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I Believe In Father Christmas: It’s Not Christmas Until Greg Lake Says So

Count me among the esteemed club that this is their favorite Christmas song of all time.

 

I like it even more than John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Even more than Sir Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

Even more than “Silver Bells” (made famous by Andy Williams then Bing Crosby) which I’ve performed with my Grandfather on vocals.

Even more than “Little Saint Nick” by The Beach Boys.

Even more than Wham’s “Last Christmas.”

Even more than other perennial pop favorites like Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree” and The Waitresses’ Christmas rock classic “Christmas Wrapping.”

 

Yep, I like all those quite a bit too so you know I’m not some morose Emo Shoegazing Scrooge when it comes to holiday music.

 

So why is Greg my YuleBox Hero? Because “I Believe In Father Christmas” hits deeper musically and lyrically than anything else I’ve heard. It’s truly a heavyweight Christmas song in it’s unequivocally arresting sincerity and thematic undercurrents. Let’s put a red nosed spotlight on this tune, make a list and check it twice.

 

The Greg Lake Effect

The haunting sincerity of Greg Lake’s voice was the first thing that captured my ear years ago. There’s a timeless quality to this song as if it exists outside any particular decade or time period. I’ve loved this song long before I understood its lyrics and meanings.

“I Believe In Father Christmas” paints frosted dreamy windows peering into canvases of Christmas pasts.

 

There’s a resemblance in mood and tonal sacredness to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarbourough Fair”, another song which has echoed in the recesses of my memories since childhood.

 

Greg Lake’s meditative ode on the Christmas Spirit stands the test of time exceptionally well—It’s just as pleasing for me to hear now as when I anxiously awaited the arrival of the traditionally pictured type II diabetic Saint Nick and gifts from his pint sized North Pole posse. And I wasn’t helping things leaving cookies.




Folk Sensibility

The folk sensibility of this song is palpably and unmistakenly devastating. It’s disarming, unifying and asks deeper questions beyond the reflexive shop and buy holiday routines. It dares to be confrontational and does so softly through a folk song.

 

“I Believe In Father Christmas” is folk singer Greg in his finest form just like on “Lucky Man” and “From The Beginning” with Emerson Lake & Palmer (ELP). Other examples of his folk stylings include “I Talk To The Wind” and “Epitaph” with King Crimson.

 

It’s the same brutal honesty and unpretentious delivery to your ears that’s a Greg Lake trademark no matter genre he sings in. It’s a simultaneously therapeutic and cathartic craftsmanship of sound.

 

The acoustic guitar melody is a soft intimate fireplace and the deep synth bed that comes in on the second verse becomes warm grounding covers to tuck yourself happily under and let out sighs of relief, gratitude and contentment.

 

Greg’s heart piercing Psalm is undeniable. His vocals are a tuning fork of resonant re–centering for the all too common mindless treadmill stress paced lifestyles people accept as “normal” while drinking half their body weight in coffee before lunch.

 

Plus with the steroidal retail season which tends to overplay holiday music starting midnight on Thanksgiving, “I Believe In Father Christmas” is one of the songs I’m ALWAYS glad to accidentally hear in a store or on the radio:

 

Meanings and Themes

“I Believe In Father Christmas” was written by Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield, who wrote lyrics Greg sang with King Crimson and ELP.

 

As with these kinds of writer/singer relationships like Bernie Taupin and Elton John and Neil Peart and Geddy Lee, there often is not only a divergence of opinion, but a myriad of meanings. This happens because one person writes lyrics while another sings them so there’s a fusion of interpretations and meanings.

 

Sinfield wrote the lyrics about the loss of innocence and childhood belief towards Christmas. For Greg Lake, he sees and sings about the over commercialization of Christmas which drowns out the more elevated meanings of peace and goodwill towards everyone.

 

I can see both meanings in the song. The disillusionment is out in the open in Peter Sinfield’s lyrics yet it poetically walks the tightrope over the pitfalls of cynicism:

 

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
’till I believed in the Israelite

And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

 

 

It’s a deceptively simple song when you first meet it—I appreciate it much more fully now having years of built up perspective to match it. The lyrics unravel wrapped up memories and allow the listener to superimpose a myriad of images from their own ghosts of Christmas past. This is particularly the case with the following verse:

 

I remember one Christmas morning
A winter’s light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

 




The Sting Effect

Call it the Sting effect. slipping in really brutal lyrics in an unassuming pop sounding song. The Police classic example being “Every Breath You Take.” Which actually, Greg Lake preceded it with “Lucky Man” over a decade earlier in 1970.

 

“I Believe In Father Christmas” opens itself up in layers over time. It connects on multiple levels as I experienced as I got older. It’s rare for a song that allows you to grow into it and unwrap deeper meanings and nuances. It baits you with multicolored hooks. It has a pleasant outer covering but then there’s some disturbing subjects inside which need deeper examination.

 

As with songs like these, the listener will shift to confront the darkness they elicit when they are comfortable doing so. The songs can be enjoyed and connect with listeners on multiple levels.

 

Universal Themes

There’s a lake of emotion behind what Greg Lake sings about and his vocals are only the release pressure valve. There’s something far more massive behind just the words that’s at stake. As he sings, he inverts one particular day to a universal, to a planetary level and not just the holiday of one particular religious faith.

 

Greg Lake’s normally upliftingly positive vocal affectation also tempers what could have been a sleighwreck of horror and nihilistic negativity in the hands of another less versatile vocalist. With Greg Lake, no matter how negative the subject matter, you could always hear the hope in his voice, the light inside dark places. This is especially the case with the closing verse and lyrics of the song:

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

 

This is the part of the song which has brought my eyes to tears. It’s the pairing of Greg’s singing and these words. Think of another vocalist who can sing these words and mean it like Greg Lake. It takes a singer the depth of Greg Lake to pull it off believably. He’s not flashy, he’s not the typical “rock star”, he’s a genuinely honest singer who lives inside what he sings.

 

The “I wish” verse is a beautiful prayer hidden in a pop song.  An overture to a larger common humanity that is beyond “isms” and temporary identities false distinctions.

 

It even has some Sergei Prokofiev (The Russian composer known for Peter And The Wolf) thrown in for good measure. The “bell melody” in between the verses is an excerpt from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite, which was Keith Emerson’s idea.

 

Prog Gnosis of Christmas

“I Believe In Father Christmas” was Greg Lake’s first solo track released in November 1975. The music video for the track was filmed in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt and also the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. There’s also footage of the Vietnam War which was still fermenting it’s bitterness into the global culture at large.

 

Like George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s “Last Chrismtmas”, “I Believe In Father Christmas” also went to #2 on the UK singles chart. The band that kept it from number one was Queen with their epic track “Bohemian Rhapsody”, another very early music video pre–MTV.

 

So what does Prog know about Christmas? It seems more than mere stocking stuffers for deservedly titled Godfathers of Prog Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield. Actually Sinfield also wrote a Christmas song for members of another legendary Prog band named Yes (bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White). The track is called “Run With The Fox” and is written in more of a lighter upbeat holiday vibe:

 

 




So if the Prog world is still waiting for Rush to weigh in on a holiday track, I guess we’ll all have to wait for
“The Christmas Spirit Of Radio.” In the meantime, here’s some winter safety tips fromGeddy Lee:

 

So  remember the message from Saints Peter & Greg in “I Believe In Father Christmas” and have the wonderful Christmas you deserve.  And try to deserve it more each year by shedding more light into darkness you find inside and out.

 

Because like the opening line in ELP’s “Karn Evil 9 (1st Impression Part 2)”, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside”, you want people to enjoy life with and have them be warm and welcoming towards you around the Holidays and beyond.

 

And hopefully for those of you who live in areas where weather permits, as Greg Lake would likely paraphrase, “See the snow, see the snow!!”

 

© Composer Yoga

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Celebrities And Fame: A Videographer’s Perspective

I’ve been backstage with members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I’ve shaken hands with Academy Award winners.

I’ve watched some guy other than Eric Cartman sing “Come Sail Away” from behind amp stacks on stage right while seeing thousands of people sing the words along with him.

I know people who’ve won some shiny awards the Entertainment industry gives out.

I know musicians who’ve played, recorded and toured with people everybody’s heard of.

I’ve videotaped people everyone’s heard of. Even that guy who’s enjoying a resurgence of popularity with his impersonation of Donald Trump periodically on Saturday Night Live.

 

But fame, from what I’ve seen, I can tell you it’s just like Freddie Mercury sang of in Queen’s “We Are The Champions”

 

But it’s been no bed of roses,

No pleasure cruise

 

So hence my observations on being around celebrities and how being in the limelight can actually be more like a lemon. Here’s some feedback on how to counteract the knee jerk fan attack and be a class act when you have a close encounter of the Celeb kind.

 

Hive Mind Over Manners

Treat Them Like People
Think about it. How do you want them to remember you (if they would)?

 

Ask Yourself, “How are YOU treating them?”
Like a real person? Respectfully like meeting anyone else you would for the first time or like a freshman girl at a frat party?

 

Treat Them As If You’ll See Them Again
From my experience, it DOES happen. I’ve been backstage with the same public figures years apart. In this case, you’ll be glad you didn’t behave like a dog trying to hump their leg for an autograph or selfie pic.

 

Backstage Etiquette 101

I’ve seen how most people act when they meet someone famous. The industry standard reaction for a picture and/or autograph. The total recall flashback memories. And you know what?

It’s CREEPY!!!

 

Hearing a fan talk about a version of a song from a a gig in Atlantic City 15 years ago along with the accompanying stage banter to the audience dialogue verbatim always sounds like a cross between Stephen King and Rain Man (the Oscar winning Dustin Hoffman movie) to me.

 

I’ve seen and overheard these “Fan Flashbacks”, and “Biggest fan foaming at the mouths.” At times I’ve wondered if I would have to transform from Videographer to Bodyguard–At–Large Power Ranger style because certain conversations turn and veer into Weirdville to my ears.

 

It’s like, do you remember every effing day of YOUR day job? Every single thing? Every early morning slightly comatose water cooler conversation?

 

Well, neither do they and you can’t expect them to. A couple hundred gigs a year, a couple thousand gigs later and it tends to become one gigantic blur to most performers. Long days on movie and TV sets with actors are the same way too.

“Unless Jesus appears atop a Marshall amp stack or Bigfoot crashes Camp Bisco, it’s doubtful performers will remember individual gigs.”

 

So don’t expect a musician to remember your favorite photographic moment from one little gig you saw them at.

 

To gauge how unrealistic and weird this expectation can be, try this simple test with a co–worker:

Ask “Hey, remember that staff meeting two years ago in May where you said “That’s a great idea Joe?'”
At the very least you’ll get an eyebrow raise and possibly a private visit to the HR Department asking you “If everything’s okay.”

