Category: rock music history

Getting To Know Your Local Freelance Writer, Part 2

In my last post I presented you with the first half of a journey of musical self-discovery I’d recently begun. Now, I give you ….. the rest of it.

DAY 6: Dookie by Green Day – I once heard this album referred to as a “misfit’s manifesto” which couldn’t be more accurate. I was not a popular kid. I did not fit in. These songs spoke directly to me. Not in a literal way. I was not a stoner, wasn’t close to mental breakdown, nor was I as angry and destructive as some of the people in these songs. But subconsciously, the lyrics probably helped me work through some things I dealt with. I’ll never forget how my mom humored me when I remarked that these guys could be the “new Beatles.” I guess it was just a premonition of how important Green Day would become for me, but If you know me well you’ll find that comment pretty hilarious. This isn’t complex music, but it changed me. Green Day was the first band I ever got into who’s music I would go on to buy all of. My wife asked me recently what it was about them that captivated me. I said it was Billie Joe Armstrong’s presence as a front man. It was a confidence – an arrogance even – that I could hear in these songs, later confirmed when I saw him on stage. It was a poise that I could never have, but I felt like in some way I started to develop because of Dookie.

DAY 7: Chronicle by Creedence Clearwater Revival – I strongly feel every American household should contain a copy of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicle Vol. 1. I don’t know that there is any other American band that can boast a better Best Of… album than this. When my parents got me my own computer, it had a CD player, and I inherited four hand-me-down CDs. Greatest Hits compilations from the Eagles and the Steve Miller Band, CCR Chronicle Volume 1, and the Beatles “Blue Album”. Wait, what? Yeah…though I devoured all four, at the time I was more into this than the Beatles. That came later. But CCR first opened me up to music that wasn’t new, a whole new world which led me to explore all varieties of classic rock. I think I have some kind of mystical connection with John Fogerty for two reasons. First, though he was a California boy, his music is sprinkled with references to the Louisiana bayou, and New Orleans. My affinity for that place is equally inexplicable. And second, long ago I noticed that when I hear certain CCR songs, the Dailey side of my family would pop into my head. So either this music was playing prominently during a family gathering long ago and it latched onto my subconscious mind, or this music is just a part of my DNA. Could be either one.

DAY 8 – Anthology 2 by The Beatles – I am not going to try to name one Beatles studio album that influenced me more than the others. Anyway they never would have influenced me were it not for Anthology, particularly the second installment. The three Anthology albums are basically an outtakes dump on a grand scale. While they presented the Beatles in their unpolished form, they were still pretty good. Anthology 2 covers 1965-67 into 1968 a bit. Those 3+ years encompass five Beatles albums if you count the Magical Mystery Tour double EP. Anthology 2 was so stunning to me because it showed how productive and progressive the band was over a relatively short time. Though it excited me like no other music had before, I remember it being a bit unsettling to find that “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “A Day in the Life” came just one and two years after “Ticket To Ride.”

I’ve always been a historian, and I like things to be linear. Anthology 2 is the sound of a band that is going someplace. They know where they are going and what they are doing. Now you see bands “trying something new” for their latest album. They may even do that on every release. But the Beatles from this period were different. Every album significantly built upon what they’d done on the last one. They changed how rock and roll sounds and is made, forever. Anthology 2 changed ME forever. I went on to buy every studio album the Beatles ever made, and very close to every studio album Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison ever made, along with a few from Ringo. How’s that for influence?

DAY 9 – Paul McCartney’s “Flaming Pie” was the first of dozens of former-Beatle solo albums I’d eventually own. This was a huge transition for me in that up until then every pop star I’d followed had either been a teenager or in their 20’s. While classic rock opened me up to the experiences of artists of (roughly) my age group but in a different time period, this album opened me up to the thoughts and style of a much older musician, Paul being in his mid-50s on this record. I was just becoming an adult when this came out so it helped me mature in my musical taste. I found his lyrics insightful and very moving really. “Calico Skies” and “Little Willow” are two beautiful, gentle acoustic ballads that everyone should hear. And he could rock! I mean, nothing on this album is going to melt your face off, but he could still jam. Still can now. And to this day, I almost always refer to a deep conversation as a discussion of “the vast intricacies of life” because of a line from “The Songs We Were Singing.”

