The O’Jays – Rich Get Richer

I wrote briefly about The O’Jays earlier.  They are one of my favorite soul groups.  I always thought this song was fantastic.  Dealing with the haves and have-nots long before our current economic situation, the song addresses the increasing greed of the 1%.  However, that’s only a part of why I love this song.  The production and playing on it is ridiculous.  It’s like everyone is on space coke, flying as fast as possible towards a dark star.  And we won’t even mention the insanity of their Travelin’ At the Speed of Thought!

Dylan’s First Letterman Gig and 80’s Dylan

Dylan’s First Letterman Gig

People have been talking about Dylan playing on Letterman’s second to last show.  This is an interesting article about Dylan’s first Letterman gig, when he was struggling in the 80’s, around the release of Infidels.

I’ve always loved Infidels.  Dylan’s lyrics are amazing on that record.  I also like the oddball combination of him with Sly and Robbie, the great reggae rhythm section.  Another Dylan 80’s album I really like is Empire Burlesque.  There are many that will bemoan the 80’s production, and I understand that urge, but the songs themselves are largely fantastic.  Most Dylan fans will mention Dark Eyes, but Emotionally Yours, later made great by the O’Jays, is a fantastic ballad.  Tight Connection to My Heart is also an excellent pop song with great lyrics.  In some ways I feel like the 80’s production at times, if you can do away with your prejudice, makes lyrics like, “They’re beating the devil out of a guy who’s wearing a powder-blue whig”, even more insane and absurd, heightening the comedy.

The O’Jays – Message In Our Music

A really great forgotten soul record is The O’Jays album Message in Our Music.  It sounds like it cost a million dollars to make.  It’s soul music as opera or symphony.  It’s a big sound, in line with other Philly Soul albums, with strings, horns, keyboards, Spanish guitars, exquisite backing vocals, and a rhythm section that won’t quit.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg!  Some of the rhythms are disco, but when played super badass drummers and bass players, it doesn’t matter.  These fuckers can lay down a pocket.  The O’Jays sing as if their lives are on the line, as if they have ever done anything different.   This as far as sound could be pushed, the pinnacle of recording, before technology started moving things in the other direction.  There are love songs and message songs.  The O’Jays on one knee crying, while the backing vocals act as a Greek chorus.  Don’t get me wrong, unlike the dirty funk of James Brown, this music is silky smooth.  However the world is big enough for both.  And when the O’Jays make you believe in every note, when Eddie Levert is shredding his vocal chords in search of love and meaning, there is is enough earthiness to go around.  

P.S. If for some reason you are new to the O’Jays I would probably start with Back Stabbers, but almost their entire 70’s output has something to offer.

Twinkle Passes Away

Pop star Twinkle has passed away.  I found out about her through The Smiths cover version of her song Golden Lights.  (Which I actually like, despite many fans problem with the song.)  However, the real reason why this news matters to me is that I absolutely adore her teenage death disc Terry. (above)  I am extremely fond of the “death disc”.  These are pop songs that are about teenage tragedies.  Other songs in this genre include Leader of the Pack and Dead Man’s Curve.  I love the duality of the genre, where effervescent melodies are combined with death.  This song is extremely great, one of my favorites in the genre, because Twinkle’s voice is largely dead pan, highlighting the comedic element of the song.  It’s if at an extremely young age she is telling the listener that, “oh well, these things happen.”  And they do.  Twinkle is stoic in the face of tragedy, narrating the song with a removed distance.  She has excepted the hand that fate has dealt.  Her singing represents the idea that tragedy plus time equals comedy.  It’s one of those times when song and singer are greatly matched, providing layers to the material that might not be there in another interpretation.  Twinkle is beyond us now.  Is Terry still waiting?

Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott, and the Song Renegade

If there is a band that is underrated, it is Thin Lizzy.  As far as rock band with two guitar, bass, and drums goes they as good as anyone.  There are bands that were more original.  There were bands that were more consistent and had longer periods of peak creativity.  However, when Thin Lizzy were at their best, as far as rock music goes, they are hard to beat.  Their grooves swing, their playing is musical and memorable, and in Phil Lynott they had a truly great songwriter and frontman.  He might have not have been a poet on the level of someone like Dylan, but he wrote lyrics that were evocative and just plain cool.  (Cool is not a term I like to use a lot.  However, if anyone earned that word, it was Lynott.  He also sometimes wrote lyrics in meters and rhyme schemes that are unique in rock music.)  He had voice with real swagger that was able to be vulnerable when needed.

In my opinion any fan of rock music should own four albums:  FightingJailbreakBad Reputationand Black Rose.  All the Thin Lizzy records have something of merit, but those four are front to back classics.  The early records it still seems like they were finding their voice.  After Black Rose Lynott’s drug problems seemed to take their toll on his abilities slightly, although there were still plenty of great songs to come, if not great albums.  Johnny the Fox is sort of the odd album out.  It was recorded during their peak, but is a concept record.  Although it is close to being great, it has a few songs that are more generic than typical Lizzy fair.

The above song, Renegade, is not taking from one of the four that I mentioned above.  It is later period Thin Lizzy.  The instrumental section goes on a little too long possibly, but overall it is a great song that has a cinematic mood and showcases Lynott’s effortless cool.  I picked it because it precisely because it is somewhat of a lost gem.  It is one of those songs that would feel good late night in a bar, when you foolishly think you can do anything.

It is off of the album with the same name.  However, I would definitely start with with one of the four albums I mentioned above, and eventually get all four.  Thin Lizzy come about as close to embodying rock music as just about any band I can think of.

Not Everything is Equal

I read an article the other day where it was criticizing Simon Pegg because he claimed that sci-fi wasn’t as good as it used to be.  It then went into some argument that critiquing populist art was elitism.  I call bullshit loud and clear.  Pegg was making maybe too much of a blanket claim, but criticism is valid.

Art, like people, should never be judged as a group.  You don’t want to say hip-hop isn’t valid, but classical music is, or art house movies are valid, but summer blockbusters aren’t, etc.  But you can say, “so and so is vapid or such and such has merit”, when it comes to specific pieces.  Opinion always plays a role.  So does understanding.  There have been plenty of times I didn’t get something, only to get it later based on increasing knowledge.  Things also work on different levels.  Something may be excellent escapism and something might be excellent in making you think.  Different pieces for different moods and times.

The door is always left open to screw up in an assessment of something.  Rigidity is a mistake.  But all that being said, you can sure as shit argue that one thing is more worthy than another.

First of all popularity is no proof of validity.   Hitler’s ideas were popular at one point.  Especially in the modern world, when marketing plays such a huge roll in getting above the din, popularity just means exposure half the time.  This does not mean popular stuff is bad, only that popular is not the equivalent of good.

So whoever wrote that article with Simon Pegg is a clown.  You have to try to discern good from the bad.  Everything is not equal. The Kardashians are not Macbeth.   Life is short.  You need to have some kind of measurement of worth so that you don’t spend what little time you have turning your brain into mush.    Again, popular entertainment can be fantastic, but just the fact it is popular doesn’t mean anything.  Elite can infer stuck up, but it can also infer the best.  “They were elite soldiers.”  I wish more people would spend a little time asking for the best, and not settling for the banal:  Putting on whatever comes on TV or the radio without questioning it, drifting into the American night, lost and unaware, primed to lose.

Mad Men, Mad Max, and Music

I’ve been taking some time off with friends and family.  I have many things I want to write about in depth, but just a few brief thoughts in the meantime:

1.  I will need to ponder the Mad Men final for awhile.  I thought it split the difference between Breaking Bad and The Sopranos. It gave the audience some of what they wanted and at the same time was interpretive enough that I think any quick judgment of it is misplaced.  My emotions and thoughts were complex while watching it.  I feel like any kind of summation at this point would not do the material justice.

2.  The new Mad Max is simply fantastic.  It is visually stunning, exploding with unique imagery, full of non-stop action, and batshit insane.  It’s entertainment with ideas and clearly directed by someone with true vision.  It makes other summer blockbusters look like marketing decisions.  I should throw in that it is emotional and subversive too.  But even if you just go see if for pure fun, you won’t be let down.

3.  Went on a walk today with My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, and Chromatics.  Three great bands for enhancing a mood while still giving you space to think.