Posts Tagged ‘The Byrds’

In Seattle in the early ’80s there was a fannish group that lived together in a house called Star Base. It was part of an informal chain of Star Bases around the country, from the first generation of Star Trek fans. They had a charter and I think they were incorporated as a non-profit. (I was present when the charter was dissolved, but I was too distracted by one of the female board members and the sweater she was wearing to take in the details.)

Seattle’s Star Base was part of a larger group of science fiction fans who lived around Seattle, with a satellite group in Olympia. They threw raucous parties at their house on Phinney Ridge. Bet their neighbors liked that. It was mostly women living at Star Base, and from the outside this group looked as if a) every day was Gestalt Therapy Day, or b) they were training for a covert mission overseas.

I’m not making fun of these folks. For all the hijinks and emotional maelstroms that went on there, I have never met a group of people who got so much done in a day. If you had to get to the moon by close of business Friday, they’d get you there. They ran sci-fi conventions, held jobs, and saved lives.

I just noticed that “hijinks” has three dots in a row. Looks Danish.

Raspberry beret/The kind you find in a second-hand store
When I first met them, Michael Jackson ruled at Star Base (along with Rocky Horror and a true ’70s horror, Meatloaf). Every year at Norwescon, the region’s biggest convention, at midnight during the Saturday night dance, the djs played Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” from Off the Wall (1979). If you lived at Star Base or partied at Star Base or had sex at Star Base or wanted to have sex at Star Base, you got on the dance floor and participated in a group dance that I thought was kinda dumb but everyone had fun doing it so forget me.

But Prince was already making inroads among the female population of Star Base. Just look at the cover of Dirty Mind (1980):

Prince - Dirty Mind

Michael Jackson always seemed sexless to me. Not Prince.

Raspberry beret/And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more
I learned about Prince thanks to the Star Base population. I’ve never really written about him, probably because he’s released more albums than Chicago and I feel intimidated when I consider him as a subject. Today I’ll do a little to make amends.

You can’t think about Michael Jackson and Prince without noting the startling coincidences in the lives of the two men. They were both born in the Midwest in the summer of 1958. Michael Jackson started out as a Jehovah’s Witness. Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness as an adult. They began their solo careers within a year of each other. Michael Jackson named his son Prince. Prince would’ve done the same thing if he had felt like it. The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters. And so on.

Excuse me but I need a mouth like yours
But the differences are far greater. The Michael Jackson who launched his real debut effort (without his father hanging over him) with Off the Wall emerged with his sound fully formed. It didn’t change by a molecule until the day he died. Prince has experimented so much with his sound, he makes Beck look like he’s chained to a chair. Only David Bowie and maybe Paul McCartney can keep up with this guy.

Michael at his peak gave us “Billy Jean,” “Beat It,” “Bad,” and “Thriller,” but for overall accomplishment I’ll take Prince. Period. There’s a lot of uninteresting filler in Michael’s oeuvre. Of the songs I’ve heard on Prince’s army of albums, I can’t say that all of them are worth repeated listens, but rarely is something uninteresting. And as for high points – “1999,” “Delirious,” “Dirty Mind,” and “Let’s Go Crazy” are pretty good songs.

To help me forget the girl that just walked out my door
I’m launching The Prince Project beginning today. What is The Prince Project? Bill Murray to Dan Ackroyd in Ghost Busters: “I don’t know.” I’ll figure it out as I listen. Your thoughts and suggestions are welcome. You’re also welcome to keep me company in my little red corvette by loaning me a Prince CD. There are only about 35 to choose from.

If I could put Star Base to work on this, we’d finish this project before we began.

Random Pick of the Day
The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
The superb Bob Dylan covers include the title cut and “Chimes of Freedom.” The Gene Clark originals, particularly “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Here Without You,” are like folk versions of The Beatles. The song that really kills me is Pete Seeger’s “The Bells of Rhymney.” This is one of my favorite songs of the 1960s.

