Posts Tagged ‘The Stooges’
Me and my pal Adam take a deep dive into Chicago (the band) but not Chicago (the city). We also take a run at Sha Na Na, the Woodstock 1994 PPV broadcast, David Foster, Loose Joints and more.
Adam: “Feeling Stronger Everyday” by Chicago is an awesome song and a current “ear worm”!
A: Listening to Chicago’s Greatest Hits, I am again reflecting on just how different this music is from what I first learned to be Chicago. I wonder what the change was due to? Clearly, there’s a producer’s hand in the way that 1980s music sounds: “Hard Habit to Break”, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry|, etc.” It’s a cleaner, sanitized 1980s sound, I guess: synths and piano, big drums. Cetera’s voice sounds like it’s gone through a mixing panel in some way. The early stuff sounds like people singing into imperfect microphones. This is like Toto’s “Africa”. Going to look up the answers to my questions…
A: Least surprising answer ever: David Foster was the producer to relegate the horn section and crank out the power ballads.Oh course it is now that I listen to it.
A: So let’s say you’re in Chicago, and it seems like your time has past. You’ve been dropped by Columbia and then, this new Canadian producer comes along. You put out this song, your biggest seller of all-time, vastly outselling anything to that point with a sound so different from the band’s sound. This power ballad tripe is the thing you’ll be known for forever, leaving little kids perplexed by who the hell the Chicago guys on the Greatest Hits album were. with that in mind, this song rocks…
C: Chicago had a totally fucked career arch. Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about the band but a great example of a 1960s/early 1970s outfit being totally modified to appeal to the two most lucrative demos of the 1980s: (1) aging baby boomers. (2) little kids. In other words, you and I plus our parents. Their 1980s songs aren’t necessarily bad but are really a weird microcosms of sounds made to not alienate anybody: the fake atmospherics of 10cc, the big ringing choruses of a Def Leppard or Twisted Sister, the inoffensive vocals of a Christopher Cross. All half baked with platitudes as not to spook any listeners since, y’know,, “Saturday in the Park” was a bit too edgy in a ’72 callback. Who the (eff) knows just WHAT the members of Chicago were doing in the park when it felt like it was the goddam 4th of July?!?
C: Is it fair to suggest Lighthouse were the Chicago of Canada???
C: Another theory: If Peter Cetera sung “November Rain” instead of Axl, could that have been an early 1990s Chicago track rather than a Guns N’ Roses track? Think about it. Stylistically and production-wise, “November Rain” and “You’re the Inspiration” aren’t that different.
C: Know the track “Stay the Night”?
C: This sounds like 1980s Chicago trying hard to sound like early 1970s Chicago but they’ve just been totally castrated by the era. A very hollow, half-baked song.
“Street Player”, on the other hand, is awesome! A total “makes sense” disco crossover. This totally works and doesn’t sound forced at all. This isn’t the Stones’ “Miss You” at all. Chicago meant it and they did it. Simple.
C: Personally, I think there’s a ton of disco that is wildly underrated artistically speaking. I’m largely just blowing smoke since I don’t know a ton about the era but a song like Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?” is just great. I think the Nile Rodgers/Daft Punk tune from a couple of years ago made people revisit a lot of these old dance floor hits, which is cool. It’s glue for a lot of semi-weird stuff that hit the Top 40 and/or got notice pre- and post-. Yes, Chicago included but also Talking Heads, some Blondie, a very specific Stones period, Bowie (at times), New Order (if you think about it), early techno, beat-heavy NYC rap from 1982, 1983, 1984, Public Image Ltd, music from video games, etc. For sphere of influence, overall, I’d like to hear people talk less about Kraftwerk and more about disco.
C: This is another favourite of mine in the same “convo”: “Love is the Message”. This was a pretty massive hit but still a bit of a WTF for the Top 40. Just an absolutely fantastic tune and so expressive for an instrumental. The awesome horn-filled chorus. Speaks volumes with zero words.
A: That [“Stay the Night”] song and video are irredeemable. Awful.
A: I had no idea “Street Player” was that song! The bomb! Amazing. Disco Chicago!
A: I like disco. At least some of it. It’s funk sped up, mixed with classical arrangements. “Get Lucky” was a perfect song. I love that tune! Last year, we welcomed a new guy on-site at work by playing “Get Lucky” as many times as we could before he said something. We got to 12 plays in a row before he said something.
