Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 31 - Downtown Train

After having been somewhat sinister, I think it is time to get poetic. Tom Waits' Rain Dogs album is a great collection of songs, but most of them are building up to punchlines and climactic moments. However, the song Downtown Train is a notable exception to this, as it opens up with a pretty nice image of the moon at night:

"Outside another yellow moon
Punched a hole in the nighttime"

I know many may have heard Rod Stewart's version, but I still prefer the original gritty version.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August 30 - The Medicine Show

I am sensing a theme forming around opening lines - or even verses - this week. I have always thought that the key to drawing an audience in is a strong opening line, and today's is quite possibly my all-time favorite lines because we really don't know exactly what's going on - but my imagination is surely going...

When Dream Syndicate started to percolate and bubble more and more, they decided it was time for a bigger record company. They went to A&M, and they hired in Sandy Pearlman to produce the album. He had worked with Blue Oyster Cult on their megahit (Don't Fear) The Reaper, and he had worked with latter day The Clash, so his pedigree was well established. Dream Syndicate was still led by Steve Wynn, with Paul Cutler on lead guitar and Dennis Duck on drums, but Dave Provost had taken over the bass duties from Kendra Smith - and what these four went on to record is in my book the ultimate Dream Syndicate album: The Medicine Show.

I've already played John Coltrane Stereo Blues, which found its way on to the album, and there is great storytelling in the songs Burn and Merrittville, but nothing tops the opening lines of the title track:

"I've got a page one story buried in my yard
I've got a troubled mind"

I can't think of more menacing sounding lines - and the delivery is very fitting. The rest of the lyrics are unfortunately not quite up to that standard, although he comes close with a couple of lines (he being Steve Wynn, who wrote most of the music and lyrics). I have had the pleasure of seeing Steve Wynn perform The Medicine Show with his on band and solo acoustic, and I am blown away every single time I hear the shuffle start.

Monday, August 29, 2016

August 29 - Nothing To Say

Today's song is yet another example of how important Motorpsycho has been for my musical tastes. I keep coming back to the album Demon Box, not only because it was my first meeting with Motorpsycho  but also because it has become my go-to album.  It is an album that spans so widely in genres and musical moods  that it doesn't really matter what kind of mood I am in, there is always something on Demon Box that will match it. If I am angry, the title track or Mountain, both songs that already have been featured as songs of the day, are great outlets of energy. If I'm a little bit melancholic, the psychedelic sounds of Come On In and Tuesday Morning match that mood perfectly - or Plan #1 if I want to go dark. And if I want an uplifting song, well, there is Nothing To Say.

Although uplifting may be taking it a little too far... The lyrics open with the perfect description of Donald Trump:

"With words big as headlines,
The gospel according to you
Is broadcast on frequencies
To frequent to see through

But you got nothing to say to me"

Cue ultra cheesy and funny video.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 28 - The Wheel

Today's song is all about riffs and crescendos. The opening riff of The Wheel, my personal favorite track from Motorpsycho's Timothy's Monster, starts very dreamlike, with bass, guitar and electric piano (Fender Rhodes, I believe), repeating as if it is a revolving wheel. The vocals come in before the drums, and a secondary guitar riff is added on top of the already existing texture. The Wheel just keeps on rolling, gathering more and more momentum for 5 minutes and 24 seconds before it turns into a monstrous two note riff. By then I am in a trance. The two note riff is so hypnotic and so heavy that it moves my entire body (and that's quite a feat). There is probably my favorite use of tambourine ever, there are dynamics (it quietens down to the opening riff), and, at the end, when the two note riff returns, there is a beautiful melody figure that is being repeated to take it all the way.

The Wheel is a masterful composition. It is a song without a solo, where the entire band is the focus throughout and the buildups and quiet times sound like they are negotiated in real time, as a full band improvisation in structure more than melody. It is so good. Soooo good.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

August 27 - Karaim

John Zorn is a certified musical genius - and by that I mean that he is one of the recipients of the McArthur so-called genius grant. I first heard about him when he was doing the Naked City project, which really tested the limits of the rock band format and experimentation. I also enjoyed his FilmWorks take on Ennio Morricone, but I didn't become an outright fan of his work until I heard his Masada compositions. He has by now composed more than 500 short pieces that all are rooted in Jewish musical tradition.

So what does a short composition do in a theme of long songs? Well, this is the beauty of jazz to me. This version of Karaim was performed by the Electric Masada constellation and starts out with improvisation over the song's two chords. It starts with electric piano (Jamie Saft) and electronics (Ikue Mori), then drummers are coming in (Kenny Wollesen and Joey Baron), and they in turn are gradually joined by Cyro Baptista (percussion), Trevor Dunn (bass), Marc Ribot (guitar), and John Zorn himself on saxophone. The improvisation continues for nearly 6 minutes before the theme is introduced at 5:58. There are two sections to the theme - and after 30 seconds, the first section of the theme is repeated and at 6:46 they go back to improvisations again.

This performance of Karaim is my personal favorite - and I have been scouring his works for this specific song. It is such a powerful vehicle for improvisation - and it is all done completely in line with my personal taste. I really like Marc Ribot's solo, but I can just get lost in it. The dynamics are also great throughout, especially the drum driven crescendo that starts about 10:30 and builds along the keyboard solo until it resolves at around 11:45. The theme reappears at 14:26 and wraps up at 15:14 (although there is a soft theme resolution following it to the end of the piece just like there was one leading up to the improvisation earlier in the piece as well). In other words, in a musical number that is 16 minutes and 15 seconds long, 96 seconds is devoted to the written theme. To me, this makes for a blissful piece of music that I easily get lost in every time I hear it.

Friday, August 26, 2016

August 26 - Raider II

Steven Wilson is so clearly one of my absolute favorite musician these days, and he is no stranger to long songs. Today's song, Raider II, was originally on the album Grace for Drowning, which so far is unsurpassed as his crowning achievement - although I am positive he has more up his sleeve. I really like that it really has a jazzy quality to it, along with featuring an array of stellar musicians, rooted in the drums of Marco Minneman, who was completely unknown to me prior to his work with Steven Wilson.

My relationship to the music of Steven Wilson is a testament to the power of liner notes on records. I have said before that the reason I am listening to him and Porcupine Tree is that he produced Opeth, and this is not unique in my musical exploration. The above mentioned Marco Minneman, for instance, formed a trio with Tony Levin, whose session work I mainly know of because of reading record covers (I have followed him since before the world wide web made it really easy to find all this information) and Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess. I also discovered Emmylou Harris because she worked with the producer Daniel Lanois - I had, of course, heard the name before, but it was country and I was uninterested. But I was a big enough fan of Lanois' productions that I gave her a shot and I was hooked. I love her voice. I could go on - but reading record covers and finding connections has been so rewarding for me over the years. That is one of the reasons I tried for as long as I could to hang on to the physical copies of music - most recently in cd form - but it's getting more and more difficult to hold on to that - it takes way too much space.

Anyway, back to Steven Wilson. I am lucky enough to have a live document of the Grace for Drowning tour in the bluray/cd box set Get What You Deserve, and Steven Wilson himself gets a chance to introduce this beautiful and long song. AND - we get to watch great musicians perform great music!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

August 25 - Anesthetize

8 days. That's how long it took from me introducing Porcupine Tree to playing them for a second time. It might be because I am getting just about full frontal prog right now - after all, that's where a lot of the long songs come from - but regardless, this is a beauty. Anesthetize from Fear of a Blank Planet lasts 17:42, and not a second is wasted in building up and calming down - and then there is Alex Lifeson of Rush with a guitar solo that starts right around 4:04.

The first part sets the song up - and frankly, if that was all there was to this song, it would still be a winner. However, the second part further enhances the song, providing a heavier edge, before the anesthesia sets in with a coda that ebbs and flows in sedated waves. The musicianship is stellar throughout. Gavin Harrison switches between establishing rolling grooves and intricate embellishments, Colin Edwin's bass drives it forward, and Richard Barbieri's use of soundscapes and organs alternates between atmospherics and adding pure fatness to the sound. John Wesley is heard especially in the third part which is more atmospheric in general - and Steven Wilson is all over this beauty of a song.

