Posts Tagged ‘The Baronics’

The biggest change in music in the 1990s came from the Internet. This is not a secret. We flocked online when the first graphical user interface browser was introduced in 1993, and by 1999 you could listen to your favorite radio station by visiting their website. In fact, you didn’t need a real radio station at all. I found this out in 1999 when I went to work at Visio and met a graphic designer named David. Following the tradition of all people younger than me whom I trick into becoming my friends, he gave me a tip about music: Spinner.com. My life changed.

Spinner was an Internet radio station. Its only physical presence in my life (if this counts as physical) was the gorgeous red Deco-styled boom box that appeared on my computer screen once I downloaded their software. (There were no corporate firewalls in 1999. Or if there were, there wasn’t one at Visio Corp.) Spinner gave me, as I remember it, approximately three dozen channels divided by genre. Classic Rock, New Wave, indie, soul, neo-soul, baroque, romantic, West Coast jazz, big band, bebop, etc. While I worked I gobbled music like free donuts in the break room.

Whichever channel I was listening to, Spinner told me in a sort of CNN crawl on the boom box the song and the artist. This was particularly important to me because by 1999 mainstream radio djs had stopped giving this information so as to increase the time for commercials. The crawl also told me what the next song and artist on that channel would be and what was playing on some of my other channels.

There was no charge for Spinner, and there were few commercials.

Spinner introduced me to music I never knew existed. Country blues, for instance. This was blues from the 1920s through the ’40s made by poor whites from the South. I learned about trance, a form of electronica that Special D will not allow in the house. Trance, house, and acid jazz are genres you’d hear at a rave. Or so I am told. I’ve only been to one rave and that was in 1981, and we didn’t have the word “rave” yet. Or glowsticks. Or electricity. I suppose raves have changed a bit since then.

I became reacquainted with surf music, which was going through a renaissance, and met The Baronics. I learned much more jazz, immersed myself in Mozart, Telemann, and various other frilly-laced troublemakers, heard plenty of ’80s alternative and ’90s alternative (’80s wins) (assuming anyone can define “alternative”), and surprised myself with the Oldies channel. There were many songs from the ’60s that I didn’t know, and I was there! Chief among them was The Walker Brothers’ “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” which had completely escaped me. That song’s pretty good, I thought. My experience just shows you how oceanic is our culture. No matter how hip you are, you can never hope to swim in it all.

Spinner had its quirks. Playlists were limited. Erasure was in heavy rotation on the New Wave channel; they’re Tears for Fears on nitrous oxide. Peter & Gordon and Chad & Jeremy were fixtures among the Oldies, though I still can’t tell any of them apart. Spinner loved new albums, so I heard a lot of freshly minted music. Certain novelty numbers turned up frequently; one was Jonathan King’s “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” from 1965. (Though Spinner never spun it, “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” can’t compare to King’s cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” as done in the style of The Kinks from their Muswell Hillbillies album.)

But these barely qualify as flaws. I was in love.

Naturally, this situation couldn’t last. Spinner was assimilated into Napster and Napster into Netscape. They turned the cool boom box into a gray rectangle! Suddenly, the music was available to subscribers only, except for a free 90-minute block each day. I can’t blame Netscape for trying to make money from this venture. Eventually they locked out cheapskates like me, but by then (about 2004) I had discovered Rhapsody. Rhapsody has its problems but overall it’s worked for me for eight years. It’s an old friend now. An interesting, enlightening, cranky old friend.

Special D urged me to launch this blog, but David is the one who gave me the key to the highway. I have no idea what happened to him, but he probably went on to invent Pandora or Spotify. I should’ve stayed in touch – he could’ve given me a job!

Random ’90s Pick of the Day
Hole, Live Through This (1994)
If there’s a grunge formula, Hole follows it closely, but that doesn’t take away from this record’s cumulative power. There’s more anguish in Live Through This and in Courtney Love’s deceased husband, Kurt Cobain’s, Nevermind, than in all the rest of grunge. Nevermind (1991) was epic, but Live Through This is what I listen to. The line “I get what I want/and I never want it again” (“Violet”) is the flipside of U2’s “I gave you everything you ever wanted/it wasn’t what you wanted” (“So Cruel,” Achtung Baby, 1991).

Random ’90s Pan of the Day
Soundgarden, Superunknown (1994)
I can’t remember the last time I played this. I went looking for the CD last night and couldn’t find it. Oh well.

Tomorrow on ’90s Week: The road goes ever on? Not according to Rand-McNally!

Get Bach!
The Baronics
1996

Nothing says “respectable,” “significant,” and “serious” like classical music. And nothing says “pretentious,” “turgid,” and “snorefest” like rock musicians taking classical out for a spin. Need convincing? Let’s examine the evidence:

J’accuse!
Exhibit A: The radioactive remains of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” after Emerson, Lake & Palmer
blew it up real good.
Exhibit B: Just about everything else by Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Exhibit C: Paul McCartney’s 1991 Liverpool Oratorio. Only Yoko liked it.
Exhibit D: Any doofus with an electric guitar who thought it would be cool to eviscerate Ravel’s Bolero.

