As we wrap up the winter doldroms, I came up with a new conversation idea. I'm sure each one of us has an artist that is acclaimed within a circle that we trust, but for whatever reason we just don't 'get it'.
I call this 'Tell me why I'm wrong' - because that seems to bring so much pleasure to people I contact in physical life. Here's the 'rules' (which I'm sure will be followed to the letter). Tell the previous poster why they're wrong. Then, add you're own 'I just don't get it' artist, with an explanation as to why the conventional wisdom doesn't work for you.
I'll get the ball rolling -
Tell me why I'm wrong: The Band. I'll admit I never change the station when they come on, but the adulation is beyond me. To me, they seem static and not at all emotionally involving - just the opposite of what you'd expect from the genre. Too many songs just seem plodding, and I really can't conjure up a single original tune that I'd like to hear someone else play. Yeah, Joan Baez was fine on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", but frankly I don't cotton to songs praising the Rebels.
Yes, I understand The Band's place in history, put I don't listen to history books.
Tell me why I'm wrong.
Your'e wrong their music was created from the roots of American music, with great musicians and in Levon Helm they had the best lead vocalist. Overshadowed by the overrated RR let's not ever underestimate Levon, Richard & Rick.
Tell me I'm wrong - I don't get Elvis Costello. Coming from the punk era to the now bland schmaltz balladeer and his over the top tv programme where he talks to 'legends' about their music. He's become the Val Doonican of his generation - name a great record he's made?
Tell me I'm wrong...?
I don't think Robbie Robertson was over-rated at all - he was usually slammed. After seeing the Last Waltz, I remember distinctly comments that "he got blown away by Clapton." RR just wasn't a typical guitar god, but rather a kind of band leader. As for being a player, he's in that niche where you find Bob Weir, Keith Richards, Jeff Tweedy, Dylan Himself, Springsteen, Jakob Dylan, Louris and Olson, etc. Not bad company, IMO.
Much as I love the YBs, Cream and near-post-Cream, give me the Band's discography over Clapton's any day.
Wow the Band not emotional listen to Richard Manuel sing "I Shall Be Released".
Elvis - there are least two great albums: This Year's Model and Imperial Bedroom.
I'd also argue for Punch The Clock, but I know it's not that popular among some Costello fans.
"Imperial Bedroom" is one of my favorite albums of all time. It is hard to believe that it has been thirty years since its original release. I listened to it again recently and it has lost none of it power and emotional resonance. Extraordinary!
You're both wrong: both the Band and Elvis Costello are true greats, each with examples of the one thing a great music-maker should have at least one of - a beautiful song. For the Band, it's a tough call which single song, but I'll just go with the Weight, and for E/C, it's fairly easy, I'll go with Allison. As for entire albums, Music from Big Pink and My Aim is True are the equals of Abbey Road, Exile on Main Street, LZ II, DSOTM, Summerteeth, Blood on the Tracks, Wake of the Flood, Volunteers, Street Survivors (Skynard's best, IMO), etc.
Interesting choices here, because both the Band's and E/C's music hit a common musical zone for me. Both have a sophistication that is at odds with authenticity and roots, but hit the bullseye on what the artist was "trying for" - in my mind (to the extent I can even say that).
Neither music-maker relies on virtuoso playing, but I wouldn't call either hacks - by any stretch. Both the Weight and Allison have "one note" signatures that any reasonably literate person knows immediately. Both the Band and E/C seem to be going against more than one tide in their aesthetic (particularly on these songs). For the Band, it's maybe the rock opera and the extended solo. For E/C, it's the ponderous seventies 7 minute song (say Freebird - which you have to admit just isn't that good of a song, especially comparing it to Stairway, which is truly great), and more interestingly to me, the punk obliteration of nuance. That first E/C album has an assload of subtlety and nuance. I find it fascinating that My Aim is True is this kind of seminal New Wave, borderline punk artifact, yet in some ways could be Chet Atkins or Les Paul.
But that's all head stuff. There are a lot of things that I love about music, but there are also music-makers who I feel give me the Whole Love in their songs and both the Band and E/C do that for me.
Now, I'm gonna cause a war here, but there's one artist (and I have a list of words that I know will be used to call me a degenerate Lilliputian) that I don't get (and it's not that I can't name at least a few songs I like at least in the B-plus range):
drum roll, roll, keep rolling: TAFKAP, or Prince.
Okay, John. Here is why I think you are wrong about Prince or "The Artist":
HIS RANGE OF TALENT. Prince Rogers Nelson is an amazing musician – since he was a teenager, he could play just about any instrument extremely well and later developed into a studio innovator. He is one of the greatest performers of all time, with the ability to dance like Michael Jackson and lead his band like James Brown – all while singing and playing the guitar like a virtuoso. Prince’s talent is so great, he became a movie star and sex symbol in the 80s, despite being barely five feet tall.
