28 December 2010

TNOP's Top 25 Songs of 2010

The Night Owl presents his personal jukebox of the songs he enjoyed listening to (over and over) in calendar year 2010. Comments and additions welcome. Let the countdown begin!

25 FREE ENERGY: "Bang Pop"

24 DELTA SPIRIT: "Bushwick Blues"

23 JAILL: "The Stroller"


21 TROMBONE SHORTY: "Hurricane Season"

20 PAUL SIMON: "Getting Ready For Christmas Day"

19 THE DECEMBERISTS w/Gillian Welch: "Down By The Water"

18 CRYSTAL CASTLES w/Robert Smith: "Not In Love"

17 LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: "Dance Yrself Clean"

16 SPOON: "Who Makes Your Money"

15 ROLLING STONES: "Plundered My Soul"

14 MGMT: "Congratulations"

13 THE NATIONAL: "Bloodbuzz Ohio"

12 VILLAGERS: "Becoming A Jackal"

11 CARIBOU: "Odessa"

10 SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS: "I Learned The Hard Way"

9 SHE & HIM: "In The Sun"

8 MUMFORD & SONS: "Little Lion Man"

7 ALOE BLACC: "I Need A Dollar"

6 THE BLACK KEYS: "Tighten Up"

5 GORILLAZ w/Bobby Womack & Mos Def: "Stylo"


3 LOCAL NATIVES: "Sun Hands"

2 CEE-LO GREEN: "F*** You"

1 JANELLE MONAE w/Big Boi: "Tightrope"

7 March Release Date For New Elbow Album

Our UK pop & jazz correspondent Miles Gallagher reports today that Elbow have announced a UK release date of 7 March for their eagerly anticipated new album. Build A Rocket Boys! will be the Mancunian quintet's fifth long-player. A handful of tour dates in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have been scheduled for March. Expect the music to compliment the size of the venue. “It’s impossible not to consider where you’re going to play your music live when you write it,” Guy Garvey told BBC 6 Music. “We very arrogantly assumed we were going to be playing arenas very early on.”

The track listing for Build A Rocket Boys!
01. Lippy Kids
02. The Birds
03. With Love
04. Neat Little Rows
05. Jesus Is A Rochdale Girl
06. The Night Will Always Win
07. High Ideals
08. The River
09. Open Arms
10. The Birds (Reprise)
11. Dear Friends

Here's hoping a proper trip to America is in the cards for 2011. Meantime, here's a tasty track from the new record.

27 December 2010

Gorillaz Cover Steely Dan's "FM"

. . . or technically if you follow all the antics of the Jamie Hewlett characters, it is a 2D "solo" effort (voice of Damon Albarn) along with the help of New Zealand saxophonist Nathan Haines covering the Becker/Fagen tune which originally appeared on the soundtrack for the very forgettable film of the same name. You'll find it on the web-only accessed new Gorillaz album The Fall. And it will not be titled "FM." Go to Track 6, under the playfully misleading title "Little Pink Plastic Bags." Some wags on the internet have indicated that the cover was recorded two years ago, and therefore cannot be part of the claim of Albarn that the new collection of songs was recorded on the road solely via iPad. Whatever. Haines puts his smooth jazz imprint on the song but doesn't try to replicate the original of Pete Christlieb. And if that's Albarn on guitar, cheers to him.

25 December 2010

Happy Christmas

Times Square, New York City, 1969.

22 December 2010

First Listen: R.E.M. with Eddie Vedder - "It Happened Today"

A second track from the upcoming album Collapse Into Now from R.E.M. (due to drop 8 March) has leaked: "It Happened Today," a catchy bit of jangly pop complimented by the backing vocals of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.

Paste reports that other guests on the CD include Patti Smith (long considered the band's musical godmother), Smith's long-time musical cohort Lenny Kaye and Peaches.

R.E.M. - It Happened Today (Feat. Eddie Vedder)

Must See TV: Merry Christmas From Darlene Love!

Tomorrow evening 23 December on The Late Show With David Letterman marks one of our favorite annual viewing experiences of the holiday season. The fantastic Darlene Love will appear for the 25th consecutive year to sing the Spector-era classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" along with Paul Shaffer and The CBS Orchestra - and probably their own augmented "Wall of Sound." [Check your local listings, but in the US the standard starting time of the show is 11.35pm EST/PST and 10.35pm CST.]

And this year should prove to be all the more festive with the recent news that Ms. Love was finally notified that she will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Our Christmas wish granted.

