Tag Archives: Queen

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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Rock Clergy, Religious & Spiritual Issues: Artists

A list of artists who get their namesake from the Clergy, Religious & Spiritual Issues (updated periodically)

Alan Parsons
Billy Idol
Black Sabbath
Blind Faith
Christopher Cross
Collective Soul
Creed
Creedence Clearwater Revival
De La Soul
Exodus
Faith No More
Fifth Angel
Genesis
Godsmack
Gram Parsons (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers)
Helloween
John Deacon (Queen)
Jesus And Mary Chain
Jesus Jones
Judas Priest
Jon Lord (Deep Purple)
Lamb Of God
Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam
Lorde
Madonna
Maxi Priest
Nazareth
Reverend Horton Heat
Terri Nunn (Berlin)
The Cult
Sister Hazel
Shotgun Messiah
Smokey Robinson And The Miracles
Soul Asylum
Spirit
Testament
Tora Tora
Wall Of Voodoo

© Composer Yoga




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




George Michael: The Careless Whisperer

Just when we thought 2016 was done swallowing up celebrities, with just a week left in the year, we lose another. Then another. George Michael and Carrie Fisher. I can’t remember another year where more major musical figures exited the stage of life taking their final bows.

 

I mean David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, and George Michael—Four of the most well known musicians on the planet. George Michael sold over 100 million albums which is even “more” considering he recorded far fewer studio albums in his career than the others listed. Whether you’re a fan or not, that’s a lot of albums and fans. That’s in league with acts like The Eagles, Queen, Chicago, Whitney Houston, The Rolling Stones and Mariah Carey and nearing fabled Beatles and Elvis territory. George Michael’s numbers will no doubt increase in the coming weeks as it did with Prince posthumously even causing an unreleased track on the 1986 album Parade, “Sometimes It Snows In April” to chart in several countries in Europe peaking at #14 in France.

 

The death of George Michael came as a surprise to me as it did many others.  I was visiting my brother later in the afternoon and saw it on my Twitter feed. I said to him George Michael just died. He didn’t believe it either. With all the recent talk about fake news stories on Facebook and Twitter like “Donald Trump Summits Everest” as well as discussion of verifying the accuracy of Tweets, at first I thought this was just another social media sucker punch celebrity death click bait. Then I googled and found a BBC article. George Michael gone too early at just 53 years old. Which means there’s songs not released yet and songs and projects unfinished.

 

George Michael won two Grammys: one for his debut album Faith (Album Of The Year) and one for his amazing duet with Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin. He achieved eight #1 singles on Billboard charts during his solo career. He began his foray into pop culture with high school friend Andrew Ridgeley in the 80’s British pop group Wham!. The historical fun fact about Wham! was they were the first western musical act to perform in China. Make that allowed to perform in China as many types of music was still banned there at the time. That was 1985 and Chinese police were worried there’d be riots. Being trampled by teenage girls can be an occupational hazard. I know the feeling. A few years back, I went an Ingrid Michaelson concert and it was me surrounded by 400–500 teenage girls. I hung out back near the soundman until the end of the show then talked to friends of mine in her band when it was safe. I lived to tell about it.

 

I’m going to disregard the American Idol admonition “You shouldn’t have picked a George Michael song” and pick several of my favorites. Some were released as singles, some not. All showcase his incredible voice and adeptness at singing. It’s blatantly evident George Michael was far from a base model vocalist—with him our ears get the deluxe package with all the bells and whistles. There’s none of smoke and mirrors of autotune numerous pop stars depend on and which newer generations of music fans have become tone deaf to people who wield greater mastery of the art of singing like George Michael.

 

Last Christmas (Single 1984, included on Music from the Edge of Heaven 1986)


Last Christmas for George Michael. The bittersweet irony of George Michael dying on Christmas Day was not lost on Captain Obvious. It was another bizarre coincidence like Prince dying in an elevator after mentioning one in “Let’s Go Crazy.” Both occurrences with greater odds against them than if Elton John, a member of Chicago or the Bay City Rollers died on a Saturday.

George Michael and Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley released “Last Christmas” on the heels of the massive success of their second album Make It Big. “Last Christmas” is one of those fun pop holiday songs that invites you, some would say addictively beckons you to sing along. Special. See? You know you love doing the backing vocal to it. And of all the Yuletide assaults on our ear canals in retail stores from November 24th til December 31st, I was always glad when the satellite radio roulette landed on “Last Christmas” when I was in a store. Just like when Michael Jackson died, MJ merchandise was everywhere only a day or so later and shop owners were moonwalking all the way to the bank. So don’t be surprised if you see Last Christmas or CHOOSE GEORGE apparel in stores soon.

 

Careless Whisper (Make It Big 1984)

 

Although Wham! was marketed as an early boy band (or more aptly a boy duo), when I got older, I could see how George Michael displayed a compositional maturity beyond his years. Case in point: “Careless Whisper.” I was even more impressed when I learned he wrote that famous haunting sax line when he was still a teenager. This was the first official solo from George Michael even though it was included on Make It Big. He and Andrew Ridgeley started writing this track several years prior and it’s the only one on the album where Ridgeley has a writing credit. The rest of Make It Big was all George Michael compositions.

