25 February 2015

Rock and Roll Pussy: the feud that led to the death of a radio star



todd rundgren photo: todd rundgren toddrundgren.jpgIn 1980 Todd Rundgren's band Utopia decided to create “a Beatle album” – that is a collections of songs that sounded as if they could have been written, performed and recorded by the Beatles.  Even the lyrics would borrow heavily from Beatle quotes and lyrics.  The album would be called Deface The Music.  This idea of parroting the Beatles wasn't exactly new as just two years earlier, the fictional band The Rutles had done the same thing – only their music was part of an entire mockumentary titled All You Need Is Cash which had the participation and approval of George Harrison behind it.  The film and music had a direct affect on Rundgren who was a big time closet Beatle fanatic.  But Rungren's admiration of the Beatles seemed to lean toward jealousy and envy.  Two specific run-ins with former Beatles seemed to bare this out.  The first run-in came not long after the Beatles officially broke up in the early 1970s.  George Harrison had been producing Badfinger's Straight Up album for Apple records, but When Harrison dropped the project in order to devout his energies on his landmark Concert For Bangladesh, Rundgren was asked to step in as producer to finish the album.  Straight Up became a critical and commercial success, but there was conflicting opinions as whom deserved credit for the success since Harrison and Rundgren were both sited as the album's producer.  Like all things, this little run-in passed, but it set the stage for a feud that erupted a few months laater when Rundgren first met John Lennon at L.A.'s iconic Rainbow Bar and Grill.  Lennon, in the midst of his famed Lost Weekend phase, was in a drunken stupor, stumbling around the club.  Predictably, Lennon did not recognize or acknowledge Rundgren.  Lennon's drunken display left Rundgren with an impression of Lennon that was starkly at odds with the image of Lennon as an anti-war activist and voice of a generation.

harry nilsson pussy cats photo: Nilsson Pussy Cats Harry_Nilsson_-_Pussy_Cats.jpgLennon's snubbing had been stuck in Rundgren's crawl as he went home and began to work out his thoughts on a new song called “Rock and Roll Pussy”.  The song included the lyrics "Get up and see Revolution on TV...will you get your nails dirty or are you only just a rock and roll pussy?"...  A short time later Rundgren was interviewed by Melody Maker magazine and it was revealed that his finger pointing in "Rock and Roll Pussy" was aimed specifically at the phoniness of Lennon's limousine liberalism.  The connection of the lyrics and the song title (Lennon had produced Harry Nilsson's album The Pussy Cats) to Lennon was an easy one to make.  The interview elicited a reply from Lennon (which also appeared in Melody Maker) called Opened Lettuce to Sodd Runtlestuntle in which Lennon basically put Rundgren in his place as he eloquently expressed the irony of a protest song that was protesting protest. 

After Lennon's bitch-slapping, Rundgren retreated to the safety of his studio in Woodstock to lick his wounds and regroup.  There he went on to become one of the best and most interesting producers of the 1970s as he recorded iconic albums for artists as diverse as the New York Dolls, Hall and Oats, Grand Funk Railroad, Sparks, the Band, The Tubes, Meatloaf, Cheap Trick and Patti Smith.  Meanwhile he continued to record as a solo artist ("Bang On These Drums") as well as a member of his experimental space rock turned power pop band Utopia ("Feet Don't Fail Me Now").  By 1980, Lennon had not recorded in nearly half a decade while Rundgren was at his peak as a producer and artist.  Finally, after viewing the Rutles All You Need Is Cash, Rundgren was ready to take another poke at Lennon.  This time he would show the music world just how easy and simple it was to reproduce what the Beatles had done.  As if to say, there was nothing ingenious about the Beatles – nearly any musician could have done what they did – Rundgren's Utopia recorded and released Deface The Music with an air of one-upsmanship that might have elicited a response from Lennon if it hadn't had been for the bullets from Mark David Chapman's revolver.  Deface the Music, which was released in October of 1980, just a few weeks before Chapman ended Lennon's life, was in fact actually sited by Chapman as an inspiration.  Chapman who had been a Beatles fan, claimed Rundgren had influenced him to see Lennon as a phony. Chapman explained that this notion that Lennon was not all he was cracked up to be went back to Rundgren's “Rock and Roll Pussy” and Rundgren's comments about Lennon in the Melody Maker article.  With the release of Deface The Music, this notion was reinforced within Chapman as Rundgren's music became his soundtrack during the weeks leading up to the assassination of Lennon.  Chapman had memorized every word, sound and moment in Rundgren's entire discography in fact and sited Rundgren as the largest influence on his world vision.  Chapman tried to contact Rundgren just days before he assassinated Lennon and afterward, when he was arrested Chapman was wearing a promotional t-shirt for Rundgren's  solo album Hermit of Mink Hollow.  Although the meeting between Rundgren and Chapman never happened, Chapman declared that Rundgren's music lived “right between the chamber” of his heart.

mark david chapman photo: Mark David Chapman Markchapmanmugshot.jpgRealizing his role in the murder of Lennon (however unintentional it was) could not have been easy for Rungren, who immediately escaped to the solitude of his studio to record his next album, the solo record titled Healing.  How much the assassination of John Lennon bothered Rundgren is hard to determine since he has deflected questions about the assassination ever since it happened.  Initially it appeared that like Paul McCartney, he was going to deal with it by trying to drown himself in work, so as to not have to think about it too much.  But the weight of influence on Chapman was something he cold not escape and what emerged was an attempt to right what he had wronged.  Perhaps one of the top twenty strangest concepts for an album ever conceived, Healing seems to reflect the dire state in which the Lennon assassination had entangled Rundgren in – and the earnestness in his attempt and his belief in the healing power's of music.  In the album's liner notes, Rungren declared that the world needed a healer and as he delved deeply into the making of his ambitious concept album Healing he set out to forge a guide for those needing to be healed.  Chapman, who was now headed to a mental ward, seemed to inspire this idea that music, a song, or an album, really could effect people's lives in drastic ways.  As Rundgren began working that concept over in his mind, it made its way into the grooves of Healing.  The concept formulated into Rungren's attempt to actually create and record music and sounds that would physically, mentally and spiritually heal people upon hearing them. 

