Battle of the Bands, Part 5, Stones Surrender to the Beatles in Cleveland, perform "I Saw Her Standing There," as Pennance

Posted in Battle of the Bands, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 29th, 2012 by Willie

As the battle raged for decades, with both bands suffering unspeakable tragedy (Brian Jones, John Lennon), the bloodshed just HAD to end.  And end it did with Mick Jagger’s historic concession in Cleveland, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Mick, clearly disgusted at being forced to admit bitter defeat, inducted the Beatles, minus Paul McCartney (who apparently was too busy to witness  Mick’s humiliation), in a ceremony of drunken revelry, and cheeky good humor.  Watch this hilarious clip below…

My favorite part is seeing Mick’s unabashed, yet good-natured jealousy as he recounts the Beatles story.  That’s actually not something to be underrated, as that jealousy fueled Mick Jagger to heights he probably never dreamed of attaining.  It’s brilliant that Mick agreed to induct the Beatles into the Rock Hall, as he hung out with the Beatles a lot in the 60s.  He was there in the early London club days, the early drug taking days, the Maharishi lectures, the “Day in the Life” recording party, and the “All You Need is Love” performance.  He was an intimate eye-witness to a lot of the behind the scene Beatle madness, and you can tell by this great speech.  He inducts the Beatles, but the only ones to show are George and Ringo.  John, being dead at the time, had Yoko, Sean, and Julian represent his presence, while Paul is mysteriously absent.  George, Ringo, and Yoko, all make subtle bitter jokes about Paul’s lack of being there, and its all actually quite hilarious, especially George.  Sean also has a brilliant line as well…watch!

That was great, and yes, Paul’s presence was missed sorely, but so was John’s…After all, the Beatles would never really ever exist anymore without the four of them, so who cares.  Imagine if he lived though?  I guarantee they would have all come to this ceremony, and rocked the shit out of this joint.  Instead we get Billy Joel, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Bruce Springsteen taking a shot at “I Saw Her Standing There.”  Even with all that star power, it doesn’t come close to the power the original Beatles could have generated with just the four of them.  Ah well, its still a fun and rollicking performance, with George again being the main cut up, giving the patented Beatle head shaking “wooo!” a move he probably hadn’t pulled in 25 years.  It’s amazing, a perfect end to a glorious war, with the Beatles and the Stones coming together to agree that yes, we are all super gods enshrined in a museum of rock.

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Battle of the Bands, Part 4, Beatles & Stones, For No One vs. She Smiled Sweetly

Posted in Battle of the Bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 27th, 2012 by Willie

I love these two songs.  It’s practically a crime to have the two fight for glory, but fight they must.  “For No One,” from Revolver, is one of Paul McCartney’s most brilliant break up songs, and “She Smiled Sweetly,” from Between the Buttons is perhaps Mick and Keith’s most beautiful and mature love song.  Let’s pull the curtain up first on Paul McCartney’s “For No One.”  Whoosh.

A lot of great Beatle footage in there, even though the song is practically a solo Paul effort.  Ok, now onto “She Smiled Sweetly.”

And after watching that, I do believe that she did indeed smile sweetly.  Ok, lets check out the battlefield, count the bloody remains, and see who won this competition of the damned.

BEST DRUMMING:  Charlie Watts.  Ringo is probably the second greatest contributor to “For No One,” but his drumming is purposefully mixed low underneath the driving piano and French horn courtesy of Alan Civil.  Charlie, who hasn’t had a good showing thus far in the Battle of the Bands finally scores over Ringo.  His drumming is upfront, beautiful, and intimate, boldly displaying an unadorned emotionality in every beat.

BEST BASS PLAYING:  Bill Wyman.  Paul’s bass is limited, and kinda gimmicky in its attempt to mimic a classical arrangement.  It works, but I really prefer Bill’s work on “She Smiled Sweetly.”  His bass just vibrates and soars with a fat resonance.  It’s actually rather gorgeous and provides about 50% of the songs somber atmosphere.

