Tag Archives: music

Dick Clark and Levon Helm

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Two very different men died recently. Dick Clark and Levon Helm were almost opposites. One epitomized pop culture’s star making machinery, the other a pop culture which avoided the star making machinery. Both are important, and have left an indelible mark on our culture.

Dick Clark, at first glance, seems trivial and unimportant. Just a talking head introducing the latest teen idols. A pleasant voice, face, and demeanor calculated to not offend, unless of course you found that very inoffensiveness offensive. But this isn’t fair. Dick Clark cared about popular music. At a time when rock n’ roll was being derided by Frank Sinatra as a vile aphrodisiac Dick Clark showed that this new music wasn’t about crime and immorality, or at least, it didn’t have to be. Dick Clark saw that if teenage music was to survive it had to change, lest it be driven underground where it might just fade away into oblivion. He also loved rhythm and blues, and although he is remembered for Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Vee and other vanilla squishy soft rockers, he also contributed to the success of Sam Cooke, Smokie Robinson and the Miracles, Chubby Checker, and other black artists. If Dick Clark had been as conservative as some believe, he would have allowed rock n’ roll and r & b to die, leaving us with the rat pack. I think Dick Clark wanted to be hip, but he just couldn’t make it work. That actually added to his charm. He remained the upbeat dj with the perfect teeth, perpetually young until his death. His message was simple. Pop music is good clean fun. He was never taken seriously by anyone, and that is the way he liked it. You couldn’t really knock him because he had no pretensions. He knew he was just a familiar face introducing us to the imaginary world of pop music. That is the key thing to understand about Dick Clark, American Bandstand, and Rockin’ New Years Eve, it is all a show. It is a pop music version of Disneyland. None of it is serious. It is selling us the modern American myth of malt shops, drive-in’s, fast cars, and a sweet innocence. None of it was real and almost no one was fooled. Of course not all of it was imaginary. Teenagers had the opportunity on American Bandstand to watch teenagers just like themselves dancing to the same songs they listened to. You could root for the song you wanted to see make it to number one. It provided a shared experience which really doesn’t have a contemporary equivalent. Pop music today tends to be fragmented, and the whole idea is to celebrate decadence and irony. Innocence? It never really existed except in the imaginary universe of places like American Bandstand. It is true that by today’s standards Dick Clark seems bland, but his blandness made a revolutionary new trend in music acceptable to the parents, and the moguls of the music industry. Because of that, the way was prepared for the arrival of the Beatles and everything that followed. For that, we owe Dick Clark a debt.

Levon Helm has a very different story. Levon is the real deal. He was a musician and songwriter who lived to create. He was the drummer for the Band, for which he sang songs which feel as though they had always been there. ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, ‘Rag Mama Rag’ and ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ are timeless pieces of Americana. He didn’t care about commercial success. He wasn’t looking to be famous. He was the Everyman. He sang for all the nameless men who populated the American landscape from it’s very inception. You can hear Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Mark Twain, and James Dean in his voice. He managed to achieve that universality, that anonymous timeless quality that Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson aspired to but whose vivid personalities prevented. Levon Helm is a ghost. He was totally devoted to the music and evoking the spirit of America with his work. Levon Helm wanted to blend into the background and be remembered by other musicians. He could care less about anything more than that. He will be missed because the honest ones come along infrequently. Most artists are swayed by the star making machinery, and it affects their artistry, Levon Helm stayed true to his muse.

We need both kinds of men. We need people like Levon Helm to keep us honest and remind us of what true artistry is about, and we need people like Dick Clark to prevent good music from fading into obscurity. For any of us to hear the good stuff we must endure the superficial and realize that nothing gets heard if it isn’t promoted. Dick Clark was the master at promotion, at letting you know about music. His taste was mainstream, but he still managed to put some major talents on the map. Some artists kid themselves that they don’t need to play the game, but a certain amount of that is required if you want to make a difference, and help steer the course of popular music.

