Archive for the ‘Music’ category


A Fourth of July Anthem

The Hunt for New Music.

Does anyone sing America the Beautiful better than Ray Charles? No, is the short answer. In addition to our national anthem, this may be our second greatest song. Ray Charles sings it here, live, with an orchestral accompaniment. Take some time and take it in. He was–and remains via his recordings–one our great national treasures.

You’ll feel better about America–and everything that goes on it–if you do.

Happy Fourth of July.


The Poetry of Rock: “Peace Like A River”

Music:

It’s been a while since anything from the Poetry of Rock series has been published and that just not  a good thing, as I was reminded this morning when, while working on another project, Paul Simon’s “Peace Like A River” came on the audio system. It is one of his most melodic compositions–very streamlined and pure–and also one of his very best in terms of lyrical poetry:

“Peace like a river ran through the city
Long past the midnight curfew
We sat starry-eyed
We were satisfied
And I remember
Misinformation followed us like a plague
Nobody knew from time to time
If the plans were changed
If the plans were changed.You can beat us with wires
You can beat us with chains
You can run out your rules
But you know you can’t outrun the history trair
I’ve seen a glorious day.

Four in the morning
I woke up from out of my dreams
Nowhere to go but back to sleep
But I’m reconciled
Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for awhile:

–Peace Like A River, by Paul Simon

The music is very soft and melodic, a perfect counter point to the anger and power in the lyrics. The last time I heard this song–or used these lyrics–was in a eulogy for a very good and influential friend of mine who died unexpectedly a few years ago. The last stanza in particular really brought home the deep sense of loss when a good friend leaves us.  I managed to find a live version (from the iFest in London in 2011) to reacquaint you with the song. Like all Simon live performances, it’s a slightly different interpretation, not a note-for-note reproduction (there has been controversy about the piano solo at the end of this version). A very great song, worth a listen and your time.


Sgt. Pepper’s Re-boot

The Hunt for New Music:

Here’s an interesting idea for fans of “Sgt. Pepper” and The Beatles.

Re-boot the album.

Re-imagine, re-order, re-program it, because as terrific as it was, is, and remains, there were some very interesting conversations during the production of the record about what songs should be included and what should be excluded.

Here’s the original song list for “Sgt. Pepper”:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“With a Little Help From My Friends”

“Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”

“Getting Better”

“Fixing A Hole”

“She’s Leaving Home”

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

“Within You, Without You”

“When I’m Sixty-Four”

“Lovely Rita”

“Good Morning, Good Morning”

“St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (reprise)

“A Day In The Life”

That’s it. A lot of great music but a lot left out that you may or may not know about.

The original album was only a little over 39 minutes long–it’s not a very long album–and there was certainly room for more.

In various articles and discussions, both The Beatles and George Martin discussed which songs should have been included on the album but were not –“Strawberry Fields” and Penny Lane”–and also which songs were included but perhaps should not have been–“Lovely Rita”, “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Good Morning, Good Morning” (Lennon disliked all three).

The audio style  and subject matter of “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” fit right in with the overall concept of “Sgt. Pepper”(at one time, the album was going to be developed as a homage to the traditional English lifestyle, but it outgrew that thought); indeed, George Martin, The Beatles producer and the producer of “Sgt. Pepper” said that the decision to leave those two songs off the album was “the biggest mistake of my professional career”(Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles did not want the two songs–released before “Sgt. Pepper” as a marketing move to keep the band in the public consciousness, repeated on an album). George Harrison thought “Only A Northern Song” would fit in nicely but “Tomorrow Never Knows” would have been even better.

A couple of other songs that fit the album’s style and time period, “All You Need Is Love” , “Hello Goodbye”, and “Baby You’re A Rich Man” would also fit–all songs are recorded in 1967 although not necessarily prior to the release of “Sgt. Pepper” in the U.S. in June of that year.

To reprogram the album, start with some givens: It’s going to open with the first two songs on the original program and close with the last two. Those are necessary to set the stage for everything follows. They are among the most iconic songs of all time and state the concept of the album (a band free to do music that the then-current iteration of The Beatles could not).

Next, review other songs made in the period close to “Sgt. Pepper”–anything in 1967, for example, and some of the music produced in 1966. There are some very good options in that group for inclusion in a re-boot of “Sgt. Pepper”.

