Saturday, May 24, 2008

Artist Profile: Otis Redding

Otis Redding is the greatest singer of all time. Period.

We will never know what he was truly capable of doing because on December 10, 1967 he was killed in a tragic plane crash. But he was moving into some great musical territory. Earlier that year Redding had participated in the Monterey Pop Festival, one of the greatest collections of musicians ever. His set was particularly spectacular and was only matched by legendary (and I mean legendary) performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who (You can read more and possibly get an audio sample at one of my favorite blogs, Funky 16 Corners.)

Also, just days before his death, Redding had recorded what would become his biggest hit, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." That song gives only a hint of what the man could have accomplished if given the time.

And on a lighter about the man did "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" better than the Rolling Stones! In fact, Keith Richards said Redding's version is the best.

But my favorite song of his, I believe it to be one of the five greatest songs ever recorded, is "I've Been Loving You (Too Long)." I had never heard it until about five years ago (the oldies radio stations around here rarely play more than the same playlists over and over). The first time I heard this song I was writing a paper my second semester in college in what is now stupidly referred to as the "Pete's Place" computer lab. It came on over some internet radio station. Here, put on the record as I write about my love for it!

The first thing you hear is Otis singing the first couple of words and then the piano comes in along with the bass (which for the majority of the song only plays on the first beat of a measure) and drums. The piano moves the most during most of the song, playing the same pattern on the different scales. But what really caught my ear was the guitar. The sound of that guitar is beautiful and it plays so few times I was almost dying to hear more.

This is just the beginning of the song and Otis is almost whispering and his voice is the definition of soul. He sounds so sad singing the words in the title, as if he shouldn't feel that way. But then the music starts building as the horns come in and he's now shouting because he can't take holding in the way he feels.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, he's back to whispering. At one point the horns come in and it sounds as if the song is about to pick up, but he doesn't start singing and everything calms back down again. It keeps on doing this, building momentum, making you want the song to resolve itself because he sounds so hurt.

Finally, the horns start lightly playing long notes that crescendo as he's singing and the song builds up as Otis starts becoming more and more bold to the point of shouting, "I love you, I love you, I love you with all my heart and I can't stop now." I suppose a great singer can make the simplest lyrics have more meaning than any amount of beautiful writing can express. It doesn't get any better than as when Redding is crying out "Please, please, please!" He doesn't need any more words. It's incredible. As the song fades out he's still crying out and it is almost as if the actual recording runs out of energy or power or whatever before Otis does, as if he'll be crying out all night. That's hard to get across in just under three minutes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Review: The Black Hollies "Casting Shadows"

This is a review I wrote for KRUX 91.5 FM a few months back when I worked at the station. I'm going to give myself permission to use it. It may not be the best written review, but I am learning. Give me a break!

The album cover says it all. The Black Hollies have an even more dream-like psychedelic sound on their second album, the follow up to 2006’s “Crimson Reflections.” Drenched in reverberating vocals, shimmering guitar and trippy lyrics, the Black Hollies seem out of place with today’s music, but in a good way.

Starting off "Casting Shadows," “Whispers Beneath the Willows” sounds like something off a Pretty Things record. The fuzz guitars and general moody nature of the opening track gives way to the groovy “Paisley Pattern Ground.” One can see the go-go dancers doing their thing. And seeing the Black Hollies play it at SXSW, I can vouch for the dancability of the song (seeing girls do go-go dancer moves is never a bad thing). While these two tracks make up the strongest part of the record, the rest are not too shabby either. "The Autumn Chateau," with its waltz feel and sitar, is another highlight and a change of pace which helps move the record along. "Hamilton Park Ballerina" and "Bruised Tangerines" bring 60's psychedelia into the 21st century. Meanwhile, “That Little Girl” is the prototypical 60’s song about girls. Its fun and poppy with a nice guitar solo and minimal lyrics. While the song is not the most innovative or complex, it is a good rave up which leads to another similar rave up, sing along dance song, “If You Won’t Let Go.”Rounding out the Trip through the mind is “Patient Sparrow” whose melody sounds identical to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” by The Yardbirds. And like the Yardbirds’ song, the Black Hollies’ has the child-like nursery rhyme characteristics of the counting game the Yardbirds’ took their lyrics came from. If you are a fan of garage rock or psychedelic music, you will like this record. While it certainly hearkens back to the sixties, it is interesting enough to not sound pathetically nostalgic.

Overall, the record is very good. Seemingly experts on all the best aspects of psychedelic-pop music, they meld everything together into a record that would make The Blues Magoos or The Beatles proud. The harmonies force you to sing along, not that you will mind. The rhythms will entice you to dance. And the songs all blend into each other so you will not have a moment without music. How cool is that? In a few years, when Rhino Records gets around to doing a Nuggets box set from this generation in psychedelic/garage music, you can be sure to find these guys on it. If you get the chance to see the Black Hollies live, I would encourage you to go, go, go-go dance. They were my favorite act at SXSW this year, enough so that I made it a point to see them twice.

Other Cool Stuff to Check Out:

S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things (1969): One of the first concept albums, really freaky sounds and just a unique, weird trip. A bizarro Sgt. Pepper’s.

Clairvoyance by Screaming Trees (1986): Think the Doors at their strangest doing punk rock.

Psychedelic Sunrise by The Chesterfield Kings (2007): The Chesterfield Kings, today, make the psychedelic music the Rolling Stones should have made in the 60's.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Little Steven and Garage Rock

Towards the end of high school I decided I wanted to go into television and do sports. Then, Little Steven's Underground Garage happened! I would listen to his show every Sunday morning and then again during the week at the Underground Garage website. I fell in love with this "rock 'n' roll" thing. So I decided to concentrate on radio.

On the site Little Steven has a list of Essential Garage MP3's. I have all of them. You should too. Most of these can be found on a Nuggets box set.

Little Steven's List
1) I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) by The Electric Prunes

I'd say this is one of the trippy-est songs ever. With the backward guitars, lyrics about imagining a girl in the room and the desperation in the singing, the Electric Prunes really hit it out of the ballpark with this one. In fact, the whole record, also called I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) is really good, especially "Are You Loving Me More (But Enjoying It Less)." Maybe I just am a sucker for parenthetical statements in song titles.

2) Psychotic Reaction by Count Five

Straight from San Jose, the Count Five actually had a hit with this testimony to teenage angst. Everything about the song is perfect, but what I really enjoy is the way the simple beginning riff and rhythm guitar which drives most of the song turns into a rockin' freakout. It's schizophrenic. It's angry. It's just perfect.

3) Journey to the Center of the Mind by The Amboy Dukes

I'm not a big Ted Nugent fan. Like, at all. But the Amboy Dukes I can get with! And this great drug song (not that I advocate drug use, music is enough for me, frankly) was done without him knowing it was about drugs? "Beyond the seas of thought / Beyond the realm of what / Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not" Okay. Anyway, the massive amount of sound on this record is incredible. It is so loud and is meant to be played that way. Now I know why Nugent is losing his hearing.

4) One Track Mind by The Knickerbockers

Famous for being recording an early Beatles sound-alike (albeit a very raucous one), "Lies," and having a hit with it, the Knickerbockers follow-up did not do as well. It still is great, though, probably better than "Lies." If anything, it is slightly more original. And true to rock 'n' roll, it's about girls. Is there anything better to write about? Probably not. Plus there is a great Paul McCartney-esqe scream at the end.

5) We Ain't Got Nothin' Yet by The Blues Magoos

Whoa oh oh oh. Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh. Driven by a cool organ sound and great "oh oh's," the pure dancability of this psychedelic garage track can not be denied. And the rest of the record is just as good. If you buy the c.d., it comes with "Psychedelic Lollipop" and "Electric Comic Book" on the same disc. The first record has more hits, but the second is more witty. Where Side A would have ended (on the original record), they make it sound like they are going to intermission as if it were a live show. Then they freak out and you flip the record. And at the end there is a classic Porky Pig, "That's All Folks!" to end. It's just funny.

6) Gloria by The Shadows of Knight

This cover of the classic Them song is, in itself, a classic. But, here, let me profess my love for the original over any cover (except maybe Patti Smith's). Van Morrison has one of the greatest voices in rock history. I love hearing his scratchy vocals on this song. I often try to imitate it too, in my car while on the highway with the c.d. player turned up way too loud. And if I had to pick a Shadows of Knight song to be on this list, it would be "I'm Gonna Make You Mine." I personally think that song is better than their cover of "Gloria." It's punk. Like, if it was recorded in 1977 it would have fit right in.

7) Just Like Me by Paul Revere & The Raiders

Another song about girls? Yes! And the singing is great, there are hand claps and a great garage guitar solo. Mark Lindsay's lead vocals go from sounding like he's trying to be calm (but still sounding urgent) to exploding in frustration to trying to calm back down again to finally exploding all over again. And the band follows suit.

8) Open My Eyes by The Nazz

Todd Rundgren does super psychedelic garage! Although it is essentially a regular garage song with psychedelic coloring, there are some cool differences. For instance, what sound like bongos help bring a slight lounge-y sound to the breakdown in this exercise in freaking out. Something else interesting on the first Nazz record, Nazz, the original recording of what would later be a Rundgren solo hit (and the only one of his solo songs I know, though I really like it), "Hello, It's Me."

9) You're Gonna Miss Me by The Thirteenth Floor Elevators

Why is it that commercials today have better music than mainstream radio stations (and MTV)? I would rather watch a commercial than listen to the radio. That's bad. But the music is good. And this was on a Dell commercial a couple of years ago. Let's hear it for the electric jug! That's right Electric JUG! If that's not enough incentive to go out and buy everything they ever recorded, I don't know what is. Oh, good ol' sixties!

10) Midnight to Six Man by The Pretty Things

"I've never seen / The people I know / In the bright lights of day / So how can I say / That you're any friend of mine" The Pretty Things are one of my favorite bands. This song is as rebellious as you can get. Who needs to be awake during the day? That's for squares! By the way, if you want to hear a really, really cool song from this period in the career of the Pretty Things, check out "L.S.D."

11) Night Time by The Strangeloves

If you want to hear a simple drum beat that is essential to a song, this is the song. The whole song is about rhythm from the drums to the piano to the guitars. "Stick with me baby, I'll show you how to fly"

12) Pushin' Too Hard by The Seeds

Who hasn't felt like singing this in their teenage years? (Or any other time for that matter, sifting eyes around...) Angsty, angry, addictive.

13) Don't Look Back by Barry & The Remains

The whole song is great, first of all, but the lyrics are different than most other garage songs and, in my opinion, some of the best. "There's one thing I wanna say. You know people have some strange ideas about how life should be lived and things should be done. But I'm here to say you gotta do just what you want...and when this world start talk, talk, talkin' remember just one thing: Truth is the light / The light is the way / The less folk know / The more they've got to say"

14) Making Time by The Creation

Another song that could have fit in alongside 70's punk bands (without the psychedelic solo). Actually, a lot of freakbeat bands can. Anyway, this is only my second favorite song of theirs. "How Does It Feel to Feel" is one of the best psychedelic songs of all time! Seriously. And both these songs are available on the same record, "Our Music Is Red - With Purple Flashes". So go buy it.

15) I Can't Control Myself by The Troggs

Yep. They didn't just do "Wild Thing." While that's a classic song on oldies radio, "I Can't Control Myself" is even better...if only for the "Oh NO!" that starts off the song.

16) Louie Louie by The Kingsmen

What can I write about "Louie Louie" that hasn't been written before. I mean, books have been written about this one song. It's the quintessential garage song. And it was investigated for a long time by the feds for being "obscene." That has to add some cool points to an already cool song.

17) My White Bicycle by Tomorrow

A freakbeat band that is not remembered much today, Tomorrow recorded some of the best psychedelic music of all time. This song in particular features an amazing amount of recording effects, especially backward guitars. The whispering of "My White Bicycle" during the song freaks me out too.

18) Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces

Garage with an acoustic guitar? If your the Small Faces you can pull it off. "Itchycoo Park" is a strange mix of folk, psychedelic, beat and rhythm and blues music. And the Small Faces happen to be one of the coolest groups to ever record anything.

19) Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock

Strawberry Alarm Clock. Greatest Name Ever. The piercing organ takes you away to another planet. And that's just in the first measure of the song! The whole thing sound like it was recorded by people not of this planet. It could be the soundtrack to the attack from Mars. And some of my favorite freaky lyrics. Add in the "Sha la la's" to the end and you this song won my heart the first time I heard it.

20) Sweet Jane by The Velvet Underground

Another of the coolest band to ever record anything. But if I were to pick one of their songs to be on this list, it would by "Rock and Roll." I love both, but "Rock and Roll" was the first Velvet Underground song that I remember and the idea of changing somebody's life with rock 'n' roll is something I keep hoping can still happen.

21) Shakin' Street by The MC5

The MC5 were just plain weird. They were a real heavy band, but had a "spiritual advisor." They played angry proto-punk, but had an intellectual side. "Shakin' Street" is a fun song that is one of their non-political tunes. And they prove they don't have to be trying to change the world with every song. Rock 'n' roll is a good distraction from how much the world sucks. Who needs a heart attack in their 20's anyway?

22) Search and Destroy by The Stooges

How many people got turned onto this song by Guitar Hero? (Otherwise known as The Greatest Game Ever Created) I'm proud to say I already listened to it about a year before the game, but it doesn't matter either way. The Stooges are crazy and I love them! Horribly recorded but with an immense amount of (dare I say it) "Raw Power" that makes up for it. And there is a political message in it that I agree with too!

Stuff I Would Add, If I Could Be So Bold
1) Twist and Shout by The Beatles

Whenever someone tells me the Beatles are weak because they only did stuff like "Yesterday," I point to this song. John Lennon's voice was so tired from singing all day that he simply shouts the whole song. It comes out great! There is a lot of power in his voice that matches up to other singers who get more credit for being crazy rock 'n' roll singers.

2) Ready Teddy by Buddy Holly

Speaking of powerful voices, in this song Buddy Holly sounds like a madman. It is now my favorite Buddy Holly song. Those are some punk vocals on a 50's rock 'n' roll song.

3) I Want to Be Your Driver by Chuck Berry

Not only does Chuck Berry scream in this song like he usually didn't on his songs, but the lyrics are great. "I want to be your driver / I would love to ride you around" Witty, racy and the spirit of rock 'n' roll.

Threading through a web of gas the rain precedes the storm / Coughing on my way to work her smile keeps me warm...

Warning: You may want to skip all this boring writing and just get to the music at the bottom of this post.

I found out today I was no longer going to be able to work at the college radio station that has been my life for the past four years. For most of college I've gotten out of bed simply with the idea that I was doing so in order to be able to broadcast my music. I eventually got a job there, even becoming general manager. Unfortunatly that was all taken away from me, not that I did such a great job that I didn't deserve it, but I still think that somebody who loves the station should be running it (and that doesn't just include me, I would rather have any of the other people who applied running it too). Apparently, the board who hires for the position thinks differently and they picked some girl who didn't even know where we were located and listens to Ja Rule...Ja freakin' Rule!

So, whatever, maybe I could become News Director (which I think I would be really good at and would help my reel out, you know, so I can get a real job) or Production Manager (which I did before and was actually really good least I though so). But earlier today I found out I didn't get either job. I don't know who did or who would be more qualified than me, but I was really down all day because of it. This has been the only thing I've done in college. It's been my life. And now, no more.

I don't want to leave college feeling so bad, like a failure or something. I decided to start this blog. People here in the Las Cruces/El Paso area listen to some terrible music. I can't stand it! And I hope to turn some people on to better stuff here. Hopefully.

I'll be doing mostly music stuff, but, who knows? Maybe I'll branch out a little. Either way, it's going to be mostly music. Reviews and whatnot. There's a lot of great stuff out there it's overwhelming! But I'll try to bring it to you.

Alright, so here's some of the stuff I've really gotten into over the past two years. Expect more stuff like this in the future...and way more!

P.S. The name of this blog, "Velvet Night Sky," is from the song "She Says Good Morning" by The Pretty Things from the record "S.F. Sorrow." The line goes "She's there waiting at the gate as the velvet night sky is torn." The song is on the following playlist:

Friday, May 16, 2008

Starting Out

I'm just trying this out right now, but I'll be back later to work more extensively on the layout. I really want to change it. However, I just need to learn more about how that. This will be a music blog when I'm done with it.