I believe this is one of the very best prog songs ever written - it is my personal Porcupine Tree highlight and well worth listening all the way through. Prepare to be sedated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 24 - Tubular Bells Part One

The early 70s was the golden age for progressive rock. Yesterday I played Genesis for you - today I am playing a one-man band. At least mostly. Mike Oldfield was 19 years old when he holed up in Richard Branson and his Virgin Records' studio The Manor to record Tubular Bells, a very remarkable piece of music. He did have help on drums, string bass, and flutes, but all other instruments were played by him. Most people may be familiar with the first theme, which was used to great effect in the movie The Exorcist, but the part I first got familiar with starts at 17:20, which was the excerpt featured on the very poorly named The Complete Mike Oldfield (should be considered sarcasm) - and I still love that section, where the instruments are introduced one by one.

This album was released in 1973, a year after yesterday's Foxtrot album, and it stayed on the British charts for 279 weeks - that's almost five and a half years. It is a highly enjoyable masterpiece - Tubular Bells Part One is one of the cornerstones in progressive rock.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

August 23 - Supper's Ready

At almost 23 minutes, the closing track of Foxtrot, still stands as the longest piece of music Genesis recorded. Foxtrot was the second album recorded by the classic line-up featuring Peter Gabriel on vocals (and flute, don't forget about the flute), Steve Hackett on guitars, Phil Collins on drums, Tony Banks on keyboards, and Mike Rutherford on bass. to me, this is my favorite lineup of theirs - I think their music was the most exciting when these five got together - and I am positive that when I get around to doing my series of bands that were better before (they got famous), which I am certain is about to happen, I will have to feature even more Genesis. However, today we are talking about longer songs, and Supper's Ready is a song in seven parts:

a. "Lover's Leap" (3:47)
b. "The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man" (1:56)
c. "Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men" (3:59)
d. "How Dare I Be So Beautiful?" (1:22)
e. "Willow Farm" (4:33)
f. "Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet)" (5:13)
g. "As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)"  (2:04)

Of course, the parts of the different parts are as delightfully whimsical as Genesis' stage shows were at that point in their career, with Peter Gabriel in full dress-up mode. I will strongly encourage you to go on this little journey with Genesis - just remember, Supper's Ready.

Monday, August 22, 2016

August 22 - You Fool No One

I want to go gong this week. Really long. No song will be under 10 minutes long. Just to prepare you.

I have drawn to long songs for a very long time. I think I'll blame Rush and their 2112, as I think that was the starting point, along with Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Both of those songs were scripted, and while that is the case with a lot of the music this week, I'll start out with a song that reaches past the 15-minute mark through improvisation. I love that side of Deep Purple, and while I love the Mark II line-up of Richie Blackmore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass, Ian Paice on drums, Ian Gillan on vocals, and the late, great Jon Lord on keyboards, I really like Mark III as well, with David Coverdale on vocals and Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals.

As a matter of fact, this line-up's Made In Europe was my very first meeting with Deep Purple. Today's song was one it took me a long time to like, but when it clicked for me, it really stuck. Here is Deep Purple with You Fool No One.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 21 - Imagine

I just couldn't get around this song. John Lennon had the courage of his convictions - he was never afraid to say what he believed. His line in Imagine says it all: "You might say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." He was easily the most politically outspoken of the Beatles (George Harrison could rival him - but his activism was more spiritual than political) - and one of the trailblazers of political activism in rock music until his untimely death in 1980.

The song Imagine has been over played - or at least over covered (there are way too many bad versions of it out there) - but it doesn't take away from the innate qualities of the song. A beautiful and simple melody, powerful words whose naiveté is tempered by the above quote, and John Lennon's vocals and piano playing with no frills - he just let the song speak for itself. Just Imagine...

Saturday, August 20, 2016

August 20 - Let There Be Rock

I love early AC/DC. I don't have anything against AC/DC with Brian Johnson as their singer, but I really love the music they created with Bon Scott. That being said, I think my first meeting with their music must have been in 1982 or 1983. In the early 80s, the Norwegian TV station NRK (the only tv station at that time) would air concerts on the night leading into May 1, supposedly because there had been a lot of unsavory gatherings of youth in the bigger urban areas that date in years before with vandalism and general drunk and disorderly conduct. The solution: Give them music on the tv so they would have to gather at homes instead (this was before too many people had VCRs). I stayed up to watch this show, and distinctly remember watching AC/DC playing Let's Get It Up - and I really liked that.

But that was before I heard them with Bon Scott. To me, the big breakthrough of liking AC/DC came when I heard the title track from their 1977 album, Let There Be Rock. It is sheer rock'n'roll brilliance. It makes me stomp my feet, bop my head, and bring out my air guitar. Why? Because Tchaikovsky had the news (a nod right back to Roll Over Beethoven). Ah - forget it. Just Let There Be Rock.

Friday, August 19, 2016

August 19 - Berlin

If it hadn't been for yesterday's post, I would probably not have found Berlin again this go around. However, it's once again been playing at work, and I remember just how good I think this album is. It is not easy listening - especially not if you listen to the lyrics. It is a concept album, and to me the most heartbreaking line is from the song The Kids: "They're taking her children away..." The title track opens the album and starts with a descending piano riff, which lays the foundation for the song (although in very modified way when Reed starts singing - if that indeed was what he did). We lost Lou Reed in 2013 - but his music lives on. I encourage you to find Berlin and give it a spin. It is so worth it.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18 - Welcome To My Nightmare

I have already talked a little bit about how I discovered Alice Cooper - and linked him to my yuuge obsession with Kiss. The last Alice Cooper song I played was by the band Alice Cooper - today I am heading to 1975 and the title track from his first solo album: Welcome To My Nightmare. The band Alice Cooper had seen significant success with a great string of albums: Love It To Death, Killer, School's Out, and Billion Dollar Babies. However, their last album, Muscle Of Love, did not do well on the charts. Personally I can see why, as the album simply isn't that good. The title track is my personal highlight, and even that is only good - and nothing like their past four albums.

I wish I could say that I was eagerly anticipating Alice Cooper's solo debut, but at age 3, I had no clue who he was - and I was still about 5 years away from becoming a huge Kiss fan. However, in retrospect, I can honestly say that Welcome To My Nightmare blows me away - and it really still does today, 41 years after its release. He hired Bob Ezrin back as a producer - he had produced the string of four great band records mentioned above - who in turn brought in much of Lou Reed's backing band following his work on Reed's 1973 masterpiece Berlin. The album also features one of my all time favorite bass players, Tony Levin, who has played with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson to name just a couple.

When I first listened to Welcome To My Nightmare, I was drawn in by the mood of the album more than anything else. The album sounds like a horror movie - with the title track as a campy introduction before the darker songs start appearing, especially the sequence of Years AgoSteven, and The Awakening, and of course a song like The Black Widow. Alice Cooper the vaudeville singer also shows up in Some Folks, and there are songs like Department Of Youth and Escape that only by some weird miracle end up fitting in. But make no mistake, this is Alice Cooper's nightmare. If you want to be frightened by music, find Years Ago, Steven, and The Awakening - but until then, Welcome To My Nightmare...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 17 - Fear Of A Blank Planet

I really can't believe that it is August and I haven't played any Porcupine Tree yet. I know I have played Steven Wilson and Gavin Harrison, who sing/play guitar and play drums for Porcupine Tree, but that I haven't played any of their songs yet is almost unforgiveable. To start rectifying that, I will go back to the first Porcupine Tree album I purchased. I know I was working at Alma College at the time, because I remember unwrapping the cd in my office before putting it in the office computer and playing it as background music while I worked (although I have a feeling that the background became my primary focus at times). The album was Fear Of A Blank Planet, and I think one of the main reasons I got it was that I had discovered Steven Wilson the producer - and then this album has Alex Lifeson of Rush and Robert Fripp of King Crimson as guest artists (I think I will find my absolute favorite track of the album, Anesthetize, for inclusion later this year - it is the track featuring Alex Lifeson).

I was not prepared for what I heard when I played the album for the first time. The acoustic guitar riff that opens it blew me away - and then the drums entered and turned my rhythmic sense of the riff upside down. I have always liked songs that start out that way - and for me, I still get tripped up by where the beat really lies from time to time.

What I find somewhat unfortunate is that Porcupine Tree is on hiatus at the moment. Colin Edwin (bass) has been busy with a variety of side projects and Richard Barbieri (keyboards - originally from new wave band Japan) has been collaborating with Steve Hogarth of Marillion fame. Gavin Harrison has done his big band project and joined with both King Crimson and The Pineapple Thief. And then there is Steven Wilson, whose solo career really has taken off. Unfortunately, it sounds like his interest in Porcupine Tree is a little low at the time, but I am still hoping from a new album of this great constellation of musicians (I didn't forget John Wesley, who helped out on vocals and guitar, especially live, and who has a solo career filled with interesting music more in the singer/songwriter tradition), but until that day comes, I will revert back and listen to Fear Of A Blank Planet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August 16 - All This Useless Beauty

I've found that it is easier to organize my weeks by a theme. I know, the themes don't always make sense, but as I am looking at my Amazon music collection (I store it all in the cloud, and their services are great as far as I am concerned - their cloud player has really worked well for me), the number of songs I have at my disposal is so large that without a theme, it becomes a lot more difficult to decide what to play. It's like any writing assignment - write whatever you want to is a lot more difficult than writing about an assignment ("og alle var enige om at det hadde vært en fin tur" - "and everybody agreed they had a nice trip" - the quintessential ending of any and all Norwegian essay about what we did on our summer vacations). This week, I think I am heading for title tracks.

The interesting thing for me about today's song, All This Useless Beauty by Elvis Costello, is that I barely have listened to the full album.  I had a huge Elvis Costello phase where I thought I needed as much of his music as possible. I still really like his music, but I have come to the conclusion that not every idea you have should make an album, and that is what I sometimes think he has suffered from. All This Useless Beauty is one of his albums that only has a couple of great songs on it. The rest are solid, but nothing special. It is also a fitting end to The Attractions - this album was the last one he recorded with his initial backing band. His current band, The Imposters, is really an upgrade of The Attractions, with Steve Nieve on keyboards, Pete Thomas on drums, and Davey Faragher replacing Bruce Thomas, whom Elvis Costello reportedly has said it is impossible to work with anymore, on bass.

However, while All This Useless Beauty might fall short as a whole, the title track is really worth the price of the album in itself. I find it hauntingly beautiful.

Monday, August 15, 2016

August 15 - Dirt

When I first heard Alice in Chains, I was in a record store in Malmö, Sweden. I don't remember the name of the store, but I know I was there for some meeting or seminar in the European Good Templar Youth Federation - or EGTYF, as it affectionately was called. It must have been in 1992, because the album that was playing was Dirt, and they had posters up advertising their recently released album - and what an album it was. I was drawn to the sluggish riffs and the eerie lead vocals (Sung by Layne Stayley) - which rose to new levels when guitarist Jerry Cantrell sang harmony.

 I left the record store that day with Facelift (their debut album), Sap (the follow up EP), and Dirt. Dirt is packed with great songs - but my favorite is still the title track.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 14 - Famous Blue Raincoat

In Norway, we have an expression that goes, "Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær" - or "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." And what is better when it rains than a raincoat. It might not be a good thing it is famous and blue, because that coat might very well be torn at your shoulder, and that does not help when it rains. However, in Leonard Cohen's song Famous Blue Raincoat from Songs About Love and Hate (1971).

I will confess that I first heard Leonard Cohen through his album I'm Your Man from 1988. The use of synthesizers on that album really had my jaw dropping simply because it sounded like he had taken a Casio synthesizer with preprogrammed accompaniment and sang on top of it - especially on the song Tower of Song. Other songs on the album were absolutely awesome - and there is no coincidence that when songs from I'm Your Man were selected for The Essential Leonard Cohen collection, six of the eight songs made it on there. This album came on the heels of Jennifer Warnes having released a collection of her interpretations of his songs - and it let me and Arve, who really was the Leonard Cohen fan among the two of us, to seek out his earlier works as well. When we eventually ended up with his album The Best Of Leonard Cohen from 1975, I was completely drawn to today's song, Famous Blue Raincoat. The vocals are great, the melody is greater, but the lyrics are the greatest. So today, when you listen to this song, please follow the lyrics as well. It's well worth it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August 13 - Rain Dogs

I remember reading newspaper reviews and best album of the year and decade lists in the 80s, and one name would come back, over and over again: Tom Waits. From 1983-1987 he released a trio of albums that are widely considered to make up a trilogy, which makes sense if you take into consideration that they represented the completion of a stylistic change for Tom Waits - and that the third album is named for a song from the first album of the three. In the middle of the trilogy, sandwiched in between Swordfishtrombones and Frank's Wild Years, we find Rain Dogs from 1985. It is my favorite album of the trilogy - it is melodic and percussive all at once, and it has quite a few brilliant songs on it. And there, smack dab in the middle of the middle album of the trilogy, we find the song Rain Dogs. Tom Waits has always had his eyes towards the ones not fitting in with society - society's strays, if you will - and that is the subject of the trilogy - and very clearly reflected in the song Rain Dogs.

