Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Band - The Genetic Method (including Auld Lang Syne)

Garth Hudson leads us into the new year. Auld Lang Syne doesn't start until about six minutes into the track.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grateful Dead - That's It For The Other One

So, I was wrong: here's one more sad song. not to mention another Dead song. It's about Cowboy Neal at the wheel, and how he had to die.

It's the first track on Anthem of the Sun, and I always liked the fact that it breaks the rule for an opening song -- instead of being a big blaring attention getter, it starts with a note on the organ, then a beat later a quiet voice starts singing "The other day they waited..." as the rest of the band falls in. Having an unspecified "they" do nothing more dynamic than wait is taking a risk with your opening line. A lot of bands wouldn't take that kind of risk.

The full title is "That's It For The Other One: Cryptical Envelopment/Quadlibet For Tender Feet/The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get/We Leave The Castle." In case you're ever asked as a contestant on Jeopardy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Roches - Runs In The Family

I'm beginning to think that it runs in the family.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Grateful Dead - St Stephen

If you know the song, this version has obviously been edited. Still, it's video from the Tom Constanten era of the Dead, which is pretty rare, so it's worth checking out. And the bachelor-pad ambiance of the Playboy After Dark TV show is, nearly forty years later, almost cute.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eartha Kitt RIP

Among the online articles about Eartha Kitt, I've yet to see one that points out her most famous political act: criticizing the Vietnam War at its height while she was inside the White House. It cost her, too -- she performed mostly in Europe for several years after.

From Wikipedia: In 1968, however, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. It was reported that she made First Lady Lady Bird Johnson cry. The public reaction to Kitt's statements was much more extreme, both for and against her statements. Professionally exiled from the U.S., she devoted her energies to overseas performances.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Harold Pinter RIP

Either you love Harold Pinter's work or you don't get it, as far as I can tell. He was a student of language, and his works are often rigorous studies of how language is used to communicate, to obfuscate, and frequently both. But that rigor was like the structure of a Bach fugue: it was the underpinning of work that still evoked a strange joy and a sense of spontaneity. His subtlety was often cloaked in "plain language," which of course was actually anything but. This late and very brief work still carries his characteristic flavor.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ray Stevens - Santa Claus Is Watching You

Following his smash hit Ahab the Arab, Ray Stevens released this Christmas-themed song, which features the return of Clyde the camel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Barbra Streisand - I Wonder As I Wander

This song came out of the folk revival in the 1950s-60s. The credited composer, John Jacob Niles, claimed to have learned it from a woman in North Carolina, but this version was recorded in about as different a social milieu as you could find from that origin. Nowadays the key changes in this version get on my nerves, but otherwise I like it. That minor-key melody, and the overall feeling of being alone in the dark, make it unusual among holiday standards.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nick Drake - Riverman

There's a lot going on in the world, a lot going on with me, but for today I'll just step aside and put something up for pure pleasure.

This is probably the first Nick Drake I ever heard. I like the way each verse ends on a major chord, then shifts to the minor of that chord when the next verse begins.

This video looks as if it may have been shot in and around Nick's home town of Oxford.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Flying Burrito Brothers - To Love Somebody

Today is Robin Gibb's birthday, and since he's listed as co-composer of this song, that's reason enough to play it. The one and only Gram Parsons sings lead.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bette Midler - The Rose

One more sad song and then it's back to our regular programming, such as it is.

I'm always a little surprised when people think this song is pure mush. It's actually more like the very end of No Country for Old Men, although I think that ending worked better in the book than in the movie. The sheriff tells us two dreams, both of which suggest that not all is lost, but they don't suggest much beyond that. In short, there's no point in relying on something that isn't there. The point of course is that the world is a hard place, and we're lucky to have any hope at all. This song is not quite that grim, but it's about hope for the future, not about present happiness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Beatles - In My Life

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better--
Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places have their moments,
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living--
In my life, I've loved them all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Judy Collins - Liverpool Lullaby

Another song from the same album as "Tom Thumb's Blues," posted a few days ago, and therefore another song I first heard on the same trip. There is also a Jacques Brel song on that album, and I guess the reason the album made the impact on me that it did is because it was the first time I'd heard the kind of music that Jacques Brel exemplified: deceptively sweet music underpinning frequently acidic words. Take this song -- slow, soothing music, wrapped around the story of a small boy whose father beats him. The whole album is pretty much like that, but I guess a lot of people can't get past the flutes and violins.

Just found out today that this song was written by the first human being to ever earn a graduate degree in computer science. Go figure.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bob Dylan - As I Went Out One Morning

By my reckoning, this song dates from Bob Dylan's fourth self-reinvention, in 1968. Since that was forty years ago, there have been several since.

Listening to it a few minutes ago, I realized that the musical hook is in Charlie McCoy's bass line, which is more than a little unusual, but the unusual is what you expect from Dylan at his best (yes, that hook was probably McCoy's idea, but it's Dylan's album -- it made it onto the record because Dylan wanted it there).

