Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Yardbirds Mark IV:
"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"
"Psycho Daisies"
"Stroll On"

Yardbirds Happening Ten Years Time Ago 45 Picture Sleeve Germany
The most eminent touring band to have ever played guitar-based rock and roll had a lifetime of about four months, and recorded all of three songs.*

Piero Scaruffi calls them "an historic duet," Pete Frame called them Yardbirds 4, and ever since I bought the then-newly-available expanded reissue of the album now more commonly known as Roger The Engineer in 1983, I have called them the absolute shit.

They were the Beck-Page Yardbirds, formed when Paul Samwell-Smith quit the band in June of '66, concluded when Jeff Beck was fired in October, and each of the three tracks they cut is in some sense landmark.

Drawing by Chris DrejaThese tracks--the A and B sides of perhaps the decade's most influential single, plus a cut from a film soundtrack--are at the pinnacle of the mountain that the Yardbirds made. Each of their incarnations since their Top Topham beginnings would end more accomplished than the last, but there could be no surpassing these. They were the best of the Yardbirds, and therefore the best of Sixties British Rock: technically accomplished, inventive, trailblazing.

"Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" is most often talked about, and quite rightly praised for its Middle-Eastern-inflected psychedelia--and for the police sirens and jet engines which Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page mimic in the midsection of the song. "HTYTA" is probably the first "twin-lead" guitar song ever recorded. I'm pretty certain that the six guitar tracks on Fresh Cream 's"Sweet Wine" (released two months later) had to have been conceived as a response to "Happenings." And I'll eat my Pork Pie Hat if Pink Floyd weren't thinking of Beck's voiceover to the solos when they created Dark Side of the Moon.

Some have called "Happenings" the first psychedelic record. I'm not so sure about this. If Beck had bought unto Yardbirds 3 and Page had bought unto version 4 a ton of disparate influences, they each couldn't and--wouldn't--change what the band in fact were: purveyors of the wailing guitar. Blues, boogie, psych, middle-eastern: Ever more esoteric, the Yardbirds incorporated these styles, but they were always transmitted through the core red-hot guitar. For me, "Incense and Peppermints" is psychedelia of the period. "Happenings" is withering guitar-rock that prefigures psychedelia in its invention.

Though "Happenings" was Yardbirds 4, it was released in the US with a Yardbirds 3 flipside. The Beck vocal, "The Nazz are Blue" had appeared on The Yardbirds aka Over Under Sideways Down aka Roger the Engineer when it had been released in July of '66. "The Nazz" was a pretty good song on an excellent album, but it was not Beck-Page, and it was not a new recording when Epic released "Happenings" with "Nazz" on the back in October. Don't ask me why it was handled this way.

But I know the UK version was all new, all Yardbirds Mark IV, and the British B side "Psycho Daisies"--another Beck vocal, no less--was a rabid son of a bitch indeed. Perhaps no British song is more deserving of the descriptive "protopunk," and certainly no song connects The Yardbirds to the American garage scene they so greatly influenced so very aptly.

"Psycho Daisies" is my favorite Yardbird track, for a ton of reasons. For starters, Beck's vocal is his best ever, and one that puts the thin, keening one he recorded for "The Nazz Are Blue" to shame.

And perhaps that's because Mr. Beck is putting his dick to work on the thing, if you can pardon the vulgarity. The lyrics are a travelogue, and in the spirit of "California Girls" are more about places Beck doesn't wanna go, since
Back in California there's nothing to lose,
'Cos everything's swinging there with Mary Hughes.
Beach blanket starlet Mary Hughes, of rather appreciable attributes at the time, was Beck's girlfriend, and one towards whose company--if Page is to be believed--Beck had bailed midtour at least once.

I don't think there's any denying the song's primal and carnal energy. Though I'm not entirely sure it's true, I've read where Beck, beyond simply providing the alternately chimelike, roiling, and machete sharp lead breaks, also provides the rhythm guitar track, instead of regular rhythm player Chris Dreja, and instead of Jimmy Page, who was elsewise occupied playing bass for the track.

If so, it would make sense to me, not only insofar as the rabid rhythm guitar might be indeed seen as a function of Mssr. Beck's lust for his busty beau, but also because I'm simply not so sure that Dreja was even capable of playing with such furious abandon.

No such guesswork exists concerning our last song. We have Antonioni's visual evidence as presented in the movie Blow-up--combined with the evidence of our ears--that Dreja is playing bass on "Stroll On," while Page and Beck do the battling virtuoso thang, the twin lead trapeze act.

Although it seems as if The Yardbirds were in fact the perfect band for the director of Blow-Up to have used in his perfectionist's quest to capture Swinging London down to the tiniest detail, the band was perhaps as deep as fourth on the director's original list. Antonioni--admittedly much more a fan of jazz--had The Who in mind, considered The Velvet Underground, and actually had Tomorrow submit two songs, before settling on Beck, Page and Co.

Tomorrow must have just about had the job before pissing Antonioni off in some way. Singer Keith West, quoted in the OMPST's booklet notes, says that "because of the general kind of misbehavior . . . we got the sack. Too much larking around." Not only did the director have two songs and some film in the can, he had several cardboard mockups of Steve Howe's Gibson 175. Though Beck played a Les Paul and a Fender Esquire during his time in The Yardbirds, it is a copy of Steve Howe's guitar that he smashes during the scene in Blow-Up.

Speaking of the iconic smashment, how recursive can you get? It's life imitating art imitiating life imitating . . . . it seems endless. Antonioni first had the idea to place the smashed instrument motif in his movie when he saw The Who perform in 1965. But he was NOT a huge pop fan, and had no idea of Beck's unsteady temperament when he hired The Yardbirds. And while Beck is known to have destroyed guitars on his mercurial whim during the band's 1966 American tour, eveything you see in the movie is staged.

But you can be sure that playing the part came easy for Jeff . . . . The band in its entirety comes off as authentic, and the playing is torrid with a live vibe to it. "Stroll On," of course, is a rework of "Train Kept A Rollin'," as the band had been added so late into the production schedule that there was no time to get clearance for the Mann/Bradshaw/Kay thing. So Keith Relf wrote some quick substitute lyrics the night before the shoot. But there was still plenty of time to add in some Beck-Page interplay. The playing is as I've suggested fast, and with the way Beck and Page intertwine their leads like ornate scrollwork, the song is truly superior to the already excellent version which had appeared on Side Two of Having a Rave Up. If the crowd is curiously motionless, can we resist the temptation to think that Antonioni knew he was making a precious museum piece?

And when Beck throws the neck of his erstwhile guitar into the crowd and David Hemmings picks it up while disappearing into the Swingin' London night, can we resist the temptation to see that as a metaphor for the ending of Yardbirds v.4? Not exactly sure when the Yardbirds scene was filmed, but it couldn't have been more than six weeks after that Beck was fired (or maybe quit, if you believe some sources) and put an end to one of the most tantalizing lineups in rock history.

Three songs. Just three.

It never could have worked for long. Beck was too much the powderkeg. And talent like that never can coexist for long.

Even still, it seems like a ripoff. Can you imagine if Yardbirds 4 had managed to record an entire album?

Or several?

The Yardbirds - The Yardbirds - 1 - Happenings Ten Years Time Ago.mp3

The Yardbirds - The Yardbirds - 08 - Psycho Daisies.mp3

Blow-Up OMPST - 14 - The Yardbirds - Stroll On.mp3

File under: Proto-Zeppelin

These files were removed July 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

*If you don't count the commercial they made (Return)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hawkwind - "Silver Machine" (United Artists 35381)
Pink Fairies - "Chromium Plating" from the Album Kings of Oblivion

Two relics of the UK psychedelic Underground, and evidence that what is
true for the rabidly amplified electric blues and for the delicious excesses of virtuostic prog is also true for the multicolored cellophane flowers of psychedelia: most often, the British did it better.

While the American psychedelic scenes centered around San Francisco and (at least earlier on) Los Angeles produced for the most part either jangly dead-end Dylan derivatives or turgid and stillborn jugband offspring, the English scene at Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill seemed less about warping the past for kicks than preparing for the future.

American psych was like an evolutionary blind alley. Nothing ever became of it, none of its genetic material was ever passed on. We woke up one morning in early 1974, and the corpse of American psychedelia was laid out in our communal backyard,and what we had where it had been was Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young and Dust and Steely Dan and Jackson Browne. It died, as the royal genealogists say, having left no issue.

Contrast The Byrds with Hawkwind, who indeed had children: The Byrds began with "Mr. Tambourine Man" and ended up doing some well-regarded country-rock. Hawkwind began with electronic sound effects over stentorian stomps, would evolve into the most insistent of space-rock champions, and later dabble in both punk and synth-rock. Oh, and along the way they worked with sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock and begat Britain's most famous metal act.

Let's not, however, overstate things. Though Hawkwind was variegated and influential, they weren't always necessarily accomplished. In a sense, "space rock" almost seems a misnomer for "Silver Machine." It chugs along in 4/4, like biker rock almost, less complex, less breathtaking and less virtuostic--less freaky overall-- than you'd think something called space rock had to be.

