“Eight Miles High” — Three Views

The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, eventually reaching number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.   Influenced by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass album, it was one of the first (if not the first) glimmerings of psychedelic rock.  And thus a progenitor of prog?  I think so.

Check out three views of this pioneering tune for yourself.  First, a Byrds promo appearance lip-syncing for an unknown TV show.  Note David Crosby’s brilliant outfit, complete with Russian hat:

Of course, “Eight Miles High” has been covered numerous times.  Back in 1988, it was the one of the key tracks on To The Power of Three, the collaboration of Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry.  How Eighties is this?  Check out Berry’s headless Steinberger bass!  Emerson’s keytar!  Palmer wielding a Dynacord electronic drum controller at the front of the stage!  Plus the, uh, dancers “playing” snare drums in the background.  Goodness!  (Though it does serve as a reminder that Robert Berry releases his posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson, 3.2: The Rules Have Changed, on August 10.)

Three years later (ouch) in 1991, “Eight Miles High” was one of the cover tunes on Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s album Spin.  Since their 1981 version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” had snagged number one on the British single charts, Stewart and Gaskin had been bringing a thoroughly proggy attitude to the synth-pop duo format.  Spin is no different, mixing quirky originals with fresh takes on Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — and the Byrds.  One bonus feature of the album: the precocious pre-Porcupine Tree percussion of Gavin Harrison.  Check out the spectacular drum fill that kicks off this version!

Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s new album Star Clocks, featuring “eight Dave Stewart originals alongside a cover of an iconic 1960s song,” is out on August 17.  Pre-order it at Burning Shed.

Bonus track: Stewart & Gaskin’s samurai/Beach Boys/cathedral bells version of “It’s My Party,” with special guest video appearance by … Thomas Dolby?

— Rick Krueger

SAND No. 2: The Unadulterated Excellence of Sam Healy

A review of SAND (Sam Healy), A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE (forthcoming, September 30, 2016).  9 tracks.

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SAND, A SLEEPER JUST AWAKE (forthcoming, September 30, 2016)

As much as I’d like to start with something artsy (the album deserves it), I’ll just be really, utterly, completely, and totally blunt.  This album is extraordinary.  After a summer of horrors and violence (not personally, but around the world), this album seems like the necessary art to calm the savage soul.  I think this is, quite possibly, Healy’s best.

As I’ve written a number of times before when writing about Healy (solo) and about North Atlantic Oscillation, he does three things with unadulterated excellence.

Continue reading “SAND No. 2: The Unadulterated Excellence of Sam Healy”

Why New Wave Mattered

ngd simple minds
A masterpiece of the New Wave era.

One of my earliest musical loves was Simple Minds.  For those of us who grew up deeply loving prog, the late 1970s and early 1980s were a very difficult time.  If we couldn’t get our belovedly and outrageously complex 12-minute or even 24-minute epics, we had to find a worthy—no matter how watered down—substitute.  For me, at least at the age of 12 or 13, I wasn’t willing to go the classic rock route.  No matter how many times the radio played Jackson Brown or Aerosmith, these bands meant nothing to me.  Sometimes less than nothing.  Even worse was Top 40 pop.

In 1981 and 1982, that meant the only real alternative in the rock world was what was being called New Wave.  While their songs were way too short, the use of keyboards and bass—at least in the best of the New Wave sound—I found them rather progressive.  And, just as often, the lyrics were as intense as they were intelligently playful.

The bands I loved most:  ABC; Thomas Dolby; and Simple Minds.  I didn’t just tolerate these bands, I fell in love with them.  I couldn’t even count the number of times I listened to GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS or LEXICON OF LOVE.

They played over and over again on my stereo during the early 1980s.

I came to Simple Minds a bit latter than either Dolby or ABC, but only a bit later.  To this day, I think Sister Feelings Call/Sons and Fascination, New Gold Dream, and Sparkle in the Rain are some of the best albums I’ve ever heard.  Even when compared to straight-up progressive albums, I would place anyone of these albums—but especially New Gold Dream—in my top 50 albums of all time.

Anyway, a brief thought about why New Wave mattered.  Until next time. . . .

Progarchy Radio Episode Four: THE TANGENT

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Episode Four

Today’s episode features the music of Andy Tillison and The Tangent.  And, it’s our longest episode yet!  1 hour and 35 minutes.  You really get your money’s worth!

Three tracks from The Tangent plus music from Thomas Dolby, Tears for Fears, Black Vines, Sanguine Hum, Dead Can Dance, and Steve Wilson.

If 1982 Came to 2015: The Receiver’s ALL BURN (Kscope)

Review of The Receiver, All Burn (Kscope, 2015).  11 tracks.

All Burn (Kscope, 2015).
All Burn (Kscope, 2015).

Formed a decade ago, The Receiver is the brothers Cooper – vocals, synths/keyboards, bass.  Each of the brothers handles vocals while Casey plays keyboards and bass and Jesse plays drums.  ALL BURN is the band’s third album, the first with Kscope.  The thing that strikes the listener immediately upon hearing the new album is the quality of the vocals and the vocal lines and melodies.  They are gorgeous.  Absolutely and completely gorgeous.  So gorgeous in fact that one could drown in their beauty.

Kscope has labeled The Receiver as “symphonic dream-prog” and if they had to be compared to another Kscope band, they would come closest to Sam Healy’s always-stunning North Atlantic Oscillation.  The Receiver resides on the pop end of Kscope’s offerings, they’re still far more pop than NAO.  Indeed, the best comparison would be to Thomas Dolby’s first album or something from mid-period OMD. Though the production—for the most part—is 2015, the sound is very 1982.

[As a side note, I’ve often wondered what a Big Big Train or a Porcupine Tree would do with One of Our Submarines.]

A moment ago, I mentioned the vocals.  Again, let me state: they are amazing, and these two brothers know how to sing together, and they especially know how to write vocal lines.  They use their voices rather perfectly for the lyrics.  In this way, they are far superior to Dolby or OMD.

If there’s a problem with the album, it’s the production of the bass and keyboards.  The musicianship is excellent, but the end product sounds tinny.  Frankly, I’m having a hard time gauging what’s exactly “not right” with them.  I think it’s that the vocals are so good and so well done that the bass and drums sound a bit thin and superficial, as though they were added on merely to make this a pop album.  It’s possible this is also due to the limitations of streaming the music—I’m listening to it streamed through an online promo on my MacBook Pro.  So, not ideal listening conditions.

Back to the good.  All Burn is pop in the best sense.  There are lots and lots of catchy hooks and lots of returns and repeats to key sections in the music. Still, there’s enough mystery and variety in the music to make it not simply another pop outing.  Songs such as “Dark Matter” have a Steven Wilson feel, and “April Blades” might have come from a Vangelis album.  The music grows moodier and moodier as the album progresses.  My favorite song, by far, is the penultimate track, “How to Be Young,” an existentialist pop navel gazer with lots of backwards production.  The final song, “These Days,” is probably the poppiest, taking us back to an Alphaville moment.

Don’t let my criticisms hold you back.  If you like good pop or pop prog, this album is for you.  If you want to imagine what a “Golden Age of Wireless” would sound like in 2015, buy this.  Or, if you simply love glorious vocals and vocalists, get this.  I probably won’t come back to this album too often, but I am quite interested to see what they do next.

On a Silver Salver: The Miracle of 1984, Part I

As I mentioned yesterday (https://progarchy.com/2014/03/19/1994-a-pretty-good-year/), I thought 1994 was a “pretty good year” for music.  Thinking about 1994 made me think about 1984, and, methinks (don’t you hate it when writers use such pretentious words!  Ha), 1984 puts 1994 to shame.    In fact, it puts many, many years to shame.

As a product of midwestern America, Ronald Reagan will always dominate my main image and memory of 1984.  I write this nonpolitically. Whatever you thought of Reagan as a leader, the man wielded supernatural charisma.   He was, simply put, a presence.

But, other images emerge as well from 1984: movies such as 16 Candles, Red Dawn, and The Killing Fields.  Chernyanko becoming head of the Soviets.  Paul McCartney arrested for possession of pot.  The fall of AT&T.  The arrival of the first Macintosh.  What a year.

Beyond the above, I most remember the music.  What a year of greatness for those of us who love innovation and beauty in music.  So without further bloviation, I offer my favorites of that august year.

***

rush gup cover

Rush, Grace Under Pressure.  This is not only my favorite Rush album, it was and remains my favorite album of 1984.  I’ve written about this elsewhere,  but it’s worth noting again that I think Rush perfectly captured the tensions of that year: the horrors of the gulags; the destruction of the environment; the loss of a friend; and so on.

I hear the echoes, I learned your love for life
I feel the way that you would

***

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Thomas Dolby, The Flat Earth.  I’ve written about this album as well.  So brilliant.  As deep and as meaningful as Dolby’s first album was interesting and novel.

Suicide in the hills above old Hollywood
Is never gonna change the world

***

Ultravox_-_Lament

Ultravox, Lament.  My favorite Ultravox album?  Maybe.  As much as Rush captured the spirit of the year, so did Ultravox.  From the worry expressed in “White China” to the longing of “When the Time Comes,” Lament is a masterpiece.

