Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm with the Drummer

Some 30 years ago, a new family moved into the cul de sac where my family lived. One of the four kids, Matt, was a couple years younger than me and ended up being the kind of playmate whose phone number is still lodged in your brain decades later. He was your average kid - until he got his drum set. Then he became that guy everyone knows will make it big - the guy who will be the celebrity at his high school reunion, the guy whose name will be dropped by people writing entries in personal blogs.

Oh, Matt isn't a household name, but he sure plays with one. In 2001, after a stint with Blondie, he became a technician for Rod Stewart, eventually turning that into an onstage gig as a percussionist and drummer. In the last decade, Matt has logged hundreds of nights all over the world supporting rock music's most famous gravelly voiced icon. However, at Kansas City's Sprint Center on July 28, 2009, there was a sizable crowd gathered for more than just Rod. One need only look at the 30 or so people gathered afterward to go backstage as Matt's guests.

Matt and I recently did the reconnect on Facebook thing, but before tonight I'm not sure when I last saw him. However, seeing him tonight was a wonderful treat. On stage, the highlight of the evening was when Matt and the other drummer, Dave Palmer, got their spotlight during the "Downtown Train" drum solo (or, I guess, drum "dual"). It was the most emotionally moving moment I've ever had at a concert. I heard this guy playing drums in his basement as a kid!

However, this wasn't just about bragging rights to say "I knew him when." This was about the powerful experience of seeing someone do what he loves, what he's been dedicated to for years, and seeing him reach the level of success he deserves for his passion and dedication.

Matt doesn't just deserve to be where he is because he's good at hitting things. When my brother and I and the rest of the "Matt groupies" chatted with him afterward, he was gracious, humble, and appreciative. You gotta figure the Blondies and Rod Stewarts and anyone else on his resume are there because of those skills as well as Matt's talent. Bravo to you, Matt. You've come a long way from a basement on Baltimore Ct. - and deservedly so.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Steve Howe Show

After watching Steve Howe & Co. perform for three hours at Kansas City’s Uptown Theater, I know two things – Steve Howe is neither the centerpiece of Asia nor Yes. He may have been the most technically proficient performer of the night – he certainly has the most impressive resume – but rather than trolling the stage like any good classic rock axeman should, he stood guard over a square foot patch left of center. He occasionally bent his knees or lifted a leg in the air; hell, I think he jumped in the air once; but mostly his frail frame looked in need of a walker to prop him up. I swear he was leaning against the wall during the encore.

Okay, okay, I shouldn’t go to an Asia and Yes concert if I’m looking for young, energetic performances. Oh, wait, there was that, too – however sadly out of place. Unfortunately, Yes’ longtime frontman Jon Anderson was laid up by a respiratory illness and, in true dinosaur band fashion these days, the other members perused YouTube videos scouting out lead singers for Yes tribute bands until they found a guy young enough to date their granddaughters. In this case, Canadian Benoit David drew the lucky lottery ticket and figured if he pranced about enough on stage, the audience might forget he was a nobody. Let’s face it, though, other than Queen’s Freddie Mercury, no other rock singer has ever pulled off prancing. On top of that, David sported a mostly white outfit that certainly recalled the ‘70s – it just had the misfortunate of reminding one of Saturday Night Fever more than Yes’ dinosaur prog-rock.

Based on my tirades against Howe and David, one might think that I was dragged to this show against my will. Not the case. I went eager to appreciate these Gods of Prog. They kickstarted the genre forty years ago. They are the grand masters at stripping a record of every last bit of commercialism and leaving ten minutes of instrumental prowess behind. Howe’s guitar is still at the forefront of every memorable Yes song – and was highlighted midway through Yes’ set with a two-song solo – although Howe still wasn’t physically center stage.

And for all of David’s gyrations, give props to anyone who can tackle Jon Anderson’s vocal gymnastics. Add Howe and Chris Squire as a triple threat on the mike for gems like “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Speaking of Squire, he made a great case, at least in Anderson’s absence, for being the true heart of Yes (he is, after all, the only member to survive every incarnation of the band). His hulking figure towered over Benoit and, despite what seemed a perpetual fan blowing his wispy white hair, he appeared to be the only performer to break a sweat, drenching his shirt by the end of the night.

Anyone looking for Yes music from the last 25 years was out of luck. Their only post-1980 song was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and, judging by the lukewarm response, they could have jettisoned it. In fact, other than “Owner” and a pair of songs from 1980’s Drama, perhaps the band’s low point yet well received in this concert, this could have been a tour to support 1972’s Close to the Edge album.

