Category Archives: music

(Sunday) Night Music (one of the best music shows you never saw)

In the late 80s, Lorne Michaels (of SNL fame) produced this show called “Night Music” that was seen in Canada as well as elsewhere. For a show that only ran from 1988-1990, it featured a wealth of musicians. (You can see the list here.)

One of my favorite episodes was #208 which featured Sting and Mary Margaret O’Hara as well as many other fine musicians. If you have 40 minutes, you can see it here:

What I like about that episode, like most episodes, is that you get a wide range of musicians, old and new, all doing challenging or interesting music. You didn’t just see the latest artists performing their hits. You didn’t just see one style of music. You never knew what to expect, other than it would be good.

So check out that video while you can. I’ve posted Night Music videos before and they get pulled sooner or later. See it while you can, and see why it was so good.

Friday Night Music with the Psychedelic Furs and….Maroon 5?

I find it fascinating when ideas reoccur in music videos. Take these two. First up is “Heaven” by the Psychedelic Furs.

Next up, “Girl Like You” by Maroon 5, some years – decades – later.

Both use a similar style, where the camera seems to revolve around the singer, allowing for lots of motion even while the singer remains in one place. It’s effective in giving the video life. It’s also interesting to see it revisited after all this time in the latter video.

Of course, there are other things that give the video action. In “Heaven”, there is literally a downpour of water! While in “Girl Like You’, there is the effect of many women appearing behind Levine as he sings.

Anyway, both effective videos. I am loathe to post music videos these days: so many times the music companies will yank the videos and leave my blog posts looking poorly. Perhaps these ones, because they have been there for some time, won’t be removed.

P.S. It’s an impressive pantheon of women appearing in the Maroon 5 video, ranging from performers to athletes to activists. You can get the details on who they are, here.

P.S.S. Here’s a different version of “Girl Like You” which I like even more.

Four more on McCartney, who is 80 this year

Paul is 80 this year, and a good year he’s been having. People are writing pieces filled with praise. He had a big show at Glastonbury with his buds. Not bad for an octogenarian.

It’s been a long and winding road from the early days of the Beatles to now. Some argue that serendipity had a big part to play in Paul and the Beatles’ Success. I’ll let you read that and be the judge. I think it had a small part.

Finally, think of your favorite McCartney song. Then dive into this and see what others famous and less famous picked as theirs: People’s favorite McCartney song. I was surprised by the frequency of Martha My Dear and Temporary Secretary. I was also surprised that Band on the Run was only picked by one person. Read it and be surprised in your own way.

 

 

On the Smiths and those album covers

The Smith’s were (are?) great for many reasons. One reason in particular was their album covers. Looks like the folks at NME agree, because they put together

an exhaustive guide to each and everyone of their 27 single and album releases’ sleeves, and what they mean

You can find here. Fans of the band will enjoy that. I did.

Speaking of the Smiths, this piece by Doug Coupland, Morrissey will never be cancelled is worth a read.

For the musician/gamer in your life: NES-SY37 Synthesizer

How cool is that? A synthesizer that steals design elements from Nintendo. Brilliant! More on it, here: Love Hulten NES-SY37 Synthesizer | Uncrate.

What is a prelude? (and more ways to learn about classical music…)

Then consider going to this blog. Here’s the piece there discussing: What is a Prelude? After you read that,  scroll to the very bottom of the post, where you will see they also have introductions to minuets, cantatas, operettas and more.

Saturday afternoons are a good time to learn such things. Then find some music to listen to.

Cool Christmas gifts: the Orba

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For someone in your life that likes to make music, this could be just the gift for them. As the website explains:

Orba is a handheld synth, looper, and MIDI controller that lets anyone make music immediately. With Orba’s integrated looper you can layer Drum, Bass, Chord, and Lead parts to create beats and songs on the fly. Play through the built-in speaker or use the ⅛” jack to connect headphones or amplifiers. Pair wirelessly to the Orba app to customize your instrument and share your creations with friends.

I thought it was cool, especially for people who love to be on the go but also love to make music all the time.

Friday Night Music: Paris Match (Style Council with Tracey Thorn vocals)

If you are a fan of the Style Council, as I am, I highly recommend this: Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council (2020) | SHOWTIME

It’s an excellent review of the career of the musicians that made up the band, and a fine reminder of how great they were.

While there were many people interviewed for it, Tracey Thorn didn’t appear, sadly. I would have loved to hear more about how she crossed paths and became a Councillor for a time.

Watch the documentary: you’ll be glad you did. Meanwhile, check this out:

On the historic smashed guitar of Paul Simonon of the Clash

From small moments of frustration, history is made.  As the Guardian explains:

The guitar was last played on stage at the Palladium in New York on 20 September 1979. Frustrated at the stiffness of the audience, Simonon raised his guitar like a giant axe, turned his back to singer Joe Strummer, and brought it crashing down.

That moment was captured on film, made into part of the cover for the band’s London Calling record, and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

For more details, see: Bass guitar smashed at Clash gig to join relics at Museum of London | The Clash | The Guardian

(Image via GuitarWorld)

Blue, the classic from Joni Mitchell, turned 50


Joni Mitchell’s great album, Blue, turned 50 this year. To celebrate, there’s been a number of good pieces done on it, including this superb one from the Times: Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ at 50 – The New York Times.

If you are a huge fan or just curious to know more about the album, I recommend this: Hear Demos & Outtakes of Joni Mitchell’s Blue on the 50th Anniversary of the Classic Album | Open Culture

Of course, you can also check out the Wikipedia entry too.

Finally, Carey is one off my favorite pieces on the album and one of my all time favorite songs. So I loved reading this piece on the inspiration of that song (and California, too): When Joni Mitchell Met Cary Raditz, Her ‘Mean Old Daddy’ – WSJ

 

Peter Jackson has Peter Jackson’d Get Back


When I first heard that Peter Jackson was going to remake “Get Back”, I was excited. I believe that he was going to find the happiness and joy in the making of the original film. Then sneak peaks of his work started to come out confirming this, and I was very excited indeed.

Unfortunately the pandemic hit before the film could be released and then the focus changed. As this piece explains, it is no longer going to be a feature film for general distribution. Rather it is going to be a three part feature only on Disney+.

In other words, Jackson is going to do to Get Back what he did with The Hobbit: stretch it out and over do it. I think that will be a shame. I am sure some fans will love it, and seeing the extra material will be good, but I also think it will be flabby and overdone. Just like The Hobbit.

Maybe I am too pessimistic. Maybe it will be great. We shall soon see.

(Image: link to IndieWire.com)

On the new Grado x series of headphones

Fans of Grado should know that they have upgraded their Prestige line. For example, those of you who may have had their SR125e may want tto upgrade to the new SR125x. I know, the e series is great and you may never want to give them up. But check this out regardless:  Grado Labs – SR125x.

They have upgrades from the SR60 to the SR325. Whether you have the 125s or the 325s or even the 60s — all great — you can consider moving up in terms of quality, even if it is just going from the SR60e to the SR60x. So gift your old cans to someone younger who can gain a new appreciation of music and sound through a good set of headphones, then head over to their website and upgrade yourself.

(Image from the Grado site. No sponsorship here: I just think they make a great product).

 

What I am interested in: music (lots of great links)

One of my regrets in life is I never learned how to play music. So I kept a bunch of links for me and anyone who wants to try:

If you don’t want to learn how to make music, here are some other interesting music links:

(Photo by Simon Noh on Unsplash)

More goodness from the 80s

David Salle painting

Here at this blog I will always share my love of the 1980s.

