Saturday, January 31, 2015

Which Group was able to take the First Hard Rock/Metal Grammy Award away from Metallica?

Somehow, when the first Hard Rock/Metal Grammy
was introduced in the 80s, the recording industry
showed themselves to be so out of touch as to
award it to a 
group other than Metallica.
Photo credit:
Thomas Hawk / Foter / CC BY-NC

Back in the 1980s, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences began to try to update itself so as to be relevant to the younger music listeners who were coming of age in the time of MTV. Part of this effort involved creating a new Grammy Award category for the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.

At the time, the perception was that the category was more or less created to honor one of the most innovative rock groups to come on the scene since the early 1970s, Metallica. Rising from the street and the tape trading underground culture, Metallica was an uncompromising set of musicians who basically created their own genre.

However, in all their collective wisdom, the Recording Academy voters saw fit to award the first Hard Rock/Metal Grammy to a fossilized relic of a group rather than the new heros of rock 'n' roll.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Which Group is most Conspicuous by its Absence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Since the induction of the first set of recording artists into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the process has not been without controversy. However, in recent years vocal minorities have put undue political pressure on the Hall, which has led to the the enshrinement of niche and marginal acts such as Rush and KISS. These machinations have brought into high relief the absence of some of the most pioneering rock acts. This blog post examines one of the most glaring omissions from the Hall.

One pioneering rock and roll group is the most glaring omission from
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Photo credit: Jason Pratt / IWoman / CC BY

Sunday, November 30, 2014

By the way, Which One's Pink?

All star tribute albums come and go, but one that's laced with rock 'n' roll heavyweights in homage of the great Pink Floyd is a horse of another color. Covering that one soon...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Who is the next up-and-coming Country star?

There are a lot of talented singer/songwriters in Nashville. Of them all, who is the next up-and-coming star in country music?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why 'Speak of the Devil' is the most Important Black Sabbath Album

"Speak of the Devil" is a solo live album by Ozzy Osbourne, but it proves to be the most important Black Sabbath album of all time. Find out here why soon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Best Album of Which you have Never Heard

Many rock albums have come and gone since the 1960s
but only one is the best of which you have never heard.
Photo credit: Will Folsom / Foter / CC BY
When Bill Haley and His Comets were rocking around the clock in the 1950s, nobody knew if the new music form was just a passing fad or a revolution of youth culture that would upend the popular tastes that had endured since the 1920s. Somewhere along the way, rock ’n’ roll got taken seriously. Singles were no longer the only game in town. Long-playing (LP) records that could accommodate more than 20 minutes of music per side allowed artists to take what had been just loose collections of songs and think of them as more of a continuing story arc. Fast-forward to the post-Sgt-Pepper’s 1960s: magazines like Rolling Stone have come along, rating rock albums on their artistic merits and not just their booty-shaking quotients. These ratings were often left open to the very subjective interpretation of the individual reviewer but at least there was some effort to legitimize the work of the rock community.

However, for all their good works, rock reviewers have let many albums slip through the crevices down the decades. Some would cite The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, which contained the group’s posthumous hit “Time of the Season,” as the missing link of the British Invasion in 1968. Others might say that something harder edged such as Golden Earring’s 1973 album Moontan with FM favorite “Radar Love” deserves mention. And many hipster poseurs will pay homage to X with Exene Cervenka, John Doe, DJ Bonebrake and Billy Zoom but very few of them could be pressed to produce the title of any of their perfect post-punk-pop productions from the early 80s, with the possible probability of the critics’ pet Los Angeles.

Primal Dream from singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard
Barone in 1990 is the best album of which not many
people have ever heard. Photo credit:Derek Handova
We are worthy!
All these LPs would be worthy candidates for best album of which you have never heard. However, it would take a great epochal event of the early 1990s pop culture to seal the fate of that best album: Primal Dream from singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Barone. Though not associated in any strong way with the musical excesses of the 1980s, Barone and Primal Dream were nonetheless collateral damage of the Grunge blowback affecting everything that preceded it. After Nirvana’s Nevermind, nothing would ever be the same again.

Primal Dream has everything a fantastic rock album needs: Top-notch songwriting, great guitar riffs, heartfelt vocals, sophisticated arrangements, intricate rhythms and not least of all attitude. “It was a coming of age album,” Richard Barone said in a recent interview regarding Primal Dream. “An album of discovery and rediscovery. It was an album about being a young dude at that moment in time (1989-1990) and what he was feeling. The world was basically his. He wanted answers to big questions, he wanted romance, he wanted freedom. And he was willing to break out of his comfort zone to get what he wanted.”

