Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Hell With Concept Albums! Parliament Did a Concept Series

In the post-Sgt. Pepper era of popular music, the conversation regarding the most pivotal concept albums usually directs itself to the arena of classic rock bands, such as The Who’s Tommy and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Overlooked in that same conversation are R&B and Soul masterpieces such as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? and Sly & the Family Stone’s Stand. While musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield would also further the conceptual aspect on vinyl, no artist took the thematic approach as far as George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic in the second half of the 1970’s.

Developing a concept alongside an ever-evolving, intergalactic storyline, the P-Funk crew fueled the imagination much in the same way that the revolutionary instrumentation of Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Garry Shider, Jerome Brailey, and the recently departed Junie Morrison fed our quest for rhythmic liberation.

This analysis of the Parliament albums released between 1975 and 1980 attempts to shine the Flash Light on the grand, far-reaching concepts that made these albums the untouchable landmarks that they are today. 

Chocolate City (1975)

Parliament’s conceptual approach begins with their second release for Casablanca Records, the label that the band signed with a year earlier. Portraying African-Americans in situations that white folks would least expect (a through-line in all subsequent Parliament albums), Chocolate City envisions black folks in all facets of the U.S. government. From the White House on down.

While only the title track embraces the overall concept, the idea informs for the remaining eight tracks, energetically and emotionally. Imagine if you will, Muhammad Ali welcoming all visitors (who possess a James Brown pass), Reverend Ike as Secretary of the Treasury, Richard Pryor as Minister of Education, and Aretha Franklin as the First Lady.

It’s a far-reaching vision powered by the ridiculous grooves of Collins, Worrell and the rest of the Funk Mob. Did someone slip this album to Barack Obama in his eighth grade social studies class? You decide. 

Mothership Connection (1975)

Originally titled Landing In The GhettoMothership Connection descended upon the planet in December of 1975 and launched Parliament’s cosmic mythology. George Clinton now transports Black folks to outer space while embarking on the mission - relayed through the slick talking interplanetary representative Star Child the long haired sucker - to drop THE BOMB on a Funkless existence.

But unlike previous P-Funk albums, this particular project would be bolstered by a live stage extravaganza that represented uncharted territory for an African-American band. The grand visual spectacle would include the landing of one the greatest stage props in rock history: The Mothership.

Designed by renowned lighting/stage designer Jules Fisher (who performed similar magic for Kiss, David Bowie, and The Rolling Stones), this theatrical innovation combined with the band’s first million selling single “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” propelled this album to platinum status. 

The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976)

Released during the fall of 1976 (while Mothership Connection was still on the album charts), the follow-up introduces the outer-wordly Dr. Funkenstein to the Parliament mythos. A cool ghoul with a bump transplant, Star Child’s father is a disco fiend with a monster sound, poised to Funkatize this galaxy and beyond, aided and abetted by his Children of Production.

This project also sports one of the most bizarre album covers ever released by a platinum selling Black musical act, showcasing all of the doctor’s clones within the Mothership itself, thoroughly proving that everything is on the one when your Funkin’ for fun! Ya dig!? 

Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome (1977)

 Another grand stocking-stuffer for Funkateers worldwide, Funkentelechy encapsulates the narrative in just six songs that take the entire Funk genre in a completely fresh direction. Enter the arch nemesis Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk, an un-funky wallflower who will never dance, the physical embodiment of the con job perpetuated by the Placebo Syndrome, which Sir Nose spreads throughout the galaxy. It is because of this intergalactic threat that Dr. Funkenstein arms Star Child with a state-of-the-art weapon: THE BOP GUN!!!

Shooting Sir Nose with the Bop Gun results in our archenemy giving up the Funk in a Flash of Light, in turn spawning the smash hit “Flash Light”. This chapter is thoroughly explained in an 8-page comic illustrated by in house P-Funk illustrator Overton Loyd who also drew the poster of Sir Nose that is included with the album. 

Motor Booty Affair (1978)

Emerging from the aquatic depths on Nov. 20, 1978, MBA takes Parliament in a new direction: the undersea world of Atlantis, a world now populated by … you guessed … black folks, and poised to be raised to the surface. Sir Nose now states that he can’t swim (and won’t sweat for that matter), since he remains D’Voidoffunk. He has now teamed up with the Bumpnoxious Rumpofsteelskin to once again, sydromize the planet.

In retaliation, Dr. Funkenstein commands Star Child to gather the baddest master-Funkers from throughout the galaxy, dancing down Bimini Road to the Emerald City doing the Aqua Boogie. Easily the most fully realized concept album in the Parliament discography, this album sports one of the most elaborate packaging efforts of the era, featuring a gatefold that contains a pop up display of Atlantis along with stand-up cut-outs of MBA characters such as Mr. Wiggles, Octave Pussy, Rita Mermaid, and Howard Codsell. Also released in picture disc format. 

Gloryhallastoopid (1979)

 The last Parliament album of the 1970s sees Mr. Wiggles from the Motor Booty Affair using the rhythms of Pyschoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop to rearrange the molecular structure of Rumpofsteelskin’s “Don’t Try It!” megatons. Sounds a bit convoluted? Ridiculous? Preposterous? Yes, it does. Even by P-Funk standards. That’s because Dr. Funkenstein is now taking credit for the original Big Bang (you know … the one that started the universe!).

This latest installment also sees Sir Nose organizing a nefarious collection of intergalactic villains known as the Unfunkables. Their objective? To turn Star Child into an ass (literally) in front of all the Party People currently throwing down at the Jam Station by way of the Black Hole. A nonsensical Funk fantasy that has everything: assendectomies, flea powder, bootleg T-shirts, P.C.P., alien burgers, and even a guest appearance by Robin Williams. In the end, however, all that fuss was us! 