I don’t know which band in rock’s distant past was the first to fall down this mine shaft, but I’ll bet it wasn’t Black Sabbath.

Can rock and classical ever make nice?
You betcha. The Canadians solved this problem in 1996/Les Canadiens dénouér ce problème dans 1996. In that year the Canadian surf quartet The Baronics released a selection of pop tunes from the Classical and Romantic eras, arranged for the reverberating surf guitar we older teenagers recall so fondly from “Walk Don’t Run” and “Wipe Out!”

The Baronics fearlessly tackled five of the baddest boys in the classical-music game, resulting in a totally whacked, straight-up sick party record. (Just kidding. Don’t play this thing at parties, after the first laugh subsides people won’t know what to do with themselves.) Here’s the set list, with some helpful notes on the composers for those Run-DMSteve readers who are still listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. And I know who you are.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Nearest contemporaries: Talking Heads
What Vivaldi would be doing today: Martha Stewart stunt double

Vivaldi is best known for The Four Seasons. When this experimental double LP of violin concertos was released in 1725, critics called it La Album Bianco. Concerto No. 1 in E Major, “Spring,” is the perfect introduction to the Baronical approach. “Spring” is not too fast, not too slow, and not too crowded; you can hear all the moving parts. You’ll enjoy the delicious solo in the middle and the steady Ringo-like drumming.

Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, “Summer,” showcases the band’s furious two-guitar attack. Actually, The Baronics’ two-guitar attack can best be described as “affable,” but compared to their usual work this track is furious.

Concerto No. 3 in F Major, “Autumn,” would fit right in at a luau on Kauai. It features two saxophone breaks, almost 20 seconds of pure Clarence Clemons/Born in the USA­-style playing. (Twenty seconds may not sound like a lot, but this piece isn’t even three minutes long. Antonio would’ve been amazed.)

As for Concerto No. 4 in F Minor, “Winter,” this is where you’ll learn to air-baton.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Nearest contemporaries: The Beatles
What Mozart would be doing today: Running Apple

Dave Brubeck has already given Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca a good jazzercizing, and of course The Beach Boys turned it into “Help Me, Rhonda.” This new version will keep your foot tapping, though the guitarists barely meet Mozart’s hectic pace and the drummer gets left several laps behind. Big finish, though. What we really needed here was a guest appearance by one of the master thrash-metal outfits. Megadeath would’ve done nicely, though I’m afraid if they had shown up for this session they would’ve killed and eaten The Baronics afterwards.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Nearest contemporaries: U2
What Bach would be doing today: Dividing the Lutheran Church

Bach, who couldn’t resist a practical joke, wrote his Inventions to torture his students. Kudos to The Baronics for choosing the trickiest Inventions, 1 and 13, bypassing the sissy-pants 2 through 12. The boys heroically rise to the challenge; even the drummer almost does well. In your face, Bach! W00t!

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Nearest contemporary: Bobby McFerrin
What Pachelbel would be doing today: Only Oakland Raider who never breaks curfew

You know Pachelbel’s Kanon. You hear it at every wedding you go to, even the ones where the bride and groom are dressed as Klingons. Hearing The Baronics play the Kanon makes you realize how beautiful this tune is. This isn’t just a track off another obscure CD, this is a public service.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Nearest contemporary: Beck
What Beethoven would be doing today: Amy Winehouse

This is the only spot where Get Bach! falters, but the problem isn’t the band, it’s their choice of music. Beethoven wrote his Moonlight Sonata for a woman he was in love with. Sounds promising, but I have to wonder if Ludwig really knew his target market. How many women would be willing to engage in sex on top of a piano after hearing this doleful crawl through the dark? It’s tough enough listening to the Moonlight Sonata while someone tries to belt it out on the piano. Giving it the surf treatment only thickens the claustrophobia.

Mozart reprise
Forget Beethoven and his ideas on how to approach chicks. Surf and Mozart go together like Lego bricks! Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 as translated by The Baronics is more fun than catching a wave and shootin’ the pipe in front of a beach full of babelinis.

Bach reprise
The Bourrée was a dance the French did in their 17th-century mosh pits. Seems tame to us, but back then Bach’s Bourrée terrorized the Church and plunged Europe into the Dark Ages. The Baronics end this good-natured album with their good-natured version of the Bourrée, and even throw in some genuine English/French yelling. Bravissimo, Baronics!

In a future post we’ll discuss classical’s attempts to assimilate rock and roll, including string-quartet tributes to everything from The Cure to Pink Floyd and the endless Hooked on Classics series of disco drum-machine freakouts (which, wouldn’t you know, can all be traced back to Electric Light Orchestra).

Until then, appassionato non troppo!