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Wednesday, Oct 20, 2010
This riveting tune by the New Wave icons remains a potent reminder of the power of a well-written three-minute pop single.

Let me tell you, Adam Ant is awesome. Boasting a natural charisma, cool pirate-themed outfits, and ridiculously-chiseled facial features, at the height of his powers in the early 1980s Ant was a pop star to behold. Certainly his heroic image was striking and well-timed following punk rock’s ascent and sputtering-out, but even Ant’s own force of personality would have been meaningless if he didn’t have songs like the 1981 single “Stand and Deliver” to back up his self-assured posturing.


Adam and the Ants’ string of early ‘80s hits is one of the most unconventional runs of chart busters from any artist. Tunes like “Kings of the Wild Frontier”, “Antmusic”, and especially “Prince Charming” were bizarre tribal calls that mixed world music exotica with messianic self-belief. Of those hits, the group’s first UK chart topper “Stand and Deliver” has one of the more conventional song structures, sticking the tried-and-true verse/chorus/bridge pop outline. The wedding of that structure to the Ants’ trademark sound (defined by clacking Burundi polyrhythms and Marco Pirroni’s twangy guitar lines) is what makes “Stand and Deliver” the group’s most indelible song for me. The Ants always threatened to overtake the pop world, and here they turn out the ultimate pop single of the time.


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Friday, Oct 15, 2010
Stephen Rowland kicks off a series of retrospectives to showcase Beach Boys and Beach Boys-related material that is not very popular, rare, or has been forgotten completely.

Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue seemed the best place to start because it is probably the best album that will appear in this series. That, and it haunts me to my core. It is not easy for me to listen to this record.


The strangest thing is, after shedding pretty much all of the classic Beach Boys sound, after coming into his own and releasing a near-masterpiece, Dennis hated this record (Brian Wilson loved it, by the way). It took him nearly seven years to complete, so my question is: why spend almost a decade creating something you would come to loathe? That’s what marriage is for.  And another question, Dennis (R.I.P.): what exactly is wrong with it?


After the release of Pacific Ocean Blue in 1977, Wilson was extremely excited about his next record, entitled Bamboo or Bambu (no mooks like me can seem to agree). But then he died, and it was never released. Bootlegs exist, but again, nobody can seem to agree on the proper track order, which tracks would’ve been on the actual album (there are about 20 or more floating around)—maybe one day I’ll get it together and try to give my quintet an impression of what could’ve been. My confusion still lingers, however, because he barely wrote any of the songs on Bamboo/u and a lot of them ended up on the Beach Boys’ much-maligned L.A. (Light Album). More to come on that one.


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Wednesday, Oct 6, 2010
“Like a Rolling Stone” perfectly embodies the heads-is-tails uncertainty of modern life, now and in long-ago 1965. More than just lyrically articulating the rock and roll mindset of liberation and risk, it contains the multitudes, distilling the collective experience of millions of lives caught, then and now, in the crossfire hurricane of modern life.

First in 2004 and again earlier this year, Rolling Stone placed Bob Dylan’s classic “Like a Rolling Stone” at the top of its highly subjective listing of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Given the name of the magazine, it’s easy to find an association there that rewards skeptics and cynics suspicious of such deification. But in the years since its releas —as a single in July 1965, and as part of the game-changing album Highway 61 Revisited later that August—the song’s more than held its own as an expression of rock’s foundational ethos of freedom amid chaos, a crystalline document of the times. Whatever times you happen to choose.


Times like these. Some will say trying to find a connection between an apparently angry, vituperative rock song of 45 years ago and the year 2010 is a stretch. But listening to the song with ears attuned to the present day, the perilous state of the American economy, and the general sense of misfortune and dread that blankets this country, “Like a Rolling Stone” is as vital and insistent today as it was in the summer of 1965.


Tagged as: bob dylan
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Thursday, Sep 23, 2010
The album is a phenomenal format, don’t get me wrong, but there was something truly magical about Motown, the Brill Building, and the British Invasion simultaneously giving you the best two minutes and 30 seconds they had.

In the glory age of rock music (mid 1960s-early 1970s), the single was conceptualized as its own entity, separate from long-playing records. Particularly in Britain (where arguably the best music was being made), the album was a unified unit, not to be disjointed by an out-of-place single. Bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones crafted their most commercially-appealing work for the singles market and AM radio airplay, leaving their more “artistic” exploration to the long-playing format. Led Zeppelin honored this distinction to such an extent that the group did not officially release singles from its monolithic albums (some of the band’s songs were released as singles without its consent). American labels, constantly thinking about ensuring profits, often insisted on including singles on albums or reconfigured the albums themselves (see the American versions of the early Stones and Beatles LPs). Along with the rock titans from across the Atlantic, American artists like the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, and the Byrds crafted radio ready 7” sides between LPs as well.


This notion of between-album major works must have both excited and jaded listeners. This business model ensured constant saturation from your favorite bands. Imagine obtaining Rubber Soul in December 1965 and hearing the “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” single only six months later—which itself was merely a stopgap until Revolver’s August 1966 release. This kind of output is remarkable considering major contemporary artists routinely take a half-decade to release follow ups. The great rock bands of the ‘60s were so prolific that many of their albums stand up as the greatest of the genre while lacking their most popular concurrent works. Imagine “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” replacing “Within You, Without You” and “Good Morning, Good Morning” on the Beatles’ 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. How nicely would Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited look with “Positively 4th Street” replacing “From a Buick 6”?


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Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010
The awake, aware folks who make and receive these offerings celebrate an ever-evolving music that resists boundaries, the sort capable of communication that transcends language and explanation.

The year 1959 was a watershed for jazz music (arguably the greatest single year for jazz in all history—which is saying a lot). Here’s a taste: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and Charles Mingus’ Ah Um. That is like the holy trinity of jazz music, all from the same year. But in the not-so-silent shadows a young, relatively unknown alto saxophonist was poised to cause a stir that still reverberates today: Ornette Coleman, who created the provocatively titled The Shape of Jazz to Come.


Kind of Blue is correctly celebrated for establishing modal music and as a genuine evolution from bop and post-bop; Giant Steps is the apotheosis of the “sheets of sound” that John Coltrane had been practicing and perfecting for a decade; Ah Um is an encyclopedic history of jazz music, covering everyone and everything from Jelly Roll Morton to Duke Ellington. Each of those albums were immediately embraced, and remain recognized as genuine milestones today. But The Shape of Jazz to Come was incendiary and complicated; it inspired as much resistance as it did inspiration. Some folks (Mingus included) bristled that it was all so much sound and fury, signifying…little. But what Coleman (along with trumpet player Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins—representing as solid a quartet as any that have made music, ever) achieved was, arguably, the most significant advancement since Charlie Parker hit the scene.


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