 




Father Figure (Faith 1987)

 

George Michael had devastating nuances like Sade. “Father Figure” demonstrates how he could maneuver inside whispers. It’s one of the most believable love songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not surface pretty pop lyrics, it’s not idealized, it’s not some teenage or 20 something year old lamenting about love with miniscule life perspective—it’s a naked vulnerable exposure beyond what teeneyboppers and young pop stars could pull off. I listen to this track and see how George Michael is actually living inside these lyrics and delivers fine point precision singing with a degree of authenticity they cannot replicate. Put another way, I highly doubt even if they could write lyrics as piercingly honest and revealing, they couldn’t sell the performance vocally as genuinely as George Michael does on “Father Figure.”

I hear songs first on the level of emotional depth. So even if this song was in a different language it still would have connected with me. Though now, as an adult I can see how the lyrics could be interpreted as references to gay culture. Back then I wasn’t privy to this since this over a decade before George Michael officially came out. And during his Wham! days and early solo work, he was still bisexual (which was kept from the press) and still writing songs about women.

 

Nevertheless, I just heard “Father Figure” as a great love song with rare solemnness and sincerity. It really didn’t occur to me at the time that a guy who had women like Tyra Banks in his videos was gay. Back then, for George Michael, life was like a Robert Palmer video. He didn’t publicly come out until that incident in a Beverly Hills bathroom in 1998—his Pee Wee Herman moment—both men caught masturbating in public. Michael made fun of himself and the incident in the music video for the single “Outside” by wearing an LAPD uniform, holding a nightstick and dancing in a bathroom pimped out like a disco. He didn’t take himself seriously, which is a blessing when you meet famous persons who are like this, but George Michael always took his singing seriously which is preserved in the sublime softness of this moment carved in sound. Rest assured in the future, some work(s) by George Michael will be selected by the Library of Congress to be included in the United States National Recording Registry joining the Steely Dan album Aja. I have Faith on that.

 

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) 1987, Duet, Grammy

 

What’s better than a song by Aretha Franklin? A song with Aretha AND George Michael. It was the only time it happened and fortunately it was awesome. George got to sing with one of his heroes, one of his favorite artists. He definitely picked a great example to emulate and develop his own style. The pairing was also the biggest hit for Aretha Franklin reaching #1 on Billboard charts. Earlier on in her career Aretha got Respect. Sharing a mic with George Michael got them a Grammy. Coincidentally the song has the word Faith in it as well.

This song proves it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what gender you are. It’s what’s inside you. George Michael had Motown and R&B coursing through his veins supplying his vocal chords with velvety richness and a buttery expressiveness. On the outside we saw a white British guy of Greek heritage. We heard something beyond all those temporary impermanent classifications when he sang. And this is such a beautiful contemporary spiritual/gospel flavored song disguised as pop tune with an infectious triumph and elation in the chorus hook.

 

Something To Save  (Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990)

This song soars. It’s either a secular gospel song or a hymn in the First Church of George Michael. This track will bring tears to your eyes with it’s openheartedness. It was never released as a single but it’s definitely a George Michael track that deserves more attention that it got. His affectation, freedom, and expressiveness on this track show how George Michael could make singing into a religious experience. It’s like taking a glider ride on sighs.

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Waiting (Reprise) Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990

 

This is another track which was never released as a single. Although it’s short it contains some brutally confessional lyrics. And George Michael doesn’t devolve into sappy which all too often undermines the realness of a song. He expertly matches the singing to these really personal lyrics. He’s wasn’t just a singer, he was a songwriter and you can hear the difference—he’s singing his own words and experiences. The intimacy of this song is a reflection of self discovery. It’s daring and not the juvenile shock value kind, it’s delicate shades of gray which don’t get obscured by clouds of anger. When he sings “Here I am” towards the end of the song, he paints so many more words than just those three.

 

Freedom! ’90 (Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990)

 

Man could George Michael sing. Listen to “Freedom! ’90” and he’ll blow your hair back on the chorus. It’s one of my favorite George Michael tracks. The outro is just pure astral emancipation. It’s danceable latin flavored groove is deceptively inviting onto a dancefloor of deliverance. “Freedom! ’90” is where we delightfully hear George Michael roar in celebratory victory. The resonant power of his chorus yells gives reverberating lift fanning the ignition of independence.

 

 

After Wham! George Michael explored songwriting further, stretching out from the common verse chorus restrictions. And that’s when he really showcased his vocal techniques and vocal range. It allowed him to employ a greater tonal palate with his singing and become more confessional with his material and singing. George Michael ranged from theatric to solemn, from sassiness to spiritual. His slower tempo songs really allowed him to stretch out and showcase his vocal flair.

 

For a vocalist to reach and apply higher level artistry, he or she has to sing more than just notes. and George Michael brought vocal ornamentation to the forefront. His sense of dynamics, use of nuance and inflection have made me go wow in my head numerous times. It’s in the tonality of his voice, the multi–textural vocal stylings, it’s not just his vocal range, it’s he could do so many cool things with his voice.

 

When your ear becomes educated you can Listen Without Prejudice and appreciate singers and styles you wouldn’t otherwise have listened to. Like Freddie Mercury (whom he was a fan of as was Freddie of him) George Michael was a one of a kind unique voice. He wrapped silver and gold tinsel around his melodies, fitting for someone with such a gifted voice.

 

So boom boom boom boom.

Remember, if you’re going do it, do it right, and wear your CHOOSE GEORGE shirt.

But I just hope you’ll understand, sometimes the clothes do not make the man.

