Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Santana’

In June I set out to review every album Prince ever made. I embarked on this project because I realized that, for me, Prince was embalmed in the ’80s – the guy I heard at clubs and parties. He was that sexy M.F. who could rock, croon, talk to God, talk for God, write weird erotic scenarios, and take goofy chances. I wanted a better idea of who he really was. There had to be more to the man than “Purple Rain” playing to a gang of us nerds in a hotel ballroom at a science fiction convention.

It’s easy to follow, album by album, a band that existed for fewer than 20 years – I’ve done that with The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pixies, The Clash, Creedence, and several others. It’s much harder to do with an artist who’s been playing and recording for 30 years or more. They change too much. They travel down side roads while you stick to the interstate. Or you change too much. It’s been a long time since I was punchin’ a clock and listening wide-eyed to Born to Run.

It’s also hard to follow an artist with a lengthy career because every artist, no matter how talented, eventually skids into the Bad Spot. That’s the rough patch where your Muse runs off with someone younger and prettier and you’re left to grit it out on craftsmanship alone.

In the 1970s, Neil Young dissected his soul on several awe-inspiring albums. Two that’ll slay you: On the Beach (1974) and Tonight’s the Night (1975). When the ’80s dawned, Neil took a long time getting out of bed. For example, Trans (1982), which might as well have been called Tron, and Everybody’s Rockin’ (1983), his fake Fabulous Fifties record. Neil didn’t make a good record until Freedom (1989), which you’ll recall for the stunning “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Bruce Springsteen did pretty well in the 1980s, at least until Tunnel of Love (1987). Then things went downhill. Or, in Springsteen terms, the mill closed, the state cops shut down all that street racing, and the D.A. couldn’t get no relief. After two subpar efforts, Human Touch and Lucky Town (both 1992), he recorded nothing of consequence until his reaction to 9/11, The Rising (2002), after which he reinvented himself as the Dark Knight of the 21st century.

I need a weatherman to explain to me what Bob Dylan was trying to do on Self Portrait (1970) and Dylan (1973).

David Bowie’s career after Scary Monsters (1980) is not the least bit scary.

Sadly, Michael Jackson’s career after Bad (1987) is not worth talking about.

Back to Prince. I made it through the first 14 albums. I rediscovered his ’70s disco discs. I relived my youth with Dirty Mind, 1999, and Purple Rain. I was struck as if by lightning by Sign O’ the Times.

By the time we got to the 1990s, the road Prince and I were driving developed some serious twists, the safety rails disappeared, and the paving got thinner. Loyal Reader Slave to the Garden warned me that in the ’90s, Prince, in his apocalyptic struggle with Warner Bros., dumped albums on the market that should’ve been dumped in the dump. We were approaching the Bad Spot.

The next one on my list, Come (1994), is what we critics like to call awful. I’d rather listen to a flock of trumpeter swans barking like dogs as they circle for a landing.

Prince’s 1987 bootleg, The Black Album, officially appeared in 1994. It’s not as good as black albums by Spinal Tap (1984), Metallica (1991), and Jay-Z (2003), though it’s probably better than the Marilyn Manson Black Album bootleg, if I could bring myself to listen to that one.

Looking at the rest of the ’90s, I see that Prince was either attacking the Warner Bros. Death Star or playing stuff that belongs in a galaxy far, far away. Well, what did I expect? How long can Prince go on being that sexy M.F.? (I can still pull it off, but only from a distance.) Artists have to change or they might as well be locked in a trophy cabinet. I’m convinced that Prince will emerge from this depressing era into some new and wonderful form, but I’m not going to follow every bread crumb until I catch up with him.

(There are two albums I definitely want to hear: The Girl 6 soundtrack, which is supposed to be a throwback to the ’80s, and the three-record Emancipation, both from 1996.)

What I’ve learned
Here’s what I can tell you about me: It’s hard to grow past the music that filled me with joy when I was young. Some of those artists are still recording, but they no longer speak to me. Or perhaps I can no longer hear them.

Here’s what I can tell you about Prince: Overall, no performer in the history of popular music is as talented as Prince. Some people sing better or write better or dance better, some people see deeper into the human or the national psyche. Some people are more economical (Prince does not know when to end a song).

But no one can do everything that this gentleman does at such a consistently high level. No male performer is as insistently sexy without also being sickeningly misogynistic. Carlos Santana, Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Bowie, Young, and Dylan are as prolific, but even those guys never released three discs of original material on the same day.

There’s much more to Prince than “Purple Rain.” I just don’t need it.

[Editor’s note: It’s at least twice as difficult for a female singer/songwriter to survive in a decades-long career as it is for a male. It’s much easier to find male counterparts to Prince, so I stuck with the men.]

I started out liking Prince, but after listening to the first 14 albums I really like Prince. I want to keep liking Prince. So I’ll stop here. Thanks as always for reading along.

A couple of days ago I spent an afternoon listening to Pink Floyd and Justin Timberlake. I got nothing out of that. This afternoon I’m listening to Chuck Berry. Until next time, enjoy this insane video from the Neil Young of the Everybody’s Rockin’ era.


The Fleetwood Mac Military-Industrial Complex cannot be confined to a single blog post.

Around 1968, Peter Green wrote a song called “Black Magic Woman.” When I was a teenager we referred to this song as “Black Magic Marker.” You can find it on Fleetwood Mac’s English Rose album (1969). It’s good; it sounds like a tango in Jamaica.

It’s so good that two years later Carlos Santana decided to cover it. Rather than stop where Green stopped, Santana upped the ante by appending the instrumental “Gypsy Queen” by the Hungarian jazz guitarist Gàbor Szabó. I’ve heard Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” a million times, and it still knocks me down with its sinuous organ, furious guitar, and its roots in blues, jazz, and the folk music of two continents.

“Gypsy Queen” appears on Szabó’s 1966 album Spellbinder. Szabó was a pretty fair guitarist. Unfortunately, his interpretations of the pop standards of the day are uninteresting. When he tries to sing, as he does on Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” things get worse.

But three of his original compositions on this disc more than make up for this problem: “Gypsy Queen,” “Cheetah,” and the title track. They’re sufficiently awesome to overwhelm “It Was a Very Good Year,” “My Foolish Heart,” and the bang bang song. I rate it a Buy.

OK, that’s it for Fleetwood Mac. I’m not going to deal with Stevie Nicks and her scarves. Tomorrow, Chicago for sure. Spoiler alert: “25 or 6 to 4” is the singer’s estimate of how many minutes remain before 4 o’clock, 25 or 26. The song appeared in 1970 and the digital wristwatch was patented in 1970. The composer, Robert Lamm, just got in under the wire on this one.

Who wears cheetah?
Many thanks to Loyal Reader Orin who sends word of the 2014 updating of Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl.” Here then are The Chainsmokers with their haunting, heart-breaking “#SELFIE.” They definitely bought all their Instagram followers.

Random Pick of the Day
Fruit Bats, Mouthfuls (2003)
This band starts where the quieter tracks on The White Album end. The album is often too quiet for me, though never Cowboy Junkies quiet. The closer, “When U Love Somebody,” is a jewel.

Random Pan of the Day
Iggy Pop, Party (1981)
Party is so bad you have to get EPA approval before you can play it. Iggy, trying to cash in on the New Wave, crashes into a guard rail. His covers are inept (“Time Won’t Let Me” is gruesome) and his originals are unlistenable. Except for “Bang Bang” – now that’s good. Perhaps it escaped from another album. Sadly, this record was a footnote while it was being recorded.


