One of the biggest differences between music now and when I was a kid — and certainly prior to that — is the ability to add a variety of other forms of art to the music itself. It started with MTV and grew.
Gorillaz, the brainchild of Brits Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, takes the concept much further. Wikipedia describes what the band — if it even is proper to call it that — is all about:
Gorillaz are a British musical and visual project created in 1998 by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The project consists of Gorillaz itself and an extensive fictional universe depicting a “virtual band” of cartoon characters. This band has four animated members: 2D (lead vocalist, keyboard, and melodica), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar and drum machine), Noodle (guitar, keyboard, and occasional vocals) and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion). Their fictional universe is explored through the band’s website and music videos, as well as a number of other media, such as short cartoons. The music is a collaboration between various musicians, with Albarn being the only permanent musical contributor. Their style is a composition of multiple musical genres, with a large number of influences including alternative, rock, hip hop, electronica, dub and pop. (Continue Reading…)
Above is Clint Eastwood, which features Snoop Dogg/Dragon. Feel Good Inc., featuring Da La Soul, is below.
The influential band from Athens, Georgia was active from the 1980s until 2011. Here is the beginning of its profile at AllMusic:
R.E.M. marked the point when post-punk turned into alternative rock. When their first single, “Radio Free Europe,” was released in 1981, it sparked a back-to-the-garage movement in the American underground. While there were a number of hardcore and punk bands in the U.S. during the early ’80s, R.E.M. brought guitar pop back into the underground lexicon. Combining ringing guitar hooks with mumbled, cryptic lyrics and a D.I.Y. aesthetic borrowed from post-punk, the band simultaneously sounded traditional and modern. Though there were no overt innovations in their music, R.E.M. had an identity and sense of purpose that transformed the American underground. Throughout the ’80s, they worked relentlessly, releasing records every year and touring constantly, playing both theaters and backwoods dives. Along the way, they inspired countless bands, from the legions of jangle pop groups in the mid-’80s to scores of alternative pop groups in the ’90s, who admired their slow climb to stardom. (Continue Reading…)
It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), below, perhaps was the band’s biggest hit. Losing My Religion, also a big song for R.E.M., is above. The LA Times had a good story on the band’s biggest hits when it broke up two years ago.
Here is the beginning of Encyclopedia.com’s profile of the multi-talented Paul Robeson, one of the most important figures — musical and otherwise — of the twentieth century:
Paul Robeson—singer, actor, civil rights activist, law school graduate, athlete, scholar, author— was perhaps the best known and most widely respected black American of the 1930s and 1940s. Robeson was also a staunch supporter of the Soviet Union, and a man, later in his life, widely vilified and censored for his frankness and unyielding views on issues to which public opinion ran contrary. As a young man, Robeson was virile, charismatic, eloquent, and powerful. He learned to speak more than 20 languages in order to break down the barriers of race and ignorance throughout the world, and yet, as Sterling Stuckey pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, for the last 25 years of his life his was “a great whisper and a greater silence in black America.”Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898, Robeson was spared most of the daily brutalities suffered by African Americans around the turn of the century. But his family was not totally free from hardship. Robeson’s mother died from a stove-fire accident when he was six. His father, a runaway slave who became a pastor, was removed from an early ministerial position. Nonetheless, from his father Robeson learned diligence and an “unshakable dignity and courage in spite of the press of racism and poverty.” These characteristics, Stuckey noted, defined Robeson’s approach in his beliefs and actions throughout his life. (Continue Reading…)
The above video of of Robeson singing Ol’ Man River in Showboat – which was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II – is the best known clip of Robeson. Below, Robeson sings Vi Azoy Lebt der Kayser? (How Does the Czar Drink Tea?). The song, sung in Yiddish, satirizes Czarist Russia. More information, including a translation, is provided here and here.
Taking a rock song from the 1960s and, 30 or so years later, throwing the Danish National Concert Orchestra behind it may seem a bit much. The song would become bloated, self reverential and a bit ridiculous. But if the song is A Whiter Shade of Pale, it all comes off well. The band is in great form and the [pullquote]ddddd[/pullquote]video itself is excellent. Moreover, the song really sounds classical at the beginning. It’s not one of those hokey attempts — a classical orchestra playing Smoke on the Water.
Wikipedia said that a television special was recorded in 2006 at the Ledreborg Castle in Denmark. The name of the orchestra in that citation and at YouTube are slightly different, but this most likely is from that performance.
Procol Harum was a great band whose biggest song far outshone all its others. Here is the beginning of Wikipedia’s profile.
Procol Harum are a British rock band. Formed in 1967, they contributed to the development of progressive rock, and by extension, symphonic rock. Their best-known recording is their 1967 single “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Although noted for its baroque and classical influence, Procol Harum’s music also embraces the blues, R&B and soul. In October 2012, the band were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but were unsuccessful on this occasion. (Continue Reading…)
The piece points out that Procol Harum was rejected in a bid to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. I think lesser bands are in. Here is a fan site that has a lot of interest material but seems to not have been updated. Below is Conquistador.
