LET’S NOT FORGET ABOUT…

22Dec13

LET’S NOT FORGET…

This is my first post on CKTK, so allow me to introduce myself.  I’m Dan, and I love Rock & Roll, Country, Blues, Bluegrass, and anything involving roots/americana music.  This entry will follow a different format than you may be used to (the most recent album I’m discussing was released in 1975), but I hope that you still find it worth your time to read.

Each of these albums meant a great deal to me in 2013, and I think each carries a great life lesson between the tracks that still applies today.  This is my flimsy excuse for contributing to a year end music post with music that is all older than I am.  Deal with it.

THE ROLLING STONES-BEGGARS BANQUET (Released in 1968)

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A great album has to made up of great songs, but great songs alone don’t make a great album.  This friends, is a great album.  From the opening percussive ass kicking of Sympathy for the Devil to the final hand crashing down on the piano on Salt of the Earth, the Stones knocked this one out of the proverbial park.  As far as the songs go however, I would say Sticky Fingers and Let it Bleed rank higher.  If you have the capacity to remember back a few sentences though, you’ll recall a great album needs more than great songs, which is why you need to shut up and let me tell why you need to listen to this album before 2013 is left in the dust.

Turn back a year to 1967.  The Beatles had released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Syd Barrett was still at the reigns with Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones decided they needed to really ramp up their weird factor.  They released Their Satanic Majesties Request in December of that year (to the best of my knowledge it was not featured in any CKTK publications at the time).

 imgres-1Know Thyself

Think back to kindergarten, and Ms Sunshine and Rainbows telling you how important it was to just be yourself.  Your middle school guidance teacher probably reiterated the same point, as well as your parents, beloved television characters, and any advertisement for Dove products.  These people all had one goal in mind when they told you that.  They desperately wanted you to avoid making your own version of TSMR.  The Stones were masters of less is more rock & roll.  Some of their best material sounds like it takes more time to play than it took to write.  When 1967 was finishing up the last round of Auld Lang Syne, the Stones had put out an album that takes work to listen to, and in an uncharacteristic twist, sounded like it took work to write.  TSMR combined the out of studios pressures of criminal trials and personal drama, and a desire to do what those around them were doing and resulted in a textbook example of what happens when a great band forgets what made them great.

I’m not suggesting musicians ought not experiment, but that experimentation should stem from something more genuine than wanting to line up with what those around you are doing.  That just ain’t rock & roll.

In ’68 they learned their lesson, and released Beggars Banquet, their first great album.  They carried that momentum into the ‘70s, added Mick Taylor on guitar and built the most impressive catalogue of any band.  Ever.  Period.  That all started with Beggars Banquet, and the self awareness to recognize when a wrong step was taken.

As you boldly venture into 2014, fully energized by the gritty, upbeat grooves of songs like Street Fighting Man and the swampy, mugginess of Prodigal Son, keep in mind what it is that makes you you.  Assuming you’re an adult you should have a pretty good idea what that is by now.  Don’t let what others are doing make you think you need to change who you are.  And if by some chance, you found yourself on the losing end of a big gamble in 2013, pick yourself up, raise that middle finger to the people who counted you out and drive on.

GRAM PARSONS-GRIEVOUS ANGEL (Released in 1974)

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Gram Parsons is the fork in the tangled web of highways, byways, and whythehellisthisconsideredcountryways of American roots music.  His simple, sharp songwriting and complete lack of pseudo-masculine bro-country nonsense provide a meaningful listening experience and leaves one without the opportunity to claim any kind of elitist status over anyone who isn’t familiar with his work.  Listen to Grievous Angel (especially songs like Brass Buttons and Love Hurts) and you won’t feel like you’re a member of an exclusive club, you’ll just be glad the good Lord gave you a heart that can be broken.  Especially with the ghost like voice of Emmylou Harris floating over Gram’s soft spoken timbre.

Gram did time with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers before launching a short, two album solo career.  Between his time with the Burrito Bros and his solo debut, he was what could almost be called an auxiliary member of the Rolling Stones.  He wrote extensively with Keith Richards, and finished very little (see below for the drug fueled jam session that resulted in Wild Horses, used by both the Stones and the Burrito Bros).  After touring with the Stones and ingesting more heroin and cocaine than even the most freewheeling Surgeon General would recommend, Gram teamed up with Emmylou and released his first solo album, GP in 1972.  It featured some of the best American songwriting that time has forgotten, perhaps only topped by his last album, Grievous Angel in early 1974.