The lyrics to side one of Healing revolve around a protaganist who has discovered that he has healing powers through “some sort of musical mechanism”.  Side two then was the soundtrack that the protaganist created which could actually physically heal.  “Sound healing” as Rungren pointed out has roots going back to the time of Plato. “Certain tones are attached to certain chakras,” he explained.  His idea was to explore synthisized drones that mirrored the noise that the central nervous system makes during the healing process.  This manipulate of sound would theoretically have a healing effect on the listener.  Evidence that Healing did exactly that came after the album was released and therapist began using the album as a theraputic tool.  It doesn't take a genius to realize that listening to music can alter moods and relieve stress, so Rungren's concept may not have been as flighty as it first seemed.  In fact a number of psychatrists and mental hospital workers began to proclaim that Healing did in fact have the desired affect when played to patients that were distressed.

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Also issued with the album Healing was a bonus seven-inch 45 titled “Time Heals” that was only tangentially relevent to the concept of the album.  Issued because the record company needed a single, “Time Heals” had a video made for it in which Rundgren danced superimposed over images of Salvador Daly-like time melting clocks and Magritte-like men in bowler hats.  “Time Heals” became the second video ever played on Mtv which launched in August of 1981, coming right after the Buggles video “Video Killed The Radio Star”.    



©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

22 January 2015

The Selfie Apocalypse

free wheelin bob dylan photo: Bob Dylan main.jpg"Last night I spent four hours straight on facebook." Twelve years ago if I would have spoken those words, not a soul I know would have known what I was talking about. Today, no one I know wouldn't know exactly what I was talking about. Many years ago, before I was born, a folk singer named Bob Dylan sang, "The times are a changing."  Looking back, his observation seems obvious (didn't Dylan also say, "Don't Look Back") yet at the time it needed to be said for there were people who didn't understand this --or who at least didn't want to accept this. But the times did change. Clothing, music, values, traditions, technologies all changed and a new generation adapted and then adopted those changes as their own. But those times have changed again, and again. And today the times are still changing. Imagine if you took Bob Dylan circa 1963 and teleported him to a New York City street corner via 2015. First of all, he might think that the Zombie Revolution had come. He would be surrounded by folks standing around looking down at these little handheld boxes, occasionally touching their finger to them, but rarely looking up from them. Would Bob think that these were some sort of corporate devises that the government - or perhaps the communists - had developed to control the minds of the masses? Would he be wrong in thinking that?

While I was on the facebook for those four hours last night, I mostly looked at and read updates from a number of facebook pages dedicated to vintage vinyl and antique audio equipment. According to the internet experts (lol) vintage vinyl and antique audio are more popular than ever right now. In fact new record sales have not been higher since the dawning of the compact disk in the early 1980s. As the internet experts (again lol) describe it, old people who yearn for the simpler times (the times that Dylan described as "changing") are gobbling up old records and old stereos so they can loune about comfortably at their 'happy place' at home and listen to music the way it was intended to be listened to when the musical artists of the 50s through 80s had created it. And the younger folks, the hipsters if you will, think this is cool too and are hopping on the bandwagon as well.

When I wasn't looking at vintage vinyl and antique audio on facebook and when I wasn't trying to avoid the bombardment of memes that are meant to be poignant but that are actually just annoying, I was looking at a number of "off the grid" pages. These are pages that tout alternative energy, growing your own food making your own clothing and generally being at one with nature. The irony of surfing 'off the grid' living pages while spending four hours on the internet did not escape me.  The mere thought of actually living off the grid is both alluring but scary as well. Scary, because I imagine I would be a lot like the 1963 Bob Dylan, teleported to a New York street corner some 50 years later, surrounded by zombies. I would have no one to interact with, no one to communicate with. Everyone communicates via the little corporate-issued boxes nowadays. How could I relate to the rest of humanity if I didn't have one of those boxes myself?  Of course, I could always just buy a dog for companionship. Come to think of it, I know a good page on facebook for finding miniature bull terriers...       
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©2014 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

05 January 2015

One Album Wonders (of the 20th Century)

In the last half of the 20th Century, when a kid went off to college, it was customary for him (or her) to drag some kind of stereo system with them.  In the dorms there were music wars going on and the guy with the best sound system ruled the ether.  Along with a stereo, it was necessary to drag along a couple shoe boxes full of cassette tapes and a milk crate or two full of vinyl.  I entered Western Illinois University as a freshman in the autumn of 1986 with a collection of music that was larger than most kids on my dorm floor, but I had brought my "back-up" stereo with me.  It was a cheap, plastic combination dual cassette/radio/record player that cost less than $100.  My real system, which I had pilfered from my step-dad, would stay at my parents house until I got my first apartment my sophomore year.  In the mean time, mingling with a mix of college kids from the inner city and the suburbs of Chicago and St Louis was expanding my own small town taste in music and half way through my sophomore year I decided to take on a shift as a DJ at the campus radio station - it was the 3am show on Thursday mornings.  The good thing about that shift was that no one was listening and I could play absolutely anything I wanted.  Three weeks into my DJ career, I just started playing entire albums.  Around this time I began to develop an interest in what I called "One Album Wonders" - great albums that were created by bands that (sometimes inexplicably) never came close to reaching that level of artistry ever again.  I began compiling a list of these albums and collecting them over time, until many years later, after graduating college, heading off to the real world, finding work, meeting a girl, getting married, having kids, etc I felt I was an expert on One Album Wonders.  The following is a random smattering of reviews for some of the One Album Wonders I have collected:



 
 
 










 
 


 

 
 

 


 


 





 

03 January 2015

With a Little Help From Their Friends.

