Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Philosophy of Rock

Rick Nelson Sings "For You"
1963, Decca, Mono in NM might bring $25-40

Rock songs as instructions for life?  For posing the big questions?  As cautionary tales?  Yeah, sometimes….

I was discussing some pending life decision with a friend recently and she said “Well, you know what Ricky Nelson would say ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’”

Now I could have set her straight about Ricky Nelson not being the originator of this phrase (or the song either) but: 1) I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane.  I had a ginormous crush on Ricky Nelson when I was nine or ten, and 2) I couldn’t for the life of me remember the actual origin.  (I’ve looked it up since and it was Alexander Pope who first used it in his Essay on Criticism).

Today I decided to peruse my itunes library and see how many other songs I could find that might fit this category.  I hit 100 in a trice (as Alexander Pope might have put it)–perhaps due to my rather loose parameters for what fits the category. 

Please help me enlarge the list.  What songs can you think of that advise, warn or philosophize?

Some of these are the original artist and some are covers. Here's my list:

  1. Keep on Chooglin’- CCR
  2. Don't Eat The Yellow Snow - Frank Zappa
  3. Tell It Like it Is-Aaron Neville
  4. Wake Up-Arcade Fire
  5. Tighten Up-Archie Bell & The Drells
  6. Love the One You’re With-CSN&Y
  7. Let the Mystery Be-Natalie Merchant & David Byrne
  8. Can I Get a Witness-Marvin Gaye
  9. Come Together-The Beatles
  10. Walk On-U2
  11. People Get Ready-Curtis Mayfield
  12. You Can't Hurry Love - the Supremes
  13. Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind? - the Lovin' Spoonful
  14. Carry that Weight-The Beatles
  15. Don’t Let it Bring You Down-Neil Young
  16. Light On Candle-Peter, Paul and Mary
  17. Be Kind of My Mistakes-Kate Bush
  18. Can’t Get There From Here-R.E.M.
  19. Too Late To Turn Back Now - Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
  20. Think of London-Tindersticks
  21. How to Be Perfect Men-Songs:Ohia
  22. Don't Take Your Guns To Town - Johnny Cash
  23. What a Fool Believes - Doobie Brothers
  24. We Can Work it Out-The Beatles
  25. You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd - Roger Miller
  26. You Don't Mess Around With Jim - Jim Croce
  27. Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye-Leonard Cohen
  28. Make Your Own Kind of Music-The Mamas and the Papas
  29. One Thing Leads To Another - the Fixx
  30. Bright Side of the Road-Van Morrison (cover)
  31. Let It Alone-Old Crow Medicine Show
  32. Gotta Serve Somebody-Bob Dylan
  33. You Ain’t Going Nowhere-Bob Dylan
  34. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright-Bob Dylan
  35. The Time They Are A-changing-Bob Dylan
  36. Respect Yourself-Aaron Nevile w/ Mavis Staples
  37. Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady - Helen Reddy
  38. Walk Like A Man - Four Seasons
  39. A Change is Gonna Come-Aaron Neville
  40. Please Remember Me-Aaron Neville & Linda Ronstadt
  41. Let’s Live-The Neville Brothers
  42. You Should Be Dancing - Bee Gees
  43. The Gambler - Kenny Rogers
  44. Don't Sleep In The Subway - Petula Clark
  45. All You Need Is Love - the Beatles
  46. Get a Grip-Aerosmith
  47. Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys-Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
  48. Girls Just Want To Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
  49. Express Yourself - Madonna
  50. Shut Up and Dance-Aerosmith
  51. Whatever Gets You Through The Night - John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band
  52. Try and Little Tenderness-Al Green
  53. Don’t Turn Around-Ace of Base
  54. Practice What You Preach-Alex Taylor
  55. When You Say Nothing at All-Alison Krauss
  56. What The World Needs Now Is Love - Jackie DeShannom
  57. Get On the Line-The Archies
  58. If You Love Somebody Set Them Free - Sting
  59. It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be-Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston
  60. Sisters are Doin’ It For Themselves-Aretha Franklin w/ the Eurythmics
  61. Please Pardon Yourself-The Avett Brothers
  62. Walk Like an Egyptian-the Bangles
  63. It’s All Been Done-Barenaked Ladies
  64. With a Little Help From My Friends-The Beatles
  65. Don't Talk To Strangers - Rick Springfield
  66. Just Like You-Keb Mo, Bonie Raitt, Jackson Browne
  67. Stand Up (and be Strong) Keb Mo
  68. You Can Love Yourself-Keb Mo
  69. God Trying to Get Your Attention-Keb Mo
  70. Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy-The Kinks
  71. Good Times Bad Times Led Zepplin
  72. Stay-Lisa Loeb
  73. Talk to Me, Talk to Me-Little Willie John
  74. It’s a Hard Life-Nanci Griffith
  75. Smile-Lyle Lovett
  76. Don’t Give Up the Fight-The Magic Numbers
  77. Simple Man-Lynyrd Skynyrd
  78. Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)-The Byrds
  79. Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real thing-Marvin Gaye
  80. Change What You Can-Marvin Gaye
  81. Life is for Learning-Marvin Gaye
  82. It Takes Two-Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
  83. If You’d Learn From My Mistakes-Moby Grape
  84.  These Are Days-Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs
  85. What a Wonderful World-James Taylor, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel
  86. Everybody Hurts-R.E.M.
  87. Wake Up and Dream-Richie Havens
  88. Shouldn’t We All Be Having a Good Time-Richie Havens
  89. Fools Rush In-Ricky Nelson
  90. Love Radiates Around-The Roches
  91. Mama Said-The Shirelles
  92. Get a Job-The Silhouettes
  93. Don’t Let Nobody Turn you Around-Steve Miller Band
  94. Play That Funky Music White Boy-Wild Cherry
  95. Better World a-Coming-Woody Guthrie
  96. Don’t Fight It-Wilson Pickett
  97. Slap Leather-James Taylor
  98. Don’t Let the World Get in Your Way-The Jayhawks
  99. You Can Leave Your Hat On-Joe Cocker
  100. 100. Have a Little Faith in Me-Joe Cocker