Trombipulation (1980)

The Parliament saga surprisingly comes to a quiet end with the arrival of a new decade as Sir Nose fulfills his ultimate dream - taking over the Funk Mob. New revelations are revealed in the New Doo Review, combining a clever mix of Egyptology, Congolese-inspired hairstyles, cro-nasal sapiens, and physical manipulation of elephant trunks. Have we encountered the missing link or the missing stink? After you finish dancing to this climatic party platter, you’ll have to figure that out by yourself.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pink Floyd Adapts George Orwell’s Animal Farm into Their 1977 Concept Album, Animals (a Critique of Late Capitalism, Not Stalin)

by , Open Culture:

Pink Floyd will always be known for their massively successful concept albums, and David Gilmour and Roger Waters’ tense, and personally explosive, dynamic on albums like Dark Side of the Moon seems reminiscent of another masterful songwriting duo known for rock high concepts.

Indeed, “there would have been no Dark Side of the Moon, and no dragons-and-warlocks-themed prog-rock epics,” writes Jody Rosen at Slate, “had the Beatles not decided to don epaulets for their lark of an album cover and impersonate a vaudeville band.”

But where The Beatles’ loose conceptual masterpieces had their stormy and sad moments, they generally kept things chipper on albums like Sgt. Pepper’s. Pink Floyd seemed determined to do precisely the opposite, setting a template for entire genres of metal to follow.

1977’s Animals especially reminds me of nothing so much as an album by Megadeth or Mastodon. Musical and thematic similarities abound: epic, booming, doomy songs with lyrics completely uninterested in charming their listeners. “Sheep,” for example, contains a modified version of the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd. He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places and coverteth me to lamb cutlets.”

As the brutish title alerts us, Animals is an adaptation of George’s Orwell’s Animal Farm (and the origin of Pink Floyd’s giant inflatable pig). The schematic allegory of Orwell’s book lends a high degree of coherence to Waters’ extended songs - only five in total. But he supplies his own characteristic bile (he famously spit on a fan during one tour, an incident that inspired The Wall). It couldn’t be more appropriate.

Where Orwell’s novel is a transparent attack on Stalinism, Waters adapts his critique to “the economic and ideological systems within late-twentieth century liberal democracies.” So argues Phil Rose in an in-depth study of Waters’ lyrical ideas. The album’s “primary concern … is to reveal the effects that technocratic capitalist relations have on the nature of human beings and the evident divisions that undemocratic structures of power create among us as individuals.”

Orwell showed the effects of “undemocratic structures” by reducing individuals to animal types, and so does Waters, simplifying the classes further into three (and leaving out humans altogether): the ruling pigs, praetorian and aspiring capitalist dogs, and the sheep, the mindless masses.

The opener, “Pigs on the Wing (Part One)” (top), an urgent acoustic strummer that gets picked up at the end of the album in a strangely upbeat reprise, sets a dystopian tone with images that may now seem old hat (bear in mind Animals debuted five years before Blade Runner).
If you didn’t care what happened to me,
And I didn’t care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.
Most of the songs began their lives as a rough collection that came together after Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Waters insisted on the literary conceit, against Gilmour’s objections, but the themes had already been very much on his mind. “Dogs,” above, was once a sardonic rant called “You’ve Gotta Be Crazy,” and one of its bleakest stanzas survives from that earlier track:
You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder.
You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you
get older.
And in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south,
Hide your head in the sand,
Just another sad old man,
All alone and dying of cancer.
There may be no sharper an antithesis to “When I’m 64.” The image is made all the more devastating by the homicidal paranoia surrounding it. Not all of the Orwell overlay works so well, but when it does, it does so with devastating force. Consider these lines from “Sheep,” as terrifying as any late Medieval judgement scene, and more effective for an age that may not believe in hell but has seen the slaughterhouses:
What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real.
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel.
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes.
Now things are really what they seem.
The band’s “bleakest studio album,” argues Brice Ezell at Consequence of Sound, “feels eerily relevant in these grave times.” I can’t help but agree. Pink Floyd greatly inspired much of the heavy music to follow, doing as much as Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, I’d argue, to engage the imaginations of metalheads and prog-rock storytellers.

Much of the music that followed them sounds very dated, but forty years after its release, their gloomiest record - which is saying a lot - seems more relevant than ever. Animals ends on an ambivalent note, hopeful but wary. The pigs are still on the wing, and the only remedy at hand, Waters suggests in the last few lines, may be to “know that I care what happens to you / And I know that you care for me.” 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hear Lost Recording of Pink Floyd Playing with Jazz Violinist Stéphane Grappelli on “Wish You Were Here”

by , Open Culture:

Those of you deeply into both jazz violin and progressive rock no doubt jumped right on the play button above. Quite a few more will listen - so experience has taught me - purely out of interest in anything and everything Pink Floyd has done.

But on the level of music history, the track above, a version of the cerebral English rock band’s Pink Floyd’s well-known 1975 song “With You Were Here” prominently featuring a solo from the French “Grandfather of Jazz Violinists” Stéphane Grappelli, should fascinate just about anyone.

It speaks to the particular kind of high-profile musical experimentalism that thrived in that era, at least in some quarters - or, rather, in some studios. In this case, the Grappelli and the Floyd boys found themselves recording in adjacent ones. Why would the latter invite the former, already an elder statesman of jazz and a collaborator with the likes of Django Reinhardt, to sit in on a session? (Watch Django and Grappelli play together in the 1938 film, Jazz Hot here.) Well … why not? They needed something impressive to follow Dark Side of the Moon, after all.

Still, for all the richness of the result you hear here and all the fan-hours spent listening to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album in the 35 years after it came out, the public never got to hear Grappelli’s playing foregrounded until Immersion reissued it three years ago.

This long-lost but rediscovered mix of the title track marks, to the mind of Pink Floyd founding member Nick Mason, a marked improvement over the version on the original album. “I think that was the jewel in that particular crown,” he said to Sonic Reality. “It was something that I assumed had been lost forever. I thought we’d recorded over it. [ … ] I can’t imagine why we didn’t use it at the time.”

