Posts Tagged ‘The Beatles’

Everyone is always looking for the next Beatles. From The Monkees to The Arctic Monkees, we salivate over any upstart new band that threatens to upset the world as we know it.

They never do. We ain’t gonna see anything like The Beatles and Beatlemania again. There will never be another moment in the Earth Prime timeline as there was in 1963, when unlimited talent met universal need and when there were so few media channels that one message could smack every human in existence.

However, there has been one band that’s come close: U2.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles and U2 are equivalent. They are nothing like each other. The Beatles, for example, displayed more humor on any afternoon in 1964 than U2 have in their entire career. The Beatles, for another example, never tried to be rock’s answer to Wagner.

What I am suggesting is that the two bands have similar trajectories. Here’s my evidence. Ready Steady Go!

The Beatles 1963-64
The Beatles’ catalog in their early years is like the cellar of my parents’ house: Good luck finding two things that match. Different Beatles albums with different lineups of songs appeared in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Sea of Tranquility, etc.

Here in the U.S., we had Introducing…The Beatles, then Meet the Beatles! even though we’d already been introduced, then The Beatles Are on the Grass, The Beatles Are in My Hall, The Beatles Are in My Head, etc.

Get rid of all these random collections of songs, hold off on the two soundtracks, and you’re left with Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and Beatles for Sale. This is where The Beatles reimagined pop and changed the world.

U2 1980-83
U2 released Boy, October, and War. This is where they reimagined arena rock and tried to change the world, one cause at a time.

The Beatles 1964-65
A Hard Day’s Night: The perfect soundtrack.

U2 1983
Under a Blood Red Sky: The perfect live album.

The Beatles 1965-66
Rubber Soul and Revolver were a great leap forward.

U2 1984
The Unforgettable Fire was a great leap forward.

The Beatles 1967
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Their masterpiece.

U2 1987
The Joshua Tree: Their masterpiece.

The Beatles 1967
Magical Mystery Tour was a serious expedition into psychedelia.

U2 1993
I have to mix up U2’s chronology by one album to make this work. Zooropa was a serious expedition into electronica. You think if The Beatles had lasted into the 1990s, they wouldn’t have explored electronica? Tell that to Paul McCartney, one of the two men behind Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest (1993).

The Beatles 1968
The White Album was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

U2 1988
Rattle & Hum was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

The Beatles 1969
U2 has nothing like Yellow Submarine. Since there were only four new songs on this disc and of those I only like “It’s All Too Much,” I don’t see this as relevant.

The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after Sgt. Pepper.

U2 1991
Achtung Baby demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after The Joshua Tree.

The Beatles 1969-70
After Abbey Road and Let It Be, the Beatles ceased to exist.

U2 1995-97
After Original Soundtracks and Pop, which were not as good as This Is Spinal Tap or Meet the Rutles, U2 almost ceased to exist.

That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is too.

Bonus: U2 go into extra innings

U2 is a fading empire that refuses to die without a fight. As a service to my loyal readers (all three of them), and because I did the same for Duran Duran, here’s my guide to the 10 essential U2 songs since Zooropa. You can conveniently forget everything else they’ve done since 1993.

“All Because of You”
U2’s version of playing “Get Back” on the roof of Apple Studios. Bono kisses a girl!

“Beautiful Day”
This song belongs in a temple to a new religion. Features the first-ever Bono double. He’s good-bad, but he’s not evil (see “Elevation” below).

“Do You Feel Loved”
Curtis Mayfield funky. This is one ballpark I didn’t think they could play in.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
The first cut from the Batman Forever soundtrack. If you love comics, you’ll swoon over this video. The music could knock your croquet ball over the house and down the street.

“Elevation”
Good U2 battle Evil U2 while The Edge tries to survive in a Tomb Raider movie!

“Magnificent”
One of their bombastic anthems. Awesome.

“Mofo”
The rhythm sections rips your garage door off its hinges and paints “Mama never loved me” on your car.

“Original of the Species”
The horns are straight out of Magical Mystery Tour. Unfortunately, the video is dull and, well, pretentious.

