Blonde on Blonde

It was hailed as a landmark album.  Rock music critics variously ranked it among the greatest albums of all time, with some placing it at the top of that all-too-fickle list.  Released fifty-one years ago this month, though the exact date is debatable, it’s still considered one of the finest recordings in the history of rock music.  To many, including me, it remains at the top of that list.

Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde capped a trilogy of albums that began with Bringing It All Back Home, followed by Highway 61 Revisited, both released the previous year.  In the history of rock music, Blonde on Blonde was among the first double albums with a gatefold cover and one song, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” that spanned the entire fourth side of that two-LP set.  Initially I thought Highway 61 Revisited, containing the timeless anthem, “Like a Rolling Stone,” could never be surpassed.  Man, was I was wrong!  At first listen, Blonde on Blonde blew me away.

For a budding teenage guitar player just beginning to get the hang of playing and singing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” from the Bob Dylan Song Book I’d purchased months before, the songs from Blonde on Blonde offered a new challenge.  I desperately wanted a leg up on learning them.  Desperation turned into exultation when I spied the Bob Dylan Blonde on Blonde “Deluxe Edition” song book in a local music store where I’d get guitar strings and picks.

Regretfully, I never convinced my garage bandmates at that time to include a Dylan song or two in our repertoire.   Instead, I learned a few of them for practice and to entertain myself.  Eventually, I learned enough of them to entertain my college housemates and an occasional campus coffeehouse audience.  Over time, I’ve entertained some of those same housemates, their spouses and friends whenever we’ve gotten a chance to reunite for special occasions.  Long ago, I’d allegedly perform for about anyone at the drop of a hat.  Those days are becoming fewer and further apart.  When it does happen, you can be sure I include a hefty portion of Dylan songs, some by request.  If you find yourself in the audience on one of those rare occasions, please don’t request “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” unless I have my Blonde on Blonde “Deluxe Edition” song book handy and you’re ready to settle in for the night.

With your silhouette when the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims
And your matchbook songs and your gypsy hymns
Who among them would try to impress you?
Bob Dylan – “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”

Is the governor singing?

I was listening to the radio last night.  It wasn’t how I used to listen to the radio when I was a teenager.  I’d be in my bed, ear pressed to the tinny speaker with the dial tuned to WLS, “the Big 89” from Chicago.

That was then.  This is now.  I was streaming a classic rock station through a smart television equipped with a radio app and connected to an audio system.  The end result was the same.  Music from the sixties.

A strong male voice was singing passionately about a girl.  I recognized that familiar voice, but not the song.  Singing in a full, rich baritone and ultimately reaching crescendos layered with full orchestration, while repeating the name “An-ge-LI-ca,” it was compelling enough for me to uncover more about the song.  I located the station web site where a slowly scrolling playlist noted the title currently streaming was Angelica by Scott Walker:

You know, it’s been a while since the sixties.  For one split second, upon seeing the name “Scott Walker” scroll past, I envisioned a notorious politician crooning from behind a podium, and it wasn’t Scott Walker the singer.

A group named the Walker Brothers had a hit song in 1965 titled The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, the refrain of which I often sing aloud while shuffling around the house on gloomy, winter days.  It was that song in which I’d first heard the Scott Walker I was hearing now, the one my mind’s eye initially offered up as a politician from Wisconsin.

Most of what I know about Scott Walker the singer, I learned on Wikipedia just a few minutes ago.  Most of what I know about Scott Walker the politician has come from newspaper articles and social media over a number of years.

The Wikipedia article about Scott Walker the singer is surprisingly good and rather extensive.  It captured my interest for quite some time as I sought out YouTube videos of him as a solo artist and singing with his brothers.  I don’t spend that kind of time on politicians.  Unless, of course, they’re singing.

For better or worse, Scott Walker the politician isn’t among them in the above mashup video.  But depending on whether it’s Scott Walker the singer accompanied by his brothers, or Scott Walker the politician accompanied by his environmental policies, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore can carry two distinct messages.  Sad as it is, I prefer the singer’s.  The other is unthinkable.

 

 

Disturbing the Sound of Silence

Letting go of the past can be a challenge.  We’d like to think the music we grew up with was the very best and most innovative.  To some extent it can be argued that certain songs and musical works set a standard that might never again be achieved.  Mozart’s innovative symphonies and operas are held up as examples of classical innovation.  At least that’s what I learned in a “Classical Masters” course many years ago.  Duke Ellington and Miles Davis were innovators and giants of jazz.    Their music is still regarded among the best in that genre.

