Now this may sound like sacrilege to many a reader of A Story To Tell, a blog which wears its musical influences clearly on its sleeve and purports to love music in various shapes and forms, but I have always thought that The Beatles are slightly over-rated. Throw him out of the music appreciation society, comes the cry from the uproarious hordes, what blasphemy is this??! Well it is blasphemy of sorts, such is the recognised importance of the “fab four” in the history of popular music, and it is not this position that I am trying to knock. Clearly their significance is unquestioned, and their influence almost impossible to measure.
All I’m saying is that I have never been much of a fan. This is not to say that I don’t like a lot of the band’s music, and such are their classic tunes and albums forged into the very fabric of our world that it is hard not to bow to their greatness. However I just don’t buy the unquestioning view that The Beatles mark the highest point of musical creation, and certainly not the demi-god status of John Lennon, or indeed Paul McCartney. A supremely talented song-writing duo, absolutely, but there are many others in that category. Anyway, all of this is a diversion and I certainly don’t want to leave the impression that I am trying to deny the massive talents and impact of the group. No, what I wanted to say was how amazing George Harrison was.
As a guitarist he was absolutely brilliant, technically gifted and inventively curious of how his instrument of choice worked. As a performer, he was understated and yet vital to the group’s dynamic. And a s a songwriter I believe that he has been criminally overlooked by many for what was, by anyone else’s standards, an impressive collection. The shining gem in his repertoire has to be the stunningly beautiful “Something”, one of the greatest love songs of all time, and my favourite Beatles song by a mile. Written during a break in the recording of The White Album in 1968, the song was intended for soul man Ray Charles, and then offered to white soul pretender Joe Cocker. That it found it’s home on 1969’s Abbey Road is a blessing however, and showcases Harrison’s own impressive vocal prowess. Incredibly he also knocked off “Here Comes The Sun” for the same album. And then there is Harrison’s post-Beatles solo work. While admittedly intermittent in its quality, there is no question that post- break-up LP “All Things Must Pass” is a simply stunning piece of work.
It is unlikely that fans of The Beatles will not be massively familiar with this album, the first triple album by a solo artist in rock history, but if you do not know it then it is a great route into this fascinating performer’s work, or indeed back into The Beatles themselves. So you see, I am a fan really, I just sometimes like to go about things awkwardly.
Warner Bros Recording Artist Blu is one of our favorite emcees and has always been a Twelve Bar fan so we were pretty stoked to get this amazing image of him rocking the Fairfax All Stars tee the other week.
Given our name, and the musical roots of everything we say and do, it would be downright negligent for us not to comment on the sad news that The White Stripes have announced their permanent split. Simply one of the most startling and exciting bands of their generation, The White Stripes took the elements of the Blues, applied an electric punk DIY aesthetic, stripped music down to its essence, and blew the living hell out of speakers left, right and centre.
We loved the initial and ongoing mystery about the relationship between Jack and Meg White (siblings or lovers? It was lovers of course, though remarkably not by the time the band hit big), we adored the red, white and black uniform and colour scheme to everything they did, we loved the elemental drums and Jack’s shrill and menacing vocals, matched only by his genius prowess with an electric guitar. Seriously, see this guy live and you understand the meaning of the term rock god, his guitar almost physically shooting out lightning bolts of musical inspiration. We loved the building of all of their output around the number 3, always searching for a musical holy trinity, and their use of antiquated instruments and recording equipment.
We loved how they rose to become the biggest band of their day, but retained a down-home joy and humility, a willingness and desire to let the music do the talking and to engage directly with their fan base no matter how big it grew. We loved them full stop, from the rawness of the self-titled debut, through to the sophisticated production of career pinnacle ‘Elephant’, retaining their primeval power and scaffolding it with sheer musical genius and finesse. Like they say in their official break-up statement: “it is to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way… The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to.” For bringing the 12bar blues to a new generation, we salute you. It’s all love.
Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton is a creative powerhouse, there can be little doubt of that. Bursting onto the scene with the unforgettable Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up ‘The Grey Album” in 2005, since then his has been a career of mainstream pop hugeness (e.g. Gnarls Barkley with Ceee-Lo Green), coupled with leftfield cool (e.g. Dark Night of the Soul with the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse). But always fascinating, always creative, always interesting choices for collaboration, always challenging genres and labels, and simply always worthy of attention. But coming along soon is perhaps the culmination of all of these efforts, a project 5 years in the making, and laboured for alongside Italian composer and soundtrack artiste Daniele Luppi. Featuring significant vocal contributions from Jack White and Norah Jones, the ‘Rome’ project is an ambitious musical tribute and update of classic 1960s Italian film and television compositions.
Sounds odd perhaps, but when you hear the first results it is difficult not to be seduced by the sheer lushness of the sounds, the confluence of the old and the atmospheric with the sensibilities of a modern listener. Far from a vanity project it is a labour of love, reuniting old musicians and vocal groups, using original equipment and even recording at Rome’s Forum studios, a converted church that once played host to composers such as Ennio Morricone, Piero Umiliani and Bruno Nicolai amongst other greats. Put shortly it is the greatest soundtrack to a movie yet to be made.
Think of spaghetti westerns such as ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ and chances are you’ll think of the atmosphere conjured up by the soundtrack and incidental music, even if you are not quite aware of it. These soundtracks were an avenue to experimentation and innovation in the 1960s, and it is this that Danger Mouse and Luppi have recaptured in their own homage. But crucially it is not a mere homage, but a piece designed for the modern ear. Hip-hop production style aimed at the big screen. It’s all love.
