Got The Fever

Monday, September 29, 2008

Reexaminating Ziggy Stardust

It’s a sorry statement that even the best of bloggers tend to have the habit of condensing and boiling down an artist’s catalog into the most base and common denominators.

While we tend to roll out with gleeful delight and snobbish superiority our bangles of track obscurities and private elitist delights, some of us from time to time need someone to grab, with a skilled and muscled arm, the poles of our private, twirling musical calliopes and forcibly grind the damn machine gears to a halt.

Me? I on occasion tend to be one of the more blatant examples of trumpeting out the ‘hidden’ or the ‘buried’ and have even been called eclectic to that end.

When showcasing tracks from colossal and prestigious albums past, instead of stating the all too obvious, we sorely sometimes need to take pause and decelerate enough to cull, peruse and pick apart the essence of a monumental album - in hindsight. Such is the case with Bowie’s 1972 Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

I am going to, from time to time, enjoy reexamining albums that are carelessly tossed about in snobbish trivia parlor games as among the “greatest of the greatest” with more attention to the not forgotten, but lesser of the well remembered tracks that made the album worth listening to.

While we could extol the virtuoso that is “Moonage Daydream”, the majesty of “Ziggy Stardust” and the impact of “Suffragette City” we tend to forget that this was not just a short playing EP. This was a full length LP brimming with musical impressions that went far beyond its release! I believe that here, we have an illustration showing that the sum of the album is not greater than the parts.

To start off with, let’s revisit a few of the missing parts and pieces of Ziggy Stardust that helped make this the gargantuan Titan it still is today, realizing that this isn’t a definitive sampling, but merely a wedge into further review.

It Ain’t Easy
This is the only song on the album not written by Davie Jones but who would have known? I’ve always felt that one of the hallmark traits of a great artist is their ability to embrace a song, work their original machinations on it and have the output sound as if they had indeed spawned it on their own.

Intensely powerful with thumping bass keeping time, and alternating between David’s vocal and acoustic guitar and Mick Ronson’s distinct, godlike lead, this is some of the most dynamic 2’58 Bowie has ever laid out.

Here’s a candied tidbit: among many others, did you know that Three Dog Night covered this song?

When you climb to the top of the mountain
Look out over the sea
Think about the places perhaps, where a young man could be
Then you jump back down to the rooftops
Look out over the town
Think about all of the strange things circulating round

It ain't easy, it ain't easy
It ain't easy to get to heaven when you're going down

Lady Stardust
Without a doubt, one cannot escape the time period in which Ziggy was released – the glorious glam rock trend. Ziggy was actually a steeled stamp upon it. Written with the original title of ‘A Song For Marc’ - Marc Bolan, he of gigantic stature and influence in glam, this is a monster, marble cornerstone of the album, placed on track one, side two.

Understood within the Glam context, the track unquestionably takes on a different meaning reflecting on Marc. But, given that we’re interpreting it with reference to a star man, we now have a unique perspective into the story, and persona, of Ziggy.

The piano is played in such an exquisitely expressive manner that I can clearly see this standing alone as an instrumental!

People stared at the makeup on his face
Laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace

The boy in the bright blue jeans
Jumped up on the stage
And lady stardust sang his songs
Of darkness and disgrace

And he was alright, the band was altogether
Yes he was alright, the song went on forever
And he was awful nice
Really quite out of sight
And he sang all night long

Yea, we could sit back on our haunches and talk of “Rock and Roll Suicide”, “Five Years” and “Soul Love”, simulating verbally that we know the core of the album lying beneath the usually defined tracks. But, I strongly feel that the above two are seldom discussed and much too easily overlooked.

It’s time to give reverential due not only to the body as a whole, but to the supporting cast. Let's dispense feigning expertise without complete knowledge.

David Bowie: It Ain’t Easy
David Bowie: Lady Stardust
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars [1972]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mood Mellow

Sometimes, one feels in a ‘mellow mood’. Not melancholy, not introspective, but joyfully serene. As I came out of my three hours hike through the forest, I was in a calmer mood than I had been in a while.

The beauty of having such a large musical palette is that for the many, varied moods I naturally have, I can most times, if I make the effort, find an appropriate track or two. Today, I am fortunate to have suitable tracks to fulfill my mellow mood.