“Unknown Caller”
The only U2 song I know where they chant the lyrics. Kind of pretentious, but that’s their natural habitat. It’s grown on me.

“You’re the Best Thing About Me”
It’s not a great song – it sounds as if it were recorded by four guys who’ve listened to a lot of U2 – but I include it because it’s the happiest U2 video of all time. And almost none of them are happy.

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Judy, whose ambition in her 50s was to jump out of a cake on The Edge’s birthday.

 


Somewhere on the way to the South Pole.

Karen Marlene Dunning was Karrie to everyone she knew. And she knew everyone. Karrie moved easily within and between so many subcultures that she must’ve been at least one degree hotter than Kevin Bacon.

When I met Karrie, I was new to Seattle and deeply involved in science fiction fandom. I only dimly understand sci-fi fandom today, but in the early 1980s there was a sharp division between people who watched the stuff and dressed up like the stuff vs. people who read the stuff and published fanzines that were at least sometimes about the stuff. I, being a snob, was of course firmly in the literary camp. Karrie recognized these divisions but saw past them. I never met a person who had anything negative to say about her.

Karrie was my girlfriend in 1981 and 1982. I left her for another girlfriend. I wanted to leave our relationship, but this wasnt the way to do it. The next girlfriend was a hair-raising mistake. Karrie took me back. (It didn’t last, but she did it.) Karrie had no room in her heart for hate. I was one more man who had wronged her, but she had little time for feeling wronged. She had too much to do. Prince, for example (“Ooh baby!”). Unfortunately, she never had that chance.

Even though Karrie predicted, late one spring, “It’s going to be a bean bag summer,” she packed more into her life than I will in my life even if I live two lives. She was born already knowing how to practice mindfulness, a concept I’m still stumbling over. I don’t believe there was an hour in the day that escaped her full attention, and I mean the full eight days a week. (Karrie was a lifelong Beatles fan. She and her sister saw them twice in Seattle and spent hours practicing their Scouse accents.)

Things I will always remember about Karrie:

Dancing with her at Norwescon to Manhattan Transfer’s “Twilight Zone.”

Putting on a satirical version of the con, Invisible Norwescon, complete with unhealthy snacks and a ridiculous slate of programming, in my hotel room.

Going to the 1982  rerelease of A Hard Day’s Night at the Cinerama in  downtown Seattle and staying to watch it three times.

Karrie visiting the hotel where I was playing in a chess tournament and providing the kind of motivation between rounds that sent me into the next game without a clue to which opening I had studied.

Karrie bravely volunteering to take my parents sight-seeing when they came to Seattle in 1987 for my wedding. My parents are not easy. After she dropped them off (at their hotel, not in Elliott Bay), she had to go home and soak in a hot bath.

This appreciation is difficult for me to write because Karrie and I have had no contact in more than 25 years. When Special D and I put on our first formal seder, Karrie and her boyfriend at the time, Frank, were two of our guests. But that was in 1989. We gradually moved into other orbits.

I always thought, someday, someday I’ll call her, but there are no more somedays. Karrie has died. I urge you to read her obituary, because the extent of her adventures has left me in awe. You will rarely read about a life like Karen Marlene Dunning’s. Rest in peace. Your friends were a big help to you at the end, but overall I’d say we got by with a little help from you.

 

 

The genius of Duran Duran was to freeze The Beatles in that train station that was surgin’ with girls. Almost everything Duran Duran did in the 1980s was “A Hard Day’s Night.” They just added the clothes and the hair.

In addition to their big idea, Duran Duran’s first album debuted two months before MTV’s launch in August 1981. Their videos were ready when the new network needed material now now now now now. In the alternate universe where there was no MTV, Duran Duran is a cult act from the U.K. that tours America once a year, playing small clubs with Spandau Ballet and Flock of Haircuts and staging charity cricket matches against Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Nick, John, Roger, Andy, and Simon lacked John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s skills and their drive to experiment, and so most of Duran Duran’s songs are filler. You only need eight of them in your life. As a public service, I here present the Essential Eight in album order:

From Duran Duran (1981):
“Girls on Film”

Social commentary on the plight of fashion models. Home-field advantage for this group.

