Category Archives: Music

Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll

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Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll –
Fine-Tuned Infographics To Rock Your World
By Daniel Tatarsky & Ian Preece
Carlton Books – £25.00

The book travels through the centuries – from the very earliest music created by hitting stones with bones, to the latest developments in musical creation and delivery like the mp3. Eighty fact-filled spreads bring you all the way to the social-media era, where an artists number of followers and virtual friends is often more important than the actual number of records they sell. Talking of records, now that vinyl has come back into fashion, you’ll also find absorbing details of the various media upon which music has been delivered to our ears, as well as the diverse number of broadcast systems, stations and players.

                                                                                  (Introduction)

There are a number of ways of approaching or reading this book.

One can either be acutely mathematical about it; in which case, such crass, terrible and rather pointless acts likes Cardi B and Rhapsody unfortunately come into play (who in their right mind would ever consider calling themselves Rhapsody for fuck sake? I’d sooner call myself Leukemia). Wherein music counts for…well…nada, while image and of course, marketing, is so profoundly sacrosanct and of such vital importance, that even the very word, sacrosanct, is itself, deemed a salacious mockery.

Naturally, one can take the organic approach to Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll –
Fine-Tuned Infographics To Rock Your World, wherein all and any hope of musical inspiration, will be re-defined beyond the point of any expectation (not to mention explanation) whatsoever.

Indeed, apart from the book’s Introduction – a segment of which opens this review – these 175 pages are lacking in any form of clarity and depth.
They kind of read like a cross-word in the making.

In other words, the book doesn’t really feel complete, although there are admittedly, a few things here and there that do make for ever so marginally interesting reading.

For instance, ‘Country Musicians Not Entirely From The Country’ on page 42, ‘The”Curse” Of The Mercury Prize’ on page 104, ‘The Summer of Love’ Songs on page 142 and ‘Beating Number One’ on page 158, where the authors write: ”The pace of life has increased dramatically over the past few decades, and it’s unsurprising that the beats per minute of the best-selling UK singles per calender year reflect that. During the first few years of the charts, in the 1950s, the average BPM was a mere 99: ‘I Believe’ by Frankie Laine bottomed out at just 66 bpm. Since then, there has been a steady climb (rapid leaps provided by The Beatles and the fast-paced 1980s) and the 2010s are the first decade that hasn’t had a single best-seller timed at under 100 bpm.”

So, other than a few assorted nuggets of trainspotter induced karma – hey, takes all sorts – I should imagine Stats, Records & Rock’n’Roll will appeal to those with a penchant for numbers and facts and erm, more numbers and facts.

David Marx

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Anatomy Of A Song

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Anatomy Of A Song –
The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits
By Marc Myers
Grove Press/Atlantic – £9.99

Writing about songs and songwriting in general, can on occasion, make for fascinating reading; although so much depends on a number of very important, varying issues: what’s being discussed, what’s not being discussed, the story behind the writing and of course, the actual song itself.

With this in mind, any book of this nature is also utterly dependent on what the artists may or may not have to say. As such, Anatomy Of A Song – The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits is a little hit and miss.

The background behind a number of the forty-five songs chosen herein, read like something of an elongated, rather dull biography of some of the artist(s) involved. For instance, the horribly over-rated ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf, is a prime example of much ado about fundamentally nothing.

I for one, really couldn’t care less about where the band’s lead singer, John Kay lived, how his band secured a record deal or how he met his girlfriend. I think I’d sooner read about the history of knitting – which, in and of itself, is a pretty dismal pastime if ever there was one. Likewise, a number of the songs discussed: ‘Groovin” by The Young Rascals, ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane and even ‘Carey’ by Joni Mitchell.

All three are hardly stand-out songs; but, so far as this collection is concerned, the stories behind them don’t exactly make for inspired reading.