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Green is the New Black

From the MUSE Concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future* Madison Square Garden *1979
Not a particularly collectible record, but great music.


What’s the image that comes first to your mind when you hear the words rock star?  A narcissist, maybe, with  a little hedonism thrown in?  A wild and wooly stoner?

We exalt rock musicians for what is, in essence, a very narrow talent when you think about it in reasonable silence.  Then we almost expect bad behavior in return.

But, in truth, there are many of the “other variety” of rock stars out there.  Those who use their celebrity and influence for the betterment of society–of the world.  A few come instantly to mind:  Bono, Sting, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, all those legions of singers and players who lined up behind the We Are the World effort, Band Aid, Farm Aid.  All those musicians who worked so tirelessly for MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy).  And lots of other causes. The list is long. 

One of my favorite albums is the NO NUKES concert album recorded in Madison Square Garden in 1979.  One of the featured players was John Hall, a former member of the 70s band ORLEANS.  He sang a song he’d written called “Power” in which he extolls the beauty of natural energy sources.  I sincerely hope he still feels that way and that he’s still working toward that end because he is now serving his second term as a member of the U. S. Congress. 

The band Orleans of the 70s, John Hall is top right, John Hall and Carly Simon at NO NUKES concert performing his song "Power" and finally John Hall, second term Congressman from the 19th District of NY.

As a footnote:  I greatly admire the rockers who use their platform for good causes, but the ones who spout off without bothering to find out anything about the issue they’re trying to promote get on my last nerve. They hurt the effort. There are plenty of those out there too, but we’ll let them go unnamed. 

Who are the rockers you admire?  What causes do they work for? 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Back Forty

Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel, 1970. 
 This Columbia release in near mint condition would bring $8-15.  
An audiophile vinyl version on Mobile Fidelity could bring as much as $50.

Forty years ago today (April 17) I sat glued to the TV set, as tense as most other Americans, waiting for the beleaguered Apollo 13 astronauts to splash down and emerge safe and sound from their capsule.  Too bad there wasn’t a way to capture the collective sigh of relief that rippled across the nation when it finally happened.  I’m sure it would make an interesting sampling clip.

There was plenty dividing the nation in 1970, and like most young adults I was cynical about a lot of things.  But during that long week when the astronauts' lives hung in the balance it didn’t matter what side of the political fence you were on, you just wanted to see a happy ending to it all.  We’d all watched and waited together from the moment Jim Lovell had reported “Houston, we have a problem,”  (okay, for you purists, what he actually did was repeat what Swigert said, which was “Houston we’ve had a problem,” but I like the pop culture version better myself).

A lot of PR work went into turning the image of gonzo test pilots into squeaky clean heroes whose appeal jumped the vast chasm of the sixties’ generation gap and stretched from one end of the ideological spectrum to the other. It worked. We loved our astronauts.  They were rock stars in their own way. 

By now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with Simon and Garfunkel. There’s a connection.  Maybe it’s only in my mind, but there IS a connection.  Bridge Over Troubled Water was the number one album that year (according to Billboard).  It was the final studio album for the pair.

They’d been an overnight sensation when “Sounds of Silence” made it to number one in 1966. That is if you don’t count the years 1957-1965 when they’d struggled, together and separately, to make a successful record–billed first as Tom and Jerry (and  Simon as Jerry Landis or Tico and the Triumphs) and finally as themselves: Simon and Garfunkel.

The knock on Simon and Garfunkel was that with their choirboy harmonies, their polished production values and their precise musicality they were too whitebread for the rough and raw musical scene of that psychedelic era. In other words in some quarters they were looked down on for being too good. 

But, as with the astronauts, people from many age groups, personal philosophies and ideological stances seemed more than willing to check the cynicism at the door and embrace them.  I think it happened because they believed in their music and,  again like the astronauts, they stayed true to their mission. 

