Archive for September, 2012

#497- The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses- 1989

September 30, 2012

The Artists:

Ian Brown was born in Warrington, England in 1963.  While growing up in Manchester, he became friends with another teen that lived on his street, by the name of John Squire. after they teamed together to fight a bully.  They bonded over having the same taste in music and began attending concerts together all over the north of England. They were both mostly influenced by early punk bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Ian Brown and John Squire

Brown and Squire both went to South Trafford College in Manchester. After Brown was expelled and Squire quit school, they decided to form a band with Brown playing bass and Squire on guitar. They called their band The Patrol.  They recruited a drummer in Simon Wolstencroft and a singer with Andy Couzens.  While the band did not last long, it was the genesis of what would be The Stone Roses.

After the breakup of the band, Brown worked for a nightclub while Squire worked as an animator.  In 1983, Couzens decided he wanted to put together another band and approached his old bandmate Brown about being a part of it as the lead singer. They called back Wolstencroft to be the drummer and recruited a new bassist named Pete Garner.  The only piece that was missing was Squire, and after some cajoling, he agreed to join as the guitarist. Wolstencroft left to join another band.  The band had auditions for a new drummer and chose Alan “Reni” Wren.

Reni found an advertisement for a drummer needed on a music store wall and answered the ad.  The band members knew immediately they’d never find a better drummer.  Even Pete Townshend said that Reni was the most gifted drummer he’d heard since the death of Keith Moon.

Reni, who became well known for wearing the bucket hat.

John Squire is the one that came up with the name The Stone Roses.  Despite people’s assumptions that there must be some deep meaning to the band’s name or some toughts that it is some reference to The Rolling Stones, Squire merely thought of two words that contrasted and put them together, and the rest of the band thought it sounded good.

Technically, there are such things as stone roses.

After several years of performing locally and gaining fame around Manchester, Brown and Squire became the main songwriters and co-leaders, which lead Couzens to leave the band.  During this time they used graffiti to advertise the band’s name, which drew the ire of many Manchester residents, giving the band publicity.

The Stone Roses along with many other Manchester based bands such as The Happy Mondays and 808 State were all becoming popular and hitting their peak at the same time.  The Hacienda nightclub became the center of the this new movement.  This music scene was termed the “Madchester” scene.  A mixture of rock and dance music along with the new popularity of the drug Ecstasy defined this new music scene.

In 1987, Pete Garner decided to leave the band and was replaced by another Manchester based musician, Gary “Mani” Mounfield on bass.

Mani

The foursome of Ian Brown, John Squire, Reni, and Mani would be the band that would record the band’s debut album.

The band had a few deals here and there with small record companies and released a handful of singles that didn’t go anywhere.  They toured extensively and gained quite a bit a notoriety as a live band.  Finally, in 1988 they signed with the music label, Silvertone and agreed to an 8 album deal.  Recording began on their first album in late 1988 and the album was ready for release in April 1989 in the UK.

The Album Cover:

The cover was desgined by guitarist John Squire.  No doubt inspired by the works of Jackson Pollock.

Pollock’s Number 8, from 1949. The inspiration of the phrase “my kid could paint that.”

According to Squire, the cover is supposed to be his artistic interpretation of the Paris riots of 1968.  A sideways French flag is painted on the left hand side.

The idea of the lemons came from the fact that they were used by the rioters in Paris to dull the effects of tear gas.

When I think of Paris 1968, the first thing that comes to mind is Tout va Bien, the Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin film starring Yves Montand and Jane Fonda, which deals with the aftermath of ’68, and has yet to not put me to sleep.

I’m waaaay off topic here, but this is the only chance I will ever get to link to Jean-Pierre Gorin’s ratemyprofessor page. Gorin is currently a professor of film at U.C.-San Diego and is pretty infamous amongst the film community for his yelling and cursing at his students for having the “wrong” opinions about movies.