Yet, luckily for Marc Myers, Anatomy Of A Song does miraculously leap into life towards the final third of its 323 pages, when such far more interesting artists as Jimmy Cliff (‘The Harder They Come’), Elvis Costello ((‘All The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’), The Clash (‘London Calling’), and R.E.M. (‘Losing My Religion’) are discussed.

Moreover, it is when the author interviews Stevie Wonder in relation to ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today,’ that the book really comes to life: ”To this day, I never sit down and formally write songs. They emerge from the process of listening to what I’m doing on the keyboard. I just play, and songs sort of happen. Like a painter, I get my inspiration from experiences that can be painful or beautiful. I always start from a feeling of profound gratitude – you know, ”Only by the grave of God am I here” and write from there. I think most songwriters are inspired by an inner voice and spirit. God gave me this gift, and this particular song was a message I was supposed to deliver.”

So yeah, books that essentially traverse and dissect the coming together of songs, are in themselves, reliant on those songs. This goes a long way in explaining why this particular book is, on the whole, linear and lifeless.

David Marx

Springsteen – Album By Album

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Springsteen – Album By Album
By Ryan White
Introduced by Peter Ames Carlin
Carlton Books – £15.99

     The older you get, the more it means.

Bruce Springsteen,
Stadium of Light,
Sunderland, UK (21/06/2012)

A few days ago, it was announced and confirmed that Bruce Springsteen’s stint on Broadway (five nights a week) has now been extended to run until next June, 2018.

What with tickets being not only exceedingly hard to get hold of, but selling and changing hands for literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars; I find myself wanting to clamour onto a Manhattan rooftop – somewhere in the vicinity of the Walter Kerr Theatre on 48th Street – and through a large megaphone, scream the following words:

Hasn’t Bruce Springsteen made enough money yet?
Isn’t four-hundred-and sixty million dollars enough?
Isn’t four-hundred-and sixty million dollars (and counting) enough for him to at least think about giving a little something back? Back to his incredibly devoted fans – who, for many, many years, have always, always stood by him?
Just how much more money does he need to accumulate playing live, in order ”to provide for my family” (page 499 of his book, Born To Run)?
Indeed, how many risible hoops do his fans need to continue jumping through – as if dumbstruck, performing seals, with nothing better to do than outwardly fawn; while simultaneously hurling a menagerie of credit cards out unto the starstruck wind, ad infinitum – until such a time as fairness and decency descend?

To a certain degree, it’s a real tough and confusing one.
I myself have been a huge Springsteen fan for years. As such, it’s almost impossible to dismiss all the great music he’s put out over the years. BUT, isn’t it high time for him to remember what it was once like being a fan himself?

When the above mentioned book, Born To Run was published, he did a book signing in London, yet had the audacity to charge fans £20.00 to queue up! Supposedly to pay for security. Whatdafuckingfuck? Surely his label could have splashed out a few quid to pay for a couple of gorillas to ”protect him?”

It is indeed quite upsetting/disturbing, to come to the cold, harsh realisation that someone you’ve admired for so many years, has evolved into someone for whom the only thing that now truly matters is money.

As a result, listening to ‘Thunder Road’ just isn’t the same any more.
What’s more, it never will be.

What was it Dylan once said, ”it’s funny how money brings out the worst in people,” which is why I prefer to remember a time when Springsteen was indeed, wild and innocent. With a huge dollop of emphasis on innocent, which is where this altogether terrific book comes in.

Other than being a well-considered and highly authoritative overview of the artist’s work, Springsteen – Album By Album, is a lavishly compiled, hardback compilation, that harks back to a time when Bruce Springsteen still had a hungry heart. From his debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ right the way through to High Hopes, the book is littered with thought provoking drop-quotes (such as the opening quote of this review) and is filled with some truly great – colour and black &white – photographs covering Springsteen’s entire career.

Written by Ryan White, and with an Introduction by Peter Ames Carlin – whose book Bruce I reviewed in 2012 – these 288 pages invariably drip with nostalgia. And all things considered – Springsteen’s aforementioned, current penchant (if not infatuation) with money for instance – this ought not be deemed a bad thing. After all, as long-standing side-kick, Steve Van Zandt said of Springsteen in 2011: ”He had the balls to be cornball […] to risk being sentimental.”

