Tuesday, January 03, 2017

January 3 - Lazarus (Album Of The Year edition)

There really wasn't a question what I would consider album of the year for 2016 (for a fuller list you will have to wait - hopefully I am ready with one for tomorrow). Although, I have to admit, that after giving myself some distance to it, I was very excited when I played it again and it still sounded as good as I remembered it. Some may argue that it had an unfair advantage over other albums, as it was released on January 8, almost a full year ago, so I have had more time with it than other albums, but I doubt it would have mattered. And while the fact that it is more or less a self-penned eulogy does bear some emotional weight, the album is just as good when I am listening to it with some more distance to the death of one of my greatest 'Heroes'. The album is of course Blackstar by David Bowie, the jazziest and trippiest album of his career - and one of his absolute best. It is worth a listen - and then another one and another one - and you will discover just how beautifully crafted this album is. There are only seven tracks on the album, and they are all rock solid. One of the songs that was a slower riser for me is the track that also gave its name to a play he worked on based on his music (and the original cast recording from this play is also worth listening to): Lazarus.

Monday, January 02, 2017

January 2 - Plan #1

After taking a day off, it is time for a new post, but I will cheat. The album of the week is the one album I could be stranded on a desert island with and remain satisfied. I almost don't need the album either, as I know pretty much all of the music on it by heart. It is my all-time favorite album, and I don't think I can say it any better than in the review I wrote for Amazon, so I am posting it here. The album? Demon Box by Motorpsycho from 1993.

First and foremost, please know that there are two versions of this album. Motorpsycho set out to record a double album, but record company, Voices of Wonder weren’t quite agreeing with them, so when it was released, the LP version was the double album the band wanted, but as a compromise, the CD was a single album. In 2015, they finally re-released the CD – this time in a box set, which let the Demon Box they intended be available on CD as well. Does it make a difference? Heck yes, it does. The song Mountain is worth the price of the box set alone!

When I first heard Demon Box in 1993, it was like nothing else I had heard before. There was metal, hard rock, folk, and psychedelia in a glorious mix. The first disk opens with Waiting for the One, a happy, folky tune with flutes or recorders sounding like the recorders of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. The feeling of sitting around a campfire for a singalong ends abruptly with a drum beat that rival’s said Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks (the Led Zeppelin comparisons are not as farfetched as some might think, as they were another band not content to be just one thing, but experimented in many directions). While Gebhardts drums have a lighter touch than Bonzo’s, the bass and guitar coming in (and it sounds like a little bit of Moog Taurus is there as well) bring the hammer down and create a heavy feel. However, when the verse starts, it’s all light again – and this contrast suits the song well. The song is Nothing to Say, and it was my first love when it comes to Motorpsycho – the song that changed everything for me. Feedtime is more of a metal song, with a heavy bass riff doubled by the guitar and growling/screaming vocals. Gutwrench was not on the single cd version, and I am thinking it is one of the weaker songs on the album, but it’s a song that nods towards doom metal more than anything. Sunchild is a great pop-song, very much in Husker Du territory (the American band, not the Norwegian tv show for the aging population in the 70s and 80s). Then there is Mountain. Rarely has a song been more accurately titled. For me, listening to this song is a mental excursion that always leaves me both exhausted and wanting more. It has everything, from an epically heavy riff to a loose and improvised mid-section quoting the Pink Panther theme, augmented by noise artist Deathprod, who creates and eerie and spooky atmosphere. This atmosphere is continued in the album’s first psychedelic song, Tuesday Morning, which takes it all down to a quiet and acoustic mode again – but with noises in the background creating a feeling of danger lurking around every corner. The first disk is concluded with a cover of All Is Loneliness, which was written by Moondog Jr, but made famous by Janis Joplin.