Back on topic, the back cover is quite basic on the vinyl edition.

It has the band name in gold on black, with a black and white photo of the band performing with a track listing and band member credits.  The CD version just has a track listing.  The vinyl is rare and the picture above is the best I could find anywhere on the internet of it’s back cover.

The Album: 

I am reviewing the UK vinyl release of The Stone Roses, the track listing is slightly different than the American CD and cassette versions.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs.)

The album opens with an almost otherworldly sound flowing into, “I Wanna Be Adored.”  The song just gives you the feeling that you are about to listen to a great album.

I will now type every lyric that is used in this 5 minute long song:

I don’t have to sell my soul/ He’s already in me/ I wanna be adored/ You adore me/ I gotta be adored.

Even Paul McCartney’s “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” is impressed at the disparate lyric per minute ratio in the song.  While it may not be “Tangled Up in Blue” lyrically, it is a perfect, haunting opening to the album.

And this is what Macca thinks of my poking fun of his lyrics.

She Bangs the Drums” is very poppy, and perhaps is the song that would be used most often to exemplify The Stone Roses.  It was the second single released off of the album.  It’s a bass and drum driven track.

Apparently there is a music video of “She Bangs the Drums” but I personally don’t want to see it.  Don’t get me wrong, I like music videos, but there is something about them that takes you out of the enjoyment of an album. You quit having your own personal experience with a song and start picturing the music video.  The best example of that is The Foo Fighters’ “Big Me” which is a brilliant music video, but I lose interest whenever I listen to the song on the album since I can’t see the Mentos parody video.

Whenever I hear the song I have a Pavlovian desire for chewy mints.

Don’t get me started on the fact that “She Bangs the Drums” is one of the songs available to play on Guitar Hero III.

Pushing buttons= musical talent?

“Waterfall” is a beautiful piece of music.  Reminds me a little of another great Manchester based band, The Hollies.  A sweet song.  It flows into “Don’t Stop” a very Beatle-esque sound, backwards notes and vocals that are reminiscent of “Rain.”  The ending and fade out has an almost African beat to it. Those are back to back tracks that I compared favorably to two Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famers’.

Bye Bye Badman” sounds like something from twenty years prior, not so much Beatle-esque this time, but a pure sound.  It is what I think music would have sounded like in the 80’s if New Wave music had never happened.  A very violent song, lyrically, but very peppy musically, an interesting dichotomy.  I always like when songwriters do that.  Reminds of the time my young nieces were happily dancing around to “ABC’s” by K’naan, a song about children in Africa living in abject poverty.

It’s fun!

Side 2 of the album opens with “Elizabeth My Dear.”  It is just a brief minute long track. It is basically the same tune as “Scarborough Fair” and is an anti-Queen song.  I mean Queen as in Queen of England not Queen like Freddie Mercury.

“Dude, what if Freddie was the Queen of England?”- random stoner circa 1980.

That flows into “(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister.”  I have no clue what the lyrics are supposed to mean, ex: “My hands are stuck to my jeans/ And she knows she knows what this must mean.” There are some nice harmonies on this track.  Again, it is just terrific pop music

Made of Stone” was the first single released off of the album.  It went to #20 on the UK pop charts, and it did not chart in the USA. I guess the American public were too busy buying New Kids On the Block and Milli Vanilli cassettes to bother with, you know, actual good music.

A visual representation of the record buying public of 1989.

Shoot You Down” sounds like straight out of 1965.  Only the flangering effects on Ian Brown’s vocals indicate this is something from 1989. I could see someone like Gerry and Pacemakers recording something like this.

Just look at those fresh-faced fellas.

This is the One” is a quiet track, with a nice recurring guitar burst, that flows into some of the heaviest music yet.  These are the awesome lyrics that open the song: “A girl consumed by fire/ We all know her desire/ From the plans that she has made/ I have her on a promise/ Immerse me in your splendor.”

