Only Yesterday: The Carpenters’ Story

The One-Hit Wonder File: “All Right Now”

(Via Culture Sonar) by Ellen Fagan

The year is 1968. Four enormously talented young men, all in their teens, form a band called Free. Paul Rodgers is the frontman with the growly croon, Paul Kossoff the prodigy rock guitarist. Andy Fraser is on bass and percussion chores are handled by Simon Kirke. They begin life as a soft-edged, bluesy band, perfectly listenable but not memorable.

Early in their tenure, they have a particularly dispiriting gig in Durham, England. Kirke describes the demoralization of playing to a tiny, checked-out audience.

“… we finished our show in Durham and walked off the stage to the sound of our own footsteps. The applause had died before I had even left the drum riser.”

Backstage, the members of Free pondered their future options and decided they needed to come up with a powerful uptempo number that would keep audiences on their feet…

Read more: https://www.culturesonar.com/the-one-hit-wonder-file-all-right-now/?mc_cid=7bc9e1d98e&mc_eid=754259b4e6

“This Land Is Your Land”: The Story Behind America’s Best-Known Protest Song

(Getty Images)

(via Mental Floss) BY Kenneth Partridge

Few songs are more ingrained in the American psyche than “This Land Is Your Land,” the greatest and best-known work by folk icon Woody Guthrie. For decades, it’s been a staple of kindergarten classrooms “from California to the New York island,” as the lyrics go. It’s the musical equivalent of apple pie, though the flavor varies wildly depending on who’s doing the singing.

On its most basic level, “This Land Is Your Land” is a song about inclusion and equality—the American ideal broken down into simple, eloquent language and set to a melody you memorize on first listen. The underlying message, repeated throughout the song, makes the heart swell: “This land was made for you and me.”

But there’s more to “This Land Is Your Land” than many people realize—two verses more, in fact. Guthrie’s original 1940 draft of the song contains six verses, two of which carry progressive political messages that add nuance to the song’s overt patriotism. These controversial verses are generally omitted from children’s songbooks and the like, but they speak volumes about Guthrie’s mindset when he put pen to paper 80 years ago…

Read more: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/585577/this-land-your-land-americas-best-known-protest-song

Bob Dylan’s 50 Greatest Songs – Ranked

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images.

(via The Guardian)  by Alexis Petridis

As fans puzzle out the epic “Murder Most Foul,” we count down the best of Bob, from the fury of “Pay in Blood” to the pure genius of “Simple Twist of Fate.”

50. Changing of the Guards (1978)

Street Legal delivered fans a shock: Dylan fronting a large band, with female backing singers to the fore. The words, meanwhile, might well represent an oblique personal history, from adolescence through marriage to religious conversion: whatever they were about, they reduced Patti Smith to tears on first hearing.

49. This Wheel’s on Fire (1967)

Subsequently covered by everyone from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Kylie Minogue, in every style from psychedelic to electro-glam stomp, the original Basement Tapes recording of This Wheel’s on Fire – both a great song and another of Dylan’s umpteen apocalyptic visions – has a uniquely intense, eerie quality that no one else has subsequently matched.

48. Pay in Blood (2012)

Should you wonder if Dylan’s capacity for rage had been dulled by his advancing years, listen to Pay in Blood, a gentle musical backdrop for an expression of literally murderous fury: at first he’s so angry that the lyrics are incomprehensible, his voice just a phlegmy snarling noise; when they come into focus, he’s demanding vengeance on bankers and politicians “pumping out [their] piss”. Bracing.

47. My Back Pages (1964)

Those upset when Dylan went electric couldn’t say he didn’t warn them something big was coming: My Back Pages spends the best part of five minutes not repudiating his protest singer past, but bidding the kind of certainties that fuelled it (“lies that life is black and white”) a sardonic farewell…

Read more: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/bob-dylan-s-50-greatest-songs-ranked?utm_source=pocket-newtab

‘Four dead in Ohio’…How the Kent State Shooting Changed Music History

(via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) by Scott Mervis

Seeing the devastating pictures in Life magazine in May 1970, Neil Young — from 2,500 miles away — wrote the definitive song about the massacre at Kent State.