BEST RHYTHM PLAYING:  Paul.  There isn’t really any guitar work on these songs, so we’ll compare pianos.  Both are expertly performed, but Paul McCartney’s piano riffs and arrangements are very creative and singular.  “She Smiles Sweetly” has a beautiful and lumbering shuffle, but it’s not what makes the song special.

BEST LEAD PLAYING:  Paul.  Well, Alan Civil to be precise.  The French Horn solo is actually the only solo in either song, and it’s pretty great, creating a sort of mundane English matter of factness.  The feeling it is evokes is one that says, ‘you might have just had your heart destroyed, but life is going on all around you, and nobody cares.’  It was a masterstroke of production common of George Martin and Paul McCartney by 1966.

BEST LEAD SINGING:  Mick.  We are passing the group singing for this contest, as there isn’t really any.  What we have though is Mick’s insanely vulnerable and atmospheric vocal performance, a testament to his range, and evidence of him being one of the world’s greatest rock singers, if not the greatest.  Mick just encapsulates coolness, sadness, beauty, and mystique all at once in this gorgeous love ode.  Paul is equally incredible, but his performance is a bit restrained and distant.  He performs a more emotional and rendition of the song on acoustic guitar in this video, which I’ve highlighted before.

BEST SONGWRITING:  TIE!  Both songs represent the best of mid 60s British chamber pop.  Both songs were written by songwriting masters.  Both songs are performed with the utmost emotionality and genuineness.  Both songs are works of genius.  It’s a tie.

WINNER:  The Rolling Stones!  “She Smiled Sweetly” just takes me to that special place no matter what mood I’m in.  “For No One,” is most effective after a breakup, as its particularly devastating, but when that’s not the case its merely just a great song.  “She Smiled Sweetly,” is the stuff dreams are made of.  Stay tuned tomorrow as we wrap up this Battle of the Bands in a thrilling and unexpected conclusion.  Don’t miss it!

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Battle of the Bands, Part 3, Beatles & Stones, Girl vs. Ruby Tuesday

Posted in Battle of the Bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 25th, 2012 by Willie

Welcome back to part 3 of my live reporting at 85th annual “Battle of the Bands!  We have the Rolling Stones and the Beatles continuing their quest to impress the judges with their finest music, and after a short break, the bands are ready to hop back on the stage to meet at loggerheads once again…But before we do, we’d just like to point out today’s sponsor; George Martin’s ridiculously pimped out album cover for his rare LP, “George Martin Instrumentally Salutes: The Beatle Girls.”  Just absorb that image of the dapper producer knee deep in London’s finest ladies.  My God, that’s amazing, and so on that note, lets get back to the show.  First up we have the Rolling Stones with “Ruby Tuesday” from Between the Buttons.

Well, that was just charming and dandy.  Let’s see how the Beatles respond…ahh, I can tell by the first few notes that they are launching into “Girl” from Rubber Soul.

Wonderful, I can tell the judges are going to have a hard time determining the victor here, let’s see the results.

BEST DRUMMING:  Ringo, and it’s not really close.  Mr. Starr lays down a gorgeous shuffling beat, filled with elegant cymbal play, accentuating the slurping post “girl” passages.  The song is incredibly atmospheric and intimate, and I think Ringo’s restrained and careful style has a lot to do with it.  Charlie does a fine job, but the percussion on “Ruby Tuesday” doesn’t envelop me the same way Ringo’s does.  Next!

BEST BASS PLAYING:  Paul, but it’s not fair.  “Ruby Tuesday” doesn’t really feature Bill Wyman’s electric bass so much as it does him hand playing a double bass, which is cool, but boring.  Paul is clearly heard on “Girl,” and as expected, he delivers a subtle and melodic performance, playfully bouncing around the outer edges of the song and giving it an enriching atmosphere.

