Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Introducing The Band

I have a horrible notion that the next few years will just see a neverending flood of the deaths of rock'n'roll people. We've just reached the point where the first generation are dying natural deaths and combining that with the fact that the rock'n'roll lifestyle seems to lead to a shortened lifespan, and we're beginning to see the results.

The new album by the Beach Boys (which is actually quite nice) carriess a real sadness for me, knowing that Dennis and Carl Wilson are dead. Sometimes, people talk about the Beach Boys as if it's the Brian Wilson show and the rest were interchangeable, but that is anything but true - Carl Wilson was the best singer (God Only Knows, Good Vibrations), Dennis Wilson was the soul of the band, and they were both great writers - Forever, Slip on Through, The Trader, Feel Flows just a few of their compositions.
The nearest British comparison to the Wilson brothers is, I suppose, the Gibb brothers - two of three members of the band have died, as well as their younger brother, Andy. Tragedy (excuse the pun) just stalks popular music.

But the recent death that saddened me the most was that of Levon Helm. Here's what Bob Dylan posted about it on his site:

"He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, on of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I can still remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I'm going to miss him, as I'm sure a whole lot of others will too."

Levon Helm was the drummer in The Band, and he's the third of the five members to die. Particularly sadly, it is the three great singers of the band who have died - Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm. I often see The Band as the other side of the coin to the Beach Boys in defining the classic American rock sound (obviously nowhere near as successful). So many of the bands I love sound like The Beach Boys or The Band or hopefully a combination of both. Though pretty dissimilar, what the two bands share are several magnificent vocalists whose voices intertwine to create magic.

There's a song from a few years back by Drive-By Truckers called 'Danko/Manuel'
a beautiful song which celebrates and mourns the first two members of the Band to die in the context of a touring American band following in their footsteps.

The song is a treasure because it rightly ascribes quasi-mythical status to The Band - there's something eery, tragic and indescribable about their story, not just their music.

I don't really know where to begin - the fact that four of this archetypal American band were Canadian, their presence at Bob Dylan's "Judas" moment, the Basement tapes, the dark, dark life of Richard Manuel, the definitive rock'n'roll movie 'The Last Waltz', the great sadness that The Band's two duelling leaders, Helm and Robbie Robertson, fell out bitterly (except for a reported death bed reunion) for thirty years, such a tale to tell. I read a pretty strongly worded obituary of Helm which proclaimed him as the true heart of the Band and was pretty scathing of Robbie Robertson. Helm was the original leader (they were called Levon and the Hawks before Bob Dylan got hold of them) and it's his voice which distinguishes their greatest songs, The Weight, Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.

But I must say, I've a huge soft spot for Robbie Robertson. I just think he's one of the coolest cats who ever lived. He was actually the first member of The Band I became aware of, even pre my infatuation with all things Bob Dylan, when as a teenager, I caught the Alex Cox-presented late night Moviedrome showing of an odd film called 'Carny', co-starring Jodie Foster and Gary Busey, which was pretty much Robertson's only starring role. I can't remember if he could act, I presume not, but i remember he had the kind of charisma similar to Peter Fonda's character in 'Easy Rider'.

That same charisma is evident in 'The Last Waltz', (here is a magnificent clip from 'The Last Waltz' with Helm on vocals/drums and Robertson on lead guitar ) the concert picture made by Martin Scorsese - Robertson and Scorsese were great friends, and Robertson still oversees the music for most Scorsese films. If, like me, you see Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese as the twin geniuses of late 20th century American pop culture (not a controversial view) then Robbie Robertson is the missing link, the sidekick to both of them at different times in his life. That's not bad.

If you don't know The Band, check them out, they really had a big part in inventing Americana, they looked great, they sounded great, they were more than Bob Dylan's backing band. To say Levon Helm was the greatest singing drummer of all is rather to damn him with faint (what, greater than Phil Collins?) praise. His  voice was wonderful, as was the voice of Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. The Band is now silenced, the only surviving members being Robertson and keyboard wizard Garth Hudson. Here are 10 Band-related songs:

Danko/Manuel - Drive-By Truckers
The Weight - The Band
I Shall Be Released - The Band
Opus 40 - Mercury Rev
Like a Rolling Stone (live) - Bob Dylan
Million Dollar Bash - Bob Dylan and the Band
Up on Cripple Creek - The Band
The Shape I'm In - The Band
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
Across the Great Divide - The Band

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

102 Songs

Almost two years after ending the blog 101 Songs with a satisfying sense of completion and closure, I find myself sneaking back to it. My aims are less grand and yet less constrictive - I just want to write a bit about music again.

I think the original aim was just to write about music I loved and explain what I loved about it, but I came up with a rather all-consuming concept which drove the whole enterprise. It almost drove it into the ground, but not quite. It was quite an effort, that blog, an idea which took hold.

So here we go again - this post is called 102 Songs, but to be honest I haven't quite decided what I'm doing yet - there certainly won't be poems - interesting as it was to link them into the whole concept, they became rather an intimidating beast and also, inevitably, a source of some embarrassment. But will there be lists? Yes, I expect so, though maybe not all the time. Sometimes I'll just write something. And will there be a "theme" to each post? Again, not too sure, but I expect not.

I think I may also make this blog a little more appealing visually, with a few more links, pictures etc. There was something pleasing to me as author about the denseness of 101 Songs, but I'm quite sure most visitors to the site will have turned and ran.

But, having said all that, I do feel that I need to start with a post which suits the title 102 Songs. I do need a list to kick it off. I actually made a playlist of my new 100 favourite songs lately, but my lack of understanding of how the iCloud works caused me to delete it (along with most of my other carefully constructed playlists). So this 102 Songs won't just be favourites, it'll be something else.

