May 31, 2012

Do artists get better after they get boring?

The mostly hung jury in the trial of former Democratic Veep nominee John Edwards over funneling cash to his mistress reminds me that I read a novel about the woman in question over 20 years ago. Jay McInerney's Story of My Life is the first person memoir of a party girl named Alison. If the phrases "party girl" and "Alison" sound like they go together, they do. McInerney used lyrics in his novel from Elvis Costello's 1977 song "Alison" and 1979 song "Party Girl."

They say you're nothing but a party girl,
Just like a million more all over this world

Alison, I know this world is killing you,
Oh, Alison, my aim is true.

That got me that thinking that it's quite possible that many artists get objectively better after public boredom with them sets in. To take one small example to help explain the phenomenon that the fate of all artists, whether Elvis Presley or Tom Stoppard or Tim Burton/Johnny Depp, is to have people tell you they liked your early stuff best, I noticed in the 1990s that Elvis Costello had made himself a better singer now than in his 1977-1983 heyday. He likely has taken a lot of singing lessons since then and worked hard at his craft.

For all I know, he might be a better songwriter now than he was when he wrote the songs that eventually made him (mildly) famous. 

It's possible that fifty years from now, the handful of people interested in Costello's career will judge that, objectively, he was at his peak as a singer-songwriter long after the spotlight had faded from him. I don't know, though. In truth, I'm not interested enough in music any more to find out, and I doubt if I could be objective because his early songs are tied to a lot of memories.

With Costello, it's pretty easy to track the course of his early years, which follows a typical pattern. He'd been performing with little success since 1970, and by the time he recorded his first album on the cheap in 1976, had a lot of good songs ready to go. His debut "My Aim Is True" album was finally released in Britain in mid-1977, by which point his "angry young man" persona could be conveniently plugged into the punk rock narrative dominating the British music press, even if, stylistically, it was an odd fit. 

I bought "My Aim Is True" in import as a Christmas present for myself in 1977, then on January 27, 1978 I paid $3 to see him in a Houston beer hall with his new band, the Attractions. They played all the songs on their first album, such as Alison, Mystery DanceLess than Zero, Watching the Detectives (a single), and The Angels Want to Wear My Read Shoes. Then, Costello brought out his producer Nick Lowe, who played three of his own songs, including I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll. Good show. But instead of leaving, they announced an intermission, which seemed strange because they'd already delivered a fine show and played all their songs. 

When Costello came back, however, they played everything from their as of yet unknown upcoming album This Year's Model (which went on to win lots of critics' awards as the best album of 1978), such as Radio RadioI Don't Want to Go to Chelsea, This Year's Girl, and finishing with a barn-burning encore of a new song entitled Pump It Up that left the audience banging beer mugs on the stage for 15 minutes in time to Pump It Up's bass line, until the bouncers managed to shove us all out the door. (Pump It Up's similarity to Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues made it the perfect song to hear for the first time in concert: the verses resemble Dylan's, but the chorus slams home harder.)

The man and the moment had come together. Granted, in the big city of Houston in January 1978 there were only 200 or 300 people who would pay $3 to see Elvis Costello. But we were the right 200 or 300 people, the ones who wouldn't shut up about him. 

Costello enjoyed much success d'estime over the next few years, although not having a Top 40 hit in the U.S. until Everyday I Write the Book in 1983. But by that point the quality of his output seemed to wane, whether due to fighting with his bass player or creative exhaustion or physical exhaustion (which can't be overlooked) or whatever. 

He's made various comebacks since then. For example, in 1988 he had a hit with "Veronica," a fine song he cowrote with Paul McCartney. (My theory is that in the best of all possible worlds, McCartney and Costello would have started collaborating a decade earlier when McCartney's ability to write hooks was still strong, but his overall output was being dragged down by McCartney's poor lyrics and weakness for kitsch. Costello's astringent, rather John Lennon-like personality would have been the best fit for what was lacking in McCartney's solo work.)

But, by then, Costello's early loyalists like myself were getting older and less obsessed with music. Teens weren't that interested in this old geezer with the complicated lyrics (which reached a peak of brilliance on 1982's Imperial Bedroom album, but he seem to be starting to lose his gift for catchy melodic hooks). So, I really have no idea whether Costello's later stuff compares to his early stuff.

Moreover, a huge amount of cultural capital has built up over time focused on Costello's early songs. For instance, when I see The Avengers, I am reminded that the first movie I ever saw Robert Downey Jr. in was 1987's "Less than Zero," which was based on Brett Easton Ellis's novel with the titled lifted from Costello's 1977 song. Ellis named a later novel Imperial Bedrooms, but by then the "I liked your early stuff best" phenomenon was setting in for Ellis and McInerney, too.

So, that explains a fair amount about why artists, if they are lucky, mostly just get one short window of relevance.

For example, "Watching the Detectives" strikes me as a pretty terrible single, the most annoying Costello song of his early years, but it still gets played on some radio stations a lot for reasons, presumably, of path dependency: perhaps it was the first Elvis Costello song that many people became familiar with. By the standards of Oliver's Army or I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea or Beyond Belief or Strict Time, Watching the Detectives is a bad Costello song, but it's still a recognizably Costelloish song.

And it could be that that's what matters most: the artist has to reach some level of quality and then what carries him is largely the freshness of his personal style, which is heavily dependent on his unique personality. And after awhile, his personality doesn't seem so unique anymore, even if the quality increases.

167 comments:

Anonymous said...

Eric Clapton has aged pretty well, I think. He sings much better than he used to.

sunbeam said...

"It's possible that fifty years from now, the handful of people interested in Costello's career will judge that, objectively, he was at his peak as a singer-songwriter long after the spotlight had faded from him."

Does this ever happen? In art it seems as though there are tons of people who were unappreciated during their lifetime, who get the "great" tag later.

Very, very, rarely someone like Elvis or Jim Morrison keeps the fame train going.

But in general if you weren't a big star in music during your lifetime, you aren't going to get discovered later.

Jorn said...

Joni Mitchell evolved from popular girly folk to brilliant art-folk (Blue), and then many less popular less brilliant but often great art-folk albums, and then brilliant but unpopular jazz (Hissing, Mingus).

Steve Sailer said...

" In art it seems as though there are tons of people who were unappreciated during their lifetime, who get the "great" tag later."

Not unless they die young.

The sad secret is that practically everybody who gets rediscovered later had been a celebrity at one point.

Semi-employed White Guy said...

Elvis Costello was one of those artists that the "rock critics" insisted that I should like but I never did. A big mediocrity as far as I am concerned. That goes for his earlier stuff or later stuff. It's all boring!

Man Called Uncle said...

@ Semi-employed White Guy:

Look at the man that you call Uncle.
Having a heart attack 'round your ankles.

I'm so affected in the face of your affection.

albert magnus said...

I believe this was true for Herman Melville. Famous for his first couple of Tropical seafaring nivels, then nobody was interested in Moby-Dick or his later short stories.

Lexington Green said...

Elvis Costello's decline began, very simply, when Nick Lowe stopped producing his records. The first four are very good, then it drops off sharply. EC is a somewhat cerebral performer, and he is interested in lots of different kinds of music. Nick Lowe funneled everything through a pop/rock process that made EC catchier and livelier than he would have been on his own.

Anonymous said...

'Objectively better' may mean something for performers but not for composers.
I suppose RULES OF ENGAGEMENT by William Friedkin is a piece of expert filmmaking by a master director but it offers nothing but slickness(and foul anti-Muslimism more offensive than Nazi propaganda against Jews).

For creators of art, it's not just a matter of how expert and finessed it is but how inspired it is. Costello hasn't been inspired for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Granted, some artist work more by intelligent and insight than inspiration. They can age better like wine. Chabrol and Rohmer were that kind of directors. In a way, they got better as they aged.
But Truffaut was best when he was personal(400 blows) and inspired(Jules and Jim). He later made fine films--maybe technically 'better'--, but they were rather dull.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think something more subtle is happening. When someone comes on the scene with something a bit different, there's a bit of breath-holding to see if this is indeed one of the new trends, one of the places that the medium itself is going to go. That leads to some greater excitement in following it, like watching a heralded rookie pitcher get started. We all like that feeling, a little like a gambler's rush. Once someone is established, that feeling is largely gone. I think that is half of what people mean when they say they liked the early stuff better. They like how they felt about it.

From my era, party of what made Buffalo Springfield great was the uncertainty, the promising nature with rough edges. We are being tested whether we can recognise talent or the trend. Also, it is much harder for the artist to do something even a little bit new. Once they have established that there is going to be some audience and acceptance for their experiment, they can start to develop it. Much more competence, but less of the gambler's high at that point.

Steve Sailer said...

"Nick Lowe funneled everything through a pop/rock process that made EC catchier and livelier than he would have been on his own."

Makes sense. "Imperial Bedroom" would have been incredibly good ... except there's only about two hooks on the entire album.

Costello kind of wanted to be James Joyce of rock music, but Lowe had him on track to merely be the second coming of John Lennon, which wouldn't be bad.

Anonymous said...

One advantage of continuing to work after the fame has faded is the artist feels less pressure to prove his or her worth.

This lack of pressure and expectation can be good or bad for creativity. It can be good cuz the artist is less eager to please and impress and more in tune with what he really feels.

It can be bad in the sense that without the pressure/expectation of greatness, the artist might be content just to do journeyman work.

Anonymous said...

What in the hell made Sailer read STORY OF MY LIFE? It's pretty bogus. I know cuz I read it.

Jay of course got famous with BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY. Some even compared him to Fitzgerald(ha ha). It's a crap book and even crappier movie. But, on some level, I sort of like it.

bjdubbs said...

REM complained later in their career that if some other band had released their latest album critics would have hailed it as a work of genius. Sort of making Steve's point.

jody said...

"Do artists get better after they get boring?"

no. steve, don't overthink this.

also, elvis c is not some major, important musician. he's a minor figure in the history of american music.

