The newest inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced: Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and T-Rex.
I agree on Depeche Mode, Whitney, and Biggie, although only the latter actually mattered much to me. Kraftwerk is the biggest snub, especially if they are starting to include more synth music.
Rationally, I think the Doobie Brothers are the worst of this group of six. I mean, I was never a fan of Whitney Houston, but it's hard to argue with any woman managing to get inducted. I'm pretty sure I'd only recognize one Depeche Mode song, but that's on me, they clearly belong. But the Doobies?
And yet ... in terms of the amount of enjoyment I took from all these artists, the Doobie Brothers probably rank at the top. And I should recognize that fact, before I consign them to the pit of overrated bands.
Basically, I'm talking about the pre-Michael McDonald Doobies, i.e., fuck Yacht rock.
I lived near Santa Cruz in 1970-71, and the Doobie Brothers were in the air. They released their first album in '71, and they were something of a house band at the Chateau Liberté in the Santa Cruz mountains. I really started to notice them when the hits arrived. Any band that came up with "Long Train Runnin'", "China Grove", and "Black Water" is OK by me, and I listen to those songs to this day. (Their covers of "Jesus Is Just Alright" and "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)" are good as well.) Whether this amounts to a Hall of Fame career is something I'm not prepared to say. But in honor of those three songs, I can at least give them a Music Friday.
In the mid-1950s, Warner Brothers began producing television series that were versions of their old B-movies. There were Westerns like Cheyenne, Maverick, and Sugarfoot, detective shows (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye), and the like. 77 Sunset Strip, which ran for six seasons, was about a private detective agency in Los Angeles. A supporting character, Gerald Lloyd Kookson III, known as "Kookie", worked as a parking attendant next to the agency offices, and he, as well as actor Edd Byrnes, who played him, became breakout stars.
Hawaiian Eye was a similiar series that took place in Hawaii and ran four seasons. One supporting character, photographer and singer Cricket, was played by Connie Stevens.
What followed was inevitable, given Byrnes' popularity with teenagers: a hit single, "Kookie Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)", performed by Byrnes and Stevens. Here they are lip syncing on American Bandstand:
A clip from 77 Sunset Strip:
And an episode of Family Feud featuring the casts of Hawaiian Eye and Lost in Space:
The Fillmore West, 51 years ago today. Opening was Spirit, who had just released their second album, which included this, their greatest hit:
Blood, Sweat & Tears were also touring behind their second album, but they might as well have been a new group with a debut record. After their classic Child Is Father to the Man, Al Kooper and two others left the group. The most important replacement was singer David Clayton-Thomas, who wrote "Spinning Wheel" among others. Some of us lost interest after Kooper left, but with Clayton-Thomas, BS&T became one of the biggest hit makers around.
The Grateful Dead also had two albums out, the most recent of which, Anthem of the Sun, was more psychedelic than their debut. (Their third album, Aoxomoxoa, took this several steps further.) A couple of weeks after this gig, they appeared on Hugh Hefner's TV series Playboy After Dark. We'll let Bill Kreutzmann tell the story:
Just a quickie ... the holidays are taking up all of my time.
On this date in 2008, Delaney Bramlett died. He is best known for the work he did with his then-wife Bonnie Bramlett. Here is a show from 1969. A list of the musicians should whet your appetite:
Bonnie Bramlett vocals Delaney Bramlett vocals, guitar Eric Clapton guitar, vocals George Harrison guitar Carl Radle bass Jim Gordon drums Bobby Whitlock keyboards, vocals Billy Preston organ Jim Price trumpet Bobby Keys tenor sax Rita Coolidge vocals Tex Johnson percussion
Here's a nice clip from 2010. Arguably Delaney's best composition was "Never Ending Song of Love". Here, Bonnie, along with Bekka Bramlett (daughter of Delaney and Bonnie) are joined in the backyard by Spooner Oldham and others for a casually lovely rendition:
And I'll toss in one more that's not Delaney-related. It's another backyard session, from the series Roseanne. The family and friends are singing in the backyard, and out comes one of Roseanne's co-workers, who was played by Bonnie Bramlett. She belts out a brief segment of "You Really Got a Hold on Me", and she is great.