“Ohio,” recorded with Crosby, Stills & Nash three weeks after the May 4 shootings and released as a single that month, shocked the airwaves with its refrain of “Four dead in O-hi-o” and became a generation’s rallying cry for resistance to the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War.

One of the people dead on the ground, captured so strikingly in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, was Jeffrey Miller, a 20-year-old who had just transferred there from Michigan State University.

“I knew Jeff had been a fan of [Neil Young],” Chrissie Hynde writes in her memoir “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender,” “so I was happy that Young had become our spokesman, our voice. It was a big element in easing us out of shock.”

Hynde, now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was among the Kent State students at the rally that day, and she had company — an assortment of bright young musicians who would become future icons and headliners.

Not mentioned in his classic song “Life’s Been Good” is that Joe Walsh, later of the James Gang and The Eagles, was witness to the events.

Chris Butler, who would go on to form The Waitresses and write the hit “I Know What Boys Like,” was with Miller, who was a close friend.

Gerald Casale, who stared down the National Guard, went on to form one of the most influential art-punk bands of the ’70s. “Devo wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Kent State,” Casale said in a recent phone interview. “That’s the long and short of it.”

Read more: https://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/how-kent-state-shooting-changed-music-history/

Alice Cooper Provides a Solid Rock for Teens During COVID-19 Crisis

alice

Photo credit: Surreal Sister

(via SPIN) by Katherine Yeske Taylor

Sometimes, something suddenly appears that’s so unsettling, even the king of shock rock himself is startled. That’s what happened when Alice Cooper was forced to cancel his European tour in the midst of something scarier than what Cooper does in his notorious horror rock show.

“It’s strange times. I’ve never lived in a time when one infinitesimal thing that you can’t even see has literally stopped the entire world,” Cooper says, sounding astonished while speaking from his home in Arizona.

Cooper’s wife, Sheryl, is also on the call. She performs in her husband’s show (often portraying a psychotic nurse), and she seems stunned as she recounts the unexpected and abrupt end to their show in Berlin. As she tells it, they were told to “jump off the stage and go directly to our bus in full makeup and costumes.” Almost 24 hours of exhaustive travel later, they made it back to Phoenix – but they “got home, no food in the house, went to the grocery store, no food at the grocery store. What’s happening?”

Read more: https://www.spin.com/2020/04/alice-cooper-provides-a-solid-rock-for-teens-during-the-covid-19-crisis/?fbclid=IwAR3LhmvpJp2DNitKYEVjX6BBPdLpZ4uYbN5cvGLfPmZ16312iBZJLVJjs78

Why the Brilliantly Cynical Music of Steely Dan Is the Perfect Quarantine Binge

(via Mel) by Tim Grierson

Global catastrophe? A spiritually sick society beyond the point of saving? Donald Fagen and Walter Becker have been waiting for this moment.

During times of chaos, it’s natural to seek some semblance of control. So it’s probably no surprise that, as the coronavirus quarantine took hold, I turned to a band I always find comforting. I can’t think of music more perfectly controlled than the roughly six hours and 10 minutes worth of songs that Steely Dan recorded. Just don’t call it easy-listening. Sure, as they evolved from an ace L.A. rock band to a precision jazz-pop unit, their tunes only grew more swinging and pretty. But beneath all that beauty were tales of killers and creeps, dudes who were into their cousins or dudes who were into women way too young for them. No amount of gorgeous saxophone solos could mask the spiritual wretchedness at the center of these songs. If this is how the world ends — with idiots ignoring warnings to practice social distancing and the rich hogging access to medical help — then I won’t be shocked. Steely Dan prepared me…

Reed more: https://melmagazine.com/en-us/story/why-the-brilliantly-cynical-music-of-steely-dan-is-the-perfect-quarantine-binge

Unpopular Opinion: 80’s Homogeneity Killed the Radio Star

heart 2

There are multiple reasons why the 80’s were my least favorite decade for pop music. I grew up mostly on organic and not sampled sounds. Warm, carefully crafted arrangements rather than sterile synths. Heartfelt vocal performances that gave you the feels rather than the flat and robotic delivery typical of New Wave.

Most of all I like diversity in music. And the 80’s seemed to swallow diversity and spit it out all one color and one flavor–that is, no flavor.

The 70’s were a decade when Carly Simon, Led Zeppelin, the Average White Band and Tom Jones could play consecutively on the radio.

