music friday: dr. john

Had a different post ready for today, but made a quick change after hearing of the death of Mac Rebennack, Dr. John, The Night Tripper. This will be quicker than he deserves.

I first heard of Dr. John on his debut album, Gris-Gris, in 1968. I have written at length about the importance of the emergent FM "Underground" Radio on me as a teen. Gris-Gris came out as that radio was coming alive. Like many, I was conversant with New Orleans music because it was such a crucial element of early rock and roll. But I knew nothing of the culture, so when Gris-Gris came out, it was as if someone from Mars had made a record. There were a lot of weird records made in the psychedelic era. Many of them are junk, few of them had a lasting impact, even if I personally still listen to a lot of that music to this day. Gris-Gris may have been the most bizarre album of its time, and that's saying something. It was steeped in New Orleans' musical and cultural traditions. Not really knowing this, I experienced the album as weirder than it really was ... while it's still bizarre, listening to it now makes much more sense, because we can place it within our better knowledge of the traditions, and because we've listened to Dr. John for decades.

Here's a selection of his work. First, the lead track from Gris-Gris:

It was inevitable that the Doctor would turn to "Iko Iko", which he recorded for his excellent 1972 album, Dr. John's Gumbo. I've always been partial to this short video from some years ago which shows off his astounding piano playing:

In 1973, he finally had his hit single:

And in 1976, he turned up at The Last Waltz:

The last track on Gris-Gris was arguably its best: "I Walk on Guilded Splinters". While that entire album impressed me with its to-me other-worldliness, "Guilded Splinters" made for good cover material. One person made a Spotify playlist called "100 Versions" ... the title is a bit of an exaggeration, there are only 22 songs, but still:

Here's one of the tracks on that playlist: Cher's version from 1969.

Finally, Dr. John occasionally turned up on the late, lamented series Treme. "Tryin' to show Ron Carter somethin' on the bass, it's like tryin' to show a whore how to turn a trick. It's unpossible maneuver." (Apologies in advance for my pathetic attempt to translate what the Doctor is saying.)


music friday: frequently played albums

The question has been asked on Twitter: What 5 albums have you listened to most in your life? Be honest, not trendy. I don't know how to be honest ... I mean, if I ask Last.fm, which has been tracking my Spotify usage for a long time, the album I have listened to the most is Pink's The Truth About Love, which I'm pretty sure doesn't reach the numbers of stuff from the 60s, to begin with. So, keeping all that in mind, here is what I came up with, in no particular order.

Honorable Mention to Children of the Future, The Velvet Underground and Nico, Dirty Mind, Surrealistic Pillow, Beggars Banquet.

Personal note: The White Album was released on November 22, 1968. My then girlfriend/current wife gave it to me for a Xmas present.


music friday: january 18, 1968

The top five from 51 years ago, from the Billboard charts:

5) Gladys Knight and the Pips, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"

4) The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett, "Woman, Woman"

3) The Monkees, "Daydream Believer"

2) John Fred and the Playboys, "Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)"

1) The Beatles, "Hello Goodbye"

A bonus: #36:

 


what i watched last year

To copy what I said at this time in 2015: “A summary, sorted by my ratings. I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Anything I give at least a 9 rating is something I recommend ... might sound obvious, but if someone is actually looking to me for suggestions, that limits the list to 14.  So I’ve included links to my comments on those movies.” (Movies in bold in the 9-10 range are ones I was seeing for the first time.)

10:
In the Mood for Love
Performance

9:
The Ascent
Black Panther
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Dunkirk
Faces Places
First They Killed My Father
Five Easy Pieces
Moonlight
Mudbound
My Neighbor Totoro
Pickpocket
Strong Island

8:
American Honey
The Babadook
Before Sunrise
Day for Night
Dressed to Kill
First Reformed
Gaslight
Gertrud
The Guilty
Gun Crazy
The Incredible Shrinking Man
India's Daughter
Listen to Me Marlon
Local Hero
Logan
The Look of Silence
A Matter of Life and Death
Memories of Underdevelopment
Private Life
Sorry to Bother You
The Spirit of the Beehive
Springsteen on Broadway
Supercop
The Thin Man
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Widows
Yellow Submarine