When modern orchestras and opera companies perform Mozart’s works, they may tweak portions here and there, but the result is still the same breathtaking music that we can only assume sounds the way it did in its original form, perhaps taken to new sonic levels through vastly improved acoustics or recording technology.  When contemporary jazz ensembles perform the music of Ellington or Davis, we anticipate new, uncharted improvisation, for that is the very essence of jazz.

In popular music, we cling to the past more than ever.  Who can top Sinatra’s interpretation of the American songbook?  Tony Bennett perhaps?  Who can surpass Elvis and his Jailhouse Rock?  No one else has ever done it justice, though I must confess I’ve enjoyed the Jeff Beck Group’s cover of it on their 1969 Beck-Ola album.  Or how about any originals by the Beatles or Dylan?  There are some “prettier” covers of Dylan tunes that have been released, but the originals still endure.

A music video has been circulating on Facebook recently, linked from within a “Society of Rock” online music zine article.  The video is Simon & Garfunkel performing Sound of Silence in a 2009 reunion performance at Madison Square Garden, fifty-two years after they first introduced the song.  It’s usually accompanied by comments like, “Nothing beats the original,” or something similar.  The zine article that many ignore is about this year’s Grammy-nominated, live cover of Sound of Silence performed by the metal band “Disturbed” on Conan O’Brien’s late night television show.

While the band’s name and heavy metal music may be disturbing to some, Disturbed’s live performance of Sound of Silence was one of those “Oh, my!” moments that made me wonder why I don’t listen to more metal music.  Granted, nothing can approach the seamless, soaring harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel in their 2009 performance.  But for me, the orchestral crescendo backing the unique vocals of Disturbed’s singer, David Draiman, snatched away any preconceived notion that there are no other ear-worthy versions of that song.  I’m only sorry it didn’t win the Grammy for Best Rock Performance.  It might have led to a greater appreciation for the original artists by Disturbed fans too young to remember them.

Here are both performances, snatched from YouTube, so you can watch as well as listen.  Simply click on each of the links below to enjoy.  If there’s a favorite cover version of a song you like, feel free to share it in a comment.

Simon & Garfunkel (Live at Madison Square Garden- 2009)
sg

Disturbed (Live on Conan O’Brien- 2016)
disturbed

Jonathan Edwards

Note:  I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Edwards (the singer/songwriter, not the 18th century theologian) since first hearing his music in 1971.  It took all these years until last night before I heard him perform in concert.  It brought back memories of my first encounter with his music.

Having returned home from college for the weekend, I wasn’t around that October night Poco performed at Notre Dame.  I heard it was a great concert with Poco delivering on their promise at the outset about getting the crowd to “kick up their heels and never let up.”  They had the audience dancing in the aisles.  What I really missed that night, though, was the party after the show.

Frank, my apartment mate, and I hung out with some classmates who lived in a large house they rented outside of town in the middle of a corn field.  The seclusion of this place, notoriously referred to as “the Ranch,” made it an ideal location for parties.  Loud parties.  The living room furniture consisted of two old, comfortable sofas, an equally comfortable easy chair and a high-end stereo system whose gigantic twin speakers were once used in a P.A. system for a rock band one guy had been in.  As I said, the parties were loud.
Enjoying the after-show party I missed that night at the Ranch were not only the usual suspects, but members of Poco who were invited by “someone who knew someone.”  While my friends were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Richie Furay and Timothy B. Schmit (years before he joined the Eagles), I was rubbing noses with my hometown honey. I look back now and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

The following weekend featured another party at the Ranch, a welcome respite from hitting the books all week long.  Still flying high, so-to-speak, from the week before, a lively discussion ensued about Poco’s show and subsequent appearance at the party.  Ed, the party’s host, picked up a record album.  As he slid the vinyl out of its sleeve and placed it on the turntable, Ed recounted a discussion he’d had with some Poco guys.  He’d asked them what music they listened to when they weren’t playing their own.  They said at the moment they were listening to a new singer/songwriter by the name of Jonathan Edwards.


Ed cranked up the volume as the first track began to play.  Everybody knows her.  She’s the one to love… came blasting out of those speakers.  “This is the guy they were talking about,” Ed announced when the song finished.  We listened to the next five songs on the album’s first side in virtual silence.  Wow!  Great stuff!

Browsing the record bins in the campus bookstore a few days later, I ran across that eponoumously titled album by Jonathan Edwards.  I snatched it up and and trotted over to the cashier, plunking down my three bucks and forgetting entirely about whatever else led me to the bookstore initially.  I couldn’t wait to get a listen back at the apartment, pull out my guitar and start learning how to play those songs.  It was a lofty challenge, but I learned to play a couple and would sometimes include them when entertaining myself or my apartment mates late at night.  One song, Shanty, remains in my repertoire to this day.