DAY 10: “Who’s on First?: Radio Reruns” by Abbott & Costello – Until now my list has been albums that affected me chronologically as I grew. This one screws with my timeline in that (1) it was recorded in the 1940’s (2) I first heard it when I was about ten years old, and (3) its effect on me did not fully germinate until about four years ago. Let me explain. Yes, I was a huge baseball fan, and that is why I got this tape as a Christmas gift. I listened to the “Who’s On First?” bit over and over again, but I liked the rest of the skits, as old-timey as they were. I would let the entire cassette play because I couldn’t skip tracks. This included the two musical numbers on the album. One of them was a ballad called “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” sung by actress Marilyn Maxwell. Fast forward to about 2016-17, and the melody and the evocative lyrics of “moonlight on the bayou”, “Creole tunes” and “magnolias in June” still came back to me sometimes. I was sitting at work one day, tired of the Pandora station I had going, and that tune popped into my head. I decided to start a new station based on Louis Armstrong’s original version of the song. Because of how Pandora works, I was soon flooded with a variety of New Orleans jazz musicians, contemporary and classic, eventually extending to some great funk, rhythm & blues, Mardi Gras Indian songs, and even zydeco. To me, all of these are branches of one genre called “New Orleans music.” Nothing has had even close to this effect on me since I discovered the Beatles over 20 years ago. I rarely listen to anything else now. Because I first discovered it through streaming individual tracks, I can’t pick one album. No matter. My “Who’s On First?” tape is the true source of the discovery. With that, I’m going to go make some red beans n rice now.

What the Beatles Taught Me About the Value of a Second Draft

The Beatles, according to many, were the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m not here to argue that. The point is, great as they were, it did not always come easy to them.

The melody for “Yesterday” famously came to Paul McCartney in a dream. So he didn’t forget it, he shoved in the first words he thought of, which happened to be “Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs,” and so on.

I’m serious.

When McCartney and John Lennon first wrote “Drive My Car” it included the chorus “I can give you golden rings/I can give you anything/baby I love you.”

It’s trite, and it’s a massive cliche, and the Beatles knew it. But they liked the tune, so they went back to the drawing board. In the end, what they came away with was an anthem for women’s empowerment. The “girl” in the song was the VIP and the guy was her driver.

I think we can all agree that the final drafts of both songs were far superior.

Later, in “Paperback Writer” McCartney sang “I can make it longer if you like the style/I can change it ’round but I wanna be a paperback writer.” Clearly he understood that you aren’t always finished when you think you are, and it isn’t always brilliant when you think it is. Sometimes you just need to run a comb through it and tweak a few lines here and there. Sometimes you need to run your manuscript or lyric sheet or whatever through a shredder and start over. Either way a second draft can bring a freshness, a vitality to the piece.

And that’s just the writing process. When they got into the studio, they, like most recording artists, would do multiple takes of a song. The demo was the rough draft and each ensuing take was another “draft.”

In 1968, George Harrison brought a song to the sessions for the White album called “Not Guilty.” It is well documented that the Beatles recorded about 100 takes of the song. Literally. Many of them were partial or just false starts. But still they kept at it until they got it right. To top it off, after all that work they didn’t put it on the album!

It disappeared until 1979 when Harrison put it on his own album.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” began as a very different song than the one they eventually released. They tried countless variations, but it was missing something, particularly in the intro. Then one day Lennon walked into the studio, went straight to the piano and banged out what would become the song’s famous opening.

It took a lot of work, but in a moment of frustrations/inspiration, it morphed into one of their most beloved tunes.

In 1969, according to Lennon in typical hyperbolic form, the Beatles recorded “a hundred million” takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” yet another McCartney number that was not held in high esteem by Lennon or Harrison. McCartney was convinced it was strong enough to be a Beatles single.

In fact, not only did Lennon and Harrison not appreciate it, it is often cited by fans as one of their least favorite Beatles tracks.

That’s three very different outcomes for songs given multiple takes (drafts). But in every case, the result was appreciated by someone.

I’ll be honest. When I am writing on this blog, I don’t very often write a second draft. Especially with long posts like this, I edit and improve it as I go along. But I’m not letting it sit for a day or two and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I absolutely do that when I am writing for a client. Because they expect my best, for one thing, but also because I know that you can always improve a piece you’ve written. There is always going to be a more colorful, more insightful way of saying something.