"Elvis Costello was one of those artists that the "rock critics" insisted that I should like but I never did."

absolutely. there's a cabal of music critics and they have their darlings. the rest of us collectively shrug our shoulders at the musical output of many of their acclaimed favorites.

herbie hancock winning the grammy for album of the year in 2008 was ludicrous baloney. far more egregrious than dumb, out of touch critic stuff like awarding the best picture academy award to the artist in 2011. the academy has only recently begun it's descent into being wildly out of touch, but the grammy committee has been out there for some time now.

nothing is as annoying as television producers bringing back stevie wonder as the "amazing" musical guest at all these music award shows - as if he's supposed to blow us away and bring the house down, and be the last word in pop music entertainment - and he was actually very good in his prime. has he gotten better after he got boring? no, no, and no.

jody said...

the only time this actually happens, in my opinion, is in hard rock or heavy metal, and maybe in jazz, when some major act has reached their late 30s or early 40s, and they aren't making important music anymore, but they've become high level masters of their instruments, and you can tell. the music isn't as good anymore but you can hear advancement in their skill, nuance, and artistry.

neil peart was definitely a better drummer in 1996 than in 1986, when rush was no longer making platinum albums and was just about done even making gold albums. all that time doing those buddy rich big band drumming instructionals, and studying jazz drumming with a master, made him better in subtle ways.

then you have guys like van halen who just dropped off a cliff, even getting technically worse as he got to 40.

Anonymous said...

"Brutal Youth", from 1994, was pretty darn good.

Cennbeorc

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

To better answer the question you pose, I'd suggest expanding your sample size beyond Elvis Costello.

You've written about David Galenson's work in this vein before. Does that shed any light on your question?

Anonymous said...

I first discovered EC as a teenager when "Spike" came out. (I'm one of those weirdos whose teenage self relates to later-period EC.) I'm familiar with the earlier stuff, and some of it's pretty good, but I like "Spike" much better. "Mighty Like A Rose" is very good too--"The Other Side of Summer from that album is a great song about getting older and wiser."

Mind you, I don't pretend my appraisal of "Spike" as being better than the earlier stuff is objective.

Nanonymous said...

when McCartney's ability to write hooks was still strong

Sorry, Steve, but McCartney's ability to write hooks was never weak. His 2005 and 2007 albums, for example, are as good as any album he recorded since 1973.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36dtjxUMWdM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n79mbzUZsWU

In contrast, Costello never approached anywhere near the creativity of his early years.

Anonymous said...

I don't care a great deal about the technical proficiency of singers if the material they're singing is not inspired. And, as someone already noted, Costello has not been inspired in many years.

Costello always had a unique, expressive voice appropriate to his material. It didn't matter a great deal if he wasn't technically great. One could say the same thing about many notable rock singer/songwriters, including Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan.

Whitney Houston was a "great singer", but her career interested me not a whit, because all she sang was pop pap.

Despite some inconsistency, Costello had a good and productive run for the first ten years of his career, from the justly celebrated early albums beginning with "My Aim is True" in 1977 through the hated and underrated "Goodbye, Cruel World" in 1986. I haven't been able to get interested in anything after that, though "Spike" and "Might Like a Rose" have a couple of catchy songs.

A small correction, Steve: "Party Girl" is on the "Armed Forces" album from 1979, so it's not a 1980 song.

ziel said...

I'd agree Elvis's first 4 albums are what he'll be remembered for, but in 1986 he put out two superb, very different albums - the folk-country infused (and somewhat pretentious) King of America and the back-to-basics, hard-driving Blood and Chocolate (from which the name "Napoleon Dynamite" was unconsciously lifted). In the latter, his Lennon-alter-ego was self-conscious enough for him to finish side one (it was one of the last Vinyls I bought) with the song "I Want You", effectively a re-imagining of Lennon's "I Want You" which finished side 1 of Abbey Road. Both albums were melodically as well as lyrically beefy, IMHO.

Technical skills and style can improve over time, but I think for rock songwriters, for whom songwriting is 80% inspiration and 20% craft, the decline in creativity after the late-20's is almost always guaranteed to result in a longing for the "older stuff."

One big exception is Springsteen, but I think he spends more time crafting his songs, which are musically rather simple to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Oops, as ziel correctly notes, "Blood and Chocolate" was a fine album, and the one I would put at the end of Costello's initial productive period, not "Goodbye, Cruel World", which is from 1984.

Anonymous said...

Debbie Harry was at best a mediocre singer with Blondie, but when she started doing things on her own she, like Farrah Fawcett in acting, got a lot better. She sang on a compilation with a crew of New York weird-jazzers called the Jazz Passengers, and it turned out she was the only one of the dozen people on the record who could sing _all_ of the songs on the record. They cut another album-Elvis Costello was a guest on one track with her in fact-and toured. I went to the show. She sang her ass off and did a job that really impressed even the hard core jazzbos. Unfortunately, at that time, the real jazz singers like Karrin Allison and Susannah McCorkle weren't selling units and being a female white jazz singer wasn't worthy of note.

But it was damned impressive musically.

agnostic said...

To get better when older, they would've had to gotten their start when things were somewhat silly or campy, but heading in the right direction. Then they'd fade out while the real momentum was picking up, only to return when it was hitting its peak.

I like David Bowie's Let's Dance album (maybe even the songs he did for Labyrinth) better than the glammy work he did earlier, which is a bit too self-consciously trippy to get absorbed into. There's that wall of self-awareness keeping you out. He was 36 when Let's Dance came out.

Same with Roxy Music, who started out real glam, then went sorta AWOL, then released two UK #1 albums in the early '80s. As with Bowie, Bryan Ferry was 36 when Avalon came out, and definitely better than when they started out nearly 10 years earlier.

Count Peter Gabriel in there too, who hit the apparently magic number 36 when his album So came out, although he did "Games Without Frontiers" and "Shock the Monkey" a little earlier.

I never got into Alice Cooper, so I couldn't say where he fits in. But I like "Poison" better than his '70s heyday stuff.

Too bad Marc Bolan didn't make it out of the '70s alive. Would've been killer to see how he would've matured along with the rest of the glam crew. He too would've been 36 in '83-'84, at the apex of popular music.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you made the point that Costello's "angry young man" persona fit with punk, but the sound was an odd fit. Back in the late 80s I knew somebody who knew somebody and acquired a couple of tapes worth of Costello's very early self-produced demos. There were many songs on those tapes that became famous in his peak early period, but they sounded very different. They sounded like he was trying very hard to fit in with the early 70's sound. They were a bit less angry/bitter and more cool/humorous/snarky.

Your general question about the "early stuff" being more popular is a frustrating one. My theory has always been that the early period for a great performer is the time when they are least self-conscious and more emotionally powerful. The "It's in me and it gots to come out" period. I remember when and where I was when I first heard Costello on the radio (1977). My reaction was "Thank God that sounds the way it does." It had the same effect on me as early Kinks or Troggs or Stooges.

I agree with the commenter above that "Brutal Youth" was a 10-years- later high point. But the reason is because it reminded me very much of his early period. Except I thought it was better, and still do.

Anonymous said...

PUNCH THE CLOCK is one fine album.

http://youtu.be/as7CLyXKI1Q

McInerary the John Hughes of lit?

Gilbert Ratchet said...

"Veronica" is not a fine song.

Steve Sailer said...

""Veronica" is not a fine song."

You may be right. It doesn't sound all that good coming out of my laptop right now (although I'm wondering if more bass than I have on these tiny speakers would help bring out McCartney's bass line.)

But it seemed pretty good in 1989, which is kind of the question ...

Anonymous said...

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/george-lucas-star-wars-movies-grumbling-fans-article-1.1008201

Liberal fascist. Ewwwww.

Brent Lane said...

I was a huge Elvis fan back in his (and my) heyday. A few quick observations:

As important to Costello's early sound as producer Nick Lowe was, it was the bass player, Bruce Thomas, who made the Attractions a rock and roll band. Listen to the linked version of "Party Girl" and try to imagine it with any other bass part. As a bassist myself, for my money Thomas' work on Armed Forces is the best in the rock genre - and that includes everything John Entwistle ever did (which was brilliant as well). Of course Lowe was also a bassist, which might explain how well the instrument is used in the best of Costello's work.

There's a careworn cliche about the popular music biz: "You've got your entire life to write the songs for your first record, and about 9 months to write the songs for your second." Costello's strength was in his musical fecundity. From the release of My Aim Is True in the summer of '77 (just in time for his namesake to croak on the crapper in Graceland) to the January '81 release of Trust, he had written, recorded and released some 90 songs (consider, in contrast, that during this same timeframe Led Zeppelin's output was roughly 10% of Costello's).

And I would be remiss if I didn't bring up the Bonnie Bramlett brouhaha. I sincerely doubt an artist of Elvis' standing at the time (such as it was) would have survived such an incident anytime after, say, 1994 or so.

As for the concert you witnessed in early '78, Steve, all I can say is, you lucky bastard. ;-]

slumber_j said...

You make lots and lots of really good points here, and your thinking about Elvis Costello's maybe being the man to strip the treacle off Sir Paul McCartney's inexorable treacle-train is one of the best.

Anyway, while I don't love all of "Watching the Detectives" enough to make it a song I rhythmically admire in general, I have to point out one really brilliant passage for the poetic music of its lyrics and the way in which they interact with the rhythm section. When he sings: "The detectives come to check if you belong to the parents," the sound of the words dovetails pretty much precisely with what's going on in the drum line.

I really recommend a listen with that in mind: It's amazing.

Mr. Anon said...

Good as the Eagles were, I thought Don Henley's solo stuff was better.

Steven Spielberg has seemed to only improve as a director, or at least he has been able to work at a consistently high level since the early seventies (excepting the mid to late eighties). That's a big contrast to Coppola, who flamed out after about a decade, and Friedkin, whose run only lasted about 15 years (and which only included four really good movies).

j mct said...

Your list of songs got me going as in I distinctly remember that "I don't want to go to Chelsea" was not on "This Years Model", it was on the album with the weird picture of the phone booth on it. I pulled out some 30 year old vinyl that I haven't pulled out in 20 years and looked at the songs, and, I was right! The phone booth album was "Taking Liberties" BTW. Then I thought "How did Steve mess that up?" I looked it up on the internet and found out my songs were the on the albums they were because I had the US releases and the arrangements were the way you said on the UK releases. As you know, it was always cooler to have the import... so how did you get it in Houston in the 70's?

