Monday, May 31, 2010

May 31: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #22"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and SOME commentary from "The Guru" himself.

1. The Clash, "Capital Radio One"  Live
2. Grinderman, "Honey Bee (Let's Fly To Mars)"  Grinderman
3. Soccer Team, "We Closed A Record Store"  "Volunteered" Civility & Professionalism
4. The Ventures, "Walk - Don't Run"  All-Time Greatest Hits
5. Johnny Hartman, "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning"  I Just Dropped By To Say Hello
6. R.E.M., "The One I Love"  Document
7. Van Morrison, "And It Stoned Me"  Moondance
8. Belly, "Feed The Tree"  Star
9. Veruca Salt, "Volcano Girls"  Eight Arms To Hold You
10. Letters To Cleo, "Here And Now"  Aurora Gory Alice
11. Mike Gordon & Leo Kottke, "From Pizza Towers To Defeat"  Clone
12. Kenny Rogers, "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)"  Somethin's Burning
13. The Selecter, "Too Much Pressure (Live)"  Trojan Ska Revival Box Set
14. The Pop Group, "Forces Of Oppression"  We Are All Prostitutes
15. Outkast, "Elevators (Me And You)"  ATLiens
16. Meat Puppets, "Oh, Me"  Meat Puppets II

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30: David Ruffin, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)"

Artist: David Ruffin
Song: "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)"
Album: My Whole World Ended
Year: 1969

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While it has been shown many times that when a musician willingly leaves a band, they often find success; it is a very rare occasion that when a performer is "asked" to leave a group, that they find a similar result.  In nearly every case, regardless of the circumstances, a performer who is outed against their will fades into obscurity, though the group in question often rises again to prominence.  Then of course, there is the case of David Ruffin.  As one of the most recognizable voices in music history, it was Ruffin's vocals that were at the front of a number of The Temptations' biggest hits throughout the 1960's.  As the decade came to a close, tensions between Ruffin and the others in the group came to a head, and Ruffin was kicked out, being replaced by former Contour, Dennis Edwards.  After a series of legal actions with Motown Records, Ruffin agreed to stay with the label until the end of his initial contract, and he began working as a solo performer.  In reality, the first single David Ruffin released as a solo artist was in fact originally slated as a Temptations song, but Ruffin and an amazing cast of backing musicians took the song and turned it into a classic.  The song proves that he was the heart of his former group, and it also reflects the diversity within Motown Records that had developed over the years.  Bringing in a wide range of styles alongside some of the finest vocals ever recorded, there are few songs that can compare to David Ruffin's 1969 debut single, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)."

Musically, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" stands as one of the most diverse sounding songs in the entire Motown catalog.  Incorporating elements of jazz, classical, soul, funk, and blues, there are few songs from anywhere in history that have as unique an overall sound as one finds here.  The song begins with a flute piece played by Dayna Hartwick that is based off of Felix Mendelssohn's "Frühlingslied."  As the song drops into the main musical phrasing, it has an almost Latin feel, mostly due to the salsa-like rhythm that is put forth by the only band capable of such an amazing musical texture: The Funk Brothers.  As they did throughout all of "the golden years" at Motown Records, The Funk Brothers are nothing short of superb on "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," and the way in which they fuse together the different styles serves as a testament to their truly unmatched musicianship.  Creating a tension filled, steady groove, the band is in top form and whether it is the bright horns or the smooth, "walking" bassline, the band proves that after more than a decade, they were still the best in the land.  Furthermore, the fact that as a whole, The Funk Brothers are able to bring the "classic" sound that defined Motown Records and seamlessly fuse it together with these other genres provides the perfect example of just how timeless their sound and style was, as it fits in perfectly with every changing trend.

Yet as impressive as The Funk Brothers are on "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," there is simply no getting around the fact that David Ruffin is in rare form, and one can make the case that this song represents the finest studio recording of his career.  Ruffin rarely sang with as much power and pure emotion as he does here, and it is perhaps due to the fact that without his former group alongside him, he is free to completely take the entire spotlight.  It is often the way in which Ruffin pushes around the pitch of his vocals that make them so extraordinary, and it is also this pitch movement that emphasizes the feelings behind the words which he sings.  Adding further brilliance to the overall vocal sound is Ruffin's new backing vocalists, a quintet that would make their own hit single soon after, know as The Originals.  The song itself is one of the most heartfelt, yet heartbreaking lyrics ever written, and Ruffin's performance pushes these words to a place of pure tragic beauty.  At every turn, the listener can feel the pain of his lost love, and anyone who has ever felt personal heartbreak can attest to how perfect the words fit the emotion.  While the title serves as the songs' key refrain, there is perhaps no more bittersweet a line than when Ruffin laments, " can I face tomorrow when yesterday is all I see? I just don't want to face tomorrow honey, if you're not sharing it with me..."

It is almost inconceivable to think that after being booted from The Temptations, any member would be able to create a solo career outside of the shadow of the legendary group.  Yet David Ruffin defied all odds and delivered one of the most stunning vocal performances in history with his single, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)."  On a number of levels, the song represents a pivotal moment in music history, as it displays the fusion of the old and new sounds at Motown Records, featuring elements of everything from funk and soul to salsa and jazz.  As they did nearly every time they entered Hitsville, USA, The Funk Brothers are nothing short of phenomenal, as they create one of the most unique musical compositions ever recorded, and further cemented their names as the greatest band in music history.  From the fast flute playing to the slow, steady bass work, each of the musicians is at the top of their game, and they create an amazing musical landscape over which Ruffin lays some of the most powerful and raw vocals ever captured on tape.  With a strong performance from the up and coming Originals to use as a jumping off point, Ruffin makes his case for being the most important piece of his former group, and it is truly a special vocal display that he gives on the song.  Though often lost in the massive amount of "classics" from Motown Records, one cannot overlook the importance of David Ruffin's magnificent 1969 single, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29: Jeff Buckley, "Last Goodbye"

Artist: Jeff Buckley
Song: "Last Goodbye"
Album: Grace
Year: 1994

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If history has proven one thing, it is that finding success, as a “second generation” musician is one of the most difficult tasks that one can undertake. Furthermore, it seems that the more famous the first generation was, it is proportionately more difficult for the younger to achieve. While there are certainly far more who have come up short, the few “children” who have found their own sound rank among the finest musicians in history and often find themselves in the iconic company of their parents. Names like Guthrie, Williams, and Zappa require a first name, as musical brilliance is clearly a gene that is passed through their generations. Similarly, as the son of a songwriter with an almost cult-like following, one cannot overlook the beauty and talent within the music of the late Jeff Buckley. Though he only released a single album before he tragically drowned in 1997, that album, 1994’s Grace is absolutely brilliant, and quickly earned him a similar cult following like that of his father. Every second on the album is nothing short of stunning, as Buckley shows no fear in letting loose amazing vocal work along side a full wall of musical arrangements. The album produced a number of modest hits, and strangely enough, nearly fifteen years after its release, Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” went to the top of the charts, thanks to a placement in a number of films and television shows. Yet among many amazing tracks, there are few songs from any era that can compare to the sound and emotion found on Jeff Buckley’s 1994 song, “Last Goodbye.”

Only a select group of songs in history have the “flow” along the emotion of the performer as one finds in “Last Goodbye,” as the entire song seems to follow Buckley’s mood along massive hills and valleys.  At every turn in the song, there is a good or feel that is unlike anything else, and it is almost a jazz-like characteristic, as the music is clearly based more on this feeling than it is on the progressions written down.  The layered guitars from Buckley and Michael Tighe are absolutely gorgeous, and they give the song an amazing tone as the acoustic sound weaves its way around the electric.  The string section that can be heard throughout adds yet another layer to this sound, and it gives "Last Goodbye" an amazing, almost ethereal sound and mood.  Moving all over the mix, bassist Mick Grondahl is clearly one of the most important pieces of Buckley's sound, and there are few records from the era that so prominently feature the instrument.  Drummer Matt Johnson rounds out the sound on "Last Goodbye," and his steady, yet bouncing performance plays as a perfect compliment to the rest of the band.  In reality, it is rather difficult to accurately categorize the sound of "Last Goodbye," as it isn't quite a rock song, yet not really fitting of the term "ballad" either.  This "middle ground" that Buckley finds is in many ways the reason why the song remains so timeless, as it has a quality that can easily fit into any time period and it is why the song still receives airplay more than fifteen years after its first release.

Moving in a similar fashion as the music, Jeff Buckley's extraordinary voice is powered by his heart, as opposed to a pre-designed arrangement.  Without question, Buckley has one of the most memorable and truly amazing voices of his generation, as the combination of sheer power and limitless range place him into a class all his own.  His voice soars in a stunning way over the choruses, and the verses are filled with a sincerity that is beyond uncommon in the vocals of any era.  This, in many ways, is the true gift of Jeff Buckley, as he is able to make his songs overflow with emotion, yet there is never a question of whether or not there is a true heart behind the lyrics.  On "Last Goodbye," Buckley sings some of his most heartfelt lyrics, and one must wonder if this was written about someone else, or if it was an eerie foreshadowing of his own tragic passing.  The song itself can be interpreted on a number of levels, from the more literal sense of a lost friend, to the idea that the song is in fact about a broken relationship.  Regardless of which interpretation one takes, the lyrics still ring through in a beautiful way, and one can easily feel the almost chilling emotion when Buckley sings, "... must I dream and always see your face?"  Yet there is perhaps no more powerful a line, and no more perfect an example of Buckley's sound and style than when he pleads, "... but kiss me out of desire, babe, and not consolation...."  While every note played on "Last Goodbye" is perfectly placed, the entire song clearly follows the ebb and flow of Jeff Buckley's stunning vocal performance.

Throughout the 1990s, music expanded in countless directions, and for the first few years of the decade, quite literally "any" sound had a chance at becoming a hit.  From the early years of gangsta rap to the slower, more reflective pop sounds, there are few times in history that can boast as wide a range of hits as these few years.  Carrying on the family name and tradition of amazing musicianship, the late Jeff Buckley was an integral part of this time, and his songs remain some of the most honest and musically amazing of the era.  With a full musical orchestration that is often more concerned about "how" something is being played as opposed to "what" is being played, Buckley paved the way for countless later artists like Ryan Adams and even Radiohead to a certain extent.  The multiple string sounds, all layered together gives "Last Goodbye" a mood like no other song in history, and the rhythm section performs with equal expertise, and there is not a dull or down moment to be found anywhere on 1994's Grace.  Capped off by Buckley's unparalleled singing ability, his voice is truly something special and he is far beyond nearly ever other singer of his time.  Bringing some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics ever penned, Buckley was clearly the "complete package," and one can only wonder what else he would have achieved had his life not been lost at such a tragically young age.  Though all of Jeff Buckley's 1994 record, Grace, is very special and worth experiencing, there is something very special within the sound and words of his stunning song, "Last Goodbye."

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28: Generation X, "Kiss Me Deadly"

Artist: Generation X
Song: "Kiss Me Deadly"
Album: Generation X
Year: 1978

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Though the history of recorded music is littered with countless songs of teenage rebellion and the general theme of the angst of youth, and overwhelming majority of these songs are either annoyingly cliché or simply sub-par.  Across every genre and era, one can find numerous examples of both good and bad songs of this nature, yet one can easily make the case that some of the most concentrated examples of how to “properly” portray these types of songs can be found during the “punk explosion” of the late 1970’s.  After dumping their frontman, Gene October, the other three-fourths of the band known as Chelsea began anew with the moniker Generation X.  The name, derived from the 1965 Jane Deverson book, commonly refers to those born during 1961-1981 and in many ways this was a fitting name, as the band made songs for “everyman,” and did a fantastic job of capturing the feelings of the youth of the day.  Bringing amazing amounts of attitude, yet having more concentration of the musical arrangements than many of the other London punk bands, Generation X made great inroads insofar as punk gaining a bit of pop exposure with moderate success of singles from their 1978 self-titled debut.  With the forceful, anthemic “Ready, Steady, Go” and the gritty, powerful “One Hundred Punk,” Generation X brilliantly walked the line between punk and pop in way unlike any other band of the era.  Yet their finest moment lives within what stands as their finest musical achievement, the angst-filled “bad boy” anthem, “Kiss Me Deadly.”

Standing today as one of the most heavily covered songs of the era, many know the song, yet few are aware of its origins.  As the song begins, it is immediately unlike any other punk tune, as it is soft, melodic, and certainly has very little of the stereotypical punk element at face value.  The riff and progression played by guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews is truly iconic, and its brilliance is a testament to both his talent as a musician in capturing the mood, but also to Tony James and Billy Idol as the duo share writing credits on every song on Generation X.  The song slowly builds, as the rhythm section of James on bass and drummer Mark Laff keep pushing the tempo and energy higher.  One can only imagine how much this would have “set off” clubs at the time, as even listening to the recording more than three decades later, the song still brings with it an amazing amount of intensity and excitement.  The way in which the music comes across can easily be interpreted as a reflection of the London youth at the time the album was recorded.  Though "Kiss Me Deadly" certainly has a more sonically appealing and less aggressive approach at the onset, by the time the song hits its stride, it is nothing short of a punk classic, and it is without question one of the finest compositions to come out of the late 1970's punk explosion.  As Generation X, the band bears little resemblance to their former band, and "Kiss Me Deadly" is perhaps the best example in history of the idea that "louder does not equal better or more powerful."

Along with the distinctive music, one cannot argue that Generation X also sports one of the most easily recognizable voices in music history in the form of Billy Idol.  Truth be told, in his days with Chelsea, he went by his real name (William Broad), but as soon as Generation X began, he took on this alter ego, and it has proven to be a fitting name over the decades.  Few performers have as "perfect" a snarl as Idol, and the emotion that he brings to "Kiss Me Deadly" is nothing short of extraordinary.  Clearly, the words he sings are something he himself has lived, and this close connection comes across in every line.  As previously stated, "Kiss Me Deadly" is one of the most accurate and honest descriptions of teen angst that one can find, and everything from teenage promiscuity to the dangers of London's streets at night are explored within the words.  The latter of these themes is directly addressed when Idol sings, "...When two punks chose to risk the subway, for a tube to Piccadilly..." and that he uses the word "risk," one can only imagine how hazardous the late night London streets were at the time.  Yet the brilliance of "Kiss Me Deadly" is the way in which Idol is able to keep a sense of innocence within the punk-framed vocal delivery.  The songs' third verse is perhaps the most honest depiction of teen love that has ever been recorded as Idol almost seems to joke, "...and later in a downstairs room, she pulls her lover ecstasy but they can't make a sound, in case her mother might come down..."  Certainly, this nervous scene that Idol paints is something all have experienced, and it is one of the most important pieces in making "Kiss Me Deadly" perhaps the most "authentic" song of teen angst and life ever recorded.

Though it is now perhaps lost in the spotlight of his solo work, one can easily make the case that the most significant work of the career of Billy Idol came during his stint as the frontman of the UK punk band, Generation X.  While the group as a whole was, at the time, overshadowed by the antics of The Sex Pistols and the sheer power of The Clash, one cannot deny their importance and influence on later bands, and their 1978 debut record remains an absolute classic of the era.  Finding a way to infuse a bit of musicality and pop sensibility into the still young punk style, Generation X were true pioneers, as they were one of the punk bands to get score appearances on television.  The entire sound of their self-titled debut is driven by the cocky snarl of Idol, and the band is able to make the music take on a similar tone. This creates the distinctive sound that "is" Generation X and with "Kiss Me Deadly," the band throws nearly every punk norm to the wayside and in the process creates something that isn't quite a ballad, but isn't quite "normal" rock; but a musical sound onto itself.  Whether it is the sensational tension built by the music, the amazing attitude from Idol’s vocals, or the utter honesty within the lyrics, there has truly never been another song quite like Generation X’s 1978 masterpiece, “Kiss Me Deadly.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27: The Fugees, "How Many Mics"

Artist: The Fugees
Song: "How Many Mics"
Album: The Score
Year: 1996

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It is a rather frustrating reality that throughout the course of music history, the banal, uninspiring performers seem to release tons of copycat material, while the truly innovative, genre-changing artists only produce a handful of records.  Whether it was Hendrix passing away just as he was reaching a new creative peak, or the countless list of artists who never made a second or third record, it almost seems "unfair" to music lovers that for every performer on this list, there seem to be a dozen musicians of lesser talent that are able to put out dozens of sub-par recordings.  Then of course, there is the situation of a group "imploding," and it seems that in most cases when there is an abnormally high concentration of talent, the group break-up is almost inevitable.  Case in point, during the middle of the 1990's, the hip-hop genre was splintering off into a number of sub-genres, and new styles and approaches to hip-hop flourished.  Among the innovate artists that emerged at this time, there was perhaps none more important or impressive than the New Jersey based trio, The Fugees.  With only two full-length releases to their name before calling it quits, their music is by far some of the most original and thought provoking in the entire history of the hip-hop genre.  While their debut record was a solid premiere, it was their 1996 album, The Score, that made them household names, and it remains one of the greatest hip-hop records ever made.  With a trio of hit singles, the album went all the way to the top of the charts, and even though it was not one of the singles, one can easily make the case that The Fugees rarely sound better than they do on their song, "How Many Mics."

