The Beatles – Rubber Soul

This is what happens when the Beatles are finally given creative control and the time to record properly. One of the best albums ever made.

This album is flawless. Rather than jumping into the studio for a few days randomly between appearances, they were given real time off to record Rubber Soul, and this was the result. One of the best albums ever made, there isn’t a bad track on it. Rolling Stone ranked it #5 in their Top 500 albums of all time and there’s a long list of critics who agree.

Why is it so great? Well, the Beatles were finally given the keys to the castle and had the freedom and time to do what they wanted in the studio. They had creative control. Paired up with George Martin, they made a complex album with rich harmonies and tastefully layered sounds without losing that fun poppy sound that made them famous. For the first time since A Hard Day’s Night, all of these songs are originals.

The Beatles were growing up. This album marked the transition from Beatlemania into a more adult sounding genre. It had a variety of musical styles, which keeps it interesting. Folk, blues, rock, pop, and even a honky tonk song (thanks Ringo!). The stories the songs told weren’t just puppy love and infatuation anymore. Sometimes they struck out and slept in the bathtub (Norwegian Wood) and other times they have conflicting emotions (I’m Looking Through You and Girl). There’s a wonderful song about childhood and nostalgia (In My Life). They were starting to view the LP as one musical project, rather than a collection of individual songs. It was a good 3 years ahead of its time and made everything else sound outdated. To give you some perspective, when it hit #1 it knocked The Sound of Music movie soundtrack out of the top spot. It was a radical shift.

When I first heard the transition from their previous albums to this I was angry at the record company and manager. Could this have happened sooner if they’d been given the freedom to record this way from the start? Could A Hard Day’s Night or Help! been even better? Or were they not mature enough to make an album this good until now? The chicken or the egg, which came first? Obviously, we will never know, but what we can do is appreciate the incredible songs on this record.

One note about the title of the album. It was based off a saying the guys had heard making fun of Mick Jagger, a white brit singing black American soul music. He had a plastic soul, not genuine. I don’t necessarily believe that, as I feel that certain types of music resonate with people on an individual level, no matter what color they are or where they’re raised, but they used that as a basis for this album title.

Drive My Car

I love this song. It’s fun, up beat, and a bit goofy. Seriously,  who hasn’t sung “Beep Beep, Beep Beep, YEAH!” along with the music when nobody was around to hear. As a kid, this was one of the songs that turned me on to the Beatles. Great way to start an album. This was the best version out there I could find. It’s not as good as the studio version, but it’s not bad.

 

Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown)

I mentioned this song in the intro. Great folksy guitar riff, sounds great on an acoustic. Even when they struck out with the ladies they could write a good song about it. I couldn’t fine a decent Beatles version, but apparently everyone and their grandma has covered it because there’s a million of these videos out there. I guess they should be flattered. Here’s one that wasn’t appalling:

 

Nowhere Man

So far I’ve played three of the first four tracks off the album. Can you imagine an album starting off like this today? I LOVE the harmony on this song. They were so strong vocally as a group and it shows out all over this album.

 

Michelle

The French style guitars make you feel like you’re in a cafe in Paris enjoying a latte and ham sandwich with way too much butter on it. It’s so smooth and mellow.

 

 In My Life

There’s so many amazing songs on this album, it’s almost like a greatest hits collection by itself. This is a moving song. I get emotional when I hear it thinking about all the people and places in my life I’ve known that mean so much to me. It’s wonderful.

 

Girl

There’s so many more songs I’d like to share, but I’m picking this as the last. The melody of this song is very haunting, as shown by Jim Sturgess in the Across the Universe movie below.

 

Here’s another excellent cover. I’m happy that there are so many Beatles cover bands out there. They’re keeping the music alive and relevant.

 

That’s all I got. Hope you all have a fantastic week.

D

 

The Beatles – Help!

If you’re really into music you’ve got at least one friend who is into it as much as you. You spend hours talking about different bands and albums.

 

 

If you’re really into music you’ve got at least one friend who is into it as much as you. You spend hours talking about different bands and albums. Multiply that by 10 if you’re both musicians as well. I’ve been blessed to have met many musicians and audiophiles over the years and cherish their friendship.

I was hanging out with Dave, one of these friends who lives locally in NC a few weeks ago. He’s been reading my blog, so we had a lot to get caught up on. Like two people who just crossed the desert, we were gulping down the refreshing conversation. In fact, I was a little embarrassed because we were supposed to be at a small group picnic, but hadn’t talked in so long we pretty much ignored everyone else for the first 45 minutes getting caught up.