The song writing tandem of Lennon-McCartney is the most famous and successful in music history but their partnership lasted merely a decade (give or take a couple years depending on who's version you believe) and each of the three main Beatles' song-smiths began collaborating with other songwriters years before the Beatles officially broke up.  All four Beatles were expert collaborators through much of their solo careers. Here is a Top 19 list of the best efforts of the former's Beatles collaborations:


#19 Paul McCartney with Kanye West
This collaboration began making a buzz on the internet on New Years Day 2015, although it doesn't really seem like much of a collaboration with McCartney just adding a bit of organ and backing vocals - similar to what he contributed to a couple of Steve Millers tunes in the late 1960s.  Prior to this collaboration I had heard of Kanye West, but I could not name one song he had ever written/sung/performed.  He was one of those plastic, corporate pop culture eye sores that I made a point of ignoring alongside the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Ga-Ga, Justin Bieber.  I knew the name and the face, but fortunately nothing else.  But now because of West's collaboration with McCartney that has all changed. I now know of one song by Kanye West, and “Only One”.

#18  Paul McCartney with Michael Jackson
It's hard to talk about Paul McCartney's collaboration with Michael Jackson without talking about record breaking sales, chart topping statistics and astronomical profits. With Quincy Jones as producer, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson recorded "The Girl Is Mine" in April of 1982. The song would be the first single from Jackson's record breaking 1983 album Thriller. The single "The Girl Is Mine" would go to #2 in the charts and sell well over a million copies, meanwhile Thriller would become the best selling record in history. At its peak Thriller was selling one million copies per week worldwide. "The Girl Is Mine" was instrumental in gaining a white pop audience that helped Thriller become such a huge success as well as McCartney and Jackson's other collaboration, "Say Say Say" which was released in October of 1983. “Say Say Say” went straight to #1 in the single charts which gave Jackson his 7th top ten hit for 1983 (the record for most Top Ten hits in one calendar year is 11 by the Beatles in 1964).

During the process of collaborating on these two top charting, best selling songs, McCartney and Jackson formed an unique friendship in which Jackson stayed at the home of McCartney and his wife Linda during the recording sessions. The subject of making money came up often in their conversations and one night after having diner McCartney brought out a booklet that displayed all the songs to which he owned the publishing rights. "This is the way to make big money", he informed his friend Jackson. "Every time someone records one of these songs, I get paid. Every time someone plays these songs on the radio, or in live performances, I get paid." Three years later Jackson took McCartney's words to heart and bought out McCartney's Northern Songs music catalogue for $47.5 million.

#17  Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder
The Beatles admiration and relationship with black musicians goes back to their earliest days. They toured with Little Richard in 1962 and collaborated with Billy Preston during the making of Let It Be and Abbey Road (Lennon tired to make Preston an official member of the Beatles but was vetoed by McCartney). Lennon, who cited Chuck Berry as his hero, and the other Beatles also took a risky step during their American Tours during the 60s by having it written into their contract that they would not play to segregated crowds. So when McCartney decided to record his song "Ebony and Ivory" with black superstar Stevie Wonder, instead of being accused of blaxploitation, he usually gets the benefit of the doubt. But not always. The saccharine tune, in which the subject matter is racial harmony, is often criticized as “politically correct pandering” to "liberal and black" music buyers and critics. The success of the song further lends itself to this notion that its motivation was self-righteous self-promotion. "Ebony and Ivory" conveniently set a record, as it became McCartney's 28th #1 recording of his career and then stayed at the top of the charts longer than any other song he had ever written that wasn't titled "Hey Jude".

#16 Paul McCartney with Elvis Costello
The 1980s had been very good to Paul McCartney in terms of commercial successful but he saw his critical success waning with each passing year.  So in 1988 he decided to enlist the man who David Lee Roth said was so liked by music critics because he looked like a music critic, Elvis Costello.  The result was the critically-favored Flowers in the Dirt in which Costello co-wrote 4 songs with McCartney, co-produced 3 songs, co-sung one song and participated in various capacities on a number of the other songs.  In return McCartney appeared on Costello's 1989 album Spike and playing bass on the critically acclaimed song Veronica" that he and Costello co-wrote.

#15  John Lennon with Mick Jaggar and Kieth Richards
In about the time it takes to make a sandwhich, eat it and then wash your plate, Lennon and McCartney wrote the song that is responsible for the Rolling Stones first success and (despite a media created rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones) the members of both bands would be friendly with each other from that moment on.  In fact after the death of the Beatles manager Brian Epstein in 1967, Stones frontman Mick Jaggar famously pushed his band's manager Allan Klein onto Lennon and the Beatles.  To return the favor, Lennon agreed to be featured in the 1968 film, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (the Stone's TV answer to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour) as the leader of a thrown-together supergroup called Dirty Mac that included Eric Clapton, drummer Mitch Mitchell and the Stones very own Keith Richards.  Dirty Mac performed the definitive rendition of Lennon's "Yer Blues" for the film.

Within a matter of months, Allan Klien's presence in the Beatleverse was exasperating the process of the Beatles break up.  Meanwhile Mick Jaggar continued to hound and hover around Lennon until at the tail end of Lennon's famed Lost Weekend Lennon agreed to produce a song for Mick called "Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)".   The song, seen as some as a snide comment on McCartney's Too Many People ended up on the 2007 album The Very Best of Mick Jagger.   Jaggar continued to hoover around Lennon and played guitar on the Lennon produced Yoko album, Approximately Infinite Universe

#14  John Lennon with Cheap Trick
In the summer of 1980 John Lennon was in New York finishing off what would be his first album in over 5 years. Although the album, Double Fantasy, would become a huge hit, a sizable contingent of Lennon devotees view it as a weak effort better suited for a lounge singer than the once-rebel voice of a generation. Lennon, perhaps understood this for he told studio producer Jack Douglas that his sessions had become “too studio musician-ish.” He wanted something rougher, more real and immediate, something like Cheap Trick. Douglas, who had produced Cheap Trick's first album, contacted Rick Nielsen and Bun E Carlos. They were on tour in Toronto, but they immediately dropped everything and made their way to New York, where they knocked out Lennon's two new compositions “I’m Losing You” and “I’m Moving On”. Although Lennon's version of "I'm Losing You" with Cheap Trick did not appear on Double Fantasy it later appeared on the John Lennon Anthology and on Wonsaponatime, both in 1998. This version with Cheap Trick gives hardcore Lennon fans the glimmer of hope that Lennon, the rebel voice of a generation, had not gone completely soft and that, had he been alive throughout the 1980s, he would have stirred some real shit.

