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Posts Tagged ‘rock

“People ought to stop saying, ‘Rock is dead.’ It gets old.”*…

Big Star (Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel, Alex Chilton), photographed by William Eggleston

Mo Troper (and here) offers a treatise on the hotly debated subgenre Power Pop…

What is power pop? It is a question many have asked and few have satisfyingly answered. To many, power pop is any modern idealization of mid-‘60s British pop, a sticky and sickly sweet Neapolitan of “chiming guitars,” “heavy drums” and “aching vocal harmonies.” The Raspberries, Big Star, Badfinger, Todd Rundgren — these are just a few of power pop’s pioneering practitioners.

There are entire message boards and stuffy Facebook groups dedicated to debating its origins and musical properties. Power pop fandom is as isolated as it is isolating. Most of the year it’s a pasty shut-in muttering to itself, every now and then it’s an evangelist screaming from the rooftops. To be a power pop “fan” is to be in endless pursuit of the greatest post-Beatles guitar pop single the general public has yet to hear. And once you find it: Should you share it with the world or keep it all to yourself?

To the outside world — and even to nominal double-P fans — the drama and rigorous dialectic associated with this genre is insane, and understandably so.

The gatekeeping makes a little more sense if you relate power pop to a more general aesthetic phenomenon: camp.

Susan Sontag published her essay Notes on “Camp” in 1964, the same year The Beatles conquered America. According to the Wikipedia article on camp, the phrase is “etymologically obscure” — it was once a specific cultural posture associated with working-class gay communities, but it would later be subsumed under (or, co-opted by) the postmodern umbrella. Sontag herself believed camp was fundamentally non-discriminating, although acknowledges it is by and large a sensibility created by gay men. Attempting to distinguish “camp” from other, similar aesthetics is campy. 

“Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world,” Sontag writes. “The whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”

Like camp art, the lines between seriousness and frivolity in power pop can be maddeningly obscure. Fountains of Wayne are often considered one of the greatest power pop bands of all time; their most celebrated record, Welcome Interstate Managers, is not power pop in the strict, sonic sense — it covers everything from Oasis and Cars pastiche to acoustic confessionals and quasi-lounge. What makes this record so great — and what makes it so campy — is the level of scholarship, commitment, and straight-faced passion the band brings to their interpretations of old hat musical tropes. Camp, according to Sontag, “reeks of self-love” even when it revels in parody.

Power Pop Is Camp,” from @mo_troper.

(To Moe’s point: “That Thing You Do,” the song performed by the fictional 1960s band The Wonders in Tom Hank’s film of the same name, was written by Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of Fountains of Wayne. It succeeded both in the film as an evocation of the Beatles-inspired melodic pop of 1964-65 and as a power pop success of it own (it charted in 1997 in the U.S. and Australia and was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.)

* Matthew Sweet

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As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that record store manager Brian Epstein called the Cavern Club in Liverpool to arrange to see a lunchtime performance the following day by a local group, The Beatles. After the show, he went backstage to introduce himself… returned for several subsequent shows… left his retailing career to become the group’s manager… and helped them become… well, the ultimate inspiration for Power Pop.

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“There was something very attractive in all the hidden places, the hidden histories”*…

In the late 1970s, Asian restaurants in California’s cities started booking some unlikely dinner entertainment: punk bands…

Bill Hong was a Cantonese immigrant dad in his late 40s, running a restaurant in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood with his sister Anna Hong and her husband Arthur, when two young promoters approached him with a business proposition: What did Hong think about renting out the restaurant’s upstairs banquet hall on the evenings when it wasn’t being used?

It was 1979, and LA was struggling. The entire country had plunged into a deep recession just a few years prior, and now Chinatown and the city’s downtown areas were falling into disrepair. More recent Chinese immigrants had started moving to suburban enclaves like the San Gabriel Valley, bypassing Chinatown and its businesses completely; the non-Chinese customers who used to flock to the neighborhood for exotic chow mein dinners were now avoiding downtown altogether.

When Bill Hong said yes to the promoters, he was trying to be practical. He knew the restaurant needed more customers; maybe letting a few young bands play could help bring them in. He never could’ve foreseen that his family’s establishment, the Hong Kong Low—located on a small street called Gin Ling Way—would become a focal point for a seminal music scene: West Coast punk.

