Monday, July 05, 2021

Jose Feliciano - 'Feliciano!'

I first remember learning of Jose Feliciano when I was watching a public television music documentary about the 1960s with my father when I was 15 or 16 years old.  In the featured clip, a young, sunglass-donning Puerto Rican was belting a Latin-styled version of The Doors' 'Light My Fire.' 

I was perplexed.  I was a mini-Stan of Jim Morrison at the time (which was the en vogue thing to be in the late-90s, following Oliver Stone's groundbreaking biopic of the rock legend earlier in the decade), but I had never heard the single arranged in such a peculiar way.  My dad explained to me that Feliciano was blind (hence the sunglasses), and that this particular version of 'Light My Fire' was a fairly big hit when he was in Junior High twenty five years earlier.  Candidly, I wasn't very impressed.

A few years later, while I was a student in my high school's Spanish Level 3 class, the instructor coincidentally decided to play another performance of Feliciano, once again bellowing 'Light My Fire' to acoustic guitar.  And as had been my original reaction only a year or two before, I remained unmoved. (The nexus between an English-singing musical artist who just happened to be of Latin descent, and the teaching of the Spanish language to Anglo-American students seemed flimsy, even at the time).

For the next twenty or so years, my only exposure to Jose Feliciano was on a yearly basis, when local radio broadcasted ad nauseum his Christmas anthem, 'Feliz Navidad,' a song so kitschy, the regional Mexican Restaurant chain Taco John's used it for years as the music behind its TV commercial jingles.  Again, I was unimpressed.

Then, in 2019, Quentin Tarantino released his love letter to the Second Golden Age of Cinema: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The stratified thriller ever-so-craftily set chic fashion, lustrous smiles, and unbridled ambition against the backdrop of the subtle and sinister forces of 1969.  The linchpin to such effective mood-setting was the film's score, which includes at many times actual vintage recordings of L.A. radio D.J. "The Real" Don Steele from local A.M. station KHJ.

In Hollywood, one of the featured tracks is 'California Dreamin'--- not by The Mamas and the Papas, who originally composed and popularized it, but by, you guessed it, Jose Feliciano.  Feliciano's version is restrained and stretched out; it is much quieter than its antecedent.  And it pairs faultlessly with the corresponding scene in the movie to set the perfect atmosphere.  Unlike my previous exposure to Feliciano, I was no longer indifferent to him, but now quite astonished and intrigued.

I began to research the man and his catalog, and I discovered that Feliciano is a master of the reimagined cover song.  Think on the same level as or better than Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" version of 'Layla' and Joe Cocker's Woodstock version of The Beatles' 'With a Little Help From My Friends.'  Feliciano not only flawlessly remakes any song he touches into his own image, but he has done it on an incredible scale for multiple decades.  Refer to his cover of Michael Jackson's 'Billy Jean' for just a scintilla of proof.  

A great introduction and starting point for the uninitiated to Jose Feliciano is his eponymous Feliciano!, which was released in 1968, and just happens to be his most commercially successful album.  It reached Number Two on the U.S. albums chart.  

Feliciano! is comprised of cover songs only.  It features the aforementioned 'California Dreamin' and 'Light My Fire.'  It also contains three Beatles tunes.  The Burt Bacharach penned 'Always Something There to Remind Me' is included as well, and it is a delightful reinterpretation.  But even though none of the songs on the album are an original, they are nevertheless unique and captivating, providing a gateway to an entirely new palette of music for listeners of rock music who may not have otherwise stepped in that melodious direction.  

I will feature a few of the tracks from Feliciano! in the video players below.  The album is certainly worth checking out and best listened to from start to finish, as opposed to a single at a time.  It is spacious and light, but earnest and brave. It is the fitting soundtrack to a relaxing dinner, yet perplexing enough to make the pickiest audiophile ponder.  It has quickly risen to become one of the favorite records in my entire collection.  And that makes me very glad.  

In a world of boundless access to any song ever created by way of music streaming and social media, it is refreshing and inspiring to know it is still possible to discover "new" music, so long as you are willing to open your mind and remove your preconceived notions.    Jose Feliciano has patiently and authentically continued to make incredible music in a career spanning over five decades by just being himself.  He has been here the whole time, even when I wasn't willing to listen.  I wonder what other great artists I have foolishly deprived myself of due to hubris.  I am immensely thankful to Jose and to Feliciano! for teaching me such a valuable lesson.    

Jose Feliciano - 'Light My Fire'


Jose Feliciano - 'California Dreamin'


Jose Feliciano - 'In My Life'


Jose Feliciano - 'Always Something There to Remind Me'

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Genesis Owusu - 'Gold Chains'

When you go to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, it's always a smart move to turn your FM dial to The Current on 89.3 KCMP.

The Minnesota Public Radio-owned station is a great place to hear a wide range of music, including local artists. I have discovered new music everytime I've been able to tune in to the station.

I made a weekend trip to Saint Paul this past weekend, and heard everything from new Modest Mouse to Bob Marley to Arlo Parks to Prince.

But one song on my drive out of town caught my attention enough to write this post -- "Gold Chains" by Genesis Owusu.

Owusu, a 23-year-old Ghanaian-born Australian, started recording just a few years ago.  According to his Wikipedia page, Owusu got his unlikely break in 2019, opening for the sold out 5 Seconds of Summer benefit concert in Sydney.

Owusu's debut album, Smiling with No Teeth, came out in March, 2021, and combines elements of experimental R&B, Hip Hop and Alternative Rock for a unique sound.  The album debuted at #27 on the Australian charts but hasn't quite taken off in the U.S. yet.

On his single, "Gold Chains", Owusu assumes the dual roles of soulful crooner and smooth MC, singing and rapping over glitchy trickles of late night electro-funk.  You can watch the official music video to "Gold Chains" in the YouTube player below.  

