A Deeper Shade of White: Notes on “The Beatles”

In the 1997 movie Men in Black, Agent K (aka Tommy Lee Jones) spoke truer than he knew:

This is a fascinating little gadget.  It’s gonna replace CDs soon.  Guess I’ll have to buy ‘The White Album’ again.

Fast forward to the 50th anniversary Super Deluxe edition of The Beatles — my copy is #0112672, if you’re interested — my fifth purchase of the 1968 album.  Following the first CD release in 1987, Agent K’s prophecy was swiftly fulfilled, with 1998’s “30th anniversary limited edition” (CD #0438243), then 2009’s mono and stereo remasters each promising better sound and a more complete listening experience.  So does this new box provide anything previous versions haven’t?  And does it shed any new light on the “White Album’s” ultimate stature, both in the Fabs’ catalog and in rock history ?

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Lightning Round Reviews: November 1-9, 2018

In case you hadn’t noticed, the last quarter of 2018 has put paid to any perceived drought of new releases & reissues.  Capsule reviews of what I’ve been listening to since the first of this month follow the jump; albums are reviewed in descending order on my Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.

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In Concert: MC50 Presents Kick Out the Jams

MC50 at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 22, 2018.

Brothers and sisters, I wanna see a sea of hands out there … I want everybody to kick up some noise, I wanna hear some revolution … Brothers and sisters, the time has come for each and every one of you to decide whether you are going to be the problem or you are going to be the solution!  You must choose, brothers, you must choose.  It takes five seconds, five seconds of decision, five seconds to realize your purpose here on the planet.  It takes five seconds to realize that its time to move, it’s time to get down with it.  Brothers, it’s time to testify.  And I want to know – are you ready to testify?  Are you ready!!  I give you a testimonial.  THE MC5!!

As Brother J.C. Crawford’s ghostly, prerecorded invocation echoed in our ears, Wayne Kramer welcomed his audience (including me, my older brother, and my friends from high school and college) with a giant grin, a wicked riff from his Stars and Stripes Stratocaster, and the unmistakable, hyped-up grind of “Ramblin Rose.”  Surfing a bone-shaking wave of sound, Kramer joyously belted out a raucous vocal, reeling off exhilarating solo licks on the Strat between verses.  Almost 50 years after Detroit’s original punks recorded their live debut album Kick Out the Jams, the evening already promised to live up to the MC5’s formidable legend.

“Kick Out the Jams” itself quickly followed, with Zen Guerrilla’s Marcus Durant taking over on vocals, channeling MC5 singer Rob Tyner’s throaty, soulful delivery, stoking us up to dance and shout along.  On this and “Come Together”, Kramer locked in with Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil for a meaty twin guitar punch a la Fred “Sonic” Smith; meanwhile, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould and Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty laid down deep irresistible grooves, vibrating human bodies and rattling the concrete floor.  This was hard rock honed to a keen point —  recklessly idealistic, the barbaric yawp of youth refined by decades of hard knocks, dearly bought wisdom, revived dedication to craft and killer instinct.  Plus the obvious determination to give the crowd a good time.

 

 

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MC50: Kick Out the Jams – The 50th Anniversary Tour

From Shorefire Media:

Wayne Kramer, leader of Detroit’s proto-punk/hard rock band MC5, announces 35 North American dates for “Kick Out the Jams: The 50th Anniversary Tour.” Touring with the MC50 — which includes guitarist Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), drummer Brendan Canty (Fugazi), bassist Dug Pinnick (King’s X), and frontman Marcus Durant (Zen Guerrilla) — Kramer will be celebrating the landmark anniversary of the MC5’s incendiary debut album Kick Out the Jams and the release of his memoir The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities, to be published August 14 by Da Capo Press.

The North American tour begins in early September, after several European summer festivals, and culminates with an October 27th concert back where it all began: in Detroit in 1968, where Kick Out the Jams — recently cited by Pitchfork as one of the 50 best albums of the 1960s—was recorded live in front of a raucous home town audience at the Grande Ballroom on Halloween night. On the MC50 tour, Kramer and the band will play the album Kick Out the Jams in its entirety followed by an encore of MC5 material that will change each night …

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1969: A Blast from the Past

“Well it’s 1969 OK all across the USA
It’s another year for me and you
                                      Another year with nothing to do”  — 1969, The Stooges

I was 7 going on 8 in 1969.  But my brother was ten years older — and Detroit was a prime location to explore rock as it turned psychedelic, then progressive, still with plenty of punk attitude.  Our cousin from Lansing was about the same age as my brother — so they did a fair amount of concertgoing together.

The other day, out of the blue I got a letter from our cousin, reproduced below with my random thoughts interspersed:

Dear Cousin Rick,

I’m sending along a copy of the program from the festival I attended in the south of England summer of 1969.  I thought you might it interesting.

plumpton festival program(Hmmm … The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival.  Waitaminute: Pink Floyd?  King Crimson?  Peter Hammill performing solo before the first Van Der Graaf Generator album? Yes?  The Who?  Keith Emerson with The Nice?  Not to mention Soft Machine and Pentangle?  And he was there? Doggone straight I find it interesting.  Please continue, cousin!)

I’d seen both The Who and The Nice at the Grande Ballroom in the spring before.  The Who played the entire Tommy opera both times.  The Nice as I remember had some kind of revolving organ at the Grande.  At the Plumpton fest they closed the show on Sunday backed by a large orchestra.  At the final song the stage opened and a regiment of bagpipers marched off the stage and into the crowd.  Those were heady times.

isle of wight 1969There’s also a copy of the Isle of Wight festival flier which I missed as it was the weekend which we were heading home.  Such fond memories.

