With practically the entirety of recorded music’s history available at the touch of a trackpad, it’s hard to find a lot of common ground among the masses. Back in the sepiatone days when I was in high school, there was certainly a cultural splintering effect afoot – some grooved to Hammer-time, others nodded angrily and forcefully to Nirvana, while still others begged C+C Music Factory to make them sweat upon a hormone-clogged dance floor – but there remained some sacred touchstones.
For whatever reason – and I pray a sociological study will one day uncover the mystery behind this collective madness – the girls in my high school were united under the secret thrill of ABBA. The boys, however discreetly some of them held back their own cravings for retro Swedish vocal-pop, united under an unwavering commitment to one of the greatest rock bands in ear-thumping history: Led Zeppelin.
Most of us had bands we liked more. For me, there was always the Beatles, while my other friends leaned toward Pink Floyd, Roxette or Extreme (yes, Josh, I’m talking about you). But we all sang along when Robert Plant belted out the first “Hey hey, mama” of their conspicuously untitled fourth album. Today Zep nets a kilograph, if for no other reason than as a thank you for the respite they provided after five straight listens of “More Than Words.”
The group’s origin story funnels straight back to this guy, one of the most awe-inspiring yet least well-known (among today’s younger rock-lovers) guitar gods of the 1960’s. Jeff Beck had joined up with the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton had left the group in frustration. Now Jeff was feeling the pull of sweet freedom, and his frustration led him to record his own thing, away from the rest of the group. He invited his buddy (and future Yardbirdian) Jimmy Page to play guitar. Read more…
As I’m often heard remarking to strangers in the check-out line at Safeway, music is best when it’s either controversial or being sung by the aural euphony of Michael McDonald. In those sepiatone days when rock music was still gathering its struttin’ legs beneath its warbly frame, artists found new and creative ways to bump their product toward the edge of edgy. And when it wasn’t enough to leave sensitive parental ears cringing in their wake, they’d go a step further.
The visual attack. Shake up that pelvis. Grow that hair. And just when the parents are starting to settle into your schtick, brew up an album cover that will send their socks a-quakin’.
The album cover is most certainly a distinctive facet of its contents’ artistic expression. Perhaps not as much so today, now that its predominant form has shrunk from 12-inch vinyl sleeves to 5-inch CD jackets to a tiny thumbprint embedded into an audio file. But when the Beatles looked up from their album covers at a young fan, rabid and anxious for the tuneage within, it meant something special.
Even when the Beatles were covered in blood, gore and severed doll heads.
For the Beatles’ ninth Capitol album, photographer Robert Whitaker thought it was a good idea for a little conceptual art to spice up the band’s image. The piece was called A Somnambulant Adventure, and it had literally nothing to do with “Drive My Car”, “Day Tripper”, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, or any other track on the album. After almost four years of mundane pretend-to-be-happy photo shoots, the band was happy to play along. Read more…
Today, rather than order off my tired Wikipedian menu of kooky trivia, anecdotes from history or 990-word setups for a single joke about bacon, I’m going to cook up something special. I spent today (well, yesterday by the time my finger-tappings dance their way to my readers’ eyes) walking the sacred halls of that magic temple known as the Big Rock Brewery.
To be fair, I do have a business relationship with Big Rock, and for that reason I suppose any air of journalistic impartiality had best be taken with a grain – nay, a shaker-ful of salt. But the Calgary-based company’s enlistment of my services only came about because of a truly genuine word-spew of my affection for their product. Big Rock spared my young, thirsty palette from a dubious devotion to the blandness and banality of the big-name bores like Molson, Bud and Coors. When I turned 18 (yes, my American friends, there is a three-year advantage to living here in the tundra), the local beer landscape was rather morose.
But there was Big Rock. And today I visited the heart of the wonderful, fuzzy beast.
My tour was conducted by the lovely and talented Brenda, my liaison in the marketing office, and Paul Gautreau, the flavor-Jedi behind the suds and science of the company’s delicious beverages. We trekked through the usual touristy corridors, craning our necks at the massive fermentation tanks and observing the speedy treadmill of bottles, where I yearned to drop a glove atop an amber vessel, Laverne & Shirley style.
You’ve surely heard of voodoo, but what about hoodoo? They both originate from the same part of the globe, but they’re stems growing from different roots. Voodoo is religion, be it Haitian, Louisianan or West African. Hoodoo is a long distance call to the spirit world. Voodoo is the zesty tonic inside an exotic glass; hoodoo is the spicy salt under the rim that could save you or kill you, depending on the whim of the bartender who served it. Hoodoo isn’t religion – it’s folk magic.