In nearly ever aspect, The Fugees stand far apart from their peers, and one cannot deny that they consistently brought some of the most original and creative musical arrangements.  Without question, "How Many Mics" is one of the smoothest and funkiest songs of the era, and the fact that it came from the East Coast, which was predominantly known for the more "hardcore" sound, makes the album even more significant.  It is within this song that one also gets a peek into just what a wide range of musical tastes The Fugees had, as the core riff is a sample lifted from The Moody Blues song, "Twilight Time."  The looped sample, as well as the way in which the drums hit hard enough to make the track "bounce," yet are not nearly as overpowering as a majority of other songs of the era exemplifies the balance which The Fugees so regularly achieved.  "How Many Mics" has a very "cool," almost jazzy feel, and it is a fantastic way to lead off an album that is filled with sonically adventurous, yet relaxed sounds.  The rolling, thumping bassline which also takes a prominent role on the track was performed by Jerry Duplessis, who is the cousin of Wyclef Jean, and after his work here, Duplessis would go onto play alongside many of the most creative hip-hop acts of the following decade.  While the music on "How Many Mics" is both original and fantastic, the fact of the matter is, the sounds are a bit toned down, and this is largely done so that the focus of the song remains on the vocal work by the three group members.

The way in which the trio made their voices and rhyming styles work together is one of the key reasons why The Score was such a monumental release.  In nearly every aspect, the three emcees have their own vocal approach, and this diversity in style keeps their songs uniquely interesting.  The common aspect that links the three emcees is the fact that their verses stand as some of the most vivid and intelligent ever written, and whether Wyclef is referencing Sony Records CEO Tommy Matolla or referring to the "Haitian Sicilians," the way in which he spins these subjects is unlike any other rapper in history.  Similarly, Pras Michel finds ways to link everything from Corey Hart's single, "Sunglasses At Night" to Dolomite, and it further reinforces the idea that this trio of emcees were clearly lyrical poets far beyond that of any of their peers.  Yet as superb as Wyclef and Pras' verses are on "How Many Mics," as is the case on nearly all of The Score, it is the verse from Lauryn Hill that shines brightest on the track.  Even before one gets to her lyrics, it is on this track that she first shows off her uncanny ability to switch delivery rhythms mid-song, and she almost instantly solidifies herself as one of the most talented emcees in hip-hop history.  From her first line, it is clear that Hill is in a class all her own, and she sets a fantastic tone as she opens with the thought, "I get mad frustrated when I rhyme, thinking of all them kids that try to do this for all the wrong reasons..."  Whether she is questioning the authenticity of other performers, or finding ways to name drop cult-films, Lauryn Hill delivers one of her most impressive performances, and combined with her two partners, it catapults "How Many Mics" to stand as one of the strongest tracks on what is an iconic album in hip-hop history.

It is almost unfathomable that with only a pair of albums, The Fugees remain today one of the most revered and highly respected groups in the overall history of the hip-hop genre.  Bringing lyrics and music that were creative and years ahead of their peers, The Score stands in stark contrast to nearly everything else that was going on in hip-hop at the time.  Backed by a funky groove that is quieter, yet just as powerful as the more aggressive sounds of their peers, it is a perfect reflection of The Fugees overall approach, as they clearly come from the school of thought that believe in the idea of "volume does not equal better or more powerful."  This style works perfectly for the trio, as it is their lyrics and delivery style that make them shine, and while Wyclef and Pras are unquestionably a pair of the most creative musicians of their generation, Lauryn Hill completely re-wrote the book on "what" was acceptable for female emcees, and may very well be the greatest female hip-hop performer in history.  Bringing all of these elements together, The Fugees were able to release a trio of hit singles from The Score, and it is amazing that all three found success whilst sounding almost nothing like one another.  This again reinforces the idea that the songs of The Fugees were far more about the individual vocal performances than they were about the music or beats, and there is perhaps no more perfect an example of the unparalleled talent within The Fugees than one finds on their 1996 song, "How Many Mics."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26: Blues Magoos, "Never Goin' Back To Georgia"

Artist: Blues Magoos
Song: "Never Goin' Back To Georgia"
Album: Never Goin' Back To Georgia
Year: 1969

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As has been stated before, one of the most difficult aspects of musical creation is that of "the groove," and sustaining it for an extended period of time.  While nearly every band can get a groove going at some point on some song, it takes a certain level of musical expertise to create such a sound on a consistent basis, or to keep the groove going on the same song.  There was perhaps no time in history that concentrated heavier on "the groove" than during the late 1960's, as the psychedelic movement brought forth many seemingly uncategorizeable sounds that simply "revolved" around a single, deep groove.  While one can make the case that these sounds were the pre-cursor to much of the electronic music movement, the fact of the matter is that this basic element is the core of nearly every band; a shared sound or musical phrasing around which the entire group can work.  Though there were countless bands that made a career from exploring "the groove," obviously a majority fell by the wayside, and one of these many unsung masters of musical groove was the Bronx, New York based blues-rock band, Blues Magoos.  Having scored a handful of moderate hits during the mid-1960's, the group went through a handful of lineup changes over their career, yet the core of their sound always revolved around simple rock riffs and detached, almost snotty vocal work.  Then, as the 1960's came to a close, the group took a sharp turn and "became" a psychedelic blues band.  It was on their forth record, 1969's Never Goin' Back To Georgia, that their true skill as musicians comes to light, and the albums' title track is one of the most impressive groove-jams ever recorded.

In reality, the incarnation of Blues Magoos that is featured on Never Goin' Back To Georgia barely resembles the lineup that gave the group their hits a few years earlier.  This accounts for the drastic change in musical approach, yet the fact remains that this may very well be the groups' finest musical achievement.  In fact, the only member of the original lineup that can be found on this album is vocalist and guitarist, Emil "Peppy" Thielhelm.  Moving from the more blues-based sound to an instrumentation that has a heavy Latin feel, a pair of conga players, as well as flutist Dean Evanson give "Never Goin' Back To Georgia" an absolutely amazing tone.  The song structure remains very loose throughout the seven-and-a-half minute runtime, as it in many ways resembles a "jam session," as various instruments fade in and out of the mix, as if the band members were walking around the studio, "seeing" what sounds fit the groove.  At its core is the brilliant keyboard work of Eric Kaz, and his progressions bring the pop element to the forefront.  Sounding as if they are "doubled up" by the xylophones, the sound on "Never Goin' Back To Georgia" is unlike anything else, with the most remote connection being the early work of Santana.  The duo of John Leillo and Richie Dickon on percussion truly take the song to another level, as they incorporate a wide range of instruments, giving the song an amazing amount of depth.  At times, the band seems as if they are following jazz-based solo progressions, and the fact that one can hear these elements, in perfect harmony with elements of blues, funk, soul, rock and countless other styles serves as a testament to the fantastic musicianship within this incarnation of Blues Magoos.

Though they are rather few and far between on "Never Goin' Back To Georgia," the sparse vocals that can be found are the one clear link to the early years of the band.  The somewhat detached, almost punk-like singing, often by the entire group, hits at the core of what made the groups' earlier songs successful, and they work just as well on this tune.  The vocals are placed across the track in a manner which further reinforces the "jam" aspect of the song, as they drop in on a few occasions in places where they almost don't "make sense," they they always "work" within the music.  Furthermore, the fact that the rest of the band seems to join on "when they feel like it," solidifies the idea of how loose the session was, and yet it simultaneously lays out the laid back, deep groove spirit of the song itself.  While the music is amazingly complex, the lyrics and singing take the opposite approach, and one would be hard pressed to find a more simple, direct vocal.  Doing nothing more than repeating the refrain of "...never goin' back to Georgia, I'll never go back no more...," one is left to interpret just "what" the lyrics might mean.  With possibilities ranging from a bad gig to the song being a reference to the days of slavery, there are countless meanings that can be drawn from this simple line, and the fact that the group members themselves never "cleared up" this question makes it all the more universal in some ways.

Though they are rarely linked, the truth of the matter is, upon closer inspection, one can find many aspects of the punk rock sound within the psychedelic rock of the late 1960's.  From unconventional musical arrangements to vocals that were either detached or filled with massive amounts of angst, there are far more similarities between these two sounds than their are differences.  Many of these elements can clearly be heard within Blues Magoo's 1969 song, "Never Goin' Back To Georgia," and it remains one of the hidden gems of the era.  Completely changing their lineup and sound, the album alienated much of their fanbase, as a majority of the "pop" element of their music was gone, leaving instead a psychedelic-blues band, and dropping in a heavy dose of Latin sound.  While their current fans may not have appreciated this change, in retrospect, it is the sound developed on Never Goin' Back To Georgia that unquestionably severed as a massive influence on the blues-rock and Latin jazz that would rise during the early 1970's.  The song itself immediately drops the groove onto the listener, and it is a truly special musical achievement that the band is able to sustain this amazing groove for the nearly eight-minute run of the song.  Each of the band members performs brilliantly, as there are clearly more instruments than players on the song, and this is also why the song can be seen as a heavy influence on the entire "jam band" sound.  Remaining today one of the many groups who were "lost in the shuffle" of their era, there is simply no other band that sounds quite like Blues Magoos, and few songs that can compare to the greatness of their 1969 tune, "Never Goin' Back To Georgia."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

May 25: Sublime, "Don't Push"

Artist: Sublime
Song: "Don't Push"
Album: 40oz To Freedom
Year: 1992

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It goes without saying that every band in history has had a large number of influence on its style, and it is these influences that give the later band their sound.  However, in most cases, the influences are largely of the same genre or era, and the bands' sound reflects this singular sound quite clearly.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, over time this smaller group of influences can lead to a lack of musical creativity, and the music can almost become "boring" after awhile.  This is why it is often the bands that have a wide range of influences that are the most consistently exciting and stand the test of time.  Pulling inspiration from everything from ska to folk to punk to reggae to thrash-metal, there are few bands that can compare to the amazing sound of Sublime.  Defining the "SoCal" sound for an entire generation, the bands' sometimes laid back, sometimes aggressive approach, the group quickly gained a massive following upon the release of their self-titled third album in 1996.  However, looking at the groups entire recorded catalog, one can easily make the case that it was their 1992 debut, 40oz To Freedom, that stands as their finest work, as well as the album which best represents their various influences.  Containing songs that display the entire spectrum of their sound, the album has everything from the mellow "Badfish" to the high-octane, aptly titled, "New Thrash."  However, if there is one stand-out track on the record, it is the song that perfectly captures all sides of Sublime's sound, the amazing track, "Don't Push."