Thanks for the years of great tunes, Jonathan Edwards.  Such beautiful imagery from a guy who shares his name with an 18th century preacher man.

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Sounding great at the Altamont. November 4, 1016

Jonathan Edwards – Everybody Knows Her :

Bob Dylan and me

NOTE:  I began writing this story several months ago, but put it aside.  It’s published now in honor of Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I first heard about Bob Dylan in 1963 when a radio disc jockey played Peter, Paul and Mary’s record, Blowin’ in the Wind.  I didn’t know what a cover version was in grade school.  But I recall the DJ talking about a young protest singer named Bobby Dylan who wrote the song, a name I initially misheard as Bobby Darin.  Dylan’s name came up some time later when the station played another Peter, Paul and Mary record, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.  Though I still hadn’t heard Bob Dylan, I did begin to appreciate folk music thanks to Peter, Paul and Mary.

The March on Washington was all over the news later that summer and while Martin Luther King had a dream, Bob Dylan had a song.  I finally saw him in a television news piece singing a few lines of Only a Pawn in Their Game.  It began, “A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers’ blood…”  Whoa!  Who the heck is Medgar Evers?  I knew about the the man who shot Liberty Valence, but I’d never heard of this guy Evers or the guy who shot him.  It would be a few more years before I understood the awful truth behind that song, long after Dylan penned his more topical works.

That fall I entered eighth grade and had other things on my mind like girls, cars, and anything California.  Thank you, Beach Boys.  All those things important to a young teenager came crashing down in November with the assassination of a beloved U.S. president.  The accompanying void was filled by homework and more thoughts of girls, cars and anything California.  Until February 1964 when the Beatles changed my world.  I wanted an electric guitar.  I wanted not only to listen to music, I wanted to play it.

Top forty radio — Motown, the Beatles and the rest of the British invasion bands — filled my musical world through freshman year in high school and starting a band became my new pursuit.  The summer of 1965, out of a tinny radio speaker, a new song captured my attention.  If any description of “mind blowing” could be more apt, Mr. Tambourine Man by the Byrds was a perfect fit.  The jangling electric guitar, steady beat and obscure lyrics painted enough vivid pictures in my head, to compel me to get their debut album.

I’m a reader.  So naturally I read the liner notes on the back of the album sleeve.  Bob Dylan’s name was mentioned several times as he’d written four of the album’s twelve songs, including Mr. Tambourine Man.   I liked the album, but was especially knocked out by those four Dylan songs that also included Spanish Harlem Incident, All I Really Want To Do and Chimes of Freedom.  Thus began my pursuit of more Dylan.

The first Bob Dylan album I bought was his newest release at the time, Bringing It All Back Home.  It contained eleven songs, four of them longer than five minutes, including the original Mr. Tambourine Man with more verses than I ever imagined possible.  It got even better when I finally heard Dylan on the radio that summer singing a new one, Like a Rolling Stone.  I was hooked and Dylan was my drug.

Since that time, I’ve never lost my appreciation for Dylan and his music, even though some of his albums garnered few, if any, critical accolades.  I’ve added nearly all of them to my collection, whether in vinyl, compact disc or digital download.  In browsing through my  Dylan vinyl, I even found two different copies of Great White Wonder, the first authentic bootleg album that I still believe might be worth a few bucks someday.  As for Dylan concerts, I’ve only been to three.  They were in 1978, 1986 and in 2008.  I haven’t attended another for a variety of reasons but I listen to enough music any given day to hear a bundle of Bob quite regularly.

His songs remain a part of my acoustic repertoire, a repertoire I performed in campus coffee houses long ago.  Now, I play them for my own enjoyment and to entertain a few friends on occasion.  When you read great literature, you can sometimes quote specific lines or even entire passages from memory. When it comes to Dylan, I once was able to recite all the lyrics to most of his pre-1970 catalog.  Those memories have faded a bit, but I’ll always recall these, among the first I ever learned and, in my admittedly biased view, of Nobel quality…

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands, with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves.  Let me forget about today until tomorrow.  Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.  I’m not sleepy and there ain’t no place I’m going to.  Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.  In that jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.”

My Mother Should Know: A Beatles Moment

We weren’t all that innocent. Not like the media would have you believe.  We already had rock ‘n’ roll, the very name of which implies a loss of innocence. We had Elvis, though he wasn’t someone who excited me.  I was a little too young to fully appreciate what an older sibling Elvis fan might have liked about him.

