Monday, July 17, 2017

VIDEOS: Pink Floyd Performs on US Television for the First Time: American Bandstand, 1967

by Josh Jones, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2016/04/pink-floyd-performs-on-us-television-for-the-first-time-american-bandstand-1967.html


Pink Floyd - Apples And Oranges - 1967 American... by pentathlonstart
You may have noticed we’ve been in the midst of a mini-sixties revival for the past decade or so—what with the retro soul of Alabama Shakes or the late Amy Winehouse, the garage rock of Ty Segall, and the California psych of Australia's Tame Impala. That’s to name but just a few students of sixties’ sounds; many hundreds more populate events like the Psych Fests of Austin and Liverpool. And before these bands, late eighties/early nineties brought us a British re-invasion of sixties garage rock and pop like the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Chameleons, the Stone Roses, Oasis, and many other jangly, fuzzy, dreamy bands.
All of that is to say it’s nearly impossible to hear anything sixties rock with fresh ears. Not only has the incessant nostalgia dimmed our senses, but we’ve seen the ideas of the sixties evolve into myriad subcultures variously indebted to the decade, but no longer even in need of direct reference. What would it mean, however, to hear the far-out sounds of a band like Pink Floyd for the first time, a band who may at times sound dated now, but much of whose more obscure catalog remains shocking. And it’s easy to forget that when Pink Floyd—or “The Pink Floyd” as they tended to be called—got their start with original singer and songwriter Syd Barrett, they made a much different sound than those we’re familiar with from The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon.
If you haven’t heard the sound of the band circa 1967, when they recorded their first album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, then you may nod along with Dick Clark’s ambivalent introduction of them to U.S. audiences in the ’67 American Bandstand appearance above---their first visit to the States and first time of TV. They do indeed make “very interesting sounds”: specifically, “Apples and Oranges,” the third single and the final song Barrett wrote for the band before he suffered a psychotic break onstage and was replaced by David Gilmour. There isn’t much in the way of performance. (But stick around for the interviews around 3:25.) As pretty much everyone did at the time, Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright mime to a prerecorded track. And Barrett looks particularly out of it. He was close by this point to the crippling mental health crisis that would eventually end his career.
But Syd Barrett did not disappear from music right away. The unreleased “Scream Thy Last Scream,” slated to be the next single released after Piper at the Gates of Dawn, gave much indication of the musical direction he took in two 1970 solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Like later Barrett, early Pink Floyd is not music for everyone. Instead of the familiar stomping funk of “The Wall” or the soaring blues of “Comfortably Numb,” the songs meander, twist, turn, and wobble, often indicating the state of Barrett’s troubled soul, but just as often showcasing his brilliant compositional mind. Barrett is gone, as is keyboardist Richard Wright, and Pink Floyd is no more. But their legacy is secure. And we still have mad geniuses like Austin psych legend Roky Erickson to kick around, as well as all the many thousands of musicians he and Barrett inspired.

Friday, July 14, 2017

VIDEOS: Frank Zappa Explains the Decline of the Music Business (1987)

by , Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2016/09/frank-zappa-explains-the-decline-of-the-music-business-1987.html