In the one they did use at the time, what remains of Grappelli’s playing came out so inaudible that the album’s credits didn’t even name the violinist. I’d like to chalk up another point for the cultural revision made possible by our technological age, but alas, I doubt any sort of rediscovery will break true Floyd acolytes of their adherence to the canon. 

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Dick Cavett’s Epic Woodstock Festival Show (August, 1969)

by Colin Marshall, Open Culture:

Even if you never tuned in back then, you need only watch a few famous clips of Dick Cavett in action to understand why he earned the reputation of running the first major American talk show that qualified as “cool,” “smart,” or “hip.”

His operation showcased some of the most important elements of late-sixties and seventies America, those that the other talk shows tended to ignore, misrepresent, or simply misunderstand. Cavett himself embodied a sensibility, neither strictly frivolous nor strictly high-toned, that allowed him the widest possible cultural range.

“The idea that one man could be both playful and serious was never deemed to be quite natural on American television, and Cavett was regarded as something of a freak even at the time,” wrote critic and Cavett guest Clive James. “Eventually he paid the penalty for being sui generis in a medium that likes its categories to be clearly marked.” For an idea of what that position enabled, just watch Cavett’s musical guests: he had Frank Zappa, he had John Lennon, he had Janis Joplin for her final interview.

And then we have the “Woodstock episode.” Aired on August 16, 1969, the day after the festival, but taped mere hours after the last notes rang out in Bethel, it brought Cavett together with Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Joni Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix, though scheduled to show up, played long at the festival and wound up too “zonked” to appear on television). Specifically, it brought them together on a strikingly elaborate, aggressively colorful one-off set that seated host and guests on a circle of what look like Naugahyde marshmallows.

Whatever the aesthetic transgressions of this broadcast’s design, they lead to more than one memorable moment in talk-show history, as when Cavett tears off in frustration the tacky scarf his staff insisted he tie on for the occasion.

Pull up the Woodstock episode on YouTube for the performances - Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” featuring Crosby, to name two - but stay for the conversation, especially the part when Cavett responds to Grace Slick calling him “Jim” one time too many: “You’ve got to learn my name, Miss Joplin!” 

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Leonard Bernstein Demystifies the Rock Revolution for Curious (if Square) Grown-Ups in 1967

by , Open Culture:

Many of today’s thirteen-year-olds surely have the Beatles on their iPods (or their iPhones or Androids, or whatever now ranks as the cutting-edge adolescent’s listening device of choice). Yet they would have been born in 2000, forty years after the dissolution of the Beatles themselves. Their parents would probably have been born in the sixties, already the height of the band’s creativity.

The startling implication: these kids rock out to some of the very same songs their grandparents may well have loved.

As P.J. O’Rourke once wrote upon spotting an aged hippie with a walker and a hearing aid at an Iraq War protest, sic transit generation gap. But back in 1967, when that gap yawned so chasmically wide as to render any communication across it seemingly impossible, the young Baby Boomers and their own Great Depression, Second World War-forged parents used the musical landscape to draw their battle lines. Who could broker a peace? Enter composer, pianist, and New York Philharmonic director Leonard Bernstein.

Born in 1918 and hailed as one of the most accomplished and astute musical minds in American history, he could not only appreciate the techniques and innovations of the youth-driven pop-rock explosion of the sixties, he could get the ear of his middle-aged peers and explain to them just what they were missing.

The television broadcast Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution gave Bernstein a mass-communication platform on which perform this analysis, asking aloud the questions of: (a) why this music so infuriates Americans over a certain age and (b) why he himself likes it so much.

Decked out in a square-friendly suit and tie and appearing on the even square-friendlier CBS network, Bernstein plays clips of songs by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and the Association, breaking down the genuine musicological merits of each: their vocal expressions, their unexpected key changes, their countless sonic layers, their stripped-down melodic sense, and their lyrics’ adeptness of implication (“one of our teenager’s strongest weapons”).

Bernstein also calls upon “Society’s Child” singer-songwriter Janis Ian and Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson to perform live. Quite a few crew-cut, cardigan-clad, martini-sipping adults must have come away from Inside Pop with a new, if grudging, appreciation for the craft of these long-haired youngsters. But now, to address the concerns of the 21st century’s bewildered grown-ups, who will go on television and explain dubstep?

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Mothers Had a Weird Journey

[ED: Originally Published in Zoo World, April 23, 1973 and Written by Arthur Levy].

