Monday, September 18, 2006

The Beat Goes On Is a Good Title, Yeah? Part VIII.

130. John Coltrane “Acknowledgment”
(John Coltrane)
Available on A Love Supreme

Trane will outlive us all. This song may be kind of an obvious pick for those deeply immersed in the Church of Jazz, but hell. It’s popular ’cause it’s good. Even though A Love Supreme is one of the two jazz records people who don’t listen to jazz have in their collection (alongside Kind of Blue), even though he was recording much more exploratory, fiery, and avant-garde material in this decade, even though the thing has a vocal line (how unjazz can you get?), “Acknowledgment” remains in the top tier of Coltrane compositions, by virtue of that barely-there riff, the slow growth of the piece which is like watching a flower unfold, and by God, the concept of the album works. Anyone who’s had experience with religious mysticism recognizes the pace of development.

129. Rod Stewart “Handbags and Gladrags”
(Michael D’Abo)
Available on The Rod Stewart Album

No, this isn’t quite prime Rod Stewart. That wouldn’t kick in until the next year, with Gasoline Alley and the first Faces album. But it’s about the only chance you get to hear Stewart in one of the great 60s genres: chamber pop. Mike D’abo’s honky-tonk piano (he was one of Manfred’s ex-Menn) and the oboe hook give the song some style; the lyrics, digging timelessly into the relationships between of-the-soil English provincials and their complicated relationship with sex, adulthood, and social class, are a direct window into the sort of thing Stewart would write for four years as one of the greatest genre-busting acts in rock & roll. And then it would all turn to shit. But nevermind.

128. Crosby, Stills & Nash “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”
(Stephen Stills)
Available on Crosby, Stills & Nash

I really, really don’t want to like Stephen Stills. The man goaded a drunk Elvis Costello into saying things he’s regretted for twenty years, wrote the most narcissistic, dumbass boomer anthem ever (“Love the One You’re With”), contributed immensely to the overall pussification of rock & roll with CSN, kept Neil Young relegated to second-banana status in Buffalo Springfield, and has the worst fake-blues voice in recorded history. But on the plus side of the ledger . . . the man wrote this song for Judy Collins. So in spite of my better judgment and in the face of all right-minded opinion, I (*gasp*) (*choke*) like Stephen Stills.

127. Lefty Frizzell “Saginaw, Michigan”
(Bill Anderson, Don Wayne)
Available on Look What Thoughts Will Do

This is beach-country a decade before Jimmy Buffett had the bright idea for “Margaritaville,” from a man who developed hardcore honky-tonk right alongside Hank Williams. But in addition to alcoholism, heartbreak, Saturday night and Sunday morning, country music has always had an unpretentious vein of folksy fun, and this song falls proudly in line with that tradition: check out all the unlikely but perfectly-crafted almost-rhymes for “Michigan,” and tell me no one had fun writing — or performing — this song. The narrative is a Robert W. Service tall tale (or Stephen Leacock mocking Service), but the pop-country ebullience of the thing drifts in as lazily as a Key Largo tide.

126. Led Zeppelin “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”
(John Bonham/John Paul Jones/Jimmy Page/Robert Plant)
Available on Led Zeppelin [II]

One of the few ways — maybe the only way — classic rock radio gets it righter than your iPod’s “Shuffle” is that you will never ever ever hear these two songs separated on KSLX, your classic rock home of the Sixties, Seventies, and we’re playing Guns ’N’ Roses now, so you can start to feel really old. Yeah, the tradition started because the reflexes of FM DJs were too blunted to be able to pick up the needle in the second’s pause between the tracks (an urban legend I just made up), but sometimes these cultural accretions carry more value than the original songs, which together form a portrait of a highly intriguing woman; and a whole lot of tempo-jumping.