I rate this album a Must Buy, even though Mr. Tambourine Man falls apart in the final laps and even though “Eight Miles High,” “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” aren’t on it.

Random Pan of the Day
Bad Company, Bad Company (1974)
Bad Company is nowhere near as good as Free or Mott the Hoople, the bands that begat them. Bad Company is nowhere near as good as AC/DC, though it’s obvious that AC/DC wouldn’t have existed without Bad Company. Whether that’s reason enough to build a time machine and return to 1974 with a bazooka is your call.

So what do we have on their debut? The origins of the arena buttrock format: “Can’t Get Enough,” which is about sex, “Movin’ On,” which is about leaving after sex, and “Bad Company,” which is about why it’s tough to be Bad Company, so I guess you should have sex with them to make them feel better. And then there’s “Seagull.”

“Seagull” is a rock-star dues song. Just the thing to include on your first album. In this epic tonal composition, “seagull” means “our awesome band” and “never asking why” means “we are so stoned” and “until you are shot out of the sky” means “until they stop buying your records.” Bad Company gets major demerits for writing a dues song when they should’ve been paying fines.

Ernest Hemingway said it best: “As musicians they are fatal.”

 

Loyal Reader Laurel recently celebrated a birthday. Though she appears to be a mere sprig of her girl, she is old enough to have seen The Beatles 17 times in her native LA. She also carried on a brief but intense postal correspondence with a prominent member of the late George Harrison’s family. In honor of Laurel’s birthday, here’s a quick look at one of the most-covered Beatles’ songs, Revolver’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966).

(“Tomorrow Never Knows” is one of the most-covered Beatles songs? How did I figure that one out? Entirely unscientifically, so shut UP.)

“Tomorrow Never Knows,” the final track on Revolver, is a nightmare of a drug trip complete with lyrics from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which is currently ranked 8,836 on Amazon, with 78 mostly positive customer reviews). It appeared in August, a month after another altered-consciousness classic, The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” (on the album Fifth Dimension). What a summer that was for non-linear thinking…“Tomorrow Never Knows” features pioneering technical effects and a strong Indian influence. In just 2 minutes and 58 seconds it terrified parents and thrilled middle-schoolers like me.

The Mirage, Tomorrow Never Knows – The Pop Sike World of the Mirage: Singles & Lost Sessions (2006)
The first band to cover this epic song was The Mirage – a British psychedelic act that’s so obscure they’re practically frozen in a block of carbonite. In the fall of 1966 they released their version, which sounds like U.S. garage rock minus the accents. Some simple yet effectively melancholic piano in the middle. Perhaps because they knew their own limitations, they wisely held their song to 2:36 – the only cover here that’s shorter than the original.

801, 801 Live (1976)
801 was a short-lived avant-garde outfit put together by Brian Eno and Phil Manzanera while on sabbatical from Roxy Music. Between my disco phase and my punk phase I had a brief avant-garde phase, which was a struggle for me because I don’t smoke, I don’t look good in a beret, and I have a generally positive view of life. Eno and Manzanera’s version, which they called “TnK,” is the longest I know (6:15). It’s breathtaking.

Monsoon, Monsoon Featuring Sheila Chandra (1995)
Sheila Chandra has an indelible voice. She had a hit in the U.K. in 1982 with “Ever So Lonely.” Sometime in the ’80s she also recorded “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I like this Britpop/Indian hybrid, but it’s maybe a little too comfy, given the subject matter. Running time: 4:05.

Various artists*, The Craft: Original Soundtrack (1996)
The Craft is a sensitive, incisive look at four teenage witches who learn about life and love at a Catholic school in LA. The soundtrack is even worse than what I wrote in the last sentence. However, Canadian rockers Our Lady Peace turn in an excellent 4-minute cover that bows respectfully to The Beatles while also giving you a state-of-the-union message on mid-’90s alternative rock. It’s the opening track, too, so you can hit Eject immediately after.
* When I say “artists,” I’m being generous.

