Archive for April, 2008

Rock 4 Rookies Podcast: Episode 11

Posted: April 27, 2008 by Maximum Mike in Rock 4 Rookies Podcast

Thirsty? How about a sip of an international Rock-a-cockatil? Hungry? Nibble our System of a Down salad!! Or just sidle on up to our buffet and have a dash of GnR, a pinch of Rage,oh, and theres plenty of Rock Dressing to go around!!!!!!

In the mid 70s everything in popular music seemed ok. Led Zeppelin released their epic “Physical Graffiti,” and Pink Floyd put out their classic, “Wish you were here.” Brian Eno, began to experiment with Ambient Electronica on his release “Another Green World,” while Aerosmith were putting nuts in the cracker with “Toys in the Attic.” Across the pond, David Bowie released a legitimate Soul classic with “Young Americans,” and Queen took us out to “A Night at the Opera.” It was a magical time where the boundaries of musical exploration were constantly being tested and expanded. Progressive Rock was at its peak, Funk was ruling the party scene, and Electronic music was getting its feet wet at the deft hands of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. Something had to give, and something surely did.

Almost at the same time two bands formed that were to crush the mighty with their loud yet simple ways. Even legends like The Sex Pistols and The Ramones have predecessors. Emerging from NYC and Ann Arbor Michigan, the New York Dolls and the Stooges were stripping down everything the aforementioned bands had spent years building. The Dolls had a bit more of direction with their heavily influenced Chuck Berry meets the Rolling Stones sound, although to see and hear them you would never know. The music was loud and dysfunctional. It was everything they could do to not fall apart on stage. Similarly The Stooges went even further. Raw and manic, their playing seemed to try to prove the point that anyone can be in a Rock band, and the less you knew the better. The fascinating thing about these two bands is that their debut albums were both produced by famous members of other musical movements. John Cale, who produced The Stooges eponymous debut, was known for his contributions to The Velvet Underground as much as his experiments with Ambient and Electronic Music. Todd Rungren, who produced The New York Dolls debut, was famous for his work with Carole King. These two men saw something in this new gritty style of music, and chose to offer their talent to help the fledgling genre along.

It was not until The Ramones and the Sex Pistols that Punk, which got its title when people adopted it as a source of pride rather than let arrogant music journalists use it as an insult, began to achieve mainstream success. The desire was to strip Rock down from its high horse, and bring back the fun. That many of the bands advocated drug abuse and violence added to their influence both positively on the youth and negatively on the critics who initially panned them for being unpolished, and uninteresting. Despite their best efforts though, by the end of the 70s a whole slew of bands had reached the upper echelons of the Rock sphere playing this base and unintelligent style of music.

So Punk had effectively killed off everything good about 70s music. But what of Punk itself? Could a style formed on such basic principles last? What would the artists themselves do to keep the music interesting? Well there were two schools of thought. In one instance bands began to incorporate a greater palate of sounds to the same stripped raw sound of early Punk. On the other hand was the Hardcore movement based largely in California. The best known acts came out of the Post Punk-New Wave scene because of the acceptance of diversity in the style allowed for greater radio play. The Clash were experts at this, and their 1979 release “London Calling” was a testament to that. Incorporating Reggae and Pop elements with the uncompromising lyrics of Punk, the album is still considered to be a landmark release, and one of the greatest albums in history. The realization that their genre could only go so far showed that Punk had a bit of maturity after all. It seems that the catalyst for that was the death of Sex Pistol’s Bass player Sid Vicious of a heroin overdose. His death was seen by many as a symbol of Punk being doomed from the start, a sentiment that Punk’s numerous and vocal detractors would take to heart.

The Hardcore scene took Punk at its word and made it heavier and faster, the lyrics only coming out in a series of grunts. Ruled by The Misfits, The Dead Kennedy’s, and Henry Rollins’ first band Black-Flag, their uncompromising assault on the senses did not win them much fame, but it did afford a dedicated following that persists to this day.

It is the New Wave and Post Punk movement that is most interesting though. It is almost as though the artists began to realize that they destroyed something beautiful, and needed to scramble to make up for that. The Talking Heads began to toy with electronic production methods. Blondie embraced Disco, and The Police helped to make Reggae mainstream, bringing a whole new generation of fans to the music of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. These bands showed that the music could still contain the same frantic scathing lyrics, without sacrificing musical experimentation. It was no longer about youth culture sticking their middle fingers into the face of the government. The second wave of Punk was led by some of the most intelligent artists of our time. It shows in the way they were able to achieve mainstream acceptance at the same time they were politically active, and trying to broaden their musical horizons. Interestingly enough, it was the collaboration between the Talking Head’s David Byrne, and Brian Eno that afforded the band their greatest creative period.

