Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Papa Nez Shines New "Rays"
Michael Nesmith finds unique way to release new album
Though he will be forever linked to the Monkees, Michael Nesmith should standout as one of the true pioneers of the Rock world. When he quit the Monkees in 1969, Nesmith became one of the greatest yet overlooked talents of the burgeoning "Country-Rock" movement. He also penned some great tunes for other people, including "Different Drum" for a young Linda Ronstandt.
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When his contract for RCA expired, Nesmith created his own music company, Pacific Arts, and created some of the first music videos. He also re-entered television briefly, bringing his odd sketch-driven series "Elephant Parts" to the small screen. And he even occasionally reunited with his old bandmates for a limited tour. Through it all, Nesmith continued to release solo material.
Nesmith's latest album, Rays, was recorded and released near the end of 2005, but the way it was released is unique, and, like many of Nesmith's ventures, quite possibly the wave of the future.
Nesmith produced 100 limited edition advance copies in 2005, then produced another 100 advance copies, and finally released it on iTunes. While a physical copy of the CD will become commercially available in April, the only way the majority of his fans can get this CD now is to download it off iTunes. Nesmith is not the first artist to promote "exclusive" tracks on iTunes, but he is one of the first to release a whole album this way.
As of my writing, Rays is still not available through online retailers, such as Amazon.com (in fact it's not even listed on their site) - only iTunes carries it. Rays even has a digital booklet - much like a CD booklet - so it is conceivable to construct your own CD, if you really need the physical CD.
But Rays does point the way artists and record companies alike can and most likely will market their music from now on - no more actual physical discs, just downloads. This is an advantage especially to unknown bands, who can now skip the expense of burning CDs, if they can afford the expense of making their music digital.
As for Rays itself, the music is quite a departure from what both the Monkees and Nesmith have done before. The album is primarily instrumental, dominated by synthesizers and jazzy calypso-style guitar. There are only four tracks with a proper vocal, but for those who love Nesmith and his willingness to expand into new genres, Rays is a good pick-up.
Who knew a guy from the Monkees would be so savvy?
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
We Still Love It "Eight Days A Week"
Beatles' classic points to their true genius
Today I was in my car listening to the oldies station when the Beatles' "Eight Days A Week" came on, and it struck me how stupid this song really was. Now before I get thousands of angry responses from irate Beatle fans, let me clarify - I do really like this song. In fact it is a shining example of the Beatles brilliance.
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Had any other band came up with the premise of "Eight Days A Week" (I love you so much, even an extra day each week wouldn't cover it), most people would write it off as silly tripe - this is the stuff of Herman's Hermits and Gerry and the Pacemakers.
Yet somehow coming from the Beatles, it's pop brilliance. Is this because we, the majority of music listeners have been so indoctrinated into the mythos that everything (or nearly everything) the Beatles did was great, so EDAW must be great? Or is that the Beatles were actually so good they could take a fluff song like EDAW and make it one of the best pop songs ever recorded?
Part of the equation is when the song was released too. No rock/pop band worth its salt would write and record a song like EDAW today and expect it to chart. However in 1965, when the oldest member of the Beatles was still only 21, there was still an air of innocence that has been lost from pop music ever since.
"Ooh I need your love, babe,
Guess you know it's true.
Hope you need my love, babe,
Just like I need you."
It seems so simplistic when you just write out the lyrics, but there is a complexity in the way these lyrics are delivered. Compare them to Herman's Hermits "I'm into Something Good,"
"Woke up this morning feeling fine,
There's something special on my mind
I met a new girl in my neighborhood.
Something tells me I'm into something good."
Lyrically, both songs convey the same sentiment of fresh young love. But we can hear both songs in our minds and somehow we know "Eight Days A Week" is better.
The Beatles wrote some of the best and best-known pop music of the 20th century. While critics will point to Sgt. Pepper and Rubber Soul as evidence of their genius, I maintain that it's songs like "Eight Days A Week" that show the Beatles' true genius. Over forty years after it's release, it still stands out from its peers and still resonates with listeners today.
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Emitt Rhodes Still "Fresh As A Daisy"
Pop singer's auspicious debut still resonates a lost genius
The fact that the name Emitt Rhodes isn't more widely known is one of the great mysteries of pop music. During a brief four-year career, he released some of the brightest and best power pop of the early seventies. However, due to a poor record contract, Rhodes ultimately burned out and disappeared from the music industry after only three albums.
