Friday, January 3, 2014

My Take On.....

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2014

After over 1.3 million votes cast by fans, and the final selection process having taken place, the Rock and Roll HOF will induct 6 new members in April of 2014. (not including two individuals and one backing band) This year’s nominee list was stellar, and provided some good debate amongst fans young and old. While no election is ever “perfect”, in this guy’s humble opinion, the committee got it mostly right. For the acts that fell short this year, I am pretty confident that most (if not all) will get in as the years pass. A quick look at two omissions that stood out:

When the nominations first came out, I honestly thought Jon Anderson and the boys were a lock. Prog Rock is not overly represented in the Hall, and my thought was that pioneers in this genre would waltz in. I was mistaken. There is no doubt in my mind their time will come. No band in the 80’s had a greater resurgence / introduction to the mainstream than Yes. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” would be on any short list of “Songs of the Decade”. The follow up to 90125, Big Generator, is an under-rated classic as well.

The Replacements
I am an unabashed fan boy of the Replacements. “Within Your Reach” still moves me every time, “Alex Chilton” is 3 minutes of pure bliss, and “I’ll Be You” represents commercial success. However, I am not sure if they truly deserved to go in first ballot. Influential? Absolutely, many an “alternative” band in the 90s cited them as influences. I think the lack of TRUE commercial breakout will always be a hindrance in the minds of the voters. Plus, there is this….the unreal ego in regards to their place in music. Case in point: 1989, Tom Petty is riding very high on the release of Full Moon Fever, and picks the Replacements as the opening act for the tour. When the CT date is announced, myself and about 10 friends get tickets for the show. I, slightly leaning towards indy/alternative at this point, start hyping up the opening band to my friends. Really laying it on thick. The night of the show, we are having a blast in the lead up. (in fact, a couple of us had a good 15 minute chat with Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch as he anonymously wandered through the crowd) The Replacements come out, and I MAY be one of three people cheering loud. And before launching into a pretty bad version of “Talent Show” to kick it off, Westerberg takes the mike to say “The Stones are launching their World Tour tonight….don’t worry, we’re better”…..and ten sets of eyes whipped around to catch mine, my friends saying “Really? Who the Eff does this guy think he is?” And in hindsight, they were right (hell, at the time I knew they were right) I love brash from a front man, I love a bit of ego in music. But, to me, Paul has always over rated the bands historical footprint. I hope they get in eventually, but not for a while.

So who did get in? Here we go….

Cat Stevens
I am not going to spend a lot of time here, as I am not a fan in the least. To say this is an incredibly controversial selection, not based on his music, but his politics following his disappearance from the music landscape, is an understatement. It’s almost akin to the steroid users and the baseball HOF. Does one “wrong” thing…..should it keep them out? I would say in the case of Stevens, yes. If I had a vote, his name would not have sniffed my ballot. Is he talented? Sure. Do I respect the music? Absolutely. But his life after leaving the scene leaves me shaking my head as to why he was elected. He won’t show up for the ceremony, that’s for sure….

Linda Ronstadt
I love this selection. Let me take you back to 1976…..a VERY young blogger is gifted money, and is allowed to buy his first 45 single. After browsing the record shop, I decided that the name of the song, “You’re No Good”, sounded really cool. (I was 5, come on….) I got home, ran to my room, and plopped it on my Fisher Price turntable. And what emanated, was something I was not familiar with. A STRONG female lead, over a very rock oriented song. I moved the needle back to the beginning, over and over, even inviting my father (who knows music about as much as I know neurosurgery) to listen to this incredible song. (I still have the image of him lying in the hallway in front of my door) Conservatively, I would say I listened to it 1000 times in the first week. (its only competition was a hand me down 45 of Rhinestone Cowboy….soooooo…..) I was hooked. The voice (now, looking back…..again, I was FIVE) sultry and smoldering. The music, nothing over the top, but tight and solid. She went on to continue an amazing career, before illness denied her (and audiences) the opportunity to continue. I know she is on record as saying that she doesn’t really care either way about the induction. While that may be true, I have to believe that MAY change on the night of April the 10th. The ovation she receives (if she is able to take the stage) will be overwhelming, and one I am excited to be part of.

Hall and Oates
This is a no brainer, has been for a while. For the detractors, look, I get it. Make fun of the mullets. Make John Oates jokes about being a hanger on. (trust me, he is an ESSENTIAL part of this combo, it’s more 50/50 than MTV led you to believe) Make the “whimp rock” slights…’s the thing…..take a look at this list of songs:

Rich Girl
Private Eyes
Kiss On My List
You Make My Dreams
Everytime You Go Away
One on One
I Can’t Go For That
Say It Isn’t So
Adult Education
Out Of Touch

Really? There is a debate here? That is the ’27 Yankees of music’s greatest hits. To continue the baseball analogy: their prime, from 1980 through late 1984, is Koufax-like. An incredible peak. Seriously, go read that list again. There is a very small chance that you read any of those titles without instinctively starting to sing EVERY WORD.

This one was a bit of a shock to me….how the hell were they not already in? Take a moment….let that sink in….if you are a child of the 70s, that had a KISS lunchbox, that waited for WEEKS for “Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park” to debut on TV, that painted their face for at least ONE Halloween….what? They’re not already in?

Cartoon aspect of the band aside, and I get that people “hate” that image; this is a band that has produced influential music for 25 years. (save for a period where it really went off the rails) I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Gene and Paul back in 1992, and met two guys that, for all of the pageantry, REALLY understood what they meant to the music atmosphere. Where “You’re No Good” was the first 45 I purchased, Destroyer from KISS was the first LP I ever dropped my own cash on. I saved and saved, excited to actually buy a full length record. And, in my mind, there was no other choice BUT Destroyer. (I now own a re-release vinyl edition as well) “Shout It Out Loud”, “God Of Thunder”, “Detroit Rock City”…etc….ALL anthems in their own right. (Not to mention “Beth”, the real “hit” of the bunch) This record, their third, hit every note perfectly. Even the “throw away” songs were so well crafted. And, this is just one record we are talking about. They changed their sound SLIGHTLY for the masses when need be, (“I Was Made For Loving You”) they released 4 solo albums at the same time, (producing arguably the best NYC anthem, “Back In The New York Groove” from Ace’s project) and then they took the make-up off. Has Gene become SOMEWHAT of a caricature recently? Maybe. But this is a band that inspired hundreds of hard rock bands over the past 3 decades, and one that deserves its name in lights.

Probably the most debated/hated election since the opening of the HOF. Here is what people are saying:

“They only put out 2 (and a half-ish) records”. Yup, got it…..
“They were only a relevant band for about 3 years”. Uh huh, I hear ya…
“Pure sympathy! If Cobain never died, they would have faded away, and no one would care if they made it or not”. Sure, hard to say, but I understand your logic…..

So, really, I have read that, I understand it, I don’t begrudge the people who think that way.
But here is my counter-argument: they recorded and released the single most important record in the last 25 years. (let it sink in……)


(are you still with me?)

