Tag Archives: Rolling Stones

Martin Scorcese’s Use of Music In Film

My first introduction to The Crystals “Then He Kissed Me” was in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas. As Henry Hill takes his then-girlfriend Karen through the back of a restaurant (avoiding the lines outside) the entire song plays in the background. It’s a single-shot and the camera follows them as they wind their way through the kitchens before finally coming to their table. Karen is naturally impressed, just like Darlene Love’s surprise that her man kissed her.

It’s an oddly sweet moment in a movie which otherwise violent and profane. Unlike many other film-makers Scorcese knows how to use music in movies effectively. The songs simply aren’t put in to take over a scene. Sometimes they are just in the background to extra tension. The swampy sounds of The Rolling Stone’s “Let It Loose” in The Departed heighten the drama between Billy Costigan’s cop turned mole (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Fran Costello’s (Jack Nicholson) mob boss. What starts out as a simple conversation, leads Costigan to believe Costello knows his true identity. The song plays in the background throughout the entire scene, but the song slowly builds to its conclusion as the tension between the two grows. The opening credits of Mean Streets use The Ronettes “Be My Baby” as grainy footage of Robert DeNiro, Harvey Kitel and others are shown. There’s no romance involved. Yet, somehow the images and the song work together creating one of the most iconic opening sequences in movie history.

Then there are his musical documentaries. If there was any question that Scorcese was a fan of rock and roll, you only need to look at The Last Waltz. Hailed as one of the best rock documentaries, The Last Waltz shows The Band playing their final show and performing songs with their closest friends and admirers.  But it’s not just a concert movie. The movie plays a historical version of The Band’s career and influences. Muddy Waters and Dr. John are given just as much time in the movie as The Band’s contemporaries such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.  While The Band was always seen as one of rock’s most impressive bands during their hey-day, there’s little doubt that The Last Waltz helped secure their legacy.

In 2008, Scorcese directed Shine A Light, which showcase the Rolling Stones perform an intimate performance at the Beacon Theater, New York on 2006. While not as transcendent as The Last Waltz, Shine a Light proved that The Rolling Stones could still pack a punch at 60. The performances weren’t overblown.  Instead the ban tore through classics like “Jumpin Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction”. And like The Last Waltz, there a guest-stars whose appearance represents how vast the Stones arm reaches. There’s Buddy Guy who represents the Stones’ blues roots, and Jack White the blues revival wonder. Christina Aguilera’s appearance is slightly questionable, but her rebellious spirit (at the time) seemed to fit with the band.

Scorcese’s latest project is an upcoming documentary on the life of George Harrison dubbed George Harrison: Living in the Material World. If Scorcese’s Bob Dylan project No Direction Home is any indication, rock fans are in for a treat. I just saw the trailer for the documentary and the focus seems to be Harrison’s struggle between spirituality and the life of a famous rock star. While I’m naturally excited the subject material, in Scorcese’s hands, the documentary will no doubt be a worthy tribute to a true genius.

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The Problem With Digital Audio Files

It seems that mainstream digital files are finally getting the sonic treatment they deserve.  Apple claims that they are in the works to improve the quality of their downloads in the Itunes store, and HDTracks recently announced that they would be releasing The Rolling Stones catalog in high-resolution audio downloads.  It’s no secret that the sound quality of MP3s is inferior to that of CDs and vinyl.

While this is fantastic news, it should have been occurred earlier.  In most other areas consumers have not only expected, but demanded high quality products. Organic foods are getting more popular every year.  Hollywood has been pushing digital versions of their movies for years.  And who wants to go back to watching an NFL game on a television that’s not in HD?  So why is it, that when it comes to music, most consumers opt for a shitty low quality product?

It probably comes from ignorance of what constitutes good sound, and a preference for convenience.  Sure, an Ipod gives you access to as music as you could possibly want at one time, but you’re getting the audio equivalent of a grainy technicolor movie.  Due to the compression, some instruments in a song are either buried, or left out completely.

