Jan 18, 2013

The Dramatics – Devil Is Dope (1973)

Maybe the most ridiculous anti-dope song ever written and recorded. Yet strangely habit forming.

I gotta admit I love this song, creaking doors, hellish screams and all. The funniest thing about it is the guy near the beginning saying "I smell fire".

James Brown – Give Me Some Skin (1977)

James Brown – Give Me Some Skin (1977)

Just proves Brown didn’t lose a step going into the late 70’s like many believe. Even minor James Brown is sometimes astonishing. Listen to that rhythm section. Goddamn.

Need another example?

James Brown – I Refuse To Lose (1976)

Howlin’ Wolf – Moaning At Midnight (1951)

I’ve always wondered about that hummed intro and the way it seems to click off a couple of times – is it a tape splice or some kind of mechanical fuck-up? Or is it just his voice doing that? I stay up at nights wondering about crap like this... Anyways, probably Wolf’s crowning achievement.

Ennio Morricone – Un Amico (1973)

This is the main theme from the ’73 Euro Crime film Revolver starring that glorious drunkard Oliver Reed and Italian action star Fabio Testi.

You don’t really need an introduction to Morricone. He’s just too iconic. But outside of the Sergio Leone westerns, a lot of his scores escape attention and this one just deserves to be heard more often. Being a big fan of these 70’s Italian crime films (known in Italy as "poliziotteschi"), I’d watched Revolver a number of times over the past 10 years or so and was stunned when I heard this theme used in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – not necessarily surprised because Tarantino loves reintroducing old pieces of film music to the kids - but more stunned how it worked even better for Tarantino than it did for Sergio Sollima, the director of Revolver.

Just an incredible piece of music in any context.

Here's the movie trailer for Revolver, with Un Amico used to great effect:

And here's how the song is used in Inglourious Basterds. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't seen the movie, this clip will spoil a major plot point for you.

Willie Nix – Truckin’ Little Woman (1952)

Willie Nix - Truckin' Little Woman (1952)

A little remembered piece of Chess blues from Willie Nix (pictured standing at the mic). It has a real lazy kind of Jimmy Reed feel - shuffling, slurring, ragged.

This was actually recorded in Memphis at Sun Studios, bought by Chess records, and then released on Checker records, which was a Chess subsidary label, mostly known for releasing most of the early Bo Diddley singles and Little Walter. Nix was a Memphis boy who made more a name for himself among musicians than he did the record buying public. In fact, this is the only Nix song I own, from a Chess Records compilation. I’ll be remedying that soon.

Jan 11, 2013

Random Photos Vol. 1

 Billie Holiday

Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry (2012)

The Replacements

Stop Breaking Down – The Playlist

Robert Johnson – Stop Breakin’ Down Blues (1937)

Robert Johnson first recorded this song in a Dallas hotel room in 1937, and although it was passed around blues circles and played by a few guys, most notably by Sonny Boy Williamson the 1st, it basically lay dormant until the 2nd wide release of Johnson’s recordings in 1970. The first compilation, King of the Delta Blues Singers was put on the market in ’61 and became arguably the most influential blues album of all time, although it didn’t feature Stop Breakin’ Down, one of my favourite Johnson songs.

The Rolling Stones – Stop Breaking Down (1972)

Right away the Rolling Stones saw this as something they could rearrange, just like they previously did with Johnson’s Love In Vain in ’69. The Stones version came out with Exile On Main Street in ’72 and it’s a slab of perfection. Mick Taylor’s slide guitar is impossible to get out of your head and the whole Stones swagger is front and centre here with Charlie Watts and Keith Richards locked in. It’s an unbelievable recording that’s straight out of a roadhouse.

The White Stripes – Stop Breaking Down (1999)

This version by Jack and Meg White loses a bit of the Stones rhythm but goes for a sort of John Lee Hooker feel with jacked up guitars (as expected by the Stripes). This song sounds like a fucking monster when you have a decent stereo set-up. Again, another essential recording of this song.