Courtesy of Getty Images
"The first time I ever took the Mothers out on the road I approached it from a sociological point of view. "After the first tour I made a statistical analysis, in a crude sort of way, of what had happened, trying to gauge response in different parts of the country. The customs, the folkways, and the morality at the time we went on the road varied widely from area to area. The first place we got off the plane when we did our first tour was Washington, D.C. We were doing a thing on a UHF station where a guy announced they were gonna have a freak out party on this record hop dance show and told all the kids to wear the weirdest clothes they could wear. And we had kids wearing two different socks and you worked your way down from there. That was a freak-out party at the time."
The Mothers of Invention
If omens still mean anything in America, the good kind of omen, then it's time we all congratulated Frank Zappa for keeping the Mothers of Invention alive for the seven years since an album called Freak Out! was first unleashed. And hope for at least another seven years of whatever it is that Frank has been doing until now, which is, uh ... weird, y'know?
"From there we went to Detroit and did a television show there. There was no audience to see and we played at a roller rink in some part of Detroit and the kids were still 1950s there.
"Then we went to Dallas and worked in a shopping center at a place with a TV show emanating from it. It was a sunken room with high windows that were at street level so the people could look in and see a TV show going on. And the kids were 1950s, still doing the dance where the legs go off to the side," and Frank makes an upside-down "V" and wiggles the two fingers to show how they danced.
"And I got back from that tour and I couldn't even imagine what was going on around the rest of the country 'cause I hadn't traveled that much prior to the tour. That was Analysis number 1: I came up with the result of total mystification on the part of all parties concerned. And it seemed that there was a definite need, in the audience, for an alternative to what they'd been presented with thus far in terms of music, entertainment, something to do. It seemed like most of the kids we saw on that tour had already been sold a complete bill of goods by everybody who was making novelties, men's wear, women's wear, shoes. They'd gotten a kit and each area was into its own little merchandising thing.
"Each tour after that I would gather little bits of information on what the kids were doing, what it was like to live in different parts of the country and up until now I think the South is probably still the best in terms of just the best attitude towards being alive."
If Frank's conversation seems a bit unorthodox compared to what you know or have heard about him over the years, it might be because he was talking over dinner in a Bavarian restaurant not too far from a stage where he and the newest aggregate of Mothers were to play a return to Florida, of sorts, a place that Zappa had known well ever since he inaugurated Marshall Brevitz's Thee Image (forerunner to Thee Experience, the rock hall whose name he took with him to California when Jim Morrison shut out the lights on rock 'n roll in Miami, March, 1969), warming up the club for bands like Led Zeppelin, Moby Grape, the Jefferson Airplane, Spirit, the Grateful Dead, and a host of other bands that Marshall Brevitz brought to Miami regularly in the heyday of 1968. 
Now Frank Zappa sits in a Bavarian restaurant surrounded by people who've long since forgotten about such things and, frankly, hardly even notice the table with the twelve musicians and hangers-on. Between bits of goulash and splaetzle (Frank calls it "dumpling debris"; Steve the Roadie calls it "dumpling leavings") Frank talks about Marshall in California.
"He's in Los Angeles. My last two albums were recorded in his studio, Paramount. He doesn't own it any more, though, it was changed over, sold out over somebody's head.
"It was a good studio that's really good to work in but it's so busy that they don't have adequate time to maintain the equipment. So you take your chances. You go in there and a vital piece of equipment might not work. So the engineer will call the maintenance man who'll call Marshall who'll sort of show up with something to eat, you know, while you're sitting there waiting for the machine to work. We've been served barbecued dessicated chicken and hot dogs and many things. I had so many equipment failures there that the next time it's gotta be pheasant under chartreuse or I'm not coming back. Pathetic."
Business is bizness with Frank, though, and any talk is inevitably going to wander in the direction of Herb Cohen, Frank's legendary business manager and dealer supremo who's had his say in everything from Wild Man Fischer and the GTO's to Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley, and Ruben and the Jets, the latest Bizarre spinoff.
"Herb's doing fine, he's into architecture now. We just bought an office building on Sunset Blvd. and we renovated it - what do I mean 'we' - Herb designed some decorations for the building which are not exactly my idea of a good time but he likes it and he's gotta work there.
"You see, Herb, being a world traveler, has seen architecture of many lands. And one of his favorites is the Moorish Arch. Only the Moorish Arch, in all of its grandeur, has been translated into stucco by some guys he found in Los Angeles. He says 'Open these windows here, a Moorish Arch,' like that. And they say 'We can do it', so they bend a little tin and put stucco around it and they're all different and all crooked.
"But it has a courtyard in the middle of the office building and he can sit in his office and look across and see two ugly Moorish Arches. That gets him off, really, he loves it. There's a few other designs and factors he's come up with. We've got an 11-foot hand-carved door in the front. It was quite attractive for the first, I'd give it, 3 weeks. And then suddenly the weather got to it. They must've put one coat of varnish on it and already the parts are getting weird. So it's not Apple Records, what the heck."
Apple should live so long. With the great Southern and Western Expedition under full throttle (a Midwestern and Eastern Expedition are slated for April or May; Japan, Australia, and New Zealand are scheduled in June; and an invitation to the Iron Curtain countries of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia is also under consideration - all with this band) things are under a full head of steam, with an awful lot of attention focused on young Jean-Luc Ponty, the French violinist Zappa has known but a short time.
"I met him over here, he was working on some albums for World Pacific, about 2 or 3 years ago. I got a phone call from Dick Bock, the producer, who said he wanted to introduce him to me and I said 'sure' and he came over to the house.
"I'd heard of him before but his English wasn't as good then as it is now and so we couldn't talk very much at that time. It was a little weird, heh heh. But his English is a lot better now especially since he's seeing parts of the U.S. that a European tourist might never go to. Learning about things like the Waffle House, which is real big in Georgia."
The album that came out of that initial meeting was called King Kong, a remarkable work when you consider that budgetary limitations put studio time at a premium and restricted several of Jean-Luc's solos to one take only. But now, with Jean-Luc and Frank working together, things are more promising.
"We've recorded some stuff already that's gonna be released. There's one piece that I like very much, just he and I playing together. He's playing the baritone violin and I'm playing the bouzouki, which, in case you don't know, is a Greek, long-necked mandolin that I had tuned a funny way. And we improvised a duet that's about 12 minutes - turned out really good. I haven't named it yet but you'll know it when it comes out cause it doesn't sound like anything you've ever heard before."
The band is being recorded every night it plays - on one sixteen track machine (just in case something of album quality should transpire), one reel-to-reel stereo unit, and two cassette decks, which the band listens to collectively on the bus or plane between dates. The cassettes are the best learning device available, according to Frank, allowing the musicians to adjust whole sections of the presentation if necessary, relative to each other.
"Because of the instrumentation and because of the whole thing being spread out across the stage, there's no one person in the band who can hear all of the parts at any one time. You really can't tell – I don't even trust my own judgment from what I hear onstage because I don't have any perspective of it. I hear more of George's amp (George Duke, ex-Cannonball Adderley and Waka Jawaka keyboard man) cause it's right behind me and I can only guess what's going on in other parts of the stage.
"So when everybody listens to a tape of it all have an equal shot at tightening things up. I think it's a very practical way to do it and it's all for the benefit of the audience 'cause they get a better program out of it," which is spoken with the smiliest smile Frank has smiled since the conversation began.
Once the band is to the point where all the "musical technical" stuff is memorized it's time to work on the choreography, always a vital part of any Mothers assemblage onstage.
"It's structured up to this point: I say 'at this point everybody will move', I won't say exactly what they're supposed to do. One implication is that they're to twitch rhythmically at a certain area, cause if you start saying '2 to the right, 2 to the left, back up' and all that stuff, it's gonna look hokey. But just the idea that a sudden burst of kinetic energy is released onstage at that musical moment where it means something is very effective.
'"I think that it tends to emphasize what the music is doing. The other main advantage is that when you work in a hall that holds 10-15,000 people, anybody who's halfway back in the hall sees you the size of a peanut. And if you're standing absolutely still while you're playing the visual element of the program suffers greatly and the person in the audience starts to nod out. It's hard for them to retain a long interest span on inanimate objects. But if you keep it moving a little bit ..."
Returning to the gig on the bus after dinner at Bavarian Delight, Frank mused into a song called 'Montana', a story song almost as outrageous as 'Billy the Mountain', the mammoth production epic that was the highwater mark of Flo 'n Eddie's tenure with Zappa. 'Montana' is considerably shorter than 'Billy The Mountain' when performed onstage ('Billy' took 4 weeks to put together and 6 months to perfect on-stage before it was recorded) with an interesting story to it:
I might be movin' to Montana soon,
just to raise me up a crop of dental floss.
Raisin' it up, waxin' it down,
in a little plastic box I can sell uptown.
By myself I wouldn't have no boss,
but I'd be raisin' my lonely dental floss.

