Trying To Get To You

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bootleg Friday: Muddy Waters, 1981

Today’s installment of Bootleg Friday is a great one: Muddy Waters (and friends) at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago, recorded on November 22, 1981. The “friends” at this show include: Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Lefty Dizz…and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, who were in town to play three nights in Chicago on their Tattoo You tour. It was one of Muddy’s last performances before his death in 1983, and the show is both celebratory and masterful. The interplay with Waters and Jagger is fascinating – truly one of a teacher and a pupil grown up.

Download: “Sweet Black Angel” 11/22/81, Chicago, IL
Download: “Country Boy” 11/22/81, Chicago, IL
Download: “King Bee” 11/22/81, Chicago, IL
Download: “Baby Please Don't Go” 11/22/81, Chicago, IL
Download: “Hoochie Coochie Man” 11/22/81, Chicago, IL
Download: “Next Time You See Me” 11/22/81, Chicago, IL

The Ballad Of Muxtape

Muxtape, a very popular website for people creating their own compilations and then sharing them, was recently shut down by the R.I.A.A. This is the creator's story and it's a great one - well worth reading. Thanks to Idolator for the tip.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Required Reading From Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega has a wonderful piece in today's New York Times about the genesis and subsequent life of her song "Tom's Diner." It encompasses over a quarter century, and touches on everything from remixing, Jerry Seinfeld and the birth of the MP3. Great stuff.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Kings Of Leon Underwhelm

The first time I ever saw the Kings of Leon, I was excited to see them. I was in a hotel room with the band, their lawyer and someone else working with them as they showcased for several record labels on their acoustic guitars. I was with a co-worker of mine from Island, and when we were told that the father of three of the band members was a Pentecostal preacher, I couldn’t wait to hear them play – after all, some of the greatest rock n’ soul has come from artists with intense religious upbringings who instead began to play the Devil’s music.

The band played three or four songs, and while I liked Caleb’s Followill’s voice and was struck by the band’s looks, I wasn’t sufficiently excited to want to sign them. Because of their religious background, I was expecting to hear something more fiery and soulful – but instead, the band played up their cool. Southern Strokes, indeed.

I’ve been generally indifferent to their albums since then, finding them rather slight, with few, if any, truly great songs. Their performances I’ve seen have been decent-to-good, but the amount of incredible press they’ve garnered has been to me. Maybe it’s because they’re great looking.

When I heard “Sex on Fire” on the radio about a month ago, I liked it a lot – much to my pleasant surprise - and thought it boded it well for their new album. But in listening to their new album, Only By The Night, I am once again underwhelmed. Yes, the vibe is cool – they’ve moved to a slightly bigger sound, seemingly influenced by both U2 and Radiohead – but these songs just aren’t remarkable. “Use Somebody” has a sweetly anthemic vibe circa The Unforgettable Fire, but this music is insular – it captures the emotions of the morning after a night of partying and pretty girls – not terribly interesting. It’s not a particularly bad album; it’s just not one that delivers on anything that has been claimed for them. Maybe it’s time for them explore the Pentecostal fire of their childhoods. That might be something.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bootleg Friday (On A Monday): Randy Newman, 1972

America gets really weird during presidential elections. So I can’t think of anyone better to restart Bootleg Friday (on a Monday) then one of the greatest chroniclers of American contradiction and irony, Randy Newman.

This performance hails from Paul’s Mall in Boston show in 1972, supporting his epochal Sail Away album. His gift here is in full flower, as well as his incredible sense of humor. Equally influenced by Stephen Foster, George Gershwin and Fats Domino, Newman’s incisive, literary and moving songs have been recorded by artists as varied as the O’Jays, Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, the Everly Brothers, and yes, Pat Boone. This is Newman as his career was on an upward arc – when it seemed as though commercial success was in his grasp. That would happen five years later, with the almost accidental hit, “Short People,” a joke that caused an uproar.