Every now and then we need to step back from our musical musings, take a break from our beats and pieces, and give thanks and praise to another of our true loves. Doesn’t matter what it is, good, classic design just gets us going. Come to think of it so do fast, sexy, aspirational, inspirational motor cars, and so what better way to marry these loves than in marking this month’s 50th birthday of the E-Type Jaguar.
Upon its release in March 1961 Enzo Ferrari called the E-Type “the most beautiful car ever made” and we reckon he knew a thing or two about beautiful cars. Emerging from the design brilliance that had seen Jaguar dominate the Le Mans 24 hour Race throughout the 1950s, the E-Type coupled sleek, precision engineering, and the demand for speed over all things, to the performance and comfort of a road-ready car. In doing so it created the template, through its employment of aerodynamics and classic lines, for virtually all sports car design that followed. Put simply it is the archetype of classic car design, and should still be the central point of any serious or casual car enthusiast’s attentions. No collection is really complete without one, and the E-Type is to our minds one of a handful of cars that truly transcends its immediate world to have become a true icon of design and cultural touchpoint.
The D-Type was a racing car that looked like the Batmobile on heat and owned the race track, but the E-Type made the road its very own, attainable to the man on the street and the stuff of a million glamorous dreams. With too many classic features over its three series to pick just one, we’re sadly yet to get our hands on one. But those in the know will know why we’re holding out for an E2A model. It’s about as pimp as you can get, but at $4.5m US we’ve got a few more pairs of denim to go yet.
Head’s up for the official release of Bob Marley’s last live recording, taken from his final US tour, and recorded live at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre on 23rd September 1980. Marley of course would pass away less than 8 months later, making this live show which has been available as bootleg for some time, a crucial document in his remarkable career. Captured from the ‘Uprising” tour, the live show is not up there with the brilliance of legendary concert recordings ‘Live!’ or ‘Babylon By Bus’, but the set-list is yet another example of the sheer power of his music, the diversity of his catalogue, and the way he and The Wailers could totally kill a live show stone dead.
Highlight of this set is undoubtedly the turbo-charged rendition of ‘Exodus’, a version that seems on the verge of combustion from start to finish, but the old skool rumble of ‘Dem Belly Full’ and the revelatory ‘Redemption Song’ also stand out. The recording crucially also captures the energy of the group’s live shows, all the more remarkable in this case for the fact that Marley had suffered a dramatic physical collapse while out jogging two days earlier as the cancer that would soon claim his life began to take serious hold of him. Fitting too that the closing number is the valedictory call to arms and social equality ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, Marley’s last ever musical notes committed to tape. As a summary of his impact, socially and musically, it is almost perfect.
The man himself would have been 66 this week, and the mind boggles at what he may have gone on to achieve. But we are still left with a remarkable life, a remarkable canon of music, and in this case a remarkably fascinating last will and testament.
Just a very swift heads up to look out for the fifth and final album from the UK’s own geezer poet The Streets, or as his mother knows him, Mike Skinner. Noteworthy for all sorts of reasons “Computers and Blues” (released officially today) is the self-declared final word of a character that creator Skinner feels has run its creative course, but which has brought us joy ever since its emergence on the singularly brilliant debut “Original Pirate Material” in 2002.
The Streets are hard to define, hard to pin-down by easy definition, and perhaps hard to comprehend if you have only a passing appreciation of UK culture. But suffice it to say that Skinner has brought to the table a revolutionary do it yourself attitude to musical production, a true son of his digital age, and a gifted lyricist and producer who has redefined social commentary to a mixture of the UK’s dance music styles, both underground and mainstream. Skinner is a creative powerhouse, constantly releasing visual and musical efforts, and his own philosophies, to a hungry audience. This includes the unofficial sister to his official album release, the download only “Cyberspace and Reds”, the discovery of which involves an offline treasure hunt amongst cans of soup. That’s not even a joke. Inventive, intelligent, imaginative and internet-championing, The Streets represent in many ways the true modern musical act. We’ll miss them/him but know that Skinner will be back before long with more content to savour. In the meantime savour the final musical meal, it could just be his best yet.
The question or whether or not the album still even exists as a concept is put to one side momentarily, with the news that significant progress is being made on the latest addition to Lil’ Wayne’s expandable career opus, namely ‘Tha Carter IV’. You’ve probably already heard the leaks, but production is being stepped up from the likes of stalwart David Banner, Swizz Beatz, Detail, Boi-1da, and Kanye West.
Slated for an April release, reports are that Weezy is massively on his game, in an effort to reinforce and cement his legacy. And that in itself is a question, what will be the measure of an artist’s success as the digital segmentation of music continues at such pace. The game has changed irreversibly and not even the most forward thinking of artists can really predict how they are going to stay ahead of that curve. So in the meantime the message seems to be get on every communication channel available and hustle, hustle, hustle. Just how we like it.
Amongst various musical discussions we’re always musing here at Twelve Bar Towers on just who is the greatest MC. It’s a never-ending and never resolved conundrum. We don’t know that he is the best in any category, but one thing we agree on is the sheer hard-hitting force of Kool G Rap’s flow. On his day, as good as the very best. And so what better time for a G Rap reprise, courtesy of a hasty dig in the Twelve Bar crates.
How hard is the Brand New Heavies collabo “Death Threat”? Could “Road to the Riches” be any rougher? Is G Rap’s flow on the Juice Crew’s “The Symphony” one of the greatest verses ever? Biggie, Nas, Jigga, UGK, NORE, the Wu, the Roots and so many more rightly place Kool G Rap up amongst the true giants. As for us, well you know the script…It’s all G love. The case for a G Rap tee starts here…