Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 2008

The Nevstar Music Guide Issue No. 6

Album of the Month

American Music Club : The Golden Age

All great art has multiple layers. The genius of Shakespeare is that it entertained the masses of Elizabethan Britain and yet its intricacies remain studied to this day by scholars around the world. Books have been written about Mona Lisa. Who was she, why is she smiling, what happened to her eyebrows? Great art thus satisfies us on numerous levels. The album of the month, The Golden Age by American Music Club, is an example of music as art; it is filled with layers of meaning and enjoyment.

American Music Club was founded in 1983 and is led by singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel. They have recorded nine albums in this time, mixing a wide range of American musical styles, but predominately releasing poignant, quiet and bittersweet compositions ruminating on lifes challenges and inspirations. They argurably reached a pinnacle of fame with two albums in the early 1990’s in Everclear (1991) and Mercury(1993). Since then, they have recorded spasmodically, not helped by Eitzel’s problem with heavy drinking. They had arguably been overtaken by other practictioners of the quiet, introspective singer songwriter genre such as Elliott Smith and The Eels.

However, they have returned to their former heights with an exceptionally agreeable release this year in The Golden Age. It is a wonderful album, quietly working its way into your good graces. It can be listened to at a very superficial level as a likeable example of warm and captivating background music. But it simultaneously demands greater attention to its thoughtful lyrics and underlying themes.

The song Window to World ably demonstrates its multi-level charms. It is set in a bar atop the World Trade Centre but the song moves through its character observations without addressing the impending doom hanging in the background. Is he referring to the fact that we all sit under an inevitable death sentence, or simply that we must enjoy life’s pleasures since the unknowable Black Swan event may be upon us all too soon.

I similarly enjoyed Who You Are, One Step Ahead and Decibels And The Little Pills which each have their own undercurrents of wry social observations combined with questions directed towards your soul. But none of the songs are boring, and many reveal additional depth upon repeated listens.

In todays disposable pop culture, tis rare an album where an artist demands to be listened to, not only because the experience is pleasurable, but because he actually has something to say.

Hear samples or buy CD here:

Best Track : One Step Ahead

Listen To If You Like :

Jeff Buckley
Nick Cave

If You Like This Try :

Brendan Benson………..….Lapalco
Nick Drake………......……Pink Moon
The Eels……………….......Beautiful Freak
Grant Lee Buffalo……....Fuzzy
Elliott Smith………........Either/Or

Essential Classic Album

Derek & The Dominoes : Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

It was Robert Johnson, one of the blues forefathers, who sketched out the essence of the blues in a track called Preachin' Blues.

The blues is a low-down achin' heart disease
Like consumption killing me by degrees

The blues, at is purest, is the soundtrack to pain and suffering. White artists who loved the blues struggled to capture its authenticity as they hadnt suffered true heartache or depression. One shining exception however is Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and The Dominoes. It is without doubt, the finest ‘white’ blues album of all time, and a fascinating glimpse into a tormented soul.

Eric Clapton was an avid, almost maniacal blues fan. He once claimed not to want to talk to any fellow musician if they had not heard of the aforementioned Robert Johnson. At 18, his axemanship was already legendary and he played in a succession of great 60s’ white blues bands including the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith. It was following this in 1970 that he had the misfortune to fall in love with a certain Patti Boyd. Unfortunately Patti was, at the time, married to his best friend, former Beatle George Martin.