EC could sing well early, here is him doing an old standard, in 1980 or so.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni3DjM8wcds

I'd say that's better than this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LqqFcjjbrQ

The second guy is who I'd say is the ultimate 'young pop star has awesome second career wind' phenom.

Steve Sailer said...

Brent,

The bass playing in "Party Girl" under the words "all over the world" in the second line has struck me ever since 1979 as exceptionally beautiful. I always wondered why everybody likes to hear high squeaky notes from the lead guitar when instead you could hear rich, lovely notes from a lead bass, like on "Party Girl."

I guess it's like why do most classical music fans prefer the violin over the viola or cello: excitement is the main thing.

slumber_j said...

Brent Lane said:


From the release of My Aim Is True in the summer of '77 (just in time for his namesake to croak on the crapper in Graceland) to the January '81 release of Trust, he had written, recorded and released some 90 songs[...]

A very good point. And many of them were absolutely *amazing* songs, including the generally overlooked ones: I'm thinking of "New Amsterdam," "Motel Matches" and "B Movie" from GET HAPPY!!!, for example.

"You turned my head 'til it rolled down the brain-drain."

"Giving you away like motel matches."

"There's a rule-book in Britannia that no-one ever waives."

Et cetera. Really remarkable work in an album nobody much talks about.

Steve Sailer said...

Another thing about the January 1978 concert was that nobody in the audience had ever heard The Attractions before, even on record. The My Aim Is True album used a backing band called Clover, who more or less went on to be The News to Huey Lewis, so they were perfectly fine. But, suddenly, to be introduced live to Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas as Costello's rhythm section ...

Anonymous said...

"Costello's strength was in his musical fecundity. " Said better than I could have. Sharing a studio with D. Krall proved rather fecund also. Lucky stiff.

No accounting for taste, eh? I rank McCartney a small step above MilliVanilli, The Kinks head and shoulders above the most over-rated band in the world, and Elvis C. is the REAL ELVIS.

My Aim is True. Elvis is a musician's musician.

And Peart IS rhythm personified.

Steve Sailer said...

"From the release of My Aim Is True in the summer of '77 (just in time for his namesake to croak on the crapper in Graceland) to the January '81 release of Trust, he had written, recorded and released some 90 songs[...]"

The other band on a similar pace was The Clash. I once counted up something like 120 tracks released by them in 1977-1982. Not surprisingly, they flamed out completely.

That's a general theme in the late 1970s from the first Ramones album in 1976 up through the English Beat ska band: the Need for Speed.

Play short songs fast (e.g., the Clash's first single White Riot). What's the story behind this change? Was it just different drugs? Just a fad? What other era depended upon sheer velocity? Surf music?

peterike said...

Bob Dylan has managed to have creative outbursts over a long, long career. If you look at what are (arguably of course) his six "great" albums and their dates.

Highway 61 Revisited -- 1965
Blonde on Blonde -- 1966
John Wesley Harding -- 1967
Blood on the Tracks -- 1975
Love and Theft -- 2001
Modern Times -- 2006

Lot of "good" albums over this time period (the mish-mash "Basement Tapes" is arguably on the great list) and a lot of bad ones. But explosions of genuine greatness all the way through.

Hard of think of anyone else that pulled off such a feat over such a stretch of time.

And Dylan haters gonna hate, so save it.

Anonymous said...

Nick Lowe's recent album was very good. Love the song "I Read a Lot."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOvOp16kv0Q

peterike said...

Play short songs fast (e.g., the Clash's first single White Riot). What's the story behind this change? Was it just different drugs? Just a fad?

It was a direct reaction to the bloated arena rock of the 70s, bands like Kansas and Yes and Styx. They had strayed from the roots of rock-and-roll and the punks were going back to the original well, taking their cues from Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, etc. A much needed corrective at the time.

Though within a few years, you could accuse The Clash themselves of bloat with Sandinista and some of their too-long dub wanderings.

CJ said...

...then you have guys like van halen who just dropped off a cliff, even getting technically worse as he got to 40.

No problem explaining that one Jody. Drugs and booze.

Jorn's example of Joni Mitchell is a good one. She indeed got much better but less popular. Now the only exposure she gets is on oldies stations, and of course it's her early stuff.

Steve started the post with a reference to the incredible Lisa Druck/Rielle Hunter story. A quick addition to that: not only was she a character in three best-selling novels (American Psycho, Story of My Life, Glamorama), but one of those novels was made into a movie of the same name, and now another of those novels appears to have been plagiarized for yet another movie. And she bears the love child of a once-serious presidential candidate. Is this extraordinary or what? You'd think the popular press would take some interest in such a phenomenon, but of course they haven't. Gotta protect those Democrats.

Anonymous said...

Steve was quite the hipster back in the day, hanging out at the Whiskey, catching EC, and seeing Cheap Trick in small venues. I like the early Steve more.

Nick Lowe has been doing some good work the last few years. http://tinyurl.com/cfs93y . Apparently he made a ton of royalty money off of "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding" on The Bodyguard album so I guess that had some redeeming social value after all if it made Nick rich.

Anonymous said...

Bob Dylan has managed to have creative outbursts over a long, long career.

Highway 61 Revisited -- 1965
Blonde on Blonde -- 1966
John Wesley Harding -- 1967
Blood on the Tracks -- 1975
Love and Theft -- 2001
Modern Times -- 2006

Lot of "good" albums over this time period (the mish-mash "Basement Tapes" is arguably on the great list) and a lot of bad ones. But explosions of genuine greatness all the way through.


Zeppelin created more music of sheer brilliance in 10 years than Dylan did in 40.

Steve Sailer said...

'Bob Dylan has managed to have creative outbursts over a long, long career."

It's kind of like how did Ted Williams hit .388 at age 38? Well, he hit .406 at age 22. And vice-versa. He's Ted Williams.

Since Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and Costello's "Pump It Up" have similar verses, it's easy to compare lyrics. Yeah, Dylan's are a lot better. Nobody named their terrorist organization after a line from Pump It Up.

Anonymous said...

I'm a right-wing EC fan, though I was very left-wing when I discovered him my teen years. The fact is the decline begain after King of America, with a small bump, as noted by another commenter, with Brutal Youth. Most of what he's done since then hasn't interested me. But as others have pointed out, his first four albums were killer and still sound great. SeanS

Anonymous said...

I think I know why Asian-Indians win so many spelling bees. With names like "Snighda Nandipati", they get a lot of practice from cradle.

Larry, San Francisco said...

Actually I have always been interested in the decline of the Rolling Stones. Their albums through Exile on Main Street were great. After that, they became more and more mediocre. Again, it could have been their producer (Jimmy Miller) who made those albums great. As to aging rockers Neil Young still produces great music and the Dead produced some good songs before Jerry died.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

Does this "earlier stuff is better" pattern apply to classical musicians/composers?

If not, why not? And if not, maybe there is some aspect of modern society (recording technology, media, etc), that skews in favor of "earlier stuff" and is a bigger factor than some universal truth about artists.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, there may just be too many examples and counter-examples to make any meaningful sort of generalization about this type of thing. But it's fun to talk about.

I don't know if this is true, but I remember hearing one time that Elvis Costello wrote a lot of his early songs in his head on the Tube train during his morning commute to his crappy day job before he got famous. Makes a good story if it's true. Inspirational anecdote to struggling young would-be's everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Strangely enough, Elvis Costello's father was a professional vocalist with the 'Joe Loss Band'.
For those of you who don't know, Joe Loss was a national institution in Britain, a veteran band leader with a very long career (the 1920s through to the early '90s), he specialised in 'light orchestral' tea dance type music spiced with a little soft jazz, a favourite of old grannies, Radio 2 etc - he was Britain's James Last.
MacManus senior's (that is the real name), most famous moment was proiding the vocals for the iconic 1972 'R. White's Lemonade' 'Secret Lemonade Drinker' TV commercial, which has an iconic status in Britain amongst thos of a certain age.
It seems strange that the son of a professional vocalist needed singing lessons.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks.

"It seems strange that the son of a professional vocalist needed singing lessons."

Maybe Costello in 1977 was trying to sound "authentic," kind of the way Joe Strummer tried to get his teeth to fall out so he wouldn't sound like the son of a close friend of Kim Philby's.

Within a few years, Costello was recording "My Funny Valentine" and writing his attempt at a standard, "Almost Blue."

Watson said...

What other groups had bassists as good as the one in the Attractions, and put out songs where the bass served as a counterpoint to the melody or as a carrier of the melody?

What songs have the best bass lines?

Who are the best bassists?

The first time I paid attention to Costello was when I heard Watching the Detectives on the radio. It's got a great bass line, and the lyrics are engaging.

Anonymous said...

Within a few years, Costello was recording "My Funny Valentine" and writing his attempt at a standard, "Almost Blue."

"Almost Blue" is a terrific song. It should be a standard. But then, Elvis C. wrote so many catchy songs, he should have had far more hits and should be far better known by the general public. Bad marketing, I guess, plus the damage done by that unfortunate 1979 incident.

Steve Sailer said...

Paul McCartney's solo stuff has good bass playing: a friend explained to me at the time that when Silly Little Love Songs comes on the car radio, just turn the Bass all the way up and the Treble all the way down. It works!

Anonymous said...

I never really got Costello's popularity. I was a kid and I remember him being presented in the media as a Sex Pistols type punk rocker. He just seemed boring.

Soon after, The New Wave sound came around and I was very impressed by the sounds of Joe Jackson, The Cars, Roxy Music and The Talking Heads. I'm kind of a sucker for novelty.

I'm musically ignorant and I can barely decipher a lyric. I guess I choose music the way my dog might. I don't know what percentage of the human audience I represent.

My advice is don't try to teach me anything, I can't understand the words anyway. Pretend you are writting an opera and accept that no one will understand the words. If your trying to impress with your lyrics, you might want to consider how well spoken poems are selling.

I gotta go; I've got to get back to listening to American Prayer.

Anonymous said...

Played in a cover band in college back in the late seventies (I was one of the guitar players)

The band covered Allsion and Watching the Dectectives by EC.

I didn't really listen to his music (one of the other musicians in the band figured out the changes and showed them to the rest of band... this was the era before widely avaailable sheet music or youtube).

At the time prefered listening to instrumental music like jazz (ironically, EC married Diana Krall later).

I remember that the changes (ie.. the chord sequences) to the songs used somej azzy chords (chords that are more complex than simple major or minor chords because of the use of additional notes on top of them).

In addition to doing Stones, etc. we also covered a bunch of Steely Dan tunes another jazzy group. EC's songs vaguely reminded me of Steely Dan. Both had sophisticated chords(coupled with sarcastic cynical lyrics.)

Sting and the Police were also just becoming popular at the time,
and the two artists (EC and Sting) share the same interest in jazz, reggae, and music experimentation.

I recall an interview with Sting in which he responded to crtics of his most recent album, by saying that he was now happily married and wealthy so he coud no longer write angry songs like when he was in the Police.

I thing most artists write from where they are. If they are no longer poor, cyncial, and angry their music will naturally reflect this to some degree.

You may wish to listen to more of their old music, but the artist is no longer in the same place.

Sometimes the artist changes sometimes the audience changes.

Regarding, the claim by one poster that Zep was more "creative" than Dylan. I suggest that the poster visit youtube to investigate the many videos that explore how Zep "borrowed" from many other artists (Dazed and Confused was literally stolen almost note for note word for word from am obscure 1960s' artist who later became a popular jingle wrtier).

Although Dylan has also been accused of plagiarism too, really Zep (who by the way I really like) were more the greatest cover band of all time than original artists in their own right.

Sorry, but their uncredited frequent "borrowing" is pretty outrageous at times. Yes, everyone builds on what came before to some degree but they stepped over the line in more than a few instances.

Anonymous said...

Great rock artists tend to have, if they are lucky, 5-10 years of brilliance, and then tend to fade into sad mediocrity. I don't know about Elvis Costello, but I've listened to many of the later, post-fame albums of some of my favorite bands, and their later stuff is rarely that good. Take Jethro Tull. They had about 10 years of brilliance, with some unevenness. Then things took a turn towards awful cheesiness in the 80s as the band ill-advisedly tried to keep up with current musical fashions. Then in the 90s they did a couple of OK albums. Comparing, say, 1971's "Aqualung" to 1999's "J.Tull Dot Com", I observed that Ian Anderson's flute playing had become more technically proficient and polished while losing its wild and inventive character. The songs were a bit more complex, and the melodies and riffs were a bit less inspired but still pretty good. But mainly I noticed that they were decidedly lacking in spark, inspiration and passion compared to the old songs. He almost sounded bored, and the lyrics were pretty inane.

I don't know what it is. Classical composers usually just get better with age, although they do often have a flurry of activity in their 20s and 30s.

Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting blog entry for those of us from a certain generation. A perfect example of an artist better-later-but-widely-ignored is Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. He was world famous as a member of an overwrought, sellout (but admittedly entertaining) rock band and then turned out to be a first rate vocal artist in his later non-profit years.

Anonymous said...

Selling out or mainstreaming seems to rejuvenate a lot of artists. Think the Dead:Shakedown Street, Touch of Gray. The Stones:Some Girls. The Kinks:Low Budget. The BeeGees:Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The Clash:Combat Rock.

Anonymous said...

Within a few years, Costello was recording "My Funny Valentine" and writing his attempt at a standard, "Almost Blue."

He was singing "My Funny Valentine" in concert in 1978. Check out the "Stiffs Live" album.

Cennbeorc

Ramble said...

Steve, I believe that you have now set a new record for most comments, by you, on one of your posts.

Congratulations.

G. Lytton Strachey said...

many artists get objectively better…

There's no such thing as an "objective" standard when it comes to art criticism. It's an inherently subjective evaluation (as is perfectly clear from your own discussion). This sort of standard may apply to purely technical aspects (say, pitch, for musicians), but not to the assessment of their "artistry".

Anonymous said...

What other bass player in the history of pop had the melodic sensibility of Paul McCartney? Side note: When McCartney and EC wrote some songs together back around 1989 (the best of which were Veronica and My Brave Face), Costello begged McCartney to use his hoffner bass. McCartney told Costello he hadn't played in years. But Costello persisted. "It has such a lovely tone!"

elvisd said...

What other groups had bassists as good as the one in the Attractions, and put out songs where the bass served as a counterpoint to the melody or as a carrier of the melody?

What songs have the best bass lines?

Who are the best bassists?


The first band to build its sound around the bass was the Jefferson Airplane. Check out their live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head. The mix is 50% Jack Casady, 50% everyone else. Unlike the rest of the SF hippie bands, they could really rave up like the Yardbirds. I know he went crap with Hot Tuna, but he slammed with the airplane.

some other great bassists:
John Paul Jones
James Jamerson
McCartney (my father who played bass in the 60s says that the middle riff to Taxman was a game changer when it came out).
Mike Watt of the Minutemen
dude in the Clash

There were a lot of good bassists in early LA punk, but that slap happy punk/funk crap that crept up in the mid-80s got to be overkill. That style was cool when the Big Boys in Austin, TX started it, but it went downhill from there.

chucho said...

Just a quick technical note about EC's singing chops in the early days: even on the first album, he did all the harmony vocals himself via overdubs. And this was long before ProTools. Now, any "pro" singer from that era would have been able to do the same, but someone who "can't sing" would not be able to accomplish this at all. Try it yourself sometime. Sure, you can argue that you don't like the sound of his voice on the early records, but it's incorrect to say he technically couldn't sing. The proof is right there on the songs.

My two cents is his best stuff is the first 4 records. He became too overly mannered and cerebral after those.

One last note, EC's namesake's career arc is more like a "U", with heights in the beginning during the Sun/RCA era, badness during the soundtrack era, and then his amazing comeback on "Elvis in Memphis", etc. The 70s is a highly underrated period for him.

Anonymous said...

Paul McCartney's one real talent s far as I can see, above having been half of a great songwriting team neither of which on their own were remarkable, is not that he is a great bass player, like Stanley Clarke or Jaco Pastorius, but a great bass line writer. If he had serious chops it would probably screw him up completely.

And Deborah Harry is a very underrated singer-when she wants to be. I worked with her on the Ken Wahl "Wiseguy" series and she impressed the hell out of a few people, one of which was willing (and able) to put together the financing for her to do a Doris Day biopic she wanted to do. Sadly, her fondness for substances put the kibosh on that. Being unwilling to leave NYC was not helpful either, but mostly it came down to substance issues.

Anonymous said...

http://youtu.be/6LNB6M7yTBo

They get better at ship building.

http://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist.php?name=Elvis+Costello

http://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist.php?id=1851&name=Elvis+Costello+and+the+Attractions

eah said...

OT

For anyone who needs a laugh...

From an article about CNN's ratings decline:

They are trying to stick to old-fashioned, unbiased news broadcasting...

I think he meant that seriously. Which is pretty funny when you think about it.

Anonymous said...

http://youtu.be/LztRL_8n-wc

Anonymous said...

http://www.alternativeright.com/main/blogs/untimely-observations/vile/

Kid goes to jail for insensitive tweet.

But stuff like the following are ok in EU.

http://youtu.be/z8txhtB2e5M

http://youtu.be/76H5ukE3tYI

http://youtu.be/Dbdgif58KCs

Anonymous said...

http://youtu.be/wFY0KU2DNAQ

black culture

Anonymous said...

http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/05/31/london-frances-sixth-largest-city/

My head hurts.

Tim said...

The PBS show "History Detectives" which opens with the song "watching the detectives" is probably the reason for the current popularity of "Watching the Detectives".

pat said...

Personally I've mellowed and become more accepting. Twenty years ago I advised everyone to, "Listen to no music written after 1791".

As I just said, I've since softened my standards, but for me it's still at least a century too soon to listen to Elvis Costello.

You only have so many hours available to you. Why take chances on someone who may very well be just a flash in the pan.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2012/05/30/whats-really-behind-europes-decline-its-the-birth-rates-stupid/

C. Van Carter said...

"Rock critics like Elvis Costello because rock critics look like Elvis Costello." - David L. Roth.

Anonymous said...

http://gawker.com/5913572/keep-your-bachelorette-party-out-of-my-gay-bar

accept us butt we don't have to accept you. just like Jews.

Mike said...

Steve, we both had similar experiences in discovering Costello. Although a big fan, I thought I was the only one who hated "Watching the Detectives."

In the Navy, we used to use "Pump it Up" as our breakaway song during underway replenishments with oilers.

ATBOTL said...

I've always wondered why people of a certain narrow age range are so obsessed with certain "new wave" bands that no one just a few years older or younger listens to.

Teenagers today still listen to Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Nirvana.

Anonymous said...

McCartney is one of my favorite bass players; check out "Old Brown Shoe" one of Harrison's tunes. Another top bassist is Larry Taylor; first call studio player who also did the Monkees bass work. Top notch back in the 60's when he was in Canned Heat, then later with John Mayall, etc. Saw him at the Whiskey Agogo when due to an injured right arm, played the entire set with only his left hand. Sounded fine! BTW, his brother Mel was the drummer for the Ventures.

Anonymous said...

I see lots of stories--even in lib sites--about Negro zombies but almost nothing about the Canadian gay chopper-upper. I wonder why that is.

agnostic said...

Great bass melodies? John Taylor on Duran Duran's first two albums, and Paul Webb on Talk Talk's first two albums. Their melodies (or counter-melodies) tend toward the sublime, at times elegant and at others more savage.

"Save a Prayer" by DD, and "Have You Heard the News" and "It's My Life" by TT are more refined, while "Rio," "Planet Earth," and "Girls on Film" by DD, and "Talk Talk" and "Today" by TT are more primeval.

New Wave's distinctive fusion of elegance and savagery puts it up with Art Deco as one of the most sublime art "movements" (neither was ideological).

Music and design critic nerds are Puritanically and Platonically antipathetic toward any art form that threatens to take over the body, get it moving, and really make it come alive. So it's no surprise that they routinely whitewash the more sublime stuff out of historical accounts and canonical lists.

Ironically, the eruption of the dark past into the present, together with the almost apocalyptic anxiety about the future, makes sure that sublime work will remain timeless.

Anonymous said...

Will liberal race-ism triumph where conservative race-ism failed?

Imagine there is data proving the reality of race and racial differences.

Suppose a conservative race-ist thinker says, 'I believe races are different and here is the data to prove it'.

Suppose a liberal race-ist thinker(like Steven Pinker to some extent) says, 'I believe races are the same and here is some data(same as one offered by conservative race-ist) we should look at'.

Even though both guys are offering the same data, the conservative race-ist is shunned right away and suppressed because of his official position.

But the liberal race-ist is listened to and praised because of his official PC goodness(even though the data he's offering actually goes against PC doctrine). Thus, the data proving the truth of race-ism has been introduced into mainstream thinking by the liberal race-ist without PC lords even knowing about it.

Thus, the best way to introduce race-ism to mainstream discourse is by officially rejecting race-ism while pushing empirical race-ist evidence. Paradoxically, if one officially rejects race-ism, he is allowed to deal with and even discuss race-ist evidence.

I'm not saying Pinker is a stealthy Alinskyite on race, but his approach may actually do more harm to PC since he officially agrees with its doctrines. So, he's given the green light to discuss all sorts of things, and people listen to him(even though some of his views may actually jibe with thoughts on the Right.) But the sort of ideas and data he pushes has a way of undermining PC.

Similarly, devout scientists were more dangerous to the religious order than atheist scientists were. While the latter were shunned or even executed right away, the church was likely to listen to devout scientists who officially believed in God. Yet, gradually, the evidence they kept producing and introducing to the discourse came to undermine the entire notion of God's hold over the universe.
Thus, those devoted to God had the opportunity to accumulate the evidence against God.

Anonymous said...

"It's possible that fifty years from now, the handful of people interested in Costello's career will judge that, objectively, he was at his peak as a singer-songwriter long after the spotlight had faded from him. "

Sure, why not? No one thought that Bach or Vivaldi were anything that great after they died. If subsequent generations can recognize that they were among the greatest composers ever, it doesn't seem impossible that late 20th century pop music wonks of the future might have revised opinions about Elvis Costello compared to what his fans think today.

The stuff that John Lydon did later on with PIL was much better than anything that he ever did with the Sex Pistols, but I doubt he will ever get credit for that in his lifetime. But if anyone still cares about Lydon 50 years from now, it will be probably be for stuff like The Flowers of Romance or Death Disco.

jwmonty said...

Watson said...
What other groups had bassists as good as the one in the Attractions, and put out songs where the bass served as a counterpoint to the melody or as a carrier of the melody?

Interesting you should ask. Joe Jackson was releasing his first records at the same time, and was also perceived as "new wave." His bass player, Graham Maby, was one of the best ever. Listen to "It's Different For Girls" and "Friday."

jody said...

i thought about this some more and i came up with two other cases.

the beastie boys got a lot better after license to ill - however, they were never "boring" between 1985 and 1995. they might have been at their popularity peak in 1995 during the lollapalooza era. an ultra rare case of get famous, then learn how to play.

green day also got better at playing long after their lollapalooza era fame. this is what happens to punk bands though. the better they get, the more they sound like rock bands. which is what they sounded like by 2003 and american idiot.

one thing that's strange is joe satriani. he did not reach his peak as a writer until he was much older than you're supposed to be. prime music writing age is 27. he didn't do stuff like the extremist until he was 36. he's super advanced on his instrument though. reaching that level of mastery, and taking years off to teach, probably slowed him down.

i'd be more interested, as i always am, in the left handed connection. tony iommi is left handed, as were cobain and hendrix. need to go do a study on left handed players as i have with left handed guys in sports.

jody said...

"Who are the best bassists?"

the jazz guys will say jaco pastorious or victor wooten.

the rock guys will say geddy lee or les claypool. frat boy discussions will center around flea.

the metal guys will say cliff burton or steve harris.

Dennis Dale said...

Elvis Costello's decline began, very simply, when Nick Lowe stopped producing his records.

Absolutely. Those first three records are genius.

His later indulgences don't compare--but throughout he's always been a stylist and no great voice. These other genres he's picked up--country and crooning, don't require a great voice any more than that early pop/punk of his.

"Alison" makes her way through Bret Easton Ellis' novels too. There's a reference to her (and Hunter's father's horse racing scandal) in the film version of American Psycho:

Elizabeth:
We met ... at the Kentucky Derby in '85 or '86. You were hanging out with that bimbo Alison Poole. Hot number.

Patrick:
What do you mean? She was a hot number.

Elizabeth:
If you had a platinum card she'd give you a blow job. Listen, this girl worked at a tanning salon. Need I say more?

a very knowing American said...

Classical music music seems to work by different rules than pop. You don't hear people saying "Beethoven's Ninth isn't too bad, but it doesn't really live up to the Eroica." Beethoven died in his fifties, but even some long lived composers have done amazing work in old age (Verdi's Otello, Wagner's Parsifal). Also, note that classical music lasted about 200-250 years before it petered out. Anybody think pop music will stay interesting that long? It looks like there's just more room in classical music to explore the possibilities, both for individual composers and for musicians as a whole.

This isn't news really, to people who know both sorts of music: the best classical music is greater than the best pop.

Anonymous said...

Regarding, the claim by one poster that Zep was more "creative" than Dylan. I suggest that the poster visit youtube to investigate the many videos that explore how Zep "borrowed" from many other artists (Dazed and Confused was literally stolen almost note for note word for word from am obscure 1960s' artist who later became a popular jingle wrtier).

Although Dylan has also been accused of plagiarism too, really Zep (who by the way I really like) were more the greatest cover band of all time than original artists in their own right.

Sorry, but their uncredited frequent "borrowing" is pretty outrageous at times.


This narrative is mostly bogus. Really only two songs were truly "borrowed." Led Zep's full oeuvre was, what, some 60-70 songs? And in respect even of the borrowed songs, Zep took them to the highest level, essentially making them their own.

Steve Sailer said...

Yeah, I recently studied up on Led Zeppelin's purported plagiarisms and was not impressed by the evidence against them.

If you want to hear note for note rip off, comparing Chuck Berry's famous opening for Johnny B. Goode to a 1946 jazz song by Louis Jordan, Ain't That Just Like a Woman.

Semi-employed White Guy said...

Man Called Uncle said...

@ Semi-employed White Guy:
Look at the man that you call Uncle...blah...blah


Those are some impressive lyrics, but somehow they have not persuaded me to become an Elvis Costello fan. He was trying to be a new wave Buddy Holly, but to me he looked like a new wave John "Stumpy" Pepys.

Steve Sailer said...

You do see examples of I like your early work best phenomenon in classical composers: Stravinsky, Berlioz, Rossini.

But you also see examples of the opposite: Haydn's last 12 of his 104 symphonies are his most popular. And you see examples of greats who were great for a long long time.

Anonymous said...

Conversely,on this side of the Atlantic,Everyday I write the book is,among many people of my age,regarded as one of the greatest songs ever written.By anyone.Ever.
I agree with this.

Steve Sailer said...

Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal
I'd still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

I was hoping in 1983 that "Everyday I Write the Book" was going to mark a new phase where Costello started writing Cole Porter like songs where the entire lyric told a coherent story. Previously, he seemed to have the "I'm Irish so I'm allowed to write Finnegan's Wake type lyrics where there are shards of brilliant word play but nobody can make sense out of the whole song."

ricpic said...

Some performing artists do get better as they age. Singers, for example, may not have the same pipes they had in youth but they make up for it in the sense they convey of actually having lived the lyrics they're singing. Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra fit that bill.

Anonymous said...

For great bass work in rock music, check out Graham Maby on Joe Jackson's first album, "Look Sharp". Actually, I think Maby was an integral part of Jackson's sound throughout his career.

Anonymous said...

In rock per se, and excluding "fusion" as rock, the great bass players were always considered to be John Entwistle, Phil Lesh, Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, and session players Carol Kaye and Duck Dunn. Neither the Beatles (McCartney) nor Stones (Wyman, but occasionally Richards on record) were considered to have great bass playing, but sometimes excellent bass parts. Nor the Beach Boys, CCR, Dave Clark 5, etc., etc. This has changed because of Flea and Les Claypool and Stu hamm, yes.

John Paul Jones of Led Zep and Geddy Lee were respected but not considered bass virtuosi as such. Nor whoever it was that played for Pink Floyd.

But the fusion guys-Stanley Clarke and Jaco-were the technically greatest players of their era. Unfortunately, I think fusion is nonrock and nonjazz to boot.

Jazzers are usually upright bass bigots but if not, Monk Montgomery was probably the best of the old guys. Steve Swallow probably the best of the new.

Here's a Sailerian angle-why are female bassists so much more prominent than female guitarists? Only a couple are amongst the true greats but a lot of them are at the next level down.

Anonymous said...

Conversely,on this side of the Atlantic,Everyday I write the book is,among many people of my age,regarded as one of the greatest songs ever written.By anyone.Ever.

It's a good song, but up there with the best of Mercer, Arlen, Loesser, or Kern? I don't think so.

Darwin's Sh*tlist said...

jody said

i'd be more interested, as i always am, in the left handed connection. tony iommi is left handed, as were cobain and hendrix. need to go do a study on left handed players as i have with left handed guys in sports.

One interesting wrinkle to this is that Steve Morse, who may be the best all-around guitar player who has ever lived, is left-handed but plays right.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks for this discussion, Steve. Good to see the Elvis fans come out of the woodwork.

My high school years, when I became a fan, were about 5-10 years past his prime. Better late than never.

elvisd said...

Regarding, the claim by one poster that Zep was more "creative" than Dylan. I suggest that the poster visit youtube to investigate the many videos that explore how Zep "borrowed" from many other artists (Dazed and Confused was literally stolen almost note for note word for word from am obscure 1960s' artist who later became a popular jingle wrtier).

Although Dylan has also been accused of plagiarism too, really Zep (who by the way I really like) were more the greatest cover band of all time than original artists in their own right.

Sorry, but their uncredited frequent "borrowing" is pretty outrageous at times.

This narrative is mostly bogus. Really only two songs were truly "borrowed." Led Zep's full oeuvre was, what, some 60-70 songs? And in respect even of the borrowed songs, Zep took them to the highest level, essentially making them their own.