#13  Paul McCartney with Nirvana
It took a former Beatle and a hurricane to reunite the remaining members of Nirvana (including Pat Smear) after Kurt Cobain's suicide in April of 1994.  McCartney took Cobain's spot on vocals and guitar as the foursome performed as the headlining act at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief.  The performance, which was seen by approximately two billion people worldwide, began a collaboration that would result in McCartney performing again with Nirvana in Dave Grohl's 2013 documentary Sound City.  The song they cut, "Cut Me Some Slack" was a hard rock jam that won the 2014 Grammy for Best Rock Song.  On June 19, 2013, the four performed "Cut me Some Slack", alongside Beatles songs at a McCartney concert in Seattle.
#12  Ringo Starr & his All-Star Band
During October and November 1988, Ringo Starr and his wife, former Bond girl Barbara Bach attended a detox clinic in Tucson, Arizona, each receiving a six-week treatment for alcoholism. Emerging slean and sober, Ringo decided he needed to start working again. He formed a band creatively titled Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band who gave their first performance on July 23 1989 in Dallas, Texas. From that point on there would be over a dozen versions of the all-star band that toured on a regular basis for over 20 years. The rotating members constitute an eclectic mix of 60s through 80s hit makers including:

Bruce Springsteen, Dr. John, Joe Walsh, Billy Preston, The Band's Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, Nils Lofgren (Crazy Horse and E Street Band), Clarence Clemons, session drummer Jim Keltner. Ringo's son Zac Starkey, Paul Schaffer,Max Weinberg, Dave Edmunds, Burton Cummings (The Guess Who), Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles), Harry Nilsson, Hoyt Axton, Bonnie Raitt, Randy Bachman, Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), John Entwistle, Steven Tyler (Aerosmith), Slash, Stevie Nicks, Peter Frampton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker of Cream, Simon Kirke (Free and Bad Company), Leo Kottke, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Dave Mason, Todd Rundgren, Eric Carmen (Raspberries), Andy Summers (The Police), Billy Squier, Ray Davies (The Kinks), Roger Hodgson(Supertramp), Ian Hunter (Mott The Hoople), Howard Jones, Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer and King Crimson), Sheila E, Colin Hay (Men at Work), Paul Carrack, John Waite, Steven Van Zandt, Richard Marx, Edgar Winter, Rod Argent, Hamish Stuart (Average White Band), Edgar Winter, Gary Wright (Spooky Tooth), Wally Palmar (The Romantics), Rick Derringer, Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana and Journey) and Christopher Cross.

#11  John Lennon with David Bowie
Lennon's relationship with David Bowie was short-lived but it had a major impact on David Bowie's career. The two met in 1974 as Bowie was finishing up his sessions for his album Young Americans. Their conversations at one point turned to their ideas on the nature of celebrity . Soon afterward the two began to jam together, which led to a session at Electric Lady Studios in January 1975. There, they did a cover of The Beatles’ "Across the Universe" and then a new song Bowie had been working on called "Fame" that had been inspired by Lennon. The song became Bowie's first ever #1. The process of writing it with Lennon and the experience of being with Lennon had a strong influence over the future trek of Bowie's career. Lennon convinced Bowie that he was being shafted by his manager Tony Defries (Defries had launched the solo careers of rock stars as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, John Mellencamp and others). He convinced Bowie that all management was crap and that Bowie should just manage himself - which is what Bowie did. Bowie dumped Defries and took control of managing his own career from that point on.

#10  John Lennon with Elephant's Memory
John Lennon was a big fan of the soundtrack to the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy. The soundtrack contained the Grammy winning song "Everybody's Talkin" performed by his good friend Harry Nilsson (a song that beat out Bobby Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay", Randy Newman's "Cowboy" and Nilsson's own "I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City" for the film's theme song). Also included on the soundtrack was Warren Zevon's "He Quit Me" and two songs by a band that was known around Greenwich Village as a politically active street band: Elephant's Memory. When Lennon relocated to New York in 1971 he sought out Elephant's Memory to back him on his album Some Time in New York City. Elephant's Memory (billed as the Plastic Ono Elephant's Memory Band) became Lennon's backing band over the next several months as he made various appearances on TV shows, charity events and concerts. Lennon then produced and performed on Elephant's Memory's 1972 self-titled album while Elephant's Memory were used for Ono's 1973 album Approximately Infinite Universe (produced by Lennon).

#9  John Lennon with Elton John
In 1974, Lennon recorded the album Walls and Bridges in New York. His single "Whatever Gets You thru the Night" featured Elton John on backing vocals and piano. After the song went to #1 Lennon made a guest appearance at Elton John's Thanksgiving concert at Madison Square Garden, to fulfill a promise he made that he would join Elton in a live show if "Whatever Gets You thru the Night” reached number one. This concert would also mark the moment when John and Yoko got back together after Lennon's Lost Weekend. Lennon also performed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "I Saw Her Standing There", which he introduced as "a song by an old estranged fiancée of mine called Paul".

#8  John Lennon with David Peel
David Peel and The Lower East Side Band was a rag tag group of New York hippies that mad raw, acoustic "street rock" with lyrics about marijuana and "bad cops". Their 1968 album Have a Marijuana seemed to mark their apex until John Lennon befriended Peel when he and Yoko relocated to New York in 1971. Lennon produced Peel's The Pope Smokes Dope , an album that was istantly banned and became part of both FBI and CIA investigations into Lennon's presence in America – investigations that became intensified in December of 1971 when Lennon appeared at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan (with Peel in tow). Meanwhile Peel's group of hippies, aka the Lower East Side band was absorbed into the Plastic Ono Band that backed Lennon on his appearance on the David Frost Show that year.

#7  John Lennon with Yoko Ono
Lennon's collaboration with Ono is often sited as the reason for the break-up of the Beatles and for this reason, Beatles fans would put this collaboration much lower down the list. Musically Ono was experimental and her talent is questionable. There is a great video clip of her shrieking out during an appearance on the show where Lennon got a chance to perform a couple of songs with his hero Chuck Berry. As soon as her shriek kicks in, Barry's eyes bulge out as though he was Don Knotts seeing a ghost in Mr. Chicken. Many Lennonists would say her overall influence on Lennon's music was negative. One thing is for certain however, after Lennon was assassinated in 1980, Ono became the sol owner of Lennon's work and therefore one of the most important influences on the Lennon narrative. Some have accused her of revisionism in this narrative that increases the importance of her role. For example in the music video for Lennon's #9 Dream, she can be seen lip-synching the words “John” when in fact it was Lennon's lover May Pang who sang these words on the recording.