Barone, a former leading light of the now largely forgotten music scene in Hoboken, N.J., in the early 1980s, has always been well connected in the music business. And he has always shown his chops for bringing in the heavy hitters, for example enlisting the help of Fred Schneider from The B-52's for backing vocals on the “Mr. Used-to-be” track on Primal Dream. “I always enjoy working with Fred,” Barone says. “The Bongos (Barone’s 80s band) were special guests on the entire first B-52’s tour. “And we've collaborated many, many times since. I especially like Fred's version of Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ that I produced for him in the 90s on the Nilsson tribute album.”

With  upheld guitar in hand, Richard Barone signaled his
intention to rock on 1990's
Primal Dream from the get-go.
Photo credit: Derek Handova
Let’s rock!
As fun and funky as “Mr. Used-to-be” is, Primal Dream is by far more about rocking out. “Primal Dream is most definitely a rock album, especially after the acoustic tones of its predecessor, cool blue halo,” Barone says. “The rhythm section on Primal was a total rock band—Jay Dee Daugherty (of Patti Smith Group), Ivan Julian, Thaddeus Castanis—augmented by the cool blue halo ensemble plus marimba and Mellotron (keyboards). It was a rather big band playing mostly live in the studio to create that sound. It rocked, but the melodies, harmonies and choruses were defiantly pop.”

Bodies of water
An overriding theme on Primal Dream is the idea water; specifically rivers. As I’ve written previously in review of Rainbow Warriors, water is a very powerful metaphor. In the context of Primal Dream, Barone intended to draw forth the idea of constant change. As quoted in Heraclitus, an early pre-Socratic philosopher, “No man ever steps into the same river twice.” And so Barone similarly viewed the presence of water in his songs “River to River” and “Native Tongue” on Primal. “The river themes were intentional. I had been spending time in Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon River in Manaus,” Barone says. “The idea that the ‘black’ Rio Negro and the light-brown Rio Solimoes merge to form the mighty Amazon was nature at its most poetic to me.

“Coming back to New York, surrounded by the East River and the Hudson, I was again inspired. The symbolism and metaphorical potential of rivers and water is obviously inexhaustible! Constantly moving forces of nature. They barely stay the same for a moment. At the time I was writing this album, the notion of constant change was on my mind. Maybe I was just learning to go with the flow.”

Richard Barone usually prefers an acoustic guitar, but on 
1990's Primal Dream he revealed an underrated talent with
electric axes. Photo credit: wfuv / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Overall, on Primal Dream, the songs have an ebullient, optimistic tone, almost celebratory vibe. And of course, Primal Dream is a great album title. “The two things at play on this album title were the idea of ‘prime,’ about being in the ‘prime’ of life, and, secondly, a concept I had read and heard about via Joseph Campbell, which is a theory that the human race has always had the same dreams: The situations and specifics, of course, change as we enter different, modern eras,” Barone says. “But even the earliest humans had dreams of the chase, the hunt, anxieties, aspirations, etc. The same kinds of dreams we have now. I felt the songs I was writing at the time were ‘primal’ in that sense. The symbols are eternal, even if the lives and music are ephemeral.”

The best attribute of Primal Dream is Barone’s approach. In contrast to a lot of 80s and 90s music trends, Barone charted his own course, neither overly bombastic nor exceedingly moody, eschewing musical categories all along the way. Of his approach, Barone says, “It’s simple. I’m guided by what I like, and by whom I want to work with, and never by market trends or doing ‘what I’m supposed to do.’ ” As it should be.

If you are up for a treat, I recommend Primal Dream in the original CD format. Fortunately, you never have to worry about it being out of stock. Amazon has it available for ordering on-demand with its AutoRip recording technology. Very cool! Even cool blue halo cool!

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What's the Most Underrated Album in Rock 'n' Roll History?

What's the most underrated album of the rock era? Photo credit:

No doubt, you are familiar with Rolling Stone’s series of Greatest Albums of the 70s, 80s, 90s, all time, etc. However, have you ever stopped to think about what are the most underrated rock ’n’ roll albums of all time? What would be on your list? Would you pick Pink Floyd’s Meddle, the album immediately preceding its commercial and artistic breakthrough on The Dark Side of the Moon? Or would it be something signifying the closing of an era such as Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Outdoor, which turned out to be its studio swan song after the untimely demise of drummer John Bonham?