But when it’s finished, you just know. And at some point you’ve got to release the album.

Beatles Relics Come To Rochester – The Magical History Tour Exhibit

My wife and I rolled up to the Beatles Magical History Tour in Rochester tonight. I am not the type of bloke who can very often be told things about the Beatles that he didn’t already know. But this exhibit did just that.

The main thing I learned that I didn’t already know was that those thousands of fans who were waiting at the airport for the Beatles when they arrived in America in 1964 were paid to scream and wear Beatles shirts. I mean it’s not like a myth has been shattered or anything. I think a part of me knew that must have been the case.

And though I know that Beatles marketing went berserk in the spring of 1964, I was still really amused to see exactly how nuts it got. For instance, did you know there were Beatles nylons…for some reason? Among the thousands and thousands of trinkets, toys and snacks with the Beatles name and likeness on it, that has to be the weirdest one for me. None of this stuff was endorsed by the Beatles. Well, very little of it. At this point it was a commercialized free-for-all beyond anyone’s control.

Did you know that the band that became the Beatles existed longer before the “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance than it did after the show? It’s true. And I would have liked it if the exhibit included more from the very early days of the band variously known as the Quarrymen, Johnny and the Moondogs and other monikers until they settled on “Beatles.” But it was nice to see a section featuring some of early Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe’s artwork. I think he would have been well-known in the art world even if he had not been a Beatle, if he’d lived beyond the age of 21.

Being a super Beatles fan that I am, in some ways the exhibit was underwhelming. There are too many things to name that I would have liked to see that weren’t included. But they only had so much space, and let’s face it, some of the things that I would have liked to see probably should stay wherever they are. Besides, I know that for anyone who is at least a little more casual about their fandom than I am, the exhibit will be fascinating.

It was fun to listen to some of the songs that inspired each of the Beatles growing up. That interactive experience, coupled with the 1950’s era radios installed in the exhibit allowed one to imagine they were a teen in Liverpool listening to Radio Luxembourg just like John, Paul, George and Ringo did.

Speaking of music, though…

I was feeling good vibes hearing songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” near the beginning. But the farther you get into the exhibit, each segment has different Beatles songs playing, and the further you go, the more songs layer on top of one another until it feels like, to reference Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s bio, “a cellarful of noise.” Midway through the one song that stood out to me among all the simultaneously playing songs was “Tomorrow Never Knows” which is already a cacophony of sound by itself. So it, layered with songs from every Beatles era, it got to be a bit much. You wanted to celebrate their music. It’s indispensable for such an exhibit, obviously. But I couldn’t help thinking a better way may have been having the tour scheduled on the hour or something so that everyone going through was at the same section at the same time. That way once you’re past the “I Saw Her Standing There” section they could switch that off and turn on “Help!” or whatever it was. But you don’t want something like this to be so strictly regimented, so it is what it is.

Speaking of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, there is one whole open section draped with psychedelic colors wherein “Tomorrow Never Knows” plays, and it is there that you know beyond a doubt that you are about to walk into a new phase of Beatledom. It’s a trip.

The exhibit really had everything though. I laughed at the witty letters written by or about the Beatles, at the Beatles mop-top inspired comb and bobble heads, and at the pieces of John and Paul’s hair, and the piece of carpet that had been cut up from a hotel room because the Beatles had stayed there. I awed at the spot-on reconstruction – graffiti and all – of the Cavern Club stage, the venue where the band played hundreds of shows in 1961-62, and at the original drum kit of Colin Hanton, the Quarrymen’s drummer from 1957-58. I sat in silent reverie for a moment in front of the actual Double Fantasy album that John Lennon autographed for Mark David Chapman just hours before Chapman murdered Lennon.

Given that the exhibit was otherwise a joyous affair, it deflated the experience a bit seeing Lennon’s signature there, picturing him signing it, assuming he thought he was signing an album for another fan who loved him and his music.

That was the polar opposite experience from the series of guitars on display that had been used by the Beatles. There were signs telling what albums, songs or promo films the instruments were played on, and by which Beatle. You could take yourself back to that time and imagine what was going on in the studio while they worked on those projects. They even brought in Beatles producer George Martin’s clavichord which was used on the album “Revolver”, a set of chimes used on various Beatles songs which you could play with a stick, and even a sitar which I assume was George’s that you could “play”, sort of. So, you know…happy thoughts.

