Harry McClintock: Big Rock Candy Mountain
Since the flowering of the railroads, whenever this country has seen economic hardship, there has been a rise in the number of hobos. These (mostly) men live in empty boxcars on moving trains. They make very little money, and subsist on a loose barter system. Some are musicians who perform in exchange for food and other needs.
It is a humble life to be sure. As such, the hobo's vision of heaven is similarly modest. There is no need for me to elucidate when this song does it so well.
"Big Rock Candy Mountain" has become a classic children's song, because the imagery is so appealing to a child. I first heard it when I was a kid. I grew up in New Jersey, within broadcast range of New York City radio stations. There was a show on Saturday nights called "Woody's Stepchildren". That was where I got my first exposure to folk music. Looking back, I feel very lucky.
Fred Holstein: Hobo’s Lullaby
I couldn't leave the theme of the hobo without posting The Hobo's Lullaby. This was another song I grew up hearing on the radio. Although there is no connection to our heaven theme that I can find, this post felt incomplete to me without it.
Submitted by Darius
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Talking Heads: Heaven
I'm sure most of you are aware that the new Coldplay album sounds a little different for them. That's because the band is now working with producer Brian Eno. Eno's presence on a project always changes things, sometimes drastically.
My first awareness of Brian Eno came from his work with Talking Heads, starting with the album Fear of Music. Here was a band whose sound, up to that point, could be summed up in two words: "Psycho Killer".
All of a sudden, the sound took a dramatic lurch into uncharted waters. "Cities" and "Life During Wartime" were great songs, but they sounded like nothing that had come before, After the following album, "Remain in Light", the members of Talking Heads took a break to pursue solo projects. When they regrouped, Brian Eno was gone, but there were creative tensions in the band that had not been there before, and eventually the band broke up. But, for a brief time, the music they made was amazing. "Heaven", indeed.
If this account is worrisome to any Coldplay fans out there, let me reassure you. Eno went on to produce U2, with no apparent ill effects.
Submitted by Darius
Cheap Trick: Heaven Tonight
With crunchy guitar chords and explosive drums, Cheap Trick's third album, Heaven Tonight, is the very epitome of Power Pop. It also has one of the most classic album covers of all-time, as seen above. The title song, Heaven Tonight, isn't as frenetic as the rest of the album, but it does a nice slow burn. This is Cheap Trick at their peak, serving up some pure Pop for now people.
Leo Kottke: Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring
I think this may be the biggest genre breaking post we've had yet, and for that I apologize. Skip it if you'd like, but this is good music and so I think it fits on a blog about good music. I've seen Leo Kottke perform many times. As you probably know, he plays folk, blues, and lot's of other styles, but no matter what the style, his signature is the beautiful way he has of making a guitar open up and speak. He knows his instrument, and watching him play in close proximity is inspirational because he seems to play with so little effort.
If you want to relax on a Sunday morning, this entire album is worth owning. It's not all in the classical genre - but it's all finger-picked guitar-only music.
The Band Of Blacky Ranchette: Outside An Angel's Reach (3 Sixes)
This one might have been more appropriate for Hell Week (three sixes) than Heaven Week (angel), but it's a great song that most people haven't heard, and Hell Week has passed, so here it is.
The Band of Blacky Ranchette is one of Howie Gelb's Giant Sand side projects. I like the way this song incorporates the 6-pack, 6-shooter, and 6-string guitar.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Hayes Carll: She Left Me For Jesus
Mark Fosson: Jesus On A Greyhound
If I get saved, will I collect interest?
Here are two songs I was thinking of posting this week. My wife suggested putting them in the same post, and it all came together for me.
First, Hayes Carll explains how searching for Jesus can be sinful. Then, Mark Fosson points out to that sinner that the road to salvation is traversed by public transportation.
Submitted by Darius
Madelyn Iris: Drowning Man
I have been AWOL part of this week, which is too bad because I had quite a few really cool songs for this theme. So, now I'm in a mad rush to get a few of them up.
The Clash: The Sound Of The Sinners
Joe Strummer got his gospel-cred when he sang this gravely song of praise and redemption. Tim Curry is the voice of the preacher at the end. This song is an interesting last song to the first CD (and originally to the third side of the triple LP) because it is such a non-political offering on such an otherwise overtly political album. Instead, the chorus at least, seems to be Joe's sincere recognition that in spite of his stardom and his drug induced fantasies, he is not in fact God.
