Friday, March 15, 2013

You Da Man.....

You da man….no YOU da man…..

Comparing the two front men of Genesis: Peter Gabriel v. Phil Collins

It is no secret to most who know me that the first “buy every album” band of my youth was Genesis.  I came in on them at around the Abacab time frame.  Being sucked in by the pounding keyboard passage followed by Mike Rutherford’s soaring Stratocaster, I was hooked.  So while my initial indoctrination into this world was when Phil Collins was at the helm, I quickly started exploring the back catalog, and experienced the Gabriel years.  I sat in wonder, listening to the esoteric sounds of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, saddened that Peter had decided to part ways with the group, just as it was truly coming into its own.  It begged the question: Would the commercial success have happened if Peter never left?  In a word:  no.  While I love the band’s early work, and am a junkie for PG’s solo career, I am not sure HE was the one that would take Genesis to the heights it achieved.  That said, I am not sure it didn’t happen in spite of Phil.  I think he was the right guy, at the right place, with the right “voice”. 

But who is/was better?  Let’s break it down, tale of the tape style…..

The Addition of a Musician:
Gabriel – While Peter has gone on to showcase his talents as a very good keyboard/piano player and programmer, his main contribution in Genesis was the occasional flute solo.  Now, if you are Ian Anderson, that is HUGE.  Alas, within the structure of Genesis, not so much. (although, the flute passage in Firth of Fifth is incredibly good)
Collins – Say what you will about Phil the front man, and I will, but the man has serious chops behind a drum kit, so much so, that he guested on many an album in the late 80s, and 90s (most notably, Eric Clapton’s work)  And, if that was not enough to showcase what he could do, he dabbled with some crazy time signature playing with the fusion band Brand X.  The drum sound of Genesis was unmistakable, and one of the key components to each and every song.
EDGE – Collins

Stage Presence:
Gabriel – There is two sides to this coin.  While leading Genesis, Peter was known to be a bit shy in the earliest years, never really connecting with the crowd.  As years went on, he found a way to do so; taking on characters from the songs in costume fashion. (google image search “slipperman” for example)  The characters and costumes grew more and more outlandish, but also became a trademark for the band. (much to some of their chagrin)  After leaving Genesis, Peter’s personality came more to the forefront in his solo shows, and the costumes gave way to elaborate stage productions (See: Scret World Live) that allowed him to be “Peter”, and still connect with the crowd.
Collins – To come out from behind the kit, where admittedly, he really “just wanted to be the drummer” was a huge step for Phil.  He not only was fronting a band whose lead singer was known for elaborate costumes and mystique, he also had to feel comfortable with another drummer playing his tunes. (after first enlisting Bill Bruford early, they settled on the incredible Chester Thompson, who was the tour drummer for over 20 years) As the years went on, Phil went from being a little timid, to finally letting his child acting background come out ,and became one of the all time greats at being “as one” with the audience.  In the later years of touring with Genesis, Phil toed the line of becoming a caricature, VERY closely, which turned some, including myself, off of his “act”.  However, it does not take away from years of shows where he was the absolute man in control.

Depth of Lyrics:
Gabriel – “When I try to sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead”

Collins – “There’s a girl that’s been on my mind,
All the time

Ok then…..

HUGE EDGE – Gabriel

Biggest Soundtrack Contribution:
Gabriel – It’s tough to compare these two, as one was placed in a movie, while one was written for a movie.  However, they are both very significant.  For Peter, the choice is very obvious.  While he did do two tremendous movie scores (Birdy and The Last Temptation), if I mention the movie Say Anything, the image that just popped in your head is of Lloyd Dobler holding his boom box high above his head, with “In Your Eyes” blaring in all of it’s love-filled glory.  It is one of THE iconic movie images of the 80s, and one that I am not sure would have been as strong with any other song.
Collins – For Phil, he was given the task of writing a title track song for the movie Against All Odds.  (and in some bit of irony, the soundtrack also included songs by Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford)  The song, while a little on the “light” side (foreshadowing, perhaps, Phil’s later solo years) was a monster hit, earning Academy and Golden Globe award nominations, and was one of the best-selling singles of 1984.  It ALSO has been covered brilliantly in the recent years, by The Postal Service. 

EDGE – To Close To Call

Prevalent Hair Style:
Gabriel –

Collins –


High Profile Vocal Duet:
Gabriel – On the SO album, Peter had written a wonderfully haunting song, centering around being at a loss, not having a direction, and wanting to throw it all in.  He reached out to Kate Bush to sing the “hope” portion of the song, the female muse, imploring him “Don’t Give Up”.  The result?  One of the most beautifully constructed and executed songs of the 1980s. 
Collins – When Earth Wind and Fire drummer/singer Phillip Bailey decided to launch a solo album, he sought the direction and drumming of Phil Collins.  The lead song on the record, “Easy Lover”, was an instant hit, with %99.9 of the population saying “hey, who is that dude with Phil?”  It may be a sugary piece of 80s pop, but it is a DAMN catchy song, and it produced a pretty fun video as well.


The one before, and the one after The Lamb:
Gabriel – Peter announced his departure from the band around the time of the release of what would be their biggest critical success, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  Instead of comparing The Lamb (Pete’s best album with the band) and Genesis Genesis (Phil’s best album with the band), let’s take a look at the one before (Pete’s Selling England By The Pound) and after (Phil’s Trick Of The Tail)  In Selling, you could see the seeds of “commercial” starting to be sown.  “I Know What I Like” was one of the first Genesis songs to adhere to the pop-hit mentality of 4 minutes.  However, it is the traditional “PROG” type (and length) of songs that truly drive this album to new heights for the band.  “Firth of Fifth” clocks in at 9:37, starting with a brilliant Tony Banks piano interlude, before crashing into the main portion of the vocal, where Pete sounds more powerful than ever.  “The Cinema Show”, one of the all time great 10minute+ songs, lived on for decades as a concert staple, and again, show Peter at the height of his vocal prowess.
Collins – A Trick Of The Tail, in this humble blogger’s opinion, is one of the most sadly under rated albums of the past 40 years.  Released only a year after Peter’s departure, Genesis nearly had to re-invent itself, and sell this new lead singer, who up until now (save for one guest vocal spot on More Fool Me) was the left-handed-drummer.  The musical formula was pretty much the same….strong keyboard and guitar work, and vocals that made the song move, but did not overpower.  Phil got this concept straight from the get-go, as “Dance On A Volcano” erupts to open the disc. (yup, bad pun, I know)  The lighter side of the band is in full force as well, as “Ripples” recalls past albums, if only with just a different voice. (Although, Mike Rutherford is quoted as of having said that “Phil sounded more like Peter than Peter did”)

EDGE – None, it’s a dead tie

The Miami Vice Affect:
Gabriel –

Collins –

EDGE - Collins
Let’s Try THIS Now:
Gabriel – In the past few years (prior to bringing back a touring band to do the SO-Back to Front Tour in 2012) Peter has gone in a totally new music direction, shedding himself of the traditional rock-band unit, and instead created new sounds with the New Blood Orchestra.  The first project for this endeavor, was a very inspired one.  He selected songs from a multitude of artists (Bon Iver, Paul Simon, David Bowie to name a few) and recorded new interpretations of them with just voice and full orchestra.  The results were sublime.  (youtube/iTunes “Heroes” or “Boy in the Bubble” to get the full effect)  The second half of the “Scratch My Back” project was for those artists to cover a Peter song for a companion release. (Elbow’s take on Mercy Street is haunting)  From there, Pete took on his own catalog with the orchestra, turning two dozen or so of his best compositions, into completely new songs.  The results are breathtaking, inspired, and nothing short of genius.
Collins – As Phil eased himself out of Genesis in the mid-2000s, his solo career was still going well.  He was pouring out adult contemporary hits, and I am sure, earning a pretty decent paycheck.  His foray into something new, was to evoke the memories of his favorite Big Band sounds.  Like Peter’s experiment with an orchestra, Phil’s “greatest hits” found new life when having new life breathed into them via a 25 piece band.  The concept for Phil was simple, and the results were extraordinary.
EDGE – Gabriel

The Verdict:
I honestly thought, as I sat down to write this, that it would be a runaway for Gabriel, as my man-crush is unabashed, and has no boundaries.   However, when going back and listening to a LOT of the material, I remembered some of the things that Phil brought to the table that made me smile.  Phil, because of his movement toward Adult Contemporary in the later years, has gotten a stigma of not being a “rock” guy anymore.  However, you only need to go back a few years, for it to hit you, that the guy was at the top of the heap in the mid-late 80s.  I’m still giving Gabriel the slight nod for the full body of work, but it’s a lot slighter than I thought it would be.   

Top 10 Albums of the 80s

Doug's note - This is a repost of a piece I did 2 years ago.  Content has not changed, but I wanted to give it a home on this blog as well

Top 10 Albums of the 1980s
The 80s, visions of big hair, acid wash jeans and bad fake metal bands. The time for me, when my musical tastes were starting to round into form. And while there were plenty of Poisons and Slaughters and (OMG) Wingers that littered the landscape, the 1980’s also had its fair share of tremendous music. The following list was easy to assemble in theory, but very hard to whittle down and rank. All lists are subjective, as our personal tastes and likes infiltrate what we deem “the best”, so I am sure there will be raised eyebrows and shaking of heads when you realize that “X” did not make the cut. Without further adieu, the top 10 albums of the 80’s. (LIVE and Best Of discs do not qualify)

Just Missed the Cut:
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
Purple Rain - Prince
War – U2
Document - REM
Dream of the Blue Turtles - Sting
Scarecrow – John Melencamp

Here is where the subjective starts right away. I can HEAR you screaming at the screen, “How the HELL does Purple Rain not make the list??” Some of you may have already stopped reading. But here is the thing: I recognize the genius that is Prince, I understand that I MAY go to hell for not including him on the list….but I am just not a fan. I like some of the songs on the disc, don’t get me wrong, but front to back, TO ME, I just can’t displace anyone in the Top 10

10) Thriller – Michael Jackson

I am certainly not going out on a limb when I tell you that this is an amazing album. What Michael delivered with his debut, Off The Wall, he multiplied 10 fold for this classic. Who can forget the first time you heard Beat It and said “Oh my god, that is Eddie Van Halen playing the solo….Michael is COOL!”? Who can forget the iconic image of the lighted walkway of the Billie Jean video? (and subsequent debut of the moonwalk at the Motown Show) Who can get Vincent Price and Thriller out of their head on Halloween? The man was pure genius, and this was his masterpiece.
Key Tracks: Billie Jean, Beat It


9) Reckoning – REM
When REM took the college radio scene over in the mid-80s with the disc Murmur, everyone was waiting with baited breath for the follow up. A curious and shy front man in Stipe, jangley guitars from Buck, great harmonies from Mills and a thump from Berry, REM was about to embark on a 30 year musical journey starting in a little Georgia town. Reckoning delivered on so many levels, from the “mainstream” sound of So. Central Rain, to the cult classics Time After Time and 7 Chinese Brothers. I had a hard time choosing between this and Document (see above) but in the end, songs like Don’t Go Back To Rockville ring more true.
Key Tracks: Time after Time, Pretty Persuasion, Harbor Coat


8) Back in Black – ACDC
What do you do when your lead singer dies unexpectedly? Do you call it a day and take a job at the mill? Or do you find a new singer, press on, and write and record a classic tribute to the fallen hero? Luckily for us, the Young brothers chose the latter. While ACDC had modest success prior, Back in Black solidified them at the top of the hard rock heap. You probably don’t realize it, but you can put it on today, and you STILL know all the words, and you STILL will break out the air guitar. The title track is simplistic in it’s writing, but powerful in its delivery. Hells Bells, with its ominous beginning followed by a killer riff, is pure angst and grit. The band would follow up with a few more platinum releases, but not a one that could compare to their masterpiece.
Key Tracks: Back in Black, Shake a Leg, Shook Me All Night Long