Disk 2 starts in the same territory disk 1 ended, which a lo-fi recording of a pretty sounding folky ballad, Come On In, but then the sounds get ominous. Step Inside Again is a sinister sounding version of Step Inside from 8 Soothing Songs From Ruth – and it sounds like a really scary version of Alice Cooper ca. Welcome to My Nightmare. It is the perfect build up to the title track – and when it is played, it is like you take the lid off a box filled with demons – especially during a midsection filled with electronic and static noise courtesy of Deathprod. The riff is simple, but brutal, the vocals growled and screamed, and the sound is heavy. “I need you like I need gangrene.” Message received. Powerpop follows in Babylon, then a strange interlude with Mr. Who, the third and final song omitted from the single CD release, before they return to powerpop again with Junior. What sounds like a radio recording sets the stage for the voice of Matt Burt reading his own poetry on top of dreamy guitars before the song is filled with distorted bass guitar, tasteful drums, and a soaring guitar creating a very different wall of sound than Phil Spector ever envisioned. This is Plan #1, a fan favorite – and with good reason. The lyrics are unsettling, and the music really explores tension. This is one of the songs where Motorpsycho really stared working dynamics, and the catharsis I experience when this song really takes off is well worth the price of admission. A straight forward metallish song follows in Sheer Profoundity before the album ends as it began, with the song The One Who Went Away, which is a much heavier version of Waiting For The One.

As far as I am concerned, this is pretty darn close to the perfect album. Bookended by the same song in two different versions, the journey in between still leaves me completely spent at the end still today, 23 years after its release. I fell in love with Motorpsycho with this album, and I am still a fan. I think this is an album every single record collection should have. And – buy the box set. It also contains both the Mountain EP and Another Ugly EP on disk 3, outtakes and rarities on disk 4, and a fifth disk with a dark, single-camera video from a concert at Vera, Groningen, the Netherlands from September 19, 1993.

And to give you a taste of the album - besides the many samples from last year, hear is one of my favorite tracks: Plan #1.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

December 31 - Meet On The Ledge

So the year is coming to an end, and I was able to keep the commitment to myself of posting at least one song a day - for 366 days (it was, after all, a leap year). I only repeated one song - and that was Fairport Convention's Now Be Thankful, which I believe could be played just about every day of the year, including today, New Year's Eve. Anyway... I have looked at the numbers for this last year, and for those of you who like statistics, you might enjoy hearing that I had 371 postings this year, featuring 227 different artists. I played 10 songs by Motorpsycho, 9 by U2, and 8 By David Bowie, which really represents three of my absolute favorite artists. But as much as I have been able to give you a good cross section of the music I like and listen to, there is so much more left.

But before I get there, I would like to spend a little bit of time reflecting on this past year. What I have done this past year has also really been to reflect on my life in general. It has sometimes been self indulgent, sometimes been a vehicle to show appreciation to important people in my life (and no, if I didn't show you appreciation, it doesn't mean that you aren't important, just that it wasn't your time yet). It has been cathartic for me at times - I have opened up about quite a few things that I hadn't talked too much about - sometimes even therapeutic. But most of all, it as allowed me to start believing in my writing again. The number of readers of this blog isn't huge, but it is steady, and I have really appreciated seeing the numbers change from day to day - especially on the days that I set personal records. On average, I would say that about 25-30 people may have read this, and to me, that is more than I expected. I was, after all, writing this for myself more than anything, and that some of you have at least found it interesting to listen to the music I have presented has been a great honor to me.

And then there are ripple effects. Because I develop a belief in both my writing and my ability to stick to it when I started, I decided to sign up for the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I can't say how long I have wanted to have written a novel - it has been something I have been dreaming of for years and years, but this year I did make it a reality. It is not a long novel, but it is a complete one, one that I look forward to start editing and refining, to see if there is something in there. But I did it.

2016 has been a year of great music, some pretty good movies, and some pretty good books. All of it is something I will be sure to cover once we hit 2017. Speaking of 2017, there will be more coming. I have plans for the new year, but I am not sure if I will keep the song a day up (although I suspect I will). What I do know already is that every Monday, there will be an album of the week. I won't play the entire album, but I will find a representative song from an album that really means something to me - and trust me, finding 52 albums isn't going to be a problem.