© Composer Yoga

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Nobody Told Me The Zen Of John Lennon

Sarasota Florida is home to several famous things: The Ringling Circus empire was headquartered there. It has a white sand necklace of beautiful keys off it's shore where you can drive from just north in Bradenton to Anna Maria island (AKA Anna Maria Key), onto Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach then onto Longboat Key down to Lido Key (perhaps do the Lido Shuffle if you want to get your Boz Scaggs on) and onto St. Armands Circle Key, Coon Key, Bird Key then back to mainland Florida in Sarasota. And just to the south is one of my favorite white sand beaches in the country, Siesta Key. I worked several weddings in the Sarasota area as Florida is one of the destination wedding locations in the United States. As an added bonus, you don't have to risk the retinal roulette of seeing an Elvis impersonator in a Speedo. The King did eat in a small restaurant there though so maybe that already happened.

 

Sarasota has one of the Unconditional Surrender sculptures by Seward Johnson located downtown. The 25 foot (7.6m) sculpture is in the likeness (but not an exact rendition) of the famous V--J Day photo taken in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a sailor bent over kissing a nurse in the street. Sarasota was also the place where the In Cold Blood murders documented by author Truman Capote took place and of course where Pee Wee Herman was caught masturbating in an adult movie theatre. And speaking of Johnsons, it's also home to AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson and his wife Brenda. (I'll get working on my Segue Of The Year acceptance speech a bit later).

 

Sarasota is also home to the 3rd oldest automobile museum in the world: the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. The oldest car museum in the United States is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; The oldest car museum in the world is the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Germany in case you're having flashbacks of ZZ Top videos, Beach Boys tunes or old school Grey Poupon commercials. And speaking of Grey Poupon, the museum has John and Mable Ringling's Rolls Royce collection. There's a DeLorean like in Back To The Future though not as pimped out like Doc Brown's packing a flux capacitor. And Oh my God!, it has a Ferrari worthy of Thomas Magnum's Hawaiian print shirt and Jonathan Higgins' legendary high waters (a 308 GTS). All in all, the museum has more than 75 automobiles spanning over 100 years of automotive history under one roof. Perhaps the most famous however are 2 vehicles owned by John Lennon: his blue 1965 Mercedes coupe which he owned in England (the steering wheel was built on the "British" side by Mercedes), and the last car he ever owned, his white Mercedes station wagon which was "the Lennon family car." As I touched that car, I imagined seeing John and Yoko in it with Sean riding in the back. It was a connection to music history and to the man who wrote a song I remember loving as a kid long before I knew who he was---A song released years after his death and ironically, one he didn't intend to be the vocalist on.

 

"Nobody Told Me" was recorded during the Double Fantasy sessions, which turned out to be Lennon's best selling solo album. John Lennon would never see the success of it though---he wouldn't be there to receive his Grammy for Album Of The Year in 1981 either. Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman on December 8th, 1980 just 3 weeks after Double Fantasy was released. "Nobody Told Me" was in songwriter's limbo for several years as Yoko Ono mourned the death of her husband. In fact, "Nobody Told Me" was written for Ringo Starr as a track for his solo album Stop And Smell The Roses which was released the following year in 1981. Lennon intended Starr to be the vocalist and sang the song as a guide vocal/scratch track for Ringo to later re--record the song. But after Lennon's murder, Ringo chose not to include the song on his album.

 

In 1984, Yoko Ono released a collection of material recorded during and after the sessions for Double Fantasy called Milk And Honey, which became John Lennon's 8th solo album. So the version of "Nobody Told Me" that was released was essentially a demo by John Lennon for Ringo. Nobody noticed. Nobody told me it was only a demo. Even so, "Nobody Told Me" become the third single to break into the top 10 posthumously for John Lennon, it's highest chart position reaching number 5. The UK had to wait until 1990 for "Nobody Told Me" to be released there (this was before the internet became a daily necessity). Two other songs from the album, "Borrowed Time" and "I'm Stepping Out" were released as singles and overall, Milk And Honey reached #11 on the US album charts.

 

One of the things that grabs me about the song is it has some interesting lyrics:

There's Nazis in the bathroom just below the stairs

 

Huh? Nazi plumbers? I never knew this was what the lyric actually said when I was a kid hearing it on the radio. Some biographical info being John Lennon grew up in World War II England during Nazi attacks by the Luftwaffe and long range rockets. His middle name was Winston as in Winston Churchill, who famously made his "We shall never surrender" speech before the Battle Of Britain in 1940. Iron Maiden sample this speech as the intro to live versions of "Aces High", a track on their 1984 album Powerslave. Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill had a huge impact on British history last century and it's not surprising John Lennon bore the tribute in a middle name by his family. Even today, there's a bronze statue of Sir Winston in the park next to Big Ben and Parliament. The middle name happened to be a premonition as a few decades later, John himself became a "Sir" in 1965 though he returned his MBE medal (Members of the Order of the British Empire) a few years later to the Queen due to his protest of British support of the Vietnam War and Nigeria's Civil War (which was symbolic as doing so has no effect on your MBE status).