“Is There Something I Should Know?”
No. But I cherish this song anyway.

From Rio (1982):
[The one album to own, and an excellent place to start any scholarly study of the 1980s.]

“Hold Back the Rain”
Rocks hard for five boys who were almost as pretty as me. Plus it’s danceable!

“Hungry Like the Wolf”
Duran Duran at their most swaggering. They were young and chock-full of hormones.

Jude Law is playing Thomas Wolfe in a new movie they’re calling Genius. Why don’t they call it Hungry Like the Wolfe? Am I the only Duranimal who’s thought of this?

“Rio”
This is the big crowd-pleaser, and certainly the most fun on a dance floor. The lyrics are a mess. Everyone loves to laugh at this line:

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand

But look how good the next line is:

Just like that river twisting through a dusty land

From Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983):
“The Reflex”

An outstanding dance number. It’s the remix you want, not the original, though both of them were hits. All the Duran Duran hits collections use the remix; that’s the only one I remember anymore.

This is another Beatles similarity, as Phil Spector remixed “The Long and Winding Road” into the version most Beatles fans know. The difference between The Beatles’ situation and Duran Duran’s is that producer Nile Rodgers’ remix of “Reflex” didn’t make Simon Le Bon so upset that he broke up the band and nobody got all mad for like forever.

“New Moon on Monday”
This is supposed to be a sad song, but the boys can’t stay sad for long!

From Notorious (1986):
Notorious”
Its closest kin is David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” (Another Nile Rodgers production. You may remember Nile for producing Madonna’s Material Girl and for creating Chic and their 1978 disco anthem, “Le Freak.”) A big change for Duran Duran, just as “Let’s Dance” was a big change for Bowie.

From Medazzaland (1997):
[I have no idea what this title means. It sounds like an abandoned amusement park in Rhode Island.]

“Electric Barbarella”
Their most successful attempt at musical innovation, probably because all the young dudes were approaching 40 (that is, the ones who were still in the band – by this point, 11 musicians had cycled through Duran Duran, and only two of the originals were left). The story is straight out of the parallel-processor world of Gary Numan & His Tubeway Army:

I plug you in
Dim the lights
Electric Barbarella
Your perfect skin
Plastic kiss
Electric Barbarella

Whatever your feelings about dating outside your species, this is an improvement on the 50-below-zero Numan, who wrote about sex only from a distance of several light years.

That’s quite enough for one day about Duran Duran. But I must warn you that an artist or artists who go by the name Duran Duran Duran released a song called “I Hate the ’80s” in 2007. I loved the ’80s. Fail!

Random Pick of the Day
M People, Elegant Slumming (1994)
Not as commercially successful as their rivals, Deee-Lite (“Groove Is in the Heart”), but far more sophisticated. If you like dance pop with a soul flair, a woman with a deep dark voice, and Schroeder’s toy piano, you might be ready for some elegant slumming. This record deserved a better fate than selling for 75 cents on Half.com.

Random Pan of the Day
Various artists, When Pigs Fly: Songs You Thought You’d Never Hear (2003)
When Pigs Fly pairs 12 pop hits with 15 unlikely artists. The disc stumbles off the starting line with Jackie Chan and Ani DiFranco crippling “Unforgettable” and doesn’t stop until Lesley Gore lets all the air out of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”

Good thing the guy who wrote “Unforgettable” is dead.

I actually felt sorry for AC/DC.

Most of this album sucks the chrome off a trailer hitch. So why spend two seconds on When Pigs Fly when you could be listening to Shatner torturing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? Because of Herman’s Hermits and their supernova reimagining of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” Far better than the original. And hey, all you screaming female tweens from the ’60s: Peter Noone is as good as ever!

 

Anyone can plunge into a creative tailspin, or fail to live up to public expectations, or rush off in directions that alienate your fans. God knows I’ve done all of these. I don’t know what happened to Prince in the years 1987 through 1991, but here are some clues.