 

These same conversations that fans think are acceptable with celebrities and famous people, sound like Steve Carrell’s off kilter character Brick Tamland in the Anchorman movies.

 

 

Being Stuck In Fan Mode
The problem with being stuck in “Fan Mode” when meeting celebrities is there’s no real conversation or connecting on an authentic level. It’s mass production cookie cutter human interaction. Even more so for the manufactured image shaping and enhancement Social Media generation who want to post the coveted “Hangin’ with a Celebrity” pic for like brownie points and response roulette on Facebook.

 

Same Old Song And Dance
In a sense, as a videographer, photographer or backstage/production crew, when you’ve met one famous person you’ve met them all. Don’t get me wrong, being around art is always exciting but the more celebrities you meet, the more it desensitizes you to the OMG! factor. It becomes “Yah, yah, it’s so and so and they really exist outside of TVs, silver screens and tabloids.”

 

Real Is What Real Does
When it becomes somewhat normal to be around celebrities and public figures, you can have genuine interactions with them like you have with your friends or next door neighbor. And that’s more important to me than a picture with someone who won’t remember my name 5 minutes from now.

 

The other thing is, celebrities actually appreciate it over being mobbed by swarms of air sucking vampires with needy attention tentacles.

 

The reason Forrest Gump met so many amazing people in his life is he had no projected needs, ulterior motives or preconceived expectations towards them. Be like Forrest.

 

Remember, you may see some of these people again. How do you want them to remember you? Would you want THEM to trust you around their kids and family?

 

So I don’t go for the selfie’s with celebs or autographs. But I’ve had real moments of conversation, handshakes, and camaraderie on the road. If you are a port in a storm to someone, life will return the favor when you need it.

 

Billboard Turned Cardboard
Years ago, I had a private tour of MTV Studios at One Astor Plaza (1515 Broadway/Times Square) in New York City. The shoot that day was cancelled but it was funny seeing the set left up from the day before. It was life–size cutouts of members of a boy band. And the MTV tour guide telling us of the contrast between having a few hundred screaming fans in that room and a few thousand outside the day before for the Backstreet Boys.

 

Think about how Fame looks from their perspective…

 

Do you want random people you don’t know to start talking shop to you?
It’s not even all that pleasant when they do know you and you’re not hugely famous. I used to get this when I headed up a non–profit years ago.

 

I’d be walking down the street outside my office before or after work and on weekends and it was like, “Where’s my Elephant Man hologram so people will just leave me alone!”

 

You wonder that you even have to tell people I AM OFF THE FREAKING CLOCK. But they don’t seem to get the hint even in street clothes, shades and a few days past a decent George Michael 5 o’ clock shadow.

 

When you’re a Celebrity and famous, you are NEVER off the clock in the minds of fans.

 

Not Every Celebrity/Famous Person/Public Figure Is A Social Butterfly And Blatant Extrovert
Often they’re overwhelmed with all the attention their talents have brought upon them. Often they’re really shy and introverted. But fame requires you to be an extrovert towards fans and various media outlets.

 

Often the side of them that got them famous is just a part of them, an act or adapted self. Michael Jackson is a classic example of this. Howard Stern said this about himself—about the “other” nature of his DJ Persona in his book Private Parts. He is not that person off the clock and doesn’t want to be “that Howard” 24/7. Being “on” all the time and being expected to be is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.

 

Everyone needs down time. Everyone needs privacy. Even your heroes.

Fame Is An Obligation
I’ve had famous people tell me about signing autographs in public restrooms. The standards of politeness with strangers go out the window and fans expect people to be “on” and accessible all the time.

 

In my travels, I’ve actually been mistaken by fans of certain artists who come up to me all nervous. They ask, “Excuse me, are you______?”

 

It’s strange and I’d quizzically say I wasn’t the person in question. They apologize and walk away. But if I WAS famous, they wouldn’t apologize for intruding on my time and personal space. Instead, they would call me rude, a jerk or an A–hole if I didn’t talk to them, give them an autograph or take a picture with them.

 

Double standard. BIGTIME.

 

One time in Orlando I got let in early to a Comic Con because I was mistaken for one of the actors on a panel (I have the same first name as he does and resemble him a bit). But the perks of privilege seem to be outweighed by the prisons of popularity.

 

Behind The Green Room Door
Several times before gigs going over the game plan and setlist for the evening performance, I’ve heard band tales of gigs past and road stories. The funny thing is, band road and gig stories are the same whether the musicians are famous or not.

 

The content is the same. You can close your eyes like a game show and try to guess whether the Jon or Joe being mentioned is Bon Jovi, Walsh or Jantkowski. If the Neil in the story is Diamond, Schon or Neidermeyer. If the Bruce mentioned is Dickinson, Springsteen or Billingsley.

 

For celebrities, life is not always like a box of chocolates. They do know what they’re gonna get, and it’s the same ‘ol song and dance most didn’t ask for and they’re tired of having to do. It’s a mindless Macarena they’re manipulated into going through the motions of by the Media Maestro behind the curtain.

 

Occasionally I’ve needed a spotter videotaping gigs because I’ve have my back to a pumped up somewhat inebriated audience. But I’m glad I don’t need a bodyguard to go buy blueberries and I can live peacefully in Springfield right across from The Simpsons. And all my D’ohs! aren’t plastered across tabloids in supermarket checkout lines.

© Composer Yoga

Entertainment Earth




Sound Mines: The Outfield “Taking My Chances”

The unfortunate thing about massively successful albums is there's songs on them that never see the light of day.

 

Stated another way, if these songs were written by another band or artist, they would have been released and became their signature song in an alternate parallel pop universe.

 

The Outfield had their breakthrough album with their 1985 debut Play Deep. And it was all about some girl named Josie after that.

 

The band have so many instantly recognizable songs: "Josie's on a vacation far away..." see what i mean? And from there, bassist Tony Lewis became known as the lead singer. But there was another singer in the band who you only heard in their signature harmonies, which we'll come back to in a moment.

 

But first: The pop world is still wondering, "Is this same "Josie" Steely Dan hung around in the 70's? Did Josie also attend Bard College with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen then do a semester in London?"

 

Play Deep was huge with 4 singles becoming radio mainstays: "Your Love" (AKA that tune about Josie), , "Say It Isn't So", "All The Love" and "Everytime You Cry."

 

Like Cheap Trick, The Outfield have so many interesting songs buried in their respective catalogs. Do yourself a favor and dig into their deeper tracks. You'll find veins of auditory ore that'll turn you into a more active fan of both bands. Okay I used to live near Robin Zander for those of you full disclosure purists.

 

The Outfield were a brilliant blend of power pop, new wave and pop rock with trademark crisp, clean positive vibes. A band from London and apparently not pissed off about anything when the prices of hotel rooms there alone are enough to piss off most tourists.

 

The vision behind The Outfield was guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter and yes, vocalist John Spinks. And it is John who is lead vocalist on our featured track here "Taking My Chances." John Spinks was a regular "jack" of all instruments like that Canadian Aldo Nova or that Prince guy you may have heard of.

 

For those fans who missed Canadian Musicians 102, Aldo Nova had a major hit with the tune "Fantasy" off his 1982 self titled debut Aldo Nova. You can now safely go back to your Rush, BTO, The Guess Who, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Corey Hart with or without OSHA approved sunglasses.

 

While main Outfield vocalist Tony Lewis showcased a high piercing positivity like Jon Anderson of Yes, John Spinks had a deeper introspective voice which made for a rich vocal blend with and classic counterpoint to Tony Lewis.

 

On top of that, John Spinks' guitar tone is among the happiest guitar tones I can think of. The matrimony of Lewis's soaring vocals and Spinks's guitar tone and style is something that often goes unnoticed and understated for why The Outfield have legions of fans outside the English speaking world.

 

Close your eyes (You Canadians take your sunglasses off) and imagine that "Taking My Chances" was the first tune you ever heard from a new band called The Outfield. You'll see that John Spinks could have fronted his own band as guitarist and lead singer:

Hey Rick Springfield did it. So did Bryan "Sandpaper Larynx" Adams. John Spinks easily could have done so too with all the demos he made that eventually became Play Deep. But The Outfield was a project he enjoyed with his pre–fame bandmates since the late 1970's, bassist/singer Tony Lewis and drummer Alan Jackman.

 

"Taking My Chances" reverses the traditional vocal order of The Outfield winning formula but it still works great. It also demonstrates how well John and Tony blended their vocal harmonies and could expertly weave in and around each other no matter who was the lead off hitter in the song.

 

It's this classic blend of high range and low range vocals which worked superbly for other successful acts generations a generation earlier like Hall & Oates and Kiss. Daryl Hall & John Oates and Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons gave the ear fix for high and lows plus the chorus blends of each. Coincidentally, The Outfield and Hall & Oates both had a hit song titled "Say It Isn't So."

 

This "Master Blend" also worked well for Journey although briefly. The Tony Lewis and John Spinks blend was also similar to Steve Perry and Gregg Rolie. the former vocalist for Santana and original Journey vocalist. Rolie has such a beautiful deep soulful voice, and is best known or singing "Black Magic Woman"  but gives stellar performances on tracks that have been largely unknown and forgotten which is  another story altogether.

 

For just 3 people, The Outfield packed a lot of power and wattage. Their incredibly full sounding choruses weaved from the tapestry of harmonizing between John and Tony gave songs their characteristic punch.

 

The Outfield wrote great pop music and weren't pretending to be anything they weren't. In fact, the same 3 bandmates which became the classic Outfield lineup took a hiatus in the late 70's because the Punk Movement was becoming more popular in England.

 

Instead of getting mohawks, bleaching their hair fluorescent orange, or piercing their nipples with nunchucks, John  Spinks, Tony Lewis and Alan Jackman took a long 7th inning stretch into the mid 80's when the music industry, now steadily dating it's new flame MTV, became more favorable to their original style of songwriting. The strange thing being, even though the English speaking world was all over British Pop/New Wave acts like Duran Duran and The Fixx, The Outfield were never as popular in their native England as they were in the United States.

 

What I've always enjoyed about The Outfield is the production quality of their songs is always crystal clear but never hospital sounding sterile. There's always a vibrance and energy to the music and instruments in the mix. The recording quality is always bright and shiny, it's like listening to sunlight reflecting off chrome. People just feel good listening to them, just like a simple Beach Boys song. And that's all the proof anyone's ears need.

 

Sadly the creator and songwriter of The Outfield, John Spinks died of liver cancer in 2014 at just 60 years of age.  Later in early 2016, liver cancer also claimed David Bowie. But John's legacy lives on as does his pleasantly hypnotic vocal tonality on this track which never made it out of the band's batting cage of potential hits.