The album closes on “I Am the Resurrection.”  My personal favorite track on the album.  I’ve heard every Billboard #1 song in history, and this has every earmark of what I would think would be a hit.  Perhaps people blindly read the title and assumed it was a religious song? Personally, I think it is because the public had the absolute worst taste in music during the years 1989-1991.

Paula Abdul had SIX #1 Hits on Billboard between 1989 and 1991, case closed.

“I Am the Resurrection” goes from beautiful pop and morphs into a hard driving guitar rock song midway through the track.  I guess an anthem would be the accurate term for it. It then has a false finish, before going back into the guitar jam with white noise flowing in the background.  The song keeps going for 8 minutes, but never drones on, it remains interesting throughout.

The Stone Roses much like so many other great artists were not destined to last, but what they did here is absolutely amazing.  This was a band out of its time. They could have been The Beatles of the 1990’s, ushering in a new British Invasion (and technically, they sorta did due to their influence on bands like Blur and Oasis.) When I say they were out of their time, by no means to I mean that they were old-fashioned. I mean they sounded like they were from that time when pop music was at it’s peak of beauty and innovation.

I will say that this is an album that I feel should be enjoyed as a whole.  I link the songs to the music clips to give a taste of what it sounds like, but that doesn’t give a full experience. I would most recommend the vinyl edition, but as of now it is quite rare and hard to come by in the US, but picking up the CD version is fine too, although it adds in the earlier single “Elephant Stone” to the album.  It is a fine song, but doesn’t fit with the rest of the album.

The Aftermath:

The postscript to The Stone Roses is that the band immediately started having issues with Silvertone and wanted to get out of their 8 album contract with the label. Legal battle after legal battle kept them from recording for years.  Then, finally, once the legal issues were over, personal issues starting delaying the recording.  It was mid 1993 before any recording started. Once it it did start, the recording went at a snail’s pace.  The follow up Second Coming was finally released in December of 1994 in the UK and not until mid 1995 in the United States.

Whatever the opposite of “striking while the iron is hot” is, that is what you would use to describe their sophomore effort.

Right after the release of Second Coming, band members started leaving.  First Reni and then John Squire.  By 1996 they were officially disbanded with only two studio albums the total of what they had under their belt.

For fifteen years that looked like that was all that we would see of The Stone Roses, but in 2011 Brown and Squire made amends, and in October they announced that they would do a short world tour, a documentary about the band, and as of this writing there are rumors of a possible new album.

In a way they reminds me of the great film director Terrence Malick, who in 1973 made Badlands, to much critical acclaim. Then took 5 years to follow it up with another masterpiece in Days of Heaven in 1978.  He then disappeared from movies altogether for almost 20 years before releasing The Thin Red Line in 1997.  Since then he has made two more amazing films, so perhaps The Stone Roses can do the same.

In my book, the best picture of 2011.

My take on Rolling Stone’s take:

RS: “For a few glorious moments, The Stone Roses looked like they might lead another British Invasion. Instead, they fell apart – but first they made this incredible album, highlighted by the ecstatic eight-minute-long “I Am the Resurrection.” It single-handedly launched Nineties Brit pop.”

My thoughts exactly.

Conclusion:

Something I’ll only be able to say a few times during my reviews: this is a PERFECT POP RECORD.  The fact that the album didn’t make the initial Rolling Stone magazine list and was only added in at #497 in the book version of the list (a least it didn’t get replaced in 2012 list like Head Hunters did, even though it did fall down one spot) makes me want to tell the Rolling Stone voters “c’mon hit your free throws.”  They actually thought 4(!) Madonna albums are better than The Stone Roses?

New Musical Express, the UK based publication, voted this album the greatest British album of all time and Observer Music Monthly voted it the greatest album of all time.  While I doubt I will agree with those publications once this journey through the Rolling Stone 500 is completed, it is the best album I’ve listened to yet from the list.  I don’t feel like there is a bad moment on the album. It’s beautiful, catchy, rocking, and influential. I don’t think I could give it a higher rating.