7:
Avengers: Infinity War
The Big Sick
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
The Brink
Cat People
Crazy Rich Asians
Creed
Darkest Hour
Divines
El Topo
Flying Down to Rio
Grand Hotel
Hell Is for Heroes
Hereditary
Hidden Figures
Horror of Dracula
Icarus
If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast
Lost City of Z
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Man on the Moon
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Man Who Knew Infinity
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Morvern Callar
Ms .45
Nothing Sacred
On Body and Soul
Personal Shopper
Set It Off
Seven Days in May
The Square
Syndromes and a Century
Tarzan and His Mate
The Time Machine
Tropical Malady
Venom
Watchmen
Zombieland

6:
Atomic Blonde
Bo Burnham: what.
The Circle
Colossal
Diamonds Are Forever
Dogville
The Dressmaker
The Equalizer
The Equalizer 2
A Girl Like Her
Glastonbury Fayre
Holiday Inn
Hostiles
The Lion in Winter
Miami Vice
Murder on the Orient Express
Spring Breakers
The Spy Who Dumped Me
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael

5:
Behave Yourself!
The Black Scorpion
The Day of the Triffids
Dishonored Lady
Enemy
Margot at the Wedding

Totals over the years:

2010: 86 seen (7.2 average rating)
2011: 125 (7.3)
2012: 113 (7.1)
2013: 110 (7.5)
2014: 127 (7.4)
2015: 136 (7.1)
2016: 82 (7.4)
2017: 109 (7.0)
2018: 109 (7.2)


music friday: what i listened to in 2016

It's late in the game, but I finally had to change things around on Music Friday, because I had a list of 10 songs from that year and I realized I didn't know a single one of them off the top of my head. So I went to Last.fm and had it sort my listening for the year 2016.

One song got played more than any other, so call this Steven's Top Song of 2016. It actually comes from around 1965:

The Fugs, "CIA Man". "Fucking-a man! C-I-A Man!"

These others are chosen from a batch that tied for second in my listening for that year:

Ramones, "Blitzkrieg Bop".

Les McCann, "Burnin' Coal".

Emmylou Harris, "Bluebird Wine".

Tommy James and the Shondells, "Crimson and Clover".

Fela Kuti, "Let's Start".

Fleetwood Mac, "I Don't Want to Know".

The Impressions, "Fool for You".

Joe Strummer, "Get Down Moses".

Aretha Franklin, "The Weight".

And, just to pretend to being current, here is a Spotify playlist for the 2016 songs I initially intended to include (the first song was supposed to be "Formation" by Beyoncé, but it wasn't on Spotify):


what i watched

Two movies that deserve more attention than these short takes will provide.

Memories of Underdevelopment (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, 1968). From a novel by Edmundo Desnoes, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Alea, this tells a story about Cuba in the time between the Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis. The protagonist is a bourgeois writer, Sergio, who stays behind after his family and friends go to Miami. The picture of post-revolution Cuba isn't particularly celebratory, and you might wonder how Alea got the film made at all. Alea appears in the film as a director who is glad to have moved beyond the censorship of the Batista days ... you could say that nothing is celebratory in the film. Sergio is alienated at best, and no advertisement for the bourgeoisie. Alea fragments his narrative, throws in documentary footage, and makes us feel as if "we are there" with Sergio. The film won a few international awards, but it wasn't released in the U.S. until 1973. #274 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

The Guilty (Gustav Möller, 2018). The first feature directed by Möller, this is a compact thriller that takes place entirely within an emergency services center. Jakob Cedergren plays a policeman on desk duty, Asger, awaiting the outcome of an investigation into something that happened when he was on the job. It's safe to say that there is no movie without Cedergren, but it's unfair to say there is nothing to the movie beyond the actor. Möller effectively shows how the claustrophobia we feel reflects the impotence Asger feels as he gets a phone call that is more than just a random drunk. He's a detective, and he can't help but piece together a story about what he is being told on the phone. He wants to save someone, but he's stuck in his office, on his phone. No spoilers here ... suffice to say that you can't guess what direction the narrative will go, it constantly surprises, and over the course of the film, you realize the title is plural, not singular. The Guilty is a genre exercise that achieves all that it sets out to do, and that is far more rare than you'd think.

 


music friday, first kiss edition

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first kiss between me and my future (and still) wife.

Honestly, I don't know what to say about this. I'm pretty sure if you'd asked me in 1968 if this would be the case, I'd say I doubted I'd even be alive in 50 years, much less married to that girl. I've never been good at seeing into the future ... I've never been good at thinking/knowing the future would even happen.

But here we are. Thank you, Robin.

Here is the song that was Number One that week (for the first time ... it lasted for nine weeks):

And, since this is supposed to be Music Friday 2005, here's a song from an artist we saw that year in a little club called Cafe du Nord. It was just her and a guitarist, and they were having trouble making the electronics work, so the guitarist switched to an acoustic, and she came down off the stage and sang to us without a mic.

Promnight


yellow submarine (george dunning, 1968)

It was fun to revisit Yellow Submarine after so many years. I can remember sitting through it twice in one day during its first release, and it has kept most of its charm to this day.

The plot is a bit of fluff designed to work as many Beatles songs as possible into the movie, and as such, it seems a bit harsh to criticize it for what it was, is, and always will be. Nonetheless, that's the part that doesn't really recall my fondest memories, and when the film is sluggish, that's usually the reason. But the animation is wonderful, and the music, as expected, is the best thing about the movie.

The animation takes a kitchen sink approach, filled with a variety of styles. This work is so lovely, you might miss the fact that it is fairly simple compared to what we get from animation today. "Limited animation" is something I associate with cheap Saturday morning cartoons from Hanna-Barbera, but here, what appears atop the backgrounds is so inventive that you never find yourself thinking of Yogi Bear or Huckleberry Hound. As is perhaps inevitable, many of the songs come across like the music videos that became popular later. Two setpieces in particular are outstanding: "Eleanor Rigby" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". The latter in particular marvels in its use of rotoscoping. In the use of setpieces, Yellow Submarine is reminiscent of Fantasia.

The music is just as good, even though the soundtrack album has always largely been dismissed. With reason ... that album features two old Beatles tracks and a lot of George Martin's background music for the movie. Because of this, the four new songs get lost in the shuffle, and that's too bad. Paul's "All Together Now" is a trifle, but John's "Hey Bulldog" packs some bite, especially musically. The surprise champion here is George, who contributed two songs, one of which, "It's All Too Much", is among the best he ever put out.

Yellow Submarine is far more than mere nostalgia. If it ran another ten minutes, it would have overstayed its welcome, but as is, it is a welcome addition to the Beatles film output, even if they had little to do with it. It doesn't reach the heights of A Hard Day's Night, but it is a solid #2 among their movies.

 


20 faves #9: elvis presley, the complete '68 comeback special

9th of 20, roughly by chronology.

This choice appears because of a single fact: I believe the greatest night in the history of rock and roll music took place on June 27, 1968. That's when Elvis Presley recorded two sets of music on a small stage, with a few of his old music buddies and a very small audience. Parts of these two shows ended up in a televised Xmas special in early December, along with other songs. I could choose the original LP from that show (called, among other things, NBC-TV Special). I could choose a bootleg I treasured for many years, The Burbank Sessions, Vol. 1, which included both small-stage concerts. But eventually, RCA figured out another way to make money, which resulted in a DVD box set, and another CD package called The Complete '68 Comeback Special, which again included all of the material from the two sit-down concerts. So, for the purposes of this list, I'm going with that big package.

Complete '68 comeback special

 


20 faves #8: van morrison, astral weeks

8th of 20, roughly by chronology.

OK, so there is a lie in the above sentence. I can talk about how all 20 of these albums are favorites of mine, I can talk about how I could have easily added another 20, I can say that I've chosen chronology because I can't really rank the 20 albums. But the truth is, if this was a list of one, if this was me telling you my favorite album, that wouldn't be a difficult decision.

Last month, a book by Ryan Walsh was released, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968. It's a fascinating book that places Astral Weeks in a context you might not have considered before: Boston in 1968. The thing is, I learned more about Boston than I did about Astral Weeks. Which may partly explain why even the best books about the album necessarily work from the outside. Because Astral Weeks is pretty inscrutable, and much as I've tried, I've never been able to clearly define its greatness. Only one writer I've read has pulled this off: Lester Bangs, in the book Stranded.

Astral weeks

Here is Lester, writing about the above clip:

After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock 'n' roll set-closers. With consummate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of "It's too late to stop now!," and just when you think it's all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it's sensational: our guts are knotted up, we're crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we've seen and felt something.