Newman has had huge success as a songwriter for films, scoring dozens of movies, including several Pixar films. He's currently touring behind his new album, Harps and Angels.

Download: "Lover's Prayer" 8/24/72, Boston, MA
Download: "Lucinda" 8/24/72, Boston, MA
Download: "You Can Leave Your Hat On" 8/24/72, Boston, MA
Download: "Last Night I Had A Dream" 8/24/72, Boston, MA
Download: "Ballad Of Pat O'Reilly/Sail Away" 8/24/72, Boston, MA
Download: "Lonely At The Top" 8/24/72, Boston, MA
Download: "Love Story (You and Me)" 8/24/72, Boston, MA

Earl Palmer

The sound of Earl Palmer playing the drums was one of power, groove and swing. The legendary New Orleans drummer who propelled early rock n' roll hits by Fats Domino and then Little Richard, died on Friday at the age of 84. Moving to Los Angeles in the late 50's to escape the racism of the Jim Crow south, Palmer played with artists as varied as Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Neil Young, the Righteous Brothers, Barbra Streisand, the Beach Boys, Sarah Vaughan, Elvis Costello, Ike and Tina Turner and many more.

Remember that great fill that opens the Flintstones theme song? That's Earl Palmer.

Obituary from the New Orleans Times Picayune

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Saadiq's Love Letter To Motown

Raphael Saadiq’s new album, The Way I See It, is a love letter to Motown circa 1964-1966, and it’s a delight. From the infectious “Sure Hope You Mean It,” to the gorgeous “Staying In Love,” this is music made by an artist that’s using the soul revival not to jump on a bandwagon, but as an access to make the music he really loves. There’s no new ground broken here, but who cares, when it’s done this well. Where the Dap-Kings retro-soul occasionally feels academic, The Way I See It simply shines, especially on further listens. Recommended.

Download Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It at the Amazon MP3 store

Staying In Love - Raphael Saadiq

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Springsteen Does Whitfield, 1975

Playing Detroit for the first time in October of 1975, on the Born To Run tour, Springsteen did an incredible, one off version of the Norman Whitfield written, Temptations classic, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg," as a duet with "Miami" Steve Van Zandt. It's incredible, and it shreds the Stones version that came out on It's Only Rock N' Roll in 1974. Crank this one up!

Download: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" 10/4/75, Detroit, MI

Norman Whitfield: 1940-2008

"I Heard It Through The Grapevine." "Aint Too Proud To Beg." "I Wish It Would Rain." "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep." "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)."

Those are just a handful of songs written by the great Norman Whitfield, who died today at the age of 68. Whitfield was a Motown songwriter, producer and arranger, and after Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1967, he became one of the first tier songwriters in the Motown stable. His greatest collaborations were with the Temptations, for whom he took over songwriting and production duties in 1966. And starting with the Tempts, "Cloud Nine," in 1968, Whitfield dragged Motown into the psychedelic era, paving the way for the later triumphs of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.

One of the greatest songwriters in any generation.

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) - The Temptations

Papa Was A Rolling Stone - The Temptations

Monday, September 15, 2008

Number 60 With A Bullet

According to the U.K.'s Dolphin Music, I'm the 60th Top Music Related Blog in the world. Cool!

Ukelele (#59) - you're dead.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Opposite Of Soul

I haven’t had TV for a month, so I’ve been feeding my politics fix online, watching the "highlights" from the Republican convention online. What’s struck me isn’t the gleeful and mean spirited condescension of Rudy Giuliani, the empty insanity of Mitt Romney, John McCain’s retrogressive vision, or even Sarah Palin’s utter self-assuredness in the face of her lack of knowledge about most issues.

What’s amazing to me watching the Republican ticket (and eight years of George W. Bush) is that these are people that believe themselves to be free of doubt - utterly convinced of the rightness and even the providence of their worldview – which justifies any means they might employ to retain power. And it is their projection of that quality - being doubtless - which has them continue to be so attractive to millions of Americans – even after reality has long since intruded upon their assumptions and left disaster in the wake of their policies.