Invert, Between the Seconds (2003)
Invert is, or was, a classical string quartet that inverted the normal string-quartet lineup and presented us with violin, viola, and two cellos. Heavy on the bass! No singing on their cover but lots of spacey space sounds. They clock in at a relatively svelte 3:12.

Emmanuel Santarromana, FAB4EVER (2006)
The Italian Santarromana produced an interesting collection of Beatles covers. His “Tomorrow Never Knows” is more of a novelty number, as fun as Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” or Afroman’s “Because I Got High” but not something to place in regular rotation. The vocalist sounds like Max Headroom’s younger brother. Running time: 3:29.

Giacomo Bondi, A Lounged Out Homage to the Beatles (2007)
Signore Bondi hired an Italian Beatles cover band (The Apple Pies) to faithfully record the songs on this disc. Then he ran their work through his software, supposedly to reconstruct (or deconstruct) everything. The songs come out different, I’ll give him that. I vote for “Paperback Writer” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The running time on the latter is 4:53, which is too long, and the opening sounds like the last 10 superhero movies I’ve seen, but it’s definitely worth a listen. (There are two versions of this album. I briefly reviewed the one from 2010.)

I like all of the covers here, some much more than others, but I have to say that no one has topped John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As in most things. Happy birthday, Loyal Reader Laurel, and I’ll try to write about The Beatles again before your next birthday.

Bruce Springsteen says he learned more from a 3-minute record, baby, than he ever learned in school. I’m grateful to have graduated from a much better school system than the one Bruce was stuck in. I learned more in 3 minutes in any class at Somerset High, Somerset, Massachusetts (Go Raiders!) than I ever learned from Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, or Tommy James & The Shondells. But Springsteen was right to emphasize 3 minutes, and not just because “a 4-minute record, baby” doesn’t scan as well and anyway is too reminiscent of a 4-minute mile.

Three-minute records (which I take to mean 3:01 to 3:59) are still the bread and butter of popular music, even though the format they were created for, the 45rpm, no longer exists. This length gives you enough time to sink into a song but not enough time to drown. (In general. There are 2-minute songs that drag and 4-minute songs that fly. Anything by Coldplay is automatically too long.)

I’m guessing that most of the music I listen to (and you, too) is in the 3-minute range, with the next group following at 4:01 to 4:59, followed by 5 minutes, 6 minutes, etc. The number of recorded pop songs longer than 10 minutes thins out quickly, and for every triumph past that mark (The Door’s “The End,” David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” Love and Rockets’ “Body and Soul”) you trip over something like Mountains’ live version of their own “Nantucket Sleighride,” which weighs in at a hard-to-overlook 17:34.

I can only assume that back in 1972 the band performed their masterwork behind a screen of chicken wire to protect them from volleys of beer bottles. “Nantucket Sleighride” is a symphony as imagined by a quartet of metal-munching hippie delinquents. “Nantucket Sleighride” goes on so long that is has themes, movements, fugues, moods, tempos, lyrics, tides, a guitar imitating a triangle, a tugboat yearning for its mate, and what I think are wet blankets fired from a circus cannon.

The boys in Mountain, who did their best to out-bloat Wagner, produced a song that will never be included in any list of the 1 million songs you should listen to before the universe explodes. However, I took a lot of drugs to this album, Sludge Hammer*, and thanks to the miracle of nostalgia and disjointed synapses I still find “Nantucket Sleighride” to be audacious and irresistible.

What happens to pop music after 17 minutes and 34 seconds? That way lies “Tubular Bells,” Quicksilver Messenger Service, prog rock, Yes, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Phish, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, probably Yes again, motels, money, murder, madness, and today’s special guests, The Allman Brothers Band.**

The Allmans’ Eat a Peach (1972) is generally thought to be the band’s high point, though not by this critic. Give me the economy of Brothers and Sisters (1973) any day. I don’t care that Eat a Peach has all those live tracks because that’s where the problem is: “Mountain Jam,” which is not only 33 minutes and 41 agonizing seconds long, it was inspired by Donovan. Apparently, it’s impossible to keep Donovan out of a music blog these days.