(Bob Dylan & The Band?  The Moody Blues?  More from King Crimson, The Who and Pentangle?  Stop torturing me, cousin!!!  Actually, no — please continue as I wrestle with envy and wish Doctor Who’s TARDIS was real.)

The day we arrived in London the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park celebrating the life of Brian Jones who had just passed.  Couldn’t quite get there but almost.  (Another King Crimson show!!)

I’d like to hear more about your music blogging/reviews.    P.S.  We didn’t arrive at the fest until Saturday so we missed all the Friday acts.  Booo!

Fortunately, the sounds of the Plumpton Festival aren’t completely lost in the mists of time; I plan to direct my cousin to Soft Machine’s and Pink Floyd’s sets online, and send him a copy of King Crimson’s set.

detroit rr revival 1969And talking with my brother later, I heard the story of how he and my cousin somehow got permission to go to the 1969 Detroit Rock’n’Roll Revival (with the MC5, Chuck Berry, Dr. John, The “Psychedelic” Stooges and many more acts) the night before my sister’s wedding.  Maybe I should rethink missing Yes’ 50th Anniversary Tour when it hits Grand Rapids.  Not to mention Wayne Kramer’s MC50 Kick Out the Jams 50th Anniversary Tour and Soft Machine’s world tour coming to Progtoberfest IV

— Rick Krueger

soundstreamsunday #101: “Those Shoes” by the Eagles

eagles3The dark end of late 70s rock culture makes for strange bedfellows on the weekly infinite linear mixtape.  One week after Judas Priest released Unleashed in the East in September 1979, a career milestone kickstarting broad commercial success, the Eagles issued The Long Run, a (mostly) career-ending album that took too long to make, wore on too many nerves in a group of too many egos, and while feeling generally sapped of energy was still a giant hit.  Go figure.  They were a beloved band at the end of their (Seven Bridges) road.  But while the album may not have been as strong as its predecessor, 1976’s Hotel California, pieces of it shared qualities with those other California-centric, dark star rock albums of the era, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (1977) and Steely Dan’s Gaucho (1980).  The party goes unexpectedly wrong, and as night sets in the sparks that fly leave an even darker fringe.

The Long Run’s spark is “Those Shoes.”  As an airtight funk backs a story parallel to Judas Priest’s “Victim of Changes” — delivered with icy remove by Don Henley — Joe Walsh and Don Felder twine their talk-boxed guitars together in a dual attack as hard-hitting, in its way, as anything delivered by K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton.  It’s the swing of it, still in the late 70s a rock’n’roll staple embraced by blues to punk, country to metal, and too soon largely abandoned by the harder end of rock, that moves both songs forward.  Just as Priest’s rhythm section, with Les Binks drumming, made you pump your fist and shake your butt, when the Eagles got down to business they were masters of the hard groove.  But this is no good times, party-on disco boogie.  The song’s power is multiplied by its downer lyric, a troubling view of the predator-prey club hookup scene, ringing at once with compassion, cynical chauvinism, and studious intention.  If it’s revealing of the seamier side of the west coast lifestyle as the 70s limped to an end, in it also is the last flash of a band who commanded the era.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #99: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath

blacksabbath1.jpgIf they’re the only band on the infinite linear mixtape to be featured twice, and back-to-back at that, it’s because of the singularity of their two lead singers, who so influenced their respective versions of Black Sabbath that each iteration of the band made a distinct impact on rock and metal.  Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has stated that the difference lay in writing for Ozzy Osbourne, who sang the melody of the riff, versus writing for Ronnie James Dio, a far more technically accomplished singer, who sang around the song’s chords.  But even with Dio’s vocal expertise stretching Sabbath’s range, the core of Black Sabbath’s legacy really does belong to Ozzy, whose shakily intoned shriek conveyed — at least across their first six records, and before it became Ozzy’s schtick — the terror of a man trapped inside a nightmare.

When Sabbath took to the studio in October 1969 to make their first record, they were like dozens of other post-Cream British blues rock bands struggling to find their own voice.  But, they had some advantages that maybe weren’t immediately apparent.  Iommi’s short and ultimately unsuccessful stint in Jethro Tull in 1968 was an education, as that band was finding its own, heavier feet following the departure of Mick Abrams (Martin Barre, the definitive Tull guitarist, would be hired shortly after Iommi filled in, with a thunderingly loud but finessed guitar style not unlike Iommi’s).  And Ian Anderson provided an object lesson for Iommi when Iommi went back to his band Earth: success would largely depend on the labor you put in.  Tull worked for its fortune.  As Earth transformed itself into Black Sabbath, Iommi demanded the band become a workhorse, and the group began developing a set of songs around bassist Geezer Butler’s night frights, a fascination with horror movies (e.g., Black Sabbath), and two significant technical issues that became key to a conceptual breakthrough: the tips of Iommi’s fingers on his right (fretting) hand had been shorn off in an accident in 1965, and it was while developing his newly renamed band’s sound and songs that he down-tuned his guitar to make it easier to play with the plastic tips he adhered to the tops of his fingers; also, Butler’s facility on bass was limited in their early days, so he ditched melodic runs and just mimicked Iommi, also down-tuning his bass.  The result was literally diabolic.  From the opening notes of “Black Sabbath,” the sound sends shivers, and it is here that heavy metal was born, out of imaginative use of limitation — such is Art — and the doom-laden tritone, the diabolus in musica, that Sabbath employed as its calling card.  Iommi, riffing on Butler’s attempt to mimic Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from The Planets suite, produced a metal manifesto so potent that it resonates almost 50 years on, remaining a rock touchstone of its era as significant as Velvet Underground & Nico, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, or Funhouse, ever begging the question: What is this that stands before me?

Studio version here but also the Paris ’70 version, with Ozzy jumping like Iggy.

There is, in fact, none more black.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.