One disqualification this evening:

Napoleon XIV
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” was funny when I was 11. The only sounds beyond the vocal, if you can call it a vocal, are from a tambourine, a drum, ambulance sirens, and someone slapping a thigh (presumably his own thigh, but who knows). All of the non-vocal sounds are on a loop. The vocal is speeded up in places to emphasize the narrator’s dementia. The words are not at all clever and in fact reveal the narrator to be a passive-aggressive SOB and a master at inducing guilt. The B side of this surprise hit, which outstrips “Transfusion,” “The Purple People Eater,” and anything involving chipmunks for sheer weirdness and/or plain dumbness, is, of course, “!Aaah-ah, Yawa Em Ekat ot Gnimoc Er’yeht”

There was a record company called Gennett. During the Great Depression, when money was short, they fixed leaks in the roof of their building by nailing their surplus records over the holes. I can’t think of a better use for copies of “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”

All right then. Let’s go 12!

12 Rounds
Basically two people, Atticus Ross and Claudia Sarne. Has the name Atticus become fashionable again? I like Apollonia better. Their 1996 debut, Jitter Juice, won them an advocate in Trent Reznor, who signed them to his own label. I want my own label and as soon as this blog starts making money I’m going to go out and get me one. Ross has worked with Reznor on various Nine Inch Nails albums and film scores. I can see why they get along so well as they’re both big navel gazers, though Reznor rocks so very hard and Ross so not so much.

16 Horsepower
As soon as I read “alt-country” I threw down my guns and walked away, but the little bastards shot me in the ass. 16 Horsepower is one of the happiest surprises in this project. The first song I heard in their YouTube mix was “Black Soul Choir,” and I was sold in under a minute. By the second song, “Haw,” which evokes the Old West and Pink Floyd, I was chair dancing, using my co-workers’ chairs. Then came “Heel on the Shovel,” and how great a title is that? Pretty good song, too.

David Eugene Edwards is the man behind this music. He looks like a young George Thorogood with worse hair. His voice is nothing special and yet it wails with all the emotion we thought we left behind in the Depression. The man is from Denver, but from Denver in what era?

I haven’t heard all of their music yet, and I’m not crazy about their ballads, but what I can say so far is that if you don’t like Springsteen’s Nebraska, you might if it had a beat. That’s how I’m hearing 16 Horsepower.

East 17
The boy bands keep on rolling, this one suggested by Loyal Reader Bill Seabrook, who had to put up with them back when he was just a kid and all he wanted was to find 17 other guys in the British Isles to play baseball with. East 17’s name comes from a London postal code. That trick never works – just ask 3OH!3.

The boys (the youngest turns 40 next year) danced, sang, and rapped their way through the 1990s, or at least until people got tired of them. “It’s Alright” is typical of their ouevre; it’s strongly reminiscent of Madonna. Oops! Britney could have done it again.

They had a hit in 1992 with “House of Love,” which sticks in your head whether you want it to or not. It would sound strong in a club where you could dance to it. Sitting here with my headphones on, I keep thinking they’re playing Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” at twice the speed. It just ended, and with an explosion, too, just like Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” Cool. You have to like pretty white boys pretending to be gangstas and singing/rapping about people needing more love. I wonder if they ever considered touring with House of Pain (another gaggle of white rappers) or covering Van Halen’s “House of Pain”? Probably not.

Heaven 17
Their name is from A Clockwork Orange, which makes me want to reread it. Heaven 17 was a branch of the British Electric Foundation, which was started by computer wizards who turned to the synthesizer to make dance music. This was a radical idea in the 1970s when Roxy Music and David Bowie were playing around with keyboards. It became the industry standard in the ’80s. Gary Numan, an artist I like very much, at least in the beginning of his career, took the synthesizer and went to the dark side of the moon. Depeche Mode found a somewhat sunnier space between Numan’s vision and sea foam like Heaven 17.

Heaven 17 (and their sibling The Human League, another branch of the BEF) are among my guilty pleasures. I’m not claiming that “Let Me Go,” “Penthouse and Pavement,” and my favorite, “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” are songs that will live forever, because they aren’t and they won’t. But they do make me pump up the volume. The Andre Norton Effect is undoubtedly at work here, since these tunes are all from the larval stage of my adult development.

