Friday Playlist – Good and Bad Super Bowl Half-Time Shows

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Photo from the LA Times

This weekend brings us the Super Bowl, which is ostensably an important championship football game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. But more and more each year, people make the day an event, eat great food (perhaps the Asparagus Feta Pizza or Veggie Fries that Megan shared this week), tune in to see the crazy-expensive commercials, and watch the half-time show.

The concept of the huge half-time show is relatively modern – from 1967 – 1989 they stuck to the traditional marching band show and had all the retired players in the booth pontificating about what had happened on the field. But then suddenly they seemed to realize that rather than lose viewers like they traditionally did (apparently 22 million left to watch Living Colour on FOX in 1992) they could actually GAIN viewers … and the huge spectacle was born.

Readers will know that my music tastes don’t exactly run to the popular side (or even music with words for that matter). But I am a lifelong student and lover of music, so we watch the Grammies, Super Bowl half-time shows and so on. But because I am a lover of MUSIC, I find lip-syncing absolutely unforgiveable.

This year we get Bruno Mars, who we actually saw live at the New York State Fair, so I know that he can put on a great show – he is a real singer and performer in what I would call the ‘James Brown tradition’.

One comment – I chose the image of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake because it changed Super Bowl half-time history. Things were getting better year after year, they were starting to take chances … then one nip-slip and we end up with 6 years of old-fogey rock including snooze-worthy bits by Stones, Bruce, Petty and The Who. That 2004 show itself is largely forgotten – and was pretty mediocre by itself – but it left an indelible shadow over the half-time show.

Let’s take a look bad at the last 20 years of shows, taking 4 of the worst and 4 of the best as examples.

The Bad:

1. The Who – it is worth taking a moment to reflect that these guys were the great stars of Woodstock alongside Jimi Hendrix, and in 1970 produced perhaps the greatest live rock album with ‘Live at Leeds’, and are generally seen as one of the greatest live bands in the history of rock music.

You really need to let that wash over you … and in that light this performance becomes not just a mediocre but safe show by aging rockers (like the Stones or Tom Petty), but an appaling, atrocious and embarassing spectacle that is for me the absolute nadir of what rock music has become.

2. Madonna / MIA / LMFAO – Look, I love Madonna, and I know many people love this show. But beyond having someone in their 50s looking and moving like that, it is pretty clear she was largely lip-syncing her performance. Oh, and the moment she started sharing the stage with everyone else things tool a clif-dive. Vogue grabbed me, the rest was awful.

3. Black Eyed Peas (w/Slash and Usher) – I have little use for the Black Eyed Peas as a general rule, think Slash is a great but highly over-rated guitarist who has spent more time collecting paychecks for showing up with his iconic look than actually creating art with his prodigous talents. This show was cringe-worthy from beginning to end.

4. Aerosmith, NSync, Britney Spears, etc – deconstructed this isn’t really terrible, it just makes no sense, is generic and bland and a bit creepy at times. Aerosmith is reigned in, and everyone else is lip-syncing through their dance steps. Add Ben STiller, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler and you have a real hot mess of trying too hard.

The Good:
1. U2 – in the wake of 9/11, U2 took the stage and reminded us what it was like to have a stunning and moving performance by people who could sing and play and electrify an audience. Add to that the tributes to the victims of the attacks, delivered by a group from Ireland, a country torn by war and terrorism most of my life, and you have an incredible event.

2. Prince – too often Prince stood in the shadow of Michael Jackson, and too often the Super Bowl has featured over-choreographed bombastic dance & pyrotechnic shows. On this night in the rain, Prince came out and did what he does best – siing, play his guitar, and just put on an amazing spectacle. Of course, since he is a litigous luddite the show is gone from pretty much everywhere … but I did find this video on Veoh (which wouldn’t embed properly, so you have to follow the link … ).

3. Michael Jackson – the mother-effing king of pop. This was the first time we got a major spectacle, and the NFL really made a statement. Michael Jackson, popular songs, great production, visual spectacle worth watching … score on all fronts. You could tell he was singing at times … and not singing at others. But it was such classic MJ even I can forgive it.