Jerry Jeff Walker should not be a reach for anyone who knows music. He’s a fine songwriter that’s been around for years and has in his pocket a few tracks that have been covered. ‘Mr. Bo Jangles’ is most likely his most noted. Though he didn’t write ‘Wind’, when Jerry was in the 60’s psychedelic/country/folk band Circus Maximus, there was one song that used to be played, and appreciated on FM, from the self-titled album that you never hear anymore. This was around the time that ‘White Bird’ by It’s A Beautiful Day was also popular on FM. (I could have easily also chosen 'White Bird' for this post.)

There’s so much beauty in this song that it’s hard to not play it over and over. Soft, with jazz overtones, it has a tendency to fill me with joy and peaceful contentment. Listen and become more enriched.

You say that once you knew for sure.
Now you’re walking in the shore, to wonder.
The more you learn the less you know.
The more you move, the more you go to nowhere.

You ask the bird as she files by,
Just where she’s at?
She says ‘where the wind blows’.

Ask her by that what she means,
She says she doesn’t know.
But as she flew away she seemed to say
The wind is -

Is the wind.
Wind, is my love.
Who knows the wind?
Who knows my love?
Where blows the wind?
The wind is -
My love.

Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)
Music Of My Mind was without a doubt a major milestone for Stevie. But, it’s this particular song from that album that is sadly overlooked when playing Mr. Wonder - which, for me, is among the most elite compositions he has ever graced us with. In actuality it can be justly taken as two tracks melded into one, but the conjoining is well placed and pleasing.

Any platitudes would be banal in comparison to the listening experience, so I’m not going to try to climb over that gorge.

Mary wants to be another movie star.
But is that really in her mind?
And all the things she wants to be
She needs to leave behind.

But, very well, I believe I know you very well.
Wish that you knew me too-very well.
And I think I can deal with everything
Going through your head.

Very well, and I think I can face very well.
Wish that you knew me too-very well.
And I think I can cope with everything going
Through your head.

Enjoy the brightness of this, one of the last days of short sleeves with a few tracks that augment the joy of a tranquil tone of mind.

Circus Maximus: Wind
From: Circus Maximus [1967]

Stevie Wonder: Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)
From: Music Of My Mind [1972]

Addendum: I'm having a very difficult time trying to find the Genya Raven album I've listed to the right of my postings under 'What I'm (Unsuccessfully) Trying To Locate'. Any ideas?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Richard Wright

Founding member, pianist, composer and vocalist with Pink Floyd has fallen.

The Great Gig In The Sky
From: Dark Side Of The Moon [1973]

Wearing The Inside Out
From: The Division Bell [1994]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Rings

Patience is a virtue. Or so they say. Who the heck are ‘they’ anyway when someone says that?

Mike at Fusion 45 has been asking for a while now for something about The Rings, a Boston based band from the early 80’s that made it nationally with “Let Me Go".

Let me tell you, few bands, seen live, could excite me as much as The Rings did back in their heyday. I used to see them at Boston Mecca’s like The Rat, Spit, Cantones and I believe I saw them at Bunratty’s. The crushing power pop, hooks that dug deep and a tightness rarely seen out of a studio saw me going time after time and playing their freshman offering over and over. It’s one of those albums that when you hear a track off of it you transport mentally to a certain time and place.

Originally named ‘The Rings Of Saturn’, the band included Bob Gifford on bass and vocals, Mark Sutton on guitar and vocals, Mike Baker on guitar and Bob Woodbury on drums. To me, they’re another one of those ‘should have been huge’ bands from Boston that for one reason or another didn’t quite grasp the brass hook – along with ‘The Atlantics’. Shame too, because they were a quality band that didn’t need gimmicks to get the music across.

There's a great writeup of The Rings - and info on lots of other Boston bands, at a nice storage facility I found recently called Boston Rock Storybook held together by Joe Harvard. Joe's got a good rock and roll story to relay, and he's 'been there, done that', playing with the likes of Unnatural Axe (who I saw numerous times) and has even played with, and calls among his friends, Willie "Loco" Alexander (personal favorite of mine) and the great Johnathan Richmond.

Third Generation
No nonsense rock with a fast beat, superb lead that accentuates without a need to be pushy, drums that actually sound as if they’re contributing instead of being just part of the backbeat and with enough continuity but diversification of sound that pulls it all into one cohesive brawny blast.