Of course, being doubtless is a pretense. To be human is to doubt. Our greatest leaders have been strong enough to commune with their doubt before making crucial decisions - and then are resolute in the execution of those decisions. (Lincoln during the Civil War and Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis come to mind.)

In soul music, doubt suffuses everything, even affirmation. When you listen to “A Change Is Gonna Come,” you can hear the sadness in Sam Cooke’s voice, the doubt that anything can possibly change amidst his assurance that it will. Otis Redding’s “Ole Man Trouble,” proclaims, “I live my life in doubt,” and in the willingness to be authentic with his own humanity, his voice gains immeasurable power. Soul may be filled with some of the greatest braggadocio known to music, but doubt is the utterly necessary flipside – and it’s one the reasons why the music still matters, for its humanity remains authentically full and resonant.

Watching the Republican conventioneers gleefully scream, “Drill Baby Drill,” in lockstep with Sarah Palin, I found myself struggling for words to describe what I saw and heard. Willful ignorance? Possibly. Stubborn pride? Sure. Then I got it:

It’s the opposite of soul.

A Change Is Gonna Come - SAM COOKE

Thursday, September 11, 2008

AC/DC Is Coming

I was suffering through the new Bloc Party album a few minutes ago when a friend emailed me AC/DC's new tour dates. Now I'm grinning - a night of no bullshit rock n' roll is coming. Their new single, "Rock N' Roll Train," sounds great - and I'm hearing great stuff about their upcoming Brendan O'Brien produced album. They rule.

And I'm thrilled that I'll be seeing them with their original drummer, Phil Rudd. Last time I saw them, they played with Chris Slade, who wasn't happening. As my friend John says, "Chris plays in front of the beat, Phil plays behind it." It makes all the difference. Well, that and the cannons at the end of "For Those About To Rock."

AC/DC announces North American tour dates

By Mitchell Peters
Thu Sep 11, 3:20 AM ET

Anglo-Australian rockers AC/DC will launch its world tour on October 28 at the Wachovia Center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The 24-date North American leg of the arena jaunt is scheduled to wrap December 18 at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.

The worldwide trek follows closely behind the October 20 release of "Black Ice," the band's first album in eight years, which will be sold exclusively in Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores as well as at ( The first single, "Rock'n'Roll Train," rocketed 10 places to No. 5 on Billboard's latest Mainstream Rock chart.

Tickets for the North American dates will go on sale during the weekend of September 20 via Ticketmaster and Specific on-sale dates and ticket prices have not yet been announced.

Following the North American run, AC/DC will visit South American, Europe and Asia, with dates to be announced. The Black Ice World Tour will be AC/DC's first outing since 2001.

Here are AC/DC's North American tour dates:

October 28: Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Wachovia Arena)

October 30: Chicago (Allstate Arena)

November 3: Indianapolis (Conseco Fieldhouse)

November 5: Auburn Hills, Mich. (Palace of Auburn Hills)

November 7: Toronto (Rogers Centre)

November 9: Boston (TD Banknorth Garden)

November 12-13: New York (Madison Square Garden)

November 15: Washington, D.C. (Verizon Center)

November 17: Philadelphia (Wachovia Center)

November 19: East Rutherford, N.J. (IZOD Center)

November 21: Columbus, Ohio (Schottenstein Center)

November 23: Minneapolis (Xcel Energy Center)

November 25: Denver (Pepsi Center)

November 28: Vancouver (General Motors Place)

November 29: Seattle (KeyArena)

November 30: Tacoma, Wash. (Tacoma Dome)

December 2: Oakland, Calif. (Oracle Arena)

December 6: Los Angeles (The Forum)

December 10: Phoenix (US Airways Center)

December 12: San Antonio (AT&T Center)

December 14: Houston (Toyota Center)