 

"Taking My Chances" is great song that got overlooked because it was a track on a album filled with great pop songs. Play Deep quickly went triple platinum and continues to be a Must Have 80's album for new generations of fans.

 

Indeed The Outfield knocked it out of the park on their first album. They could have also hit more singles.

© Composer Yoga

Related Posts To Check Out:
Closet Singles: The Outfield “New York City”

Recommended:
Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”
Closet Singles: Hall & Oates “You’ll Never Learn”
Sound Mines: Bihlman Bros. “Dream”
Closet Singles: Devo “Later Is Now”
George Michael: The Careless Whisperer
Closet Singles: Billy Idol “Hole In The Wall”

 

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Going Solo: Iron Maiden “Caught Somewhere In Time”




I discovered Iron Maiden totally by accident. Up until that time I was listening to bands like Van Halen and Def Leppard and that was as "heavy" as I was getting as a preteen. No heavy petting or heavy metal quite yet. I was still usurping my older brother's music collection and whatever I could forage on local rock stations. Pyromania and 1984 were played to death in our bedroom. I remember Twisted Sister's Stay Hungry and Quiet Riot's Condition Critical vibrating the stereo speakers often and somehow our parents were "able to take it"---that being when Dee Snider aurally materialized as an uninvited house guest. Perhaps the fact that our bedroom was on the opposite side of the house as theirs had something to do with it. When we moved to a bigger house after I entered 7th grade, I began working out in the basement and had just a bare stereo on our second freezer along with my workout albums. Old school Rocky Balboa approved. Okay, it did look nicer than Clubber Lang's apartment. But I was having a hankering for heavier stuff to get the Eye Of The Tiger amidst the sound of Leppards.

 

Back then, Judas Priest was the only "really" Metal band that actually got airplay on the Classic Rock radio stations I listened to where I grew up. It seemed if you had two guitarists, it was "too heavy" for a standard Classic Rock station. It's as if there was an "Elevator Weight Capacity" for bands not to exceed a set number of pounds---4 band members: okay, 5 band members: Holy Crap, it's Metal! Of course there were exceptions. Bands that had 5 members (and 2 guitarists) and passed through the Rock Radio Checkpoint Charlie were The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bon Jovi, and .38 Special, all of which were never considered Metal. The subject matter of a band's songs was a deciding factor in if they were considered Metal or not. Because if you're Metal, you don't write whiny ass songs about relationships. At least that's the way it used to be before Hair Spray and Metal met in a Paul Mitchell salon somewhere west of the San Andreas Fault in southern California. I see a children's book in the making right there.

 

Back to my Maiden voyage. For someone who didn't have a learner's permit yet, I was at the mercy of other people who knew how to drive. And with that, used to go to backyard parties with my older brother and his friends or some of my older friends. It was at one of these backyard evening parties standing around a fire where the serendipity of discovering Iron Maiden happened. I wish I could say Eddie appeared and we roasted marshmallows by the fire from his long scrawny fingers, but this was more towards the Pabst Blue Ribbon spectrum of soirees than Burning Man peyote fest.

 

Somehow several adult beverages landed in my hand and my new friend buzz and I were digging all the rock tunes playing on the stereo blasting raccoons back to the nosebleed seats at the edge of the woods. I remember hearing the words "Deja Vu" on one of the songs. That was all my brain cells bathed in Bud or some other cheap beer could recollect the next day anyway. And with the finest Sh*tfaced Sherlock Holmes determination for solving "The Case Of The Mystery Song" in someone's back yard I didn't know and cannot remember, I set out asking "Hey, who sings a song called 'Deja Vu.?'" I got a lead on this band called Iron Maiden. I then set out to canvas some stores and look for what album the song was on. With the sobriety of Sergeant Joe Friday, a few Iron Maiden albums later (or so I thought), I found it---Somewhere In Time had a track listing of "Deja Vu." It also had amazing Science Fiction cover art (inspired by Blade Runner from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and since I was a huge fan of Star Wars growing up, that sealed the deal. I took Somewhere In Time to the register and with that, owned my first Iron Maiden album. And to this day it's still my favorite.

 

The opening track "Caught Somewhere In Time" just blew me away---Bruce Dickinson's vocals were crazy good, like one of his parents had sex with an amplifier good. I kept having "Holy Crap" moments---this was the first Metal album I actually owned and knew I was hooked for life. I was so blown away by all the songs I'd heard before "Deja Vu" (the second to last track) that I didn't even care it WASN'T the song my drunken ears heard at that party mentioned earlier. Turns out, I found out later the lyrics were actually "Danger---" and it was the the song "Danger" by Motley Crue off Shout At The Devil. The sustain and vocal effects when Vince Neil sings the word "Danger" sounded like "Danger....ooooh" which my slurried braincells misheard as "Deja Vu":

 

Danger
You're in danger
When the boys are around Danger
You're in danger
And this is my town
This is Hollywood

"Caught Somewhere In Time" for me was one of those solos that makes you want to become a guitarist. It shows how much fun you can have on a guitar, how freely you can launch energies from your fingertips and dance across the fretboard like a Whirling Dervish. I was just starting to play guitar and "Caught Somewhere In Time" blew my (back then) short hair back like the famous Maxell "Blown Away Guy" ad of the dude sitting in an easy chair listening to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" which conveniently blows a glass of wine to him:

The "Blown Away Guy" moment I had was hearing solo #2 by Adrian Smith which begins at the 4:05 mark continuing to the 4:50 mark:

The solo ends with a recapitulation of the opening fast tempo riff heard first at the :53 mark. Iron Maiden switches keys often in songs and the solo baton passing between the two guitarists is no exception.
Dave Murray leads off with his slippery bluesy frolic in B flat then Adrian Smith punches it into orbit with this masculine metallic montage in G. The driving ascending staccato triplets across the neck and legato two handed tapping are the solos highpoints for me. You can almost hear the Silverback gorilla.

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At times I reflect how long I've come since buying that album and listening to it in my bedroom as a teenager. If someone were to have told that teenage me that I would someday see all the places I would, I probably would have thought they were talking about someone else. Like "Wasted Years", I saw those cities go by in the night, went from coast to coast of the United States, flown over a few of those "seven seas." On whatever journey, I was always packing Metal, packing Somewhere In Time to listen to. Towards the end of the final track on Somewhere In Time, "Alexander The Great," there's the verse lyric:

 

The battle weary marching side by side
Alexander's army line by line
They wouldn't follow him to India
Tired of the combat, pain and the glory

 

As if the Somewhere In Time album were a personal prophecy or subliminal travel itinerary, I even visited India and got my Indiana Jones on. Years before going to to other side of the planet (which is brutal jetlag), I had tickets for John Williams Night at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox Massachusetts. It's been a Tanglewood tradition where Williams guest conducts a program of his greatest hits: Jaws, E.T., Superman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. At one point, Chewbacca and Darth Vader got on stage with Maestro Williams, but unfortunately you cannot conduct an orchestra with a Light Sabre. It was called the Electric Light Orchestra not the Electric Light Sabre Orchestra there Darth.

 

So there I was, visiting ancient temples all over southern India in the state of Tamil Nadu, which actually sounds like a planet in a Star Wars movie. I was even in a tiger preserve in the mountains and walked out a Survivor. And as for "Jedis", Tamil Nadu is famous for producing more Saints and Realized Masters (Advanced Yogis) than any other location on Earth. On the other hand, Gary Indiana is famous for producing more serial killers (which happens to be a Maiden song and earlier album) than any other location and also The Jacksons for some Thrilling reason. In India, my eyes met the sacred Mt. Arunachala (pictured on the package of some Organic India products), the mountain where Carl Jung spent over a month traveling on steamships just to see in his lifetime. Jung pioneered the concept of Synchronicity which was the title and inspiration for the incredible final album by The Police, which has the tracks "Synchronicity I" and "Synchronicity II" (the tune where Sting is yelling in the intro).

 

So sometimes mishearing lyrics can be a good thing. People mishear lyrics sober so accidentally discovering Iron Maiden was either some jolly good luck or Divine intervention of the Metal Gods. These days the Pope drinks more than I do (My Metal collection is WAY better than the Pope's though). But "Caught Somewhere In Time" is still one of my favorite Metal solos of all time---it's even among my favorite solos of all time. I've since listened to this album on 4 continents, numerous times at 30,000+ feet, watching mountains, plains, oceans and coastlines below me; In and through several countries, dozens of states, countless miles of Interstates, slicing across the country in the night; and also countless nights peacefully lying down in bed falling asleep to it. Somewhere In Time is like a companion I've taken with me in life on the leash of my iPod.

 

Some people don't "mellow with age" as far as their musical palette and tastes go. We just expand in both directions of harder and softer to integrate more of the whole. I still love Metal and know I could listen to it in my 80's, 90's and past 100. I'll never outgrow it and will definitely look better than Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie, who at some point I'm betting will look better than Keith Richards (heroin will steal your youth, health and possibly your life folks---it's taken too many musicians far too early). I just know wherever in time I'll be, I'll want Metal beside me within earshot. I've come to realize I exist "Somewhere In Time" and with music, I'll always have a portable home. And YO ADRIAN!!!

© Composer Yoga

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Closet Singles: The Outfield “New York City”




“New York City” is a gorgeous textural track off album Replay from The Outfield released through CD Baby in 2011. The album featured all 3 original members reunited after recording three albums together back in the 1980’s—back when MTV actually played music videos all day and had VJs (Video Jockeys) like Adam Curry and Martha Quinn (remember them?). Replay was also the final studio album from The Outfield as guitarist/songwriter John Spinks died of liver cancer in 2014. And not because of any “Jagger Level Lifestyle.” Spinks always made a point to separate The Outfield from the decadence and excess that plagued numerous bands stating in interviews they weren’t into smoking and drugs. Definitely a minority in a business that caters to extended adolescence with hall passes for juvenile behavior, and absolution of responsibility necessitating the periodic ass wiping for adults to keep the money train going. A business filled with SWAT teams (Special Wipeup Ass Team) of legal “Clean Up” specialists kinda like the Harvey Keitel character “The Wolf” in Pulp Fiction. As a band The Outfield were more emotionally and psychologically mature and this can be “heard” and perceived in their music. “New York City” is no exception even though the lyrics in the last verse are about one of the most tragic moments in pop music history.

