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QUEEN

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Feb 092012
 

Days of Our Lives DVD (Eagle Vision)

This “Definitive Documentary of the World’s Greatest Rock Band” was first aired last year on BBC TV Two in two parts. Now commercially available in DVD, the documentary is well worth repeated viewings especially if you are a Queen fan, which I wager would be quite a lot of you out there.

As a fan myself, it is easy to be caught in the thrill of Queen’s early years as they released one exciting album after another – A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, News of the World, Jazz and The Game – racking out numerous worldwide chart hit singles in the process. Some contemporary insight is provided by guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor and previously unseen footage is also brought to bear in order to flesh the incredible success that Queen obviously was (and still is)

The latter half of the documentary comes to a sad conclusion naturally with the untimely death of singer Freddie Mercury 20 years ago in 1991. It is difficult not to be choked by emotion if like me, you loved Mercury for his incredible talent, showmanship and charisma. The interviews can get almost unbearably personal as May and Taylor share their last memories of Mercury on video.

At the end there is a sense that even in this day and age, Queen’s legacy remains strong and May/Taylor have done a good job to ensure that the music of Queen will never be forgotten. Essential for all Queen fans.

 

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

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May 202011
 

FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND/LOVE LIES BLEEDING

It begins with the tolling of a bell, ambient noises and the howling wind and proceeds into a pseudo-classical piano instrumental, with synthesizers and lead guitar weighing for good measure. This is Funeral For A Friend, the first half of an amazing opening track to Elton John’s legendary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road double LP, released in 1973. The instrumental would take on Spanish-Flamenco nuances as the track builds up momentum and an emotional crescendo.

Not merely content with such an illuminating tone, the instrumental segues into Love Lies Bleeding, a blues-rock tale of heartbreak. With a memorable piano chord pattern and guitar riff, John begins to sing “The roses in the window box are tilted to one side…” By the time the song reaches its chorus, the listener is hooked by the power and the glory of this awesome track. With his crack backing band (Dee Murray – bass, Nigel Olsson – drums, Davey Johnstone – guitars, Ray Cooper – percussion) in full flight – including heavenly harmonies that will guarantee chills down spine – the performance is measured and muscular at the same time.

Then, an instrumental bridge revisits the motif of Funeral For A Friend once more before Johnstone’s lead guitar sears and soars its way into classic rock immortality as John and band meld into one driving awe-inspring rock machine! Not forgetting to mention, Murray incandescent bass lines which belie the relative simplicity of the song itself.

A fantastic way to open a rock masterpiece that also included the masterly Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Candle in the Wind, Bennie and the Jets, amongst many other sonic gems. If you only listen to ten classic rock songs from the 70s, this has to be one of them. Check out the video below if you know what’s good for you…

LIVING IN THE PAST

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Apr 102011
 

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN

For most Queen listeners, Bohemian Rhapsody (and the Night of the Opera album) is often the starting point for a devotion to this special band. However, Sheer Heart Attack (Queen’s 3rd LP) provides the template upon which the band would refine and build up for the rest of their exalted careers.

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LIVING IN THE PAST

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Apr 072011
 

Originally posted at Fufkin.com about a decade ago. Thanks to Sameer for the inspiration to dig it out…

Gram Parsons, Grievous Angel

Gram Parsons died in 1973 of a drug overdose aged 26 at Joshua Tree, California.

27 years later, his influence is greater than ever. Yet, he died in relative obscurity. Gram left behind a small body of work that continues to touch, excite and inspire musicians to this very day — Gram called his work, Cosmic American Music.

And it is the potency of Cosmic American Music that moved the likes of Sheryl Crow, the Pretenders, Beck, Juliana Hatfield et al to pay tribute to this legend in the Return of the Grievous Angel album.

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ABBA

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Jan 082011
 

ABBA Gold: The Greatest Hits (Polar/Universal)

Facts speak for themselves. To date, Swedish quartet ABBA has sold 375 million albums, and still move 2 to 3 million units from year to year. So, this greatest hits compilation really lives up to its name. What was ABBA’s secret? The usual. Great songs, great hooks, great production, instrumentation and arrangements. That used to be the formula, in any case.

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SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

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Dec 252010
 

Thirty years ago, the 80s began (we thought we’d got John Lennon back but he was all too quickly taken away from us. Damn). I had just been conscripted and had begun to take pop and rock music appreciation seriously. Through the next ten years, I would discover amazing music and bands which to this day continue to thrill and touch me. During the 80s, I got out of army, did four years at Law School, got my degree, got a job, got married and became a father. Music was the soundtrack to it all. People often ask me about the best music of the 80s, so in the spirit of answering that question, here is part one of my top 25 essential LPs of the 80s (in alphabetical order, not by merit).

