Tag Archives: James Taylor

First Show/ Worst Show: Daniel Allen

First Show:  Like most ten year olds, my exposure to music in elementary school was largely what I heard riding in the car to soccer practice or the store.  That said, my parents are wonderful people but only really listen to lovesick light rock ballads from the early 70s. It’s awful.  Nordic black metal is easier listening. Billy Joel and James Taylor were a welcome reprieve and I grew to love them. I still do.

Anyway, I was grounded for something or other when I was 10 and, rather than hire a babysitter, they brought me to see Billy Joel at the Patriot Center  after a friend backed out. I remember the stage rotated 360 degrees and he played all the songs I wanted to hear (“Piano Man,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and “River of Dreams”).  I also remember Christie Brinkley was there and he acknowledged her in the crowd. This made me very nervous and excited.  I don’t know why.

In retrospect, I’m glad my first concert experience was a big act and bigger spectacle than I had imagined it’d be.  At least it felt that way then. I don’t go to arena shows or festivals anymore and get increasingly jaded. I’ll rarely leave a show being completely blown away anymore. Live music can still give me the butterflies, but has never been quite able to recapture that feeling of awe and wonder like it did in 1993. I wish I could’ve bottled it.

Worst Show:  It pains me to say it, but it has got to be Brand New at The Showbox in Seattle.  And I like Brand New. A lot. They’re pretentious but earn it by taking risks musically and then pulling them off (usually).

I was so let down by this show because I wanted it to be great. I had lived in Seattle for just 4 days, had no friends, a new job, and was living in an extended-stay hotel.  I scalped a ticket for the sold-out show and was looking forward to a night in a room with a band I loved and a few hundred others who felt the same. But Brand New decided to show up and just collect a paycheck.  They can be a great live band.  I’ve seen it. Hearing/singing along to “Soco Amaretto Lime” live still gives me goosebumps.  But on this night, Jesse Lacey pretended he was a statue, pulled his hoodie over his face, (intentionally?) played an incredibly boring set of only their least-liked or new songs, wouldn’t acknowledge the crowd, and didn’t play an encore.  Not that anybody really wanted it.  I didn’t care as much toward the end of the show because I had gotten drunk and met a girl at the venue’s bar. I wondered to her if maybe Jesse Lacey was depressed.  She responded “No, he’s probably just an asshole.” I was smitten and, after bonding over our mutual disappointment of the show, ended up dating for a few months. She eventually dumped me over my alcoholism.  Understandably. But thanks for nothing, Brand New.

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Get the Band Back Together: A Mixtape for Joshua

Last week Joshua and I wrote posts about our Top 5 songs at 16, and both posts highlighted our early, local show going. Joshua kept it high brow (or at least non-embarassing) with Laughing Colors and Kelly Bell Band shows, I lowered that brow considerably with Voodoo Blue shows, and we both talked about our mid-teens love for The Bridge. But there was one shared show-going experience that we left out: Going to Joshua’s shows.

I saw Joshua play a lot in high school and in college—at art school coffeehouses,  in sweaty ballrooms at synagogues, at open mic nights. I saw him play at big parties and small parties, and one summer I saw him play once a week at these boozy balcony gigs. And he was good; not “Hey! Look at my friend with a guitar!” good, but genuinely good.

There’s a chapter in Nick Hornby’s “Songbook” where he talks about how much he respects Rod Stewart’s early work (a surprising point that I was prepared for based on this blog by Joshua). Nick Hornby says that Elvis Costello has some ideas for bringing Rod Stewart back to the masses, and Hornby himself has some ideas, and the chapter ends with a music geek daydream of reviving Rod Stewart’s career. I guess what I’m saying, Joshua, is that in this scenario you’re Rod Stewart, and Elvis Costello and I routinely talk about your musical future while eating sundaes and playing Trivial Pursuit (…in my dreams.) So here are some songs to listen to, to cover, and to think about as you get the band back together. And if that chapter on Rod Stewart taught me anything, it’s to stay away from straw hats. That’s my only piece of production advice (Elvis Costello will, of course, cover the rest.)

“Stop Talking,” by the 5 Chinese Brothers

I’ve always thought that you would really like the 5 Chinese Brothers, if I could just get it together and give you their albums. And since I haven’t, and am sure that I will forget the next time I see you, they’re at the top of this list. Singer Songwriter Beggerman Thief (the album this song is from) is one of my all time favorite albums and features some themes I think you could get down with—Baltimore love that borders on dislike, distressing father/son relationships, and breakup songs. Really, really good breakup songs that are so quotable they’ll spin through your head indefinitely. “I only wish you loved me/ Half as much as you’re enjoying this” is one of my favorite quotable moments, and it’s in this song (also see “I Always Knew” and “Don’t Regret”).

“Sledge Hammer,” by Peter Gabriel

One of the funnest, rowdiest covers I ever saw was when The Bridge covered “Sledge Hammer” at the Recher, probably 10 years ago. This is a song that was made to be covered at shows. It perks up a too mellow crowd, turns non-dancers into dancers, and gives the energy in the room a swift kick in the right direction. It’s classic Peter Gabriel mind control—though never a big fan, he has a few songs that are powerful tone-changers, that will swing the mood pendulum of your audience where ever you need to swing it. (Also if you found out that Peter Gabriel has scary mind control powers, would you really be surprised? Top 5 Maybe Mind Controllers: Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, Sting, Peter Frampton*, that girl who sings “Call Me Maybe”**)

“Rosie,” by The Bridge

You know how neither of us listen to The Bridge any more (other than in throwback, nostalgic ways)? This song made me wonder if we should change that. Also, though I haven’t heard you sing since some long ago karaoke night (did you sing, or did you just make Ashley and I sing “Ebony and Ivory”? Memories.), I think your voice would sound awesome on this.

“Let’s Straighten It Out,” by O.V. Wright

This is, in fact, already a cover, but a very good one, and I found it lodged halfway through “Songbook,” a book that solidifies Nick Hornby’s status as the unwilling godfather of the Charm City Jukebox. I like it because it’s not a break up song, or a love song—it’s a song that sounds and feels sexy, but in reality is about working on difficult issues in a long term relationship. It’s slow too, but not too slow, so if at some point you need to cool down your “Sledge Hammer” fueled audience, this would be an unexpected place to take them. Trust me, after listening to those songs back to back, it does the trick.

“You’ve Got a Friend,” by James Taylor

I’ll be honest: I think James Taylor has all the corny charms of frequent-pun-users and shiny, eager kids who try to convert you outside of college Student Centers (Taylor, to his credit, is not a pun abuser or Christ peddler, but on the scale of minor annoyances, they’re all on the same level)

One of the weirdest reading experience I ever had was with “Girls Like Us,” which tracks the careers of Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King. It’s a great book, and there’s nothing particularly odd about it, except for the characterization of James Taylor, who comes across as a troubled drug addict rock star sex god. It’s not a new character; anyone who has ever seen a movie about musicians or read a book or fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole knows that’s pretty par for the course. But James Taylor? Really? It was like finding out Randy Newman got his start in porn.

While “Girls Like Us” made me take a new look at James Taylor the man, the Isley Brothers made me take a new look at James Taylor the musician. They turned “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” into soulful bedroom soundtrack fodder, and made me wonder if other Taylor songs could be re-imagined into something raunchy and delightful.

“You’ve Got a Friend” is a sugary song about the joys of friendship that, if delivered with a raised eyebrow and some solid funk, could be downright raunchy. Imagine it as an ode to long-standing booty calls (“You just call out my name/ And you know wherever I am/I’ll come running to see you again”). It’s an interpretation that could be simultaneously sexy and hilarious, since this song was relegated to the world of middle school choirs and youth group campfires long ago. It’s like finding a hidden, dirty double meaning in the Sesame Street theme song. Take a cue from the Isley Brothers and unlace this straightlaced Taylor gem.

* The title of Frampton Comes Alive! was Peter Frampton’s confession that he is a zombie.

**One day Carlie Rae Jepsen will rule us all. Exhibit A.

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Top 5 Songs Classic Rock Radio Has Ruined

Joshua: At my job (for those of you who don’t know, I make the bagels at a small Baltimore café [a Jew making bagels? Go on!]), we have a busted-ass iPod speaker set. The actual part one would hook an iPod up to it is busted so all we can do with it is listen to the radio. The only station it picks up reliably is 100.7 The Bay, Baltimore’s only native classic rock radio station. Unfortunately, it’s corporate owned so it’s basically a Top 40’s station with classic rock instead of pop. The other day, I was working my ass off, slaving over the hot oven when I realized every single song they were playing had pissed me off. Every single song was terrible. I related this to a co-worker, who then said, “But they play the same damn songs every day, just in a different order.” So I said, “You’re right. I guess the order is what’s pissing me off today.” And that’s the crux of what we’re talking about this week. These are songs, if they came up on your iTunes or some other non-Apple-based-software shuffle you would totally dig, or at least not skip. But when they come on the radio and you can’t do anything but turn it off or suffer, they will piss you off every time. Bonus: Both Claire and I listened to a stream of 100.7 The Bay while writing this. We don’t recommend doing the same while reading it.

JOSHUA’S TOP 5:

Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

The problem I have with this song is really just the length. I love this song when it comes up in my shuffle. I mean, they are playing in 4/4 time and simulating 3/4 time over it. It’s a wild song. But the novelty of the time signature wears off about 4 minutes into the 8 minute song and certainly after the 69326th time you’ve heard it and had to sit through the whole damn thing. Not to mention it was sampled shittily by Puff Daddy for an even shittier remake of Godzilla.

Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb

I will come out and say I don’t really like Pink Floyd. People always tell me it’s because I haven’t “opened my mind” enough (read: acid), but that’s not the problem. The problem is that their music is bland and boring. This song is second to only “Wish You Were Here” in the boring Pink Floyd oeuvre. Side note: The scene in the movie The Departed where Leonardo DiCaprio gets it on with Vera Farmiga is both hot as hell and set to a much better version of this song, sung live with Roger Waters and fucking Van Morrison. This version I would love to hear on the radio, but instead I get the insanely boring album version.

David Bowie – Fame

The biggest problem I have with this song is that it’s one of two or three songs they play by David Bowie, the others being “Space Oddity” and “Ziggy Stardust” and that’s it. Bowie has a huge collection of music and most albums are nothing like the one that just came before it. Having “Fame” being the one song 100.7 has fixated on playing by Bowie makes him seem like a one-hit wonder, which is both patently untrue and offensive. And racist.  Why racist? Shut up, that’s why.

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Ohio

This song is fine to sit through, with the exception of the chorus, which is needlessly repetitive. However, the real problem I have with it is the same problem I have with any song with a message on the radio: The more you hear it, the less the message hurts. And this song is supposed to hurt when you hear it. But all I can think about when it comes on the radio is “When the fuck will they shut up about ‘Four dead in O-hi-o’?”

Fleetwood Mac – The Chain

I actually really love this song. Straight up, unabashedly love this song. And that’s the real problem. I can’t hear it as often as 100.7 wants to play it, which seems like every two hours. When it comes up in my shuffle, I sing along so loud. And it has special meaning for me too: The first time I saw The Decemberists, I went to go pick up the tickets with the girl I was dating at the time (who, of course, was the one to get me into them) and I got to hear them doing their sound check and they totally sang this song. We were the only two people there…which makes it even worse to have to hear it as often as they play it. It tarnishes what should be a magical memory.

CLAIRE’S TOP 5:

Van Morrison — Brown Eyed Girl

This is a great song. Joyful, summery, with Van Morrison’s grainy Irish molasses voice (this is clearly a nonsense description, but you know what I mean, right? Like if molasses and a loofah had an Irish love child. There, that’s better), and the lovely silly “Sha la la la” chorus, designed by Russian scientists for maximum head bopping. Unfortunately, this is THE ONLY Van Morrison song for most classic rock radio stations. Oh sure, once in a while they’ll throw in a “Moondance,” or an “Into the Mystic” if they’re feeling really feisty, but when they need to hit that daily Van quota, they’re reaching for this. And after too many listens, those opening notes become a cue to switch that station, because not only is this a so-over-played-it’s-impossible-to-listen-to song, but it’s a so-catchy-it’s-impossible-to-shake-out-of-your-head-song too. Dangerous combo.

The Pretenders — Brass in Pocket

I love the Pretenders. I didn’t know that for years, because for years this was the only song of theirs I had ever heard. Years I tell you. It’s not a bad song—repetitive to a fault, more than a little cloying. But it’s another quota song, another “Hey guys, the Pretenders are classic rock, right? What’s the one song we need to play by them?” or “Hey, we never play songs by women, lets play “Brass in Pocket” and then….Heart?” Sigh.

Bob Dylan — Like a Rolling Stone

The overplaying of this song is part of a giant covert plot to make everyone hate Bob Dylan. Here’s the selection process: Lets look at a huge, luminous body of work (forget almost everything the man put out in the 80s, and that Victoria’s Secret commercial, okay? For me? Thanks.), and pick the most nasal, early Dylan-y voiced tune, play it incessantly, and only switch it up with “The Times, They Are a Changin’,” which fits the same voice model. And luckily, both songs are really long, so if you skip them, you end up going back to the station like three more times before the damn thing is over. No wonder everyone seems to answer the “What artists do you not like who you’re supposed to like?” question with Bob Dylan. For a lesson on how to like Bob Dylan again, just go listen to Blonde on Blonde a few times over. You’ll figure it out.

John Lennon– Imagine

“Imagine” is a haunting, beautiful, hall-of-fame-of-songs type song. And this is why it shouldn’t be treated like the latest Katy Perry pop trifle and put on repeat. Sometimes good songs needs to be treated like good foods. You wouldn’t eat a double ice cream scoop full of caviar. You wouldn’t spread foie gras on toast every morning and eat it standing up over the sink. Sure, it sounds awesome. But after a while, those luxurious treats would transform into technically good, but ultimately unexciting, foods that you could definitely do without. Who wants to feel that way? That’s how I feel about “Imagine.” Give it space to breathe, classic rock radio. And as with all artists—the man has other songs. Play them.