Eric Clapton – Stop Breakin’ Down Blues (2004)

And then we get to old smoothie, Clapton, who recorded a whole LP of Johnson covers in 2004 called Me and Mr. Johnson. I’m a big fan of this record despite being off and on with Clapton himself. His vocals on this are actually a little tougher sounding than what he usually goes for but he has the band reined in nicely and the effect of the record is a sort of lazy Saturday afternoon standing at the bookshelf.

It doesn’t seem to matter who tackles the song – it translates well every time. I think it was Keith Richards who said one of the marks of a good song is if you can play it at different tempos and in different arrangements and it still works. That’s sort of the Bob Dylan template, and it works with most of Johnson’s songs whether it’s Love In Vain, Sweet Home Chicago, Crossroads Blues or Stop Breakin’ Down.

Eric Clapton – Traveling Alone (2010)

Eric Clapton – Traveling Alone (2010)

I’ve never been a HUGE fan of Clapton, but I’m more into his stuff the older I get... I don’t know what that says about me or him... and I’m digging the laidback style on a lot of his records, as well as his commitment to playing the blues when there’s not really a market for it anymore - or at least one that's fading by the year.

I can’t stop listening to Traveling Alone lately... actually I’m all over most of this self-titled 2010 record. This song is just so sinewy and understated, but with this incessant shuffle underneath that moves it along faster than you realize. It's an old Lil' Son Jackson number, one that would likely have been forgotten for a lot longer had Clapton not recognized himself in it. This is a moody motherfucker of a song that gets better every time I spin the thing.

Eric Clapton – Rocking Chair (2010)

Then Clapton follows it up with Rocking Chair, a breezy, almost careless piano driven Hoagy Carmichael written piece, which harkens back to something Bob Dylan attempted on the Modern Times LP with songs like Spirit On The Water and Beyond The Horizon – but smoothed out completely of course... Clapton can’t do it any other way.

It’s a hell of a way to kick off an album. If you go buy it, you’ll hear a lot of New Orleans influenced songs as well – Allen Toussaint even plays on one of them. In a way this feels a lot like one of The Band’s records with all those style shifts that sound effortless. Worth picking up.

Jan 4, 2013

The Gutter Bin Vol. 1: Jan and Dean - Popsicle (1966)

The Gutter Bin aims to bring you the weird, the bad, the ugly... the lowest of the low.

Let's kick it off with what may be the worst song of the 60's, in my humble opinion, from the cursed duo of Jan and Dean... Popsicle.

I like a lot of Jan and Dean songs - The New Girl In School, Surf City, Drag City.

But Popsicle fascinates me with how horrible it all really is. Let's let the music do the talking.


Now just to be fair, let's round it out with a really good J&D song.

Jan and Dean - New Girl In School (1964)

Elmore James – Goodbye Baby (Goodbye) (1955)

Elmore James – Goodbye Baby (Goodbye) (1955)

Elmore James is mostly known for that distinctive slide guitar sound from songs like Dust My Broom and The Sky Is Crying.

But what I love most about Elmore is his voice. It’s always sounded like a saxophone to me, the way it breaks at high volume, the way it vibrates around the words, the way it tails off rough at the end of every phrase. He’s not really singing. He’s blowing as hard as he can and moving it around slightly whenever he needs it to move sideways and break. When you listen to this song, especially once he gets onto the second verse, keep that in your mind and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Then listen for that guitar solo just over two minutes in. It starts out rough but it progresses until it’s just a few picked notes, almost out of the air. Goddamn, that’s good.

Here’s another one from the same year, showing the nastier side of Elmore with that ripping guitar up front and bludgeoning you with the simplest sort of shuffle behind him. Among his contemporaries, only Howlin' Wolf could conjure up the same kind of street alley sound as Elmore.

Elmore James – I Was A Fool (1955)