Neverending Randomplay #191-#200
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 18,334 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track. iTunes links, when available, are included for your convenience.
191. Happy Mondays: God's Cop ***** iTunes
Happy Mondays, from Manchester England, were leaders of the short-lived but influential (and exciting) Madchester club scene, which peaked from 1988-1992. An indie rock phenomenon, it returned rock music to the dance floors for the first time since the 60's. Madchester was a mix of house music, soul, r&b, and psychedelic rock, filled with irony, hipster slang, drug references, with an extremely danceable rhythm and a solidly traditional guitar-bass-drums-keyboards lineup. Happy Mondays were all of the above, and were masters of folding "samples" into their music. These samples weren't electronically reproduced; they were cops of melody lines, riffs, vocal arrangements, drumbeats; these would be played by the band organically and mixed into songs that invariably sound instantly familiar, but in a disorienting, nonexplicit way. They had a thuggish air about them, and were disliked by rock purists, who simply didn't get them. However, they were appreciated by some rock enthusiasts, this one included, for revitalizing ballsy "rock" in England after it had seemed to become foppish synth-pop land. "God's Cop" is a typical cut from their lone masterpiece, Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches, from 1990, one of the best albums of its era. The beat is mid tempo and bass driven, the guitar tremelo is given a workout, and singer Shaun Ryder gives an arrogant, rude vocal that brings rock 'n' roll into ecstacy-land. The band's influence has been felt in Primal Scream, Oasis, and the Chemical Brothers, as well as many trip-hop artists, but the Happy Mondays were short-lived, imploding in 1992 amidst Ryder's worsening heroin addiction; Ryder would eventually form Black Grape. Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches remains an excellent release, "God's Cop" a good cut on it.
192. The Jayhawks: Two Hearts **** iTunes
The Jayhawks, from Minneapolis, had a sound that was equal parts Gram Parsons, Tim Hardin, countrified Dylan, and a hint of bluegrass. Their debut appeared in 1986 and predated the Uncle Tupleo No Depression movement by several years; as a result, they spent years as a little-known cult act before their third album (and first major-label release, on American Records), Hollywood Town Hall, charted in 1993. The band peaked with their 1995 release Tomorrow the Green Grass, their last with singer/songwriter Mark Olson. "Two Hearts" sounds like the Flying Burrito Brothers letting Duane Eddy take the guitar solo. The vocal harmonies are warm and winning, but not entirely country; there's a hint of folk, a hint of rock. In 1997 co-founder Olsen left the group, and a myriad of lineup changes have occured ever since (not unlike the Burritos, too). Co-founder Gary Louris still leads the current incarnation.
193. Cream: Swlabr ***** iTunes
Almost the epitome of an acid-rock song, Swlabr ("She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow") rides on Eric Clapton's high pitched, fluid acid rock lead and Jack Bruce's tormented vocals, a somewhat nightmarish melange of LSD visions. Bruce and Baker are tight as the rhythm section, and the song's dated sound only adds to its charm now. The song is from Cream's 1967 second album, Disraeli Gears, the band's magnum opus, which was pretty much the album that introduced Eric Clapton to America. The album peaked at #4 in the U.S., and contained such landmark songs as "Sunshine Of Your Love", "Tales of Strange Ulysses", and "Strange Brew"; it represents the zenith of acid rock, the zenith of British psychedelic blues, and the kernals of heavy metal. Cream released two more albums, Wheels of Fire and Goodbye, both massive sellers, and disbanded in 1969. Clapton and Baker joined the short-lived Blind Faith in the wake of Cream's breakup.
194. Everything But The Girl: Walking Wounded **** iTunes
Launched in 1982 by Hull University students Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, Everything But The Girl has had two distinct periods in its long existence. In the 80's, they produced an idiosyncratic sophisti-pop featuring jazz-pop crooning, samba tempos, jangle pop, orchestra, country. In 1992 the duo abandoned this direction and pursued a club-oriented trip-hop sound, but with en eclecticism that saw them working with artists as dissimilar as Massive Attack and Richard Thompson. The band had a huge international hit with "Missing" in 1995 which crossed over 9 charts in America. Their followup to this breakthrough was the 1996 album Walking Wounded. Walking Wounded, which peaked at #37 in the U.S., their best showing, and was a significant release; along with Portishead and Massive Attack, Everything But The Girl did the most to popularize trip-hop in the States, where it never enjoyed the commercial clout it did in England. "Walking Wounded" the song is a restless jungle drum 'n' bass cut, with plenty of frenetic percussive touches, while Thorn contributes a smokey jazz-cafe vocal. Portishead and Massive Attack fans might find them a little lightweight, but Bjork fans will like this.
195. John Cage: She Is Asleep ***** iTunes
Avant Garde mastermind John Cage's "She is Asleep, for voice, prepared piano & 4 percussion" dates from 1943 and is a remarkably astute composition. Taking snippets of a female vocal and splicing them together, he creates a peculiar otherworld lulliby, sounding at once soothing and artificial. His treated piano, which usually involved disabling certain strings to alter their sound or prevent them from vibrating, provides odd thumps and bumps throughout, while the percussion sounds like African tribal instruments at times, when they make their brief appearences. It's a strange, stunning creation, employing electronic recording strategies that were in some cases 50 years ahead of their time. "She Is Asleep" isn't music; or it isn't music in the sense people are accustomed to. But given the right listening approach, its both enlightening and rewarding. Cage died in 1992 at the age of 80; he left behind an enormous body of work, and an even greater body of influence. His shadow looms large over the avant garde to this day.
196. Jimmy Reed: Ain't That Lovin' You Baby ***** iTunes
In his own way, Jimmy Reed is as important to rock music as any bluesman, from Muddy waters to Elmore James to Howlin' Wolf. Reed, born in Mississippi in 1925, had a remarkable knack for coming up with rollicking, easygoing, good-time mid-tempo electric blues tunes that were simple enough to be played by almost every garage band in history, and many stars of the 50's and 60's, including Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Hank Williams, Jr., Charlie Rich, and many others. His trademarks were a two-lower string boogie pattern (originated by Robert Johnson), country-inflected guitar solos, and laid-back affable vocals; more white people may have been exposed to the blues via Jimmy Reed than any other single performer. "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby", from 1956, is one of his best and biggest, reaching #3 on the Black Chart. "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" has a relaxed, lazy lope to it that's deceptive; underneath the band is tight, the percussion is crisp, and Reed's own harmonica solo is a stinger. Sadly, despite selling an enormous number of records, Reed quickly disintegrated, developing a wildly out of control alcohol problem that was so bad a problem with epilepsy went undetected for years; while he continued to record into the 70's, his best days were over by the dawn of the 60's. He died in 1976.
197. The Beatles: Martha My Dear ****
Although nobody would've predicted it to do so in the 1960's, the Beatles 1968 "White Album", titled simply The Beatles, has become the all-time biggest selling Beatles album. In some respects, this is ironic; during the sessions for the album, Ringo quit the band for a spell, Paul and George were at each others' throats, John was preoccupied with Yoko, and the overall vibe is one of a band starting to unravel. This wasn't apparant to the public at the time; as the Beatles' first release on their own Apple label it was promoted as something of a new beginning. As it turned out, the Beatles had two more albums in them, the semi-aborted Let It Be, and the slick Abbey Road. "The White Album", as most fans call it, in retrospect sounds like a trial run-through for the Beatles' solo careers, each of which echoed sounds heard here. Despite this, it is an excellent album nontheless, if patchy, full of some of the Beatles' best late-period songs. "Martha My Dear" isn't one of the best, but it's not bad; a cosmopolitan sounding McCartney piano-based pop number with string quartet and brass accompaniment with a good rock middle eight. For all intents and purposes, it would fit very neatly on McCartney's 1971 solo album, Ram, although the whimsy here is less forced than on his solo records. "Martha" was the name of McCartney's pet sheepdog.
198. The Rolling Stones: Jumpin' Jack Flash ***** iTunes
If anyone ever needs to know what "rock" means, just play them this track. "Jumpin' Jack Flash", from 1968, with its pumping voodoo rhythm, rubbery bass, chiming, crunching, and thundering guitars, incessent backbeat, and Jagger's shamanic, freakoid blues-informed vocals is about as perfect a distillation of the essential musical form as anyone could ever hope to hear. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" marked a comeback of sorts for the Rolling Stones; 1967 had been a turbulent year for them, with Jagger and Brian Jones being arrested on drug charges and their albums gaining mixed and downright hostile reception for the first time ever in their career. Their big misstep was their 1967 psychedelic extraveganza Their Satanic Majesties Request on which the Stones abandoned their blues/r&b roots in favor of Sgt. Pepper-esque psychedelic whimsy. Brian Jones, who was no longer getting along with Jagger/Richards, didn't want to make the album in the first place; he argued that the Stones needed to return to their roots. When the album was largely panned, Jones seemed vindicated; "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was a menacing, hardcore return to the basics, but light years more sophisticated than their mid 60's rock 'n' roll. Jones, unfortunately, didn't benefit from the Rolling Stones subsequent conquering of the world; within a year he was dead, a victim of his own excesses.
199. Bob Dylan: She Belongs To Me (BBC, 1965) [Bootleg] ***
Recorded in 1965, this is a somewhat low-fidelity BBC recording of Dylan doing his romantic classic from his then-current album Bringing It All Back Home. This recording was from about the same time Dylan was making his controversial switch from acoustic to electric; "She Belongs To Me" is one of his transitional tunes. Accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica, Dylan gives this a slower vocal than on record (which has understated electric backing), and peppers it with a better rhythmic harmonica than on the original. In a way, its construction suggests the rock direction Dylan was beginning to take; it isn't a folk song or a blues song like the material on Dylan's first few albums; it's phrased and structured like a rock song, even when done acoustically. Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisted, and Blonde On Blonde marked Dylan's 1965-1966 zenith before he broke his neck in a mysterious motorcycle crash in 1966. When he returned to recording, he was a changed man, again. Docked a star for sound quality.
200. Jimmy Cliff: Shelter Of Your Love **** iTunes
"Shelter Of Your Love" was from Cliff's 1981 release Give The People What They Want, possibly his best release of the 1980's. Backed by Sly & Robbie, with Earl "Chinna" Smith sitting in on guitar, he's working with one of his best backing bands here, and the song is a loping, lilting reggae that ultimately is a winner, even if it is missing some of the lyrical urgency his "The Harder They Come"-era material of the early 70's had. Cliff never enjoyed the sales in America Bob marley had, but he has done pretty well for a reggae artist, placing eight singles on the U.S. charts over the years, the biggest being a good cover of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" from 1993. In Jamaica, Cliff has always been a giant name, ever since he was a teen in the early 1960's; in 1964, when he was 16, he was selected as jamaica's representative to the World's Fair.
Neverending Randomplay is usually a Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature.
Listen to: Happy Mondays: God's Cop (1990)Back|Next