Friday, September 02, 2005

Dave’s Music Corner

What's Dave Listening To Lately

Swank Home

Music is my soundtrack. I like to do a lot of sedentary things like writing, drawing and reading, and I always do those things with music in the background. It’s a little foible of mine to say that when music appeals to me it shoots an invisible beam of blue light right into my brain. When I say this people always ask, “If it’s invisible, how do you know it’s blue?” to which I can only answer with a shrug. What I mean, though, is that if the music I’m listening to can force its way out of the background and into my consciousness, then that music is for me.

Joe Jackson - Mike’s Murder Soundtrack (A&M, 1983)

Have you ever seen this movie? It’s a fabulous dreamy kind of thing and Debra Winger’s performance should be recognized for its greatness by all right-thinking people. I was so happy to come across this album, which I found in a thrift shop in Ladner, BC, as it filled an irksome hole in my Joe Jackson collection. All the rest of you neurotic collector types understand that, right? (The sleeve looked like it had been submerged in a bathtub for a day, but the record’s in great shape.) This album followed his brilliant Night and Day and features the same players. Unfortunately the songs on this album aren’t as strong and few of them stand out. There’s even a head-turning rip of the organ sound and most of the riff from “I’m A Man” on “Memphis”. When you hear it you think, “Oh, he’s covering “I’m A Man”, but near the end of the riff, the organ takes this sudden detour that’s kind of disturbing. “Moonlight” is the standout track on side one. Side two is all atmospheric instrumentals - not surprising considering this is a movie soundtrack. I was more surprised by the entire side of pop songs than the instrumentals, which are very good (especially the one based on “Moonlight”), but, of course, were designed to accompany visuals and suffer accordingly.

The Rolling Stones - Black and Blue (Rolling Stone, 1976)

Ronnie Wood’s first album for the Stones - he hadn’t officially joined the band yet. This is the album on which the Stones leave the blues behind and get all FONKY, a change of direction taken after the underwhelming Goat’s Head Soup and the collapsed soufflé of It’s Only Rock and Roll, as well as the departure of the excellent Mick Taylor. It was a decision that brought mixed artistic results (Emotional Rescue, anyone? *), but I suppose kept them alive commercially through the disco confusion of the late seventies. Like most albums produced by successful sixties acts in the seventies, critics tend to pooh-pooh Black and Blue, but actually it’s perfectly listenable. The thing is, the Rolling Stones were always a singles band and very few of their albums can stand as a whole from beginning to end. Their attempt to produce a coherent album statement, Their Satanic Majesties Request, is regarded as a bit of a failure, but like any album by the Stones it’s got plenty to recommend it. Black and Blue is the first album to explore the Stones’ interest in reggae with a cover of Cherry Oh Baby. The single was the fun Hot Stuff, but the standout track is Memory Motel, which I have now repeated twice. I notice that guest artists Billy Preston and Ronnie Wood are credited for “inspiration” on two songs by the notoriously credit-stingy Glimmer Twins. I wonder if Wood was ever credited for “inspiration” again after joining the band full-time.

*I actually like that album a lot too: “Ah am yo-uh knah-ght in shah-neeng ah-mah!”

Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, 1965)
Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia, 1965)
Blonde on Blonde (Columbia, 1966)

Three albums that shook the world. As I said in my last column, I just finished reading Howard Sounes excellent biography of Dylan, Down the Road, so, of course, I dug out the Dylan because a good music book should make you want to listen to the music again with a new context. I think it’s the... I don’t know how many Dylan books I have. Wait a minute... God, I have thirteen different books about Bob Dylan that I can see. That’s a little embarrassing. I guess I’ll have to take comfort in the fact that I didn’t buy them all at once or read them all in a row, but over the course of years. But Dylan’s a fascinating subject and no person sees him the same, so each book has its own take - like looking at different facets of the same diamond. Robert Shelton’s book, No Direction Home, for instance, is particularly interested in the early years of Dylan and his later career is quickly disposed of; Clinton Heylin’s book, Behind the Shades, is more concerned with Dylan’s recorded output - particularly the “missed opportunities” of Dylan’s career as evidenced by his bootlegs. It must be strange to be an artist whose unreleased songs are has hallowed as his “official” output, and are always being thrown back in his teeth. I mean you don’t hear many people bemoaning the absence of “What’s the New Mary Jane?” on The Beatles’ White Album do you?

Anyway, as I was going to say before I so rudely interrupted myself, these three albums are pretty much perfect to me. The keening blues whine of “Tombstone Blues” or “Maggie’s Farm”, the gently picked acoustic, dancing behind Dylan’s voice on “Desolation Row” or “4th Time Around”, the drunken free-for-all/psychotic Salvation Army band sound of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”; the snaking “Stuck Inside of Memphis With The Mobile Blues Again”; I could go on and on. I love the sometimes snarl, sometimes gruff pleading in Dylan’s voice and the dense, stoned surrealism of his lyrics. Speaking of bootlegs, if you listen to some of his early songs on the cd box set, The Bootleg Series Vol.1-3, you can hear Dylan sing these songs straight, then begin to apply his curious vocal mannerisms to them. Remember, it’s not that he could only sing that way; he chose to sing that way.

Bob Dylan - Biograph Disc Two (Columbia, 1985)

In the mid-eighties doldrums of his career, the release of this three-disc box set did a lot to resurrect Dylan’s slumping reputation. In fact, its revolutionary use of album tracks, unreleased songs, demos and live versions practically invented the box set industry - for good or ill (not every artist has unreleased songs worth issuing we’re discovering to our chagrin). This is probably my favourite disc of the three, although the third one runs it a close second and occasionally overtakes it (it’s a mood thing I guess). The reason I love this one is the hypnotic live version of “Visions of Johanna”, a harrowing unreleased version of “You’re A Big Girl Now”, the superb “Tangled Up In Blue”, a gorgeous live rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (with the unexplained change of “reindeer armies” instead of “seasick sailors going home”) and a scorching live “Isis” from the Rolling Thunder tour. It also has two obscure singles, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your WIndow?” and “Positively 4th Street”, the touching “Dear Landlord”, “To Ramona” and “Every Grain of Sand’.

Actually, I’ve decided that each disc is equally good. I guess I’m going to have to listen to them all! Catch you on the B-side!

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