Totally bogus, cooked up by the Clapton cult and other Rolling Stone magazine types. Yes, Page stole some, but his innovations are so many, it'd take a while to go through them. First of all, his acoustic work. He used over a dozen guitar tunings and mamy of them he invented. I know guitar well enough to say this is true.
Or how about the least heralded part of him, his production ? Backwards echo, multiple guitar layerings, running phase shifters in and out, distance miking, and being the first producer to record rock drums properly. Don't forget how all of Zep's records were his productions. Glen Johns and Eddie Kramer have freely admitted that they learned many of their best production techniques from him.
Name another great rocker who has cut such a wide stylistic path as Page: metal, blues, reggae, celtic music, country, r and b, funk, eastern music, folk, and on and on.
Eric Clapton gets enshrined in guitar shops and on magazines when he has little songwriting ability, shows little interest in experimenting, has no rhythmic sense, and lost his balls around 1970. Page may be washed up now, too, but his achievements are so huge compared to "God/Slowhand" that it's absurd, yet he still gets slagged in the press.

Anonymous said...

Nor whoever it was that played for Pink Floyd.

Oh god. This, in a thread about rock music, pretending to know something? What's next? Whoever it was that played lead in Santana?

Anonymous said...

Page may be washed up now, too, but his achievements are so huge compared to "God/Slowhand" that it's absurd, yet he still gets slagged in the press.

Why is that, do you think?

Anonymous said...

Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen - they all died about 1981-82-83-ish, didn't they? Graham Parker, too. Must've been some big slow train crash or something.
(seriously, i loved them all, well Springsteen not so much, but Nebraska was good - anyway, sad that their music all died at about the same time - or maybe i got older) -- panjoomby

elvisd said...

Page may be washed up now, too, but his achievements are so huge compared to "God/Slowhand" that it's absurd, yet he still gets slagged in the press.

Why is that, do you think?


Zep and the press had a hateful relationship. The band, and especially Page , were aloof to the press. The press disliked what they saw as a crass big money juggernaut, and Zep was certainly a huge moneymaking operation. Their fan base was largely from "dude", mullethead culture at the time, and came off as a low-rent band for Saturday night parking lots. Clapton's been acting like an old fogey since he was 25 and played the Rolling Stone interview fiddle well. He got canonized early and came off as somehow serious and deep (he's not). He's a kind of blues cottage industry now (I'm from the Mississippi Delta, so I've had to endure the hozannas that are given him in the blues tourism scene.)
Look at the umpteenth Rolling Stone Clapton cover from a couple of years back where he's pictured with Jeff Beck. What the heck were they doing on the same cover? Beck grew up with Page, learned guitar together, were in the Yardbirds at the same time, and both are out of the flashy gunslinger tradition-but there he is with Clapton. Seemed almost a slap at Page.
Last thought-I'll never get the rep that Ginger Baker has-his taste and tone are awful. He sounds like he's beating cardboard boxes on those Cream records. Compare him with Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham (sounded extra good thanks to producer Page), or even Keith Moon at the time and it's a joke.

David said...

You're no artist, Steve.

Sad to say, you've only gotten better and less boring.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Thanks for the info elvisd.

Anonymous said...

Saw Costello and the Atractions the same year at Milliken High School in Long Beach CA. His set list was identical or very close, the only difference being besides he and Lowe Mink Deville was the opening act - GREAT show. As to Costello now, he could not be more boring, his singing voice has diminished and I could not be less enthused about the prospect of watching him sweat profusely as he warbles off-key.

Mazzio Hooch said...

Maybe EC needed Lowe like the Beatles needed George Martin. Any coincidence that perhaps E's strongest song, performance-wise and production-wise, is Lowe's "What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?"? Armed Forces, which I recall he dismissed as something like "rootless new wave" was hands down his best. It captures the New Wave/Punk-lite flavor of the year 1979 in its purest essence, when it was all about cynical fun: skinny neckties and converse sneakers, red plastic sunglasses, crew cuts - at a time when any one of these things might just get you hauled away by what the DK's called "the suede-denim secret police."Not that I didn't wear out the crammed grooves of "Get Happy" the following year, when the promo posters for that LP were plastered all over Sam Goody at the mall. The others from that era were good, too. But by the time of "Imperial Bedroom" it seemed, for all its brilliance, that a corner had been turned. Brilliant, clever but not so much fun. In any event, by the time I marched out to buy "Punch the Clock" (or was it "Bunch of Shlock"?) it was clearly all over.

Ray Sawhill said...

I always thought the reason so many gifted pop musicians had such brief if intense creative flowerings was the drugs. Speed, acid and such can have a great influence initially on creativity ... but they usually use a person (his body, his mind, and his creativity) up pretty quickly too.

Darfur Miller said...

Nor whoever it was that played for Pink Floyd.

Oh god. This, in a thread about rock music, pretending to know something? What's next? Whoever it was that played lead in Santana


Everyone knows Gilmour and Nick Mason (the latter for his race cars as much as his drumming) but Roger Waters is not thought of as a bassist except incidentally, in the way that people know who Karen Carpenter was but not necessarily that she was a drummer (even though she was at least as good a drummer as Waters is a bassist).

A lot of LA pop groups were instrumentalists only on stage, their studio albums all had "The Wrecking Crew" as instrumentalists. Glen Campbell, Dennis Budimir or Tommy Tedesco (the last two jazzers by inclination) on guitar, Carol Kaye or Chuck (Boots Are made For Walkin') Berghofer (again jazzers) on bass and Hal Blaine on drums.

For what it's worth three of the best gigs I've seen this decade were long past over the hill: David Allan Coe, Dick Dale, and Nancy Sinatra. Gilby Clarke and Clem Burke were in the band with Nancy and made it a pretty good show.

Darfur Miller said...

Eric Clapton gets enshrined in guitar shops and on magazines when he has little songwriting ability, shows little interest in experimenting, has no rhythmic sense, and lost his balls around 1970. Page may be washed up now, too, but his achievements are so huge compared to "God/Slowhand" that it's absurd, yet he still gets slagged in the press.

I'd argue Jeff Beck is the best of the three but I think this assessment of Clapton is mostly right. He hasn't done anything worth writing home about for at least three decades. Beck is still hitting it hard.

Rambled a bit said...

Is there also a bit of biological determinism going on here?
Fluid and Crystalized intelligence peak in young adulthood around 25 years of age when we start losing brain mass. See http://www.brainhealthhacks.com/2011/01/06/how-much-cognitive-ability-do-we-lose-over-time-as-we-age/
Whether artistic talent is different than intelligence (and I would bet it is), it is also likely affected by the fading brain mass and likely also peaks around 25.

Therefore, the more the artistic output is tied to sheer mental force and creativity, the worse it should get over time. The more the artistic output is tied to having a large amount of knowledge and experience, the later the peak should be. For instance, a Jimmie Hendrix was driven largely by sheer mental force and creativity. It takes a couple of years to master the guitar, but after say five years of intense playing, the additional years only add so much and the difference becomes more about talent than experience. The talent is going to fade. In technicality, there is still marginal improvement, but in being able to come up with the perfect solution to bridge two distinct melodies, that likely fades with brain mass.

My guess would be that writing good rock and roll songs and their lyrics is largely driven by talent.

On the other hand, in an area like novel writing, authors generally need more practice and knowledge to hone their craft. Therefore you would expect peak productions to be at least several years delayed. And there is a wide variety in the types of novels. A Catcher in the Rye seems like a more or less pure talent production and less of a honed-craft production like a Moby Dick.
The obvious solution for the aging rock star is to rely more and more on young talent to write new stuff for you as you age and hone your craft. But the problem is that when you are 40, it's hard for someone who is 25 to write something that sounds authentic for you. The other problem is obviously that drugs don't help. So, in general, the early stuff is more genious and the later stuff is more proficient. Most of us don't like the most proficient musicians, so the early stuff is better to us.

keypusher said...

Sorry to disagree with the host, but here's a great rendition of a great song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K--POHTLGY0&feature=related

Anonymous said...

Go into YouTube and look up Ron Sexsmith/Elvis Costelloe.They do a wonderful accoustic version of "Book".
Why is'nt Sexsmith a billionaire by the way?.
As for bass players,the player with the best technique that I ever heard was Bernard Edwards of Chic.

No,I take that back!.The best was Colin Hodgkinson of a very obscure 70's English band named Back Door.Hard to find examples of his playing but worth the search.

Anonymous said...

"As to Costello now, he could not be more boring, his singing voice has diminished and I could not be less enthused about the prospect of watching him sweat profusely as he warbles off-key."

I saw him in Germany in 1980, from the front row; I've never seen a performer sweat more.

Cennbeorc

Watson said...

What about the acoustic bass on early Van Morrison, eg Cyprus Avenue, or Slim Slow Slider? Or Into the Mystic? I don't know whether it's technically impressive, but it's imaginative. How does that stack up?

Anonymous said...

One the lead singer's voice starts to falter, a band is done, at least as a live act. Great instrumental performances cannot compensate for the loss.

You should really start listening to some new music, you can't stay locked into 1980 forever. Consider how popular your movie reviews would be if you kept reexamining "Best Years of Our Lives" or "Lifeboat". All the bands we used to listen to, we must accept, are nostalgia acts now.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to think of a later work by a famous band/artist which equaled their early classics. Maybe, Beautiful Day, by U2. There aren't too many examples out there. Enthusiasm for Stones, Zep, Springsteen, Beatles has never really waned. There has never been a point where any of their performances wouldn't sell out, but i do think it is driven by nostalgia - their groupies aren't as hot as they used to be.

Anonymous said...

@elvisd

Their fan base was largely from "dude", mullethead culture at the time, and came off as a low-rent band for Saturday night parking lots.

It is surprising that Zeppelin could have come off like this despite the quality of their music.

On another thread, some people were arguing that Zeppelin isn't in the same league as Mozart, Beethhoven, Haydn, Wagner, Bach. Do you agree? How to you rate Zeppelin among all modern music? Among music generally?

Anonymous said...

I always liked Marianne Faithfull's Broken English. I played the YouTube video for a group of younger guys and they couldn't stop laughing. They couldn't imagine that anyone would ever consider her to be good. They started to do imitations of her going through the scales sounding like one of Marge Simpson's sisters.

It doesn't look too good that she'll make a comeback or be rediscovered.

I have to wonder how many styles are now extinct. I would say Ragtime is gone and lost forever.

Publicsphere said...

I liked the recent Robert Plant - Alison Krauss collaborations.