We can only begin to speculate on how this affected him but while this must have been excruciating for Clapton, it resulted in the production of perhaps his finest record. In association with an all-star band including Duane Allman, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is a passionate public outpouring of Clapton’s love for an unobtainable woman. Mixing several original compositions with some traditional blues standards, a white musician was finally able to give the blues the correct treatment. Indeed, perhaps the most solemn moment is his painful rendition of Freddy King's blues standard Have You Ever Loved A Women, a song he could surely have written himself given how apt the lyrics are:

Have you ever loved a woman
So much that you tremble in pain
Knowing all the time yeah
That she bears another mans name

The title track is obviously known to everyone and a contender for greatest rock song of all time. But the album is far more than a one hit wonder. My favourite track is Nobody Knows You When You’re Down. Starting with a classic blues guitar chord, it descends into an outpouring of emotion from a tormented soul. On the record goes, mixing some traditional slow blues with other more uptempo compositions. So while it remains a reminder of the torment suffered by the protaganist it also is a time capsule of a great era in British music highlighting the development of blues that had been undertaken by the new generation of artists. If you arent a blues fan, this might be the record to start your love of this emotionally rich music.

Hear samples or buy CD here :

Best Track :
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down

If You Like This Try :
Cream……........……Fresh Cream
John Mayall….…..….Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton
Them…….............Them Featuring Van Morrison

Nevstar Top Ten

Compiling a list of top movie soundtracks last month led me to think about that other audio-visual medium. The humble television has been around for over 60 years and in that time, tens of thousands of shows have been introduced by a short snippet of music. But which snippets are the best ? Compiling a list proved harder than I expected. My criteria was that I automatically excluded songs which were hit songs in their own right which straight away eliminated Friends (The Rembrandts, I’ll Be There For You), That 70’s Show (Big Star, In The Streets) and CSI (The Who, Wont Get Fooled Again). No, we are looking at original compositions that are instantly recognisable and familiar to all those who watched. So, in reverse order to help build suspense, here are my thoughts on :

Top Ten Television Theme Songs Of All Time

10. The Flintstones : watch
I felt I had to include one cartoon series. I lingered over The Simpsons, briefly comtemplated Hong Kong Phoeey (No. 1 Super Guy!), but ultimately felt that The Flintsone’s Meet The Flintstones had it all. With an iconic ‘Yabba Dabba Do’, the show kicks off with a 22-man jazz band and five singers playing and singing to a montage of Fred heading home from work before taking the family to a drive-in movie. Unforgettable, timeless, and perfectly representative of the shows charm. Parodied absolutely brilliantly in one of the best ever Simpsons episodes, Marge v The Monorail.

9. Auf Wiedersehen Pet : listen
Perhaps not as well known as some of the others but Auf Wiedersehen Pet features not one but TWO great songs to bookend this fantastic BBC drama. The opening credits are set to “Breaking Away” and highlights the plight of blue collar workers trying to escape the rigours of Margaret Thatchers Britain. The closing credits of “That’s Livin All Right” are more upbeat and celebrate the joys of working class living. The latter was so popular that it made it to number three in the UK pop charts. Both songs were written and performed by Joe Fagin. See more details here http://www.aufpet.com/music.htm

8. The Muppet Show : watch
Its time to play the music, its time to light the lights”. An irresistible opening stanza remisicent of the big stageshow showtime extravaganzas which the lovable Muppets dreamed of but never quite produced. Every epsiode started with so much hope, but soon descends into adorable carnage with Kermit a beacon of respectability forlornly trying to maintain a semblance of professionalism.

7. Dallas : watch
Its harder to be memorable without lyrics to sing along to but the Dallas theme song is pretty hard to forget. A big, bold and brassy theme song capturing the essence of a big, bold brassy show. Unforgettable opening montage is brilliantly accompanied by this bold show stopper of a theme song.

6. Bonanza : watch
Perhaps the first TV theme show I can remember and one I don’t think I will ever forget. Dun da dun dun da dun da dun dun dun dah dah ! Captures the wide open spirit of frontier land and evokes a thousand images of the hardened heroes of the praire rolling into town.

5. The Greatest American Hero : watch
It was a monster smash song which accompanied this reluctant superhero’s expoits. A great piece of 80’s music which is tailor made for singing loudly late at night. Notable for having two verses such was the strength of the intro.