7) Vivid – Living Colour
Produced by Mick Jagger (who also played harp on the album) Vivid was the auspicious debut for four black men breaking into the “white” world that was hard rock. They set out to forge a path to break stereotypes, and succeeded on so many levels. Vernon Reid and Corey Glover formed a 1-2 punch that is needed to make a good band great: a mastery and innovation in guitar work, and a voice that can not only carry the melody, but make it “sing”. Rounded out by the thumping bass of Muzz Skillings, and the fabulous drumming of Wil Calhoun, Living Colour gave birth to a debut that had an anthem (Cult of Personality) as well as thought provoking and enjoyable songs. On a personal note, this was the first CD I ever “wore out” from repeated playings, and is one of the soundtracks of my High School years. I saw them two years ago, and STILL had the same heart stopping reaction to the opening riff of Middle Man, that I did when it first rung in my ears.
Key Tracks: Middle Man, Cult Of Personality, Open Letter To A Landlord


6) Appetite For Destruction – Guns and RosesWhile only 6th on my list, this is probably the most IMPORTANT disc of the 80s. Hard rock, at the time, had turned into “who could wear the most make-up” and “we know FOUR CHORDS! Beat THAT!” And then along came a band that pushed the envelope and said to hell with the established. When Appetite first dropped, a collective “oh no” was heard through out the Hair Metal fraternity. Guns and Roses had taken it to the next level, and never looked back. Put this disc on today, and I would wager songs will take you to very specific memories of that time. And who amongst us has not tried the Axl Rose “dance” moves when Sweet Child o’ Mine hits the speakers? Who hasn’t uttered the phrase “you’re in the JUNGLE BABY” in a brief moment of angst? While they may have sputtered out quickly (after the Illusion discs) and remain a true enigma, this disc re-defined hard rock in the 80s, and their recent Rock and Roll HOF selection is well deserved.
Key Tracks: Welcome To The Jungle, Mr. Brownstone, Sweet Child o’ Mine, Paradise City


5) White City (A Novel) – Pete Townshend
I have eluded to it already, but will reiterate here: This is a list that is PURELY subjective, and “mine”. Look no further than this selection as proof of that….and I am ok with that. I scoured a few different “Top 100” of the 80s, and this disc doesn’t even sniff a single one. I don’t care. Back when CDs were cassettes, I would argue with anyone I knew, that White City “Side 1” (kids, ask your folks) was maybe this single greatest side of a tape…..ever. While my stance has probably softened a bit, I could probably still make the argument. The BRILLIANCE in this disc can be described in this way: Pete Townshend, maybe one of the top 10 guitarists of his generation, did not pick up a single Stratocaster in the recording of White City. Instead, he felt “ashamed” and “in awe” of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who delivered the crushing riffs that powers it. Give Blood is the anthem’s ANTHEM. From the freight train guitar hook, to the unbelievably spot on drumming of Simon Philips (seriously, top 10 drum songs of all time….oh wait, there is another list….) to Pete’s wailing vocals, the song is 6+ minutes of pure ecstasy. Sure, some find “Face to Face” and anemic single, I would argue the counterpoint that it gave the disc a bit of “light” and also a top 40 hit. If you have never listened to it front to back, I implore you to do so. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Key Tracks: Give Blood, Secondhand Love, Face the Face


4) Synchronicity – The Police
Another one that I wrestled with quite a bit, as I am one of the few who prefer Sting’s early solo work over his “late Police” work…but there is no denying the greatness of this album. It spawned hits (Every Breath You Take, King of Pain) as well as providing the band to show what it had done for years prior: make music that will move the masses. Both Synchronicity 1 and 2 are steeped in the back beat of Stewart Copeland, but also ride the majestically fluid guitar sounds of Andy Summers. Sting never sounded better, belting out every note as if it was the last he would sing. It is a shame that the band “had enough” of each other following this tour, as it would have been interesting to see what the next chapter would be. (although, again, none the worse for me, as I thought Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles was the “side step” of all side steps)
Key Tracks: Wrapped Around Your Finger, King Of Pain, Synchronicity 1


3) Joshua Tree – U2
U2 was the closest of any band to place two in my top 10, as War is just as an iconic piece to me as this one. This disc showcased Bono and company at the start of their meteoric rise to the stratosphere as the best band in the world, a mantle they truly deserved. The Edge had mastered his sound, and Clayton and Mullins formed the best rhythm section this side of Buddy Rich and….well, just about any bass player. And at the helm? Bono. The man who had so much ego, you looked at him and said: “Wow, I can’t believe his lack of ego”. Yes, he is that good. I can be nitpicky and say the BEST song from the Joshua Tree sessions didn’t make it to the disc, (Sweetest Thing was relegated to b-side status) but the tunes speak for themselves. The opening build of Streets Have No Name (and subsequent Edge classic riff) still give me chills. One Tree Hill MAY be the most underrated “back end of the disc” song of all time. (You will read about my FAVORITE one in the “Discs of 2000”) And the “hits” were just that…hits. As well rounded an album to come out in 40 years, and one truly deserving of the legendary status it has achieved.
Key Tracks: Where The Streets Have No Name, With Or Without You, One Tree Hill


2) Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
Like Vivid defined my high school years, so did John Squire and company for the college years that followed. If someone asked me “What is the greatest debut album of all time?” (oh hell, another list) I would have to think long and hard between this and Boston’s. I can remember distinctly where I was the first time I heard Waterfall, and was amazed and the brilliance in the simplicity of Squire’s guitar work. I overlooked the “weak link” of Ian Brown’s vocals, and instead, let the MUSIC wash over me. I was hooked. From there, it became a weekly case of “no, THIS is my favorite song on the disc”, and what I have learned over 30 + years of listening to music, is that it is VERY rare that every song on the disc held that “spot” with me. Front to back, starting with the rumblings of I Wanna Be Adored all the way to the classic I Am The Resurrection, it is the near perfect album. (even the backwards looping of Waterfall which became Don’t Stop)
Key Tracks: Waterfall, I Am The Resurrection, This Is The One, I Wanna Be Adored


1) So – Peter Gabriel
I fancy myself a writer, and after typing the name and artist, I stared at a blank screen for over 10 minutes, not knowing how to start. How DO you define the album of the 80s? Do I start by talking about the iconic video that it spawned? (Sledgehammer is THE video of the 80, please don’t even argue) Do I start by talking about the iconic MOVIE IMAGE it birthed? (Sure, right now, close your eyes…..think In Your Eyes… see Lloyd Dobler and his boom box, don’t you?) Do I start by mentioning one of the best closing scene songs in THE show that defined the 80s? (We Do What Were Told in Miami Vice….gripping) Or, do I just give in and say that I haven’t even mentioned what I consider the greatest “guest vocal” on a single song? (Kate Bush on Don’t Give Up) In a word…..YES. I could start with any and all of them. I still haven’t mentioned Red Rain, or Big Time. The beauty of the 6 songs I just mentioned….not one sounds like the other. Peter has a voice that is understated and powerful, and every song on the disc, while showcasing amazing musical talent, allows him to shine. Have I mentioned that I haven’t mentioned Mercy Street or Hear That Voice Again?
Key Tracks: (Really?) ALL OF THEM

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lets Rank The......

Radiohead Discography

Amidst the flannel shirts and feel-bad emotions of the grunge movement, a young band from England decided to throw their toque in the ring, albeit to establish in the US, and diversify from there.  Radiohead, to the typical 18 year old college student in the early 1990s, was all about “Creep” and being “so fuckin’ special”, while since then, Thom Yorke and company,  have taken the early days, and built one of the best rock franchises in the past 20 years.  In this inaugural edition of “Lets Rank The….”, it’s time to look at the entire Radiohead catalogue, and dissect the work, 1 album at a time……

8) The King Of Limbs:  God, do I hate to start this list with their latest offering, but when you rank brilliance, sometimes “less brilliant” has to be recognized.  After the unreal offering of In Rainbows (you will have to scroll WAY down) I had high hopes for Limbs.   And, as a whole, it didn’t disappoint.  However, with most Radiohead albums, I can point to 3-4 songs that I would put on a mix tape for a new fan without hesitation.  With Limbs?  Maybe 2? If that?  Now, that said, Separator is in my top 10 Radiohead tracks ever, which is saying something.  I don’t know, it just feels rushed.  Good, not great.