The last thing anyone ever mentions to Frank Zappa these days seems to be Flo 'n Eddie, ex-Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who've risen to the heels of success now, not quite a year since leaving Frank's company. While there are those of us who maintain that Flo 'n Eddie's disposition to Frank is considerably kinder and more good-natured than say, the attitudes of his ex-bass player Orejon (now back with Captain Beefheart, himself not the world's most fanatical Zappa-booster), Frank nevertheless maintains a strict attitude in their direction, especially concerning the hype Flo 'n Eddie disseminated to get some initial publicity when they left the Mothers.

"I was amazed that they could be so low-grade cause they were saying some outrageous lies and stuff just to get some kind of copy in the papers. View it as you wish, sensationalism, mere sensationalism."

Zappa and the band spent two and a half hours on-stage for their Florida audience and no one yelled out for 'Louie, Louie' even once. Or 'Caravan' with a drum solo, for that matter. Or 'Help, I'm A Rock'. Instead it was 'The Zombie Woof', you see, as Frank says: "A 'Zombie Wolf' would come from New England but a 'Zombie Woof' is interdenominational, he's Interfaith, you know what I mean? That's all I can tell you."

Friday, February 17, 2017

Them: How "Gloria" Became the First Lady of Rock 'n' Roll

by Mitchell Cohen, Music Aficionado:!/article/how_gloria_became_the_first_lady_of_rock_n_roll_by_mitchellcohen

Courtesy of Getty Images
Gloria is built on just three chords that any garage band can play and that almost every garage band has.

Yet the list of artists who have covered this simple tune include many who sit on top the rock pantheon: Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Patti Smith, Tom Petty, David Bowie, R.E.M., Iggy Pop, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello … Bill Murray strapped on a guitar and played it at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, the Grateful Dead used to jam on it, and it might be the only song that Jon Bon Jovi and Johnny Thunders have in common.

How did such a minimal song have such a huge impact? Why does it still reverberate today, in arenas, at festivals, in bars and studios? And how did Gloria become such a resilient rock and roll heroine?

What we know about Gloria

Written more than fifty years ago by Van Morrison for his band Them, the story the song tells couldn’t be more archetypal: the singer (usually but not always male) knows this girl and he’s eager to tell us about her, but he doesn’t (again, usually) share much in the way of detail. She comes down the street, up to a room, knocks on a door, enters, makes the singer extremely happy.

She is, nearly all the time, about five feet, four inches tall (on the original demo, she was five feet). As physical descriptions go, that’s at once very specific and very incomplete. Dark-haired or light, curvy or slender, who knows? At just about midnight, she appears. There is, we can assume, something sensual about the way she moves, because the song itself slithers with an air of hypnotic mystery, those three chords (E-D-A) setting the scene.

On the debut studio recording by Them, Morrison takes the listener into his confidence, and it’s a little like bragging, as guys do. He wants to tell us about his baby (on the demo, she’s his “gal”), but aside from her head-to-the-ground measurement, he doesn’t tell us much. She makes him feel good. For some reason, he feels compelled to spell out her name before he says it, “G-L-O-R-I-A,” as though it were something exotic or complicated. It’s not.

OK, so she does whatever she does with Van, and instead of describing what that might be, he spells her name again. He wants to make sure we get that right, maybe in case the police find him in his room one night, the victim of foul play, and we’re asked who the perpetrator might be. I’m not certain, officer, but he’s been seeing this woman who’s about five feet, four inches, and her name is G-L-O-R-I-A.

“Gloria” was cut at Decca’s studio in West Hempstead in the summer of 1964, the first Them session. Them had been doing the song live for a while in Ireland clubs, but from all reports, they were not the most adept musicians in the studio, so the producer brought in some ringers, and here’s where the saga of “Gloria” gets a little fuzzy.

It’s pretty clear from the audio evidence - compare the demo’s sluggish drumming to the finished studio version - that London’s top session drummer Bobby Graham was recruited. Graham told an interviewer for the Independent that Morrison “was really hostile as he didn’t want session men at his recordings. I remember the MD, Arthur Greenslade, telling him we were only there to help. He calmed down but he didn’t like it.”

In addition to Graham, guitarist Jimmy Page was, in all probability, on board. Page: “It was very embarrassing on the Them sessions. With each song, another member of the band would be replaced by a session player … talk about daggers! You’d be sitting there, wishing you hadn’t been booked.”

There’s something so compelling about the record, the rawness, the sudden startling instrumental leap midway through, Morrison’s intensity, the erotic momentum, the flurry of drums at the end. It was the sexiest thing. And it was stuck on a B-side, the flip of Them’s second U.K. single,“Baby Please Don’t Go.”

In England, “Baby Please Don’t Go” went to #10; in America, on Parrot Records, “Gloria” was the side that got a bit of attention, and it made it into the top 100 (#93 peak) for exactly one week in May 1965. That might have been that for “Gloria.” Except it wasn’t. You know the line about how the Velvet Underground’s first album didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band?

It was like that with “Gloria”: it wasn’t a hit, but all around the world, local bands who discovered it found a Holy Grail. How many group rehearsals everywhere began with “Let’s try ‘Gloria’?” If you hadn’t been playing guitar for very long, this was an instant entry-level classic, and if you were playing gigs and didn’t have many songs in your live arsenal, you could stretch out on “Gloria” for a while, just keep that going. If you had a kid on Vox organ in your little combo, even better.

Which U.S. group latched on to it earliest? Depends who you ask.

Some sources attribute the premiere American cover to the Human Beinz from Youngstown, Ohio, who released it on an independent EP (they later had their one hit with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Nobody But Me”). There’s also some evidence that the Mississippi band the Gants jumped on the ball first.

It’s a track on their 1965 album, and singer-guitarist Sid Herring, in the liner notes of the compilation Road Runner! The Best of the Gants, says “Our version went to number three in Chicago even though it wasn’t on a single. But our record company kept telling us, ‘That’s not the hit,’ even though we begged ’em to put it out. When I first heard the version by the Shadows of Knight on the radio. I said, ‘Hey guys, they’re playing our record.’ They’d copied it so close that for about ten seconds I thought it was us.” The A&R people at Liberty, the Gants’ label, were probably right; their take on it is a little too unruly to be a radio hit. Even if Shadows of Knight, from Chicago, did hear the Gants’ “Gloria” on the radio and were inspired to mimic it, their version is cleaner and more pop.

By the time the Shadows of Knight record went top ten in the spring of 1966 (Parrot even re-released the Them 45 to compete with it, and it cracked the hot 100 again), “Gloria” was on its way to being ubiquitous. You couldn’t escape it: the Hombres, the Bobby Fuller Four, Thee Midniters, the Outsiders, the 13th Floor Elevators all did it; there were versions in France, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico.

An all-girl band called the Belles redid it as “Melvin,” a less mellifluous name to shout (and spell); the Challengers and Sandy Nelson cut it as instrumentals, which sort of missed the point. Most versions were fairly straight-forward replicas of the Them/Shadows of Knight template, but other artists took considerable liberties. It became the “Aristocrats” joke of ’60s rock: once you established the basic premise, you could go off on any kind of improvisatory walkabouts as long as you eventually landed on the punchline: “G-L-O-R-I-A.”

There are all kinds of amendments. Midway through, the singer of the Trashmen says, “This is starting to sound like a Trini Lopez record,” which really makes me want to hear a Trini Lopez version of “Gloria.” And some of the foreign versions don’t get the translation too precise, “What I feel about my baby,” the vocalist of Delfini (from Yugoslavia) starts the song, “She calms me down.” Which is only time you’ll hear Gloria described as relaxing. Also, he seems to spell her name “G-L-O-I.”

By Them and the Shadows of Knight, the song clocked in at a tidy two and a half minutes, but that was too constricting for groups like the Hangmen, the Blues Magoos, and the Amboy Dukes, all of whom easily exceeded the five-minute mark and turned it into early psychedelic-rock. The Standells, live in 1966, turned the song into comedic fodder, the singer saying that Gloria looked like “Jayne Mansfield with a hernia” (whatever that means), making a “booby trap” joke, and confessing that when Gloria came up to his room, she took out her false teeth and gummed him to death.

Part of the brilliance of “Gloria” is in its vagueness and ambiguity. It feels explicit, but that’s a trick. The whole song is an ellipsis. Gloria is an object of desire, someone who makes it all so easy: she comes up to your room, raps at your door (at a Bottom Line gig years ago, T-Bone Burnett compared her knock to the drum beat of Al Jackson Jr. from the M.G.’s), no pining, no scheming (feminists might point out that the feel-so-good factor is one-sided; we don’t know if Gloria’s night ends satisfactorily).

The narrative is a sketch, but over the years, some of its interpreters have felt compelled to flesh it out. Leave it to Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix to make the goings-on considerably more graphic. It was a part of the Doors’s set since their nights on the L.A. club circuit (you can hear how the dynamics of “Gloria” got appropriated for the “Light My Fire” climax, for example), and the American Morrison went much further in his on-stage embellishments, some of which came out officially on posthumous Doors releases.

He addresses Gloria directly, and sometimes there’s a predatory creepiness: “Meet me at the graveyard, meet me after school.” On one released version, he yells, “Here she is in my room, oh boy!” and for nine minutes it’s like a cautionary after-school special: her dad is at work, her mom is out shopping, and he’s giving her aerobic instruction: “Wrap your legs around my neck/Wrap your arms around my feet/Wrap your hair around my skin.” Some of it is like an interview, or a prehistoric internet chat: “Hey, what’s your name, how old are you, where’d you go to school?” What’s her name? Is he missing the whole point of this song?

Not to be outdone, Jimi Hendrix, on a pretty slamming off-the-cuff version with the Experience from October 1968, also asks her name (have they never heard this song before?), and she replies (he says), “It don’t make no difference anyway … you can call me Gloria.” Wait a minute: you can call her Gloria? Has this been a pseudonym all along? Is she a call girl? (that would explain the midnight knocking). A groupie? More likely.

Hendrix mentions that Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding also have “Gloria”s, and there is some kind of “scene” going on that involves the arrival of a pot dealer and, subsequently, the police. “Gloria, get off my chest,” Jimi says. “We gotta get out of here.” Meanwhile, he’s playing some amazing guitar, and Mitchell is just on fire, and the song is a long way from its beginnings with Them.

Van Morrison

It still belonged to Van Morrison, who has had a notoriously ambivalent relationship with some of his earlier hits, but has almost always stuck with “Gloria”: it’s on his landmark live album It’s Too Late to Stop Now, and he’s revisited it over and over through the years, on record with John Lee Hooker, live with U2 (who not only have done Morrison’s song, but wrote their own song called “Gloria”) and Elvis Costello, on TV with Jools Holland’s big band.

But in 1975, Patti Smith found a way to radically reinterpret it by incorporating it into the lead track from her debut album Horses. The cut is in two parts, the first ("In Excelsis Deo") starts off with a stark statement of intent - “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” - and keeps building and building until Smith through a window, sees a “sweet young thing,” and she’s transfixed.

It’s almost unbearably tense, the way Patti’s group coils around the melody, the rising excitement in her voice. It’s midnight (naturally: that’s when this always happens), and the woman comes up the stairs in “a pretty red dress” and knocks on the door, and you don’t even realize it, but the song is sneakily turning into Van Morrison’s: Patti asks the girl’s name. “And her name is … and her name is … and her name is … G …” you know the rest.

With this performance, Patti’s done two things. She’s made a breathtaking breakthrough that’s completely new, and connected it with rock tradition (her guitarist Lenny Kaye is steeped in the era of “Gloria,” and compiled the essential garage-rock collection Nuggets). It was a tremendous cultural moment.

Nothing has been able to stop “Gloria” because the song is whatever it needs to be. It’s remained a rock staple. Iggy Pop did it live (and singing “I-G-G-Y-P-O-P”), Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash band the 101’ers had it in their repertoire and so did Bon Scott’s group the Spektors, Santa Esmeralda cut in in ’77. On his 1978 tour, Bruce Springsteen often would include it as part of a medley with “She’s The One,” and sometimes “Not Fade Away.” R.E.M. was performing it in the eighties, and so was David Bowie, in conjunction with his own “The Jean Genie” (and, at least once, with “Maria” from West Side Story).

Some more recent live interpretations stand out. At Red Rocks (2001), Rickie Lee Jones starts to play it, and after about a minute and a half, it turns into a reminiscence. The band keeps on riffing on those three chords, those chords that give the singer all the freedom in the world to amplify, to comment, to reflect.

“I was twelve when this song came out,” she says, “and I have never forgotten, I would never forget, that’s why I will never get old, what it felt like to me as he described this [and here she pauses] girl.” “I’m gonna shout it all night, gonna shout it every day,” the song goes, and if you were around twelve years old when it came out, as Rickie Lee was, or you were more like fifteen or sixteen, as Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty were, that shout of ecstasy was something that made possibilities open up for you. And that’s why Springsteen (who introduced it at a 2008 show by saying “Bring it back to where it all started! Follow me boys!”) and Petty can’t stop going back to it. It probably was where it all started, in their nascent rocking days.

Petty makes it almost like a prequel. It became a set-piece for him and the Heartbreakers in the late nineties, and up to this century, and there are versions floating around, from German TV, from Bonnaroo, where he unspools a story about walking on an uptown street and approaching this woman: “Don’t walk so fast,” he tells her. “I’m a true believer and I loved you at first sight.” She spurns him, she bolts (in one version, she tells him he smells like marijuana), and he’s getting nowhere.

Like Springsteen in “Rosalita,” he plays the only card he has. “I got this little rock and roll band,” he says. “Things are going good.” We don’t know what happens, ultimately, except this: all he wants to know is her name, this tiny shred of information. And suddenly, he hears it. Not from her, but from the wind. The wind began to sing her name. At this point, Petty’s audience knows what its part is, and the band has been patiently waiting for this eruptive moment, and like a huge gust of wind, the name rises up from the crowd, louder and louder: “Gloria!” Because even five decades after she first appeared, there’s no one anywhere who doesn’t know who she is, and the power she has.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Crown of Creation’ by Jefferson Airplane

“Is it true that I’m no longer young?” Grace Slick sang in “Lather,” the luscious and cinematic opening number of “Crown of Creation.”
Slick was singing about the arrested development of her lover, the Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, but by extension she addressed the fast-forward aging afflicting the San Francisco scene. That sunny Summer of Love had given away to the chill winds of LBJ’s 1968.
“Crown of Creation” finds the Airplane coming of age, wary but not yet transformed into the jaded radical-chic collective that rolled out “Volunteers” a year later. The erratic and playful psychedelia of “After Bathing at Baxter’s” gives way to songwriting for adults:
“Long time since I climbed down this mountain before,” a weary-sounding Martin Balin sings on “In Time.” “Things I’ve seen here make me want to go running home.”

Slick, a painter, ponders the 1960s’ boho dance - underground art as commerce - on the album’s single, “Greasy Heart”:
He’s going off the drug thing ’cause his veins are getting big
He wants to sell his paintings but the market is slow
They’re only paying him 2 grams now
For a one-man abstract show
And has anyone ever captured the highs and lows of the hippie era better than Kanter in this lyric from the title track, boiled down to haiku: “You are the crown of creation / and you’ve got no place to go.”

The unease comes packaged beautifully. The band performs with precision and assurance, lead by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, team players and not yet a faction (their work at times points to the heavy metal of the great live album to follow, “Bless Its Pointed Little Head”).

Time is a major theme. War and the sickening events of 1968 are the undercurrents. “Crown of Creation” does no duty as a concept album, however. It is a collection of songs, some far better than others, most of them recorded on-the-run while the band met its rock-star obligations.

Jefferson Airplane psychedelic band

Despite the album’s prescience and longevity, it remains woefully underrated - here we have the Airplane at their psychedelic peak. They soon would become a rock band, angry and disenfranchised, but with one great album left in them.

“Crown of Creation” opens with a triple offering of morning maniac music.

Slick’s “Lather” employs studio effects to tell its tale of an aging man child. It was inspired by Dryden’s turning 30, and by the arrest of bassist Casady for nudity. The effects - a child’s fearful query; a blast of firepower from a tank - flirt with kitsch, but hold up well. Slick uses a conversational storyteller’s tone, lovely and knowing. “I’m singing the song quietly and softly, like a little kid,” she recalled years later. All other studio Airplane albums open with rockers; commencing with this quiet number is part of “Crown of Creation’s” confident genius.

Balin and Kantner’s “In Time” celebrates a lover, a hippie chick cast in psychedelic tones, “in the colors of what I feel.” A less obvious companion to “Baxter’s” “Martha.” “In Time” brings to mind the softer side of L.A. band Love.

David Crosby’s “Triad” completes the opening trilogy. Slick finds the humanity in Crosby’s come-on to a pair of competing lovers. It is the closest to an embrace (and reaffirmation) of the hippie ideal to be found on the album, and it remains stunning.

Things get back to Airplane(/Hot Tuna) business as usual with Kaukonen’s “Star Track,” a meditation on fame and the scarcity of time. Kaukonen works out with his wah-wah pedal - the guitar effect is your constant companion on this album - warning the listener: “Running fast you’ll go down slow in the end.”

Balin’s “Share a Little Joke” delivers a seemingly whimsical message, belied by the instrumental chaos just below the surface. “I believe in half of you,” Balin sings to his friend. The song reportedly touches on mental illness.

Drummer Dryden gets credit for the brief bit of electronic music, “Chushingura.” It’s a sort-of sequel to “Baxter’s” “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly.” Dryden has said it was inspired by the soundtrack to an old samurai film.

Side 2 opens with more generic Airplane and more wah, as Balin works out on the tambourine-shaking ode to freedom “If You Feel.”

Kantner’s classic title track marches to martial beat. The bandleader foresees the yuppie apocalypse in the pages of a science fiction novel:
Soon you’ll attain the stability you strive for
In the only way that it’s granted
In a place among the fossils of our time
(Kantner borrowed from the post-apocalyptic novel “The Chrysalids”).

“It’s trying to make the point that science fiction is politics, and politics is science fiction,” Kantner later explained.

“Ice Cream Phoenix” has Kaukonen returning to the scarcity of time, with Slick providing a surreal vocal interlude.

The rocker “Greasy Heart” finds Slick in full badass mode, dispensing advice in a jumble of words straight out of Lewis Carrol. “Don’t ever change, people,” she warns. “Your face will hit the fan.” It’s a slap at cosmetic beauty and plastic people - a la “Plastic Fantastic Lover.” “It sounds like I’m pointing fingers, but (I was) living it,” the former model has said.

“The House on Pooneil Corners” concludes the album with a scalding dose of acid rock. The title and the familiar amp-shaking feedback that begins the song suggest it’s a mirror-image sequel to “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil” from “Baxter’s.” Kaukonen, Casady and Dryden slash and burn their way through as Slick’s Middle Eastern-influenced vocals summon the darkness.

Lyricists Balin and Kantner’s vision is distinctly apocalyptic:
Everything someday will be gone except silence
Earth will be quiet again
Seas from clouds will wash off the ashes of violence
Left as the memory of men
There will be no survivor my friend
Truth in advertising: The cover of “Crown of Creation” showed the band caught up in a mushroom-shaped cloud. The h-bomb, Kantner said, is our civilization’s technological crown - and the thermonuclear holocaust one very possible outcome seen from the badlands of 1968.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Bed Peace" Revisits John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Famous Anti-Vietnam Protests

by , Open Culture:

Briefly noted: Yoko Ono has posted on YouTube a 70 minute documentary that revisits John and Yoko’s famous 1969 Bed-Ins, which amounted to a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. The film has been added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.. Below the jump you can find Yoko’s letter to viewers and a summary of the film.

Dear Friends,

In 1969, John and I were so naïve to think that doing the Bed-In would help change the world. Well, it might have. But at the time, we didn’t know. It was good that we filmed it, though. The film is powerful now. What we said then could have been said now. In fact, there are things that we said then in the film, which may give some encouragement and inspiration to the activists of today. Good luck to us all. Let’s remember WAR IS OVER if we want it. It’s up to us, and nobody else. John would have wanted to say that.

Love, yoko.

Yoko Ono Lennon
London, UK
August 2011

Film Synopsis

1969 was the year that John and Yoko intensified their long running campaign for World Peace. They approached the task with the same entrepreneurial expertise as an advertising agency selling a brand of soap powder to the masses. John and Yoko’s product however was PEACE, not soft soap, and they were determined to use any slogan, event and gimmick in order to persuade the World to buy it.

BED PEACE (directed by Yoko and John and filmed by Nic Knowland) is a document of the Montreal events and features John and Yoko in conversation with, amongst others, The World Press, satirist Al Capp, activist Dick Gregory, comedian Tommy Smothers, protesters at Berkeley’s People’s Park, Rabbi Abraham L. Feinberg, quiltmaker Christine Kemp, psychologists Timothy Leary and Rosemary Leary, CFOX DJs Charles P. Rodney Chandler and Roger Scott, producer André Perry, journalist Ritchie York, DJ and Promoter Murray The K, filmmaker Jonas Mekas, publicist Derek Taylor and personal assistant Anthony Fawcett.