I have six months to reshape my life. I can do this.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Essentials

Regardless of how I come across or what I may tell you in person, I really am not a music expert. I know a lot of trivia about music. I know a lot of artists. I spent too much money on my iPod and the music on it. But I don't really know that much about music.

That being said, I do like a LOT of music. Polka, bluegrass, heavy metal, swing, blues, jazz, pop, rock, country, classical, broadway - I like it all. I have a very ecclectic taste as far as music goes. I thought that since I have such an obscenely large music collection, I could give you some essential songs to add to your collection, if you don't have them already. Here are some that I really like.

QUEEN - Crazy Little Thing Called Love
The Doors - Love Her Madly
CCR - Travelin' Band
Donovan - Season of the Witch
Charlie Gracie - Fabulous
Ruth Brown - 5-10-15 Hours
Billy Ward and the Dominoes - Sixty Minute Man
Bruce Springsteen - Old Dan Tucker
Big Mama Thornton - Hound Dog
Ray Charles - Mess Around
The Cars - My Best Friend's Girl
The Clash - London's Burning
The Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
Blondie - Call Me
The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Jimmy Ruffin - What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?
The Temptations - I Wish it Rain Down
Eurythmics - Missionary Man
INXS - Devil Inside
U2 - Where the Streets Have No Name
AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Ben Harper - Brown Eyed Blues
Keb' Mo' - America the Beautiful
Muddy Waters - Got My Mojo Working
Eric Clapton - They're Red Hot
Brian Wilson - Love and Mercy
Paul McCartney - Monkberry Moon Delight

There. That is more than enough to get you started. Enjoy. Feedback? Did I leave anything that is essential to someone else off the list?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Great Beatles Songs: I Saw Her Standing There

#1. This is it. Here it comes. #1. In my humble opinion, this is the greatest Beatles song of all time. I Saw Her Standing There from the Please, Please Me album. It is a breathless, all-out rocker that they had performing to great acclaim for years.

The Beatles had this in their live repertoire in Hamburg in 1962. It's original title was simply "17." It is a Paul song with some touch up from John. John helped Paul change the line "Well, she was just seventeen and she'd never been a beauty queen" (which he wrote down in a van one night in early 62) to a complete throwaway since they deemed the original line worthless. It would become "you know what I mean." It would become the heart of the song and the cornerstone of the album. Nothing before (or since) would pack as much excitement into a song, with A Hard Day's Night and Helter Skelter coming close. The song soars from the opening, Paul's count-in intro. The Beatles would record the entire album in one day and this would be the song that they would pour everything into (with a raspy John tearing his throat up for the finale one take brilliance of Twist and Shout) this song: raspy, suggestive vocals; twangy, rhythmic guitars; hand claps; those famous falsetto ooohs and a running bass line Paul says he "borrowed" from a Chuck Berry song. For almost three minutes, the boys rock out.

This would be the main song to usher in Beatlemania. Many people credit songs like All My Loving and From Me to You as being the other two songs. But there is no denying the importance of this song and the Beatles fondness for it. It was a live mainstay and continues to be for Paul in his live performances. It is certainly a crowd favorite. It has been covered countless times.

The greatest tribute for this song, and some strong evidence for its greatness, comes in the mid 70's. John Lennon was out with Yoko for about a year in 1974. He called it his "lost weekend." While he was drinking and partying a year with Harry Nilsson, he cruised into the recording studio for a memorable session with Elton John. Elton gave Lennon the confidence to record a throwaway number John had written called Whatever Gets You Through the Night. In return John asked Elton to cover one of his own Beatles songs. When Elton asked which song, John asked him to record Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, seeing as how he wasn't that pleased with the original recording. They recorded both. Elton guaranteed Whatever... would be a #1. Lennon was not so sure. They made a deal. If it DID top the charts, John Lennon would join Elton John LIVE on stage in NYC during the tour Elton would use to support the album he was recording. Long story semi-shortened: the song did go #1 and Lennon kept his bet. He appeared live during a Thanksgiving concert to perform three songs. Of course they would do Whatever and include Lucy in the Sky as well. They wanted one more song to perform. A nice, tidy three song set. And there was one song John wanted to sing. He would intro the song by saying it was a song written by an "estranged fiance of mine called Paul." Then Lennon and Elton performed I Saw Her Standing There. It is captured on Elton's album Here There.

Even John Lennon recognized the simple, rocking brilliance of this song. It didn't matter that Paul wrote it. It was a great song. One of the greatest songs of all time, ever. And simply the greatest Beatles song ever. It may not carry the political message of All You Need is Love or Revolution. It may not be as beautiful as Something or Yesterday. It may not be as groundbreaking as Eleanor Rigby or Norwegian Wood. But it is a great, pure, energetic rocker. And everyone knows it, likes it and can recognize it from Paul's memorable count-in.

"One, two, three, FOUR!"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Great Beatles Songs: Norwegian Wood

We are winding down the big list of the Great Beatles Songs. We are one away from the top. But this song that comes in at #2 is a true classic.

When the Beatles filmed HELP! their second movie, George Harrison became interested in Indian music, more specifically in the sitar and the great master Ravi Shankar. George went to a little Indian trinket shop in London and bought his own sitar. He started fiddling about on the instrument then and it would come into play as they were recording their second album of 1965, Rubber Soul (my favorite Beatles album).

John Lennon had written a song about an affair he had with a woman. The song is straight forward and it seems that is actually what happened. John wasn't sure how to end his song (This Bird Had Flown) and Paul suggested something about burning down the woman's home. John had written another great song and Paul had helped him smooth it out. Now all they had to do was record.

The Beatles began to think of albums as their own entity, being a work of art. They put extra time and effort into making this unique. That would eventually become groundbreaking. The studio at Abbey Road was full of instruments: pedal harmoniums, tack pianos, a celeste and a Hammond organ. So they were already into "experimenting" with other instruments to give songs a different sound.

The Beatles were working on Norwegian Wood and George decided that it just needed something special. George worked out the chords on the sitar and added the first ever sitar solo in a pop song. This would become a dramatic change of direction for the group and would even help reshape the band's attitude about recording. Ringo called the sitar solo "a mindblower. We were all open to anything when George introduced the sitar. From then on you could walk in with anything as long as it was going to make a musical note."

Norwegian Wood is the high point on what would become the most influential album in pop/rock music history. Rubber Soul would inspire Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys to make Pet Sounds. And that album would inspire the Beatles to make Sgt. Peppers. But before those two albums and before Revolver (which the Beatles loved and considered Rubber Soul part two) there was Rubber Soul. This would be the favorite album of the Beatles themselves and of George Martin, their producer and real 5th Beatle. And the best song on Rubber Soul would be number two on this list: Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown).