Saturday, June 30, 2007

Problems with the King's list, part 2

Picking up where I left off in the last post, I’m here to skewer Stephen King’s top 10 of his 25 greatest rock songs. We are talking about the top 10 of all time, and folks, there’s some pretty obscure stuff here:

10. A Big Hunk O Love – Elvis Presley
SK - Almost eclipsed by Elvis' screaming vocal is the rock era's best barrelhouse piano.
WM –Totally absent from SK’s top 25 is anything by the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s easy to put Elvis in this list, but if you’re talking about piano, let’s get serious.

9. Bip Bop Boom – Mickey Hawks
SK – Under two minutes and still the greatest rockabilly record ever made.
WM – Couldn't find this one, so I reserve judgement.

8. Let’s Have A Party – Wanda Jackson
SK - That raspy, frantic vocal has never been equaled. Ms. Jackson makes Beyoncé look like Britney.
WM – A good song, but not all-time great material.

7. New Orleans – Gary U.S. Bonds
SK - Terrific recorded-in-a-bathroom reverb, insanely danceable backbeat.
WM – Again, one of the all-time greatest? I think not. You want to talk about reverb and timelessness, the answer is Bully Holly.

6. Ramrod – Bruce Springsteen
SK - His cleanest, coolest, purest track. To quote Mr. Berry, his guitar rings like a bell.
WM – It’s got that simplicity that seems to be a consistent theme in this list, but for my money, I’d pick Candy’s Room.

5. C’mon Everybody – Eddie Cochran
SK- The apocalyptic call of the teenage male: Dude, let's party. And screw the consequences.
WM – I approve. This is great rock and roll song.

4. Stupid Cupid – Connie Francis
SK - Don't argue; the vocal is hotter than a pistol, and it's the best clap track ever.
WM – I am losing my patience.

3. Mystery Dance – Elvis Costello

SK - It's 1:35, but how much angry, frustrated sex can you take?
WM – I love the idea that a British computer nerd can transform himself into a rock star (Elvis once said that he listened to the first Clash album for 12 hours straight, then wrote Watching the Detectives), but we are down to the nitty gritty here, and I don’t think EC rates nearly this high.

2. Burning Love – Elvis Presley
SK - He saved the best for last.
WM – This song doesn't have the raw urgency to rate number 2. A little over-produced, and over-rated since it’s the King’s last single. How could you pick this over Hound Dog or Jailhouse Rock?

1. Anarchy in the U.K. – The Sex Pistols
SK - This song still sums up what I love about rock & roll: anger and joy and urgency, all compressed into three and a half minutes of drums and buzz-saw guitar.
WM – This song belongs on this list, but number 1? I always thought the Pistols were a little over-rated.

As you can see I’ve got some issues with this list, and I imagine you do to. The omissions are upsetting, to say the least. It’s almost as if SK deliberately ignored ‘classic rock.’ I’m tired of a lot of it too, like Stairway To Heaven and Hotel California, but there’ so many essential songs he’s ignored. Off the top of my head, here are few songs that must be included (certainly over Connie Francis):

My Generation – The Who. “Hope I die before I get old.” A two chord riff, insolent lyrics and a timeless bass guitar break. What more can you say? Still sounds great today.

All Day and All of the Night – The Kinks. The birth of the power chord. Where would we be without it?

Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin. The stop-start, syncopated heaviness that defined Zep is fully realized in one of their earliest and best tracks.

London Calling – The Clash. Omitting the Clash from this list is just plain wrong. This may be their best song.

Rumble – Link Wray. Snarling surf guitar from the master, circa 1958. So influential. When he died a few years ago, Dylan opened his sets with this song. Dylan!

White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane. I love this way this song builds to its climax. The key song for the Summer of Love. Feed Your Head!

Paranoid – Black Sabbath. Heavy metal perfection.

Cretin Hop – The Ramones. Nobody has done three-chord rock better.

Hush – Deep Purple. I think this might be a cover, but the power of this band and Ian Lord's Hammond organ is thrilling. Listen

We're An American Band - Grand Funk Railroad. The best of 70's rock. A celebration of groupies, strippers, gambling and hotel trashing.