Then fill in “Sgt. Pepper” with the songs that should have been included but weren’t: “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” , of course. Without the three songs that had some band ambivalence to them, a first pass at a re-boot would provide this lineup:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“With a Little Help From My Friends”

“Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”

“Getting Better”

“Fixing A Hole”

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

“Within You, Without You”

“Strawberry Fields”

“Tomorrow Never Knows”

“Penny Lane”

“St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (reprise)

“A Day In The Life”

Not a bad lineup at all and you can try it yourself at home by setting up the playlist in iTunes and letting it roll.

But…a few other songs that fit either in mood or production technique (or both) creates an even more interesting re-boot.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

“With a Little Help From My Friends”

“Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds”

“Getting Better”

“All You Need Is Love”

“Fixing A Hole”

“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”

“Within You, Without You”

“Strawberry Fields”

“Tomorrow Never Knows”

“Hello Goodbye”

“Penny Lane”

“St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (reprise)

“A Day In The Life”

In this iteration,  the iconic songs that set up the album are preserved, the key opening and closing sequences are intact, but new (to the playlist) songs that build on the “Sgt. Pepper’s” consciousness and sound add to the overall magnificence of the album.

It’s been called the “greatest album ever recorded” so there is no presumption that a new song lineup would be as good or better the original–greatest of all time is tough to beat. But..and this is the point…it would provide yet another take on the most discussed album of our time as well as a glimpse into different thoughts of how the album might be programmed.

If you’re interested enough to read this far…then send me your playlist and song order for a “Sgt. Pepper” reboot. I’ll post it, and will  look forward to hearing it.

 

 

 

 


The Act You’ve Known For All These Years

The Hunt For New Music:

“It was twenty years ago today, when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play”….

Sg. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Lennon-McCartney)

Editor’s Note: Actually, it was 50 years ago that “Sgt. Pepper’s” was introduced in America. In celebration of that event, there are several posts and interesting links to checkout and enjoy about the most celebrated album of our time. 

There is an exact moment when The Beatles started the transition that would move them from their position as the world’s biggest rock band into the dominant cultural and musical influence that they became after “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released.

That moment was 29 August 1966, when The Beatles played their last live rock concert, in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. The stadium was jammed and security for The Beatles was so tight that they had to be taken to the stage in an armored truck. One of The Beatles–looking out at the crowds and chaos that surrounded them–said simply “we can’t do this anymore”.

And after San Francisco, 1966, they didn’t.

As the band grew in popularity all over the world, the music was getting left behind. The screaming at the concerts was so loud that band members couldn’t hear each other, couldn’t hear their own instruments and, individually, they were getting restless–creatively, intellectually, musically. It was time for a change.

Ten months later that change materialized, in the form of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. It was the first rock concept album, a total break with The Beatles tight and carefully Brian-Epstein- groomed image, a reach in terms of music and technology and instrumentation, a musical composition so complex it could not be performed live and stressed the limits of the then-available recording technology, a very complete break from the past. Those paying attention to the musical evolution of The Beatles knew that their music was changing, becoming more adventurous and complex. It started with “Rubber Soul” and gathered momentum on “Revolver”, an album that provided an early test of some of the concepts and musical ideas (“Eleanor Rigby”, “Tomorrow Never Knows”) that would reach full definition in “Sgt. Pepper”.

To produce “Sgt. Pepper”  took 400 hours of studio time and 129 days–an immense amount of time for that period in popular music, but nothing compared to the amount of time it can take a 21st century band to record an album today. Working for The Beatles was their drive to change, to create, to push the boundaries, along with a team that included their legendary producer George Martin (later and deservedly, Sir George Martin) and recording engineer Geoff Emerick. Working against them was the technology of the day: all analog, a modest four track Studer tape recorder, analog audio tape, the limits of electronic recording technology and techniques of the time.

It mattered not. Through diligence and drive and experimentation–and listening to what each other had to say–The Beatles pushed through, expanded the very limits of what was possible in the studio, turning the studio itself into a musical and creative instrument, not merely a recording device, and produced the album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”,  that Rolling Stone magazine has called the great rock album of all time.

At the core of the album’s concept was a step away from all The Beatles had been before and a step into what they would be going forward. Everything changed, from image and dress to composition complexity and musical density. The Beatles, in essence, created a band that could free them from the success and popularity of their past and give them again control over their musical destiny.

It was a risk. A massive, huge, intellectual, financial, business risk. If it went wrong, if their audience didn’t “get it”, if the album failed commercially, The Beatles could easily have been “over”.

But they did not play it safe, and that is the very greatest thing about “Sgt. Pepper’s”. They were fearless and opened a door into the future for themselves and for other bands by expanding the vocabulary of rock music. They elected to toss out the known for the unknown. Brian Epstein–their manager at the time” Sgt. Pepper’s ” was written, produced, and released–proved again to have perfect pitch for what to do and when to do it. Unlike other managers who  might discourage such an adventurous leap, Epstein–admittedly a little bewildered but totally committed to the group–backed the venture.