 

"Nobody Told Me" is probably the only top 10 pop song which mentions Nazis in the lyrics. Another similar reference that comes to mind is David Bowie's (and Iggy Pop's) 1983 single "China Girl" which charted at #10 and mentions "Visions of swastikas in my head":

I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It's in the white of my eyes

 

John Lennon and David Bowie became friends after the breakup of The Beatles. Lennon, Bowie and Carlos Alomar (who was later in the band Arcadia, a Duran Duran side project) wrote "Fame" together which appeared on Bowie's Young Americans album and became his first #1 single in 1975. Lennon played guitar on the track. Lennon and Ono had December 9th tickets to the play The Elephant Man on Broadway which David Bowie was starring in. So did Mark David Chapman. Bowie was on Chapman's hit list as well. Bowie performed the show that night with 3 empty seats in the front row. John Lennon was a victim of fame; David Bowie almost was too.

 

"Nobody Told Me" also mentions the capital city of Nepal, Katmandu:

There's a little yellow idol to the north of Katmandu

This puts it in the company of a few other songs which mention the exotic locale: Bob Seger's 1975 single "Katmandu" off Beautiful Loser, and the 1976 Rush single "A Passage To Bangkok" off 2112:

Pulling into Katmandu
Smoke rings fill the air
Perfumed by a Nepal night
The Express gets you there

Lennon wrote this lyric about the yellow idol in the poem The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God by J. Milton Hayes. In contrast, Rush is singing about enjoying sampling fatties the world over making "A Passage To Bangkok" a kind of THC Tour on a Rock 'N' Roll rickshaw.

 

But the most interesting reference in the lyrics is actually based on a true story:

There's UFOs over New York and I ain't too surprised

Back in 1974, John Lennon and then companion May Pang (still in his "Lost Weekend" phase separated from Yoko) saw one from their terrace overlooking east New York. They had moved back to New York from California and rented a penthouse on 434 East 52nd street. The circular object was floating over the city within a hundred feet away from them. Lennon told photographer Bob Gruen (who took the famous "New York City" shirt photo of Lennon) who later called the local police because Lennon didn't want to for obvious reasons. The police informed Gruen that there were 3 other reports of the object. The Daily News printed that 5 people reported seeing the object near where Lennon and May Pang had their apartment. Lennon "officially" documented his sighting in the liner notes of Walls and Bridges released later in 1974:

"On the 23rd August 1974 at 9 o'clock I saw a U.F.O. - J.L."

UFO's were also showing up in lyrics in the 80's. Greg Lake sang of them in "Touch And Go" off the 1986 album Emerson, Lake & Powell:

All systems go friend of foe
You're caught up in the middle where the four winds blow
Come without a warning like a U.F.O.
You're runnin' with the devil it's touch and go

Many people claim to have seem UFO's---what makes John Lennon's sighting unique was that he was naked at the time. Would the Air Force have to file those under "Project Nude Book?"

 

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"Nobody Told Me" was written by a more mature John Lennon who was in a much better headspace. It's a happier side of Lennon---it's the Lennon who's dealt with some of his his demons, a Lennon who's accepting things in life, a Lennon with greater perspective.

 

Lennon's early life wasn't a fairy tale like the Fab Four Fantasy the world cast him and 3 others into. His father left them then came back into his life and forced John to make a decision between his parents as a 5 year old. As a result, young John Lennon became a troublemaker in school, acted out and was jealous of others who had a stable family. Later on this factored in his competitiveness with Paul McCartney and him not being the greatest father to his first son Julian since he had no good role model himself. The worst tragedy of his youth happened when he was 17: Lennon's mother was hit by a car and killed. Lennon was still grappling with these issues when Hurricane Beatlemania made landfall in all their lives.

 

During his Beatles tenure, Lennon became a proponent of peace partly to confront things about himself he grew to no longer like and approve of: His anger, chauvinist attitude, and violence against his first wife Cynthia. This was written about in the Beatles song "Getting Better" off of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967:

I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man I was mean but I'm changing my scene
And I'm doing the best that I can (Ooh)

 

After The Beatles broke up, Lennon's past wounds had an open calendar to come to the forefront. His heroin addiction, problems in his marriage with Yoko, led to him going to California kind of like the Led Zeppelin song with an aching in his heart. Lennon went with his assistant May Pang (whom he was having an affair with Yoko's knowledge & blessing) for what was later known as his "Lost Weekend" which amounted to a year and a half "college drinking binge" with singer Harry Nilsson (famous for "Everybody's Talkin'", 1969).

 

Lennon came out of the "Teenage Wasteland Woods" of the early 70's a different man as can be heard in his later solo works. These were the first songs I came to know John Lennon as an artist: "Woman", "(Just Like) Starting Over", and "Nobody Told Me."

 

"Nobody Told Me" is a deceptively light, playful tune. The bounce in the verse makes you think it just came from a 1950's trampoline (perhaps on that DeLorean mentioned earlier). That swing and bounce on "Nobody Told Me" match the bass thumbprint of the guilty party, session ace Tony Levin. Levin recorded several monster Art Rock albums with Robert Fripp in King Crimson in the 1980's among them Beat, Three Of A Perfect Pairr and the amazing compound melodic intricacies of Discipline. Levin's contribution to this John Lennon tune just demonstrates how Musician's Musicians can rock a pop song and make it even better.

 

"Nobody Told Me" uses a series of images like Sting later used to great effect on "King Of Pain." Lyrically, it's a word/concept play with imagery of dichotomies and contradictions. It's like a Zen tale and narration of the human condition and observing society with a degree of detachment. It poses contradictions of human behavior to ponder over like the famous Zen koan (a paradoxical anecdote used to meditate beyond the logical mind), "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

 

Word play and concept play are literary devices no stranger to poetry and lyrics. The Byrds "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (originally written by Pete Seeger---verse taken from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, 1st 8 verses of the 3rd chapter) released in 1965, and Pete Townshend's "Face The Face" released in 1985 off of White City: A Novel are some ancient and modern examples of this. "Nobody Told Me" is most similar in concept though to Howard Jones' "No One Is To Blame" (Dream Into Action, 1985) where both begin by proposing an activity/event then a corresponding contrast, failure or denial.