If I had to place Heaven 17 in the hierarchy of ’80s synthesizer dance pop outfits, I’d rank them below Simple Minds, The The, Talk Talk, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, on a par with Howard Jones, but above flash-in-the-pans like The Spoons (“Nova Heart”) and Information Society (“Pure Energy,” which you may remember as the song that sampled Spock saying “pure energy”). They are way above A Flock of Haircuts. The undisputed kings of this kind of music were Duran Duran (and, for about 15 minutes, Thomas Dolby). All of these acts appeared in the immediate wake of MTV. They were all made for each other.

Matchbox Twenty
Their debut, Yourself or Someone Like You (1996), is probably the biggest-selling rock album of the decade…probably because it sounds like everything else. This is the guitar sound that all post-grunge bands tried to achieve. It makes me think of mainstream acts like Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler as well as ’70s arena-rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd and even Black Oak Arkansas. Matchbox Twenty’s sound may not be original but it’s entertaining and the perfect party soundtrack. Nobody wants to hear from a critic at a party. Nobody wants to hear from a critic most of the rest of the day, either, which is why Special D channeled my energies into this blog.

Matchbox Twenty’s first hit was “Push,” which is so mellow that I can’t understand why it ever got anywhere. But almost everything from their first album turned to gold, especially “Long Day,” “Real World,” and “3am.” Their singer and songwriter, Rob Thomas, could be the voice of the ’90s. You couldn’t escape him on alt-rock radio or even on the headbanger stations.

Thomas is the kind of guy who can do just about anything he wants to do, even though I have never understood how he does it. In 1999 he co-wrote and co-sang “Smooth” for Carlos Santana’s comeback album, Supernatural. Like everything having to do with Thomas, I thought this was adequate, but it soon became the most popular tune on the planet, proving once again that any idiot can write about music….Early on in this blog, I praised the man for his voice, which I still do.

In 2005, Thomas released a solo album called Something to Be. I thought “Lonely No More” was an OK song. Of course, it was a smash.

Rob Thomas supports animal rights, gay rights, and the rights of the homeless. He once wrote, “Each of us has a short ride on this earth and as long as we stay in our lane, and don’t affect someone else’s ride, we should be allowed to drive as we see fit.” That’s a hit with me.

The guys in UB40 met in a line at an unemployment office and decided to form a reggae band. Must’ve been a slow line. The money to buy their first instruments came from a compensation payment following a bar fight. Not all of them knew how to play these instruments. One of them called himself Astro and gave himself the title of Toaster. One of their first songs was a condemnation of Margaret Thatcher over Britain’s high unemployment rate. How can you not love them?

Their first successful album was Labour of Love (1983). It was made up of covers and included Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” which I still think is beautiful. Same goes for their cover of Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” from Labour of Love II (1989).

Although UB40 have filled most of their 18 studio albums with other people’s hits, their best stuff in my opinion is on Rat in the Kitchen (1986), which was all theirs.

Level 42
The only album I know by Level 42 is World Machine (1985). I know the dance hits “Something About You” (which I like) and “Lessons in Love” (which I like a little less). I’ve read that they started out fusing jazz and funk and then tried fusing soul and R&B and eventually resorted to making one of their members sing, but I haven’t worked up the motivation to check this out. I have heard “The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)” from 1984. It’s funky for sure but it’s never going to make anyone forget Earth, Wind & Fire.

We’re down to the last 18 bands. Over the next couple of days we’ll travel from 47 to…infinity (but not beyond)!

Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

Carlos Santana has been a cultural icon for 40 years. But how much do we really know about him? Let’s check the record.

Yay! Carlos Santana Fun Facts!

  • Has released more albums than The Rolling Stones, and they had a head start.
  • Wears a stupid hat.
  • Recorded the most popular versions of three Classic Rock mainstays: “Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways,” and “Black Magic Marker.”
  • Made a comeback in 1999 with Supernatural, which was kinda cuddly coming from a Classic Rock guy.
  • Rolling Stone ranks him 15th on their list of 100 greatest guitarists, behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays.
  • I may be looking at the wrong list.