7) Hail to the Thief:  After a long layoff, Radiohead came out with Hail, among much fanfare and hype…and I am sorry, it fell flat.  Yes, there are some thrilling songs, yes, Yorke and company were back in the public eye…..but after the strong opener of 2x2=5, the rest of the album just seemed to be laying in the weeds.  While I would never think that a band would mail in a record, Hail felt that Radiohead, for the first time, was uninspired, and not breaking new ground as they had done early in their career.

6) Amnesiac:  In inner circles, collectively known as Kid B.  After the enormous pub and adoration of Kid A happened, Radiohead fell into “that trap”….how the hell do we follow THAT up?  Amnesiac has the same look and feel of Kid A, so much so that it almost becomes a companion record.  Now, for many a band, to follow up something groundbreaking with a “part 2”?  That would be an accomplishment.  For Radiohead, it became a bane.  Like any offering , Amnesiac is a “must own”, but maybe buy it when there is nothing else to buy at the record store.

5) Pablo Honey:  The young, grunge, I-was-a college-Music-Director in me wants to rank this MUCH higher, as this was the album that made me say “holy shit, this is groundbreaking”  However, when I am objective and thinking rationally, I can’t move this up higher than here, based on the music that would follow.  Yes, Creep is unreal, groundbreaking(ish), and angst personified.  Thinking About You has the lighter side covered in a beautiful acoustic way, and I have put Ripcord and Prove Yourself on comp discs….but…  This is a tremendous debut….and the fact that it ranks in the lower half speaks more about the tremendous outpouring that was yet to come, more than it being inferior.  

4) Kid A:  Admittedly, of the entire catalogue, this album took me the longest time to come around on.  But, once I did?  It became a nightly listen.  The National Anthem and Motion Picture Soundtrack are the two highlights, but front to back, this album is one that makes you sit back and appreciate EVERYTHING that is going on with the band.  What they accomplished with OK Computer earlier, they capitalized on , and brought to a new level.  Kid A may be one of the most under rated albums of all time

3) The Bends:  If someone, and WOW what a strange conversation this would be, asked me tomorrow what my favorite Radiohead song is, Fake Plastic Trees would probably be the first one out of my mouth.  Listening to albums on vinyl has made me re-appreciate the value and oh-my-good-god nature of a Side 1…..when I was growing up, I would argue with friends, friends of friends, relatives…..the merits of a side 1 of an album.  Re-issue vinyl brings me back there in 2013.  That said, side 1 of The Bends is near perfection.  The Bends and High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees is in my all-time greatest three song progression on an album….ever

2) In Rainbows:  it’s close.  I love the #1 album, and it’s a clear winner, but wow, does Rainbows come close.  After Hail To The Thief, my expectations were down.  Yes, it was Radiohead, but my god, Hail was “ok”, they almost have to prove it to me.  So, imagine my surprise, that I could download this music at ANY cost I wanted (a brilliant marketing move by the band…”hey, you tell US what it’s worth”) and it was absolutely brilliant.  Starting with 15 Step (and it’s OMG use of “etcetera”) to the unREAL Bodysnatchers and on and on and on.  THIS was what I wanted Hail to be.  THIS was what I wanted out of Radiohead.  THIS was the next step.  And, on a personal level, it produced my favorite Radiohead song, All I Need.

1) OK Computer: It’s kind of an inevitable conclusion, as OK is recognized as one of the top 10 albums of all time on most “lists”.  Who am I to disagree?  Where Pablo Honey started, and The Bends moved them to…..OKC was the proverbial LEAP into immortality.  I would put the first 3 songs (Airbag, Paranoid Android, Subterranean Homesick Allien) up against any “lead off “ of any album…ever.  (my Pearl Jam fans are screaming….”WHAT????  Have you LISTENED to Ten?) And then, there is Exit Music, Kharma Police, No Surprises…etc…  As close to a perfect album as there could be.  And truly deserving, not only of this top spot, but a top spot in any list of “greatest albums”