9 at the Jewish Community Center doing a talent show with my fellow Maccabees (hey, it was a Jew camp) and performing this song. Our way of "walking on the moon" was to jump on trampolines while wearing black clothes with neon streaks of crepe paper attached to it.

3- "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"

-Nonsense word tracks are tough to pull off (just ask The Beatles' with "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da") because Sting realizes this and, in the chorus, mocks it by singing, "They're meaningless and all that's true." It's not very often that I give praise Sting (after all, he is the guy who created the terrible "Desert Rose," which I'll never forgive him for.)

2- "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"

-A danceable chorus, good lyrics and excellent musicianship makes up for a sub par vocal performance by Sting. That is, at least until the "e-O, e-O's" kick in at the end of the track.

1- "Don't Stand So Close To Me"

-In an episode from the second season of Veronica Mars, one of my favorite television shows, a girl student and her teacher are found to have been having a sexual relationship with one another. When this gets around the school, other students, upon seeing the girl, begin singing, "Young teacher/The subject/Of schoolgirl fantasy/She wants him so badly/Knows what she wants to be." A perfectly fitting (and cruel) situation to use this great song. Much better than the other stalker-ish song of theirs, "Every Breath You Take," this track never got overplayed and is much creepier sounding than most songs could ever hope to be.

As a bonus, here's a terrible video of Sting on The Simpsons singing, "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well." I apologize for the fact that you can't see the actual performance but it's the best I can do.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Hard Roxy's A-Gonna Fall

Something about Bryan Ferry's version of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" fascinates me. If I ever do a Five Best list of intriguing cover songs, this cut might be pretty high on it.

Early Dawning, Sunday Morning

Outside of my dorm, there's a giant bulletin board where people are allowed to write whatever they feel like pertaining to the question an RA, Resident Advisor, has posted. This week's is, If you had $300 for The New School activities, what would you spend it on? Due to my not caring if we have extra movies where they show Marie Antoinette or have a Grey's Anatomy marathon, I wrote "Reunite The Velvet Underground."

When I checked my clever posting an hour later, someone had written under it, "Why? Warhol was a hack." Here's the list:

Five Best...Misconceptions people have about music

5. Warhol had a lot to do with The VU.

Truth: He let them play in the Factory, got Nico to sing with them and drew the banana for their first album. But after 1967, there was terrible animosity felt between Lou Reed and Warhol which led to their not speaking with one another.

4. All of today's music sucks.

Truth: It's not often that I'll give praise to anything released after 1980 but when people say that everything that's been recently released out there sucks, they're shielding themselves to some great bands and artists. For instance, check out Ryan Adams, Neko Case, The Decemberists, The Queers, The Killers (well, at least their first album), Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Roots and many, many others.

3. Pink Floyd rocks! The Doors too.

Truth: There will be more about this in a future posting but no, they don't.

2. "Weird" Al Yankovic is a no-talent hack.

Truth: I'd actually say that he's a very talented songwriter. Years ago, I remember having a conversation with my neighbor about who's the better lyricist, Weird Al or Britney Spears? Little did he know that Spears doesn't actually write any of her own material but I kept stringing him along anyways because, how often do you really get to have a Weird Al related argument?

1. Ringo Starr was a terrible drummer.

Truth: While it's true that he's no Keith Moon or Peter "James" Bond, The Beatles didn't need someone who played like a madman but rather, just someone to keep the songs together and moving along. If he had done anything wild, the end result wouldn't have sounded very good.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hey, Hey, It's the Weekend

Another day and night of sickness leads to a college student who's in desperate need of sleep. But I'll bet you've never heard that one before.

For better or worse, last night, I went to a Buffy Sing-A-Long at the IFC Center. The theater was showing the musical episode of Buffy, "Once More, With Feeling," and due to my loving that episode and the Rocky Horror feel because of actors at IFC performing out the scenes as it went along, I had a great time. I say for better or worse because, well, I can barely speak this morning due to all my singing.