On the other hand, you have to give Hawkwind some credit for their enthusiasms, for the electronic sound effectsin very little use at the time, for the reverb which makes an otherwise unspecial guitar solo rather spacy. Give them credit for the first of Lemmy's typically ardent vocal performances, and give them credit for Robert Calvert's truly forward-thinking lyrics about building a Time Machine.

Give them credit for the Space Ritual tour, a counterculture multimedia extravaganza20 years before Lollapalooza.

And for Christ's sake, if for nothing else, give them credit for Miss Stacia, my goodness . . . .

Just as full-fledged a member of the UK Underground as Hawkwind, with psychedelic roots just as solid, Pink Fairies never however had to live up (or down) to that space rock label. So "Chromium Plating" (written by Oblivion's newest member--and future Mötörhead founder--Larry Wallis) is simultaneously less freaky and more accomplished instrumentally. Wallis' short guitar fill at :15 and the long one at 2:20, before and after the Zeppelinesque bits of slide, are flights of the stoned bumblebee through the poppyfield that is Duncan Sanderson's circular bassplaying and Russell Hunter's busy drumming.

One of the tags used to describe Kings of Oblivion at its AMG page is "protopunk," and while you don't necessarily hear it in "Chromium Plating," it IS interesting to me that an album so rooted in its early 70's time frame, so well-planted in its psychedelic roots, could still be described at least in part as containing elements which foreshadowed the next wave. Hawkwind were the same way, I guess, and as much with metal as with punk.

Instead of seeing psychedelia as the end unto itself, as certain American bands had, both halves of "Pinkwind" saw their psychedelic inspirations as more of a lavishly decorated bridge, an admittedly lush stairway to other, more viable, environs.

Hawkwind - Silver Machine.mp3

File under: Space Rock

Pink Fairies - Kings of Oblivion - 04 - Chromium Plating.mp3

These files were removed May 16, 2010 after I received a DMCA takedown letter. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Psychedelic-Synthesis

Friday, April 9, 2010

My First DMCA Takedown Letter

I'm so excited, guess this means I've hit the big time, at last!

Well, OK, maybe not. But certainly receiving one of these copyright-infringement letters has placed anew my opinions about the whole downloaded music thing into sharp relief. And I say "anew," of course, because all of these kinds of things were considered at great length before I decided to write my first post.

The post that had attracted the unwanted attention from the legal types was the one I had written about the three versions of "Rocks Off", featuring the Stones, Pussy Galore, and Phish, back in November.

The letter didn't actually tell me which of the three versions had elicited the complaint. You'd have to guess that it was the lawyers who handle the Stones' catalog who fired the salvo. But did they take exception to my having posted the original, or to my having posted the Pussy Galore cover?

The Phish video from which I ripped their audio is still up on Youtube, so I imagine that its was not the offending file. But it's certainly possible that StonesCorp.© has more issues with my extending the vector of contagion for the Pussy Galore cover (which I believe might be of tenuous legality itself) than for posting the original.

But a detailed analysis on the status, legal and otherwise, of the Pussy Galore cover album doesn't seem to be available on the net, so I really can't do more than guess.

Anyway, I took all three tracks down, for completion's sake, if nothing else. Not taking them down never occurred to me. All you gotta do is ask, that's what I say. With the way things are set up, with the way the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is written, with the way Google chooses to deal with things, it is in the interest of any blogger so presented not to challenge a Takedown letter, as Wikipedia says, "even if it is not clear if infringement is taking place, because if the potentially infringing content is taken down the website will not be held liable."

I'm not even claiming infringement wasn't taking place; I'm just saying that either way, it was a no-brainer for me to take the files down. I certainly feel no need to be belligerent; shit, I didn't write the fucking song, and there's no reason for me to be anything but accomodating.


The funny--if that's the word--thing about all this is that I own not one, but two, copies of the Stones' Exile on Main Street. I bought a new copy on CD in the early '90's, and Melanie bought me used vinyl at an estate sale a few years back.

Somehow, although I've paid for the vinyl, and though I've paid for the aluminum-on-polycarbonate, I'm still not allowed to do what I please with even 1/18th of the thing that I own--twice.

I am not unaware of the larger issues involved in music filesharing, either through blogs such as mine or through peer-to-peer. It's just that I sort of thought I might successfully sidestep them if I remained committed to 1) never posting complete albums and 2) never posting anything less than 2 years old.

Listen, let me be blunt: much of the music blogosphere sucks. 85% of it is dedicated to uploading albums in their entirety, with no commentary. I won't, and shouldn't, pass judgement on this common practice as far as its intellectual dishonesty, but I will say it sure does fail for intellectual laziness.