I’ve always been aware that MP3s give a distorted version of a particular track, but I never paid much attention to it until recently.  I could tell that an album sounded better on a CD or vinyl than it did on my Ipod.  When I received Bob Dylan’s Original Mono Recordings as a christmas present, I really became aware of how much we settle for inferior sound.

With the exception of Bob Dylan, I’ve listened to his first eight albums probably hundreds of times.  I know most of the tracks by heart.  Listening to the Mono versions, I heard instruments on “Like a Rolling Stone” that I didn’t know existed on the song.  The songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan had a warmth and immediacy that is lost on even the CD version.  On “Mr. Tambourine Man”, it sounds like Dylan is actually playing in front on you, complete with an echo that sounds a shiver down the spine.  The set came with a coupon to download high quality MP3s of the albums, and I was surprised to find out that they sounded almost the same as the CD versions.  I’ve since deleted my original copies of the album, as I can’t go back.

The quality presented on the Original Mono Recordings is for a specific group of fans, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.  Music fans deserve more than bastardized versions of their favorite songs. And perhaps, people would be more willing to pay for a product that actually sounds good.

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5 Great British Bands That Go (Mostly) Unnoticed In the US

“Laid” by James just randomly played on my computer and my girlfriend demanded to know why I purchased that “stupid song from American Pie”.   I told her I actually have 5 songs from James.  To the US audience, much like Blur (who’s only stateside hit is “Song 2” aka “Woo hoo!”), James is considered a one-hit wonder.  But in Britain they were part of the Manchester scene (the UK equivalent of the US’ musical 90s Mecca Seattle) and put out a total of 12 albums since 1986.  Not bad for a band that is only known for “one song” in the US.

James and Blur aren’t the only bands to achieve commercial and artistic success in the UK, only to remain relatively unknown in the US.  So here’s my list of 5 great British bands that Americans don’t pay enough attention to.

Joy Division

Another band from Manchester.  Joy Division are perhaps best known for “Love Will Tear Us Apart” which came out after their lead singer Ian Curtis died.  Joy Division are one of rock’s most important bands – they’re practically the inventors of post-punk.  Joy Division were one of the first groups that took punk’s DIY ethics and lo-fi techniques and place the emphasis on mood and atmospherics rather than straight up aggression and anger.

The Smiths

Without a doubt, The Smiths were the most important alternative rock band of the 80s (with the exception of R.E.M.).  Morrissey was a highly intellectual and literate lyricist whose lyrics are most often associated with loneliness and isolation, but he could also be a keen social critic as well (“Panic”, “The Queen is Dead”, and “Sweet and Tender Hooligan”).   Johnny Marr is a widely underrated guitarist, and his ringing chords provided the backdrop for the Smith’s unique take on rock with a pop sensibility.  Stateside, they are probably best known for “How Soon Is Now?” which is a great song, but not representative of their sound.

The Faces

The Faces are probably best known at least in the US as “band that Rod Stewart used to sing with” or “that band that Ronnie Wood was in before he was in The Rolling Stones”.  The Faces songs were sloppy, and dirty much like The Rolling Stones in a certain way.  But while The Rolling Stones became the target of many punk bands for their overblown image, many punk bands often cited the Faces as a direct influence.

The Kinks

The Kinks are probably best remembered in the US for “You Really Got Me”.   Although they normally get placed in with the “British Invasion” wave of the early 60s, The Kinks incorporated pop, country, R&B, folk and blues into their sound.  The riff of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” is almost a direct rip-off a Kinks song.  The Kinks influence can be heard in the songs of the The Clash, The Ramones, the Jam, and Oasis.

The Clash

To the US audience, the Clash are mostly known for “Should I Stay or I Should I Go?” or “Rock the Casbah”.  But with the dynamic Joe Strummer at the helm, The Clash were one “the CNN of music”.  They were political and intelligent.  And they can could take on almost any musical style and make it their own as witnessed on 1979’s London Calling. If both Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen cover your songs, that should say something about The Clash’s influence.