102 is not a magic number to me, not like 101, so this list has not initially drawn me on with enthusiasm*. The best I can do to give 102 some symbolic power is that it's 34x3, and I'm only two months away from me being 34. Perhaps if i draw this out long enough, I can post this on my 34th birthday, then spit three times on the ground, and then 102 will feel important enough to me.

Ok, how about 102 songs from my life - simple as that. 102 songs which I'll remember and write down pretty much off the cuff, which have particular memories, not necessarily associations with actual events, just songs I've been into. Some of them are songs i don't like now, some of them are silly, but they mean something to me. A lot of people talk about pop songs' primary function being the soundtrack to our own lives, but I kind of hate that usually. Songs are other people's art, if you can't appreciate them on their own merit and take your own life out of it, that's rather selfish of you.** But, i'll indulge myself for now. These are my songs, they've popped into my life, so there.
I'm having trouble getting it down to 102, so the ones I'm going to eliminate are more likely to be the ones that have already featured on my 'Favourite Songs' list - it kind of goes without saying that they've played a role in my life, so more fun to include ones that figure in my memory but are more of a surprise to me.

* In fact it's already three weeks since i started writing this blog!
** I do realise it's significantly more complicated than that, and that's the eternal magic of pop music/rock'n'roll and why it's the greatest thing that's ever existed, that's it can be transient/timeless, just yours/ everyone's, art/pap, etc etc

I realise that this may be like paint drying to readers - someone else's unexplained internal song monologue, but it may turn out quite nice and tell a story in its own way, and it may at least inspire you to do something similar yourselves. Super. Turned out nice again.

Our House - Madness
I Won't Let You Down - PhD
Yellow Submarine - The Beatles
Woman in Love - Barbra Streisand 
I Won't Let the Sun Go Down on Me - Nik Kershaw
Macavity - Cats
Take on Me - A-Ha
Suddenly - Angry Anderson
I've Had the Time of my life - Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Daydream Believer - The Monkees
He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother - The Hollies
Goodnight Girl - Wet Wet Wet
Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
Two Princes - The Spin Doctors
La Tristesse Durere - Manic Street Preachers
Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
Going Underground - The Jam
Hurricane - Bob Dylan
Life on Mars? - David Bowie
Have You Ever Had It Blue - The Style Council
Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
End of a Century - Blur
Be My Baby - The Ronettes
Wonderwall - Oasis
God Only Knows - The Beach Boys
Waterloo Sunset - The Kinks
Yes - McAlmont and Butler
Slight Return - The Bluetones
Shipbuilding - Elvis Costello
Down in the Tube Station at Midnight  - The Jam
Three Lions - The Lightning Seeds
Life Becoming a Landslide - Manic Street Preachers
Caroline, No - The Beach Boys
Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
Simple Twist of Fate - Bob Dylan
Astral Weeks - Van Morrison
Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space - Spiritualized
The State I am in - Belle and Sebastian
Sweet Thing - Van Morrison 
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - Bob Dylan
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen
People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave
Drinking in LA - Bran Van 3000
Paint it Black - The Rolling Stones
Dancing Queen - ABBA
The Sky is a Landfill - Jeff Buckley
Stay Young - Oasis 
Stay Young - Ultrasound
Old Man River - Paul Robeson
Holes - Mercury Rev
She's a Jar - Wilco
Streetlife - Randy Crawford
Spanish Bombs - The Clash
Misstra Know-it-all - Stevie Wonder
Northern Lights - Super Furry Animals
Blossoms Falling -Ooberman
Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying - Belle and Sebastian
Lost Myself - The Longpigs
Sheena is a Punk Rocker - The Ramones
Til I Believe in My Soul - Dexys Midnight Runners
Fighting Fit - Gene
Come Pick Me Up - Ryan Adams
The Last Good Day of the Year - Cousteau
American Trilogy - The Delgados
Shining Light - Ash
Dry the Rain - Beta Band
Live Forever - Oasis
The Dark is Rising - Mercury Rev
Scottish Pop - Spearmint
St Patrick - James Yorkston
Stepping Out - Joe Jackson
Nothing Lasts Forever - Echo and the Bunnymen
I See a Darkness - Bonnie Prince Billy
The Wild Ones - Suede
Pounding - Doves
A Rainy Night in Soho - The Pogues
If You Could Read My Mind - Gordon Lightfoot
Oblivious - Aztec Camera
Slaveship - Josh Rouse
Piano Man - Billy Joel
Close to You - The Carpenters
Us - Regina Spektor
Doo-wop (That Thing) - Lauryn Hill
I Never - Rilo Kiley
You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes and You get What You Deserve - Johnny Boy
Be Not So Fearful - Bill Fay
Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire
When I See Your Eyes I Swear To God That Worlds Collided - The Young Republic
The Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine
Ghost Town - First Aid Kit
Family Affair - Mary J Blige
In California - Joanna Newsom
From the Morning - Nick Drake
The Parting Glass - The Clancy Brothers
The Funeral - Band of Horses
Trellick Tower - Emmy the Great
Bills, Bills, Bills - Destiny's Child
In the New Year - The Walkmen
Where You Lead - Carole King
Our House - Crosby Stills and Nash

Gosh, that took ages and was extremely fun. I seem to have veered towards stuff from further back which has a stronger memory, rather than recent stuff which is actually the music i like. A lot of my favourite music comes from 2003-2008, but there' s hardly anything from then. It is, as well as I could make it, in chronological order of when it took its place in my memories.
There are songs here that I don't particularly like at all , some utterly naff nonsense, lots of songs I do love, but they all remind me of a time and place. Usually, there's not a direct connection between events and the song, that would be too weird! but still, this list does tell me a tale, and I'm very glad to have made it.