Monday, August 31, 2009

Song of the Week 8/28/09

Pearl Jam - "The Fixer"

Penned by Matt Cameron, "The Fixer" is Pearl Jam's most commercial sounding lead track from an album since, well, I'd say Ten and "Alive." It's also one of their most optimistic sounding songs in a long time. When Eddie Vedder sings the first verse, I'm inclined to believe he can do this entire laundry list of tasks:

"When somethings dark, let me shed a little light on it
When somethings cold, let me put a little fire on it
If somethings old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it
When somethings gone, I wanna fight to get it back again"

Add in the production touch of Brendan O'Brien (strategically placed handclaps, a tiny piano part, guitars that sound like 80s synths, or perhaps actually 80s synths) and you've got one great 2:55 song.

(Sidebar: Why has Brendan O'Brien made other acts--the E Street Band, cough cough--sound so muddled, yet this PJ track has the treble all the way up? Weird.)

With O'Brien's behind the console for the new album Backspacer (his the first time recording the band since my favorite Pearl Jam album, 1998's Yield) and its 11 tracks clocking in at under 37 minutes, I am optimistic that it might be a damn fine disc. That will only get more excited to see them in Austin at the close of ACL (even if both my friends going to ACL ditch me because they don't care to see the band).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Song of the Week 8/21/09

Brendan Benson - "A Whole Lot Better"

Dear Brendan,

I love The Raconteurs, but four years is too long to wait for a power-pop gem like this.

(And it's too long to wait for an album just packed with ridiculously catchy songs.)

Rock on, and I hope we only have to wait two years next time,


BONUS: Brendan, I think Dave likes you. And way to hit that note in the break!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Song of the Week 8/14/09

Steely Dan - "The Royal Scam"

Once in a great while something comes along that makes me think, "Fuck it, I am worthy of spending this extra money." Three weeks ago I made that call when one of my co-workers forwarded me an email declaring that tickets to some Steely Dan dates at the Beacon Theater were being "discounted" for two days only. I use quotes around discounted because cutting a concert ticket from $160 down to $99 isn't really a discount. I'm not one to shell out that kind of money for tickets that often (the multi-artist, multi-awesome ACL Festival being the exception). Yet I felt compelled to break out the credit card because a) in all my years of Steely Dan fandom, I've never seen them play since they reunited in 1994 and b) the album they were playing on the discounted night was 1976's The Royal Scam. It is, quite simply, one of my favorite albums ever.

A decade ago in the RT20 I did a list called The Top 30 Albums of the pre-'90s. The Royal Scam landed at number-29 (it's much higher now). Back then I described how I came to discover The Royal Scam:

"My sophomore year my friend Dave Hoffman turned me onto the wonders of The Royal Scam. Dave told me that he loved listening to this album at a really loud volume in the dark because it 'totally filled the room.' So one night decided to see for myself, borrowing his copy of the album and listening to it loudly when I crashed at a friend room’s while my roommate’s girlfriend was in town. Dave was right—and I was even sober!!! Songs like 'The Caves of Altamira' and 'Don’t Take Me Alive' just came at my ears from everywhere at once. The topper was the title track—I actually felt a bit scared by how perfect it sounded. I went out and bought The Royal Scam the next week, and have let it fill up many rooms in many different apartments since."

(In some strange stroke of fate, Dave called me just before I was going to the Beacon, I told him I was going to see Steely Dan, and he said almost the exact same thing two decades later. Wow.)

Once the lights went down at the Beacon I had a fleeting thought--"What if this is kind of a let down?" After the opening song, "Kid Charlemagne," I knew that a let down was impossible. The track sounded even more vibrant than the recorded version. The band Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had put together for this tour was, well, smoking. And the entire crowd was absorbing in every note and nuance. When guitarist Jon Herington (who was a star all night) did a couple of tasty licks at the end of "Kid Charlemagne" that weren't on the album, the crowd roared as one. I can't remember the last time I was at a show where the crowd was so in tuned with everything the musicians on stage were doing. This audience (which for the most part was probably a decade older than me) was one of the most attentive I've ever been in, and that made the experience that much better.

When Fagen and Becker and company finally reached the album's title (and closing track), I still wondered if it could fill up a dark room. And my goodness, it certainly did. I could have left the show completely happy at that point. But Steely Dan had other ideas, as they did another 90 minutes of great material. "Aja" sparkled, "Third World Man" from Gaucho was a welcome rarity and "Daddy Don't Live in that New York City No More" was a lot of fun. When I checked the time on my phone and saw it was 10:30, I realized that the show was probably coming to an end and I had probably heard all of my favorites from their catalog. And then, as if to make fun of my faulty memory, they broke into my favorite non-Royal Scam song--"My Old School." It was a perfect ending for one of my favorite shows of 2009.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Song of the Week 8/7/09

Gary "U.S." Bonds - "This Little Girl"

I had a dream last weekend that included this song in the background. I have no idea why. I haven't thought about this song is 25 years, perhaps even more. Fortunately, it sounds better than it did in my dream. "This Little Girl" comes from one of the two Bonds albums that Bruce Springsteen had a hand in making in the early 80s. The Boss attempted to kickstart a comeback for the "Quarter to Three" singer by writing this first single from 1981's Dedication. And it worked as "This Little Girl" became Bonds' first Top 40 hit in 20 years, peaking at number-11. With its sax and guitar interplay, one could easily hear it as a Springsteen song that might have appeared on The River. (Or amongst the amazing outtakes from The River and Born in the U.S.A. eras on the Tracks box set.) Bruce really could write hits for other artists.

BONUS: Bonds tearing it up in 1989. At 1:43 you will see two of the best hairstyles ever...

And this song from 1982 seems very appropriate for today (Bruce knew how to write in the Reagan years):

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Song of the Week 7/31/09

The Moody Blues - "The Voice"

I've found myself relying more and more on one on the iPhone's most basic of features as the months have gone on--the notepad. No longer do I have to rely on stuffing numerous tiny pieces of paper in my front pocket so I would remember what tasks mundane or however difficult I had to tackle in any given day.

With this new found ability I was able to write down a bunch of the songs I had forgotten about that were featured in the CBS-FM Z to A countdown last month. One of those tracks was The Moody Blues "I'm Just a singer in a rock and roll band." I got around to downloading the track, and hearing it brought back a ton of of classic rock memories. I knew "Nights in White Satin" from it being a hit when I was a kid. And when I really got into Albany's AOR station PYX 106, the Moodys were a band I got into quickly because songs like "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Legend of a mind" were cut from the same cloth.

I ended up buying the cassette you see above in the fall of 1985. To my surprise I knew one song on it that PYX rarely played, "The Voice." It was a Top 15 hit in 1981 and I must have heard it a couple of times on either WGY out of Schenectady or WDRC out of Hartford. I was so psyched hearing this tune again. I was, dare I write it, nostalgic for 1981 in 1985. Ah what a weird kid I was...and still am today.

As soon as I saw "The Voice" listed in the audio database at work, I knew I had to have it. 12 listens later and I'm still hooked on that sound that--I will readily admit--hasn't quite stood the test of time.

BONUS: Here's a weird version of "The Voice" on a UK talk show from 1981. Justin Hayward is singing live and the guitar sounds live--yet the drums sound pre-recorded. Hmm.