While he is an original, Prince also synthesized the strengths of other artists such as Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Sly Stone, the Stylistics and P-Funk.
QUALITY OUTPUT. He had a creative streak in the 80s that resulted in a string of amazing albums, including: Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain, Parade and Sign O’ the Times. His songs also have translated well for other artists such as TLC (If I was your girlfriend), Sinead O’ Connor (Nothing Compares 2U), Chaka Khan (I Feel 4U) and The Bangles (Manic Monday). He also wrote and produced the first albums by Sheila E. and The Time.
VISION. He has no fear and experiments and reaches for greatness both in his musical arrangements and lyrics. While this need to try new things resulted in some uneven records (Controversy and the Black Album/Lovesexy) and movies (Under the Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge), even his failures were usually interesting.
RECORDING PIONEER. In the studio, no one else gets the drum sound he gets on record. He produces all of his records himself and experimented with voice modulators and samples before hip hop artists and rap music made such techniques commonplace. The sexual themes in his music were considered exploitive and crude back in the day, but were really more genuine and less about shocking audiences and more about honestly expressing the interests and values of a young man: sex, love, sex, partying and sex. And his lyrics were far more complex than those of today’s pop and hip hop artists, which are bleeped so much on the radio, it’s hard to know what their “songs” are about.
But for fans of Prince, it’s really about the music and the groove. Personally, I wish he’d go back to the funk of his earlier days. If you want to hear the best of Prince, I’d recommend the following songs: Little Red Corvette, Lady Cabdriver, Head, Purple Rain, P Control, Sexy M.F., Sometimes it Snows in April, Kiss, If I was Your Girlfriend, Starfish and Coffee, Sister, Uptown, Irresistible Bitch, Pop Life, Girls & Boys, Housequake and When Doves Cry.
Now for the artist I don’t get: Frank Zappa. I recognize he is an excellent musician but his songs often sound like they should be on Dr. Demento and come off as novelty tunes. I like Zappa as a person, the way he testified during the PRMC censorship trials and mentored young musicians and he seemed like a good family man. But his music has never moved me. Tell me why I’m wrong and what album of his you think might change my mind.
Ah, Prince, he's The Man! Saw him on the Dirty Mind tour (one of about a dozen white folks in the audience). Mesmerizing, like nothing I'd seen- and my 2nd concert ever was the Mothership Connection Tour back in '76 or whenever! Totally different presentations of "black" music, both fantastic! Saw Prince coupla times after (1999, Purple Rain); not as mesmerizing, still fantastic. Great performer, composer, Funkster & Rocker. I bet you a dollar & a donut Prince could do an album with fiddles, pedal steel, that purple acoustic of his & his Tele & make a GREAT "Americana/Roots" album!
Zappa I don't get except bits & pieces. When he did his own guitar I like what I hear; but there seems to be a great deal of IRONY & SATIRE that dominates his work & renders it "Dementoish".
I get The Caroline Chocolate Drops, The Avett Bros, Mumford & Sons, Otis Gibbs, Greg Brown, Joe Ely.
I don't get Rev Peyton & His Big Damn Band.
A lot of what I don't get falls for me under the umbrella of "Hipster" music.
List of great songs from first 3 or 4 records for both (and leaving out some - you can thank me for the playlist, btw):
Katie's Been Gone
Ain't no More Cain*
Across the Great Divide
Up on Cripple Creek (a great drum song, comparable to Sugar Mag, the Ocean, Honky Tonk Woman)
The Shape I'm In
When I Paint My Masterpiece
Blame it on Cain* (kind of funny tie in to above*)
Less than Zero
Watching the Detectives
Pump it Up
What's So Funny (bout PLU)
Accident will Happen
What's So Funny was written by Nick Lowe - my main issue with Elvis Costello is his self indulgent manner to his music & peers, it's all too reverential. Isn't this the bloke who had a fight with Stephen Stills about Ray Charles and his music? I much prefer his dad's music!
Elvis is fine (and I agree with your song list) and I note there is nothing from the last two or three....decades.
The Band's alleged confederacy worship is very interesting to me - and I don't think it was accurate in the least to call it that. Instead, I think it is an extremely aggressive and risky artistic pose. With exception of Levon Helm, the Band were Canadian transplants to Greenwich Village, an artistic center of the universe if ever there were one. There is a lot written about this, but I will simply say that "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is one of the most profound artistic acts of empathy I know of. Broken people are broken people, regardless of the circumstances. This song is Baudelaire-ian to me - an attempt to render the immediate, forgetting about the "big picture" for a moment. It totally succeeds IMO. I have to believe that RR got a ton of grief for this, but it really is a beautiful, soulful and generously-spirited piece of art to me. But, it's not authentic. It's about as far from that as you can get.
Authenticity and artistic vision are frequently at odds. TNTDODD is an artistic vision that we could use a lot more of, in my opinion.