And then we have the great losses of 2016. We lost David Bowie. Prince. Leonard Cohen. George Michael. Carrie Fisher. And so many more. And we lost the soul of America.

And it is with those losses in mind that I decided to end this year on a hopeful note. A hope that we will keep on creating, keep on making music. It is a song that can be interpreted in many ways, but I look at it as a symbol of hope. It was also one of the very first songs Richard Thompson wrote, back when he was 17 years old, and it was Fairport Convention's second single ever, taken from the album What We Did On Our Holidays (1969). The song Meet On The Ledge seems like a great way to end 2016. Happy new year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

December 30 - She Said Yeah

So today is a special day. It's the last of the birthdays in my family, and it's reserved for the man responsible for my existence: My dad. 67 years ago, my grandparents had apparently not seen enough boys - or maybe they were trying for that very elusive girl - and my dad arrived just in time for the new year - more than 8 years after his middle brother and 12 years after his oldest. The year before, Sporveisbygget, which my farfar (grandfather) had been instrumental in getting built, had been completed, so as far as I know, that little two bedroom apartment was the only place he lived growing up. But all of that was before I knew him. He was only 22 when he had to deal with me, and I must say he has done a remarkable job (just don't judge him by the product - that won't give him enough credit).

There is so much to be grateful for when it comes to my dad. Like I have said before, I've been blessed with an amazing family, and my dad is no exception. While my cousin, Britt Jorunn, taught me how to read, it was my dad who taught me to love books. Every night he would read for my sister Elin and me. He would take us all across Scandinavian children's literature, and we have some spectacular authors both in Norway and Sweden. He also let me "graduate" to adult fiction with the books HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean and Døden På Asylet (Death At The Asylum - or Puzzle For Fools, as the original title was) by Quentin Patrick. His book collection was wide ranging in taste, but he did pass on a love for mysteries that still is going strong. Thanks to him, I am on my fourth book by Lars Kepler in four days this Christmas break.

He was also the my private chauffeur throughout most of my teenage years - until I got my license at 18 (which is when you can get it in Norway). That meant calls from me at all hours of the night - including when he was getting ready for work, asking if he could pick up me and a friend or two at one friend's house and drop us off at another friend's house (which was just a couple of minutes' drive from his work - and the place we were at was also along a possible route to his work). I cannot say how grateful I am that he hardly ever told me no - not even after I missed the last bus home on occasion (probably more often that I'd like to admit).

And then he turned me on to Legos. Not just once, but twice. Once in childhood - he used to take me to get my hair cut, as he loved rewarding me (or himself) with either a jigsaw puzzle or Legos. And then he came to visit here on year, talking about an old fashioned fire station. He helped me discover the Creator series - rated for expert builders ages 16 and up. After getting me the Paradise Cinema for my birthday one year, I was hooked again - and now it is a slight obsession.

But now, as I supposedly am an adult, he is also my friend. Yes, I still lean on him (and my mother) for support, but what's more important to me is the very close relationship we have - despite the fact that my calls home are less frequent than they should be - and often after he is in bed. Americans often look at me strangely when I tell them that my parents didn't tell me they loved me as a child or when I was growing up - but the truth is they didn't have to. I never doubted it. Not once. And if I had any doubts (which I didn't), they would have evaporated during my toughest years - the years I thought that ending it all would be the best thing to do. My parents gave me life not just at birth, but also in my early to mid twenties - and my dad was very much there. When I moved to Bergen in the middle of it all, he would go there for work and make sure that he spent time with me - much like he used to come home and play with us before going back into work again as kids - only this time, he would take me out with his colleagues, including one who also suffered from depression. Through hearing about his struggles and seeing that he still could be a part of things, it was possible to see that it could work, even though it certainly didn't feel like it.

