Friday, December 21, 2007

We Can't Work It Out: The Fab War -- Round 8

"I Am the Walrus" v. "Hello Goodbye" v. "Something" v. "Good Night"

In recent years, "Hello Goodbye" has become one of my very favorite Beatles' songs, but in the context of these bad boys I am having to once again reconsider it.

"Good Night" is nice and all, but its no real contender. Sure Ringo does a good job singing it, but its not that tough to sing, and his drumming is literally nonexistent. This definitely gets fourth this round.

Meanwhile, the dark horse is finally starting to pull his weight. "Something" is simply gorgeous. The songwriting is impeccable, and George's guitar lays down a guitar line tender enough for Al Green to sing over. Each sting simmers with emotion and nuance. Mark it a win for George.

So who's really left to battle it out is John and Paul, fittingly with a pairing of songs that originally appeared as opposite sides of a 45. "I Am the Walrus" is the quirkier and more experimental number. Lyrically, it is more or less nonsensical, but that's not entirely true. The title comes from Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" and the song is a pastiche of several portions of ancient, obscure nursery rhymes. The sound effects are great, expecially the laughter of the joker at the expert textpert choking smoker, which brings up the amazing wordplay. There is a ton of great alliteration that is included for the sake of enjoying language. Some words are more fun to say than others, and "I Am the Walrus" picks up on that. Then there's that weird guy in the background rambling on about what sounds to be an "Edgar Allen duck." Great song.

"Hello Goodbye" is poppy and the chord structure works very well for it, but other than sounding good I'll have to admit that it is fairly lightweight. Granted, I prefer relying on the practical things like melody, and this song has those aspects in spades, but overall it lacks the fun and doesn't elicit the awed wonder that "I Am the Walrus" does. The lyrics, especially, drag on a bit after awhile.

This round:

John - 3
Paul - 2
George - 4
Ringo - 1

Totals thus far:

Paul - 24
John - 24
George - 18
Ringo - 14

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

We Can't Work It Out: The Fab War -- Round 7

"Strawberry Fields Forever" v. "When I'm Sixty-Four" v. "It's All Too Much" v. "Don't Pass me By"

It's really sad that "Strawberry Fields Forever wasn't stuck in a different round, as it is clearly one of John's best pieces, though there is some stiff competition afoot.

"It's All Too Much has a relentless groove that makes it endearing, but that's also part of its flaw. The groove is so jammin', that it stays with it for six and a half minutes without really expanding much on what it starts with. There is some mediocre Harrison soloing, a few horn charts, but it doesn't really go anywhere groundbreaking. "Strawberry Fields," however, goes all over the place, and that is its real strenths. That song has more shifts than an all-night diner.

"When I'm 64" is one of my favorite songs of Paul's, mostly for its undeniable poppiness, but also somewhat for its contemporaneous irony; I mean, the dude's at least 64 now. Thankfully he didn't bring a Vera McCartney into the world. It's a name best suited to an older generation, not the one that followed him. The song, though, is filled with killer hooks and witty lyrics. Its refreshing and fun.

"Strawberry Fields Forever" is like a surreal dream. It is like waking up inside of a pink Monet painting with a wicked drum beat. There are tons of surprising instrumental bits taken from thousands of chance sounds. The story of the mix-down of this song could fill two books. As it is, on the Anthology series it fills three tracks, the third mixing together a multitude of takes, without ever getting close to the grandeur of the finished product. It is a George Martin masterpiece. And then there's the mind-bending end to the song with the bit about either burying Paul or raspberry applesauce, depending on what you believe. Still, part of me feels that without all the slick production, this wouldn't be quite the amazing number that it is. Still, its clearly in the top two.

For number one this round, I have to tip my had to Ringo. "Don't Pass Me By" is an amazing first composition. It is ten times better than all of Keith Moon's failed songwriting attempts put together ("Tommy's Holiday Camp"?). The arrangement is also phenomenal. The clangy piano is nice, but what puts it over the top is that windy, woody violin. This gives this utterly modern pop tune echoes of the old-timey. Ringo's first post-Beatles album, Beaucoups of Blues, was a country album, and I feel this song, much more than the Buck Owens cover "Act Naturally" (Ringo tackles it on Help!), points the way to Ringo's infatuation with that genre.

This Round:

John - 3
Paul - 2
George - 1
Ringo - 4

Totals thus far:

Paul - 22
John - 21
George - 14
Ringo - 13

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Mix 07

I love Christmas music. I love the normal stuff; the Bing Crosby and all that. I love the crazy stuff too. Each year I made a mix up of my favorite Christmas songs that I own. My collection grows each year, and so something must go. I don't know what I'll cut next year, cause this year was killer.

Here it is, the dopest Christmas mix tape yet!

1. Zapp – Please Come Home For Christmas
2. Red Simpson – Truckin’ Trees For Christmas
3. James Brown – Go Power At Christmas Time
4. The Who – Christmas
5. Chuck Berry – Run Rudolph Run
6. James Brown – Soulful Christmas
7. Prince- Another Lonely Christmas
8. Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis
9. Bobby “Boris” Picket – Monsters’ Holiday
10. Bob Rivers – I Am Santa Claus
11. James Brown – Santa Clause, Go Straight To the Ghetto
12. Dick Farina & Ric Von Schmidt – Xmas Island
13. Ry Cooder – Christmas In Southgate
14. The Youngsters – Christmas In Jail
15. Leadbelly – Christmas Is A-Comin’
16. The Beatles – Christmas Time Is Here Again
17. Ray Stevens – Santa Clause Is Watching You
18. Bob Seger – Sock It To Me Santa
19. Brave Combo – Must Be Santa
20. Kay Martin & Her Bodyguards – I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas
21. John Lennon – Happy Xmas
22. Bob Dorough & Miles Davis – Blue Xmas
23. The Sonics – Don’t Believe In Christmas
24. James Brown – Hey America
25. Simon & Garfunkel – Silent Night

1. Zapp's "Please Come Home For Christmas"

Electrofunk and mistletoe by the candlelight. Curl up with a bottle of Alize and get ready for some g-funk style beats replete with the boice box.

2. Red Simpson's "Truckin' Trees For Christmas"

Trucking has to be one of the most blue collar professions in the United States. This song makes me want to end up at some dive bar on Christmas, cheering up the truckers traveling through. The song is sweet, but the truth is bitter.

3. James Brown's "Go Power At Christmas Time"

The JB's lay out the funk hard on this tune. Go power seems as apt as soul power when it comes to wipin' smiles on peoples faces and rambling on about ski party movies you were in and dance crazes you are about to create.

4. The Who's "Christmas"

Little Tommy doesn't know who Christ was, but he's happy to open up The Night Before Christmas in brail and then pick his nose between beating the crap out of his cousins at pinball. Not necessarily Christmas-y, but it takes place on Christmas, and that's enough to make this list.

5. Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run"

More than any other act, with the possible exception of AC/DC, all of Chuck Berry's songs sound more or less the same. In addition to his one guitar lick, Berry is also credited with bringing memorable lyrics to rock, and the highlight here is definitely the classic claim "Rudolph, [. . .] you're the mastermind."

6. James Brown's "Soulful Christmas"

Perhaps the funkiest of Brown's many, many Christmas songs, this number is a classic. Instead of wishing a happy new year, Brown tells you to "have a new year." Um...., thanks. You can also have a good cheer, or a good chair depening on the verse. The part that makes this song so special though is the last minute, where Brown exhorts fans to come see him in concert so that he can tell them Merry Christmas, ... but he'll only do it at the show. Won't you come to see his show? Good God!

7. Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas"

This song seems to follow along with Prince's film Under the Cherry Moon, but it was recorded two years earlier. Perhaps he wrote the movie after an idea he got from the song. Addressed to an ex-girlfriend's little sister (get your minds out of the gutter), Prince mourns the death of his true love, who died the previous Christmas. Although some parts of it are still funny (who drinks banana dacquiris, especially until they are blind?), overall the song remains one of Prince's most touching tunes.

8. Run DMC's "Christmas In Hollis"

For the longest time I thought this song opened with the lines "It's Christmas down in Hollis, Queens / Mama's makin' chicken and collard greens." It always made me hungry for collard greens, even though I'm not even sure I've ever had them. My favorite part is right after DMC boasts that every year he busts Christmas carols. The beat finagles a medley of Christmas classics into b-boy style and becomes the dopest thing since Eddie Murphy's Christmas installment of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

9. Bobby "Boris" Picket's "Monster's Holiday"

This follow up to "Monster's Mash" is a blatant rip-off of the original's beat with just a set of new lyrics about hijacking Santa's sleigh. It ges repetitive, but its an ultrarare novelty nonetheless.

10. Bob Rivers' "I Am Santa Claus"

In this "Iron Man" send up, Bob Rivers even sounds like Ozzy, and his band definitely pulls off Black Sabbath, plus a tinge of Manheim Steamroller. The lyrics are crazy-witty. My personal favorite: "Give him cookies and beer / He'll come to your house first next year!"

11. James Brown's "Santa Claus, Go Straight To the Ghetto"

This ploy to turn Santa into a socialist makes the rampant capitalism of the season all that much sadder. You know they should be shameful after this song.

12. Dick Farina and Ric Von Schmidt's "Xmas Island"

Leave it to Joan Baez's brother-in-law to feel deserving only cause he hasn't committed any crimes recently. Giving the personnel, I'd hoped for a rant against sweat shop labor. Oh well.