For a long time, the question was, what happened to Rod Stewart? I regularly used him as my example of the most disappointing career in rock history. Iconic singer with Jeff Beck and especially The Faces, creator of three very good and one all-time classic album by the time he was 27, with one of the most recognizable voices in music, it seemed like he would never fade. He got our hopes up. Admittedly, there was a bit of a formula to his solo albums (sensitive self-penned songs, excellent covers, enough rock and roll to make everyone happy), but it was a good one and it fit him perfectly. Then came Smiler, which followed the formula but wasn't good. He bounced back with two solid albums that broke free of the past (hardly any folkie roots, different production that was never Faces Sloppy), and after that, it was all downhill. Not in popularity ... Rod was a huge star through the early-80s at least. But the journey from "Every Picture Tells a Story" to "Hot Legs" was enormous.
In later years, I came up with my Theory of the Career Trajectory of Rock and Rollers, which basically says no one lasts. Among other places, I went on about it here. In 1972, when Exile on Main St. was released, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both 29. The band's next album was Goats Head Soup. When The Beatles broke up, the lads were between 27 and 30 years old. (The linked-to post considers Bob Seger and Jackson Browne, among others, in this context.) To the extent I'm on to something, it should be no surprise that Rod Stewart's best work came in his 20s. That's true of most of them. The time is long past when I should single out Rod Stewart for a decline that many in his field have experienced.
Still, a reevaluation may be in order. On Facebook, my friend Tomás wrote, "I respect your musical tastes, especially when they don't align with mine. Rod Stewart is one of those. I know it's the early stuff that frames your reference--and I recognize what's good about that period for him--but to me he's late 70s and 80s and I just can't." Perhaps Rod's peak wasn't as good as I and others think it was.
What was Stewart's appeal to people like me? The Faces were an undisciplined version of the Stones, and if they weren't as good, Stewart at least belonged in the same discussion as Mick Jagger. (And, of course, Ron Wood went from Faces to Stones.) Stewart's early solo albums showed a singer with not only good taste in covers but the interpretive skill to make those songs his own. He was always able to crank up an enthusiastic brand of rock and roll. And he came across as a bloke, one of the guys, perhaps one reason we were so surprised when he took happily to Hollywood-style stardom.
But he wasn't just a bloke, he was a bloke with heart and brains. As I said to Tomás, English majors turned Rock Critics couldn't resist someone who cited Dickens, Shelley and Keats and made it seem like they belonged.
His blokeness doesn't always play well nowadays ... his disdain for some women matched Jagger's, for sure. (In his biggest hit, he wishes he'd never seen Maggie Mae's face ... in his best song, it goes a step further: "The women I've known I wouldn't let tie my shoe." Not to mention the casual way he tosses off descriptors like "slant-eyed lady".) What made Stewart special, though, was the ways he allowed sensitivity to break through the blokeness ... as he said, "the slant-eyed lady knocked me off my feet. God, I was glad I found her!" And Maggie may have "made a first-class fool out of" Rod, but he was still "as blind as a fool can be. You stole my heart, but I love you anyway."
As Denise Sullivan wrote, "'Every Picture Tells a Story' is a real nugget from a brief period in time when rock singers didn't worry about what it meant to be rude -- in fact, the ruder and cruder, the better. Rod Stewart was a king of sorts in this hard-rocking, specific genre, but that never stopped him, in particular on 'Every Picture Tells a Story.' It's a racist, sexist slice of vintage rock & roll about a rover with a woman in every port who eventually finds his way home.... It builds toward a big finish, all but breathless on its way there. There are some songs that are just plain visceral -- so much so that they are better heard than described. This is one of those songs: all six minutes of it defining rock & roll." You could stop at "racist and sexist" and you'd be right. But there is more here ... unlike, say, "Under My Thumb", Rod is singing not from a position of power but from the place of one who has given himself over to the woman. (You can certainly find "Under My Thumb" tendencies in Stewart's work ... see "Stay with Me" by the Faces.)