4. Shania Twain, Sting, Gwen Stefani – I am not a huge fan of Shania Twain, but she came out that day and showed her talents extended beyond being the pretty face of modern country music with a stirring performance. Then we get Gwen Stefani doing (proper) push-ups and reminding us what someone who tries to sing while jumping and dancing and running around a stage SHOULD sound like (take note Madonna and Beyonce, etc). Finally a duet with Sting. Great organic, genuine moments that all worked.

The Rest:

The reality is most everything else I have seen during Super Bowls is mediocre from my standpoint. It is often like they are trying to be like the Grammy Awards, constantly ‘making history’ (note: when you script a moment to ‘make history’, it seldom does).

I expect that this weekend we will see some decent football, some amusing commercials, and a show that will be enjoyable and entertaining. And that is pretty much it.

What is your favorite half-time show memory?

Friday Playlist – My Favorite Guitarists

Huge Pile of Guitars

Since I did my favorite bass players, I thought it on this Friday Playlist I would look at the guitar. Once more this will be an unordered list of ‘quick hits’ – just a quick statement and a video of something I love from them.

So … let’s get going with a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of my favorite guitarists!

Mary Halvorson – I just posted about her new album, and like it or not (mostly not) my whole family knows her music. She plays with an incredible intensity, weaving broad angular melodies and harmonic structures that aer never stable or predictable, but always exciting. As I mentioned, I love her in a trio setting, so here she is with Jon Hebert and Ches Smith from last year.

Al Di Meola – No one defines the over-the-top technical prowess of 1970s fusion quite like Al Di Meola. His incredible guitar skills are legendary, but as you listen to this you will hear the subtlety and nuance he communicated that made him unique. Transitioning from ‘guitar hero’ in the 90s proved more of a challenge for him, and only in the last decade has he found his mojo again.

Alan Holdsworth – When you listen to Alan Holdsworth, you hear an amazing style and fluidity that was incredibly influential to guitarists from Alex Lifeson or Rush to Eddie Van Halen and beyond. I first heard him with Bill Bruford’s group, and his solo work in the 80s and beyond is equally stellar. You might not have heard of him, but you can be assured your favorite guitarist has.

Derek Bailey – Perhaps the most controversial ‘major’ guitarist in history, Bailey almost totally eschews the traditional concepts of rhythm, harmony and melody … yet comes up with some incredibly infectious and enjoyable. Well, for me. Most people absolutely can’t stand him.

Jim Hall – Jim Hall is one of those guys that everyone knows but no one sits in awe until they really listen. Yet he was one of the greatest guitarists to come out of the 1950s and amongst the best jazz guitarists ever. Here is a live TV recording of Jim Hall with the Sonny Rollins quartet playing the classic song ‘The Bridge’.

Pat Metheny – Metheny is one of the most lyrical guitarists, and early on some purists used that to label him as a ‘smooth jazz’ player, but we have seen through the years that is not remotely true. As a player, composer and bandleader (and sideman) he has made some of the biggest comtributions to the genre in the last half century.

Jimi Hendrix – Hendrix is an obvious choice for any of these lists, but a correct one. He possessed incredible talent, but also a vision for music that was as transformative as the pop-rock of the Beatles and the blues-rock of The WHo and the Rolling Stones. And his guitar playing brought together blues, rock, and jazz in a way that had never been heard. His scope of influence extended well outside of the rock world.

Emily Remler – One of my favorite all-time guitarists, Remler had a taste for cocaine that landed her dead from a heart attack at 32. She was ground-breaking as a female guitarist, but that means nothing to her music, which did a great job of bridging classic guitarists like Jim Hall and modernists such as Pat Metheny. Listen to her playing in the video and you hear a style that has classic ‘American Songbook’ appeal, a latin rhythm, and also some more smooth jazz and fusion styles, with a complex solo that extends and branches the harmony.

