Stephen Stills: Marianne
Back in 1971, despite their success, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were so ambitious that the band alone wasn't enough of an outlet for their creative endeavors, each member released strong solo albums. David Crosby had If I Could Only Remember My Name, Graham Nash with the wonderful Songs For Beginners and Neil Young was between über-classics After The Gold Rush and Harvest. Today's selection, Marianne, is from the aptly named Stephen Stills 2.
Stephen Stills 2 was recorded with Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Mac (Dr. John) Rebennack, Nils Lofgren, The Memphis Horns, among other luminaries of the seventies Rock scene. On Marianne, Stills channels The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson-like falsetto vocals, it was released as a follow-up single to hit Change Partners. You're a sweet little heart breaker, Marianne...
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Figured I'd squeeze one more in, before our week is done.
My brain has gone a bit wonky, so I'm sort of at a loss of what to say. I think that's why I like music. It will speak for you, if you need it to.
"Sheila" is taken from Morphine's 1993 release Cure For Pain, which is the all-time greatest make-out album. Ever.
Tom Waits: Martha
Most people divide up Tom Waits' career into two sections: the drunken barroom crooner and the whacked-out noisy badass. This song, however, predates both...it's the sober barroom crooner. Moreover, all your assumptions about Tom are headed out the window when you hear this voice, so different than the one he cultivated for the rest of his career. Less distinctive, perhaps, but certainly easier on the ears.
The topic of the song is much more complicated than the syrupy strings and wishy-washy melody might indicate. Just as Randy Newman did twenty years later in "I Miss You," Waits sings to a girlfriend/wife that he hasn't talked to in decades. But damn, that's a hell of a torch he's carrying.
Posted by Ray at 2:07 PM
Bob & Sara Dylan
Bob Dylan: Sara
I can still hear the sounds of those Methodist bells
I'd taken the cure and had just gotten through
Stayin' up for days in the Chelsea Hotel
Writin' Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for you
Wherever we travel we're never apart
Sara, oh Sara
Beautiful lady, so dear to my heart
Happy B-Day, Mr. Zimmerman!
Gloria isn't a song, but a shamanistic incantation from Rock's High Priest, Van Morrison. During the earliest live performances, eighteen year old Morrison would often improvise lyrics, sometimes stretching it out to fifteen or twenty minutes long.
I watch her come up to my houseGloria is one of those epochal numbers whose DNA runs deep in Rock and Roll's genome. Dave Barry joked "If you drop a guitar down a flight of stairs, it'll play 'Gloria' on its way to the bottom." Paul Williams wrote, "Into the heart of the beast... here is something so good, so pure, that if no other hint of it but this record existed, there would still be such a thing as rock and roll.... Van Morrison's voice a fierce beacon in the darkness, the lighthouse at the end of the world. Resulting in one of the most perfect rock anthems known to humankind." I couldn't have said it any better myself - bask in the glory that is Gloria.
She knocks upon my door
And then she comes up to my room
I want to say she makes me feel all right
G L O R I A
Friday, May 23, 2008
John Denver: Darcy Farrow
Darcy Farrow is a straight-up folk song first recorded in 1965 by Ian & Sylvia, and since recorded by dozens of country and folk musicians, including John Denver, Nanci Griffith, and Jimmy Dale Gilmore. The song was written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell. The John Denver version is the only one I own, so that's what you get. If anyone has the original, please pass it my way and I'll include it in the post.
This is a traditional, travis picked, folk tune that tells the tragic story of Darcy Farrow, who was the most beautiful flower that bloomed o'er the range. Local boy, Vandamere, pledged his love to her, but before they could wed, Darcy died in an accident. Soon after, Vandamere put a bullet through his brain.
According to Gillette, the song was inspired by a non-fatal accident that his sister, Darcy, had when she was 12. Tom Campbell wrote the words, with the real Darcy's experience acting as little more than a launching point.
Music is always a personal experience, in the end, and for me I have at least two reasons to love this song, besides the fact that it sounds great:
1 - It's relatively easy to play on the guitar, but sounds hard to play. This kind of thing is gold when it comes to impressing the uninitiated.
2 - I have spent a lot of time in and around the Carson Valley, Virginia City, and Truckee so the scenery is easy for me to imagine.
