Over at Riff Magazine, my old pal David Gill looks back at the birth of distortion and its position as "central to rock and roll as the sex and the drugs." From Riff:
In March 1951, a 19-year-old Ike Turner was recording his saxophonist Jackie Breston’s song “Rocket 88,” an ode to the Oldsmobile 88 (and later inspiration for Public Enemy’s “You’re Gonna Get Yours”). (Listen above.) Turner played his guitar loud, so loud, in fact, that his amplifier couldn’t handle it. The resulting distortion is the stuff of legend in the fable of rock and roll, giving voice to the intensity of the times.
The 1950s in America were the best of times and the worst of times. A victory in World War II and the spoils that came with it led to a baby boom, sprawling suburbia, rising standards of living, and a new thriving middle class, while at the same time racism, sexism and economic exploitation lingered in this landscape of opportunity. America also clung to its puritanical origins, cultivating a Victoria-era disdain for exuberance and physicality into a repressed and buttoned-down society that mocked, scorned and punished deviation from the norm.
As the 1950s progressed, the rising wave of progressive hedonism embodied by the new musical phenomenon of rock and roll crashed on the limitations of American culture. That tension is evident in Turner’s guitar tones, in its refusal to obey or to conform.
"Professor Music: Like ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ this column goes to 11" (Riff)
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I'm delighted to report that Boing Boing pal Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü) has a new rock and roll platter on its way February 8! Above is the title track from the punk pioneer's new album, Sunshine Rock. If this catchy psychedelic number is any indication, expect the album to be a burning light of gritty punk optimism in these dark times.
“To go from [2011 autobiography] See a Little Light to the last three albums, two of which were informed by loss of each parent, respectively, at some point I had to put a Post-It note on my work station and say, ‘Try to think about good things,'" Bob says. "Otherwise I could really go down a long, dark hole. I’m trying to keep things brighter these days as a way to stay alive.”
Bob Mould plays the history Fillmore in San Francisco on March 2 as part of the Noise Pop Festival 2019. More tour dates here.
Below, Bob Mould on Boing Boing Video, an interview and performance from 2014 produced by the talented team at Remedy Editorial:
photo: Alicia J Rose Read the rest
Angel Nene created this montage showing how the Rolling Stones' faces and music evolved over the years. I got sad about one minute in (1969) when Brian Jones died.
Below, my favorite of Nene's morphing animations of aging rock stars, "The Beatles Aging Together (1960-2017):
(via Laughing Squid)
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Death Cab for Cutie release their new album, "Thank You For Today," on Friday and right now NPR is streaming the whole thing. It's a gorgeous, cohesive, and fresh collection of soulful songs brought to life with startling arrangements and dazzling production. I'm proud of my friends. Have a listen!
"First Listen: Death Cab For Cutie, 'Thank You For Today'" (NPR)
And in case you missed it, below is the video for the first single from the album, "Gold Rush," featuring a sample of Yoko Ono's "Mindtrain."
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In 1982, Bruce Springsteen recorded this raw, dark demo of "Born in the USA" during the sessions that would spawn his Nebraska album, my favorite of all his releases. "Born in the USA" is about the impact of the Vietnam War on America and the country's mistreatment of veterans upon their return. Of course the familiar version of the song ultimately released in 1984 has been reinterpreted by many as a patriotic anthem because, y'know, who pays attention to lyrics.
(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest
Alex Chadwick and his 1958 Fender Strat present one hundred great guitar riffs of all time in one 12-minute take. (The only riff here I can play is Blitkreig Bop, but fortunately, it's the best one.)
From Open Culture:
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So central is the riff to the catchiness of a song that one could write an entire history of rock ‘n’ roll in riffs, which is exactly what Alex Chadwick has done in the video above, opening with the groovy jazz lick of 1953’s “Mr. Sandman” and wrapping up with St. Vincent’s “Cruel.” Though the more recent riffs might elude many people—having not yet become classic rock hits played at hockey games—nearly all of these 100 riffs from 100 rock ‘n’ roll songs will be instantly familiar. The video comes from music store Chicago Music Exchange, where employees likely hear many of these tunes played all day long, but never in chronological succession with such perfect intonation.
Covering Alex Van Halen's drumming on "Hot for Teacher" has become its own YouTube genre, but few have nailed it as well as 13-year-old Mia Morris. Read the rest
One May day in 1968, The Beatles gathered in Esher, London at George Harrison psychedelic bungalow Kinfauns to make music. They jammed through numerous songs written during or after their time hanging with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Those demos are the skeleton of what would become the White Album. Some of those acoustic renditions have since been officially released or made their way to YouTube. Over at Rolling Stone, Jordan Runtagh takes us through the "Esher Tapes." Here are two of the tracks with Runtagh's commentary:
"Revolution" Read the rest
Anti–Vietnam War demonstrations, Prague Spring, the assassination of Martin Luther King – John Lennon pondered the tumultuous events of early 1968 from his bucolic hideaway in the shadow of the Himalayas. "I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India," he told Rolling Stone in 1970. "I still had this 'God will save us' feeling about it: 'It's going to be all right.'" The sentiment would because a positive mantra in one of Lennon's most enduring songs; one he hoped would shake the youth out of the dreamily complacent Summer of Love era. "I wanted to put out what I felt about revolution. I thought it was time we fucking spoke about it." In the band's early days, he felt gagged by the unofficial code of silence that prohibited celebrities from speaking out about political matters for fear of antagonizing their audience. "For years, on the Beatles' tours, [manager] Brian Epstein had stopped us from saying anything about Vietnam or the war.
In September 1981, Stevie Nicks was sitting in Annie Liebovitz's studio for a Rolling Stone photo shoot just after the release of her first solo album Bella Donna. While Nicks is having her makeup done, someone plays an early demo of "Wild Heart." The rest is magic. (via Kottke)
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In its 1970s heyday, Detroit-based music magazine Creem was home to seminal editors/writers/photographers like Lester Bangs, Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, Patti Smith, Bob Gruen, Jenny Lens, and so many more. Indeed, it was in its pages that Dave Marsh coined the term "punk rock" in 1971. Creem's content was superb. It was unabashedly critical of fame, didn't take itself too seriously, and documented the more underground artists, bands, and scenes of the time, from the MC5 to Alice Cooper, New York City's glam rock culture to the proto-punks of the US and UK.
Boy Howdy! is director Scott Crawford's forthcoming documentary about Creem and I absolutely can't wait to see it. Until then, I'll proudly wear the fantastic t-shirt below, scribbled by my pal Jess Rotter! And yes, they're also selling Creem's classic Boy Howdy! t-shirt, handsomely modeled by John Lennon below.
Boy Howdy! and Creem magazine merch
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Last year, a few days after David Bowie died, I posted the following reminiscence/remembrance to my Facebook page. On the anniversary of his death, I thought I might share it here.
It was Friday, November 16, 1973. I was 16 years old. Every Friday night, I would rush home from whatever trouble my friends and I were getting into to watch The Midnight Special, hosted by the howling-prone Wolfman Jack. For a sheltered kid growing up in a small Southern Baptist town outside of Richmond, Virginia, The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert were my principal means of seeing live-performance rock n' roll.
On this night, the show broadcast David Bowie's 1980 Floor Show, a special that had been recorded in October of 1973 at The Marquee Club in London, but not previously aired. Up to that point, I don't know how much Bowie I'd been exposed to, but it wasn't much. I'd certainly heard “Space Oddity” on the radio, and likely a few other tracks, but my exposure was minimal. And I don't think I'd ever laid eyes on the man until this broadcast.
I was so excited as the show began, but that enthusiasm soon turned to confusion, then outright fear. I saw this....creature that I had no frame of reference to understand. I was looking at some strange and incomprehensible being, the OTHER. The expressive freedom and creativity I saw, the gender fluidity, the flaunted sexuality, it was both seductive and alarming; this pandrogyny felt fundamentally threatening to whatever male heterosexuality I'd been trying so desperately to understand and model. Read the rest
It is perhaps very telling that all of the review blurbs on the back cover of Andy Partridge and Todd Bernhardt's Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC are written by fellow musicians and songwriters. Andy Partridge has always been a musician's musician.
Complicated Game is a series of candid and detailed interviews with Andy Partridge about many of XTC's most well-known songs. Todd Bernhardt, the interviewer, is a fellow musician, XTC mega-fan, and friend of Andy's, so they don't shy away from discussing the nitty-gritty details of chord changes, instruments used, studio hacks, and other compositional and engineering minutia.
In the chapter on "Senses Working Overtime," Andy explains how the whole song came about as he was fooling around on a new Martin guitar and he played a "messed-up E-flat." He thought it sounded very Medieval so he tried to find other chords that went with it (A-flat minor and D-flat). He says the rest of the song sort of composed itself from there. We also learn that "English Settlement" was their "new instruments record." The bandmembers had all just gotten new instruments (Andy, the Martin, Dave Gregory, a 12-string Richenbacker, Colin Moulding, a fretless bass) and they were excited to noodle around on them to see what they could do.
There are many other interesting and fun revelations in the book. "This is Pop," from White Music, was Andy's way of rejecting the pigeonholing of the punk label, making sure that everyone was reminded that this is pop music, plain and simple, and that ain't a dirty word. Read the rest
I love this new video from Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, from an album I love even more, La Araña es La Vida. I got a chance to see Kid in DC while he was on tour this year and it was one of my favorite shows of the year. The man knows how to bring himself fully to a show.
You may know Kid Congo Power's work with the legendary Gun Club, Cramps, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and I would hazard to say, his grossly underappreciated solo career, with albums like 2009's Dracula Boots and 2013's Haunted Head. La Araña es La Vida is Kid's 5th solo record.
The video for La Araña was directed by Alex Terrazas (aka Alex von Alex) and features an awesome Southern California backyard Chicano house party, complete with a visit from La Araña, the Teotihuacan spider goddess (of Pre-Columbian Teotihuacan civilization). A protector of the underworld, she is said to sprout hallucinogenic morning glory vines from her head. Here Kid explains why he chose to thematically invoke this bit of Mexican folklore on the record:
She sprouts hallucinogenic morning glories and protects the underworld. I thought that is very much like our duty as a band, to have the most open mind to vivid psychedelic dreams to create and protect the world of underground music, the music of the soul.
Morning glories, you say?
BTW, if you missed Kid's appearance on Amoeba Record's wonderful What's in my Bag? Read the rest
Happening was a Los Angeles-based rock and roll variety TV show produced by Dick Clark, and co-hosted by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere of the Raiders. It ran from 1968 to 1969. It's interesting to see the TV commercials, which make me miss Mad Men, and to see how unsophisticated live TV was at the time. The budget was probably miniscule. Read the rest
"I Love the new Monkees record!," is something I thought I'd never hear my adult self saying, but I've heard myself saying it. The three surviving members of the 60s made-for-TV rock band (Davy Jones died of a heart attack in 2012) have recently released Good Times!, their 12th studio album and their first since 1996's Justus.
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