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The Mysterious Scott Walker

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Scott Walker is probably one of the most influential singers of his generation, although he isn’t well known in the US. He belonged to a group called the Walker Brothers in the sixties, although his name was actually Noel Scott Engel. None of the members of the group were actually named Walker. John Maus and Gary Leeds were the other ‘Walker’ brothers. He had played in other bands, and started out in his teens as a protege of Eddie Fisher, modeling himself after other teen idols. But unlike other teen idols who may have resembled Elvis physically, but couldn’t sing anything like him, Scott actually had, and still has, a superb voice. In fact, one of the most remarkable voices in pop music history. David Bowie has been influenced greatly by Scott Walker. The Walker Brothers began in LA in 1964, but achieved their greatest success in England where they rivaled the Beatles in popularity. They had their first big hit with ‘ Make It Easy On Yourself’, and then achieved their greatest hit with the spooky, evocative hit ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’. The video is also excellent for this song, Scott Walker, bearing a slight resemblance to Warren Beatty, smirks into the camera and conveys an enigmatic personality. But Scott Walker wasn’t made out for stardom. and the group broke up in 1967.  He hated dealing with all of the things that come with stardom. He cared about good music, and became a fan of Jacques Brel, and focused his attention on creating carefully crafted ballads which almost no one ever heard until the recent interest in Scott Walker engendered by the cult documentary, 31st century man. His voice has a haunting quality, full of mystery and drama. Check him out on youTube, you will develop an obsession with him, if you haven’t already. He kept experimenting with different forms, playing with techno, and strange soundscapes which defy description. His singing became more like a poetic recitation, the songs weren’t really songs any longer but avant garde compositions. Strange, but compelling stuff. I have included two songs from youTube, the excellent ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ and ‘Jesse’ from what I believe is his last album from a few years ago. This is my introduction to a repost of a more poetic treatment of Scott Walker I posted a few weeks ago. It captures the enigma that is Scott Walker.

Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be spiders, I can’t tell. Although he has sung of it, in his deathly tones, many times I confess. I cannot tell the lamppost from the lie, the fractured fairy tale from the putrid meat in the cellar. Scott Walker beckons to me from too great a depth, I cannot fathom it. His longing, his longing,,,,I must go to sleep, it is getting late. Scott Walker grew up on a ranch, no!, ’twas in the heart of New York City, ah, no it is told he had a different name, but why bother? He is the night, he is the promise, he lifts his blood stained hands before the altar. Why? Why must this man force his way into my brain? His objectives are obscure, hammering softly the same refrain, you have a swanky suit, a very swanky suit. But it shall not save me.

He is old. He is young, this man of no certain hour. Where doth dwell this teenage idol, this mildewed tower? He lives in a forgotten magazine, songs you can’t quite hear, no matter how much you increase the volume. He doth dwell on abandoned staircases within forgotten movie sets. He knows the ancient whores gazing out the window beside the rotting wharf, cigarette dangling out of a grease stained mouth. Don’t ask this seraph to explain his evocation, for this is not his path. It is his to slam the freshly butchered lamb with mallets till he’s said…..it…..all. Such is the way of this mysterious man, whose weirding way is but by chance. Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be a knowledge unprepared, wrapped in fading newsprint, like a fish.

The Sun will never shine again as Scott pulls the azure garment close, and cries. The Sun will never shine again as Scott makes the ancient sign, and hopes. Gazing steadily with his youthful smirk, Scott Walker knows just how it works, stealth and guile, mirrors and smoke. Where Scott Walker doth dwell.

On a personal note for those of you that don’t follow my other blog, russell5087.wordpress.com, I reported in my latest post that I have finally landed a job. I haven’t had one since early January, and this one is only until October, but could become permanent if I do really well. I am very happy this happened given that I couldn’t pay rent this month, and will be late with it in April. I also have completed my Flash animation for Stock Photo Woman Fantasy, except for music. It is so long, including about 65 different photo collages. I might try to do it as a slide show instead, and find a music video you could listen to while watching my video. I still need to write the story for the next installment and do a couple of collages as just photos. I am very happy the animation is basically done. You will see it tomorrow or the next day. I am also very happy that my cataracts will be removed, probably in April. So things are looking up for me. I hope you are inspired to listen to more Scott Walker, he is worth getting into.