Frank Zappa – Although most known as a composer, singer and all-around weirdo, Zappa was an incredible guitarist. His live shows were full of guitar pyrotechnics and extended unison runs, and later he brought on some of the great young guitarists to fill in added solos, as in this live duet with the amazing Steve Vai. What I always loved about Zappa was not just his prowess but his harmodic inventiveness – he played things in a completely different way from any other rock guitarist.

John McLaughlin – Yet another guitarist I have seen multiple times (like Metheny, Di Meola, Beck and Holdsworth from this list), he made a name for himself with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, but it is through his Mahavishnu Orchestra of the 70s and 80s he made his mark on jazz history. Here is the band I saw twice in the mid-80s, with bassist Jonas Hellborg who featured on my top bassists list.

Steve Vai – Am I featuring Steve Vai mainly just to use this scene from Crossroads? Maybe, but the reality is that Vai took what Eddie Van Halen had innovated from Holdsworth and Beck and Page, and turned it up to 11, and in the process re-spawned a new set of guitarists truly interested in craft as well as antics, including Joe Satriani. Reason why he should NOT be on this list? There just isn’t much substance there, so once you get past the amazing technique, you are done.

Jeff Beck – In my opinion Jeff Beck was the greatest rock guitarist to emerge out of the British invasion … and inarguably the one with the longest history of reinventing himself. From blues to rock to psychedelia to early heavy metal to funk to jazz to fusion to pop to techno to … well, we will know in 2014 what he is up to next!

Joe Pass – Imagine someone naming their own album ‘Virtuoso’. Now imagine everyone nodding their head about it. Joe Pass was making some of the most exciting music available just as The WHo and Hendrix were playing deafening loud ‘walls of sound’. This sooo performance from 1992 is a reminder of just how broad his palette was.

Eddie Van Halen – Ever heard of Rick Emmett of Triumph? Well, Eddie Van Halen certainly did – while Emmett didn’t invent hammer-ons, pull-offs, pitch bends, or any of his other techniques either … he was majorly influential on the young EVH. Here is a link to a video from well before Van Halen arrived. But when the first Van Halen album landed I was floored because he brought all of these things together with an ease and fluidity that we hadn’t heard before

Wes Montgomery – Wes was a gifted improviser with perfect tone and a great ability to work in any situation. Sadly his career was mis-managed and after the success of pop-centric ‘A Day in the Life’ his last two years were mostly filled with fluff until his early death of a heart attack at 45.

Well, this was less of a ‘quick hit’ than planned … but I love looking through these things and hope you enjoyed the cool guitarists I featured! Do you have a favorite? Someone new for me to check out? Let me know!

Friday Playlist: The Best Jazz Music and More of 2013

Mary Halvorson Septet

Well, 2013 is over, and it was again an amazing year in music – there was cool new pop by all kinds of artists, a rap album from Kanye West I actually liked, Daft Punk returned and more. But my area of interest is jazz … and there was TONS of great jazz! So I wanted to detail some of the best stuff I heard all year.

I have never been great at just doing a Top 10 list, so I didn’t! I worked on a list, eliminated and added things, and ended up with 15 recordings … well, 15 JAZZ albums, plus one each for Clasical, Rock, Rap and R&B. So let’s get right to it!

My Favorite Jazz of 2013

Wayne Shorter - Without a Net

Wayne Shorter – Without a Net

The amazing Wayne Shorter made his name as a Blue Note recording artist even before joining Miles Davis in 1964, where he became a key composer and celebrated improviser. He formed Weather Report and has continued to be active ever since.

This past year Shorter did an amazing thing – at 80 years old he released an album that ranks with some of the best work of his career, taken from live performances. This is not some ‘oldies revival tour’ – this is hardcore mainstream jazz played at a very high level!

Here is a video of him with the quartet live at Marciac in 2013:

Kenny Garrett - Pushing the World Away

Kenny Garrett – Pushing the World Away

Speaking of Miles Davis, Kenny Garrett was the final saxophone player for Davis and the best since Dave Liebman in the early 70s. Garrett is an incredible player, composer and bandleader. I have really enjoyed his last few releases, but this newest one is his best stuff to date.

Here is a live recording of his classic song ‘Happy People’

Dave Douglas - Time Travel

Dave Douglas – Time Travel

Dave Douglas is one of the most vibrant and exciting trumpet players and composers working, and will tackle just about anything – so why is his most straight-ahead effort the first one that hits my ‘best music’ list? Because it is excellent. The band has evolved and is more in touch than on last year’s ‘Be Still’, which elevates the proceedings.

Here is a video of an alternate take to the title track ‘Time Travel’

Gary Burton - Guided Tour

New Gary Burton Quartet – Guided Tour

I will admit that one of my favorite things about the recent Gary Burton Quartet is guitarist Julian Lage. But then again, Pat Metheny was a featured player with Burton back in the 70s. This new group has matured since their first album, and just keeps getting better. This is mainstream jazz, I can’t wait for where they take us next.

Here is the band playing live in 2013:

Pat Metheny - Tap

Pat Metheny – Tap: John Zorn’s Book of Angels Vol 20

From my review:

‘Tap’ is an amazingly adventurous work. It reminds me of the stellar classic Ornette Coleman collaboration ‘Song X’, in that both artists are fully engaged, and the results show clear impact from both but also a transcendant quality that was only possible by having both acting together seeking something more from the music than either alone could create.

Since he hasn’t performed Tap live, here is the album version of Tharsis.

Matthew Shipp - Piano Sutras

Matthew Shipp – Piano Sutras

I have loved Matthew Shipp for years now, and he has never failed to entertain and challenge listeners. When rumors had him retiring, this release was extra-sweet: it has classic melodies throughout but never follows a classic A-B-A structure, and yet never drifts into the free jazz tradition. It is full of surprises and rewards you every time you listen. Definitely the best solo piano all year.

Here is ‘Cosmic Shuffle’ from the album:

Chris Potter – Sirens

I reviewed this when it first came out:

Throughout the recording there are up and down tempo pieces, moments where there is more atmosphere than composition, times of intense group improvisation, and some gorgeous ballads. But while the album is clearly a concept piece, there is no particular order I found works best – I often listen straight through, but have also shuffled the songs and not had an issue. So while it is a concept album, more than that it is just a great jazz album.

Here is the band playing Nausikaa from 2012:

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Shadow Man

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Shadow Man

It was funny listening to this with my older son in the car, because every time he started to find the beat they would switch it up – it was frustrating. But that is the point, Berne and his group play with time expertly in this recording. The original Snakeoil album I found decent, but this one renews my love for Berne and his group. This is challenging listening, but also rewarding.

Here Berne discusses his newest recording:

Mary Halvorson Septet - Illusionary Sea

Mary Halvorson Septet – Illusionary Sea

From my review:

The remainder of the compositions are some of Halvorson’s best. What really concerned me initially was that in a septet setting her sense of intimacy would be lost amongst the harmonies and rhythmic counterpoint. Fortunately she manages the septet in much the same way as she handled the quintet – as an expanded trio. That sounds odd, but for me the key to her music is rhythmic and harmonic juxtaposition. That all comes from the guitar, bass and drums at the core – and the horns serve as larger extensions of those stations and add melody and timbre as well as further counterpoint.

From the album this is the song ‘Four Pages of Robots’:

Steve Coleman - Functional Arrhythmias

Steve Coleman – Functional Arrhythmias

This album has a GROOVE – Coleman describes the beats as the interconnected systems of the body, which sounds better than all of the cardiac words in the song titles. But the greatest thing is how Coleman just keeps churning out great compositions, and the quartet keeps getting better and better! This is ‘modern jazz’ in how it has elements of funk and free jazz mixed in with more compositionally based music.

Here is a recording of the group playing live in Paris in 2013:

Craig Taborn - Chants

Craig Taborn – Chants

From my review:

The other thing I love is the use of space – and I don’t just mean playing around silence. For me the interesting use of space involves overfilling it as well as leaving it wide open. There are some extremely dense moments on Chants, and others where there is very little being said overtly – and each one is handled deftly by all three musicians. This speaks to the high level of musicianship and the communication between the artists.

Here is the EPK for the album:

Terence Blanchard - Magnetic

Terence Blanchard – Magnetic

I first heard Terence Blanchard on his own with Donald Harrison in the mid-80s as one of the ‘young lions’, and have enjoyed his development through the years. But recently he has been tied up with so much other stuff that it seems like forever since he released a good ole’ jazz album. And this one reminds us why it was worth the wait!

Here the group plays some of the title track from Magnetic:

Bob James David Sanborn - Quartette Humaine

Bob James & David Sanborn – Quartette Humaine

I have been a fan of David Sanborn for decades, and this album shows the amazing evolution of Sanborn and James through all of the years since they first collaborated. They each add great contributions in terms of playing, arraning and composing, and the improvisations are deep and poignant and exciting. I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Double Vision’, their first collaboration from 1986 as it was really just ‘smooth jazz’, but this is something I loved much more than I expected.

Here James and Sanborn explain the making of the recording:

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Brooklyn Babylon

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Brooklyn Babylon

Argue’s ‘steampunk big band’ amazed everyone on ‘Infernal Machines’, now he is back with more depth, breadth and scope. This is atmospheric, cinematic, moody, dark, bright, intimate and pretty much every other adjective I could toss in. Darcy James Argue has become one of the great composers and bandleaders in all of jazz with just two albums … I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Here is a portion of the composition live from 2013:

Ben Goldberg - Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues

Ben Goldberg – Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues

With a name like “Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues”, do you expect seriousness? No – you get loads of playful, fun, funky jazz. But that doesn’t mean these aren’t serious compositions played by top-level musicians. I hadn’t heard Ben Goldberg before, but he released TWO great albums in 2013 alone! Definitely one of my favorites, as he weaves a path through mainstream and free jazz that neither bores nor alienates.

Here is ‘The Because Of’ from the album:

More Great Jazz

Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber
Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House – Strong Place
Ches Smith and These Arches – Hammered
Dave Holland – Prism
Ben Goldberg – Unfold Ordinary Mind
Jonathan Finlayson – Moment and the Message

CLASSICAL

Maria Schneider Dawn Upshaw - Winter Morning Walks

Maria Schneider & Dawn Upshaw – Winter Morning Walks

Am I cheating? Who knows … Maria Schneider is nominally a ‘jazz’ composer, but this music falls more into classical based on a survey of those I forced to listen (i.e. my family). For most people, the intervallic leaps and ebb and flow of the structure will be off-putting, but there is amazing stuff going on that reminds us why Maria Schneider is such a treasure.

Here is a great video from the official site:

RAP

Kanye West - Yeezus

Kanye West – Yeezus

With his last album my review basically said “great music ruined when Kanye opens his mouth”. On this album Daft Punk sets a stage with the opening songs that Kanye actually makes work well. There are a few clunkers, and some of the usual garbage lyrics, but there is a raw energy and a ‘realness’ to the music that really surprised me.

I actually did a review of this along with Jay-Z’s boring album:

For ‘Yeezus’, let me offer a similar summary: this album is so good that Kanye can’t mess it up when he opens his mouth! In fact, on many songs, he intensity and the ferocious growl of his voice adds to the urgency and dark thematic material.

Here is the song ‘I am a god’ from the album, because everything I found recorded live sounded like garbage:

R&B

Robert Glasper - Black Radio 2

Robert Glasper – Black Radio 2

Since ‘Black Radio’ won the Grammy for R&B I figured I could put it here without being accused of cheating (true confession: I’m cheating!). Just like on the original there are great songs, great musicianship and tight production. I definitely prefer the original to the new album, but this is a solid release with some very good music.