The moment the song begins, it is like nothing else ever recorded, as it instantly displays the brilliant musical juxtapositions that makes the music of Sublime so fantastic.  The song kicks off with a signature ska guitar riff from the late Bradley Nowell, yet there is a enough distortion on his guitar to give it a harder, almost heavy metal edge.  It is this more aggressive style of the mellow ska/reggae sound that made Sublime's music so unique, and it often centers around Nowell's guitar work.  Alongside this sound, bassist Eric Wilson ensures that every song has a deep groove, and "Don't Push" is no different, as his playing instantly gets the listeners' head bobbing.  Rounding out the trio is drummer Bud Gaugh, and on this track he brings an almost jazz-like, sliding progression, and the tone and rhythm he gets from his snare is nothing short of spectacular.  The sound that the three create on "Don't Push" is truly uncanny, as they walk the line perfectly between mellow and heavy, and it is largely this ability to reach both ends of the spectrum that made Sublime such a hit across such a wide range of musical tastes.  Furthermore, one can easily make the case that it is due to Sublime that the ska sound found a brief re-birth in the mainstream during the mid-1990's, and yet they had set this process in motion years earlier with their phenomenal debut record.

As much as Sublime's music is instantly recognizable, similarly, one cannot mistake the amazing voice of Bradley Nowell.  Unquestionably one of the most talented vocalists of his generation, he consistently delivers some of the most raw and unguarded performances ever captured on tape.  Easily capable of singing in any vocal range, it is often Nowell's ability to jump from speaking to singing that leaves the listener in awe.  It is also his "everyman" approach that draws in the listener, as one would be hard pressed to find a singer whose voice is more encouraging for "sing alongs."  Furthermore, at its core, on nearly every song, it is clear that Nowell is enjoying the recording process, as there is always an upbeat tone in his voice, even when delivering heavier, emotionally charged lyrics.  It is often within these lyrics that one can find many subtexts, as well as consistent "shout outs" to Sublime's influences.  It is on "Don't Push" that one can find all of this, as Nowell name drops Bob Marley, as well as lifting a line from the Beastie Boys song, "Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun."  The group also gives a nod to Pink Floyd on the song, and the fact that all three of these exceptionally diverse groups all added to the sound that "is" Sublime sets the group far aside from nearly any of their peers.  Furthermore, Bradley Nowell is able to spin in one of the most beautiful lines in history when he sings, "...if I had a shotgun, you know what I'd do? I'd point that shit straight at the sky, and shoot heaven on down for you..."  Playing the mellow against the aggressive in nearly every sense, along with having an absolutely extraordinary vocal presence is what makes Bradley Nowell such a legend within the world of music.

Not quite punk, not quite ska, and not quite surf-rock, it is almost impossible to give an accurate, single genre classification to the music of Sublime.  In reality, the group themselves "are" the definition of their sound, as there was really no other group making music like them before they appeared on the scene.  Proving this, the fact that their 1992 debut album, 40oz To Freedom contains cover songs of everyone from The Descendents to The Grateful Dead to novelty act The Toyes (among others), serves as a testament to just how diverse their influences were, and this wide range of sounds is the key to making their own music so unique.  Basing their music in the ska style, Sublime regularly puts a more aggressive spin on the music, and their song, "Don't Push," brilliantly represents this sensational musical achievement.  The song brings a more modern, punk-inspired ska sound, and Bradley Nowell's vocal approach contains elements of everything from dub to hip-hop, making his voice equally as unique as the music over which he sings.  Never afraid to pay homage to their influences, Sublime does so both musically and lyrically, and it is the fact that they have so many different bands to "thank" for their sound that makes every one of their songs so distinctive.  Though it was their third record that shot them to stardom, the true brilliance of Sublime lives on their 1992 debut album, and their superb, irresistible sound is perfectly summed up on their amazing song, "Don't Push."

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #21"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and SOME commentary from "The Guru" himself.

1. Junior Brown, "Gotta Get Up Every Morning"  Semi-Crazy
2. Morphine, "Honey White"  Yes
3. Robert Johnson, "Believe I'll Dust My Broom"  King Of The Delta Blues
4. Ducky Boys, "One For The Underdogs"  No Gettin' Out
5. Bradley Nowell/Sublime, "Mary/Salty Tears"  Bradley Nowell & Friends
6. David Bowie, "Jean Genie"  Aladdin Sane
7. Nine Inch Nails, "Something I Can Never Have"  Pretty Hate Machine
8. Freddie Mercury/Montserrat Caballé, "Guide Me Home"  Barcelona
9. Public Enemy w/Anthrax, "Bring Tha Noize"  Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black
10. Santana, "Incident At Neshabir"  Abraxas
11. The Kinks, "Nothing In This World Can Stop Me Worryin' About That Girl"  Kinda Kinks
12. Patsy Cline, "She's Got You (single version)"  The Patsy Cline Story
13. NOFX, "Please Play This Song On The Radio"  White Trash, 2 Heebs, And A Bean
14. Chuck Berry, "Roll Over Beethoven"  Chuck Berry Is On Top
15. Esthero, "Melancholy Melody"  Wikked Little Grrrls
16. The Clash, "Wrong 'Em Boyo"  London Calling

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 23: Lou Reed, "Walk On The Wild Side"

Artist: Lou Reed
Song: "Walk On The Wild Side"
Album: Transformer
Year: 1972

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Leaving a successful group, for whatever reason, almost always ends poorly for that band member, as it is usually nothing short of impossible to get a "fair shake" as a solo artist.  Music fans are usually quite adamant about the solo musician "rehashing" the sound of their band, and it can make things very frustrating for the performer in question.  Then again, one can make the case that if your name happens to be Lou Reed, you can do whatever you want and people will happily support it.  As one of the key members of Velvet Underground, Reed played an immeasurable role in shaping music, and his overall career is something that truly defies description.  The number of bands and artists that he has influenced is incalculable, and one can hear traces of his sound in everything from hip-hop to jazz to punk.  After Velvet Underground changed labels, they were being pushed to write about "lighter subjects" and this led to Reed's departure from the band, an truth be told, he spent much of the next year working as a typist for his fathers' accounting firm.  Thankfully, in early 1972, Reed was offered a recording contract and soon released his self-titled solo debut.  Though the album did not do well commercially, the album led to a second recording session, this time with Reed bringing nearly all new material, as well as having a superstar support team.  The album, 1972's Transformer, remains one of the greatest records ever recorded, and the album contains the song which is perhaps Reed's most famous solo recording, the iconic, "Walk On The Wild Side."

In some ways, it is almost impossible to decide "where" to begin when discussing just what it is that makes "Walk On The Wild Side" such an amazing musical accomplishment.  Clearly, the biggest difference between his first record and Transformer is that for the latter, Reed had the legendary Mick Ronson as well as a man named David Bowie handling the production duties.  Both of these performers had been heavily influenced by Reed's work in Velvet Underground, and the album title of Transformer is a not-so-subtle not to the trans-gender world which both Reed and Bowie used as subject matter during this era.  Yet "Walk On The Wild Side" brings the listener one of the most simple, yet absolutely amazing and unforgettable musical arrangements in history, a feat which only one with a mind like Lou Reed could compose.  The song centers around the iconic, interlocking dual bassline, both of which were played by Herbie Flowers.  The song bobs slowly up and down, sticking to a plagal cadence, much like a majority of Reed's previous compositions.  The light, flowing acoustic guitar that runs throughout the song is, in fact, performed by Ronson, and he is also responsible for the string arrangements found on the track.  The similarly airy, jazzy drums are played by John Hasley, and the iconic baritone sax pieces are courtesy of the man who taught David Bowie to play the instrument, Ronnie Ross.  Though such a combination of instruments would normally result in a loud, heavy sound, on "Walk On The Wild Side," they are all kept in a very restrained, almost muted role, and it gives the song a folk-like feel, as well as perfectly capturing the mood of a late night walk down a big city street.

