Aug 072009

Some of you may recall my work in exposing the so-called Charlie Watts hoax. Considering that the beats on Stones records have long been among my favorite beats of all time, I’ve always been disappointed whenever I hear the Stones play these same songs live. It’s easy to point the finger at Mick Jagger for his shucking and jiving, which probably takes away from his already-limited ability to deliver the songs in his highly effective, super-cool, studio “head” voice, but I think Watts is the real culprit in the Stones rarely sounding – to me – like the supposed great live band that their vast team of publicists has spent 35 years promoting. The tempos are usually too slow, even by the standards of the original studio recordings. This breaks one of rock’s most important unwritten rules of live performance, that is, that tempos should be sped up by at least 20%. Watts rarely throws in the trademark fills that “he” has crafted on the studio recordings. For a band whose best work on record is driven by the drummer’s efficient beats (regardless of who the actual drummer might be), live Watts has to work his ass off to sound like your kid brother sitting in with your band on drums for a song or two before your real drummer shows up for rehearsal.
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May 032009

I know some of you are touched by the simple, open-wound charms of The Beach Boys’ Love You album. Isn’t part of that album’s appeal the sympathetic vibe you get from a band hanging onto its gifts by a thread?

That’s at the root of my soft spot for The Byrds‘ “Chestnut Mare.” I’m a hard ass about The Byrds’ prime-era work, as some of you know, but I find “Chestnut Mare” most sympathetic. You can tell Roger McGuinn is still trying to catch that elusive sound he’d been chasing during the ups and downs of The Byrds. He’s the last of the original Byrds standing, but he’s not ready to think outside the band structure. Roger’s got a business suit on – just in case – and it’s not clear that everyone in this version of The Byrds makes sense (conga player???), but it’s not quite the season for the band to die.

Musically, I think there’s something to be said for the lack of cohesion and confidence in this performance. I wish the early Byrds could have shown more rough edges and vulnerability. I wish The Byrds had trafficked in more Loser Rock. OK, maybe not, but at least this weird, waning performance allows me to feel something wistful.

What’s your most sympathetic last-ditch effort by a band that’s clearly past its prime?

Mar 182008

As some of you know, I’ve long been troubled by the critical acclaim The Byrds have received over the years relative to some of their contemporaries, some of whom I like better than The Byrds and others who have the sole advantage of not having included the annoying modern-day Roger McGuinn. It’s petty and pointless of me to harp on these feelings, but are not petty and pointless harping among the reasons we enter the Halls of Rock?

Isn’t it about time for The Hollies?

The Hollies, “Carrie Ann”

The band I have felt has been most slighted by The Byrds’ inflated legacy is The Hollies. If I want to hear jangly guitars, lots of harmonies, and songs about wanting to hold hands with girls the singer is too shy to even say “Hello” to I want to hear The Hollies. The teenage-geek longing in their songs is moving, their beats are driving, and the abundance of harmonies never strikes me as saccharine. They don’t hit me with a bunch of second-hand hippie philosophy. Like The Easybeats, another one of my favorite second-tier ’60s bands, they were a pop band fully focused on the task of making pop records.

So, after years of harping on this issue, I’m just about ready to let it go. I’ve finally figured out why The Hollies never match the critical acclaim heaped upon The Byrds, that frequently lauded ’60s band I most often find least satisfying compared with the hype…

Jul 102007

Had more dinners than most

I get why people like The Byrds. I also get why they’re credited with bringing a fresh synthesis of already established and important sounds to rock that would be perfected about 25 years later with a few great, late-70s power pop singles and a run of solid Tom Petty records. What I don’t get is why they’re considered a major player in rock history. The best example, and this has bugged me since I first spent my hard-earned money on a Byrds’ “twofer” in 1980, is The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, which dedicates an entire chapter to The Byrds! Right between Dylan and Folk Rock is an entire chapter dedicated to a band with few more than a dozen great songs, probably eight of which are essentially the same reworking of a verse from a Dylan song. I don’t get it.

Had a chapter, a box set, the works…

Oh, I get the super-cool Roger McGuinn specs. I get the Rickenbackers and the perfect combination of lean legs and well-cut trousers. I get the pretty cool hair and the American Beatles appeal. I even get the dozen jangly songs with Dylan-lite delivery and mid-period Beatles harmonies. The Byrds are one of those bands for which Greatest Hits albums were made, but even then the dozen greatest hits pretty much hit exactly the same mark. Take away their couple of psychedelic hits, in which McGuinn played some cool guitar solos, and you’ve got a bunch of songs that would be George Harrison‘s contributions to mid-60s Beatles albums. Without being a member of The Beatles, would George Harrison’s 8 variations on “If I Needed Someone” and his best late-Beatles songs have been worthy of a full chapter in any rock history book? I think not.

I could, but I won’t rest my case!
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Feb 272007

An amalgamation of the 12-string guitar, the high-strung guitar, improvements in acoustic guitar circuitry, and burgeoning ’80s cult worship of The Byrds and Big Star. In short, the 128-string guitar represented every Southern jangle-pop fan’s wet dream.

The style probably has its roots in George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. Think of songs like “My Sweet Lord”, with producer Phil Spector layering lord knows how many guitars to push along that simple progression.

Peter Holsapple & Chris Stamey, “Geometry” (from Mavericks, as broadcast on WFMU)

As a device, the 128-string guitar came to prominence in the early ’90s, spanning mainstream country-pop through alternative jangle-pop artists. The 128-string guitar dominated the sound of the highly anticipated, among rock nerds, Chris Stamey-Peter Holsapple reunion, Mavericks. For some, this album was a godsend, with every possible jangly guitar tone encompassed in each deliberately strummed chord. For others, this album was a major letdown, with the 128-string guitar negating any overtones and interesting rhythms that might interfere with the listener’s appreciation of each and every lush chord.

The 128-string guitar would also make its appearance on gentle songs by the likes of Matthew Sweet, Bill Lloyd, Tommy Keene, and Teenage Fanclub as well as infiltrate the huge radio hits of Tom Petty. Although the 128-string guitar has proven itself a useful and effective tool, the watchdog organization Rock Town Hall cautions against its abuse.


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