Tell me your favorite Simon and Garfunkel song. And can you complete these lyrics and tell which S&G songs they’re from?   (Answers are now posted in comments section).  

I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of ____________________________
 “Kathy," I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
"____________ seems like a dream to me now"
It took me four days to hitchhike from _______
I've gone to look for ________
Coo, coo, ca-choo, _______________
Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)…
Tell her to make me a _________________
 (On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
Hello ___________, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Away, I'd rather _______away
Like a ______ that's here and gone
A man gets tied up to the ground
I got a ________   _____________
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my ______________ away

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Super Bowl of Rock ‘n Roll with Cereal Box Hits on the Side

This week marks The Vinyl Call's first guest blog by my brother-in-law, Matt, a writer from NY.

Every morning I thank God that I do not yet suffer like the famous actor George Clooney, who on reaching his mid forties lamented,I am falling apart… [plagued by physical] aches and pains.”  I speak my prayer silently, while my wife echoes Clooney as she peers in the mirror to paint a new face.  My obsession with advancing age has taken the form of noticing such minutiae as the fact that classic rock music has recently become the preferred Super Bowl halftime entertainment.  We had McCartney in 2005, The Rolling Stones in 2006, Tom Petty in 2008, Springsteen in 2009, and the Who in 2010.

Knowing that you have reached the age where you are considered a marketers’ prime target may be bad, but far worse is thinking about becoming the target of ads for Life Alert (“I’ve fallen and can’t get up”), the Scooter Store, and second-to-die life insurance, a trifecta of horror on the order of O.J. Simpson tossing the coin in the 1993 Super Bowl at which Michael Jackson performed as the Buffalo Bills lost their third straight championship game -- itself a trifecta cubed.

Most of us choose to remember pleasant dreams not nightmares, and so I blot out the Bills’ threepeat failure by recalling the 2003 Super Bowl, at which underdog Tampa Bay became the first expansion team to win the championship, Sting performed at halftime, and I began to realize that, but for a simple twist of genetic fate, I’d have had Sting’s hair and a different life.

But we all play what we’re dealt, and live who we are.

And so in my news-obsessed life, I recently couldn’t avoid an advertisement from Quaker for an afterschool snack, which was being marketed by some bubble gum songstress who hasn’t yet achieved the ubiquity and widespread appeal of Miley Cyrus.  I later learned the youth’s name is Miranda Cosgrove, and my ignorance of her the product was my quixotic attempt to prolong the innocence of my daughter. One small victory has been watching her voluntarily mute iCarly ads and change to Animal Planet once Ms. Cosgrove’s show is on. 

When I was her age, music marketers touched our lives in a very physical way: they commandeered our breakfast table.  The first record I acquired as a child in the early 1970s was attached to a box of Alpha Bits, “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson Five.  My brother and I ripped it off the back of the box to play it before we had breakfast, and as we listened, we used the cereal letters to spell words we shielded from our mother’s view.

We played that first cereal box record to death, much to our parents’ and older siblings’ chagrin.  Watching a square record circling on a turntable was endlessly fascinating.  And the marketing had its intended effect.  A few months later, my brother bought his first record with money he had earned delivering newspapers, the 45 of “ABC” by the Jackson Five. 

Over time, humidity made the mixture of vinyl and cardboard warp, but the record always played, and was a refreshing break from the records that adults had otherwise placed within our reach -- Disney soundtracks, the multiplication tables, and Tubby the Tuba. 

The next cereal box hit that entered our home was on the back of Honey Combs:  “I’m a Believer” by the Monkees.  It failed to command our attention with as much fervor as the first.  The novelty of a square record had worn thin, and my obsession turned to the Miami Dolphins’ Perfect Season of 1972.   They beat the Redskins in the Super Bowl that year, one of the lowest scoring championship games ever.  Classic rock would have to wait to become the mainstay at halftime.  That year, the University of Michigan Marching Band accompanied a couple of imitation Sinatra crooners, a nod to my parents’ generation.  Perhaps iCarly will join the Reese’s Puff Rappers on stage at a Super Bowl halftime thirty years from now…

Friday, April 2, 2010

You Had Me @ Hello

(Answers are now posted in the comments section, along with YouTube links--thanks for playing along).

There are some songs that just make you smile with the opening riff.  It reminds me of the funeral scene in the movie THE BIG CHILL where an old college friend of the deceased goes up to the organ in the church to play one of the dead man's favorite songs, The Stones’  “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” 

As she plays the first few notes all the other friends start to smile to themselves and glance at one another.  You can tell countless shared memories are coming instantly to each of them.  In that moment they all seem to reconnect even though they’ve been separated for years.  (As an aside, the corpse is played by a young Kevin Costner, though you never see his face--all his other scenes were cut from the movie.  I shall refrain from editorializing.)

Some songs just grab you from the start.  I’ve posted six easy openers here.  Can you name the songs?  Also, tell me what other songs’ opening riffs make you smile?  What's the most recognizable opener you can think of?