#6  The Traveling Wilburys
In 1988 a group of middle-aged rock stars met at Bob Dylan's home studio in Malibu, California. There mission was to record a B-side for George Harrison's latest single. Among these rock stars, (besides Dylan and Harrison) was the trad rocker Tom Petty, the silk-voiced Roy Orbison and the former ELO frontman and production efficianado Jeff Lynn. The group had so much fun recording the throw off tune, "Handle With Care" that they decided to create an entire album together. The result was the Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, recorded at the home of the Eurythmics Dave Stewart in just ten days. The album became a huge hit.

Certain aspects of the Wilburys echoed another band that had been part of a Harrison collaboration: The Rutles. The Rutles was a creation of Monty Python member Eric Idle and former Bonzo Dog Band member Neil Innes that was created to parody the Beatles. Innes's relationship with the Beatles went back many years to when Paul McCartney produced the Bonzos' 1968 hit single "I'm the Urban Spaceman" and to when the Bonzo's “Death Cab For Cutie” was famously featured in the Beatles 1967 Magical Mystery Tour film. By 1978 Harrison was in the process of becoming a successful film producer. His film company, HandMade Films eventually produced Monty Python's The Life of Brian and Time Bandits. So when the Rutles were looking for help for their film All You Need Is Cash, Harrison stepped in to collaborate. Ten years later, the Wilburys formed resembling the Rutles somehat. First of all, the members of the Wilbury's were each credited under pseudonyms for the five Wilbury half-brothers they had created. Also, like the name “Rutle”, the name “Wilbury” was also based on a joke. Harrison and Jeff Lynne created the term to refer to any mistake that happened
during a recording. "We'll bury the mistake in the mix," the joke went. The connection to the Rutles is also evident in the liner notes on the Wilbury's albums (the second album especially in which the liner notes were written by Eric Idle) as they had a very “Rutle” tone to them.
 
#5  Paul McCartney with Wings
Although it was McCartney who first publicly announced that the Beatles were breaking up, he was actually the last of the four Beatles to have quit the group at one point or another during their final days. And he the Beatle who least wanted the Beatles to break up. Why would he? He was successful, rich and most often got his way in the band. So in the Beatles aftermath, it may be no surprise that instead of paving a way for a solo career, McCartney set out to create a new band: Wings. But if Wings was intended to show the Rock world that it was not McCartney's domineering micro-management style that broke the Beatles up, then to that end it failed. Wings – initially beginning with McCartney, his wife Linda, drummer Denny Seiwell. and ex-Moody Blues guitarist Denny Laine – would quickly become a revolving door of musicians that at one point in time or another included three 'permanent' lead guitarists and four 'permanent' drummers. Those who passed through the revolving door included Jimmy McCulloch (former lead guitarist in Thunderclap Newman), guitarists Henry McCullough, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham. Guitarist Jeff Beck had also been asked to join but when Beck insisted that
he have veto power over his own guitar parts, McCartney withdrew his invitation. All told, Wings went through no less than 8 different line-ups.

Never the less, Wings became an incredibly successful band that did a large part in setting the groundwork for the Arena Rock/Stadium phenomenon that dominated the late 70s and early 80s Rock landscape and that continues into the 21s century. They were one of the most influential bands in developing the formula for commercially successful stadium rock, not just in America but worldwide. Overall they had 14 top 10 singles (including six number 1's) in the US. In fact every single that Wings released reached the US top 40 (23 in total) while nine of their albums went top 10 in either the UK or the US.

#4  George Harrison with Ravi Shankar
The first song ever recorded by the Beatles was actually a song that George Harrison collaborated on with John Lennon, called “Cry For a Shadow” but Harrison's time with the Beatles would too often be spent as a third wheel to the Lennon-McCartney duo. This explains why Harrison was the first of the Beatles to earnestly seek collaboration outside of the Beatle circle. In June of 1966 Harrison's interest in Indian music led him to cross paths with the Indian musician Ravi Shankar, who was performing in London at the time. Soon after this first encounter Harrison traveled to India and stayed with Shankar for six weeks to study sitar under him. This was the start of a musical collaboration that would last over 30 years. Shankar's influence on Harrison is heard in songs such Harrison's "Within You Without You" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and “The Inner Light”. Harrison's collaborations with Shankar continued after the Beatles broke up and in August of 1971 Shankar Concert for Bangladesh. In1973 Harrison and Shankar worked on the Shankar Family & Friends album. Over the next 30 years they continued to be close and collaborated often - up until the Chants of India album that Harrison produced for Ravi Shankar in 1997. Chants of India was partly recorded in Harrison's home in Oxfordshire, England and it was the last formal collaboration between Shankar and Harrison, as Harrison was diagnosed with cancer shortly after its release. The closing track on the album "Sarve Shaam" was performed at the historic Concert for George in November 2002 by Shankar's daughter Anoushka as part of the tribute to Harrison.
participated in Harrison's charity

#3  John Lennon with Harry Nilsson
Lennon had been a fan of Nilsson since his days with the Beatles and when the two met it was as though they were twin brothers from another mother. During Lennon's 18 month Lost Weekend, the two drinking buddies were inseparable and in early 1974, Lennon decided to produce Harry Nilsson's next album which would be titled Pussy Cats. The album cover caused a controversy as it had a hidden message on it: “Drugs under the table.” During the recording of Pussy Cats, one of the most talked about nights in Rock history happened when Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder popped into the studio unexpectedly and joined an all night party/jam session (bootleg recordings from this session were later released and documented as the only time Lennon and McCartney recorded together post-Beatles). But the late night party/jam session also resulted in Nilsson rupturing a vocal cord (Nilsson hid this from Lennon so that he wouldn't call a halt to the production). Nilsson never
fully recovered from the injury causing his recording career to rapidly spiral downward.

