Writing prompts can be fun. When I saw that this week’s prompt at Studio 30 Plus was “Goldmine,” I immediately thought of David Bowie‘s song, “Velvet Goldmine.”
“Velvet Goldmine” was recorded during the Hunky Dory sessions and was supposed to make onto the Ziggy Stardust album, but it was ultimately rejected. It was eventually released as the B-side to the UK single of “Space Oddity.”
The song was originally written about how Bowie wanted to make out with another man, but the lyrics were changed to make it more ambiguous.
Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album (followed closely by Aladdin Sane, commonly referred to as the Ziggy sequel). Ziggy Stardust had only one single, “Starman,” but it is best known for the songs “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City.” The album is a very loose concept album about an alien who comes to Earth and becomes a rock star, falling into all of the common vices associated stardom – alcohol, drugs and sex. The character of “Ziggy” had a message of peace and love, but it gets lost in his antics.
“Ziggy Stardust” is one of Bowie’s more well-known songs, so I’m giving you the original demo. Just Bowie and an acoustic guitar. Brilliant.
One more thing before I go.
Today is Steven Tyler’s birthday, he’s 64. Give it up to the original Bad Boy of Boston.
Keep rockin' brother!
In honor of his birthday, here’s an Aerosmith classic. Enjoy!
True story. I woke this morning and while getting the kids ready for school, The Allman Brothers Band song, “Statesboro Blues” was grooving around my head. Not a bad song to wake up to.
Perhaps it was serendipity, but when I was searching for a topic for today’s post, I found that it was on this day back in 1971 that The Allmans played the first of two nights at the Fillmore East. That show was recorded and released as a double album called The Allman Brothers Band Live at Fillmore East. The version of “Statesboro Blues” you just heard is the first track on that album.
The Allman Brothers Band rockin' at the Fillmore East
Clapton & Allman had an instant musical chemistry.
I became familiar with The Allman Brothers through Eric Clapton. Duane Allman played guitar with Clapton on the album Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Here’s my favorite track from the Derek and the Dominos album, “Key to the Highway.” The recording sessions for this album were very loose and this song was started as a jam without any tape rolling. When the producer, Tom Dowd, heard them playing, he is reported as having said to the engineer, “Hit the goddamn machine!” and so, the song starts with a fade in, the band already in full swing.
I have since been a fan of the Allman Brothers. Just a few months after the Fillmore East concert, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. The world lost one of it’s greatest guitarists that day. Thankfully, The Allman Brothers Band was able to continue and thrive despite losses and and ever changing line up.
You left us only months after I was born, but I miss you, Duane.
This concert was the last at the Fillmore East before it shut it’s doors. It’s a good thing that it was recorded because it’s one of the last times anyone got to hear the Allmans with their original line up.
Here is my favorite track from the album. You can hear Greg Allman say at the beginning, “We got a little number from the first album we’re gonna do for ya.” That “little number” is “Whipping Post” – a 23 minute tour de force that became a staple at their live shows and the driving 11/4 bass opening has become one of the most recognizible.
I spent a few days going through my music collection trying desperately to pick only five songs that drove me to purchase my first electric guitar. What ultimately settled it for me were songs I still listen to, songs that I could remember having generated a strong emotional response from me the first time I heard them, and finally songs that were some of the first I tried to learn how to play.
1. “Crossroads” by Cream from the Wheels of Fire album
In the way-back yester-years of the mid-80′s, I had a cheapy, multi-function turn table/radio/cassette deck unit and three albums (LP’s) to listen to – the soundtrack to Star Wars, a “follow the book” version of The Hobbit and a greatest hits collection of Glenn Miller. I was a weird kid, I know.
I remember always looking through my parent’s record collection when I was very young, having no idea what I was looking at. Albums by Paul Simon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Fifth Dimension (my guess is they only had that for “Age of Aquarius.”) and a plethora of polka albums. As the years went by, my parents added to their collection with Michael Jackson, John Lennon (my mom played Double Fantasy everyday for weeks after Lennon was shot) and maybe Willie Nelson (Willie may have only been on cassette tape – help me out on this one, Mom).
Anyway, at some point, I must have expressed an interest in some of the older albums that never got played. That’s when I heard Cream for the first time. My dad put Disraeli Gears on and when “Strange Brew” started, I knew I was hooked on a world of music I never had a clue even existed.
When I heard “Crossroads” for the first time, I knew that I wanted to be Eric Clapton. I wanted to be able to play that rocking blues style I heard on that song. I began listening to bands like The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Clapton’s solo albums, Led Zeppelin and others that played bluesy rock.