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Oct 262010
 

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE ROLLING STONES DVD (Eagle Vision)

This legendary Rolling Stones concert film, shot over four nights in Texas during the Exile On Main Street tour in 1972, was released in cinemas for limited engagements in 1974 and has remained largely unseen since. Now, restored and remastered, Ladies and Gentlemen makes its first authorized appearance on DVD.

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Well, somewhere in the world it’s still John’s 70th (!) birthday so here’s a PoPTV dedication to my favorite singer-songwriter-musician of all time.

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John Lennon would have been 70 (!) if he were still alive today. Come December, he would have been dead for 30 (!) years. Yet John still lives on in the hearts of millions worldwide not only because of his music but also because of his personality. It’s no exaggeration for me to say that as a musician & songwriter, John is (and probably always be) the biggest influence and inspiration on my music.

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JELLYFISH

Sophisticated orchestral pop (think Sgt. Peppers/Pet Sounds/Odessey & Oracle/Forever Changes) has never really gone out of style; it has merely gone underground. The Divine Comedy, The High Llamas and Eric Matthews are other notable modern practitioners that easily come to mind.

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It’s Friday and PoPTV is in the mood for classics of the post-punk era…

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A WIZARD A TRUE STAR: TODD RUNDGREN IN THE STUDIO by Paul Myers (Jawbone Press)

“Todd’s aphorism was, ‘If you know what you want, I’ll get it for you. If you don’t know what you want, I’ll do it for you.’” Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group)

Todd Rundgren is without doubt, one of the giants of rock music: not only as a solo singer-songwriter-performer but also as the mastermind behind progressive rock ensemble Utopia. And if that was not enough, Rundgren is one of the most prolific and successful producers as well.

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ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA LIVE – THE EARLY YEARS (Eagle Vision)

In today’s depressed music industry, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time, bands might not make the major breakthrough till their 4th or even 5th album. And record labels would have the patience to allow these bands to do so. For Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), their breakthrough came with 6th (!) album, New World Record which sold 5 million units within the first year of its release!

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HEAR NO EVIL

Censorship! A word that strikes terror in the hearts of the lovers of the arts everywhere. When I was a teenager and becoming aware of pop culture, censorship in Singapore was part and parcel of life. In the 70s, rock music was deemed by the Singapore Government as undesirable decadent Western influence especially the free sex and drugs hippie culture. Thus, anything associated with that, including long hair and rock music, was strictly frowned upon.

Yeah, it seems ridiculous now but take a look at what songs were banned back in the day.

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Friday, PoPTV is in love with classic 70s rock from the UK.

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CLASSIC ALBUMS: TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS “Damn the Torpedoes” (Eagle Vision)

One of the best rockumentary series out there gives us a close-up view of “Damn the Torpedoes” from 1979, with interviews with most of the main players viz. Tom Petty, Heartbreakers Mike Campbell (guitars), Benmont Tench (keyboards) & Ron Blair (bass) producer Jimmy Iovine and engineer Shelley Yakus.

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ROY ORBISON The Last Concert December 4, 1988 (Eagle Records)

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Here’s a very special edition of PoPTV. Listening to what passes for modern rock in 2010 can sometimes be exasperating. Especially if you’ve been listening to rock and pop music for as long as I have. So here’s a list of ten kick ass songs (not in order of merit) that have stood the test of time that I can always go to if I need to smile…

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THE TOPPERMOST OF THE POPPERMOST

Concluding my PoP 10 selection of my favorite Beatles songs (for now). Read Part 1 and Part 2.

7. YOU NEVER GIVE ME YOUR MONEY

Even as Abbey Road famously includes a suite of loosely inter-connected songs from Sun King to The End, just before that is You Never Give Me Your Money which is a mini-suite in itself. This mini-suite consists of essentially five (!) parts – a pseudo-classical opening, then a honky-tonk country section, followed by an instrumental passage backed by helium backing vocals, a downright bluesy couple of bars and finally, the closing guitar pattern/riff with the nursery rhyme-like fade-out “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7/All good children go to heaven”. Heaven indeed!

8. RAIN

The template for almost every psychedelic rock song that followed, Rain was the B-side of Paperback Writer and contains the legendary backward John Lennon vocals at the coda. Also the subject of one of the earliest music videos.

9. LADY MADONNA

I once dismissed Lady Madonna as McCartneysque fluff (!!!) but recently have been using it as a superb example of how arrangements can be used to cement hooks into listener’s head. Now it’s one of my favorites. I dig the music video as well.

