Friday, August 26, 2011

My 10 Favorite Songs...for right now, Part 1

I was fooling around on my computer at my job yesterday (your tax dollars at work) when I ran across a list of my 100 favorite songs that I made up years ago. Looking over it I realized there were a bunch of songs on there that I would replace today so I revised the list a bit and then decided that I'd post YouTube clips of the Top Ten on this blog that come from live performances, music videos and homemade photo montages to the songs.

This is a wide mix of styles, jazz classics, soul and rock tunes that are either forgotten or really obscure.  My musical tastes today range to the more experimental sides of jazz, improvised and classical music, and I think now more in terms of entire albums than individual songs so you won't find anything recent here. The newest song on the list dates back to 1996. As much as it hurt me a lot of my favorites did not make the cut. There's no Portishead, The Band, Steeleye Span, Curtis Mayfield, King Crimson, Gene Pitney, Stan Getz or Charles Mingus here but there is not a song on this list I could take off.  Since this looks to be pretty long I will post 6-10 now and do 1-5 in a few days. And so, to the list:

10.  The Temptations - "My Girl"

Everybody has a different favorite Motown song. This is mine. The thudding bass intro, the slow winding guitar riff and then David Ruffin's silky "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day".  All pure magic. This clip doesn't look the best and the song is followed by Berry Gordy talking over silent footage of the Tempts working with producer Norman Whitfield but I chose this version because here the group actually sings the song live.


9.  Jimmy Ruffin - "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted"

I promise this is not going to be a Motown oldies show but this song by David Ruffin's brother is just so majestic I can't resist it.  When Berry Gordy's hit factory was at its peak, there was nothing better.

8.  Sophie B. Hawkins - "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover"

I said things would get different.  I saw Sophie live several years ago and wearing just a flannel shirt, t-shirt and torn jeans she put out more animal energy and sexual heat than Beyonce, Lady Gaga and all those other glittery, overrated hoochie mamas currently ruling the pop world put together.  It all depends on the singer and her songs, in this case, a miraculous gem of longing and passion. MTV, the noted reality show network, used to show music videos once upon a time and actually banned this one, showing a much tamer clip in its place. Some people can't handle the real thing.

7.  Guided By Voices - "The Official Ironman Rally Song"

Robert Pollard, the leader of the band Guided By Voices, used to do something I did when I was a kid, make up titles and track listings for imaginary record albums. Unlike me though he actually progressed from that to becoming a musician. I haven't heard much of his work but this 1996 song started haunting me the first time I heard it. I don't know if it's the watery vocal sound or the gorgeous circular melody but something in this song often brings me near tears. This bizarrely sentimental video is great too.

6.  Ornette Coleman - "Lonely Woman"

Finally some jazz, couresty of one of the most important musicians of the last fifty years.  Ornette Coleman's music was once considered fraudulent and ugly. Listening to this early masterpiece now, that seems impossible.  The blue cries of Ornette and Don Cherry are heartbreakingly beautiful int their humanity and the tension set up by Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins is perfect.

Soon, Numbers 1 - 5, featuring trips to Georgia and Seattle, Dostoevsky explained in 4 minutes and the Tao of Miles.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Belated Thoughts on "The Social Network"

It took me less than a year, which is good for me, but I finally caught up with The Social Network over the weekend.  I thought it was a fine movie, engrossing and very well acted, deserving of all the praise it received.  Then I ran across a comment on a blog the other day which I had heard before but I can only now relate to, that it was a travesty that Network lost out at the Oscars to The King's Speech because it was a type of film that had never been done before.

I haven't seen King Speech yet so I can't comment on how it compares to Social Network (though as far as last year's big movies go, I liked the delirious rush of Black Swan best of all)  but anybody who thinks that the Facebook movie was new and innovative hasn't seen many films that are more than ten years old.

