Tag Archives: The Rolling Stones

Shattered

altamont-joel-selvin

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hell’s Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day by Joel Selvin (Dey Street, $27.99, 358 pages)

There are books that you read and when you finish you say to yourself, “That was a good book!” And then there’s the book that causes you to think, “That was interesting, but…” Altamont falls into the second category.

One is unlikely to find factual errors in this account of the notorious concert. This is a plus. Another plus is that this nonfiction work appears to have been edited to within an inch of its life. I found not a single grammatical or punctuation error, something that is sadly unique in this day and age. Kudos to the staff at Dey Street!

So where does the “but…” come from? This account is written in tense and turgid language. It’s as if Selvin is writing about THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN HUMAN HISTORY. It reads as if one is listening to Walter Cronkite reciting the facts that led to a third world war. Come on, Joel, it was only rock ‘n roll!

How overblown and overly dramatic is the language? Here’s an excerpt:

The whole event had turned into some oblique rite of passage, an ordeal to be endured by band and audience alike. The promise of love was vanquished, and in its place, the specter of evil loomed. In a single day, Altamont had turned the myth of Woodstock inside out.

Whew. So this music concert was about a battle between good and evil, and it represented a momentous change in our lives and our time. Well, OK, if you buy that. I don’t.

It’s not as if dozens of people died at Altamont. There was one death that occurred while the Rolling Stones played and another person died while leaving the event. These deaths were not insignificant; but the Altamont concert pales in comparison to multiple tragedies in our history, which is why Selvin appears to have lost a proper perspective in 2016.

Fans of the Stones may find themselves surprised and/or dismayed by Selvin’s view that this was the beginning of the end for the band in terms of musical excellence, honesty, and creativity:

Whatever they lost at Altamont, they would not get back. The Stones would play out their days like tigers in the shade, challenging neither themselves nor their audience. Instead of a cultural force, the Stones settled for being caricatures of themselves, a raucous and colorful, but ultimately meaningless sideshow, prancing onstage with props, costumes, and elaborate stage sets in cavernous football stadiums, no more five simple men and the music.

Common, Joel, tell us what you really think.

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Stones fans are bound to enjoy the 22 pages of color and black-and-white photos, which are likely to have been previously unseen.

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A few rock historians might find Selvin’s account useful but I doubt that most rock music fans will want to spend their time ingesting over 350 pages of rather depressing facts. And, as in many accounts of the period, there’s far too much made of drug use and abuse; something that one quickly finds boring rather than interesting. For a perhaps more entertaining read that covers the events back in the day, including the Altamont concert, one might elect to read David Talbot’s highly engaging The Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love.

Fade to black. Paint it, black.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Altamont was released on August 16, 2016.

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You Better Move On

cohen stones

The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen (Spiegel & Grau, $30.00, 381 pages)

When I mentioned to a couple of Rolling Stones fan that I was reading the new book by Rich Cohen, they asked, “What’s new in the book?” I told them I didn’t know, as I had not finished reading it. Now that I’ve finished, I can answer the question. There’s nothing new here; it’s the same band bio as you’ll find in any book about the Stones or Mick Jagger. And it’s told in chronological order, so you can guess what’s coming up next even if you have just a smattering of knowledge about the old boys.

In theory, Rolling Stone reporter Cohen was going to tell a new and unique story because he spent some time with the group on tour. But that information is minimal and far from being substantively interesting. In fact, the only new factoid I came across is Cohen’s claim that Eric Clapton unsuccessfully auditioned for the group after Mick Taylor’s departure. According to Cohen, Ron Wood was selected because it was felt he would fit in better with the band’s quirky personalities. Well, maybe this is factual and maybe not.

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There are factual concerns. For example, Cohen writes that Jagger destroyed all of the outtakes of “Brown Sugar.” But anyone who owns the Russian-made Melodiya CD of Sticky Fingers possesses two outtakes.