#2  George Harrison (and John Lennon) with Eric Clapton
The first time for a Beatle to seek collaboration outside of the Beatles circle came in September of 1968. George Harrison had a song he had written months earlier called "While my guitar gently weeps". Harrison came up with the song title after being introduced to the book I Ching, via a Syd Barret song. I Ching put forth the idea to Harrison that everything is relative to everything else. Things aren't just coincidence. Things are meant to be. There is a reason behind things. Applying this idea of relativism to his song writing, Harrison decided to write a song based on the first thing that took his interest. He was at his mother's house at the time, he picked up a book at random, opened it, and saw 'gently weeps'. And then it happened. The tune started forming onto Harrison and before long he was certain that he had a great song. But when he took the song to John and Paul, they showed little interest as usual. By this stage in the Beatles history, Harrison was completely fed up with Lennon and McCartney not showing the same level of interest and intensity in his songs as he did in theirs. But he knew that he had a song worth fighting for. Over the next couple of weeks, the Beatles would record "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" several times, but each time there was a lackluster result. Harrison was not satisfied and he decided to make a bold move. He asked his friend Eric Clapton to add a guitar solo to the song. At first Clapton refused, "Nobody ever plays on the Beatles' records" he maintained. But Harrison shrugged off this objection and brought him into the studio any way. The effect on the other Beatles was immediate, as they now all started trying their damnedest to nail the song. The result this time was a masterpiece. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a song that marks a major maturation in Harrison's songwriting and furthermore marks a major shift in the way Lennon and (especially) McCartney regarded him as a songwriter. Harrison's own attitude toward his craft as a music maker takes a new confidence and creativity from then on.

Harrison's growing confidence in his own writing furthered his frustration of not getting fair consideration for Beatles albums which ultimately led to him quitting the Beatles during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Upon Harrison's departure, Lennon irreverently suggested that the band get Eric Clapton to replace him. Perhaps Harrison's wife Patty Boyd was looking at Clapton as a Delaney and Bonnie and Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton, on Harrison's All Things Must Pass and Clapton's self-titled debut – all of which were released in 1970 and all of which featured Harrison and Clapton at the center of the stew of musicians that collaborated on these albums.
replacement for Harrison as well, for much has been made of the Harrison-Boyd-Clapton love triangle over the years. But in the mean time Harrison and Clapton shared a real and growing interest in the collaborative process of making music – an interest that was largely fueled by the collaborative efforts of Bob Dylan and the Band, as evidenced on their works The Basement Tapes and Music from Big Pink. Harrison and Clapton's efforts of emulating that collaborative process can be heard on the albums

Clapton seemed to be collaborating with every body during the late 60s and early 70s which included playing two dates as a member of The Plastic Ono Band with John Lennon that resulted in the album Live Peace in Toronto 1969. Also, on September 30, 1969, Clapton played lead guitar on Lennon's second solo single, Cold Turkey and then on December 15, 1969 Clapton performed with John Lennon, George Harrison, and others as the Plastic Ono Band at a fundraiser for UNICEF in London. Clapton also recorded with Billy Preston and Ringo Star and in August of 1971 played with Harrison Concert for Bangladesh. Later in his career Clapton collaborated with Harrison again for his 1989 Journeyman album and an 18 day tour of Japan in 1991
at the

#1  John Lennon (and George Harrison) with Phil Spector
Phil Spector is one of the players the center of the controversial break-up of the Beatles. He was brought in by the new Beatle manager Allen Klein, to produce John Lennon's song "Instant Karma!". Lennon and Harrison were impressed by Spector and invited him to take a crack of making something commercially viable out of the the Beatles' abandoned Get Back recording sessions. Spector went to work and made significant changes to the arrangements and sound of some songs. McCartney was furious over the changes, particularly to the changes made to his "The Long and Winding Road". But Lennon and Harrison were happy with the results. In fact, Harrison decided to use Spector for his epic All Things Must Pass triple album in 1970 as Lennon decided to use him to co-produce his Plastic Ono Band. When the Beatles broke up, Spector was named director of A&R for Apple Records. He produced "Power to the People" with John Lennon as well as Lennon's album, Imagine. He also co-produced Harrison's "Bangla-Desh" and recorded the music his The Concert For Bangladesh in 1971.

Also in 1971 Spector produced Lennon's single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and then Lennon's 1972 album, Some Time In New York City. But Spector's reign at Apple Records came to an end after only a year and in 1973, as Spector began producing sessions for Lennon's next album, Rock 'n' Roll his relationship with Lennon became strained. Between Lennon's Lost Weekend drunken jam sessions and Spector's costumes and guns the sessions quickly spiraled out-of-control. At one point Spector disappeared with the tapes of the sessions. When Lennon finally retrieved the tapes he decided to finish the album on his own and the two never collaborated again.


©2015 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

16 October 2014

Who Was The First Rock and Roll Band Ever?


alan lomax photo: Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook g04675h3au91.jpgIn the summer of 1941 Alan Lomax went to the Mississippi Delta searching for a ghost. When he came upon an old man in worn-out clothes and a moth-bitten hat, he asked the man if he knew the whereabouts of the Blues man Robert Johnson. Johnson, a notorious womanizer, had been known to use his guitar and music to woo women. In fact it was said that he had made a deal with the devil so that he could play his guitar well enough to woo women. Lomax, a historian on a mission to put together an archive of unknown American blues and folk musicians, had spent years traveling the country making field recordings, traveling back roads, dirt roads, searching shot gun shacks. The old man informed Lomax that Johnson was dead, poisoned by a jealous husband, but that there was a 19 year old cotton picker that went by the name of Muddy Waters who sounded just like Robert Johnson. He could be found at Stovall's Plantation on up the road a spell.  Lomax thanked the man, loaded his stuff back in his automobile and headed for the cotton fields. It was there that he found Muddy and had him play into his recording machine. As Lomax played his song back to him, it struck Muddy. This was his future.