There's already a cool remix of the song by Harvey Sutherland, and if you liked "Gold Chains", I would also highly recommend Owusu's latest single, "Same Thing" with its Prince-like guitar lick and Frank Ocean-meets-Thundercat delivery.

For more on Genesis Owusu, visit: https://genesisowusu.com


Monday, May 24, 2021

Behind the Sample: 'NARD

One of my favorite aspects of Hip Hop music is discovering the musical legacy behind the singles.  I love it when I stumble across an old tune and instantly recognize it from its use in a more-famous rap song. I've found a lot of great music this way over the years.

Many of the Hip Hop genre's biggest hits have sampled from Jazz, Funk, R&B and Rock songs, and from the earliest days of the rap scene, artists would dig through crates of old records for inspiration.  Sometimes just a few seconds from a dusty old album would speak to an artist enough to sample, loop and rhyme over.  

For many young artists without the means for expensive musical equipment, two turntables and a microphone (cue Beck) were enough to create unique, original music.

Just last week, I was having a conversation about samples with a coworker and asked him if he'd ever listened to Bernard Wright's album, 'NARD, because a couple of the album's tracks have been prominently featured in some of Hip Hop's greatest hits.

He was unfamiliar, and realizing I didn't actually own it myself, I promptly ordered myself a copy of the LP on Discogs.  I've been happily spinning it since and that brings me to today's post...

'Nard is the near definition of a forgotten gem.

Bernard Wright was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1963--the son of the legendary Roberta "Killing Me Softly" Flack.  A prodigal young jazz/funk keyboardist, Wright began touring with jazz drummer Lenny White when he was only 13-years-old.

Wright's debut album, 'Nard, was recorded when he was just 16 and released in 1981.  While the album didn't gain as much momentum as it deserved, it did make it to #7 on the Billboard Jazz charts, and the single, "Just Chillin' Out", made the charts for both US R&B and Dance that year.

But here we are, 40 years later, and the album still holds up.  

From the wacky, funked-out roller coaster trip of "Haboglabotribin'" to the beautiful piano rendition of Miles Davis' "Solar" concluding the album, 'Nard is a musical joy ride.

Wright's commercial career peaked a few short years later with the single "Who Do You Love?" (which was later the base for LL Cool J's hit single, "Loungin").

But back to 'Nard...

If you've ever heard the song "Gz & Hustlas" from Snoop Doggy Dogg's 1993 breakout masterpiece, Doggystyle, you'll instantly recognize Bernard Wright's connection when you hear "Haboglabotribin'".

A few years after Snoop, 2Pac sampled the same song on "Lie to Kick It" from his album, R U Still Down?

The song's music box intro transitioning to full on, bass-slappin' funk was a major player in the memorable Snoop anthem.  Wright's amusement park raps and tweaked vocals throughout the song feel like a lost track from George Clinton.  It's goofy and weird, but funky as all get out.

Speaking of slap bass, the album's next track, "Spinnin'" is even more impressive -- highlighting Wright's keyboard skills and a tight horn section bringing to mind Earth, Wind & Fire or Kool & the Gang.

Around the 1:25 mark, the song suddenly switches gears to a laid back vibe.  That :15 seconds of chill was later sampled on the self-deprecating megahit 1995 song, "I Wish" by Skee-Lo.  

Check out Bernard Wright's "Spinnin'" in the YouTube clip below, and then watch Skee-Lo's classic music video to hear the sample.

Songs from the album have also been sampled by The Afros, Yo-Yo feat. Ice Cube, and Anotha Level, and dozens of other artists.

The whole 'Nard album is worth checking out if you haven't heard it, and used copies of the out-of-print LP aren't difficult or expensive to find online.  Enjoy!

(The sampled clip on "Spinnin'" first appears at 1:25)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Guest Poster Cassidy: Rihanna - 'Disturbia

We would like to welcome guest poster Cassidy to the blog.  Born in 1996, from time to time she may choose to regale us with her unique "Zillenial" musical point of view.  

Today, she talks about Rihanna's monster smash 'Disturbia:' 



In 2008,  'Disturbia' by Rihanna came out. It seems impossible that it has been 13 years since this club hit was released, and as we all know time passes us by, and it passes us by quickly


As I have gotten older, I have started to appreciate the early to mid 00’s hits that defined my childhood; namely, staying with my big brother at his apartment and watching MTV Hits and Fuse (when it was still a thing).


I vividly remember staying up during all hours of the night, my tween brain addicted to recognizing songs that I had grown up on and newer songs that were airing at the time. It seems like yesterday when I remember hearing the the hook in Rihanna’s 'Disturbia' at 2 a.m., and entertaining the fix to watch the music video.


'Disturbia' was a radio hit that year, and it was always played at the pool I went to as a kid. When I think back to that year, I can remember how badly I wanted to be in my mid-twenties, going to the club and being able to "adult" (I know - very self aware).  I am almost 25 years old now, and every time I hear 'Disturbia' it takes me back to being 12 years old, the warm sun on my skin at the pool and not a care in the world. It actually makes me want to go back to being a kid (it’s funny how things change). 


While 'Disturbia' was the focus of this post, I do want to give a huge shoutout to the other hits that came out in 2008. During that year, and other years while he lived there, I vividly remember hanging out at my older brother’s apartment and just enjoying the music. Every time I hear Rihanna, T-Pain, or Akon, it truly takes me back to a great time in my life, specifically, getting to hangout with my big brother. 




Steve's Response:  Cassidy:  Thank-you for the guest post.  'Disturbia' was definitely a monster MTV Video Hit when it was released.  I still remember the live performance on the 2008 MTV VMAs.  It is definitely a part of the popular music canon today.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Little Simz - 'Introvert'

We're now less than a month away from the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death, and the past year--though tumultuous and frustrating--has shed light on many problems that still persist in this country.

The weekend leading up to St. Patrick's Day last year, my wife and I took a trip to Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota.  COVID-19 had hit stateside at that point, but it wasn't until a few days later that the whole country would essentially go into lockdown.  The catchphrase, "We're all in this together" soon became the unofficial motto of the pandemic. 

But just a couple of months later, in that same city, George Floyd was killed while under policy custody and the whole world took notice.  The viral video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for 9-1/2 minutes sent shockwaves across the internet.  For many Americans, this moment was a wake up call.  For many black Americans, it unfortunately felt like the same story, different day... but this time others listened.

The civil unrest boiled over soon after, with George Floyd Protests and Black Lives Matter marches in streets across the country, protesting police brutality, racial inequality and systemic racism. Riots in the Twin Cities led to over 600 arrests and around $500 million in property damage, but the message was heard.  

Nearly a year later, officer Chauvin has been found guilty in Floyd's murder.  For many, it feels like justice has finally been served in the face of countless other cases where no conviction took place.  But there is still a long way to go before equality is reached, even if this moment triggered a movement.

In the Hip Hop world, many artists took the emotions of the past year and channeled them into song.  One of the most powerful songs and music videos I've come across is from British rapper Little Simz in her new song, "Introvert".

Little Simz, AKA Simbiatu 'Simbi' Abisola Abiola Ajikawo, is a London-based rapper, singer and actress of Nigerian heritage.  Her forthcoming album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, is due in September 2021.

Opening with a military-style drumline, "Introvert" builds to a sweeping orchestral and choir arrangement with Little Simz' emotive and dynamic lyrics carrying the message of empowerment.  The video features beautifully-shot modern choreography.

All of the song's lyrics are important, but here's one snippet that struck a chord with me:

"Look beyond the surface don’t just see what you wanna see

My speech ain’t involuntary

Project with intention straight from my lungs

I’m a black woman and I’m proud one

We walk in blind faith not knowing the outcome

But as long as we unified then we’ve already won."

Watch the video for Little Simz' "Introvert" below, via YouTube.  For more on this artist, visit: www.littlesimz.com

Monday, April 26, 2021

Vök - 'Lost in the Weekend'

A few summers ago, I took a memorable trip to Iceland.  The country's stark and dramatic landscape was breathtaking.  We drove the coastal highway between sporadic, quaint towns, flanked by the ocean on one side and rocky cliffs and waterfalls on the other.  

We stayed on a volcanic island (Vestmannaeyjar) one night, a horse farm in the middle of--essentially--nowhere on another, and in a domed glass rental house nestled deep inside a valley the next.  We threw our coats over the windows to block out the near 24-hour-daylight of the summer season. Time, as a construct, was pretty meaningless when it was as bright going to bed as waking up, and it took a bit more discipline to go to sleep at any point.

We waded in natural hot springs--both established and off the beaten path--and soaked up the cool misty air and amazing views around us.  We drove down windy gravel roads without seeing another car for miles on end. We ate amazing food, drank local beer and experienced the capital city of Reykjavik's vibrant and artistic culture.  

I was astounded that the country's entire population (approx. 357,000) was on par with that of my own small city back home in Des Moines, Iowa.  In other words, once you got outside the bustling airport and tourist attractions, Iceland was an easy place to disappear into solitude.

While in Reykjavik on our last full day before flying home, we stopped into the super cool Lucky Records.  

The shop was already closing for the day, but we still had just enough time to comb through the local music section and put on headphones to listen to some unfamiliar Icelandic artists.  I was, of course, familiar with the likes of Björk and Sigur Rós, but there was a sea of music at my fingertips to explore in a short time.  

I only had enough room in my suitcase to stash one LP without the threat of bending, so I had to act quickly and decisively in my purchase.

And then I turned my headphones on to Vök.

The Icelandic dreampop trio instantly caught my ear when I put on their album, Figure.  The pensive and introspective atmospherics and pulsating rhythms encapsulated much of the feeling and emotion that I'd had driving around the countryside that week.

The store clerk tapped me and said, "Okay, we're closing now", which snapped me out of my music-induced stupor.  I quickly snatched up a copy of the album and a red t-shirt with the Lucky Records logo, as the employees locked the doors behind me.

That record, Vök's Figure, made it home in one piece, fortunately, and still brings me back to that trip whenever I put it on.

Earlier this month, the band released a new music video to their latest single, "Lost in the Weekend", describing it as focusing, "...on the ease of over-indulgence when you’re living in the moment and the purposeful loss of a sense of self."

It seems like a pretty good takeaway message.  For me, Reykjavik would have been an easy place to get lost in the moment--losing all sense of what day or time it was in endless daylight, surrounded by art and music and food and drink.  As much as I enjoyed my time in the city, it was the stunning landscape of the nearby countryside that brought me the most self-reflection and relaxation.

You can watch the video for "Lost in the Weekend" below, via Vök's YouTube:

For more on Vök's music, visit the band's Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Revisiting the Original Mortal Kombat Soundtrack

With this Friday's highly anticipated (and R-rated) Mortal Kombat movie release, I thought I'd revisit the legacy and personal impact the franchise had on me growing up.

Back in 1995, when I was a 12-year-old, braces-wearing, comic book-trading nerd playing Sega at my friend's house up the street, Mortal Kombat was the epitome of cool.  It was edgy, violent and addictive.

The overtly brutal game encouraged you to take on your friends, cage match style. This was before XBox and PS5 let you talk smack to random strangers online, and you instead had to sit in farty bean bag chairs next to one another and battle it out, yelling, "Get over here!", "Toasty!", and "Finish him!"

Now, more than 25 years later, Mortal Kombat still finds an audience.  It's rare for something to stay relevant for so many years, crossing generations.  I've been away from the game for some time now, but I still got excited when the trailer to the new movie came out recently.