After all this time
To believe in Jesus
After all those drugs
I thought I was Him
After all my lying
And my suffering
I ain't good enough
I ain't clean enough
To be Him
Roxy Music: Angel Eyes
Manifesto was Roxy Music's sixth studio album and came after a hiatus of several years that saw lead singer, Brian Ferry, release two successful solo records. Angel Eyes was the third single from the album, which was minus former members Paul Thompson (drums) and Eddie Jobson (synthesizer/violin) and supplemented by session players Andy Newmark, Neil Hubbard, and Alan Spenner. This resulted in a distinct change in the band's sound, which shifted to a more middle-of-the-road musical arrangement. IMO, Roxy became Bryan Ferry's backing band, this is more of the sort of music you would expect from his solo efforts.
Angel Eyes is a heavenly slab of seductive smooth-soul Pop - St. Pete would understand if you went back for more.
Imogen Heap: Angry Angel
This is from Imogen Heap's solo debut, I Megaphone, recorded when she was nineteen years old (the title is an anagram of her name). Angry Angel clues you in to the Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette comparisons you see associated with her name. I posted this because an acquaintance told me how she loved her music - what do you think?
Don Julian & the Meadowlarks: Heaven & Paradise
The intensity of this guy's desire! He wants to be with his girl in heaven and paradise. Not sure why you need the latter if you've got the former—unless you need a Corona and lime in addition to all the harps and perfection.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I posted a Gourds song at the tail end of our "Fifty States" week, but this week they're getting the blue plate special treatment. The Gourds have been one of my favorite bands of the last decade and I'm fortunate to live in Austin, where I've probably seen them 50-60 times. The first time I saw them ... and the only time I've ever seen them outside of Texas ... was in 1999 at a nearly deserted Birmingham, Alabama, dive called The Nick. I remember being awestruck that A) No one was here to see the band, since it wasn't like Birmingham was filled to the brim with entertainment options, and B) They were combining so much of what I loved about Doug Sahm, Los Lobos, and The Band, while at the same time, new wave and punk rock flavors were hovering in the mix. They also switched through probably a dozen instruments over the course of their set, which earned HUGE props from me. Whatever one called this mish-mash of vernacular sounds, it was clear that The Gourds were inhabiting a very unique musical ecosystem.
One element of the Gourdian gumbo that is "contextually unique," you might say, has been their occasional forays into "matters of the spirit," if not outright gospel. I say contextual because the vast majority of their contemporaries simply cannot (or, to be fair, choose not to) draw upon southern gospel roots with the authori-tay of The Gourds. It might be a discomfort with Christianity, it might be a perceived lack of authenticity (either internally or externally driven), or it might be the simple fact that you can't really sing a song like "Jesus Christ With Signs Following" and hide behind layers of fashionable irony. I mean, on some level, you gotta feel it in your soul, ya know? So, the songs I've chosen today are a sampler platter of The Gourds' doing religious music, far from complete, but comprehensive in its own way.
Gourds: God's House [purchase]
Gourds: Lament [purchase]
These are the bookend tracks to their 1998 album, Stadium Blitzer, but I've flip-flopped their locations. "God's House" is actually the last song on the album, secretly tacked onto the end of "I Like Drinking." It's an acapella number that kind of invokes old-time southern shape-note singing and while it's not a song I'd come back to over and over, I do think it's a perfect intro into The Gourds' love of gospel. It also showcases the perfectly ragged harmony singing of Kevin Russell and Jimmy Smith, whose voices work together in a John & Exene "This really shouldn't work, but I'll be damned if it doesn't kick my ass" kinda way.
"Lament" is Stadium Blitzer's leadoff track and is explained by Kevin Russell thusly: "My Uncle Jimmy lives next door to a Church of Christ and the preacher would come over sometimes and he'd always hide his beer and cigarettes. So, I wrote a song about it."