Everything by James Taylor, ever.

James Taylor, I hear you’re a good artist. And after reading “Girls Like Us,” I hear you’re a heart-breaking sex icon. That’s all terrific. Congratulations. Unfortunately, I can’t listen to any of your music. You are one of the few quota-less classic rock radio musicians, which means all of your music has been played to death. Maybe you’re proof that artists do need quotas?

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Top 5 Covers (by Claire and Joshua)

Claire’s Top 5 Covers

Song: Go Straight to Hell

Cover by: Lily Allen

Originally by: The Clash

Lily Allen’s lullaby-sweet vocals and borderline-cheery background music, paired with these classic Clash lyrics, makes an already haunting song doubly so and gives “Go Straight to Hell” some dichotomous whimsy.

Song: I Go To Sleep

Cover by: Sia

Originally by: The Kinks

Sia will haunt your f**king dreams. I know it’s a different song, but can we talk about the end of Six Feet Under? Come on. This is also a song made for covers: Look up versions by The Pretenders, Peggy Lee, and a very young Cher.

Song: Magnet

Cover by: Yo La Tengo

Originally by: NRBQ

I listened to this song at least a thousand times when I was eighteen years old. It was one of those classic “Oh, you wrote this for me” moments you have with music in early college, where heightened emotions and self obsession are at their peak. My father and an old boss of mine would call it blasphemy, but I like this version way more than the original, which has a grating level of upbeat NRBQness.

Song: I’m On Fire

Cover by: Bats for Lashes

Originally by: Bruce Springsteen

Also, haunting, because this is apparently Claire’s haunted covers collection. Boo.

Song: Needles and Pins

Cover by: The Ramones

Originally by: Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono

This was originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, which is a great version. It’s another song made for covers: Look up the Cher version (I know, Cher again, who knew super young Cher was so awesome?) and the Tom Petty/ Stevie Nicks cover, which is lovely.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Raspberry Beret,” cover by Warren Zevon and The Hindu Love Gods
  • “Naive,” cover by Lily Allen
  • “Hard to Handle,” cover by Toots and the Maytals

Josh’s Top 5 Covers

Song: I Will Survive

Covered by: Cake

Originally by: Gloria Gaynor

This song encapsulates everything Cake is about: emotionally subdued vocals, fat-ass bass riff, and funky guitar. They take the original version, a glitzy, disco’d-out dance number by Gloria Gaynor, and strip it down the bare necessities: punchy drums and a thumping bass line. They then add John McCrea’s staple singing and quite possibly the best one-note guitar solo ever recorded. Plus he swears! And there’s a vibraslap! And a mid-song count-off! It doesn’t get much better than this.

Song: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight

Covered by: The Isley Brothers

Originally by: James Taylor

The original version is done by James Taylor. This version can convince anyone to drop their pants and get it on. Being able to do that with a song written by James Taylor? Priceless.

Song: Take Me to the River

Covered by: Talking Heads

Originally by: Al Green and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges

This version nails the song in a way Al Green never conceived. It’s harrowing in a way only David Byrne’s vocals can convey and the backup singers only further that goal. The sparse instrumentals are the kicker in this version: the majority of the song is one drum riff and one repeated bass line. I don’t know how Byrne decided to do the song this way, but it’s another version where the desperation of the lyrics is shown off better in the cover than the original.

Song: I Know I’m Losing You

Covered by: Rod Stewart

Originally by: The Temptations

I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I think this is a better version than the original…which is done by the Temptations. I know that sounds blasphemous, but this version wins on every level. The guitar work is funky, the drumming is amazing, and Stewart’s raspy vocals appeal the song’s message in a way the smooth sounds of the Temptations never could. It’s all together more desperate and wanton than the Temptations ever had the capacity to be.

Song: Hallelujah

Covered by: Jeff Buckley

Originally by: Leonard Cohen

The original was haunting and vaguely spiritual. This version is all sex, dripping with lonely reverb-laden guitar notes, plucked individually and rarely strummed, and filled to the brim with regret and shame. It’s like sleeping with your ex-girlfriend and then seeing her the next day in another man’s arms, laughing coyly and casually playing with his hair. It’s the kind of broken-hearted that makes you want to drink scotch all night listening to Charlie Rich and smoking profusely in the dark. This song is not for the faint of heart.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “The Guitar Man,” cover by Cake: A great version of a great song, with the ever present Cake “YA!”.
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” cover by Toots & the Maytals: So much better with a Jamaican accent. Isn’t everything?
  • “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These,” cover by Marilyn Manson: Put this song on in the dark at three in the morning. It’s actually scary.
  • “Hurt,” cover by Johnny Cash: A cover so good that the original writer, Trent Reznor, said that the song was Cash’s from then on.
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