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by George de Stefano

14 Mar 2011


“Shake for Me” is a rocking blues that packed dance floors—on Chicago’s South Side and elsewhere—when Chess released it as a single in 1961. “The Red Rooster”, with its slower tempo and down home lyrics, takes the listener back to the origins of Howlin’ Wolf’s music, the Mississippi Delta. “I have a little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day”, Wolf announces. He repeats the line, and then informs us that the titular fowl “keeps everything in the barnyard upset in every way”.

“The Red Rooster”–also known as “Little Red Rooster”—has attained classic status in the blues repertoire. The song is credited to Willie Dixon, but the rooster—a symbol of male sexual potency—strutted his stuff in the blues long before Dixon and Wolf recorded it, in 1961. Charlie Patton, Howlin’ Wolf’s mentor and running buddy in the 1920s, released his “Banty Rooster Blues” in 1929. Memphis Minnie’s 1936 “If You See My Rooster” also seems a likely model for Dixon, her lyric “If you see my rooster, please run him on back home” nearly identical to Dixon’s “If you see my little red rooster, please drive him home”.

And why does the red rooster need to get back home? Well, “there ain’t no peace in the barnyard” since he’s been gone. Puzzling, no? How can this rooster, who’s too lazy to crow, keep the barnyard upset and be its peacekeeper, too? “Watch out strange kin people”, Wolf warns, “the little red rooster’s on the prowl”. Who are these strange kinfolk, and why should they be wary of this prowling yard bird? Good question. All I can say is that the elusive (and allusive) quality of the lyrics is a big part of the song’s fascination.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

11 Mar 2011


Mendelsohn: The Doors’ self-titled debut is one of those albums where I understand why it’s in the Top 25—they surfaced in the hey-day of rock, they had a different approach to the music and they had a charismatic singer whose legacy overshadowed the music—but I wouldn’t have been surprised/upset if it ranked in around the mid-50s or even out of the Top 100. I don’t want to use the word ‘overrated’ by itself so how about the compound adjective ‘slightly overrated’?

Klinger: Ah, Mendelsohn, ours is not to question the level of rated-ness. The Acclaimed Music site has mathematically determined the place of The Doors in the canon, and somehow the album has consistently maintained some degree of cachet. But I see what you’re saying as far as the Doors as a group are concerned. It seems that their stock has fluctuated wildly in the forty years since Jim Morrison lit out for rock & roll heaven. And that’s not altogether surprising to me.

Ever since I went through my brief but obligatory teenage-boy Doors phase, I’ve vacillated between thinking that the group was a solid L.A. rock combo and a pitiful laughingstock whose sound was one step above a lounge act. “The End” has, to my ears, sounded both chilling and absurd. And we’ve already established what we think about Jimbo’s skills as a poet.

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by Josh Antonuccio

10 Mar 2011


In his book Orthodoxy, author G.K. Chesterton explains the inevitable travails of “The Maniac”. He describes the problem of the madman that believes the whole world is involved in conspiracy against him, and that in order to live in that world, an individual has to shrink their perceptions down to an ever-tightening pattern of logical reasoning that eventually they cannot break out of. Thus we are left with a spiraling prison of logic, whereby we are left trapped, unable to escape.

On Talking Heads’ third album, Fear of Music, the band traces a similar journey as described by Chesterton.  Released in 1979 on the heels of its first two records and its first charting single, Fear of Music careens with conviction into a suffocating and paranoid masterpiece.  From the opening Hugo Ball-inspired chants of “I Zimbra” (featuring King Crimson’s resident guitar maestro Robert Fripp) to the closing anxiety-ridden sound-scapes of “Drugs”, the album plods into ominous and dark arenas similar to those once traveled by David Bowie on the album Low. The cover says it all: a bleak and black metallic floor laden only with quasi-industrial and pre-PC green lettering.

by AJ Ramirez

9 Mar 2011


Echoing last year’s call for discussion about great guitar riffs, this year music journalist Simon Reynolds has called for odes to the riff’s slightly-uncool sibling: the guitar solo. Naturally, you’re all welcome to join the festivities. Unlike the Great Internet Riff War of 2010, it’s a bit of a struggle at first to get people to expound upon how awesome guitar solos are. Consider that entire musical movements have arisen time and again—punk and post-punk, just to name two—that make a point of rejecting the soloing convention. While a lot can be said over the technique’s indulgent, sometimes stodgy nature, I honestly believe that a lot of the grumbling about solos is due to the fact that not everyone can pull them off well.

Really, think about it: a great riff can be just one catchy measure of music repeated for a full minute. A great solo is supposed to be an individual expression, and those by their nature have to be idiosyncratic and nuanced. They require a baseline amount of talent and/or imagination, and furthermore they are often improvised. Factoring all that in mind, even an oft-cited classic solo can have a bar or two that simply does not work for the listener. I for one can rattle off numerous riffs I consider classic, but my list of comparable solos would be much shorter.

Regardless, I’ve never been one to call for the head of the guitar solo on a platter. Having heard Pink Floyd a little too often on classic rock radio isn’t enough to make me want to deny an essential vocabulary element from genres such as blues, heavy metal, and even folk music. Additionally, solos are a handy compositional technique to liven up a song arrangement—the presence of that breakneck riff in Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” might satiate most hungers for six-string mania, but the whole affair would be a little less interesting without that “Fast” Eddie Clark speed freakout after Lemmy shouts out “And don’t forget the joker!”

by George de Stefano

7 Mar 2011


An acoustic guitar and a rocking chair, set against a green background. You could hardly ask for a more nondescript album cover. But that image has become iconic because of the extraordinary music inside the unremarkable packaging. In fact, the album has come to be known by its cover art. Chess Records titled the disk Howlin’ Wolf when the Chicago-based company released it in 1962. But everyone, or at least every serious blues aficionado, knows this collection of 12 tracks by Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett simply as “the rocking chair album” .

Rocking Chair—as I will call it from here on—comprises tracks recorded from 1957 to 1961, most of which were released as singles. But it has the stylistic unity and focus of a recording conceived as a whole. It is one of the greatest blues records ever made, as well as an ur-text for many rock and R&B artists. Here’s a partial list: the Doors, Cream, the Who, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, the Grateful Dead, the Pointer Sisters, Koko Taylor, the White Stripes, Lucinda Williams, and especially the Rolling Stones, who covered two of its tracks, “Little Red Rooster” and “Little Baby”.

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