Will you stand or fall, with your future in another’s hands
Will you stand or fall, when your life is not your own

***

talk talk it's my lifeTalk Talk, It’s My Life.  While this is certainly not Talk Talk’s best album, it is quite good.  In particular, Hollis reveals much of his genius in songwriting, whatever the “new wave” trappings of the song.  Underneath whatever flesh the band gave the music, the lyrics cry out with a poetic lamentation of both confusion and hope.

The dice decide my fate, that’s a shame
In these trembling hands my faith
Tells me to react, I don’t care
Maybe it’s unkind if I should change
A feeling that we share, it’s a shame

***

Simple_Minds-Sparkle_In_The_Rain-Frontal

Simple Minds, Sparkle in the Rain.  Again, while this isn’t the best Simple Minds had to offer, it was the last great gasp of the band before entering into an overwhelming celebrity.  Kerr’s Catholicism especially reveals itself in songs such “Book of Brilliant Things” and “East at Easter.”

 I thank you for the shadows
It takes two or three to make company
I thank you for the lightning that shoots up and sparkles in the rain

Covered

For some reason, I’ve always been quite taken with the idea of the “cover,” a great group or artist remaking the old art into something new, profound, and tangible for a new audience.

220px-PeopleAreStrangeUnfortunately, the result of the cover is often a mere imitation of the original.  This, sadly, does nothing but waste everyone’s time.  In this instance, I can’t help but think of Echo and the Bunnymen’s remake of “People are Strange.”  It is almost note for note and instrument for instrument the same as the original by the Doors.  No matter how great, Echo, they will simply not best a classic by merely imitating.  There’s nothing even remotely interesting or unusual in the Echo version.  They sound bored, and they probably are.  Echo was simply too good to be a glorified cover band.

BookendsThere are also inferior versions of a once great song that simply had never had a wide audience in the first place.  Here, I think specifically of the Bangles remaking A Hazy Shade of Winter.  The Simon and Garfunkel version is in every way superior except one.  When it was originally released, A Hazy Shade of Winter appeared around a number of other attention-gathering songs off of the album, Bookends.  It would’ve been pretty hard to complete with “Mrs. Robinson.”  And, A Hazy Shade never became absorbed into American culture the way so many other Simon and Garfunkel songs did.  When the Bangles released it in 1987, it climbed to #2 on the American pop charts.  Who can forget first hearing that song, realizing the immense disconnect between a barely talented hack corporate band and some of the best lyrics ever written?  No, it shouldn’t have succeeded, but it clearly did.  Commercially, a success.  Artistically, a travesty.

Over the last decade or so, though, a number of excellent songs have been covered by various prog bands.  In each case, at least as I see it, the songs covered are–quite the opposite of the Bangles assault on and diminution of a classic–in most respects far better than the originals.  Three things help account for this.  First, some of this improving, I’m sure, is a product of better technology.  Still, we can all think of examples where the newer technology has driven the life out of a song or an album.  Technology, in the end, is a tool, neither good nor bad in and of itself but a means to a good or bad end.

Second, in ways that could never be measured, a remake is importantly the result of the love the artist of today feels for the artists and traditions of the past.  The current prog artist has absorbed some beloved songs for years and years, and the songs have become an essential part of the art itself and of the artist herself or himself.

Third, very importantly, few progressive rock acts perform merely to be commercial.  They do so for love of the art itself.

Again, let me go back to that Strawband, the Bangles.  What did they have to offer to a Simon and Garfunkel song?  Nothing in the least.  Per the above three points.  First, the technology made them mere apes, allowing them to present sanitary mimicking of a great song.  Second, the Bangles play their version as though they’d only encountered the original version days or possibly hours before recording.  Their version came out twenty years later, but it, in no way, feels as though an artist had absorbed that song for twenty years.  Third, the Bangles wanted to cash in on a piece of art that failed to reach its full potential two decades earlier.  And, they did.  Again, a commercial success, but a artistic horror.

***

But, what about some wonderful, beautiful, intense, gorgeous covers?

artworks-000011754621-tdrn2o-t500x500Nosound’s remake of Pink Floyd’s 1971, “Echoes.”  Four minutes longer than the original, the Nosound version not only records their version with affection, but there is an unmistakable Nosound sound.  Where Floyd used a cold and rather impressive technology to make certain unusual sounds, Nosound substitutes a much greater organicism to the song.