Friday, August 12, 2016

August 12 - Here Comes The Rain Again

When Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were Eurythmics, they ruled the charts. Although - before I get accused of revisionist history here, I should say that they only had one #1 single in the US (Sweet Dreams Are Made of This) and one #1 single in the UK (There Must Be An Angel). That being said, you couldn't escape them in the mid 80s, and for good reason. Annie Lennox' voice is strong and powerful - and in Dave Stewart she had a great musical collaborator. Their music was often teetering on the edge of darkness in the earlier stages of their career, although it started give way to much brighter pop in the later parts of the 80s. While I like both phases, I have to admit to be more drawn to the darker aspects of their music (which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone reading this). Today's song represents one of the finer aspects of this side: Here Comes the Rain Again from the album Touch (1984).

Thursday, August 11, 2016

August 11 - Let It Rain

I discovered Dream Syndicate somewhat by chance. I was working at Radio Ung, and the Steve Wynn debut album, Kerosene Man, was one of the albums peddled by Sonet, which was the record company most desperate to get their music to as many people as possible, so they sent us pretty much every album they released or distributed in Norway. I had listened to the album a couple of times, so when I had a chance to see him live at Skansen on December 23 (referred to as "little Christmas eve" in Norway - and of great significance, as that is the evening we decorate our trees so they are ready for our Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve), 1989, I went without hesitation. I believe I was going with two good friends: Vegard and Leif Roger.

A couple of things stood out about the gig even before it started: It was just Steve Wynn with his acoustic guitar. That is very demanding of any artist - but he really pulled it off. And the venue, Skansen, was both the venue for my first concert ever (TNT in 1985) and the place where my parents met for the first time. The details surrounding their first meeting are a little sketchy to me, but they've been together ever since, so it was indeed the start of something pretty darn good (they will have been married for 45 years on September 11 - quite impressive).

That evening in 1989 proved to be a perfect way to start the holiday. He delivered the goods - both songs from his first solo album (Under the Weather and Kerosene Man were standouts) and songs from his time in Dream Syndicate (the two I specifically remember are The Medicine Show and Boston), which at that time had come to its end just the year before. I really liked Dream Syndicate, but it was difficult to find their music, so when I found Tell Me When It's Over: The Best of Dream Syndicate 1982 - 1988 at a record store sometime in the early 90s (it was at Innova at the Moholt Center, I think), I was ecstatic. While it had both of the aforementioned songs - and yes, I almost wore the cd out listening to both of them - it also had surprises, and one of them was the Eric Clapton song Let It Rain, culled from his first solo album. I have since listened to Clapton's version as well, but I have to admit that I really prefer the energy that Dream Syndicate brings to it. You can always look up the Clapton version, but here it is with Dream Syndicate from the album Out Of The Grey from 1986.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

August 10 - Shadows In The Rain

I always forget that the song of the day originated on The Police's album Zenyatta Mondatta - but there it felt more like a throwaway track. When Sting released his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles in 1985, five years had passed since the first appearance of Shadows In The Rain, and it has changed character from relying heavily on reggae rhythms to being a swing jazz number - and what a number. It gets my feet tapping and head bopping - and Sting almost growls "how can I explain shadows in the rain." The band he assembled for The Dream of the Blue Turtles was very jazzy - Branford Marsalis on sax, Darryl Jones on bass, Omar Hakim on drums, and Kenny Kirkland on keyboards. Although Sting would play double bass as well, he mainly sang and did the guitar work. While Sting to my ears has been relegated to "boring old fart" status, his early solo output was great. I love his first four solo albums, and while there have been glimmers of interesting music on the later ones as well, I think his fourth, Ten Summoner's Tales, was the beginning of the decline. What he is doing is pretty, but pretty boring to me.