So that's the kind of man my dad is. That's the kind of man I aspire to be - although I have stopped wanting to be him. And I love him, even though I don't say that either. But today, as he turns 67, it seems to be very appropriate. And since he loves The Rolling Stones, I thought I'd play one of MY favorites from one of the two Stones albums in his collection, an album called Out Of Our Heads (the US album title was December's Children), here is She Said Yeah, a raucous and raggedy rocker that I can't get enough of. Gratulerer med dagen, kjære pappa!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

December 29 - Sweet Ride

I am feeling a tad pensive today. The year is almost over, which means my commitment to myself of posting a song a day is almost over. However, the blog isn't going anywhere. I have ideas for my next project as well - but then again I am also open for suggestions and challenges. So today I want to open up for comments and suggestions for 2017. I have thoughts for a summary of my personal experience writing for New Year's Eve, and before that there is a birthday to celebrate, so I still have things left for this year as well. The project for next year will also be unveiled on New Year's Eve - or rather it will be finalized then, as I am still not certain what the plan will be.

But before all of that, there is today. And to match my pensive mood, I have picked out a fantastic little song. I encountered this song during my time in Studentradion i Bergen, and I have played another song from the same collection earlier this year. It is a song from Rare On Air Vol 2 (1995), and it is a song that originally was by the band Belly as a B-side to the Gepetto EP (1992) from their first album, Star (1993). However, in this very sparse and emotional version, it is the leader of Belly - and the song's writer/composer, Tanya Donelly who performs it, and wow, what a performance it is... Please enjoy this Sweet Ride!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December 28 - Pictures Of Matchstick Men

This Christmas was rough. I've talked about George Michael, and two days later, my very first movie crush also died, following a massive heart attack on December 23. Princess Leia Organa was the first female movie character I remember any interest in beyond just watching, and although Ross and Rachel in Friends really took any childhood dream I might have had well into a more mature version, there is a reason so many of us boys who grew up watching Star Wars during our formative years nodded and laughed more of embarrassment than anything else during that episode of Friends. When I realized that Carrie Fisher also played the crazy ex-girlfriend of "Joliet" Jake Blues in another of my favorite movies, The Blues Brothers, the movie crush was complete.

However, lost between the news of Carrie Fisher and George Michael's death was the news that Rick Parfitt of Status Quo died on Christmas Eve. I remember Rockin' All Over The World and Whatever You Want from the seventies and a cover version of Bolland's In The Army Now from the eighties, but it wasn't until fairly recently that I realized that they started in the sixties playing some heavy duty psychedelia. My favorite Status Quo song is bar none Pictures Of Matchstick Men from the album Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo (1968), which I gladly will share in memory of Rick Parfitt.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December 27 - Great King Rat

Today we're going to go back in time. The year was 1973, and  after having worked on their debut album for just about a year starting back in December 1971 and finishing The recording of it in the latter part of 1972, Queen's debut album, simply named Queen, was finally released. It didn't sell well initially, having a hard time reaching any of the charts,  but as Queen grew in popularity, so did the album, which finally peaked at number 24 on UK album charts in 1975, the same year they released A Night At The Opera featuring the classic Bohemian Rhapsody. Their debut album is certified gold both in UK in the USA, but it's still not a very well-known album.

 I was introduced to their debut album by Jan Are.  He had both Queen and Queen II on tape, and I borrowed them and play them half to death. I was initially blown away by the sheer aggression and power that I heard on their first two albums. It was very different from the Queen I already was familiar with, like the albums News Of The World and the aforementioned A Night At The Opera.  Of the songs on the album, it is really just Keep Yourself Alive and Seven Seas Of Rhye, which really was an instrumental teaser for the Queen II, that was played live extensively throughout their career. To me, that is a shame because the song like Great King Rat, which is the song of the day, really deserves a broader audience.