10. YOU CAN’T DO THAT

Somehow, this track off Hard Day’s Night exudes a whole lot more power and attitude than many of the Beatles songs of that early period. Lennon’s role-playing of the jealous guy is par for the course whilst the Rickenbacker-driven rhythms keeps the song on edge. Genius!

Yes, only ten… not easy to distill but appropriate for present purposes, I think. More lists to come…

Comments welcome, of course.

 

It’s simple really. A social networking group for veteran rockers! Co-founder Bruce Brodeen (2nd from left above) explains more -

First off, can we agree that rock and roll is for life, and that we intend to keep rocking until we die? And can we agree that it gets harder and harder to find others who feel the same way as we get older? And can we agree that life would be so much cooler if there were a place where we could all meet, develop friendships and move forward in every aspect of our lives, so we can live life on an *upward* trajectory? And, finally, can we agree that our motto should henceforth be ”Don’t Get Old, Get Rock!”

Therein lies the logic and rationale for Rock and Roll Tribe! A place where like-minded pop-rock fans (who have been around the block a few times) can meet and share their beloved music. I can’t tell you how much this works for me. As much as I try to keep up and write about the current music trends and the latest indie big thing, nothing quite hits the spot as the music I loved in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And finding people who have heard of (never mind listened to) Big Star, Todd Rundgren, Gram Parsons, ELO, Styx, Kansas, Rush, Supertramp, Jellyfish et al is no mean task, especially in Singapore. So thank you Rock and Roll Tribe for the possibilities…

On a personal note, I owe a debt of sorts to Bruce, as owner of Not Lame Records, he introduced me to a whole new world of power pop back in the late 90s and was instrumental in providing Power of Pop its initial boost by sending me review CDs and also in helping Popland getting US distribution for Groovy. So this is my little payback, you might say. Thanks, Bruce and congratulations!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up now at http://rockandrolltribe.com and I’ll see you there soon. It’s FREE!

 

Henry Diltz is the photographer responsible for capturing many epochal images from rock history, including many memorable pictures of the Doors (see above).

Idea Generation Gallery – who organized a recent Doors photography exhibition in London – conducted an interview with Diltz. Check out the video below.

Henry Diltz – In Conversation from Idea Generation Gallery on Vimeo.

 

THE TOPPERMOST OF THE POPPERMOST

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone out there that the Fab Four are my favorite band of all time. Forty years after their demise, their music still enthralls and touches me. Two years ago (!), I did my PoP Ten of my favorite Beach Boys tunes, here’s part 1 (of 3) of my list for the Beatles. Comments welcome, of course…

1. A DAY IN THE LIFE

The finest recording ever? Two distinct songs from John Lennon and Paul McCartney cobbled together by the most inventive instrumental section ever committed to magnetic tape. Lennon provides some of his best non-sequitur lyrics – “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall” and his singing is haunting and evocative throughout. McCartney contributes an incongruous jaunty middle part equally memorable. This is what I mean when I say “legendary”.

2. HELP!

One of my favorites from the early Beatles period, Lennon’s impassioned vocals and the tight harmonies gets me everytime. Of course, the heartfelt lyrics are something anyone can identify with. Great beat and melody. Hypnotic.

3. PENNY LANE

Originally, In My Life was supposed to reflect upon the childhoods of Lennon and McCartney and would refer to specific landmarks in their hometown Liverpool. That didn’t materialize and the concept was only fully realized on Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever. Both tracks were recorded during the Sgt Pepper’s sessions. Penny Lane is brilliantly nostalgic, colorful in both words and music, its music hall sensibility echoes the Kinks and the piccolo flute at the coda now the stuff of legend.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Buy The Beatles at Amazon.

 

SHANGRI-LA

Anyone who has spent time reading my ramblings will be aware that I adore the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Not only did the band channel the Beatles and Roy Orbison but in Jeff Lynne, ELO had a songwriting and production genius. ELO has always provided me with the soundtrack to many of life’s ups and downs, ever since I purchased A New World Record and Discovery at the close of the 70s.

Shangri-la, the last track on A New World Record has often been a soothing balm for melancholia and depression and right now, its exactly what I need.

Sitting here, waiting for,

Someone calling at my door,

Too bad,

I’m getting out of love.

What’s the use of changing things,

Wonder what tomorrow brings,

Who knows,

I’m getting out of love.

My Shangri-la has gone away,

Faded like the Beatles on Hey Jude

She seemed to drift out on the rain

That came in somewhere softly from the blue

Clouds roll by and hide the sun,

Raindrops fall on everyone,

So sad,

I’m getting out of love.

The song itself is sad of course as it talks about the end of … a relationship? “I’m getting out of love” seems to suggest that. There is a sense of resignation and fatalistic point of view, though the chorus has the tongue-in-cheek homage to Lynne’s (and mine!) favorite band. The guitar solo is perfect, a jazzy reflection on wistfulness.