To get you in the spirit, here's the original recording from 1963's A Christmas Gift To You From Phil Spector:

21 December 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#28]

"She Belongs To Me"
Bob Weir, Phil Lesh & Jerry Garcia
Original Dylan version found on Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

It is well known that the Grateful Dead - as well as its family tree of side projects - has accumulated a treasure trove of performances of Bob Dylan songs. Indeed, Dylan has toured with The Dead. So we won't spend time going down that road when there are many more ardent followers of that prolific band who continue to aptly record that history.

But we did find a fairly rare, and touching, take by the three core members of The Dead playing Dylan's "She Belongs To Me." Apparently, this is a clip from a VHS tape circa 1992 called Backstage Pass. Bob Weir trades verses and then harmonizes with a fragile looking Jerry Garcia. Phil Lesh provides a solid bass bottom and Garcia his signature guitar picking.

The song itself is a deceptively gentle, waltz-like melody partnered with another classic Dylan lyric. Speculation has always centered around Joan Baez as the artist who commands constant attention bordering on idolatry from her lover, but cannot be conquered by a mere male: She's nobody's child/The law can't touch her at all.

"She Belongs To Me" is curiously placed on Bringing It All Back Home between two rockers which train a laser on the social ills of the day (the two singles released from the album: "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm"). Produced by Tom Wilson and recorded at Columbia Recording Studio in New York City on 14 January 1965, Dylan (on harmonica and acoustic guitar) is backed by John Hammond Jr and Bruce Langhorne on electric guitar as well as William E. Lee on bass and Bobby Gregg on drums.

Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "She Belongs To Me" (Bringing It All Back Home, 1965)

Another Cover: Leon Russell, "She Belongs To Me" (Leon Russell & The Shelter People [CD bonus track], 1971)

Yet Another Cover: Buffalo Tom, "She Belongs To Me" (Velvet Roof [EP], 1992)

20 December 2010

The Dictionary of Soul: General Johnson

General Norman Johnson was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1941 and began singing in church as a boy. By the age of 12, young General (his real given name) had formed his first group, dubbed The Humdingers.

By the late 1950s, Johnson and his mates - Milton Wells, Gene and Dorsey Knight, and Leslie Fleton - thought they were on the verge of something big. "We had a contract with Atlantic as The Humdingers," recalled Johnson in a 1987 interview with Soul Express. "We did some demos, but they were never released because [of a conflict with management] and our careers went down the tube. The music we did was kind of doo-wopish."

The Norfolk quintet headed down to New Orleans and had its first bit of luck. Renamed The Showmen, their breakout single was a B-side: "I Will Stand." The 1961 The production board for that 45rpm single was helmed by a then-unknown Allen Touissant at Minit Records. The tune made it to the bottom of both the R&B and Pop charts. The New York Times called "I Will Stand," written by Johnson, "a defiant ode to the power of rock 'n roll." The listener can hear the doo-wop influence laid over the unmistakable Crescent City beat.

The Showmen's upbeat brand of rhythm and blues became commonly known as "Carolina beach music." Another prime example of their unique regional sound - as recognizable as the soul strongholds of Chicago or Philadelphia - is the fine "Our Love Will Grow."

General Johnson moved to Detroit in 1969 to join a group being formed by famed Motown songwriters and producers Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. The hitmakers had had a famous falling out with record titan Barry Gordy and were starting their own label, Invictus.

The name given to the fledgling four vocal stylists was The Chairmen of the Board. And they immediately lived up to their grandiose title when they hit No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart with the all-time soul jukebox (and now oldies radio) classic "Give Me Just a Little More Time." Johnson is captivating on the record, providing a pleading, searing vocal punctuated by his unforgettable "Bbbrrrrr!" that lands near the end of the track. With that signature move, General Johnson made his own mark on rock and roll.

The Chairmen of the Board scored a few more minor hits ("Dangling On A String," "Pay To The Piper" and "Everything's Tuesday") before breaking up, mainly as a result of a salary dispute that Johnson had with Invictus.

But the early 1970s found Johnson's writing skills also earning him some money and industry recognition. The Top 10, Grammy winning "Patches" launched the career of Clarence Carter. And girl group the Honey Cone had success on the charts with songs like "Want Ads" and "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show."

Johnson took off to Europe after the dispute with Invictus, gaining some acclaim as a practitioner of what that continent dubbed as "Northern Soul." Upon his return to the States, he struck a deal with Clive Davis of Arista Records. "I stayed there two, three years. [Davis] paid me well, but I only did one album (1976's General Johnson)," recalled Johnson.

This led to a production gig for Martha Reeves, and then a meeting in California with Barry Gordy. "He was trying to get me to come to Motown. I would have loved to work with him, but my Ma was sick and I wanted to do something on my own, a business of my own," Johnson told Soul Express.