Monday, December 26, 2016

December 26 - Cowboys And Angels

2016 is not done kicking us in our teeth yet. Yesterday the news came that George Michael had passed away. If you had met me 30 years ago, while Wham! was on top of the charts, I wouldn't give you the time of day if you wanted to talk about George Michael.  And that was despite the fact that Careless Whisper was the ultimate last song on pretty much any party I went to, official or not, in my teenage years.  I was way too into the hairbands and heavy-metal to give the lightweight pop music George Michael was emblematic of at this point in his career. However, all that changed when I was tasked with reviewing the aptly named album Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 in 1990. in order to give it a proper review, I really needed to do just what he asked, to listen without any of the prejudice that I had carried with me when I first heard his solo debut album, Faith from 1987. I was blown away. His artistic vision was never clearer then it was on his sophomore album.  He released solo albums after this as well, but I was never as drawn to any of them as I was to Listen Without PrejudiceVol1. 

After Freddie Mercury's death, I was really hoping that Queen would carry-on with George Michael on vocals. His performance of Somebody To Love with the remainder of queen was absolutely mind blowing. His duet with longtime friend Elton John on the classic Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me is another stellar George Michael performance.  So today I mourn the loss of a great voice, an artist who was a lot deeper than I ever gave him credit for, especially during his early years,  and a very gifted songwriter. George Michael will be missed, and I choose to remember him by the track Cowboys And Angels from Listen Without PrejudiceVol1.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 25 - Do They Know It's Christmas

That was it. That was the end of the advent calendar. It's been quite a journey so far - and I am kinda proud to have been genre-hopping to the extent I was. The answers from yesterday's question were as follows: Bob Geldof organized the Band Aid project in 1984. He got Midge Ure to write the song Do They Know It's Christmas with him, and he gathered a virtual who's who of British pop and rock to perform it. I loved this song when it came out, and I love it today. It is my defining pop/rock Christmas song - despite horrible lines such as "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time". Well, duh! Most of Africa is tropical, which generally doesn't get snow, and a significant part of Africa is south of the equator, which means that Christmas comes in the middle of summer and not the middle of winter. Of course, there is snow on Kilimanjaro year round (although the glacier is shrinking), but Africa as a whole tends to not have a lot of snow in December...

Now, let's take a look at the final score board... Unsurprisingly, the big winner is Jon Inge, and he already did his annual trek to my parents' house and has received his prize. Well, ok - it's a Christmas present, but if I can call it a prize, I will do so. It sounds better, anyway. Here is the final scoreboard:

1. Jon Inge (68 points)
2. Snorre (37 points)
3. Steffen (10 points)
4. Jan Are (5 points)

For those of you who played the game this December, thank you for playing along, and for those of you who just read it all, I appreciate that as well. Merry Christmas to you all!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

December 24 - Ballroom Dancing

So the band was, of course, The Beatles - still the greatest band of all time - and I was looking for Paul McCartney's Ballroom Dancing from Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984). I actually really like this song - it is very catchy in an unmistakable Paul McCartney way. It was originally on Tug of War, which was the first album he released after Wings disbanded and John Lennon was shot. In a world where so many singers deteriorate over time, it is very refreshing to see how Paul McCartney is able to perform so many of his classic song with a very youthful fervor even at 74 years old. My biggest disappointment of 2016 is still in many ways that I was unable to get tickets to see him when he played in Grand Rapids - although I did try.

As for tomorrow - or rather todays window of the musical advent calendar - I am looking for a song where Paul McCartney didn't participate, as one of very few in Britain at the time. However, I remember buying the single and listen to the phone message from him on the b-side. This single launched an avalanche of collaborations in a model that is still used today. It is a very appropriate song for Christmas day. I think that's all the help I will give you. I want to know who started the collaborative project (and was knighted because of it, I believe), what was the name of the project, what was the song, what year, and, since it wasn't on an album, who wrote the song along with the person who started the project?