I was bludgeoned by “Mountain Jam” at an Allman Brothers concert in 1975 and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt. The Allmans in those days packed enough amplification to sterilize everyone not wearing lead dirndls. I didn’t wear my dirndl that night and now you know why I’ve never had kids. Somewhere around the halfway point of “Mountain Jam,” my mind floated away and I could no longer hear the music. All I could do was stare at the band. If I had gone to a Bangles concert in 1985 and they had played a 33-minute version of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” I’m sure I would’ve lost containment then, too. But at least I would’ve been staring at The Bangles. The Allmans, even when they were flush with youth, were not stareable.

“Mountain Jam” makes the Allmans’ 22-minute “Whipping Post” from their At Fillmore East live set sound like a model of musical frugality. When I was 16 I thought the crescendo of “Whipping Post” was rock’s answer to the 1812 Overture. Now I just hear it as everyone barking at everyone else.

Is it possible to produce a 15-minutes-or-more recording that won’t put people to sleep or send them to their Kindles to read another chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey? Probably not, but one interesting attempt that I know of is The Byrds’ 16-minute go at their iconic “Eight Miles High,” from the album Untitled/Unissued (1970). It’s focused, it’s well-played, it crosses the line into jazz, and if I’d gone to that concert instead of to the Allmans’ I’d have 16 kids today. Oh, wait.

Reader challenge: I can’t think of any particularly lengthy songs (say 12-15 minutes or longer) after about 1990. If you can, please enlighten me. I have a hypothesis that song lengths have decreased since the hippie era, at least at the long end, but I need data. Phish, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler are disqualified. Come on, people, let’s move like we have a purpose!

* OK, the real name was Live (The Road Goes Ever On).

** Special D just raised her hand and asked where Pink Floyd is on this list, but I don’t see the point of her question.

The birthday of our nation is a good time to complain about complainers. I am referring here to “dues songs,” in which musicians who have been made wealthy by their music describe how difficult it is to be successful. And apparently success is very difficult indeed.

The ’70s were an unmatched decade for whiners, best typified by Deep Purple’s immortal doorstop, “Smoke on the Water.” This is of course the heart-rending ballad of a band that can’t record their music at a studio in Switzerland, not because the government of Switzerland wants to spray them for bugs but because the studio burned down. So the band makes other arrangements to record their music in Switzerland. Rough.

ABBA’s “Super Trouper” is not quite as dumb; ABBA, unlike Deep Purple, didn’t believe you had to have the guitar solo and then the organ solo except when you had the organ solo and then the guitar solo. But the story, about the love of one special person saving the singer from the horrors of performing before adoring crowds, makes me think they’re not such troupers.

Alas, even an artist as awesome as Joni Mitchell complained (though ruefully, and with wit) about the success that allowed her to enjoy carefree vacations abroad in “Free Man in Paris.” “Free Man in Paris,” by the way, is superior to the entire Deep Purple catalog, not counting “Hush.”

Moving to other decades, The Byrds and Bad Company warned us of the perils of reaching for the top in “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star” and “Shooting Star,” respectively. Of course both bands were thoroughly enjoying those perils at the time.

Say what you will about The Grateful Dead, they never complained about the Deadheads.

A dues song done right
Bob Seger writes about the rigors of the road in “Turn the Page”:

Later in the evening
As you lie awake in bed
With the echoes from the amplifiers
Ringin’ in your head
You smoke the day’s last cigarette,
Rememberin’ what she said

“Turn the Page” is a journalistic, matter-of-fact account of Seger’s life that gains power from the slow accumulation of details, not from lamenting the illogical. When Seger released this song in 1972 he was unknown, unheralded, and unwealthy. Listening to this song you can’t help but root for him.