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Rhodes was a mere 20-years-old when he recorded his first solo album, simply titled Emitt Rhodes. Immediately it drew comparisons to another artist's solo debut, Paul McCartney. Indeed, Rhodes does seem emulate the Beatles and McCartney, even singing with a faux-English accent (Rhodes is from Hawthorne, California). But those who would write him off as just another McCartney imitator, miss Rhodes ability to craft brilliant songs.
Like McCartney, Rhodes chose to make his first album a "home-grown" experience, playing every instrument himself. His songs are very McCartney-esque, most similar (in style if not content) to songs like "Martha My Dear" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." As one reviewer said of Rhodes' solo debut, "It's the Paul McCartney album McCartney fans wish he made."
"With My Face on the Floor" opens the album - it is a great bouncy tune about the end of a relationship, "Well I'm down with my face on the floor/ Yes I got what I asked for and more," This should have been a sizeable hit and should be on every oldies stations' playlists.
Other pop gems like "Somebody Made for Me" and "She's Such a Beauty" follow and the whole album is a pleasant listen. "Fresh as a Daisy," another standout, was the only hit single for this album. Rhodes closes the album with "You Must Have" a reflective song that could have easily fit on to any of the Beatles' later albums.
Part of the reason Emitt Rhodes didn't do better was because Rhodes' old record company released an album of earlier material and demos he recorded when his band, the Merry-Go-Round, fell apart in 1969. That album, American Dream, wasn't as good, and record buyers confused the two.
Still, Rhodes had undeniable talent, and while perhaps not quite up to par as McCartney (and who was?), his material compares favorably to other Beatlesque bands of the time, even to the Beatles' proteges Badfinger. Sadly, all of Rhodes' music is now out of print, though it can be found on CD through eBay, mainly via Japanese imports.
One classic from Emitt Rhodes can be found as part of the "Royal Tennenbaums" soundtrack, the acoustic "Lullabye." While not necessarily the best example of Rhodes' work, it is still a beautiful piece and the only song currently commercially available by Rhodes.
Rhodes went on to record two more great pop/rock albums, but unfortunately like many other naive musicians of that time he signed a contract that required him to produce another album every six months. After Mirror, the follow-up to Emitt Rhodes, took more than a year to make, his record company sued him. Rhodes made one more ablum, 1974's aptly named Farewell to Paradise, but by age 24 he resigned as a recording artist.
Since then, Rhodes continues to work as a producer/recording engineer and even occasionally performs back-up musician duties. According to EmittRhodes.net, Rhodes is still sitting on over 30 years of songs, waiting for an interested record company to pick him up. Let's hope someone does and re-releases all his older material as well.
Monday, March 6, 2006
"Pimp" stuns Oscars
Academy gives first award to rap nominee
In what is probably the biggest upset in Oscar history, the Academy Award for Best Original Song went to 36 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here Being a Pimp" from the motion picture "Hustle & Flow." Not since "Blame Canada" from the South Park movie was I so sure a song nominee would not win. That a rap song would be nominated, let alone win, seems like a major step for the Academy.
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You would think the title alone would have been enough to scare the normally conservative voters. Yet when Queen Latifah opened envelope, the Academy stunned the motion picture audience by giving the award to "Pimp." Even host Jon Stewart seemed at loss for words, though he quickly quipped, " I think somehow life has suddenly gotten a little easier for a pimp."
Perhaps almost as stunning as "Pimp" winning, at least for me, was how few nominations were in this category this year. Normally there are about four or five nominations (and at least one by Randy Newman), but there were only three - "Pimp", "In the Deep" from "Crash," and "Travelin' Thru" from "Transamerica." My money was on "In the Deep" which was a good song, and more traditional to type of song the Academy likes to award.
Is this a sign that the Academy is more progressive than we expected? Who knows, but suddenly movie moguls all over the country are now trying how to fit rap songs in their scores, and rappers are preparing their Oscar acceptance speeches.
In the only other category related to my subject, music, it was nice to see Gustavo Santaolalla win for Best Score for "Brokeback Mountain", despite John Williams having stacked the deck with two nominations. Nothing against Williams, (are there any more recognizable movie scores than "Jaws" and "Star Wars?") but I get tired of him being nominated every time he writes music for a movie.
Maybe next time he should rap.
Another Spin is a reworking of an older music column of the Partial Observer, written by my alter-ego, "Dr. Spin."
In Dr. Spin's column I often addressed reader's musical questions, whereas Another Spin will be entirely my thoughts and observations on Rock music and popular music in general, occasionally reviewing albums that I think are worth noting and artists who I feel have been overlooked in the past. Of course, as with any other blog, people can still leave comments. I love to know if you agree or disagree with me."