But with The Dream of the Blue Turtles, he helped open my ears to jazzier sounds. Lyrically, the album is all over the place. He is channeling Anne Rice on one song (Moon Over Bourbon Street), and referencing Shakespeare on another (Consider Me Gone) - and while his political sentiments always have been marred by clichés, stating that he hopes "the Russians love their children too" has always resonated with me (Russians). But Shadows in the Rain is not about politics or literature, it's about the aftermath of a slightly big bender, and it is delivered with gusto and a solid dose of humor.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

August 9 - Kingdom of Rain

I have already visited The The's great album Mind Bomb once this year, but it's time for another trip. I think this week is shaping up to be about rain - or at least songs where rain is used in the title. I am not yet quite sure how it will all shape up, but today's song is nothing short of beautiful. Matt Johnson, the leader (and singer) of The The recruited the help of Sinead O'Connor for one of the more beautiful songs about a broken relationship I know. The lyrics are matched perfectly by a very melancholic melody - and the two voices blend really well. The inclusion of Sinead O'Connor here is a stroke of genius - this was before she broke through the mainstream with the Prince song Nothing Compares 2U, so at this point she only had the album The Lion and the Cobra out. To my ears, The Lion and the Cobra is a really good album - and a lot edgier than her subsequent work musically (her lyrics have always had an edge to them).

Monday, August 08, 2016

August 8 - You Look Like Rain

Morphine. Another band I discovered while working in Studentradioen i Bergen. Their name fits some of their songs better than others, and You Look Like Rain is definitely one of those songs. The front man was singer/bass/guitar player Mark Sandman (he usually played a two string slide bass, which really influenced their sound), who unfortunately died from a heart attack while on stage in Italy in 1999, only ten years and four albums (five if you include posthumous release The Night) into their career, However, their signature sound was really based in the saxophone sound of Dana Colley, while Jerome Dupree and Billy Conway were the two drummers who alternated on keeping time. The song You Look Like Rain  is from their debut album Good from 1993.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

August 7 - Black Sabbath

I don't remember how old I was, but was visiting my good friend Stig Erik when his brother Jan Olav come in to his room with music we needed to listen to. I am assuming I was around 11 or so, and it was going to change my musical taste forever. The album was Black Sabbath's debut album, named Black Sabbath, and the song also happened to be called Black Sabbath. Thunderstorms and church bells. It was a sense of doom I never had experienced before.

Fast forward a few years, and my cousin Stein was spending some time with us in the summertime. We ended up in the bargain basement of Playtime, the best record store Trondheim ever saw, and while he found a leather bound copy of No Remorse by Motorhead, I picked up a 4 lp box of Black Sabbath's first four albums called Hand of Doom. It was a Spanish pressing, so I believe the song titles were listed in Spanish as well.

Today's song is that very first song that Black Sabbath presented to the world on their debut album. Please enjoy Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath from the album Black Sabbath, originally released in 1970.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

August 6 - Vigil

Today's song is almost cheating. The singer, Fish, was ousted from Marillion two years before he released the album Vigil In A Wilderness of Mirrors in 1990. He had assembled well established sidemen alongside fairly unknown musicians, but they all were there following his vision, which clearly was a continuation of the work he had started in Marillion - hence feeling like cheating. However, the opening track, simply called Vigil, is a beautiful symphonic/progressive song that takes a little while to build up. I really like his work, and this album - and song - really show him at a peak.

Friday, August 05, 2016

August 5 - Head Like A Hole

When Nine Inch Nails (NIN) stormed onto the industrial music scene in 1989, Head Like A Hole, the lead off track on their debut was a ferocious display of texture, aggression, and melody. The synthesized backdrop creates the perfect canvas for Trent Reznor's sense of melody, delivered with just the right amount of attitude and aggression before it all explodes in the chorus. Watching the video is quite interesting, especially seeing Reznor with dreadlocks - his current public persona is far more clean cut. This was the beginning of a fascinating musical career that I am thankful I get a chance to follow. Head Like A Hole was a moderate alternative hit, although it did not make it on to Billboard's Hot 100 list. The album Pretty Hate Machine is a good debut, but it was clear that there was more lurking underneath the surface. Regardless of that, Head Like A Hole was a great introduction to Nine Inch Nails!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

