Dec 172010

This holiday classic deserves a yearly airing. Please be thankful this holiday season.

This post initially appeared 12/23/08.

“Is that Orson Welles in the second row?”

Back in January, we celebrated the historic 23rd anniversary of the debut of the greatest supergroup in history, USA For Africa, and their most famous single, We Are The World.

Throughout 2008, Rock Town Hall spent some time talking about influences in rock, from the thieving ways of Buddy Holly to bands with little to no outside influences. USA For Africa was influenced by some precursor groups, such as the Concert For Bangladesh Band and, of course Band Aid, the primarily British/Irish Supergroup which launched the popular single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984, watching it reach #1 on the UK charts…but fail to reach #1 in America.
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Jan 232008

Cool shades!

Shades are supposed to be cool, right? Often enough in life and film they are cool. Because of this, one might think that shades in rock ‘n roll would be Super Cool, but how often do shades fail miserably in the context of rock ‘n roll?


Great rock ‘n roll shades make me think of The Velvet Underground and the shots of Brian Jones in big, Sofia Loren-style shades and Keith Richards tuning up in round shades in the gatefold photos of Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass). Dylan knew his way around a pair of shades. Inscrutable. Vicious. Cool.

There but for the grace of shades goes Bill Medley.

The mystery-inducing quality of shades is best represented by Roy Orbison. The shades alone made Orbison, maybe rock’s earliest rock star lacking any natural sex appeal beyond his voice, cool. Without the shades he’s like the big, deep-voiced guy in The Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley – great voice, sure, but nowhere near cool.

Before we move on, let’s look within. Musicians, surely you’ve tried taking the stage wearing shades. Has it ever been even halfway as cool as you’d imagined it would be? I bet not. Never has been for me. The lifestyle commitment is huge. You can’t just decide to wear shades one night and come off looking Super Cool. In fact, I’d bet that statistics would prove that it’s almost guaranteed that your big idea of playing a gig in shades will result in a lousy, disappointing show. Beware. Lord knows how many gigs the rare shaded greats had to play in shades before they got it right. Even then, a number of factors can conspire toward killing this seemingly foolproof fashion statement.

Dec 102007

One of the benefits of spending time in the Halls of Rock is the opportunity to air petty grievances. For those of us who love rock ‘n roll, there are moments in a day when a thought comes to mind that no normal person who ever consider nor feel the need to share. Here, we do and we do.

This morning I was searching for something decent for my wife and I to hear on commercial radio. As I flipped to a station playing U2’s “New Year’s Day”, I became quickly and mildly annoyed at the fact that any time I do run across a U2 song on the radio it’s rarely one of the half dozen or so well-known U2 songs I’d rather hear, that I could tolerate for a few minutes. It always seems to be the hit song from whatever album that I don’t get any pleasure from hearing! My wife told me that this is typical of me, claiming I only like any band’s obscure songs over their big hits. The she told me that it’s for this reason she’s always amazed that I consider The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” to be the greatest song in all of rock ‘n roll. I explained to her that it’s just a coincidence that my great taste sometimes coincides with the taste of The Masses, but I digress. Yes, my wife suffers on an almost daily basis with hearing me express some beef along these lines.

Anyhow, following are songs by U2 that commercial radio chooses to play followed by hit songs I’d rather hear from the same album containing the track with radio programmer staying power. I could make a similar list for The Who, a band that I really do love yet for whom commercial radio programmers typically display equally bad taste in songs fit for broadcast. You may have your own examples regarding a band you either like mildly or love.
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Nov 232007

You may cry “No fair!” but I sense that a good deal of Townspeople have found Bono to be as annoying as anyone in rock at some point. Let’s get it off our chests once and for all, then find a way to admire the guy for what he is, within reason.

Those of us who feel this way may easily agree on the whole package of annoying behavior that could lead to screen-length rants, but for today’s Last Man Standing, I ask that you attempt to detail specific things about Bono that annoy the crap out of you, from his Holstering techniques to elements of his Look. Save the rants; state your beefs, one at a time. Let’s see what it adds up to.

Remember, Last Man Standing drills require the submission of no more than one (1) entry per post. When all ways in which Bono annoys the crap out of you have been exhausted we will take a moment of silence to celebrate the awarding of the RTH non-prize!

Oct 012007

In The Beatles’ song “Across The Universe”, the chorus relates to us: “Nothing’s gonna change my world”. In the verses, everything seems to be swaying and moving, (words are flying/endless rain/drifting through/restless wind/limitless, etc.). Julie Taymor’s second big film as a director (her first being the movie Frida), is about the world changing also. Changing around its characters, and in a big way. Depicting another Vietnam-era epic fictionalizing a storyline sadly paralleling our own generation’s current events–and possibly making this picture just a little more poignant in the process for its timing, even if it is a romanticized version using Broadway-esque Beatles’ songs to tell the story.

Each scene in the film is practically bridged together by song, which is one of a few negative things that I will note about Across The Universe. The storyline seems abrupt, and bumpy at times, fed to us song by song, as if they had glued a huge music video together to make a movie out of it, which is –I’m assuming, in making a movie using all Beatles’ songs –how I imagine they envisioned it (perhaps). A scene about The Detroit Riots, although matching the time period, seems pulled out of nowhere, and added in simply to make more use of a song, because the film’s story mostly takes place in NYC.

Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen, Running With Scissors) and newcomer Jim Sturgess (UK TV sitcom and series mostly) play “Lucy” and “Jude”; two star-crossed kids who fall in love. Jim, fresh off the boat from Ireland, and Lucy (whose boyfriend *spoiler alert* gets killed earlier on in the film during a tour of duty in Vietnam), who plays the pat younger doe-eyed sister of big brother “Max”–incidentally new best-friend to Jude, are stuck between the politics of war, and the youthfulness of being in love in a turbulent time (sounds cheesy, right?). Like Jude and Lucy, most characters in the film do have a Beatles-related name: Sadie (sexy modern cougar/singer/landlady), JoJo (sexy guitarist/Jimi Hendrix-type character), Prudence (yes, they sing “Dear Prudence” to Prudence), Dr. Robert (played oddly by Bono; weirdest quote award ‘masturbating crocodile tears’ or something of the sort) and UK comedian Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite – which is actually one of the more interesting parts of the film beside the major scene where Lucy’s brother Max is inducted into the army to the tune of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.

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Jan 162007

Bono holsters his guitar.

Holstering is the practice of a lead singer wearing a guitar but rarely playing it, rather flipping it back on his or her hip for all but a chorus or solo, if that. Bono and Mick Jagger are two of the move’s best-known practitioners. As is typical of practitioners of holstering, Bono and Jagger appeared onstage without a guitar for years before attempting to impress audiences with their newly acquired ability to strum a major chord. Roger Daltry would also debut a holstered guitar well into the career of The Who.

The Boss holsters a la Rambo!

It should be pointed out that holstering is not the domain of formerly axe-free lead singers alone. There are veteran guitar-playing singers who decide to holster their guitar on songs with rhythms beyond their capability, or they holster their guitar to better emote through a key verse or chorus. Joe Strummer often resorted to holstering for both of these reasons. Bruce Springsteen has also been known to holster his guitar to better focus on showing the audience how committed he is to the particular verse he’s singing. The Boss has also been known to holster for more practical reasons, such as those final choruses on his epic songs, in which multiple bandana-clad guitarists and backing singers gather around a single mic in an Iwo Jima-like show of heroic band unity.

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