But onto the list! On weekends, I won't typically continue with the Five Best list that's on-going for various reasons so, instead, I'll start another mini-list that'll be finished in one post. For instance:

Five Best...Songs from Once More, With Feeling

5. "Rest in Peace"

4. "I've Got a Theory"

3. "Standing"

2. "Going Through the Motions"

1. "Walk Through the Fire"

Friday, February 16, 2007

Five Best...Bob Dylan Albums (#3)

3. Blood on the Tracks

So much has been written about this album (possibly more so than the top two albums on my list) that it seems somewhat demeaning to attempt dig deeper into Dylan's psyche and personal life during 1974 and 1975, when Blood was being recorded and eventually released. So, instead of discussing Sara and Ellen Bernstein, it seems more appropriate to focus on the actual music:

"Tangled Up in Blue" is one of Dylan's finest songs and also one of his better known (this could be for another list but I think the songs most people recognize as by Dylan are "Like a Rolling Stone," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," "Lay Lady Lay," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'"). For the casual listener, it's catchy. But for the Dylan fanatic, it's a new style of songwriting for him (Dylan described it as having "no sense of time") and he also changes the lyrics nearly every time its performed. For a remarkable performance of it, check out the otherwise unremarkable Real Live, in which Dylan sings the song in third person. On a personal note, one of my favorite lyrics comes from this song: “We always did feel the same way/ We just same it from a different point of view/ Tangled up in blue.”

“Simple Twist of Fate” is one of Dylan’s more poetic tracks. Take the opening verse:

“They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark,
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones.
'Twas then he felt alone and wished that he'd gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate.”

That verse alone is as visual and beautiful as anything Dylan has ever written. And also a situation where most people can agree that they’ve been in the middle of.

It’s no secret that Dylan isn’t exactly the greatest decision maker when it comes to choosing the final tracks on the finished record (that’s a topic for another day). For instance, “Tangled Up in Blue,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “Idiot Wind,” “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” all went through drastic changes because Dylan thought the originals recorded in New York to be too personal. There’s a line he told Mary Travers on her radio show that “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It's hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying the type of pain, you know?" Feeling that way, he re-recorded the aforementioned tracks in Minnesota and, at least in this writer’s opinion, made “Tangled Up in Blue” better, “You’re a Big Girl Now” worse, too close to call on “Idiot Wind,” made “Lily” better and, outside of one line (“If you see her, kiss her for the kid/ Who always has respected her for doing what she did”), made “If You See Her, Say Hello” better.

The emotional impact of “You’re a Big Girl Now” is almost completely lost on the official version because on the original, Dylan sounds like he’s in complete and total emotional pain. But this pain is nothing compared to his condition on “Idiot Wind.” My father and I have spent much time discussing the merits of both studio versions of “Idiot Wind” and neither of us have come to any conclusions. The NY version is one that leaves you feeling for Dylan and really hating the “idiot” woman, especially with lines like, “I noticed at the ceremony, you left all your bags behind/ The driver came in after you left/ He gave them all to me and then he resigned.” But the Minnesota version has that killer organ and leaves a more vindictive taste in your mouth (although not nearly as much as the poison-tinged performance on Hard Rain which, along with the version of Shelter from the Storm, is the only real reason to enjoy that album.)

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is a lovely little song that, like “Make You Feel My Love” on Time Out of Mind, isn’t totally necessary but it still a welcome addition.

“Meet Me in the Morning” is the weakest song on the album and although its original form, “Call Letter Blues” which appears on The Bootleg Series: Vol. 1-3, is pretty much the same thing, I feel that “Call” just rocks a little bit harder. On an album of so much heartbreak, it’s necessary to have some fun.

Speaking of fun, here’s one of Dylan’s great underappreciated tracks: “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” Actually, it’s not only underappreciated, it’s also one of his wordiest. I remember one time while visiting a friend at her college that another student there asked me, because we were talking about Dylan, “Do you know all the lyrics to ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’?” Why yes, I do. The whole thing is so ridiculously hilarious that it would make a wonderful movie (which Dylan actually thought about doing for roughly 10 minutes) and makes for an even better song.