 

Regardless of the problems and torment he encountered in his personal life, there's a joy, happiness in this song I always loved. It's present in the lyrics and especially the strummed chords after both choruses that sends me soaring. It's the part after John sings:

Strange days indeed -- strange days indeed

Strange days indeed -- most peculiar, mama

This is the emotional center of the song for me. It's the part that caught my heart as a kid, it's the part that exhales into the comforting vastness of existence.

 

After his death, John Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: In 1988 for The Beatles and in 1994 as a solo artist. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987. As a kid I heard his songs. As an adult I walked across Abbey Road and touched John Lennon's last car. That's about as full circle as I'll ever get to John Lennon. But music is an intimacy that doesn't recognize time or space---on some level we've already met.

 

Music brings needed levity to the world and reminds us on deeper levels that we are more than we think we are. The beauty of music is you can do this with a few chord combinations and it will have meaning beyond the songwriter and the song---it will affect people you'll never meet, affect them in ways and depths beyond your understanding, and affect them long after you leave the planet. Music is ALWAYS more than the sum of it's parts. If you listen closely and repeatedly, you can hear whispers of something beyond. There's a bit transcendence embedded within even simple pops songs and I'm convinced "Nobody Told Me" is the sound of one Beatle clapping.

© Composer Yoga




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More Cowbell!!: Nazareth “Hair Of The Dog”

The 70’s was the decade that paved the way making it cool to write songs about bitches.

 

Miles Davis was in the kitchen (albeit not with Dinah) making a brew with a recipe from some bitches.

Hall & Oates were having “issues” in their relationship with a Rich Girl (it’s a bitch, bitch girl…).

The Rolling Stones were in couples therapy as well trying to fix love but it was a bitch alright.

Elton John told us flat out the bitch is back. Yes indeed, the prophecy foretold came true: “the fever’s gonna catch you when the bitch gets back.”

It even became cool to call oneself a bitch. Yes SIRee, Elton admitted his bitchdom long before Meredith Brooks.

 

However, just like Yoda revealed there was another Skywalker, the bitch saga didn’t end here. Lo and behold she procreated—gestated and nurtured a baby riff which grew into this beautiful top shelf Slut Rock gem from Scotland’s Nazareth.

 

The song was unassumingly disguised from censors and parents suffering from generalized anxiety with the “fluffy” title, “Hair Of The Dog.” Nonetheless, we were thus aptly forewarned:

Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch.

 

Nazareth formed back in 1968 in Scotland as a hard rock band. The group’s original lineup consisted of S.O.B. vocalist and Talk Box maestro Dan McCafferty, Manny Charlton on guitar, Pete Agnew on bass, and Darrell Sweet on drums and cowbell.

 

Nazareth was named after Nazareth, PA not the Bible zip code Jesus’ old hood was located in. They named themselves after the Pennsylvania borough as they were influenced by The Band’s song “The Weight” which mentions “Pulled in to Nazareth…” in its opening verse.

 

Nazareth, PA is just northeast of Allentown, which Billy Joel sang about, and Nazareth is also home to the C.F. Martin & Company guitar factory. Aside from that, driving through rural Pennsylvania one would see lots of farmland and multitudes of cows roaming the pastures. Just avoid driving through in say July as ripe manure and summer heat do not go together like peanut butter and jelly.

 

Trust me. I was on the road with a band and we endured a torturous half hour dutch oven of that fermented cowpie cocktail on Interstate 80—windows fully rolled up and AC on full blast could not save us from this unfortuitously fecal fate.

 

The good news is, I doubt too many people get pulled over by Police in those areas. It’s probably the closet thing America has to an Autobahn save maybe some interstates in Texas where the speed limit is 80 mph, almost legal for Marty and Doc to go back to the 70’s and get down at Studio 54.




Nazareth toured with Deep Purple after their sophomore album Exercises was released (1972). Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover produced their 3rd album Razamanaz in 1973 and continued producing their next two albums Loud ‘N’ Proud (1973) and Rampant (1974).

 

Hair Of The Dog came out in 1975 and was Nazareth’s 6th and most successful album of their career. Two songs released from the album charted: The self titled track “Hair Of The Dog” served up with cowbell and a cover of The Everly Brothers song “Love Hurts” which became their biggest hit.

 

“Love Hurts” went platinum and was a top ten hit in 9 countries reaching the #1 spot in 6. Obviously “Love Hurts” if one is messing with a son of a bitch.

 

“Hair Of The Dog” is one of those songs where the song title is never actually sung or mentioned in the song. It is known better as “Now you’re messin’ with a son of a bitch.”

 

Back in high school, I used to play classic rock stations sometimes while I was working out and always dug when this tune came on. I also didn’t know the song was called “Hair Of The Dog” until later.

 

The album and title track were originally going to be titled “Heir Of The Dog”, a play on words for “son of a bitch.” The record company didn’t like it for whatever reason and it was changed to the spelling “Hair Of The Dog.” So the song’s title is not a reference to the slang idiom “The hair of the dog that bit you” which seems the folk “homeopathic” cure for a hangover—to drink more alcohol to alleviate it.