Good piece by Germaine Greer on Zep's stage presence

Nick Lowe is great as a singer-songwriter elder statesman

John Leonard had a strongly worded piece accusing Dylan of being a "magpie" in the sense of very non-original, if you catch the drift.

Speaking of the next hot band, I nominate Dawes. From L.A., they fit into Steve's thesis that many of the "good" occupations are becoming more hereditary. They were good enough for Robbie Robertson to hire them as his band.



Steve has often written about the phenomenon of getting older and becoming less interested in music. True but I think there is more to it. What happens when a rock fan gets a mortgage and kids? Options:

1) Switch to talk radio

2) Hollywood-style "Peter Pan," embarrassingly showing up at concerts of 20-year-old bands

3) Switch to a more mature, reflective aesthetic appreciation, which seems to be Steve's approach, and that of published rock critics i.e. Christgau

peterike said...

How to you rate Zeppelin among all modern music?

Zeppelin's biggest quality gap is their lyrics which are often, you know, really freaking stupid. Take "Whole Lotta Love," an awesome song with a great riff, and then lyrics like this:

You've been coolin', baby, I've been droolin',
All the good times I've been misusin',
Way, way down inside, I'm gonna give you my love,
I'm gonna give you every inch of my love,
Gonna give you my love.


Yeahhhhhhh. Sure. Their infantile lyrics lower them a notch in the scheme of things.

Regards to the Clapton/Page face-off, I agree that Clapton turned into a big fat dud. But what he did on the Layla album -- not just as a guitarist, but as the guy that brought that all together -- stands up to anything from Zeppelin, or anybody else for that matter. One of the best rock albums ever made.

And I think much of his work with Cream was brilliant, especially on the still fresh and amazing Disraeli Gears album, though much of that credit goes to Jack Bruce.

Every cut on that album kills, and foo to the guy that slagged off Ginger Baker. The drumming on Gears is first rate, though you need to listen to the mono version of the album, which pushes the drums more up front (the original used an awful stereo mix putting the drums into only one channel, burying them).

peterike said...

John Leonard had a strongly worded piece accusing Dylan of being a "magpie" in the sense of very non-original, if you catch the drift.

John Leonard was the most loathsome, self-important, name-dropping douchebag to ever soil the world of print. He was an Orc, an enemy of everything good and true, and his death at a relatively young age was a boon to humanity.

Other than that, I have no problems with him.

What happens when a rock fan gets a mortgage and kids?

You discover Sinatra and Jazz.

Anonymous said...

What happens when a rock fan gets a mortgage and kids?

You discover Sinatra and Jazz.


Why?

Anonymous said...

"Zeppelin's biggest quality gap is their lyrics which are often, you know, really freaking stupid. Take "Whole Lotta Love," an awesome song with a great riff, and then lyrics like this:

You've been coolin', baby, I've been droolin',
All the good times I've been misusin',
Way, way down inside, I'm gonna give you my love,
I'm gonna give you every inch of my love,
Gonna give you my love."

----------------

Well, what do you want? Cole Porter or Noel Coward style lyrics to Whole Lotta Love?

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, I recently studied up on Led Zeppelin's purported plagiarisms and was not impressed by the evidence against them."

Some are exaggerated, like Spirit's influence on Stairway to Heaven. But there were examples where they really ripped off others off and didn't give any credit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyvLsutfI5M

Anonymous said...

"It is surprising that Zeppelin could have come off like this despite the quality of their music."

Not really. Plant and Bonham were hicks from the north country who just happened to be awesome musicians. They weren't refined aesthetes. They probably simply had more in common with their blue collar fans than they did with femmy rock magazine critics.

"On another thread, some people were arguing that Zeppelin isn't in the same league as Mozart, Beethhoven, Haydn, Wagner, Bach. Do you agree? How to you rate Zeppelin among all modern music? Among music generally?"

Just speaking personally, I like Wagner, Bach and Beethoven a lot.
Zep isn't in the same league with them as far as I'm concerned, even though I'm a massive Zeppelin fan. I'm, again, personally, a lot less enthusiastic about Mozart and Hadyn.

I play classical guitar, have a pretty good ear and a basic understanding of music theory, but I really don't know why I like one piece of music better than another. When someone says that such and such song is good because it uses a given type of chord, mode or rhythm, I can usually follow what they are saying. However, it is not really apparent to me why that should necessarily make it better than any other song.

Anonymous said...

I like the topic, so I keep exploring. I am searching 80s music on YouTube to see what I still enjoyed. David Byrne performed This Must be The Place on the BBC accompanied by an orchestra, in 2004. The tears started flowing, thank goodness my wife was out, I managed to regain my composure before she got home. I'm a softie when it comes to the etherial. Someone did a ukelele cover of the song, again I got misty. Bach's Air is probably the only other piece that hits me so hard. Sorry, nothing by Elvis Costello had the same impact.

Thanks for letting us post anonymously.

peterike said...

You discover Sinatra and Jazz.

Why?


Because it's music for grown ups, not overgrown adolescents.

Anonymous said...

Ragtime isn't gone, like "trad" or Dixieland it has a hard core of people, ranging from 40 to 90, who get into it and that's all they listen to. Theater organ music, ditto. There are several ragtime performers that go around and play the same dozen or two dozen songs.

Polka still has its adherents too, despite all the songs sounding exactly alike. However, there is Polish polka in a number of styles, Texas polka, Serbian polka, etc, etc. The camps are totally isolated and pretend the others don't exist. On Chicago's eastern South Side, bands would organize and play weddings, christenings, funerals, or other social occasions. The same musicians played in all the bands except for the leader/accordionist. They had to be careful not to play the wrong style by accident at the wrong gathering.

I grew up the son of a Polish mother and a half Serbian father and heard about some of those beer fights that ensued. In my school years I became a "diehard" bluegrass fan because it kept me out of the polka wars.

bleach said...

>>>>>
Ex Submarine Officer said...

Does this "earlier stuff is better" pattern apply to classical musicians/composers?

If not, why not? And if not, maybe there is some aspect of modern society (recording technology, media, etc), that skews in favor of "earlier stuff" and is a bigger factor than some universal truth about artists.
>>>>

Classical composition has a much steeper learning curve than the four chords, shitty singing, and shitty poetry which satisfies the requirement for pop "great"

Anonymous said...

I always liked Marianne Faithfull's Broken English. I played the YouTube video for a group of younger guys and they couldn't stop laughing. They couldn't imagine that anyone would ever consider her to be good. They started to do imitations of her going through the scales sounding like one of Marge Simpson's sisters.

Marianne Faithfull : Number One With a Mars Bar! She'd never have gotten signed had she not been in bed with several Rolling Stones. Horrible voice. Pretty when young, awful now. Nasty to fans.

My favorite girl pop-rocker from that time was Francoise Hardy. Like Bardot, she never made it big here mainly because of limited English skills. But her influence can be seen clearly in Blondie ("Sunday Girl" is a rework of "Tous les garçons et les filles"), the Go-Go's, the Pretenders and even country singer Emmylou Harris.

Anonymous said...

I gotta ask, Steve, did you catch X and the other early LA punk bands live in the late 70's?

Sometimes I think I'll discover you as a bit character in an early Brett Easton Ellis novel. Perhaps the tall golfer with the Honda who shows up at all the great gigs.

Anonymous said...

shipbuilding sounds like life on mars

Steve Sailer said...

I saw X at the Whiskey in maybe August or September??? of 1980, then again at the Country Club in the SF Valley in 1981.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/02/opinion/nocera-the-mortgage-fraud-fraud.html?_r=1

The Mortgage Fraud Fraud

Anonymous said...

Facts to consider as the left wonders how walker won? Better question is why the unions were silent in new York, Massachusetts or California, when democratic governors tried some of the same reforms

-------

Better Question?
False premise.
In NY, CA, MA... it is true they took similar financial packages.
The key difference is none of those governors took away collective bargaining rights. To say that giving up a right is meaningless is just wrong and totally misses the point. The question is not better, it actually is borderline silliness.

--------

Public workers didn't have collective bargaining rights until the late 50s and that great right winger, FDR warned against them. To have a group who lobbies their bosses and can help elect them, by paying huge campaign contributions, is why this system is broken. Plus, these workers have ignored the value of elections and feel they are more important than the voters

---------

Even if you are 1000% right, so what. You asked the why the unions were silent, it is simple and clear. This is a right they fought for. Like it or not. You question has long since been answered.
Just the fact that you posed the question: "when democratic governors tried some of the same reforms" means you don't care about the details. Since YOU don't agree with that right, do the people who do have no right to care about it?
Again, you entire response is a take down of the collective bargaining right (and not a bad one). I was attacking the question you posed. So far you have said nothing to defend the lie of "when democratic governors tried some of the same reforms", you are just being incendiary.

Steve Sailer said...

I can't say I saw all that many bands before they had an album out. Starting in early 1978, I typically saw acts that had enough buzz that their record company would subsidize them playing in front of a few hundred people in Houston. For example, I saw Talking Heads in maybe February 1978 for $2 at the Texas Opry House or whatever the beer hall in Houston was called. They came back in maybe May 1978 and charged $5 because word of mouth had been good. In the spring of 1979, I saw The Police for $3. Joe Jackson was about $3, too.

This didn't really take magical musical prophecy skills on my part to figure out that paying $3 to see the Police was going to be a decent deal. It was more like, "Hey, you know that song 'Roxanne' on the radio? Yeah, well the band that does that song is playing Friday night two miles from here, so I spent $36 bucks for 12 tickets. If you want to go, it's $3. You've got a car, right"

Anonymous said...

More sample:

"For the political junkies, this is mandatory reading. The Obama campaign seems to want to borrow a page from the 1980 Carter campaign and paint Romney as unlikeable, extreme and out of touch. The more they have unveiled this strategy, the closer Romney gets. They are missing Obama's basic reason for winning in 2008, which is that he was a different type of candidate who is a uniter. By pretty much playing partisan politics and turning the election into a repeat of Lee Atwater.Karl Rove strategy, they are going to turn off the young voters. Plus the disgust they have for Romney is eye opening. As they say 'the degree to which Obama’s people see Romney as a walking, talking bull’s-eye is hard to overstate, as is their contempt for his skills as a political performer. " I was reading yesterday that Obama has no respect for Romney, thinks he is dumb (Romney had much better grades than Obama BTW at Harvard), and a bad politician. The more they go after Romney in Massachusetts, the more they bring their healthcare plan back into discussion. Very dumb move IMHO"

http://nymag.com/news/features/barack-obama-2012-6/

NOT FOR POSTING.

