Friday, March 9, 2007

White Lies - Exposed

Busy days. Blog updates -> slow. I'll write again when the inspiration hits me, and when time's on my side...

Well, not really. Truth is, I grew impatient with the whole thing. I felt caught in a trap having to constrain my thoughts to smooth music exclusively, so I created a new blog where I write about anything that comes to mind instead.

I realized that was a lot more fun, even though I love me some smooth music... It may be less feed-worthy and certainly not topical, but I enjoy the writing process more, and that's what its all about, to me anyway.

And, just to keep my posting frequency up on my new blog, I'll move some of these posts over to my new blog over the next couple of months, and then, eventually I'll delete this one.... sorry I couldn't keep it up, smooth music lovers...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Silly Guitar Solos (intermission)

Man, it's hard to find guitar solos as silly as "Say You'll be Mine". I'm struggling find a worthy follow-up. It's also kind of frustrating listening to music for hours to end with the sole purpose of discovering bad solos - I'm getting a headache. Most solos are just awfully indifferent, I find. But I'll continue my quest, I promise, it may just take a little while to come up with something good -er - silly, I mean.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Silly Guitar Solos

In the past all pop songs with respect for themselves had a guitar solo or two. I remember reading this songwriting column in Keyboard Magazine in the 80s, and the solo was for all practical reasons considered to be a songwriting rule. Thus, not all solos that emerged could possibly be as innovative and exciting as, say, Free Bird or Stairway to Heaven. Starting with this entry I'll try to dig up some of the stuff that really don't impress me much. So without any further ado, I present to you:

Say You'll Be Mine (1:16 -> 1:36)
Offender: Jay Graydon
Christopher Cross (Christopher Cross, 1979)

This one sounds like a very poor Steely Dan leftover track. Fagen and Becker probably laughed their asses off (to lend an expression I learned from mr. Jason Hare) when they "charitably" decided to hand this track over to the young mr. Cross. It starts off with some nonsensical scale exercises, fumbles around, hangin' on to notes, repeating figures, in constant search of a way to end the misery. Even though it does end with those trademark Graydon multilayered chords that I usually love, there's no denying it: This is an utterly useless, pointless and ultimately laughable guitar solo. In his defence, the rhythm section doesn't make it easy for mr. Graydon, guiros not excepted.

Technical ability: 10. Artistic value:1. Silliness: 10.
(a perfect score for an ideal silly guitar solo)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Prefab Sprout - Moon Dog (Jordan: The Comeback, 1990)

I got my first CD player in 1989. In 1990 I was 18 years old. In retrospect this turned out to be a very poor combination. Between 1989 and 1991 I bought at least one CD a week. If you add it up, I'd have bought somewhere between 150 and 200 CD's during those three years.

The problem is that although my tastes were no doubt dubious before I acquired the CD player, too, I bought quite a few classic pop and rock albums on vinyl that I still enjoy listening to. But when I switched to CD it seems I only went for new stuff. So today I own about 175 CDs dating from 1989 to 1991 which I never listen to anymore. It's probably my least favorite period in popular music.

The thing is, I sort of understood, even back then, that this was some poor stuff. All the sequencers, the synth pads, the sterile productions and the general lack of purpose in popular music at the time was just too obvious to ignore. Yet I was a young man, hopelessly caught in the wicked web of popular taste.

But underneath those layers of poor judgment, you could discern the man I've grown up to be. There are a few records from this period I'm really proud of. "Jordan: The Comeback" by Prefab Sprout is one of them.

Prefab Sprout didn't avoid the pitfalls of 1990, by no means. Objectively, the arrangements sound very dated, but still, what a brilliant album it is. It's a smorgasbord of musical styles exquisitely laid out, and with some incredible lyrics. It's much more varied musically than their previous efforts, which I also like immensely. I never get tired of listening to this album. It's the only record I can listen to and actually ignore those phony synth horn parts.

We chopped a billion trees to print up eulogies
But guys we should have guessed
The girls would say it best

Isn't that just brilliant? Paddy McAloon's offbeat pop lyrics... I'm not a native English speaker, but I've always been in love with the language. And as a listener I'll never get all the subtleties of the language but judging from my impression of McAloon's lyrics, this must surely be a poet at work.

Of course, Moondog refers to Elvis Presley, more specifically to his funeral and a wonderful image of Elvis biding his time on the moon. At the same time it takes a wry and nostalgic look at the 1950s. I'm not able to identify any particular musical references to Presley, only a small sample at the end of the track (then again, I'm no Presley expert - so please correct me here if I'm missing something.)

The verses are dreamy and ethereal, the chorus has a hard-hitting piano/synth riff and McAloon's voice is a marvel, as are his words. And, I must add, some very effective use of Wendy Smith's voice on this one. Thomas Dolby produced it, and, listening to it right now, it's a perfect production. You can hear it's all 1990, but Dolby and McAloon actually turned that into a good thing here. Impressive.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Weirdest music video, like, ever?

(image links directly to YouTube)

OK, so it's for peace, love and understanding. But come on... the scene where the Russian colonel is standing in Celine Dion's usual spot... that's just weird...

This tune was originally recorded as an instrumental for David Foster's self-titled second solo album from 1986. If memory serves correctly, this track was also released as a single in 1987.

So this was considered worthy single material by Atlantic Recording Corporation, whereas "Nothin' You Can Do About It" was not. Ok, whatever...

I've been obsessed with the italics button all day - and now I just can't stop - sorry 'bout that...

I have no idea as to how this collaboration came about. I don't really care that much to find out either.