 

The Outfield were a band out of Manchester England, the prototype lineup of John Spinks, Tony Lewis, and Alan Jackman played together in an earlier band in the 70’s. Punk rock was on the rise in popularity in England at the time and the band called it a day. Guitarist John Spinks continued recording demos by himself and put a deliberately dumb sounding band name on them called “Baseball Boys.” He got the idea from a then recent film called The Warrior (like the Scandal song) which had a gang in it called The Baseball Furies. People he took the demos to liked what they heard and wanted to see the band live. Small problem—there wasn’t a band or other “boys” besides John. Spinks then regrouped (a true ‘Get the band back together’ Blues Brothers moment) with bassist/vocalist Tony Lewis and drummer Alan Jackman. After signing with Columbia Records, their manager suggested they pick a different (and less lame sounding) band name so they went with The Outfield.

 

If you’re a fan, you know The Outfield has a trademark signature sound that’s saturated with positivity. It’s a quality they have in common with bands like Toto, Boston, .38 Special, Journey, Mr. Mister (of whom Spinks was a fan), and Night Ranger. This holds still regardless of the subject matter of the song or lyrics which goes to show that intention does indeed come through in music. The Outfield toured with bands like Journey, Starship & Night Ranger so there’s also some truth to pairing bands by their vibe and the intention they put out. On the other hand, their positive vibe was why they wouldn’t have succeeded with a Punk audience in their early days and why they took a decade off in the 90’s when Grunge came crawling out of the woods near Seattle wearing OSHA approved lumberjack work shirts. While some of their British contemporaries The Fixx and Duran Duran were big in England and America, the irony of The Outfield was they were never really successful in their native England. But they were huge in the United States and have a decent fanbase in other countries like South America. Sometimes you really can’t control where your fans are or even if they speak the language your songs are recorded in, but fans are fans and music is the Universal language.

 

“New York City” evokes the sense of wonder and an aura of awe being inside a manmade canyon creates. I shuffle through memories looking out on balconies in several boroughs at the forest of skysrapers. I grew up a few hours from New York City and almost moved there—to Queens actually. I have friends from there: one who opened for Duran Duran and one who was an earlier drummer for The Beastie Boys when they were more of a Punk band. They played in bands that took the stage at places of the Ghost of Music Past like CBGB’s.

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Certain songs are more “visual” in nature and it’s interesting to see what file cabinets of your life they’ll open. A lot of impressions come to mind when I listen to “New York City”, a song which I often listen to coincidentally on replay. A mixed montage of memories surfaces: Visiting my cousin when he lived in Brooklyn Heights watching the conga line of aircraft landing and taking off from his apartment that seemed hanging from some unseen ceiling in the sky. I remember being in Times Square and how it seems “smaller looking” in person. The slideshow in my head forwards itself further through cellular celluloid: Going to trade shows at the Javits Center, meeting a friend and hanging out in Park Slope, taking the commuter rail to attend Brazil Day in Manhattan; Visiting Little India in Jackson Heights and thinking of Adam Curry for some reason; Being in Grand Central Station as a kid for the first time; Navigating the NYC subway system which isn’t as clean or easy to navigate as the Paris (Metro), Berlin or London underground; Video taping a show at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, the same venue people like Bob Dylan, Woody Allen and Simon & Garfunkel performed early on in their careers; Walking on Lexington Avenue where Marilyn Monroe famously demonstrated her new anti–gravity dress (actually it was over a subway vent); Making the Punk pilgrimage to Queens, the home turf of The Ramones (there’s also a Ramones Museum in Berlin I found accidentally while doing photography around the city). I even toured MTV studios—but all I found were the chalk outlines of Adam Curry and Martha Quinn. Yes, video killed the radio star, and reality TV killed the Video Jockey. I do hope Adam Curry found a fortuitous post–MTV career as Daryl Hall’s stunt double.

 

Big yellow taxi’s
Driving over the fifty–nine bridge
Into a jungle
Where reality don’t exist

 

The lyric here refers to the Queensboro Bridge. Simon & Garfunkel also wrote about this NYC landmark in “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” which is better known by it’s chorus “Feelin’ Groovy” since they never mention the bridge directly in the song. Fellow New Yorker Billy Joel also filmed the video for his 1985 single “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” on the 59th Street Bridge. Superhero the Piano Man saves the day by preventing a teen from jumping off the 59 bridge or maybe he just wasn’t paying attention while playing Pokémon GO:

“New York City” starts off with a technique similar to the Genesis song “Follow You, Follow Me” then opens up into a kind of fusion Reggae groove. The intro also reminds me of a slower tempo cousin of Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally.” Spinks was a skilled and underrated songwriter—writes great hooks, big catchy choruses and doesn’t overplay as a guitar player. Leaving space in a song allows it to breathe and engages the listener to a deeper introspective intimacy. The layered melody has elements of ambient music and the “echo” in the guitar line gives it a trailing off into the distance Doppler effect feel. This part of the guitar riff reminds me of an old school 1960’s British police siren responding to a shaken martini at the Bond residence or being called for backup for some Beatles stuck in a TARDIS after a hard day’s night.

“New York City” is an impressionistic pop song that turns multi–dimensional when inside your ears. There’s a brief solo and Spinks has the sensibilities of U2’s The Edge as he floats notes over the songs canvas with minimalist precision. The Outfield released the singles “California Sun” and “A Long, Long Time Ago” off of Replay but “New York City” is more than worthy to bounce off the ionosphere as well (that’s Shakespearean techie talk for being played on radio stations):

Spinks uses guitar textures to paint a spectacular laid back landscape piece. It nicely contrasts the *actual* pace of New York (land of the infamous New York Minute) as it’s more of a dreamy, almost aerial view of the city as the chorus lyric is “New York City, New York City, New York City, looks pretty at night.” The quiet beauty of a city seen from above, seen from a distance. I pair this lyric with images of taking off and landing at JFK, points of view from skyscrapers, walking at street level soaking up the skyline, the “solitude” of being on a rooftop with friends at night.

 

The final verse in “New York City” alludes to John Lennon—specifically his murder in the city he loved and hoped to become a citizen of:

No double fantasy
Someone just waved you goodbye
On a street corner
Your stairway that led to the sky

 

Spinks was very influenced by The Beatles and some production work on Replay was done at Abbey Road Studios. Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s last completed studio album. I remember hearing songs from this album as a kid as my brother really liked “Just Like Starting Over” so I heard it before I knew who John Lennon or The Beatles were. I always dug how John kinda morphs into Elvis in the beginning of each verse. Years later, I played the track “Woman” in a classic rock band, another single from the Double Fantasy album. Other notable singles from Double Fantasy were “Watching The Wheels” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, a song Lennon wrote about his son Sean which also happens to be one of Paul McCartney’s favorite songs written by his former bandmate.

 

As John and Yoko were returning from the Record Plant Studio on December 8th, 1980, Lennon was shot in the archway of his residence The Dakota by a deranged fan who got an autograph from him earlier that day. Assassin Mark David Chapman actually flew to New York earlier that year in October to kill Lennon but for some reason decided against it.

 

The title of the song also merges with the last verse with one of the most famous pictures of John Lennon: Bob Gruen’s iconic photo from 1974 with John Lennon wearing a wife beater that said “NEW YORK CITY.” Gruen bought the shirt for 5 bucks from a street vendor and they tore off the sleeves. The photo was taken on the roof of Lennon’s 52nd Street penthouse. The irony being a simple cheap “homemade” shirt became way cooler than more expensive clothing with brand names and logos strewn and flaunted across them.  It also showed how a famous person in a cheap T-shirt can itself become a T-shirt. The “New York City” photo was taken after Lennon returned from his “Lost Weekend” which refers to his separation from wife Yoko Ono. The “Lost Weekend” was in actuality a year and a half of partying with singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson (famous for the Grammy winning single “Everybody’s Talkin'” featured on the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy) in southern California. Lennon came back to New York City to patch things up with Yoko and return to the city he came to love and embrace as his new home. It was this “New York City” photograph that Yoko chose to be the centerpiece at the vigil in Central Park following his death.

 

Although Replay was the final studio album from the original trio, The Outfield did write new material after 2011 which may be released in the future. Like any group, they probably have a backlog of “outtakes” and unreleased songs as well. John Spinks may have left the planet but the energy that was John Spinks still oscillates here in songs like “New York City” and thankfully we can still enjoy John and John both on Replay.

© Composer Yoga

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Atomic Punk: The Clash “Complete Control”




One thing I always loved about The Clash was the energy they brought to the stage. They played like there was no tomorrow and you could feel it. Even in songs with just a few simple chords, they somehow made it not just count but stand out. And someone like me who has a very large planetary catalogue of classical music in his head isn’t pompous enough to be auditorily blind to appreciating that. The composers of old had an ethos closer to punk rockers than most of the university professors who analyse and teach the music of high culture. The beautiful deep dense emotively panoramic sonatas and symphonies of the great composers can obscure the people behind them but many of them had more than a few “F*uck the Establishment” bones in their bodies and were the rebels of their time.

“Prince what you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.”

–Beethoven, from a letter he wrote to Prince Lichnowsky

 

The Clash came out of England alongside The Sex Pistols, Billy Idol (then with Generation X) & Siouxsie and the Banshees—all groups who knew each other often playing on the same bills in the early days when Punk emerged from the primordial soup of muddy Doc Martens and MIA front teeth. The press & media were standing by to perform an abortion on Punk Rock before it’s existence was in the newspapers. They flung the obligatory tomatoes at something new they didn’t understand as it’s easier to dismiss and stereotype than it is to understand people and groups on their own terms. Punk groups were singing about how everything is not bloody well right (no offense to Supertramp) in everyone’s life regardless of what’s on the Tele. In a sense, Punk Rock was early alternate media—telling it like it is, telling the unpopular, telling it from the frontlines, down in the trenches. But people want to hate the messenger, especially if the Postman wears nose rings and rings twice. It’s easier to character assassinate because in many people’s minds, this then negates the message then they don’t have to take responsibility for something actually being wrong. If Punk Rock was “acting out”, then the media and press response was a defense mechanism attempting to preserve a sanitized version of reality for the public, that everything is indeed cheerio and jolly good. Suffice to say, people who need movies with happy endings, probably don’t have a stellar punk rock collection.

 

A part of this first wave of British Punk, The Clash released their debut album The Clash in 1977. It did well in the United Kingdom but their record company feared that it’s rawness and low quality “garage band” quality recording wouldn’t work in the American market. I guess “someone’s really smart.” And what album became the best selling import album in the US during this time? That one they thought wouldn’t sell across the pond. CBS then released a version for the North American market with a different track listing than the original including the new track “Complete Control”, which was ironically inspired by an incident of their doing. Necessity may be the mother of all invention but bullsh*t has been known to give birth on occasion as the paternity test indicates with “Complete Control.”

 

Reggae was huge in England at the time and The Clash did a cover of the Junior Murvin hit “Police and Thieves” produced by Reggae artist Lee “Scratch” Perry on their original UK debut album release. Perry, who lived in Jamaica, heard it and became a fan of the band. As luck would have it, The Clash found out Perry was in London at the time working on an album for Bob Marley & the Wailers. They asked him to produce a single and he was game, Mon. “Complete Control” was also the first track Topper Headon played on with The Clash. Original drummer Terry Chimes, recorded most of the tracks on The Clash but left the band which is the reason only Joe, Mick & Paul are pictured on the album cover. They weren’t taking a page from Spinal Tap.

 

“Complete Control” inaugurated the vintage Clash line up which continued until 1982’s Combat Rock:

Joe Strummer (lead vocals, rhythm guitar). Strummer was born John Graham Mellor and went by the stagename Woody Mellor in his PC days (Pre–Clash).

Paul Simonon (bassist, vocals). Simonon is the one pictured smashing his guitar onstage in the iconic album cover London Calling. He also came up with the band’s name after seeing the term “Clash” repeatedly in newspapers.

Mick Jones (lead guitar, lead vocals). Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite (B.A.D.) after the breakup of The Clash who are best known for their #1 single “Rush” in 1991 which can easily be mistaken as a Clash tune. He was also co founder of General Public and played on their hit single “Tenderness.”

Nicky “Topper” Headon (drums & percussion). Paul Simonon gave him the nickname “Topper” as he resembled the Mickey the Monkey character in the Topper comic book. Headon is a well rounded musician who also plays guitar, bass & piano. Headon wrote and performed the piano, bass & drums on their most successful single “Rock The Casbah” (Joe Strummer on lead vocals) which reached #8 in the US. Combat Rock also included the stylized “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (Mick Jones on lead vocals), and was the most successful album of their career. Being in Florida and seeing armadillos running around, I’d have MTV flashbacks and the Pavlovian response expecting to see The Clash performing nearby behind banyan trees.

 

“Complete Control” is a punk rock classic by any standard. I’d say this regardless of wherever it had any chart success due to the authenticity of the angst alone. But I wasn’t the only one who really appreciated this punk rock uppercut to the recording industry. “Complete Control” reached #28 on the charts and is widely considered one of punk’s greatest songs. Even more so, it’s even listed in the Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time which encompasses numerous genres other than punk. With “Complete Control,” The Clash wrote a 3 minute masterpiece. It’s middle finger mayhem, an S.O.S. encased in time, a testament of when raw testosterone goes up against something it can’t bulldoze by itself and needs the backup of wit.

 

The song was even prophetic: At the 1:08 mark the late Joe Strummer sings the phrase “You’re my Guitar Hero!!” to Mick Jones, which years later went on to become the name of the popular video game franchise. No doubt because of the reference, “Complete Control” was included in the video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith.

 

The price of admission for me though is the breakdown at 1:41 and the outro. The breakdown then ramps up to an even more high energy outro with an awesome display of vocal interplay. The song briefly morphs to a more melodic buildup then guitars shift into overdrive with Mick Jones almost chanting the backing vocal behind Strummer that’s just a beautifully brutal combination.

 

Total
C—o—n control – that means you!

 

Strummer is like a lion in a cage at this point in the song. The guitars and drums are past the point of belligerence and Mick Jones is the sonic boom that sends this ball of fury into orbit:

Musically they achieve the equivalent of a controlled eruption with Strummer ejecting lyrical lava in all directions. What it achieves for the listener is a cathartic caldera in the wake of its seismic soundwaves. “Complete Control” is pure controlled chaos that cauterizes the ear canals from bullsh*t with a timeless sense of psychic camaraderie.

 

How much do I like this tune? Let me put it this way: “Complete Control” is my workout mix along with other selections of metal, hard rock, punk, goth, rock, & industrial. Often I’ll have “Complete Control” on replay through my ENTIRE workout. Yes I’ve listened to it on replay for an hour or more at a time. It’s like an IV of adrenaline for exercising or a pissed off palliative pill when you’ve had more than the average bad hair day with your mohawk.

 

“Complete Control” is a song about the recording industry that spikes the spite meter—a middle finger anthem against the parade of unsavory people & practices that are unfortunately joined at the hip with the entertainment industry. “Complete Control” however is no orphan, only child or C–Note section delivery. It has several vinyl siblings. Other songs in this dysfunctional family include:

 

“The Stroke” by Billy Squier (my niece used to think the chorus was saying “Old Man Muffin” instead of “Stroke Me, Stroke Me.”)
“Rock & Roll Band” by Boston
“Workin’ For MCA” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

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The Clash never cared about being rock stars or becoming media darlings. They weren’t going on stage as pretty boys with perfect hair and designer clothes to make the cover of fashion magazines. In an industry rife with value addeds & hanger ons, its sobering to have a band stripped down to a bare sense of purpose. When you remove all the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry it comes down to the music & your message—the zero point pulse the record companies & peripheral industry sidekicks line their purses with. It took punk to blow the bloated house of cards down.

 

A friend of mine who’s former Army loves The Clash as well. Once when we were talking, I mentioned how The Clash went onstage like they were showing up for battle: The adrenaline, the energy, the take no prisoners attitude. It’s refreshing to have a band out there that wasn’t overly preoccupied with the tits of the girls in the front row. When this is your inspiration for lyrics, the lifestyle of the rock star playing “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” (or hoe??) with the nightly conga line of groupies, those lyrics really don’t age well and someday you’ll become a geriatric juvenile singing them in your golden oldies at casino gigs in New England. At least that’s what my Magic 8 Ball told me.

 

The Clash always picked subject matter outside of the blue plastic kiddie pool other bands can make a career of. And there were plenty of lyrical battles for The Clash to crosshair in their career: greed, ignorance, war, militarism, police brutality, religion, racism, intolerance, repression, unemployment, politics and good ‘ol fashioned basic stupidity. The Clash weren’t about love songs and idealized fairy tale pop song lyrics. And with that, punk and metal tend to be a DMZ (De Merchandised Zone) from cross–merchandising, fashionistas, fluff, hype and “pat ourselves on the back” industry award ceremonies. Like one of my friends said about this industry that he’s survived in and navigated over the years: “It’s a can of beans to them.” Meaning your music, your art, your creativity is just another product to them to market like a can of beans to make a profit. They’re fair weather fans, as long as profits are in the forecast.

 

It’s this mentality which gave the impetus for The Clash to write “Complete Control.” They were peeved that their record label (CBS) released another song off The Clash called “Remote Control” (which they thought was a weak song on the album) without their consent. I interpret “Complete Control” as a narrative song about the kinds of things that happen in the industry and with the media. I don’t think The Clash were naive to the realities of success going in as some critics have said. It seems they get this impression because they interpret the lyrics literally when really you can hear the biting sarcasm in the way Joe Strummer delivers the vocals and the digs he makes at the “record executive” mentality:

 

Ooh ooh ooh someone’s really smart

They said we’d be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant let’s make a lotsa mon-ee
An’ worry about it later

 

Sociologically, it’s two worlds that would probably never intersect but do so only because there’s a ton of money to be made off the success of ANY music. And it seems many record execs wouldn’t be at concerts on their own dime of many of the artists on their roster if they worked in another profession. So many pretend or force themselves to like the majority of “product” in their profession because it’s what lines their pockets. Keep up a fan face to keep that corner office.

 

“Complete Control” presents a photographic slideshow of various hypocrisy; how in the entertainment industry you’ll be told things that aren’t true, told things to string you along, told one thing then have something else done behind your back.

 

They said release ‘Remote Control’
But we didn’t want it on the label

Ooh ooh ooh have we done something wrong?
Ooh ooh ooh complete control, even over this song

Ooh ooh ooh I’ll never understand
Ooh ooh ooh complete control – lemme see your other hand!

 

In the breakdown, Joe Strummer issues a rebuttal in pseudo soliloquy to critics of the punk movement and their band, then catapults a strategic salvo by re–purposing their own words—words their detractors would choke on years later:

 

I don’t judge you why do you judge me…huh?

All over the news spread fast
They’re dirty, they’re filthy
They ain’t gonna last!

 

And this was what they were hearing around the time of their first album in the late 70’s. We don’t need DNA testing to verify these critics weren’t related to Nostradamus. The Clash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003. Unfortunately Joe Strummer died of just a few weeks prior from a congenital heart defect that went undiagnosed his entire life. It’s amazing he lived as long as he did with such a condition.

 

Part of the reason for the longevity of The Clash is they drew on numerous influences outside of punk such as Reggae, Dub, Funk, Blues, Rock, Rockabilly, Ska & Rap to name a few. If Parliment was “Funkatizing” their musical influences, The Clash were “Punkatizing” theirs. The cultural and musical legacy of The Clash has influenced generations of musicians and continues to do so. Both Bono & The Edge have stated how much The Clash influenced them as well as countless other musicians from all genres.

 

Over time as what usually happens, society at large acquired the digestive enzymes to finally assimilate the movement The Clash helped spearhead. This also dissolved old stereotypes associated with Punk. Speaking of dissolving stereotypes, you may have seen or heard the phrase “Hitler Was A Vegetarian.” It’s often used to negate the purported benefits of being a vegetarian. Next time you hear someone say that, respond in kind with “Well so was Joe Strummer—a Punk Rock icon who ate Fascism for lunch. Even more so, Strummer became a vegetarian at age 20 as a young punk rocker and remained so for the rest of his life. He was also a big fan of folk legend Woody Guthrie and the reason he used “Woody” as an early stagename. Woody Guthrie put a message on his guitar back in 1941 that said “This Machine Kills Fascists.” Guthrie, Strummer & The Clash are as far from Hitler and as Anti–Fascist as one can get.

This is Joe Public speaking
I’m controlled in the body, controlled in the mind

 

For people who want to stereotype punk rockers as low life degenerates, Joe Strummer loved The Beach Boys and said they were “the reason he played music”. It just goes to show you can’t always tell by a group or artist’s music who their influences were. And it’s often surprising. I lived right near some of the nicest white sand beaches in the world for several years and personally don’t know anyone who surfs with Doc Martens.

 

An encouraging thing The Clash proved to musicians of all playing abilities is you don’t need guitar solos or titanic technique to become musically and culturally significant. There’s only a handful of guitar solos in their entire catalogue, one of which is the brief one here in “Complete Control.” Over a decade later, the “Punk Pattern” repeated itself as Grunge came to the forefront of the music industry, dethroning the musical excess, virtuosity and vanity of Hair Metal. It just goes to illustrate how yesterday’s fears and “flaws” can become tomorrow’s cash cow.

