Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the remaker, the prodigy, the bygones

I was cranking a little bit of procrastination earlier on in the week and as I tap tap tapped (digress here, every time I’m on the golf course and miss an easy putt I take on Adam Sandler’s bizarre baby voice in Happy Gilmore and angrily mutter that ‘tap tap tap’ line…) my fingers along to the Velvet Underground’s Sweet Nuthin’ I got thinking about the music industry in the mid 60’s through to the later 70’s.

Past eras have provided foundations for so many avenues of music that I don’t think we’ve quite realised the half of yet. We’re happy to recognise that Madonna’s Hung Up is loved mainly because of the background tune that was first made famous by ABBA’s Gimme Gimme Gimme…yet this generation that may not have known this if their parents didn’t play ABBA in the car or they had been ferreting around themselves in some class music history. David Gray’s Say Hello, Wave Goodbye is a poignant remake of Softcell’s (of Tainted Love…’notoriety’) original.

What makes the latter however seem a tad more credible than Madonna’s mutilation of ABBA’s tune is that Gray made the song his. We’ve heard this kind of comment from judges in American/New Zealand/British/Moroccan Idol, but it does maketh the song. On the reality/talent show Rockstar: Supernova, I absolutely fell in love with Ryan Starr’s version of REM’s Losing My Religion; what warm-blooded straight female who heard it didn’t, (Jason Newstead, bassist of Metallica/Supernova can be quoted as saying “dude, you are so going to get laid tonight”) and Chris Cornell can be heard singing an evocative version of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean.

We see Justin Timberlake and marvel at how the man has basically created a genre of his own, yet Michael Jackson’s early days, middle days and early 90’s days live on through J.Timberlake’s own beat of the music, suave moves and in some cases, attire.

While JT may be the go to guy for, well, everything these days in terms of party music, sing along songs, background music, running music, he is really just another enigmatic prodigy in a long line of similar such wonders.

Ian Curtis, lead singer, and…wait for it, Ice-T pun coming… ‘Original angster’ of late 70’s pioneer post-punk/precursor to the New Wave genre band Joy Division, was an introverted trouble teenager who basically followed the same tumultuous issues that Bowie had faced in suburban north England growing up. The sense of knowing that Salford (Curtis’ hometown) was not, and could not be the extent of his life, Curtis I think was genuinely torn between his roots and wholesome life with his wife and the excitement that fame, and therefore exotic European locations brought to his existence. If you listen hard, past Joy Division’s ‘eerie’ (I cannot claim to be the first to use this adjective to describe the band’s sound) songs, you’ll note that the lyrics (Transmission, Love Will Tear Us Apart (Again), Isolation) just cry out for a helping hand (or rather, the acknowledgment that one's hand would probably be rendered useless by Curtis!) and yet drug king Iggy Pop (as per the mandatory watch of a film Control) was pretty much the catalyst for Curtis to make his way in the music world…and in my mind Iggy is one of the most comical characters to affront the world with his music!

We all know the Fast Times in Tahoe like-life of Jim Morrison, so I won’t bang on about him...but these two figures are just the start of intriguing folk that we idolise, appreciate, yearn to know more about, or are content to merely love their work and sing along.

I suppose that while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, today’s generation of musicians has a music bank with plenty to work with. And in this social environment where we want something right here, right now, it’s easy to draw inspiration…and consequently the music rights, to create a new and improved version of songs. Remakes have of course happened prior to the late 90’s/2000’s hundreds of times: two of my favourites are Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version of I Put A Spell On You and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s version of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground.

But when I heard Snoop Dogg’s ‘version’ of The Doors’ Riders on the Storm, all I thought to myself was “Jesus”. While the man is just so facetious in his work and while I’m sure I’d be ‘dealt with’ if I ever confronted those who live and would die by the gospel of Snoop, I don't see Snoop as a legend, unless you're talking about how mint his character was in the remake of Starsky & Hutch.

Tell me when the last time was you heard an original song like Sweet Nuthin’, got to a point like the one at 5 min 7 sec in such a song and subtly got sucked into a cheeky little 1 minute 27 sec rock riff on the old guitar. You're left at the end of the song simply thinking 'sheer music brilliance'. I still get dumbfounded with such moments. Hendrix & Watchtower, Pearl Jam & that almost shrill yet still oddly comforting intro of Once; the epic piano solo in Des'ree's Kissing You (blast from the past teenage Leo lovers?!), the chorus of one of my Dad's favourites, The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, John Mayer's fantastic tease of a version of Ray Charles' I got a woman; the 1 min 17sec intro of U2's Where the Streets Have No get the drift and I would hope you have your own!

Tell me when you last heard someone that could get away with a song like Patti Smith’s version of Van Morrison’s Gloria with her opening the song in one monotonous line Jesus died/for somebody’s sins/but not mine…

I’ll never forget when I was in the UK and met this 40 year old character who lived with his mother (no kidding, they were old money and he was clearly quite happy to forever indulge in the comforts of home) in Oxfordshire. Now before this starts sounding dodgy, can I just say he really wasn’t. The guy was a gentle soul, just a bit…of a character. Anyway. He introduced me one day to Led Zeppelin’s How the West Was Won which is a 3CD/DVD set of original footage of the band over the years. Many of you have no doubt heard this yarn, but my goodness. John Bonham, Moby Dick, 18 minutes, drum solo. Just like the Hendrix: Live at Woodstock footage I was lucky to view recently (incidentally, CCR performed I Put A Spell On You at, just tying things up there within the post)....anyway, the Youtube clips I found for the post are RUBBISH. Invest in the box set, go on- you won't regret it!

I have rambled, as per, for far too long. My wish for today? Ryan Adams and Bob Dylan combine harmonicas. To the extent of my knowledge on such a duet, it hasn't been done. If Johnny Cash can find new fans through Trent Reznor and NIN, then hell, get Bob on board with the self-indulgent youth of today that take Adams not as the prodigal son of country music that he is, but the borderline emo-ballad writer that he unfortunately comes across as being at times...if you haven't already been privy to his astounding version of Oasis' Wonderwall, you're crazy. Listen to it here, and I guess I'll catch ya later!



PS. Motown revival at the Mission Concert next'd be crazy not to go if you're in the country!

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