Cohen makes a bold attempt at arguing that the Stones were “even greater than the Beatles” – clearly appealing to fanatics who might purchase his account. But he rather quickly dispenses with this, first admitting that Their Satanic Majesties Request was “terrible, a disastrous by-product of an overripe era.” And he proceeds to quote multiple sources regarding how sloppy and undisciplined the band is in rehearsals. So, he set up a straw man only to knock it down. Yawn.

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All in all, there’s not much to see here, folks. You better move on.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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We’re All Alone

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Delta Lady: A Memoir by Rita Coolidge with Michael Walker (Harper, $25.99, 225 pages)

In the Acknowledgments, Rita Coolidge states that from the age of four she “dreamed of writing a book.” Sadly, this memoir does not read as if it was written. It reads as if it was dictated onto audio cassettes and transcribed by the writer whose name is found beneath hers in small letters. There’s simply no voice, no style present that gives it personality; thus, one never feels like time has been spent with the singer-musician.

Coolidge concedes that people usually think of her as the woman who was once married to Kris Kristofferson. Those wishing to find out something about that marriage may be satisfied with what they read in these 219 pages. But those wishing to learn more about her life in or out of the music trade may be left wanting.

One frustrating thing is that Coolidge makes bold statements before walking them back. For example, she’ll state that musician Joe Blow used too much cocaine, and then retract that by saying it’s not for her to say what too much is. Tentativeness in a “tell all” is so unsatisfying.

It seems like Coolidge waited decades to tell her story and then hedged in the telling.

Delta Lady back cover

Note:

Delta Lady could have used assistance from a strong editor. There are awkward statements and content throughout. For example, at one point we read this about Janis Joplin: “She drank too much than was good for her…” And Coolidge tells us that after her mother died, “I had a gig on the eighteenth and knew she wouldn’t want me to not do that gig.” Ouch!

There’s also noticeable repetition in the account. For example, one particular background singer did some work with the Rolling Stones. So every time her name is mentioned, we’re told – with but one exception – that this woman once sang with the Rolling Stones. These may seem like small points, but they’re not so small when you’ve shelled out $26.00 for a finished work.

Finally, there may be some issues with factual accuracy. Coolidge states that the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour left Joe Cocker physically and financially impoverished. Other accounts note that Cocker’s poor physical state was due to alcoholism. And the Mad Dogs and Englishmen double-album made Cocker rich. It was the second-best selling album in the U.S. when it was released, and was very likely the best selling recording on college campuses. A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss stated, “‘The Letter’ (from the Mad Dogs album) was the first hit for Joe… The record went (Top 10) platinum and sold well… That whole group was incredible, and it was an amazing experience – what they did live and on record was magnificent. After that success, we were able to get Joe back in the studio to make more great records.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Muscle Shoals

Film Review: “Muscle Shoals” – Music Muscle from the Deep South

A 2013 documentary about an Alabama musical legacy, Muscle Shoals brings to light and life a group of musicians who never had their day in the sun.

Muscle Shoals

Two iconic recording studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – FAME (est. 1959) and its spin-off Muscle Shoals Sound (1960) – became the “must have” sound for, among others, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Etta James, and many other legendary Rock-and-Roll artists. The magic of a group of background musicians, who called themselves the “Swampers,” some of whom were classically trained, were the touchstone of FAME. The Swampers were all white (a fact that was to surprise Paul Simon). Keep in mind this is the early 60’s.

Muscle Shoals, which premiered at the Sundance Music Festival in January of 2013, is the love story of America’s music roots in the Deep South. For this viewer, some of the most spellbinding scenes focus on Rick Hall, the pioneer and open-minded founder of FAME studio. Hall’s own poverty and family upheavals allowed him to empathize with the racial hostility young music artists of color faced in most of the United States, not just the south. Before the Civil Rights Movement became a force shaping our country’s history, FAME gave some of our most creative musicians their break in the music business. The film gives the impression that the principals of FAME were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.

