Aug 172012

Pussy Riot

RTH knows best is yet to come. Stay strong #PussyRiot! (Official tweet from Rock Town Hall)

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the recent Pussy Riot prison sentence that’s rocked Russia is how inept security was at shutting down the lip-synched performance. The London Police Service would have “pulled the plug” on the band in a sober, orderly fashion. Someone should have dialed 999.

On the bright side, artists and celebrities in the West have been provided a golden opportunity to grab some press by tweeting deeply meaningful shows of support. Even DJ Qualls risked backlash from his huge Russian Orthodox following by throwing his weight behind the band.


Apr 112012

Last week the family and I were in the car for a short trip out for dinner. I switched on the local Classic Rock station and  “Waiting on a Friend” came on the radio.

“This song isn’t up to your high standards, is it?” my wife asked with a mocking glance from the passenger’s seat.

“Actually, I like this song,” I said, leaving out the fact that for a good 15 years I did not allow myself to like it. “It’s ‘Start Me Up’ that is the last straw for me and the Stones.”

With each passing year I really do like “Waiting on a Friend.” I like the video even better. I value friendship above just about everything else. It’s really nice how patient Mick is waiting for Keef to show up and take a walk. In contrast, the guy sitting at the cafe window at the 1:33 mark looks so sad, doesn’t he? He clearly doesn’t have a great old friend like Keef who’s running just a few minutes late. I’ll stop now before I tear up at the site of Mick and Keef eventually meeting up with Ronnie at the bar, where they swig beer; sashay to the music; lean into each other; and practice multiple means of self-stimulation by running hands through messy hair, playing with a scarf, and taking deep drags off a cigarette.

With each passing year I like “Start Me Up” less. I didn’t like it the day I first heard it, when it was released. I don’t like it even one bit today. It’s the musical equivalent of Mick’s stupid football pants. It’s a real ass-kisser of a song by a band that made its bones kicking ass. It’s Mick run wild with his penchant for 17-year-old Brazilian models. It’s musical Viagra, before there even was such a pill. It’s Keef doing that stupid knee bend while pulling off one of his patented “no-hands” 5-string guitar moves. It’s the sound of all the wrong people suddenly getting excited over a band that meant a lot to me.

I didn’t tell my wife any of this stuff that was running through my sick brain, but I did tell her this: “Did I ever tell you about the time sophomore year when I turned down second-row seats for that Stones tour in Chicago?”

“Huh?” My wife has good taste and is a snob in her own right. She knows that Stones were beginning to head downhill at that time, but she doesn’t read deep meanings into “Under My Thumb” and the groove of “Beast of Burden.” She can enjoy “Start Me Up” for what it probably is: a fun dance song.

“Yeah, a guy in our frat’s dad was some kind of union head,” I explained. “He got us an entire row of seats, the second row, front and center. I was offered a ticket for $20. I was already certain the band sucked. I turned it down.”

“You need to turn yourself into Rock Town Hall for one of those Rock Crimes,” my wife exclaimed. “You’re sick! If you don’t turn yourself in I’m going to log on and out you. Turn yourself in and see if they find you guilty!”

So here I am, Too Cool for School, circa 1982. Was I justified in turning down that second-row ticket—maybe even visionary—or am I guilty of having been Too Cool for School?

Is Mr. Moderator innocent or guilty of "Too Cool for School" Rock Crimes charges for having turned down second-row seats to the Rolling Stones' 1982 tour?

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Jan 232012

On January 17, 1971. Robert James Ritchie was dragged from his mother’s womb kicking and screaming into this world. Little did he loving parents know that this was the same technique their son would employ to forge a career in music for himself. The self styled “rock-rapper” would not achieve his desire until the release of the 1998 album Devil Without a Cause, released by Atlantic Records, which sold a whopping 11 million albums, apparently. It was followed by a slightly less successful album: History of Rock, in 2000, which featured the hit single “American Badass.”

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear. I am no fan of raining on the parade of a dude or dudette that is making a living out of “Living The Dream”; good luck to them. And even if I had the means to go back in time and undo such atrocities I don’t think I would because at the end of the day it’s only rock ’n roll, and I like it. But there is a but.

The unholy fusion of “Cock-Rock” with “Gangsta-Rap” produces a sound that I can only be likened to listening to a migraine headache. I only say this because I am convinced that Kid Rock takes himself seriously, which on the face of it seems impossible, but nevertheless I fear it to be true. The worst crime that Kid Rock is guilty of is the crime of fraud: he is a teeny-bopper in rocker’s clothing no matter how good his credentials are and no matter how many truly hard rockin’ amigos he has. So here’s my question: Why do people like “The Kid” exist? Are they genuine musicians trying to carve their way in the world or are they walkin’ the walk and talkin’ the talk to bag the cash? Whatever the popular vote favors I accept, but with no prejudice at all. Guy’s like Kid Rock leave a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I need to be educated in this musical area.

So I say that Kid Rock is guilty of “sucking up to the man.”

Evidence for the prosecution follows the jump…

Continue reading »

May 102011

Did you know the Pollard Syndrum, the first electronic drum, was invented by a former studio drummer for The Beach Boys and The Grass Roots? I did not know that. That said, I propose that the Syndrum is the lamest instrument ever.

Has the Syndrum ever made a positive, essential contribution to any recording? The Cars‘ “Good Times Roll” is cited as a well-known example of the Syndrum in practice, but would you call that little tom-tom ping positive or essential? Would anyone call that noise both positive and essential? The good times are rolling just fine without it in this 1982 live performance of the song.

Furthermore, why did someone have to invent a synth that’s controlled by a drum pad? Why couldn’t Cars’ keyboardist Greg Hawkes have used his index finger to hit that blip on the downbeat of David Robinson’s tom-tom? Hell, he could have done it on a keytar, putting to rest any arguments that that lame instrument is more lame than the Syndrum.

Can you name one positive and essential recording driven by a Syndrum? Thinking of what that instrument did to the already lame Clash song “Ivan Meets GI Joe,” would you want to let the Syndrum off the hook by indentifying a lamer instrument?

Can you name an instrument more lame than the Syndrum? And don’t give me the Ovation Roundback acoustic guitar, because despite its aesthetic shortcomings thousands of hours on The Road have been logged playing perfectly fine music for The People.

(More about the Syndrum player in this post’s introductory video…after the jump!) Continue reading »

Mar 292011

Let’s review the rules, which are simple and nice:

No potshots allowed at all the obvious targets in this clip. Rather, say something nice about the band, their performance, and anything else you may see, hear, or feel while watching this video. If you don’t have anything nice to say, that’s OK; Rock Town Hall still offers the occasional thread to post a snarky comment.


Jan 202011

Guilty of one too many ding-a-lings?

We know there is a solid history of nonsense syllables in popular music, from Mairseydotes and Ragmop to Ob-La-Di and De Doo Doo Doo. Some of this usage is intentional or wordplay, but some of it is basically lazy lyric writing by a composer, who can’t seem to find better words to replace the ones that were ad-libbed.

On this front, is there any greater offender than Phil Collins? I know that ABACAB is a reference to musical structure, but let’s dispense with that lame defense because ABACAB is not a word. What is a “Paperlate” and a “Sussudio?”

I recall an interview with Paddy MacAloon, the man behind Prefab Sprout. He relayed a conversation he had with Paul McCartney about the song, “The King Of Rock and Roll,” which has the chorus lyric: “Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque,” which is really intended to be a parody of mindless pop song lyrics. The irony was that this was Sprout’s big hit, thus McCartney told MacAloon that the song was his “My Ding-A-Ling” and that every songwriter gets to have one “My Ding-A-Ling.”

Thus, Phil Collins, in writing at least three nonsense songs, has vastly overshot his “My Ding-A-Ling” quota, which I believe is grounds for charging him with a Rock Crime, and surely he’s guilty of others. But the Cocteau Twins aside, is there anybody more guilty of lazy, nonsense, my-dingalinging than Phil Collins?

Oct 042010

John Wetton: yet another good egg enters the Halls of Rock

Following a tosssed-off aside in a recent analysis/appreciation of a Lark’s Tongue in Aspic-era King Crimson performance an immediate groundswell of support gathered around the previously inconceivable notion that John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson, Roxy Music, UK, Family, Uriah Heep, and much more) was the Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.

To clarify, it’s not that Wetton’s good looks had previously been inconceivable but that good looks ever played a part in the brainy, challenging progressive rock scene. In the wake of this discussion Townspeople were polled, and between the results of nearly 1000 voters and a panel of rock experts, Wetton was officially deemed – once and for allThe Sexiest Man in Prog-Rock.

That’s the silly part of the story. We managed to contact Wetton for his thoughts on this distinction (“I’m delighted to be deemed a cute pig in the litter,” he replied). Better yet, he agreed to an interview with us. It’s the following interview, one focusing on his musical experiences rather than beauty tips, that’s the most appreciated thing to come from a silly notion and an unexpected encounter with Wetton and a broad swath of prog-rock fans.

As you probably know, if this is even your second day in the Halls of Rock, Rock Town Hall regulars tend to be deeply immersed in the music we’ve lived through. Musicians like Wetton, whose careers have woven through a broad swath of rock history, can be especially enticing as interview subject. We spend more time than the average person contemplating Rock’s Big Issues, and who better to hear from than musicians who’ve straddled eras, genres, and band responsibilities? In the following interview, John Wetton provides insight on these issues and displays an enthusiasm for and confidence in his musical ventures and colleagues that I found refreshing. I hope you do, too.

RTH: How is your health, John, and what are you working on these days? Did I read correctly that been at work on projects with both Asia and Eddie Jobson?

John Wetton: My health is good, thank you—having survived (with enormous help on both counts) two life-threatening conditions, I’m being a little more circumspect, but still have a lust for life and a desire to enjoy the journey, regardless of the destination. I’ve just completed 50 dates with Asia–in Europe, USA and Japan—we complete the world touring for 2010 with a 5-date UK tour before Christmas.

I played 3 dates in Poland with Eddie Jobson last November, “for old times’ sake.” It was generally regarded as a UK reunion and was great fun, but we have no plans to extend that run right now. It was a terrific band–myself, Eddie, Marco Minneman, Tony Levin, and Greg Howe.

[NOTE: Mogul Thrash would spawn not only Wetton but two the founding members of Average White Band, which Townspeople also know as the band that gave us RTH hero Hamish Stuart.]

RTH: Your career must be a dream for writer Pete Frame and his Rock Family Tree books. The earliest band I knew of that you were in was Family, but I learned that you were in an earlier band that recorded an album, Mogul Thrash. The music sounds in the jazz-rock vein of Soft Machine and Colosseum. Prior to Mogul Thrash, were you already rooted in jazz and improvisatory music?

JW: I guess my name would have cropped up on many of Pete’s Family trees, but I did most of my band-hopping in the ’70s—since then I’ve done side projects, but the bulk of my work has been either with Asia or as a solo artist.

Jazz was never really an influence until I was in my early 20s, when I started to listen to some fantastic players–John McLaughlin, Miroslav Vitous, Herbie Hancock. My huge early musical influence from around age 5, was my brother, a church organist and choirmaster. Piano is my first instrument.

RTH: At the same time, you’ve also displayed a strong pop sense through your career. As a boy, were you more a Beatles or Stones fan?


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