Here is the music video for ‘Calls’ featuring Jill Scott:

ROCK / FUSION

Levin Minneman Rudess

Levin-Minneman-Rudess

In my review I said:
One of the cool things about the album is that it feels like a collaboration throughout – ‘Descent’ is very bass-heavy, but Minneman is all over the beat and Rudess provides essential lightness to the heavy proceedings. And you really need to check out the video below for ‘Scrod’. The closing song ‘Service Engine’ is long and winding and a really great closing journey for this epic record.

And this remains on my regular rotation on iTunes. The energy and musicianship is just amazing, and there is a rewarding depth.

Here is the song Scrod:

So what music did YOU love in 2013?

Friday Playlist – Five Favorite Christmas Songs That Are NOT Overplayed

James-Brown-Christmas

We are now coming up on the weekend before Christmas, and by now we’ve all heard Bing and Nat King Cole and Burl Ives and Mariah Carey and so on so much that it is enough to make you want to go punch the mall Santa! But seriously – whether you work in a mall or an office that streams in holiday music, or it is on constantly at your home or in the car, chances are you have heard the same bunch of songs over and over again.

So I figured it would be fun to make a list of less played Christmas songs. In fact, in spite of being the most annoying about constantly switching on Time Warner’s Music Choice or the Slacker ‘Yuletide Classics’ (really … my family is DONE with me), I have not heard ANY of these songs this year! Check them out!

Winter Wonderland – Harry Connick Jr. – best known as a Sinatra-style crooner, Connick is also a deft pianist, as this enjoyable read on the classic shows. But it avoids falling the typical ‘Sing Along With Mitch’ feel … thankfully!

“Fairytale of New York” The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – welcome to real life, folks! This is hugely popular in the UK, but not here.

Christmas (Baby please come home) – Darlene Love – a beautiful song that was used in the titles of Gremlins.

Queen – Thank God it’s Christmas – despite being a hit when released, it was never attached to anything so has faded through the years.

Somewhere in my memory – John Williams (Home alone soundtrack) – Home Alone remains massively popular, but this song has never gained traction outside of the film. But it is gorgeous in a way that reminds us of what John Williams can do when he tries.

Ring Out, Solstice Bells – Jethro Tull – something a little different than the typical Mannheim Steamroller (overplayed) song!

The Lord’s Prayer by Sister Janet Mead – OK, this isn’t really a Christmas song, but what better time to post about it. Here is more info, but it was a song Lisa knew from growing up, and we were able to locate it several years ago before it went out of print for a long time.

Father Christmas – The Kinks – cynical and dark, but totally catchy hook that reflects the late 70s when it was released. Seems kids these days don’t even know who The Kinks were …

Christmas in the Trenches – John McCutcheon – as opposed to Snoopy & the Red Baron, let’s take this stroll through the trenches during the WWI Christmas truce.

I Believe In Father Christmas – single by Greg Lake – 1974 and Vietnam was just winding down and the malaise of a stagnant economy, global struggles and post-60s letdown were in full force. Greg Lake is a great singer and songwriter, and this is one of my faves from him.

Carol of the Bells – Wynton Marsalis – another song that itself gets played on nearly every commercial on TV, but with this cool arrangement Wynton keeps it fresh! Love his Crescent City Christmas Card album!

Soulful Christmas – James Brown – Really, what Christmas celebration is complete with James Brown?

OK … so what are YOUR favorite underplayed Christmas songs?

Friday Playlist – Awesome Movie Montages

Rocky Movie Montage

The other day Lisa and I were sitting in front of the fire enjoying the Christmas tree and mindlessly flipping channels and came across The Karate Kid – and right at the point where Daniel has worked all day on Miyagi’s property and then goes into how all of that work applies to Karate.

It was an amazing scene, and just one of the iconic moments in the movie. Another great scene is the final tournament – the beginning and end are live, but after Daniel wins his first match and Elisabeth Shue says ‘You’re the best’, we see the tournament progress from all of the important angles. We learn everything we need to know about the players and coaches, and it leads perfectly into the final battle.

It is a classic 80’s montage scene. Which then had me thinking of other scenes … so instead of my normal Friday Playlist, here are some cool movie montages (yes, heavily weighted towards 80s movies sue me, I’m old)!

Revenge of the Nerds – already violating my theme, this is the final music number. There IS a montage, but for some reason it isn’t readily available, and I thought this was just perfect.

Ferris Bueller – Museum Scene – I’m not a huge fan of the Twist and Shout scene, it is far from my favorite part of the movie (there are SO many great moments) … but the poignant music as the kids nearing adulthood view their home city with fresh eyes.

Footloose – Let’s Hear it for the boy – silly plot, and really not much of a movie, yet we all love it to the point that they tried to do a cash-in remake. No Bacon, no Singer, no dice.

The Godfather – again, not so much of a montage, but such a pivotal scene, and perhaps my favorite moment of the movie. Danny had read teh book and got the trilogy on DVD from Chris for his birthday and we watched it together.

Ghostbusters – This is just a fun section of the movie, capturing the transition from oddity to pop culture phenomenon.

Run Fat Boy Run – Simon Pegg. Brilliant.

Forrest Gump – Running – not really a training sequence, just a rather bizarre sub-plot of the (good but over-rated) movie.

Chariots of Fire – Training scene with Vangelis Music – I appreciate this movie much more now that I did at its release, but always loved the Vangelis music (same with his Blade Runner themes)

Kill Bill Vol 2 – classic Quentin Tarantino cheese!

Up – Carl & Ellie – I’m not crying, just dust in my eyes … aw hell, who am I kidding!

Real Genius – Falling – total 80s movie, this is one of my all-time favorite films … and while my favorite song from the soundtrack is ‘Number One’, I love this scene and the music.

Real Genius – Popcorn Finale – pay no attention to whether or not anything they are doing makes any technical sense … just assume it is all nonsense and you are better off. Enjoy the cool scenes and 80s music!

Team America – not great but better than I expected, this had an amusing parody of montages.

Better Off Dead – Skiing – another of my all-time faves, there are so many classic scenes, and plenty of cool music, but this is the only montage.

Scarface – push it to the limit – like everything else in the movie, this reeks of excess, but it carries the theme of Tony Montana’s rise from punk to overlord.

Karate Kid – You’re the best – Finally, we see Ralph Macchio getting ready for the big battle for his honor by working his way through the totally unrealistic tournament.

Rocky IV – This is SO 1984, dripping machismo and pro-USA / anti-Soviet imagery and symbolism, down to the point of having Drago depend on machines and steroids (real subtle!) while Rocky focuses on guts and hard work. For such a terrible, formulaic movie, I absolutely love it still!

Rocky Gonna Fly Now – this one is actually good enough that it can survive all of the abuse of both imitation and parody. The iconic theme song by Bill Conti sends chills whenever I hear it, and the video is incredibly effective at showing how Rocky has transformed himself from a slugger to a boxer.

And one other thing I thought about watching the Rocky montage again was that in the era before ‘tech fabrics’, that is pretty much what you might expect to see a runner out wearing on a chilly day. Fast forward a few years and you would have this:

1980stracksuits

The Friday Playlist – Origin Stories

genealogy-of-pop-and-rock-music

This past week saw the release of the ‘Super Deluxe Edition’ of the album Tommy by The Who. I have been listening to it this week for a review I’m writing up, but it has put me into a bit of a mindset of songs I was listening to in the era when I first heard the entire album.

So for this week’s Friday Playlist? I’m calling it ‘Origin Stories’, but really it is more about some of the music I discovered right in that short transformative period

Let’s start with a REAL origin story … the first 45RPM record I bought! By a British glam-rock band called The Sweet, it was ‘Ballroom Blitz’ that came out in 1973. The Sweet went on to have hits with ‘Fox on the RUn’ and the infectious ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ … but it is the groove and over-the top production of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ that always gets me:

OK, and along the same lines, if there was ever a sure sign I had an affinity for bass-driven funky music, another of my early singles was the 1976 song ‘The Rubberband Man’ by The Spinners:

By the time I heard Tommy in full (thanks Paul Bunson for the use of your parents’ first-run pressing), I owned several of their other albums. My fave at that time remained ‘The Kids are Alright’ due to the scope and breadth of music … though ‘Sell Out’ was quickly becoming a favorite as well.