August 4 - Welcome To The Jungle

In 1987, Guns N' Roses released their debut album, but it wasn't until a year later they really broke through with the Sweet Child O' Mine and it became impossible to escape them wherever you went. I remember seeing an early MTV taped show of theirs that really showed the ferociousness of their concerts - way before they became the bloated band they where just before they turned in to an Axl Rose solo outfit. But today is all about their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. And what a debut it was. Looking at the track list, there isn't a single filler track on it - it is simply put one of the strongest debut albums ever. The opening teasing guitar notes from Slash before the descending riff starts... Then it builds and builds until it settles into a fairly unsettling groove. It rolls on with vocals that focus more on rhythm than melody before the chorus sets in and releases some tension. Of course, there is a quiet break in there as well, just before Slash unleashes his guitar solo. It is a great song to open a great album. When I first heard it, it was my friend Geir who taped Appetite for Destruction on one side (spilling over onto the second side) of the 90 minute tape - and with David Lee Roth's Skyscraper on the other side. While Skyscraper isn't a bad album, it is rarely listened to now - but I still pull out Appetite for Destruction when I want to listen to some really good balls out rock and roll, and it all starts with Welcome to the Jungle!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

August 3 - Good Times Bad Times

January 12, 1969, was when Atlantic Records unleashed a juggernaut on the unsuspecting public. After The Yardbirds started dissolving in 1966, their latest added member, guitarist Jimmy Page, who had worked as a highly sought after session musician, wanted to keep the band going under the name The New Yardbirds. Fellow session musician John Paul Jones joined him on bass (and keyboards) - they had done work together on the Mickie Most produced Beck's Bolero (my dad had an album with Mickie Most produced songs that included this track and a few other great songs of the mid to late sixties) - and they found Robert Plant singing with the Band of Joy, who in turn recommended the thunderous John Bonham - or Bonzo - as a drummer.

They were initially granted permission to use the name The New Yardbirds to fulfill some Yardbirds obligations in Scandinavia, but had to change their name once that tour was over. Keith Moon of The Who eventually provided inspiration for the name, stating that it would "go over like a lead balloon" leading to the name Led Zeppelin. Surviving recordings from the Scandinavia tour clearly shows the force of this new band - but the best evidence is the tour-de-force of an opening album that starts out with Good Times Bad Times.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

August 2 - Mysterons

I have said it before - I really like Portishead. They have released three studio albums, and they just don't disappoint. Their debut album, Dummy,  was released in 1994, and while Glory Box and Sour Times were songs that really attracted a lot of buzz and attention, it was clear that this was something special from the very opening of the album. There is tension and drama, the production is echoing the earliest days of recording, and Beth Gibbons' voice is haunting. Geoff Barrow puts together a canvas of beats and themes, often using the Fender Rhodes (an electric piano heard throughout their album), while producer Adrian Utley plays the guitars as well as some keyboards and adds texture to the extent that he became a permanent member following the release of Dummy. I don't know what to call their music - or how to classify it - but does that really matter as long as the music is this great? Evidence #1: Mysterons

Monday, August 01, 2016

August 1 - Break On Through

So earlier this year, I did album closers as a theme for a week. This week, the theme is opening tracks on albums. That in itself would be too easy of a task - there are tons of albums with great opening tracks - so I am limiting it to opening tracks on debut albums. In other words, the first song the bands and artists ever put on an album.

The first song is really a no-brainer. While I don't know how and where I listened to The Doors for the first time, I can tell you without doubt that I first heard their 1967 debut album simply called The Doors at Vegard's house. He is one of my old friends whose record collection has had an immense impact on me and my musical taste. I loved just browsing his collection, finding new music all the time.

When it comes to The Doors, they were one of his favorite bands. Jim Morrison's poetry was something he really could relate to - and the mix of music and poetry was second to none. As for debut albums, I don't know that it can be done much better, and there is no doubt about them being a true musical force from the first note of Break On Through. The groove they start out with is infectious, but when they get to the chorus, "tried to run, tried to hide, break on through to the other side" the song explodes. They would keep on experimenting with dynamics throughout their career, but it all started with this song.