While those may both be worthy finalists for the most underrated rock ’n’ roll album of all time, they would both be a bit too obvious. To get to the kernel of the idea, you have to think a bit more broadly about rock ’n’ roll. Think about geniuses bringing together influences from Tin Pan Alley, the greats of jazz and even the Beat poets. The most underrated rock album would be from a ridiculously successful band that shot out of the gate on their debut, striking gold—literally and figuratively.

Steely Dan's Countdown to Ecstasy is the
most underrated rock album of all
time. Photo credit: Derek Handova
The outfit of which I write is one Steely Dan, which debuted in 1972 with their best selling LP Can’t Buy a Thrill that was propelled by future FM radio staple “Reelin’ in the Years.” Of course, Can’t Buy a Thrill cannot be the most underrated album in rock ’n’ roll history given the foregoing. However, its followup disc, Countdown to Ecstasy, would be the song platter that is most underappreciated in the rock era.

As in many sophomore scenarios, Countdown to Ecstasy had the heavy burden of great expectations to fulfill coming on the heels of Steely’s first effort. Add to that the fact that Steely Dan constantly toured during its recording, which led to the retrospective belief by band founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen that their studio sessions were rushed and the material suffered in the process. While that sentiment is absurd it is true the compositions on Countdown to Ecstasy tended to be longer than average, with many of them clocking in at more than five minutes apiece, making time-sensitive radio programmers unfriendly toward them. Regardless of the length of these recordings, Becker and Fagen are merely suffering the 20-20 hindsight of pop perfectionists never satisfied and not familiar with Voltaire’s phrase “do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
were the brain trust behind Steely Dan.
Photo credit: Marco Raaphorst / Foter /
Creative Commons Attribution
2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
By way of comparison, Countdown to Ecstasy also endured the Middle Child Syndrome coming out as it did between Can’t Buy a Thrill and Steely’s next album Pretzel Logic, which charted at No. 8 in 1974 backed by No. 4 hit “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number.” Countdown to Ecstasy, despite having densely cryptic lyrics and intricate jazz chord progressions, and its musical masterpieces were outside of the rigid three-minute pop music ideal of the time. But by bringing the touring band into the studio, Steely Dan caught all the energy and tight precision of a group doing one-night stands across the country. All the vibe of the live group is appropriately captured on Countdown to Ecstasy.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that songs like “Bodhisattva,” “Boston Rag,” “Your Gold Teeth” and “King of the World” off this 1973 album would assume a large portion of Steely Dan’s live set over the next couple of years before the brain trust behind Steely—Becker and Fagen—grew weary of the road and broke up the original lineup in favor of working with professional sidemen in the studio before they went on a nearly 15 year hiatus in 1981. The catalog of music on Countdown was so important to Steely as a live act that it has been described as having been the Steely Dan album most recorded for performance. For example, “Bodhisattva” was the only official live track available of Steely—and then only as a B-side—until Becker and Fagen produced the full-length live album Alive in America in 1995.

Steely Dan was not above targeting 
themselves for derision, singing
about the "Show Biz Kids" with
the Steely Dan T-shirts who don't
give a f*** about anybody else.
In addition to the four core Countdown to Ecstasy tracks that Steely Dan featured on tour in the early years, the songs “Show Biz Kids” and “My Old School” began to solidify Becker and Fagen’s reputation for inventive wordplay in their lyrics as well as cynically wry observations of the rich and privileged in Hollywood and East Coast private colleges. And they were not loathe to taking a poke at themselves as both progenitors and beneficiaries of the indulgent lifestyles of the well off, singing about the “Show Biz Kids” with the “Steely Dan T-shirts” who you know “don't give a f*** about anybody else.”

These same kids from 1973 with the Steely Dan T-shirts are now the Baby Boomers who routinely pay close to a hundred dollars—if not hundreds of dollars—for face-value tickets to see the Becker-Fagen duo in concert in intimate venues across the country. Even though they had not toured for nearly two decades, Steely Dan returned to the arena circuit without missing a beat, their devoted fan base only having been stoked by the scarcity of a supply of Steely. In the ensuing years, these people—shall we call them Steelheads?—only grew in force and enthusiasm while their heroes worked on side projects and rested and rejuvenated themselves.
The kids from 1973 now regularly pay 
top dollar to see Steely Dan in concert.
Photo credit: Howdy, I'm H. Michael 

Fully recharged, Becker and Fagen now find the road most inviting as a method to stave off creeping decrepitude, as a paraphrase of their contemporary attitude toward touring. If you have never had the pleasure of listening to Steely Dan—in particular Countdown to Ecstasy—you should do yourself a favor and catch them on tour or get the album.

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener