Episode 2.3: MOONDANCE

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MOONDANCE – Van Morrison – Warner Brothers – 1970

Sequestered away in Woodstock, New York, at the end of the 1960s, Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison was on a quest. His previous album, Astral Weeks, was floundering commercially, and no one knew quite what to make of this Celtic troubadour who sang of mysticism and “gardens all misty wet with rain.”

Out of this artistic sabbatical came 1970’s Moondance, an album that drew influences from blues, pop, and jazz to create a through line of music that was at once inherently accessible, and, as the ensuing decades would prove, universally relatable. Within these melodies, Morrison used imagery of his trademark gypsies and mists and dreams and stories, while placing them within frames of groove-able basslines, wistful guitars, and even trendy (for the period) flutes. This amalgamation of influences proved to be just the right combination that Morrison needed to cement himself within the lexicon of great singer-songwriters, and why Moondance has since gone on to become one of the best-loved albums ever recorded.

Listen to Moondance: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • We spared you a bunch of background info about Van Morrison’s pre-solo career and what happened when Astral Weeks was released, but if you want to learn more, there’s this cool thing called Google that will tell you all about it.
  • We love to call out when a certain album feels like a certain season to us, and although we often disagree, we both definitely think Moondance is a perfect fall album. Even better are albums you can identify as “rainy day albums” (fall rainy days are bonus), which this one most definitely is. (Sidenote, thank god we’re done with hotumn.)
    • Disagree? Agree? Hit us up and tell us your thoughts.
  • See our further reading notes below for more about that childhood memory that informed “And It Stoned Me.”
    • For a refresher on our feelings on saxophones in rock, revisit our Hall & Oates episode.
    • Here’s that gorgeous John Mayer cover we mentioned. You’re welcome.
  • We’ve discussed our distaste for the flute before. IT RARELY WORKS.
    • Benmont Tench agrees with us. Here’s his opinion on the “Moondance” flute.
    • So, yeah. If someone could please get us and Benmont Tench a mix of “Moondance” done without the flute, we’d love you forever.
  • Check out our master playlist on Spotify to hear the similarities between “Crazy Love,” “Waiting on the World to Change,” and “People Get Ready” side by side.
  • Shoutout to John Klingberg, who is a true MVP on this album.
    • See our further watching links below for the can’t-be-missed performance of “Caravan” from The Band’s iconic 1978 concert film The Last Waltz
    • “Caravan” clocked in at 181 on Pitchfork’s 200 Best Songs of the 1970s list. We’ve discussed our displeasure with this list countless times throughout our episodes, but add the fact that only one Van Morrison song makes an appearance on it to the list of reasons why we think it needs an overhaul.
    • Fun fact: Nick Hornby wants the version from The Last Waltz played at his funeral. Here’s some great writing on how great this version is.
  • To really see how Morrison’s use of homophones can change the meaning of “Into the Mystic,” take a peek at the Genius lyrics.
  • Also check out our further watching links for the live cover version of “Into The Mystic” by Zac Brown Band and Clare Bowen.
  • For a refresher on how we each feel about non-sequitur, surprise songs in albums, revisit our discussion on “Before They Make Me Run” from the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.
  • Correction: Carly does, in fact, know that Northern Ireland is part of the UK. Our bad for the slip-up.
  • Shoutout to that transatlantic music trade. We dig how cool it is that so many iconic UK/Irish bands and artists have been able to take old American blues and turn it into something of their own.
    • See our further watching links for this cool documentary where Van Morrison talks about and plays with John Lee Hooker, as well as that Fillmore East show.
    • And if anyone can get us more info about John Klingberg, that would be super cool. Thanks!
  • Okay, special exception to the flute thing with “Everyone.” It works there.
  • Again, hit up our Spotify playlist to hear all the side-by-side comparisons between modern artists like John Mayer, Ryan Adams, and Father John Misty and Van Morrison.

 

Album credits:
Van Morrison — Rhythm guitar, vocals, tambourine
Jack Schrorer — Alto and soprano sax
Collin Tillton — Tenor sax and flute
Jeff Labes — Piano, organ, and clavinette
John Platania — Lead and rhythm guitars
John Klingberg — Bass guitar
Garry Malabar — Drums and vibraphone
Guy Masson — Congo drum
Emily Houston — Backing vocals
Judy Clay — Backing vocals
Jackie Verdell — Backing vocals


Favorite track(s): “Into the Mystic” (Carly) | “Caravan” and “And It Stoned Me” (Carrie)
Least favorite track: “Brand New Day” (Carly) | “Come Running” (Carrie)

Further watching:
John Mayer – “And It Stoned Me” | 2014  
Zac Brown Band ft. Clare Bowen – “Free >> Into the Mystic” | 2013
Van Morrison: Another Glorious Decade | 2003
Van Morrison Cue The Music TV documentary | 1991
Van Morrison and The Band – “Caravan” | The Last Waltz (1978)
Van Morrison live at Fillmore East | 1970

Further reading:
The Words and Music of Van Morrison | 2009
Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison | 2003   

Moondance re-release review | The Au Review (October 2013) 
500 Greatest Albums of All Time – Moondance | Rolling Stone (May 2012)
Van Morrison: The Poet | Rolling Stone (November 1978)
Moondance review | Rolling Stone (March 1970)

 

Episode 2.2: URBAN VERBS

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URBAN VERBS – Urban Verbs – Warner Brothers – 1980

In our very first oral history episode, we are extremely proud to present the story of Urban Verbs, an integral band in the shaping of Washington D.C.’s burgeoning punk scene in late 1970s and early 1980s.

With the frenetic energy of punk buzzing out of New York and London and the first bursts of post-punk already beginning to enter the airwaves, Urban Verbs stood at a crossroads of sonic and cultural possibilities. They had their own uncharted terrain on which they could create a scene of their own, with their own experimental sound: Their home base, the now-legendary 9:30 Club, spawned a singular new wave movement, one whose influence can still be felt among D.C. bands of today. Their unique meshing of the visual arts crowd with the music world helped to usher in a unification of the D.C. creative community.

Only circumstance separated the Verbs from widespread national acclaim, so with this episode, we offer a candid telling of a story that we feel deserves recognition, a story of music that still sounds as fresh, driving, and progressive today as the day it was recorded. These are the recollections of an extraordinary period in time, told by those who lived it.

Carly and Carrie would like to dedicate this episode to the memory of Robert Goldstein, whose music and essential contributions to the Verbs were a large part of the inspiration for this project.

Listen to Urban Verbs: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

Here, shared with the public for the first time, is the detailed, two page letter legendary producer Brian Eno wrote to the Urban Verbs upon hearing them for the first time at CBGB. Delivered to the band the morning after the show and featuring extensive handwritten marginalia, the letter reflects Eno’s enthusiasm for their unique sound, the potential he heard in it, and his eagerness to record them — at his own expense.

In it, Eno is remarkably candid, mulling over ideas that seem dated now (“I’ve often thought of the next generation of machines and computers,” he muses) but were ahead of their time, offering suggestions and praise in equal amount. “That was how far I could go before getting embarrassed,” he concludes. “I realize that this gush might surprise you somewhat, but you came at a good time for me.” 

 BRIAN-ENO-URBAN-VERBS-LETTER-CBGB-1 BRIAN-ENO-URBAN-VERBS-LETTER-CBGB-2

Click to expand thumbnails
Thank you very much to Rod Frantz for sharing this document with us.

And here are the tracks Eno ended up producing for the Urban Verbs:

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Here’s a publicity still of the Urban Verbs from the late ‘70s that’s cool af.
  • Here’s some extensive info about the ARP Odyssey synthesizer Robin Rose used.
  • While the Verbs were pioneers in the D.C. rock scene, this article from D.C. Whiz highlights some of their contemporaries, including the Slickee Boys, mentioned in this episode.
  • For a taste of what the B-52s were like around the time they played with the Urban Verbs, check out this in-depth look at their early days.
  • Here’s some more info on Mike Thorne’s career.
  • The awful Rolling Stone review is, surprisingly, nowhere to be found on the internet. And we mean surprisingly as in “we sometimes scare ourselves with how good we are at sleuthing and deep diving the murky online waters and we STILL couldn’t find it.”
  • The Washington Post covered the Urban Verbs extensively in their D.C. days. See our further reading links below to read everything from profiles of the band to reviews of their shows.
  • The Urban Verbs briefly reunited in 2008. Here’s an interview with the band from the time, and peep our further watching links below to see a 2008 performance of Terminal Bar.
  • More from Bob Boilen on the Urban Verbs.
  • The last time that all the original members of Urban Verbs publicly performed together was at the Katzen Arts Center in D.C. in May 2016. Check out our further watching links below to watch their performance.
  • See our further reading links below to read and listen to NPR’s poignant remembrance of Robert Goldstein.
  • Members of the Verbs, along with other DC bands and artists who continue their legacy, held a tribute concert for Robert Goldstein (which came to be known as RobertFest) at the new 9:30 Club in January 2017. A video of the entire show can be viewed in our links below.
  • In the mood for another oral history? The Washington Post did one in 2010 on the founding and subsequent life of the 9:30 Club.

Album credits:
Roddy Frantz — Vocals, Written-By — Lyrics
Robert Goldstein — Guitar, Written-By — Music
Robin Rose — Synthesizer
Linda France — Bass and piano
Danny Frankel — Drums and percussion
Mike Thorne — Producer

Further watching:  
RobertFest full concert | January 2017
Urban Verbs live at Katzan Arts Center | May 2016
Terminal Bar | 2008

Further reading: 
Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital | 2009

Ambient Genius (Brian Eno profile) | The New Yorker (July 2014)
Remembering Robert Goldstein, NPR’s Music Librarian and Our Friend | NPR (October 2016)
Urban Verbs’ Renewal (on a 1995 reunion at the 9:30 Club) | Washington Post (December 1995)
The Urban Verbs: Future Tense (debut album review) | Washington Post (March 1980)
The Urban Verbs (Pension Building show review) | Washington Post (March 1980)
The Urban Verbs (profile of the band) | Washington Post (February 1979)
Two Rock Groups Play CBGB’s (show review) | The New York Times (November 1978)
The Urban Verbs (Corcoran Gallery show review) | Washington Post (October 1978)

Episode 2.1: SOME GIRLS

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SOME GIRLS – The Rolling Stones – Rolling Stones Records – 1978

Disco. Punk. Blues. Rock. Country. Touching on each of these unique, diverse genres on one album looks like a recipe for disaster on paper. And yet, in the tight span of 40 minutes, that combination was the magic kick that the Rolling Stones needed to revive their careers.

Things were not looking good for the Stones by the late-70s. After getting carried away on their own popularity following a string of hit albums — Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. — they released a string of subpar ones. Drugs were becoming an increasing problem, and a heroin bust left Keith Richards facing serious legal issues and the threat of an extended jail sentence. Their early peers, bands like the Beatles, the Animals, and Led Zeppelin, had either broken up long ago or were on the fade. And now in their early 30s, they were considered too old to be trusted as rock stars anymore, quickly losing relevancy to the young punks and disco acts on the rise.

Suffice it to say, their next album had the power to make or break them. An experimentation with what was new, while still remaining true to the Stones’ established rock aesthetic, 1978’s Some Girls was a critical and commercial success that breathed new life into the band.

In this episode, we examine the influences of emerging musical movements like disco and punk on the Stones, how a decidedly British band made an album that captured the New York spirit, and why it stands up over time as a testament to the Rolling Stones’ continued legacy as one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.

This episode is in memory of all the people who were killed and injured in Las Vegas this week, and to the lasting influence of Tom Petty. May it remind you why we all love and celebrate music in the first place.