A dues variation
Peter Yorn is a singer/songwriter with a knack for reflection and a love for Bruce Springsteen. His “Rock Crowd” is a whole new look at life on the road:

I sit backstage
Oh I never know what to play
My mind gets cloudy
Can’t think of what I wanted to say
But when I see you
And we’re moving through the night
I feel like I can make it through another night

[chorus]
Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

This song is beautiful and haunting. I wish it had a video. I wish I had a rock crowd!

Thousand Foot Krutch also addresses their fans in “Throw Up Your Rawkfist.” I love saying “Throw Up Your Rawkfist,” particularly at my birthday parties and when I’m teaching chess. But Thousand Foot Krutch is a Christian rap/head-banger outfit that makes me want to spray them for bugs, and their less-than-impressive lyrics don’t set my heart afire: “Throw up your rockfist/if you’re feelin’ it when I drop this.” Don’t drop it in here, I just vacuumed.

More news from Steveworld
I entered one of my short stories in a competition at Glimmer Train and finished in the Top 25. There were 1,000 entries so I’m feeling double plus good about this. Of course, if I had finished in the Top 3 and had gotten published in the zine, my next story would be about how awful it is to be published and rich and to find every train station surging with girls.

I have a new post in The Nervous Breakdown. This time around I use the occasion of my birthday (July 3) to share everything I’ve ever learned. You only have to scroll down twice! Thanks as always to Special D. I’ve learned a lot around here.

Happy Independence Day! Soon I shall be drinking the Bloody Marys of Liberty. (Robert Farley)

My hippie friends want to know why I don’t write about their music. The reason I don’t write about hippie music is quite simple really and that reason is that I have so far been unable to explain what it is.

To give you some idea of what I’m up against in this investigation, consider the following. Does hippie music include folksingers like John Prine and Bob Dylan? Does it include pop-country hybrids like The Byrds and Bob Dylan? Does it include wild-haired rockers like Mountain and Bob Dylan? Does it include people who were just passing through hippiedom, like The Beatles and Bob Dylan? Does it include psychedelic mind-trippers like The Electric Prunes and – no, I can’t make that one work.

Where do you file Quicksilver Messenger Service, except under Crud?

In Search of the Lost Chord
What then is this entry in the continuing annals of Run-DMSteve about? It’s certainly not about to make me a lot of money. What I intend to do is take you step-by-step through the rigorous scientific process by which I discovered that the long-sought definition of hippie music has once again dodged up a side street.

The first thing to do in any successful project is to sweep everything you don’t want to deal with under the rug. So I began by declaring that hippie music is music produced by bands that existed in the 1960s. This yielded a sold historic footing and liberated me from having to think about Phish or Blues Traveler.

To further winnow the field, I decided that hippie bands had to have staying power. If they’d played together for at least a decade or two, they were in. If their principal members had died in the early innings, they were out.

(If we posit the existence of a rock ’n’ roll heaven, I’m sure they enjoy musical performances by an adverbial intensifier of a band. But until we can download an alternate-universe app, we’ll never know what Janis, Jimi, Jim, and their peers might have accomplished. Though I can easily picture Jimi playing Wilson Pickett in The Commitments.)

I eliminated The Allman Brothers because Greg married Cher. Black Sabbath I eliminated just for being.

Finally, I considered the fans. A hippie band should come equipped with its own cult. Did our candidates have fans who routinely spent the summer following them around? Did these fans leave their jobs, if they had jobs, to go to 12 concerts in six cities in two weeks in one chartreuse microbus? Were they following their heroes around in 1970, 1990, and maybe even 2010?

There were only two bands I could think of that met these requirements: The Grateful Dead and The Moody Blues.

This is not my idea of a good time, but at least they’re better than Procul Harum.

Blues for Allah
To keep things simple, let’s refer to both bands in the past tense, even though 60% of the Moodies are still on the road and threatening to visit your hometown.