I mentioned that Help was coming up next and it was one of my favorite Beatles albums. He countered with “Hard Days Night is way better” and off we went. It took a second time hanging out later that week to finish the debate, but suffice it to say we both now have a greater appreciation for the two albums.

Interesting album facts:

The picture on the cover is the Beatles doing semaphore, signals that ships use to communicate without radio. But it doesn’t actually spell out Help!

Wikipedia tells us “On the UK Parlophone release, the letters formed by the Beatles appear to be “NUJV”, whilst the slightly re-arranged US release on Capitol Records appeared to feature the letters “NVUJ”, with McCartney’s left hand pointing to the Capitol logo.”

The Beatles appear much more rested on this album, completing it in February before leaving the UK for the Bahamas to film the movie. It was 8 months after Beatles for Sale and you could tell they were energetic and excited to go film. Like A Hard Day’s Night, the tracks that made the movie were on Side A and the rest of the songs from the session were on Side B.

HELP!

The title track kicks off the album. It has an energy that was sorely lacking from Beatles for Sale. Wonderful melody and musicianship on this song. One of their most recognizable songs. Probably written after their burn out of recording Beatles for Sale, it is a clear cry for help, definitely showing how emotionally drained they all were from the schedule.

 

You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

This song has special significance to me because it was the first song that I ever performed in front of an audience. My friend Abe Savas was a vet of many rock performances in high school, and when we met at Alma College he took me under his wing and showed me how to play in front of an audience. We played this song as part of our set at Max and Emily’s during an open mic night. And there was an actual crowd! Abe gave me this song as kind of a George Harrison/Ringo Starr one off to give his voice a break. It is something I will always appreciate. It’s a melancholy song, but sometimes that’s the mood you’re in.

Unfortunately, there is no version of the Beatles playing this that’s available, so I’m giving you Oasis’ version. They actually do pretty good and they’re British, so close enough. At least it’s not the Eddie Vedder version.

 

Ticket to Ride

This album is heavy on John Lennon songs, which is possibly why I like it so much. Iconic song, the harmonies on this song are solid, as usual.

 

It’s Only Love

Another John Lennon classic. This video has the added bonus of showing you how to play the song on guitar. It’s actually John singing in the background, which is good because I couldn’t find any suitable replacement on youtube. Sorry.

 

Yesterday

They could’ve just ended the album here and nobody would have been the wiser. My friend Dave pointed this out and I think I agree with him. It’s a sad and beautiful song, but sometimes you’re just in the mood for that. One of my favorite Paul McCartney songs. I love how this video just shows him on stage with a single spotlight on him. Perfect.

 

That’s all for now. Hope you all enjoyed reading. Thank you for your support!

D

 

 

 

The Beatles – Beatles for Sale

In the past, I viewed this album as a let down after 3 great LPs. But, is it really?

In the past, I always viewed this album as a let down after such a great first three albums. When I was in the mood for some Beatles, I never once said “Hey, I’m in the mood for some Beatles for Sale!” But, is this album really a let down? It took me so long to finally write this post, I had the chance to listen to it about a dozen times. Each time my CD changer made a new circuit I heard it again. I think I’m finally ready to write about it and have some theories as well.

Beatles for Sale kick off with the following songs: No Reply, I’m a Loser, and Baby’s in Black. Those are good songs, but they aren’t Hard Day’s Night or Help. So right off the bat, there’s a bit of a let down because the album doesn’t have a fast, up beat tune to start it. That comes all the way down at Track 4, Rock and Roll Music, which is a cover, and brings me to my next point.

The Beatles were tired. The constant grind of touring, movie making, show appearances, and studio work for the past two years has completely wiped them out. Who can be creative when all you really want is some peace, quiet, and a good night’s sleep? To wit, half of the songs are covers, which is a bummer after Hard Day’s Night was their first album to be 100% original. This also shows in the fact that Beatles for Sale didn’t produce an A-side single, not one. They were running out of steam trying to make incredible albums as well as put out incredible singles to keep them on top of both the song and album charts.

If you look at the album release dates, they had put out FOUR albums in the past two years. That is a ridiculous amount and it reminds me of stories I’ve heard about child actors back in the 50’s and 60’s, who got hooked on drugs that they used to give them “pep” so they could perform well during their grueling film schedule. Judy Garland is a prime example. I’m sure this is no different, except (as far as I know) they didn’t use these drugs to keep them going. George Martin also had commented that they were weary during recording and it led to the melancholy tone of the sessions.