Light My Fire – The Doors – I have a bootleg of some early Doors demo tapes circa 1965 where they sound like a bad Animals cover band. Somehow they completely transformed by 1967, with the addition of the carousel keyboards and Morrison’s mystic poetry. It's sheer magic. This song will sound great 100 years from now.

That’s enough; I could go on and on. As always, your comments (that includes you too, Steve) are welcome.

Enjoy some audio and video of Steve’s list


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The King's List: A Rebuttal

Well, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything. So much for my tag line, “ a guy with just enough time on his hands.” Lately, it’s been zero free time. I’ve been planning to respond to Stephen King’s recently posted list of the 25 greatest rock songs of all time, which is at least a month old, and has probably been criticized and analyzed to death by now. King is one of my favorite writers, and I enjoy the fact that’s he’s not too literate and self-conscious to write about pop culture in EW, one of the most mainstream magazines on the rack. List making is one of the lowest forms of publishing, one that countless British music mags resort to on a monthly basis. The ‘list’ is an easy way to satisfy our collective attention span that has slowly dwindled to nothing more that a two-sentence blurb per topic. The ‘list’ of course is also designed to incite disagreement, dissention and occasional violence (and some entertaining letters to the editor). I can’t help but think that King is baiting us, as some of his choices are puzzling. There are some glaring omissions here, and a least one positively insane entry. Of course, every song could be disputed, but I do agree with a few.

A list of this nature will be unique to each individual, and for me it would probably change depending on my mood. To make this list, the song must define the essence of rock music: Rebellion, angst, raw energy, and the celebration of youth and all its incarnations. These songs must offer something with repeated listening. Here’s King’s list, along with my commentary:

25. Psychotic Reaction – The Count Five
SK: “Garage rock as it was meant to be." WM: Ok, he’s off to a good start with this one. There are dozens of garage rock gems that could go here, but very few better. Louie, Louie is too predictable, and we’re all sick of it. Listen

24. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida – Iron Butterfly
SK: "Only the long version counts."
WM: Maybe it makes the top 25 heavy riffs of all time, but this song gets dull, fast. Didya know the title is a drug induced slur of In the Garden of Eden?

23. Dead Flowers – Rolling Stones
SK – "Their best country-rock fusion."
WM – Ok….. but is it rock? I’d pick Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I can listen to that one over and over. Remember Michael Keaton in his pimpmobile in ‘Night Shift’? That rocks.

22. Needles And Pins – The Searchers
SK – "The epitome of folk-rock."
WM – By definition, folk-rock should not appear on this list. Anyway, the epitome of folk-rock is ‘So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star’, by the Byrds.

21. I Get Around – The Beach Boys
SK – "Has stood the test of time."
WM – I agree. Maybe the best upbeat song the Beach Boys did, and that’s saying a lot.

20. On The Dark Side – John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band
SK – "Still smokin’ after all these years. Simple and cool."
WM – Wha? Steve, you lost me with this one. Not even in the top 100.

19. You Can Never Tell – Chuck Berry
SK – "The whole story of love and marriage in 2:30."
WM – You’ve got to include Chuck Berry, but I’d pick Maybelline or The Promised Land.

18. I Want To Help You Ann – The Lyres
SK - "The best stalker rock song ever."
WM – Never heard it. King has a few local Boston bands in his list. I’ll have to reserve judgment until I find it.

17. Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress – The Hollies
SK – "Should get old but somehow never does."
WM – I agree. I loved this song the first time I heard it. Still do. The most basic of riffs, maybe that’s why it works.

16. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
SK – "Total bebop testifying."
WM – A certifiable classic, but I prefer I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.

15. Ain’t No Fun (Waiting Round to Be A Millionaire) – AC/DC
SK – "The quintessential hook, played over and over."
WM – SK, you just described nearly every AC/DC song. Why not Shot Down In Flames, a timeless tale if there ever was one?

14. Sixty Minute Man – The Dominoes
SK – Basic dirty boogie boasting."
WM – "True, but I’m finding it hard to call this rock. This is the tune from the bedroom/bathtub scene in Bull Durham, for the doo-wop challenged.

13. Mass. Ave. – Willie Alexander
SK – "Boston punk at it’s best."
WM – Never heard it. Might be fantastic, but does it belong on a list with Chuck and Elvis?