Nor did he know how many times the restaurant’s toilet would get smashed in the process.

Hong’s restaurant—known as the Hong Kong Café to showgoers—was far from the only Asian restaurant to incubate the California punk scene. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, from Sacramento to San Francisco, some of the state’s most important punk venues were actually Chinese and Filipino restaurants. At eateries like Sacramento’s China Wagon and Kin’s Coloma, or San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens, now-iconic bands such as X, the Germs, and Black Flag played some of their most memorable early gigs. The Hong Kong wasn’t even the first place in LA’s Chinatown to host gigs: the restaurant across the courtyard, Madame Wong’s, had already been doing the same for at least a year…

Su Tissue of the Suburban Lawns performing at the Hong Kong Café, 1979. Photograph by John Brian King.
Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, performing at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens—otherwise known as the “Fab Mab”—in 1979 (the same year he ran for mayor of SF). Photograph by Mike Murphy.
Withdrawl, known as Sacramento’s best local punk band at the time, playing at Kin’s Coloma, 1981

Tour the venues: “How Chinese Food Fueled the Rise of California Punk,” from Madeline Leung Coleman (@madelesque)

* “Punk rock, when I was a part of it, was called ‘the underground.’ There was something very attractive in all the hidden places, the hidden histories.” – Mary Harron

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As we muse on the mosh, we might recall that this date in 1979 was “Fleetwood Mac Day” in Los Angeles, as the group was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (about 6 miles northwest of the Hong Kong Café).

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“To me, the ideal artist-to-audience relationship is a one-to-zero relationship. The artist should be granted anonymity.”*…

Wish granted…

Earlier this month a little piece of music history was restored. The news was easy to overlook. Sony Music Publishing announced that one of its outermost divisions would be rebranding: what had been EMI Production Music since 2011 would become KPM Music once again. The change may seem trivial, but it restores a name that has wielded a wide and surprising influence over popular culture.

The chances are you haven’t heard of KPM, despite its roots stretching back to 1780, when Robert Keith (the K of the name) set up a music shop in London. But you have almost certainly heard its music. Since 1956 KPM had been a producer of library music, which is not music to be played quietly for the benefit of readers, but music composed to a brief, kept on catalogue, and then used—in return for payment—to accompany something else.

You have probably encountered the work of KPM’s composers and musicians on television. In America the credits of “Monday Night Football” unfold to the sound of “Heavy Action” by Johnny Pearson; the melody for Channel 9’s cricket show in Australia was produced by KPM, though it was written with a news broadcast in mind. In Britain several shows have drawn on KPM’s library, including “All Creatures Great and Small”, “Mastermind”, “Grange Hill”, “The Two Ronnies” and the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon.

Even if you never watch TV, though, you will know fragments of this music, especially if you like hip-hop. kpm recordings have been a rich source of samples (a segment of sound used in another composition). Of KPM’s star composers, Brian Bennett has been sampled 114 times, by Drake, Nas, Kanye West and more. Les Baxter has been sampled 79 times by the Beastie Boys, Ghostface Killah and MF Doom, among others. Rap’s founding text, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, sampled KPM stalwart Alan Hawkshaw—specifically the song “Here Comes That Sound Again”. “Library music is sought after by producers, collectors and writers because it was played by people, not manufactured by [a] machine,” Mr Hawkshaw once [said]…

One of the most sampled songs in pop history came from kpm musicians playing together for fun in 1968. “Champ” by The Mohawks has a distinctive organ hook—played by Mr Hawkshaw—that was sampled by Eric B and Rakim and Afrika Bambaataa in the 1980s and is still being remixed by Frank Ocean, Janelle Monáe and Nicki Minaj today. “People think that’s a black group from Detroit [playing the tune], but it was hashed together by session musicians in Yorkshire,” Mr Hawkshaw said.

Library music is not the rich trove of unexpected wonder it used to be. These days budgets are tighter and there is less inclination to hire whole orchestras for an afternoon, so there isn’t so much scope for the moments of brilliance a room full of musicians might create. Artificial-intelligence firms are also trying to muscle in on the market, offering computer-generated compositions to accompany video content for a fraction of the cost of real musicians. But there is still magic in the thought of those shelves, full of music composed and recorded for who knows what, sitting there waiting to be used for something else entirely…

Its artists aren’t famous and you can’t buy the records in shops; but its work can be heard everywhere: “KPM Music is one of the most important record labels in history,” from @TheEconomist.