“Remember the 60s?” says Frank Zappa in the interview above, “that era that a lot of people have these glorious memories of?... they really weren’t that great, those years.” Ever the grumpy uncle. But Zappa does get nostalgic for one thing, and it’s an unexpected one: the music business. “One thing that did happen in the 60s,” he says, “was some music of an unusual and experimental nature did get recorded, did get released.” The executives of the day were “cigar-chomping old guys who looked at the product and said, 'I don’t know. Who knows what it is? Record it, stick it out. If it sells, alright!'”
“We were better off with those guys,” says Zappa, “than we are with the hip, young executives,” making decisions about what people should hear. The hippies are more conservative than the conservative “old guys” ever were. This Zappa of 1987 recommends getting back to the “who knows?” approach, “that entrepreneurial spirit” of the grand old industry barons of the 60s. One can almost imagine Zappa—in the 60s—pining for the days of Edison, who refused to give up on the wax cylinder but would also record virtually anything. If both the time of Edison and the time of Zappa were bonanzas for makers of novelty records, so much the better. Zappa was novel. 
Still it seems like a funny sentiment coming from a guy who built most of his career in opposition to the record industry. But it was in the period of alleged decay that Zappa broke with Warner Bros. and founded his own label in 1977, making a deal with Phonogram to distribute his releases in the U.S. When Phonogram refused to release his 1981 single “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted,” Zappa created another label, Barking Pumpkin Records, making sure he got to make and sell the music he wanted to.
In many ways people like Zappa---or later Kate Bush or Prince---anticipated our current music industry, in which we have artists starting labels left and right, controlling their own production and output. But those artists are mostly a tiny handful of hugely successful stars with mogul-sized ambitions. Does this help or harm the music economy as a whole? Independent musicians very rarely get the smallest window on how things work at the level of Beyonce, Jay-Z, or Taylor Swift (who "is the industry," Bloomberg once breathlessly proclaimed). But as Zappa notes, “the person in the executive chair may not be the final arbiter of taste for the entire population.” Even if those executives are themselves artists, we may greatly benefit from a wider range of "unusual and experimental" sounds in popular culture. Zappa suggests the way to do that is to get the "cigar-chomping old guys" (and they were all guys) back in charge. 
The rest of Zappa’s interview concerns the bogeyman of 80s and 90s music, the PMRC, and his very strong feelings about censorship, social control, and sex. It’s classic Zappa and won’t raise any eyebrows now, but it is interesting to hear his take on the decline of the music business since the 60s. We use different criteria to measure the apex of the industry---often depending on whether the labels or the artists made more money. Whichever period we lionize, for whatever reason, within a hundred-year window a tiny handful of musicians and record executives made enormous, dynasty-making fortunes. It just so happens that these days it's an even tinier handful of musicians and executives at the top, making even huger fortunes. And there's a lot more synergy between them. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Crooked Path to Badfinger’s “Straight Up”


Badfinger — the band that first found fame with the Paul McCartney penned “Come and Get It” — was riding high in 1971 following the recent release of its well-received album No Dice on the Beatles’ Apple label and its breakout hit “No Matter What” (written by band front-man Pete Ham). But when the band returned to the studio to record their follow-up, no one could have anticipated the twists and turns it would take to complete this next project. Working at first with Geoff Emerick, the producer-engineer for No Dice, who’d also worked on the Beatles’ Revolver and Abbey Road, the band was under a super-tight deadline, what with a pending US tour.
Yet despite the intended quick turnaround, when the completed tracks from the sessions were presented to Apple execs, they were uniformly rejected. Even a remix of “Name of the Game,” drawing on the talents of Phil Spector (working for the label at the time) and George Harrison, who were looking to repackage it for release as a single, was turned down. Eventually, six of these discarded tracks would be re-worked for Straight Up while a few more would be generated from scratch and added to the track list, but only after the band spent even more time in the studio. For much of the next phase on the album, Harrison worked closely with the band to help them craft their sound, even going so far as to sit in on a couple of tunes — playing guitar on “I’d Die Babe” and participating in a slide guitar duet with Ham on “Day After Day.” That memorable tune, which also featured piano work from Leon Russell, became the band’s biggest US hit.
But just as things were coming together for Badfinger, Harrison got pulled in another direction, preparing the live album and film of his Concert for Bangladesh at which Badfinger had actually performed. Busy with other concerns, Harrison told the members of Badfinger that he wouldn’t be able to finish his work on the album, so Apple then brought in Todd Rundgren. The multi-talented Rundgren fostered the band, as they fine-tuned some songs, including Ham’s Bangladesh tribute “Take It All” while also assisting them as they re-recorded several tunes from the previous sessions. One of the new songs that resulted was “Baby Blue,” written by Ham as a tribute to a girl he’d dated during the band’s US tour. (While a hit for the band at the time, this song is now best known for its use in the series finale of Breaking Bad)
There were some other new songs completed during this period such as guitarist Joey Molland’s rocker “Sometimes” and now-bassist Tom Evans’ elegiac closing track “It’s Over.” What had been a drawn out process was wrapped up in a mere two weeks with Rundgren. The results are remarkable. While the band members sometimes clashed with Rundgren during their sessions, there’s no doubt he was a key factor to the record’s success. His polished production and pop sensibilities combined with the excellent songwriting and instrumentation to create an acknowledged power pop classic.
PS. Badfinger and Straight Up are included in our post about bands following in The Beatles’ footsteps. Read more about the others like them here. Plus, for some more thoughts on George Harrison and Todd Rundgren, check out our posts The “Quiet” Beatle’s Huge Influence and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: And the Nominees Should Be…