Guitar Heaven is a reinterpretation of 14 “greatest guitar classics of all time,” with guest vocalists (and Yo-Yo Ma?) adding their superpowers to Carlos Santana’s. Now we can learn more about Santana, and the first thing we learn is that he has brain damage. When did T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong” become a guitar classic? It has more sax than guitar. It has more lame than cool. It’s Golden Oldies, not Classic Rock. I couldn’t understand why this number was included until I remembered that T-Rex’s Marc Bolan, like Santana, wore a stupid hat. Oh, OK then.

Then there’s “Photograph.” Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t “Photograph” by A Flock of Haircuts. I would’ve loved to hear what a Category 6 hurricane like Santana could have done with that New Wave dirge. Nor is it “Photograph” by The Verve Pipe. The guitar on that one is as lazy as an afternoon at Starbucks. Santana would’ve turned it into Alien vs. Predator. Alas, this is “Photograph” by No Depth Leppard. If you have to pick something by Leppard, why not “Rock of Ages”? It’s a much tougher song, probably because the lads were imitating someone a lot tougher than them, Joan Jett. Santana sounds bored on this track. Santana smash puny Leppards!

And couldn’t he fight the urge to include “Smoke on the Water”Rolling Stone ranks this immortal doorstop 426th on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” By my math that means there are 425 other songs that are better. “Smoke on the Water” has already been covered by Pat Boone. I believe we can call his version definitive. Stop it!

Shut up and play the music already
Right. OMG! Leading off is the most hilarious song ever recorded: “Whole Lotta Love”! Led Zeppelin’s version enthusiastically rattled along like a Model T on a log road. Santana easily duplicates that effect, brightening Jimmy Page’s sound without blunting the song’s inherent stupidity. (You’re going to give me every inch of your love? You nut!) Santana jettisons the psychedelic on-ramp that Led Zep installed in the middle, but the replacement, a sort of highway rest area, is not an improvement. You’re still waiting for the pistons to start jerking again. Chris Cornell adds his strong yet curiously inexpressive voice, making the whole thing sound like Audioslave if anyone in that band could play guitar.

Next up: The Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Santana sizzles in the blues half of this song but loses his way in the jazz half. This from the man who played one of the two guitars on the jazz landmark Love Devotion Surrender…I blame Supernatural. Extra credit to Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots for standing in for Mick Jagger without sounding ridiculous.

Of all the vocalists, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty turns in the best performance. He’s completely convincing on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” and the music gives him the space he needs – Santana doesn’t fill every microsecond with fireworks. These well-chosen moments of quiet demonstrate what an awesome guitarist Santana is – one of the best in the history of pop. Only his stupid hat keeps him out of the front rank.

My favorite track is Santana and Nas’ collaboration on AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” (Sure, they’ve removed the air of danger, but admit it, after 30 years AC/DC are about as dangerous as The B-52s.) Santana rips the bones from its back. Nas alternates between rapping the lyrics and rapping about Santana.

Anything else any good? No.
Santana purees Creedence Clearwater Revival’s anti-war “Fortunate Son” into a fruit smoothie that suggests The Spencer Davis Group’s pro-sex “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Scott Stapp of Creed handles the vocal on this track, but for once something isn’t Creed’s fault.

Which brings us to Yo-Yo Ma, who adds something to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” though I can’t tell you what. He would’ve made more of a difference on the drums. The song is so sluggish you gradually lose the will to live.

And what’s the deal with “Little Wing”? Joe Cocker’s voice is mixed so far into the background, he sounds like Bruce Springsteen. Or was he singing his part from out in the parking lot? This version of “Little Wing” can’t touch Jimi Hendrix’s or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, though it easily outpaces Sting’s La-Z-Boy go at it.

Scoreboard totals
25% of the 14 songs on Guitar Classics rawked (I gave “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” half a point). That’s a solid score in the elite world of Run-DMSteve. A tip of the hat to Santana! Don’t change your evil ways. Baby.