The 80’s, conversely, were the decade when drum sounds, keyboard sounds, vocal performances and even (thanks in part to MTV) fashion and hairdos became more regimented. It’s like all the sudden there was a uniform you had to wear to qualify for the top 40.

Take a listen to this sample of three of the decade’s more ubiquitous hits–by Heart, Cher and Starship respectively:

 

And now a bit of a medley of some of the diverse sounds created by the same artists in the decades prior:

 

The first clip illustrates the sound of 80’s pop radio, typified by its uniformity of style and arrangement.

The second is all over the place musically, from riff-driven rock to folk pop to orchestrated adult contemporary to fusion to psychedelia. And yet it’s the same three artists.

The second clip is culled from the years when these artists each forged an identity. And the first is from the decade when they apparently had to forego that identity to stay on the radio.

How many of the 70’s greatest artists became hollowed-out versions of themselves creatively in the decade of the 80’s?

Chicago, Aerosmith, Heart, Jefferson Starship, ZZ Top, Kansas, Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, and on and on.

I’m not saying these artists didn’t sell loads of records in the 80’s. But I will say their 80’s output a) typically lacked the imagination and diversity of their earlier work, b) was more often written by outside writers than the work that made them famous and c) kind of sucked.

As a teenager Steven Tyler wrote:

Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn…

Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away

As a 40-year-old he wrote:

Love in an elevator
Livin’ it up when I’m goin’ down
Love in an elevator
Lovin’ it up ’til I hit the ground

And as for Chicago’s steady decline into Easy Listening post-Terry Kath well…Look Away indeed.

As for 80’s pop radio’s slavish devotion to the new, processed, synthy sound, I think it precipitated interesting shifts in radio formats. Plenty of artists who had success on pop radio in the 70’s had to redefine themselves as Country artists in the 80’s.

Exile (“Kiss You All Over”), The Bellamy Brothers (“Let Your Love Flow”), Michael Murphy (“Wildfire”), Michael Johnson (“Bluer than Blue”) and others made music too distinctly traditional-sounding and too organic for New Wave-dominated 80’s radio. After tweaking their sound and their songwriting just a bit they were welcomed by country radio, which experienced a shift toward a more pop-friendly crossover sound in the same decade.

Unpopular Opinion: Prince Lowered the Bar for Sexual Innuendo in Music

While I can appreciate a titillating suggestive lyric in a pop song, I believe even the low-minded can be artfully rendered. And I’d argue that the man most associated with lyrical sexual innuendo was hardly its most literate or proficient practitioner.

Prolific? I’ll give him that. It’s almost be simpler to name the Prince songs that don’t feature bawdy double entendre than it is to give examples of his, uh…dirty mind. I won’t bother.

Popular? A hundred million sold, as McDonald’s used to say.

I’m just here to say he sucked at it.

So if you think

Cream
Get on top
Cream
You will cop
Cream
Don’t you stop
Cream
Sh-boogie bop

…is as high-minded as lowbrow gets, I’ll see your Purple One and raise you one Ian Anderson, front man of English art rockers Jethro Tull.

Singer-songwriter-flutist-guitarist and all around mischief maker Anderson rose to the occasion when it came to penning innuendo-laced lyrics, then set them in some of the most ambitiously ornate musical arrangements you’ll hear.

If his mind was in the gutter, his oldfangled English was strictly front parlor. His command of the language turned innuendo into high art. Check out “Hunting Girl” from 1977’s Songs from the Wood:

‘We found it rolled up in a tube’: Alice Cooper Discovers Warhol Classic after 40 years

Photo courtesy of Alice Cooper

(via The Guardian) by Edward Helmore

The rock star Alice Cooper has found an Andy Warhol masterpiece that could be worth millions “rolled up in a tube” in a storage locker, where it lay forgotten for more than 40 years.

The work in question is a red Little Electric Chair silkscreen, from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. Never stretched on a frame, it sat in storage alongside touring artefacts including an electric chair that Cooper used in the early 70s as part of his ghoulish stage show.

According to Shep Gordon, the singer’s longtime manager, Cooper and Warhol became friends at the famous Max’s Kansas City venue in New York City…

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jul/24/alice-cooper-andy-warhol-little-electric-chair

Photograph courtesy Bob Gruen

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