Instead, I counted Del Shannon’s Runaway among my favorite songs.  Having memorized the lyrics, I’d sing it aloud bicycling around the neighborhood.  Over time, Gene Pitney’s Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa took over the top spot in my “bicycling aloud” repertoire.  The lyrics to both songs were emblazoned on my brain.  To this day, I still play and sing them whenever the urge to pull out my guitar creeps over me.  Only rarely do I sing either of them aloud anymore while bicycling.

That internal playlist changed on the day I accompanied Mom to the Bonnie Bee Supermarket.  I always enjoyed going to the grocery store with her because I’d get to hang out in the magazine aisle and leaf through the latest issue of Song Hits magazine.  Occasionally I’d make a halfhearted attempt to scan Hot Rod magazine.  What captured my attention on this day, however, was a nearby record rack that housed the week’s top ten hits on 45s.

I’d seen picture sleeves on records before.  Some singles by the Beach Boys had them.  There were other groups with picture sleeves as well.  On this day the one that attracted me had on it a black and white photo of four guys in collarless jackets, the guy on the left sporting a lit cigarette in his fingers.  These were the Beatles I’d been seeing on television news and was hearing on the radio.  That sleeve containing their record, I Want To Hold Your Hand, called out to me.


I walked down one aisle after another, record in hand, to find Mom.  If I could just sneak it into the cart unnoticed, I’d nonchalantly slip it on to the conveyor belt at the checkout as I helped unload groceries.  I chickened out and simply asked her if she’d buy it for me.  My reasoning must have been sound.  In 1963, Mom bought me the first Beatles record I ever owned.

Tonight we saw the Ron Howard film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years.  The first few minutes of the movie stirred up such a visceral response that I almost pulled out a handkerchief.  My thoughts were drawn back to that day in the Bonnie Bee Supermarket and how Mom gave in to my begging.  Little did she know I’d eventually be asking for an electric guitar.  (I got that too.  Man, I must have been good.)

See the film.  If you’re so moved, post a comment about your first memorable Beatles moment.  And by the way, thanks Mom!

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years official UK trailer

Fun with Electronic Music

A few evenings ago I was sitting in the garage, settled into one of those folding camp chairs, enjoying the warm summer evening and sipping from a bottle of cold, locally crafted beer.   A white Chevrolet drove slowly by.  As it passed, I could hear some pounding drum beat accompanying electronic music.  The car pulled into a parking space around the corner from where I was sitting. A young couple on their way home from work got out and walked past me.  As we glanced at each other, I asked them who I’d just heard coming from their car stereo.

They stopped, and just for a second I’m almost certain they thought I was just some “get off my lawn” grumpy old man who was about to give them crap about their loud music.  Just as quickly they realized that wasn’t the case and that I was really interested in whose music I’d heard.  Smiling, they responded “Alice in Wonderland.”  That’s what I thought they said, but the quizzical look on my face only served to broaden their smiles as they spelled it out, “A-l-i-s-o-n” Wonderland.  I thanked them and they continued their walk home.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for researching a name in the music world.  I already had my tablet with me in the camp chair, just starting on a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories I’d downloaded earlier that day.  Hemingway would have to wait.  Instead I Googled “Alison Wonderland.”

Alison Wonderland, whose given name is Alex Sholler,  is an Australian-born “DJ,” a disc jockey in its truest form.  Otherwise known as a turntablist, Alison is a musician who mixes music and sounds to create electronic dance music (EDM) or “trip hop.”  Regardless of what label it goes by, it sounded pretty good to me, so I checked out some clips of her work.  This clip is from her track called “Run,” released in 2015:

(Alison Wonderland – “Run” [clip])

Some time ago I might have mentioned the first album of electronic music I bought way back when I was in high school.  It was the eponymously titled Silver Apples.  Here’s a clip from the opening track, “Oscillations,” released in 1968:

(Silver Apples – “Oscillations” [clip])

No one I can recall in 1968 ever referred to this as electronic dance music.  In fact, it would be impolite for me to repeat what some of my friends called it back then.  In spite of my half-hearted insistence that it was really worth a listen, my plea fell mostly on deaf ears.  It certainly wasn’t anything to which we felt compelled to dance along.  Today, if I was a DJ, I’d slip a little Silver Apples into my dance mix just to see if anyone would notice.  It just might sound like this:

(Alison Apples – Runscillation [mix clip])

Makes you wonder if Thomas Edison and the pioneers of volts, watts and amps ever imagined dancing to the blips and beeps they discovered.  I suspect they’d be blown away for sure.