First up, here is a great piece in the New Yorker on a recent Whitney art show which highlighted the Joy of Eighties Art. It’s begins great:

Starting in the late nineteen-seventies, young American artists plunged, pell-mell, into making figurative paintings. That seemed ridiculously backward by the lights of the time’s reigning vanguards of flinty post-minimalism, cagey conceptualism, and chaste abstraction. The affront was part of the appeal. As with contemporaneous punk music, sheer nerve rocketed impudent twentysomethings to stardom on New York’s downtown scene. The powerful excitement of that moment has been languishing in a blind spot of recent art history, but “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s,” at the Whitney, a show of works by thirty-seven artists from the museum’s collection, comes to the rescue. Some of the names are famous: Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Eric Fischl, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring.

I loved reading every word of that. A great review.

Other 80s things I found recently is this here ode to a great album of the the early 1980s: Rattlesnakes from Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.

Saxophones don’t feature on that recording, but they did on many other great recordings of the 1980s. Gradually they died off. Here’s a good piece exploring that.

If you still have music from that era, chances are some of it is on a cassette tape, which was big then. If you suddenly have the urge to listen to that, you can, with this player (shown below at Uncrate.com). It’s not the original Walkman, but in some ways it’s better.

cassette player

Rock on.

(Top image is David Salle’s “Sextant in Dogtown” (1987).Courtesy David Salle / VAGA, NY. Linked to in the article. Bottom image is from the uncrate.com article)

Not 1 but 2 good pieces on the eve of McCartney 3

Paul McCartney

Here’s two good pieces on Paul McCartney on the eve of his latest album, “McCartney 3”.

The first one is an interview with him. Among other things, it shows the difficulty of him doing interviews, since it’s hard for him to add anything new (he still manages to do so): Paul McCartney Is Still Trying to Figure Out Love – The New York Times

While the New York Times piece is really good, this piece is great: 64 Reasons To Celebrate Paul McCartney – The Ruffian.

I have always been a fan of McCartney, but this second piece made me a greater fan. I’ve read it a few times, and even though it is long, I look forward to reading it again. It really does do a fantastic job of highlighting what a great artist Paul really is and addresses some of the many criticisms of him over the years. McCartney has been pinned down over the years both by some bad musical choices and by some (unfair?) musical criticism.  One thing I liked about the second piece is how it nicely rebuffs some of that (e.g. “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, “Another Day”). Highly recommended that piece, but both are worth a read.

P.S. Since I am banging on about him, my two cents on McCartney from the late 60s to the late 70s is that the Beatles were originally Lennon’s band, but as time past, McCartney grew and started to dominate the Beatles more. Meanwhile Harrison also came into his own. At one late point Lennon tried to come up with an arrangement of how they would allocate songs on the future albums (I think 4 for John, 4 for Paul, 2 for George, and 1 for Ringo), but I think things were too far gone by then. They were too big for the band. That’s too bad (what an understatement). If you go through their musical output of the 70s and picked out the best songs of all of them and made 3 or 4 albums, they would have been great albums (just think of taking the best of Imagine + All Things Must Past + Band on the Run, for example). Plus if they were together they would have pushed each other to do more great things.

I’m not sure how well they would have done past then. The birth of hip hop, punk and new wave might have washed them aside. Or they could have become frozen in amber, like some other big bands of that era. (Look at a Rolling Stones concert play list some time.)  Then again, McCartney teamed up with Elvis Costello and made fine music, so they could have turned out to stay great.

Regardless of alternative histories, McCartney went on to make his own timeline  as a creative artist. Here’s to the success of McCartney III and perhaps IV one day as well.

The perfect headphones for working at home may be these Grado’s GW100 Wireless Headphones. Here’s why…

If you are in the market for headphones and you work by yourself at home, consider the GW100 from Grado. If you need convincing, read this rave review in Forbes. Working in a space with others isn’t great with them because they are open back (i.e. others can hear the sound). But WFH alone, these would be perfect. Sure, you can also go with the wired versions that Grado makes. They are also great. Even the lower end models are excellent. However, the wireless is a great feature, especially if you want to move around some or want to avoid yet another wire to deal with. 

In Canada, you can get the GW100 and so many more at Bay Bloor radio.

 

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The Vocal Ranges of the Greatest Singers*

Ok, this is fun: The Vocal Ranges of the Greatest Singers*.

You really want to check out the site using your desktop: you don’t get to appreciate the site as well on your phone.

I found some of it surprising, though not all of it. Barry White is obviously well represented in the low end, and Mariah Carey is well represented in the high end. And while some singers don’t perform in a wide range, that’s no reflection on their singing ability (ahem, Aretha).

I also added an asterisk because people familiar with singers from the opera world would argue that all these pop singers are not truly the greatest.

But like I said, it’s just fun. Enjoy.

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Friday Night Music: Larkin Poe cover the classic ZZ Top song, “Sharp Dressed Man”

via Larkin Poe | ZZ Top Cover (“Sharp Dressed Man”) – YouTube

Via Paul Krugman’s newsletter. Not surprising, really.

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Friday Night Music: Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Great footage of a very young Stevie Wonder performing this classic:  Uptight (Everything’s Alright) (1965) HD 0815007 – YouTube

One thing for sure, Stevie Wonder is much more than an average guy. Enjoy.

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Friday night music: Jimmy Fallon, the Original Hamilton Cast & The Roots Sing “Helpless” (At-Home Instruments)

Pure joy.

via Jimmy Fallon, the Original Hamilton Cast & The Roots Sing “Helpless” (At-Home Instruments) – YouTube

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On the death of happy chords

This is a fascinating piece on how some chords

  • are perceived as happy
  • are dying out

I think people with more musical knowledge than I can assess how true this all is. But it is interesting nonetheless.

See: ‘Happy’ chords are dying out, study reveals – Classic FM

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My favourite Friday Night Christmas Music links….

…are here!

Years ago (2011, 2012) I used to post music links every Friday night (as well as other days and nights). On December, I would focus on Christmas music. These are some of my favourites.

Enjoy! And joy to the world….

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Why Play a Music CD? Lots of reasons….


I really liked a recent article about Ben Sisario, the New York Times reporter who covers the music industry. He is talking about what he uses to listen to music, and this quote jumped out at me, especially the part I put in bold.

(I) try to keep an eye on all the major platforms out there, which means regularly poking around on about a dozen apps. My go-to sources are Spotify, SoundCloud, Bandcamp and Mixcloud, which has excellent D.J.-style mixes and to me feels more human than most.

At home I have a Sonos Play:5 speaker, which plays streaming music and podcasts, and is a piece of cake to use. I also have Google Chromecast Audio, a little plug-in device (now discontinued) that allows me to send high-fidelity streams to my stereo. It sounds better that way, but it’s not nearly as easy to use as the Sonos.

To be honest, my preferred way to listen to music is on CD, as unfashionable as that might be. You push a button, the music plays, and then it’s over — no ads, no privacy terrors, no algorithms!

Like Ben, I started to listen to music on CDs again too. For a number of reasons:

    1. I have some great old CDs from labels like Deutsche Grammphon that I am never going to download again and which I don’t even want to listen to on Spotify.
    2. I find it satisfying to put on a CD, listen to it, and then it be over. I don’t want to listen to an infinite playlist all the time.
    3. I always worry that some day services like Spotify will simply trim their catalog and I will never be able to listen to that music easily again. For music I love, I want to own it outright.
    4. I worry about how what I listen to on Spotify is constantly fed into their analytic software – what people like to call their algorithm – to determine what I want to listen to. Some times I just want to listen to music in a different direction. I don’t want Spotify to start suggesting new music based on a whim.
    5. I don’t want Spotify or others to know everything about my listening choices. I think we all need a stealth mode for any services we use online.

I still love Spotify, but I don’t want to depend on Spotify to enjoy music.