But is this really a bad album? I don’t think so. After hearing these songs several times, it just has a different feel than previous albums. John and Paul were trying to write more autobiographical songs (see wiki link above), so naturally it wouldn’t be only the sugary pop of previous releases. And musically, these are good songs. There is a great deal of unique Beatles sound in them and often the chord progressions and songs themselves don’t go where you would expect, which is nice.

Since they had to include some covers, in order to make the December 1964 deadline for the album, I’m really glad they chose the American rock and roll numbers they did. So many Americans were looking across the pond at that time to what was happening in the UK with the Beatles and other bands, but they were looking right back at us seeing the unique sound of the American south. Rock and Roll was a very unique thing and I love that they pay tribute to some of their contemporaries that maybe weren’t getting quite as much recognition or credit. Chuck Berry had a large part in inventing Rock and Roll, yet when the Beatles covered his song, it was a huge boost to his popularity as well. And rightly deserved.

As you’ll see in later posts, I have an extensive Blues collection from several different American artists. I feel like this is the true roots to all of the great rock music you heard back then and to hear the Beatles paying it tribute is right on the money in my mind.

 

I’ll Follow the Sun

You have to get deep into the album before you hit this song, but I think it’s incredible. It’s sad and beautiful, with a very positive message. I know this might be a little morbid, but someday we all will pass on. There isn’t a song I’d like played at my funeral more than this one. It points to the impact people have on your life and the fact that time and circumstances separate us all eventually, with the promise of a reunion someday. It’s wonderful and I like this more than the sugary pop songs. It has much more depth and feeling.

Eight Days a Week

Finally! Here’s what we’ve been missing, an honestly to goodness upbeat Beatles song! You have to wait until Track 8 to hear it, but it’s worth the wait. This was released in the US as a single, but not the UK. Weird. Anyways, it’s a great tune.

I LOVE the animation on this video. The 60’s just looked like a fun time to be alive. Reminds me of the Frosty the Snowman Christmas special.

 

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby

This is one of the notorious cover songs. A fun tune by Carl Perkins, it’s totally George all the way. I’m sure the Beatles could sing this and know from experience how it goes. I like the tongue in cheek way they present it. Great way to close out the album.

 

Hope you enjoyed the post and have a great weekend full of music!

D

 

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains, Seattle’s grunge metal darlings!

I have the hardest time classifying these guys. Are they metal, grunge, rock, or what? They’re from Seattle, so you can definitely hear that influence, but they tend to use heavily distorted chord progressions that are more on the darker side. Their vocals are extremely melodic, with excellent harmonies between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell.

I read their band history on Wikipedia, it’s pretty crazy. Definitely worth a read if you have the time. They seem to follow the whole Kurt Cobain theory of quiet > loud > quiet, except they do it by the album instead of inside a song. One thing is for sure, this band always keeps you on your toes.

I had a big block of time when I was just cranking the tunes Friday afternoon, so I made it through all their albums (that I own) in one sitting.

Facelift

aic - facelift

An incredible first album, they hit it hard, right from the start. Man in a Box was the song that put them on the map, with its great melody and signature AIC harmonies. While I still think that is by far the best song on this album, there are many other good ones, with many other styles as well. Lots of variety, ranging from metal to rock, grunge, and funk.

Sap

Alice_in_Chains_Sap

This is my favorite album by these guys. I wish this were more than just an EP, as these songs are great. It’s a perfect sing along album and I especially enjoy singing the harmonies. Anyone surprised by their success later with MTV Unplugged needs to give this a listen, it should have been obvious. The vocals melt together perfectly and the guitars sound rich and bright. Great recording.

The songs on here have some brooding sections, but it’s done in a very musical and beautiful way. Here’s my favorite track, Brother.

Dirt

Alice_In_Chains-Dirt-Frontal

If you ever need a great album to lift weights to, this is it. The guitars on this album are heavy and in your face. I think Jerry Cantrell takes things to a whole new level on this one. The album is produced with mastery, with everything sounding wonderful. There are a few songs where Layne Staley’s voice starts to sound whiney and annoying, but it’s mostly kept in check. In my opinion this gets worse the further on you go with their discography.

I got to see these guys at Lollapalooza in Milan, MI the summer this album came out. They were every bit as good live as they were in the studio. Expert musicians and performers. Even though they got a bit more popular with their next album, I feel that this was the zenith of their musical career.

Rooster is my favorite track off this album. The way the song builds to the chorus is expert level songwriting.

 

Jar of Flies

aliceinchains_jarofflies_sap

Another “quiet” album to follow the “loud” of Dirt. This one added more expanded sounds than just the acoustic guitars of Sap. This is a very good album and it’s interesting how most of their songs don’t follow the usual radio “formula” for song writing. They are a very original and creative band. You can hear more of the dissonance creeping in with this album, but since it’s not heavily distorted it doesn’t stand out quite as much. A nice listen.

Grind

aic grind

This is where I get off the Alice in Chains bus. There are some good songs on here and others that are just brutal. The dissonance of the melodies and the whiney vocals of Layne Staley are almost too much for me on this one. Instead of varying the harmonies like they did in the earlier albums they just keep the same interval for all the backing vocals. It gets old fast.

Here’s a quote from Layne Staley about his drug use and how it was progressing at this point: “Drugs used to work for me, now I’m in Hell.” Really? Like it was a big surprise how this turned out? It’s a story that’s been played over time and time again. Talented, creative people experiment with drugs. They put out some great music and then everything goes to shit, usually with them dead. Well, the expected outcome happened here. He was found dead in his apartment after an over dose. Just need to shake my head and add this to the mile high stack of cautionary tales about using drugs and what it does to you.

Great band, loads of talent and amazing song writing. Too bad it couldn’t have lasted a bit longer.

 

 

 

Aerosmith – Part 2

After making us think they were the best band on Earth, Aerosmith drops a huge stinking turd on our ears, and then redeems themselves in true rock hero fashion on the very next album.

After making us think they were the greatest band on Earth, Aerosmith drops a huge stinking turd on our ears, then redeems themselves in true rock hero fashion on the very next album.

Get a Grip

get a grip

I have tried SO HARD to like this album, forcing myself to listen to it at least a dozen times and “appreciating it”. But it just comes off flat to me every time. What made Permanent Vacation and Pump so appealing to me, is completely missing from this album. What is that, you say? Feeling, raw emotion, and desperation even.

In my opinion, Aerosmith became a parody of themselves for this recording. The mega rock star, commercial vibe is all over this baby. Steven Tyler especially is flaunting his sassy, rock star ego on top of the tracks and killing what was an otherwise excellent performance by Joe Perry. Joey Kramer, who was so great on the last two records was neutered by the producer and recording engineer. His drumming was missing that punch from previous albums.

There are a couple good songs, like Eat the Rich and Amazin, but overall this album just sounds like a record company’s best attempt at making popular radio singles. They did it, but sold their souls in the process.

I have one funny story about this album though. If you’re really into music you gravitate towards friends with that same passion. Abe Savas, who is now owner of the best record store in Kalamazoo, MI: Green Light Music, was one of my “music buddies” in college.

Every time we would hear Living on the Edge on the radio we would laugh at the break near the end, when the drums would come in with this ridiculous amount of echo. BOOM BOOM BOOM. Well, we heard someone down the hall playing this song and when it hit that part we both jumped up and down along with the beat, stomping as hard on the floor as we could. We ended up skipping the guy’s CD player and getting in trouble a bit, but we’ll always have that memory of rebelling against this ridiculous album.

Nine Lives

Aerosmith's Nine Lives

So, what do you do when you go 7 x Platinum, but had to compromise your integrity to do it? Well, if you’re Aerosmith, you break everything down, go to a new record company, and rediscover what made you great in the first place.

When my good friend Joe Bogan told me about Aerosmith’s new album and how good it was, I was skeptical to say the least. I had pretty much written them off as a band. Joe and I hosted a radio show Saturday nights on WQAC, Alma College’s radio station. At first, I didn’t want to listen to it, but he basically forced me to listen to it one night after our show over a couple beers.

Wow is all I can say.  The passion and raw emotion are back, the songs are more complete, and they totally rock. As you can see reflected in the album artwork, they experimented with some sounds from India with great success IMO.

I had a really rough time in 1996/1997. My grandfather passed away, I got rejected from all the grad schools I applied to, and went through two gut wrenching break ups back to back. You know the kind, where you totally lose all self respect and become the most pathetic human being on Earth? Well, I had a core group of friends that I leaned heavily on during this time, people who had my back no matter what. I owe it all to them for picking me up and pulling my sorry ass through it.

When I hear the song “Hole in My Soul” it always reminds me of those great friends. Joe had dedicated this song to me one night when we were on the air. Despite the tough times back then there were so many great times too and I wouldn’t have missed them for anything.