For reasons unexplained, I tend to group “If You See Her” and “Shelter” into essentially the same song, which isn’t a knock on either. On the contrary, after “Tangled Up in Blue,” they hold the album together. Both songs come as close to the “real” Dylan as we’re ever going to get, whatever that means. I can vividly remember listening to “Shelter from the Storm” at my previous college, SUNY Purchase, when I was feeling a little depressed and, although the lyrics didn’t match what I was feeling, the sound of the song did. Same with “If You See Her,” if not more so.

The finale of the album, “Buckets of Rain” isn’t one of my favorites but it does contain the perfect last line for this and, for that matter, any album:

“Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must.
You do what you must do and ya do it well,
I'll do it for you, honey baby,
Can't you tell?”

A perfect ending to a nearly perfect album.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Five Best...Bob Dylan Albums (#4)

4. Bringing It All Back Home

With four acoustic albums under his belt (Bob Dylan, Freewheelin’, Times They Are A-Changin’ and Another Side), Dylan was looking to break out of the mold that he had been cast in. And with the blast of an electric and acoustic guitar that would become the trademark of the ‘folk-rock’ movement on “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Dylan has never—excuse the pun—looked back. Yet, the irony of the album is that its finest songs are actually on the acoustic half, with “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Gates of Eden,” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Each of those has become a classic and contain many “Dylan-isms”:

-“In the jingle jangle morning, I’ll come following you.”

-“All and all can only fall/ With a crashing but meaningless blow.”

-“At times I think there are no words/ But these to tell what's true.”

-“That he not busy being born is busy dying.”

-“While others say don’t hate nothing at all except hatred.”

-“But even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.”

-“The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense. Take what you have gathered from coincidence.”

But that’s not to say the rock side isn’t good; on the contrary, there’s some great songs on it, including “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and one of his funniest songs, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.” It’s just tracks like “On the Road Again,” “Outlaw Blues” and “Maggie’s Farm” sound rather dated and would be pale in comparison to the next two rock albums Dylan will release.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sick of being sick

"Feel sick and dirty/ more dead than alive."

-The Velvet Underground

I apologize for not posting today but I've been very sick all day. Back tomorrow!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Five Best...Bob Dylan albums (#5)

For my first post, I'm not exactly going for the most clever list in the world but hey, you've got to start somewhere. So over the course of the next five days, I'll be counting down the Five Best Bob Dylan albums, with the first being...

5. John Wesley Harding

- Released in 1967, a long 18 months since the completion of Blonde on Blonde, Dylan went out to prove to the Sgt Pepper-loving world that he could still make music that matters. Or something like that. In fact, the bare-bones Harding (the only musicians being Dylan, Pete Drake on steel guitar, Charlie McCoy on bass and Ken Buttrey on drums) sounds less dated and more fresh than most other albums from the same year. That in itself is pretty remarkable considering it was supposed to sound rustic. The key tracks are "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" (modeled after the protest song "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night"); the soon-to-be Hendrix classic, "All Along the Watchtower"; the underrated classic "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest," which is, for my money, the best song on the album; "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," a magnificent pre-cursor to Nashville Skyline.

What makes the album so good is, among other factors, the form of writing that Dylan began with this album and didn't really pick up again until Blood on the Tracks in 1975. Much text has been put on that album (rightly so) for his use of the concept of 'time,' and while Harding doesn't do that, it does have a conversational tone to it.

For instance, here's a verse from "Drifter's Escape":

"Well, the judge, he cast his robe aside,
A tear came to his eye,
'You fail to understand,' he said,
'Why must you even try?'"

And here's "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts":

"He moved across the mirrored room, ‘Set it up for everyone,’ he said,
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doin' before he turned their heads.
Then he walked up to a stranger and he asked him with a grin,
‘Could you kindly tell me, friend, what time the show begins?’”

Different situation but same style. Same brilliant style.

Although Bobby hasn't touched much of the material on the album live--with the exceptions of "All Along the Watchtower," "Down Along the Cove" and the occasional "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"--here's a performance of "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" from 2000 in Cardiff.