The 1995 Mortal Kombat film by the same name was a doozy.  I saw it in the theater, of course. It was by no means an Oscar contender, but it accomplished what it needed to, hindered only by a PG-13 rating. It's pretty dated to watch the movie now, but man, does it take you back in time.

 The plot was simple:  three martial artists travel to a secret island to fight in an underground tournament to determine the fate of the world.  The talents of Robin Shou and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa carried the film, while Christopher "Highlander" Lambert--for some reason--played the Japanese Thundergod, Raiden.

The success of the 1995 film was also due in part to its soundtrack.  The theme song, "Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)" by the Immortals was one of the hottest tracks of the year.  You might know it as the techno song that periodically screams "MORTAL KOMBAT!"

But to write the soundtrack off as a gimmick would be unfair.  It also contained some great original music, crossing the aggressive genres of heavy metal and techno.  Not all of the songs on the original motion picture soundtrack were featured in the film itself, but the mood fits throughout.  Metal bands like Type O Negative and Napalm Death were featured alongside electronic acts like Orbital and Utah Saints, taking the soundtrack as high as #10 on the Billboard Top 200 that year.

Amongst my personal favorite tracks were "Goodbye (demo version)" by industrial rock group Gravity Kills, and the smoldering "Burn" by Sister Machine Gun.

But it's Orbital's 9-1/2 minute-long masterpiece "Halcyon + On + On" that has stood the test of time.  The ambient and melodic track slowly builds up, utilizing a delicate piano and guitar loop and a backmasked vocal sample from "It's Fine Day" by Opus III for its angelic, trance-like nature.

It's an extended version of the original Orbital single, and probably one of the greatest soundtrack songs of all time, having also been used in Hackers, and later, Mean Girls.  It's also one of my favorite songs of all time, so I'm honestly disappointed in myself that in 16 years of writing for the Lonely Note, I've never actually posted about this song before. 

All through Jr. High and High School, my friends and I would put the cd on track #6, set the boom box to repeat and listen to it over and over again while we'd hang out and talk about life, so it brings back a flood of memories anytime I hear it.  Never heard it?  You can listen to "Halcyon + On + On" in the YouTube clip below.

I should also mention that I bought the follow up compilation album, 1996's Mortal Kombat: More Kombat. It also featured some great tracks continuing in the same industrial direction, including songs from God Lives Underwater, Sepultura, the Crystal Method, and a song called "My Ruin" by Crawlspace (later known as Sevendust).

Will 2021's Mortal Kombat reboot live up to the hype?  It's one of the latest films to be simultaneously released to theaters and HBOMAX, and the trailer has a lot of fans (AKA other dudes in their 30s) worked up.  

Will it have a killer soundtrack?  That is yet to be determined, but there is a pretty sweet updated "Techno Syndrome 2021" theme song remix to go with it, so it's a start!


Monday, April 19, 2021

Cannons - 'Bad Dream'

The dark, moody synthpop of Cannons' latest single, "Bad Dream", would have fit right in on the soundtrack to the 2011 movie Drive had it been released a decade earlier.

A continuation of the synthwave movement, Cannons hits on all the right notes that fans of retro '80s-90s culture, music and film love.  Fans of The xx, M83 and the Chromatics should find Cannons equally-appealing.

The video to "Bad Dream" feels like a mashup between Twin Peaks and Stranger Things, with a hint of Netflix true crime series and a splash of Napoleon Dynamite dance moves to boot.  Cassette boom boxes, giant cell phones, tube TVs, Ford Broncos and sequins all round out this creepy trip down nostalgia lane.

Watch the video for "Bad Dream" below, and visit the official Cannons website for more:

London Grammar - 'How Does It Feel'

Hannah Reid's soaring vocals take center stage on London Grammar's new album, Californian Soil.

The English indie-pop trio have teased new singles for the last 9 months leading up to the album's release just three days ago.

London Grammar takes sparse, dreamlike electronic and guitar arrangements and layers them with Reid's echoed, classically-trained vocals.  It's delicate, it's haunting, it's undeniably catchy.

Reid's dramatic vocals and cathartic delivery bring to mind Florence Welch, while musicians Dan Rothman and Dot Major round out the group's ambient stylings and bring elements of trip-hop and electronica/dance.

On singles, "How Does It Feel" and "Lord, It's a Feeling", the group takes their sound up a notch, complementing delicate atmospheric elements with epic waves of emotion. 

You can watch the official video for "How Does It Feel" and the official visualizer for "Lord, It's a Feeling" below, via YouTube.  

For more on London Grammar and their latest release, Californian Soil, visit londongrammar.com


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Julian Lennon - 'Valotte'

My keen preoccupation with piano ballads continues to dominate the conversation with a spotlight on a 1984 single by Beatles offspring, Julian Lennon.  

'Valotte' was the opening track of the eponymous debut album of John Lennon's eldest son.  And while the album may be lazily remembered by armchair musicologists for the much poppier 'Too Late For Goodbyes,' 'Valotte' is the stronger composition in my opinion.  

Released only a few years after the elder Lennon's murder, the track is haunting on multiple levels:  for its lyrical depiction of a romantic relationship in its waning days; and perhaps more so for its vocals and stylings that sound nearly identical to a beloved man who was no longer alive.  

While I am sure many Beatles fans clamored for Julian's  musical offerings in the wake of his father's death, I am just as sure its fruition nevertheless served as an unfortunate reminder that the biological impersonation can rarely fill the void left by the loss of its progenitor.  

This is not to say that Julian's music is bad or subpar---far from it.  Instead, I merely point out that, while he may have been privileged to have a mythic musician for a father, he was likewise disadvantaged by the same's inescapable shadow.  No matter how immensely talented Julian could ever be, the wound of his father's death was too fresh for fans to move on from and to separate from the son.