I will award an old-fashioned Marvel Comics no-prize to anyone who can tell me what the song is about, and why American founding father Tom Paine is in it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Judy Collins - Tom Thumb's Blues

Still remember where I was when I first heard this song, one of those magical mornings that can come when you're a teen waking up in an unfamiliar place, but feeling safe. It was my first time hearing these words since I'd never heard Bob Dylan's original version. Now I prefer Dylan's version, although I still like the quasi-chamber-music arrangement here. A lot has been written by now about the experiments in music that were taking place in 1966, and this performance of this song is very much a product of that time.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

The End of the World

My brother died, and to distract myself I started reading the news. Way deep down inside me, some primitive part of me was puzzled by the fact that the most important thing that had happened was nowhere mentioned in the things I was reading. That reminded me of this song.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The D Word

It's been a while since I've said, "What Digby said." Time to rectify that. Here's D on why the financial meltdown is happening, expressed as usual with concision.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your One-Stop Dumb Joke Stop

The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind.

H/t to member of an e-mail list I'm on

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Beatles - Across The Universe

So I woke up and got ready to go to work at the job I'd held a little over a year. This was always hard, for reasons it would take a while to explain, so I won't here. I turned on the TV while I made breakfast and soon realized that all, all, every single bit of the talk was about him, which seemed beyond strange. Sure, he'd come out of retirement a few weeks before, but why did that matter so much that it had all but taken over the airwaves? Soon I realized that he was dead, but had no idea how. I called a friend just to find out, who gave me the details. I went to work, and it was the kind of environment where no one was really interested in such things, which made me lonely. But there was nothing to do.

This song showed his range, and of the four versions that have been released over the years is my favorite.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cadillac Records

Don't often go to films their first weekend, but this seemed worth the trip. Put it this way: if you have Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, and Etta James in your music collection, you want to see this movie. Like any biopic, you can quibble with some of the details (e.g., Little Walter did not die in Muddy's house, Muddy's first trip to England was in 1959, etc.), but overall it's very good.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Flying Lotus - RadioHead Reckoner Remix

Like all true hip-hop fans, I get tha 411 straight from tha source: the New Yorker magazine, which began pushing hip-hop back in 1927. And if u believe that, have I got a bridge 4 u...

In any event, I do know a little about hip-hop, and my favorites aren't the rappers so much as the slightly insane producers, like Prince Paul. Taking sounds from as wide a range of sources as possible and turning them into an artifact that is more than a random assemblage of samples is an art, and there aren't many people who can do it well. It's easier to just take one old song and start rapping on top of it. (We will mention no diddy-ly names, as Ned Flanders might say.)

There aren't many people who do this kind of innovative work well enough to make you go "Wow." But thanks to the New Yorker I now know of one more. Flying Lotus here takes a recent Radiohead track and works his magic. And I like magic.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman 1916-2008

If you are, as the common saying goes, of a certain age, and grew up in a certain culture feeling a bit of a geek, the odds are good that you were drawn to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. As in your growing up you learned the names of the giants of these fields -- Asimov, Tolkien, Stoker, to pick three representative examples -- you eventually learned another name, a fan who had gotten there before you. Forrest J Ackerman wrote some stories and served as an editor and agent, but mostly he was the world's biggest fantasy (to use the broadest term) fan in the world. This clip explains. (Apologies for the sound quality.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sonny Boy Williamson

Happy one hundred and ninth birthday to Sonny Boy Williamson, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II, aka Rice Miller. Unfortunately he died in 1965, but not before (1) recording a lot of wonderful music, (2) rehearsing with the musicians later known as the Band, shortly before he died (and whose drummer Levon Helm, like Sonny Boy, was from the Helena Arkansas area), (3) inspiring Bob Dylan's performance on the song "Pledging my Time," and (4) inspiring this performance by Al Kooper and Carlos Santana. And after you listen to this song, you should go listen to some Sonny Boy Williamson himself, because it's even better.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Odetta RIP

One of the giants of the folk revival of the late fifties-early sixties is gone. Odetta always stood out simply by virtue of being one of the few actual African-Americans in a mostly white group of performers who were heavily influenced by African-American music. This is the first song of hers I ever remember really absorbing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - Cloudburst

Heard this song recently, in a different version, which reminded me how much I like Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Joni Mitchell recorded two of the songs off the album from which this song comes. Annie Ross appeared in a movie directed by Robert Altman and Jon Hendricks appeared in a movie that starred Woody Harrelson. What does it all mean? As usual, I'm clueless. But it's a good song.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Voice Goes Quiet

It's always a little disheartening to only learn of the existence of a worthwhile human being when that person passes away. But if they were here at all, then some gratitude is called for.

H/t Atrios.