Just A Little Eno Is All I Need

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BRIAN ENO

OBLIQUE STRATEGIES

A long time ago and far away I had a drummer for a roommate, and he had a fabulous record collection. Among other artists such as David Bowie, Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, and others, he introduced me to Brian Eno. Brian made by far the greatest impression.  His music spoke to me of other places outside of our own mundane existence. Or as he would put it, ‘Another Green World’, the title of one of his best albums. Brian Eno had no real interest in pop music for himself, although he had a great deal of interest in producing everyone from U2, the Talking Heads, and even Paul Simon. He was more interested in oblique strategies, his title for a way of bypassing the conscious mind by a random selection of ideas printed on cards. This bears some resemblance to William Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s cutup technique. Both are ways of introducing randomness which can then inspire your writing, your music, your films. David Lynch has used oblique strategies in his work. Of course, I wonder just how random this all is. The deeper self may direct our seemingly random methods. In Eno’s case, it works brilliantly. His soundscapes have been the inspiration for so many others, such as Moby, and even Trent Reznor’s Ghost series.

   He began as a student of ‘serious’ music, experimenting with repeating loops of sound. He then became involved in the world of pop music when he joined Roxy Music, this being his brief fling with glam. After leaving the group in the mid-seventies, he produced a series of solo albums which stand the test of time. Here Come the Warm Jets is both progressive and alternative rock at it’s best. He continued this trend with Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. He took a deceptively simple approach with Another Green World which established his signature sound. Very evocative, wistful, beautiful, and intelligent music. Keeping to this same idea of creating soundscapes that speak to you in odd and interesting ways, he went on to produce Music for Films and Music for Airports. I never get tired of his experiments in sound. Many bands have borrowed a page from Eno to embellish their work. I remember when I first heard Music for Airports. The people I was with were put off by the simplicity of the piece, saying it sounded like someone messing around with a piano but not playing anything. It mesmerized me to no end. Literally to no end, I am still listening to Music for Airports in my head. Eno simply wanted music suitable for an airport, which would relax you and put you in the right mood for possible sudden death. He actually described it this way, which reveals his dry sense of humor. This was the birth of ambient music, music in the background not intended to capture your full attention. However Eno’s music always captures my attention. Brian Eno’s music lends itself very well to film, hence the brief (too brief) little sketches he does for Music for Films.

In his studio

Brian Eno’s music never fails to improve my mood. It uplifts me. I had been feeling depressed today, and didn’t want to post anything on my blog, and then it occurred to me to post something about Brian Eno. Of course I had to listen to him as I did this, and it inspired me as it always does. The marriage between Brian Eno and David Bowie (so to speak, they weren’t actually married), is legendary. It set the bar very high for alternative rock, and I would agree with Eno that no one has really progressed beyond their work in the late seventies. Everyone is basically going over the same ground.  The difference between the legion of synthesizer wizards which populated countless bands of the eighties, and Eno, lies in the way Eno transcends the medium. He is able to give warmth and spirituality to an essentially cold, intellectual instrument. I also like the synthesizer work of OMD, which approaches at times the spirituality of Eno’s music. But most of it was variations of Devo, without the satire. Even though Brian Eno has been teased about his singing voice, I have always liked it. It is understated which suits the songs. But of course he will always be remembered for his ground breaking instrumental work.

I am including here 1) a collaboration with Harold Budd called First Light which is one of the most uplifting of Eno’s work with equal thanks to Budd as well. It takes me away from my depressing thoughts and to a still, quiet, beautiful world. You can just skip the advertisement at the beginning. The video is nice too.