In later years, I delved deeper into rock’s history and discovered that all of those bands played versions of much older songs by master blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson.
I love me some blues. Here’s “Crossroads” featuring Eric Clapton on lead guitar and vocals.
…and here’s the original song, called “Cross Road Blues,” by Robert Johnson, recorded in 1936.
2. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles from The White Album
What can I say about The Beatles that hasn’t already been said? Has any group of musicians ever had a bigger impact on music than these guys?
I’m pretty sure the first cassette tapes I ever got were two greatest hits collections of The Beatles one year for Christmas. But it was during the “Dad’s Album Sessions” that I really got a good listen to what these boys from Liverpool really did.
Rubber Soul, Revolver, Help!, Sgt Pepper’s and The White Album were among the many we listened to. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” grabbed me right away and I think it was because Clapton plays on the song (a fact I didn’t learn until much later). My favorite Beatles songs are George Harrison’s – there’s just something about his voice and they way he constructs his songs that I find appealing.
So, here it is – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
3. “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin from Led Zeppelin II
Zeppelin was introduced to me by my first girlfriend back in high school. Her older brother played guitar and she played piano and trumpet (we were in the school jazz band together). By this time, I was struggling with teaching myself how to play guitar and getting pretty frustrated with it. My girlfriend’s brother offered me some tips and taught me the blues pentatonic scale – one of the building blocks of playing bluesy rock.
Many days I would spend over at her house, talking about all kinds of things and listening to music. To her goes the credit for introducing me to Zep.
I think Led Zeppelin’s music was the first I listened to where I really became aware of the use of catchy riffs. “Whole Lotta Love” is one great example of that Duh-duh duh-duh duh! (Okay, settle down, Beavis) as well as “Black Dog” and “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid.”
Here’s “Heartbreaker” from the BBC Sessions album.
4. “Back In Black” by AC/DC from Back In Black
I’m sure the first time I heard this was on the radio. It’s the epitome of riff-driven classic rock, easily one of the most recognized songs in rock history.
And I just had to learn it. It’s fun to listen to and a heck-of-a lot of fun to play. Don’t know what your garage band should be working on? Crank it up to 11 and channel Angus Young.
You will be a Rock God (or at least you’ll feel like one).
5. “Dreams” by Van Halen from 5150
I’ve said it before, but I have to say it again: I love this song and I love “Van Hagar.” I’m proud of the fact and not embarrassed by it.
This song showed me what rock music could be – great riffs, great melody and lyrics, great solo – just great. It was a step in the evolution of rock music and deserves recognition for it.
I hope that most of my readers know who Pink Floyd are. They have been innovators in song-making and have influenced countless other musicians.
To celebrate the birth of their career, I’m going to feature my favorite Floyd songs – one from each album – spanning their long and fruitful time with us. I know Floyd has become famous for their fantastic light shows during their concerts, but I urge you for this post to put on some headphones and click the links to the audio only for each song. I have always thought that Pink Floyd can be best enjoyed that way.
From Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), I like “See Emily Play.” It’s not quite the Pink Floyd we have all come to love over the years, but I like it because it has that classic 60′s pop music sound that I associate with the decade. “See Emily Play” was not on the original UK release of Piper, but it did appear on the US release.
“Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), is a classic example of the “space-rock” sound that the early Floyd albums were popular for. The opening bass line of this song combined with the slow tom-tom beat has a spookiness to it that I really like.
Floyd’s next studio album was Ummagumma (1969) (yes, I know that if I was going in order the Soundtrack from the Film More would be next). Ummagumma was a double LP with the first record being live music and the second album consisting of mostly previously unreleased studio songs. It’s from the second LP I have made the choice of ”Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict.” Yeah it’s a mouthful, but it’s a pretty cool example of the band’s experimentation with sound. Without their exploration, we never would have heard their next few albums, including their album which holds a world record.
“Atom Heart Mother” from Atom Heart Mother(1970) is significant in that it is the first Pink Floyd song that is long. I’m talking 23 plus minutes long – taking up all of Side A on the LP. In it, you can hear the beginnings of what we all know as the “Classic Floyd Sound” – that slow and easy, almost minimalist sound.