Gourds: Jesus Christ With Signs Following [purchase]
Max Johnston earned his alt.country stripes as a member of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. In fact, it's his fiddle that drives last week's UT offering, "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down." However, it's been his multi-instrument contributions to The Gourds that should be his calling card and that have certainly elevated the band to another level. Technically, the arrival of Keith Langford on drums in about 1999 was their initial foray into the stratosphere of respectability. That's because Mr. Langford is as steady in the pocket as his predecessor, Charlie Llewellyn, was charmingly ramshackle. Anyway, "JCWSF" was the first Max song to appear on a Gourds release and may have been his first proper singing track ... though there may be a Freakwater tune that predates this one. And if nothing else, it inspired me to get the great picture that leads off this post. How'd you like to be the claims adjuster for that guy's insurance plan?
Kev Russell's Junker: Church On Fire [purchase]
The Junker was Kevin's Gourds offshoot in name-only. Fact is, on this track Kev plays acoustic, Max plays mandolin, Keith is on drums, and Jimmy harmonizes, like they would on any Gourds release. However, Jimmy doesn't rock the funky bass because Kev enlisted the great Mark Rubin (Bad Livers!) to play tuba. That's right ... tuba. Talk about going old-school for your bass parts. A great obscurity in the Russell catalog, I love the tagline:
"I am just a preacher lookin' for a choir
But baby my church is on fire."
Shinyribs Me And Jesus [not available for purchase]
Shinyribs is another Kevin Russell Gourds side project, but this one is a true side project in that it doesn't have any Gourds on it. OK, Mike Stewart (who produced their first four albums) is on bass, but that barely counts. Recorded at a Threadgill's show just a couple weeks ago, "Me And Jesus" is an old Tom T. Hall song that Kevin absolutely takes to church. I LOVE Tom T, but his version sounds like he's trying not to throw his back out. Kevin, meanwhile, reaches down to his holy parts and just gets after it. Totally nails the song. In fact, a couple in the front row got so worked up, Kevin actually baptized them. By the way, the great slide guitar parts are courtesy of Austin's sardonic guitar hero, Jon Dee Graham, who sat in for the first half of the show. All in all, just a great performance. Get you some.
Clem Snide: Fontanelle
I don't want to hijack this blog with my personal life, but one of my best friends from High School and College killed himself a couple of days ago. With it being Heaven Week here at SMM, I thought I'd dedicate this Clem Snide tune to my friend, Chris. Rest in peace, brother.
If the world should turn it's back to you
And it seems there's nothing left to do
Then may God hold you in the palm of his hand
The Louvin Brothers: The Angels Rejoiced Last Night
Lucy Kaplansky: The Angels Rejoiced Last Night
As I alluded to earlier, I'm on my way out the door for my annual double-shot of bluegrass and folk, featuring two weeks in a field with ten thousand folks I consider family, and not an internet connection in sight. It's the closest I come to heaven each year, let me tell you, and I'm rarin' to go.
But given last week's great response to Satan is Real, I thought I'd leave you with another great and bittersweet country spiritual from the same album, especially since it comes with one of my favorite covers of anything, ever. Angelic, sweet and innocent, almost hopeful, Lucy Kaplansky's take on this song is a comprehensive transformation of the sorrowful harmonies and ache of longing that graced the original Louvin Brothers performance.
How vast our conceptions of heaven. How much it comforts each sorrowful soul, even in the darkest hours.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Cowboy Junkies: Misguided Angel
On an album full of excellent covers, my favorite song is this original written by Margo and Michael Timmins. What's even more surprising is that in the 20 years since Trinity Sessions nobody else has decided to cover Misguided Angel.
This one really has nothing to do with Heaven other than the word "angel" in the title, but I figured "what the heck..."
Buck Owens: Will There Be Big Rigs In Heaven?
This one's just perfect. For maximum enjoyment, follow along with the lyrics:
Will there be big rigs in heaven when I die?
Will my reward be cruising down that freeway in the sky?
When I climb that final grade, when my final run is made
Will there be big rigs in heaven?
That ol' diesel singing loud
Big wheels gliding thru the clouds
Would they allow a big rig in heaven?
Gearing down, that engine's pulling
Up to where ol' Gabriel's blowing
They've got to need a big rig in heaven!
If my ol' Kenworth don't come thru
A new Saint Peter-bilt will do
If they let me have a big rig in heaven
No more pot-holes, no more scales
No more smokeys on my tail
Can't wait to drive a big rig in heaven!
Hot showers every morning
Every ticket is a warning
I think I'd like a big rig in heaven
Every waitress is an angel
With her coffee pot and halo
What could beat a big rig in heaven?