BEST RHYTHM PLAYING:  John, and again it’s not so fair as “Ruby Tuesday’s” rhythm is mostly piano based.  But even comparing the piano rhythm on “Ruby Tuesday” to the guitar rhythm on “Girl,” the Beatles still come out on top.  What can I say, I’m just lifted away on the gentle cloud of John and George’s beautiful Martin guitars, maybe because its a cloudy cool day.

BEST LEAD PLAYING:  Brian Jones.  I love the Beatles Greek style guitar picking on “Girl,” but Brian Jones plays that lead solo line a frigging recorder!  You know, the thing from elementary school they give to all kids?  He sounds masterly on it, gleefully sharing the spotlight with Mick’s vocals.

BEST GROUP SINGING:  TIE!  It was too close, I was instinctively going to give it to the Beatles for their gorgeous and intricate “tit-tit-tit” backing vocals (yes they are saying tit,) but I can’t deny the charming and often underrated harmonies that Keith and Mick produce. While Keith’s voice doesn’t stick out as much as Mick’s in the mix in the way that John and Paul’s do, he just sounds like the coolest friend ever, and his presence just always makes the affair much happier.

BEST LEAD SINGING:  John.  Mick is amazing as ever singing Ruby Tuesday, but there is something very singular and unique about John’s performance on “Girl.”  I can’t really think of another Beatle or solo John song that comes close to matching the style or the energy of “Girl.”

BEST SONGWRITING:  TIE!  My reasoning for this is that I truly think “Girl” is the better song, but I can’t ignore that “Ruby Tuesday” was a smash hit.  Also, the Stones tie the Beatles in the area because there is legitimate confusion as to who was responsible for “Girl.”  John insists he wrote the whole thing, probably because he was proud of how it turned out, but Paul humbly differs.  In fact, it might not just be the music, but a bunch of the Lennon-esque lyrics might have belonged to Paul as well.  Such details don’t detract from the song, but sort of muddy up the history of a really interesting and important breakthrough Beatle song.

WINNER:  Well, the Beatles win this round 3-1, not counting the ties, and why not?  “Ruby Tuesday” might be catchier and more known by the public at large, but “Girl” has a cool philosophical mystique that is really stunning.  Even though the Beatles seemed to win this contest easily, it was really much closer than that, illustrating yet again the knock down, dragged out fight for glory this contest has become.  Reporting live from Wimbledon, I’m Willie Simpson saying, see you tomorrow for the second to last installment of our battle royale between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

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Battle of the Bands, Part 2, Beats & Stones, Day Tripper vs. Satisfaction

Posted in Battle of the Bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 23rd, 2012 by Willie

Welcome to part 2 of the epic slug-fest between Britain’s greatest musical exports, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  Part 1 was a close contest, in which we found the Beatles barely squeaking by in a battle as to who could rock “I Wanna Be Your Man,” more proficiently.  That was just kid stuff however, as today we break out the real dynamite.  Today we have the Beatles “Day Tripper,” vs. the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction.”  I’ll just spoil it right now, the Rolling Stones win.  Ok?  Bored yet?  Don’t be!  Well, if you want ok, but lets go through it anyway.  First lets watch the immaculate hit of genius proportions that is “Day Tripper.”

Holy shit, go go girls dancing to Beatles music with the Beatles standing right there!  I’ve never seen the Beatles in that kind of situation before…pretty awesome!  Well, that was highly satisfying…onto the Rolling Stones…

My favorite anecdote from Keith Richard’s autobiography, Life, was recalling how before the 1970s, Mick Jagger just danced, and it was fucking great.  Later on in the 70s and 80s Mick got a coach, which Keith thought was rightfully bullshit.   In this video you see Mick pulling off some righteous footwork, also his pants seem to be glowing.  Amazing.  Onto the RESULTS!

BEST DRUMMING:  TIE!  Actually, its not that exciting, the drums are the last thing I pay attention to when enjoying these two songs.  Both Charlie and Ringo take a back seat to the more interesting stuff going on in these songs, which brings us to….

BEST BASS PLAYING:  TIE!  Dammit…again?  The only thing really going on in bass in these songs mirroring the dynamic riffs that altered the course of rock and roll forever.

BEST RHYTHM PLAYING:  TIE!  WHAT THE FUCK!  The more I keep playing these songs back to back, the more I realize how identical they are in many ways.  In both bands, you have Lennon and Jones just sort of filling out shuffly little chords underneath the riffs with nary a notice.

BEST LEAD GUITAR:  Stones, no question.  At last, somebody scores.  What else can you say, Keith Richards is incredible.  He wrote the riff in his sleep, had it on tape along with his snoring the next day, and rock and roll collectively rocked and rolled another ten thousand light years down the cosmic super highway.  Now, the Day Tripper riff is nothing to sneeze at, in fact I’ve always been curious just how the international jet setting, stadium touring, movie making, TV appearing, center of Beatlemania most famous people in the world being, Beatles, just pulled this riff of diamonds out of their butts, but they had access to magics few can understand.  Still, in many ways “Day Tripper” was written as a response to groundbreaking work in riffage that the Rolling Stones were exploring, and it is a mighty response, but the Stones got there first.

BEST GROUP SINGING:  The Beatles.  What’s cool about “Day Tripper” is that Paul McCartney is singing lead on a John Lennon song for the most part, and that they cram in the best part of “Twist and Shout” into the bridge, somehow making it original again.  It’s fantastic.  “Satisfaction,” on the other hand is mainly just Mick, which brings us to…

BEST LEAD SINGING:  The Rolling Stones.  This is Mick Jagger’s ultimate song.  It stuffs all his dangerous, swarthy, bluesy, teenagey, rebellious, sexually frustrated, radicalness into one glorious package.  “Day Tripper,” as discussed, doesn’t even have a lead singer really.

BEST SONGWRITING:  Ahh…a new category, it would have been pointless to include this in the last post, but the winner here is the Rolling Stones.  Keith came up with the riff and the “I Can’t Get No, Satisfaction” melody, while Mick put his stamp on the lyrics and the rest of the song.  It was a team effort of historic proportions that really illustrated the magic of the Jagger/Richards songwriting duo.  “Day Tripper” has proto-“in your face”-psychedelic lyrics, “a drug song” in John Lennon’s words, and it is a basket of rock and roll fun, but “Satisfaction” is a milestone, while “Day Tripper” is…ummm…also a milestone, but one of many the Beatles churned out.

WINNER:  The Rolling Stones by a score of 3-1.  I didn’t lie when I told you the Stones would win.  I hadn’t worked out the math before I delved into it, but I knew that scientifically there was no way they would lose this contest.  You’ll never guess what battle awaits tomorrow, but if you happen to be a mellotron, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Battle of the Bands, Part 1, The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, I Wanna Be Your Man

Posted in Battle of the Bands, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones on March 22nd, 2012 by Willie

I was sitting around my new apartment, feeling kind of directionless and antsy, when a genius idea struck my temple.  Get this, you take bands, and you pit them in some sort of competition, almost like a battle.  Then, after all the notes are sung, and the riffs are all licked, you determine a winner, like a contest.  I call this totally original idea, “The Battle of the Bands!”  I feel like the alliteration of “B’s” give it that extra kick of specialness.  So, for round one, I have two special groups from England.  The first group is your mother’s favorite, the clean cut Rolling Stones.  The second group are the rebellious and sexually suggestive group of teenaged rebels known as the Beatles.  The song to be rocked over is “I Wanna Be Your Man,” a Lennon/McStarkey original.  Legend has it that the Rolling Stones were bored of being London nobodies, and asked their extremely famous buddies, the Beatles to give them a hand.  True to form, the Beatles lent them not a hand, but a MAN!  Hahaha, oh boy, I’m cracklin’ today, so I present  “I Wanna Be Your Man” first sung by the Beatles lead singer, Ringo!  Be careful when you press play, it’s like opening up a can of soda set to explode!