Meddle (1971) is the earliest Pink Floyd album I actually own (coincidentally released in my birth year). I’m tempted to feature “One of These Days” because it rocks and it has the famous line – and only lyric, “One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces.” However, it’s not my favorite song on the album. That honor goes to “Fearless.” Musically, I love it the sound, but more importantly the lyrics are hugely inspiring:
You say the hill’s too steep to climb,
You say you’d like to see me try,
You pick the place and I’ll choose the time
And I’ll climb
The hill in my own way
just wait a while, for the right day
And as I rise above the treeline and the clouds
I look down hear the sound of the things you said today
Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd, smiling
Merciless, the magistrate turns ’round, frowning
and who’s the fool who wears the crown
Go down in your own way
And everyday is the right day
And as you rise above the fearlines in his frown
You look down
Hear the sound of the faces in the crowd
Pink Floyd’s next album,Obscured by Clouds (1972) is based on their soundtrack to the movie La Vallée. This is their only album I’m not familiar with so here’s the only single released from it, “Free Four.” This song deals with the death of Roger Water’s father – a theme Floyd began to explore in much more depth in the years to come.
Now it comes to what has been called the greatest rock album of all time. Dark Side of the Moon (1973) holds the record for length of time on the charts at 741 weeks, selling an impressive 50 million copies world-wide. Dark Side is Pink Floyd’s first concept album which explores themes including conflict, greed, the passage of time and mental illness. It is also their only album which has absolutely no acoustic guitar work. Choosing a song from an album which is designed to be listened to from beginning to end has been difficult but I offer “Us and Them,” a song which addresses the isolationism of depression.
Wish You Were Here (1975) is Floyd’s tribute to founding member and original song writer, Syd Barrett. Barrett left (or was thrown out of depending who you talk to) the band during the recording of their second album due to a deteriorating mental state. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is the main tribute to Barrett, but I like the intimacy of the title track much more. Here it is.
In 1977, the band released Animals, another concept album which was a scathing critique of the social-political conditions of 1970′s Britain. It was inspired by George Orwell’s book Animal Farm and has song titles named after animals: pigs, dogs and sheep. Here is “Sheep,” which I think has some of the best keyboard work by Richard Wright.
Pink Floyd’s last great album (my opinion, of course) was The Wall (1979). I’ll let Wikipedia speak on this one:
The Wall is a concept album, and deals largely with themes of abandonment and personal isolation. It was first conceived during the band’s 1977 In the Flesh Tour, when bassist and lyricist Roger Waters’ frustration with the spectators’ perceived boorishness became so acute that he imagined building a wall between the performers and audience. The album is a rock opera that centres on Pink, a character based on Waters or maybe Syd Barrett. Pink’s life experiences begin with the loss of his father during the Second World War, and continue with ridicule and abuse from his schoolteachers, an overprotective mother and finally, the breakdown of his marriage. All contribute to his eventual self-imposed isolation from society, represented by a metaphorical wall.
Just as with Dark Side of the Moon, I had a difficult time choosing a song from this album. I finally settled on “Comfortably Numb” because it was one of the few songs that made me want to pick up a guitar and learn how to play it.
Next is the album I like the least. The Final Cut (1983) is an anti-war album and the last one that founding member Roger Waters worked on with the band. It is an amalgam of discarded songs from The Wall and new material. Here is “When the Tigers Broke Free,” one of the songs that was rejected for The Wall (although it is in the movie). This song is significant in that it’s first availibilty was on the 2004 re-release of The Final Cut.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) is the first album by Pink Floyd in which Roger Waters took no part. It is also the first non-concept album by the band since Dark Side of the Moon. I never really warmed up to this album, but I love the song, “On The Turning Away.” Here it is.
Pink Floyd’s last studio album was The Division Bell (1994). The central theme of the album is that things can get better by talking about them. Here is “Keep Talking.”
I hope you have enjoyed this celebratory journey through the career of one of my favorite bands.
Today’s Music Monday is something special. It’s my 50th post at I Can’t Brain and it’s also my 41st birthday.
On November 13, 2011, I started this blog. I had no idea what I really wanted to do with it (a common theme among bloggers, I noticed) and didn’t publish my second post until almost a month later on December 6th.
Roughly three months later, I have a vague direction for the blog and a much more focused direction for my life.
And all it took was 50 blog posts.
I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been blogging, chief of which (don’t scoff if this sounds conceited) is that I received validation on my skills as a writer – something I didn’t even know I needed.
In this short time, I’ve guest posted on two blogs (because the blog owners asked me to) and I received a regular writing gig for a news blog.
I’ve gained 71 followers to my blog and average 30 views a day.
Not bad for just starting out, I’d say.
I hope so much more will happen for me by the time I reach 100 posts. I say “hope” because as I go along – blogging, researching and writing a novel – I find that I am easily distracted. Distracted by Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog linkups and watching the view count on my blog.