2) another collaboration, this time with Robert Fripp called Timean Sparkles. This has a wonderful fragility to it.

3) Fractal Zoom which shows Brian Eno can also rock. The video is nice too.

4) and finally, Spinning Away, a collaboration with John Cale with Eno singing. One of my favorite songs of all time. If this doesn’t inspire you what will?

One Less Monkee

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Davey Jones is dead. He died of a heart attack. It is hard to imagine Davey Jones as anything other than young. I loved the Monkees. Daydream Believer still takes me back to the summer of 1967, when I was a kid. When everything was candy, comic books, and crushes on cute girls (which Daydream Believer captures perfectly). Those of you that really know about the Monkees realize there was far more to this band than met the eye. They were a pretty savvy bunch of guys. They made a movie in 1968 named ‘Head’ which included a Frank Zappa cameo. They satirized their teenage idol success. If only Justin Bieber could do the same! But the Monkees music was excellent pop, written in large part by Neil Diamond and other top notch songwriters. True, they weren’t the Beatles, but they didn’t try to be. They just wanted to be a fun band, and they played their roles with their tongues firmly lodged in their cheeks. The tv show was fun, too. Beatles fans at that time were a bit nostalgic for the early Beatles, when they were full of innocent fun. and the Monkees gave them that. Davey Jones had a sweetly comic quality, never really losing that baby face, even in his fifties. That time seems so long ago, and just yesterday, at the same time. I can imagine in my mind the fun that the Monkees would have had with that sentence. “Just yesterday?” “No, man, it was long ago!” “But he just said….” “It’s called a metaphor.” “No it isn’t!” “Well, it’s one of those literary devices!” “Devices?” “Well, nothing’s changed for us, we’re still the same, right Davey?” “Hey, where’s Davey?”

The songs drew from many sources. (not your) Stepping Stone could have been an Animals song. I’m a Believer is as strong a song as any Beatles song, and sounds like one. It was written by Neil Diamond. Daydream Believer sounds a lot like the Lovin’ Spoonful. There were a few more obscure songs which hold up fairly well. Michael Nesmith wrote many of the Monkee’s songs (he was the one with the wool cap), and he never really received the accolades he deserved. Johnny Cash was a big fan of Nesmith. ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’ and ‘Mary Mary’ were as good as the bigger hits. Although it wasn’t written by Nesmith, Last Train to Clarksville holds up really well as a country song, as well as pop. The Monkees specialty were well-crafted pop songs which are as much fun now as they were then.

This is yet another unwelcome reminder of how things change for us baby boomers. Our childhood heroes die of heart attacks reminding us of our own mortality. I guess that’s not very funny, huh?

Where Scott Walker doth dwell

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Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be spiders, I can’t tell. Although he has sung of it, in his deathly tones, many times I confess. I cannot tell the lamppost from the lie, the fractured fairy tale from the putrid meat in the cellar. Scott Walker beckons to me from too great a depth, I cannot fathom it. His longing, his longing,,,,I must go to sleep, it is getting late. Scott Walker grew up on a ranch, no!, ’twas in the heart of New York City, ah, no it is told he had a different name, but why bother? He is the night, he is the promise, he lifts his blood stained hands before the altar. Why? Why must this man force his way into my brain? His objectives are obscure, hammering softly the same refrain, you have a swanky suit, a very swanky suit. But it shall not save me.

He is old. He is young, this man of no certain hour. Where doth dwell this teenage idol, this mildewed tower? He lives in a forgotten magazine, songs you can’t quite hear, no matter how much you increase the volume. He doth dwell on abandoned staircases within forgotten movie sets. He knows the ancient whores gazing out the window beside the rotting wharf, cigarette dangling out of a grease stained mouth. Don’t ask this seraph to explain his evocation, for this is not his path. It is his to slam the freshly butchered lamb with mallets till he’s said…..it…..all. Such is the way of this mysterious man, whose weirding way is but by chance. Where Scott Walker doth dwell there may be a knowledge unprepared, wrapped in fading newsprint, like a fish.