Kinks: Victoria [purchase Castle edition of Arthur, which has 10 bonus tracks]
I'm actually kinda shocked no one's posted this yet. This is the song that sent me over the edge for The Kinks. The leadoff track on their 1969 masterpiece, Arthur, "Victoria" is a tongue-in-cheek rebuke of quaint, old British values, while simultaneously longing for those same values. Classic Ray Davies, for sure. Most importantly, the track rocks. New bassist, John Dalton, and perennially underrated badass, Mick Avory, keep the song in the pocket, while Ray and brother Dave's guitars expertly weave in and out of each other's way like they're in a car chase ... much like their vocal harmonies, actually. Best part of the song is where Dave goes mental at "Hong Kong." Priceless.
David Crosby: Guinnevere
Once upon a time, the recording was the recording; the very concept of demo versions would have made little sense in a world in which the point of record-making was that it captured the live performance event. These days, of course, performance is repetitive and constant, and some days it seems like every scrap of material is recorded. The end result is a blessing and a curse, part and parcel of the very newness which confounds labels and pits artists and fans against the very recording industry that is supposed to align and represent those parties and more, and going into why and wherefore would take a good couple of hours we just don't have.
But just because something has been recorded doesn't mean it has value. As I discussed in a post about B-sides and rarities over at Cover Lay Down yesterday, many non-album tracks truly belong in the vaults and dusty hallways where they are ultimately unearthed. Demos, especially, often suffer from poor recording quality, not to mention as-yet-unperfected songwriting; though there are plenty of collectors who drool to hear even the muddiest scrap of Nick Drake or Beach Boys outtake, there's a reason why this, after all, was not the version the artists and engineers chose to press into wax for all eternity.
Which makes David Crosby's predominantly solo version of Guinnevere, originally recorded in-studio a year before the release of the full-bore Crosby, Stills, and Nash version, a tripartite anomaly: a demo recording, released by the artists themselves, which is both crystal clear (thanks to some decades-later remixing and a surprisingly crisp source tape) and hauntingly beautiful. It may not have the full-bore CSN harmonies we know from the "original" version, and it seems to have traded the slow build-to-rock we're used to hearing for an acoustic envelope of singer-songwriter sound. And maybe it's my bias as a folkfan. But in my mind, this is the keeper.
"Come won't you walk with me Griselda, wearing that dress that moonlight shines through, I am a sad and lonely boy, since your mother said I couldn't see you." That´s Yo La Tengo, with a deceptively simple song from their delightful cover album Fakebook (´90). I´ve never heard the original by Peters Stampfell´s Holy Modal Rounders by the way. Anyone?
Gillian Welch: Annebelle
I don't know much about Gillian Welch, except that she rose to fame as a result of the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. I only own one album. Each of the songs on it have a sweet country feel and old fashioned pastoral lyrics. Several of the tracks are really quite beautiful.
The featured track is excruciatingly sad. A mother with an apparently failing farm mourns the death of her daughter, Annabelle, who was the apple of her eye.
And we can not have all things to please us
No matter how we try
Until we've all gone to Jesus
We can only wonder why
Jackson Browne: Rosie
I was about 8 years old when the album Running On Empty came out.
Little wonder I missed the wink and nod "love interest" from this song, until around five years later.
The song is a tender, beautiful, heartbreaking salute to that "anything is better than nothing" emotion, which will worry souls deep into the night.
And, too, this song represents my second entry for our week's theme that is not really about a woman... Hrm...
"Paging Dr. Benway... Dr. Benway, please pick up the white courtesy phone..."
It seemed like time to start stretching the genre boundaries a bit more here at Der StarMacher, so for those who, like myself, were ever-so-briefly caught up in the late-wave ska revival of the early nineties and ever wondered where that sound really came from, here's some old school that sounds very much like the new(ish) school.
All Toots and Co. need is a slightly tighter sound and a less muddy production, and they could pass for any number of dapper young bands of slightly geeky wannabes from an era that would, eventually, bring us Gwen Stefani as a chameleonic last woman standing. Not that we'd want to strip this song of all its ragged charm, of course: it's the lazy beat that makes this work.
Oh, and if you keep squeezing your woman, but she don't want to squeeze you right, it's a pretty safe bet that she doesn't like you all that much. The pain in Toots' voice as he realizes this is matched perfectly by the wail of the saxophone.
Note: original release was a 1965 single; purchase link goes to Toots and the Maytals website. Also, if anyone knows how to stave off an attacking swarm of hummingbirds, someone named Peggy could really use your assistance.
