Got The Fever

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Evil Empire: Radio

I blame, in large part, radio stations for turning masterpieces of the Rock And Roll era into nothing more that musical flotsam and jetsam that’s getting shrugged off and belittled alarmingly often.

Radio stations (for as long as I’ve listened to them) have bastardized what used to be a legitimate method of tracking what is popular, into an impersonal database collection of ‘most popular/all-time top/greatest hits’ that is nothing representative of the title they’ve bestowed upon themselves. What used to be a breathlessly anticipated Top Forty is now the ‘100 Greatest of Rock And Roll’. The very vessel that promoted a nascent art form in the early/mid fifties has now not only bitten the hand that has fed it, but one can argue, has chewed it off leaving behind only dry and brittle bone.

Radio has long overexposed the heady and highest pinnacles of rock and thusly reduced their achievements to mere pedestrian mortal feats. This is their way of patting us on the top of our heads and telling us that it’s for our own good. The musicians struggling to mold an original idea, the precious time and bloody effort in the studio, the reactions of stunned and awed peers of the time who were shaken to their core and the general publics central notion of what constitutes a masterpiece for our generations – all these need to be remembered in the context of their revolutionary time and place as we listen to a track. Overplaying and making ordinary the true titans of rock, or the tracks that laughed at and laid waste to our notion of what is Top ‘n’, is similar to nullifying climbing Everest and making it seem as if it were as easily done as pushing junior in his stroller up the neighborhood hill.

I began this debate (again) within myself just a few short days ago when I went over to splash myself with a daily dose of
The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. The good DJ has a column about Beatle songs that he doesn’t need to hear again. And, you know what? He makes an articulate and solid point. Much as the Beatles are to me the ‘Big Bang’ of rock, and as hard as it is for me to hold back my impulse to snip and snipe like a jackal at an affront to the Beatles, I have to agree with the basic argument. That is, to a certain point. And I have him to thank when I yet again find myself thinking about what is wrong with radio and why we don't seem to care about it, or even listen to it, except as a means of white noise distraction.

I’m not going to debate ones freedom of opinion in deciding what tracks or albums may seem aged. It’s an objective call either way. No, that’s an opinion that if debated is like trying to box on a floating, splintered chunk of ice – no one is going to rightfully win.

What I am debating though is I feel that the central reason why the hoi polli dismiss so many classics so casually and cavalierly is because the tracks themselves have been beaten into our heads with a dull jackhammer called format radio and have lost the crystallized crown that should so proudly still be in place.

Some examples: how stunning an achievement was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run?” There is no debating this point of musical history whatsoever. But, Bruce has issued over two dozen albums (I’m guessing more) and out of all those tracks on all those albums, what is the only track that we hear on the radio? “Born To Run.” I swear if I hear this again I will take hostages! Does Bruce deserve a collective groan from everyone when they hear it again? Certainly not, but don’t blame him, blame radio and those who think we NEED to hear ONLY that track.

Same again for the Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” I would rather lop off a body part that to hear that again! Once more, radio’s perception of what we NEED to hear. Led Zeppelin and “Stairway To Heaven”, the Who and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, the Beatles and “Hey Jude”, Elton John and “Candle In The Wind”, Aretha Franklin “Respect” … name the decade or the artist, and it’s cookie cutter simplistic – only play the ONE hit they think we NEED to hear based on a silly survey.

These beaten down and worn out grooves are the result of a distillation process that radio has forced upon us. Thankfully, I’m sure the good DJ (who will speak of this in a much more knowledgeable manner that I could ever hope to) will note that these tracks that are forced upon us are based on those surveys I mention. The age of the greatest common denominator in radio has been with us for a long, long time. And so have the same 100 songs been with us for a long, long time. Which is why we are bored of the same 100 songs year after year, despit their lofty achivements.

Which is why the radio is pretty much irrelevant to anyone born in the mid 60’s or afterward. Those born right when radio still had its mightiest impact were only around ten in the mid 70’s, but never really knew or held stock in any type of Top 40.

The same tunes that were played by our parents are the same ones that we are forced to hear on those stations. What? Did time stand still for those managers and jocks? Did they not realize that bands like the Ramones were popular (to name and stop at only one glaring omission on present day radio formats)? It wouldn’t be so bad to play the same artists that have been around for years, but to continue playing the very same songs?

It has been noted that we are a consumer nation. So, by default shouldn't the marketing departments in the radio conglomerates realize that we bought the albums that those overplayed tracks came off of? Instead of “Born To Run” don’t they realize that we’d rather hear “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out?”

Instead of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Wouldn’t they get more advertising revenue knowing that we tune into a station that would mix it up and play “Beast Of Burden” instead? How about playing “When The Levee Breaks” in place of “Stairway To Heaven”, “Love Ain’t For Keeping” for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “For You Blue” and not “Hey Jude”, “Danny Bailey” over “Candle In The Wind”, and “Baby, Baby Sweet Baby” over another round of “Respect.” Fill in your personal favorites, but the point is the same.

Now, THAT would be radio worth listening to. Or, a station to be loyal to. Imagine that?

Let’s end here. Alright, I’ve touched on
1) How radio debases and trivializes rock and roll
2) How the 'Top 100' of 'All-Time' are neither
3) How radio is truly irrelevant and has been for a while

While I have ranted, I have not gone into a greater detail that others who are more qualified and versed could do. What I’ve done is provoke thought and given opinion that has long been forming as a result of observation through the years. Let me know what your opinions are.

And turn off that old school radio station!

As for
the DJ - the Beatles article you wrote gives me cause for another rant. I don't have it yet, but it's coming!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Can You Dig It? Vol. 1

A few tracks off the fantastic six CD set called "Can You Dig It? The 70’s Soul Experience". I chose these off of disk one.