When World War II came, millions of young American men left their manufacturing jobs in the cities to go off and fight Hitler. This left gaping manpower shortages in urban factories in cities like St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago. Black men from the Mississippi delta, who had spent their entire lives shackled by the machinations of southern manual labor, traveled north to fill these jobs. Muddy Waters was among these men. He made his way to Chicago and found city work, but when the war ended, he found something else. As the white soldiers returned to sweet home Chicago they saw that their city was now populated with black folks. In the more ethnic neighborhoods, it wasn't so evident and the soldiers returning to those areas stayed. But thousands more decided to take advantage of their G.I. benefits and start fresh, new lives in the bright, clean suburbs – it was called “white flight”. In the urban decay that they left behind, Muddy Waters and dozens of black blues players from the south, lived worked, ate, drank and created an American monster. It was Rock and Roll.
 
maxwell street chicago photo: sweet home chicago sweethomechicago.jpgOn a overcast, chilly day in March of 1948 a musician, whose name has been lost to history, canceled his recording session with Leonard Chess. Chess ran a fledgling record label in Chicago called Arista. Chess had never heard Muddy Waters, but on the advice of his scout Sammy Goldberg, Leonard sent word to bring Muddy in to record some songs. Muddy was at work, on a delivery truck somewhere, anywhere, bouncing among the city streets but when word got to his cousin, his cousin found a car and began racing all across the city to find Muddy. Eventually the cousin's zig met Muddy's zag and Muddy got the news. Muddy put in a call to his boss, the white man who owned the deliver truck and he made up an excuse. Muddy told his boss that his cousin had been hit by a truck and was dead. With that Muddy raced off to Chess Studios where he recorded “Feel Like Going Home” and “I Can't Be Satisfied”, two songs he had also recorded for Alan Lomax over a half decade earlier back at the Mississippi Delta. There was one big difference though: electricity. Electric Muddy was Rock and Roll. Putting the Delta Blues to urbanized electric guitar, that was the conception of Rock and Roll. The electric guitar came in fast and furious like a hyper-natural sperm coming to fertilize the egg that was the Delta Blues. 

On the day after it was released, the original pressing of “I Can't Be Satisfied,” immediately sold out. Leonard Chess had to print up more copies and send them out. These also sold out. Soon the single reached the Billboard Top 20 and overnight Arista, a little ma and pa operation, was transformed. Arista would became Chess Records, the label that came to define the down-home electric blues of Chicago's south side. The label that documented the birth of a new sound, “The sound of the dives – a sound that evolved from the Delta Blues, that picked up the steely jump of the city as it moved north, the rattle of street corners and stoops, the slaughter yards, the loading docks, the assembly lines.”*

bo didley photo: Bo Didley BoDidley.jpgIt was the sound that would years later spawn the Rolling Stones, who named their band after Muddy Water's song "Rollin Stone", and whose most recognizable song, “I can't get no satisfaction” was a reworking of Muddy's “I can't be Satisfied.” The Rolling Stones would form a decade after “I Can't Be Satisfied” was recorded when Keith Richards accidentally bumped into Mick Jagger and noticed he had a stack of Chess Records under his arm. When Keith, awed by Mick's records, explained how much he dug the Chess Sound as well, one of the most prolific partnerships in Rock history was sparked. Many of the Stone's original recordings were remakes of the early Chess records, many of which were by Chess's house writer/bass player Willie Dixon. Years later when the Stones finally made it to America (1965) they booked time and recorded several songs at Chess Studio, including the song “2120 South Michigan Ave” the title of which was the address for the famed building in Chicago that housed Chess Records. While the Chess sound went on to spawn the Rolling Stones, it would also provide the mojo for nearly every Rock guitarist who created the Rock landscape of the 60s and 70s. Jimi Hendrix, who was just a small boy at the time that “I Can't Be Satisfied” came out often told folks that Muddy Waters was the first guitarist he was ever aware of. He “scared me to death,” Hendrix explained. The Chess sound also spawned the British Blues that was spearheaded by Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. It would inform nearly everything they and every other blues-based guitarist of the Classic Rock era. Even David Bowie, who named his first rock band The Mannish Boys, after the song by Muddy Waters, was influenced by the Chess Sound.
 
Not long after Muddy's fateful first recording with Leonard Chess on Chicago's south side, Muddy formed the first Rock and Roll band in history. The band came together on Maxwell Street and included 25 year old Jimmy Rogers – who would play rhythm guitar with Muddy through thick and thin over the next 20 plus years – and future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Little Walter, the impresario of the amplified harmonica. Little Walter would give Rock and Roll an eeiry, bedeviled tone that would nearly scare the death out of white America of the 50s and 60s. Little Walter was just 16 years old when Jimmy Rogers introduced him to Muddy. The band was rounded out with Otis Spann on upright piano. Lenard Chess began recording Muddy's band in 1950. Cuts like “Honey Bee,”  "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and “She Moves Me” became local hits, then regional hits, then national hits, eventually even finding their way overseas, to port cities like Liverpool and London. In America, especially throughout the Midwest, where these songs took flight across late night air waves, up to the north country, where young Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing Minnesota heard them, and down south to Saint Louis, where young Chuck Berry heard them, the Chess sound was beginning to speak to something inside the souls of the American teenagers who heard it.

rolling stones chess records photo: The Best of Chess Records 61dQTJzAQiL__SS500_.jpgBy 1955 these sounds had so inspired the teenage Chuck Berry that he traveled up to Chicago to meet with his idol Muddy Waters and see how he could get in on this thing. Muddy sent the ambitious young man to Leonard Chess and Chess recorded Berry's “Maybellene”. To make sure that “Maybellene” hit it big, Chess gave half the writing credit to Alan Freed, the Cleveland disc jockey who first popularized the term Rock and Roll. “Maybellene” immediately became the biggest selling record Chess had ever had up to that point. At that same moment, a Chicago kid named Ellis McDaniel changed his name to Bo Didley, after a song he had written called “Bo Didley” which he recorded for Chess. “Bo Didley” became a huge hit as well. With “Bo Didley” and “Maybellene” Rock and Roll had finally climbed out of Chicago's Southside and made its self know to popular American culture.
 
Today, nearly 60 years later, at 2120 South Michigan Avenue, the building where Rock and Roll was cradled, there is a museum for Chess Records. Compared to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or the Museum in Seattle, it seems underrated. Chicago has never seemed to want to give itself too much credit for founding Rock and Roll. Cleveland's Alan Freed (who was on Chess's payroll) may have been the one to popularize the term “Rock and Roll” but Chess Records was where it was discovered, recorded and nurtured. Chess records continued to be run by Leonard Chess into the late 1960s until he sold the company to a communications corporation in 1969. Shortly afterward he had a heart attack and died. His son Marshall continued at the company, for a few years, but eventually Chess Records folded. The last song ever recorded for Chess Records was Chuck Berry's 1972 live recording of “My ding-a-ling” – a song about a black man's penis and perhaps the most fitting metaphor for Rock and Roll there ever was. Robert Johnson must have looked down from the heavens above and gave a little chuckle.
willie dixon photo: Willie Dixon WillieDixondesdeafuera.jpg


*From Rich Cohen's Machers and Rockers


©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

28 August 2014

Johnny Unite Us?


three stooges photo: stooges stoogesux2-1.jpgOne of the strangest interpretations of a song lyric I've ever heard was that John Lennon's “Come Together” was all about Superbowl III.  The theory came from Harper, a middle-aged white guy who looked like an overwieght Larry from the Three Stooges.  Harper worked at a second-hand record store in my small hometown in Central Illinois.  I was perusing records there one day when he laid this theory on me.  He was a bit of Rock conspiracy theorists -- he got into stuff like the Paul is Dead theory and the Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Rainbow theory.  His theories were always entertaining and often informative and he liked to keep his source material at his side whenever he was explaining one of his bizarre theories.  In fact he had a large stack of books and magazines at his side as he explained his theory that“Come Together” was about Superbowl III. 

Timothy Leary photo: dr. timothy leary leary_1.jpgLike most Rock geeks, I had already known that “Come Together” had been written for Timothy Leary in his campaign to run against Ronald Reagan for the office of California Governor in the late 1960s.

“Yes, initially it was, but look here,” Harper said, handing over an article that explained Leary and Lennon had not been in communication with each other for awhile after Leary was sent to prison for possession of marijuana.  Lennon kept the song, continuing to work with it and it took a different direction.  “The lyrics were written during the spring of 1969, shortly after Joe Namath had won the Superbowl for the Jets.”

“Okay?” I said cautiously, not seeing the connection.

Harper was one of these “read between the lines” thinkers.  Everything that existed had some tangential connection to something bigger, you just had to look under the surface.  His mind was always racing to figure these connections out.

“Okay, look at the lyrics,” he said as though he was a lawyer making his opening statements.  “It starts out with 'Here come old flat top' which is a reference to Johnny Unitas, the quarterback that Nameth beat in Superbowl III.  Unitas was famous for his flat top hair cut.”

I nodded, like I was mulling this possibility over in my mind, as I recalled an episode from The Simpsons where Grandpa Simpson described Johnny Unitas's hair cut as a "hair cut you can set your watch to".
johnny unitas photo: Johnny Unitas 10.jpg  
Harper continued going over the lyrics, “He come groovin up slowly, he got juju eyeball, he one holy roller.  Ju ju eyeball was 60s slang for 'television' and Superbowl III was one of the biggest TV events ever at that time, it had more viewers than the moon landing, just a few months later.  Everyone was watching it after Nameth made his famous guarantee that his team was going to win.” 

Again Harper pulled out an article, this time from a Sports magazine that gave a summary of Superbowl III.  An estimated 50 million people had watched the game (an astronomical market share of 71). The cost of a 30 second commericial went for an outrageous (for that time) $55,000.

“What about holy roller?” I asked, encouraging him.

“Holy Roller is Johny Unitas's coach, Don Shula,” he declared.  “You were too young to remember this, but the media had a field day with Namath's antics, playing the young brash QB against the stiff-upper lip conservative Shula, who was well-known as being very religious.  It was reported that he attended mass every morning and that he had considered becoming a Catholic priest, but was directed by God to become a football coach instead.”

Harper was just getting into his groove.  For arguments sake I decided to concede these points to him, but I still hadn't heard anything to convince me.  “Okay, okay, what else do you have?”

Harper went back to the lyrics, “He got hair down to his knee, this is obviously about Namath who was not only known for his long hair, but he also famously wore full-length fur coats on the sidelines, that came down to his knees. And the use of the word knees, has a double meaning concerning Nameth, because Namath's knee was a huge part of his whole story since he had suffered a serious knee injury in his senior year in college that caused him to drop down in the NFL draft.  Every conversation about how well Nameth was going to play always revolved around his bad knees.” 
joe namath photo: Joe Namath tumblr_mf51pqkOhn1qbuy6oo1_1280.jpg

Harper then stopped to look down at the lyric sheet he had in front of him. “Got to be a joker he just do what he please, obviously about Nameth,” Harper added, holding his hands out to his side, and shrugging to emphasize how obvious that line is. 

As Harper ran through the lyrics, he found some connection between each line in the song that related to Superbowl III. The lyric “He wear no shoeshine he got toe jam football” referred to how Namath stood out from other pro players by wearing low-cut white shoes rather than traditional black high-tops.  Harper pointed out that Namath’s shoe wear was deemed so outrageous that it led to the NFL instituting fines for players not wearing shoes that match those of their teammates.  As a response, the entire NFL eventually switched to Namath-styled white shoes.  This controversy led to Nameth getting tagged nickname Joe Willie Whiteshoes.  After that Harper went on to explain that the lyric “Got feet down below his knees - Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease,” was about Nameth's bad knee again and how it had been the talk of all the armchair quarterbacks .  Also, the term 'armchair quarterback' was, according to Harper, a new term that became popularized for the first time during that Superbowl.  It would have been an especially interesting term for Lennon, who was well known for picking up on new and interesting idioms. 

mark david chapman photo:  johnmark.jpgI imagined Harper did a lot of drugs in the Sixties.  I imagine like Charles Manson and like the “Paul is Dead” believers and like Mark David Chapman, he thought Lennon and the Beatles were beaming out subliminal messages through their lyrics.  Still, every time I hear "Come Together" I think of Harper's theory and I even listen for clues to support it - even though I don't believe it.  Although, one and one and one is three... as in Superbowl III?