Hall was to bring black and white music together. He produced signature music: “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar,” and “When A Man Loves a Woman”. White studio musicians were to make unknown black artists famous.

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Muscle Shoals bears witness to how Hall’s color-blind passion for music infused a magnetism, mystery, and magic into the music that became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. The filmmaker allows the key players to speak for themselves, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Etta James. On its own, the cinematography of Muscle Shoals, the backwater town along the Tennessee River is an eye opener. And Muscle Shoals is not to be missed for its music history, racial progressiveness, and its imagery. It’s a visceral and magical vision!

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

Postscript:

1.) The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed in on The National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to turn the historic building into a music museum.

2.) FAME is still owned by Rick Hall and his son Rodney. Beats Electronics, because of this film, is underwriting the renovation of FAME to support young musicians.

3.) Actor Johnny Depp is developing this movie into a TV series, according to Variety.

You can read more from writer, artist and retired Stanford professor Diana Y. Paul at her blog Unhealed Wound:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

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Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

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The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

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Full Circle

Music Review: Gene Clark (of The Byrds) – ‘Two Sides to Every Story’ [2014 Deluxe Edition]

two sides Gene Clark

I’ve been a huge fan of the music of the late Gene Clark. In fact, when I purchased the 2006 Byrds 4-CD box, There Is a Season, the first thing I did was to find all of the songs written or co-written by Clark and place them on a single CD-R. So I anxiously looked forward to hearing Two Sides To Every Story, a record that, as noted by Clark’s biographer John Einarson, “was (less than) appreciated in 1977.” After listening to the 10 tracks on Two Sides To Every Story, I can understand why the album was not a commercial success.

Story has been re-issued by High Moon Records in a deluxe hardbound Eco-Book (actually, a booklet) with 26 color pages. An enclosed download card allows one to hear over 90 minutes of Clark songs performing live in 1975.

Here’s a look at the content of the album.

“Home Run King” sounds like a Michael Nesmith tune. The lyrics do not make much sense: “You are either the newspaper boy/Or you’re either Babe Ruth.” Interestingly, the song is structured a lot like “The Bug” from Dire Straits: “Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger/Sometimes you’re the ball.” It’s a whimsical track but Clark did not seem to enjoy singing it.

“Lonely Saturday” is a straight country – not country-rock – tune that might have fit well on a Jimmy Clanton (“Just a Dream”) or Jimmie Rodgers album. It’s a high quality song but Clark’s limited vocal range in ’77 does not do it justice.

“In the Pines” is a banjo and violin-laden track that’s 110% country and needlessly over the top. This song speaks of a “black girl” who causes the singer to leave his home, while “Home Run King” referenced “the black Madonna sleeping with a star.” Autobiographical?

“Kansas City Southern” is a rocker, fortunately. It’s kind of like Bob Seeger-meets-the Eagles. If only the entire album was like this! “Well, I’d sit and watch those trains go by/And wish that I was homeward bound.” It’s a track that requires some attitude to be done properly – Clark is not quite up to the task here. I’m sure that either Rosanne Cash or Bonnie Raitt could record a dynamite, knock-your-socks-off version.

“Give My Love to Marie” is Clark’s cover of a song written by James Talley about a black lung miner. It’s an emotional ballad about a poor dying man (“There’s millions in the ground/not a penny for me….”) that would have been a splendid B-side if “Kansas City Southern” had been released as a single. It’s definitely the best vocal performance by Clark on the album.

“Sister Moon” is a simple 12-line song in the vein of “Moonlight Mile” by the Rolling Stones. There’s too much orchestration because there’s not much content to the song: “Ah, Sister Moon, I am your son.”

“Marylou” is a gritty blues-rock cover of a song written by Sam Ling and Obie Jessie. It’s somewhat reminiscent of “Steamroller” by James Taylor. If John Cougar Mellencamp were to ever record a covers album, he might want to include this one.