(Don't believe me?  Take note of the career trajectory of Julian's half-brother--and John's son with Yoko Ono--Sean Lennon, a likewise talented and brilliant artist in his own right).  

Nevertheless, I believe enough time has passed for 'Valotte,' the song, to be given an independent look and listen.  Structurally, the track is full of infectious hooks and plaintive verses.  

Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar 
Wondering if we're really ever gonna get that far 
Do you know there's something wrong 
'Cause I've felt it all along

And its measured march toward the rewarding choral climax is splendidly tender.  Had Billy Joel or Elton John penned this song, it would have been canonized.  Think about that, and keep an open mind, when you take a look at the video for Julian Lennon's 'Valotte' below:

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Billy Joel -'Big Shot' + 'Honesty' + 'My Life' + 'Zanzibar' + 'Stiletto'

Anymore, it is rare as hen's teeth for a studio album to contain a sequence that keeps hitting track after consecutive track after consecutive track. 

I suppose much of that may have to do with the single-centric music culture we seem to find ourselves in.  And perhaps much more of that may have to do with the short attention spans the plurality of the American citizenry seem to currently have as well.  What with the Tik-Toks and the Snapchats and the Tweets, the dopamine injections social media provides is often a much more attractive option for one to spend an evening doing than to actively listen to a longform audible masterpiece that requires more than five minutes of focus.

But I digress.

Of course, many Beatles albums fit the bill of sequential sublimity; as do those by Michael Jackson. Probably my earliest firsthand experiences with such a treasure trove of continuous audio bliss were with Ten by Pearl Jam and Nevermind by Nirvana. The first half--if not more-- of both of those albums have an indescribable chemistry, a consummate formulation that would do worse if produced in any other way.  I am sure there are numerous examples of other like-kind albums that I am forgetting or neglecting to mention right now.

Billy Joel's 1978 release, 52nd Street, fits the definition of the seamless album structure as described above.  At least the first five songs on the album consist of one of my favorite track successions.  Below is a synopsis of each, and why I believe they make up the bulk of one of the greatest piano rock records ever.  


1.  Big Shot

Not much needs to be said about this one.  'Big Shot' is one of Billy's biggest hits that is probably still played on most oldies stations today.  It's uptempo opening and large rhythms comprise a well served and over-the-top introduction to an album that would knock the socks of many listeners of the day.  Billy also sings in a dramatic New Wave Punk style that was emblematic of the era.



2. Honesty

A palate cleanser, 'Honesty' is a heartfelt ballad that I just so happen to believe is Joel's best composition ever.  No pun intended, but if any set of lyrics speak absolute truth to its underlying message, 'Honesty' is it.  For those of us fortunate to find ourselves in long term marriages or relationships, the song's message serves as convincing advice that many of us can attest to.  For a true romantic partnership to work, it requires vulnerability, sincerity, and compassion;  lust and histrionics may work in the short term, but they are never sustainable.

I can always find someone
To say they sympathize
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve
But I don't want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe   


3. My Life 

This is another track that needs no introduction.  Just like 'Big Shot,' it is another standard of the Great American Oldies Songbook.  The quintessential song of telling someone else to mind their own business, 'My Life' is politely rebellious; the lyrics may be telling the world to back off, but its underlying tune is a jaunty sing-along.  Highly relatable, 'My Life' has likely hit a chord with many who want to pursue their own happiness without the interference of judgmental authority figures and frenemies.  

(Note: the video below features  the beginning of the fifth track, 'Stiletto,' in its intro).  


4.  Zanzibar

At this point in 52nd Street, things begin to get interesting.  'Zanzibar' is a gritty ode to masculinity; a lament of a bachelor in the New York City metroplex who just so happens to likes booze, baseball, and women.  (Shocking, right?)  Its structure is equal parts theater production and equal parts speakeasy jazz.  This is probably one of Billy's most sophisticated creations, with multiple change-ups in a short five minute timeframe.  The choral hook, however, is what makes 'Zanzibar' a diamond in the rough.

I've got the old man's car
I've got a jazz guitar
I've got a tab at Zanzibar
Tonight that's where I'll be, I'll be


5. Stiletto 

With the fifth track, Billy rewards the listeners who have loyally listened thus far with jazzy syncopation and staccato, the nucleus of much of his catalog.  Not to worry, though, the track is still fundamentally pop in its structure.  While its introduction may resemble the lovechild of 'Careless Whisper' meets West Side Story, the half-minute mark gives way to the raucous storytelling Billy Joel has made millions on.  Just a man and his piano, 'Stiletto' is the essence of Billy Joel, and certainly the antecedent to later-comers like Ben Folds.  

Monday, April 12, 2021

JUNGLE - 'Keep Moving'

JUNGLE continues to release some of my favorite music videos.  

The London-based group's laid-back falsetto funk first caught on with 2014's hit, "Busy Earnin'".

Translating their electronic dance sounds into a seven-piece live band also gained the band considerable acclaim and a following on the concert circuit.  But for me, it's their straightforward but original choreographed videos that keep me coming back.  Seriously, I could just go to the group's YouTube channel now and get stuck watching their videos all afternoon.

And no exception is JUNGLE's latest single, "Keep Moving".  The song itself isn't a departure from the sound that the group's fans have come to expect, mixing string arrangements, relaxed grooves and a funky bassline into a mix that's equally as suitable for the dancefloor as it is for chilling out afterwards.

The video enters with a single woman and an abandoned prison, building up to a full on choreographed group dance.  The plot needn't go any deeper from there, as the joy is in the movement and atmosphere itself.  So, take a 5:21 break from your day and watch the latest from JUNGLE below:

JUNGLE's forthcoming album, Loving In Stereo, is set for release in August 2021.  You can preorder it today, at junglejunglejungle.com

Royal Blood - 'Limbo'

Royal Blood returned this past week with a funky new blues-rocker, called "Limbo".