Recently, I’ve felt increasingly alienated and marginalized. Something I believed was in my path and future does not seem to be on the cards and all I’m left with is emptiness, a hollow feeling of disappointment. How could I be so wrong? The last 5 years seem to have been an utter waste of life. It’s hard not to feel like a total loser, a fool, washed up at 49…

*Sigh*

But at the very end, the song comes back in as an epic classical coda, expressing hope for the future – “I will return… to Shangri-la”. So all is not completely lost. Man, this song is on repeat even as I write this post, tears streaming down my cheeks, trembling as I sing along to these lyrics that I know so well…

“I will return…”

 

As I approach my 50th birthday next year I often return to the music of my youth and marvel at how relevant it still sounds (to me anyway). The late 70s/early 80s had some fine pop-rock music and best part of all, they were all hits in the charts and you’d hear them on radio as well. How things have changed. Here are some of my favorite pop-rock acts from that special time…

Styx enjoyed a run of successful albums from 1975 to 1983, including Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre. Styx managed to combine straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll with elements of prog rock as well. Best known perhaps for the saccharine ballad hit Babe, I personally enjoyed songs like Lights, Best of Times, Too Much Time On My Hands and Come Sail Away (see below).

Journey is well known once more thanks to Glee’s highlighting of Don’t Stop Believin’, of course. The band has seen many personnel changes during its time though the incarnation of Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Jon Cain and Steve Smith had the most success, I guess. Apart from Don’t Stop Believin’ (off 1981′s Escape), other notable hits include Wheel in the Sky, Any Way You Want It, Open Arms, Stone in Love and Lights (see below)

Kansas was one of the pioneering prog-rock outfits in the USA and achieved its commercial in the late 70s. Of course, their most endearing hit has been Carry On My Wayward Son but songs like Dust in the Wind, Hold On and On the Other Side (see below) remain vital as well.

Queen – a unique band whose genius I do not believe will ever be equaled. Hugely popular in the 70s and 80s, the band had four great songwriters and their albums never stuck to one musical genre. Eclecticism at its best. Hits galore, of course, perhaps one of my faves would be Play the Game (see below) off The Game (1980). What a band! RIP Freddie…

Supertramp had the biggest selling LP – Breakfast in America – of 1979. Formed round the songwriting nucleus of Roger Hodgson and Richard Davies, Supertramp had been steadily building up their reputation with albums like Crime of the Century and Even in the Quietest Moments. They would never achieve the heights of Breakfast ever again. Many classics in the Supertramp repertoire include The Logical Song, School, Give A Little Bit, Fools Overture and Take the Long Way Home (see below).

Tip o’ the iceberg, boys and girls.

…still there’s more…

 

THE ANGEL GABRIEL

In the 80s, thanks to popular LPs like So and Us, Peter Gabriel finally achieved status of rock superstar. As much as I do consider So and Us to be good albums, for me personally, the best musical period for Gabriel was between 1977 to 1982, when he released four eponymous albums.

I first came across Gabriel when he was the lead singer of the progressive rock outfit Genesis. Gabriel quit Genesis in 1976 and embarked on a solo career. In the next five years, he would produce some of the finest rock music ever.

Now also referred to as Car, Gabriel’s debut is a powerful one featuring memorable tracks like Moribund the Burgermeister, Solsbury Hill (video below), Modern Love, Humdrum and perennial live fave, Here Comes the Flood.

A year later, Gabriel released his sophomore effort (often called Scratch), produced by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Fripp’s influence is evident in the use of his patented Frippertronic effects in Exposure. Not quite as strong as the album before and after it, Scratch still contains On the Air, D.I.Y. (video below), White Shadow, Animal Magic and the aforementioned Exposure.

Easily one of my favourite albums of all time, Gabriel’s 3rd album (or Melt) was co-produced by Gabriel and renowned 80s producer Steve Lillywhite, and the muscular sound being the main result (the influence of post-punk is obvious). The songs on Melt are probably among Gabriel’s best known – Games Without Frontier (video below) and Biko (a tribute to South African martyr Steven Biko) – along with such classics as Intruder, Not One of Us, And Through the Wires, Family Snapshot etc. The entire album is essential, nuff said!

Not as accessible as Melt, Gabriel’s 4th LP (or Security) is an ambitious, experimental song cycle where Gabriel’s interest in world music flowers and blooms. Memorable tracks litter the LP, including The Rhythm of the Heat, San Jacinto (video below), I Have the Touch and Shock the Monkey.

Check out the Peter Gabriel store at Amazon.

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