On June 2nd, 1967, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released in the United States. It was released in the “summer of love” and became the background music for a huge cultural change in the United States and the rest of the world. The album was loved, hated, revered, despised, analyzed, deconstructed, misunderstood, applauded.

But–it worked. “Sgt. Pepper’s” changed music and the possibility of rock; it also became the soundtrack the world needed at a time of volcanic change and international unrest.

There is a cost to change–there is always a cost to change. By August of 1967, Brian Epstein had died, the victim of “incautious self-overdosage” according to the English coroner. Friends of Epstein noted that he was worried if his management contract would be renewed, that he had been contemplating suicide for some time, that he knew his value as someone expert in staging large concerts and drawing huge crowds might be less valuable going forward when all the creative work would be done within the confines of the Abbey Road studio; that the band he had nurtured and grown into a worldwide phenomenon had, finally, and with his own urging, outgrown him.

By 1970,  after the release of  “Let It Be”,  it was over, as The Beatles, rich and famous and influential beyond comprehension,  lacking a centering influence (Epstein),  displayed signs of transitional difficulty from being merely the biggest rock band in the world to the dominant creative influence of an era, as infighting and self-absorbed musical and personal directions and personality conflicts mixed in with confused business activities and management, took it all apart.

What was left was the music, and in particular, this one rather spectacular piece of music, that changed everything.

The Fine Print: Image embed courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st century on file. This image has not been altered in any way. We thank them for sharing.

 

 


HOW TO PUT TOGETHER A KILLER SOUND SYSTEM FOR $250

The Hunt for New Music:

 

The world of audio is changing in dramatic ways almost daily. As a big, big, fan of recorded music, I’ve always had great sound systems. When I was in college, I took a job at a stereo store just so I could get the great discount available to store employees buying their own systems. With this discount, I was able to put together a JBL/McIntosh/KLH Sound system that was the envy of all my friends for a very modest sum.

After college, my budgets for audio systems got larger, the technology became a lot more sophisticated, and the range of music that I listened to expanded exponentially. I continued to invest in my systems and my apartment, house, farm was always the place that friends would hear the best recorded music.

At only one time during my life did I not have a spectacular sound system: when I four kids all under the age of 10. After I came home from a trip to find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich stuck in the tape deck and one of the speakers blown out, I decided that it was time to shut it down for a while and so I did—selling all the electronics, turntables, speakers, and accessories and downsizing to a system that used a Sony Discman and a set of small, portable Bose self-powered loudspeakers. That system, which actually sounded quite good, was low maintenance and easy to protect from the kids and it served me well for several years. Later, when the kids understood that the audio system was permanently off limits for them, I got another more serious audio system, this one component based (Yamaha) with a multi-disc player, receiver, and dual deck tape system, all of it hooked into a pair of Boston Acoustics speakers. That system (still in use), was very accurate and balanced; it also had enough inputs that I could (and did) run audio from multiple sources through it: DVD player, TV, cable converter, computer, music server.

Next up: an even larger (and much more expensive) system built around McIntosh components (Integrated amp and CD/DVD player) and Wilson Audio Sophia speakers. This system is very musical and created a large sound stage and is what audiophiles would call a “reference system”…accurate enough to be the standard by which other systems would be judged. It’s in use daily and, as with the previous system, is used with a variety of audio sources, from an Apple TV hard disc music server to DVD audio to streaming music from the Net. It’s a joy and everyone who loves music should have a similar system at least once in their life.

But—and this is reality intruding on the dream—not everyone wants to fund a reference standard audio system.

For those people, I have the perfect solution, and, like a lot of things in life these days, it simply involves repurposing some technology intended for one use to another, perhaps higher use.

The secret ingredient in the system is a sound bar. A sound bar is a horizontal cabinet that contains multiple speakers (typically, each the same size) and is designed to be used with a flat screen television. Today’s flat screens are video components(much like audio components) and they are designed to do one thing well: display video. They are not designed to provide great sound; the assumption is that the audio function will be handled by a separate audio system. Most sound bar setups also come with an accompanying sub-woofer, a single speaker that is designed to handle low the bass. A sub-woofer gives music and sound the type of big, body shaking bass that makes a tangible, sonic impact. If your only contact with sub-woofer is from hearing one cranked up by the car next to you at a stoplight, you might have an idea of the powerful impact the sub-woofer can have on music, but not about how much it can add to your enjoyment of the music (or a film) in the right setting. Sound bar systems are generally self-powered: they have their own amplifier(s) and the amplifier is designed to match the specific requirements of the speakers in the system–this is a nice engineering touch  that insures that the amplification provided matches the electronic needs of the speakers.  Some systems have two self-contained amps, one for the sound bar itself and another for the subwoofer.