I'll wear wings and play that harp
But I never could stay parked
Can I drive my big rig in heaven?
Is there a golden interstate
Just inside that pearly gate
Don't Jesus need a big rig in heaven?
John Hiatt: Angel
I was surprised to find that we haven't posted any John Hiatt songs here yet -- had I noticed, I would have rectified the problem long before now. As it is, I'm a bit too busy packing for my summer folkfest rounds to do this song justice, so perhaps it's enough to note that, though Angel is not one of John Hiatt's best known songs, it can be found on his highest charting album...and that this angry second-person tale of being on the receiving end of a break-up -- of losing one's wings to the snow, to be called Angel no more, to become earthbound alone -- is pure rock and roll, and good rock and roll can speak for itself.
Plus, the bridge of this song contains the most vivid couplet about breaking up that rock and roll has to offer, period:
He peeled the skin off of the world and you stopped breathin’
You drew a breath, he sighed, the air was freezin’
Traffic: Heaven Is In Your Mind
Combine the spacey sixties, Brit R&B, three months in an isolated Berkshire cottage and you get Heaven Is In Your Mind. Traffic's one constant over the years is Stevie Winwood, who has been there throughout all permeations of the band.
Heaven Is In Your Mind is from Mr. Fantasy/Heaven Is In Your Mind, one of the finest albums of sixties-styled music you can find. If you have a chance, I highly recommend a listen.
Lucinda Williams: Drunken Angel
One of the great things about the music Blogosphere is you get to hear artists radio tends to ignore, like Lucinda Williams. She sings, plays guitar and writes songs that'll bring tears to your eyes. Bob Dylan once said that he never understood any kind of border patrol when it comes to music, listen to Lucinda Williams and hear music without borders. She's been labeled Folk, Country, Rock - best labeling her as good music.
Williams said she wrote Drunken Angel about her friend Blaze Foley, a songwriter who was shot and killed in a bar over an argument. From Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, one of the best albums of the 1990s.
Slobberbone: Trust Jesus [purchase]
"Now one day this world is gonna curl up and burst,
It's gonna choke on its own tongue and die of its own thirst,
Until that day comes our roads will always be long,
But he's left signposts to guide us along."
--Brent Best, "Trust Jesus"
When the dust finally settles on this decade and we're able to judge the music of the "aughties" with something approaching objectivity, I have little doubt that Slobberbone's 2000 masterpiece, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, will be in my personal Top 3, if not ensconced at the top. For an old Soul Asylum and Replacements fan like me, it was like they were channeling the best songs from each band. In fact, I don't think it's sacrilicious in the slightest to say that Brent Best's songwriting on Everything is on par with the songwriting on any single album by Dave Pirner or Paul Westerberg. Musically, the band was in its absolute prime, marrying its basic Neil Young & Crazy Horse stage ethos with filigrees of acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, Stax-style horns, accordion, piano, and Hammond B-3. I waver on a couple tracks ... one of which is a 2 1/2 minute instrumental ... but it's hard to find another album from this era with so many fist-pumping anthems. Seriously, how many albums are so good that you might need Tommy John surgery after repeated listenings?
Coincidentally, the album was originally slated to be titled Trust Jesus, after today's showcase track, but the record label (New West) was leery about the band being confused with a Christian rock outfit. While on one level that concern is understandable, you'd think that the name Slobberbone would be a pretty big clue that this isn't Stryper. Whatever the case, it's a great tune about the virtue of perseverance in anonymity, with just a hint of Chuck Berry travelogue. The fact that the band toured thousands upon thousands of miles ... from Mexico to Maine, for sure ... on the absolute fringe of mainstream acceptance also gives this tune a certain ironic (and sad) prescience. As it happens, just last night Slobberbone reunited for a benefit in their hometown of Denton, TX. So, for a couple of hours at least, these great songs were brought to life once again.
Lord, I'm only just one man,
Lord, I've only got two hands,
Lord, I'll do the best I can,
Lord, help me help them to understand."
Nina Simone: Nearer to Heaven
I have 73 songs by Nina Simone in my iTunes library. Some I know better than others; sometimes, when I press play on Nina, the songs—all great—start to blend together if I'm not paying attention. In a way, that's okay. Because every time one of her songs comes up on shuffle, isolated from the rest of its album, it's like I'm hearing genius all over again. Like a little aural truffle. That was the case for this song. I didn't jump up and say "Nearer to Heaven!" when I found out this week's theme. Searching my library, this song fit the theme. So I honed in on this one for the first time just a few days ago and, unsurprisingly, it's genius.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Bobb Trimble: One Mile From Heaven
I'm on vacation in Lake Winnnneepesauukeee. Bobb Trimble though, one of the best discoveries ever.