December 16: Atlanta (Philips Arena)

December 18: Charlotte, N.C. (Time Warner Cable Arena)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

King And Queen

Thoughts On Niches and the Long Tail

Nowadays, it’s taken for granted that we live in an era of “niche.” We have several-hundred cable channels, YouTube, websites to appeal to anyone’s deepest interests and literally an infinite amount of entertainment and information options at our disposal. And we are told that reaching a broad audience is now just about impossible. It’s all part of the Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” thesis; in the future, entertainment products will sell less of more – meaning that there will be fewer blockbusters but more things will sell over time – and it’s been taken for granted, especially by techies, to be true. (Not all of them.)

But is this theory true and does it effect how art is made? Once upon a time, popular art was designed to be, well, popular. Up until the late 70’s, movies and music, even if substantive and complex, were intended to reach as broad an audience as possible. From the 30’s to the 60’s, the biggest Hollywood films were written to reach everyone. In popular music, be it rock or r&b, just about everything was made with a mass audience in mind. Even the godfathers of punk – the Velvet Underground, Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5 - had designs to hit the top. Back then, it was the only game in town.

In left-of center rock, that hasn’t been the case for almost three decades. The failure of 70’s punk to break commercially in the U.S. spawned a self-sustaining alternative music economy where music from the fringe could emerge and thrive, which obviated the need to try to please the mainstream. And in the face of the failure of punk to reach a broad audience, an attitude emerged from the punk and post-punk world that just about any commercial music was to be looked upon with suspicion at best, and utter and complete derision at worst. (That was an attitude fostered in self-defense; the Ramones were devastated when they realized they weren’t going to be an enormous band.) In the post-punk world, just like the folk world of the early 60’s, selling a lot of anything usually inspires cries of “selling out.” (The history of jazz post be-bop is similar – the avant-garde took over the vanguard of the music, its popularity declined, and it ceased to be truly popular music.)

In the R&B world it is, of course, different. In the R&B and Hip-Hop game, you’re either huge, or you haven’t made it. (There are a few exceptions to this – but the alternative hip-hop scene has no real cache in the urban areas where the music comes from.) Dr. Dre and Jay Z brag about being great businessmen. (No revered indie-rocker would ever call himself a businessman.) Black music is still a blockbuster game, no matter what anyone says. While it is true that those blockbusters sell less than they used to, there's no popular black music scene that exists powerfully on the margins the way indie rock does in the rock world. (There's no Pitchfork for black music.) Big hits are venerated in black music. One can't say that about Radiohead or Wilco.

So in the black music game, the Long Tail has no real resonance, but in the world of indie rock and post punk, it does. Why is that? I would assert that it’s because due primarily to cultural differences – i.e., attitudes about the worthiness of the pursuit of popular and mass success, money and rebellion, rather than a fundamental truth about how technology is affecting our consumption of media. The Long Tail is a theory that exists in theory, not reality, and in the veneration of the theory, it has accumulated resonance, and people have begun to work within its confines. So instead of believing that they can reach a big and broad audience, artists who work within the limited vision that they see as possible and "appropriate" for their music. For years, I've seen many talented left-leaning rock artists making insular music designed to reach a narrow audience. And as a result, they make insular and small music with little lasting resonance. And this had been happening way before records stopped selling.

In June, I attended a conference at the Advertising Age convention in New York. At one of the panels I attended, the panelists touted the fashionable wisdom that the “Grateful Dead Model” (where you give your music away and make your money touring) was the way for artists to go. A nice theory, but it ignored the fact that the Dead only made more money on the road because on their best nights, they were transcendent live, and they were pretty crappy record makers. (It also ignored the fact that they never really gave their music away, but that’s another matter.) Not to slag them (they were all smart guys), but I bet they couldn’t name ten Grateful Dead songs between the five of them.

