Concept Album

The Small Faces made probably the finest album of 1967 (excepting Sergeant Pepper), and certainly my favorite.  Enjoy the ramble through the psychedelic thoughts of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan, ending with the Stanley Unwin recitation of the story of Happiness Stan.

Brilliance on so many levels and way ahead of its time, musically speaking.

And a bonus:  Itchycoo Park.

One Name, Two Different Bands

When you hear the name “Fleetwood Mac” many people are unaware that there have been essentially two, maybe three versions of the band, all containing the brilliant rhythm unit of Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass guitar.  That engine room remained unchanged for decades, and powered the band through all its various incarnations.

But the music that surrounded that rhythm unit was changeable.

Most people equate the Fleetwood Mac name with the drippy 1980s version which pumped out bouncy neo-ABBA megahits like “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” and “You Can Go Your Own Way”, and people who think this was the best version of Fleetwood Mac make the mistake of equating commercial success with musical value — “They sold a lot of records, so they must be good” (cf. Elton John, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift etc.).  (That’s actually the opinion of the recording industry, only those reptiles put it more honestly:  “Those longhaired assholes made us more money than the Small Faces or Steely Dan”.)

But the better band, by a country mile, was the first version — originally called “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac”, which differentiates them from the later popcorn Mac.

And all this came from the notice yesterday that Mac’s founder Peter Green had just died, at age 73.

Now Green was an absolutely brilliant blues guitarist — at the time, technically quite the equal of people like Jeff Beck, Paul Kossoff and other British blues players of the era — but like most lead guitarists, he was a hopeless head case so his music never achieved the level of Beck et al.  That doesn’t mean they were bad — anything but — but his blues-drenched music, lyrics and psychodelia were not, to put it mildly, commercially attractive.

Take a listen to Man Of The World, and pay especial attention to the lyrics — and that was about as commercial as they got.  Even old standards like I Need Your Love So Bad were given the Peter Green treatment.

And let’s not forget Black Magic Woman — the original Green version, as it turns out, not the salsa Santana copy.

And when this Fleetwood Mac weren’t doing old-fashioned slit-your-wrist blues, they were causing record industry executives to tear their hair out with instrumental songs like Albatross and incomprehensible free-form ditties like Oh Well (which came in two parts, thus ensuring it would never get airplay on the radio stations of the time).  Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite Mac songs.

Of course, it didn’t last.  Peter Green lost his mind, lived on the streets, and Fleetwood Mac went into their 1b) version, which I also rather liked because shortly before he quit, the band had got guitarists Danny Kirwan (who wrote their only truly commercial hit Green Manalishi) and Bob Welch, as well as the incomparable blues singer Christine Perfect (who’d sung Chicken Shack’s I’d Rather Go Blind, and later married bassist McVie).

Then it all went to shit.  The band broke up, all the guitarists and singers were fired, Fleetwood and the two McVies moved to the United States, and out of the shit eventually came the version containing the warbly Stevie Nicks and commercial songwriter Lindsay Buckingham, and the rest, as they say, is history (as chronicled here).  And I’m not interested in it.

When you have Bill Clinton using one of your songs as a campaign anthem… well, that says it all, really.

But any guitarist of any worth knows all about Peter Green, his virtuosity and his contribution to music.

R.I.P.

Friday Night Music

I have always loved the guitar playing of Hank Marvin (The Shadows), not just because if the nostalgia it brings me, but because it’s absolutely brilliant in its precision and clarity.  I forget who said it (Clapton or Jimmy Page, maybe?), but the advice given to any would-be guitar god was always:  “Unless you can play Hank Marvin’s lead guitar from the 1950s and 60s perfectly, note-for-note, you haven’t really done anything yet.”  It was, and remains to this day, the best foundation for any young lead guitarist.

Of course, the Shadows fell out of favor towards the end of the 1960s, as did all the old guitar instrumental bands, so Hank and rhythm guitarist Bruce Welch took a hiatus from the Shadows and formed a group called Marvin, Welch & Farrar with Australian songster John Farrar, and they made some wonderful music — this time as a vocal group — which featured close-knit harmonies which are, in my opinion, the equal of more well-known vocal groups like the Hollies or even (gasp) Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Listen to their eponymous album, especially Silvery Rain  (track #5).

Time, well-spent.

Friday Night Music: The National River, And A Bat

For those who don’t know the music I’ll be talking about here, a brief exposition.

The Moldau (Vlatan) River is regarded as the Czechs’ national river.  Read about it here, then listen to the music here (not the one embedded in the article).

The young conductor, Nejc Bečan, is one I’ve never heard before, but his direction of the orchestra is absolutely stunning, and the rendition of Bedrich Smetana’s Vlatan is the best I’ve ever heard.  It’s about a 15-minute piece, and it’ll make your evening.

Switching gears, here’s an old favorite, Strauss’s overture of Die Fledermaus.  But instead of an energetic young conductor, we have the old maestro Georges Pretre, and instead of a young orchestra, we have a performance from the seasoned pros of the Vienna Philharmonic.  It is probably my favorite rendition, and I’ve heard plenty.  It lasts about ten minutes.

Take, therefore, less than half an hour from your hectic routine, sit back, and enjoy.

Quote Of The Year

Seen on YouTube, as a comment on a Beatles song

“This is in a 50-way tie for my favorite Beatles song of all time.”

Priceless.

I’m just surprised he could keep it to fifty.

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