1479671968-1The Reasoning’s remake of Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur.”  This was certainly the best and most interesting track off of Rio (1982).  And, Rachel Cohen of the The Reasoning has never once hidden her admiration of the best rock of the 1980s.  Matt, Rachel, and the others do wonders to the original, making it far, far superior.  At once more delicate and yet harder than the original, The Reasoning makes this a serious work of art.  Matt’s deep and haunting bass is especially good.  But, so is Rachel’s voice.  The Reasoning takes a good pop/rock song, and makes it a short but haunting masterpiece of prog.

bbt masterBig Big Train’s “Master of Time.”  Sheer bucolic glory.  Next to the original by the former Genesis guitarist, BBT’s Master is a blatant and full-voiced work of immaculacy.  It makes the original seem a fine sketch of a song, while paying all due homage to it.  Even in its BBT’s intensity, joy multiplies as the song progresses, following NDV’s driving drums.  If this isn’t a glimpse of a pre-fallen Eden, nothing is.  And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if David Longdon’s voice has an angelic counterpart in the spheres far beyond this world.

Peter_Gabriel_-_Scratch_My_BackPeter Gabriel’s Scratch Your Back, in many ways, corrects the errors of the Bangles.  While the whole album is good, and Gabriel covers everyone from Elbow to David Bowie to the Talking Heads, nothing bests his own version of the Paul Simon song, “Boy in the Bubble.”  While it’s not necessarily better than Simon’s version, it is a penetrating look at the darker aspects of the song.  I would challenge anyone to listen to Gabriel’s version with headphones and not tearing up at the terrors and tragedies revealed anew in the lyrics.  This might be Gabriel at his absolute highest as an artist.  “These are the days of miracle and wonder.  Don’t cry, baby.  Don’t cry.”

glass hammer south sideGlass Hammer remaking Yes’s “South Side of the Sky.”  This has been one of my two or three favorite Yes songs going back to my early childhood in the mid 1970s.  Certainly, when I saw Yes play live in Grand Rapids for the 35th Anniversary tour, this song was the highlight.  Nothing, however, prepared me for hearing Glass Hammer’s version when I first purchased “Culture of Ascent.”  This cover is a perfect example of a band and a group of artists that had fully absorbed the song–every single aspect of it–over  period of two or three decades.  This song by Yes is simply an immense part of the DNA of Glass Hammer.  And, it shows in every aspect of Glass Hammer’s version.  Everything is simply perfect, and it’s as obvious as obvious can be that Glass Hammer recorded and produced their version with nothing but love, pure and unadulterated love.  And, dare I say it without risking the reader just switching off and heading to the wilds of a new website. . . Susie Bogdanowicz was born to sing this song.

***

There are other songs I’d love to write about, but time prevents me at the moment from doing so.  Let me just conclude with this.  When a cover is done well and with love, it’s a hard thing to beat.  And, while I would never want the current progressive moment to become imitative at its heart, it’s a healthy thing to remember and honor those who came before us.  In particular, I think there are a number of songs from the 80s that were brilliant in their time, but could really benefit from being progged up.  Imagine Thomas Dolby’s One of Submarines redone as full-blown prog.  Or, Big Country’s The Seer. Or, The Cure’s Disintegration.  Or, New Model Army’s Whitecoats.

So much to be done.  So little time.

golden age

Thomas Dolby’s Golden Age

In the late spring of 1982, as I completed 8th grade, I met one of those kids who is always at the height of cool.  But, it was a calm, somewhat cynical, real cool, not the show-off cool of the wealthy socialite kids.  It was the Bohemian cool of the Beatnik not contrived cool of the Hippie or the Yuppie.

Ritchie.

ThomasDolbyTheGoldenAgeOfWirelessOnly a few of us belonged to his circle.

Except for moments of ecstatic outbursts about an idea here or there, he radiated coolness.  He read the Great Books and knew lots of poetry, he worked out in his room (he had the whole upstairs of a late 19th century house to himself) and studied Japanese martial arts, he knew everything about men such as Bill Buckley and Jack Kerouac, he owned the best stereo system of anyone our age, and he possessed an amazing record collection.  He was the youngest of a large family, and his parents were much older, pretty much leaving Ritchie to raise himself.

It was Ritchie who introduced so many of us–in a medium-sized town in the wheat belt of the Great Plains–to English New Wave.  Growing up a progger–addicted from an early age to Yes, Genesis, and Kansas–New Wave was a bit eye opening for me.  It seemed to hold much of the complexity of prog, but it did so with computers and keyboards, often one or two musicians, where prog might have included eight or nine.  Ritchie introduced me to ABC, Kate Bush, The Smiths, Oingo Boingo, Tears For Fears, and, most importantly for me, Thomas Dolby.

Not only was I a prog guy, but I was also very much a sci-fi and computer guy.  All of this appealed to me. Continue reading “Thomas Dolby’s Golden Age”