At the end of the exhibit there is a life-sized poster of the Abbey Road crossing where you can get your picture taken, and of course a ton of merchandise to peruse. Some unique Beatles t-shirts, hats and bags, and even some wicked expensive replica guitars. If you know me, you may not believe that I’ve never been big on Beatles memorabilia. For me, it’s just the music and the history of the band, and you get a load of each with the Magical History Tour. Check it out. Today and for the next few Mondays it is free, but even at the every day admission price of $15, it would be worth seeing. It is family-friendly, and wheelchair accessible.

When we got home I told my wife “You know if we ever went to Liverpool, I’d get out of my wheelchair and drag myself down all those stone steps to see the basement of the Cavern Club right?…But we’ll probably never go there.”

To which she replied “Not with that attitude.”

“Lenny”: A Film Review and Social Commentary

I do have a bedtime. Normally. Normally I’ll watch a late night talk show monologue and call it a night by 11 pm. Last night being Sunday, I was flipping through the channels looking for something else to cap off my weekend.

I happened upon “Lenny”, the Dustin Hoffman biopic of controversial 1950’s-60’s comic Lenny Bruce. For one reason or another his name had just come up the day before in conversation with my wife. I put the clicker down and was glued to the TV until the film ended at exactly midnight.

I am a proponent of free speech in all media. Granted, there are things that, just like anyone, I wish certain folks wouldn’t say. But they’ve got a right to say it. So free speech pioneers like Lenny Bruce are important to me.

You could say Bruce was a beat journalist of sorts. He was also a bit of a sociologist. To my knowledge Lenny Bruce did not tell “dirty jokes” for the sake of being “dirty.” If what he said bothered his audience he wanted them to think about why that was. Part of Bruce’s thing was that what makes dirty words dirty words was in the eye of the beholder.

In one scene in the movie, Hoffman as Bruce was on stage the night after being arrested for saying a certain word. He began this post-bail performance by greeting the many police officers in attendance, then conducted a focus group with audience members wherein he repeatedly used the word “blah” in place of what he was obviously talking about. And the police could not do a thing about it. At one point he remarked that this was “the filthiest show [he’d] ever done” demonstrating that it was not the word, but what was in the minds of the audience that was filthy.

And how do you censor that?

But it went deeper than that.

A second prominent theme in Bruce’s most controversial bits pointed out that we censor words, meanwhile our kids are watching people kill each other on TV and nobody says anything. This sentiment was echoed years later by John Lennon, another great pop-sociologist who noted “we live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”

Lenny Bruce went so far as to say that if it came down to a choice between a stag film and a dramatization of The Old Testament, he’d rather allow his kids to watch the stag film. The reason being that the first portrayed consenting adults, and the latter involved so much violence and bloodshed.

As I watched the film last night, the anniversary of Lennon’s death passed. I made a mental note that both of these men died at age forty, and that both were provocateurs in their own way to make people think about what was offensive. In 1967, a year after the comic died, Lennon chose Bruce as a member of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” collage, linking the two forever.

The Origins of Things.

I am not just a writer. I am also an historian. Of many things. I have always found myself becoming very curious about the origins of things. What the thing was before it was what it is now, and how it got from there to here. These are the kinds of things I really enjoy doing as a professional blogger . In doing so, I can talk about an interesting aspect of the industry a client is in, and tie it in directly with what their company does!

Here are a few examples:

Let’s say my client is a rock band:

Rock and roll – You might think of Elvis, or maybe Chuck Berry, or “Rock Around the Clock” when they think of the roots of rock and roll music. But it’s a bit of an internet parlor game to find examples of rhythm and blues, swing, or “jump blues” songs from the 1940s or even the 1930s that meets the criteria for being rock and roll. Personally, the earliest examples I’ve found convincing are from the mid-forties. Anyway there are too many candidates for the distinction to mention here. Google “proto-rock” if you want to hear some of them.