The Black Album
1987
Prince decided not to release this record, which immediately became an underground bootleg sensation. The aboveground release was in 1994, so I’ll get to it there.

Lovesexy
1988
A concept album from Prince in which his love of lust battles his love of God. I don’t know if Prince ever settled this, but I can tell you he didn’t bring it up again on Batman.

“Alphabet St.” is worthy of the old Prince, but you’ll have to memorize its position on the CD because there are no $#*&^$! index marks. “Dance On,” a protest song à la “Sign O’ the Times,” is remarkable, but good luck finding it on a disc where every FN song bleeds into every other song.

The title track resembles Human League’s 1983 super explosive smash hit explosion “(Keep Feeling) Fascination.” Is that good or bad? To me it’s good, but 1983 was one of my favorite years.

I don’t understand this record.

Rolling Stone’s critics named The Black Album (which didn’t officially exist) and Lovesexy two the 10 best albums of 1988. Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust was #1 with the critics; the readers voted for U2’s Rattle and Hum. I’m with the readers on that one.

Batman
1989
Prince’s disco soundtrack is frozen in carbonite. I mean, stuck in the ’80s. You could still get people moving with “Partyman” (the Joker is the party man), “Vicki Waiting,” and “Trust,” but no one would remember them five minutes later. “Lemon Crush” has some zap to it, but only because it resembles “Thriller.”

“The Arms of Orion” is inferior to all existing songs about Orion, including “Orion” by Metallica, Jethro Tull, and Linda Ronstadt, and I don’t care for those songs, either. The 6-minute megamix “Batdance” gets this mention and nothing else.

Graffiti Bridge
1990
Objective: Write a sequel to Purple Rain.
Result: You can’t go home again.

Don’t ever say this man isn’t generous, though. He wrote all the songs but gave half of them to other acts: Mavis Staples, 14-year-old Tevin Campbell, and yet more Prince protégés, The Time. He also recorded one number with George Clinton and his Funkestra.

There’s not much to choose from here, but of the songs that are all Prince, Huey Lewis & The News would’ve sold their souls for “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got.” “Elephants and Flowers” is about honoring God through multiple sex partners. High five. “The Question of U” reminded me of The Beatles: The music of “Come Together” and the lyrics of “Yer Blues.” Give Prince points for bowling a split.

Of the songs that are not all Prince, the one I like best is his collaboration with Clinton, “We Can Funk.” Add to that The Time’s “Shake!” (which sounds like Question Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears”) and we can move on to 1991.

Bonus: Two of The Time guys produced Human League’s 1986 smash explosive super exploding hit “Human.”

Rolling Stone’s critics ignored Graffiti Bridge, but the readers named it one of their runner-up albums for 1990. Critics and readers agreed on Sinéad O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got as the best of the best.

Diamonds and Pearls
1991
This is more like it. Prince has a new backup band, The New Power Generation, and they can stomp, they can play a soul ballad, they can even play jazz. “Thunder” is his best opening track since “Sign O’ the Times.” It flat out rocks, and even though I get the feeling that the new boys are restraining themselves they still beat the couch stuffing out of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

This reminds us yet again that Prince can reach into the grab-bag of pop and reinterpret anything he pulls out. “Strollin’ ” sounds as if it were inspired by the 5th Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” “Willing and Able” is a Dire Straits song with better singing and a beat.

Because Prince is equally ready to fight record companies and his own fans, Rhapsody is only authorized to play nine of the 13 tracks on this album. I couldn’t find the rest on YouTube BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT AVAILABLE IN MY COUNTRY. For example, “Cream,” which Rolling Stone’s critics picked as one the year’s best singles. (R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” topped the critics’ and readers’ picks for best single of 1991. Prince will not reappear on this list until 2006.)

Even with that handicap, and even though the last four tracks on this disc are eye-crossingly lame, Diamonds and Pearls is easily the best album of today’s group. If you’re going to buy any of them, buy this one.

Join me next time for the moment you’ve been waiting for: Prince changes his name!