Good fun, though.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Manhattan Transfer - Nothin' You Can Do About It (Extensions, 1979)

The Manhattan Transfer was never my cup of tea. I've usually found their attempts to mix vocalese with a contemporary sound to be a bit contrived. They're incredibly talented singers, no doubt about it, and I've tried to like them for years. I'm sympathetic to their projects. I like what they're trying to do. But whenever I sit down to listen to one of their albums, I just get this uneasy feeling - I can't put my finger on what it is exactly, but it's something - and I eventually turn it off.

As a result, I own several of their albums, but I don't think I've listened all the way through a single one. There is however one significant exception to my initial statement, "Nothin' You Can Do About It", from their 1979 release Extensions.

That is one brilliant pop tune. I never lose control. I'm the most mild-mannered, controlled person you can imagine, a model of polite restraint. But whenever that piano intro starts rolling, I'm right up there on the table going completely crazy, wildly (over-) playing air piano and singing along in falsetto. I'm horrible at remembering lyrics, I don't even remember the lyrics to songs I've written myself. But this one I know by heart - it's probably the only song I can sing all the way through.

Again, David Foster is involved. He co-wrote the song with Steve Kipner and Jay Graydon. Graydon also produced the album. Foster plays the dominant piano riff (with those brilliant off-the-beat dissonances), as he did on "Heart to Heart" by Kenny Loggins. I'll probably return to David Foster a lot - growing up, he was one of my musical heroes, and I still have a genuine affection for a lot of his earlier work as a session musician.

There are so many brilliant turns and twists on this track. It's energetic and upbeat. There are jazz references, complex chord structures, modulations, syncopations: All the things I cherish in a really good pop song. There's a wonderful synth solo by Greg Mathieson - love every note of it. The Manhattan Transfer's vocal harmonies are, for once, perfect in a contemporary pop setting: oh, the "ba-ba-do-aah's" prior to the chorus, they make my heart skip a beat, if not two!

David Hungate, at that point a member of Toto, provides bass guitar, Ralph Humphrey's on drums - they're not the stars of the track, but they're providing perfect support. Jay Graydon is credited on guitar (again, where is that guitar??) and additional synths. Ian Underwood's also credited on synth - a lot of synths, but it's all in good taste.

Also, I'd swear that's Jerry Hey's flugelhorn in there, but there's no sign of him in the liner notes. Are my ears fooled by a synth? A synth from 1979? I somehow find that hard to believe! Anyone with additional information here?

Foster and Graydon re-recorded "Nothin' You Can Do About It" for their Airplay project in 1980 with Tommy Funderburk on vocals. It's good. I'm also in possession of a most horrible version of the song recorded for a Norwegian television show in 1982 with a local female singer who goes by the name of Alex. David Foster was a special guest on the show and provides the piano part. Alex's voice restlessly wanders up and down octaves in constant search of the melody line, she's frequently out of tune and has this incredibly heavy Scandinavian accent. Foster's piano sounds as if it's recorded through a poor telephone line from L.A. (maybe it was?) Surely not one of Foster's fondest memories. He's not to blame, though, he's as flawless as he ever was on the piano.

As performed by The Manhattan Transfer, though, "Nothin' You Can Do About It" is pop virtuosity at its finest. Wonderful stuff. Extensions peaked at #55 on the Billboard Top LP's chart. It seems that "Nothin' You Can Do About It" was never released as a single. In that case, what a complete shame!

Monday, January 15, 2007


I love The Pages. I've been listening to them forever, and spinning one of their records is like coming home, musically speaking. Most of you've never heard about them, I guess. They never had much commercial success with either of their three albums released between 1978 and 1981, but to me, these are simply stellar. My friends at college once pegged me as a guy "searching for stuff no one else has ever found before him". This is the closest I got in music - no one my age had ever heard of this band at the time, I don't even think their records were released in Norway. That made me happy, of course, but even more so, the music!

The heart of the band is Richard Page and Steve George. Of course, these guys went on to bigger things in 1985, with Mr. Mister. But Pages certainly didn't offer us any Kyrie Eleison on Fender Rhodes and ARP2600. Not even close: this is brilliant, clean jazz-pop, mostly without a trace of heavy-handed, sequenced AOR (they were showing signs of it on their 1981 release, luckily they quit in time to save the idiosyncracies of the Pages-project).

Don't get me wrong, I like certain parts of Mr. Mister as well, but it's an entirely different act. This is painstakingly precise studio playing, though still focused on human interaction. The tin machine invasion of the 80s was still out of sight. It's hard to imagine anyone pulling stuff like this off live - if they did it'd be nothing less than amazing (they probably did). There are traces of Steely Dan, but it's softer. It's more about the music, less about the lyrics. There are so many details to focus on, I love listening experiences like that - "oh, that's a cool bass line"; "now, what are they doing here" - "how many modulations did they pull off just there"??

And Page's and George's voices fit each other so perfectly. Many artists took advantage of this, most prominently, at the time, Al Jarreau. They provided him with backing vocals on many of his early '80s records - but their smooth voices were also featured on dozens of other recordings.

John Lang provided the lyrics for most of the songs, as he did for Mr. Mister. The line-up changed a bit from record to record. It's luxurious and comfortable, they're nowhere near the marina - it's yacht at its finest. There's even evidence to support that in a song title, "The Sailor's Song". Nowadays, while I can see why some people would call this stuff bland, I'm simply too attached to the records to ever agree with them. So f*** them.

And now I'm off to do a version of Kyrie Eleison on Fender Rhodes and ARP2600.