How about a record store?:

Jazz music – Most jazz aficionados can probably tell you that jazz began with Charles “Buddy” Bolden’s band from about 1895-1907. But there were various brass bands in New Orleans (the Eureka, the Olympia, etc.) from the late 1870s and certainly in the 1880s. This was not “jazz” but you take what they were doing, you mix it up with some blues and you’ve got a reasonable facsimile of what the brass bands of today are doing. There are mentions of brass bands during the Civil War era (Charles Bothe’s Brass Band). The whole brass craze seemed to have kicked off around 1838 when the local newspaper reported a sudden infestation of every street corner with bands. That’s about as far back as I’ve been able to track it.

But enough music. Let’s say I scored my dream blogging job and got to write for a professional baseball team.

Baseball – The beginnings of baseball are an incredibly murky subject. How the game is played evolved over time, for one thing. But there are other issues. Conventional baseball history goes backward like this:

The major leagues as we know them began in 1901 when the American League joined the National League. The NL had formed in 1876.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Clubs operated from 1871-1875 and is widely recognized today as the first “major league.”

The first all-professional team was the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings (not the same organization as the modern day Cincinnati Reds, nor the Boston Red Sox).

The first players to be paid probably did so in the early 1860s.

The first league, though amateur, was the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1857.

The first set of rules is said to have been written up in 1845 by members of the New York Knickerbocker Club, though there is some controversy about this.

There were clubs forming all over the place in the 1830s who played a game that was a forerunner to what we know as baseball today.

The earliest reference to a ball game being organized ahead of time and reported in a New York newspaper was from the spring of 1823.

In 1792 there was city law in Pittsfield, MA banning kids from playing baseball in town for fear they’d break windows.

A poem from the 1744 “Little Pretty Pocketbook” describes a game that clearly resembles what we know.

That is as far as that one goes, for me. I could go on and on but I won’t.

Rock in Stages

Years ago it came to my attention that, starting with the outbreak of Beatlemania in Britain in 1963, just about every 14 years brings a major wave of innovation in rock music.

We go in cycles, from innovation to elaboration, to saturation, to stagnation. Sometimes rapidly.

1963 – The Beatles became a phenomenon seemingly over night with their second single “Please Please Me”. While most people think of their later work when they think of the Beatles’ important innovations, “Please Please Me” and some of their earlier work was in fact very innovative at the time. Tame as it sounds to 21st century ears, it sparked the British Invasion of rock music.

The innovations of the Beatles’ later years launched another whole big thing, which, with some tweaks, would evolve into prog rock in the 70’s. This and the overblown virtuosity of stadium rock would become stale, at which point the only natural thing to happen was the punk rock movement.

The punk movement reached its peak about 1977. It stripped everything down to its most essential elements, with the genre’s most notable early bands – the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash – borrowing more from the 1950’s than they did from their own contemporaries.

But the punk movement too was soon watered down by sub-genres, eventually giving way to post-punk into the early ’80s, similar but more radio-friendly, a few shades less gritty, and with significantly less snarl. Diluted even more, we got new wave.

New wave and hair metal are both descendants of glam, each sprinkled with their own particular flavor of punk rock. But, naturally, in time, these too became sterile movements.

Enter Nirvana, with the landmark “Nevermind” in 1991.

Kurt Cobain actually was known to say that he got sick of hearing Michael Jackson and Madonna on the radio all the time and had to do something about it. But really, the music of Nirvana is the sound of a staunch rebuke of the likes of Motley Crue, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Def Leppard.

I had already developed this fourteen-year theory by the time 2005 rolled around, and I was anxiously awaiting The Next Big Thing. At the time I did not see it, and after a few years I was disheartened because I don’t think it took too long to figure out that the Beatles, the punk movement, and Nirvana were the watersheds of their generations.

Looking back I think that the Arctic Monkeys, the White Stripes, the Strokes – all part of a movement broadly referred to as post-punk revival – were the Next Big Thing of that generation. The movement originated well before 2005, but that year is often cited as the year the first wave of the movement ended, the second wave kicking off with the Arctic Monkeys being discovered online, which in itself would prove to be a dramatic shift in the way rock bands come to widespread attention.

I would say that is a seismic shift.

And so here we are in 2019. I am anxiously awaiting whatever is next. I am not deeply enough immersed in the current rock scene to be able to say that I know what that it will be. But I dearly wish to see it happen soon.

Who knows? Maybe it’s this: