Vale David Bowie.

The stars look very different today.

“And the stars look very different today.”

I will forever remember what I was doing when I heard that David Bowie was dead, as what had been occupying my time that afternoon is now horribly ironic. I’d been listening to Hunky Dory and a stack of his outtakes; I’d been loading reviews of Blackstar, ready for after I’d listened to it (I’m still waiting on its delivery); I’d been learning how to play a few of his songs on guitar. Then mere minutes later, I discovered that he was gone. He is a true Starman, now, I guess.

What can I say? David is one of my greatest heroes. Over this past year, he has influenced me so much, and I in turn admire him more than words can convey. His work, lately, has been so unpredictable, and his death is no exception.

David fell into my life 3 years ago, but it was only last year (when I visited the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition, then in Melbourne) that I became the intense follower of his work that I am today. This can be put down to the exhibition: I entered it an excited yet casual fan, but I left it forever changed by the magic of his art. I’ve barely let a day go by without listening to his music since.

David’s influence and inspiration on me is a gift beyond words. He showed me so much: his sartorial prowess gave me the confidence to dress androgynously and to create my own style; he taught me to stop caring about what other people think, to not force myself to conform, to be truly comfortable in my own skin; he even inspired me to dye my hair bright Ziggy-orange! His music is filled with his incredible passion, emotion and intensity, making it feel so real and infinitely amazing, giving it the ability to make you both grin at its euphoria and cry at its beauty; his lyrics are articulate, intelligent and beautiful, just like the man himself; many of his films are spine-chilling in their brilliance (The Man Who Fell To Earth comes to mind); his ch-ch-ch-ch-changes gave his work such an unpredictable mystery, setting him apart from virtually every other artist in the world; he was a true icon, not only to the “outsiders” that identified with his art but to the entire world, whether they know it or not; his work remains almost as radical as when it was first released; and as recounted in my now-hauntingly-appropriate post from the other week, he knew how to merge sound and vision like no other. He was orignal; creative; intelligent; iconic; heroic; funny; thought-provoking; beautiful; incredible. There is little in this world that has affected me as much as his work.

It’s hard to believe, now, that it was only a few days beforehand that the music world was celebrating both his birthday and the release of his newest album, Blackstar. We’ve had the news for a day, now, but it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. While, deep down, we all knew that Bowie was both human and mortal, I don’t think anyone expected this to happen so soon. Recently, a number of important musicians have also died, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that one of my favourites would be next. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it to be Bowie. He was like a friend I never knew. Like much of the world, I was utterly heartbroken by the news. I rarely cry over celebrity deaths, but Bowie was this rule’s exception.

But David and his work have given me so many amazing memories, so today has not been exclusively saddening. It is hard to forget the times I spent jumping around to ‘Suffragette City’, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, ‘Queen Bitch’, laughing, screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs; the first times I listened to his albums, falling in love with them immediately;  the times I sat and listened to ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’, ‘”Heroes”‘, ‘Quicksand’, my spine tingling, in tears at their beauty; the joy of discovering the mountains of his almost-unknown B-sides and outtakes (‘Holy Holy’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, the Arnold Corns versions of ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang Onto Yourself’). These memories, undoubtedly, will be continued, and I’m certain that many more will be created over the course of my life. While listening to his work won’t be the same again, it will continue to incite such a passion and joy in both me and millions of other fans around the world. Because Bowie means so much to so many people – and his death won’t change that.

Rest in the greatest of peaces, Mr Jones. You were so many things over the years, but your genius was a constant. Planet Earth is blue right now, but we will forever remember the impact you had on both the world and so many of our lives. You little wonder you. xx

david bowie

“I love you so.”

Ziggy played guitar…

EDIT – 14/1/2016: This post will forever be rendered horribly ironic, for just over a week after its publication, David Bowie was dead. I thought a lot about what I’d do with it – whether I’d delete it, change the tense – but I’ve decided I’ll leave it as is, to show how much I loved his work before this tragedy. Rest in the greatest of peaces, Starman – I have always admired and loved your art like little else, and I always will, too.

(credit: Brian Duffy)

(credit: Brian Duffy)

Between last August and October, I visited the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition (recently in Melbourne) twice. Curated with unlimited access to Bowie’s archives, the exhibition was truly amazing. Featuring everything from handwritten lyric drafts, to a huge number of his famous costumes, to the guitar he recorded ‘Space Oddity’ on, the exhibition renewed my love for a near-original protagonist in my fixation with rock music.

Bowie first entered my consciousness nearly three years ago. At the beginning of 2013, a friend introduced me to The Beatles, a discovery that changed almost every aspect of my life. However, as my love of their music grew into an deep passion that is still strong, she began to get tired and moved onto other artists who she also introduced me to. One of these was David Bowie. In the September of 2013, we briefly formed a duo together, and she had started to learn ‘Space Oddity’ on ukulele. She taught me the lyrics, and told me of him. But at the time, I felt that by listening to other artists, I would be betraying my love of The Beatles. He soon faded from my interest.

Bowie reappeared in my life at the end of 2013. One night, a recent documentary named David Bowie: Five Years in the Making of an Icon was screened on TV, and my parents encouraged me to watch it with them. It was through this that I learnt of the worlds of Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke; of Hunky Dory and “Heroes”. I was especially pleased to hear about John Lennon’s songwriting credit on ‘Fame’, though it would be a year before I listened to the song. It wouldn’t be until I began using iTunes Radio in September 2014, however, that I truly became a Bowie fan. Songs such as ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ would frequently play, and I soon grew to love them. It’s been that way ever since.

There is something fascinating about Bowie. Something that allows his work to remain almost as radical and dangerously thrilling as when it was first released. Something that allows him to be an omnipresent component of pop culture, yet remain an icon of the underground. Something that allows him to be among the few “classic rock” artists that makes even the current-day listener feel rebellious and ‘different’, in a time where rock’n’roll has been largely accepted by the establishment. Something which makes his mastery of ‘sound and vision’ among the greatest rock legends of all time. This “something” – his genius – is what I aim to explore today.


Part 1: Vision.

Unlike many musicians, Bowie’s work is not solely musical. Among the great things about it is that he understood the importance of visual mediums, too – like film, fashion and photography. It is this that makes consuming his work a fascinating, multi-faceted experience, and is part of what establishes him as a true artist.

Oh! You Pretty Things

tassels 73 ziggy(1)ziggy

Asides from the music, Bowie’s image was integral in making me a fan of his work. Even more than 40 years after the “death” of Ziggy Stardust, there is still little that looks as transfixing or as outlandishly unique as Bowie did in the early ’70s. Dressing in flamboyant bodysuits and shining platform shoes, cutting his newly-bright-red hair into the famous “Ziggy” cut and applying eye-catching make-up (normally synonymous with femininity), the brand of fearlessly-decadent androgyny that Bowie created with the costumes from the Ziggy & Aladdin Sane periods is so unconventional that it cannot be defined by “male” or “female”, or even by the regular expectations of humans in general. There isn’t much in pop culture today that is as unafraid to push gender (and general) expectations – or looks as plain weird – as Bowie during that time, ensuring that his then-image remains almost as shocking and revolutionary now.

mod david bowiespace oddity hunky dory sesh

Of course, Bowie’s glam costumes are far from his only iconic fashion statement. Almost each era of his career can be associated with various outfits – his mod fashions of the mid-’60s; his hippy-inspired look – accompanied with permed hair – of Space Oddity; the long hair and dresses (and, later, frilly shirts and high-waisted trousers) of The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory; the stylish, minimalist suits of the Thin White Duke and The Man Who Fell To Earth‘s Thomas Jerome Newton; the leather jackets and coiffured hair of the Berlin Triptych; the silvery Pierrot costume of Scary Monsters…and Super Creeps; the distressed frock coats of Earthling. Working closely with talented designers (Kansai Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen), Bowie merged sound with vision (pun intended!), using fashion and makeup to complement and enhance whatever themes, personas and styles he had been toying with at the time. It is his relationship with style that adds a new level to his work, helping give it its glamorous and idiosyncratic edge.

Thin-White-Duke-1975pierrotearthling

Hooked to the silver screen

Another visual medium that Bowie has also made great use of is film; this is appropriate, as he has really always been an actor. He studied mime in the earliest days of his career, and of course, his music (though often autobiographical, as well) is played from the perspective of whichever of his myriad of personas he is portraying at the time. So it is unsurprising that Bowie lends himself well to silver-screen acting, too.

the man who fell to earth 1

I’ve only seen a few Bowie films, so I’ll focus on my current favourite: The Man Who Fell To Earth. Following the story of Thomas Jerome Newton (an alien who has come to Earth, attempting to collect water for his dying planet), the film follows his painful downfall; over the film, Newton becomes increasingly corrupted by human vices and is jailed by the government whom he wrongly trusted, ending with him – spoiler alert – eternally stuck in the world he has been forced to accustom to, depressed and an alcoholic. Bowie’s feature-film debut, the film is bleak and heartbreakingly sad throughout, and almost confusingly ambiguous in parts, leading to its divisive status. However, I happen to love it.

The-Man-Who-Fell-to-Earth1

In my opinion, TMWFTE is a spine-chillingly beautiful film, and this is partly due to Bowie’s incredible performance: the Newton he portrays is always on edge of “human-ness”, though never progresses past this point; too fascinated by human phenomena, too aloof, too strange to entirely conform. Newton feels astonishingly real throughout, and perhaps this is because he is a character that Bowie had, for all intents and purposes, played before; much like Newton, Ziggy Stardust falls to Earth with a mission, and winds up failing, his story also ending in symbolic death. “Otherness” is seemingly a recurring theme of Bowie’s personas. (However, they differ and change often enough to ensure that he remains one of the most mysterious musicians around – the enigmatic and unpredictable nature of his work adding to the experience that is consuming his art. I doubt he would be held in the esteem he is if he was still strutting around a stage in multi-coloured leotards singing glam songs, for one…)

It should also be mentioned that the film owes much of its beauty to its visuals, too – I would write about this, but I feel these stills do a much better job than words.

man who fell to earth final scene

TMTWFTE is thematically as relevant today as it was in ’76. The wall of TV screens that Newton becomes addicted to foretell the arrival of the Internet & smart-devices, and the societal reactions that followed; perhaps Newton is really a human, whose differences have ostracised him from society, making the film powerful commentary on the way we treat what we don’t understand; it provokes questions about what we’d do if we ever discover alien life. It is a beautiful film, and I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t already.

Like the video films we saw

However, Bowie’s acting talents are just as evident within his music clips and concert footage. He acts whatever part – a persona, himself? – he may be playing at the time with charisma, beauty and the same feeling of “otherness” that recurs throughout his work, making the visuals almost as affecting as the music they support. It is with these clips that his merging of sound and vision is at its peak.


Part 2: Sound.

It is no secret that David Bowie’s music is special. But as I listened to his albums while writing this post, I thought a lot about just how special it is. While his visuals are incredible and groundbreaking in their own right, his music is probably his greatest art. There is little in this world that is as magical and exciting as his best records.

Words of truthful vengeance

ziggy lyrics

I’ve felt – for a very long time – that Bowie is an incredibly underrated lyricist. Take, for example, this verse from ‘Quicksand’:

I’m the twisted name on Garbo’s eyes /
Living proof of Churchill’s lies /
I’m destiny /
I’m torn between the light and dark /
Where others see their targets.
Divine symmetry /
Should I kiss the viper’s fang /
Or herald loud the death of Man?
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought /
And I ain’t got the power anymore.

Or these lines from ‘We Are The Dead’:

But now we’re today’s scrambled creatures, locked in tomorrow’s double feature /
Heaven’s on the pillow, its silence competes with hell /
It’s a twenty-four hour service, guaranteed to make you tell.

Or ‘”Heroes”‘, simple yet beautiful:

I can remember /
Standing, by the wall.
And the guns shot above our heads /
And we kissed /
As though nothing could fall.
And the shame was on the other side /
Oh, we can beat them, for ever and ever /
Then we could be heroes /
Just for one day.

These lines from ‘Changes’ (or any from Hunky Dory, really):

I watch the ripples change their size /
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence.
And so the days float through my eyes /
But still the days seem the same.
And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds /
Are immune to your consultations /
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

The final verse of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, illustrating the consequences of fame and arrogance:

Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind /
Like a leper messiah.
When the kids had killed the man /
I had to break up the band.

Ziggy played guitar.

Bowie’s lyrics are a huge part of what makes his songs great. Often, they are pure poetry. He writes with a rarely-found intelligence and eloquence; of fascinatingly thought-provoking subjects. His words are abstract, yet full of meaning; intellectual and metaphorical, yet concise; bleakly realist, yet weirdly uplifting; and for a man notoriously ‘non-political’ in public, the social and governmental commentary he writes is bitingly accurate. His lyrics are surprisingly relatable, too; while rockstars from Mars don’t exactly exist in real life, the themes – love, rebellion, our changing society, general commentary on humanity – that he alludes to are ones that most listeners will easily identify with. There are few artists that write as well as he does, and it’s a pity that he doesn’t receive the accolades he deserves.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies…

I could discuss the technical merits of the music that Bowie and his bands created. But why? Intervals and chord progressions aren’t usually the reason that a fan falls in love with an artist’s music. Take ‘”Heroes”‘; technically, it’s a simple song, consisting of only a few chords and a basic melody – but when layers of intricate instrumentation and its incredible passion and emotion is added, the song becomes among the most moving and poignant ever written.

It was four songs that drew me to Bowie’s work; ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Starman’ and (the aforementioned) ‘”Heroes”‘. Though, in hindsight, all of these songs are actually quite bleak, there is a beauty to them that makes them so irresistible. They are filled with a catchy, passionate ecstasy that forces you – the listener – to smile and laugh and sing along at the top of your lungs, yet are filled with an intense emotion that has the ability to draw you to tears. They are filled with an infectious, affecting excitement that draws you in and rarely lets go. It’s magical.

This ‘magic’ is found throughout most of Bowie’s work, and this was something I quickly discovered as I devoured his albums and songs. ‘The Width of a Circle’ is hypnotic in its heaviness and relent; ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ is catchy and fun on first inspection, yet darkly thought-provoking on second; ‘Suffragette City’ is edgy and thrilling, enough to make you want to dye your hair Ziggy-red and invest in a sparkly jumpsuit; ‘Rock’N’Roll Suicide’ is overflowing with emotion and sadness, yet its inclusiveness (“You’re not alone!”; “Gimme your hands!”) makes you feel as if you are a member of the coolest club in the universe; ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ is lush and theatrical, yet always glamorous – never camp; even his cover of The Stones’ ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ is filled with a tightly-wound fieriness, making it as good as the original.

Once I’d listened to his early albums, I progressed to his later work, which was easily as affecting and overwhelming as its predecessors. The tense, apocalyptic build up of Diamond Dogs medley ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)’ is spine-chilling in its menacing impressiveness; ‘Fame’ is irresistibly funky, making it impossible to keep your feet still (plus, John Lennon!); ‘Station to Station’ is freaky and erratic, its next move unpredictable, exploring countless styles within its 10 minutes; tracks like ‘Sound and Vision’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ are spellbinding in their synthy beauty, distracting you from their bleakness; and his latest work – The Next Day and the Blackstar singles – is still experimental, well-crafted and fresh, easily a match for the current music it is now compared against.

Bowie’s music is undeniably amazing – still as innovative, irresistible and weird as when it was first released. He sings and plays with incredible passion and emotion, making it feel more meaningful, beautiful and real than it could’ve been without – because in the end, it is passion that makes great rock’n’roll; it’s arty and intellectual, yet not painfully pretentious; it’s thrilling, fascinating, radical and stunning; it’s art. It is great enough that it still sends shivers down my spine, even after dozens of listens. The greatness of his music has affected so many people so much. And that is a beyond-incredible legacy to own.


More than 50 years after the release of his debut single, Bowie remains as relevant and active as ever. His newest album, Blackstar, is set for release in a week (on his 69th birthday), and has been hailed by critics as among his greatest work yet; his musical, Lazarus, is being shown to consistently sold-out audiences in New York; he continues to serve as an icon for many current teenagers. He remains as mysterious as ever, too; it is now almost impossible to predict what will come next, and the few media announcements he gives are never quite certain. Nothing is ever quite sure in his world, except for maybe one thing. He is among pop culture’s greatest heroes. (And not just for one day, either.)

blackstar

And so this is Christmas…

Merry Christmas! (via pinterest.com)

Merry Christmas!
(via pinterest.com)

I have an admission to make: I haven’t been in the Christmassy mood this year. Blame this on the fact that I’m Australian. Aussie Christmasses basically consist of hot weather  (this year in Adelaide, it’s set to be just below 40 degrees Celsius) and following traditions started in England and America that are probably more suited to weather around the 40 degree-Fahrenheit mark. Blame this also on the world’s mad rush that begins with the festive season, and the stress of leaving one’s house that ensues. Oh, how I’d love a cold, calm Christmas…

But considering today is Christmas Eve, my Christmassy apathy is something I am going to change. And I’m going to go about this one of the few ways a music blogger knows how: with some Christmas tunes! So here are some of my favourite festive-themed tracks… Enjoy!

‘Christmas Time Is Here Again’: The Beatles

‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir

‘Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy’: David Bowie & Bing Crosby

‘Father Christmas’: The Kinks

‘Christmas’: The Who

‘Merry Xmas Everybody’: Slade

‘Jesus Christ’: Big Star

‘Ghost of Christmas’: The Manic Street Preachers

‘Winter Wonderland’: Cocteau Twins

‘Christmas Wrapping’: The Waitresses

‘Santa Claus’: Throwing Muses

‘Got Something For You’: Best Coast and Wavves

If you’d like to listen to the playlist in its entirety, here it is!

So, what are your favourite Christmas songs? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas, and a great final week of 2015! 🙂

For George, John and Jim

The ten-or-so days from November 29th to December 8th is an odd time to be a music fan – or for me, anyway. Between these two dates are anniversaries of the deaths of two icons of rock, and what would have been the birthday of another. Each of these people have played important roles in my musical adventures, so today I will pay tribute to them.

November 29th marked the 14th anniversary of George Harrison’s death.

image

Recently, I acquired a copy of All Things Must Pass on vinyl. I had not listened to to the album in a while, as it had been pulled from YouTube and I had been previously unable to find a physical copy. I soon got around to playing it, and as the opening slide guitar hooks of ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ began, I remembered just how amazing it is. The album is perhaps the greatest showcase of George’s incredible musicality; his songwriting (catchy, yet not poppy ), his lyrics (perhaps the most underrated aspect of his already-undervalued work – often poetic, yet not too wordy), his guitar skills (expressive, ethereal in its adeptness). The album is a body of incredibly well-written and well-played work; passionate & beautiful, and ‘technically’ good, too. This greatness is translated to much of his other work, as well, both solo and with The Beatles: listen to ‘Something’ or ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (or any of his Beatles tracks from Rubber Soul onwards), or solo hits like ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’. (Many of these songs also display George’s extremely underrated lead guitar skills – his work was always simple, but sounded incredible. It is a pity he is not given more recognition for this.) Still, his work is still very underrated by the public, limited to knowledge of perhaps ‘Here Comes The Sun’ (and the assumption that his cuts were written by Lennon/McCartney) – but those that know of his songs know of their greatness, too. And what knowledge that is!

It should also be mentioned that Monty Python’s Life Of Brian wouldn’t exist without George. Ever since I first watched it as a kid, Brian has been an endless supply of laughs and bad puns, so thank you, George!

SEE ALSO: ‘All Things Must Pass’; ‘Happy Birthday George Harrison!’

December 8th marked the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.

john

Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider John to be both my favourite Beatle and one of my heroes in general. I have said a lot about him before, but I will say it again: John is someone I admire for his incredible body of work, his humour and intelligence, his outspokenness and fearlessness and for the way he changed the world. His lyrics and music were the first thing that piqued my interest in rock, which has since become my greatest passion. He inspired me to begin playing guitar, and he was the first musician that made me want to be one, as well. His eagerness to speak up about inequality, war and other political problems – the fact that he and Yoko were not pleased to sit idly and watch world issues breed – is also something that I hugely respect to this day, and whilst I was politically aware long before I became a Beatles fan, it was his activism that made me think more deeply about my beliefs, too. He has greatly affected my life.

The tragic way that John died does not warrant mentioning. It is both especially saddening and ironic, considering that his mainstream reputation is that of a peace activist. However, John has left an amazing body of work and an incredible influence and legacy, and I feel that this is what is worth remembering. So thank you, John!

SEE ALSO: ‘Happy Birthday John!’ (2014)‘I Think I’m Gonna Be Sad – I Think It’s Today’‘Happy Birthday John Lennon’ (2015)

December 8th would have also been Jim Morrison’s birthday. He would have been 71.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

I can barely remember a time when I didn’t know about The Doors. I listened to their music as a young kid – especially LA Woman – and when I acquired my first iPod, I can also remember being shocked that the title track of said album’s lyrics involved the word ‘damn’, and was adamant that a “song with swearing” wouldn’t enter my music library! As I grew a little older, though, The Doors’ dark psychedelia fascinated me, and they’ve been one of my favourite bands ever since.

Perhaps the greatest case for why I like The Doors is Morrison’s lyrics and poetry. He wrote beautifully eloquent words of thought-provoking subjects, which often still resonate today. It is his way with words that gives a song like ‘The End’ its broodingly dramatic mood, making it arguably among the greatest of all time. His lyrics are part of why The Doors’ music is so different to their contemporaries, and of what makes them so interesting. He was clearly an incredibly intelligent and creative guy, and though troubled around the time of his death, who knows what things he would have done had he lived? I also feel that he is underrated as a vocalist. His voice was incredible and was so different from those around him – it suited the musical atmospheres created by Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore perfectly. It is amazing that a band who released their classic discography within four years – and whose frontman didn’t make it to 30 – managed to change the world as much as they did…

Also, apologies for my sporadic posting of late – I’ll definitely post more over the coming weeks! 🙂

I went to see Tame Impala!

tame impala 3

Tame Impala.

On Thursday the 19th, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favourite bands live: Tame Impala! The Western Australian psychedelic rock band have been touring their home country in support of their latest album, Currents, and I managed to catch the second gig they played in my city, Adelaide, at one of my favourite venues, the Thebarton Theatre. In short, it was an absolutely amazing night!

Tame Impala are an anomaly in the current music industry: their albums are created by just one member (Kevin Parker), the rest of the band only joining for the tours; they play a unique brand of psychedelia that sounds somewhere between an early Pink Floyd album and a modern dance record; their popularity appears only to continue to rise, despite their alternative credentials. They’ve been a staple on the Australian music scene since their debut EP was released in 2008, and each of their three albums – 2010’s Innerspeaker, 2012’s Lonerism, July’s Currents – have garnered mass acclaim, from fans and critics alike. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for about a year, and I’ve wanted to see them almost since then, after reading a number of rave reviews of their live shows.

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More Tame Impala.

I arrived at the theatre about an hour before the show began, and bought a poster beforehand, but it didn’t seem take long for the support act to take the stage for their half-hour set. The support band were named Mini Mansions, and are perhaps most famous for being the side-project of Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman. Their music was similarly psychedelic to that of Tame Impala’s, but bass-ier and more catchy – I really enjoyed it! I had not heard of the band before the gig, but I have since enjoyed listening to some of their stuff.

A little while later, the sold-out theatre finally filled up  and Tame Impala took to the stage! Parker and his band played most of Currents, plus many tracks from Lonerism and a couple from Innerspeaker. I found it mesmerising to see a band I admire so much playing their music live, and it was amazing to hear songs I have listened to dozens of times over played in person!

tame impala 1

As mentioned before, I had read masses of reviews lauding Tame Impala’s live show – not only for their musical chops, but also for their impressive lighting – so I had particularly high expectations. These were well exceeded – certainly, in part, due to their light show! Throughout the gig, lights in shades of every bright colour imaginable flew, throbbed and flashed across the stage and over the crowd, illuminating suitably psychedelic backgrounds projected onto a screen behind the band. The pictures throughout this post are among my attempts to capture their beauty, but I feel they are something that needs to be seen in person to experience their true impressiveness.

Musically, among the highlights of Tame Impala’s show was a version of one of their better-known songs, ‘Elephant’. A stomping, fuzzed-up blues track, the song’s electrifying atmosphere seemed to project onto the audience, the entire moshpit seemingly swaying to the beat. But I felt every song was played well – it is clear that the band consists of incredibly good musicians, and this was perhaps even more obvious live than on their records. One thing I noticed was how close each song sounded to its studio counterpart, a feat all the more impressive due to the lack of 4/5ths of the touring band on each cut’s official version… Both musically and visually, the band were amazing.

It was wonderful to see Tame Impala live – their shows are definitely more than worthy of the accolade they receive! You can visit their website here.

tame impala 4

HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY JOHN LENNON!

john david bailey

(Image by David Bailey)

Author’s Note: I began this post a little over three weeks ago, on John’s actual birthday, but due to schoolwork, interstate trips and mild writers’ block, have taken the better part of a month to finish it. Oh well – at least I published it before November!

Quite a number of musicians I admire had their birthday, on October 9th – John Entwistle; PJ Harvey; Sean Ono Lennon. But most importantly, it would have been the 75th birthday of my favourite Beatle, John Lennon. Wishing John a very, very happy birthday, wherever he may be! I’ve written about John a lot on my blog, and I shall add to what I have already said, today.

For as long as I’ve been a Beatles fan, John has been my favourite Beatle. I cannot remember why I chose him, at first. During this time, I could barely tell each band member apart in the few images I had seen of them – let alone know much about John. Perhaps it was something to do with him being referenced in a novel I was reading at the time, and the fact that I liked ‘Imagine’.

However, it was him I chose, and it quickly became clear – as my knowledge of John and The Beatles quickly expanded – that he would have become my favourite Beatle, regardless of who I had picked first. As I sifted through interviews, read numerous biographies and watched just as many documentaries, John was the Beatle who interested me the most. Of course, I liked the other Beatles, too – George, in particular, has always interested me as well – but it was John who stood out.

At that point in time (the first half of 2013), my knowledge of rock music was limited to its successor in the popularity race: the current incarnation of pop. Rockstars were no longer figureheads of pop culture, instead replaced by boybands and other assorted popstars. So as I gradually became more knowledgeable about both John and The Beatles, perhaps one of the reasons he fascinated me so was that he was so different to the celebrities I had become accustomed to. Instead of singing formulaic songs written by a team of songwriters, John (like Paul and George) mainly wrote his own – accompanied by interesting, meaningful lyrics, and some of the most unconventionally inventive and memorable chord progressions and melodies to ever come out of rock. (At this point in time, I was yet to learn that writing your own songs was commonplace in rock music, so I was especially surprised. However, at the time of ‘Love Me Do’ and Please Please Me, a band penning their own hits would have been somewhat rare, as well – only a handful of rock and pop artists before The Beatles wrote their own songs.) Through reading interview transcripts, and watching both documentaries and Beatles films, I saw that he was both funny and intelligent, qualities that seemingly lacked the personalities of the pop stars that my world was saturated with. His political awareness, too, captivated me – I don’t think I’d ever heard of a politically-aware celebrity before John.

The music, unsurprisingly, was what drew me in first. I had been having music lessons – on both violin and flute – for a number of years beforehand, but my technical knowledge was exclusively limited to the classical concepts I had been taught; and despite being raised on my parents’ wonderful music taste – ranging from Mick Taylor-era Stones and The Doors’ LA Woman, to Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield (both of whom I loved as a small child) – I never showed much interest in rock. The Beatles’ and John’s music was the first that caught my attention, and the first music that I was passionate about. To my classically-trained ears, it all sounded incredibly different to what I knew – even now, with considerably more knowledge of rock and jazz theory, it still sounds “different”. They used chord progressions and fingerings that deviate almost completely from the accepted standards. Sometimes, on John’s songs, there would barely be a melody at all – John’s tunes were traditionally more rhythmic than melodic – but they still managed to be incredibly catchy, and among the best-written songs of all time. Inside their catalogue, which I had only just begun to devour, I discovered everything from tender ballads to psychedelic freak-outs, perfect pop tunes to ear-splitting hard rock, beautiful folk songs to searing garage cuts – sometimes incorporating the values of a number of genres into one. Their musical accomplishments on their respective instruments, whilst not of the classical technicality I knew, were undeniably great – John’s guitar inspired me so much that I began to learn guitar a few months later, something which has now become one of my favourite things in the world. They incorporated elements from classical, jazz and, of course, traditional Indian music into their songs, a concept that I thought genius; and I found their love of experimentalism in the studio – i.e. backmasking, tape loops, etc. – endlessly fascinating. It is this that shows their incredible creativity and inventiveness as a band; it is this that makes them so great. And even then, when I barely knew what a chord was – let alone anything concerning the technicalities of rock music – it was this that I first liked about the music of John and The Beatles. It was this inventiveness that has ensured that they have stayed the kings of rock music for over 50 years, and likely will for many to come.

And through John and The Beatles, I began to receive my education in rock music. As I skimmed through Wikipedia pages for each Beatles song, I discovered the differences between ‘solos’ and ‘instrumentals’; why you don’t have to be technically good to play quality rock’n’roll – just passionate; that lyrics shouldn’t have to rhyme to be among the best ever written (see ‘Across The Universe’). I soon learnt what a chord actually was, and the rules for piecing them together – which, with enough knowledge, are prime for being broken. I learnt how melodies lock together with the rhythm guitar, and drums, and bass; in fact, I learnt about what functions basses and drums serve, full stop. I learnt that there is more than one kind of guitar, and what purpose each kind – rhythm & lead, acoustic & electric – carries out. I soon discovered that John played rhythm guitar incredibly well (see here), so I wanted to pick it up as well – I began learning guitar in the January of 2014, among the best things I ever did, again widening my understanding my understanding (and knowledge) of “contemporary” music. I haven’t prepared for a classical violin exam for over a year, and don’t plan on doing so again, instead replacing the traditional methods with blues fiddle. I began to widen my music tastes and listen to artists other than The Beatles and their solo careers: beginning with The Velvet Underground, The Violent Femmes and the early Stones, and ending up today with tastes in everything from punk to noise rock to psychedelia to blues to folk, and just about everything in between. I dropped my somewhat snobbish opinion that no good music was created after 1980, and discovered a number of favourite artists from each decade, from the ’50s to this year. I began writing songs; I became an aspiring musician; I became a rock music fanatic. And whilst John and The Beatles no longer remain my sole influence – rather a part of an influential melting pot, consisting of everyone from Kim Gordon to the Violent Femmes to David Bowie to Tame Impala – they will always be my first. Rock music has influenced and inspired most of my life for nearly three years, and I can’t even imagine how different it would be if I hadn’t (somewhat accidentally) been introduced to The Beatles, one morning in early 2013.

John’s lyrics, too, had a similar impact. I had never listened to a song’s lyrics seriously before – because, I thought, what was to be taken seriously about them? During a time when the famously eloquent tune ‘Blurred Lines’ (sarcasm intended) was topping the charts, and we had all been subjected to the equally-articulate ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘Call Me Maybe’ for the previous year, quality lyrics weren’t exactly a requirement for pop hits. They never had been, I guess, but I liked lyrics – I wrote poetry as a hobby, and I wanted to hear words that actually made sense, and were written about something other than a bad dance that would go viral on YouTube. Again, as I ploughed my way through The Beatles’ back catalogue, I discovered another of John’s talents – his writing. He wrote about love, but it wasn’t his sole subject; he wrote about everything from his politics to friendship, loneliness to happiness. He wrote about his life and experiences, and this added an emotion and passion that couldn’t be there otherwise. He managed to use as few words as possible, and yet convey the point of his song more beautifully than more could have. The fact that same man wrote ‘Across The Universe’, its beautiful lyrics a strong factor of the song’s dreamy atmosphere; ‘Revolution’, somewhat cynical yet still wonderfully idealistic at its core; the melancholia of ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’; the joyousness of ‘All You Need Is Love’ – this amazed me.  His writing revealed an eloquence, an intelligence and the right balance between seriousness and humour that represented what I had been looking for, lyrically.

Of course, John’s writing skills also shine through on his books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works. (Despite having been a hardcore fan for nearly three years, I have not gotten around to reading Skywriting By Word Of Mouth – yet…) I read the two of them a little over a year afterwards, and adored them instantly. They are absolutely hilarious, consisting of clever wordplay and punnery, satirising everything from politics and religion to life in general – and, of course, accompanied by cute illustrations to match each short story or poem! They showcase John’s incredibly unique (and funny) sense of humour, and I don’t think I have read anything like them before – or since.

(By John himself!)

(By John himself!)

Another thing about John that I liked was his political activism. I grew up in a house where we frequently discussed political issues, so I had always been surrounded by a political awareness, and just as I was getting into The Beatles, I had simultaneously begun to develop beliefs of my own. As I listened to more of John’s music, and discovered more about him, I discovered more about his political efforts as well: ‘Imagine’; the catchy and effective ‘Give Peace A Chance’, recorded at his and Yoko’s famous Bed In; the ever-controversial ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’, which – when paired with the definition of the ‘n-word’ that John used whilst defending the song on the Dick Cavett Show – deserves more respect than it gets; the word-ninja criticism of politicians in ‘Gimme Some Truth’; John’s appearance at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, soon after which Sinclair was released; the fact that the Nixon government felt so threatened by John as to attempt to deport him. His outspokenness and passion for political issues appealed to me – not only the fact that, like a lot of young people during his time, he was not afraid to rebel against the mainstream beliefs of the system, but that he spoke up about what he believed in, too. Instead of seeing John’s politics as naive, as many have done in recent years, I see them as incredibly interesting and thought-provoking, regardless of whether I agree. If anything, they encouraged a number of people to think about their views, which is always a good thing. And it was John’s fearless outspokenness on issues he cared about that aided this – the fact that he and Yoko weren’t afraid to publicly disapprove of everything from war to the patriarchy on prime-time chat shows is inspiring. I sometimes wonder what he would think of the world today: where terrorism threats frighten our governments into fighting back with yet more war, where Australia hasn’t seen a prime minister hold a full term since before the invention of the iPhone, where numerous civil wars rage across the world, where 1 in 5 Australian women don’t have anywhere near enough superannuation due to the gender pay gap. It is sad that we don’t have more celebrities like him today, who are willing to put aside their carefully-cultivated images to be loud about issues that affect our world.

(popmatters.com)

(popmatters.com)

Today, a small but vocal number of people have taken it upon themselves to attempt to destroy John’s legacy by creating serious and inexcusable allegations about him, using various ill-informed online sources. This saddens me, and not only because many of these claims can easily be debunked with a little research. I disagree with referring to John (or anyone, for the record), as a saint – John certainly was not one. (He was an incredibly complex man, by many accounts, and to reduce him to a caricature of a perfect “angel” who served solely to protest for peace is erasing all the other interesting things about him.) Seeing one’s role-model as a divine figure and worshipping them blindly is not particularly healthy. But barely anyone is a saint. No-one is perfect, and this is something humanity knows well – so why should we expect the impossible from our heroes and leaders? Whilst some of John’s behaviour shouldn’t be condoned, people need to remember the myriad of good things he did, as well – these outweigh the (truthful) bad. He made beautiful music; he wrote great lyrics, and hilarious books; he was a wonderfully positive political influence, even if just for getting young people to think about the subject; he’s been described as intelligent, witty and a genuinely nice guy by many people who knew him; he was in the greatest band that ever was, and probably ever will be. Our world would be a lesser place if it wasn’t for his contributions.

And so, a very happy – and very, very belated! – birthday to my favourite Beatle, John Lennon. Thank you for inspiring me, and for your wonderful influence on our world. 🙂

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10 Of The Beatles’ Best Vocal Performances

(via paulontheruntour.blogspot.com)

(via paulontheruntour.blogspot.com)

One of my favourite things about The Beatles is how they never had a lead singer. Each member had opportunities to sing, and with this, they brought their four contrasting perspectives to the band’s music. And of course, they had two of the greatest rock singers of all time: Paul, his voice one of the few with technical merits in rock music, and John, traditionally rougher, yet arguably more passionate and raw. So with all this, it is hardly surprising that there are plenty of stunning moments in The Beatles’ discography when it comes to vocals. So today, I’m naming a few of my favourites! So, in no particular order:

‘This Boy’ (B-side to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, 1963)

SUNG BY: John, Paul & George

‘This Boy’ was the public’s introduction to the three-part harmonies that John, Paul and George would practise together, and what an introduction it is! The three sing absolutely beautifully together, their contrasting voices fitting perfectly. John’s lead, too, during the bridge is wonderfully passionate and raw. Although ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’s cultural impact was obviously considerably larger, it is these vocals that make the B-side musically superior, in my opinion.

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: John

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ is perhaps the best example of John’s vocal abilities. Each section of the song – spanning from surreal psychedelia, to hard rock, to (somewhat satirical) doo-wop – demands a different kind of singing, and John handles this task with ease. Changing swiftly from low to high, and switching styles – from heavier, rockier vocals in the middle, to a lighter falsetto tone in the end – to suit each section’s respective genre, his vocals are especially wide-ranging and impressive here.

‘Helter Skelter’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: Paul

‘Helter Skelter’ is among The Beatles’ heaviest songs – of which there are many, of course, but few as influential as this. Often regarded as one of the first metal songs, it is easy to see why. Alongside the relentless instrumentation is Paul’s vocal. Much like his Little Richard impersonation from earlier in the band’s career, but with more bite, Paul screams the lyrics like a true metal singer. Dirty, menacing and raw, they are arguably the best part of a song that foreshadowed Zeppelin’s debut album by several months…

‘Because’ (Abbey Road, 1969)

SUNG BY: John, Paul & George

‘Because’ is the last Beatles song to feature John, Paul & George’s famously magnificent three-part harmonies. Each Beatle’s voices were overdubbed twice, creating a chorus of nine voices in total, adding to the overwhelming beauty of arguably the prettiest ballad on Abbey Road. The kind of vocals that send tingles down the listener’s spine, the song shows that even when the band was rife with infighting, they still possessed a musical chemistry that most bands can only dream of.

‘Girl’ (Rubber Soul, 1965)

SUNG BY: John

John’s vocals on ‘Girl’ are almost hypnotic. Like with ‘Oh! Darling’ for Paul (see below), the song contains one of John’s most passionate performances. He doesn’t just sing the lyrics; he conveys them – acts them, almost – with such an emotion, a sadness and yearning for the girl that the narrator will never have. They highlight the complexity and beauty of the song, adding to the magnificence of one of John’s best ballads.

‘Here, There and Everywhere’ (Revolver, 1966)

SUNG BY: Paul

One of my Beatles songs – and probably my favourite Paul-penned one – ‘Here, There and Everywhere’s vocals are delicately beautiful in style, much like the song itself. Paul’s dreamy lead highlights the song’s exquisiteness; however, his vocals are not the only stand-out, in my opinion. John and George’s Beach Boys-inspired backing vocals are stunning, too, and aid in bringing a beautiful song, regardless of its arrangement, to a truly ethereal level.

‘Long, Long, Long’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: George

‘Long, Long, Long’, in my opinion, has George’s best Beatles vocals. A soft, “floating” folk song, George’s singing is understated and gentle, suiting the track excellently. However, during the middle eight, the vocals become more intense and stirring, in a way that his singing had never been before. The vocals are perhaps the best part of a song that has long (no pun intended!) been among my Beatley favourites…

‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: John

‘Everybody’s…’ is another of my favourite Beatles hard rock songs – it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s incredibly fun to listen to. John’s vocals are essential to this quality. Whilst not as rousing as, say, ‘Girl’, they are perfect for the song; quite high, and slightly rough (in a good way), they are just as fun as the music itself. Together with the great guitars, they help make one of my favourite songs on the White Album!

‘Oh! Darling’ (Abbey Road, 1969)

SUNG BY: Paul

Each day for a week before recording ‘Oh! Darling’, Paul would go to Abbey Road each morning and practise the song to roughen his voice, as he felt it was too clear beforehand. And boy, was it worth it! Paul’s vocals on ‘Darling’, to me, are his most passionate and are perhaps his best. Like with ‘Helter Skelter’, he screams the words, but with an emotion that was missing a little from the former. They give the song a feeling that makes it among the best on Abbey Road.

‘I’m Only Sleeping’ (Revolver, 1966)

SUNG BY: John

John’s vocals sound fittingly lazy on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’. Of course, ‘lazy’ in the best possible sense – he sighs the lyrics tiredly, yet passionately, like someone who has recently been woken, and is pleading to be left alone. However, he adds the right amount of effort to his performance, making it particularly good. As with ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, the backing vocals are also a highlight – delightfully whimsical, they, too, suit the lazily psychedelic vibe of the song.

 

What are your favourite Beatles vocal performances? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

All You Need Is The Beatles is now on Instagram, too!

Recently, I got around to setting up an Instagram account to go with All You Need Is The Beatles!

tangerinetrees99 on instagram

I’ll be posting about a few different things: mainly updates about new posts on here, my favourite pictures of my favourite rock musicians, images of my own art, photos of gigs I’ve been to (or played myself!), and pictures of my own music-related stuff stuff, like books, posters, guitars & my vinyl collection. My handle is tangerinetrees99, and you can find me here: https://instagram.com/tangerinetrees99/. (A link can also be found in my About page and along the bar of widgets to the blog’s right.)

-tangerinetrees99

My 15 Favourite Albums on the 16th

Reading through the most recent posts of my blog post feed this morning, I found many people had participated in the #top15onthe15th tag, and listed their 15 favourite albums. And I decided I’d add my opinion to the mix, too! Of course, it is well and truly the 16th in Australia, now, but anyway… This list certainly isn’t comprehensive. My full list of all-time favourite albums would probably only fit on ten rolls of toilet paper, and narrowing it down to 15 was certainly hard! But anyway, in no particular order…

Revolver (1966) The Beatles (1968): The Beatles

Revolver the white album

Revolver is easily my favourite album of all-time. Featuring everything from dark, mysterious psychedelic rock, to a garage song with searing hot guitar, to spellbinding, well-crafted ballads, it possesses a special kind of magic. It was the album that made me realise just how special The Beatles – and music, in general – are. ‘Genius’ is oft overused, but it certainly applies here.

Compared with the perfectionism of Sgt Pepper, The White Album isn’t technically good at all. But technicality and perfectionism has never been an essential requirement in good rock music, and the album is perhaps one of the best embodiments of this. Sprawling from proto-metal to soft folk to avant-garde musique concrete to vaudevillian jazz to good-ol’ fashioned rock’n’roll, it transcends genres. Whilst it’s certainly self-indulgent in parts, this contributes to the unconventional vibe of the album. And that – its eccentricity –  is what makes it so great.

Hunky Dory (1971) & The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972): David Bowie

hunky dory ZiggyStardust

Hunky Dory is a work of musical art. Displaying Bowie’s eclectic gift for songwriting – ranging from the pop of ‘Changes’, to the flamenco-infused folk of ‘Andy Warhol’, to the music hall-inspired ‘Oh! You Pretty Things, to the glam-rock of ‘Queen Bitch’ – each song is perfection. Lyrically, the album contains some of Bowie’s best, his unique imagery and way-with-words particularly evident on tracks such as ‘Life on Mars?’ and the aforementioned ‘Queen Bitch’. Utter genius!

There isn’t a single song I don’t love on Ziggy Stardust. Bowie tells the story of a rock star who takes it all too far – subject matter rarely broached by a popular musician – with surrealist imagery, his voice (ranging from the screaming passion of ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’ to the almost-lazy tone of ‘Suffragette City’), thought-provoking lyrical matter and guitars, drums and saxes that absolutely rock. It’s easy to see why it affected teenagers so much at its original release, and why it continues to do so – myself included – today…

Tommy (1969) & Quadrophenia (1973): The Who

Tommyalbumcover quadrophenia

Tommy was my first Who album, and continues to be the one I listen to the most. Whilst its narrative is more disjointed and less plausible than that of Quadrophenia, this is definitely accounted for with the music. Containing everything from the falsetto beauty of ‘See Me, Feel Me’, to the hard rock of ‘Go To The Mirror!’, to the (successful!) ambitiousness of the album’s instrumentals, it is certainly one of the band’s best.

Quadrophenia is definitely my favourite Who album. With it, the band reached levels of emotion, passion and musical virtuosity that would be the highest they’d ever reach. The tracks are something of songwriting genius, again arguably the best of The Who’s career. And though the story is incredibly sad, it’s ability to move listeners only serves as a testament to its power and importance.

Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967): The Rolling Stones

their satanic majesties request

An unpopular opinion here: Satanic Majesties – The Stones’ psychedelic experiment – is almost universally hated, by both fans and the band themselves. And yeah – the lows are unarguably very low (‘On With The Show’, anybody?), but its highs are incredibly high, as well. From the driving hard rock of ‘Citadel’, to the baroque pop of ‘She’s A Rainbow’ and – my favourite – the hypnotic, hazy psychedelia of ‘2000 Light Years From Home’, it is moments like these that make it so good.

The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967): The Velvet Underground (featuring Nico)

the velvet underground and nico

The Velvet Underground and Nico was the first non-Beatles album to affect me, and it’s easy to see why. Incredibly edgy, yet with its share of exquisite beauty; the voices of Lou Reed and Nico delightfully nonconformist; the lyrical matter still controversial to our 21st-century ears, it was totally unlike anything I’d heard before. Ranging from out-of-tune protopunk to the prettiest ballads, it is truly a masterpiece.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967): Pink Floyd

PinkFloyd-album-piperatthegatesofdawn_300

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is – unlike the lengthy prog. rock of Pink Floyd’s later work (which, of course, are ‘gems’ as well) – is a psychedelic gem. The album patents a brand of wild, cacophonous psychedelia – heady and deeply rooted in the underground. Syd Barrett’s lyrics, too, are wonderful. Whimsical and naïve, they add a level of childlike innocence to the music. As much as I love the band’s prog era, it is – hands down – my favourite Floyd album.

The Doors (1967): The Doors

TheDoorsTheDoorsalbumcover

The Doors’ self-titled debut is often regarded as their best, and my opinion is no exception. An intriguing mix of psychedelia and jazz, the music is mysterious and dangerous; Ray Manzarek’s organ, in particular, adds a layer of shimmery beauty to the tracks. And of course, Jim Morrison’s lyrics are as well-written and fascinating as usual, his voice a contrast to the trends of the time…

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970): John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band

JLPOBCover

John’s first post-Beatles solo album is a stark contrast to Abbey Road, the last album the band would record together. Musically, it’s pared back to tough, basic hard rock (with a couple of exceptions); lyrically, it’s a mixture of realism, denouncement of authority and a recurring theme of his painful childhood. But it’s contrast to The Beatles is, again, what makes it such a great album. John had moved on, and he had begun to make great art on his own.

Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015): Courtney Barnett

sometimes i sit

Though only released in the March of this year, Courtney Barnett’s debut studio album quickly has become among my all-time favourites. I don’t know what it is about it – whether it be Barnett’s wonderfully witty and intelligent lyrics, her Australian accent, the music itself (a brand of grungy rock’n’roll rarely heard these days) – but it is impressively good, and will likely be listened to by indie fans alike many years from now…

Horses (1975): Patti Smith

PattiSmithHorses

I picked up Horses at a nearby record shop on a whim, a few months ago, to see if I agreed with all the accolade. I inserted it into the CD player, and turned it up loud. ‘Gloria’ began, with its serene piano chords and Smith’s famous lyric of “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine”. The music soon turned into unique arty punk, something which intrigued me. I felt a sense of liberation – maybe it was Smith’s lyrics, or her singing (which reminded me a little of my own), or her successful merging of bohemianism and punk. But anyway, I knew it was my kind of music. And I’ve loved it ever since.

Attack and Release (2008): The Black Keys

attack + release

Though The Black Keys have forever been plagued by comparisons to The White Stripes, it is with Attack and Release that they prove these claims blatantly wrong. Helped by their then-new partnership with producer Brian Burton (AKA Danger Mouse), it is the perfect mix between psychedelia, blues rock and punk, perhaps my favourite genres ever. Easily my favourite Keys album!

Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (recorded 1968, released 1996): various

Rolling_Stones_Circus

This one’s self-explanatory. There is so much to love: a John Lennon-fronted supergroup (featuring Keith Richards on bass and Eric Clapton on lead guitar) playing a searing version of ‘Yer Blues’, an electrifying Who performance of their mini rock-opera, ‘A Quick One While He’s A Way’, a set from The Stones themselves, featuring a spine-chilling slide performance from Brian Jones and a rendition of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ seven months before its release… Virtually my musical dream!

So, what are your favourite albums of all time? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

On The Who and the rock opera

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Last Sunday – the 23rd of August – would have been Keith Moon’s 69th birthday. Despite only living to the age of 32, Keith was definitely one of (if not the) the most talented drummers ever. His melodic and distinctive technique fit alongside both The Who’s heavy, “maximalist” style and his deserved reputation as one of rock’s most iconic madmen perfectly. Happy birthday, Keith!

The Who are one of my very favourite bands. Although I’ve only been a fan since December 2014, the band’s unique, brash brand of rock (highlighted by the virtuosic ability of each member on their respective instruments) has fascinated me ever since. But there is one aspect of the band that particularly interests me: their pioneering of the “rock opera”. The Who were among the first to record an album linked together by a common narrative. And most of their better-known albums fit under the category, or at least began life under it. So today, I thought I’d write about The Who’s history with the art of the rock opera.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

The Who’s “relationship” with the rock opera began as early as 1966, with their single ‘I’m A Boy’.

‘I’m A Boy’ was originally a part of a narrative concept created by Pete Townshend, named QuadsQuads was set in an alternative future where expecting parents could choose the sex of their children. In the case of the protagonist family, the parents choose four girls. However, there is a mistake, and one of the four girls turns out to be a boy! Consequently, the parents refuse to accept the fact that their child is a boy, and he is forced to dress and act like his sisters.

The idea for Quads was soon abandoned, but ‘I’m A Boy’ was salvaged. Musically, the tune centres around the ‘power pop’ genre which The Who also pioneered until 1969, and was released on the 26th of August, 1966. It reached number 2 in the UK, yet failed to chart in the US.

Pete would create another prototype rock opera in 1966, which was featured during the last nine minutes of the band’s sophomore album, A Quick One, released that December: ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’. The song has since been hailed as one of The Who’s most classic and innovative cuts, and it is one of the band’s first in which Pete’s songwriting genius is in full spotlight.

With the deadline for A Quick One fast approaching, The Who did not have enough material for the album. Pete, trying to find extra tracks to record, went through a bunch of songs he had written but not used for the band, and played these to then-manager Kit Lambert. One of these songs was named ‘Gratis Amatis’, supposedly consisting of only the title repeated constantly in high-pitched voices over a guitar. Whilst none of the songs were deemed good enough for release, Lambert jokingly referred to ‘Gratis’ as a “rock opera”, unintentionally inspiring Pete. Pasting together hastily-scribbled lyrics (about a girl whose lover has disappeared and proceeds to have an affair with an engine driver) and six “movements” in a mere few days, The Who soon recorded their first stab at a concept they would master in later years…

Though the lyrics of ‘A Quick One…’ weren’t thought much of when they were originally written, Pete has said in recent years that they came from a dark place in his subconscious. In his 2012 autobiography, Who I Am, he writes that the words allude to the time he spent with his bizarre grandmother who abused him as a small child. Consequently, he finds it difficult to play live and it was only reintroduced into the band’s live repertoire in 2014, for the first time since 1970.

However, there are a few live versions of the song circulating that are arguably as good as the studio version. The tune was part of the band’s set list of their famous Live At Leeds concert. However, my favourite live version of the song is the one originating from the 1968 Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. It is often speculated that the film’s (which wasn’t officially released until 1996) unreleased status was due to The Stones’ opinion that The Who upstaged them!

The Who would continue to create prototype “rock operas”. The band’s third album, The Who Sell Out, was a concept album about the advertising which was played alongside the music on pirate radio stations. The front and back covers depicted the band members comically advertising different products: Pete applied an oversized tube of Odorono deodorant, Roger Daltrey sat in a tub of frozen baked beans, Keith (too) applied medicated pimple cream and John Entwistle hugged a bikini-clad woman and a teddy bear, advertising a fake bodybuilding course. Between the actual songs, advertising jingles written by the band for the products featured on the packaging were included.

(via medium.com)

A poster showing ‘The Who Sell Out’s packaging. (via medium.com)

But it wasn’t until 1968 that The Who would start to perfect the art of the rock opera, and consequently release what would become one of the greatest albums of all time: Tommy.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

The story of Tommy centres around a protagonist of the same name. Tommy is born at a time when his father, who had been fighting in World War 1, is presumed dead. His mother moves on with her life, and soon meets a man who becomes her lover. However, a few years later, Tommy’s father returns home to find his wife with her lover. In a fit of rage, he murders the lover, unwittingly in front of Tommy. Both parents frightened of their secret getting out, they brainwash Tommy (“You didn’t hear it / you didn’t see it / you won’t say nothing to no-one…”), turning him deaf, dumb and blind.

Tommy’s parents become desperate to find their son a cure. They enlist the help of a hawker who claims he can cure him, but to no avail. The hawker’s wife – the Acid Queen – also claims she can cure Tommy, and injects acid into him, leaving him shaken by the hallucinogenic experience. Tommy soon becomes a victim of the cruel behaviour of those around him: his cousin Kevin tortures and bullies him, and his uncle Ernie begins molesting him. Tommy’s parents also become annoyed that their son will never find Christianity in his isolated state, and start to cease caring as much about him.

However, they are unaware that Tommy’s disability has gifted him with a sensitive sense of touch. Tommy begins playing pinball, and due to his ability to feel the slightest vibrations, is soon established as a prodigy. He wins the title of top pinball player from the highly-esteemed Pinball Wizard, and is idolised by pinball players around the world. But Tommy’s parents still wish to find a cure, and take him to a doctor who, again, claims to have a cure. The doctor’s tests establish that Tommy’s disability is psychological, and, after telling him to stand in front of a mirror, that he can see himself in the reflection. Later, his mother – in a fit of frustration regarding the fact that Tommy will never see or hear her – smashes the mirror that Tommy now almost permanently stares at, and magically cures him. Already worshipped by the world, Tommy now realises his power and begins a “religious” movement centring on playing pinball in a deaf, dumb and blind state. All goes well for a while, until Tommy’s followers realise the amount of control he is exerting on them, and revolt. Tommy again becomes deaf, dumb and blind, and presumably stays that way for the rest of his life.

According to Pete, the narrative of Tommy is inspired by the teachings of Meher Baba, an Indian spiritual master who he had begun to follow. Recurring themes of Baba’s teachings, like love and introspection, connected with Pete and also became central to the album. Baba would go on to influence plenty more Who music, perhaps most famously with 1971’s ‘Baba O’Riley’.

Musically, Tommy is a departure from what The Who had been recording for the previous four years. Rejecting the power pop of before, the album centres around a harder, more overdriven brand of rock. However, their sound owes as much as always to the gifted and melodic bass and drums of John Entwistle and Keith Moon, the equally-talented, rhythmic guitar of Townshend and the amazing voice of Roger Daltrey – so some things stay the same!

Throughout their tours of 1969 and 1970, The Who performed much of Tommy live. The most iconic of these was their performance at Woodstock, immortalised by the festival’s accompanying film and album. They were supposed to be the second-to-last act on the Saturday of the festival, but by the time they got to play, it was the early hours of Sunday…

Tommy, in 1975, was adapted into a musical film. Directed by Ken Russell and produced by Robert Stigwood, Roger reprised his role as Tommy, who he also played on the album. His work in the film is stunning, and would begin an acting career for him. Ann Margaret was cast as Tommy’s mother, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. Other roles included Tina Turner as the Acid Queen, Elton John as the Pinball Wizard and Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie. This made the story of Tommy even more successful, the album already widely recognised as a masterpiece.

Inspired by the immense success of Tommy, Pete begins to write another rock opera in 1970, this time based around a complicated sci-fi plot: Lifehouse. However, this time, things wouldn’t go so well…

According to Who I Am, the story of Lifehouse begins in a dystopian future where rock music has been banned and almost completely wiped from the world. The world is collapsing, and the society’s citizens are effectively programmed and brainwashed into blindly following authority figures. To prevent an apocalypse, the government forces the citizens into a forced hibernation, plugging them into a prototype internet concept named ‘the Grid’. To make the forced hibernation somewhat bearable, and eventually freeing them from its constraints, various members of the society rebelliously set up the ‘Lifehouse’ and begin putting on live rock shows. Various citizens begin to hack into the Grid, and broadcast rock music. The society is drawn into the Lifehouse, and eventually end up entranced by a musical nirvana. In a way, there are a few parallels to the narrative of David Bowie’s classic album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, released in 1972 – in both stories, the world is about to end, and (in the beginning) the world’s interest in rock music has seriously diminished, for one.

Pete’s original plan for releasing Lifehouse was to hire the Young Vic Theatre in London, to work on the unfinished songs for the album in front of an audience, and get them involved in the development of the album. Once the material was developed enough, the concerts would eventually be filmed. Pete also purchased a number of synthesisers especially for the production of the album.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

However, when Pete began to tell the rest of The Who about Lifehouse, its misfortune also began to become clear. The rest of the band found it hard to grasp the concept of the album, and the cost of the album’s making was too large. It was scrapped in favour for a traditional rock album, which would become the highly-acclaimed Who’s Next. Many of the songs from Lifehouse found themselves on the track-listing of Next, and the album is sometimes named as the band’s best album. However, despite The Who’s ever-rising success, the desertion of Lifehouse devastated Pete. Songs from the rock opera would be released on many of the following Who albums and some of Pete’s solo albums. Some tracks originally on the aborted project – like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ – have gone on to become some of The Who’s best known songs.

A year after the release of Who’s Next, Pete – still eager to write another rock opera – began work on what would become the next Who album, and an album now also oft cited as one of rock’s great works of art: Quadrophenia. Though it was given mixed reviews at its original release, and remained overshadowed by Tommy, the album, in recent years, has begun to receive its proper due.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

The story of Quadrophenia is somewhat more realistic than that of Tommy, and centring around mod culture in mid-’60s London, is loosely based on The Who’s own experiences with the subculture during that time. The album’s protagonist is a teenage boy named Jimmy. He is diagnosed as schizophrenic early in the narrative, though refers to himself as ‘Quadrophenic’ in the liner notes that came with the original vinyl release. Each of Jimmy’s four personalities is based on the characteristics of each Who member. Each band member and their personality has one song each dedicated to them, and these, too, are referred to in the liner notes – Roger’s (“a tough guy; a helpless dancer,”) song was ‘Helpless Dancer’; John’s (“a romantic, is it me for a moment?”) was ‘Is It Me?’, a mini-song found inside ‘Dr Jimmy’; Keith’s (“a bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags,”) was ‘Bell Boy’, and Pete’s (“a beggar, a hypocrite, love reign o’er me,”) was ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. The album’s two instrumentals – ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘The Rock’ – plus opening track ‘I Am The Sea’ use the melodies of the four themes, as well.

The narrative begins with Jimmy, disillusioned with his life and desperate to find something that will set him apart from the crowd. He endures time with his parents and a psychiatrist, neither of whom seem to ‘get’ him, and a number of jobs which he can’t stand. However, after attending a Who gig, he discovers the mod subculture and realises it is just what he has been looking for. Jimmy completely invests himself into mod culture: he buys the hip clothing, uses the subculture’s drug of choice (speed), and rides everywhere on his recently-purchased scooter. Finally the ‘cool’ person he always wanted to be, Jimmy also enjoys hanging out with his new mod friends, although he sometimes finds them hard to keep up with. He even finds a mod girlfriend, but she eventually leaves him for his best friend, Dave. Jimmy travels to Brighton, the mod capital, and contributes to a riot with their rival gang, the rockers. Leading the entire ordeal is the head mod known as the ‘ace face’, who Jimmy idolises.

A little while later, Jimmy’s mental health problems get the better of him, and he ends up crashing his scooter and contemplating suicide. He leaves home and takes a train to Brighton, in an attempt to recreate the times he had enjoyed there previously as a mod. But as he walks past the local hotel, he spots the ‘ace face’ – who he once respected more than anybody – now working as a bell-boy, symbolising the superficiality of the subculture to him. Jimmy steals a boat and sails out to a rock by the sea, feeling that the world has betrayed him and that his life has all but wasted away. He sits on the rock, again contemplating suicide, getting soaked in the heavily-falling rain. The listener never discovers what happens to Jimmy on the rock.

Quadrophenia, again like Tommy, is something of a departure from The Who’s previous material. The songs – infused with the heavier “mod rock” of The Who’s first album, My Generation, and the synthier, artier rock of Who’s Next – contain much darker and realist lyrical matter than much of the band’s previous work. Because of these factors, I feel the songs are the most emotionally-charged and passionate of The Who’s catalogue. The performances from each member on the album are better than ever before: Entwistle’s bass work on ‘The Real Me’, and Daltrey’s vocals on ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ are often regarded as career highlights, for one. Arguably the best example of this is on the aforementioned ‘The Real Me’ – accompanying John’s incredible bass are stunning performances from the other three members, as well. Pete’s genius is arguably at its peak on the album, too, with it containing everything from killer riff-based rockers, to heart-wrenching synth-lead ballads, and everything in between!

The packaging of the original Quadrophenia vinyl release included a gatefold cover, on which the liner notes were printed, and a booklet containing the songs’ lyrics, and photographs to illustrate the story.

A picture from the booklet. (via coverlib.com)

A picture from the booklet.
(via coverlib.com)

A film adaptation of Quadrophenia was released in 1979, shortly after the tragic death of Keith in 1978. The movie starred Phil Daniels as Jimmy, but the most high-profile role was that of ‘Ace Face’, who was played by Sting. Quadrophenia was not filmed in a musical format, unlike Tommy, the music from the album instead woven into the background. (However, much of The Who’s early, mod-intended work is used in the storyline – such as the usage of ‘My Generation’ in a party scene – to sit alongside the cuts from the film’s namesake.) The storyline of the film also differs somewhat from that of the album, so in a way, they both stand as great works of art on their own.

Whilst Quadrophenia is usually considered the last iconic Who rock opera, they would go on to record one more: The Boy Who Heard Music. Beginning life as a novella written and published by Pete on his blog during 2005 and ’06 (which you can read on both his old blog and old website, via the Wayback Machine), the story was eventually adapted into a mini-opera named Wire and Glass, released as an EP in 2006. The band’s studio album from the same year, Endless Wire, also includes the mini opera, plus a number of songs that relate to its narrative. In 2007, a full rock opera on the narrative, sharing a name with the original novella, was performed as a live musical also. Unsurprisingly, the story of The Boy Who Heard Music is considerably lesser-known when compared to The Who’s other rock operas, and I have to admit that I haven’t listened to it in full, yet… However, one track from the full rock opera – ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ – was included on a 2004 compilation of some of The Who’s better-known songs, Then and Now.

Many of Pete’s solo albums are also, in a similar vein of much of is Who work, concept albums. 1985’s White City follows the stories of residents living in a housing estate in the ’60s; 1989’s The Iron Man: The Musical by Pete Townshend is a, well, musical adaptation of Ted Hughes’ sci-fi novel of the same name (and also features two songs boasting a personnel including all three surviving members of The Who); 1993’s Psychoderelict (including a few characters who would also find themselves in The Boy Who Heard Music) tells the story of a washed-up ’60s rockstar named Ray High. He has also revisited the concept of Lifehouse many times since its failure in the early ’70s, especially during the early-to-mid 2000s.

The Who’s work with the rock opera is incredibly interesting, and a testament to the genius of much of their discography. Under their ‘opera’ umbrella has come some of the greatest and most innovative albums + songs ever, that have certainly stood the test of time and continue to be discovered by many a music fan today!

At Woodstock.

At Woodstock.