A: Have I told you how much I like the War on Drugs album?
C: Yeah, I know we’ve talked about it a bit. There’s some mid-period Dire Straits and Petty in there, right?
A: I signed up for Apple Must over the holiday. Actually listening to the album, not just under the pressure. Yes. Love Over Gold-era straits! I’ve figured out that I’m a bit of a hypocrite or at least inconsistent about derivative music. The Sheepdogs? Rip-off artists. But when it’s done in the same spirit of the music, it’s more palatable. The Black Crowes are amongst my favorites and are so Zeppelin. On … Money Maker, it’s unmistakable. And yet, it bothers me when it’s lazy.
C: That’s a great topic!! What do you think of Roxy Music? I love their weird 1972-1975 intro (but not in a snobby “Oh, they were more interested in the Brian Eno days” type fashion). I quite like their easy listening “More than This”/”Avalon” era stuff too. Bryan Ferry is the coolest.
A: Have I also told you how much I hate the term dad Rock? Fuck that. How dismissive is that. We called it classic rock. We were reverential. They’re dismissive.
C: Ever seen [Roxy Music’s] cover of “Like a Hurricane”? Strangely effective. Repurposed with hand drums, synth, sax and back-up singers.
A: OK, getting back to Chicago. According to the radio ads, Chicago has sold more than 100 million album. And I was talking to my mom (who loves Chicago and introduced us to it as kids) about the change in Chicago’s sound. She says “you know what, I’ve never noticed the difference before.” What???
C: Oh mom!
A: She also prefers bubble gum Beatles to serious artist Beatles. She was there at the time. Didn’t like their turn as much as we love it now.
C: Did you see some dude from Sha Na Na died recently? That was a weird band. Kind of the Village People crossed with The Stooges? Very strange they were one of the last bands to play at Woodstock. They represent something I’m very interested in in music: the point when revivalists emerge, people start celebrating the past. Sha Na Na: playing Woodstock and playing 1950s “classics”, sorta tongue in cheek but not really. We weren’t alive to verify but can only imagine they were a total WTF for the long hairs at the time. Stoned hippies, I assume, didn’t want to hear what was happening “down at the Hop”.
A: Bowser? And when they played “At the Hop” at Woodstock, they were dressed as 50s greasers and everything!
C: It’s like they were trying to kill the 1960s by bringing back the 1950s. I feel like I need to watch Woodstock again. Saw it as a little kid (didn’t make sense), maybe again in early 20s (liked some of it but just seemed old) and maybe 7-8 years ago when I was exclusively listening to Kinks, Zombies, Van Morrison, Animals, surf, Pet Sounds, etc. Seems like w/o that movie, the entire trajectory of 1960s music would’ve been remembered differently. Gimme Shelter put the dark spin on things but Woodstock had just about everything. The freaky stuff, mud, drugs, violence (the Who pushing Abbie Hoffman around, etc). It will never stop being mythologized. In a class w/ Kurt Cobain, 2pac and Biggie, the “assassination” of John Lennon.. shit that transcends music in the culture.
C: Curious… do you remember the PPV airing of Woodstock 1994? At 16, that seemed really important culturally. A moment. In retrospect, it wasn’t really. Later, got the double cassette from the BMG Record Club.
C: Aside: I listened to the Marc Maron podcast with Richard Thompson recently. RT went silent when Maron asked about Knopfler. I get It’s been suggested a lot over the years that Thompson copped Mark’s style. Even though RT greatly pre-dated him. Quite strange. A good listen if you can carve out the time. Not super familiar with Thompson but seems like somebody I’d dig if I gave it a chance.
A: I was at camp for Woodstock 1994 and I remember seeing stuff about it in the paper. Love Woodstock. Got the four disc box set when it was released. Price Club CDs. Best deals around for good stuff.
Much has been made of Black Panties, the lewd new album title from R. Kelly. Come to think of it, much has been made of R. Kelly in general, the lewd not-new guy.
Many feel that R. is mentally unstable or wildly creative or both. His benchmark Trapped in the Closet hip-hopera is largely to credit/blame for this opinion. However, it is my belief that this effort should be filed into history under the “widely talked about but seldom heard” category. Not unlike the Stooges’ poorly-received 2007 comeback record The Weirdness or non-traditional output from mega-stars such as the Flaming Lips, Beck or Rick Ross.
I don’t think anybody actually listened to the entirety of Trapped in the Closet, much less understood it. Upon learning about it, most would assign the “you so crazy” tag and then move on, maybe to joke or rant about it later.
There is a tendency to review this kind of art largely based on what’s been said about it rather than, I dunno, actually listening to the songs. It’s an inherent laziness that many music fans (and people, in general) have. A more recent example: hot young buzz band HAIM are similar to the Bangles since it’s a bunch of cute girls playing guitars. When (obviously) in reality, the true equivalent is the Pretenders in sound and Hanson in hair and face. I repeat: obviously.
Anyway, I digress. R. has made some “interesting” choices in his lifetime, no doubt. Namely this and also this. However, purely as a recording artist, his output has been fairly linear and exceedingly sane for somebody who has been affixed with the problematic label by far too many observers. Trapped in the Closet took some choices and fell flat/weird but in the broader context, it’s a relatively small part of the R. Kelly experience.
For fans of mainstream R&B or Top 40 or 1990s music, R. is just a superstar who made some bad decisions. Not unlike Michael Jackson or Snoop Dogg or whoever. However, R. seems to also be regarded by a totally different segment as something of a punch line-cum-savant who releases his post-Trapped output somewhere between a “come-on” and a “Come on!?!”. Note: there’s a third entendre I could probably throw in here but I won’t for the sake of good taste and SEO. Example.
His guest appearance at the 2013 edition of the Coachella Festival didn’t help diminish this image issue that exists between legit R. Kelly fans and thousands of R. Kelly observers. Taking the stage alongside headliners Phoenix, R. plowed his way through a mashed-up version of his smash “Ignition” as a sea of music fans and corporate guests looked on. Blog coverage was predictably unoriginal in its description of the #amazingness with plenty of implications that his appearance was some kind of grand self-aware gesture by R. himself.
R. was taking the stage on THEIR turf so thusly, he must be adhering to the same class of groupthink that most Coachella attendees subscribe to.
Right? No. Not right.
It would be narrow minded to think R. would think in these terms or possibly even be aware that this kind of contemplation exists at all. He’s sold 50-million albums. Why would his perspective align with a bunch of bloggers looking for bragging rights and few Instagram shots?
Personally, I doubt he gave it much thought beyond the notoriety and the pay cheque.
Smash cut to a few months later and R. was brought in to c0-headline the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival in his hometown of Chicago. The move seemed to be a bit of a hedge for the Pitchfork folks and perhaps a sign of concern that a traditional “indie” headliner might not draw (fellow headliners Björk and Belle and Sebastian were the counterweights). Various accusations were lobbed at Pitchfork, from the increasingly-popular charge of “cultural appropriation” to the never-ending (and boring) debate about what constitutes irony. Note: we all need to recognize that irony died after 9/11, stupid.
The logic of festival organizers was somewhat sound:
#1. If R. completely flopped, Pitchfork concert goers would get to witness a “stunning” train wreck that they could later tell their fellow micro-brew fans about.
#2. If R. nailed it, they could, again, revel in the #amazingness and have a little social media fodder for flaunting both their exquisite taste in music festivals and their heightened (and superior) degree of cultural sensitivity.
All told, it was a complete win/lose-win/lose scenario!
#2 occurred and yadda yadda yadda, we’re now a week away (!!!) from Black Panties dropping. It’s an amusing album title but really , is it any more or less provocative than Isaac Hayes releasing an album called Black Moses or Prince releasing something (in the nude) called Lovesexy? It’s not that notable in an LOL sense and it shouldn’t be seen as the latest chapter in that fake “you so crazy” narrative.
Somehow vis-à-vis Trapped in the Closet, his legal issues and the aforementioned live appearances, R. has become positioned in part as an insane-but-lovable rascal for hipsters to feign mini-outrage over but ultimately forgive and embrace in a skewed sense of self-importance and “open-mindedness”. A small bolt to his broader, less-notable public persona and one that should cease to be interesting to anybody aside from that small circle talking amongst themselves.