12. The Girl Can’t Help It – Little Richard
SK – "Can you imagine this guy on American Idol?"
WM – Dylan said rock and roll died with Little Richard’s last hit in 1957. Any of his stuff belongs here.

11. She Loves You – The Beatles
SK – "The best Beatles song because it gets in, does its business and gets out."
WM – Hmmm. I Saw Here Standing There, for the same reason, but a better song, IMO.

Next post, the top ten, and boy are there some problems.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Musicology 101 - You Need Love

The influence of American blues music on British rock has been well documented, but the plagiarism that was rampant in the 60’s and 70’s is still largely overlooked. Today, we call it ‘sampling,’ but to the original artists, in this case Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters, it was stone cold theft. Everyone knows Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, but how many people know of the origin of this song? In 1962 Willie Dixon wrote ‘You Need Love’ and Muddy Waters cut the first version of this song at Chess Records in Chicago. Sung in Muddy’s inimitable style, the song is a typical blues theme of a man’s lusty pursuit of a young woman. Do any of these lines sound familiar?

You've got yearnin' and I got burnin'
Baby you look so sweet and cunning
Baby way down inside, woman you need love
Woman you need love, you've got to have some love
I'm gonna give you some love, I know you need love

You just gotta have love, you make me feel so good
You make me feel all right, you're so nice, you're so nice
You're frettin', and I'm petting
A lot of good things you ain't getting
Baby, way down inside, you need love

You need to be hugged and squeezed real tight,
by the light of the moon on some summer night
You need love and kissing too,
all these things are good for you
I ain't foolin' you need schoolin'
Baby you know you need coolin'
Baby, way down inside, woman you need love

Zep’s version owes as much to the Small Faces version, called ‘You Need Loving,’ recorded in 1966. Songwriting was credited to Ronny Lane/Steve Mariott, just as ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is Page/Plant. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ also borrows from Howlin’ Wolf at the end, with the line "Shake for me girl/I wanna be your back door man.” ‘Shake for Me” and “Back Door Man’ were written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin’ Wolf. And of course, Led Zeppelin II closes with ‘Bring It On Home,’ also written by Dixon and recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson.

Somehow I was vaguely aware of this back in the late 70’s when I was in high school. Chicago is home to the blues, and Muddy still had a following, getting airtime on the Loop and playing at Chicagofest to hoards of clueless white folks. At school, a typical exchange probably went something like this:

Stoner: “Man, are you trying to tell me that Whole Lotta Love was really written by some old black dude?”
Me: “Well not exactly, but they sure did copy a lot. A few others, too.”
Stoner: “Oh, shut up dude, Zeppelin rules!”

On Zeppelin’s debut album they gave credit to Dixon for “You Shook Me” and ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby”, maybe because they were pretty straight cover versions. With the heavy metal reinterpretation in ‘Whole Lotta Love’ they must have been reluctant. Ultimately, Dixon sued Led Zeppelin for plagiarism, but that didn’t happen until the mid 80’s. The case was settled out of court and recent Led Zeppelin releases have shared songwriting credit for "Whole Lotta Love" with Willie Dixon.

There’s a fine line between covering a song and reinterpreting it. Part of the complex roots of American music is the liberal reworking of songs, but with each new version, the original gets more obscure. For years Dylan has reinterpreted songs, although claiming songwriting credits. His latest album includes reworked versions of Someday Baby, When the Levee Breaks, and Rollin’ and Tumblin’, songs written by Lightning Hopkins (1948), Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie (1929, and of course redone by Zeppelin in 1971), and Hambone Willie Newbern (1936, made famous by Muddy in 1950), respectively. On the label, Dylan claims songwriting credits, presumably due to the reworked lyrics.

My point in all this rambling is to raise awareness, and encourage you to return to the originals from time to time and understand how music draws so heavily on the past. It’s not for me to decide on credits and royalties, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few blues CD’s now and then.

Blues Heaven

You Need Love
Written by Willie Dixon
Recorded October 12, 1962
Chess Recording Studio, Chicago, Illinois
Chess single #1839

Muddy Waters, Vocal
Earl Hooker, guitar
Willie Dixon, bass
John ‘Big Moose’ Walker, organ
Casey Jones, drums
Ernest Cotton and A.C. Reed, tenor sax

Buy these discs:

Blues Masters, Volume 6

Muddy Waters Anthology - 1947-72

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