Thus was born Surfside Records in 1979, owned by Johnson and his partner Michael Branch. He returned back to the Carolinas and continued to practice his craft as an independent. The two also became booking agents, producing large shows over the years in the area starring the likes of The Chairmen of the Board, Cornelius Bothers and Sister Rose, The Tymes and The Emperors.

In one of his last interviews in June of this year, Johnson told The News & Observer that he preferred that type of musical life because he valued creative control and savored beach music. "That's the thing about a good song," he said. "Let's say that song was put out 10 years ago, the recording company is done, whoever wrote the song is dead or just ain't writing songs no more. But that song is still there."

General Johnson died this past 13 October in Atlanta due to complications of lung cancer. His friend Chris Beachley said, "He was the king of Carolina beach music."

[Ed. note: Thanks to our pal and reader Paul for the tip and initial research.]

16 December 2010

Happy Christmas, Eh?

Good day, eh. Today's topic: "The Twelve Days of Christmas," courtesy of two hosers from the Great White North, brothers Bob & Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas of the epic 1980s classic cult TV series SCTV). So grab a Molson, don your touk and cook up some back bacon. In the holiday spirit, TNOP brings you a seasonal gem.

15 December 2010

Jeff Tweedy & The Autumn Defense: "God"

Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy hopped on stage with The Autumn Defense (the side project of fellow Wilco-ites Pat Sansone and John Stirratt) in Charlottesville, Virginia on 8 December. In recognition of the 30th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon, the group tackled "God," the epic track from Plastic Ono Band. Listen for Tweedy's little twist on the original lyrics.

14 December 2010

Macca At The Mecca

Fifty-three years after his boyhood idol Buddy Holly played the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Paul McCartney finally took the stage last night at one of the most famous music venues in the world.
In its review of the show, The New York Times reported that Macca told the audience, "It's the holy grail. I dreamed of playing here many a year."

McCartney follows in the footsteps of a pantheon of stars who have graced the venerable space that first came to prominence in the Harlem Renaissance of the pre-World War Two years: Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan. Billie Holliday. Chuck Berry. Sam Cooke. James Brown. The Supremes. Marvin Gaye. Stevie Wonder. Aretha Franklin.

The concert on Monday night was heavy on the hits - both The Beatles and Wings - as expected. But The Cute One bowed in reverence to the occasion by pulling out Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike," a Motown tune that The Fabs took a swing at in their "back to basics" Let It Be sessions. With six women behind him on a platform dancing go-go style, "it was going pretty well . . . then the house speakers turned off, only the stage monitors were audible, and a screech of feedback made Mr. McCartney recoil."

Perhaps recognizing the ghosts of the Apollo's luminous past at work, the band leader rebooted and ordered his mates to take it from the top. After all, McCartney has been playing American rhythm and blues since he was 15, when he first appeared on stage singing Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." Even at the ripe age of 68, another take was natural for the eternal Beatle boy from Liverpool who still loves the beat.

13 December 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#27]

"Maggie's Farm"
Solomon Burke
Original Dylan version found on Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

One of the bigger losses to the music world in 2010 came on 10 October when the "King of Rock and Soul" Solomon Burke died at the age of 70.

A man seemingly bigger than life literally (he was over 300 pounds) and figuratively, Solomon Burke had essentially been on stage since he was seven years old when he delivered his first sermon at his church in Philadelphia. Like many to-be soul artists, Burke's roots were in gospel. "The Wonder Boy Preacher" stepped into the secular world with a recording of Patsy Cline's "Just Out of Reach (Of y Two Open Arms)." The country standard became a surprise R&B hit, and Burke's career on Atlantic records was born.

Classic titles followed. "Cry To Me" (1962) a gospelish pot-boiler, was a top five hit in 1962 which found another life on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in the 1980s. The swinging "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" (1964) would be covered by the Rolling Stones and again earn popularity in The Blues Brothers; ironically, Burke saw the film - incorrectly crediting the song to Wilson Pickett - and called his old Atlantic boss Jerry Wexler to complain. The story goes that Wexler was simply happy to hear that Solomon was still alive, and sent him a sizable royalty check the next day. And then there was the fantastic "Got To Get You Off My Mind" (1965), a tune Burke wrote in the throes of a divorce and mourning the tragic death of Sam Cooke.

Burke's on stage presence was memorable. Back in the day, his contemporaries were in awe of his raw power. "Solomon could command a stage better than anybody," said Sam Moore. "We (Sam & Dave) used to finish our set and go sit in the audience and watch him." L.C. Cooke, Sam's brother, was quoted as saying: "On one tour with James Brown, Solomon started with 20 minutes, but he was kicking James Brown's butt so bad that he cut Solomon's time down to one song!"