Arthur Alexander: Anna
Arthur Alexander was a big influence on the Rolling Stones and The Beatles—especially John Lennon. AMG calls his body of work “the stuff of genius.” Despite his talent and influence, Alexander is not well known. This particular song was covered by the Beatles, but I favor the original.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Richie Valens: Donna
When Richie Valens was a student at San Fernando High, he wrote this about his girlfriend, Donna Ludwig. The Pacoima, California, native was first known as the "Little Richard of the Valley", most Rock fans recall he was one of the musicians that perished in the fateful plane crash that is known as The Day the Music Died. Donna Ludwig is now Donna Fox, Branch Manager of Sacramento's Eagle Home Mortgage. She's married with grandkids and has a personalized license plate that reads "ODONNA". I had a girl, Donna was her name...
Leonard Cohen: Suzanne
We speak so easily of lyrics, but music and interpretation are a big part of meaning.
For example, take Suzanne, a sad tale of a second-person hero who falls in with a half-crazy temptress with a perfect body, and - as far as I can tell; Leonard Cohen's lyrical style is often oblique - catches her madness like a virus in the process. In the original version of this 1967 song, Cohen's molasses-slow delivery and lugubrious vowels flavor the lyrics with an aching tone of regret for such recklessness, and its inevitable conclusion. As the first track on Leonard Cohen's first major release, the song would come to set the tone for the incredible career that followed.
But as the history of Hallelujah amply demonstrates, the possibilities for tonal interpretation that Cohen's openly vague poetics provide are vast. Some subsequent covers of Suzanne -- and there are many -- seem to have interpreted the dream-like second verse, with its directly biblical narrative of a pitiable and lonely Jesus, as a prompt towards a more mystical approach, as if we should celebrate the way our almost-narrator openly embraces madness as a kind of visionary model for behavior. Others seem to emphasize the woman, as if the cost did not truly matter, as if to say that love is a madness well worth embracing. Here's a couple of samples, just to prove how much tonal shift can matter to meaning:
Nina Simone: Suzanne [purchase]
Peter Gabriel: Suzanne [purchase]
Neil Diamond: Suzanne [purchase]
[ purchase ]
Bobby Charles: Rosie
This is a bonus cut from Bobby Charles' self-titled debut, one of my new favorites. I can't stress enough the great sound this record provides. Vetiver just released a cover of Bobby's I Must Be In A Good Place Now, showing some much due reverence to this fine LP.
As songs' go, I guess, Rosie's never coming down, and things can never be rosy.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Elton John: Amoreena
Lost, somewhere in the seventies - mom has two records in constant rotation at the Humphries household; Carol King's Tapestry and Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection. I have to admit not being a fan of Mr. John's music, except for this album. I know the guy is talented, he's just not my cup of tea. Amoreena's full of palpable lust and yearning, anyone that's been separated a great distance from a loved one can relate. Lately, I've been thinking how much I miss my lady...
Bwr already posted up Beck's "Debra," which was on my short list, so I'll go with T Rex adding an 'o' to the name...
"Dug a re dug n dug a re dug etc.
Oh Debora, always look like a zebra
Your sunken face is like a galleon
Clawed with mysteries of the Spanish Main, oh Debora..."
Dug a re dug n dug a re dug, indeed.
Elvis Costello: Veronica
OK - I know there are at least three of us who are thinking about posting this song, so I hope you'll forgive me for taking it.
For me, Allison and Veronica are the bookends that mark one of the strongest, if not the strongest, streaks of musical output in rock history. Ten brilliant albums in as many years is a standard that very few artists can compete with (I say 10 instead of 11 because Goodbye Cruel World was a bit of a misstep, in my opinion). Following Veronica, Costello has done some very nice work, but nothing since has ever compared with his initial decade-long burst of activity.
Trust, Armed Forces, This Year's Model, Get Happy, Imperial Bedroom, King of America. Man, that's some great stuff! This incredible streak started with a girl's name, and it ended in the same way.
I know I'm preaching to the converted, as it seems that most of the authors here are Costello fans. But that's as it should be.
So, sit back and Dig It!
Tom Jones: Delilah
We all know that Samson was a mighty good man, strongest in his day - until Delilah came along and clipped his wig. In 1968, this song reached #2 in the BBC charts, firmly ensconcing Jones as a nonpareil stud muffin hitmaker. Reggie Dwight sings on the chorus, his voice was a bit more front and center on the Elton John records he later worked on. Why, why, why, Delilah?
Debra is not about a girl named Debra, it's about Debra's sister -- who might be named Jenny. Beck falls for Jenny when he meets her at the JC Penny, but he doesn't discriminate. He'd like to "get with" both of them.
This is one of Beck's funniest and funkiest songs, and is a high point from the album of his that I like least.
Kenny Rogers: Lucille
When I was a kid in the 1970’s, Kenny Rogers was the face of “country music,” or at least that’s how I remember it. A few others that come to mind are Dolly Parton, Chrystal Gale, and Willie Nelson. But The Gambler reigned supreme.
Of all the corny songs from that period (and I say that in the most affectionate way possible), this one might be my favorite. It’s right up there with Coward of the County. Anyway, it’s got a very catchy chorus, a few twists and turns, and even a little bit of a morality with the cheatin’.
Here’s what AMG had to say: "Lucille has all the elements of greatness — a potential one-night stand evaporates and the singer trades sex for heart, becoming a hero in the process. The premise and its hook are unforgettable; simple music dresses up the melody and story by not getting in the way."
The Hollies: Carrie Anne
This is about Marianne Faithfull (the name was changed to protect the guilty). Apparently, she liked to play with older boys and prefects. Enjoy the shiny three-part harmonies of The Hollies, one of my favorite British Invasion bands - dig that steeldrum solo!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Pink Floyd: Vera
"Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn?"
Well, you've no doubt heard this song before. Weren't copies of The Wall given away with disc players, once upon a time? No? well, it sure seemed like it to me. Everybody in my peer group bought Pink Floyd discs first. "The sound will blow your mind, dude!"
That said, this version may still be new to you. It comes from something called Under Construction: The Second Demo To The Wall. "Vera" is pretty well the same from the official release, albeit rougher, but other tunes have different lyrics, alternate instrumentation, etc., so it's a pretty nice way to review an otherwise over-listened (for me at least) piece.
Rick James: Mary Jane
Time to get a little funk up in here. A little funk courtesy the late Rick James, to be precise.
Even though he sings, "I'm in love with Mary Jane. She's my main thing," and even though said Mary is, literally, sch-mokin' hot, Rick has, with a subtle and clever style, managed to double-entendre-trick us into a smoky, dangerous world of illicit pleasures.
Seems he's worked his wily, nefarious ways on MJ, too... Oh, wait, it's just Kirsten Dunst. Now she, in my opinion, is sch-mokin'! Not so much in this picture, but... well, I guess she is totally smoking in this picture. Hrm... not what I meant, but... gah!
Damn you, Rick James, and your infernal weed song!
I was feeling a bit iffy about posting this song: Since it is such an obvious ode to grass, I was worried it might fail the topic. Upon second review, though, I decided it does fit. If you want to imagine this about a girl, go for it...
Me? I'm going to step outside for some *ahem* fresh air.
Neil Young: Pokahontas
This is Neil Young at his best, in my opinion. He has had a long and varied career, but when he's sitting in a chair with a guitar and a harmonica he is magical.
The lyrics to this song are sad, moving, and wonderful until you get to the last verse. If I could meet Neil Young in person, the first question I would ask him would be, "Why on earth did you invite Marlon Brando to your amazing fantasy date with Pocahontas?"
Randy & The Rainbows: Denise
That was the problem - I liked her, but didn't love her. She came to all my gigs and made sure to wrap herself around me during the breaks, daring all females to pull me from her clutches. She'd always ask me to sing her "Denise", but I'd refuse, since I'd be indirectly saying she had my heart. I soon fell in love with a Canadian girl and told Denise, in a Fatal Attraction moment, she responded by breaking into my house and sliding into my bed, where I found her after I came home. After I sent her out of my life, two years later she married a Navy guy and had a couple of kids. Long before that, the Canadian girl Dear John'ed me that long distance relationships didn't work - aint it funny how life works out.
Rank & File: Amanda Ruth
One of these days I'm going to get around to doing a post over at my other blog called "Who Invented Alt-Country?" or maybe, "Alt-Country Before Alt-Country Was Cool." It will be all about the interplay between country music and the indie music scene of the 1980's, before Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown took "alt-country" to new heights of popularity in the 1990's.
One of the key players in that 1980's "cowpunk" scene (which was what we called it before somebody coined the more marketable term "alt-country") was a band called Rank and File. They combined their punk roots with a love of country twang to produce a couple of great albums in the early 1980's. This song really captures the fun spirit of the cowpunk days.
Paul Siebel: Louise
This little sad one is from a legendary record, Woodsmoke and Oranges (recently reviewed back on my home page). When this week's theme was announced, I had Woodsmoke on the headphones right next to Plainsong's In Search of Amelia Earhart, and was confused to hear the same tune pop up twice. Turns out the song has been covered by Eric Anderson, Leo Kottke, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Linda Rondstadt, and more!
Here's another for the cover lovers. ;)
Scud Mountain Boys: Helen
This is the final track on the Scud Mountain Boys' second album, Dance the Night Away, and is a pretty clear sign of where the band was headed for their third and best album, Massachusetts. In other words: the studio. This song and "She Took His Picture" are both guitar-pickin' romps--forebearers of "Cigarette Sandwich" from the third album--unlike the dreary (in a good way) ballads that make up the rest of this album and the entirety of their debut, Pine Box. Both early albums were recorded to one microphone set up on co-songwriter Bruce Tull's kitchen table, which made for a couple of perfectly moody records that Pernice has certainly never recaptured.
Not that he's wanted to; he's clearly left lo-fi behind, and "Helen" was the first indication that that was his desire early on. It's a terrific, fun song. I love the way he sneaks Helen's name into the verses, as if the original lyrics were more anonymous but he couldn't keep from dropping his woman's name out the side of his mouth.
Monday, May 19, 2008
The Buckinghams: Susan
This is one of my favorite songs by the excellent 60s group the Buckinghams (along with "Kind of a Drag" and "Hey Baby, They're Playing Our Song"). My favorite thing about this song--which I actually didn't even notice until after I'd owned it for a couple years--is the totally bizarre breakdown that happens toward the end of the song. It literally sounds like the band takes a smoke break, as what sounds like the soundtrack to some sort of noir thriller comes in for a few seconds. Then the band gets back to its lovely little pop song.
Los Lobos: Evangeline
Considering how unusual the name is (before the very recent spike in popularity, at least), there are a surprising number of songs about Evangeline.
My favorite of the Evangeline tunes is this peppy little number from Los Lobos' debut LP, How Will The Wolf Survive? (which in my humble opinion is a killer record--and a whole lot of fun too).
I tried to find a random Evangeline on Google, but all I got was this celebrity person (shown above). She probably explains the recent popularity of the name. Los Lobos' song in 1984 didn't even make a dent in the name popularity chart.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Iron & Wine: Jezebel
Sam Beam of Iron & Wine is a master of creating an image and a feeling through clever and colorful lyrics and through almost painfully authentic vocal and acoustic performances. Jezebel is a song that brings to mind sin, pain, greed, and lust and couples them with redemption, courage, and beauty. Jezebel "was born to be the woman we could blame". Her blouse is on the ground and the hungry dogs come running, roaming, swearing that they will love her. But Sam Beam, or whoever the narrator is, sees beauty and courage when he looks at her. She is the "only shape he'll pray to". She is the "spark for all he's done".
This theme of redemption and beauty rising out of human imperfection runs through much of Beam's work.
The song itself is simple, but achingly beautiful. Beam's alto vocals are sincere and longing. The repetative four-chords of the main guitar riff are hypnotic and lilting.
In my opinion, this is just a gorgeous song. If you haven't heard it before, turn down the lights, close your eyes and give it a listen.
(Author's note: OK, so I'm a dumbass. I didn't realize we were supposed to add random pictures until I actually read the "Little Black Book" post all the way through to the comments. Stupid reading. Anyway, here's my Annie, decidedly less hirsute than my previous subjects.)
Ronnie Lane: Annie [purchase]
A sadly beautiful number from the unheralded Pete Townshend/Ronnie Lane LP, Rough Mix (1977). "Annie" is actually a Ronnie Lane/Eric Clapton co-write ... ol' Slowhand even adds refreshingly subdued acoustic guitar ... and I'd say it's of a piece with some of Ronnie's tunes with The Faces ("Debris," "Glad And Sorry," maybe "Richmond"). Benny Gallagher's haunting accordion rides atop the backporch country strumming and perfectly complements Lane's soulful singing. A winner in every regard.
If you're an old-school Faces fan, I highly recommend the documentary, The Passing Show: The Life & Music Of Ronnie Lane [purchase]. Like much of Ronnie's best work, it's both sad and curiously life-affirming.
Dan Bern: Estelle
This week is bound to be cool because not only will we get our regular dose of amazing tunes, but we'll also "get to know" a lot of different woman through the lyrics of these songs. I have to assume that in most cases the woman will be real people in the lives of the artists. So, as a man who loves women (none more than my wife) I look forward to hearing about the different personalities.
Meet Estelle. She is described by Bern as "the best person" he ever knew. She's a Mormon woman who calls him drunk every few months and asks him questions about things that he doesn't want to talk about. Bern says that he can't talk to her for long unless he is also drunk, in which case he can talk to her "aawwllll night".
(Note: There are a lot of lyrics in this song. You won't actually meet Estelle until the 5th verse or so.)