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Monday, Apr 14, 2014
With the second track of The Beach Boys Today!, we get a solidly written song reminiscent of the group's earlier singles: sophisticated but digestible and fun.

If opening The Beach Boys Today! with a cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” was intended to show off Brian Wilson’s skills as a producer and arranger, then following it up with “Good to My Baby” was meant to remind us where his band came from. It’s not that “Good to My Baby” isn’t musically exciting or complex, but of all the tracks on Today!, it’s the most similar to the beach Boys’ early music. So, just like covering a popular song provides a reference point to see their creative arrangements, the familiar songwriting on “Good to My Baby” acts as a reference point to compare the more innovative songs on the album against


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Friday, Apr 11, 2014
Oh Lord, don't let them drop that atomic bomb on me. At least not until we've had a chance to talk about a 1962 masterpiece by composer Charles Mingus. Counterbalance delivers the jazz this week.

Klinger: Back when we first announced our shift away from the numerical constraints of the Great List, we both bemoaned the list’s overall rock-centric nature, which left little room for other genres, including country, folk, hip-hop, and (most notably for me) jazz. Well, buddy, here’s our chance. The album I’ve chosen to get a little more jazz into these proceedings — Charles Mingus’ 1960 Atlantic release Oh Yeah — isn’t considered especially canonical (it clocks in at No. 2653 on the Great List, so I would have been well into my 70s by the time we got to it). But I’m forcing you to listen to it because I think that it’s one of the albums I would hand off to a rock person who wants to get into jazz but isn’t sure quite how.


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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2014
Simultaneously invoking the age of the pharaohs and propagating hip-hop futurism, the Egyptian Lover was a stalwart of the West Coast pre-gangsta scene.

Way before gangsta rap became the dominant and domineering style in the region, California’s hip-hop flavor of choice was electro. In stark contrast to ‘90s gangsta rap’s recycled P-Funk grooves and obsession with street authenticity, the more style-conscious West Coast electro of the 1980s looked to European synth innovators like Kraftwerk and, with keyboards and drum machines in tow, melded post-disco innovations with rap bravado to create a slick and sleek brand of futurist dance music. Unfortunately, this pivotal era of West Coast hip-hop is often ignored, both by broader musical histories and even some of the artists themselves who have a certain image they’d like to maintain (if you really want to listen to some of Dr. Dre’s best work, I’d recommend seeking out the tracks he cut in the ‘80s with the decidedly un-gangsta World Class Wreckin’ Cru).


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Tuesday, Apr 8, 2014
Twenty years since the world learned of Kurt Cobain's death, what impact does he have on rock music today?

Twenty years ago today, the world learned of the death of Kurt Cobain. Postmortem examination has placed his final moments a few days prior, but it was on April 8th, 1994, that everyone fully grasped the extent of the Nirvana frontman’s inner struggles. Instantly, Cobain was anointed a musical martyr, a voice of a generation whose choice to take his own life meant that he exited this mortal coil in his creative prime, and therefore would be preserved as an idealized memory instead of sullying his reputation with erratic latter-day artistic detours or crass cash-in reunions. Even as the tragic news was first being digested, the sentiment that Cobain should be counted as one of the great icons of rock ‘n’ roll was in the air. Today it is accepted fact—he is one of those names and faces that a person charged with distilling the genre’s vast history into a ruthlessly abridged version would scan over and conclude, “This one, this one is worth remembering.”


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Monday, Apr 7, 2014
Diving into the first track on The Beach Boys Today!, we look at "Do You Wanna Dance", a re-interpretation of a 1958 Bobby Freeman song, and investigate the question of what exactly a Beach Boys song is.

This first track on The Beach Boys Today! is a cover of the 1958 Bobby Freeman song, “Do You Wanna Dance”. At first, this fact may seem ironic, as I stressed in my introduction that Today! raised Brian Wilson’s status as a “songwriter who deserved respect and admiration for his musical innovations”. But by opening the album with a cover, we are allowed to see more intimately what Wilson can really do with a song. Here, we have a reference point with the original, which can then be compared to the Beach Boys’ version, revealing Wilson’s’s skill as an arranger and interpreter more clearly.


Outside of the slap-back delay on the drums and an unusual false ending, there’s nothing particularly notable about the original 1958 recording (though it does feature a young Jerry Garcia on guitar, for whatever that’s worth). It’s a piano-driven rock track that features a standard I-IV-V chord progression, simple lyrics, and a loosely sung melody. The Beach Boys version, in contrast, is lushly orchestrated, tightly structured, and includes an instrumental bridge in a different key. Essentially, it sounds very little like the original version, and musicologist Philip Lambert notes that this track “highlights the difference between ‘a song covered by the Beach Boys’ and an existing song transformed into ‘a Beach Boys song’.”


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