Saturday Music Musings

Stumbling along the digital highways and byways (a.k.a Teh Intarwebz) the other day, I was reminded of what I call “little-known greatness” in modern music.  Typically, this involves a musician or band which are not as well-known as the gods (e.g. Beatles, Genesis, Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant), but who are of astonishing brilliance.  Here’s one such example.

In my long-distant yoot, I heard a ballad played at a party which stopped me in my tracks — I actually stopped chatting up a girl to listen to it — and when I asked the DJ the name of the song or the band, he said,, “I dunno who the band is — it’s off a tape I got from a buddy — but I think the song is called Ten Little Indians.”

So the next day I went over to Ye Olde Recorde Barre and looked all over for Ten Little Indians, without any success.  Even Neville, the guy behind the counter — a complete encyclopedia of all things pop music — had never heard of it, so I went away frustrated.  (Remember, children:  in those days there was not only neither Google nor Internet;  Sergei Brin hadn’t even been born yet.)

Time passed, and I forgot about Ten Little Indians, as one does.  Then about a year later I went to another party, only this party featured a DJ spinning discs instead of playing tapes.  (Note to children:  ask your grandparents to explain “discs” to you.)  And mirabile dictu, that song got played.

Of course, its title wasn’t Ten Little Indians, it was Only One Woman, performed by a spotty-faced teenage Brit duo called The Marbles.  The lead singer was a guy named Graham Bonnet (“bonn-ay”) and he was (and is) one of the Little-Known Greats.  Here he is as I first heard him back in 1968, and here he is many years later, as the lead singer of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, performing Since You’ve Been Gone.

As an aside, Ritchie Blackmore can best be summarized as  “Guitarist: god;  human being:  complete asshole”, if for no other reason than he fired Bonnet as his vocalist because Bonnet didn’t have long hair, and Blackmore wanted a rock band that looked like a rock band.  Needless to say, the band never sounded as good after that.  (Ronnie Dio fans can shut up, at this point.)

But it doesn’t end there.  Still wandering along the Internet tributaries and branch lines, I happened upon the selfsame Since You’ve Been Gone, only this time performed by Queen’s Brian May and a fantastic  backing band.

Who knew that Brian May could sing like that?

We all know that Brian May = guitar god — duh — but as a singer, he can truly be called a Little-Known Great.  And to top it all, I think his guitar solo in the above song is better than Blackmore’s, and the backing singers are… phwoarrrr.

And still on the topic of Guitar Gods Who Can Sing, how about Eric Clapton doing Stormy Monday ?   (B.B. King apparently called it the best version of the song he’d ever heard.)  And of course, Clapton’s guitar solos are a wonder of blues improvisation.  Which leads me to my next meandering point.

One of the knocks on classical musicians is that while they are wonderful performers of music, their expertise is limited to written music — i.e. they can’t improvise on the fly.  Even Bach’s Goldberg Variations are scripted, so to speak.

Step forward, Victor Borge — whom we all know as a wonderful comedian as well as a brilliant classical pianist.  Here he is, playing along with maestro violinist Anton Kontra, providing accompaniment to a song he had never heard before.  But it doesn’t end there:  not only does Borge improvise the backing, but as the piece progresses, the devilish Kontra tries to trip him up with sudden key-, rhythm- and melody changes;  and Borge not only keeps up, but returns the favor.  (As one of the commenters puts it:  when the lead violinist is sweating at the end…)

Finally, before I wander off the point and into a pit, let’s consider Rowan Atkinson as the Devil (a.k.a “Toby”).   Go ahead and enjoy it first before going below the fold. Read more

Record Straight, Setting The

Apparently geriatric rocker Mick Jagger has had his memory go bad:

Mick Jagger has called out Paul McCartney for claiming The Beatles were bigger than The Rolling Stones.  The singer, 76, hit out at the Hey Jude hitmaker, 77, for suggesting The Rolling Stones copied whatever The Beatles did during their time as music rivals.
‘The big difference, though, is that The Rolling Stones is a big concert band in other decades and other areas when The Beatles never even did an arena tour. They broke up before the touring business started for real…  They [The Beatles] did that [Shea] stadium gig [in 1965].  But the Stones went on.  We started stadium gigs in the 1970s and are still doing them now.  That’s the real big difference between these two bands.’

Of course, ol’ Mick is showing signs of senility — or at best, selective memory.  As Paul pointed out:

‘I love the Stones but The Beatles were better.  Their stuff is rooted in the blues. Whereas we had a lot more influences.’

Paul’s being kind.  The Beatles created influences while the Stones just kept on playing their garage-band versions of blues.  And when the Stones didn’t do that, they copied the Beatles, as Paul noted:

Suggesting the Paint It Black hitmakers began to copy the Beatles, Paul added: ‘We started to notice that whatever we did the Stones sort of did it shortly thereafter.
‘We went to America and had huge success, then the Stones went to America.  We did Sergeant Pepper and the Stones did a psychedelic album. There was a lot of that.’