The Brighton, UK-based duo have made a name for themselves over the past decade by combining heavily-distorted bass guitar and drum arrangements with catchy pop sensibilities.  It's heavy, it's bluesy, but it's melodic--in a similar vein to other two-piece bands like Death from Above 1979, the White Stripes, and the Black Keys.

I've long been a fan of two-piece bands--it's always cool to see how much noise and different dynamics a minimal setup can still crank out.

When Royal Blood's single, "Trouble's Coming" came out this past autumn, it became a regular rotator on my playlists.  It still had the hard-hitting groove of past songs, but with more danceable elements and electronic flourishes than I'd heard from them previously. 

On "Limbo", the duo continues in this direction--bringing in a disco-like chorus and a magnetism reminiscent of mainstream rock contemporaries like the Arctic Monkeys and Muse.  

The dance beat, paired with the helmeted motorcyclists in the video, also feels like a reference to the recently defunct Daft Punk.

It's a big, boisterous song with plenty of pedal effects, riffs and an undeniable hook.  Royal Blood have continued their trajectory, with enough creativity and energy for mass appeal.   Unlike the song's title, I'm not stuck in limbo on my feelings here -- I dig it.

You can watch the official YouTube video to Royal Blood's "Limbo" below.  The band's forthcoming album, Typhoons, is set for release at the end of the month on April 30th, 2021.  They have some super cool vinyl bundles and options available for preorder on the Royal Blood website.


Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Kurt Cobain and the Lost Tapes of the 27 Club

This past Monday, April 5th, marked the 27th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's (of Nirvana) tragic death.

It struck me that Cobain has now been gone for as long as he was alive, having passed at the young age of 27.  

The "27 Club" is a cultural phenomenon circulating around a number of famous musicians and celebrities who all died at 27--often related to drug use or suicide--including the likes of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse.

For an all-too-brief moment in time, Nirvana ruled the music world, but Cobain's impact and legacy has carried on to a new generation.

Today, an organization known as Over The Bridge seeks to combat mental health in the music industry and to, "...empower musicians and to reclaim their lives from their mental health struggles."

Over the Bridge has been using artificial intelligence software to create what they're calling "The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club" -- a collection of new computer-generated songs that mimic beloved artists who have been lost prematurely.

For the new single, "Drowned in the Sun", the organization compiled multiple songs from Nirvana's catalog and used a computer algorithm to isolate hooks, rhythms, melodies and lyrics to generate brand new musical elements in Cobain's songwriting style.

It's quite eery to listen to.  While the song may not sound 100% like Nirvana, it does carry enough similarities to warrant a listen, and is truly an impressive accomplishment.  The song surprisingly rocks, and has been stuck in my head for the past few days.

The idea of computer programs learning from, and imitating, art is still a relatively new concept. Can you really replace the human aspect of songwriting and the emotion that goes into creating a great song?  It's true that much of pop music is formulaic--and legions of Nirvana-loving bands have attempted to capture the "loud, quiet, loud" dynamic that Cobain popularized 30 years ago.  

On Over The Bridge's website, they admit that, "...even AI will never replace the real thing."

What made Cobain's impact and legacy so great was how genuine, raw and cathartic his songwriting was. A whole generation of youth could relate to him and feel his pain.  His death, ruled as suicide, only propelled the existing myth surrounding him.  

There's long been a fascination with the the notion of the tortured genius, and the idea that some people's artistic ability is too much of a burden for them to live with.  But does great art only come from great suffering?  Is it fair to romanticize the struggles of mental health? 

Over The Bridge hopes use their album, The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, to "show the world what has been lost to this mental health crisis."

Take a listen to "Drowned in the Sun" below and let us know what you think.  

For more on Over The Bridge and to listen to more Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, Click Here.



Monday, March 22, 2021

Spoonerisms and Celeb Citings

Last evening, co-contributor Steve sent me a link to listen to Ritt Momney's indie-pop cover of Corinne Bailey Ray's "Put Your Records On".

Steve commented that the artist's name, Ritt Momney, "gets me every time".  This is, of course, because Ritt Momney is a parody on the name of US Senator Mitt Romney.


Simple, but effective.

After Steve's message, my brain began slipping down the rabbit hole of bands that either directly reference, or twist the names of famous persons.

A Spoonerism is a type of metathesis in linguistics, defined as, "an error in speech in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched between two words in a phrase. These are named after the Oxford don and ordained minister William Archibald Spooner, who reputedly did this."

Another example of Spoonerisms in music is the synthwave artist Com Truise, which is a twist on the name of actor Tom Cruise.  

Sometimes artists don't rearrange the letters in a celebrity's name, so much as substitute one letter to change the entire meaning, in the case of artists like Joy Orbison (a nod to the late, great Roy Orbison), or Chet Faker (a comedic reference to legendary jazz trumpeter Chet Baker).


The Dandy Warhols (reference to artist Andy Warhol) still make my regular musical rotation with their '90s staple, "Bohemian Like You"

Probably the most prominent example of this in popular music is the CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse project, Gnarls Barkley which blew up the charts with their 2006 megahit single, "Crazy".  Gnarls Barkley is--surprise--a gnarly twist on basketball star, Charles Barkley.

Here's a few other examples:  

Gringo Starr (Beatles' Ringo Starr)

Ringo Deathstarr (Beatles vs Star Wars)

Steve 'N' Seagulls (actor Steven Seagal)

And, perhaps my favorite of the bunch... The Harmonica Lewinskis (Monica Lewinski)

Then again, sometimes you just don't feel like rearranging the letters in a famous person's name to be clever, so you go for the gusto and directly reference them.