5 stars out of 5, Perfect rating

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. The Stone Roses- The Stone Roses

2. Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters

3. Outkast-Aquemini

4. B.B. King-Live in Cook County Jail

#498- Herbie Hancock- Head Hunters- 1973

September 28, 2012

The Artist:

Herbie Hancock was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1940.  A child prodigy on the piano, as early as 11 years old Hancock was playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

After college, Hancock played with a few jazz greats such as Coleman Hawkins, Oliver Nelson, and Phil Woods.  His work got the attention of those at the legendary jazz label, Blue Note, and in 1962 Herbie Hancock released his debut album Takin’ Off.

Takin’ Off contained Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” which became a hit for Hancock and a cover version released the same year by Mongo Santamaria made it to the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100.  The tune would quickly become a jazz standard and as we will see, would be re-recorded by Hancock in the future.

Takin’ Off caught the attention of a fellow Blue Note artist.  The biggest Jazz artist in the world at the time, Miles Davis.  Davis was assembling what would be called “The Second Great Quintet.”  Herbie was invited to join as the pianist.

Miles Davis: Never not cool

They recorded some of the most influential free jazz albums of the 1960’s. By 1968 the group started going their separate ways.

In 1969, Herbie Hancock left the Blue Note label and signed a deal with Warner Brothers.  He had put together a sextet for his new label and had plans to change the music he was doing into a more electric sound, adding funk and rock bits to be part of the jazz fusion movement going on at the time

His first album under the Warner Brothers contract was actually a soundtrack album, Fat Albert Rotunda. It was mostly comprised of music that was composed for the 1969 animated TV special “Hey, Hey, Hey It’s Fat Albert.”

It is a cool album, a fantastic blend of R&B, jazz, and funk.  It is definitely not what you would expect from the soundtrack a children’s animated TV special.

On a side note, the Fat Albert special, seems to be completely unavailable to watch anywhere. Supposedly, it is an animated retelling of some of Bill Cosby’s standup comedy which used actual filmed footage of Philadelphia as the animation background with the animation drawn over it.  It sounds as though it was vastly different from the later TV series as the special focused mostly on the characters of Bill and his brother and apparently Fat Albert’s face was never shown.

There is no justice that the TV special is unavailable while this crap abides.

Hancock trekked further in jazz-fusion with Mwandishi from 1971.

It is more jazz based than Fat Albert Rotunda.  While still a great album, in my opinion, it doesn’t quite live up to the prior album and Hancock would improve upon the fusion of jazz and rock after this album.

The albums released in 1971 and 1972 are usually referred to as Hancock’s Mwandishi Period.  Mwandishi was the Swahili name that Hancock had called himself beginning in the late sixties.

Recorded in 1972,  Crossings upped the ante with the electronic music playing an even bigger part in this recording.  All three tracks are breathtaking and allow every member of the band a chance to shine.

During the sessions for Crossings, Dr. Patrick Gleeson came in to the studio to program the Moog synthesizer for Herbie.  During his setup, Hancock heard Gleeson playing it and instead decided that Gleeson should be the one playing the synthesizer on the record.  With the addition of Gleeson, the sextet became a septet.

Hancock then took his septet and left Warner Brothers and signed with Columbia.  The first album on Columbia was an almost avant-garde work titled Sextant.

Released in 1973, it was almost totally comprised of electronic music and the jazz part was almost nonexistent.  The album bombed with many of his fans thinking he had gone too far in the electronic experimentation, and had forgotten all of his jazz roots.  The biggest problem with the album was that it really was too ahead of its time, for example, the opening track “Rain Dance” sounds almost like the great 8-bit video game soundtracks from a decade later.