Crumbs Off The Table
There’s not a lot I can find about Glass Table other than they had the first hit on the Holland-Dozier-Holland Invictus label The label included others in its stable with Chairman of the Board, The Honey Cone, 100 Proof, Eighth Day, Laura Lee and Freda Payne. And I did find that Freda Payne’s sister Sherrie sang lead as did Ty Hunter for a bit also. This is just a fine funky tune that has needed to be brought out to the forefront for quite sometime and has been covered by Dusty Springfield and Laura Lee. You could call this a small slice of funky soul at some of its best. You’ll be treated to nice harp playing, great horn arrangement, fine vocals and the fruits of great songwriting.

What you been doin?
Who you been wooin?
Tell me, tell me, who you been doin?
What you been doin?
Who you been wooin?
Tell me, tell me, tell me who you been doin?

I said Im hungry for your lovin
But you, you aint able
All you want to give me
Is the crumbs off the table

Westbound #9
This will deliver to you a killer combo of fuzz guitar and singing in the Pickett/Redding style that was so prevelent in the day of fine soul. Again, not much out there about them, but from Wikipedia I gleaned that they were a white band from Detroit who were on the Holland-Dozier-Holland Hot Wax Records. Westbound #9 hit #24 pop and #15 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. They changed the name to Mind, Body and Soul, and get this – they were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 1999, due to member Jerry Plunk coming from Jackson, Tennessee!

Ma, I see you're ashamed
To look me in the face
As if I was nothing
But a past mistake

Sittin' there at night
When Pa comes stumblin' in
Full of the Deacon's bathtub gin
Swearin' and a-cussin'
That I wasn't no kin
I heard his name but Ma knows
What he should have been.

Glass House: Crumbs Off The Table (60)
Flaming Ember: Westbound #9 (61)
From: Can You Dig It? The 70’s Soul Experience, CD1 [2001]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Jeannie Bryson

Birthed from such noble pedigree, Jeannie was immediately gifted with magnificence, elegance and stateliness long before her any of us had heard of her. Her father is legendary jazz titan Dizzy Gilespie and her mother is the talented and soulful songwriter Connie Bryson. Too often the norm has been that children of such talent tend to lean toward the anemic spectrum of originality and artistic offerings. However, Jeannie is a giant of an exception to this truism.

Her thought placement while performing, her expert ability to tame or manipulate a lyric – to dissolve and evolve a mood – is a rare and magic talent. She continues to turn fluid any material to whatever shape and impression she wants to mold it into. And in the album I feature here, she would be hard to compete against in any of those arenas.

Déjà Blue
I’m just not sure how much more perfect, from a female perspective – hell, anyone’s perspective - an artist can weave a tale of misery and gloom, but somehow maintain a modicum of composure, dignity and restraint as can Jeannie with this rendition. Heady atmosphere, stunning arrangement and a vibraphone so sensitive and final in its clarity that it almost carries the song on its own back. Listen to the vibraphone taunting and reminding us, hammering in the finality of wretched lost love at the 1’48 mark. The modulation beginning at 2’52 is almost a deep breathy sigh before the next tears roll out to obscure the clarity of vision, affirming that even though one day a new love will be found and all will end up well, tonight, right now, at this very moment, she is mired and enveloped in the blackness that is searing sorrow.

Saw you again just yesterday.
I turned my head and walked away.
I couldn’t let you see me cry.
I can’t forget, Lord knows I try,
Can’t forget this love we knew.
Déjà blue.

You always said we never part.
But then you left and broke my heart.
It cut so deep the wound wont heal.
I can’t believe how bad I feel.
And I don’t know what to do.
Déjà blue

Hello, It’s Me
Originally penned by Todd Rundgren, Jeannie reaches into its gut, pulling the flesh inside out and reanimates the song in her own image. Through her soft intonations and well thought out delivery she has reinvented the meaning, turning it from a tenuous statement of inevitability to a wistful shimmer of hope that she truly knows deep down inside will never come to fruition. She is showing us that she is inventive and imaginative, but wholly idealistic.

Seeing you,Or seeing anything as much as I do you.
I take for granted that you're always there.
I take for granted that you just don't care.
Sometimes I can't help seeing all the way through.

Think of me,you know that I'd be with you if I could!
I'll come around to see you once in a while,
Or, if I ever need a reason to smile.
And spend the night if you think I should.

Con Alma/Am I Blue
The closing track on the album, and a soulful heart-stopper worthy of the mood of the album and the frame of mind she has established. The lugubrious cello is the molded concrete around your ankles that so forcefully tugs you into the swirling currents of despair. This anguish she so artfully paints in our mind - it is the overwhelming feeling of thunderstruck bereavement that one will not be able to escape when taken in the context of losing a love that has existed ripe in significance and brimming with meaning, but now has left a gaping chasm of solitude so wide that you feel that others can certainly see through your chest and right through your back to the scene going on behind you. Jeanie whispers so tenderly and sincerely to your soul, that to not shed a tear should surely bring deep shame to you and your inability to wholly share your heart.

Am I blue, am I blue?
Ain’t these tears in these eyes tellin' you?

Am I blue? You'd be too,
If each plan with your man done fell through.

Was a time I was his only one,
But now I'm the sad and lonely one.

Jeannie Bryson: Déjà Blue (31)
Jeannie Bryson:
Hello, It’s Me (33)
Jeannie Bryson: Con Alma/Am I Blue (18)
Déjà Blue [2001]

Visit Jeannie at her web site.
Visit Jeannie at her mySpace site.