  Aaron Sorkin's dialogue is sharp and clever but it goes right back to the fast-paced talk of the crime films and screwball comedies of the Thirties. It's like Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur crossed with the clipped, ping-ponging pace of Jack Webb's Dragnet.  As for the plot, take away the high-tech jargon and illusion of youth and you have a story as old as the dawn of time. A guy just muddling along at his chosen profession, works his way up to becoming rich and famous but changes for the worst and ignores all his friends and loved ones.  I saw almost the same story on TCM a couple of days ago in a 1932 film called Crooner about a struggling musician who becomes a Rudy Vallee-like singing sensation. In that movie, as in most of the older cases, the star falls on hard times and, humbled, reunites with his girlfriend at the end. That doesn't happen in Network, Mark Zuckerberg ends the film still a billionaire and alienated from his one-time friends, but the story arc up to the end is basically the same.

Cooler heads have compared the movie to Citizen Kane and I see those connections although Welles' masterpiece invariably wins any comparison. Network even ends on a "Rosebud" moment.  Throughout the film it's pretty well established that wealth and power mean nothing to Zuckerberg.  He really just wants to impress Erica, the girl who dumps him in the opening scene of the film for being a clueless, asocial geek.  At the end he pulls up her Facebook page, sends her a friend request, and waits in vain for her to accept it.  It's a powerful moment, one as touching in its way as Kane's burning sled, but not some great innovation. There are only a finite number of dramatic plots in the world. Social Network for all its virtues does not create a new one.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Now?

It seems there's been a welcome change of plans. I've been writing for a while about the imminent demise of Cadence Magazine at the end of the year but they've now sent word there's been a reprieve. Someone has decided to step up and take on the task of continuing to publish Cadence after 2011. The plans right now are for 3 online issues plus one print one a year.

Frankly I had gotten myself adjusted to the idea of a break from reviewing but I'm more than happy to continue writing for the magazine and I've told them so. I was especially glad to keep doing it when I opened my new review package of CDs and saw stuff from Joe Morris, Terri Lyne Carrington, local phenom Brian Settles and the trio Farmers By Nature. Being able to hear and share my feelings on music like this is why I love doing this job.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Eugene McDaniels (1935-2011)

I slack off far more than I should when it comes to acknowledging artists important to me who have passed.  The past week or so has seen the deaths of Frank Foster, long time Count Basie saxophonist and lyricist Fran Landesman who wrote some of the most literate standards out there including "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" and "Ballad Of The Sad Young Men".  The one I really had to mention, though, was Eugene McDaniels.

Like a lot of musicians in the Fifties and Sixties McDaniels' career went through breakneck changes.  He started out in gospel at a young age and matured into a jazz singer working in Hollywood clubs. Then he was signed to Liberty Records and had a successful stint as a pop singer with several Top 40 hits including two songs I've always loved, schmaltzy arrangements and all, "Tower Of Strength" and "Point Of No Return". 

Then as the Sixties went on, his pop hits dried up and McDaniels, like so many others, started looking around him and writing about the turmoils of the world, trading in his lounge style for nasty soul-funk-jazz that fit right in with the era of Sly Stone, Gil-Scott Heron, George Clinton and Bitches' Brew

As Eugene McDaniels, he released two albums in this style for Atlantic, Outlaw and Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse.  I've never heard Outlaw
but I know Headless Heroes and it is strong, strong stuff that takes on racism, war, and the plight of the Native American to the tune of slick, head nodding rock-flavored funk.  The record was so strong that according to legend the Nixon Administration leaned on Atlantic to bury it.  Today it's known mostly to funk connoisseurs.

In the few obituaries I've read for McDaniels so far, this stuff isn't brought up except to mention the names of his albums. His pop hits and the fact that he wrote one of Roberta Flack's big hits, "Feel Like Makin' Love" are cited but nobody seems to bring up that he wrote several songs for Flack's early records,  including the most well-known song McDaniels ever composed. Flack's version of that song is really obscure though. The famous one was a live recording by Les McCann and Eddie Harris from the Montreux Jazz Festival, a song called "Compared To What", and miracle of miracles, that recording has turned up on YouTube...

This was recorded in 1969. The sad part is 95% of the lyrics still ring true today.