To its devotees, when God looked up the recipe for concocting an Earth in a half-dozen sleeps, He checked under ‘H’ for Hoodoo. God is the original Hoodoo doctor, neither a capital-H ‘He’ nor a capital-S ‘She’. Ever since some time in the 19th century, when Christianity bled its tales of crimson magic into the skulls of rapt hoodoo-lovers everywhere, the Bible took on a new interpretation: one of magic, conjuring, and hoodoo. Moses’ reputation among the Jews gets a whole lot funkier when he is depicted as a hoodoo master.
Even more so when depicted as a Jedi master.
In hoodoo, the bible becomes a talisman, its psalms and passages acting as vessels of spells and magic. Secrets of the Psalms, a book that occupies real estate on every hoodoo adherent’s shelf, claims that one little corner of the bible holds a particularly chewy slab of magic. Worried about your flight doing a spiral dive into Lake Superior? Have a headache so big you could write Excedrin on it thirty-one times and it still wouldn’t do you any good? Are you getting frustrated that the frequency of your marital relations is more spaced apart than the frequency of lunar eclipses? The Book of Psalms holds the hoodoo key. Read more…
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think this would make a full article. What is a one-hit wonder? Quick answer: an artist or band who scored only one hit in either the Top-40 or the Top-100, depending on your criteria. Simple, right? So let’s look at a big list that will no doubt include Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Janis Joplin (“Me And Bobby McGee” was her sole Top-40 appearance) and move on to Day 338.
But wait… one-hit wonder talk is often handled by music geeks. Music geeks don’t go for simple, straightforward definitions. To wit:
Some bands had a single hit in the US and a totally different single hit in the UK. British group After The Fire nailed a hit at home with their debut single, “One Rule For You” in 1979. They broke in the US with their English version of “Der Komissar” four years later. So they aren’t one-hit wonders, it just seems that way.
After the second hit, they could afford more than lawn furniture. It makes a big difference.
Prohibited from sitting at the table of one-hit wonders are the artists who had one hit on their own but plenty with a group, like Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan (“I.G.Y.” from his first solo album), or Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger (that shitty song from the Spider-Man soundtrack). Likewise, Derek & The Dominoes isn’t a one-hit wonder for “Layla” because it’s considered part of Eric Clapton’s cannon of work.
Okay, that’s easy enough. What other little clauses could there be?
I’ll be honest. I knew I’d write a few of these articles about music. I’d hoped I’d either get the chance to pontificate self-indulgently on music I feel the rest of the world should enjoy as much as I do, or maybe if I was lucky I’d unearth a new find to fill the vacant corners of my iPod.
Instead, my subject today is a song called “I’m A Gummy Bear (The Gummy Bear Song)”. This was bad news from the moment Ms. Wiki cruelly stained the sanctity of my LCD screen with this title. For starters, the principle refrain of the song is “I am a gummy bear”, so what is the parenthetical portion of the title doing to clarify things here?
Now that I think about it, parenthetical song titles are almost always inane. The 1980s was full of them: does Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” really need “(No Can Do)” to follow it? Did Lionel Richie need to tag “(All Night)” after the title “All Night Long”? Seriously, the lyrics uttered by the backup singers needed a spot in the title? What about Billy Ocean naming his song after the first and last lyrics of the chorus: “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)”?
These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.
The Gummy Bear Song is a novelty dance number, as you may have guessed by the green special-needs bear that appears to be still-frame gyrating all over this article. Its entry in this category is dubious; whatever one’s particular penchant for novelty music – be it from Freberg, Stevens or Yankovic – this tune is inarguably terrible. Read more…
Who is Sonny Boy Williamson? You’ll have to be more specific.
John Lee Curtis Williamson, born near Nashville in 1914, became one of the pioneers of blues harmonica, or ‘blues harp’ (which is an expression that will only hold up until someone figures out how to successfully incorporate an actual concert harp into a blues record).
Being a blues musician in the early 20th century was akin to waking up every morning to a stacked deck. To be black in the American south, in the midst of the Great Depression, with no marketable skills apart from playing music that is generally only listened to by other southern blacks with very little money to buy your shirts at Hot Topic – that’s not an easy life..
Williamson had the advantage of being able to carry his most valuable possession in his breast pocket. He adopted the name ‘Sonny Boy’, probably because it just sounded awesome and blues-ish. “Good Morning School Girl,” his first recording for Bluebird Records in 1937, became a standard. He grew to be a star within the blues world, which probably meant that he earned just enough money to buy some food and hooch. There just wasn’t big money in the blues.
He relocated to Chicago, and released a string of songs that have come to be blues staples: “Sugar Mama Blues”, “Sloppy Drunk”, “Shake The Boogie”, “Stop Breaking Down”, and more. “Shake The Boogie” hit #4 on Billboard’s unsympathetically-named Race Records charts. Read more…