* Glenn Gould

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As we honor the unnamed, we might send suspiciously on-key birthday greetings to Faheem Rasheed Najm; he was born on this date in 1984. Better know by his stage name T-Pain, he is a rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer. But he’ll surely be best remembered as the person who popularized Auto-Tune pitch-correction technology. Indeed, T-Pain became so associated with Auto-Tune that an iPhone app that simulated the effect was named after him.

Developed in 1997, Auto-Tune was used in 1998 in Cher’s “Believe” to create vocal effects (though the producers attributed the result to a pedal, treating Auto-Tune as a trade secret). Years later, T-Pain popularized the tool… which has become a controversial staple in the recording industry (as it allows recording engineers to turn the tuneless into accomplished singers).

Time magazine quoted an unnamed Grammy-winning recording engineer as saying, “Let’s just say I’ve had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Britney Spears to Bollywood cast albums. And every singer now presumes that you’ll just run their voice through the box.” The same article expressed “hope that pop’s fetish for uniform perfect pitch will fade”, speculating that pop-music songs have become harder to differentiate from one another, as “track after track has perfect pitch.” According to Tom Lord-Alge, the device is used on nearly every record these days…

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“Some folks look for answers, others look for fights”*…

Grateful Dead plays Red Rocks for the final time, August 13, 1987 [source]

Max Abelson takes a break from his (essential) coverage of money and power at Bloomberg News and Businessweek to appreciate the community that’s grown up around the Internet Archive’s Grateful Dead Archive (where one can find– among the over 15,000 concert recordings– not one, but two full takes of the show pictured above)…

On the Archive, the writing about the Dead’s live music often transcends the personal mode and approaches something closer to the galactic. Nothing brings out that cosmic style like “Dark Star,” a song that the band stretched from a three-minute studio single into its own solar system. Ginosega left a flight log for the same forty-three-minute 1973 version that played in the friend’s basement: “About 12 minutes in, Phil fires the engines and turns the ship out of orbit, until at 17 minutes we have arrived in the deepest, darkest part of the galaxy.” The trip isn’t half over. “Only at 21 minutes into the song do they actually start playing the song.” The post, which has a kind of sci-fi internal logic, describes interstellar wind and multicolored ooze, before, “at about 36 minutes, we start the return trip, passing through more familiar systems on our way back home.”

One of the magical things about how high the Dead flew is that they managed to do it without, say, Sly Stone’s rhythm, Joni Mitchell’s poetry, or Brian Wilson’s voice. The allure of this band—whatever it is that keeps sparking so much cosmic wonder and nostalgia—is foggy and mysterious. Paumgarten, in his New Yorker piece, identified a sprawling combination of factors, including Garcia’s soulful charisma and Appalachian gloom, the band’s 26,000-watt sound system, an ethos of group improvisation, and the “particular note of decay” in each cassette swapped from hand to hand. You can think about the Archive as not just the best tape rack of all, but as a collection of thousands of swings at saying the inexplicable. A user named Scottie78 was so moved by a half-hour version of “Dark Star” at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1972 that he not only came close to leaving a bullet point for each minute, but more or less created an identification system to differentiate the micro-micro-genres he heard, from “Space Jazz” and “Acid Jazz” to “Acid Jazzgrass.” It’s embarrassing and magnetic at the same time.

Others tip over from starry-eyed to freaked out. “So cacophonous, atonal and scary that it could potentially traumatize animals when played loud,” Phleshy said in 2004 about a version from Rotterdam in 1972. “If this explanation sounds stupid in words, then listen to the last half-hour of ‘Dark Star’ in a darkened room and see if you feel remotely secure.”

The line between the personal and astronomical is thin. Boboboy’s recollection of the 1989 show at JFK Stadium is what Didion might have described if she had witnessed more people sway: “I clearly remember seeing the swirling masses of thousands on the floor from my perch all the way back.” The dancers below looked like birds up above, “a flock of starlings cruising the sky, but in slow motion.”