From ‘The Kids are Alright’, my favorite tracks are ‘Quick One’, ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ and ‘Sparks’ and ‘See Me Feel Me’ from Tommy. Here is the finale (We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You) from Woodstock:

I was also heavily into the Yardbirds, particularly the Jeff Beck stuff. I have always preferred Beck to Clapton and Page, and as I digested his 70s fusion stuff (and later his late 90s / early 00s techno stuff) that made more sense.

My favorite Yardbirds song? Shapes of Things.

And speaking of Jeff Beck, I loved ‘Beck’s Bolero’ from ‘Truth’ (I bought the double album Truth/Beck-Ola around 1980)

While getting into that stuff, I also discovered Beck’s fusion albums ‘Blow by Blow’ and ‘Wired’. Here is ‘Freeway Jam’ from ‘Blow by Blow’:

Being a huge fan of the bass and also of Beck led me immediately to Stanley Clarke’s ‘Journey to Love’. Here is the classic song ‘Hello Jeff’ featuring Beck and Clarke:

Right around this time Miles Davis re-emerged, and I remember seeing him on Saturday Night Live in 1981. I couldn’t find video from that, but here he is in October ’81 in Japan (pretty close to the same time, and this version ended up on the ‘We Want Miles’ album) playing Jean Pierre with the same band:

While I was heading into jazz quickly and heavily, I was still very much a rock fan. We were playing Rush in Equinox, and I really loved YYZ:

I also loved Emerson Lake and Palmer – if you can’t tell, my preference for heavy instrumental music was pretty well formed. Here is ‘Karn Evil 9’:

Because I was reading Musician and Down Beat magazines, I knew of bassist Steve Swallow, and the first thing I found was the album Shinola from John Scofield. This would lead to a love the music of BOTH guys (including meeting Sco in an elevator heading up to the Regattabar in Cambridge!). Here is Dr. Jackle from Shinola:

Of course I also loved Jaco Pastorius, and between Jaco and Pat Metheny I got totally hooked on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Shadows & Light’ album. Here is Jaco

Another bassist I learned about from Musician and Down Beat was Bill Laswell, and I grabbed his highly recommended debut album Baselines. It was certainly a departure, but I love this album and much of Laswell’s stuff to this day:

While we’re talking about Pat Metheny, here is an amazing live recording of the group playing the song Offramp … this is the stuff of his I fell in love with!

I also got heavily into Anthony Braxton … and here is the entirety of the double album I used to scare our cat (for real, he would walk low to the ground and his eyes got big) – solos alto saxophone from 1979, long out of print.

During the summer of ’81 I remember listening to the radio outside and hearing on WGBH a group called ‘Great Guitars’, with Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd. I regret leaving this music behind after buying one album – had I kept up I would likely have discovered the great Emily Remler and perhaps seen her live before she died in 1991.

One of those trips to Good Vibrations a guy who worked there said ‘if you like good musicians you should check out Frank Zappa’ … and Joe’s Garage was the big new thing. By the time I actually saw Zappa live he had lost much of his humor and was instead rather bitter, but still a compelling live performance.

One other rock group I got heavily into around this time was King Crimson. I have really loved what Tony Levin has done this last few years, and also Bill Bruford’s autobiography … and while the 70s recording is regarded as the ‘golden age of King Crimson’, for me Discipline was the pinnacle:

And finally, in 1981 I saw The Police play live TWICE (thank you $15 concert tickets!). They were super-hot, and the great songs combined with heavy syncopation and musicianship made them a group I could enjoy even as I became an insular avant-garde jazz snob 🙂 My favorite song of theirs was Darkness from Ghost in the Machine:

What is on your Friday Playlist?