The Sun will never shine again as Scott pulls the azure garment close, and cries. The Sun will never shine again as Scott makes the ancient sign, and hopes. Gazing steadily with his youthful smirk, Scott Walker knows just how it works, stealth and guile, mirrors and smoke. Where Scott Walker doth dwell.

Valentine’s Pop

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you are in love, you love this day. If you are in a relationship that seems to be working, you like this day. If you are not in a relationship of any kind, Valentine’s Day sucks. This post is for those of you that are in love. Whatever else that may be going on, you are on top of the world. You spend your days enchanted, and your world has been transformed into little candy hearts with cute messages. Lucky lucky you!!! But you need a soundtrack. I have selected ten songs that are perfect for Valentine’s Day. I’m sure you can track them down and play them for your sweetheart. You probably have an app for that.

1. My Funny Valentine – there are a million versions of this one out there. It is the ultimate Valentine. I prefer Chet Baker’s version, but Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra have killer versions, and more recently, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall have nice versions.

2. And I Love Her – Pure Paul. One of his best. Although this is a Beatles tune, it is actually just Paul McCartney. It has such an elegance about it, like something from an earlier age. This particular love song isn’t so silly.

 

3. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Pure Elvis. One of his best. Equally elegant, and be sure to find the original version. His live versions from the seventies lack the charm. The original recording captures the King at his most restrained. The voice is delicate.

4. Every Day I Write the Book – Pure Elvis. Costello that is. One of his best. This is a perfect pop song, in every respect. You are going to feel good after hearing this song. It lifts you up. This is the kind of book we all want to write, when love is fresh and beautiful.

 

5. Cherish – You need to be in love for this one. When I was in love this song was the perfect soundtrack. I prefer the original Association version, it has that magical quality that so many songs from the mid-sixties have. It describes a lovely sort of Strawberry Fields Forever kind of world.

6. Love Can Make You Happy – You really need to be in love for this one, it is unbearable otherwise. I recall hearing it on a sunny morning as I ate breakfast before going to school in 1969. I had a crush on a girl at school. It is by Mercy, a bit obscure, but keep searching! I love the harmony of the voices, capturing the optimism of 1969.

7. Close To You – Although this one has been played at way too many weddings, it still has it’s charms. Karen Carpenter’s voice comes through like the finest crystal, capturing that pure untarnished quality of love as it first blossoms.

8. Love – For those of you that prefer to avoid all the lace and candy hearts, this song’s simplicity and directness does the job. It is one of John Lennon’s most moving songs, You can sing it to your Yoko.

9. Here Comes My Girl – Tom Petty is bursting out of his jeans with joy as he sings about his new girlfriend. This one captures the thrill of new love when you are young and everything is before you.

10. Walking on Sunshine – This much disparaged hit from the eighties by Katrina and the Waves, isn’t so bad really. It has a lot of bright, happy energy which characterizes how young love feels. When you feel good this song gets you going. Otherwise you are going to think it sucks, like John Cusack does in High Fidelity.

Welcome to RussellPop

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I hope to cover Mickey Mouse to Deadmau5 in this blog

Welcome to my new blog, RussellPop. I felt I should have a family friendly, non-expletive, blog that concerns the fun filled world of popular culture. I have a light, humorous side that doesn’t get enough play on my other blog. Here I have no plans to pull my heart out of my chest and display it on screen squirming and screaming and ….ok, that is for the other blog. Here I comment on music, television, movies, books, other blogs, personalities, cultural history, and very little if anything about me, myself, and I. Again, that is the other blog, russell5087. wordpress.com This is for those people who to use the overused phrase, “don’t want to go there”.

For me this is a welcome diversion from myself. While I plan to avoid the deeper waters, I will make observations that I hope are unique and interesting, unlike what you would find on most pop culture blogs. That is pretty ambitious, I know.