Reflections upon listening to the Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help from my Fwends a couple of times
(A guest review from longtime reader Number 9.)

When Sgt. Pepper first came out, I would put on side 2, turn out the lights, and play my violin along with “Within You Without You.” So I can understand the Flaming Lips wanting to play along also. I like what they and their, uh, fwends, have done. I haven’t heard of most of their, uh, fwends, except, of course, Miley Cyrus – who knew she could kinda sound like John Lennon (“Lucy in the Sky”)? Mostly I like the instrumental/electronic intros and interludes, the stuff that pushes at the Sgt. Pepper envelope. But my favorite track is “Fixing a Hole” by, uh, fwends the Electric Würms, a nice slowed down rendition – I hope Paul likes it too.

 

Sign O’ the Times
Prince
1987

Back when I worked for Seattle Weekly, I had a conversation with our music editor, Bart Becker, about the fragmentation of commercial radio. Each Seattle station was locked into its own fenced-off musical world. Some formats had Reader’s Digest condensed playlists – Classic Rock had compacted Creedence to about eight tracks, for example. We lamented the lack of a commercial station that dared to play rock, reggae, jazz, classical, blues, punk, and country all on the same day.

Of course we were being unrealistic. No station could turn a profit without focusing on one subset of all radio listeners like a red-tailed hawk on a meadow mouse. I bring this up now for two reasons:

1) Bart’s team, the San Francisco Giants, are playing in the World Series, and with a name like Bart Becker you know he should be holding down the hot corner or frantically calling the bullpen for a left-hander.

2) Even though I have listened to several hours of music a day almost every day since I crawled out of the ocean and learned to breathe oxygen, I had never heard a single note from Sign O’ the Times.

Yeah. Radio is fragmented.

Why didn’t somebody tell me?
Sign O’ the Times is so good that I almost didn’t write about it. I’m not worthy! But I started out to review every album Prince ever made and goddammit I’m going to review every album Prince ever made. (Unless Rhapsody doesn’t have one. Prince is not sending me free merch.)

I started by looking at what critics said about Sign O’ the Times in 1987. Everyone compared it to The White Album, which makes sense because both albums are a mess, but nobody mentioned that The White Album was created by John, Paul, George, and Ringo while Sign O’ the Times was created by Prince, Prince, Prince, and Prince. This makes Sign even more monumental.

The songs here come from three different projects. They don’t belong together, especially the songs from the project in which Prince played a woman and speeded up his voice. It never occurs to me to do projects like that. Sign has something for everyone, but much of it is not my style: super-smooth soul ballads (I’ll only accept Barry White), hip-hop (doesn’t come naturally to Prince – he’s a rocker at heart), songs that are so slow they could be outrun by the walking dead, and God. What’s left is more than enough for a wretch like me, but I’m only going to mention the title track, “The Cross,” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”

“Sign O’ the Times” is an updating of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” In fact, “Sign O’ the Times” would fit perfectly on Gaye’s 1971 masterpiece of the same name. But there is that Prince touch at the end, when he sets aside his concerns about AIDS, natural disasters, and nuclear war and suggests to his listener that we should just get married and have a baby.

“The Cross” is Prince taking on U2 at their most pompous and rocking them right out of Ireland. The song doesn’t even hit its crescendo until 2:28 and it’s over at 4:45. On this album, 4:45 streaks past like a comet. I’m staggered. And I say all this in praise of “The Cross” even though it’s more God.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” may be the most singular song in pop music. Follow along: Prince, who has a girlfriend, imagines himself as his girlfriend’s girlfriend, because then they could be closer than they could be with him as her boyfriend.

If I was your girlfriend
Would you let me dress you?
I mean help you pick out your clothes
Before we go out?
Not that you’re helpless
But sometime, sometime those are the things
That bein’ in love’s about.

But his real question, and the heart of the song, is:

If I was your one and only friend
Would you run to me if somebody hurt you
Even if that somebody was me?

The music is distancing, almost ominous, and his voice is speeded up (in one spot he sounds like Snoopy), but this line has two points of view plus a gender switch. What is this, literature?