13. Ry Cooder's "Christmas In Southgate"

A depression-era dance tune. The closest I've heard to a polka ballad, if such a thing can exist, this tune from My Name Is Buddy is fantastic. Who wouldn't give up whiskey for a simultaneous visit from Santa AND Jesus.

14. The Youngsters' "Christmas In Jail"

A reminisce of running into Santa's sleigh while out drunk driving. At least the prisoners get turkey.

15. Leadbelly's "Christmas Is A Comin'"

The oldest song on this compilation, Leadbelly croons on about how roosters celebrate Christmas. He also lets us know that Santa Clause comes to Christmas on a Christmas Day.

16. The Beatles' "Christmas Time Is Here Again"

This really should have gone on Magical Mystery Tour

17. Ray Stevens' "Santa Claus Is Watching You"

Great 50s-style R&B sax fills. Ray Stevens falsetto lifts this track out of novelty-land and makes is competely rad. Still not sure about a flying camel, though.

18. Bob Seger's "Sock It To Me Santa"

The opening here sounds like the opening of a 70s horror film, but the song itself is the grittiest Christmas song never released by James Brown.

19. Brave Combo's "Must Be Santa"

This song is just a great list of characteristics of Santa shouted against an accordion-fueled break beat. The best of Christmas polkas.

20. Kay Martin's "I Want A Casting Couch For Christmas"

This song is drrty. It makes the tabloids look clean. The girl wants to be able to read the script off of the ceiling. If she gets a casting couch, you know its gonna be made of coal.

21. John Lennon's "Happy Xmas"

John's a little idealistic, but who am I to rob him of his opportunism? If nothing else he got a chorus of little kids active in helping to stop the war.

22. Bob Dorough & Miles Davis' "Blue Xmas"

The best christmas-based jazz song ever. I've never heard bell ringers debased elsewhere. The Pre-Schoolhouse Rocks Dorough sounds particularly dour.

23. The Sonics' "Don't Believe In Christmas"

This ripoff of Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" rocks out over a rollicking beat filled out with some wicked organ soloing.

24. James Brown's "Hey America"

This song is great for James' attempts to be multicultural. In order to celebrate Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, he brings out the a salam a lakem and the hava negeilah. He even brings up the danke shan, even though "this is the United States, you know?"

25. Simon & Garfunkel's "Silent Night/7 O'Clock News"

This would have been chilling with just the "Silent Night." The addition of news reports about everything from King planning protests to the death of Lenny Bruce to Vietnam protests makes it arguably the most touch piece in the S&G catalog, and undoubtedly the best use ever of a traditional Christmas song.

Simply "Silent Night would have been

Monday, December 17, 2007

Best of '07

Two months on, I'm bringing it back with some annotated notes to my best of 2007 mix. First, the tracklist:

1. Nellie McKay – Mother of Pearl (from Obligatory Villagers)
2. Paul McCartney – Ever Present Past (from Memory Almost Full)
3. The Hold Steady – Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? (from I’m Not There)
4. Bruce Springsteen – Radio Nowhere (from Magic)
5. Albert Hammond, Jr. – Everybody Gets A Star
6. moe. – Blue Jeans Pizza
7. Gwen Stefani – The Sweet Escape
8. Gym Class Heroes – Cupid’s Chokehold
9. Prince – Chelsea Rodgers (from Planet Earth)
10. Mavis Staples – 99 ½ (from We’ll Never Turn Back)
11. John Doe – Pressing On (from I’m Not There)
12. Glen Hansard – Falling From the Sky (from Once)
13. Nathan – Trans Am
14. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Tom Dula (from Dona Got A Ramblin’Mind)
15. Levon Helm – Got Me A Woman (from Dirt Farmer)
16. Ry Cooder – Footprints In the Snow (from My Name Is Buddy)
17. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Little Margaret
18. Paul McCartney – Mr. Bellamy
19. Nellie McKay – Identity Theft
20. DJ Jazzy Jeff feat. Dave Ghetto – Come On (from Return Of the Magnificent)
21. Blind Boy Grunt – Talkin’ Devil

Now, the annotations:

1. Nellie McKay's "Mother of Pearl"

Taken from Obligatory Villagers, this is the feminist track of the year. With a surgeon's scalpel, Nellie expertly deconstructs patriarchal stereotypes of what feminism is. Gorgeous. The call and response between Nellie and the chorus of males makes it.

2. Paul McCartney's "Ever Present Past"

I wrote Paul off a long time ago as sappy crap, but Memory Almost Full has made me completely reevaluate my feelings on him, and this is my favorite track on it. The poppiness is killer, and it's smart too!

3. The Hold Steady's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"

This song is a cover of an obscure electified Dylan single. It doesn't sound like a Dylan single to me, though; it sounds like early Springsteen. This could be an outtake from The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, minus Clarence Clemons. It isn't only in the arrangement, but in the vocals and the pacing too. Of course, some would have you believe that early Springsteen sounds like Dylan...