As the man who truly defined "cool" for his generation, Lou Reed's vocals on "Walk On The Wild Side" are perhaps his "coolest" performance of his career.  With his signature spoken style, one cannot deny that Reed is performing a hip-hop style rhyme throughout the song, and his laid-back demeanor throughout the song perfectly compliments the feel of the music over which he works.  Yet as fantastic as Reed's performance is on "Walk On The Wild Side," one would be remiss to overlook the fact that perhaps the most iconic vocal piece of the song is the unmistakable backing "doo doo doo's" whcih are performed by the girl group, ThunderThighs.  It is this aspect of the song that has found its way into countless films and other songs, and in some ways help to "hide" just how racy the lyrics were.  Though many simply pass off the lyrics as "everyman" type words, the fact of the matter is, each of the songs' verses speak of a very specific, real individual.  Every verse refers to one of the "superstars" from Andy Warhol's "crew," and the fact that a song that was basically about trans-gendered individuals yet became a hit is truly a feat.  In order, the song speaks of Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Joe Campbell (nicknamed Sugar Plum Fairy), and of course, the legendary Jackie Curtis.  All five of these people appeared in Warhol's films at the time, and their sexual lifestyles, from homosexuality to bisexuality to trans-gendered living can be heard clearly in the words once one is aware of the true characters behind the song.  Even without this knowledge, the fact that a song that so directly speaks of prostitution, drugs, and so many other "taboo" subjects became a top ten hit is yet another reason why there is no other artist worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Lou Reed.

Whether it was punk rock, hip-hop, or "normal" rock and roll, it is almost impossible to properly capture the massive amount of influence that Lou Reed has had on the musical landscape of the past forty years.  Making massive leaps in both his approach to music as well as "what" could be considered music, one can easily make the case that without his contributions, music simply would not exist in its current state.  After refusing to compromise his musical integrity, Reed walked away from Velvet Underground and after securing a new record deal, began his work as a solo artist; a move that would yield some of the most impressive music of his career.  His first release was fantastic, yet a commercial flop, perhaps due to it being largely comprised of "leftover" songs from his previous band.  Bringing in Mick Ronson and David Bowie to produce, his 1972 record, Transformer, remains today one of the most amazing musical accomplishments in history.  Packed with some of the most risqué lyrics of the era, it is perhaps Reed's smooth, mellow voice which helps them to have less of an "edge" and perhaps make the listener "miss" the actual meaning.  Yet the words are as clear as can be, the references to sexual deviancy and taboo lifestyles completely unguarded.  However, "Walk On The Wild Side" was still a massive hit and it has been covered across genres and parts of the song referenced and used in many songs over the decades.  From the unmistakable, interlocked double bassline to the amazingly "cool" vocal performance from Lou Reed, there is simply no other song that can compare to the sound of the unrivaled, iconic, "Walk On The Wild Side."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22: Crash Test Dummies, "Superman's Song"

Artist: Crash Test Dummies
Song: "Superman's Song"
Album: The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Year: 1991

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While breaking into the mainstream and finding commercial success is a daunting task in itself, when a band attempts to do this is a sound that is truly unique, the difficultly level becomes almost immeasurable.  This is not implying that the general public are not open minded enough to enjoy new sounds; but the music industry as a whole has proven over the decades that it is very resistant to change of any sort.  Yet there remain a few pockets in music history where the "rule book" was thrown out and countless new styles and musical approaches were able to flourish simultaneously, marking the most creative points along the musical timeline.  While the late 1960's certainly stands as an example of this idea, the truth of the matter is, the early 1990's was also an environment that encouraged great musical experimentation.  While gangsta rap and grunge were getting their footholds, there were a number of groups releasing music that defied categorization, and one can find a truly undefinable sound within the music of the Canadian pop-folk band, Crash Test Dummies.  While the band is perhaps best known for their unlikely 1993 hit single, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," the fact remains that it was their 1991 debut, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, that contains the groups' finest music.  Bringing together almost classical musical arrangements alongside one of the most distinctive voices of his generation, the group truly made music unlike anything else ever recorded, and their true brilliance can be found one the amazing, somber dirge, "Superman's Song."

While countless artists have composed laments during their career, very few have so perfectly captured the mood of a funeral as is found on "Superman's Song."  The crying cello from Lynn Selwood is truly beautiful, and the fact that the group is able to bring this melancholy mood into the pop genre is a feat that in itself defies description.  Overlain with a equally gorgeous piano progression from Ellen Reid and acoustic guitar from Brad Roberts, the spirit of the song soars and "Superman's Song" is nothing short of blissful, regardless of the subject matter.  At times, the music seems to echo, furthering the feeling that the song is supposed to be "funeral-esque," and the fact that this is something that is heard, but does not actually happen serves as a testament to the amazing musicianship on the record, as well as the brilliant production work of the great Steve Berlin.  This mood never lets up, and the fact that these three non-traditional instruments were able to carry the song to moderate success within the pop world is nothing short of shocking, as well as a feat that has never been accomplished since.  The entire song features little more than these instruments, and as they wind through each section of the song, the listener is pulled further and further into a true emotional attachment with the music, as well as the subject matter.  The fact that this overall tone and mood was able to make headway in commercial sense is a massive achievement, as at the time, "hair metal" was on its way out, and there seemed to be very little, if any space in mainstream music for quieter, more mellow sounds. 

The soft, refined music of "Superman's Song" is brilliantly offset by the deep, baritone voice of one of the most instantly recognizable singers in history: Brad Roberts.  With a voice that is perhaps only comparable to the late Peter Steele, the way in which his rich, powerful singing contrasts the music is nothing short of stunning.  This contrast in sound, as well as the natural elements of Roberts' voice further reinforce the "church" feel of the song, and "Superman's Song" easily makes its case as one of the finest laments ever recorded.  Yet as impressive as both the music and singing are, the fact remains that the song was able to succeed whilst making commentary on two of the most famous figures in history.  The title gives away the theme, as the song is a lament for the fallen "Man Of Steel," and yet Roberts spins an amazing amount of social commentary within the words of "Superman's Song."  Spending most of the song contrasting Superman with the uncivilized ways of Tarzan, it is truly stunning that such a "silly" premise was accepted and remains such a truly touching song.  The true depth of Roberts' thoughts on this icon become clear when he brings up the fact that though Superman, "...could have smashed through any bank in the United States, he had the strength, but he would not..."  It is mall points like these where the song becomes more than just a comic fans' fiction, and Roberts begins to paint a picture of a truly great man, showing that even with great power, one must still have solid morals.  Furthering this idea, there are few lines anywhere in music history that are as heartbreaking, yet profound as when Roberts sings, "...and sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him..."

Though they are often relegated into the label of "one hit wonders," the fact of the matter is, Crash Test Dummies had already released an entire album of amazing material before the world caught onto them with their surprise 1993 hit single.  Though this single does capture their strange, alterna-folk sound, it truly cannot compare to their debut single, 1991's "Superman's Song."  Bringing together the perfect combination of musical beauty, lyrical perfection, and a voice that cannot be forgotten, the song remains the groups' finest work, and unquestionably one of the greatest songs of their generation. The fact that the group was able to gain radio play with nothing more than piano, cello, and acoustic guitar may have been understandable twenty years earlier, but the fact that they were able to do so in the waning days of "hair metal" and the rise of grunge is nothing short of baffling.  Yet it becomes understandable once one experiences the song and realizes that there is true sonic beauty within the song, and few songs this somber have withstood the test of time.  Furthermore, the fact that comic book fans across the world were able to "accept" this take on one of the most treasured superheroes in history serves as proof that Crash Test Dummies were able to walk the line and create a truly special song.  The voice of Brad Roberts is perhaps the key to the greatness of this song, as he is able to deliver this eulogy whilst simultaneously making the words ring true across all generations and all walks of life.  Though often forgotten behind their runaway single, the fact of the matter is, there are few songs as beautiful as Crash Test Dummies 1991 single, "Superman's Song."

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21: Fontella Bass, "Rescue Me"

Artist: Fontella Bass
Song: "Rescue Me"
Album: Rescue Me (single)
Year: 1965

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While most people look to the mid-1960's as the era when rock music came into its own, the fact of the matter is, there were many other genres that were churning out their best music during the same time period.  The reality was, with recording costs plummeting and personal music players becoming far more common, the entire decade represents a massive change in how music was made, as well as how it was experienced by the listener.  This time period is also well known for the "beginning of the end" of the rivalry between Chess Records and Motown Records.  While both labels were releasing some of the most memorable songs in history, there happened to be one artist and a single that may very well be the most commonly mistaken song ever recorded.  Having already spent many years working her way up the ranks within the music industry, Fontella Bass had gained a name for herself thanks to a handful of respectable hits throughout the early 1960's.  Constantly being uncredited on these recordings, she moved to Chess Records in 1964 where her debut single, "Don't Mess Up A Good Thing" was a top ten hit.  With a powerful, soaring, soulful sound, Fontella Bass had a voice that refused to be ignored, and it would be her next single that would permanently solidify her name as one of the greatest singers in history.  However, in an almost tragic turn of events, history has taken much of the credit from her, as many believe it is another famous soul singer that performs the vocals on Fontella Bass' monumental 1965 single, "Rescue Me."

Remaining today as one of the most powerful and irresistible dance songs ever recorded, Fontella Bass finds herself backed by some of the most talented musicians of her generation.  There is really no single musical aspect that stands out from the others, as the musicians move as a single unit, creating one of the greatest arrangements ever captured on tape.  Bringing one of the most instantly recognizable, "walking" basslines ever, Louis Satterfield instantly catapults his name up to the status of the finest Motown players, and it is this deep groove that drives much of the song.  This groove is present from the onset of the song, and the way in which the other instruments work around it is the key to making "Rescue Me" such a classic.  The bright, powerful sound of tenor sax master Gene Barge almost singlehandedly carries the song, as his playing stands far in front of the rest of the brass section.  However, even with these two playing in top form, one simply cannot ignore the presence of drummer extraordinaire, Maurice White.  Though he would eventually go on to found Earth, Wind, and Fire, it is his work on this track that clearly sets the stage for his later work.  Bringing countless creative fills and giving the song its signature swing, "Rescue Me" represents one of the finest drum performances ever captured on tape.  Upon its release, the song shot up the charts, spending more than a month in the top ten and selling enough copies to make it Chess Records' first "million seller" since Chuck Berry a decade earlier.

Though the music on "Rescue Me" is absolutely fantastic, there is never any doubt at any point on the song that it is all about the vocal performance of Fontella Bass.  Tragically, most people believe that it is fellow power-soul singer Aretha Franklin who performed the song, and this plays a large part in Bass' "loss of legacy."  Able to bring just as much feeling and energy to the vocals, Fontella Bass is nothing short of stunning in her performance on "Rescue Me," as she runs the gamut from softer humming to all out yelling, all with equally perfect results.  Bringing an uncanny beauty to her singing, Bass makes the song swing with her vocals, and one can quickly understand why the song was such a massive hit.  The way in which the entire song comes together elevates it beyond "just soul," as one can hear heavy elements of both pop and Motown within "Rescue Me," and this hybrid of styles also played a large part in the songs' success.  Adding to this, the lyrics were extremely straightforward, and spoke to a universal subject matter, making the song easily relatable by nearly every listener.  Structured as a "simple" song called out by a lonely lover, another interesting aspect of "Rescue Me" is how Bass is able to deliver these almost pained lyrics with a bright, hopeful feeling.  Though the protagonist is clearly "lonely and blue," there is an undeniable feeling that their love will be returning soon, and it is perhaps this upbeat sense of hope that was able to futher add to the songs' overall success.

Though quite regularly attributed to Aretha Franklin, after giving the song a bit of a closer listen, anyone familiar with Franklin's sound can quickly hear the many differences in the voice of the equally magnificent Fontella Bass.  The fact that Bass is also in the same company as Chuck Berry insofar as sales are concerned further adds to the fact that the lack of credit she has received over the decades is one of the greatest injustices in the history of the music business.  Using the entire vocal scale as well as countless different vocal approaches, Bass almost instantly solidifies herself as one of the most dynamic performers in history, and nearly fifty years later, her singing on "Rescue Me" remains largely unrivaled in the realm of "power soul" singers.  Backed by some of the most talented musicians in history, the songs' groove also remains intact, as the winding bass and brilliant drumming stand together as one of the finest rhythm section performances ever captured. Adding in a bright horn section and a guitar piece that at times almost seems to be playing a ska-style pattern, there is simply no other recording in music history that quite compares to "Rescue Me," and it remains a timeless classic five decades later.  Covered by artists ranging from Pat Benatar to Tom Jones to John Lennon, Franklin also performed part of the song for a commercial nearly thirty years after Bass first recorded the tune.  The wide range of later covers, combined with the staggering sales achieved by the single serves as proof as to what a truly special song lives within "Rescue Me," as well as a testament to the stunning, soulful sound of its performer, Fontella Bass.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May 20: Filter, "Hey Man, Nice Shot"

Artist: Filter
Song: "Hey Man, Nice Shot"
Album: Short Bus
Year: 1995

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Across every genre and every era of music, there is perhaps no more difficult a line to walk than that between "heavy" and cliché.  The history of music is scattered with countless bands who attempted to deliver heavy or hardcore style music, but only ended up coming off as silly due to either sounding too much like a band that came earlier, or simply falling into one of the many traps that made them come off as "trying too hard."  Obviously though, within this haystack of bands that missed the point, there are a handful of needles that kept the genres moving forward.  From early influences like Black Sabbath to the hardcore innovations of Fugazi and Black Flag, the more aggressive styles of music kept branching off into different areas, and as the 1980's began to wind down, a new sound was emerging.  The so-called "industrial" sound took this aggressive, in-your-face approach, and made it far darker, giving it a rhythm and mood like nothing else.  Though a majority of the successful acts of this style relied heavily on computer-based sounds, in the mid-1990's, a band arrived that was able to take this uniquely aggressive sound and merge it in an uncanny way with the sounds of hardcore.  Rising from the depressed, downtrodden, and deteriorating city of Cleveland, OH, the bands' first single almost instantly catapulted Filter to the top of the mainstream charts.  Bringing an amazingly dark, yet mesmerizing sound, with enough power to hook even the most hardcore listener, Filter's 1995 debut single, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" remains one of the most impressive and memorable songs of the entire decade.

Like so many songs in music history, the true meaning behind "Hey Man, Nice Shot" is largely unknown to a majority of listeners, and while lacking this knowledge does not really detract from the overall impact of the song, understanding the true meaning behind it can make "Hey Man, Nice Shot" an even more intense musical experience.  In truth, the song speaks to a very specific event: the public suicide of Pennsylvania State Treasurer Budd Dwyer on January 22, 1987.  Having been convicted of taking bribes, the day before his sentencing, Dwyer called a press conference where he re-stated his innocence before taking out a gun and killing himself, an episode that was captured and aired by countless television stations.  Filter's song, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" perfectly captures this dark, almost helpless mood, and one can easily "feel" the connection to this tragic event.  Taking a note from Nine Inch Nails, the programmed and live drums are the brainchild of the core of the group, Richard Patrick and Brian Liesegang.  At times the drums bounce, giving the song a great amount of depth, while at other times the drums his rapid-fire, almost sounding like a machine gun.  In nearly every aspect, "Hey Man, Nice Shot" plays on both sides, with the deep, gloomy verses standing in stunning contrast to the unrestrained choral sections.  The other notable aspect of the music is the fact that the core guitar riff is exactly the same as one will find on Stabbing Westward's song, "Ungod."  This is due to the fact that guitarist Stuart Zechman played with both bands, and the fact that the riff can exist in such different ways on these two songs makes it unlike any other piece ever written.

Pushing the overall mood of the song to the limit, Richard Patrick proves to be one of the most unique vocalists of his generation.  Again, the similarity to Nine Inch Nails emerges again, as the strange distortion that come with his vocals bear a striking resemblance.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as even though they share a sound, there is never a question of copying, as the vocals on "Hey Man, Nice Shot" are clearly in a class all their own.  Patrick further distances himself from other vocalists on the choruses of the song, as he is able to pull off screaming vocals without overdoing them or sounding cliché.  In many ways, this is the most difficult aspect in all of hardcore music, yet Patrick seems very much at home within this sound and vocal approach.  The contrast between the calmer verses and the almost unhinged chorus sections in many ways reflect the tragic incident itself, as Dwyer was strangely calm during the statement that led up to his suicide.  Though the lyrics can easily stand on their own, once one takes into consideration the truth behind their inspiration, they become far more powerful and eerie.  It is largely the songs' second verse that becomes more powerful, as the lines of, "Now that the smoke's gone, and the air is all clear...those who were right there, had a new kind of fear..." are suddenly far more vivid and suggestive.  It is well documented that many of the people in attendance during the tragedy, as well as the viewers who saw the unedited video suffered mental disturbances, and such a blatant, traumatic event has rarely been captured by news cameras.

