Friday, June 29, 2007

Early in the Morning, I'm Callin' YouTube, Vol. III

I'm going back upstate for the weekend, so I won't be posting again until Monday. Due to that, I'm making two posts today: the one I've already put up about the Wilco concert and this collection of interesting YouTube videos. But when I get back, I'll have reviews for both the Levon Helm Band in Albany and Bob Dylan and His Band in Bethel. Have a good weekend.

You had to know I was going to post some kind of Dylan video and this, a clip of "Visions of Johanna" from the '66 tour, might just be the greatest acoustic recording he's ever made.

As a huge David Bowie fan, I felt slightly aghast when I realized I had never seen Labyrinth when I was a child. When I finally did watch it about a week ago, I realize that a) it's not the greatest thing in the world but still pretty good and b) Bowie as a Goblin King is the most inspired casting call this side of making Marlon Brando Superman's daddy. Here's the video of a young Jennifer Connelly dancing around with creepy pink Muppets to "Chilly Down," a song with little rhytm, has a creature sound like Louis Armstrong and is just really good.

"Hoochie Coochie Man" performed by Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Johnny Winter and Mike Bloomfield. All at once: Wow!

People rave about the version of "Caravan" on It's Too Late to Stop Now, but it never sounded better than it did with The Band at The Last Waltz. Plus, you gotta respect any man wearing that suit.

Speaking of Van the Man, here's a live performance of my favorite song of his, "Saint Dominic's Preview."

And lastly:

A great Simpsons scene.

When There's a Wil, There's a Co

When I was young, the way my family would judge how much fun I was having was by the amount of perspiration I was, well, perspiring. If that connection proved to be true, then I had one hell of a time seeing Wilco on Tuesday night at Warsaw in Brooklyn.

There’s so much about the concert I could focus on (from Tweedy coming out looking like a young Bob Dylan or Neil Young with shabby looking clothes, harmonica holder and beat up acoustic guitar to the fact that they performed for roughly two and a half hours because there was no noise curfew) that I’m just going to do a

Five Best…Performances by Wilco on June 26th at Warsaw

#5. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”

Wilco playing this song is like The Ramones doing “Blitzkreig Bop” or Tommy Tutone performing “Jenny (867-5309),” so it wasn’t exactly a surprise that I’d hear it. But it’s one of the first Wilco songs I ever knew (the first was “Jesus, Etc.” which they performed and got a sing-song’y feel to it) so for sentimental reasons, it was great to hear it. If Wilco ever had a hit, I suppose this would be it. The Warsaw version was very similar to the one appearing on Yankee Foxtrot Hotel: Tweedy’s vocal leading the way, lots of feedback, a sneaky piano in the background and great drumming by Glenn Kotche.

#4. “On and On and On”

Nearly every song that they performed from Sky Blue Sky, their new album, got a reworking—with the exception of this song, the last on the album. I’m not a huge fan of Sky in the same way I am of Yankee or Being There, but the songs really came alive when hearing them in concert. “On and On and On” was the last song played before the encore, which made my concert counterpart, Nadia, quite happy because it’s her favorite song on the album. The song starts slowly and the lyrics are near schmaltz (“On and on and on we’ll stay together, yeah/On and on and on we’ll be together, yeah”) but Tweedy saves it with his passion and as it continues, the band kicks in and gives a very convincing feel. I think it’s become a favorite on Sky.

#3. “Outta Mind (Outtasite)”

Putting it on the list is bittersweet because it was the last song performed of the night. But to end the concert on something some upbeat and just plain rocking is a great choice. It’s also just a fun song it sing: “Well I know we don't talk much/But you're such a good talker/Ooh, whoa.” As the counterpart of “Outtasite (Outta Mind)” on Being There, they’re both pretty much the same song except “Outta Mind” is slightly slower and has the emphasis on the words, not the music. But live, this song kicked ass and took names—you know, if songs could take names, that is.

#2. “Hoodoo Voodoo”

A rarity of Wilco to perform, “Hoodoo Voodoo” is actually a Woody Guthrie tune that appears on their album with Billy Bragg, the fantastic Mermaid Avenue. While the Avenue version is one of the best on that album, it became that much better live. To quote a famous someone, they “played fucking loud.” The lyrics are nonsense (“Jinga jangler, tinga lingle, picture on a bricky wall/ Hot and scamper, foamy lather, huggle me close”) but you forget you’re saying words like “chooka” when Wilco kicks it out. But it was nothing compared to…

#1. “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”

Never in my the furthest reaches of my mind could I think about someone writing a song about spider going through tax forms. But that’s exactly what Tweedy does and, wouldn’t you know it, these archanids accountants were the highlight of the night. The song is long (the A Ghost is Born cut is slightly under 11 minutes while the live version must have run nearly 15) and I had this drunk girl push her away in front of me, but the only song I think it could rival hearing live was Television’s “Marquee Moon” from the week before. Even thinking about it now, they got more sound of their instruments than a band like Metallica could any day of the week.

Recap: It was a short run for Richard Thompson being my all-time favorite concert.