Meanwhile, there's this:
I think I'm goin' mad and it's makin' me sad It's a yearnin' for my old back door I realize maybe I was born to lead Better swallow my silly country pride
Goin' home, running' home Down to gasoline alley where I started from Goin' home, and I'm running home Down to gasoline alley where I was born
When the weather's better and rails unfreeze And the wind won't whistle 'round my knees I'll put on my weather suit and catch you in the train I'll be home before the milk's upon the door
Goin' home, running' home Down to gasoline alley where I started from Goin' home, and I'm running home Down to gasoline alley where I was born
But if anything should happen and my plans go wrong Should I stray to the house on the hill Let it be known that my intentions were good I'd be singing in my alley if I could
And if I'm goin' away and it's my turn to go Should the blood run cold in my veins Just one favor I'd be askin' of you Don't bury me here it's too cold
Take me back carry me back Down to gasoline alley where I started from Take me back, won't cha carry me home Down to gasoline alley where I started from
Take me back carry me back Down to gasoline alley where I started from Take me back, carry me back Down to gasoline alley where I started from
Take me back carry me back Down to gasoline alley where I started from
When Gasoline Alley came out in 1970, Langdon Winner wrote in Rolling Stone:
The music of Rod Stewart helps us to remember many of the small but extremely important experiences of life which our civilization inclines us to forget. Compassion. Care for small things. The textures of sorrow. Remembrance of times past. Reverence for age. Stewart has a rare sensitivity for the delicate moments in a person’s existence when a crucial but often neglected truth flashes before his eyes and then vanishes. The amazing character of Stewart’s work is largely due to the fact that he can recall these fragile moments of insight to our minds without destroying their essence.
As I listened to Gasoline Alley the first time, I found myself saying again and again, “He can’t understand that.” But he does. The tone of his voice and the authenticity of his phrasing let you know that he’s doing much more than just singing the required lyrics....
At his best Stewart comes very close to Thoreau’s meaning in the early pages of Walden: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
The two Rod Stewart albums are together the most important listening experience I’ve had since the Band’s first album. His music speaks with a gentleness and depth which seems to heal the wounds and ease the pain. The question of which of the two albums is the better does not interest me in the least. The music and spiritual content of them both is so totally extraordinary that I cannot really separate the two in my mind. Gasoline Alley is for me merely the second volume in what I hope will be a continually expanding “Collected Works” of a supremely fine artist.
You can imagine how we felt when "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" came out.
What does Rod think about when he sings "Gasoline Alley" now?
Here's Rod participating in the big deal of modern times:
Kidney stones are disruptive. Once you've had one, you never forget it, and you spend much of your subsequent life in fear that another stone is on the way. As awful as they feel, you'd think you always knew when one had arrived, but that's not precisely true. For the last several days, I've been laid up with what feels like a kidney stone. But a kidney stone isn't something you confuse with something else ... when you go into emergency and they ask you how bad the pain is on a scale of 1 to 10, the answer is always "10". So I've been in the candy-ass 2-6 zone, which means it's probably not a kidney stone, but I worry nonetheless, and I've been useless all week long as a result.
So here's a Music Friday quickie, to make up for my absence the last few days.
Spotify is giving users their annual "Spotify Wrapped", which summarizes your listening for the year. Suffice to say that the first 14 tracks on my list are from 1970 or earlier, and after a one-track break, 13 more come from that same period. I'm getting worse in my old age.
Here are some of the post-1970 songs that I managed to sneak into my 2019 listening, in chronological order:
This is the latest film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 11 is called "Oscilloscope Laboratories Week":
Initially, I had this week marked down as A24 week, yet I feel they already get plenty of attention, especially 'round these Letterboxd parts. So, I figured I would shine the spotlight on a smaller studio developing and distributing some lesser known, yet still quality films from creators in it for the art of storytelling.
If this Challenge is supposed to be a learning experience, than there may be no better example than this week, for I had no idea what Oscilloscope Laboratories was. The company was co-founded in 2008 by the late Beastie Boy, Adam Yauch. It seems to be best defined by a list of its productions, and it turns out, I had seen five of their movies: Wendy and Lucy, The Messenger, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Wuthering Heights (2011), and We Need to Talk About Kevin. The timing was good for Who Took the Bomp?, since I had spent the weekend attending Sleater-Kinney concerts, and Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre was a charter member of the iconic riot grrrl band Bikini Kill. Who Took the Bomp? offers an intriguing backstage look at Le Tigre, as they took their final world tour in the mid-2000s. There is some strong concert footage, but what adds a special feel to the film is that Le Tigre, as a band and as individuals, are pretty funny. They are also dead serious ... this was a band rooted in left-wing politics, especially addressing gender and LGBTQ issues. It's a short, instructive, and entertaining film, and if it isn't much more than that, in the moment that feels like enough.