Looking through the lens of early Punk trying to break rules and destroy what came before them, it is almost funny to see where Punk stands, as one of the most popular styles of music today. That the music is based on simple rhythms and chord progressions is not lost in an industry where digestibility is paramount. It is for this reason that early pioneers like Johnny Rotten, hate these new kids. He sees himself as a martyr to a cause that has long since left him behind, and is angry about the people that took over. Many of the artists understand this growth, this need to adapt and change. It is not that Punk killed what was good about the 70s, not really. It is more that a few bad seeds got loose and upset the balance for a while. It came together in the end, it nearly always does.

What I am listening to: The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

One of the most ambitious albums from the Grunge era, Mellon Collie… is an epic, two disks, with songs that range from Heavy Metal, to Classical, and almost Folk. Billy Corgan, described the album as “The Wall for Generation X.” It is a rewarding listen. Full of beautiful compositions the material almost never lags. It is the sign of a man at the peak of his creative gifts.

When the rock is coming at you at a million light years a second you have to make sure not to Blink!! Its the Passover special!!! So to celebrate were gonna listen to Useless ID, Metallica, Zebrahead, and bunch of other absolutely random bands!!!!

They always hated the label Funk Metal, yet here they were, one of the founding members of the form. I hope the irony of dedicating an entire column to a sub-genre a scant week after saying that sub-genres were meaningless is not lost on you dear readers, but I digress. Faith No More hated the term because they felt it pushed them into a corner when they were trying so hard to do so much more. It even sounds obscure – Funk and Metal. The two styles seem so diametrically opposed that the term itself seems to be an oxymoron. Let’s examine the terms at their face value. Funk implies groove, soul and good feelings; Metal implies rage, pain, and speed. The truth is that as we will discover, the two are not as different as you think. But before I can tell you about all of that we have to have a history lesson.

Funk is a style of music that was born in the late 60s and early 70s as a development from R&B. By focusing on complex rhythms and primarily bass driven sounds, early artists in the form were able to make R&B sound more raw than ever. The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, a man who collected nicknames like fake tattoos from a bag of potato chips, was actually The Godfather of Funk. With such classic recordings as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)” James was able to showcase his airtight rhythm section and wail over songs where the melody was less important than the groove. The next founding member of the form, Sly Stone (of Sly and the Family Stone) was able to build on James Brown’s sparse raw sound to create more lush soundscapes, still heavily bass driven but now with a touch of psychedelia that made the music more radio friendly. On a side note, with men, women and black and white musicians, Sly & the Family Stone was the first fully integrated band in Rock history. George Clinton, the man probably most responsible for making Funk popular, took Sly’s psychedelic influences to their fullest and made the music the ultimate party soundtrack. This is not to say that the music lacks real creative weight.

Thematically, Parliament/Funkadelic’s long time bass player Bootsy Collins is a legend in his own right. Along with Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone, Bootsy is credited with the invention of the slapping and popping method of playing bass. Instead of plucking strings, the thumb and index fingers aggressively thump on the strings, creating a popping sound. A great example of this is on the song “Thank you for Talkin’ to me Africa” by Sly and the Family Stone.

So, everyone was having a great time, the music was selling well and charting on Billboard’s top lists. What happened? The decline of the Funk era came in several stages. To begin with, the highly reviled Disco era owed much of its influences to Funk. When Punk took over in the early 80’s and Disco burnings were held in stadiums, Funk suffered the ire of the record buying community. The second stage was the development of equipment in the 80s. Synthesizers were taking over the roles of entire horn sections, and drummers were fired to make way for the Roland TR-808 drum machine. The slick overproduced sound of 80s Pop and R&B owed much to the earlier Funk days, but not in a way that its influences could be easily recognized. They are there though. Take Bandy’s 1994 hit “Wanna Be Down” – the pounding bass is there though the Rap beat disguises it.

Down but not out, Funk received two helping hands that brought its’ influence back from obscurity. In the mid-80s a black guitar player by the name Vernon Reid formed the band Living Colour, who had the noticeable distinction of being an all African-American band in a Heavy Metal world. While the Metal world at large was playing with demons and hot-chicks, Living Colour was injecting a serious dose of soul and rhythm. Popular almost at once, their style of Hard Rock built over a solid foundation of Funk was an extremely new sound. Similarly, when The Red Hot Chili Peppers formed, the partnership between Hillel Slovak’s Funky grooves and Flea’s popping bass at Punk speeds was dynamic. Hard Rock had another band that was championing their Funk influences.

Another movement that fully embraced their Funk predecessors (almost to a fault) was the G-Funk era of West Coast Rap in the 90s. Almost every song that was a hit in those days was lifted from Parliament, Stevie Wonder and others. Some examples: Dr. Dre – “Let me Ride” (Parliament – “Mothership Connection”), Warren G – “Regulators” (Michael Macdonald – “I Keep Forgettin”), Tupac – “Staring at the World” (Phil Collins – “In the Air Tonight”). Led largely by Dr. Dre and the Death Row Records family, G-Funk partnered violent hedonistic lyrics with smooth laid back beats. Interestingly, Rap used Funk in order to make hard lyrics seem more laid back. Rock and Metal used the style in order to add a smoother dimension to their music.

Once Faith No More came onto the scene in the late 80s, the form was ripe for the picking and this they did with great adeptness. They were able to combine an appreciation for earlier Funk with an understanding of 70s Soul music, and incorporate all of that into their vision for Heavy Metal. The problems came after the band’s demise in the late 90s. Mike Patton, the lead singer, had tried to distance himself from the legions of Funk-Metal followers that came onto the scene. From Korn to Limp Bizkit and P.O.D., almost every Heavy Metal act in the post-Grunge era flirted with Funk as an influence. Part of the reason is Funk’s ability to be hard and uncompromising while remaining easily digested by the masses. It is this link that best ties it to Heavy Metal. When a Metal act is looking to add melody without sacrificing the sheer weight of their sonic force, they need look no further than Funk. Fieldy, the Bass player for Korn, seems to understand this best and his super detuned Funk basslines drive Korn’s aggressive approach without sacrificing intensity.

It is upsetting that all these bands influenced by Faith No More are denied respect from their heroes. Like Dr. Frankenstein refusing to take responsibility for his monster, Mike Patton has moved on to different projects in other realms of the musical sphere. It is not his dislike of the genre, rather his fear of being typecast has driven him to branch out into such diverse genres.

With the death of Disco, Funk had lost almost all of its credibility. It took visionaries from the opposite ends of the spectrum to return it to glory. The tradition we remember so gloriously today owes almost all of its revival to, of all things, Heavy Metal. At the same time Funk can blame its’ death on Punk. I think that there is a column in there somewhere.

What I am listening to: Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – Texas Flood

Bringing the Blues back from the brink of destruction, SRV’s debut shines with the influences of his heroes while paving new ground. The set is a high energy burst of Texas Blues in the image of Lightning Hopkins. From the tone of his guitar to the killer licks of “Rude Mood” and “Testify,” the album is a classic.

Rock 4 Rookies Podcast: Episode 9

Posted: April 13, 2008 by Maximum Mike in Rock 4 Rookies Podcast

THIS WEEK: The Beastie Boys get Disturbed, join Neil Young on a Phantom Planet in The Darkness. To make a long story short, one funky show!!!

I was looking through a friend’s Ipod, the best way to see deep into someone’s soul, and was annoyed by all the genres. They were not poorly organized, rather there were just too many of them. He had Alternative, Alternative Rock, Alt/Rock, Rock, Heavy Metal, Metal, Punk, Punk-Rock, and more. One explanation is that he does not care about his musical grouping as I do (an almost O.C.D. attention to organization and details.) Maybe these are the ways people organize their music. It is possible. The question that begs is: What is the difference between all these Genres? It seems that in the current music industry the lines have become so blurred with the influx of bands trying to cross promote themselves, they are not even sure who their target market is anymore. Take a band like The Strokes. Are they Punk? Are they the last remnant of the long-dead Grunge revolution? Maybe they are just a Rock band trying to find their place by combining aesthetics. Ask the boys; they probably are not even sure themselves. Another example: I recently watched Madonna’s new music video. The Timbaland produced “4 Minutes to Save the World,” has an R&B sound matched with a Rap beat, and features Justin Timberlake. The target market seems to be everyone. Is it Pop? Is it R&B? The only thing that people seem to care about is that it will sell.

Let’s start off simply. There is no Alt/Rock. In fact these days Alternative itself is practically dead. Before we discuss the genre breakdown and its meaningless sub categories, let us go back to the mid-90s to relive its’ glorious, albeit brief life. After Hair Metal (shudder) came Nirvana, and essentially Grunge was born. In my opinion the term Grunge only refers to four bands. The Seattle scene’s finest: Alice-In-Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and the aforementioned Nirvana. Grunge responded to the decadence of the 80s, the end of Reagenomics, and the desire to put true feeling back into the music. Alternative then became the banner for all the hangers-on, who inevitably rode in on the trends and faded out anonymously. Grunge, and to a similar extent Alternative, started as Sub-Genres until the CDs began to fly off the shelves, prompting many record store chains to create entire sections devoted to the style. On a side note, there is nothing more irritating then going to music stores, (you remember what those are right?) and not being able to find anything because you are not sure what section it’s in. So Grunge and Alternative, let us call them kissing cousins, had arrived. After Kurt Cobain took his own life and the idea of Grunge with him, Alternative was left without its’ relative to give it legitimacy. What I find most interesting about Grunge is that in any other era Soundgarden and Alice-In-Chains would probably have been considered Heavy Metal.