Take Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin for example.  Or maybe Kathleen Turner Overdrive.

How about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.?  They've since changed their name to just JR JR.

According to Wikipedia:  NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. "...is a fan of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.  The band emailed him to assure him they were not making fun of him and sent him a few samples of their music."

Perhaps you're more keen on Natalie Portman's Shaved Head (who have since changed their name to Brite Futures), who publicly stated that it had come to their attention that, "...our muse Ms. Portman is not so keen on us using her name in ours..."

It's well documented that Pearl Jam's original name was Mookie Blaylock, after the basketball player. Luscious Jackson were also named after a misspelling of basketball great, Lucious Jackson.


Many bands have borrowed from historical figures.  Scottish band, Franz Ferdinand, owe their name to the former Archduke of Austria.  The '80s hard rock band Tesla were named after inventor Nikola Tesla.  Classic rockers Jethro Tull were named after the English inventor and agricultural pioneer of the same name.  

Sometimes artists even combine two or more famous titles to make them their own.  The Brian Jonestown Massacre were named after the late Rolling Stones' guitarist Brian Jones and the infamous Jonestown Massacre.

Marilyn Manson is a combination of Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson, and the band's early members also took on the conjoined names of famous actresses/models and serial killers (e.g. Twiggy Ramirez, Gidget Gein and Madonna Wayne Gacy)

Inspiration apparently strikes in all sorts of places.  You could really go on and on...  

So, do you have a favorite? Who else deserved to be mentioned in this list?  Comment below if you have additions!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Climax Blues Band - 'I Love You'

You know that part in 'Maybe I'm Amazed' by Paul McCartney, where the song, at about the 2:17 mark, does that piano change-up thing-- do-do-do-do-do-do?  Unfortunately, I am not skilled in properly articulating music (in fact I have absolutely no idea how to talk about music in the technical sense), but you can hear exactly what I am talking about here

Anyhow, if you have ever imagined what the sequel to such a chord progression (or is it regression?) might be, then 'I Love You' by Climax Blues Band may be just the answer.  

Such a statement is not meant to diminish the 1980 single as a cheap Beatles rip-off.  To the contrary, 'I Love You' carries just as much emotional heft as the McCartney-penned doppelganger.  Indeed, the lyrics serve as a sincere ode to those one-of-a-kind women out there who, against all advice to the contrary, decide to take a chance and partner with that possibly problematic man, through thick or thin and for better or worse:

When I was a younger man I hadn't a care /  Foolin' around, hittin' the town, growing my hair / You came along and stole my heart when you entered my life / ooh babe you got what it takes, so I made you my wife.

....   

You came along from far away and found me here /  I was playin' around, feeling down, hittin' the beer / You picked me up from off the floor and gave me a smile / You said you're much to young, your life ain't begun, let's walk for awhile.

'I Love You' reached number 12 on the charts in 1981, but I feel it gets undeservedly low airplay today.  Perhaps it is because it has been overshadowed by the English band's disco-infused A.M. radio staple 'Couldn't Get It Right'?  In any event, even if the song is no longer on the radio rotation today,  'I Love You' by Climax Blues Band definitely belongs on any of Star-Lord's walkman awesome cassette mixes, and likely in your personal Spotify playlist.  

Watch the video for the undeservedly forgotten 'I Love You' by Climax Blues Band below:

Monday, March 08, 2021

Christian Sands - 'Can't Find My Way Home'

Post-college I began to slowly fall in love with jazz; Bebop and Post-bop to be exact.  Midtown martini bars, the Beat Generation, and Don Draper all come to mind when I listen to Miles or The Monk.  It is sophistication, class, and cool epitomized.  

Christian Sands is a contemporary jazz pianist whose expositions reveal he is a disciple of the midcentury jazz tradition.  His style is delicate, and his arrangements demonstrate a keen sense of space and sonic instinct.  

Normally, when it comes to jazz, one of my peeves is when a pop or rock song is covered.  Much of the time, the end result sounds to me like silly Muzak you hear in the waiting room of your dentist's office or at the shopping mall department store during Christmas.  (Shopping Malls...remember those?)  For this reason, I prefer jazz and popular music rarely marry.  

'Can't Find My Way Home' is the rare exception to my mantra.  As a classic rock adherent in my junior and senior high school days, I listened endlessly to Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker jam on the supergroup's self-titled Blind Faith album.  When it was recently recommended to me I check out Sands' rendition of the Winwood penned 'Can't Find My Way Home,' I was skeptical.  But I am glad I gave it a chance, because I feel it is one of the best jazz covers of a classic rock song I have ever heard.  

Sands' version is a slow burn.  But if you have the patience and wherewithal to let yourself go and truly, actively LISTEN, the payoff is wonderful.  His arrangement translates the technical mastery of the rock original's guitar bars and percussion to piano brilliantly.  It gently embraces the original's rawness without getting consumed by it.  The change-ups are seductive.  Just take a listen at approximately the five-minute mark, and you will truly hear and feel what I mean.  I get lost in this song every time I hear it.   

You can listen to the audio stream to 'Can't Find My Way Home' in the music player below.  But if you have 15 minutes to spare, you can watch a recent live performance from a club in Baltimore recorded in November of 2020 here if you want to see how Sands, and bandmates Ryan Sands and Yasushi Nakamura, truly jive.  



Thomas Dolby - 'Airwaves'

For the casual listener, the mention of Thomas Dolby likely spawns visions of quirky synth pop, coalesced with the Poindexter look Dolby adorned in his music video for worldwide smash 'She Blinded Me With Science.'  (SCIENCE!!)  Indeed, 'She Blinded Me With Science' is a banger that still carries Party DJ cred today.  Unless you are a hardcore fan, though, the rest of Dolby's catalog--and even other songs featured on the very same album as 'Science'--have gone completely overlooked.  