Listen to Some Girls: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Alright, the Rolling Stones had a lonnnnng history before they even got around to Some Girls, so we’ll spare you all our CliffsNotes and just direct you to Wikipedia to spiral from there.
  • We’ve discussed this before: the mid- to late-70s were an incredibly exciting time in music, particularly in New York. It’s no wonder the Stones wanted to play catch-up and pull in punk and disco influences to stay current.
    • We can hear a SLEW of influences on this album. Bop over to our master playlist on Spotify to hear them all.
  • LOL at the Stones being considered too old in the ‘70s.
  • Because of Keith’s legal issues stemming from a bust for heroin possession, Mick ends up being a driving creative force on Some Girls. For more about that, peep our further reading section below.
  • Okay honestly, if you don’t bop to “Miss You,” your brain might be broken.
    • Shoutout to Billy Preston for teaching Mick four on the floor.
    • Shoutout to Charlie Watts for that kick drum and being an all-around great drummer.
      • Watch this video. “My thing, whenever I play, is to make it a dance sound. It doesn’t matter whether it’s blues or whatever. It should swing and bounce.” Helllll yeahhh, Charlie.
    • Debate: Do you think the disco-influence in “Miss You” was the product of experimentation and jamming, or a pointedly calculated track?
  • Current artists are always going to be influenced by what came before, but we seem to be in the midst of a ‘70s and early ‘80s renaissance with bands like Vulfpeck, TOPS, etc.
    • That sentiment about all music being cyclical because there are only so many chords that we couldn’t source? It came from Tom Petty. He’s invaded our subconscious to the point where we could recall this interview he gave about 12 years ago, in which he says he’s found himself writing a song and “then [realizing] it’s somebody else’s song. […] But there’s only so many words and so many notes, so sometimes you do cross somebody else’s territory.”
  • Hi, we may be technically nerdy but you will never find us be superior purist snobs on this show.
  • Mick Jagger is a slut. There. We said it.
  • Shoutout to that pedal steel guitar for creeping into some punkier tracks.
  • No, really, Mick has no idea why he wrote “When The Whip Comes Down.”
  • Hahahahahahahaha “Some Girls” would never be made today hahahahahaha
  • No, seriously, can anyone provide any evidence that Mick did research at CBGB because “Lies” and “Respectable” sure sound like he did.
  • Someone compiled a list of all the times Keef sings lead on Stones’ songs, so there’s that.
    • TBH, “Before They Make Me Run” has strains of Mudcrutch in it, though, so we can’t complain too much.
    • Keef has lived an extraordinarily messy life. You should read about it in his memoir, aptly titled Life.
    • (Keef will outlive us all.)
  • “Beast of Burden” is easily one of the top 10 sexiest songs ever do not fight us on this.
  • From the Clash to Lou Reed to Joe Jackson — check out all the influences we hear in “Shattered” in our ever-evolving master playlist. (Yes, we plugged it again.)
    • PSA: Do not complain about New York if you do not live in New York. (We’re looking at you, Mick.)
  • What’s there to say about the Rolling Stones’ legacy? They’ve been around forever and are seemingly immortal, having influenced countless of musicians and fans for more than 50 years.

Album credits:
Mick Jagger — lead and backing vocals, electric guitar, piano, percussion
Keith Richards — electric guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano, lead vocals
Bill Wyman — bass guitar, synthesizer
Charlie Watts — drums
Ronnie Wood — electric guitar, backing vocals, pedal steel, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, bass drum
Sugar Blue — harmonica
Ian McLagan — electric piano, organ
Mel Collins — saxophone
Simone Kirke — congas
Ted Jensen — mastering

Favorite track(s): Miss You (Carly) | Miss You (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Far Away Eyes (Carly) | Far Away Eyes and Before They Make Me Run (Carrie)

Further watching: 
Shine a Light (Martin Scorsese documentary on the Rolling Stones) | 2008
The Rolling Stones: Just for the Record – The ’70s | 2002
Keith Richards: Life (BBC documentary) | 2010
Some Girls tour interview | 1978

Further reading:
Rolling Stones’ ‘Some Girls’ (from the 33 1/3 book series) | 2011
Life (Keith Richards’ memoir) | 2010

How the Rolling Stones went disco: Inside the making of “Miss You” | Salon (August 2017)
How the Rolling Stones Bounced Back With ‘Some Girls’ | Ultimate Classic Rock (June 2015)
The Rolling Stone Interview: Jagger Remembers | Rolling Stone (December 1995)
Mick Jagger: Jumpin’ Jack Flash at 34 | Rolling Stone (June 1978)
Some Girls review | Rolling Stone (June 1978)

Episode 15: MUSIC

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MUSIC – Carole King – Sony Music – 1971

By the final months of 1971, she was a bona fide superstar. A Los Angeles Times Top 10 Woman of the Year and platinum album seller, her solo singles chronically became hits, and in June of that year, she sold out Carnegie Hall. Her talent, relentless ambition, and steadfast belief in both had taken her to the height of musical recognition without compromising any of her originality — an exemplary feat that was emblematic of the dawning of the freer, more authentic era for women that the 1970s would come to be. She had named herself Carole King at age 14, and now, the woman that Brooklyn’s Carol Klein became was enjoying something else on her terms: her own success.

The album that brought it to her, of course, was Tapestry, but late in 1971, Carole King released her follow-up, Music. Though it received mixed reviews upon its release, Music showcases several of the tricks in Carole’s bag, with influences spanning jazz to R&B to classic pop, arrangements varying from the quiet and simple to the symphonic, and ranging in emotion while never losing her trademark intimacy. This is an album that is more than just a juggernaut’s endearing postscript — it is a declaration of confidence, awareness, and love.