It is a very rare occasion when any sort of art form can capture the true intensity of a real life situation, yet somehow the band Filter was able to do so with their 1995 song, "Hey Man, Nice Shot."  Perfectly reflecting the docile, almost reflective nature that was shown during the final speech of Budd Dwyer, before the press conference spiraled into chaos as he took his own life, the contrast between the tone on the verses and chorus is equally sharp.  Taking the dark, yet menacing sound that defined the "industrial" style of music, Filter was able to fuse it together with the "classic" sound of hardcore music, and the two styles have rarely been blended in such brilliant fashion.  The imposing bass and guitar lines that run throughout the song keep it firmly rooted in a shadowy, almost haunting space, and the distorted vocals make it a song like no other.  The fact that the song became a hit during a time when more upbeat, carefree songs were dominating the airwaves serves as further testament to what an amazing song lives within "Hey Man, Nice Shot," and the fact that it remains in regular radio rotation solidifies its long term greatness.  The lasting impact of the song was also proven when, following the tragic events of "9/11," the song was one of many that was placed on a national radio "do not play" list, though in recent years, the song has re-emerged.  Perfectly merging together the sounds of hardcore and industrial music in a way that has never been done before or since, there is simply no other song that can compare to the amazing power of Filter's 1995 single, "Hey Man, Nice Shot."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19: Roxy Music, "Mother Of Pearl"

Artist: Roxy Music
Song: "Mother Of Pearl"
Album: Stranded
Year: 1973

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In nearly every band in history, there is at least one, sometimes two members that are so essential to the band that if they left, one could safely assume that the bands' career would be over.  Whether due to their creative control over the band, their stage presence, or simply some intangible element that they provided, one can see examples of this idea all over music history.  Yet there are also a small group of bands that have managed to persevere after such a departure, though in most cases, the band had to alter their sound somewhat to compensate for the departed member.  Having already established themselves as one of the most innovative and unique groups on the planet with their first two albums, it would be Roxy Music's third record, 1973's Stranded, that would prove to be the turning point of their career.  Following the release of their previous album, For Your Pleasure, the band was forced to deal with the departure of one of music's greatest minds, Brian Eno.  Due to increasing artistic differences with Bryan Ferry, Eno left the group and was replaced with classically trained pianist and violinist, Eddie Jobson.  Though many feared that the loss of Eno would spell the end for Roxy Music's brilliantly unique sound, the group answered the doubters by releasing back to back records that one can easily argue as just as good as their two records with Eno.  As listeners experienced Stranded, through the first half of the album, it is certainly high quality music, yet there is nothing that really stands out.  It is not until the albums' second-to-last track that Roxy Music showed that they were still one of the finest bands on the planet, when they unleashed one of their most stunning compositions in the form of 1973's "Mother Of Pearl."

In nearly every sense, one can easily label "Mother Of Pearl" as an "epic" song, as it contains a number of very distinct musical passages, all combining together in uncanny fashion.  The song opens at full speed, with Ferry spinning a strangely sinister vocal over the fast-paced drums and winding guitar loop. After a brilliantly brief guitar solo from Phil Manzanera, the song drops into a stunningly soft, almost jazzy piano-based movement, and the beauty of this shift has never been duplicated.  It is at this point that it becomes clear that though they had lost an amazing mind in the form of Eno, the group is as creative as ever, and it is much the reason that "Mother Of Pearl" remains one of the most impressive moments in the Roxy Music catalog.  During this middle section, bassist John Gustafson drops a uniquely groovy bassline, and the entire song seems to slide from jazz to swing to an almost hip-hop feel at some points, giving it a mood unlike anything else ever recorded.  Using layered guitars and keyboard pieces, Roxy Music creates one of the deepest and most sonically adventurous songs of their career, and it is often the lighter, more subtle sounds that make "Mother Of Pearl" just an amazing musical experience.  The song slowly builds both speed and tension as it moves to an unparalleled "drop out" as the song ends with one of the most perfect moods ever captured on tape.  Truth be told, this unique musical arrangement would be blatantly copied years later on Simple Minds' "Chelsea Girl," and though that song is good in its on right, there is simply nothing that can compare to the sonic beauty of "Mother Of Pearl."

No longer having to deal with the artistic constraints of Brian Eno, on "Mother Of Pearl," the full brilliance of Bryan Ferry shines, and it becomes instantly clear that he is one of the most uniquely talented vocalists in the entire history of recorded music.  Sticking to his almost rap-style vocals for the entire song, it is moments like "Mother Of Pearl" that one realizes what a massive influence his performance style was on later artists like David Byrne and Ian Curtis among many others.  Throughout the song, Ferry seems to experiment with different vocal inflections, and the song remains one of the most amazing musical experiences from any era or any genre.  The other aspect that makes the vocals on "Mother Of Pearl" so unique is the groups' use of panning, as at times, Ferry seems to "ask" a question on on side of the track, and he "answers" from the other.  Though a simple "studio trick," it has rarely been used in this manner or carried out with such a fantastic effect, and this is one of many small things that pushes the song into a class all its own.  The song then moves into a brilliant word-play that runs through a majority of the song, the only constant being a return to the phrasing, "...oh, mother of pearl, I wouldn't trade you for another girl..."  As Ferry weaves in a wide range of allusions and metaphors, the song takes on a life unlike any other in history, and there are so many different pieces to the song that each listener is able to find their own, unique moment in the song to "call their own."

Making a significant lineup change can set any band back a few years, as they are forced to adjust to the new sounds and musical restraints of this new member.  Losing a member with the reputation of Brian Eno, one could have easily understood of Roxy Music had folded or never made another decent studio recording.  Yet quite the opposite happened, and the first few albums following Eno's departure from the band stand as some of the greatest recordings in music history.  Clearly only needing a short amount of time to understand how Eddie Jobson would fit into the bands' sound, the group took less than a year to record Stranded, with the highlight of the album being the unparalleled song, "Mother Of Pearl."  Taking on an almost classical form, with distinct sonic transitions, the song soars and dives seemingly at will, making it a musical experience unlike anything else ever recorded.  Bryan Ferry delivers one of his finest performances, as his sometimes detached, sometimes sarcastic, yet unquestionably distinctive vocal approach has rarely sounded better, and "Mother Of Pearl" remains a song that you simply "cannot turn off."  The band finds a way to inject a groove into the extremely unorthodox musical arrangement, and this proves to be one of the most important aspects of the song, as it is not quite rock, not quite jazz; it is simply a sound and style that can only be defined by the name of the song itself.  Taking all this into account, while Roxy Music certainly made two stunning records with Brian Eno, it was not until his departure that the group was able to find their "true" sound, and it is perfectly captured in their stunning 1973 song, "Mother Of Pearl."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18: LL Cool J, "Around The Way Girl"

Artist: LL Cool J
Song: "Around The Way Girl"
Album: Mama Said Knock You Out
Year: 1990

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Within the world of music, when an artist finds themselves faced with adversity, it can push them in one of two directions.  While in many cases, it causes the artist in question to fold or seek a completely new sound, there are a few instances where this situation drives an artist to deliver the finest material of their career.  Though he had already established himself as a major force within the hip-hop world, by the time 1990 rolled around, LL Cool J was reeling from his critically panned 1989 release, Walking With The Panther.  While in retrospect, the record is quite good, at the time, the world of hip-hop was changing, and LL Cool J needed to change along with the times.  What would follow stands as not only his finest release of his long career, but a record that remains one of the greatest albums in the history of the hip-hop genre, as well as one of the defining records of the decade.  Boasting one of the most memorable title tracks in history, LL Cool J's 1990 release, Mama Said Knock You Out, permanently cemented his name as a hip-hop legend, and in many ways became the final support in establishing the genre as a mainstream sound.  The album boasts a wide variety of musical approaches both in terms of production, as well as delivery sound, and it is largely due to this diversity that the album was such a success.  Though the title track was a runaway success, one can easily make the case that the true gem of Mama Said Knock You Out lives on in the form of LL Cool J's 1990 single, "Around The Way Girl."

Though he had made his career to that point by bringing some of the most "in your face," harder beats and sounds, on "Around The Way Girl," LL Cool J delivers with a far more laid back, almost restrained sound.  However, this in no way means that the song is "soft," it simply has a wider reaching appeal as it is more musically sound than anything he had previously released.  Produced by the legendary Marley Marl, the song revolves around a sample of Mary Jane Girls' "All Night Long" as well as a piece from Keni Burke's "Risin' To The Top."  While these two pieces work brilliantly on the song, the core of the music is lifted from Honey Dipper's "Impeach The President," and it is from this track that the song gets its signature "high pitched" wail.  The samples work perfectly together, creating one of the warmest, head-bobbing moods ever composed, and it is this element that would make "Around The Way Girl" LL Cool J's first top ten hit,and the single would be the best charting song off of the record.  This deep groove also showed the clear interplay between the hip-hop and R&B sounds, and also proved that hip-hop could be less aggressive in sound while not losing any of its impact or "street cred."  The fact of the matter is, though it is far more relaxed than almost anything that had been released to that point, the song remains an irresistible groove and keeps the listener moving whether being listened to on a stereo, in a car, or on headphones.  The fact that the catchiness of the song remains more than twenty years later serves as a testament to just what an amazing and perfect composition lives within "Around The Way Girl."