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One of Gram’s jackets, showcasing his enthusiasm for anatomy, botany, and pharmacology.

Grievous Angel was written in 1973 and Gram died before seeing the release.  At age 26 he had managed to permanently engrain himself into one of America’s staple cultural exports and influence everyone from the Rolling Stones, to Drive-By Truckers, to Ryan Adams. In fact, if you insist on hearing about a 2013 release go check out Southeastern by DBT alum Jason Isbell after introducing yourself to your Uncle Gram.

Grievous Angel is a powerhouse of fantastic songwriting, and that’s exactly what you should listen to it for.  It’s heavy on the slow ballad side, although tunes like I Can’t Dance and Return of the Grievous Angel will require some form of tapping from at least one of your appendages, and Ooh Las Vegas will have you singing along way before you know the words.  This album is more at home on a lonesome highway than in a smokey honky-tonk.

When you listen to Grievous Angel, quite possibly for the first time, do so with the knowledge that life is short and you only have so many opportunities that come your way.  Make them count.  It’s easy to wonder what songs he would have written, and what impact he would have had if he had a longer life.  But he didn’t, and still managed to leave a lasting impression on generations of songwriters in dive bars across America.

PINK FLOYD-WISH YOU WERE HERE (Released in 1975)

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With the exception of Dark Side of the Moon, every Floyd record from the Roger Waters/David Gilmour era has been my favorite at one time or another.  For those of you unfamiliar with Pink Floyd, start at the intersection of Pop and Blues and continue until you reach Rock & Roll.  Once you get there turn left on Prog and stop almost immediately.  You’ll know you’ve gone too far if you arrive at the Yes house and see Rick Wakeman trying to mow the lawn in roller skates and a cape.

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Turn around, you’ve gone too far

WYWH is the follow up album to Dark Side of the Moon, the album that rocketed Floyd into stardom and immense wealth.  Roughly three years of touring filled the gap between studio time, and the pressure to live up to DSotM was immense.  In some ways it was the other side of the coin the Stones had in 1968.  PInk Floyd’s genius was the same as the Stones.  Less is more, keep it simple.  WYWH is the rare marriage of massive creativity and strict taste.  David Gilmour’s solo work from the first Crazy Diamond to the last is the culmination of all of man’s strivings.  Every note is deliberate, and no note goes to waste. He’s Ernest Hemingway with a guitar.

Richard Wright laid a solid foundation on his synth for Gilmour to build on, and while music today is far from short on synths, Wright brought an unmatched sense of grace to the table and was a master of not using too much paint on the canvas, all at once demanding the listener’s imagination and allowing it to roam free.  The overall atmosphere of the album allows for a handcrafted feel that is lost in most ventures into electronic music.  Nothing about WYWH makes you think the band had to complete a degree from ITT Tech before they were able to write it.

Words like “texture” and “atmosphere” get thrown around a lot these days, but there is a substantial difference between what Floyd was able to achieve numerous times in the studio (most notably in WYWH), and what is being released and played on radio today.  In order to illustrate this point I have provided you, dear reader, with a pie chart that shows how today’s young musicians budget their time to achieve the texture and atmosphere they seek.

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The simple, dark colors of the album allow the themes of loss, mourning, and nostalgia to shine through.  Syd Barrett had been long out of the band, and was losing his grip on reality (it’s rumored that he arrived at the studio while they were working on it and they were unable to recognize him for several minutes).  It was a painful time for the band, as they were coming to grips with the deterioration of an old friend, worn out from three years on the road, and trying to measure up to the high expectations of a new fan base.  Boy did they deliver.

Give ‘er a spin and focus on how big the ideas are, and how well the band controlled them.  Thoreau once said something about building castles in clouds, that’s exactly where they should be, you just have to build the foundations under them.  WYWH delivers the same moral, but if this is your first time hearing it you should expect to go through an experience so profoundly life altering that cognitive thought is not within your capabilities for some time.  Heavy machinery should not be operated with 4 hours of listening.

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