Oh, and the song eventually gets sexual. C’mon, it’s Prince.

Summing up
Sign O’ The Times, flaws included, rates five stars from any pointy-headed critic.

But!

This album is not fun, not like 1999 or Purple Rain or The White Album. Nothing on Sign is as plain silly as “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” I realize that I’ve been listening to The White Album for 46 years and to 1999 and Purple Rain for about 30 and to Sign for two weeks, and that artists should always try to grow, but I can already tell that I’m not going to replay Sign O’ the Times, just three or four of the tracks.

I just did…and then I listened to Ringo crooning “Don’t Pass Me By.”

1987 Scoreboard
Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love was the Rolling Stone critics’ best album. The runners-up:

The Joshua Tree – U2
Sign O’ the Times – Prince
Document – R.E.M.
Robbie Robertson – Robbie Robertson
Pleased to Meet Me – The Replacements
Bring the Family – John Hiatt
By the Light of the Moon – Los Lobos
Franks Wild Years – Tom Waits
Babble – That Petrol Emotion

The readers voted for U2’s The Joshua Tree for best album. Their runners-up:

Sign O’ the Times – Prince
Document – R.E.M.
Tunnel of Love – Bruce Springsteen
A Momentary Lapse of Reason – Pink Floyd
Whitesnake – Whitesnake
Hysteria – Def Leppard
Tango In the Night – Fleetwood Mac
…Nothing Like the Sun – Sting
Bad Animals – Heart

If you’re keeping score you may have noticed that African-Americans have been a small part of these Rolling Stone lists. We’ve had Robert Cray, Run-DMC, and Tina Turner once each and Prince three times as opposed to 33 white artists. Los Lobos are Chicano. But what I’m really mad about is that there’s only been two Jews, Paul Simon and Lou Reed. Plus now we have…Sting! You can’t get more Caucasian unless you activate the Perry Como hologram.

Today’s Randoms: WTF Edition 

Thumbs-up
Paul Revere & The Raiders, Collage (1970)
The boys were running on fumes by 1970, plus on this set they’re playing in a higher league: Steppenwolf psychedelia and Guess Who hard rock. This album should’ve sucked the phone.

Wrong! “Think Twice” is good enough to have been the B-side of “Kicks,” “Hungry,” or “Just Like Me.” The tracks “Dr. Fine,” “Just Seventeen,” and “The Boys in the Band” are not bad. “Sorceress with Blue Eyes” is as dumb as its title, but Mark Lindsay shows what his voice can do – a sort of Mick Jagger with Robert Plant’s phrasing – and the guitar break is classic heavy ’60s.

Collage is not worth a purchase – most of it is Crud Gone Wild – but it’s definitely worth a listen.

Thumbs-up
George Benson with the Brother Jack McDuff Quartet, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson (1964)
I only knew George Benson from his lightweight pop of the ’70s and ’80s (“This Masquerade,” “Give Me the Night,” and his signature tune, “On Broadway”). The New Boss Guitar was a happy surprise. This is jazz, alternately cool and funky.

The album was reissued in 1990 with one extra track, their reading of the My Three Sons theme. It doesn’t fit with the earlier cuts, and it sounds nothing like the music from that antique TV show, but Benson and his band were on fire when they waxed this one. All hail the drummer!

 

Cleo at her command post
This dog is guarding the house.

We had to put our dog Cleo to sleep yesterday. She had been gradually losing control of her back legs, but her descent had accelerated and she was spending more time just sitting, inspecting the grass around her and taking sensor readings of the air. It was five months to the day since I first saw her wobbling at high speed around the pen where she was being held. How can one undersized corgi become an oversized part of your life in just five months?

On her last day, Cleo slept on the bed, ate lots of treats, rolled in the grass, took a few steps on her favorite trail, charmed one last stranger, and (briefly) chased a squirrel. That would be a good day for most humans. I’ll miss the war she waged against the chickadees in our backyard, the way she swam through the undergrowth in the forest, and how she would kick me awake at 3am because she was dreaming about chasing down a moose. Like most of us, in her dream life she was invincible.