Listen to Music: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Hi, yes, we did do Music instead of Tapestry, even though Tapestry is an iconic album with a ton of material circulating about it. See, that’s one reason why we’re not doing it — because so much has already been said. Wanna know more? (Because this whole not-covering-the-album thing is something you’ll see a lot around here.) Head to our FAQ section.
  • Carole King has had a prolific career since she was a teenager. You’ve probably (definitely) heard some of her early songs with Gerry Goffin like “The Loco-Motion,” “Up On The Roof,” and “One Fine Day.” (If you haven’t, then where have you been?)
  • Her band The City only produced one album. It’s good. Carly has been hunting for it for ages on vinyl, so if anyone ever comes across it and wants to be a good samaritan, just @ us.
  • James Taylor, you a good friend. A good, good friend.
  • Here’s Robert Hillburn’s Women of the Year profile of Carole King.
  • Check out our further reading section below to read Rolling Stone’s original review of Music. (It’s not very kind, but we’re gonna be talking about it a lot.)
  • “Brother, Brother” is totally a sister/response song to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Bop over to our master playlist on Spotify to hear them back to back and tell us if you agree or disagree.
  • Hi, Time. We’re here to remind you that baby boomers are the original Me generation. (No shade to baby boomers or to Me generations; just sayin’.)
  • Carole has credited Toni Stern as a collaborator who helped give her the courage to write on her own after Gerry. Here’s some more about her.
  • Throwback to our Graham Nash episode “It’s Going to Take Some Time” might remind you a bit of the mature breakup themes on Songs For Beginners.
  • Yes, the Carpenters covered “It’s Going to Take Some Time.” Yes, they used a flute. Yes, it was hokey AF. We have been here with our distaste for flutes before. They just ain’t funky.
  • All those songs with similar syncopations that Carly explained? Yeah, you can find them all back-to-back in our Spotify playlist. Dig in. Geek out.
  • I never wanted to be Danny Kootch. I always thought it was the stupidest fucking nickname in the world.” — Danny Kortchmar AKA “Kootch”
    • No really, one day we’re going to do an episode all about the Section.
    • It’ll be just like a Jack Stratton Holy Trinities episode. (PS — You should really, really watch this one and also, if you dig funk, you should really, really listen to Vulfpeck.)
    • ICYMI in our Jackson Browne episode, read more about the Section in our further reading links below.
  • Throwback to our Al Green episode (wow, we are very self-referential this week) for a reminder about all that guud Willie Mitchell juju.
  • Even your faves stan their own faves. Case in point: Carole King writing “Carry Your Load” to sound like a Laura Nyro song, whom she greatly admired.
    • Fun but random fact about Laura Nyro: If you can find an original copy of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, pull out its liner notes and sniff them. Really. They should still smell like lilac perfume. That’s intentional.
  • OMG wow spoiler alert: Carly and Carrie don’t always agree on everything! Case in point: our healthy lil debate/discussion about the production and instrumentation of “Music.”
  • Here’s Carole’s OG demo of that Monkees song.
  • “Song of Long Ago” is friendship feels, so shoutout to all the bub friends out there.
  • Okay, but “Brighter” is such a sweet and lovely song, it just makes our hearts swell.
    • No, really, if anyone knows how to get Nancy Meyers to use it in one of her movies, please let us know. It’s peak turtleneck-and-beautiful-kitchen-and-happy-people music.
    • If you’re ever feeling too good about yourself, remember that Cameron Crowe was reviewing albums for the San Diego Door when he was 14 years old. (Shoutout to Cameron Crowe; we really like you.) Read his review of Music here.
  • If anyone can get us a time machine to the Troubadour circa 1972, that would be awesome, thank you.
  • New here? Forgetful? Find out what we mean when we say “RihannaMagic.GIF” in our handy dandy show glossary.
  • HONESTLY, if you can find a copy of PBS’s American Masters: Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter, you will be a VIP friend of the pod. Its existence has all but been erased from the internet.
  • Carrie was wrong; Emmylou Harris’s “Luxury Liner” came out in 1976, not 1975.
  • You know we’re all about that legacy — who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
    • First, Carole King is still very much a presence in music today. In 2015, she received a Kennedy Center honor. In 2016, she headlined the British Summer Time Festival and played Tapestry live in its entirety for the very first time. This year, she released a song to support the Women’s March. Woke.
    • Second, some great artists you should check out who carry on her songwriting style and musical influence (we’ll put them all in the playlist): Sara Bareilles, Greta Morgan, Diane Birch, Vanessa Carlton… the list could go on, but here are some A+ starters.
    • Third, she even has a musical about her life (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) that’s been on Broadway for 3+ years now. Talk about legacy.
  • If you wanna talk to us: hit us up over email, like us on Facebook, or even feel free to slide into our DMs on Twitter.
  • Shoutout to our one star reviewer on iTunes, whoever you may be. They don’t want you to win. We love you anyway. 

Album credits:
Carole King – Vocals, piano, electric piano, electric celeste, backing vocals
Ralph Schuckett – organ, electric piano, electric celeste
Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar – acoustic and electric guitars, backing vocals
James Taylor – acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Charles Larkey – electric and acoustic bass guitar
Joel O’Brien, Russ Kunkel – drums
Ms. Bobbye Hall – congas, bongos, tambourine
Teresa Calderon – congas
Curtis Amy – tenor saxophone, flute
Oscar Brashear – flugelhorn
William Green – woodwind, flute, saxophone
William Collette – woodwind, flute, saxophone
Ernest Watts – woodwind, flute, saxophone
Plas Johnson – woodwind, flute, saxophone
Mike Altschul – woodwind, flute, saxophone
Abigale Haness – backing vocals
Merry Clayton – backing vocals

Favorite track(s): Sweet Seasons and Music (Carly) | Sweet Seasons and Brighter (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Surely (Carly) | Surely (Carrie)