This weekend I took in my 16th and 17th Sleater-Kinney concerts, the first ones without longtime drummer Janet Weiss. Since Weiss had played on their latest album, these concerts were the first real test of new drummer Angie Boylan. Katie Harkin, the guitar/keyboard/vocals 4th member who started touring with the band on their last tour, was back, along with Toko Yasuda, the new 5th member who performed some of the same things as did Harkin. Both were very good at filling out the sound of the band, but Boylan is the one people had their eyes on. She was just fine, and of course, why wouldn't she be? The one thing of note was that she was playing Janet's parts, that is, I didn't get a feel for what Boylan might add on her own, because she was mostly just replicating what Weiss had done on record. If Boylan sticks around, we'll get a better sense of what she brings. For now, no harm no foul.
What really stood out was how much Janet's absence turned Sleater-Kinney into a two-piece, Corin and Carrie with three backup musicians. While the two stars interacted as much as ever, there was little crossover into the Backup Three, and you realized how Janet was more than just a great drummer, she was an integral part of the band. Boylan could play Janet's licks, but S-K didn't really bother to replace Weiss as part of a trio. They just played like a duo, which is how they started, so I guess it wasn't that odd.
Other than that, there was nothing particularly new at these shows. Well, each night they played every song from the new album, but the key was still Corin's otherworldly vocals and Carrie's rock star charisma and idiosyncratic guitar work. I have never seen Carrie smile so much, and with her large mouth covered in red lipstick, those smiles were hard to miss. Both of them were having so much fun, and after reading Carrie's memoir and finding out how miserable she often was, it was something of a relief to know she has hopefully gotten past that.
Reviewing The Center Won't Hold, I wrote, "Ultimately, we may not know just how good The Center Won’t Hold is until later in Sleater-Kinney’s career. I want to see these new songs live, mixed in with older classics, and to see how they work with a new drummer. I want to check in a few albums down the road when it will be clearer whether The Center Won’t Hold began a new, positive, direction for the band or marked a dead end. It’s an album where 'I’m not sure I wanna go on at all' co-exists with 'Tired of bein’ told that this should be the end'." Now I've seen them live, and the best of the songs are already integrated firmly into the live set. To that extent, The Center Won't Hold is established as part of S-K history, no matter how different it sounds from their earlier albums. What I can't tell yet is how many of those new songs will still feel vital down the road, the way classics like "Jumpers" and "One More Hour" and "Entertain" and "Modern Girl" continue to resonate today. But that the band is this far along in their journey, and they are still relevant, is remarkable in the rock world.
They did me the favor of playing "Youth Decay" on Saturday ... I had been bugging them on Twitter to do so, not that I got their attention. It has always been my favorite Janet song, so for me, it was a real test of Angie Boylan, and again, she played the Janet part accurately. They were a bit more talkative the first night, and I especially appreciated Carrie's introduction to "Modern Girl" ... she noted that she wrote it when she was very depressed, and that it is a depressing song (the crucial line "My whole life is like a picture of a sunny day" points out, it should be obvious, that her life wasn't sunny, it was like a picture of sunny). She expressed surprise that some people use "Modern Girl" as a wedding song.
The major difference for me in the two shows was that I was on the floor the first night, but sitting in the balcony for Night Two. It had a much larger effect than I might have imagined. Being in the balcony placed a distance between us and the band. It's silly in a way ... it's not like the first night Corin and Carrie were looking directly at me, 2/3 of the way back on the floor, performing just for me. But there is something about being on the floor that connects you viscerally to the band, and that was absent in the balcony. I am used to sitting in balconies, especially as I get older. But, to cite the two artists I see most besides S-K, Bruce Springsteen and Pink bring the spectacle to their shows, and while I've been up close for both of them, the distance isn't a deal breaker ... Bruce has a great ability to turn an arena into a small club, and Pink is famous for flying around the arena so everyone at some point is "close". Sleater-Kinney offers none of that. Oh, they earned the warning we got entering the theater that strobe lights would be on display. But ultimately, their entire live act is focused on a one-on-one relationship to each of us that, no matter how silly it is, has an honest feel to it. And that silly honesty was lacking from the balcony.
I suppose the #1 thing I learned from this weekend is that I am too old for consecutive nights on the floor. I loved the first night, but I was very sore afterwards, and was thus very glad I was sitting for the second night. The balcony experience convinced me I want to be on the floor for Sleater-Kinney ... my creaking bones convinced me I'm no longer the young whippersnapper who could do consecutive nights on the floor.