Solomon Burke got a second encore on the popular music stage. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. And rock's royalty lined up to play and write with him. The remarkable Don't Give Up On Me (2002), produced expertly by Joe Henry, saw Burke perform original contributions from Bob Dylan ("Stepchild," apparently culled from the Street Legal sessions circa 1978), Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson and others. The record won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. He followed with three other solid efforts: Make Due With What You Got (2005); the duets LP Nashville (2006); and Like A Fire (2008).

Burke's take on "Maggie's Farm" is notable as it is probably the first significant recording of a Dylan song by a soul singer, recorded shortly after the original was released in 1965. The majesty of the melody and lyric are perfect for the King of Rock and Soul's muscular style and hearing the song on 45 rpm just drives home how truly memorable Solomon Burke is to the history of popular music.

Still Another Cover: Ben Sidran, "Maggie's Farm" (Dylan Different, 2010)

09 December 2010

Open A Free Gorillaz Album On Christmas

Now here's some intrepid surfing: Consequence of Sound dug out a recent interview on Perth Now with Jamie Hewlett, the visual mastermind of Gorillaz, who spilled a significant surprise. "On Christmas Eve, a video for one of the new songs from the iPad album will be released," Hewlett said. "Then, on Christmas Day fans get the whole album downloaded to their computer for free as a gift."

This confirms Damon Albern's earlier hint that an album was being written and recorded by the band on an iPad during the course of its US tour. "I wanted to make sure that it came out at the end of the tour because I don't want anyone to think I'd tampered with it," he says.

As for the overall sonic vibe of the record, Albarn revealed last month that the record is more "American-sounding" and a departure from his Blur days. "It sounds like an English voice that has been put through a vocoder of America," he said.

The record will be available as a free download on the band's official website, courtesy of the Gorillaz Advent Calendar, where the band is unveiling all sorts of ephemera (videos, computer wallpaper, and downloadable masks) leading up to the big day.

A Holiday Treat From Los Campesinos!

Cardiff, Wales popsters Los Campesinos! have started their own quarterly fanzine and to celebrate have cut a couple of original holiday numbers. Celebrate the season with a listen to one of them, "Kindle A Flame In Her Heart."

Los Campesinos - Kindle A Flame In Her Heart

08 December 2010

John Winston Ono Lennon (1940 - 1980)

Strawberry Fields, Central Park, New York City, USA

07 December 2010

This Date In Rock History: 7 December

Happy birthday to Thomas Alan Waits, born on this date in 1949 to Pomona, California schoolteachers Jesse Waits and Alma McMurray.

Devotee to singers and songwriters as diverse as Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Howlin' Wolf, Marty Robbins and Stephen Foster, young Tom caught the attention of record executives in the blossoming Southern California music scene of the early 1970s. His lyrics commonly echoed the style of authors like beat writer Jack Kerouac and noir-novelist Raymond Chandler, and along with his whiskey-soaked vocals, created a unique corner of popular music that is still unmatched today.

The Night Owl's first encounter with a Waits composition was probably typical: The Eagles' cover of his "Ol' 55," which appeared on the group's On The Border album. By my days of university, Waits had become somewhat of an underground phenomenon; his tragi-comic tales of the underbelly of society played to the sweet spot of students vicariously searching for their own bit of Bohemia. One of his crowning achievements remains the opening track from the 1976 LP Small Change, intriguingly titled "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)". Written during a particularly tumultuous period in Waits' life, producer Bones Howe later recalled when the singer first introduced him to the song:

He said the most wonderful thing about writing that song. He went down and hung around on skid row in L.A. because he wanted to get stimulated for writing this material. He called me up and said, 'I went down to skid row ... I bought a pint of rye. In a brown paper bag.' I said, 'Oh really?'. 'Yeah - hunkered down, drank the pint of rye, went home, threw up, and wrote 'Tom Traubert's Blues' [...] Every guy down there ... everyone I spoke to, a woman put him there.

Relax, pour yourself a wee bit of Jameson's, and toast this bit of brilliance in honor of Tom Waits' 61st birthday.

02 December 2010

Ron Wood w/Mick Taylor: "Fancy Pants"

Without much fanfare, current Rolling Stone Ron Wood released his solo album I Feel Like Playing at the end of September. Last night he turned up at London's 100 Club for a benefit performance, hoping to help save the venerable small venue which has been the site of early gigs for groups like The Stones, The Sex Pistols and Oasis.

Joining him on stage was his predecessor on guitar for The World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band, Mick Taylor. After being in the shadows for a number of years, Taylor seems to be coming back into the light, albeit slowly. Earlier this year, Mick & Keith brought Taylor into the studio to record new guitar overdubs on the Exile On Main St. outtakes included in the deluxe reissue. Here's a video of the two jamming on "Fancy Pants," a track off of the new Woody record.