Full Setlist:
Sunken Treasure
You Are My Face
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Handshake Drugs
Pot Kettle Black
Side With The Seeds
A Shot in the Arm>
Wishful Thinking
Impossible Germany
Sky Blue Sky
Why Would You Wanna Live
War on War
Jesus, etc.
*happy birthday to Matrix (the guitar tech)*
I'm The Man Who Loves You
On and On and On
Either Way
Ashes of American Flags
Spiders (Kidsmoke)
Hate It Here
The Late Greats
Hoodoo Voodoo
Outta Mind (Outtasite)

Next Up: Levon Helm Band today! Bob Dylan tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Five Best...Songs from Flowers

#5. "My Girl" (for pure camp value alone)

#4. "Out of Time"

#3. "Let's Spend the Night Together"

#2. "Mother's Little Helper"

#1. "Ruby Tuesday"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Perfect Pop Pantheon, Vol. III

"Bye Bye Bye" by NSYNC is meaningless, stupid, overproduced, has terrible lyrics, way too self-referential to be sung by a boy band, and actually has Joey Fatone singing some of it. But I love it.

This past season of Scrubs began with Dr. Turk trying to bring "Bye Bye Bye" back because it had slipped out of the public consciousness since being released in early 2000. His colleague, Dr. Reed, is skeptical but when it's played as his ring tone, the whole hospital gets up and starts dancing. Right after their boss, Dr. Kelso, tells them that they work at a hospital, not a "discotech," he is soon caught under the song's spell when the phone goes off again.

So, can someone actually bring it back?

"Bye Bye Bye" was written by the team of Kristian Lundin, Jake Schulze and Andreas Carlsson and was originally supposed to go to 5ive, a shitty boy band even by boy band standards. When they passed, the song went to *NSYNC and appeared on their No Strings Attached album. It would soon become the best song of any BSB or *NSYNC or Britney or Christina. Granted, that's like saying you'd rather die through lethal injection instead of drowning because it'd hurt less, but it's still a compliment.

The song is mostly sung by Justin Timberlake, the one with the talent, and JC Chasez, the one who's first solo song was about lesbians, while the rest are pretty much on background harmonies. The lyrics, although quite shallow, talk about *NSYNC's breakup with their manager, Lou Pearlman, King of the Creeps. Sample:

“Just hit me with the truth,
Now, girl you're more than welcome to.
So, give me one good reason,
Baby, come on
I live for you and me,
And now I really come to see,
That life would be much better once you're gone.”

As I typed that, I was listening to “Maybellene” by Chuck Berry, so I think I died a little. But although they’re lines someone as horrific as Phil Collins could write on a bad day, it really doesn’t matter because the song is catchy as all hell. And isn’t that an indicator of a great pop song?

Here’s what I’m calling for: A few years ago, Richard Thompson took a stab at “Oops…I Did It Again,” the title track of Britney Spears’ second album. Basically, the Britney version is terrible but when Thompson sings it with nothing more than his acoustic guitar, the song sounds fantastic. So, Mr. Thompson, I plead that give “Bye Bye Bye” a try and see the gem buried underneath the thick beats and bad lyrics.

Perfect Pop Pantheon:
"I Love LA" by Randy Newman
"Train in Vain" by The Clash
"Bye Bye Bye" *NSYNC

Monday, June 25, 2007

Five Best...Songs from With the Beatles

#5. "Please Mr. Postman"

#4. "It Won't Be Long"

#3. "Little Child"

#2. "You Really Got a Hold On Me"

#1. "All My Loving"

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bob and Nick

This quote comes from Nick Cave:

"I was standing in the mud backstage, and I looked up and there was this old guy making a beeline across the muddy field, and I thought 'Ok, here we go.' And when he reached me he said, 'I just wanted to say, I really like what you do.' And it dawned on me that it was Bob Dylan. And then we stood there in the mud saying nothing, and I thought, 'Ok, one of us should really go now."

I'm not sure what's funnier: Nick Cave and Bob Dylan being in the same room or that they have nothing to say to one another.

Five Best...Bob Dylan Songs that Nick Cave Would Sound Good Covering

#5. "Cold Irons Bound"

#4. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"

#3. "If You See Her, Say Hello"

#2. "Every Grain of Sand"

#1. "Desolation Row"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Five Best...Ramones Albums

#5. Mondo Bizarro (only for "Censorshit")

#4. Leave Home

#3. Road to Ruin

#2. Rocket to Russia

#1. Ramones

Friday, June 22, 2007

Richard the Great

Right before heading to the Richard Thompson concert in Brooklyn yesterday, my friend, Ani, and I went to an art gallery in midtown Manhattan because Ani knew one of the artists whose work was being displayed. While waiting to speak to the artist, Ani and I got into a conversation about Richard Thompson and his amazing unpopularity. I wanted to use the term “acquired taste,” but that’s probably one of the snoodiest terms of all time and Thompson’s work is quite accessible upon an actual listen; it’s just that absolutely no one I know listens to him. When bringing up Thompson, I’m normally met with a collective “who?” and I’m left stuttering as how to describe him. Do I say folk? rock? folk rock? Or should I sound like a complete asshole and state that Rolling Stone ranked him as one of the 20 greatest guitarists ever. Whatever the case, the fact that Thompson never has achieved greater success is baffling but for the lucky few who do actually listen and the even fewer that saw him perform last night at Prospect Park, they were treated to one hell of a show.

After Olabelle played an opening set which I mostly missed (although I did hear their version of “Ain’t No More Cane,” which I know from The Basement Tapes) and the rain started to beat down, Thompson and his band came out. They began the night with “Needle and Thread” and “Bad Money,” both from his new album, Sweet Warrior. But the concert was stopped short by a pounding rain and beautiful bolts of lightning that actually lead one of the public announcers to come out onto the stage and say, “It’s not about staying dry, it’s about staying safe.”