 

This 70’s classic rock tune is the kissing cousin to The Beatles “Paperback Writer.” If you know how to play both songs or have a listener’s ear not prone to ADD, you’ll notice the main riff is similar in both:

 

“Hair Of The Dog” is more laid back and leisurely while “Paperback Writer” has a faster tempo. The first part of the riff is essentially the same notes while the ending differs:

 

“Hair Of The Dog” is super fun to play and sing—although when I do, I have to plan on not doing much talking for the next few days. It’s a party song, tongue and cheek, sung balls out but maintains a fun playful vibe and doesn’t come off as angry or malicious.  And it has cowbell to boot!!

 

The Hair Metal vocal stylings on “Hair Of The Dog” were a stray puppy back in the 70’s and that spandex & aqua net Lassie came home to the Hair Metal 80’s. Hair Metal may have started with “Hair Of The Dog” , and Hair Metal itself may indeed be the son of that bitch.

 

Musical geneology wise, I consider “Hair Of The Dog” a proto Hair Metal song. It was early Hair Metal before it’s time and before there was even a genre label for it. You can hear the Dan McCafferty Nazareth stamp a decade later on hair metal bands like the following to name a few:

Cinderella (“Nobody’s Fool”, “Gypsy Road”, “The Last Mile”),

Britny Fox (“Long Way To love”, “Girlschool”)

Kix (“Don’t Close Your eyes”, “Cold Blood”)

 

Britny Fox even did a cover of “Hair Of The Dog.” The Hair Metal vocal stylings on “Hair Of The Dog” were a stray puppy back in the 70’s and that spandex & aqua net Lassie came home to the Hair Metal 80’s. Hair Metal may have started with “Hair Of The Dog”, and Hair Metal itself may indeed be the son of that bitch.




“Hair Of The Dog” is such a cool tune Guns N’ Roses also did a version of it on their 1993 cover tunes album The Spaghetti Incident? Axl actually wanted Nazareth to play at his wedding but for some reason, they turned down the request. Sometimes life is a son of bitch even for rock stars.

 

But let’s not let that stop us from playing…(Cowbell and drumroll)

The 6 Degrees of Axl Rose!!

Kevin Bacon won’t mind nor call his lawyer so here goes:

 

Nazareth was a hard rock band from Scotland. Axl Rose often wears a kilt, the paragon of Scottish men’s fashion.

“Hair Of The Dog” has cowbell; Gun’s N’ Roses “Nightrain” has cowbell.

“Hair Of The Dog” has the word “bitch” in it; Guns N’ Roses “It’s So Easy” has the word “bitch” in it as well.

Nazareth was where Jesus lived and he was crucified on a cross. Axl and the members of Guns N’ Roses were also positioned on a cross on the Appetite For Destruction debut album cover.

Nazareth scored their biggest success with “Love Hurts” first recorded by The Everly Brothers. Axl Rose dated the daughter of one of The Everly Brothers (Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly). The lyrics of Guns N’ Roses biggest hit, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are about Erin who also stars in the music video.

Both Nazareth and Guns N’ Roses had their biggest success connected to The Everly Brothers.

 

Pretty freaky actually Eh? All this from a Scottish band who named themselves after some random place in Pennsylvania. By the way, the slot is still open for band to name themselves “Winslow” after Winslow, Arizona mentioned in The Eagles song “Take It Easy.”

 

I’ve been to Winslow, and on the famed Route 66 going through downtown, there’s actually a “Standing On The Corner Park” with a red flatbed Ford truck parked by the curb and a mural on the adjoining building facade with an eagle perched atop.

 

Perhaps Nazareth, PA could up it’s tourist magnetism quotient by having an “Fanny” to take a load off, public benches with seated Fanny statues for selfies, or better yet, install “Entering Nazareth Pennsylvania—Sons of Bitches Welcome” signs on all major throughways entering the town.

 

On a side note, if this is the same “Fanny” Freddie Mercury sang about in “Fat Bottomed Girls”, she REALLY gets around, having showed up in two different rock songs on both sides of the Atlantic.

 

In the meantime, wake up and smell the cowbell not the cowpie like I was forced to in rural Pennsylvania.

 

“Hair Of The Dog” is good ‘ol slutty 70’s rock at it’s finest. It’s another Rock ‘n’ Roll parlay into taking the law into your own hands like Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

 

Nazareth cut the ties, disregarded leash laws, and marked it’s territory on a few pop charts around the world with this cowbell classic.

 

And now we know who let the Hair Metal dogs out and who ate the homework of the Paperback Writer.

© 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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Bill Douglas: Give Deep Peace A Chance

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Years ago, my regular Sunday night ritual included eating vegan Goats Head Soup with Cups And Cakes, praying to the Great Pumpkin and listening to Stephen Hill’s Hearts of Space on my local NPR station. I was fresh out of college, it was my first apartment and for several months I ate meals on my Yamaha piano bench. That is, before my sweet grandmother felt sorry for me and bought me a wooden dining table and chairs even though I was enjoying dining Japanese style. From my standpoint I was getting in touch with my inner Mr. Miyagi.

 

Hearts of Space, or HOS (not to be confused with Santa’s A–Game catchphrase or types of women Sting became famous for singing about) was on at later evening time slots where I lived which sometimes made it hard to get up for work Monday mornings *insert Todd Rundgren song here.* The shows creator, Stephen Hill has been hosting Hearts of Space out of San Rafael in Marin County California since 1973 or since bell bottoms were still the fashion rage thanks to Derek and the Dominos “Bell Bottom Blues” and The wardrobe department at The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

 

Very often I would fall asleep listening to the themed episodes of ambient, new age, choral, classical, Celtic, electronic & experimental music Hearts of Space featured—music Clear Channel program executives probably wouldn’t dare play unless they all had Near Death Experiences and were instructed to do so personally by Archangel Yanni. Or perhaps a Charles Dickens version of “A Listener’s Carol” with successive visits from the Ghost of Listener’s Past might convince them to loosen the playlist leash and broaden their sonic horizons once again. Unfortunately as we’ve seen over time, The Spirit of Radio was replaced by a radio monopoly, playlist dictatorships, FM formula fascism & airwave homogenization—all we hear is the same “Radio Ga Ga” Freddie Mercury & Queen forewarned us about.

 

It was here on HOS I first heard of Canadian composer Bill Douglas on a winter themed show while laying down for a few hours listening to music like I usually do before falling asleep. I was in the right mood, the opportune window of the Soul open to receive this specific sonic side dish of something that spoke the language of spirit through sound. “Deep Peace” struck me as a profoundly beautiful elevating piece of music—ethereal, nebulous, contemplative, spiritual, transcendent harmonized vocal lines weaving sonic paths though my temporal lobes as I lay on my pillow, bathing me in a nice alpha–theta meditative wave. You’ll see why it’s one of my favorite contemporary choral pieces. Try listening to this lying down with your eyes closed before bed when you’re relaxed for maximum effect:

There’s some nice pockets of space here to inhale the harmonies into your energy field. This choral piece allows you to breathe deeply and recalibrates the relaxation settings so you can recline deeper into yourself. I’m glad I was introduced to the music of Bill Douglas and this composition, the title track off the album Deep Peace which is worth owning in it’s entirety. If you’re a fan of Enya’s music, Deep Peace is quite Enyaesque. Bill Douglas’ work also has crossover potential much like Enya. I mean, for someone like me who wouldn’t list choral music in his top favorite genres, that says it right there that Douglas made me a fan. That and how modern choral music can be profoundly moving internal experience.

 

Some time ago I spent several months traveling all throughout California. After spending time in SoCal, I gradually made my way north to Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz & the Monterey Bay, then further up to hang out in San Francisco for a few days. I then crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to explore San Rafael and the surrounding areas before heading further north to Santa Rosa to commune with Charles Schulz (creator of the world famous Peanuts comic strip) and see what all the hype was for Gino Vannelli to actually write a song about—was Schroeder a childhood idol of his too? Maybe Gino got lost as his directions in the song probably lead to Ausfahrt and not actually Santa Rosa California.

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San Rafael became the home of “Space Music”, the term coined by Stephen Hill to describe the mixture of music he played on the show into a variety pack genre. And how can one visit San Rafael and not do a drive–by of Skywalker Ranch? It’s indeed one of the most beautiful inspiring locked gates my eyes have ever beheld located coincidentally on Lucas Valley Road. And no, it was not named after Father George—that’s what the road was called a long, long time ago in a valley far north of the bay.

 

In addition to George “Original Gangsta Star Wars Mac Daddy” Lucas, Carlos Santana & James Hetfield have residences in San Rafael. There’s also a who’s who who’ve lived there in Marin County (I know Dr. Seuss would dig this sentence from whatever Whoniverse he now resides in):

Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons)
David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash & sometimes Young)
Jerry Garcia
Janis Joplin
Van Morrison
Huey Lewis
Tony Williams
Alan Watts (author of numerous books on Taoism & Buddhism)
Ram Dass (author of Be Here Now)

Philip K. Dick (Science fiction author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into the cult Sci-Fi film Blade Runner with Harrison Ford and The Man In The High Castle currently a series on Amazon. Dick’s works have also been made into the films Total Recall with AHHNOLD Schwarzenegger and Minority Report with Tom Cruise).

 

So we can deduce from the evidence here Marin County is kinda cool or else it wouldn’t attract all this riff raff.

 

Another pop culture, or rather pot culture fun fact about the area is San Rafael High School is believed to be the epicenter of the term 420. It referred to the time joint subcommittee meetings would commence after “School’s Out” and Alice Cooper sang.

 

As for me, I found a sense of peace making that pilgrimage to the Heart of Hearts of Space. I still remember hiking in the mountains off Lucas Valley Road having close encounters with deer and seeing the skylines of San Francisco and Oakland in the distance. And most importantly, my prayers to the Great Pumpkin all those years ago were answered a short while later while visiting Santa Rosa when Linus appeared to me in the woods like Obi–Wan.

 

As an added bonus, “Deep Peace” is a non–denominational prayer for personal peace so even hypervigilant politically correct types can enjoy listening to without it ringing their church bells. Maybe we can’t do anything about War Pigs and warmongers but you can’t please everybody. If you want to pray some more at the First Church of Bill Douglas, there’s other albums in his discography such as Earth Prayer.

 

Perhaps the title of this post was inspired via a psychic nudge from spirit of John Lennon as we do share the same Birth Star in Vedic Astrology. Where my Vedic Birth Star homies at? You know you’re in the Golden Age of Sat Yuga when street gangs start rapping phrases like that instead of bitches and hos—unless it’s the other kind of HOS as in Hearts of Space. So farewell space fans, wherever you are…Drift Long and Prosper in a galaxy far alpha wave and give “Deep Peace” a chance.

© Composer Yoga

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Swiss Time Was Running Out For Deep Purple And The Pet Shop Boys

Question: What do Deep Purple and the Pet Shop Boys have in common? Give up? Outside of both being British musical groups, they both mentioned Lake Geneva lyrically in respective songs…

 

And for good reason: Geneva, Switzerland is a stunningly beautiful European city.

 

When you’re coming in for a landing in Geneva, the Jet d’Eau (water jet in Lake Geneva) can be seen high above the buildings in the city. It’s an amazingly magnificent sight to see a fountain launching water 459 feet into the air from an airplane.

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Geneva is a very clean sophisticated city offering that “walk around and explore” intimacy and old world charm and character of many European cities which I love.

 

And all this is set on the doorstep of the European Alps like a living Ricola commercial—so remember to pack that long Alphorn for a jam session at the base of the Matterhorn.

 

You can tell you’re nearing the Alps from the air when the rivers below turn a crystal clear translucent glacial blue color more magical than Elvis’ bathwater.

 

Known as the “Peace Capital” as well as a top financial center in Europe, Geneva ranks high among cities having the highest quality of life in the world—it’s also one of the world’s most expensive cities.

 

Geneva is located on the western side of Lake Geneva at it’s southernmost point. This body of water has been made famous in the realm of popular music in the following songs:

 

1. Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple)
2. West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys)

 




Smoke On The Water

“Smoke On the Water” came out in 1972 off their Deep Purple’s Machine Head album which was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland. It remains Deep Purple’s most successful album to date, and also includes the tracks “Space Truckin'” (obviously requiring pricier fuel than the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin'”) and the indomitable early metal classic “Highway Star.”

 

I can attest to the pure unbridled mayhem of playing “Highway Star” in a few classic rock bands. It’s one of those tunes you save for later in the night to kick everyone’s ass before last call.

 

At all our strategic band setlist negotiations, our drummer would jokingly declare at the outset “Highway Star stays or I go.” Indeed. It’s such a fun, full out balls to the wall tune to play live. I still remember Jon Lord’s scorching Hammond B3 organ solo and break into it now and then while practicing.

 

Ritchie Blackmore’s classically influenced guitar work provides a look into a guitarist’s style before the Yngwie Malmsteen neo–classical revival and Van Halen’s two handed tapping technique became the new upgraded mainstay for the instrument—a technique embraced (sometimes bear hugged to death) by the Shredders and Hair Metal monsters of the next decade.

 

“Smoke On The Water” is one of the most identifiable riffs ever. Ritchie Blackmore created this simple anthemic rock riff that even those who are NOT guitarists can learn in 5 minutes. It’s based on perfect fourths played across two guitar strings which one can play with just one finger. It’s simplicity however does not erode it’s granite like staying power and appeal to multiple generations of musicians and fans.

 

Ian Gillan goes right for the Lake Geneva jugular in the first verse of “Smoke On The Water”:


We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground
Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

 

For those unfortunate souls who’ve never seen Beavis and Butt–Head “Dunt Dunt Dah…” this classic rock anthem, the first part of the post title here is a lyric from “Smoke On The Water” as well.

 

Montreux, where “Frank Zappa and he Mothers were at the best place around” (casino gigs paid well back then too) is located on the eastern most side of Lake Geneva. But as the story goes, unfortunately “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground…”

 

Right in the middle of a gig too. A fan with a flare gun inside the theatre set off the fire. Fire bad. Fan stupid.

 

Zappa and the Mothers lost their equipment and the Casino de Montreux went up in flames. Hence the song title from bassist Roger Glover as members of Deep Purple saw this incident from their hotel across the lake.

 

The Casino de Montreux was where Deep Purple originally planned on recording their Machine Head album. The casino reopened a few years later and there’s a sculpture commemorating Deep Purple and “Smoke On The Water” next to the lake—it even has the notes of the riff on it to survive the Zombie Apocalypse or should those Zombies have a 2112 moment and decide to rock out.

 

The monument is also next to a statue of legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury who had a home in Montreux.

 




West End Girls

The Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe hold the distinction of being the most successful duo in UK music history (oh just over 50 million albums sold). They’re kinda like the Hall & Oates of Great Britain and at least one of them is a Maneater I hear. Coincidence?

 

“West End Girls” was a single off the Pet Shop Boys 1986 album Please. The track charted on both sides of the pond. Please also spawned several other hits for them including “Love Comes Quickly,” “Suburbia”, and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” which by now that prophetic Pet Shop Boys tune has come to fruition and then some.

 

When I was in London, I made sure to wander all those sections of the city connected to famous pop songs including the West End. Maybe someday there’ll be a bus tour—a Magic Bus tour to take fans to all these places.

 

Love may come quickly but the Lake Geneva reference comes later in “West End Girls”:

In every city, in every nation
From Lake Geneva to the Finland station
(How far have you been?)

 

Anyone catch the Chevy Chase Fletch movie ad in this video? It’s around the 2:57 mark, right before Neil sings about Lake Geneva in the last verse.

 

So what have we learned from this musical meandering? In conclusion, even a blind Aristotle, or one playing Fifty Shades of Plato can see the causal connection between success in the music industry and mentioning Lake Geneva in a song.

© 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

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