Some of the writing aims even higher. “When you want to know what it is like being in heaven, cue up the second set,” Seedanrun wrote about the band’s beloved 1977 show at Cornell. “When you want to feel what it is like to be face to face with God, dim the lights and really focus on the ‘Morning Dew.’”

The glory of that show, performed inside the university’s Barton Hall on a snowy night in May, is perhaps the nearest the Dead Archives come to consensus. The thought of sullying it with a rating scale offended a user named GruUbic: “If this is five stars, is heaven a 4.5?” In 2004, BillDP went further, calling the show “the single best live performance I have ever heard from any group at any time.” His authoritativeness is only outdone by the dumbstruck. “Mere words cannot do justice,” Grateful Hillbilly posted in 2015. “Words like amazing and unbelievable and incomparable don’t capture the immensity of awe.”

[Brewster] Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder, tells me that he wishes more of the web was shaped like the Dead Archive. “What you’re looking at,” he said, “is from an era of the Internet that I think is best typified by what Tim Berners-Lee called ‘pages.’” Today, he said, instead, what dominates is the “feed.” (“Horrible word,” he added.) Facebook and Twitter scroll by endlessly, unaccountably, and unpleasantly, but “it wasn’t always that way, and it was a choice.” Each Dead show, he said, is “something you can anchor to, it’s something you can revolve around.” He went on: “By making things endure, we can have people cherish them, use them, and invest in them. So the writing is fundamentally different. I think we should go back to it—or forward to it.”…

The way the internet was… and should be? “In the Dead Archives,” from @maxabelson.

* The Grateful Dead, “Playing In The Band” (written by Bob Weir, Robert Hunter, and Mickey Hart)

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As we go hear Uncle John’s Band, we might send bluesy birthday greetings to Ronald Charles McKernan; he was born on this date in 1945. Better known by his stage name, Pigpen,” he was a founding member of The Warlocks… which became the Grateful Dead. He was the band’s original frontman, playing harmonica and electric organ; but Jerry Garcia’s and Phil Lesh’s influences on the band became increasingly stronger as they embraced psychedelic rock. Pigpen’s contributions receded to vocals, harmonica, and percussion (though he continued to be a frontman in concert for some numbers, including his interpretations of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” and the Rascals’ “Good Lovin'”).

Pigpen was unique among his bandmates in preferring alcohol to psychedelics, and sadly succumbed to alcoholism– from complications of which he died in 1973.

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“Words of nuance, words of skill/Words of romance are a thrill/Words are stupid, words are fun/Words can put you on the run”*…

We know them by their words…

For some stars, a big vocabulary is priceless. Singer-songwriters from Patti Smith to Nick Cave have built careers with songs whose rich language is as important as the music. We wondered if today’s chart-toppers used such a diverse word set.

We already know that some Hip Hop artists have access to a breathtaking array of expressions. But what about other contemporary stars?

WordTips counted the words used by 100 modern stars and the 100 greatest singers of all time and added up the number of unique words they used per 1,000. For example, Patti Smith used 2,669 different words across a total word count of 12,291, giving a score of 217/1000.

Key Findings

• The star with the biggest vocabulary overall is legend Patti Smith, who uses 217 unique words per 1,000.

Billie Eilish is the modern star with the biggest vocabulary: 169 per 1,000.

• Legend Luther Vandross and modern star Trey Songz are tied with 66 for the smallest vocabulary.

• The song with the most unique words is Lou Reed’s The Murder Mystery, recorded by The Velvet Underground, with 639 words

An interactive that reveals who uses the the widest array of words: “Which Singers Have the Biggest Vocabularies? Modern Stars vs Legends.”

* Tom Tom Club, “Wordy Rappinghood

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As we express ourselves, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that the Beatles released their fifth studio album, Help!, accompanying the movie of the same title. Seven of the fourteen songs, including the singles “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride”, appeared in the film and took up the first side of the vinyl album. The second side included “Yesterday”, by Paul McCartney, the most-covered song ever written. While “Yesterday’ isn’t an especially-demonstrative example, McCartney was a top-ten user of unique words (7,896 across his compositions).

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 6, 2021 at 1:00 am

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