Further watching: 
Carole King’s Kennedy Center Honors induction | 2015
Carole King: “I never thought about gender” (MSNBC intervew) | 2015 
A Conversation With Carole King
(book discussion at JFK Library) | 2012
Hotel California: LA From the Byrds to the Eagles | 2007

Further reading:
A Natural Woman: A Memoir | 2012
Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — And the Journey of a Generation | 2008 (side note — this is a huge favorite of both Carrie and Carly)

An Oral History of Laurel Canyon, the ’60s and ’70s Music Mecca | Vanity Fair (March 2015)
The Section: Knights of Soft Rock | Rolling Stone (April 2013)
Music review | Rolling Stone (January 1972)

Episode 14: COMPUTER WORLD

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COMPUTER WORLD – Kraftwerk – Warner Bros. Records – 1981

If you imagine a Venn diagram of musical genres, you may not immediately think of Kraftwerk being the common ground for artists creating and performing pop-rock, funk, soul, and hip-hop. Yet, there in the middle, connecting them all, is that small electronic band from Düsseldorf: four men who blurred the line between human capability and digital precision.

Ironically, the band that would go on to inspire musicians from all genres never aspired to make names for themselves individually. Seeking only to expand the scope of musical technology and to comment on a changing world, Kraftwerk’s music grew to be so profound that they came to be known as the “Beatles of electronic music.”

At the onset of accessible computer technology in the early ‘80s, Kraftwerk released Computer World. Listening to it today, in our society so inundated with all things digital, it is impossible not to marvel at what a harbinger it was of things to come. In this episode, we are joined by Kid Ginseng, DJ and head of New York electro-funk label Kraftjerkz, and lifelong Kraftwerk listener. Our discussion is a deep-dive into their background and influence, highlighting an artist who is continuing Kraftwerk’s legacy today.

Listen to Computer World: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • First and foremost, a special thank you to our first guest, Kid Ginseng. If you dig electro music and turntablism, or just want something different and funky to dance to, check out the albums he releases from his label Kraftjerkz.
  • We love old music, but we love new music, too, and with our special guest episodes, we’ll be bridging the gap between the two. As we’ve said before — you have to know where you came from to know where you’re going.
  • “Numbers” is a template for current electro beats. Listen to the track here for an idea of what that sounds like.
  • If you don’t have Planet Rock,” then you probably aren’t a good DJ. Just saying.
    • Peep our further reading section for more info about how revolutionary “Planet Rock” was in the hip-hop scene.
    • Hit up our Spotify playlist to hear some of the similar tracks, like “Cosmic Cars,” and pick out the connections.
  • No, really, Kraftwerk used Texas Instruments tools to create music. Way better than hacking your TI-83 to play some off-brand version of Super Mario Brothers in calc class. Not that we did that in high school. Of course we didn’t do that.
  • Kraftwerk probably predicted the nightmare that is online dating and the rise of Tinder, which is pretty pre-woke.
  • Talk about the double-edged sword of technology with us for a second. Yes, technology makes the creative process of making music accessible and open to innovation for almost anyone — good. But, it makes creating music accessible for almost anyone i.e. people don’t necessarily need skills anymore because they can rely on a machine to do it all for them — bad.
  • Kraftwerk was woke — they only used state of the art technology and recorded in the best of the best studios.
  • It feels partially quaint and partially eerie how accurate and prophetic a concept album about the rise of home computing made in the early ‘80s was, doesn’t it? 
  • Read more here about how they began incorporating sequencing on their Man-Machine album.
  • Emil Schult is a lowkey BAMF.
  • No, really, Kraftwerk stans cycling pretty hard.
  • Debate: Is Kraftwerk funky?
  • Hello, fellow millennials! That Coldplay song you love so much is actually built out of Kraftwerk’s melody on “Computer Love.” One good thing: they actually got permission before they used it, which apparently was an issue with people sampling Kraftwerk before.
    • Ugh. We hate lists so much sometimes, but here’s what Pitchfork had to say about “Computer Love” in their 200 Best Songs of the ‘80s list (scroll to number 53). It’s a pretty good blurb.
  • Late ‘90s/early 2000s electroclash takes a huge page out of Kraftwerk’s book — peep our Spotify playlist for some examples.
  • Sorry for talking about LCD Soundsystem again (but not really because it’s relevant).
  • Johnny Rotten + Kraftwerk = World Destruction.
  • Okay, but really. Sofia Coppola cannot curate a bad soundtrack, and the impeccable Marie Antoinette soundtrack is no exception to this opinion.
    • Aphex Twin draws inspiration and samples from Kraftwerk so often — again, hit up our master playlist to listen to some examples.
  • Here are two brief lists of notable times Kraftwerk was sampled: in hip-hop and from Computer World in general.
  • Hi! Do you have opinions about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? We would love to opine with you! Get at us on Facebook, on Twitter, or over email, if you have a taste for salt.

Album credits:
Ralf Hütter – album concept, artwork reconstruction, cover, electronics, keyboards, mixing, Orchestron, production, recording, Synthanorma Sequenzer, synthesiser, vocoder, voice
Florian Schneider – album concept, cover, electronics, mixing, production, recording, speech synthesis, synthesiser, vocoder
Karl Bartos – electronic percussion
Emil Schult – cover

Further watching: 
Kraftwerk: Pop Art documentary | 2013
Kraftwerk & the The Electronic Revolution | 2013
“Computer World” live at the Tate Modern | 2013

Further reading: 
The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone (December 2012) 
Sound Machine: How did a pop band end up in a museum? | The New Yorker (April 2012)
Kraftwerk Day Five: 1981 ‘Computer World’ Invents Electronic Funk | Rolling Stone (April 2012)
Who Knew That Robots Were Funky? | The New York Times (December 2009)
Kraftwerk: I Was a Robot | 2017
Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music | 2001

Episode 13: NIGHTCLUBBING

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NIGHTCLUBBING – Grace Jones – Island Records – 1981

Music. Fashion. Art. Icon. Attempting to mix these to create an internationally acclaimed persona would be a daunting task for anyone with less magnetism than Grace Jones, who succeeded so overwhelmingly at becoming a cross-genre “It Girl” that she forged a path for future generations of singular artists to follow.