La Historia was conceived to be the exact opposite of this standard: all commentary and no files.

But at a certain point, I looked up and saw that most of the blog aggregators wouldn't even list you if you didn't upload music. So what was I gonna do?

I figured that it might be alright if I posted most often one mp3 song file, or perhaps occasionally a few, and made sure to feature a link to an Amazon page for the complete work. Perhaps this way I might be able to attract readers without also falling on the wrong side of the terminator that separates sharer from thief.

I still don't think I fell on the nefarious side of that line. I see myself as a friend to the musician, and to the industry. I see myself not as a criminal, but as a promoter of the music and the purchase of it, serving those who have been looking for a little buyers' guidance of a certain less common ilk.

It seems apparent however that some folks don't see me in the same way I see myself.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Gorillaz - "Clint Eastwood" from the CD Gorillaz

Hard to know exactly what to make of Gorillaz.

What ARE they?

Reading Wikipedia and it says that The Guinness Book of World Records has actually given Gorillaz an entry as "World's Most Successful Virtual Band."

Not to gainsay Wikipedia or the Guinness people, but is that right? Could that possibly be right? It's certainly a claim that's been repeated all over the web, but since the Guinness site is next to useless, and in the absence of any other primary source, it becomes something I'd like to consider.

Since the term "virtual band" is just *a tad* obfuscatory, let's go ahead and lower the bullshit factor by defining "virtual band" simply as "a band made up of cartoon characters." And then I guess to eliminate parodies like that totally excellent Black Sabbath cartoon on You Tube or even the original animated Beatles, let's go ahead and add the qualifier, "made up of cartoon characters with no flesh and blood analog."

OK. Now, then, are Gorillaz the world's most successful cartoon band? Without, you know, flesh and blood analogs? Gorillaz' first album, sparked by the single we're featuring today, sold 7 million copies worldwide. This is indeed righteous success.

However, Gorillaz have never had a US number one album or a US number one single. And while their newest, Plastic Beach, remains on Billboard's charts, it is at 16 this week after having peaked at number 2 and therefore appears to be on its way down.

Bear with me a little bit and contrast this with a band they would have been calling "virtual" (had they known the term) just over 40 years ago, The Archies.

"Sugar Sugar" spent four weeks as a US number one in September and October of 1969 and sold something like six million copies as a single, separate and apart from album sales and from the untold millions of copies distributed on the back of cereal boxes. "Sugar Sugar" knocked "Honky Tonk Women" from the US top slot, and ended up being Billboard's Record of the Year. It spent eight weeks as a number one in England. It's either "Clint Eastwood" or "Feel Good Inc." that has been Gorillaz' most successful single, but neither has had anywhere near the popularity that "Sugar Sugar" had. And understand that "Sugar Sugar" had a follow-up in "Jingle Jangle" which also sold a million copies. Don't believe Gorillaz ever had back-to-back million sellers.

Now, you may object that The Archies were a manufactured pop group, but to that, I would ask how that makes them any different from Gorillaz?

You might also suggest that The Archies did not sustain their success in the same way that Gorillaz have. Gorillaz have sold their millions of records over a ten-year period, where, even being generous, it's hard to make a case that the Archies sold any records outside the three-year window between 1968 and 1971.

That's a fair point. But I would then bring up The Chipmunks, who are almost certainly the original "virtual" band, as their cartoon debuted way back in 1961. Over the winter of 1958 and 1959, in something like seven weeks, "The Chipmunk Song" sold 4-1/2 million copies. 49 years later, in 2007, The Chipmunks went platinum with Alvin and the Chipmunks: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. The soundtrack to the, umm, squeakquel, went Gold last year. If your objection to The Archies was that they had no staying power, certainly the same cannot be said about The Chipmunks. Shit, not many excepting Elvis Presley have had staying power like the fucking Chipmunks. And I'm pretty sure that The Chipmunks have sold more records than Gorillaz, no matter how you slice it.

Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. claims on The Chipmunk website that The Chipmunks had sold 16 million records by 1961: this would be before any of their three platinum records hit, and before any of their four Gold records. I read somewhere that Gorillaz and Demon Days had combined to sell 15 million copies by 2007. When you add in singles like "Clint Eastwood" (which itself went Gold in Britain) and the current Plastic Beach it's not unreasonable to expect that Gorillaz have sold in excess of 20 million units. But I seriously don't think that's more than The Chipmunks, not if Bagdasarian's estimate is correct, and not if you consider that The Chipmunks have had 11 charting albums since that benchmark year of 1961.

So what am I saying here? Not all that much, really. I don't spend a whole bunch of time worrying about how many units a particular band has shifted. Popularity to me is basically irrelevant. There are great multiplatinum bands, and crappy obscure ones. And certainly vice versa.

I guess--until I'm presented with better facts--I'm just calling "bullshit." No news here, but the internet is full of factoids that aren't, on close inspection, true at all, and I think that this "most successful virtual band" thing might be just one of those factoids.

I'm not saying that I'd listen to "Sugar Sugar" or "The Witch Doctor" rather than "Clint Eastwood" or "Feel Good Inc."-- I'm sure I wouldn't. And if I called Gorillaz "manufactured pop" earlier, I meant nothing by it. No reason why manufactured pop can't be great, and in Gorillaz' case, I think that Damon Albarn is not just reformatting and rebranding pop, I think he's expanding it.

Somehow Mr. Albarn got me to listen to a rapper who calls himself "Del the Funkee Homosapien." Trust me, this was NOT likely. Rap and I kind of had an unamicable breakup sometime in the late '80's. But here I am, digging the fuck out of this alternative rapper busting out with this rhyme, the blue phantom out from under the hat, somebody finally let me outta my cage, destruction and demise corruption in disguise from this fuckin' enterprise, works like a guitar solo for me, the way the organ gets turned down and the raps get cranked up REALLY FUCKING LOUD in the mix.

And somehow, with Plastic Beach, Albarn has gotten some kids born sometime in the '90's to listen to someone I'm sure is just as alien to them: Mark E Smith. Albarn is subverting the old farts, and subverting the kids; I see the master plan, alright.

I don't think it's any coincidence that Gorillaz as constituted are multi gender and multi cultural. 2D and Murdoc are Englishmen, but Russel is a black dude from New York, and Noodle is a chick from Japan. The music is similarly inclusive. "Punk" (from the debut) reminds me of Sonic Youth's "Nic Fit," gloriously annoying postpunk. "El Mañana" is more or less chillout with vocals. "Latin Simone" is a spacy rhumba, "White Light" reminds me of The Fall.

Collaborators behind the cartoon screen are if anything only more polyglot. This funky homosapien guy yes, and the misanthrope Smith, but also Tina Weymouth from the Talking Heads, and Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash and Mos Def who even I've heard of and Miho Hatori from Cibo Matto and Bobby Womack and I'm sure many, many others.

Gorillaz are officially all over the fucking place stylistically. Make no mistake: I see the plan that Albarn has with Gorillaz, and it's an audacious one as could only be devised by someone with a deep understanding of pop music, and with a significant influence over it as well. He's a clever cat, voracious, too, the entirety of this world's music Gorillaz food for him, and if Gorillaz are not the most successful virtual band ever, they are certainly the most all-encompassing, the most genre-bending, and absolutely the most ambitious.

But best first give Alvin his props.

Gorillaz - Gorillaz - 05 Clint Eastwood.mp3

This file was removed May 16, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Every dead body that is not exterminated, gets up and kills.
                          The people it kills, get up and kill.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spoken Word Interlude +:
Extraterrestrials at CBGB's and
David Bowie's "Life on Mars" from Hunky Dory

Screen cap from Hannah and Her Sisters David Bowie Hunky Dory album cover

This bit of movie dialogue has been a favorite around the La Historia compound as of late. When I heard Bowie's gorgeous "Life on Mars" this morning, it made me think of the clip, and I knew I had to share, you'll see why.

It's from the Woody Allen movie Hannah and Her Sisters, and pretty much comprises a flashback that Allen's character Mickey experiences about a disastrous date he once had with the woman whom he'll counterintuitively end up marrying.

Pretty amazing when the date ends with Mickey hollering the worst insult he can think of to Holly

Mickey: You don't deserve Cole Porter!

Woody is of course all about Cole Porter and Paul Whiteman and the Dixieland jazz, so when Holly, played by Dianne Wiest, drags Mickey to the slightly more modern CBGB's to see The 39 Steps, you know that all the neuroses and risk-avoidance tactics for which Allen's characters are justly known will be in spotlight.

The New York new wave music at least as loud as the dialogue, perhaps louder

Mickey: My ears are experiencing a meltdown!

Soon Mickey is begging Holly to leave, and the film cuts to the two outside the club.

Holly: I love songs about extraterrestrial life, don't you?
Mickey: Not when they're sung by extraterrestrials!

Holly and Mickey From Hannah.mp3

192 kbps mp3, up for six weeks, or until MGM sends me the takedown letter (Right click and save as target)

File under: Movie dialogue

David Bowie - Hunky Dory - 04 - Life on Mars.mp3

This file was removed May 22, 2010. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Planet Rock