As for Mick’s comment:

‘One band is unbelievably luckily still playing in stadiums and then the other band doesn’t exist.’

Jagger’s confusing longevity with talent, which is like saying that Leonard Bernstein was a better composer than Mozart because he lived longer.

The Beatles broke up because they had three unbelievably-talented creative musicians who wanted to go their own way;  the Stones only ever had Keef as their creative source, so they were never going to break up:  since Let It Bleed, their music has always been about making money, not about the music.  And Keef, as he’s always admitted, is and always has been a blues musician.  Lennon, McCartney and Harrison played pretty much every kind of music — and created their own forms as well.  The Stones have never done that, ever.

Stick to prancing around the stage in skintight yoga outfits, Mick.  Nobody does it better.

Friday Night Music

Add this guy to one of the greatest composers you never heard of.

Okay, that’s not exactly true, but Neil Innes was certainly the greatest satirical  composer ever.  Here’s just one example:  Hold My Hand (The Rutles).  Yes, that’s Monty Python’s Eric Idle on (McCartney-) bass, and Neil doing his John Lennon impersonation on vocals.

I’ve played song that to fanatical Beatle freaks, telling them that it was an undiscovered Beatles song which actually spawned Please Please Me, I Wanna Hold Your Hand  and She Loves You — and not one ever called me on it.  And then there’s Get Back Get Up And Go… and I Am The Walrus  Piggy In The Middle.  The list is endless.

Here’s Neil talking about The Rutles, and here’s the entire All You Need Is Cash  TV show.

Let’s not even talk about Neil’s 1960s Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Urban Spaceman… which took aim at the drug culture before that became cool.

R.I.P. Neil Innes (1944-2019)


Both Sides

There’s apparently been some nastiness between Taylor Swift and her erstwhile recording company which has turned even more unpleasant since Swift egged her fans on to torment said record company.

I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of this issue, but the rule of thumb in any imbroglio of this nature is that the money people (in this case the record company) are always going to try to screw the ideas people (that would be Swift, here);  so the default position in all this would be to think, with lots of justification, that once again, the record industry is trying to chisel the artist.  (Think of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty not able to perform Proud Mary  for years  because of the record company bastards and publishing deals.)

That said, however, this is  the serial feuder and generally-spiteful Taylor Swift we’re talking about, so I think I’ll reserve judgment, just this once.  Millionaires squabbling with millionaires:

The 100

Let’s face it:  Rolling Stone  magazine was always awful.  I think it was them Frank Zappa was talking about when he characterized their writing as “people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, aimed at people who can’t read.”  (I still miss Frank, a lot, as much for his intellect as for his music.)

RS‘s latest attempt at a “greatest” list (of singers) is a typical example:  muddled, ignorant and open to ridicule.

The muddle is easy:  they attempted to combine several genres of singing — rock, r&B, blues etc. — but while there may be some crossover in those particular ones, it falls completely on its face if you try to include people like Sinatra and Mel Torme, especially when it comes to ranking  the singers.  The muddle is also ignorant of actual vocal quality — and even worse if one tries to include “iconic” as part of it.  There are singers of extraordinary quality (such as Paul Rodgers of Free/Bad Company) who don’t have iconic tonality, and “ordinary” singers of limited range (like Ozzy Osbourne) who almost define an entire genre.  You can’t attempt to rank Rodgers and Ozzy against each other because they are two totally different singers, albeit in more or less similar genres of music.  Now rank Rodgers against Aretha Franklin, which the hapless Stoners did.  It is, as they say, to laugh.  (And by the way:  any compendium list of 100 singers which does not include Ian Gillan of Deep Purple or Steve Marriot of Humble Pie — to name just a couple which caught, or rather didn’t catch my eye —  is fatally flawed.)

Each genre of music requires a different kind of voice, and very few singers can cross over without failing.  And a singer’s inclusion in whatever genre is horribly personal, in any event.  (In the “jazz crooners” club, for example, Harry Connick Jr. is an infinitely-better singer than Sinatra, but without Sinatra there would likely be  no jazz crooners club.  YMMV.)

So Rolling Stone should have broken up the list into genres, just for starters, with the first being the aforementioned “iconic”voices — those which defined the genre — and then some attempt at vocal quality if they’re to be ranked at all.

I’m not going to do that, at least, not today.  But here’s an example of ten of my favorite Rock vocalists in no special order, just as I think of them:

Robert Plant (Zep)
Joe Cocker
Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company)
Cilla Black
Graham Bonnet (Marbles, Rainbow)
Stephen Stills
David Bowie
Freddie Mercury
Ann Wilson (Heart)
Ian Gillan (Deep Purple)

And just for the hell of it, ten from R&B/soul, likewise unranked:  

Otis Redding
Wilson Pickett
Aretha Franklin
Joe Tex
Tina Turner (who could equally have been classified under Rock)
Al Green
Ella Fitzgerald
Sam Moore
Lionel Ritchie
Etta James

And both lists could change tomorrow.