Category Archives: Classic Rock

Lou Reed’s Legacy

This is what I’ve always said about Lou Reed’s approach to rock and roll:  for all of the avant-garde moments that challenge his critics and casual fans and what they could never wrap their head around is that, ultimately, he was the blue-collar rock star. Indeed, he was far more blue-collar  than Springsteen and Mellancamp and the like. And this is not because he sang of making ends meet and unionizing problems. Instead, he sang exactly of the kind of environment that fit him best — the mixture that is New York, the high, and the impossibly low. And because he was the artist to do so, it’s what made him the middle class: All of his albums, from the Velvet Underground’s self-titled album to the very end, they have kind of work-man quality to them: he speaks of things no other artist is willing to discuss so frankly, but he does so in such a plain, honest, and frank voice.
But the secret of this is not in the studio albums. As a graduate of the Pickwick school of musical apery, he knew exactly where his bread was buttered. Instead, if you want ANY indication of the sort of artist Lou Reed was, you need to look to his live material. Every song, every version of “Viscous,” “Sweet Jane” and “Satellite of Love” is vaguely the same, but each time performed differently, even slightly. You can look to the simple artistry all you want in the one-chord brilliance of “Heroin,” but the beauty of Lou Reed’s music is that even he performed his songs differently, each and every fucking time. Compare the studio version, to the “Rock and Roll Animal” version, to the one he did with Metallica for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and every one of them is different because that’s the way it goes as he sings them. It is the work of a man whose interests are rock and roll in and of itself, and the avant-garde: Things can be familiar and foreign at the same time, and hell, they should be.
Lou Reed proved that rock can be primitive and artsy simultaneously. “Heroin” is a testament to that philosophy, just as much as anything from “White Light/White Heat,” or “Metal Machine Music.” Anyone looking for one or the other is looking like a fool: Lou Reed  could do whatever he pleased, because he was held to no philosophy, no matter how much he studied, or how much he ignored.
Lou is rock’s everyman. Art, performance, and composition was the 9 to 5 for him. It’s the reason why New Yorkers resonated with him, just as much as it is  the gritty depictions of street life, one of so many in the mid-century era of New York chock full of gritty in-your-face attitude artists. Even his most inaccessible work (Metal Machine Music) is based on the principle that it gives somebody “what they want” (you love guitar sounds? Here’s all the guitar sound you can handle). Lou Reed was simply too busy giving everybody what they wanted to bother with compromise, and that’s the lone reason why he is so loved, hated, revered, tolerated, and respected across the board — no matter who you are.

How The Jam Aligned Themselves with Classic Rock Royalty in One Song

Since the beginning of the band’s existence, in both songwriting and appearance, it was clear that the Jam owed an incredible amount of debt to the My Generation era of the Who. From their impeccable covers of “Disguises” and  to their preference for to appear in stylish Mod dress at all times, the Jam could very much have been considered the most authentic representation of true British punk in the late 1970’s, especially when considering their relative lack of success in the States. Where the Sex Pistols and the Clash (among others) became well-known ambassadors of the UK’s version of the genre, it was the Jam’s well-honed mixture of stylistic complexity and Weller’s witty, satirical lyrics a la Ray Davies, that the Jam were perhaps too smart to be the kind of punk that people expected.

But where they didn’t quite fit in with the rest, they excelled as a class of their own. But in one song in particular, the band shows that they’re perfectly fine being aligned with the older guard of British rockers, by being able to build upon their concepts and techniques and create something for the young gobbers to ponder to while they pogo.

After the Jump: Addressing an tired old theme for a new generation of mods and rockers alike.

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Review: “The Next Day” – David Bowie

David Bowie will never have a ‘last album.’ Sure, in terms of time and effort, there may be a few more left in his corporeal being, but he’s the kind of dude who’s entire body of even half-hearted demos can last the demanding public centuries of musical debate. And that’s the other thing: when you’ve had a career as storied, legendary, and ever-changing as his, how do you cap it all off? It’s an impossible task, and I certainly wouldn’t ask  him to.

But what to make of this J.D. Salinger-esque reclusiveness in terms of creative output, besides his many film and television cameos and the occasional word with the press? To, suddenly, release an album out into the world with barely a month’s worth of advance notice, with two music videos to appear prior to the album’s full release, and with a cover virtually irreverent to the man’s own body of work? That cover should be the stuff of debates, given the music on the record and its own presentation of a sort of in-joke, as if the input after Heroes wasn’t worth remembering, and this is exactly what was supposed to follow.

The Next Day doesn’t quite follow that blueprint, though the cover certainly influences it. You can’t say this is the return of Ziggy, or the Thin White Duke, or any other variation of Bowie you can think of. In fact, it simply is The Next Day, but what that says — either as comment on the past or a continuation of Bowie’s impressive oveur — doesn’t matter as much as media types want to have you believe. Yet, I can’t help but feel like there was a twinge of frustration with this record, a need to just release something, just to move on past the speculation about what Mr. Bowie’s been doing all this time.

After the jump, David Bowie takes us to some very familiar territories via strange routes.

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The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” in a Major Key.

This is too cool — Major Scaled TV takes songs famously written in the minor key, and digitally alters them to be in the Major Key instead. And that’s everything — the vocals, the guitars, the keyboards. There’s only four songs posted thus far, but here’s one that should be of your interest.

“Riders on the Storm” sounds like a lovely jaunt through a light rain shower with some potentially unsavory characters.

Rock Primer: How to Start Listening to Captain Beefheart

Much like the efforts we take to write more, exercise more, drink less, spend less, work harder, take more time for ourselves and family, etc. etc., we also make resolutions at the beginning of a new year to change our cultural consumption habits as well. Maybe you’d like to visit more art museums, or read at least three historical non-fictions by the end of the year. Maybe you also want to start listening to an artist that you never really considered listening to before. Here at Electric Comic Book, we are dedicated to helping you get the most out of your musical experience, and so, we’d like to offer this short Rock Primer on how to appreciate a classic artist that can seem daunting to jump right into. Our first subject to this new feature is the notoriously intimidating Captain Beefheart.

Whether you’ve read past essays on this site on the life, times, and death of the good captain (aka Dan Van Vliet), Captain Beefheart still remains a mystifying and daunting figure for both the myths and legends behind his personal life, but also what’s actually on the records. While many of them are worthy of acclaim after years of gestating in the critical back shelf, it seems that since his death in 2010, interest in Captain Beefheart’s music has enjoyed a slight upswing as other critics (namely, Rolling Stone, who, I’ll admit, put together a good list of songs, but not albums) pointed to his ‘best stuff’ in their  eulogies — many of which pointed to his masterpiece, 1969’s Trout Mask Replica.  However, because it does remain a haunting, challenging listen — even now, and after I published last week I would sooner turn that album on at a party before White Light/White Heat — the focus of his ‘best’ is not the intention here. This primer will be a guide for those who still look upon the Captain’s work with trepidation, and need a guide on dipping your toes in first before diving in to the rest of the Beefheart legacy. And even though many of your favorite artists will be quick to cite him as an influence, and usually point to Trout Mask Replica as the starting point (indeed it was for me), there are some who are still unable to make the plunge. Mind you, among the artists who consider Beefheart an influence include (but are not limited to): Tom Waits, Jack White, Kurt Cobain, John Frusciante, Black Francis, John Cale, Little Feat, the Clash, Johnny Rotten, Beck, the Black Keys, Beck, and Matt Groening — who got the Magic Band to reunite for the year he curated All Tomorrow’s Parties. And if you like any of them, chances are you’ll find something to love about the shambling, intentionally mad, silly darkness and intentionally ‘wrong’ music of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. And for that, we don’t start with his most well-known work, but in a some safer territory.  

After the Jump: Loving One of Rock’s Most Difficult Personas. 

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Why We Rank: An Introspective

Fig. 1: Some Kind of Point I’m Trying to Make.

Let’s forget about what a year-end review means in terms of best-ofs, or how records reflect the zeitgeist of a generation, a time, a country, a political movement, etc.. And beyond favorite songs that you can think of off the top of your head. Let’s forget about all of that.

If you seriously sit down and think about the songs that have influenced your taste in music more than above all else, I think you will find that the songs within the top ten will be more revealing than you think. Lately, I’ve been thinking less about the songs that I like because I instantly feel good upon hearing their opening riffs or notes, or about the songs I turn to when I feel blue, or the songs when I need to get a party started. Instead, I’ve been thinking about songs I legitimately respect, and love at the same time.

These are the songs that do so much at once for us personally. Not talking about firsts here — I don’t care about songs by artists that were the first to use a counterpoint guitar solo — a distinction, I’m going to assume, was Frank Zappa’s anyway, but I’m too busy/lazy to check. And I’m certainly not talking about personal firsts. I could give a damn about the song you heard upon your first kiss, or the first song you turned to when you learned that mom got custody and it just pissed you off, blah, blah, blah. Doesn’t matter. But I’m not necessarily talking about the songs that, in any mood, you include in a list or play over and over.

I’m talking about the songs that make you respect music as an artform, but also derive a degree of pleasure from. That simultaneous quality of being, above all else, good and capable of bringing happiness to the sedated masses. But also the quality of being a well-crafted, obviously labored-over piece of artwork on behalf of both the principal songwriter and the performer(s) who bring it to life.

Without going into a terrible amount of detail, I believe I have a personal three. But before I post my own three, I want to hear from the fans out there: What are the three most influential pieces of music in your life that are not only good and fun to listen/dance to, but also make you really think about music as an art piece? Post your answers here, as well as your reasoning behind each choice. Hell, go into extreme detail, and list why it ranks above all others.

Not saying the following is numero uno, but it belongs in my top three.

Talking Heads, Live at CBGB, Dec. 1975.

Well, well, well. Lookie at what we found here! The title says it all, folks! In glorious black and white, awkward-vision!

Set List:

1) “Psycho Killer”

2) “Tentative Decisions”

3) “With Our Love”

4) “I Wish You Wouldn’t Say That”

5) “I’m Not In Love”

6) “96 Tears”

7) “No Compassion”