Listening: The Cars

This will be a semi-regular feature where I pick a band I haven’t listened to more than what has played on the radio. I was going to try to make it weekly, but I quickly realized that was too lofty of a goal since I really want to listen to the entire band’s discography.

The Cars are a great singles band.  There is no denying it.  But here is the thing, a lot of those “singles” actually aren’t.

Look at their first album. “Just What I Needed,” My Best Friend’s Girl” and “Good Times Roll” are actual singles. However, side two has three songs that have extended radio airplay.  “Moving in Stereo’ especially has a special place in most men’s brains because of a certain movie scene.

Again, that song is not a single, but it’s no longer a deep cut.  And that’s the great thing about The Cars: almost every song sounds like a single.

The Cars are a new wave band and sometimes it shows and dates their music.  Surprisingly, though, it’s mostly on the most experimental tracks. Yet, none derail any of their albums.

One of the strongest aspects of The Cars sound was that main songwriter Ric Ocasek knew when a song wasn’t right for his voice.  While he may have been able to pull off “Just What I Needed,” he knew that Benjamin Orr was the one to sing their best song, “Drive.”

I hadn’t listened to “Drive” in years.  I thought it might sound dated when I came upon it again.  God, was I wrong. It has a beautiful melody that shows a synthesizer can be an emotional instrument, but it’s Orr that’s the star on this song. He does the remarkable feat of sounding emotionally vested and, yet, somewhat detached.  His phrasing is sometimes not where you expect it causing the listener to get caught up in the drama in the song. If this was the only song The Cars ever recording, they would belong in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

What really surprised me was how much I liked Panorama, the album with the fewest charting tracks. While it doesn’t really have any songs that stick out from the others, it is a great album through and through.  There is no filler.

Actually, The Cars whole discography is strong. For a band known for its many singles, their albums are mostly great from the first song to last.  A lot the credit needs to go to producers Roy Thomas Baker and Mutt Lange. This, in turn, led to Ric Ocasek being a great producer in his own right with credits such as Weezer’s Blue and Green albums along with Everything Will Be Alright in the End.  The Cars was a band with a gifted songwriter who knew and played to the strengths of his bandmates.

Next up: Dio

 

Listening: The Band

This will be a semi-regular feature where I pick a band I haven’t listened to more than what has played on the radio. I was going to try to make it weekly, but I quickly realized that was too lofty of a goal since I really want to listen to the entire band’s discography. 

The_Band_(1969)

I’ll say it even though most of my friends will argue for Rush – The Band is the greatest band to ever come out of Canada.  Hell, it would be hard to argue if you wanted to expand that to all of North America.

The Band is actually the group that made want to start this project. The only song I really knew by them was “The Weight” even though I had heard others. I never actually dug into their albums.

I started with Music from Big Pink, which just had its fiftieth anniversary.  The first song just hit me in the gut. “Tears of Rage” song by Richard Manuel with such raging agony may be the greatest first song in any band’s discography. The rest of the album was just as good. I always though Helm was an amazing singer but really the three main singers – Helm, Manuel, and Rick Danko – keep making me switch my allegiance with all three.

That’s the great thing about The Band – they were more than the sum of their parts but each part is needed to make the machine work. Helm has that southern Shelby Foote type of voice that can transport you to the time his story is being told as he does on their second album standout “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” Manuel, to me, sounds like Cat Stevens if all Cat Stevens listened to was soul and blues. Danko, who along with Helm, could find a groove and work the hell out of it.  And when he sings, he emotes in a way that elevates the song.  Then you have Robbie Robertson who wrote most of the songs and is a great guitar player in his own right. Finally, you had Garth Hudson who could probably play any instrument you placed in front of him.

While Music from Big Pink and The Band get most of the press, the rest of the albums they recorded together are some of the best of any rock band. Stage Fright, in particular, is a favorite mainly because I like songs from bands that are about themselves.

I finally watched The Last Waltz for the first time. After spending two weeks listening only to The Band, I was fascinated and disappointed. It is a great rock documentary (probably top two or three ever made), but I actually wished it would have just been them and maybe Bob Dylan (who did write a few of their songs). In my mind, they were the main attraction, they didn’t need any help.

Now, I need to make room in the Bs in my record collection.

Next up: The Cars

 

 

Listening: Music Education starting with A for At The Drive In

Recently we had to make a surprise trip to Florida to be with an ailing family member. While there is a lot of stuff to do, there is plenty of downtime as well when a trip is unplanned. Plus there is the drive. I started to think about music. I realized that while my music listening is varied, I was beginning to stick to the same 30-40 bands. This came painfully apparent when I started to make a playlist with my new Apple music streaming account.  I was trying to put a list together for the trip of my favorite artists from their essentials series. My playlist is up to 1750 something songs.

But let’s face it.  That is a drop in the bucket of the music that is out there. One night I thought of a new idea for the blog. Every week I would use my Apple Music account to dig into an artist/band I haven’t heard anything beyond the singles. I’ve always been an album person so this a good way to have the soundtrack for the week.