Let me clarify if you are still reading; I am in no means saying it is the BEST record in the last 25 years. I can name at least 15 better off the top of my head right now. But, as far as historical purposes, Nevermind changed rock music when there was a desperate need for a change. Throughout the 80s, save for the infusion of “Appetite For Destruction”, rock music was divided into two pretty lame camps. One: The aging bands of the 70s, turning out the same music time and time again. (seriously, without knowing the songs, could you tell the difference between Foreigner, Styx, Supertramp…etc..etc..) The other side? Hair Metal. Bands that had a “look” but also knew three chords, eating up the MTV landscape, producing somewhat uninspired “rock”. Cue three guys from Seattle, driving down to California, to the now-semi-famous Sound City recording studio, to be guided for 18 days by Butch Vig…..producing a sound that NO one outside of Washington was neither familiar with, nor ready for. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” took the music world by storm, changing nearly everyone’s perspective as to “what was cool”. The anger, the angst, (the video) the passion. Four simple chords…but from a guy that looked like the nerd next door, NOT the “beautiful guy” with more make-up then Jennifer Marlowe. (I FINALLY got a WKRP reference in….yea me!) It changed EVERYTHING. Suddenly, Seattle was the “IT” place. Bands like Screaming Trees, Mudhoney…et al, were getting airplay. Nirvana was EVERYWHERE, and putting on a show every single time. And as the record got more play, the shows became louder, the audiences larger, and the atmosphere around them bigger. For a period in time, it was Nirvana…..and everyone else. For that, and that alone, the nomination and subsequent election is warranted. However, there is a bit more…
In Utero, the studio follow up to Nevermind, while not sharing the same commercial success, is an incredible piece of art, one that was Cobain baring his soul to the world.
Nirvana became the original “poster band” for a fledgling MTV endeavor called “Unplugged”. While they stripped down their own “hits”, the most memorable moment of the show, was an incredible, inspired version of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”. (still a top 3 song from the entire series)
They released a collection of b-sides, Insecticide, that could easily have been a tremendous “3rd” record in the catalogue if no one knew it was outtakes from the previous two recordings.
Sub-Pop (their original label) has re-released “Bleach” a couple different times now, with fans EATING IT UP, as the genius was clearly there prior to recording “Nevermind”.
This doesn’t even take into account that the unfortunate demise of the band, spawned arguably America’s NEXT great rock band in Foo Fighters. (don’t be surprised for a second, if Grohl is inducted again in his lifetime)
I’m not saying I am right. I am not saying this is gospel. All I am saying, as someone who was in his formative music years (college) when it all happened, that I have NO quibbles with this “first ballot HOF” election.

I am going to leave Peter Gabriel for his own piece, as I can’t do my fandom justice in a smaller capsule.
Thanks for the read…..

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Quick Questions for Steven Mandel - Producer/Engineer For Elvis Costello and the Roots

When I was finishing up the Top 12 Records of 2013 series, I reached out to Steven Mandel(@stevenmandel) to get a few thoughts about MY #1 album of the year, Wise Up Ghost. Steven produced, engineered and mixed the album, as well as lending his song writing skills. He was gracious enough to take the time to respond to the quick email with some very insightful thoughts.

- Was there any particular track that was hard to have come together?

The track that was hard to come together was the first one we worked on and ended up as a bonus track. Can You HEAR Me. We almost had Crosby & Nash doing the backgrounds but in the end it was Elvis and Kirk. They never sat right so in the mix stage I really had to buckle down and move them around so they would feel right. This was the track I worked on the longest I believe, partly because it's over 6 minutes. With lots of vocal parts and horn parts.The climactic ending alone took me a virtual lifetime to be "satisfied" with.

- Do you have a favorite track? One that when completed, you knew you had something special?

My favorite track is Grenade. Felt I had helped create a Costello track that was both unique and also something his fans would understand. But the title track is something, when completed, I knew would be on Elvis Costello Compilations til the end of time.

- My favorite track is the title song. The callback to the North album is brilliant. (and made me audibly gasp when I heard the melody come up) How did this song come together?

-Wise Up Ghost started when, after we began work on the album, I realized I should explore some of Elvis's albums I wasn't an expert on, like North. Heard the intro to Can You Be True while driving from NY to Philly. Upon arriving in Philly at 2am or so, went straight to the studio to loop it. Had to continue the next day and was able to find a good way to loop it a certain way that made sense for a new song. Added some fx and sent it to Elvis. He immediately wrote those lyrics and then we recorded the vocals in Vancouver shortly thereafter. Drums, horns, bass, guitars all came later in NY and Philly. Theres 2 passes of drums, one in the left channel and one in the right. Both are live passes, in other words, not looped. In fact, besides the North loop, all the instruments are live full passes.

- Is there a second record on the horizon?

There is no 2nd EC & Roots on the horizon. But I hope to continue pairing up EC and Quest. Perhaps for an album of some sort.