As soon as he saw the poor sales of Sextant, Hancock knew that he had alienated his audience, and decided to “bring his music back down to earth.”  The first thing he did was disband the septet.  He would handle keyboards and the synthesizer now, Bennie Maupin would remain in the band, on the reeds, added to the band was Paul Jackson on bass, Harvey Mason on drums, and Bill Summers on percussion.  Hancock gave this new band the name “The Headhunters.”

He had been listening to a lot of Sly Stone, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder and for this new album Hancock wanted to add more of what those artists were doing except doing it with jazz.  He also wanted to reign in the synthesized parts to have a more mainstream appeal.

On October 13, 1973, Herbie Hancock released the first album with his new band, not surprisingly titled, Head Hunters.  Hancock’s decision to go for a more mainstream appeal worked big time, as eventually Head Hunters would become the biggest selling jazz album of all time.

The Album Cover:

The front cover shows all five members, psychedelically tinted, four in blue and Herbie in red orange.  Each member of The Headhunters is holding their respective instruments. From left to right in the background is Harvey Mason with his drum, Paul Jackson with the electric bass, Bennie Maupin with the sax, and Bill Summers with what appear to be shekere.

Herbie Hancock is sitting at the electric piano, but there is a weird mask thing over his face.  This mask is a particular mask from the Baoulé tribe which live in The Ivory Coast.

However, when zoomed in on the album cover, you can see there is a bit of a change to the mask.

The “eyes” of the mask have been changed to resemble the reels on a tape recorder and the “mouth” is now made out of a gauge.  These additions made the mask resemble a reel-to-reel tape head demagnitizer.

This one kinda looks like a face, with a fu manchu mustache.

The idea no doubt is giving a double meaning to the title Head Hunters, with the African mask stereotypically representing the mask of a African headhunter, while at the same time referencing a tape head on which the album is being recorded on.

The cover design is by Victor Moscoso, who designed a lot of psychedelic cover art in the 60’s and 70’s for people as varied as Jerry Garcia, Steve Miller Band, and Steve Cropper.  He is still doing artwork and a gallery of his album artwork can be found here. My favorite of his is probably this weird one for Manfred Mann’s The Mighty Quinn.

It’s Owlzilla! With some dude’s face.

The back cover is a slightly different picture, everybody has moved only a tiny bit from their front cover picture and now colored purple.  The most notable difference is that you can now you can see Herbie’s face, looking very serious, but very cool.  It also includes a track listing and personnel credits and which instruments were played.

The Album:

I am reviewing the vinyl record version of Head Hunters, released in 1973.

(Note: All song titles are linked to Youtube clips of the songs)

The album starts off with “Chameleon,” a song that has become a jazz standard through the years.  The 15 minute, 41 second track has probably one of the most recognizable bass tracks in jazz history.  Jackson drives the song with his electric bass.  Hancock used an ARP Odyssey synthesizer for the keyboard section of “Chameleon.”

This is some serious funk.  I think overlooked within Herbie’s syth sounds is some fantastic drumming by Harvey Mason.  About 6 minutes in “Chameleon” makes a bit of a twist, which the the syth vibe dropping out and the sound becomes less funky and more easy listening.  Bill Summers’ percussion on the conga or bongos (I’ll be honest I really can’t tell the difference in sound) flowing with the bass line.  But that is merely and interlude as the syth comes back to introduce a still electric piano driven, but faster section of the song.  They then take us back to the opening with the driving bassline reprise as the song comes to close.  One of the best opening tracks of all time, and definitely sets the stage for what is to come.

I will say my ignorance of jazz music shows when writing about pure instrumentals, in that I know there are terms for some of these segments and movements, but I don’t know what they are called.

I probably should have snagged one of these.

Track 2, is a cover song, of sorts.  Herbie Hancock decided to cover himself by updating his first big hit “Watermelon Man” with The Head Hunters.  On an album that features so much sythesized music, it was actually the simplest instrument, well technically non-instrument, that opens the track, Bill Summers blowing into a beer bottle.

The beer bottle even got a credit.