I confess that during an early adolescent period, when I was pretending to read Herman Hesse, The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed was the most profound musical document I knew. And at a later adolescent period, when I wore my hair down to my belt, The Dead’s American Beauty spoke of my yearning to get back to the land. An odd yearning, given that I’d grown up in suburbia.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of The Dead or The Moody Blues, except to switch stations when the local Classic Rock outlet wheels them out of the morgue. But once I had them under the electron microscope, I discovered some unexpected relationships:

Fig. 1: Sugar magnolia vs. white satin

  1. The Moody Blues experimented with classical music.
  2. The Grateful Dead experimented with disco.
  3. The Grateful Dead rode a train.
  4. The Moody Blues rode a see-saw.
  5. The Grateful Dead had trouble capturing their concert performance in the studio.
  6. The Moody Blues had trouble capturing their studio performance in concert.
  7. Band members left The Moody Blues by resigning.
  8. Band members left The Grateful Dead by dying.
  9. The Grateful Dead were fronted by a charismatic man.
  10. The Moody Blues were five guys with feathered hair.
  11. The Grateful Dead released Aoxomoxoa in 1969. The Moody Blues have nothing to match this, but Pink Floyd does: Ummagumma, released the same year. Which makes me wonder if The Dead and Floyd were actually the same gang of idiots.

Bummer. The only thing this list demonstrates is the astounding diversity of the hippie biomass. I’ll keep working on this problem, even though the budget compromise that has kept the government open has shut off my funding. Someday, I vow, the world will know what exactly hippie music is. Until then, tenere a autotrasporto (keep on truckin’)!

“Eight Miles High”
Hüsker Dü
1983
The Byrds demonstrate how two of the most popular U.S. radio formats work. You can hear “Eight Miles High” on any Classic Rock station, but not on any Golden Oldies station, because it’s an electrified folk-music drug trip. This is why, for example, Classic Rock plays “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” while Golden Oldies sticks with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” The unspoken motto of Classic Rock is “You’re still kickin’ it.” (Especially if you get to bed by 10.) The unspoken motto of Golden Oldies is “Lower your salt intake.”

Golden Oldies regularly spins The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which is about a musical device a 4-year-old can play and anyway omits 21% of Dylan’s lyrics, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” which is from the Bible so it’s been cleared by God. Classic Rock might play The Byrds’ 16-minute live version of “Eight Miles High” (during the highly competitive 3am slot), but otherwise is done with this band.

Were The Byrds better than The Beau Brummels?
Maybe not, but they deserve more attention than this. It was a happy moment in 1983 when Midwest punk-pop miscreants Hüsker Dü reinterpreted “Eight Miles High.” You might think that Hüsker Dü accepted this project as a joke, like The Dickies’ 1980 cover of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” (which contains every note from the original, including the gong at the end, but all of them played three times as fast).

Not so! Hüsker Dü isn’t kidding about this song. Maybe they have fond memories of hearing it while they were in day care. Maybe they have fond memories of hearing it while they were burning down the day care. They love this song so much, they released their version on its own 45 (backed with the lyrical, sensitive “Masochism World”).

Hüsker Dü’s approach to “Eight Miles High” begins in the same neighborhood as the original. They give that about 10 seconds. Trios have repeatedly proven that they can generate plenty of noise. See Nirvana for one example, or, if you must, Grand Funk Railroad. Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton keep on rockin’ you, baby. About halfway through their barrage, after running out of words (easy to do; there are only 78 in the entire song), Mould substitutes screaming. He also gives us two memorable guitar breaks that could easily segue into almost anything by their early rivals, REM, particularly the anti-war “Orange Crush.”

Run-DMSteve, happy at last
Hell yes. This is one of the most thrilling covers I know, ranking right up there with Ministry’s marrow-munching “Lay, Lady, Lay.” But you won’t hear it on Classic Rock, which has an uneasy relationship with punk, beyond a few tracks from The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

You’ll never hear Hüsker Dü on Golden Oldies no matter how long the Boomers or Gen Xers live. Golden Oldies won’t even play music from the 1950s now. If it pre-dates The Beach Boys, it doesn’t exist. (As I’ve always wished The Beach Boys didn’t exist, Golden Oldies might someday give me my wish.)

BTW: Get to bed by 10!