15 minutes later, the band returned and kicked into the most political song on Warrior, “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me.” By “Dad,” Thompson’s referring to Baghdad and although it’s not the greatest song, it’s interesting, as Ani pointed out, to hear a British man utter the line, “At least we’re winning on the Fox Evening News.”

This is good point to stop and say just how amazing and tight the band sounded. Thompson is always at the top of his game and his supporting cast was right there beside him. They consisted of Michael Jerome on drums; Pete Zorn playing every instrument under the sun, including sax, trumpet, mandolin and acoustic guitar; and, although the booklet says Danny Thompson on bass, it wasn’t him and I can’t remember the bass player’s name, but they just kept chugging along behind Thompson’s two remarkable instruments: his guitar playing and his overwhelming voice.

The next song played was “Take Care the Road You Choose,” which is my favorite song on Warrior and they gave it a pretty true rendition. It’s a rather slow song with only the slightest solo by Thompson, and it really showed how captured the crowd was because during the quiet parts, there wasn’t much noise coming from the crowd that had a few thousand in it.

That would be the last song from Warrior for some time, and he now focused on his older material. After “The Wrong Heartbeat” and “Al Bowley’s in Heaven,” everyone but Thompson left the stage and he played, on acoustic guitar, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” That song holds the distinction of being the first of his that made me think, “Damn, he’s good.” I was sitting at my desk at SUNY Purchase either working on a paper or just browsing for something on the internet when it came on. His playing on the song is so intricate but sounds sloppy at the same time; as if he’s almost picking at the strings. The line that really got me was, “Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.” I should also mention that Thompson has some of the most hilarious songs that I’ve ever heard. They’re sly and snarky in their humor, much like Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” or Tom Waits’ “Time.”

After a rather standard take on “One Door Opens,” Thompson went on a good streak: a blazing “I’ll Never Give It Up”; the possible highlight of the night with “Hard on Me,” which might just be my favorite Thompson song and the studio version from Mock Tudor is exactly the way long guitar solos should be handled; and “Mingulay Boat Song” from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack and was a little boring. But the next four songs made up for that slightest of blunders: “The Man in Need,” “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” “Wall of Death” and “Read About Love.”

“Man,” “Bright Lights” and “Wall of Death” are all songs that Thompson originally performed with his ex-wife, Linda Thompson, with the first and last being on their seminal album, Shoot Out the Lights. During the transition from The Last Waltz to Blonde on Blonde as my favorite album, Shoot took over the top spot for about a month. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, hilarious and depressing, blazing and mellow—pretty much everything that makes a great album great. And “Wall of Death” might be my favorite track on it. It was odd hearing Zorn, not Linda, providing the backing vocals, but he did a good job.

As for “Read About Love,” it owns the distinction of being one of the few songs that makes me laugh every time I hear it. Here’s a sample lyric:

Asked my daddy when I was thirteen
"Daddy, can you tell me what a lover really means?"
His eyes went glassy, not a word was said
He poured another beer and his face turned red

Asked my mother, she acted the same
She never looked up, she seemed so ashamed
Asked my teacher, he reached for the cane
He said "Don't mention that subject again"


Well, well, well
When I touch you there it's supposed to feel nice
That's what it said in reader's advice
I've never been to heaven
But at least I've read about love

Dealing with giving females orgasms is a tender subject (no pun intended) and to sing a whole song about it without ever mentioning it (a la Seinfeld never mentioning masturbation in “The Contest) is a lot funnier than, say, Zappa’s “Dinah Moe Humm”—a good song but not as good as “Read About Love.”

That was the last song before the encore, which, when the boys come out again, consisted of “Sunset Song” and “Mr. Stupid,” both from Sweet Warrior. I was slightly disappointed that these two would be the last two songs but luckily for everyone there, they came out for a second encore.

This began with Thompson in a duet with his song, Teddy, on the acoustic driven “Persuasion.” It was a nice, touching moment and Richard was clearly moved by being able to sing with his son, who’s actually quite good. But that tender moment was forgotten when the last song of the night began. “Tear Stained Letter,” from the album Hand of Kindness, is a decent song on record but nothing to rave about. So, the fact that The Richard Thompson Band turned it into 10 minute red-hot jam was that much more impressive. The drumming was tight, the bass was steady, Zorn kept switching back and forth between acoustic guitar and getting some great sax solos and Thompson had his most impressive work of the night. At one point, either because a string broke on his fabulous green and white electric guitar (pictured above) or maybe for another reason, he actually switched to another guitar which a tech put around him…while Thompson was still playing the green guitar. Hendrix would have been proud. The song takes on a heavy New Orleans feel, which caused this couple in front of Ani and I to dance like they would in a brothel in the 20s. They were having a blast, Thompson was having fun and I was just in awe of Thompson’s amazing ability.

How people don’t look him more, I’ll never know.

Next Up: Wilco on the 26th

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And These Visions of Amelia Conquer My Mind

While looking at the lyrics for “Visions of Johanna” for some reason yesterday, I came across an entry about how just once in Perth, Australia, Dylan added an extra verse to the song:

Amelia, when asked "Was it awesome, your stay in Australia?"
Said, "Sort of, but short, this land must be God's favourite failure
I left after finding out that even here, even here there is daily a
Dawn, I could just as well choose
Vancouver or the Ivory Coast"
I said "Yes, but in places like those
There are no kangaroos."
A Maya with gloves, once said "Love is like cacao beans"
Well, these visions of Johanna are the darkest pralines.