It is such an odd sound that I assumed it was some weird setting on the synth.  Along with some strange yelps, it gives an African music vibe, which I’m sure is exactly what Hancock was going for.  I can hear a bit of a reference to  Sly and the Family Stone on this track, it reminds me a bit of something around the time of There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

I’ll get to this one eventually.

Hancock has discussed coming up with the original song as a story and the sounds he used in the song were sounds that in his mind represented an actual man going around selling watermelons, a remembrance from when he was young.  He took the down beat from the sound of the cart on cobble stone walkways and the keyboard and sax parts represented the way that housewives would call out to the watermelon man asking to buy a watermelon.

And here I thought it was about this guy.

A clip can be found here, of Hancock explaining all of this to Elvis Costello and then playing both the original and Head Hunter‘s versions together to (in my opinion) less than successful results.

Side 2 opens with “Sly.”  Proving that I wasn’t too far off in comparing The Headhunters version of “Watermelon Man” to Sly Stone’s music, Hancock out and out names a track after him.  “Sly” while still very good, might be the least memorable track on the album in my opinion.  To be honest, I don’t hear a lot of Sly Stone influence on this track.

Thankfully Herbie never tried to copy Sly’s hair from recent years.

It is funky, but doesn’t really go anywhere.  The best part of the song is the quick time change interludes (again that probably isn’t the correct music term for what I am hearing, but I don’t know.) I probably don’t appreciate the complexity of what is being played here since I am not a jazz musician.  I will say that it would probably be the best track on most any other people’s album.

Side two’s conclusion has perhaps one of the greatest song titles I’ve ever heard, “Vein Melter.”  That title I think would work well as either the name of a horror movie or a WWE wrestler’s finishing maneuver.

I’m imagining something like this.

Interestingly enough, the track is quite laid back, but with a great recurring beat that sounds almost like chains.  About six minutes in it has an horror movie-esque sound cue.  Personally, I once wanted to use this track as part of a soundtrack to a spy movie I was working on, which never came to fruition.  It definitely has a bit of film score-ishness to it, perhaps foreshadowing Herbie’s future movie soundtracks.

Chuck Bronson and Herbie Hancock a match made in heaven?

“Vein Melter” is a truly great ending to a very great album. When looking at the album as a whole, everything recorded here is fantastic. “Sly” is the only song of the four that doesn’t in my opinion get a perfect rating, but even then it is close.

My take on Rolling Stone’s take:

RS: ” I was tired of everything being heavy-I wanted something lighter,” Hancock said. With that in mind, the keyboardist shed his former backing band (as well as all guitars) and recorded this Miles-meets-Sly Stone masterpiece, a peak of the jazz-fusion movement, highlighted by “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man.”

Rolling Stone didn’t say anything new here, mostly just facts.  They did call it a masterpiece, which I agree with.

The oddest thing to me is that this album that they call a masterpiece just barely made the Rolling Stone 500, and in the updated 2012 list it is gone altogether which I guess means that its reputation has waned in recent years for whatever reason.

Conclusion:

The fusion of jazz with electronic instruments leads to some of the best sounds in music history and mixing that with the genius of Herbie Hancock, it lead to an extremely fertile time for him from 1969 to 1973.  Head Hunters was the culmination of that period and one of the true high points in jazz.

It is the best album I’ve listened so far from the Rolling Stone list.  I can’t quite give it 5 stars, but it is close.  “Sly,” while it has great moments, ultimately doesn’t quite live up to the other three tracks in my opinion, and it lowers my score by just a hair.  I hate being that petty, but when there is only 4 tracks I feel like I have to be a little more critical of each individual song when putting together my ratings.

4.75 out of 5 Stars, highly recommended.

My ranking of the Rolling Stone 500 that I’ve reviewed thus far:

1. Herbie Hancock-Head Hunters

2. Outkast-Aquemini

3. B.B. King-Live in Cook County Jail