I only bring up the point to remind music lovers that most tech people who come up with these theories don’t really know much about music or art. They see the world through the prism of their world – technology. All the theories in the world about technology and its interaction music can be made irrelevant by one epochal song. Here’s hoping that song comes soon. Niches may be a fact of life, but it is the role of great create art to tear up and expose as folly assumed truths about what’s possible - in both music and in life. And it's fun when great stuff is popular, too.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Marching Band - "Make Up Artist"

A friend recently turned me on to Marching Band, an indie-pop duo from Sweden, whose album, Spark Large, is one of the most consistently enjoyable albums I've heard all year, filled with great melodies, strong songs and a really warm and accessible heart. I'm not going as far as to call it soulful, but there's a spark here.

Otis Redding, 1967

"I've Been Loving You Too Long" from Monterey, 1967. It's still stunning.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Some Reflections On Yankee Stadium

Music has been and remains an obsessive love in my life. But before music, there was baseball. Specifically, my obsession was the New York Yankees. I’ve been a Yankee fan for over thirty years, and last week, walking into Yankee Stadium for what I believe will be the last time, I couldn’t help but reflect a little on a place that has been one of the constants of my life.

I went to my first game in June of 1977. I was six years old and had just moved to New Jersey from Connecticut with my Dad in April. My Mom had had died in March and between that and starting a new school, I was in a very quiet state of shock. Baseball was my one love that kept me tethered to something else besides all the sadness I was experiencing. I had been a huge baseball fan before, but at some point that spring, I invested my rather intense emotions into a team – and for whatever reason (I think it was because I loved their uniforms more than the Mets), I chose the Yankees.

Each morning that spring and summer, I would run downstairs and grab the New York Times sports section to see how they did the previous day. If they won, I was thrilled. If they lost, I was crushed, even to the point of tears. I took it all like a matter of life and death. The Yankees made for great drama that year – it was Bronx Zoo turmoil just about every day, with characters like Reggie Jackson (who I loved), Billy Martin (who I couldn’t stand), Thurman Munson (who I adored so much I named the scar I had recently gotten after him), Sparky Lyle, Graig Nettles and more – and they were competing furiously for first place with both the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, who my father, being from Boston, rooted for.

So sometime in June of ‘77, my Dad and I trekked in from New Jersey to see my heroes play the Minnesota Twins. What I remember most from the day is walking out of the tunnel and seeing, for the first time, that enormous expanse of green field. It seemed like it went on forever - the biggest thing I had ever seen in my life. I was in awe. It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen and the players seemed like Gods. I was utterly enraptured with the place. Do I remember the game? No. I do remember that the Yankees won, so I went home happy.

That was the beginning of a thirty-one year relationship for me with Yankee Stadium. I’ve seen some incredible games there; Old Timer’s Day 1978, where a recently fired Billy Martin was brought back to a standing ovation, and an announcement that he’d be managing the Yankees in 1980 (I was devastated and the crowd was thrilled – one of my first experiences in being completely at odds with the crowd, not to be the last); a thrilling September 1978 game against the Red Sox, with Ron Guidry pitching a two hit shutout and the Yankees winning 4-0 (I was cheering and my Dad was cursing in the seat next to me); Game 2 of the Divisional Series against the Mariners in 1995; Aaron Boone’s pennant-winning homerun against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. I’ve been lucky to see some incredible games and amazing ballplayers. It’s a privilege to witness greatness, no matter what the medium.

But walking into the Stadium last week, I felt no great sense of sadness, or even nostalgia. It’s a ballpark, not holy ground (despite what anyone says), and to be honest, they screwed up the place when they renovated it in the mid-70’s. (The original Yankee Stadium - now THAT was grand.) But most of all, I realized that I’m not a kid anymore, and that while I still love baseball (and the Yankees), it is, after all, just a game.

Next year, there will be a new Yankee Stadium, modern, with all of the amenities, and tickets will be outrageously expensive. I look forward to going. But it’s not life or death anymore. I guess that’s growin’ up.