Third Generation got nothing to say!
Second generation don’t get in the way.

We don’t ever want to take no time,
We just wanna steal it.
Don’t you ever think its gonna be a crime?
Don’t you every feel it?

Standing out lazy make you crazy.
Make you wanna scream and shout.
Never put it out never put it on,
You’re inside looking out!

I said, Third Generation got nothing to say.
Second generation don’t get in the way!

Got My Wish
Indeed, it was The Rings ability to diversify that was part of my attraction to their music.

This track was (is) probably the one I played the most frequently well into today’s writing. It almost reminds me of Alice Cooper (circa Ballad Of Dwight Frye) with an inference to being let out of the loony bin and then his hesitant peek and foray into freedom that within a short time ultimately puts him back into another stretch of Lithium heaven.

Yesterday at eight, they let me out
The door slammed with a clang.
They gave a new pair of shoes, a shirt and pants,
But I don’t they fit me quite right.
Well I think the scarf’s too tight.

Last night I walked again in the open.
Well I think it’s been about 10 years.
I don’t mind, I’ve been doing all kinds of thinking!

I got my wish last night
I got my wish last night
I got my wish last night

Side note: I use this track as one of the cool down songs after a workout. Weird writing it down, but, there it is.

Let Me Go
Anyone that reads this blog is well aware of my propensity for not highlighting a track that was popular on the radio, but for all of those not familiar with The Rings, this is the one that was played on the radio that broke them out, and I feel a disservice for not including it.

Well I been checking on you,
You been checking on me.
I been checking all over town girl,
Ill tell you what I see.

I see all the strange faces.
I hear all the strange names.
You say yes, I say no,
All my life yea!

Oh no, let me go.
Well I don’t need your suspicion, oh no!
Oh no let me go.
Oh why you being so vicious?

Does power pop, or just plain power rock, get better than this? As a composition that has you either fast pacing toward the dance arena or playing the air guitar, it won’t dissuade me from the opinion that it doesn't get much better than this.

And, thanks for your patience Mike.

The Rings: Third Generation
The Rings: Got My Wish
The Rings: Let Me Go
From: The Rings [1981]

Addendum: Special thanks to Zack and Andy who helped me listen to some of the lyrics over and over until they sounded correct (we think)!

Anyone have a line to Duke and The Drivers "What You Got"?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

12" Of Raw Power

Was a time when extending a three or four minute single into a long-playing disk was all the rage. Some went to five minutes and some went all the way to twenty minutes and longer.

Actually the point brings me to an opposing tangent – was a time when a long playing track was cut down to an AM palpable three to four minute time – “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers and “Inna Gadda Da Vida” by Iron Butterfly jump up to be noticed. Or, “Riders On The Storm” by The Doors comes to mind along with The Temptations “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. There are many, many more you can trump out I’m sure.

But, from the disco era forward (think Donna Summers and over sixteen minutes of “Love To Love You Baby”), 12” singles were wildly in vogue and could be bought at any mom and pop vinyl venue. I touched on this quickly in my Kinks post a short while ago when I posted “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”. Even long established artists such as The Rolling Stones, Greg Kihn, Kiss, Blondie, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Echo And The Bunnymen, Gene Loves Jezebel and a slew of others jumped on the fad. And guess what? They sold millions! Matter of fact, I’m amazed that I can’t find more of these on other sites that offer music downloads. Know any?

Anyone with a ‘hit’ single started to release not only the shorter original singles, but a 12” extended play to go along with it. I’m imagining that with the exception of die-hard fans of the band, or compulsive music catalogue completists (ok, I’ll raise my hand), these long playing singles sold mainly within the club scene. And as for myself, I can see why. A great song, a truly great song can withstand the strain of elongating the intro, or the mesmerizing melody, or a haunting phrasing, or an instrument passage that begs to be let loose with expansion.

Out of the flood in the market of these singles I would sometimes find amazing extended plays that today I could never imagine as short singles. Or, if I happen to hear the original studio version, I can’t shake the burden of somehow feeling cheated out of listening to the full 12” version.

Walk The Night
Truth is, I never have heard the ‘short’ version of this song – if one does indeed exist. I only know this 5’21” crusher and I’ll take it. Meant to be played loud and to make you slightly uncomfortable with the content, this has been a top 40 single of mine for years.