 

The slogan “The Only Band That Matters” created to market The Clash became something fans genuinely embraced. It was one of the things their record label did right as it took on a life of it’s own becoming their epitaph. A salute to a band that wasn’t tainted with artificial ingredients. As for critics who so readily expunge venomous verbiage alongside carbon dioxide, we can only wonder “Is there a critic known as ‘The Only Critic That Matters?’ Is there a Critic’s Hall Of Fame?” Critics always have a axe to grind while The Clash grinded with their axes. Instead of writing caustic column inch in Cubicleville, perhaps their time on the planet could have been better spent writing public service announcements with guitars so people can know their rights.

© Composer Yoga

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Convincingly Sung By A Gay Man: Freddie Mercury (Queen) “Fat Bottomed Girls”

A classic, some would say THE ode to Rock & Roll groupies. “Fat Bottomed Girls” is such a timeless singalong chorus, I’m even willing to bet the Queen of England has rocked out to this at least once.

 

Come on Liz, fess up.

 

Long before Sir Mix–A–Lot rapped of his selective approbation on derrières, Freddie Mercury sang appreciatively of their Prodigal Son–esque magnetism after seeing every blue eyed floozy on the way. That being said, it’s a safe bet Hitler would not have been a fan of this song nor a Fat Bottomed Girl. That’s his loss for turning the other cheek on bigger cheeks.

 

Queen had already wrote what became 2 internationally popular sports anthems: “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” on their 1977 album News Of The World. As a secret DJ rule, these songs are usually played back to back on radio stations.

 

What better way to crown a trilogy with an anthem about the back?

 

“Fat Bottomed Girls” is a track off the 1978 Queen album Jazz. It sounds heavier than most Queen songs because Brian May used drop D tuning for the recording over standard guitar tuning. Instead of the guitar strings being tuned to the standard E A D G B E, drop D lowers the two E strings one whole step down to D, so the strings will be tuned D A D G B D.

 

The album version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” on Jazz is unedited. When the single was released to radio, they shaved off some guitar between the verses and the fade out ending. The edited version is on Greatest Hits albums and in the official music video while the unedited version is on Jazz as heard below.

 

Oh, and incidentally Roger Taylor has 2 pretty cool drum rolls launching us into the build for the anthemic Big Spoon lover’s chorus:

But wait…that’s not Freddie Mercury singing the chorus on the album—it’s guitarist Brian May!




Yes we’ve been fooled again despite Roger Daltrey’s well intentioned optimism by what I like to call the “Golden Earring Effect.” This happens When you have 2 singers who can overlap in range and vocal timbre, sounding similar enough where most listeners think it’s the same person’s voice.

 

With Golden Earring, it’s lead singer Barry Hay and guitarist George Kooymans. On their classic rock track “Twilight Zone” they trade vocals and no one seems to notice obviously because they’re in the Twilight Zone and nothing is as it seems.

 

And what pray tell was our Astrophysics degree I built my freaking guitar luthier mofo lad Brian May thinking when he penned this one? That along with fellow Brits he don’t need no education or thought control—he just needs a Fat Bottomed Girl. That would round things out nicely for him so to speak.

 

Regardless, that Astrophysics degree (or Asstrophysics?) sure came in handy here as Brian May sings of the Newtonian Physics of Fat Bottomed Girls making us privy to how they make the rockin’ world go round. It’s not a thesis Galileo would have agreed with however although Freddie repeatedly called to him in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

 

Regardless of the ongoing Gluteocentric Theory debate, Queen are the second highest selling act in UK music history right behind another group of lads with 4 members: The Beatles.

 

Furthermore, Queen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Their Greatest Hits album sealed their crown as the best selling album in the history of the United Kingdom dethroning The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

Queen is also the only group in which not only did every bandmember write songs, but each bandmember wrote more than one single which actually topped the charts. How’s that for batting average?

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So let’s get this straight even though the band is named Queen and the lead singer was gay—The studio recording on the Jazz album has Brian May singing lead on the chorus, pleading for the Fat Bottomed Girl of his affection to take him him home tonight.

 

Live however, Freddie Mercury sang the entire song with Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor harmonizing just for the chorus as you’ll see in the live video posted below. Freddie Mercury provides the autobiographical narration in the verses of his torment of being glued to the glutes and on the verge of checking in to Fat Bottomed Anonymous.

 

As listeners, we’re supposed to sympathize with the protagonist being left alone with big fat Fanny (a double meaning of her name and certain measurements) who was such a naughty nanny (these days perhaps a sexual harassment lawsuit but back then a badge of honor to a schoolboy).

 

The verse then concludes with a certain Buttocks Boomerang Effect described thusly as “Take me to them naughty ladies every time.” The second verse finds our narrator later in life with “mortgages and homes, stiffness in the bones” yet still recalling the same fondness and preferences of his earlier cradle robbing romp with Fanny: “Heap big woman you done made a big man of me.”

 

It’s about as “Amazing Grace” as the Rock and Roll world allows for: Deliverance via derrière.

 

“Fat Bottomed Girls” and another single from Jazz, “Bicycle Race” were released together on those black frisbee looking things called records as a double A–side.

 

The two songs both contain mirror lyrical references to the other song. “Fat Bottomed Girls” has Freddie commanding “Get on your bikes and ride” to perhaps engage in the fetish of watching Fat Bottomed Girls ride bicycles. Historically, the mass popularity of the thong was still years away and British lads had to make things work with what they had.

 

“Bicycle Race” actually mentions our subject matter here in the song’s lyrics “Fat bottomed girls, they’ll be riding today, So look out for those beauties, oh yeah.”

 

As a tourist in England it’s hard enough getting used to the traffic pattern moving in the opposite direction of North America and numerous other parts of the world. For your safety, I’d recommend to forego sightseeing for said beauties riding bicycles right away as it’s going to take you a few days walking around London to cross the street safely like a local.




NOW GET THIS!!! If you are a Fat Bottomed Girl, take pride knowing certain countries appreciated your anthem more so than others. Queen’s Gluteus Maximus Opus charted higher in England, France, Ireland and Norway (go figure).

 

It also scored high on Dutch music charts which would include Denmark and Belgium since the northern half of Belgium is Dutch speaking. In America “Fat Bottomed Girls” only reached number 24 on the Billboard top 100. Boo!

 

Perhaps even that acceptance was bolstered a bit by the popularity of Disco and lyrics like “Shake Your Booty” by KC & The Sunshine Band so white people that didn’t listen to Parliament or the Commodores could hear about the wonders of big booty from people they were more likely to see in their neighborhood during trick or treating.

 

And if you weren’t good with math like the Commodores “Brick House” requires (“36 24 36 oh what a winning hand”), “Fat Bottomed Girls” laid it right on the table clear as day for listeners far and wide.

 

1984 saw English parody Metal band Spinal Tap also making further inroads for Fat Bottomed Girls with their landmark track “Big Bottom.” All valiant efforts on many fronts for curvier backsides but we’re still a ways away from Fat Bottomed History Month however.

 

I’ve been to the Queen star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in Los Angeles. I’ve done photography of London’s Royal Albert Hall and the magnificent statues of Albert Memorial across the street in Kensington Gardens. Unfortunately I never got to see the original members of Queen perform live although I’ve heard the legends from people who have.

 

Concert footage and music videos are as close as myself and many will ever come to seeing Queen in their heyday and the amazing Freddie Mercury at the top of his game. The music video here (pre MTV, and no doubt further inspiration for it as with “Bohemian Rhapsody”) for “Fat Bottomed Girls” was done in Dallas, Texas back in 1978, shortly after the song was released.

 

Sans further ado, get on your bikes and enjoy the video—“Fat Bottomed Girls” is definitely a track to swipe right on your Musical Tinder app.

© Composer Yoga


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First Recording Of Purple Rain In America

Jimi Hendrix first described a Purple Haze in 1967. Back in 1983, The Weather Girls forecasted that “It’s Raining Men.” Amen. Not just “a men” but LOTS of them. Unfortunately for women, most of that “man rain” fell on gay nightclubs as the song got absorbed and usurped by gay culture.

 

However, the conditions seemed ripe for these two songs to combine into a huge storm front at some point—and it most noticeably did in 1984 as radio, MTV and theaters worldwide were saturated with the purple deluge.

 

On other ends of the weather song spectrum, The Fixx saw “Red Skies” at night over London in 1982. A couple years later in 1986, Peter Gabriel reported “Red Rain” in England and Slayer saw it “Raining Blood” in America that very same year.

 

But where was the first record of “Purple Rain” falling? Minnesota? Hollywood? Does Purple Rain make doves cry? Would Gene Kelly sing in it? Is it responsible for Teletubbie Tinky–Winky in England?

 

Due to it’s massive notoriety and cultural impact, most people would think the first record of Purple Rain mentioned in the pop world was by Prince in the song/album/movie of the same name. But Prince did not coin or originate the phrase. Purple Rain didn’t first pour into the mainstream audience in 1984—it was actually recorded years earlier by another band.

 

First Recording Of Purple Rain: London, England

Purple Rain was first seen by America on “Ventura Highway” on their 1972 album Homecoming. America are a British born trio composed of musicians Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek. They met as sons of American servicemen stationed overseas around London.

 

The second verse in “Ventura Highway” contains the reference to Purple Rain which seems to have no particular intended meaning other than it rhymes nicely with ‘train’:

Wishin’ on a falling star
Watchin’ for the early train
Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by
Purple rain

 

Another lyrical possibility could’ve been, “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a Herpes strain.” Maybe for the Weird Al version…

I’ve always been entranced with the mood “Ventura Highway” creates. It’s a trip back in time for me even though I was in the area for a first time as an adult. “Ventura Highway” is a combination of haunting nostalgic longing for moments of a heightened sense of freedom and the joy of being alive.

 

In addition to capturing moods in aural photographs, America was always able to pull off creating very full sounding acoustic folk rock. Their sonic recipe being the interplay and layering of the 3 guitarists individual tracks and the multi part choruses. Instrument wise, it’s stripped down but the vocals have a rich fullness where the listener doesn’t notice there’s anything missing in the auditory department—just guitars, bass drums, vocals and strategic use of space.

 

America’s style of songwriting doesn’t need a Rick Wakeman, Al DiMeola or Neil Peart sitting in on a recording session. It’s complete in itself and most importantly, very singable by an outside nighttime fire as a bunch of musician friends and relatives often do when I’m visiting family in the Northeast.

 

“Ventura Highway” as well as another favorite, “A Horse With No Name” are great mood pieces—narrative story songs with some of the most fun memorable sing along choruses and interludes in pop music.

 

Kudos to America for creating several earworms which stimulate alpha and theta waves of relaxation, personal reflection and deeper connection instead of the more common beta consciousness of numerous pop songs which don’t venture beyond major chords—and are color blind to how the wider sound palette of 7th chords and above can furnish the listener with deeper, more profound harmonic textures. Songs like “Ventura Highway” have the endearing ability to become part of the soundtracks of people’s lives as it’s done so with mine.