Posted by Brendan at 11:50 PM
Alice In Chains: Heaven Beside You
This was written and sung by Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, who said - "Another attempt to reconcile the fact that my life and paths are tearing me apart from the person I love. All the songs I write about her are a way for me to maybe speak to her, express things I could never express."
After the April 5, 2002 drug overdose death of lead singer, Layne Staley, Alice In Chains took a 3 year hiatus and currently are working on a studio album with new lead vocalist William DuVall.
The Cure: Just Like Heaven
Supposedly Robert Smith's favorite Cure song, it was recorded at a vineyard in the South of France and was originally titled Shivers. From the November, 2003 issue of Blender Magazine:
"In 1987, my wife, Mary, and I lived in a small two-bedroom flat in North London. The other room was my music room. Just about the only discipline I had in my life was self-imposed. I set myself a regimen of writing 15 days a month; otherwise I'd have just got up in mid-afternoon and watched TV until the pubs opened, then gone out drinking. I knew as soon as I'd written it that it was a good pop song. Although I didn't realize it at the time, the structure is very similar to 'Another Girl, Another Planet,' by The Only Ones, which I can still vividly remember hearing on the radio late at night in the mid-'70s. The main difference is that as the song progressed, I introduced some different chord changes, which give it that slightly melancholic feeling. The song is about hyperventilating - kissing and fainting to the floor. Mary dances with me in the video because she was the girl, so it had to be her. The idea is that one night like that is worth 1,000 hours of drudgery." - Robert Smith
John Lennon: God [purchase]
The Velvet Underground: Jesus [purchase]
The Scud Mountain Boys: Holy Ghost [purchase]
Perhaps it's the holy trinity in song titles, if not in the holiness of lyrical content. But it couldn't be a coincidence that these three songs are among the finest songs each of these artists ever came up with, could it? Surely there is a divine hand.
Though Lennon, Reed, and Pernice might argue the point, starting with Lennon's litany of things he doesn't believe in. "God" was a statement of independence if ever I've heard one--not only independence from religion and spirituality, but also from his former bandmates and indeed all musical peers. This signaled Lennon's ambition to be more than mere songwriter.
"Jesus," meanwhile, might be my favorite VU song. There is an emotional complexity to this song that isn't apparent from the lyrics alone, which in total are "Jesus, help me find my proper place / Help me in my weakness, 'cause I've fallen out of grace / Jesus." Is it a song written from the perspective of someone truly searching for redemption? Or is it laced in sarcasm? I can't be sure--heck, maybe I'm just projecting--but I detect the slightest bit of taunting in this track. I've never read anything by Reed to indicate his own feelings on the subject or the song.
Finally, "Holy Ghost," from the masterpiece that is Massachusetts. Again, God probably wouldn't be too happy with this one, about an addict and loser wishing he was still with his ex. It's lyrically tied to the earlier track from the album (not to mention Joe Pernice's best song ever), "Grudge Fuck," which is also about a loser calling up his ex out of a combined loneliness and lack of weed. With this song, which comes closer to the end of the album the loneliness is increasing. "I'd tempt the holy ghost to have you by my side" - talk about desperation!
R.E.M.: Near Wild Heaven
At the risk of being the guy who only submits R.E.M. songs… I submit to you another R.E.M. song.
"Near Wild Heaven" comes from 1991's Out of Time and is one of a very few songs in the band's catalogue that features Mike Mills on lead vocals instead of Michael Stipe. In fact, Mills co-wrote the lyrics with Stipe as well. Mills has always been my favorite member of R.E.M., so it's no surprise that I am drawn to this tune.
Musically, the trademark jangle of Peter Buck's Rickenbacker is enhanced by Beach Boy style backing vocals to create a heavenly pop tune. Listen to this track and then ask yourself if it might have been a better choice for a second single ("Losing My Religion" being the first) from Out of Time than "Shiny Happy People."
"When I get to Heaven, the angels will be playing not harps, but Rickenbackers. And they will be playing songs by R.E.M."