How can I begin to describe the brutal cerebral imagery this conjures up or the quickening of pulse that’s so involuntary?

The opening hits you mercilessly and pries your senses agape as effortlessly as you’d bust a clamshell with a hand held piece of granite. The bass is proud but sinister and the beat impossible to resist. The unsettling scraping of a guitar pick on electrified strings certainly makes its presence and its evil known but is still periphery action - like a side kick thug who is just as malicious, but waits and watches for his leader to gesture him into action. And then, at 0'17”, a scream – is it a scream of pain, or a scream of pleasure? Follow this with a deep, threatening, disturbing chuckle (a taunt?), a crisp, precise top hat clicking time and the guitar that is the building lull before razor jawed judgment spews?

The onslaught is upon us. The central drive of all that is the track drives forward with one terrible upward thrust. And the front wavers, with a rippling affect that’s felt right to the back of the line.

And, then comes the scream - ONE of the screams in fact.

But, one cannot but help being drawn into the circling musical vortex, this track is magnificent in its force! As dark of a picture I’ve probably painted, can’t you feel how unceremoniously magnetized you’d be pulled onto the dance floor?

At 2’48” can you almost feel the vertigo, the loss of bodily function as another scream seems to plummet forever through an infinite shaft that can’t reasonably be fathomed.

And then, as your senses have regrouped and begun to coagulate once more, at 3’46” they turn the track onto unmapped territory and transform into something that’s completely at odds with what’s been established - wholly different. What a turnaround and what a surprising and pleasing twist! This is a track that’ll stick to your ribs!

Upon his lips the taste of pain.
Venom kiss of love insane.

He's got a rod beneath his coat,
He’s gonna ram right down your throat.
Make you grovel on the floor
Spit, bump, and scream and beg for more!

He'll whip ya!
And strip ya down.
A hotshot!

True story: Just before I went back to my pad for the first time with a date (long, long time ago), I played this track in the car – loud, and mouthing the lyrics with a grin. She suddenly opted out of the opportunity to spend the night. In retrospect, I can now see why, what with the gay s/m sheen all over it, but back then I was just so into the music and mood, that it never occurred to me that when playing it for someone else, it might be misinterpreted as ... I don't know, dangerous maybe? To me, it's still just music. A few years later, the same scenario with someone else - but she really dug it, laughing out loud and bopped right along with the beat.

Go figure.

Sun City
I remember I bought this right after I heard it for the first time on one of the local Boston stations – WBCN I think. They played the whole 7’03” and I devoured it. It’s the constant singing of the lyrics “I ain’t gonna play Sin City” that hit me, just as I had mentioned in the opening paragraphs. Over and over, it’s infectious without being sickeningly repetitive.

Long story short, Sin City is (was?) a casino resort in South Africa. South Africa, of course, was still practicing apartheid, but despite that misery, bands would still go and play there – reaping tidy sums of money.

So Steve Van Zandt (Little Steven) of Springsteen fame, wrote this as a square fist against a round face to the artists who reaped rewards playing for segregated audiences. As was also customary at the time it was written, more than a few noted artists played on the track including The Boss himself, Miles Davis, Darryl Hannah (!), Gil-Scott Heron, Kurtis Blow, Ruffin, Kendrix, Ray Barretto – yea, heavy hitters. There’s a
nice article on Wikipedia that talks the details.

For me though, it’s the backing vocals, the screeching horns, the punishing beat and the length that all combine to make this a favored 12” single. Again though, if one exists I never heard a shorter 45 version.

Our Government tell us "we're doing all we can"
Constructive engagement is Ronald Reagan's plan
Meanwhile people are dying and giving up hope
This quiet diplomacy ain't nothing but a joke

I ain't gonna play Sun City
I ain't gonna play Sun City(Everybody Say)
I ain't gonna play Sun City (No baby)
I ain't gonna play Sun City

I have a whole case and a half of these 12” singles buried among the too-large vinyl collection, and I treasure them. Somewhere around six or seven years ago someone offered me (what I thought was) an outrageous sum of money for the whole lot of ‘em. I declined. I still love listening to them!

The Skatt Brothers: Walk The Night
Artists United Against Apartheid: Sun City