While Yes represented the original prog rockers, opening act Asia symbolized the next wave. Exploding on the scene in 1982, the members’ resumes included Yes; King Crimson; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but instead of the second coming of prog rock, Asia delivered their brand of ‘80s corporate rock – slick, commercial, and arena ready. Here’s where my musical roots reveal themselves and I commit sacrilege – I enjoyed Asia more than Yes. Trot out all the 40 Year Old Virgin jokes you want, but there’s no denying one’s first musical love. I was born in 1967 and after surviving disco, was just grateful for pop radio hits that actually featured guitar solos. I would later become a classic rock junkie, but bands like Asia were still my gateway drug.

Seeing the original Asia lineup of John Wetton (vocals, bass), Steve Howe (guitar), Carl Palmer (drums), and Geoff Downes (keyboards) was more satisfying than a Jon-Anderson-copycat-fronted Yes lineup. And if we’re going to have a drum-off, Palmer would embarrass Yes’ Alan White, as the solo on “Fanfare for the Common Man” would attest. Then there’s the matter of keyboards. As the only man to play on every Asia album, Downes deservedly took his place near mid-stage. Rick Wakeman was featured as the keyboardist on nearly every Yes album, but his son Oliver takes the reigns here – and promptly fades into the background so much that they could have just put up a cardboard cut-out of Pops and piped in the music over the speakers.

Since the original Asia lineup lasted for only two albums (and last year’s 2008 reunion album Phoenix), they mixed in songs from the various members’ pre-Asia days. Palmer delivered the show’s highlight with the aforementioned “Fanfare,” which he’d previously done with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Downes got a showcase with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” which he’d done with the Buggles. Wetton whetted the prog-rock crowd’s appetite with “In the Court of the Crimson King,” a 1969 gem from King Crimson, who Wetton joined four years later.

That may well have been the theme for the night – songs that had been made famous long before some of tonight’s players got their hands on them. Still, even with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman stand-ins, Yes championed the durability of their catalog. And even if Asia was largely forgotten a quarter century ago, they earned their title of super group, proving that sometimes the same players, such as a Steve Howe, can figure prominently in the story of two genres of rock and roll.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Birth of Rock and Roll - Not Quite So Black and White

A new book by Elijah Wald sports the instant-get-you-up-in-arms title How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’N’ Roll. An online Kansas City Star review (7/11/09) by James Brinfield (http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/story/1315616.html) asserts that the book "traces the strands of intermingling influences of black and white cultures upon popular music filtered through the marketplace." Brinfield says that "Wald's insights destroy one myth after another," most notably that "popular music was race-based." How the Beatles destroyed rock, as explained through Brinfield's interpretation of the book, appears to be a marketing issue. That is, the Beatles began to push their work as albums and the predominantly white critics began to accept that as the new direction for rock music.

It is not my intent to refute Wald's premise that the Beatles destroyed rock music. I'm sure I can bash that rant out in a blog after actually reading the book. For now, I am compelled to address the nagging question of "Daddy, where does rock and roll come from?" The Cliff Notes version of the birth of rock and roll purports that white and black music were mutually exclusive entities, growing, if you will, in separate gardens divided by a fence. It was only when whippersnappers like Elvis hopped the wall, stole some R&B goodies, and replanted them in the white garden that the masses gobbled them up.

Such an account gives a handful of artists too much credit for discovering what was already there and overlooks those who planted the original crop. Of course, musical genres are also not so tidy as to fit nicely into garden plots with R&B over here, country over there, and so on. Elvis didn't become the King of Rock and Roll because he did anything new or even because he was the best at doing it - his mix of crops simply was the best marketed.

My guess is that Wald doesn't hold the Beatles responsible for the destruction of rock and roll any more than Elvis should be crowned the undisputed father of the same genre. Wald's book needed a provocative title that would attract the widest possible audience, hopefully generating controversy for those focused only on the condensed version of the tale. The beginning - or end - of rock and roll just isn't that black and white.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Forty Years Ago Today: The Rolling Stones charted with “Honky Tonk Women” (7/12/1969)

image from messynessychic.com


The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women”


Writer(s): Mick Jagger, Keith Richards (see lyrics here)

Released: 7/4/1969, First charted: 7/12/1969

Peak: 14 US, 15 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): 5.0 Video Airplay (in millions): --


Review: Nothing says surefire hit like highly suggestive lyrics about a prostitute. Luckily, the words were just subtle enough to avoid uniform banning by radio stations. SF Besides, this was really about the vibe. A sing-a-long chorus gives the song the feel of “mates at a bar or pub getting together for a bit of a shout,” AMG understandably making the tune a bar band favorite. AMG If the chorus didn’t accomplish that, surely the cowbell would. Added by producer Jimmy Miller, it helps shape the “strip-club bump and grind” RS500 feel of the song.

Perhaps the most revelatory aspect of “Honky Tonk Women” is how the Stones used it to essentially create “heavy metal country.” WI-142 In fact, the band thought enough of the more countrified version to release it a few months after the single as “Country Honk” on the Let It Bleed album.

The tune originated while Jagger and Richards were on vacation in South America. RS500 As Richards recalls, the pair were lounging on the front porch of a ranch house playing around with Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues” and “by some metamorphosis it suddenly went into this little swampy, black thing, a blues thing.’” SF

Also significant to the final performance was who was no longer there. With drug abuse rendering founding member Brian Jones virtually worthless, SF Mick Taylor stepped in for his Rolling Stones’ debut on “Honky Tonk.” The band drove to Jones’ house after they’d finished recording this song and fired him. SF Jones was found dead in his swimming pool on July 3, 1969. SF “Honky Tonk Women” was released as a single a day after the funeral. BR1-257


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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Award(s):


Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Black Eyed Peas knock themselves from #1 with “I Gotta Feeling”

Last updated 3/16/2020.

I Gotta Feeling

Black Eyed Peas

Writer(s): William Adams, Stacy Ferguson, Jamie Gomez, Pierre Guetta, Allan Lindo, Frédéric Riesterer (see lyrics here)


Released: June 16, 2009


First Charted: May 31, 2009


Peak: 114 US, 16 RR, 16 AC, 4 A40, 12 UK, 116 CN, 17 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 10.0 US, 1.48 UK, 15.0 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 0.7 radio, 488.8 video, 15.0 streaming

Awards:

About the Song:

From April to July of 2009, the Black Eyed Peas spent an amazing twelve weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Boom Boom Pow.” The song finally slipped to #2 the week of July 11, 2009 – succumbing to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” The Peas became the ninth act in the history of the chart to accomplish the feat. JW They also became only the fourth group in history to hold down the top two spots in one week.

Even more impressive is that “Feeling” outdid its predecessor. It spent a whopping 14 weeks in the pole position, making it one of the biggest #1 pop songs in U.S. chart history. On the Hot 100, only Mariah Carey’s “One Sweet Day” with Boyz II Men had spent more weeks at the peak (16). Prior to the Hot 100, Francis Craig’s “Near You” lodged 17 weeks on top and during the 1990s when some big hits never saw official release as singles, the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” racked up 18 and 16 weeks respectively.

The combined 26-week run of the two Black Eyed Peas songs also made them the only act in history with as many consecutive weeks at #1. Only Usher spent more weeks on top within one calendar year – 28 weeks in 2004 – but it took four songs over non-consecutive weeks to do it.

“I Gotta Feeling” ended up topping the charts in 21 countries. WK It became the first song in the United States to sell more than 7 million digital copies. As of June 2019, it was the most downloaded iTunes song of all time with 9 million. WK It was the most successful song of the 21st century until 2014 when it was passed by Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” WK

The song was written by all four members of the Black Eyed Peas. Member will.i.am said the dance-pop song was “dedicated to all the party people out there in the world.” WK Pop Matters’ Mike Schiller wrote that it “is one of those dance tunes that’s impossible to hate.” WK David T. Farr of The Observer-Dispatch said “it’s one of those songs you grasp onto right away and crank up as the beat goes on.” WK


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Monday, July 6, 2009

Ray Charles charted with “What’d I Say” 50 years ago today (7/6/1959)

Last updated 4/13/2020.

What’d I Say

Ray Charles

Writer(s): Ray Charles (see lyrics here)


First Charted: July 6, 1959


Peak: 6 US, 6 CB, 7 HR, 11 RB (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 3.49 video, -- streaming

Awards:

About the Song:

“What’d I Say” originated in a small town outside Pittsburgh at a marathon dance show. Needing to flesh out a second set, Charles improvised, telling his female backup singers, the Raeletts, “Whatever I say, just repeat after me.” RS500 Afterward, people rushed to Charles asking where they could buy the record. RS500

Charles went into the Atlantic studio in New York on February 18, 1959, to record it. Engineer Tom Dowd edited and re-sequenced the song into a “six-and-a-half-minute rave-up” RS500 which replicated the mix of the “call-and response structure of the church with the sexually charged message of the blues” NRR transforming “the sound of Sunday morning to the sound of Saturday night. TM “Charles’ grunt-’n’-groan exchanges with the Raeletts were the closest you could get to the sound of orgasm on Top Forty radio during the Eisenhower era.” RS500

Charles said the song is really “about nothing” and that the lyrics “don’t make sense,” NPR but “the people just went crazy, and they loved that little ummmmh, unnnnh…People said it was vulgar…But, hell, let’s face it, everybody knows about the ummmmh, unnnnh. That’s how we all got here.’” RS500

Rolling Stone called it “the greatest feel-good song in rock & roll” RS500 and it became what Charles considered his trademark song; years later he still played at as an encore at most of his concerts. NPR


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