Cheryl Strayed wrote in Wild, “The universe takes things away and never gives them back.” But the universe also gives you gifts. Cleo was a gift to us in a dark hour, and we’ll never regret taking a chance on her.

Cleo's tulip parade 041414
Tulips on parade.

Horace Silver, 1928-2014
Horace Silver was my favorite jazz pianist, though I didn’t discover him until his 1996 release, The Hard-Bop Grandpop. The man was a jazz institution and I came to him very late in his career. Two earlier albums that I know and can recommend are Blowin’ the Blues Away (1959) and especially Song for My Father (1964). RIP.

I was dreamin’ when I wrote this/forgive me if it goes astray
Let’s change the mood here. The Prince Project is on hold (just when were getting to the most notorious albums) because I am once again participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. I’m not going to blog about it because doing that last summer was insane. Instead, I’m signing off. See you on August 2. Enjoy your summer!

Random Pick of the Day
The Beatles, Revolver (1966)
Four things strike me as I listened to Revolver after many years of not listening to it:

One is that The Beatles embarked on 14 separate explorations of new musical pathways and brought each of them home in a concise 2-3 minutes. Arcade Fire or Pink Floyd would still be playing.

Two is that the album begins with something as mundane as taxes and ends with the Tibetan Book of the Dead. (Do the Tibetans read any fun books?)

Three is that “She Said She Said” would fit into any alt-rock radio playlist in 1986, 1996, 2006, and probably in 2166.

Four is that The Beatles’ experiment with Indian music is like punk’s flirtation a decade later with reggae – interesting, but only to a point, which in The Beatles’ case will come the following year on Sgt. Pepper.

A must-own album. But you already do.

For You
Prince
1978

Prince Rogers Nelson had already consolidated his name to Prince by the time he released his debut in 1978. The only reason to listen to this album is that Prince was only 19 when he recorded it in 1977. Much of it sounds like second-string disco; “Just As Long As We’re Together” made me think of Tavares and Ohio Players. “Soft & Wet” tries to be sexy, but the most daring thing about it is the title.

The only song that hints at what lies ahead is the closer, “I’m Yours,” a rock/dance hybrid, and even that one didn’t exactly challenge Hall & Oates for radio domination. At this point, Prince can’t even out-punch KC & The Sunshine Band. But that day is fast approaching.

What I was doing at 19: Living in Boston, attending Boston University as a journalism major, writing bad science fiction. I read 53 books, my second-highest season total, though I might’ve done better in grade school when I raced through all the Peanuts collections. I don’t know – I didn’t start my lifetime reading list until the summer I turned 16.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1978:

Winner:
Some Girls – The Rolling Stones

Runners-Up:
Darkness on the Edge of Town* – Bruce Springsteen
Running on Empty – Jackson Browne
This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello
Road to Ruin – The Ramones
Misfits – The Kinks

* My friend Andy Krikun bought this one when it was released, took it home, played it, memorized it, and told me the next day it was “a Faulkner novel.”

Random Pick of the Day
Salvatore Bonafede Trio, Sicilian Opening (2010)
Italian jazz pianist who occupies the sonic terrain between the hard bop of Horace Silver and the Peanuts playfulness of Vince Guaraldi. His free-style version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” is the highlight. He also covers “She’s Leaving Home,” and improves on it by simply omitting the lyrics.

For Salvatore, The Beatles “have got in my life tiptoe.” Hat tip to Loyal Reader Laurel for unearthing this delightful quote.

Random Pan of the Day
Röyksopp & Robyn, Do It Again (2014)
Röyksopp is two guys from Norway. Robyn is a gal from Sweden. Together they make dance grooves from a deep freeze. The synthesizers will take you back to the 1980s; Robyn’s voice will jerk you back to today. There are only six tracks on this release and most of them run on too long and are not actually danceable.

If you listen to a lot of electronic dance music, you’ll recognize many of the effects. “Do It Again” is the main attraction, but Robyn, who has a global following, has done far better (“Dancing on My Own” and “Get Myself Together”).