That’s my two cents. For more on Ben, see: Why Play a Music CD? ‘No Ads, No Privacy Terrors, No Algorithms’ – The New York Times

Silent Night is supposed to be performed on Christmas Eve, and other interesting things about the 200 year old carol

As Silent Night turns 200 this year, the CBC has come up with a great piece on the history of this famous carol, which you can read here:
www.cbc.ca/amp/1.4950242

On “River”, the sad Joni Mitchell song that became a Christmas classic

A fine and detailed study on Mitchell’s great song from her masterpiece album, “Blue”: www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2018/12/07/how-thoroughly-depressing-joni-mitchell-song-became-blue-christmas-classic/

My impression reading it was that there were no sad or melancholy Christmas songs before it, but “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Blue Christmas” are two that immediately come to mind. And later on songs like “Last Christmas” have shown that the holidays can be sometimes difficult.

Read the piece though. Lots of good commentary by great singers who have covered it, as well as what it really means.

Four fascinating music links

  1. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Iggy Pop & Bernard Sumner of New Order at Carnegie Hall: for fans of either or both, doing one of the best songs ever. (see above)
  2. A Big Choir Sings Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” | Open Culture: so good. I love this.
  3. Thinking About: Strange Fruit (& Friday Links) – Hither & Thither: a thoughtful analysis of a titanic  song.
  4. Hear the Famously Controversial Concert Where Leonard Bernstein Introduces Glenn Gould & His Idiosyncratic Performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto (1962) | Open Culture: this is a fascinating bit of musical history. Read the post to see why.
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Slow Radio is a thing and a very good thing

I learned about Slow Radio here: I Listened To Slow Radio For A Week, And Here’s What Happened – HelloGiggles.

What is slow radio? According to that piece:

… it’s basically programming that moves at a very casual pace. It immerses you in sound to help you stay grounded in the present.

Is slow radio music, meditation, a catalog of sounds, or a podcast? The short answer: Yes. When you turn on slow radio, you won’t find any one thing in particular. One episode, you’ll get lost in ambient nature sounds. The next, you’ll hear slow-paced conversations about music. After that, you’ll take a trip through a soundscape on a bustling street in Japan.

 

Sound good? The BBC link to it is  here.

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The Beatles / White Album Box Set

Likely only for hardcore Beatle fans, this box set of the White Album promises to be the White Album on steroids. Rolling Stone has plenty of detail on it, via White Album Box Set: Exclusive Preview of Unheard Beatles Archives – Rolling Stone. It even has a description of one of my favorite odd pieces by McCartney:

12. “Can You Take Me Back?”
The snippet on Side Four that serves as an eerie transition into the abstract sound-collage chaos of “Revolution 9.” Paul toys with it for a couple of minutes, trying to flesh it out into a bit of country blues—“I ain’t happy here, my honey, are you happy here?”

Like “Her Majesty”, it’s a sketch of something, but inserted in such a way as to make the whole album something more original. It’s always haunted me.

 

Here’s a fine introduction to Avro Pärt

This piece – A guide to Arvo Pärt’s music | Music | The Guardian – is a fine introduction to the music of Avro Pärt. This quote sums up his work well:

The success of Pärt’s work – the repertory of choral works he has composed over the last four decades, the instrumental works, even the new symphony he composed in 2008 – is, I think, much more than simple popular acclaim for a composer who uses some familiar chords. Pärt told me that what he wants his music to express is “love for every note”, and in turn, communicate the spiritual power that he sees as music’s essential purpose. Pärt is too modest to say that he has achieved that, but for the listeners who love his music, it’s an irrefutable truth.

There are lots of places to find his music, including YouTube. Here’s one of my favorite pieces, Spiegel im Spiegel

Enjoy that piece, and hopefully enjoy many hours listening to the music of Part.

Want to know why it is so expensive to get tickets to special events?