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Keith Richards’ “Life”

I just finished reading Keith Richards’ memoir, Life.  All of the fabled stories are there – the drug busts, the flair-ups with Mick, taking Anita Pallenberg from Brian Jones.  And when Richards can’t quite remember the details he has guests come in and fill in the details.  When I first heard that Richards was calling his book Life, I wondered if he should come up with a better title.  While Life portrays an extraordinary life – it’s also  hilarious, heartbreaking, and honest.  Basically, life in general.

Of course Richards, being Richards he’s unapologetic for most things.  He finds it hilarious that he was on the most likely die list for 10 years.  And when it comes to heroin he suggests he never over-dosed because he wasn’t greedy – he only got enough to get him high.  Take those comments as you will.  But if you go into Life thinking this is all you’re getting than it’s your loss – Richards dedication to his craft shines through every heroin and alcohol-fueled moment. Rarely has such enthusiasm for simply playing music come through in a book.

Many musicians have suggested that being in a band is like being in a gang – you can’t leave unless you die.  Richards takes this view to heart – Mick Taylor never fit in because he left.  And Richards’ fights with Mick Jagger are famous at this point.  In Richards’ world you can fuck each other girlfriends, but don’t ever abandon your post.  That’s the ultimate betrayal.  Richards is pretty vicious towards Jagger throughout Life.  Some journalists and rock critics have wondered whether The Rolling Stones will tour after Life’s publication.  I’m willing to bet yes – because I’m willing all of the criticisms and jabs aren’t anything new to Jagger.  And Richards has probably said worse to him in his face.

Which brings me to my point about the love of simply playing.  The core of The Rolling Stones love their craft, and believe in their songs and what they have to offer the public.  Sure, sometimes it can sometimes be over the top.  They’re not the same band they were in the late 60s and early 70s.  I suggested a while ago that Mick Jagger could gracefully if he put out more songs like “Old Habits Die Hard”.  It’s a great song, but I might have been wrong in my assessment.  Would you really want Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to age gracefully?  They were not graceful in the first place – that’s what made them The Rolling Stones in the first place.

Life proves that Richards doesn’t plan on aging gracefully.  He’s ready to give two middle fingers to those that think otherwise.  But more than that he’s proving that passion for rock and roll doesn’t go away with age.

 

 

 

 

 

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Keith Richards’ Best Guitar Songs

I’m currently in the middle of Keith Richards’ memoir Life, and so far it’s pretty awesome.  I’ll probably review it when I’m actually done.   I’ve always known that good ol’ Keith is an amazing guitarist, and has come up with some of the best riffs in rock, but I had no idea how inventive he actually was in achieving his signature sound.  In Life he describes an opening tuning using the G chord, and removing one of the strings.  He also reveals that “Street Fighting Man” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” were actually played on an acoustic guitar obtaining the distortion through a cassette player.

I’ve only played a little guitar, so I can’t comment about the technical aspect, but here are what I think are some of Keith’s finest moments (and not necessarily the “big” songs either.)

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking

A contender for the most bad-ass riff of all time.  It’s loud and dirty, but also leaves a little bit of breathing room to showcase some of Charlie Watt’s best drumming.  Mick Taylor make take over the second half of the song with his fluid leads, but the song is probably best remembered for the riff.

The Last Time

The main riff is hypnotic in its repetition.  It practically moves the song is constant circles, which may also suit the songs lyrics. “This could be the last time, Baby the last time, I don’t know.”

Monkey Man

Some of Keith’s best playing (since he recorded all of the parts for this song and most of Let it Bleed).  There’s the chunky blues riff which drives the verses, the buzz-saw riffing during the bridge, and the slide-guitar solo at the end.

Sweet Virgina

The ultimate camp-fire song.  Keith has often talked about how if you play guitar, you need to start playing acoustic.  The song is a perfect example of that.  The slide-guitar gives the song a down-home country feel.  Even without the background singers, the feel of the song alone begs for people to come together and just play and sing.

Midnight Rambler

The Stones definitely got a lot inspiration from the Chicago Bluesman, and some of their originals could even be passed for old blues standards.  But “Midnight Rambler” is the dark hear of the blues.  While a lot of people probably prefer the faster (and more well known) live version, I’m going to go with the album version here.  By being slightly slower, tension is created by the spaces left between the notes.