Should Jackson Browne be countrified, he would sound like Clark does on “Hear the Wind”: “Life’s the house where we live/We cannot feel tomorrow/Only feel what we give.” It’s a three-minute track that’s pretty weak. “Past Addresses” is a wordy Clark composition – wordiness never being a problem with his earlier songs – that imparts a wistful Late for the Sky feel: “I can only make guesses/On some of my past addresses/And tell you what my broken memory recalls.”

The album concludes with “Silent Crusade,” a song about life as a journey on the ocean. It reads as a nice, admirable poem performed in the style of Gordon Lightfoot. But Clark’s voice cracks and fails him on this closer.

Story is a collection of songs with more losers than winners. It’s more country than country-rock, which limited its appeal back in 1977 and may well do so again. The remastered sound is fine. However, at an Amazon price of $33.47 it’s awfully expensive (even with the live tracks that can be downloaded), especially when you consider that the limited edition deluxe of Rosanne Cash’s The River and the Thread, also packaged in an Eco-Book with 36 color pages, goes for $16.19 on the same site.

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I think Two Sides to Every Story will appeal to Gene Clark completists. It’s unlikely to hold much appeal for others.

Joseph Arellano

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics site and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Gene-Clark-The-Byrds-Two-Sides-5918222.php

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Positively Spot On

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music (University of Minnesota Press, $22.95, 272 pages)

“I wish that for just one time/ You could stand inside my shoes/ And just for that one moment/ I could be you…” Bob Dylan, “Positively 4th Street

In the eternal quest to try to interpret the “real” meaning of Bob Dylan’s songs, some have speculated that “Positively 4th Street” is his retort to the many critics who emerged following Dylan’s controversial decision to “go electric.” Most people who have even some passing knowledge of music history have seen multiple examples of Dylan being cantankerous with the media, dating all the way back to the 1963 Newsweek article questioning his identity and past, and famously filmed in D.A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back.

Out of the Vinyl Deeps

Lately, Dylan has mellowed in that regard, or so it seems. Perhaps because he is now a revered survivor and not a young rebel.

What does Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music have to do with Dylan? Quite a bit as it turns out. This book is a compilation of writings on music by the late writer that appeared in a variety of publications, including her regular column for The New Yorker, “Rock, Etc.”, over a span of 34 years. The book is edited by her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz, and virtually every column and essay that doesn’t actually address Dylan, references him. Judging by Willis’ intuitive take on the music as it interweaves with the various time periods, her insightful commentary, and fine writing, this would be one critic who Dylan might actually like.

Willis drops a few names, but rarely seems caught up with celebrity. For her, it is all about the music. Her favorites, in addition to Dylan, are Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, and the Rolling Stones. Many others receive prominent mention, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, an often under-rated band, and others ranging from obscure to superstar, such as Bruce Springsteen. Willis was a feminist who could objectively analyze the art for its strengths and flaws without either coming across as a man-hater or relinquishing her status as a fan — two of the three would be pretty good, but to pull off all three makes for a damn interesting and good writer.

Fifty-nine short pieces are divided into six themes: World-Class Critic, The Adoring Fan, The Sixties Child, The Feminist, The Navigator, and The Sociologist. The first entry is on Dylan, and the last is a commentary on her philosophy of the role of music in society that mentions him in the third to last paragraph of the book. The final paragraph invokes Little Richard and The Ramones in the same sentence. How great is that?

This book is perfect for any 60s/70s rock-and-roll head. No doubt they would be overcome with nostalgia. But for those who are just as fanatical, but younger — who love the music just the same — and who perhaps even fancy themselves a bit knowledgeable about rock’s history and the great music of this era, they, too, will love Deeps because Willis is one writer who can make you feel like you were there.

Highly recommended for music lovers of all ages.

Dave Moyer

Out of the Vinyl Deeps is available as a Kindle Edition download. This book was purchased for review.

Dave Moyer is an educator who thinks a lot about rock music. A drummer, he has not yet played for the Rolling Stones. His book about baseball and Bob Dylan is entitled, Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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