~An early review of R.E.M. from New Musical Express Magazine~
Submitted by Nelson
Tom Waits: Little Trip To Heaven (On The Wings Of Your Love)
Bonnie Raitt: Angel From Montgomery
Bonnie Raitt w/ John Prine: Angel From Montgomery
Call it overplayed. Call it sappy seventies lite on the radio dial. But back before Bonnie Raitt's voice had been ravaged by alcohol, she was a Boston-based bluesfolk singer and guitarist who looked like she could soar to the Heavens herself, and with a voice to match.
Raitt's first three albums are gorgeous and flawed. Her fourth, 1974 release Streetlights, was a marked shift towards mainstream pop consistency. You could already hear a rasp and rattle in there, if you listened closely, but the production served her changing tone well. By the time she released her live duet with original songwriter John Prine, her voice was as broken as his, in its own way. And being a fan of Bonnie Raitt meant something else entirely.
The idea of angel as saving grace has always appealed to me -- and this is, ultimately, a song of longing framed around the titular savior, though Prine's narrator is so desperate, she would just as easily accept an old rodeo poster as evidence of meaning. But I think this song gets so much more poignant when you consider the ravages of time and pop music on Bonnie Raitt's voice. Listening to her "original" take on this song now gives me chills, while more recent live versions -- including this one with Prine, which was first released, oddly enough, on a Steve Goodman tribute album -- while powerful in their own right, seem nostalgic by comparison.
Just for fun, here's Prine's solo acoustic take, too. I love the way his torn, yearning voice leans into the angelic chime and rise of the mandolin. Here's a guy whose voice got graveled up as he aged, too. In his case, however, there wasn't as far to fall.
John Prine: Angel From Montgomery
Monday, July 14, 2008
Fats Domino: My Blue Heaven
My Blue Heaven was written in 1927 by Walter Donaldson & George Whiting - it spawned numerous covers by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Al Jolson, and Fats Domino, who in 1956 charted with it at #19 on the US Hot Hundred, #5 on the R&B charts.
Outside of the incomparable Fats Domino, what makes this version special is his backing band, which includes master musicians like saxophonist Lee Allen and drummer Earl Palmer, players that helped define Rock and Roll. It just so happens that fellow SMM writer, LD, proprietor of The Adios Lounge, just posted a must-read Sideman Spotlight on Earl Palmer - go there and get knowledge on an important piece of Rock history.
By the way - if you hear the call of the Whip-poor-wills, know that you're late for dinner.
Jimi Hendrix: Angel
As much as I love Jimi Hendrix (my main inspiration for becoming a working musician), Angel creeped me out for years, since it seemed Jimi was predicting his own death. After I got over that, the song became one of my favorites. Hendrix's lyricism is often overlooked, Angel is a great example of his poetry.
The genesis for Angel was from a dream Jimi had where his mother came down from Heaven to take him back with her. Three years later, right before his death, he went back in the studio and finished it. It was included in the first of many posthumous releases, The Cry Of Love and nowadays is packaged as part of First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. Experience Angel, one of Jimi's best compositions.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
When I get to heaven I'll be greeted warmly
Surrounded by angels
As Jesus takes my hand
I'll receive a mansion
On the river jordan
And a crown of diamonds
For a race well run
Take 6: Milky-White Way
A capella music gets a bad rap in popular post-digital culture, primarily due to the proliferation of mediocre collegiate parodies of popular song which flit through the blogosphere, their false and commonplace cheerfulness wresting all meaning from everything they touch, their harmonic gusto boiling every nuance out of even the simplest love song.
But like any musical form -- and yes, a capella music when done properly is a musical form, not just a production choice -- there's good stuff out there, if you know where to look, and what to listen to and for.
Take Take 6, for example. They may have formed in a college bathroom (good acoustics), but I had the privilege of seeing these guys in concert once way back in high school, and I can tell you: this is the real deal, folks. Spiritual singers with a broad range, known for their full jazz harmonies, complex arrangements, and a masterful handle on the subtleties that make a song really mean something. But perhaps even more significantly, here's a group that knows how to use silence as much as they know how to use sound -- giving them a control over the total sonic environment which is, more than anything else, the mark of "real" a capella.