4. Bruce Springsteen's "Radio Nowhere"

For the most part, I didn't think that Magic was very magical, but this number, the first single, did stick out. Bruce gets down to business here like he used to.

5. Albert Hammond, Jr's "Everybody Gets A Star"

It may be reminescent of The Strokes (obviously) and also Jet, Franz Ferdinand, etc., but that background hook and drum line is still killer.

6. moe.'s "Blue Jeans Pizza"

Some of you may mistake this for warmed up jam band leftovers, but there is something mystical going on between those bass notes and piano chords.

7. Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape"

This song is a 1950s throwback, and that's what I love about it. Gwen Stefani manages to pull off the sound of a naughty pin-up girl, blending herself as naive ingenue and dirtier-than-Christina sex pot (ironically, the first time I heard this on the radio, I thought it was Christina). I'm not a fan of Stefani necessarily, but this song blows me away.

8. Gym Class Heroes' "Cupid's Chokehold"

They may seem like second-rate Biz Markies, but this song is a lot of fun and, with the help of Supertramp, catchy as hell.

9. Prince's "Chelsea Rodgers"

Planet Earth may have been the most disappointing album of the year for me, but this song still manages to succeed. Granted, Prince is trying to stay relevant by ripping off his most talented pupil with calls of "shake it like a juicy-juice," but this is still some seriously funky shit.

10. Mavis Staples' "99 1/2"

When I saw Mavis in concert, I REALLY wanted to hear this. As it was, I was perfectly happy to hear "The Weight" and "I'll Take You There," but damn this song is hot! That beat is just so freakishly funky. White-hot gospel at its finest.

11. John Doe's "Pressing On"

This is the highlight of the I'm Not There soundtrack, and its sung by an atheist. This makes me wish Dylan would have taken the time to make Saved the way it should have been made, and makes me wish for the more practical issueing of one or several of Dylan's gospel concerts. I want the Toronto 80 soundboard recordings and the complete stay at the Fox Warfield in San Fran. I also wouldn't mind a collection of all of the various as-of-yet-unreleased gospel songs in whatever versions exist. Come on Columbia, get it in gear already.

12. Glen Hansard's "Fallen From the Sky"

Glen Hansard is the breakout artist of the year, and I mean that in the consummate sense of artist. This guy can handle anything with nuance and beauty. Once is amazing.

13. Nathan's "Trans Am"

An underrated female singer-songwriter, Nathan could be the next Kasey Chambers.

14. Carolina Chocolate Drops' "Tom Dula"

This trio of Americana neophytes already plays it like the old-timers. Perhaps the most unexpected album by a trio of young urban blacks to come out this year, Dona Got A Ramblin' Mind is also among the best album by any.

15. Levon Helm's "Got Me A Woman"

Having fought throat cancer, Levon Helm knows a thing or two about being a badass. He's ten times cooler than Robbie Robertson in my book, so I knew I'd love Dirt Farmer. I didn't know that it was mostly covers, but I didn't care cause they are all good. This one is my favorites. I know what its like to find a woman who will shave your beard. Now, if I could only find a monkey and a Chinese acrobat....

16. Ry Cooder's "Footprints In the Snow"

My Name Is Buddy is the best concept for an album ever and the best packaging for an album ever. While I found most of the songs themselves sadly derivative and not quite strong enough to carry through on the genius of everything else, this song is a definite stand out. Jive on that tex-mex accordian and then lay back for the banjo solo.

17. Carolina Chocolate Drops' "Little Margaret"

Wow. A capella performance of the decade. Great story too. Dappled roans and ivory combs.

18. Paul McCartney's "Mr. Bellamy"

Opening with some melodramatic strings, the ominous piano kicks in, and then drops in this phat bass beat, and you have to wonder, how did macca go from "Ebony and Ivory" to this? This song just layers the hook and has a more genuinely mysterious lyric than anything John ever wrote.

19. Nellie McKay's "Identity Theft"

I'm not totally sure that I agree with Nellie on the university thing -- I definitely try to teach empathy -- but who else is rhyming about Ray Bolger these days? McKay comments on both loss of civil liberties and how corporate marketing steals an artist's identity and transforms it into something easily fit for the marketplace.

20. DJ Jazzy Jeff and Dave Ghetto's "Come On"

Pulling a sample from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ("You're All I Need To Get By"), DJ Jazzy Jeff creates a laidback peace whose optimism clashes with Dave Ghetto's toasts and tales of black disenfranchisement and loss of agency.

21. Blind Boy Grunt's "Talkin' Devil"

Recorded over forty-five years ago, this obscure Dylan fragment was released this year. It blends his belief in religion with his hatred of the KKK. Whoever didn't see the born-again period coming just wasn't listening.