Back in the '70s, Steve Simels wrote some great columns for Stereo Review, the music and gear publication noted for their review of Ray Charles' A Man and His Soul, which called his voice "ugly." That wasn't Simels, but this entry was: He listed some of his favorite moments in rock'n'roll history--brief moments, like an audio attention grabber.
A few of Simels' favorite rock clips that I recall:
* The piano (and drum) bit that opens the Chiffons' "One Fine Day" ("Carole King?," he asked--yes, it was).
* The breathtaking acappella introduction to Dylan's "Percy's Song" by Fairport Convention.
* And one mean item: "Carly Simon's legs (but not her records)."
Here are a few of mine, which are not all short:
* That rolling bassline by the wonderful Donald "Duck" Dunn (1941-2012) on
Booker T. & the MGs' "Soul Limbo."
* Leon Russell's piano on Eric Clapton's "Let It Rain"--indeed, it's like a lovely rainfall.
* Ian Hunter's heartbreaking couplet on "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople (26 March, 1972, Zurich)": "Rock'n'Roll's a loser's game/it mesmerizes and I can't explain."
* There's a gal who visits our library once in awhile who looks like Suzanne Vega.
(I don't dare start humming "Tom's Diner.")
* The bum bass note that Bill Black hits, halfway through Scotty Moore's guitar solo, on Elvis Presley's first release (Sun 209), "That's All Right." But who would notice? It's a perfect record.
* The sitar--and by 1970, you didn't hear a sitar on a record very often--on Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," which rides the funky groove but doesn't call attention to itself.
* How ridiculous was the reaction of Metallica fans to last year's Lulu, the project with Lou Reed? They went nuts with anger--it wasn't like Metallica asked Lou to join their band or anything.
* Ringo Starr's controlled yet splashy high hat playing on many of the early Beatles tracks; I just heard something similar on the new Alabama Shakes album Boys & Girls and it's quite exciting.
* Perhaps the most fun moment of the 1990s' Riot Grrrl movement, Bikini Kill's
"Rebel Girl," where Kathleen Hanna yells, "That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood/I've got news for you...SHE IS!"
* Glen Campbell's 12-string guitar break on the Beach Boys' "Dance, Dance, Dance."
* A few days ago, the Texas Rangers beat up on Los Angeles Angels' pitcher Jered Weaver, knocking him out the game. The P.A. system in Arlington was playing Ray Charles' "Hit the Road, Jack," and as he exited the mound, Weaver, in a kind of dejected trance, was singing along with it.
* Ernie K-Doe's "Here Come the Girls" (1970)--the only sexy song that starts with a military drum beat?
* After Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, he performed in Forest Hills, NY and continue to draw significant negative response to his evil rock'n'roll.
One concert patron shouted, "*&^%sucker!" at Dylan. He reportedly replied, "Aw, it's not that bad."
* Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's insanely fabulous guitar solo on Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff."
* Two of the best Sam Cooke covers: Aretha Franklin's "You Send Me" and Eddie Floyd's "Bring It on Home to Me." These sound nothing like the originals but are totally realized; neither arrangement sounds like a stretch.
* The way Ray Davies sings "right! up! tight!" on the Kinks' "Dedicated Follower of Fashion."
* The fuzz guitar on the Animals' "Don't Bring Me Down." Doesn't sound like outdated hippie garbage but something truly dramatic and frightening.
* A few years back, Gina and I were having our favorite local coffee in town, and there was a woman in the place who looked like Sandy Denny. Not Denny in the last year of her life (1978) but the way she might appear now. Later on, my friend Jonathan
dropped by and I pointed her out. There are probably only a handful of friends I have who know what Sandy Denny looked like, and we were in the same place, at the same time, with "Sandy."
That was too much fun! I'll have to do this again.
Too busy to write lately. So much going on, and number one is scrambling to find work (16-20 hours) that will flesh out my library and radio work. Making enough to pay the rent is a constant, looming thing, so I spent Monday emailing potential employers, updating my resume and getting out there and talking to businesses.
I have library training next week and have homework to read, there's always grass to cut now, and I've got lifelong friends to stay in communication with, as they have some big issues going on with loved ones. Once in awhile, a nice listener calls me at the radio station and wants to meet me and "hang out," but I have to tell them that I have scores of old friends that I barely get to see anymore and that I have no room for new activities. On paper, I work 25 hours and six days a week; in life, it's so much more.
Saturday May 19th, I'm doing my annual Dylan hour in appreciation of his 71st birthday and the week after that, it's the all-Texas show. Those ideas are kind of half-baked at this point, as are my thoughts on the next batch of music I'm going to review for the blog, etc. I like to call myself the hardest working person who only "works" 25 hours.