125. The Ornette Coleman Quartet “Beauty Is a Rare Thing”
(Ornette Coleman)
Available on This Is Our Music

Coleman’s definitive The Shape of Jazz to Come had only dropped a year earlier when the Quartet was back with a brand new invention: beauty, like the title says. Which isn’t to say this sounds like Glenn Miller or anything: they’re still plenty atonal, wandering off and doing whatever the hell they feel like. But rather than full-bore free jazz, Coleman and the guys show everyone else (still playing catch-up at the time) how to apply a little structure to the same basic blueprint and come up with a song that, even if you wouldn’t choose it for the slow dance with your dad at a wedding, still won’t get a “what the hell is that shit?” from anyone who can take the sound of horns.

124. Nico “Frozen Warnings”
Available on The Marble Index

Quick overview of the Curriculum Vitae, here: starts off in England, releases a couple of folk-pop things under Andrew Loog Oldham (dates Brian Jones), moves to New York, hooks up with the Velvet Underground, records an album under Andy Warhol (dates Lou Reed), drops out and goes solo in the Village, releases a terrific folk-pop album (dates Jackson Browne), then goes totally art-nut Teutonic classical, starts playing the harmonium, and releases the foundational exercises for goth rock (dates Iggy Pop). And that’s where we are here, at the tail end of the Sixties, with John Cale helping her drone her way into the hearts of Joy Division, Siouxsie, and Bauhaus. It’s starker and more beautiful than you can imagine, if you haven’t heard it. If you have, you already know this; why are you still reading? Put it on again!

123. Dionne Warwick “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”
(Burt Bacharach/Hal David)
Available on The Very Best of Dionne Warwick

Elvis Costello’s note-for-note cover of this for an Austin Powers soundtrack was the prospectus for his collaboration with Bacharach (and, incidentally, the version of this song I fell in love with). Warwick matches his hoarse croak with her own (which is, of course, more ravishingly beautiful by a factor of thousands), and tops all her previous collaborations with the ’rach-man. It’s a surprisingly common lyrical conceit: screw all this love stuff, it’s all a bunch of boloney, you only get hurt . . . and then the inevitable reversal: “so for at least until tomorrow/I’ll never fall in love again.” If you can’t identify, you may be a robot.

122. Barbra Streisand “Autumn Leaves”
(Joseph Kosma/Jacques Prévert/Johnny Mercer)
Available on Je M’appelle Barbra

French Gypsy ballad with a distintly Yiddish violin introduction (by the way, the way those strings are miked is gorgeous; totally different from what you’d expect on a Streisand record), Streisand pulls of the startling coup of recalling Edith Piaf during the French portion of the song and then singing as gorgeously as anyone ever has sung in English. It’s understandable why rock fans would overlook Streisand: especially since the 60’s, she’s been the poster child for boomer narcissism, cluelessness, and self-indulgence. But for a while there, she was one of the greatest young singers in the world, and chose material that showed it. She ultimately chose showbiz instead of art, but there are still reminders, like this one, of what might have been.

121. The First Edition “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
(Mickey Newbury)
Available on Kenny Rogers & the First Edition: Anthology

More country-pop songs should use psychedelic production, with wandering fuzz guitar, backup choruses straight outta “Crimson and Clover,” and lyrics that sound roughly like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds making a visit to Heartbreak Hotel. Aside from a few scattered (and quasi-legit) compilations, the First Edition sank without a trace, but this was the song that put Mickey Newbury on the map. Oh, yeah, and it started the career of some Kenny Rogers guy. He never sang a better song. No, not even “The Gambler.”

Next: 120-111. >>

1 comment:

MarkAndrew said...

Don't know the vast majority of these...

But, heck, total agreement with the one's I do know.

Damned good look at HOW "Acknowledgment" works, sotaspeak. (Woulda been in my top three songs of the sixties, just for sheer audacity.)

"Saginaw Michigan" is like... If this was considered the most important country record of the sixties, country music would still be good.

Then again... I'm pretty sure I'm just not equipped to appreciate Dionne Warwick and Barbara Streisand.