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Great Songs With Horns

A friend of mine suggested a while ago that the use of horns in rock and roll is very under-rated.  While a horn section is certainly a staple of soul and old school R&B, it’s not an instrument that comes directly to mind when you’re thinking of rock and roll.   So for this blog post I’ve decided to list some of my favorite rock songs that make full use of horns.

The Rolling StonesRocks Off

I could probably list about 15 different songs by The Rolling Stones alone for this.  The obvious choices would be “Waiting on a Friend” with the saxophone solo by the great Sonny Rollins.  But I’m going to go with Rocks Off for this.  For starters, it’s one of the Stones’ best rockers.  It’s messy, and the harmonies on the chorus don’t entirely sync, and the horns nearly drown out the vocals.   Yet they all carry the same melody and somehow it works – you get the horns stuck in your head.  After the final chorus Mick Jagger lets out an exuberant, “Wooo!”.  It’s as if even he knows it can’t get any better than that.

Bruce SpringsteenThunder Road

I’m sure lots of people will read this post and suggest that I choose “Jungleland” – The Big Man’s de facto anthem.  Truth is, I don’t rank Jungleland as highly as one of Bruce’s best as other people do.  But on “Thunder Road” rarely has a saxophone solo sounded so triumphant as it does here.  “Thunder Road” is as perfect rock song as they get, but the entire song rests on Clarence Clemon’s saxophone at the end.  The open road would not sound as as convincing without it.  The song may be about getting away, but the saxophone represents the possibilities of the destination.

U2 – Angel of Harlem

One of my favorite U2 songs, and one of their best.  Bono name drops Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and A Love Supreme on a song about Billie Holiday which would almost be unbearable if it weren’t for the sheer joy he shows in the song.  But it’s really the brass that makes the song.  The horns weave in and out between Bono’s lines during the verses, adding extra life to his ode to Billie Holiday.  In concert Bono has often declared that “the goal is soul” – they achieved it in spades on this song.

The Beatles – Penny Lane

An obvious choice, but you could also pick about a dozen or so other Beatles songs just like The Rolling Stones.  I’m going with Penny Lane, because the trumpet is so an integral part of the song.  It’s a song about childhood, and like the flip-side of the single Strawberry Fields which saw Lennon experimenting with both lyrics and music- Penny Lane is also experimental just not quite as extreme.  The trumpet solo is in fact in a mock-Baroque style, which also fits the over-all sound of the song extremely well.

George Harrison – What Is Life

Without a doubt, George Harrison’s best song as solo artist.  The use of both the saxophone and the trumpet elevate this song right as soon as the drums kick in.  Thanks to Phil Spector‘s wall of sound, the horns almost completely take over the chorus which is one of George’s catchiest.

David BowieYoung Americans

I couldn’t make this list, without listing this one.  It’s Bowie during his “plastic soul” phase.  It’s borderline campy, which is kind of the point.  The saxophone is one of the trademarks of the song – it’s trying to keep up with Bowie’s fast vocal delivery, and it’s a close call over who actually wins until Bowie delivers the famous “ain’t no one song” line near the end.

The Clash – The Right Profile

Just like Montgomery Clift (who the song is about) this song nearly veers out of control several times.  The horns seem to be the only thing actually anchoring it down.  The horns blast around the band and Strummer who delivers one of his best vocal performances describing the destruction of the life of Montgomery Cliff sometimes in horrific detail.  The saxophone solo in the bridge provides some added weight, and lets Strummer breathe for a few moments.

 

 

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A Week Full of Hendrix: Hendrix Covers

Not much writing on this post, but check out Hendrix putting his stamp on quite a few classics.  (Note: I’m not including “All Along the Watchtower here – while great, it’s too obvious.)

“Hey Joe/Sunshine of Your Love”:

“Like a Rolling Stone”:

“Wild Thing”:

“Catfish Blues”:

“Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”:

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