Perhaps that other 15 hours is filled with worry.
Think of record producer Phil Spector, and the operative word might be bombastic, whatever the result: A sensational record or a piece of junk. Kindness and generosity or perverse cruelty. Incredible achievement or the sick depths of a sub-human experience.
Since Spector's famous final act was a conviction for the murder of actor Lana Clarkson, it's sick that we're left with. British journalist Mick Brown makes what might appear to be crazed juxtapositions in the biography "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector" (Knopf, 2007), yet there's nothing sensationalistic about his writing approach; all Brown had to do was tell Spector's story. Since modern science has come so far in treating the bipolar condition, no longer do Spector's joys, antics and sins have to define that disease and his ailment, yet Spector's life is nothing if not one volley after another of drastic highs and lows.
In Brown's beautifully written "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound," the author covers
Spector's early disappointments and his nonstop hustling in search of the break that would finally find him founding Philles Records with Lester Sill, and their eventual failed friendship. His working relationship with engineer Larry Levine and arranger
Jack Nitzsche can be called inconsistent and fragile. Spector's history as a record maker shows an obvious admiration for the backing musicians more than the vocalists; he often betrayed the latter. In Spector's mind, the producer--not the artist--was the star, so singers were of secondary nature to him. The irony here was that the Philles label boasted so many recognizable, first rate vocalists: Darlene Love, Bobby Sheen, Ronnie Bennett (Spector), the Righteous Brothers, Tina Turner.
There is one contradiction after another in "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound," which Brown manages to sort out fairly clearly, and yet these disparate elements create a kind of tension that drives the book. How did Spector's somewhat icy relationship with Love (who was cheated out of royalties) change to a period where he paid her rent when she was down and out? Why was Phil almost instantly attracted to Ronnie when he first caught the Ronettes but locked Ronnie up in his mansion after they finally married?
On the one hand, Spector brought turmoil upon himself, as he couldn't reconcile his dark insecurities with his swelling braggadocio. On the other, one is struck by his huge losses: his father's suicide, mental problems within his family. His nine year old son's early death. His deep friendship with Lenny Bruce, and Bruce's death. His warm, then volatile relationship with John Lennon. Or his long line of hit singles that suddenly dried up. Or the fabulous A Christmas Gift for You, Spector's all-out album project, and possibly the finest holiday album in history. After grueling months of work, the LP was issued and almost immediately withdrawn. The release date was November 22, 1963.
Omissions? For me, it's a blessing that Brown did not delve deeply into Spector's recreational drug use--there were already scores of prescription drugs and massive quantities of alcohol fogging up whatever clarity he may have had. Let's just say that a legendary Christmas card Spector sent to friends (once depicted in the industry magazine Radio and Records) that read "a little 'snow' never hurt anyone" is not addressed.
The goofiest item that doesn't include alcohol or gun-waving details the eventual divorce of Phil and Ronnie. He was instructed to pay her $1,250 per month in the initial agreement. For the first payment, Spector merely wrote a check to Ronnie. For the second payment, a Brink's truck arrived at her attorney's office. Of the three Brink's employees, two were conventionally armed while the other brandished a shotgun. The three men turned over the money: $1,250...in nickels. Conversely, one of the book's most beautiful parts details Atlantic chairman Ahmet Ertegun and Spector going to a California club in Watts in 1967. There, Otis Redding and Esther Phillips sang duets of old songs, accompanied by Spector on piano, until 4am.
There are plenty of surprises in Mick Brown's "Tearing Down the Wall of Sound," who interviewed Spector in December 2002, just two months before the Clarkson shooting.
I would have thought that Spector's relationship with Ike Turner would have been strained from the start, since Ike was a participant in name only for the "River Deep--Mountain High" 1966 sessions that Spector did with Tina Turner (credited to Ike & Tina). But Phil and Ike remained good friends. I also had no idea that Spector was so beloved by his backing musicians, like guitarist extraordinaire Barney Kessel and monster drummer Hal Blaine--with notable exceptions (such as Sonny Bono), almost everyone who became known as the Wrecking Crew. To think that Spector had some of the greatest musicians in the world playing the same simple chord progressions, over and over (often three of them on the same instrument) to create the Wall of Sound...well, it may have sounded magical, but it was a dirge-like process. Somehow, the best records that resulted radiate with an intensity that is truly a labor of love.
Whether or not demons were haunting him, Phil Spector created love on record with a passionate, seismic power that still stands to this day. Then he threw everything away.