Speaking of great times, this song is quite possibly the best non-Irish drinking song of all time. Get together with old friends and just put this on repeat.

Thanks everyone for going on this trip down memory lane with me. If I’ve learned anything it’s that life has its ups and downs. Music and great friends/family are there with you through all of it. Make sure to appreciate those that are close to you.

D

Bonus Song! This is a GREAT song, but one of the most fk’ed up videos I’ve ever seen in my life.

Aerosmith – Part 1

I heard someone say once that your favorite James Bond movie is always the one that came out when you were a pubescent teenager. I’m pretty sure the same applies to music and these next two albums are it for me

I heard someone say once that your favorite James Bond movie is always the one that came out when you were a pubescent teenager. I’m pretty sure the same applies to music and these next two albums are it for me: Aerosmith Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989). Filled with songs of love gained (and lost), desire, and just rocking good party times, these never get old for me. In my mind, I always view these albums as a continuum of one great project, but for the sake of the playlist I’ll try to break them into two parts.

Permanent Vacation

Quite possibly the most complete album in my collection, this one is great start to finish. So much, that the one real single off this album, Dude Looks Like a Lady, just kind of blends into the listening experience as it rolls past. As with Pump, it’s an extremely rich production experience. It has a bunch of auxiliary instruments and sounds added in to give more depth to the music and it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the main elements.

Steven Tyler (vocals and harmonica) and Joe Perry (guitar) get most of the glory in this band, but I feel like the main driving force to this album and Pump is the drummer, Joey Kramer. He kicks off the album forcefully and doesn’t stop until it’s over. His drums are mixed perfectly with plenty of punch and just kick ass the whole way. I’m a guitarist, so it really is saying something for me to notice him over the other stars of the band.

I recommend listening to the entire album, but at very least listen to the first couple minutes and you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Joey Kramer, Aerosmith’s unsung hero.

NOTE: If you have high quality headphones or speakers, please listen on those. The crappy little laptop speakers most have will not do this justice.

Pump

What can I say about this album that I haven’t already said about Permanent Vacation? These two are extremely complex and rich. There’s a sprinkling of Native American sounds on this album, which is think is really cool and done well. I think I even heard pipes or some kind of synth among other things on Janie’s Got a Gun.

For as over produced as these albums are, they’re still raw and full of emotion, which is why I think they resonate so much with me. At their heart, they’re still solid blues rock albums that kick out the jams. You can feel the hurt in Tell Me What It Takes and longing in Angel. Even though these guys are mega rock stars, these two come from a place that’s underneath all that exterior.

Well, that’s it until next time,when I continue with more Aerosmith and a review that’s not so nice.

D

 

Road Trip: Part 1

I looked back to my son and asked him “Are you ready to rock?”  Yes, Daddy!!  And so it begins. Rolling down I-40, heading toward Michigan, my original home, I push in the first CD and hit play….

70’s Classic Rock – Original Masters

OK, so I cheated. The first album does not actually start with an A, it starts with the character “7”, which technically is before A. It was one of those albums you get for $4.99 from a bin at the grocery store, I bought it about 10 years ago. Here’s a picture of the cover:

70s rock

Despite being in the bargain bin, it’s actually a great album. Here are the highlights:

Boston – More Than a Feeling

What an awesome way to start off an album. I took a Pro Tools music recording class several years ago and we got the original tracks from the studio recording and our class project was to re-EQ this song using today’s production tools. Despite our best efforts, all we could think to do was add a little more low end to the bass drum and extend a few of the vocal sections, adding some reverb on the tails. That’s it, everything else was perfect. What a great recording.

Free – Alright Now

The opening chords to this song are excellent. Just so confident and in your face. And the groove is so good. Love the bass line in this song. My music production ear just LOVES the way they mix in what I think is a wood block along with the percussion sounds. It was mixed in there so tastefully. Usually cowbell/wood block just bleeds all over the mix, but this one is placed in the song perfectly. Listen for it, you won’t be able to un-hear it:

Doobie Brothers – China Grove

A sleepy little town, just outside San Antone. I lived in Austin, TX for 12 years and saw the sign for China Grove every time I drove down to San Antonio for something. Yes, it’s a real place. One of my only regrets about living down there was that I never took the 15 minutes to pull off the road and get a picture of myself by the sign. Probably wouldn’t have been as cool as I imagine, but I love little bits of rock history like that.

Thanks for listening. AC/DC was next on our road trip and I will cover that in my next post, Road Trip: Part 2.