Then you want to read these two really good pieces on why it is brutally tough to get tickets to an event without paying a fortune:

What it comes down to is a very limited supply and a very high demand. But that’s obvious. Read the pieces to see just how it really plays out.

A short defense of Drake’s dancing in Hotline Bling

It’s well known that Drake has suffered alot of mockery for his dancing in the video for Hotline Bling. This is too bad, because for whatever criticism you can raise for Drake’s dancing, he is no worse than most major pop stars when it comes to dancing. So what’s the problem?

The problem, I see it, is in the directing. Here is the Hotline Bling video. Count the length of the average shot. When I did it, it was in the 5 to 10 second range.

Compare that to Ariana Grande’s Focus video.

Count the length of each shot. The longest is usually no more than 3 seconds: the rest are 1 to 2 seconds. Is she a good dancer? It’s hard to tell. If you go to around the 3 minute mark, you seen alot of dancing, but the shots are still short and the camera is constantly moving. Any short coming in the dancing can be made up for in the editing room. And I’d argue that the Focus video is typical of most videos: very short cuts with lots of camera movement.

Now, it’s possible the director wanted the longer shots due to the changing nature of the lighting. But there is a similar use of dramatic lighting in Justin Timberlake’s Let Me Talk To You/My Love and he comes across well with no loss to the lighting effect

And like Ariana Grande’s video, this video has the performer do well defined step in a 1-4 second shot and then cuts away. This is typical of many music videos. (Yes, JT does have an extended dance routine at the end of My Love, but most of the video is all quick cuts….also, he has been dancing since his early days as a Mouseketeer :))

Drake would have been better off with shorter cuts and simpler dance moves, the kind of thing you find in most other videos.

Friday night music, celebrating the glamorous life

Two views of glamour. First, from Marie Antoinette, here’s New Order and Ceremony

And of course, here’s Shiela E., on some of the same themes as Coppola’s film:

Friday afternoon “vacation starting” music

I am starting mine. Two weeks. Two weeks needs not one but two classics from the 80s:

And

May you enjoy your holidays and vacation, whenever it occurs.

Serious about your music? You might want to avoid Apple Music then

If you are serious about your music and you already have alot of digital music, you must read this before getting started with Apple Music: Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it. If you don’t read it and proceed, you may find your music collection in shambles.

Maybe it will be better in a year from now. Based on iTunes, though, I seriously doubt it.

Friday night music: Phox – Noble Heart

There’s lots of great videos of PHOX on YouTube. I like this one:

If you do too, search them out and you’ll find many good ones, including on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

It’s rich music that is deceptively easy listening.

Friday Night Music: Jackson Browne, in two times

Here’s JB, as a young man:

So 80s, that.

And here he is now, on NPR

For a non-YouTube version, here’s Jackson Browne: Tiny Desk Concert : NPR.

Friday Night Music: Basia Bulat, A Take Away Show (La Blogotheque Session)

What do you get when you put Basia Bulat (who is great) in a Take Away Show (also great)? Something really great. See and hear for yourself:

Here’s the Youtube link ( Basia Bulat – A Take Away Show) and here is the original Take Away Show.

Friday night music: Florence + The Machine – No Light, No Light

Saturday night music, on Friday. Here’s Florence + The Machine – No Light, No Light (Live on SNL) 

This video of God Only Knows is the best

What do you get when you combine a ridiculously jam packed array of talent in a visually rich feast of imagery? You get this version of God Only Knows, produced by BBC Music.

▶ BBC Music – BBC Music, God Only Knows (BBC Music).

A must.

Amy In The Sun: The Other (Caribbean) Side of Amy Winehouse – LargeUp

Interesting speculation on where Amy Winehouse’s musical direction would have gone if she hadn’t died so young: Amy In The Sun: The Other (Caribbean) Side of Amy Winehouse via LargeUp. That post has a lot of links to Amy’s performances on YouTube, so if you are the mood for something other than Christmas music, click on that link and enjoy.