Well it’s time to put an end to all the distractions. It’s time to focus and enjoy what is around me.
My wife pointed out an article to me (she’s very good at subtly letting me know when I’ve become derailed) that appeared in The Washington Post a few years ago. The article, called “Pearls Before Breakfast,” won a Pulitzer and you’ll see why.
Gene Weingarten, a Washington Post Staff Writer, pitched an idea to violinist Joshua Bell. The idea was for Bell to dress in street clothes, play his violin at a crowded, rush-hour subway stop in Washington DC and see what happened. Bell readily agreed.
You may already know what happened. This story is from 2007. Before I continue, you must get an idea of the caliber of Bell’s playing. Here’s a video of Bell playing J.S. Bach’s “Chaconne” from Partita No.2 in D Minor. It’s not the full 14 minutes, but it’s enough to see what he played that day at L’Enfant Plaza.
I know, right!?! The guy is amazing!
This is from the Washington Post article:
Bell decided to begin with “Chaconne” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Bell calls it “not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history. It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect. Plus, it was written for a solo violin, so I won’t be cheating with some half-assed version.”
Bell didn’t say it, but Bach’s “Chaconne” is also considered one of the most difficult violin pieces to master. Many try; few succeed. It’s exhaustingly long — 14 minutes — and consists entirely of a single, succinct musical progression repeated in dozens of variations to create a dauntingly complex architecture of sound. Composed around 1720, on the eve of the European Enlightenment, it is said to be a celebration of the breadth of human possibility.
If Bell’s encomium to “Chaconne” seems overly effusive, consider this from the 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms, in a letter to Clara Schumann: “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
Bell played for about 45 minutes. He started with the “Chaconne” and ended with the “Chaconne.” He played a total of six songs on a violin made by the famous Antonio Stradivari in 1713.
The violin is valued at approximately 3.5 million dollars.
In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run — for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.
Yeah, crazy, huh?
One man recognized that what he was hearing was something very special and listened for quite some time. One woman actually recognized Bell.
Other than that, he was essentially ignored.
Except by children.
There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.
It’s sad to me what happened with this experiment. I can be completely honest in saying that when I lived in Boston and took the subway to work everyday, I would throw a couple of dollars to any performers who happened to be there. I would also listen for a few minutes each time. Sometimes, I would be surprised and thoroughly entertained. I still remember a young kid who played a beautiful version of The Beatles “Norwegian Wood” on guitar. It sits with me still because he made that guitar sound like an entire band. It was impressive.
Little gems of beauty can be found everywhere if you stop to look.
I’m going to take a lesson from those kids who heard Joshua Bell play at L’Enfant Plaza in 2007. Life is too short not to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us all.
That’s all for I Can’t Brain, but it’s not all I did this past week. On Thursday, my debut article for Borderless News and Views was published. Called Normalizing Mormon or Marketing Mitt?, I explore the possibility that the recent Mormon Church ad campaign was started to help Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Tune in to BNV every Thursday at 9AM EST for a new article by yours truly.
Tomorrow is a big day. Music Monday will be my 50th post for I Can’t Brain!! It’ll be a special day.
Oh, it’s also my birthday, so I guess there’s that, too.
For this week’s Music Monday, I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favorite guitarists, Antoine Dufour. Just to be clear, this is purely a post written by a fan and it is not a paid promotion. I just love what this guy does!
To get started, here’s the video I stumbled upon on YouTube a couple of years ago that made me say, “Wow!” Antoine is playing with Tommy Gauthier (fiddle). This song is from their album, Still Strings.
I bet you just said, “Wow,” too. Am I right?
Dufour was born in 1979 in Quebec, Canada, and has been playing guitar since he was 15. He attended Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel (CEGEP) in Joliette, Quebec where one of his teachers introduced him to the likes of Leo Kottke, Don Ross and Michael Hedges. Dufour’s fingerpicking style of playing took on a heavy percussive feel – meaning he slaps the strings and makes frequent use of natural harmonics – and, while not quite unique, is something he has become a master of.
Here is a great example of his percussive style. The song “Scratch” is from his debut solo album, Naissance.
He is also well versed in traditional finger-picking styles as evidenced by his and Gauthier’s cover of Jerry Reed‘s “Jerry’s Breakdown.”
If you aren’t a fan yet, I’m surprised.
Ok, one last video to maybe change your mind. This is Dufour and Gauthier playing a cover of Don Ross’ “Catherine.” It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and I bet you might think so too.
That’s it. A short, kind of fluff piece today. If you like Antione Dufour, you can find his music on his YouTube channel and at his record label, CandyRat Records.