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.

Climbing Gear for a Dream

I spent the better part of the afternoon working with Alex Moralez, a brilliant drummer, on grooves for an album I hope to record later this year.  It’s both inspiring and challenging at the same time.  On one hand you are slowly building something out of your dreams.  On the other hand you are spending hours on a small part of a three minute song that maybe very few will hear.  You are setting out to climb a mountain you have always wanted to and at the same time realizing for the first time how fucking high up it goes.  Plus, when you are in the beginning stages of creating something, it is best not to get too married to something.  You might not get a take of a song you like and you will decide to bury it.  You might decide to change the song completely at some point.  We are still several months away probably from even cutting anything.  But I look at cutting demos like making sure you have the gear needed for a trip.  You can’t plan what will happen on the trip, other than having a slight indication of where you will go.  However, if you don’t have that gear, the things you need to travel, the trip can’t even happen in the first place, or if it does it will surely be a disaster.

My Wild One by Thin Lizzy

My Wild One

I will be on the road most of the day today.  Headed to a festival in Florida.  If I can get more posted from the road I will.  In the meanwhile above is Phil Lynott and the timeless Thin Lizzy to start your day right.  Their album run from Fighting through Black Rose is as good as any rock band’s.  And all of their albums have things to recommend them.  If Lynott had lived, who knows, who knows…

Snake Killing at the Symphony

One of my favorite orchestral pieces is Sensemaya by Silvestra Revueltas.  It’s an incredibly visceral piece that was written in Mexico City, and is one of the first widely famous orchestral pieces by a Mexican composer.  It was based on a poem that was about an Afro-Carribean ritual performed while killing a snake.  The piece itself has a snake like sound as the tension is slowly ratcheted up, like a python slowly crushing its prey.  It’s violent, disturbing, and beautiful all at the same time.  Stripped of its origins it is the kind of piece that can take the imagination many places.  Is it the sound of a tribe of cannibals, mysterious ancient ruins, a battle about to take place, or something far stranger?

Morrissey, Jackson Browne, Buffy Sainte-Marie

#buffystmarie show. #moz #jacksonbrowne

A photo posted by Jesse Tobias (@8stitches9lives) on

I couldn’t help but post this picture of Morrissey and Jackson Browne together.  To top it all off they were both attending a show by Buffy Sainte-Marie.  Anyone that has read this blog for awhile knows that all three are favorites of mine.  All three are also writers who have a mastery of poetry and politics.  They have the ability to look out at the world and describe what is going on with unique insight.  They are original voices, first-rate melody writers, and absolutely fearless.

Look at the Facts by Buffy Sainte-Marie:

For America by Jackson Browne (Yes, the production is dated, but what a song!):

Last, but not least, Mountjoy by Morrissey (Mountjoy is a notorious prison in Dublin):

The Ramones, Grandpa Munster, and Phil Spector

Ramones_-_End_of_the_Century_cover

Marky Ramone Excerpt

Marky Ramone is set to release an autobiography called Punk Rock Blitzkrieg:  My Life As a Ramone.  The above link is a section of the book that has posted at Rolling Stone Magazine.  I learned how to play and write my own songs by listening to the Ramones when I was a kid, long before I could learn or figure out anyone else’s.  I was probably around 12 or 13 at the time.

The book itself, if this excerpt is anything to go by, seems like it will be an entertaining read, to put it mildly.  Here is a paragraph where the Ramones first meet Phil Spector, who happens to be sitting with Al Lewis, who plays Grandpa on The Munsters:

Grandpa Al was more than a left-winger. He was an eccentric and one with a delusion here and there. He told us he served on the legal defense team of the 1920s anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. There was no doubt Grandpa would have if he could have, but he was about eleven years old at the time—or an infant, depending upon which birth date you believed. He also informed us that in the sixties he met Charles Manson, who babysat his sons. “He was a gentleman!” Grandpa said. Hearing this, Dee Dee started talking about his own sons, who didn’t even exist, and about his fictional days fighting the Vietcong. Someone should have grabbed a tape recorder, because this was an album.

Ghost Songs

This afternoon I fell into the deep and dark sleep of the the hungover, only to awaken to a cold grey and white grave like early evening.  It looked as much like a dream outside, and a far more nefarious one, than the dream I had just been having on my couch.  Realizing that my dog had not been walked I put on my headphones and headed out the door.  I put on the last two songs from Bash and Pop’s album Friday Night is Killing Me.  Those songs would be Tiny Pieces and First Steps.

What an album!  It is one of those albums that I discovered in a used CD store some years back that has never completely left the rotation.  And yet it is an album so few people know about.  I wonder how many people even own that album?  It was Tommy Stinson’s first album after the breakup of The Replacements.  It is full of loose disheveled rock n roll.  The playing is simply fantastic, especially the guitar playing.  It has so many cool little guitar parts delivered with a ton of feel.  The production is organic and inviting.  It really is one of those great lost rock n roll gems, like if the Faces had some record out there that had escaped release.  It’s not music that will change the world, but it is a record that always manages to change my mood when I am listening to it.  I imagine it does that for other people that have discovered its charms.

It’s funny how the things that can mean so much to us, like dreams, are things that so many other people will never ever know.  How many great albums are out there that we will never hear?  Even more, how many great songs were written that have been lost to the sands of time?   Unlike many other types of art that must be rendered in physical form in the doing, usually songs that make it to record often leave behind many other ones that never will.  Shadows and spirits of sound that a songwriter may deliver in their living room, that are swept aside as the times change.  Ghost songs.  Not the songs of the dead, but the songs of the deceased emotion.

Maybe that organization of sound was developed into something better.  A lot of times it is just a numbers game.  You only get the financing to make so many records.  At the time you choose what you think are your best songs, although it can be very hard to judge your own work.  You record them, in a process where so many things can be lost in translation.  Then out of all of the recordings that are made only so many of them find an audience, often having nothing to do with the works validity.  Even for the most popular of artists it can sometimes be a losing game.

Friday Night is Killing Me is one of those records that at least got made, but has been largely forgotten.  It makes no difference, other than maybe in the financial bearing of its creators.  They made something great.  They took a chance and dreamed.  Even if they are few and far between, there are still people out there like me whose souls are warmed by it on a grim afternoon, as if we had suddenly stumbled upon the hearth of a friendly fire after a great storm.

One day you’re stumblin’ around
The next you’re thinkin’ of the town
And the friends that you thought would always be
With old friends come those greetings
That your eyes won’t be meeting
Though your insides want to embrace
You hardly recognize the face
With Chicago round the corner
Baby takes her first step today

Bash and Pop First Steps