At first, I was quite skeptical of this but after looking around, it seems like the truth that Dylan added this verse (not sure in-between which two remaining ones) for that one concert and has never touched it again.

Frankly, I can kind of see why.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

People Take Pictures of Each Other

Four of us rowing, with myself in the stroke position. Heh heh


Artistic, Vol. 2: The George Washington Bridge

My friends, Nadia and Bruiser

No, We Didn't Sing "The Happy Wanderer"

As mentioned in my previous post, I returned yesterday from an event called either Bruise Cruise ’07 (my choice) or the Rowing/Camping Trip Extravaganza 2007 (not my choice.) Whatever its title, it was a lot of fun because although I love Manhattan, it’s nice to escape to the woods where you can barbeque, camp, go swimming, hike and, the main reason we went on the trip, row boats.

On the trip was a group of about 15 people—split pretty much in half between people my age and adults—and although I only personally knew about 6 of these individuals, everyone got along quite nicely. In fact, a couple whose names are Eva and Cade, were actually at the Television concert I saw this past weekend.

On Monday morning to escape the heat, we docked our boats on a very wooded area of New Jersey. There were no buildings or aspects of civilizations within miles of us (I think the closest thing was the Seismology Marine Biology Building which, of course measures earthquakes) and we had run of a place that included a trail that weaved its way through the woods, a waterfall (which, unfortunately for one of us, had a dead deer lodged between jags of rocks…which he didn’t realize until after he drank the water that had to pass through the deer), a beach right on the Hudson and various other aspects that you don’t get in a big city.

We were on this island for quite some time because we didn’t want to be rowing when the sun was at its peak and the tide wasn’t helping us much either, so everyone went their own way and either napped, swam, sat around the waterfall or, like what I did, went for a hike. The only electronic device I had with me on the trip was my iPod, which was more for the train ride from Grand Central to Croton-Harmon than anything else. But it did come in handy during my walk. As the trail got rockier, steeper and more frustrating, it was nice having Roxy Music and Billy Bragg and even Phish playing.

Although it was only from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon that we were on the trip, it seemed a lot longer than that because we were out in the sun much of the time and rowing is a very physical activity. But never my thoughts never drifted (no semi-pun intended) to the Mets, checking my e-mail or on the classes I was missing, and I didn’t mind missing out on pretty much all forms of technology. I must say that I was happy to have my iPod or, more specifically, music with me though because television, computers and the internet are all activities you have to focus your attention on, while with music, you can listen to it while hiking up rocks or trying to a sleep on a docked boat.

Maybe that says something about my generation (or just me?) and how we’re spoiled with our accessibility when it comes to music, blah blah blah. But I just see it as I’m someone who likes to listen to music—even when walking on boulders and sliding down hills.

Five Best...Movies about Camping

#5. Deliverance (I happen to think it's a terrible movie, but I know many people whose opinion I trust that think this a great movie. At the very least, it has some catchy music and Jon Voight.)

#4. Bushwhacked

#3. Swiss Family Robinson

#2. The Blair Witch Project

#1. Stand By Me

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My My, Hey Hey, I've Been Away

Sorry for the absence of any entry for either tomorrow or, as you'll soon read, today. I've been away on a camping/rowing/hiking trip with a bunch of friends and the professor for Inprint, Mr. Rob Buchanan.

I will surely post tomorrow though. I apologize for this.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

See No Evil

Amidst a crowd of hipsters, young children and those nearing the age of the performers, my friend, Ani, and I went to see Television in Central Park yesterday in the first weekend of the SummerStage series.

Although they released only a few albums during their career, Television is a highly influential band and is one of favorite bands based alone on one album: Marquee Moon. The follow up, Adventure, is quite good but it comes nowhere near Moon. The album is lyrical, well made, sparse but gets a loud sound and, most importantly, has some of the best guitar work on any album I’ve ever heard from Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, who couldn’t be at last night’s concert because he became ill recently.

Without Lloyd, the concert basically became a Tom Verlaine with Television show because he just completely took over. Lloyd’s replacement, Jimmy Ripp, was very capable and actually pretty good, but he along with bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca were just along for the ride.

The beginning of the show was a little rough up and Verlaine let everyone know about it because he was complaining about the sound system. And he sort of had a point. Their instruments sounded just fine but it was tough to hear him, and there was also a slight crackling noise that works when you’re listening to a Blind Lemon Jefferson album, but not during a concert. This problem was mostly sorted out by the time they got to the first song that appears on Marquee Moon, “Venus.” It’s an interesting song that contains one of Verlaine’s finest phrasing:

“Tight toy night, streets were so bright.
The world looked so thin and between my bones and skin,
There stood another person who was a little surprised
To be face to face with a world so alive.
I fell.

Didja feel low?
No, not at all.

I fell right into the Arms of Venus de Milo.
I stood up, walked out of the Arms of Venus de Milo.”

You must keep in mind he pronounces it Me-Low.

During the middle of the show, Television faded a bit and considering Ani and I were standing pretty much exactly where the crowd split from real fans to people just there because it’s a free concert, you could hear a lot of people talking and it took away from the show. But after some good performances “Little Johnny Jewel,” “Glory” and a song that went on for 20 minutes but I have no idea what it was called (Television is infamous for playing unreleased songs at their concerts), people were more into it but were itching for the one song many people were there to hear performed.

And just like every concert they’ve ever played, they ended their set with that song: the fantastic “Marquee Moon.” Outside of the album version being one of my favorite songs of all-time (here’s a link), it was also the first time I saw the whole crowd memorized by Television. The original goes on for roughly 11 minute so everyone knew it was going to go on for some time, but that doesn’t mean everything enjoyed it. What I mean is that Television was playing over their time limit so the suits behind the stage were getting pretty upset and, from what I’ve heard, the stage manager was screaming at the band to end or they’d cut the sound. I don’t think Verlaine gave a shit and instead played “Marquee Moon” for a little over 15 minutes. His guitar, which ranges from long, non-pretentious notes to little “cluck” noises, was absolutely spectacular while the other boys kept right up with him. At the end of the song, it was one of my all-time favorite concert performances. And I don’t think the crowd would disagree with me.

Next up: Richard Thompson on the 21st.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Five Best...Songs with Clapping

#5. "We Will Rock You" by Queen (a terrible song, but has a clapping part everyone knows)

#4. "Think" by James Brown

#3. "Cecilia" by Simon and Garfunkel

#2. "No Fun" by The Stooges

#1. "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by The Beatles

Honorable Mention: "Clap Hands" by Tom Waits, although it contains no actual clapping of said hands.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I Hung My Head and Listened

When something as good as Blonde on Blonde exists, what’s the point? Many music critics claim Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles to be the greatest album, but it’s easy to pick holes through an album that sounds slightly dated—although it is still very good. But over roughly the same 40 years, Blonde sounds just as refreshing as it must have had in May of 1966.

So, what’s a guy like Bob Dylan to do? At the humble age of 25, he has created a masterpiece that still hasn’t been rivaled. The first album after it? John Wesley Harding, a record that is, in terms of a follow-up, about as good as you can get and still underappreciated. For most, it’d be the high point of their career but for Dylan, it’s probably behind Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks and Bringing It All Back Home, in that order.

But it’s an album worth looking at for, among other things, its simplicity, religious message that would becomes more striking in ten short years, perspective lyrics that range from impersonal to intensely personal (look no further than “Dear Landlord”) and crack playing from the musicians.

I already had about 20 different Dylan albums before I got Harding during my senior year of high school. As it is with the majority of the 400 or so albums in my personal collection, I got it from the library and like most, my first impression of the album was the cover—and how non-striking it was. At that point, I was still a Dylan novice and more used to the blurriness of Blonde or the happiness shown on Freewheelin’, and this faded, old looking picture of Dylan surrounded by Indians (and The Beatles?) was like something I’d find hidden in a corner of my grandparent’s attic.

In my bedroom, I had a stereo that my mother had bought me as a Hanukkah present two years before, and that’s where I first listened to it. The album begins with Dylan’s strumming away at his acoustic guitar and when the lyrics kick in (“John Wesley Harding/was a friend to the poor…”), Charlie McCoy on bass and Kenny Buttrey on the most restrained drums this side of the new Wilco album join in too. And the most underappreciated aspect of the album, Dylan’s harmonica playing, eventually comes in between each verse.

I didn’t immediately fall in love with the album. In fact, the first time I listened, I could only get a few songs in. When I told my Dad this, he said something along the lines of give the album a chance, it’ll only get better. The next day, while waiting for school to begin, I burned a copy of the album and gave it to my girlfriend at the time, Hannah. I told her my reaction to the album and to this day, she still doesn’t particularly like Harding, although I doubt she gave it more than a listen or two—even though she is a Dylan fan.

I can’t remember the first time the album really kicked in for me, but I do know it was sometime around the break between high school or college, or possibly even during the beginning months of my freshmen year at SUNY Purchase. It actually wasn’t until this year that I began to love the album as much I do now; before then, it was a good album but one that wasn’t on any consistent playlist of mine.

The way I described the opening of “John Wesley Harding” is pretty much the way every song on the album begins and ends: always McCoy thumping the bass line, Buttrey never letting himself go into the foreground or background but staying right in the middle, occasionally Pete Drake on steel guitar and Dylan himself leading the group in a way that he wouldn’t really reach again until Blood on the Tracks.

But the simplicity is the album’s greatest strength. After all, look at the other albums on top of the charts in 1967: The Monkees, More of the Monkees, The Sound of Music soundtrack, The Hollies, Moby Grape and Forever Changes. Of course there were also some other amazing albums that year (Axis: Bold as Love, Disraeli Gears, the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper’s and, most importantly, The Velvet Underground and Nico, to name just a few) but in no way are those albums as gorgeous as Dylan’s John Wesley Harding.

The fondest feelings I have for any song on the album is “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,” which reads like a mix between Dylan’s own “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll” and Johnny Cash’s version of “The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer” (I use Cash because Harding is an album that he would seemed to have surely loved, especially the title character of the album.) Although I haven’t been witness to quite yet, my father and his brother, Ken, used to act out a skit to “Frankie Lee” when they were young and the song had just come out. I asked my Dad about it, and he likes the song because he finds it one of Dylan’s funniest. I completely agree with this sentiment, and can really only think of one or two songs that might be funnier in Dylan’s catalogue—“Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” comes to mind.

Well, Frankie Lee, he panicked,
He dropped ev'rything and ran
Until he came up to the spot
Where Judas Priest did stand.
"What kind of house is this," he said,
"Where I have come to roam?"
"It's not a house," said Judas Priest,
"It's not a house . . . it's a home."

I mean, how is that not funny? It’s also a good verse to quote because, as I’ve noticed, everyone gets a different reaction from it. Me, I think it’s Dylan stating the difference between having a “house,” a place that has four walls and is used for the purposes of shelter (from the storm) only, and a “home,” which is what Dylan was trying to achieve with Sara and his children in Woodstock at the time.

My other two favorite songs on the album are, if you’ll pardon the cliché, the Kafkaesque “Drifter’s Escape” (“Outside, the crowd was stirring/You could hear it from the door/Inside, the judge was stepping down/While the jury cried for more”) and “I Am a Lonesome Hobo,” which is the song Bob Levinson ended his class with.

I guess I still find it remarkable this album was only recorded 18 months after Blonde on Blonde, because they just sound terrifically different. But I guess that’s why Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and everyone else is everyone else.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Another Side of Spanish Harlem

I find songs that do not sound remarkable by themselves but are when you’re speaking of terms of a full album interesting. The kind of songs you’d never find on a greatest hits album but, let’s say, My Aim is True by Elvis Costello wouldn’t sound right without “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes.”

This idea really struck yesterday when listening to “Spanish Harlem Incident.” While it happens to be the favorite Dylan song (and possibly favorite song of all-time?) of my soon-to-be editor-in-chief of Inprint, it’s a track that to me only sounds great when listening to the full of Another Side of Bob Dylan with it being wedged between a bad song, “Black Crow Blues” and a fantastic one, “Chimes of Freedom.” However, by itself, it’s good but nothing spectacular. I have the same feelings towards “My Back Pages,” which, even in 1964, Dylan could never have performed again and been fine, while the same could not be said about The Byrds.

And yes, I did just ridicule The Byrds.

Dylan, maybe more than other artist, really succeeds in terms of the album, not specific songs. I mean, you could put together an amazing two disc set of just his love songs (more on that in another post) but to splice up Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks would be downright tragic to the listener.

The only other artist that sticks out in terms of the concept of the album is The Velvet Underground, because it has to be looked upon in terms of full career, not just one or two albums. Otherwise, The Beatles would top the list, but you can chop up Please Please Me or The Beatles’ Second Album and you’d be fine.

But to get back to “Spanish Harlem Incident,” Dylan has only performed the song once, which actually happens to be at a concert in 1964 that is now The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6. The performance is quite similar to that of the album version, and it’s a mystery to me as to why he’s never performed it again.

We know the song deals with a palm reader Dylan meets in Spanish Harlem (as one of my professors, Ben Hedin, says, “Who else but Dylan would write a song about that 5 minute moment?”) but that’s pretty much where the firm grasp of knowledge gets slippery and we head towards speculation.

“Gypsy gal, you got me swallowed.
I have fallen far beneath
Your pearly eyes, so fast an' slashing,
An' your flashing diamond teeth.
The night is pitch black, come an' make my
Pale face fit into place, ah, please!
Let me know, babe, I got to know, babe,
If it's you my lifelines trace.”

The images of “pearly eyes” being “fast an’ slashing” is one of my favorites of pre-Highway 61 Dylan, and possibly even further. And so, with lines like that, it really doesn’t matter the song is about as long as it’s a good song…albeit one that fits nice and snug into Another Side of Bob Dylan and not anywhere else.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mix It Up

Making a mix CD for someone is tricky business. Like Nick Hornby writes in High Fidelity:

"…the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many dos and don'ts. First of all, you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing."

There's a lot of truth in that because, whether you realize it or not, you're letting a person judge your taste by the tracks you drag and drop from your "My Music" folder. Granted, before computers, the mix tape was more personal because they had to be made by playing the song on a stereo, recording, and then you had to get ready for the next song. This process is excellently shown in Rob Sheffield's Love is a Mix Tape.

Here are three past mix-tapes that I’ve made for family or friends:

From October, 2005

1- “Peaches en Regalia” by Frank Zappa
2- “I Want You Around” by The Ramones
3- “Know Your Rights” by The Clash
4- “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie” by Bob Dylan
5- “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You” by Tom Waits
6- “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” by Neil Young
7- “My Way” by The Sex Pistols
8- “Strange Brew” by Cream
9- “If Not For You” by Bob Dylan (alternate take)
10- “Something So Right” by Paul Simon
11- “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” by The Ramones (live)
12- “Pinhead” by The Ramones (live)
13- “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” by Bob Dylan
14- “One” by U2
15- “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” by Bob Dylan (alternate)
16- “Kentucky Avenue” by Tom Waits
17- “(When We Are Dancin’) I Get Ideas” by Louis Armstrong
18- “Talkin’ Hava Negeilah Blues” by Bob Dylan
19- “Day After Tomorrow” by Tom Waits
20- “Keep Your Distance” by Richard Thompson
21- “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (alternate take)
22- “Innocent When You Dream” by Tom Waits

From December, 2005

1- “Mambo Sun” by T. Rex
2- “Nothing But Flowers” by Talking Heads
3- “Blind Willie McTell” by Bob Dylan
4- “Hang On To Your Ego” by Frank Black
5- “Sittin’ On Top of the World” by Howlin’ Wolf
6- “California Stars” by Billy Bragg and Wilco
7- “Kathy’s Song” by Simon and Garfunkel (live)
8- “Fully Qualified To Be Your Man” by Richard Thompson
9- “In the Neighborhood” by Tom Waits
10- “Camarillo Brillo” by Mothers of Invention
11- “I Can Only Give You Everything” by MC5
12- “Merry Christmas” by The Ramones
13- “Caribbean Wind” by Bob Dylan (alternate)
14- “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard” by Jeff Tweedy
15- “Beat the Retreat” by Richard and Linda Thompson
16- “Abandoned Love” by Bob Dylan
17- “Love Is Here to Stay” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
18- “Soliloquy” by Frank Sinatra

From September, 2006

1- “Hey Bartender” by Floyd Dixon
2- “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Bob Dylan
3- “How Come” by Big Mama Thornton
4- “Go Go Liza Jane” by Levon & The Hawks
5- “Five Long Years” by Buddy Guy
6- “Pills” by Bo Diddley
7- “Preaching Blues (Up Jumped the Devil) by Robert Johnson
8- “Sad, Sad Day” by Muddy Waters
9- “Spoonful” by Willie Dixon
10- “Graveyard Dream Blues” by Bessie Smith
11- “Stackalee” by Bob Dylan
12- “Honky Tonk” by Levon & The Hawks
13- “Back Door Man” by Howlin’ Wolf
14- “Crossroads” by Cream (live)
15- “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley
16- “Orange Colored Sky” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
17- “Stay Free” by The Clash
18- “Raglan Road” by Van Morrison & The Chieftains
19- “Angel Band” by The Stanley Brothers
20- “You’ve Got Bad Intentions” by Bobby “Blue” Bland
21- “Long Distance Call” by Hubert Sumlin & Eric Clapton
22- “Ooh La La” by Faces

At the core of each, they have many similar artists. After all, Dylan appears in all three, with Richard Thompson and The Clash closely behind. But sometimes you can have the same artist appear on 25 different compilations but for 25 different reasons—especially when it comes to Dylan.

And like all “artists,” sometimes you regret putting a song on the album. The reason can range from it being out-of-place (“I Can Only Give You Everything” by MC5), being too personal for a casual mix (“Keep Your Distance” by Thompson) or just because it’s not that great of a song and you have no idea why it’s there (“Merry Christmas” by The Ramones…although it was a Christmas time CD, the song still pretty much stinks.)

But looking upon the playlists of old albums you’ve made and ones friends have made for you is an interesting way of checking your musical tastes from a certain time and, when a friend inevitably makes you a terrible mix, you’ll know to shy away from talking about music with them.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hot Patootie

Last night, I was supposed to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the IFC Center with my friend, Michelle, but we didn’t end up going because she had to work early the next day. This posed a slight problem because I, without her knowledge, purchased tickets in a misguided attempt at being a gentlemen. But we’ll hopefully end up going another weekend.

Rocky is arguably the biggest cult film of all-time and even its most devoted fans can’t say that it’s a great movie, but rather a fun one. Personally, my feeling for the actual movie is quite neutral but the music (and, to a lesser extent, the greatness of Tim Curry and Meat Loaf) is what gets me.

On early Saturday, I went walking around the Village with the soundtrack playing on my iPod. While no stranger appeared asking about what song I was listening to, I knew I drew a couple of odd looks from a attractive females who thought I was smirking at them, while I was actually just smiling at, among others, “Eddie” or “I’m Going Home.”

Actually, that same accidental smirk happened the day before that too because I was listening to “King of New York” from the Newsies soundtrack and includes some vocals by Bill Pullman.

The majority of the songs bring back the sounds of the 1950s with lots of guitar and horns, specifically a somewhat amateur sounding saxophone. Not exactly Coltrane-esque, but that’s the point. The two main characters, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, are being held captive by Curry who is a crazy transvestite or, in his words, “sweet transvestite.”

So much has been written about Rocky and it seems like every new cult movie or sing-a-long is called the “next Rocky,” which I know for a fact is what many people call the Buffy Sing-A-Long also held at the IFC. But I guess it goes to show the last power of a movie that came out over 30 years and still hasn’t worn out welcome. I mean, someone must be going to the weekly shows at the big cinema in Chelsea.

Five Best…Films Mentioned in the Opening Song, “Double Feature”

#5. The Day The Earth Stood Still

#4. Tarantula

#3. The Invisible Man

#2. Forbidden Planet

#1. King Kong

Friday, June 8, 2007

Five Best...Lines from the Marx Brothers' Monkey Buisness

(I'm not even going to bother ranking these because they're all just too good)

Captain Corcoran: One of them goes around with a black moustache.
Groucho: So do I; if I had my choice, I'd go around with a little blonde.
Captain Corcoran: I said, one goes around with a black moustache.
Groucho: Well, you couldn't expect a moustache to go around by itself. Don't you think a moustache ever gets lonely, Captain?
Chico: Hey, sure it gets-a lonely. Hey, when my grandfather's beard gets here, I'd like it to meet your moustache.
Groucho: Well, I'll think it over; I'll talk it over with my moustache. Tell me, has your grandfather's beard got any money?
Chico: Money? Why, he fell hair to a fortune.

Groucho: "Afraid? Me? A man who's licked his weight in wild caterpillars? AFRAID? You bet I'm afraid!"

Madame Swempski: I don't like this innuendo.
Groucho: That's what I always say: love flies out the door when money comes innuendo.

Captain Corcoran: I want you to know that I've been Captain of this ship for 22 years.
Groucho: 22 years, eh? If you were a man, you'd go in business for yourself. I know a fellow started only last year with just a canoe. Now he's got more women than you could shake a stick at, if that's your idea of a good time.

Groucho: I know, heifer cow is better than none, but this is no time for puns.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

"So, This Is How It Feels When Doves Cry"

Yesterday, as I soon often do, I was walking around the Columbus Circle area before classes and listening to my iPod, with the specific song being Prince's "Purple Rain." As the song went on (after all, it does last about 8 minutes), I thought to myself, "Damn, I should do a blog posting on this song because it's just so epic." Well, not two minutes later, a guy with a clipboard came up to me while I was waiting to cross the street and asked, "What are you listening to now?" Normally I wouldn't have answered but I've always wanted to ask the same question to random New Yorker's so I gave him a truthful answer: "Purple Rain" by Prince. As he wrote down my selection, he stopped for a second, looked at me and said, "Man, that's an epic song."

And I walked away a happier person.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dead Again

Sometime last week, I finished season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with the big shocker of the episode being that she passes away at the end of it. I already knew that she was going die because I've seen two episodes in the following season, but it still came across as quite shocking and surprising. Once the episode was over, the only thing I wanted to do was talk about it and although the friend I was watching with, another Buffy fan, stayed for a few minutes to chat, she was in a rush so we couldn't further delve into it. To me, Buffy's death was brand new but to everyone else watching the show, it had happened slightly over 6 years ago.

That's one of the frustrating things about being behind on something. Whether it be a current television show that everyone talks about the next day but you're woefully behind for various reasons (for me, that'd be Lost) or a show, like Buffy, that's already off the air but you're catching up on DVD.

A very basic response to something entreatingly shocking is to discuss but when everyone's sick of talking about or considers it to long ago to care about, you're basically stuck thinking about it internally.

It works the same with music and books. After I listen to, let's say, Dylan's Self Portrait or Roxy Music's Siren, it's tough to find someone to talk about Dylan's terrible cover of "Blue Moon" or the greatness of Bryan Ferry. After I finished Dicken's Great Expectations, I wanted to talk about which ending other people preferred but I was pretty much left to a person or two and the general consesus on the internet: the sad one.

I guess what I should do is watch, listen and read everything exactly when it comes out. Well, maybe not. So, I guess I'll have to wait until the next shocking moment on Buffy which, at the very least, will be closer to the present day than her death episode.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Five Best..."Family" Bands

#5. The Mamas and the Papas

#4. Uncle Tupelo

#3. Big Brother and the Holding Company

#2. Sly and the Family Stone

#1. Mothers of Invention

Monday, June 4, 2007

Five Best...Songs About Rowing

#5. “Rowboat” by Johnny Cash

Row me to the shore
She don't want to be my friend no more
She dug a hole in the bottom of my soul
She don't want to be my friend no more

#4. “Only Skin” by Joanna Newsom

rowing along, among the reeds, among the rushes
I heard your song, before my heart had time to hush it!

#3. “Bring ‘Em On In” by Van Morrison

Row-in boats a-cross the water
Pick them up baby, row them on
Bring 'em on in, bring 'em on home

#2. “Misery is the River of the World” by Tom Waits

Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world
Everybody row! Everybody row!
Everybody row! Everybody row!

#1. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
All your reindeer armies are all going home
The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ten Best...Bob Dylan Album Closers

#10. “Alberta #2”

#9. “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”

#8. “Restless Farewell”

#7. “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You”

#6. “Every Grain of Sand”

#5. “Highlands”

#4. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

#3. “It Ain’t Me, Babe”

#2. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

#1. “Desolation Row”

Friday, June 1, 2007

Billy Shears, Rita, Mr. Kite, Vera, Chuck, Dave, etc.

40 years ago today, The Beatles released to their adoring fans in the UK one of the best albums in what would eventually be considered The Summer of Love, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Everyone knows that it forever to complete, all about the cover design and all the other random facts about Pepper’s that makes it such a great album, although it's not my personal favorite.

But, more so than any other Beatles album, I can remember the first time I really listened to it. I was spending Christmas at my father and stepmother’s house in Saratoga Springs, NY and my Dad’s good friend from New Mexico, Ron, came to visit. On Christmas morning, my Dad had gotten me a copy of Pepper’s and I can’t remember what my initial reaction was. But later, when we were taking Ron back to the airport, I was listening to the album on a pair of headphones I had borrowed from my Dad, and I fell in love with it. I believe that song that interested me the most, oddly enough, was “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”

For quite some time after this, whenever anyone asked me my favorite Beatles album, I’d automatically say Pepper’s, which Rubber Soul has since taken that role. But Pepper’s, very similar to Blood on the Tracks or The Velvet Underground & Nico, remains an album with great sentimental value that also happens to be quite good.

Five Best…Songs from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

#5. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

#4. “Lovely Rita”

#3. “Getting Better”

#2. “Lovely Rita”

#1. “A Day in the Life”