Then I realized there were 28 weeks left for the year.  How about making this more of a novelty project and work my way through the alphabet while taking a break for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So I was confronted with choosing a band that started with the letter A. So I decided to start with At the Drive-In.

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At the Drive-In, live at Lollapalooza in 2012. From left to right, Omar Rodríguez-López, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar (partially obscured), and Paul Hinojos Credit: Shane Hirschman

For some of you, you will be head scratching.  Others, you will be thinking how haven’t you listened to them.

 

For the first group, they are often described as post-hardcore whatever that means.  I really can’t explain them. They rock, that’s all you need to know. For the second group, they were around at a time when I really couldn’t afford music, and my dial-up was too slow for Napster.  In fact, I didn’t know they existed until I got a work computer from New Orleans Parish Schools that hadn’t been wiped from the previous year. The person’s mom was dean of NYU Student Life, so the former teacher went and ripped a bunch of their CDs to the computer.  One that struck me was the Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute. It’s a prog album, and it became one of my soundtrack albums for my post-Katrina year.

The Mars Volta features Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bilxer-Zavala from At the Drive-In. I’ve always been one of those people that when they discover an artist, they like they want to learn everything about that artist. So I’ve wanted to listen to At The Drive-In for some time.

They didn’t disappoint.

Brief history, they made three albums and various eps in the late 90s ending with Relationship of Command.  They split into the aforementioned prog Mars Volta and the more alternative-rock Sparta.  We saw Sparta live about a decade ago opening for Old 97s.  The reunited for a few shows in 2012 and then came back together around 2015 minus only one member, Jim Ward. They have recorded one album in the new newly reformed lineup.

They rock very hard, and these albums contain some of the most vivid imagery in their lyrics (Tease this amputation/Splintered larynx) even if they are always cryptic. Bilxer-Zavala also has one of those voices that only about one percent of humans have and he can’t take it almost anywhere he wants. Musically, they sound as if their songs are well planned out, scripted even, and the result of jam at the same time. However, after listening to their albums and watching some live performances, I’m not sure they have ever been adequately captured in the studio. They are not a band that can be contained well.  They are a band that when they are together, they can make a glorious noise.

Next up: The Band

Concert-ing: Exile on Bourbon Street

Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones is a mess of a record. Mick Jagger has never actually warmed up to it. Keith Richards was intoxicated most of the time. The mix isn’t muddy and could be so much better. They just run with the mistakes throughout the album.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2622307

By Source, Fair use, Link

In other words, it’s a perfect rock’n’roll album.

Over the years, it has always gone up in stature. It continually appears on the multitudes of best rock albums of all time and usually quite high on the list.

It’s a monolith of an album that can intimidate anyone trying to cover any of the songs off of it. Someone would have to be crazy to cover all of it.

Enter Ryan Adams.

Ryan Adams is one of the Nola Nerd Couple’s favorite musical artists. He is the rare artist that we both love equally. He can rub people the wrong way, but he doesn’t say things that are genuinely insane like some other more famous artists in the news today. He has always had a prolific output, and he is consistently good and sometimes reaches the heights of his idols. He has done the cover the entire album thing before with his intriguing cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. He found his truths in the songs.

But that was in a studio. On May 5, 2018, he will cover Exile on Main St. live at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans (tickets). He will be joined by Cyril Neville, John Medeski, Mark Mullins, Terence Higgins, and more are promised. Don Was will be the musical director.

Ryan is readying himself for the challenge.

 

We will be there, thanking California for its bitter fruit along with Mr. Adams and company.

The Mr. Nola Nerd Music Podcast: My Favorite Albums of 2017

I didn’t listen to as much music as I normally would in this past year. However, I don’t really think I listened to an album that I felt wasted my time.

This is not a best of list, but just a podcast on my favorite albums of the year.  The higher the ranking the more I listened to the album is how I ranked them.

Spoilers: My top five after the jump:

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Listening: Glen Campbell

If you look at my record shelf, Glen Campbell is an outlier.  Most of the records are from the 80s and 90s alternative acts, classic rock, and jazz.  Then there is Glen Campbell.  Then when you truly think about it, it belongs right there with him.  Glen Campbell loved jazz and played on some the of the great albums of the 60s as a session player.  In the late 2000s, his Meet Glen Campbell featured mainly artists who were alternative acts from the 80s and 90s.

I loved him because he knew how to interpret a song.  Sometimes he knew how to change a song for better.  “Galveston” started out as an anti-war song and he turned it into a simple song of why one goes to war…and why one doesn’t want to go.  By making it more ambiguous about the soldier’s feelings, he brilliantly made it more melancholic.  Sometimes he just did this with his voice.  The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” is full of doubt while his is full of longing.

And he could play the guitar.  He played on Pet Sounds.  His solo on “Whitcita Lineman” is just as full of longing as the words and his singing.  We did get to see him on his farewell tour, and while his memory couldn’t remember most words without a teleprompter, his fingers remembered where every single note was.

Today, at work, we have a lot of time to get our classroom and lessons ready for the first day of school tomorrow. If you come to my room, speak up, because  I won’t be turning Mr. Campbell down.