Technically, this is Christian music -- uplifting covers of hymns and bible stories. Not typical fare for me, I swear. But damn, if this sparsely arranged take on a traditional hymn isn't enough to make you rush the pulpit. Turn it up, and make sure the bass is boosted. Prepare to be amazed, and uplifted.
PS: Want more Take 6? Then head over to their website, click forward one on the player at the top of the screen, and check out their version of It's Not That Easy Being Green for some lighter yet equally impressive fare.)
Bob Dylan: Knockin' On Heaven's Door
Bob Dylan wrote Knockin' On Heaven's Door for the Sam Peckinpah film, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Dylan himself appeared in the film as the character "Alias". It's perhaps one of Dylan's most covered song, there's versions by Guns N' Roses, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Bryan Ferry, The Alarm, Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen, Wyclef Jean, The Sisters of Mercy, Warren Zevon, Seether, Cold Chisel, U2, Roger Waters, Television, Guided By Voices, Avril Lavigne, Bon Jovi, Bob Marley, Siouxsie & the Banshees, to name but a few.
While researching, I came across a great Wikipedia entry that I'd like to share:
As Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid neared completion, Dylan held a recording session on January 20 at Columbia's recording studio in Mexico City. Filming had been so difficult, both of the film's stars and Wurlitzer accompanied Dylan out of Durango. Wurlitzer said at the time, "Sam knows he's losing to Dylan... but I don't care, man. I've got to get away."
Backed by local Mexican musicians and members of Kris Kristofferson's band, Dylan had difficulty recording a satisfactory take of "Billy." Eventually, he began paring down the arrangement , and by the last take, he was backed only by bassist Terry Paul. This final take was used for the film and later included on the soundtrack album as "Billy 4." A brief instrumental, "Billy Surrenders," would also be featured in the film. The session would continue until 4 a.m., but it would not produce anything else that would be considered usable.
Meanwhile, Peckinpah hired Jerry Fielding to advise Dylan on his work. Fielding was experienced in film scoring, but he held very conservative views regarding popular music. Dylan was fully aware of Fielding's opinions regarding his work ("a lot of nonsense which is strictly for teenyboppers"), but he did not resist Fielding's recommendations on how to score the film.
On Fielding's advice, Dylan sang "a relevant verse" of the "Billy" ballad "as it fit the story at [four] separate points throughout the picture." Fielding had also heard Dylan's new composition, "Goodbye Holly," which was written for an important scene involving the character, Holly. Fielding recommended dropping this song and writing a new one for a scene involving the death of Sheriff Baker.
"I set up two dubbing sessions," recalls Fielding. "Dylan had this song ['Billy'] he'd written for which he had a limitless number of verses that he would sing in random order... So I had to tape Dylan's song, because he had nothing written down, and have it transcribed... At the same time I asked that he write at least one other piece of music because you cannot possibly hope to deal with an entire picture on the basis of that one ballad. So finally he brought to the dubbing session another piece of music - 'Knock-Knock-Knockin' on Heaven's Door.' Everybody loved it. It was shit. That was the end for me."
Dylan recorded the final version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" at a session in February, this time on Warner Bros. Records' soundstage in Burbank, California. "It was very early in the morning," recalls drummer Jim Keltner. "I think the session was 10 a.m. and again it all fell into place... There weren't any overdubs on that, the singers were singing live, little pump organ, Roger McGuinn I think played [guitar]. This was for a particular scene in the movie when Slim Pickens is dying and that's the first time I ever cried while I played. It was the combination of the words, Bob's voice, the actual music itself, the changes, and seeing the screen... In those days you were on a big soundstage, and you had this massive screen that you can see on the wall, [with] the scene... running when you're playing. I cried through that whole take."
The sessions at Burbank lasted several days. Though they were much more relaxed and amiable than the Mexico City session, the process was still irritating to Dylan. At one point, he told producer Gordon Carroll that "this is the last time I work for anyone in a movie on the music. I'll stick to acting." Though Dylan would produce his own films and later contribute songs to other soundtracks, he would never take sole responsibility for an entire soundtrack again.
The Psychedelic Furs: Heaven
The word "atmospheric" comes to mind when I think of The Psychedelic Furs. They started out in 1977, changed their name a few times before they hit big in the US market with 1981's Steve Lillywhite-produced Talk Talk Talk, which had the song Pretty in Pink, later serving as inspiration for the 1986 John Hughes film.