Anonymous said...

NOT FOR POSTING.

holy cow. whim done post it!

Anonymous said...

http://nymag.com/news/features/barack-obama-2012-6/

The contours of that contest are now plain to see—indeed, they have been for some time. Back in November, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, two fellows at the Center for American Progress, identified the prevailing dynamics: The presidential race would boil down to “demographics versus economics.” That the latter favor Mitt Romney is incontestable. From high unemployment and stagnant incomes to tepid GDP growth and a still-pervasive sense of anxiety bordering on pessimism in the body politic, every salient variable undermines the prospects of the incumbent. The subject line of an e-mail from the Romney press shop that hit my in-box last week summed up the challenger’s framing of the election concisely and precisely: “What’s This Campaign Going to Be About? The Obama Economy.”

Spike Gomes said...

A nice song from my generation about the whole thing about musical tastes and getting older...
http://www.myspace.com/trioaden/music/songs/scooby-doo-48860607

Interesting fact, the singer for the group is Jeff Gramm, son of Senator Phil Gramm. He was on the forefront of the Indie pop movement back in the late 90s, before mopey white boy music became cool again.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to wonder how many styles are now extinct. I would say Ragtime is gone and lost forever."

As long as there is a piano somewhere and someone to play it, there will be ragtime. Scott Joplin's genius will live on and be appreciated for many more generations.

Anonymous said...

"mopey white boy music"

Do you read this blog? What do white boys have to celebrate? I just don't get why the Mexicans love it so much. Shadenfreude?

ben tillman said...

Joni Mitchell evolved from popular girly folk to brilliant art-folk (Blue)

Ladies of the Canyon was her best.

Same with Roxy Music, who started out real glam, then went sorta AWOL, then released two UK #1 albums in the early '80s. As with Bowie, Bryan Ferry was 36 when Avalon came out, and definitely better than when they started out nearly 10 years earlier.

Country Life was easily their best.

Since Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and Costello's "Pump It Up" have similar verses, it's easy to compare lyrics. Yeah, Dylan's are a lot better. Nobody named their terrorist organization after a line from Pump It Up.

Yeah, but terrorist organizations weren't necessary after August 9, 1974.

Sorry, but their uncredited frequent "borrowing" is pretty outrageous at times. Yes, everyone builds on what came before to some degree but they stepped over the line in more than a few instances.

Hard to believe you didn't mention Randy California.

ben tillman said...

Who are the best bassists?

Entwistle, Casady, Lesh.

Anonymous said...

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/3055/what-s-up-with-obnoxiously-loud-tv-shows-and-commercials

Anonymous said...

"I bought "My Aim Is True" in import as a Christmas present for myself in 1977, then on January 27, 1978 I paid $3 to see him in a Houston beer hall with his new band, the Attractions."

Rotfl. Who buys HIMSELF a present?

http://youtu.be/iXyAdToiYSk

Btw, will self-marriage be allowed?

Or multiple personality marriage?

Man and artificial intelligence marriage?

Anonymous said...

You discover Sinatra and Jazz.

Why?

Because it's music for grown ups, not overgrown adolescents.


Way to beg the question.

Anonymous said...

http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/MovieTimes?narrowByDate=Today&oid=5817188

Commentators are barbaric!

http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2012/06/01/is-there-an-alternative-to-being-mentally-ill

Anonymous said...

Peterike, it wasn't hard for Clapton to make something great with Duane Allman beside him in Derek and the Dominos.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, but their uncredited frequent "borrowing" is pretty outrageous at times. Yes, everyone builds on what came before to some degree but they stepped over the line in more than a few instances.

Hard to believe you didn't mention Randy California."

I'm the original anon to whom your Randy California remark is addressed (and yes they should have given him co-song writing credit on Stairway to Heaven ...I believe I read somewhere his family sued or was considering suing).

Sigh ... in defense of Zep, as a musician myself, there is no question that what they did, "borrowing" chord patterns, melodies, and lyrics from other artists, and turning them into consumate works of great rock art creates some murky aesthetic and legal issues (if you give someone co-songwriting credit they are entitled to a share of the song writing royalties which can be substantial over time.)

Zep had amazing ears and outstanding levels of musicianship.

They had an uncanny knack for finding good ideas in earlier work and tweaking it, either a little or a lot depending upon the instance, and turning it into musical gold by arranging it and performing it at a level that was remarkable. That is why their versions of the original source material sounds so amazing as rearranged and performed by them.

What they should have done, in my opinion, is given co-song writing credit (as they have done in several instances when they were sued by the artists), or in the case of public domain material at least credited the source material.

And everybody does it is not a defense, because everybody didn't.

Where are all the examples of the Beatles, Floyd, Yes, Moody Blues, Kinks, Doors, Hendrix, Beach Boys, the Dead,Eagles, Deep Purple, etc... and other early great rock artists "borrowing" so heavily from others? Sure, these artists built on what came before (like all artists), but "building" and "borrowing" though related are differences in degree which are recognizable to the attentive listener.

Interestingly, Zep's record label was Atlantic which started out as a blues and jazz label that are two genres of music, not unlike rap, where reworking older source material and not crediting it is somewhat of a tradition (many jazz and blues songs have similar changes and melodies).

Maybe at the time it didn't seem like a big deal to the people involved. I dunno.

I still think Zep is great (amazing in fact).

In retrospect, they just should have done the right thing and given some credit (like co-songwriting credit in some instances) where it was due.

Anonymous said...

Return to the high school /college cafeteria "rock wars" debate over who's great and who's not. Thanks Steve!
Definitely, a fan of Elvis' first four albums and then hit and miss. And I too think that the disappearance of Nick Lowe is the key in my lack of interest.
Speaking of rock-crits, Steve, you should check out Greil Marcu's blowout on Reaganism at Los Angeles Review of Books in a long interview with Simon Reynolds. Reagan as Genghis Khan and a nice back hand swipe at Allan Bloom or is it Buckley or is it some of the Chicago school economists. Anyway, Marcus is too coy to say. All in Part four of the interview.

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=648&fulltext=1

peterike said...

Me: You discover Sinatra and Jazz.

Someone: Why?

Me: Because it's music for grown ups, not overgrown adolescents.

Someone: Way to beg the question.


Beg the question? It was merely a concise answer that should be self explanatory.

But then, if you don't recognize or understand the difference in maturity and sophistication between, say, Frank Sinatra and Lady Gaga, or Duke Ellington and Pearl Jam, well it's not my job to explain that to you.

If a driving, forceful, up-tempo rock song has the same visceral impact on you at age 40 as it did at age 17, then in some way or other you haven't matured emotionally or intellectually. Which is not to say I don't listen to rock, because I do. Even a lot of the same stuff I listened to as a yout.

But now, post-50, I have no interest whatsoever in standing around with a bunch of people bopping up and down to The Clash, the way I did for several nights during their big Bond's fiasco in New York. And mindless rebellion over bourgeois verities no longer strikes me as cool. Rather, it's a horrible corrosive force (your grandparents were right about Elvis all along).

Anonymous said...

Rather, it's a horrible corrosive force (your grandparents were right about Elvis all along).

Do you really think that rock and roll is a corrosive force? In what way?

Anonymous said...

"My favorite girl pop-rocker from that time was Francoise Hardy."

I've been listening to her a bit lately, and she's actually pretty decent. She was also a complete knockout and adorable too, a difficult look to pull off.

French pop is a sort of strange parallel universe.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't waste my time trying to convert someone to my musical taste. I think the brain has musical taste buds. Try forcing someone into liking an avocado. Don't expect an avocado hater to like an avocado dish because it was a time consuming and complex recipe.

Lyrics are a different matter; they can present a destructive message. I think it would be better for the world if Hendrix' F.H.I.T.A. was never heard again.

Anonymous said...

"Imperial Bedroom" would have been incredibly good ... except there's only about two hooks on the entire album.

Steve, I respectfully disagree. "Imperial Bedroom" marked the hight of Costello's musical, as well as lyrical, creativity, really the last great Costello album. Hight of creativity for The Attractions playing as well. Geoff Emerick (of Beatles engineering fame) did an outstanding job with the production. That album is loaded with hooks (with the notable exception of "Almost Blue", where the album grinds to a halt). Oh, yeah, and the creative hight for Barney Bubbles album cover art.

-meh

Anonymous said...

I think it would be better for the world if Hendrix' F.H.I.T.A. was never heard again.

People are using too many acronyms on blog threads these days. What's FHITA?

"Imperial Bedroom" marked the hight of Costello's musical, as well as lyrical, creativity, really the last great Costello album. Hight of creativity for The Attractions playing as well. Geoff Emerick (of Beatles engineering fame) did an outstanding job with the production. That album is loaded with hooks

Agree that it's a great album, perhaps his strongest, and plenty catchy. Emerick, by the way, wrote a fascinating book about his time with the Beatles.

Anonymous said...

FHITA was the way it was listed on the original album cover. I won't translate because Tipper Gore might be reading this blog.

Anonymous said...

Keith Relf's sister puts Page and his magpie habits in regards, to the authorship of "Tangerine" into place with a well-directed slap.LOL From the archivists at Perfect Sound Forever.

http://www.furious.com/perfect/yardbirds1.html


"My brother plucked that session man out of obscurity and gave him a job and that's how he repaid him?" Jane Relf mused. "My brother was not well-off at the end of his life and the royalties for that song could have helped out considerably."

Anonymous said...

I think it would be better for the world if Hendrix' F.H.I.T.A. was never heard again.

People are using too many acronyms on blog threads these days. What's FHITA


In the early eighties someone released a vinyl semi-bootleg of a drunken Hendrix riffing and chanting "F*** Her In The A** Popular Favorite".

In better days stuff like this didn't get out. Everyone knew Frank Sinatra did blue material at Friars Club roasts, and there were known to be tapes of several actresses cussing out directors or fellow actors' and even of country western singers doing salacious parodies of their own songs.What happened in Hollywood stayed there.