Along with the more mellow, laid back music, LL Cool J alters his vocal approach on "Around The Way Girl," yet proves that even in a more "chilled out" delivery style, his swagger and impact come through as powerful as ever.  Delivering his vocals with a measured, clear sound, not a word is lost, and yet LL Cool J's smooth, distinctive sound give the song an edge that ensures that even the most "hardcore" hip-hop heads could proudly blast the song without feeling that it was "soft" track.  In fact, his overall performance here paved the way for countless other rappers to be able to express a bit of a more reflective side without being seen as "whack" or losing any of their "street cred."  Though he had already established himself as a "ladies man" within the hip-hop world, one can easily make the case that it was on "Around The Way Girl" that LL Cool J firmly established his persona, as the song is unquestionably one of the finest "hip-hop odes" that has ever been released.  The entire song extols the virtues of the rougher, independent women that LL Cool J loves, and there are few songs of the time that even remotely resemble his performance or the subject matter.  Touching on everything from fashion to fighting, LL Cool J comes off as completely fearless as he paints the picture of his ideal woman, punctuating the song with the lines, " all the cuties in the neighborhood, 'cause if I didn't tell you than another brother would..."  His approach throughout the entire song stands in stark contrast to the misogynistic image of hip-hop, and this is one of the many aspects that makes "Around The Way Girl" such a distinctive hip-hop classic.

Kicking off with one of the most memorable lines in history, LL Cool J's rhyme of, "I want a girl with extensions in her hair, bamboo earrings, at least two pair..." immediately sets a tone like no other song that had been previously recorded. He spends the next four minutes bringing up everything that makes up his ideal woman, and this honest, upfront ode remains an absolute hip-hop classic.  Whether he is encouraging women to become more independent or creating a brilliantly vivid image of his "dream girl" shaking her hips on the street, there are truly few songs of any genre that can compare insofar as paying tribute to a "real" woman for more than her looks alone.  Also using the song to set himself apart as far superior to the others who "pop that game all day," LL Cool J is sure to make it clear to the listener that not only is this his ideal woman, but he remains the ideal man for all women.  His ability to infuse this idea and keep his "ladies man" swagger on a song, whilst working with a far more relaxed and almost restrained beat than anything previously found in recorded music proves just how talented LL Cool J was at the time, and the song remains a massive influence on the entire world of hip-hop.  Marley Marl crafts an absolutely perfect groove for LL Cool J to work with, and the song remains unrivaled in terms of presenting the balance between more melodic backing music and vocals that speak to even the most hardcore hip-hop head.  Remaining today one of the most perfect, enjoyable, and enduring hip-hop songs in history, there is simply no other track that compares to LL Cool J's 1990 classic, "Around The Way Girl."

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17: Daily Guru, "Gurucast #20"

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(Left Click (PC) or Command-Click (Mac) to save it to your's about 75MB)

One hour of amazing music and SOME commentary from "The Guru" himself.

1. Bob Dylan, "Maggie's Farm"  Bringing It All Back Home
2. Dozer, "The FloodBeyond Colossal
3. The Evens, "Around The Corner"  The Evens
4. Nas, "N.Y. State Of Mind"  Illmatic
5. Arthur Brown, "Fire"  The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
6. Wirepony, "Morphine After"  Right Hook Of Love
7. King Sunny Adé And His African Beats, "Ma Jaiye Oni"  Juju Music
8. AC/DC, "The Jack"  High Voltage
9. The Clash, "Rock The Casbah"  Combat Rock
10. Johnny Cash, "Thirteen"  American Recordings
11. PJ Harvey, "50 Ft. Queenie"  Rid Of Me
12. The Doors, "Riders On The Storm"  L.A. Woman
13. The Rugburns, "Dick's Automotive"  Mommy I'm Sorry

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16: The Beach Boys, "Good Vibrations"

Artist: The Beach Boys
Song: "Good Vibrations"
Album: Good Vibrations (single)
Year: 1966

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When a band finds themselves in a "zone," when literally everything they are creating musically is amazing, the door is often open for the most strange and surprising things to occur.  Whether it is some sort of musical "breakthrough" that ushers in a new era of music, or simply something inexplicable, it is often within these times that the most exciting musical events are to be found.  Then of course, if you add a certain level of "genius" into the equation, all bets are off, and in one case, the complete idea of "how" one records music was completely rewritten.  The year was 1965 and The Beach Boys were putting together a musical masterpiece that would become their album, Pet Sounds.  With Brian Wilson clearly overflowing with new ideas on music and harmonics, he spend much of 1965 and 1966 in the studio, and it is his unique vision that would lead not only to the sheer brilliance of Pet Sounds, but to a strange, album-less single that followed.  With Pet Sounds released in May of 1966, Wilson went back to a composition that he had been working with on and off again in different studios for many months.  The track, which in early 1966 was simply labeled "#1 Untitled" could not be completed in time for Pet Sounds, and strangely enough, once completed, it would be almost immediately released, pre-dating the groups' next full length album.  The fact that by this point, The Beach Boys were already a household name, and the "singles era" was largely over, the fact that the song was released without a full length record is a true anomaly.  Regardless, it only takes a second of listening to understand how truly special a song lives within The Beach Boys monumental 1966 single, "Good Vibrations."

Simply put, there has never been another song anywhere else in music history that even remotely sounds like or compares to the amazing sonic presence of "Good Vibrations."  In some ways, this is understandable, as Brian Wilson made his reputation as a musical perfectionist around this song.  Taking a few hundred hours and more than 50 different takes, as well as parts being recorded in a  number of different studios, it is "Good Vibrations" that solidified the idea of using the recording studio itself as an instrument, as Wilson used the different sounds that each studio brought to create deeper textures within the music.  This "sonic collage" of the different sessions was unlike anything else previously recorded, and The Beatles cited the sound of "Good Vibrations" as a massive influence on songs of theirs such as "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day In The Life," which employ the same musical approach.  Perhaps the most unique aspect of the music on "Good Vibrations" is the prominent use of an electronic theramin.  There have been claims that this single part of the song alone cose upwards of $15,000 to record, yet it gives the song such an amazing mood and in many ways can be seen as one of the most important innovations of the psychedelic music movement.  The quivering sound of the theramin, combined with the perfectly toned, bouncing keyboards play a brilliant compliment to one another, and there has truly never been another song that sounded quite like "Good Vibrations."

As was their signature aspect throughout their entire career, one simply cannot overlook that on "Good Vibrations," the harmonies from The Beach Boys are nothing short of stunning.  It is due to songs like this that one can make the case that The Beach Boys were the finest and most creative group when it came to harmonies, and to this day, few groups have even come close to the blissful sound of their shared vocals.  The way in which the vocals echo and soar across the song make this easily the greatest song in The Beach Boys' amazing recorded catalog, and Wilson himself often described the song as a "pocket symphony."  With Wilson and Mike Love handling the lead vocals, "Good Vibrations" perfectly sums up everything that makes The Beach Boys so fantastic, as the song works just as well in getting a listener up and moving as it functions as a relaxing song.  Along with the gorgeous vocal work on "Good Vibrations," the song also happens to contain some of the most beautiful lyrics ever penned.  Moving far beyond the love songs that had been written to that point, it is the way in which Wilson and Love created such vivid imagery through their words that made the song so special.  The songs' opening verse, punctuated by the lines, "...I hear the sound of a gentle word, on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air..." remains one of the most beautiful yet simple lines ever composed, and the way in which it is presented, the listener can almost smell this scent coming from the record.  Simply put, the absolutely phenomenal vocal work that The Beach Boys placed overtop the extraordinary musical arrangement places "Good Vibrations" high atop the list of the greatest songs ever recorded.

In many ways, "Good Vibrations" has a history like no other, from the lengthy recording process, to the fact that it was not released as part of an album, to the fact that during its first week of release, it sold at a rate of more than 100,000 copies per day.  While in modern times, it remains a radio staple and easily one of the most recognizable songs in the world, it is a bit odd, as the song itself is about as "free form" a composition as has ever been recorded, and the loose nature of the music and vocals defy any type of categorization.  The song is not rock, it is not folk; it simply is "The Beach Boys."  It is this aspect that makes the song all the more impressive, as in many ways, Brian Wilson was "creating from scratch" on "Good Vibrations," and it is also much the reason that there has not been a similar song since.  Also from this fact, one can make the argument that The Beach Boys were the most "forward thinking" and innovative group of the 1960's, though this is a title that is often given to a number of other bands of the era.  Whether it was using the theramin on record or "turning" the studio spaces into actual "parts" of the music, one cannot say enough about how much "Good Vibrations" forced other musicians to reconsider how they approached their musical creation.  Adding the unparalleled vocal dexterity for which The Beach Boys are best known, and one must remember that although they have certainly heard the song countless times, there has simply never been another song quite like The Beach Boys' monumental 1966 single, "Good Vibrations."