The band broke up during the early 1990s, re-formed in 2000 and released the live album, Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live. Enjoy The Psychedelic Furs slice of Heaven!
Peter Ivers: In Heaven Everything Is Fine
Peter Ivers was an amazing artist in many mediums - as an university student, he worked for the Harvard Lampoon, where he befriended actors Stockard Channing, John Lithgow and future National Lampoon founder, Doug Kenney.
He created and hosted LA’s New Wave Theatre, which merged stand-up comedy, performance art, and Punk/New Wave. It also featured the earliest televised performances of Fear, The Dead Kennedys, 45 Grave, The Angry Samoans, The Plugz and The Circle Jerks. Unfortunately, it came to an end after Ivers' untimely murder in 1983. TV Party has a page where you can view clips of the show: New Wave Theatre.
Ivers wrote In Heaven Everything Is Fine for the soundtrack of David Lynch's Eraserhead. It's performed by The Lady in the Radiator (pictured above), played by Laurel Near and can be seen here.
For further information, I recommend the book, In Heaven Everything is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre.
Gary S. Paxton (aka Rusty Dean): Saturday Satan, Sunday Saint [purchase]
Maria McKee: You Gotta Sin To Get Saved [purchase]
"Saturday satans and Sunday saints,
Fooling their neighbors, at least that's what they think,
Reading that Good Book and singing those hymns,
But come Monday morning and it's back to their life of sin."
--Gary S. Paxton (aka Rusty Dean)
"Now I pray the Lord won't scorn me if I make an honest vow,
To someday wear a dress of white,
'Cause scarlet's what I'm wearin' now."
Today's post is all about turning Saturday sin into Sunday saves. Or, at least the appearance of a save. After all, if there's no sin, what the hell are the saints gonna complain about? They need each other, in a twisted sort of co-dependent bipolarity. Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers talks about the duality of the Southern thing, but that duality exists in all Americans, regardless of background, geography, and fashion sense. As we stagger from the bar to the pew, transitioning from a week of Hell to a week of Heaven, let us listen to a couple of songs that address this moral duality.
Gary S. Paxton is one of music history's great "lost" figures. In the mid-'60s, he was producing some of the first records to synthesize country and rock. In 1967-68, the house band at his label, Bakersfield International, were The Reasons (aka Nashville West), which included future Byrds, Clarence White and Gene Parsons. Paxton, of course, doesn't resonate with the public like the hallowed names of Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan, but make no mistake, he was either there first or there simultaneous and is an absolutely essential part of the discussion. "Saturday Satan, Sunday Saint" was a 1969 country hit for Ernest Tubb and Paxton tackled the tune shortly thereafter, using the Venture Brotherish pseudonym, Rusty Dean. Great stuff.
Speaking of "lost" figures, Maria McKee certainly qualifies for that status. As a founding member of Lone Justice, Maria kicked out the cowpunk jams for two amazing years (1983-85), which is when Geffen got involved and tried turning her into Stevie Nicks. Oops. By 1993, when You Gotta Sin To Get Saved was released, she was all but forgotten. Too bad. This is one of the defining records of the alt.country era, the best record of her career, and one of the best records in one of the best years of American music. Featuring her old Lone Justice rhythm section (Marvin Etzioni on bass and Don Heffington on drums), Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers on Vox organ, as well as Mark Olson and Gary Louris of The Jayhawks (who tears shit up on guitar here), Maria closes out her album with the blistering title track. Even better, it's a tip of the cowboy hat to Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet, both in the Augie-esque Vox part and the fact it's structurally identical to their great "Texas Me." Folks, you can get this album for less than $2 on Amazon. Hastings is actually selling it for TWO F'IN CENTS!!! For the love of God ... pun intended, natch ... do yourself a favor and get you some.
"Honey show some faith,
You gotta sin to get saved."
John Prine: Everybody
There was a comment made somewhere during Hell Week that Satan had all the best music. Now, I admit that last week was awesome here at SMM. But I'm an optimist at heart, and I'm hoping that this week we can all prove that the folks on the brighter side of the eternities will be rockin' just as hard as their burning and tortured counter parts down below.
This is one of my favorite John Prine songs, off of the excellent Diamonds In The Rough album. Prine meets Jesus out on the ocean and gets some valuable words of wisdom from Him. Listen in to hear what He had to say, my brothers and sisters!