 

Should you try to find Ventura Highway, you may have more luck finding Ausfahrt, Shell Beach, or Bigfoot hitching a ride back to Seattle from Burning Man. The song refers to the section of Highway 1 along the coast of California, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH.

 

When I was in Southern California, I drove up that famous ‘fictional’ highway and took in the beauty of the sharp jagged coastline and images of the mighty Pacific which relentlessly carved it over eons. Of course, people will tailgate then pass and flip you off while you’re trying to take in the same awesome spectacle that they take for granted. Welcome to California—land of “no worries” but not no hurries.

 

That kind of motorist etiquette just shows the mentality of young adults who have very little life experience and growing up in California doesn’t give you a fully stamped passport either. It also demonstrated to me there and in numerous other places I’ve traveled around the country, how most people are not in control of their lives. If you’re always in a hurry, how in control of your life are you? If you ARE in control of your life, then you wouldn’t be in a rush or hurry all the time. That just means lots of other people and things own your time and you’re their bitch.

 

Regardless, I wasn’t going to let a few testosterone cases and stressed out SoCal speedometer slaves interrupt my Ventura Highway moment and another one of my pop culture pilgrimages. They certainly didn’t personify the youthful hunger for wonder, Indian time schedule rebellion and explorative quest for freedom captured in America’s “Ventura Highway.”

 




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My journey continued. I drove up to Ventura then Santa Barbara, soaked up the State Street shopping district a friend who went to UCSB told me about then onto Santa Barbara’s beach and the Stearns Wharf pier.

 

The PCH is a windy and at times mountainous stretch of road. Traveling north from LA, you’ll pass Vandenberg Air Force Base outside the city of Lompoc, just north of Santa Barbara. It was in this area years ago a young Dewey Bunnell formed impressions he later translated into some lyrics in “Ventura Highway” as he and his brother were standing around waiting for their father to change a flat tire and saw a sign for Ventura.

 

Ironically I had my own car issue in the same general location but AAA took care of me nicely as my father was most likely on a golf course several states away. Like Dewey, I also formed some memories of vivid nomadic optimism and several “Freedom of the Road” impressions of my time spent there.

 

I was considering relocating to that area north of LA—I enjoyed Ojai in the mountains, Ventura and Santa Barbara, all less crowded and congested areas of southern coastal California. Driving the “Ventura Highway”, it’s easy to get tangled up in blue there—the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean reflecting the western sun as you ride the snake along that ancient lake.




Second Recording Of Purple Rain: Chanhassen, Minnesota, United States

 

Back to Purple Rain Prince style. Ah, the Wendy & Lisa era of Prince, with The Revolution. It’s highly likely Prince got the title idea from the “Ventura Highway” lyrics. Perhaps while driving up Ventura Highway in his Little Red Corvette.

 

In any case, Purple Rain was the most massively successful and enduringly popular album and movie Prince has ever done. Purple Rain spawned a phenomenon—sprouting several hits: “Let’s Go Crazy”, “When Doves Cry”, the title track “Purple Rain”, and perhaps my favorite Prince tune “I Would Die 4 U.” Mr. Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton is partial to “Purple Rain”—supposedly one of his favorite songs.

 

Prince and the Revolution live at the 1985 American Music Awards introduced by Lionel Ritchie:

 

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Some of the other tracks on Purple Rain however had unintended consequences for the Prince of Minnesota as well as the rest of the listening public. Purple Rain set off its own Water–gate or more aptly, an Ear–a–gate scandal.

 

“Darling Nikki” was the track that tipped off (and ticked off) Tipper Gore thus beginning the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) crusade and the black sticker stampede against explicit lyrics all because, according to Prince, Darling Nikki was masturbating with a magazine in some hotel lobby and her aforementioned grinding ability was irresistible.

 

This was the creative inspiration for Tipper Gore to co–found the PMRC and spiked the moral VU meter of the masses putting popular music under a microscope and bringin’ on the ear gates so we could all become Def Leppards to bad influences. The Censor Ship was bound to set sail up everyone’s auditory canal.

 

Perhaps a brush up on remedial Reverse Psychology 101 would have been a better course of action in retrospect before cooking up a controversy casserole which usually has a few tablespoons of the secret ingredient “personal embarrassment” in the recipe.

 

The “Sticker from Tipper”, Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics/Explicit Content was to teenagers and adolescents as appealing as stray beer in their parent’s fridge and sneaking into R rated movies (like Purple Rain) after buying a ticket for some tame G or PG flick not that I would know about such things.

 

Fortunately Purple Rain did produce the fabled “Trickle Down Economics” of the 1980’s as it created additional production jobs for duplicate censored versions of albums to be sold at more conservative retail stores like Walmart thus insuring purchase by parents on the cutting edge of cool.

 

These Clean Version Technicians or Song Sanitation Technicians have been protecting impressionable ears by erasing all discouraging words home on the range here in America since the mid 80’s. I doubt France or Europe got in such a tizzy over dirty words, but in America, the sound sanitation continued with questionable results.

 

Santa may have bought you the wrong version of that 2 Live Crew CD in those turbulent turntable times. And building an auditory F–Bomb shelter Skinner Box only enhances the future culture shock to befall the Rod & Todd Flanders types portrayed in The Simpsons.

 

Regardless of the controversy Purple Rain set off, ask a group of people the top albums that defined the 80’s and you’ll hear Purple Rain right up there in moonwalk orbit with Thriller. Purple Rain duked it out with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. for the #1 album spot twice—a showdown between Minnesota and New Jersey; Two primal elements, “Purple Rain” vs “I’m On Fire”, battling it out in a Billboard boxing match each scoring successive hits on their opponent.

 

“Purple Rain” is Prince in a more introspective tone which I tend to really enjoy when he wrote songs in this manner as opposed to his more explicit “I’m a Sexual God” song catalog. He could write deeper stuff well which is why “Purple Rain” has more widespread appeal than say “Pussy Control” —Errr…bad pun there. This is the chorus of this particular tune on The Gold Experience album but thanks to Tipper, it’s track listing being the self–censored and unassuming “P Control.”

 

Prince really shows off his guitar acuity on “Purple Rain” like he does on the more uptempo rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and moderate tempo “When Doves Cry.” The thing with Prince is he was able to do some guitar flash without alienating his female audience because it’s not overkill—it’s strategically placed and thematic to the melodic exposition of the song.

 

Gratuitous guitar masturbating (being a Guitarling Nikki?) and shredding generally is more interesting and impressive to men. When you hear the outro guitar line of “Purple Rain”, it’s reminiscent of other 80’s hits like “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister and “Who’s Crying Now” by Journey.

 

“Purple Rain” is a modern gospel rock ballad and his guitar playing is nicely legato and played in a smoothly connected singing style known as Cantabile as all the standard musical terms from the classical tradition are in Italian. This is because both the violin and piano originated there a few centuries after pizza did. Cantabile is the art and technique of playing a musical instrument in the manner of imitating an actual human voice singing.

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As for the movie, a little known fact is one actress who was approached to play Prince’s love interest in Purple Rain before Apollonia Kotero eventually got the role. Some girl named Jennifer Beals. A movie called Flashdance came out the year before in 1983.

 

They probably figured since Beals got drenched already onstage dancing to “He’s a Dream” by Shandi Sinnamon and in the “Maniac” montage to the Michael Sembello tune, she’d be game to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

 

Unfortunately, Beals was in college at the time and declined the offer as she had aspirations in life other than welding and exotic dancing. On the upside, Flashdance did win a Grammy in 1984 for Best Album of Original Score. Another fun fact is Lee Ving from the punk band Fear was also in Flashdance as a strip club owner, not that this stereotypes vocalists in punk bands in away way, shape or form.

 

The classic 1980’s album opens with Pastor Prince giving his famous sermon from the pop pulpit on Purple Rain in the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy” with the church organ sample rocking out behind his “Dearly Beloved…we are gathered here to get through this thing called life…” spiel. It culminates in the sage advice as the drums kick in elevating the tempo and just before the full band enters:

“And if the de–elevator tries to bring you down…go crazy…punch a higher floor.”

 

People who grew up in the 80’s memorized this Prince dialogue as much as the opening dress down rant by actor Mark Metcalf (the Doug Niedermeyer character in National Lampoon’s Animal House) in Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video, one of the funniest things to grace the early days of MTV. “A Twisted Sister pin?! On your uniform?!…”

 

Twisted Sister vocalist Dee Snider later found himself defending free speech to Congress along with Frank Zappa and John Denver after that “Darling Nikki” incident from Purple Rain. Seems the Purple Rain washed Dee’s makeup off for the congressional hearings as he wasn’t sporting his trademark stellar Cover Girl looks.

 

All in all, Prince seemed to weather the controversy of Purple Rain fairly well. The album and film have held up over time and aren’t going to wash away with censorship soap anytime soon. Pop history knows the Censor Ship set sail after the Purple Rain and wouldn’t have had the degree of controversy buoyancy without it’s success being embraced on a wide scale by the culture at large.

 

Years later, the controversy fizzled out and ran aground on it’s own moral high ground. People can read into things and create and inflate issues like our tale here of how a little Purple Rain turned into the Perfect Sh*tstorm.

 

Let me take a retroactive stab at it before I wrap up this purple banana: On “Purple Rain” Prince states, “I only wanted to see you bathing in the Purple Rain.” Okay, so maybe that means the Prince has a bit of a voyeur fetish as well. Cover your ears! Release the hounds!

 

The good news is, we can baptize ourselves with Purple Rain in more than one way and in more than one location thanks to America and Prince. So before you build that F–bomb shelter or call up that shrink in Beverly Hills, it might be better for your sanity to go crazy and take a long leisurely meditative drive along Ventura Highway in the sunshine after the purifying cleansing of a freshly fallen Purple Rain.

© Composer Yoga

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Closet Singles: Hall & Oates “You’ll Never Learn”

This is the inaugural installment of a segment where we’ll highlight songs that “Coulda been a contender.” Don’t feel sad there Marlon Brando, you WERE a contender having been mentioned in David Bowie’s “China Girl.” These are songs we refer to as “Closet Singles” and aim to sing their praises and give them a coming out party almost as good as Diana Ross could.

 

What usually happens with a musical duo is one becomes the lead vocalist in the eyes of the public, or as in this case, Private EyesSimon & Garfunkel, Loggins & Messina, Hall & Oates.

 

This holds true even if the other part of said duo CAN and does sing. Even so if the duo records albums with each trading lead vocals on various tracks like Hall & Oates regularly did on their albums.