4. The Beverly Hillbillies : watch
A great, simply great TV theme song. Somehow mixes in the original plot premise (this is story of a man named Jed), with a character summary (poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed), a reference to the shows title (loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Hills that is) sung in an authentic hillbilly spirit. Brilliant. The show was to be introduced with a generic bluegrass instrumental but in post-production, the theme song we know and love was added. Notable for having a different closing theme song which was also catchy and funny. “Y’all come back now y’hear.”

3. Hill Street Blues : watch
A groundbreaking TV show had a groundbreaking theme song. I think this is an irresistible piece of music and a brilliant entrée to a great show. The music has perhaps endured as well as the show which is really saying something. Those opening piano notes are hypnotic.

2. MASH : watch
Originally a piece accompanied by lyrics in the Robert Altman movie of the same name, the TV introduction dropped the lyrics which possibly made it into a more appropriate TV theme song (not many TV execs want a show introduced by the lyric ‘suicide is painless’ !). The first shot of Radar looking up at the choppers as the music starts is one of the great opening shots in the history of television. In an alternative universe, probably couldve been No.1.

But the Number 1, TV theme song of All Time is :

1. Cheers : watch
Ultimately, after much soul-searching I settled on Cheers as the best TV theme song of all time. The name of the song is “Where Everyone Knows Your Name” and it was penned by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo. It is possibly the perfect TV theme song. It is instantly recognisable. It is catchy, simple and enduring. It makes you want to sit down and visit Cheers and as such is perfectly representative of the show. It is a snapshot of simpler times that we all secretly yearn for. As such I think it is the best TV theme song of all time.

And so, let the debate begin. Got some different ideas on best TV theme shows? Leave a comment below or email me, and can highlight some of them in the next epiosde. Goodness knows it was hard enough narrowing it down to ten. How can I have left off WKRP in Cincinnati !

Reader Feedback

Last months Top Ten list featuring the Top Ten Movie Soundtracks of All Time generated quite a bit of heated debate and vitrolic commentary. Seems some were bemused to the point of indignation that someone with a Y chromosome could construct a list featuring Dirty Dancing AND The Sound Of Music! That aside, had some great feedback and quite a few readers added their own favourites. Some notable ones were :

1. Forrest Gump
Perhaps the most egregious omission from the list was the fantastic double album that accompanied Forrest Gump’s personal progress through and in American History. It easily and beautifully captures the evolution of American music from Elvis Presley through to Bob Seger.

2. Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
Although mentioned in last month’s guide, this deserves its own recognition as a stunning soundtrack. Iggy’s I Wanna Be Your Dog is a notable highlight and its notable how easily songs my artists as diverse as James Brown and Robbie Williams sit alongside each other.

3. Grosse Point Blank
One that never crossed my mind, but on reflection is right up there. A great collection of songs from bands like The Clash, Specials and Violent Femmes played throughout this terrific John Cusack comedy hit. See track list here.

4. West Side Story
West Side Story is an extremely popular and enduring soundtrack to a similarly popular and enduring movie. It spent a phenomenal 54 weeks at #1 on the US album charts which is believed to be a record. Gee Office Krupke! I have blanked out all knowledge of it due to prolonged and repeated exposure to it as a child.

5. O Brother Where Art Thou
This extremely original Coen Brothers film features a great soundtrack which is emblematic of Depression era American folk music. However the songs are original efforts with old timey feeling from contemporary artists such as Alison Knauss and Gillian Welch. It subsequently won a Grammy for Album of the Year.

6. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
A reader, who shall remain nameless, suggested that this soundtrack was far superior to Dirty Dancing. The score did win the 1970 Academy Award for best music and best song for the familiar Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head by Hal David and Burt Bacharach which went to No.1 in the US in Jan 1970. I stand by my original picks but taste is subjective. (There you go Dad, are you happy now?)

Thats all for next month. See you in April with some more great music and trivia. Email me here to receive email updates of future posts.


1 comment:

Rob said...

I pity the fool who leaves "The A Team" out of the top 10 TV show themes....