Friday, December 30, 2005

Billy Joel and What Could Have Been

As long as I'm picking on aging Rockers (see last blog on Rod Stewart)...

Billy Joel's 1978 "The Stranger" album showed so much promise. It's pop feel and gritty, dark edges deftly maneuvered the boundaries between rock, pop and easy listening.

"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" was a Springsteenian epic about a marital breakup, complete with a Clarence Clemmons like sax solo. "The Stranger", "Moving Out" and "Only The Good Die Young" were appealing, upbeat rockers while "She's Always A Woman" and "Just the Way You Are" demonstrated that Billy knew his way around a heartfelt ballad.

Unfortunately, Billy was never able to live up to the potential of that breakthrough album. He followed up with a series of lightweight pop songs such as "My Life", "You May Be Right", "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" and was never taken as seriously again.

As his career continued, occasional glimpses of brilliance on songs like like "Allentown" and "Pressure" were consistently mixed with embarrassing tripe like "Uptown Girl", "The Longest Time" and "Tell Her About It". One step forward, two steps back.

Make no mistake, Billy's music has been a huge commercial success. But it always bothered me that he could have been so much more.

Witnessing a potential Rock Superstar morph into lightweight, banal commercialism is disturbing and shakes the faith we have in all our Rock Heroes.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Rod Stewart- Crooner!

As grand an oxymoron as "little shrimp" or "deafening silence", "Rod Stewart" and "crooner" have no business being in the same sentence together.

Stewart's raspy, drain cleaner gargling voice was originally made popular only by the virtue of Rock and Roll's #1 motto: "Anyone can do it."

As an art form that often embraces attitude and desire above all other qualities, Rock put Stewart on the map. The fact that it didn't SOUND like Rod should be singing made him all the more endearing. Ignoring his own limitations, he tried so hard you had to like him.

So Rock's version of Tiny Tim was allowed to rip off Sam Cooke and other soul singers, wear spandex and have hit after Top 40 hit. Often written by someone else, of course. Using material from The Isley Brothers, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, The Temptations and others, Rod's career ratio of "original to cover song" hits may be the lowest ever.

But hey, let Rod have his fun.

Until now, that is.

We've Created A Monster!

Rod has now decided to go after The Great American Songbook. He was probably as surprised as anyone when his versions of classic vocal standards actually started to sell.

In fact, while America slept he has already recorded FOUR standards albums! The wild popularity of which just goes to prove what I have always maintained- "You cannot underestimate the taste of the general public!"

The people buying scads of Stewart's "American Songbook" CDs probably have no idea idea who Chet Baker or Louis Prima are, or what real Swing music is. And probably never will.

The point is, Stewart is/was a ROCK singer. He belongs in a bar or a stadium belting out his sandpaper vocals to raucous, rowdy and laviscious guitar driven "rawk". And nowhere else. Certainly not in a tux with a freaking swing orchestra, attempting to croon. It's like watching an albatross pretend it's a swan.

What's next, Ozzie Osbourne's version of "Sentimental Journey"? Or "The Rolling Stones Sing Sinatra" album? Ouch.

I believe the young Rod Stewart would have kicked the old Rod Stewart's ass for even attempting such a thing. Of course, when it comes to music, Mr. Stewart's motto has always been, "When you run out of original things to say, repeat what others have already said."

And since the copyright on many of these old songs may have expired, there are no song writing royalties to pay.

Brilliant marketing from all angles, Rod!

But I remember when you used to relish the opportunity you were given to Rock and Roll!

- DJ Craig

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Day The Music Died

"When The Music Died"- Time Magazine
December 22, 1980

25 years ago Time Magazine borrowed this famous line from Don McClean's "American Pie". McClean originally wrote it to describe the shock he felt when Rock pioneer Buddy Holly died in a plane crash. Time now used it for a front cover eulogy to John Lennon.

The epitaph was accurately cruel in it's description of the loss felt after Rock's most articulate and revered icon was shot to death outside his New York hotel. Lennon's ability to connect to the masses while writing and singing about deeply personal and spiritual subjects was unrivaled. Following his death, tributes to Lennon in the form of candlelight vigils sprang up worldwide.

The Beatles took Rock music from it's raw and primitive, teeny bop infancy and shaped it into a cerebral and sublime art form. They evolved beyond singing about stereotypical Rock And Roll subjects such as youthful angst, love and heartbreak. Like no one before, Lennon used Pop Music to express political views, expose hypocrisy and injustice, challenge the status quo and encourage enlightenment.

Lennon and McCartney's concise and beautifully simple lyrics revealed universal, complex truths that anyone could relate to. Listening to a Beatles song made you feel like you knew Lennon. And he knew you.

Lennon became more than a Beatle, a Rock Star or a celebrity. He was a spokesperson for humanity. When he was suddenly taken from us, we lost ourselves.

But John will always be with us as the legacy of his music lives on.

U2 paid tribute to John Lennon last night (December 7) during their concert at The Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. They performed one of his most loved songs, 'Norwegian Wood'. The group also played Lennon solo track 'Instant Karma!' in the encore, though this has been a regular in their set since they performed it with Patti Smith at New York 's Madison Square Garden on November 21.

- DJ Craig