These Genre lines began to crumble in earnest when the first true crossover act of the era came into prominence in the late 90s. Creed was able to borrow the heavily distorted guitar tones of Alice-In-Chains, and the hollow Eddie Vedder-esque voice of Pearl Jam, and marry that with uplifting lyrics. Their debut album “My Own Prison” had a few minor hits but was a darker affair than their 1999 follow up “Human Clay.” Its’ more hopeful outlook spawned megahits like “With Arms Wide Open,” and “Higher,” raising the band to superstardom. The music was hard enough for the guys and yet sweet enough for the girls. Many critics see this as the beginning of a sorry period for Rock, where any true originality was lost amid a sea of copycat acts.

Heavy Metal, on the other hand, has enjoyed Sub-Genre status for decades, only being realized as a commercially viable product it itself in certain specific circumstances. That almost every band in Heavy Metal is its own category is an amusing fact. Take some of my favorite bands for example. Testament is Thrash, Faith No More is Funk, and Arch Enemy is Black Metal. With so many ways to classify a Sub-Genre all the categories begin to lose meaning, because as a wise man once said “No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.”

The circumstances surrounding the peaks in Metal’s popularity came in two ignominious eras of the music. In the 80s when Thrash (more on this in the future) ruled the Bay Area, Hair Metal ruled the airwaves. Led by Motley Crue and the triumvirate of bands that are all essentially the same, Ratt, Warrant, and Poison, the music was more about personalities and having a good time then making any sort of statement of consequence. It reflected the nature of the times; the economy was booming, and the Iron Curtain was crumbling, so let’s party. The most telling aspect of the rise of Hair Metal is that almost all of their radio hits were the inevitable power ballads that made them more palatable to the layperson.

The second era was the Nu-Metal, or sometimes called Rap-Metal, scene of the late 90s and early 00s. Rap, as one of the last styles of music to carry any real countercultural weight, seemed a natural partner for Heavy Metal who had lost almost all credibility with the ceremonial cutting of Metallica’s hair. When Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park burst onto the scene, they were able to cross promote themselves to angry urban kids buying Busta Rhymes disks and with Metal-Heads alike.

To borrow an idea from Plato, (yeah I’m going there) God created the idea of Rock. The next step was for the musicians to interpret that idea. We as consumers are the lowest level of society because all we do is classify the interpretations of God’s grand idea. In all seriousness though, do we need all these Genres and Sub-Genres? Does Ska so beg to be differed from Punk? Is fusion so far removed from Jazz, and will someone please explain to me the difference between Classical and Symphonic Heavy Metal? Beyond that I think that this endless classification of musical forms says something about us as a society. In the ever pressing need to compartmentalize out lives and find our niche in the world, it seems arrogant of us to exclude new experiences because they do not fit into our narrow world view.

I get frustrated when people say they “listen to everything” and then resist new musical experiences. The endless classifications in the Rock world seem to be nothing more than self-justification about staying in one’s comfort zone. I will listen to anything, at least once. That does not mean that I like everything, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Recently Michael got me into Papa Roach, who drew me in with their strong hooks and powerful riffs. With the internet and the myriad of websites that are geared towards musical discovery, it is easier than ever to expand your horizons and learn something new. In other words, do not adjust your radio, just change the channel.

What I am listening to: In order to help you broaden your minds, dear readers, I am starting this section to inform you about different music you might not be aware of. This week I am excited to start you off with…

Arc of a Diver: By Steve Winwood. After departing Traffic, he had a very successful solo career. This, his second album, showcased his musicianship (he played every instrument on the album) and arrangements. It is a tight and melodic set of songs and shows that Steve had as much to say in his second career as he did in his first.

Rock 4 Rookies Podcast: Episode 8

Posted: April 6, 2008 by Maximum Mike in Rock 4 Rookies Podcast

Back 2 Basics on Rock 4 Rookies. No tricks, no themes, no requests, just rock!!!!! Ozzy Osbourne, Jimmy Hendrix, Jet, Korn, and big dose of Heart!!!!!!!