A well-designed sound bar system, like the type made by Vizio, has multiple inputs so it’s a lot more flexible than you might think. Actually, if you’re only using it to provide the sound track for your video feeds or DVDs, you’re missing out on a lot of functionality. The range of inputs on a modern sound bar system should include a pair of HDMI inputs (for cable TV or set top boxes like Apple TV, Amazon Fire, or Roku), Bluetooth capability (so you play music from your phone or iPad), RCA connections for more traditional audio feed(right and left), an Optical input, and a mini-jack of the type that would be used to connect a small portable CD player (Discman) or an iPod., and a USB input. That wide variety of inputs provides a lot of options for connection.

The sound qualify of a sound bar can be surprisingly good (please note that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes really good sound, so the system that’s perfect for one person might not be perfect for another) so why not use it to build a terrific home audio system. It’s so easy it takes longer to write about it than actually do it, but….here’s how.

Set up the sound bar system and plug in the bar itself and the sub-woofer. If you’ve got a flat screen you’re going to use with the sound bar, make the connection, preferably with an HDMI or optical cable. Test it to verify that everything is working correctly.

Then, plug in your audio source: a CD/DVD player or an iPod (my personal choice is an iPod; it’s small, can contain your entire music library, and takes up zero space). As with all audio/video wiring, the cabling is out to in/in to out; very simple. Set the input on the sound bar to the input that you connected to the iPod or music source, turn the iPod on, turn the sound bar on and up, and you’re done.

Most sound bar systems have an adjustment for the subwoofer, so you can dial up massive bass if you live in the country and modest bass if you live in close quarters. After you have the system wired together and playing music, use the tone controls to adjust the sound for the setting and your personal tastes.

A Vizio 38” system with sub-woofer can purchased for about $200.00, but of course you can buy more expensive systems from other companies like SONOS (famous for their wireless/whole-house sound systems), JBL, Denon, SONY, Klipsch, Yamaha, Bose, and others. As with all things audio, your budget can provide you with a wide range of choices. There is lots of other information on the ‘Net about sound bars and a little bit of research now can bring a lot of enjoyment later.

We live in amazing technological times–take advantage of it.

 

 

 

 

 


The Weekend Concert Series: Paul McCartney, Good Evening New York City

The Hunt for New Music: 

Just a terrific concert, Paul McCartney in New York to open the new Citi Field Stadium in 2009. The video is HD and the sound is very good; the song list a collection of Beatles and McCartney tunes. The opening is particularly well done. No need to puff this one up: it’s a rock legend performing in a city where the legend started, decades ago. As always, kick it to the flat screen (Chromecast works very well) and run it through your audio system, or if you’re watching on your computer, iPad, or phone..plug in the headphones. This is a classic….dig in and enjoy.

The Fine Print: Embed via YouTube, originally posted by MusicNic who did a heroic job in pulling all of this together. Very well done lads. All rights reserved by respective artists. We thank them for sharing. 


The Weekend Concert Series: Chuck Berry

The Hunt for New Music:

A classic to honor a classic: Chuck Berry live at the BBC, in 1972, with Rocking Horse. The camera work is very good (you would expect it from the BBC) and the sound is surprisingly clear (from the soundboard). We lost Chuck Berry this past week but he’s going to be around for quite a while, as his performances and music live on and on and on. Kick this one to the flat screen and run the audio through your sound system. It’s a good one and gives you an idea of the magic that was Berry on stage.

The Fine Print: Embed courtesy of our friends at YouTube, originally posted by Jimmy Saa(thanks Jimmy). All rights belong to their respective rights holders. 

 


Bruce Springsteen Plays Chuck Berry

Paying Attention:

To get an appreciation of how deep Chuck Berry’s influence went, you just have to look at the royalty of rock&roll and their performances of  his music. Here’s a great clip  of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band doing the Berry classic “You Never Can Tell”. It starts off as rock&roll classic and bumps into a Dixieland tribute to the man at the top of the rock&roll food chain. Kick this one to the flat screen, run it through the stereo, and turn it up.