Already a well-known model and disco queen, Grace Jones began recording music in the late 1970s. The records did modestly well, but in 1979, Island Records founder and producer Chris Blackwell began working with her on a new musical aesthetic, combining funk, disco, reggae, and new wave styles to create something new — and uniquely Grace Jones. With the talents of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Uziah Thompson, and other musicians who comprised the Compass Point All-Stars, the sessions that became Nightclubbing would go on to influence music through each subsequent decade.

As we seek to bridge the gap between the generations, there are few better examples of lasting musical, sartorial, and artistic inspiration than Grace Jones. In today’s episode on her 1981 album Nightclubbing, we explore the effervescent enigma of a woman who left her Jamaican home to travel the world, only to return to the Caribbean to create the music that would become the focal point of her legacy. We dive deep into the relationships between music and art, between the artist and the image, and between icon and legacy. 

Listen to Nightclubbing: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Forest Hills is honestly one of the most magical, historic venues in the city. Definitely try to get to a show there, if you can.
  • Fairfield, Connecticut and the people who live there are delightful, and the Fairfield Theatre Company is such a great space to check out a show. It’s so close to New York on the train! And it’s green! In this summer of subway hell, maybe skip the L and hit up the New Haven Metro-North line instead.
    • As we’ve mentioned before, we love love love FTC’s Emerging Artists Series. Here’s more info on the next installment on August 21 with Easter Island and Oak House. You know we’ll be there.
    • If you love harmonies and feels as much as we do, check out the Wild Reeds. You won’t be disappointed.
  • If you love punk, post-punk, rock, soul, psychedelia, and/or a combination of all of them, check out Lulu Lewis! We’ve mentioned them before, but we’re not gonna stop anytime soon because we really dig their music and hope you do, too.
  • We’ve mentioned this before, but once again, Chris Blackwell is a BAMF.
  • As is Alex Sadkin.
  • Revisit our episode on Betty Davis’s They Say I’m Different and let us know if you see any similarities between Betty and Grace.
  • TURN TF UP FOR COMPASS POINT 👏 👏 👏
    • Here’s a rad podcast we literally just found that serves as a mini audio-documentary on the studio and some of the cool people who passed through and the records they made.
    • ALSO, TURN TF UP FOR THE COMPASS POINT ALL-STARS 👏 👏 👏
    • Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Wally Badarou, Mikey Chung, Barry Reynolds, and Uziah “Sticky” Thompson are all killer musicians on their own, but the sum = magic
    • Peep our further reading for more on them.
  • A lot of Nightclubbing actually comes from sessions for Warm Leatherette; THAT’S how good they were.
  • Let’s talk about this album cover!
    • First and foremost: Grace Jones is the OG baddie, textbook unfuckwithable. (Confused what that means? Good thing we have our glossary.)
    • Especially, let’s talk about John Paul Goude. Here’s one article about their working relationship, but check out our further reading for more.
  • Here’s that “I came to slay” Grace Jones-Pee Wee’s Christmas Special appearance we were talking about. Childhood memories are crazy, y’all.
  • This album is full of cover songs, so check out our master playlist on Spotify for all the side by side comparisons.
  • Here’s that incredibly in-depth lecture with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth at Red Bull Music Academy. The link will take you right to the part where they discuss Compass Point and the creative community there, but we highly recommend watching all of it. It’s a good one.
  • Check out the further reading links below for a piece about Grace Jones’s androgynous impact on fashion and music that’s worth reading, if you’re interested.
  • Turnup for Stromae. (Carly recommends watching these videos for Tous Les Memes” or Papaoutai.”)
  • If “Pull Up To The Bumper” doesn’t give you time-machine-going-out feels, maybe this isn’t the podcast for you 👀
  • Turnup for Fonce Mizell.  
  • No, really, they don’t have street numbers at Compass Point, so if we ever by any chance get an apartment or house there, Funky Spaceship is on the short list of names.
  • Here’s some science stuff about how Compass Point’s engineers EQ’d the bass and the drums the way they did that creates that cool, loud-but-open sound.
  • Hey, if anyone knows a physicist who can make us a time machine, hit us up.
  • If you want to read Grace’s ironically titled memoir, follow the link in our further reading section below.
  • Here are the translated lyrics to “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango),” if you’d like a more thorough explanation than Carrie’s subpar French can offer. (She tried. Also, if anyone wants to tutor her, she’s willing to re-learn.)
  • Visuals are a huge part of this album — see our further watching section below for some great links.
  • Buckle up. We’re about to take you down a musical rabbit hole: Compass Point edition. It’s gonna be fun.
    • Of course we’re going to bring up the rhythmic similarities between Grace Jones/Sly and Robbie and Frantz and Weymouth, even though it’s all mostly unintentional. They were all recording in the same place at the same time — studio osmosis is a pretty cool thing.
    • Add this to the list of mashups we’d very much like: Tom Tom Club’s “As Above So Below” vs. Grace Jones’s “Feel Up”
    • Tom Tom Club’s woke-and-dope sophomore album Close To The Bone isn’t on Spotify or iTunes for some reason (???), but we highly recommend you listen to it. YouTube is the real MVP — here you go.
    • Also, while you’re there — how great would a Grace Jones cover of Bamboo Town” be?
    • Okay, dig: the bassline on Grace Jones’s “Love is the Drug” sounds very similar to the bassline on Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless”
    • OMG THERE’S MORE! The “Crosseyed and Painless” bassline also sounds a lot like the bassline on “Feel Up,” so now we’ve come full circle.
    • “Y, tho?” you’re probably asking. The short story: it’s because all three basslines are outliers to pre-established bass aesthetics. Rather than being funky and melodic, as per usual, they’re pointed grooves (that happen to sound similar) and serve as anchors to keep busy, polyrhythmic songs from running away.
    • Wild, right?
  • Here’s more info about “Demolition Man” so you can learn what exactly Sting was talking about when he wrote it.
  • “I’ve Done It Again” is probably about an LSD trip, so, there’s that.
  • Grace Jones has an enormous legacy. Here’s a short list of information:
    • Grace Jones was and is a huge gay icon, and this album has been noted for its gay following.
    • Artists who have Grace to thank for paving the way for connecting music, fashion, and art: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Madonna, Janelle Monae… the list goes on and on.
    • Grace’s influence on fashion has also been vast and long-lasting.
  • Finally, worth repeating here, the final paragraph of Grace’s memoir: “If people complain that I am not doing enough of my old material, not performing all the hits, I will stand in front of them, a formlessness that engulfs all form. I will put on another hat, crack my whip, scatter fireflies, fix them with a five-thousand-year-old stare, fit to fight to the bitter end, becoming a ghost with the passing of time. I will be ready for the afterlife, for my bones to be buried in the mountains of Jamaica, or the canals of Venice, or the dark side of the moon, or under the ground in the cities I’ve lived in and loved. And I will say: Do you want to move forward with me, or not? Do you want to know where I am going next? It’s time for something else to happen.

Favorite track(s): Feel Up and Pull Up To The Bumper (Carly) | Pull Up To The Bumper and Feel Up (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Art Groupie (Carly) | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) (Carrie)

Album credits:
Wally Badarou – keyboards
Monte Browne – rhythm guitar
Mikey Chung – guitar
Masai Delon – vocals
Tyrone Downie – keyboards, vocals
Sly Dunbar – drums, syndrums
Jack Emblow – accordion
Grace Jones – vocals, backing vocals
Barry Reynolds – guitar
Jess Roden – vocals
Robbie Shakespeare – bass
Mel Speller – percussion, vocals
Uziah Thompson – percussion
Chris Blackwell, Alex Sadkin – production

Further Watching: 
Grace Jones: One Man Show | 1982
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami (trailer) | Forthcoming documentary

Further Reading:
I’ll Never Write My Memoirs | Jones’s irony, please memoir (2015)
Grace Jones: Warm Leatherette (re-issue review) | Pitchfork (June 2016)
Welcome to Planet Grace Jones | Paper Magazine (October 2015) 
Grace Jones Explores Androgyny in a New Memoir | Vogue (September 2015)
As Much As I Can, As Black As I Am: The Queer History of Grace Jones | Pitchfork (August 2015)
I’ve Seen That Face Before: Looking back on Grace Jones’s iconic Nightclubbing with the people who made it happen | Fact Magazine (May 2014) 
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (deluxe re-issue review) | Pitchfork (May 2014)
Grace Jones pulls up to the bumper | The Guardian (June 2011)
Chris Blackwell | Interview Magazine (March 2009)
Grace Jones by Jean Paul Goude | V Magazine (February 2009) 

 

Episode 12: RUNNING ON EMPTY

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RUNNING ON EMPTY – Jackson Browne – Asylum Records – 1977

Running on Empty was an album that wasn’t supposed to work. Ten new cuts, all recorded live, in various parts of the country, over the course of two months? To his label, this sounded like pure folly, but Jackson Browne knew this was not just a way to fill time between studio albums; it was to be his labor of love.

Since becoming a recording artist at the age of 18, Browne had experienced life both as Greenwich Village bohemian in the ‘60s with the likes of the Velvet Underground, and as an essential contributor to the emerging Southern California rock sound in the early ‘70s. By 1977, he was looking for something new to try, something he hadn’t yet done — so in August of that year, he took his favorite sessions players on the road and hit “record.”

The collection of recordings that became Running On Empty would be Jackson Browne’s greatest commercial success, going platinum within months of its release. Today, it remains a strikingly fresh portrait of the realities of touring life, and whether referencing the road to the next gig or the road to the next phase of life, it’s the album’s universal displays of humanity that keeps the songs in your head long after the needle hits the runout grooves.

Listen to Running on Empty: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

(ps — while you’re there, please rate and review us in the iTunes store so more people can discover us and we can all be friends who talk about music together!) 

Episode notes and postscript corrections

    • We had a crazy busy two weeks full of music and things, so a quick debrief of stuff you should check out that we saw and did and loved:
      • Lulu Lewis — If you’re in the New York area, we highly recommend you come see them. We’ll probably be there, because we’re stans, but, also, they’re just a really good band out there making Harlem punk a thing.
      • Bowery Electric has been serving all summer long, from the Max’s Kansas City festival we hit up last month to the Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash. Check it out if you’re in the New York area — you’ll probably find something you like (and, also, you’ll probably run into us at some point).
      • Pitchfork Music Festival gets a solid two thumbs up from Carrie (which she can not say for every music festival she’s been to), so maybe check it out next year if you’re in the Chicago area or looking for a music adventure.
    • We got a little sidetracked this week by a Pitchfork-induced momentary rabbit hole of reasons why LCD Soundsystem is what we’ll call a “future classic” band. This included a nerd-out over their similarities to Talking Heads that resulted in this peak extra nerd playlist, because while we celebrate the past, we also think about the future.
    • Heyyyyy, here we are with another album from 1977 — you might notice its stark difference from our previous ‘77 episode on Marquee Moon.
      • The amount of iconic outputs from multiple musical genres in the ‘70s, but particularly 1977, never ceases to amaze us. Best year in pop culture. Fight us on this.
      • You can break down the differences and the reasons why they resonated with particular audiences in a million different ways, but at its most broad, let’s just say that Marquee Moon very much exemplified the East Coast/New York punk aesthetic, while Running On Empty can be held up as an example of the West Coast/Laurel Canyon/Cal Rock soft scene.
    • JB’s “These Days,” which was written when he was just a baby 18-year-old, will never cease to give the feels, and has been covered by everyone from Nico to, most recently, Drake. (Yeah.)
    • Let’s all get in a time machine and move to Laurel Canyon and hang out with the Jackson Browne/Glenn Frey/JD Souther crew, please and thanks.
    • Peep our further reading section to read that really well-written original review of Running on Empty from Rolling Stone in 1978 we talked about.
    • Running on Empty was initially just a way to buy time to conceive new material for another traditional LP, but it became a way to break the repetitive record-making pattern success brings. JB has said: “You go, ‘OK, great, let’s try to do something more like that.’ But that’s not what you were doing when you did it in the first place. You were just doing what you wanted to do next.”
    • Here’s that gorgeous Cameron Crowe essay from the 2005 re-issue that Carrie read an excerpt from. Read. Feel the chills. He’s the best.
    • Quick background info about the session players on this album:
      • The Section (Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, Craig Doerge, Leland Sklar, and Russ Kunkel) were Asylum’s de facto house band and have played on a slew of ‘70s soft rock albums for everyone from Carole King to Linda Ronstadt to Warren Zevon. There’s a great article about them in our further reading section.
      • David Lindley and Jackson Browne have been long, long, longtime collaborators. You can read more about him in the links below, too.
    • Our bad. The author of that rad review comparing circa-1977 culture to “feeling like a trashed Holiday Inn room” was actually RJ Smith for Blender Magazine in a review of the 2005 reissue, not, as we cited in the pod, Robert Christgau.
      • Unfortunately, we can’t seem to find a working link for the full review — not even using Internet Archive’s Wayback machine — because Blender folded in 2009 and, apparently, took its archive with it.
    • Interested in the Nick Drake comparison “The Road” brings up? Follow us on Spotify, where we will lay it all out for you.
    • Sorry, parents. We couldn’t be a credible podcast if we didn’t bring up the “huh? really?” and not-so-PG-13 meaning behind “Rosie.” It’s not an internet theory we’re indulging in — it’s JB’s own words.
    • David Lindley is the real MVP on “You Love the Thunder,” bringing that gee-tar rock and roll edge to Jackson Browne’s soft piano rock.
    • @ Haim: Please cover “You Love the Thunder.” Thanks, bye.
    • Alright, buckle up. “Cocaine” has a LONG history.
    • CRAZY, right?
    • Wait, wait, wait. What’s this “bub” nickname? Welllll…. You can get a great little explainer of all the slang words and terms of endearment we throw around quite often on the pod in our handy, ever-evolving glossary.
    • They just recorded “Nothing But Time” in the tour bus and left in all the background noise from the road and the bus engine. Peak IDGAF goals.
    • If you have Running on Empty on vinyl, flip it over for some great Easter eggs in the track-by-track notes. Pro-tip: always read the liner notes.
    • If “The Load Out” doesn’t give you some feels, there’s a high possibility that you have an empty cavity in your chest where your heart is supposed to be.
      • Shoutout to roadies: we know you, we see you, we love you, we appreciate everything you do. Once again — bands are a sum of their parts, and that continues after the music is recorded and the performance begins.
      • Shoutout to Roadies, our beloved, now-canceled Cameron Crowe series. It wasn’t perfect, but it was earnest, and it had bucketloads of heart. Give it a watch if you haven’t seen it, and maybe give it a second watch (or even a second chance) if you already have.
    • “Stay” makes us the human version of the heart-eyes emoji, just so you know.
      • Head over to our master playlist on Spotify to hear the original Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs version that this is a reworking of.
      • Watch this fantastic version where JB and David Lindley perform it as a mashup with the Mickey and Sylvia song “Love Is Strange.” Swoon a little.
      • For the people in the back: We love concerts! We love live music! There are few feelings more magical and captivating.
      • We’ve experienced first hand — both as audience members and as performers — how integral the energy of an audience is for generating a great, on-fire performance. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and when you both give, MAN, is it good. MAN, do you want to ~stay just a little bit longer.~
      • Shoutout to JB for an almost too-perfect album closer, recognizing the under-recognized people on tour: roadies and good bub audiences.
    • Jackson Browne’s — and this album’s — legacy is long and ongoing.
      • Running On Empty, initially thought to be a crazy idea, ended up being his best-selling album and is on too many lists to count of the best live albums, best albums of the ‘70s, etc.
      • Some current artists who have Jackson Browne’s fingerprints all over them: Dawes, Wilco, Jim James, Jenny Lewis, Tristen… the list goes on and on.
    • Anyway, we love you JB Homie. You’re a good bub.

 

Favorite track(s): The Load Out (Carly) | Running on Empty and Stay (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Rosie (Carly) | Love Needs a Heart (Carrie)

Album credits:
Jackson Browne – guitar, piano, vocals
Rosemary Butler – background vocals, co-lead vocal on “Stay”
Craig Doerge – piano, keyboards
Doug Haywood – background vocals
Danny Kortchmar – lead guitar, harmony vocals (on “Shaky Town”)
Russ Kunkel – drums, snare drum, cardboard box, hi hat
David Lindley – lap steel guitar, fiddle, co-lead vocal on “Stay”
Leland Sklar – bass
Joel Bernstein – background vocals (on “Rosie”) & tour photographer

Further watching:
“One time I sued John McCain” interview segment | 2014
Jackson Browne’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction | 2004
“Running on Empty” (2004 induction ceremony) | 2004

Further reading: 
Session legend/producer Russ Kunkel on 13 career-defining records | Music Radar (April 2014)
The Section: Knights of Soft Rock | Rolling Stone (April 2013)
Behind the Song: Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty” |American Songwriter (December 2012)
Jackson Browne on Meeting David Lindley for the First Time | Fretboard Journal (March 2009)
Jackson Browne: The Rolling Stone Interview | Rolling Stone (August 1980)
Running on Empty (album review) | Rolling Stone (March 1978)