Hmm, but clearly not that sentimental.
Not sentimental enough to give his fans some sort of financial break – that’s for sure.

Rather than trying to secure tickets by lining the pockets of countless agents and touts, middle-men and of course, Bruce Springsteen himself; or queuing up for literally hours on end in the cold in the hope of seeing Bruce play a few acoustic songs, you’d be far better off watching the nigh endless Bruce footage on YouTube and buying this truly wonderful book.

Wonderful in the sense that one can still glean a fragment of the truth.

David Marx

 

Just Around Midnight

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Just Around Midnight –
Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination
By Jack Hamilton
Harvard University Press – £23.95

     Hendrix’s race produced a crisis in popular-music discourse. He presented a mix of stereotype and subversion, seemingly playing to racist cliches of black menace and sexuality while performing music that contradicted contemporary expectations of black sound. One of the most common accusations lobbed at Hendrix in this period was that of racial inauthenticity, or even race treachery. After Monterey a young Robert Christagau wrote a scathing appraisal of Hendrix’s performance in the pages of Esquire, describing Hendrix as ”terrible” and accusing him of being ”just an Uncle Tom” who ”had tailored a caricature to [the audience’s] mythic standards and apparently didn’t even overdo it a shade.”

    In early 1968 the Washington Post wrote that ”Jimi Hendrix is the P. T. Barnum of rock. He assesses, and fills, the needs of his crowd. His blackness is an Uncle Tom blackness.” The article also noted that ”it is entirely necessary, in fact, that Hendrix is a Negro. His music is Chuck Berry filtered through the Beatles and the West Coast electronic freak-out, back through a black man to a 99 per cent white audience,” a sentiment conveyed more caustically by Richard Goldstein, who remarked in his own review of Hendrix’s Monterey performance: ”his major asset seems to be his hue.” Rolling Stone magazine eschewed the Uncle Tom epithet but wondered if Hendrix was simply a ”psychedelic superspade.” Never one to be outdone, in a New York magazine article entitled ”SuperSpade Raises Atlantis,” Albert Goldman mused on what he saw as Hendrix’s preference of ”playing to almost exclusively white audiences” and”consorting with white women” and concluded that ”Hendrix’s blackness is only skin deep.”

                                                            (‘House Burning Down –
                                                            Race, Writing, and Jimi Hendrix’s War’)

Looking back to the time when music journalism and rock criticism in general came into its own around the mid to late sixties, it’s surprisingly shocking, if not down right disturbing, to comprehend the degree to which certain writers were both degrading and openly racist toward black American artists.

Jimi Hendrix (and Motown’s Berry Gordy) in particular, as the above opening quotes from this book’s eye-opening fifth chapter more than sadly illuminates. That the writers themselves (Robert Christgau, Richard Goldstein and Albert Goldman) are white, should come as no surprise; although what is astounding, is the fact that said publications would openly be seen to print such abominable garbage.

Who on earth was/is Christagau to talk of ‘caricature’ and WRONGLY accuse Hendrix of being ”just an Uncle Tom?” As for the appalling Albert Goldman – he who was ”never one to be outdone”- well I’m not even going to bother wasting my or your time.

That said, Just Around Midnight – Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination is an unquestionably marvellous and rather brilliant book. Apart from being exceedingly well-written, it’s audacious and courageous, not to mention racially charged.

Making it all the more important.

Important, in that it places Jack Hamilton’s work amid so much of the equally charged trajectory of the American psyche into current, questionable perspective. An altogether torrid state of affairs admittedly, but as Emily Lordi of the University of Massachusetts has since said of these 276 pages (excluding Notes, Acknowledgements and Index): ”As musically detailed as it is theoretically expansive, Just Around Midnight reveals that popular music of the 1960s was defined by more vibrant inter-racial collaborations and more violent anti-black erasures than we could have imagined. This is a beautifully written and provocatively argued work of intellect, heart, and soul.”

I couldn’t agree more.
A terrific, all round astonishing and revalatory read.

David Marx

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967
By Brian Southall
Carlton Books – £16.00

Now that we only play in the studios, and not anywhere else, we have less of a clue what we’re going to do.

     George Harrison

The year 1967 seems rather golden – it always seemed to be sunny and we wore far-out clothes and far-out sunglasses. Maybe calling it the summer of love was a bit too easy; but it was a golden summer.

     Paul McCartney

I was never overawed by The Beatles, but I was aware that this was a very special moment in time for anyone who was there […]. I have to admit I was pretty moved by the whole thing.

     Eric Clapton

Let it be said that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of books on The Beatles, but what sets a few of them apart, is – apart from the essential subject matter – the all round approach. And as the title might suggest, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967, is a most definitely focused book on a most definitely challenging, high-spirited year, in which so many things took place.
Regardless of The Beatles themselves.

Set against the backdrop of the (ever increasing) Vietnam War; among other things, 1967 saw Ronald Reagan sworn in as Republican Governor of California, the arrival of The Doors, The Monkees and Jimi Hendrix, not to mention Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne.’ Britain also had its first ever victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with Sandie Shaw’s ‘Puppet On A String.’ The film industry saw the release of Michelangelo Antonioni’s controversial Blow-Up, and then there was the marriage of Elvis Presley to 23 year-old Priscilla Beauliu in La Vegas. June saw both the beginning and the end of Israel’s Six Day War, while China became the first Asian nation to develop an atomic weapon (in testing a 3.3 megaton H-Bomb). Messrs’ Jagger and Richards were briefly imprisoned, folk legend Woody Guthrie died in New York, while on August 27th, The Beatles manager, Brian Epstein died.
Perhaps marking the end of an era.

Oh, and then there was also the release of ”the greatest pop single of all time” on February 17: ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane.’

With all of the above in mind, the book benefits as a result of being handsomely illustrated in such a way as it’s allowed to breath. Thus enabling the reader to fully appreciate and take in the outstanding collection of colour photographs as well as what’s written: ”Alongside exciting innovations in music and fashion – which introduced the world to a host of new sounds and shapes – 1967 heralded a greater awareness of politics and the power of protest. It all went hand in hand with a youthful enthusiasm for happening, festivals, be-ins and love-ins.”

Indeed, world events and what The Beatles were doing in the studio, was, in 1967, simply breathtaking; as The Who’s Pete Townshend makes clear (in the chapter ‘It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…’): ”For me, Sgt. Pepper and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds redefined music in the twentieth century: atmosphere, essence, shadow and romance were contained in ways that could be discovered again and again. No one believed the Beatles would ever top it or even bother to try.”

Whether or not the band did top it is wide-open to differing debate. For me personally, I prefer the albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, while others prefer the so-called White Album and Abbey Road.

What isn’t wide-open to debate is the very fine and attractive quality of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Album, The Beatles and the World in 1967. As a tomb of knowledge that homes in on what is clearly one of the most important albums ever recorded, it really is the dog’s under-carriage (in that it’s nigh un-put-down-able): ”In its 50 year history, the album has garnered 17 platinum awards in Britain (each one awarded for 300,000 sales), collected a diamond award in America for sales that exceeded 10 million, as well as an unparalleled number of gold and platinum discs from almost every nation on earth. With music fans reminded in 2017 of the extraordinary music The Beatles created half a century ago, it will be interesting to see how many more sales the album notches up.”

Or any of their albums come to that!

But if it’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band you want to delve into and generally find out more about, then this terrific book’s an absolute must!

David Marx

The Political Art of Bob Dylan

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The Political Art of Bob Dylan
Edited by David Boucher & Gary Browning
Imprint Academic – £14.95/$29.90

Everything he does is expression, eruption, explosion. This is the hottest crater of a volcanic epoch, spewing out the lava of its visions in unpredictable bursts with irresistible power, in the relentless swell of the inner fire.

His achievement in breathing new life into old art forms by the radical modification of form and content has inspired millions of people throughout the world and reminds us that art can still awaken a sense of resistance to the fatalistic surrender to the idea that there is no alternative to a ‘World Gone Wrong.’

                                                                        (‘Dylan’s Expressionist Period’)

Such is the case that Bob Dylan’s lyrical oeuvre is as equally grounded in ever changing fluidity as it is validity; and reading this most fascinating of books, re-alerts us to said oeuvre’s timely and altogether cohesive consistency. Indeed, The Political Art of Bob Dylan is something of a (political) reminder, as to how impatient and important so much of the songwriter’s work has been over the years and decades.

Not to mention intrinsically raw and close to the bone.

To quote the great Federicio Garcia Lorca, who is himself, quoted in the book’s final chapter ‘Images and Distorted Facts’: ”Poetry surrounds itself with brambles and fragments of broken glass so that the hands that reach out for it are cut and injured with love.”

Self-inflicted, yet cursed injury for thought perhaps, but when one’s work is examined within a complex sphere of the theoretical aesthetic, the sort of which encompasses the likes of Kant and Adorno, Collingwood and Lorca; one must invariably as well instinctively know one has arrived.

And for all intents and appreciative purposes, Dylan has continued to arrive, over and over if not over again.

For instance, one need only reflect upon how very little today’s United States has actually changed since the release of Dylan’s socially groundbreaking album, Highway 61 Revisited. An album, which, as Gary Browning substantiates in the book’s seventh chapter ‘Bob Dylan: (Post) Modern Times,’ more than told it as it needed to be told back then (and clearly still does now): ”It is an album that is a wholesale critique of the USA, its culture and values. The title track is a case in point. Highway 61, a highway running from North to South, is an image for the dead hand of the system, stretching throughout the USA. It is a metaphor for the power of the system; its linking and framing of America in the values sustained by corporate power […]. ‘The symbolic highway offers less potential for escape and more sense of cultural entrapment.’ The opening lines of the song ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ replay Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, just as in contemporary America the political fathers were sacrificing their sons in the Vietnam war. This slaughter of America’s sons is linked to an ineffectual welfare system, the straight-jacket of family values, and the commodification of everything, including nuclear war. Dylan recognises the systemic nature of the corruption and desolation in contemporary America. He does not offer an alternative social vision. He satirises mainstream society and in so doing implies an alternative, but individual vision.”

It is this very ”individual vision,” upon which a great seething plethora of Dylan books continue to be written and (quite often) devoured. In fact, another two new Dylan books are about to be published by Simon and Schuster at the end of this month: The Nobel Lecture and The Essential Interviews.

Although it does need to be said that what separates The Political Art of Bob Dylan from that of its competitors, is the degree to which is enriches our understanding of Dylan’s acute and very varied political work(s). A facet of the man which is on-going, never simple, yet fraught with a Burn Baby Burn like thinking. And Amen to that brother.

David Marx

 

Complicated Game

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Complicated Game –
Inside The Songs of XTC
By Andy Partridge & Todd Bernhardt
Jawbone Press – £14.95

     I like accidents. I like to put myself in the way of musical harm. I like being at the wheel of that musical car, and aiming it at the wall. Just to see what shape the car’s going to come out. It might come out an interesting shape that would have taken me forever to decide on otherwise.

                                                                                                            Andy Partridge.

Hmm, had the above been said by someone like Pete Townshend or Kurt Cobain, I’d have felt more inclined to fully embrace it.

This partially explains why great chunks of this book are akin to talking and listening to someone who’s drunk, while you’re not. As such, a lot of what’s being said, or in this case written, is either subject to question or to just not be taken too literally. For sure, all the prescient and sometimes perplexing material on the nitty-gritty aspects of the actual music itself (which perhaps makes up the bulk of these 398 pages, including an Introduction by Todd Bernhardt, a Foreword by Steven Wilson and a chapter entitled ‘Swindon: A Perambulation’ by John Morrish) is as plausible as it is believable.

As it is fundamentally aimed at the uber-prime-initiated, in-house, rather extraordinarily excessive XTC collective; so many of whom, inadvertently yet regularly find themselves kneeling at the alter of the Partridge. And let’s be honest here: wherever there is kneeling involved, there is (excessive) blind faith.

A sparkling pandemonium of high-octane blind faith, which in this particular instance, partially accounts for Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC not entirely coming clean. Nor being on the money. Money of course (or the ardent wish for oodles thereof on behalf of the subject), being the operative/key word here – as the following exchange between interviewee and interviewer (in relation to XTC’s ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’) more than substantiates:

”I’m obviously bitter about not getting the money I thought I ought to deserve or something. I look around, and I see people like Elvis Costello, or other contemporaries, and I think, ‘Jesus, they’re so much richer than I am!’ You know, ‘I wrote songs as good as he did!’ I can say that, not facetiously or boastfully. I think I’ve written songs as good as Elvis.

And from what I’ve read in interviews with him, I think he thinks that, too. He admires your songwriting.

But when I see him on the Sunday Times Rich List…

Oh my. I didn’t realise he was that wealthy.

Oh yeah, I don’t know, I think his last count was something like twenty million. But I never made the money, or a fraction of the money, in this game that I thought I would. And I guess that, even by that age, I was thinking, ‘Grrr, grrr.”’

The fact that Andy Partridge stopped playing music live almost thirty-five years ago, and Elvis Costello continues to tour the world to this very day, might have some bearing on (t)his clearly envious state of affairs – even if only from a promotional perspective. Pristine rocket science it really isn’t, although the trajectory of such self-proclaimed, financial woe, is something of a subliminal undercurrent throughout these thirty chapters in their entirety. It’s always there. Not always in as many words, admittedly, but it’s there nevertheless: ”Oh, we went well over budget on this album. They said, ‘Look, we’re going to pull the plug fellows, we can’t afford for you to finish it off.’ I think we’d run up a bill of a quarter of a million pounds” (‘Chalkhills and Children’).

Moreover, there are assorted, endearing moments of literaral artistry within the book, which, in and of itself, (ought to) say far more about Partridge than even he himself. For instance, when discussing the use of alliteration in (chapter 22), he asserts: […] It just makes it more pungent if you have lots of L’s in a row, or lots of S’s, or sounds that sound similar between one word and the next, and the next, if possible. It becomes it’s own little internal kingdom – it’s lovely to do […]. I love alliteration. It seems to shake hands with itself, and it seems to be like a little infinity loop, perfectly completed. I like that in other people’s work too.”

Suffice to say, this book essentially entails Andy Partridge talking to the American freelance writer and musician, Todd Bernhardt, on the subject of thirty random XTC songs, scattered throughout their entire career in chronological order. Commencing with 1978’s ‘This Is Pop’ and concluding with 2006’s ‘2 Rainbeau Melt,’ the two traverse the relative gambit of ye world according to Mr. Partridge.

An exceedingly safe, charmed, buffered and closeted world, very, very far removed from that of the real world – wherein (it would seem) nothing is ever enough.

Might it be said that Complicated Game – Inside The Songs of XTC, really would have benefited with having had an outside editor come on board – even if only to do the proof-reading. The amount of times I had to re-read certain sentences, simply because key words were missing! Although Bernhardt’s most horribly glaring error appears at the bottom of page 33: ”When The Beatles were appearing at the Kaiserkeller in Berlin […].” Surely almost every music fan on the planet knows that said infamous Kaiserkeller was in Hamburg?

XTC fans will undoubtedly love it; although in essence, it’s nothing other than a highly cryptic read for the idiosyncratically initiated.

David Marx