The Fine Print: Embed via YouTube, from Vevo, (c)2013 Bruce Springsteen. All rights reserved by respective artists, rightsholders. We thank them all for sharing.


Transitions: Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Paying Attention:

“You know, my temperature’s risin’
And the jukebox blowing a fuse
My heart’s beatin’ rhythm
And my soul keeps on singin’ the blues
Roll over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news…”
–from Roll Over Beethooven by Chuck Berry
Charles Edward Anderson Berry died on Saturday. He was 90 years old and he was known throughout the world as Chuck Berry. The New York Times published an excellent appreciation of Chuck Berry’s life this weekend. Written by Jon Pareles, it will provide not just the starting point, end point, and specifics of Berry’s life, but also an appreciation of why Chuck Berry was so important to music, specifically rock&roll music.
Chuck Berry was one of the pioneers of rock&roll music. John Lennon said “if you tried to give rock & roll another name it would be Chuck Berry”. The Beatles, like the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys,  and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan all put Berry at the top of the rock&roll food chain. Berry played with Clapton, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen.  Chuck Berry songs were frequently on their albums and live show playlists. It was Berry who put the rhythm in rock&roll,combining country and blues and R&B into one new music form,  sorted the chord structure and progressions, insisted on the driving drum and bass beat and the carefully articulated lyrics–the better to drive home the freedom of the message. Chuck Berry was present at the birth of rock&roll. His importance was such that he was in the first batch of honorees to the Rock&Roll Hall of Fame; Keith Richards handled his induction.
It wasn’t just the music that Berry shaped, it was the very soul of rock&roll–the attitude. Berry, in trouble more than once with the authorities, brought a rebellious attitude about life, love, and the importance of having a good time to his music. His songs talked about the driving forces of teenage life in America: cars, love, rebellion, lust, music, yearning, “You didn’t know whether Chuck Berry was black or white. It wasn’t a concern”, said Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. His message and his voice was  universal and his attitude was perfect for the times and the music. Rock&roll is not the music of obedience; it is the music of rebellion, of push back, of dissent, of freedom.  It was, as my old pal and running buddy Professor Robert O. McAlister, Phd. says, “tire slashing rock&roll”.
On stage Berry was an accomplished, comfortable, energetic, charismatic performer. He was both an artist in performance and a performance artist. Nothing was left to chance: not the way he dressed, the level at which his guitar was strung, the choreography of his moves–the legendary “duck walk” among them–the carefully crafted pompadour hairstyle (Berry went to cosmetology school); the flamboyant sideburns and pencil thin mustache. Berry played with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, acutely aware of the intimate connection he had with his audience.  He didn’t ease into a show; he blasted into it, setting the tone for the night. His performances were powerful and jumping and joyful–a worship service in the mobile road show temple of rock&roll.
Chuck Berry has gone but he’s still here, present in the music and attitude he created and developed, and in the thousands of musicians he influenced. To get a wider appreciation of Berry’s influence, take the time to go through the Chuck Berry ClickPak below.
Chuck Berry: 20 Essential Songs (Rolling Stone magazine)
Roll Over Beethoven (Slate online)
With essential background provided by the ClickPak, below please find all you need to know about Chuck Berry:a collection of  songs that Chuck Berry left for us, from various performances.
Click through and turn it up.
You’ll feel a lot better if you do.
Johnnie B. Goode
My Ding-A-Ling
You Never Can Tell
Sweet Little Sixteen (intro by Dick Clark..”let’s turn him loose”…got it)
Brown Eyed Handsome Man
No Particular Place to Go
Run Rudolph Run
Back in the USA
Maybelline
Roll Over Beethoven
The Fine Print: Video embeds courtesy of our friends at YouTube. All rights belong to their respective artists. 
 

The Weekend Concert Series: Steely Dan

The Hunt for New Music: 

The big dogs are out: Steely Dan, Think Fast in Cincinnati, published on YouTube in 2014.  Do not have a clue when the concert actually took place. The video is good, the sound is very good (sound board mix? you expect very good sound from Steely Dan), published to YouTube by oxoncricketbloke. You will have to sort through an opening commercial but that’s a small price to pay for this terrific concert.

The structure of the concert is classic: an instrumental warm up, showcasing Steely Dan’s jazz-int0-rock roots and then into the show. They don’t waste a lot of time talking…they just play their music.

Kick it to the flat screen, run the sound through your audio system (very highly recommended) and enjoy.

TheFine Print: Embed courtesy of YouTube, who has an amazing collection of rock concert videos available (and yes, you might have to dig to find what you want). Thanks, guys, for sharing. All rights belong to respective rights holders.