Now it’s time for the Rolling Stones to have their say.  I found an interesting clip from some British documentary on the Rolling Stones early rise, which is full of gravitas and veiled technicolor danger, so dig the opening before the Stones launch into their boozy version…

Now, that you’ve dug a double dose of ridiculous rock and roll raga, it’s time to crown the winners.

BEST DRUMMING:  Ringo.  Charlie Watts is a fantastic drummer, but Ringo puts on a clinic in the Beatle version.  His drumming is crisp, not too splashy, and has a cool mod feel, plus he achieves all this and sings lead at the same time.  Sorry Charlie, maybe next time.

BEST BASS PLAYING:  TIE!  Paul McCartney gives an airplane buzz of stylish riffs and fast paced awesomeness, while Bill Wyman lays down a funky jungle beat.  There is no clear winner hear.

BEST RHYTHM GUITAR:  Keith Richards.  John Lennon has his patented mercy-side shuffle, keeping up with and doubling Paul’s bass lines, but Keith Richards invents some kind of chunky railroad rhythm that is like a cross between Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.  It’s addictive, strange, and I love it.

BEST LEAD GUITAR:  George Harrison.  While I think the slide guitar gimmick that Brian Jones came up with for the song matches the Stone’s arrangement, I find it kind of annoying.  Meanwhile, George Harrison plays lead rhythm, lead guitar, and a wicked little country solo.  It’s sharp and cool, and its one of things that make George incredible.

BEST GROUP SINGING:  The Beatles.  The Beatles sound like a cool onyx cube of perfection, singing as a group, backing up Ringo.  Their voices sound like a jet engine of power, encapsulating the source of Beatlemania.  The Stones sound like a gang of hooligans, shouting, scratching, and stabbing their way through a seedy London pub.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally awesome, but the Beatles sound like visitors from the future spreading advanced technology with every note they sing.  The Beatles had 4 lead singers.  Ringo, while not technically good, sings on key, with total humanity and no pretension.  George had a beautiful medieval sounding English voice matching his gaunt knightly appearance.  His role as 3rd harmonist also gave the Beatles vocals a rich and distinctly Liverpudlian edge.  Paul McCartney was the Beatles ultimate weapon, like a golden sword.  His voice soars high like Bono and Little Richard combined, but is more versatile, and capable of fantastic mimicry.  He could sing like a psychedelic maniac, a garage rocker, and a mystical angel.  The best thing about Paul McCartney’s voice is when it merges with John Lennon’s, simulating the sonic experience of listening to the birth of the universe.  John Lennon’s voice was perfect for rock and roll; a full throated roar of passion and soul.  It’s also a sort of horizontal hypnotic harmonic noise that fills out your ears perfectly, especially when combined with Paul’s.

BEST LEAD SINGER:  Mick Jagger.  Ringo is an underrated rock and roll singer in many ways, but he is not Mick Jagger, no one is.  Mick basically owns a few patents on the genre when it comes to rock and roll singing.  It’s the voice of teenage rebellion, nasty self righteous punk power, tender country authenticity, and gorgeous tonal soul.  He gives the Rolling Stones a unique singular voice that holds its own against a group like the Beatles, no small feat.

WINNER:  The Beatles by a score of 3-2!  It was close, but the Beatles come out on top.  I think it was a fair victory.  The Beatles version of “I Wanna Be Your Man,” is the more polished finished product, while the Stones version is almost a novelty number.  Don’t get me wrong, by reading this article, you can tell I adore the Stones version, but after all, the Beatles wrote the tune, and the Stones were playing on their turf.  If you liked what you read here, stayed tuned for tomorrow, when I start comparing the Stones and Beatles greatest hits in a week long journey of rock and roll excellence.

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The Unicorns, Sea Ghost

Posted in The Unicorns, Youtube Favs on March 20th, 2012 by Willie

I was walking to my new office in Sheepshead Bay this morning when “Sea Ghost” by the Unicorns popped into my shuffle.  As I was strolling down the dirty street towards my destination, I found myself hypnotized by the maritime swing rock of the nautically themed song.  The guitar tone has that perfect garage band crunch, and the melody is both catchy and unpredictable.  In short, its a perfect rock and roll song.  The video below is some crazy fan made video of people running around in ghost costumes, miming the opening piccolo solo, and making merry times to one of the world’s greatest unknown songs. Check it out.

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The Police, Walking on the Moon, Live

Posted in The Police, Youtube Favs on March 18th, 2012 by Willie

Sting wrote this song while he was drunk in Germany, seems fitting considering the free floating riffs and subject matter.  “Walking on the Moon,” is an unparallelled Police classic, and an example of genuine 80s psychedelia, a sort of rare excursion for 80s pop groups.  Actually the song was originally titled “Walking Round the Room,” which Sting thought was rightfully stupid.  The live performance below is tight and hard edged featuring Sting in one of the worst jackets in human history.  The rest of the band is decked out in normal person clothes, and its easy to imagine what Copeland and Summers must have been thinking concerning the ego level of Sting when their gazes met his visage.  Despite Sting’s violent affront to common fashion sense, the Police are legends, and you’ll have no problem digging this awesome document of their musical power.

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Bob Dylan, Series of Dreams

Posted in Bob Dylan, Youtube Favs on March 13th, 2012 by Willie

The thing about being a prolific artist with a 40+ year career is that its likely you might release some random epic masterpieces when people are done paying attention to you.  Bob Dylan is such an artist.  His song, “Series of Dreams,” a bootleg from the Oh Mercy sessions, is a fantastic piece of abstract pop.  Given a thunderous production by Daniel Lanois that recalls the late 80s/early 90s peculiar air of serious grandiosity, “Series of Dreams,” is one of Bob Dylan’s best later period songs.  Unlike other songs about his dreamscapes, this one is rather straightforward; a meditation on the elusive nature of dreams that may be meaningless, or may not.  It’s also a sly comment on how people, and even himself, perhaps look too much into his dreams and the lyrics and music they inspire.  It’s also serves as a manly sort of reflection of an everyman looking back at his life and all the dreams he’s dreamt…reminds me as the sort of the song that Clint Eastwood might appreciate.  The video is a beautiful hodgepodge of classic Dylan clips given that universal circle of life 90s editing style, you know, the sort of style that tries to capture and summarize a lifetime worth of moments with a new age touch.  It’s at once both dated and beautiful, and one of my favorite Dylan clips available on YouTube.  Check it out.

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John Lennon, New York City, Live in Madison Square Garden

Posted in John Lennon, Youtube Favs on March 9th, 2012 by Willie

Well, I’m back in America, the land I love, and the city that made me, New York.  After 48 hours of near continuous travel by boat, car, and plane, I’ve made it home to Brooklyn.  Over the last five months I’ve been to Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Bangkok, and Railay Beach in southern Thailand.  For someone who has never left the USA before, and never really planned to, it was an eye opening experience.  I found people in the Australasia region to be both extremely warm and friendly, and positive to Americans especially because they love Barrack Obama.  Thanks Mr. President for making Americans cool again overseas.  I’ve also arrived just in time for the American Spring, which will lead right into summer, giving me 3 summers in a row, suck it winter.  I’ve only been in New York for 24 hours, but I’m already looking for a new apartment, been invited to a musical, and eaten the most delicious NYC bagel I’ve ever had.  To celebrate even further, I’m posting John Lennon’s performance of “New York City,” from his fabled Madison Square Concert live performance.  I’ve already linked to performances of “Come Together,”  “Mother,” and “Cold Turkey,” from the same concert, so it doesn’t hurt to keep globbing on more of the same Lennony goodness.  Anyway, it’s good to be back, and it’s good to be home, and I look forward to resuming my daily activities of providing you with the best rock and roll music in the world.

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