I had the opportunity to see David Lindley perform last weekend through a very nice invitation by a couple of friends. Lindley was eccentric, brought a wide variety of string instruments with him and is immensely talented. He seemed to be upset that the 1960s ended, but also appeared to have adjusted quite well to the new millennium.
As the first paragraph of his AllMusic profile suggests, Lindley certainly comes out well if he is judged by the company he keeps:
David Lindley is the consummate musician’s musician. A much-respected session player, Lindley has added his melodic string playing to albums by a lengthy list of artists, including Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Rory Block, Ry Cooder, Warren Zevon, Terry Reid, David Blue, James Taylor, David Crosby, and Graham Nash. From 1971 until 1981, Lindley played a guiding role on Jackson Browne’s recordings and concert performances. Lindley’s eclectic approach provided the foundation for his own bands, Kaleidoscope (1967 — 1970) and El Rayo X (1981 — 1990). (Continue Reading…)
One of the instruments he had with him was an oud, which is an antecedent of the lute. He also brought what looked like a rather bulky acoustic guitar. The bulkiness was due to the fact that the neck of the guitar wasn’t solid. Instead, the cavity in the body continued through the top of the neck.
Above is Mercury Blues, performed with Jackson Browne. (If you like car songs, check out Deuce and a Quarter, performed by Levon Helm, Keith Richards, Scotty Moore and other notables.) There are several very good and high quality videos from the same concert on YouTube, including Running on Empty and Take It Easy. I recommend them. Below is King of the Bed.
Canadian folks singer Stompin’ Tom Connors — who died March 6 at age 77 — recorded an amazing 61 albums. Ten of them have not even been released.
Here is part of the bio at his website:
Born Thomas Charles Connors in Saint John New Brunswick on February 9th 1936, he was separated from his mother at a young age and raised by foster parents in Skinners Pond, P.E.I. until he was 13 years old. His life of poverty, orphanages, hitchhiking and playing bars would eventually turn into a life of hit songs, national concert tours and fame in spite of a constant uphill battle to be recognized by the music industry in Canada. In 1979 in a fit of frustration and disappointment he returned all 6 of his Juno awards as a statement of personal protest against the Americanization of the Canadian Music Industry, a sentiment he continued to express to this day. In 1989 Tom signed with EMI Music Canada, teamed up with talent promoter Brian Edwards and returned to the stage where fans young and old embraced his music once again as he quickly became one of the biggest concert draws and sought after performers in the country.
Due to the unwavering love for promoting his home country, some of the many accolades he has received include becoming an Officer of the Order of Canada, his own Canadian postage stamp, he was invited by the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson to receive the Governor Generals Performing Arts Award, he was the recipient of both the Queens Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals and he earned 3 honorary doctorate degrees (Saint Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick; “Laws”, University of Toronto; “Laws”, and the University of P.E.I.; “Letters”). (Continue Reading…)
The Toronto Star has a nice obit. This is how it starts:
Stompin’ Tom Connors , the lanky, cranky country-folk music legend who extolled Canada’s pastoral and working-class virtues in song for more than 40 years in saloons, festivals and concert halls across the country — all the time railing against a global music industry that he considered had betrayed the nation’s character and song treasury — has died. He was 77. (Continue Reading…)
Connors fought the influence of the American music industry. This brings up one of the great lines ever, which is credited to Mexican president José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!”
Connors wrote and performed The Hockey Song (above, sung at the 1993 celebration following The Montreal Canadians, Stanley Cup win). It is to hockey what Take Me Out to the Ball Game is to baseball. Below is Bud the Spud.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who have been around since 2000, are getting a lot of coverage. Spin’s March cover story is about the band — the piece is promoted here – but apparently isn’t online yet. The New York Times also recently ran a piece on the indie band. This paragraph is about halfway through:
You’ve never met three more awkward rock stars. Chase is a consummate music nerd, a conservatory-trained jazz drummer who still plays in the city’s experimental scene. Zinner, who looks the part of a rock star, is a regular at bars and other bands’ shows but doesn’t say much. And Karen O is an exhibitionistic Boo Radley, a warped dervish onstage who disappears after the encore and is rarely seen out in real life. What they have in common is a hypersensitivity to the world that borders on pathological — a near parody of the artist’s temperament. It sounds like a miserable way to live. “There’s definitely been times where I thought I would trade any of my gifts just for a normal, happy life,” Karen O said. But it’s also their secret weapon. When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ collective anxiety about, well, anything — themselves, one another, existence in general — boils over, it happens to make a really cool sound. As the band’s producer Dave Sitek puts it, “Discomfort is fuel for them.” (Continue Reading…)
I have no idea what Time’s writer Lizzy Goodman means by the phrase “an exhibitionistic Boo Radley,” and sort of doubt she does either. But it’s a nice phrase, and Karen O certainly is a great front person.
There is dark stuff in many of the band’s videos. Above is Heads Will Roll and below is Zero.