 

Why does this happen? Well, with hit singles, record company marketing and desire for ROI (Return On Investment) heavily influence this.

 

Once a song becomes a major hit, that’s the lead singer—that’s the map, the formula: repeat the previous success in the future for their bottom line as well as for listeners wanting to hear the next song by whatever act with that same lead vocalist.

 

Strangely, Hall & Oates first well known single, “She’s Gone” off their 1973 album Abandoned Luncheonette was with John Oates on lead vocals and Daryl Hall secondary.

 

Technically, it’s actually a dual lead vocal line in the verses—Daryl doubles John with a falsetto but since it’s high and thin aurally, John’s deeper voice takes precedence in the auditory foreground then they trade for a “call and response” chorus.

 

A few years later however, after “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl”, their first number one single, it was pretty much all singles with Daryl Hall on lead vocals and John Oates as backing vocalist.

 

Record companies use the same formulas of established success within bands as well as in the industry as a whole—think boy bands and rest assured, there’ll be new ones for every generation. They might even outlive cockroaches & Keith Richards.

 

They also follow this template with previously successful artists—they re–market, repackage, resell “them”, that style to new generations. An example of this is Lady Gaga.

 

When I first listened to her Born This Way album, a woman I worked with asked me what I thought of it. My first reaction was “They’re Madonna songs sung by someone else.” I could totally see why Lady gaga was being backed by and was a priority artist on a record company’s roster.

 

You can see and hear how they follow previously successful formulas and sign artists that fit this sound/style and/or groom their talent pool more in that direction because they do not want to take chances. Taking chances is a business risk and they want a sure predictable return on their investment.

 

So it is with the first hit single—for Daryl Hall & John Oates it was “Sara Smile” with Daryl Hall at the helm. It seems “She’s Gone” just wasn’t a big enough single to perk their ROI radar. If it had, they’d have been looking for the next single with John Oates on lead vocals, and that’s where this installment of Closet Singles comes to the much belated rescue.




That song is “You’ll Never Learn” which is also off the same album as their first #1 single “Rich Girl”—their 1976 release Bigger Than Both Of Us. If you love Hall & Oates like I do, you’ll love this song. It’s another great example of John Oates the vocalist, how there was another “She’s Gone” in the batting cage, waiting to get another chance at bat to become a hit.

 

“You’ll Never Learn” showcases John Oates’ range and intensity alongside solid lyrics and orchestration. His vocals on this capture that sublime sense of awe—his nuance and tasteful use of falsetto makes this melody soulfully soar:

“You’ll Never Learn” is a flat out great Hall & Oates song that never met the airwaves—it’s a great song for ANYONE that few people know about.

 

Now picture a Parallel Pop Song Universe. Imagine if John Oates was a solo artist and released “You’ll Never Learn.” If you have hairspray induced amnesia or if I used The Force and made you forget Hall & Oates, what would your impression of this song in that context be?

 

I can say if this was a song I heard on the radio or saw on MTV, Solid Gold, The Midnight Special, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, etc., back then, I definitely would have bought the hypothetical John Oates album She’s Gone And You’ll Never Learn it was off of.

 

Which brings us to another point—The dynamics of a duo are different: Batman is more likely to have a successful solo career than Robin.

 

Think about bands that have/have had one or more lead vocalist:

Chicago
The Eagles
Kiss
Fleetwood Mac
Journey
Toto




These are just some well known ones that come to mind. Notice how it’s more permissible and acceptable to vary vocalists with the industry and audience AS A BAND than if you are known and billed as a duo?

 

In the case of Fleetwood Mac, it’s not only 2 different female vocalists, but also a dude in the mix: Lindsey Buckingham. They had songs chart with each different vocalist including songs with split vocals like the anthem “Don’t Stop” off their Grammy Award winning Rumours album.

 

Following this strategy and seeming recording industry/audience loophole, say for instance the songwriting duo Hall & Oates called themselves by a band name instead. I mean Steely Dan was mainly 2 guys and could have went by the duo name Becker & Fagen.

 

Lets work some revisionist history magic and say Hall & Oates called themselves by what they coined their own style of songwriting & music: Rock N Soul. Since they were from the Philadelphia area, let’s add that to the mix as well. So they are now known as “Philly Rock & Soul” after Marty makes it back in Doc’s DeLorean or PRS for short.

 

This is assuming Paul Reed Smith guitars (PRS) doesn’t have a problem with that. What then? Well now the duo bias and audience ADD is removed and PRS can have hit singles with more than one vocalist doing leads. Furthermore they can each have successful solo careers afterwards like Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Cetera, Ace Frehley, etc.

 

…And they can all live happily ever after with Rich Girls.

 

So if Batman & Robin should happen to read this, they should call their band the “Caped Crusaders” instead of “Batman & Robin” ensuring both may have successful solo careers sans capes, masks & spandex later on in the Gotham City music scene.

 

Perhaps they could even do a cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”

© Composer Yoga


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Hammer To Fall: Jan Hammer From Mahavishnu To Miami Vice

Metaphorically Jan Hammer fell into greater recognition within popular culture from the relatively private beaches of being a musician’s musician. Czech composer, multi-instrumentalist Jan (pronounced YAN) Hammer knocked out an instrumental gem which went on to become one of the coolest TV show themes of all time: Miami Vice.

 

So cool it didn’t even need lyrics or still frames of Don Johnson in a Ferrari Testarossa smiling and showing teeth whiter than his $3000 sport coat and the coke he and his partner Rico were after. So cool it was simply called “Miami Vice Theme” and not something more embellished like “Linus And Lucy”, that awesome theme song for all those Charlie Brown holiday TV shows we all grew up with by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.

 

A Mahavishnu Orchestra alum (the fusion supergroup founded by British guitarist John McLaughlin), Jan went on to achieve heights heretofore unattained amongst his Jazz Fusion peers: his music synchronized to boobs on MTV. Dreams really did come true for this lad from Prague, Czechoslovakia.

 

So what makes this instrumental piece north of cool you ask? Well for one, the composition’s melody is played across several instruments (albeit sampled and played on keyboard) in different octaves as related parts that play off each other.

 

The instrumentation is just soooo tasty: from the badass machinesque staccato opening riff that he surfs the groove over, to the beat–you–down percussion hits, to the elegant synth stab riff, to the raunchy guitar riffs, he’s got an APB on your gonads.

 

And just for good measure, he threw in some inverted soundwave notes on bass to run aground on some low end. You wanna mess with that low synth bass? It brings a “Get on the ground, you have the right to remain silent DIRTBAG” authority to the piece. But all this is aural academics. If writing the show’s main themes like this piece wasn’t enough, he also wrote new material each episode.

 

With Mahavishnu Orchestra, he became one of the first keyboardists to play a Moog* synthesizer in a ensemble. Mahavishnu Orchestra was one of those bands with absolutely devastating musicianship creating experimental music which blended a myriad of musical styles and compound (odd) time signatures.

 

A musician and sound engineer friend I’ve worked with saw Mahavishnu Orchestra perform at a college when they were just starting out. His recollection was as that of a “shock wave of sound rolling over him of something so completely new it took him several minutes to process what just hit him.”

 

There’s a raw visceral energy, a ferocity to their compositions, undiluted even though it’s coming from high level musicians. As a musician, I totally love it when musical energy isn’t eclipsed by “studio sterility” in the process of recording because recording is a different skill set that performing live.

 

Jan also toured with Jazz vocal legend Sarah Vaughan, played on that awesome Jeff Beck album Wired with a fellow Mahavishnu Orchestra alum, drummer Narada Michael Walden**, was inducted into the Keyboard Hall of Fame, won a few of them Grammy thingys, but all that pales in comparison to the aforementioned synchronization of his composition to boobs does it not? Here’s the MTV video of the full composition with Jan rocking out:

(KEYTAR ALERT!!: sensitive musicians cover your eyes from 1:32 to 1:57)

Miami Vice show intro (chopped down to one minute):

Things came full circle when there occurred a music trivia moment on Miami Vice. Years prior to his days writing for the show, after he left Mahavishnu Orchestra, the next lineup included a member of the Mothers of Invention (French violinist Jean–Luc Ponty*** replaced Jerry Goodman formerly of the Jazz-Rock group The Flock) whose band leader was none other than Mr. Frank Zappa.

 

Frank guest starred on Miami Vice as a drug kingpin who lived on a yacht and sold “weasel dust” (There’s a Mothers album called Weasels Ripped My Flesh). The episode is also called “The Payback” which is also a classic James Brown song/album. The article title here is also a Queen tune so give yourself a gold star if you caught that 🙂

FZ on Miami Vice:

“The Payback” episode trailer:

Footnotes:
*A friend of mine who studied electronic music in college actually met Bob Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer.

 

**Jan Hammer and Narada Michael Walden were NOT in Mahavishnu Orchestra at the same time. Jan played with percussionist Billy Cobham (I know, poor him). There’s not alot of footage of them out there, but here’s Jan Hammer, Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin freaking tearing it up in a crazy odd time signature back in the day on the track “Meeting Of The Spirits” (riff comes in at 1:38):

With “El Becko” Jeff Beck and Narada Michael Walden on “Led Boots”:

***Jean–Luc Ponty was actually John McLaughlin’s first choice for the original lineup of Mahavishnu Orchestra. Boo to the government for not granting him a work permit visa to move to the United States. Instead, John went with Jerry Goodman, another electric violin virtuoso from Chicago.

 

Here’s one of my fave Mahavishnu Orchestra tunes, “Lila’s Dance.” Jean–Luc’s playing on here gets nicely otherworldly in the middle. Gayle Moran starts the tune off in 7(that’s how I’m counting it) on piano, the band enters with the main riff in a 10 meter, then John shreds some blues intestines in 4/4 a bit later.

 

The most amazing thing however happens after John’s solo where the band sneaks the 10 meter back in under the 4/4 for a “WTF? they can’t do that but they just did!” moment:

When your ears want to get more adventurous and date songs other than the musical equivalent of the nice guy or girl next door (the major chord, the I-IV-V progression–think “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen, and 4/4 time), then Mahavishnu Orchestra is a group I recommend.

 

Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report completely redefined what music could be for me and expanded the sound palate of possibilities. And that’s always welcome fuel for inspiration and creativity.

 

Wow, this was like playing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon in Jazz Fusion.

© Composer Yoga

Recommended:
Closet Singles: The Outfield “New York City”
Amazing Instrumentals: Eric Johnson “Trademark”
Closet Singles: Alan Parsons Project “Can’t Take It With You”
Yoda’s iPod: “When Doves Cry” By Prince
Laugh Tracks: Frank Zappa “Baby Take Your Teeth Out”
The Prince Prophecy & The Let’s Go Crazy Code

 

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