Track 3 from The Golden Age of Wireless is 'Airwaves.'  (Point of reference:  'She Blinded Me With Science' is Track 1).  I first came across the track not long ago as it was playing in the background of a satellite radio station or random Spotify station;  I really can't remember.  But what totally grabbed me were the verses' uncanny melodic similarity to Billy Joel's 'Goodnight Saigon.'  In fact, I first thought it was an alternate version of the Billy song, however, the sprawling, spacey, multi-layered chorus immediately informed me 'Airwaves' was a completely different--and frankly much better-- record altogether.  

For fellow nostalgia junkies, 'Airwaves' is a signature artifact from Generation X's formative years.  It is a perfect combination of eccentricity, the subterranean, and New Wave.  The corresponding music video definitely bears this out.

In fact, you can check out the music video for 'Airwaves' in the player below: 

Frances Forever - 'Space Girl'

'Space Girl' is a jaunty track from Frances Forever, the stage name of Frances Garrett.  Although the tune has been around for almost a couple of years, the single has gained recent prominence as it has made the rounds on Tik-Tok. 

My favorite part of the song is definitely the bridge, which begins around the 2:19 mark.  It is a hazy and tranquil divergence from the otherwise buoyant melody, and it balances the tune out quite nicely.

You can watch the official video for 'Space Girl' in the player below:

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Tune-Yards - 'Hold Yourself'

I have always had an affinity for Merrill Garbus and her band tUnE-yArDs (see prior post here), but to be entirely honest, that affinity never grew into reverence or exaltation.  While I certainly appreciated her groundbreaking idiosyncrasies, the music never completely moved me to the next celestial level, if you will.  
That is not an indictment.  Indeed, there are many artists I respect and enjoy that fit into this very category.  

But with the recent release of latest single, 'Hold Yourself,' my adoration for Merrill and tUnE-yArDs has been reborn stronger than before.  Arranged as a  ballad, 'Hold Yourself' is a candid portrait of the precarious role of parenthood; the constant tension between a mother's or father's own frailties and self-doubts on the one hand, while simultaneously projecting strength and false bravado on the other, all for the sake of the child's sense of safety and wellbeing.  

Musically, 'Hold Yourself' is alluring.  Its first couple of bars are reminiscent of 'Purple Rain,' followed by Garbus' measured Gospel slugs during the choruses.   The synth and sax of the tune compliment her voice quite nicely.  Overall, it is a beautiful and moving composition that grips onto my soul a little more each time I hear it.  

'Hold Yourself' is set to drop on March 26, 2021.  In the meantime, you can watch the music video for the single below:

Monday, March 01, 2021

Meg Myers - 'Any Way You Wanna Love'

Meg Myers returned this weekend with a new music video to her single, "Any Way You Wanna Love".


It's been a while since we've checked in on Myers, having first written about her sensuous alt-rock single, "Desire" on this blog more than six years ago.


The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter is back with a new video that supports the Dance to Be Free organization, which "empowers incarcerated women and others who have endured psychological and physical traumas through the use of choreographed healing dance." 


The video finds Myers dancing freely on a beach, and intersperses clips of fans, friends and family contributing their own interpretations of the dance.


In Myers' own words, as posted in the video description:

"'Any Way You Wanna Love' and the Dance are both inspired by healing journeys of liberation, freeing participants of old bonds, old wounds and shadows of the past. Into new light of creation and potential, transforming what was once negative and debilitating into freedom and celebration of new life. So rather than being disempowered by our pasts, we transmute the energy into recognition and empowerment.”


You can watch (and dance along to) the video for Meg Myers' "Any Way You Wanna Love" below.  To learn more about Dance to Be Free, visit  https://DanceToBeFree.org​



For more on this artist, visit Meg Myers' Official Website.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Last Week's Listens: José González and Gojira

Over the past week,  I've found myself listening repeatedly to two new singles from two very different--but equally impressive--artists, José González and Gojira.

González, the Argentinian-Swedish indie folk musician, returned with his first new single in several years, (and his first in Spanish), "El Invento".

González describes "El Invento" as a song he wrote around the birth of his daughter, and one which asks the questions, "...who we are, where we're going, and why?"

Like much of his music, the song is pastoral and introspective, with González' skillfully-plucked acoustic guitar playing to delicately spoken vocals.  It's a very poignant and pretty tune that fits right in with much of the artist's previous catalog.  His music always feels calming and complex at the same time.

For me, it brought back memories of seeing him perform live in Chicago back in 2007, and recalling the gentle command he had as a solo performer (You can read my concert review here).

Watch the video for "El Invento" below:



And then...

On the polar opposite side of the musical spectrum, we have the explosive, flying whale-of-a-single from French metal masters, Gojira, called "Born For One Thing".

Gojira have rightfully earned a reputation for effortlessly blending elements of technical, death and thrash metal into a heavy groove.  Having seen them live in 2019, I can attest that Gojira is a band that somehow sounds even heavier and more dialed-in in concert.  

The new single, "Born For One Thing", which dropped last week, has been met with much enthusiasm from fans new and old.  It finds the band picking up where they left off with 2016's crossover success story, Magma.  While some dyed-in-the-wool fans from the band's early days may have feared Magma was veering into mainstream territory, there's no denying the latest single finds the band still in their prime.  

"Born For One Thing" starts with that trademark Gojira build-up before crashing down into intense riffs with surgical precision.  Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier have an inherent way of clicking together on guitar and drums, respectively, like conjoined twins sharing one musical brain.

Even if metal isn't your thing, I recommend giving Gojira a listen, as they remain one of the tightest, heaviest and most consistent bands in the genre today.

Gojira's forthcoming album, Fortitude, will be released on April 30th, 2021.  Listen to "Born for One Thing" below: