For those of us not living in the Sunshine State, we’ve been facing some pretty harsh cold spells lately. And those of us in the Northeast this weekend, well, we’re about to get smothered in snow. When the weather is dipping below zero degrees, and you can’t leave the house without five layers and some seriously dependable thermal wear, you just might get what I like/hate to call the February blues. To help you cope, we’ve put together a Soundtrax that’s full of songs honoring this increasingly chilly month. Enjoy.
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OurStage, Guitar Player magazine, and Ernie Ball are teaming up this summer to offer aspiring guitarists a chance to win the ultimate Grand Prize. Enter the Guitar Player “Take The Lead” Competition by August 17 for your shot to win your very own feature in Guitar Player magazine, a year’s supply of strings and accessories from Ernie Ball, and more! Throughout the competition, we’ll be bringing you exclusive editorial content, fresh from guitarplayer.com”enjoy!
Certain people are very mental, ” says legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, “they need to have rules and concepts and directions and scales and theory in order to play. But that’s not what music is about. Music has the same significance as beams of light coming out of the clouds and giving information to plants. Every note should be like a beam of light. You’re giving information to the listener, and you’re reminding them they also have light and significance. That’s improvising to me. The other stuff is just like going ˜da-da-da-da-da.’ It’s nothing.
-Published by Matt Blackett, Guitar Player magazine
Life on the streets can make you grow up hard. But that’s no excuse not to be good to your grandmother. Chicago rap duo GoodGrandKidz, comprised of first cousins Adrian Boykin and E.J. Wilson, manage to go H.A.M. with no disrespect to their elders. In BMF they lay down the law, saying, We the good grandkids but still some bad motherf—ers over sighing synths and a trilling Spanish guitar loop. Good as they may be, they’ve got a little devil in them, proven by lyrics like, OMG Jesus tweets? Tell him he should follow me. Midnight Dreamers has the same haunting, jazzy vibe as Lupe Fiasco’s Daydream, complete with a powerhouse soul singer. But on Much Higher it’s The Doors’ Light My Fire that provides the inspiration. Over shrill blasts of brass the duo aim high, saying I’m elevated like prayers. Even if Jesus doesn’t follow them, you should.
What do true rock & roll obsessive do in the extremely unlikely event that they get tired of listening to their favorite albums? Watch documentaries about them, of course! And even though 2012 is still young, the must-see DVDs for rock geeks are already starting to pile up, so before the stack starts to grow too unwieldy, let’s skim the top by taking a look at a few of the most memorable new rock-doc releases on video. Each of our flicks of choice for this week takes a different approach to framing music history, but they all manage to offer fresh insights and fascinating glimpses into some classic works.
Taking the straight-up band-biography approach, Days of Our Lives aims to be the definitive documentary on Queen, and succeeds through careful attention to the details of the band’s story, in-depth interviews with the primary parties and a wealth of fascinating footage. It was originally created as a two-part documentary for the BBC, aired in 2011 to commemorate Queen’s fortieth anniversary, and the DVD and Blu-Ray versions add extra material to sweeten the deal even further. We get a long view of Queen’s climb, digging into the details of guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor‘s pre-Queen band, Smile, and chronicling Zanzibar-born art student Farrokh Bulsara’s evolution into flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury. We get a worm’s-eye view of the group’s ascent to superstardom, via candid conversations with May and Taylor, as the story moves through each era of the band’s development, from the hard-edged art rock of the early albums to the unabashed eclecticism and commercial breakthrough of A Night at the Opera, to the incorporation of dance-music influences in the early ’80s with The Game and Hot Space. The most emotional moments, of course, come towards the end, as we watch Mercury slowly succumb to AIDS and hear the intimate recollection of his friends and bandmates about the final chapter in the singer’s life. Among the extras on the DVD, a wealth of British TV performances will be particularly tasty treats for hardcore Queen aficionados.
Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman takes on the legacy of a band just as iconic as Queen, but instead of trying to document The Doors‘ entire career it takes a tight focus on the final album by the original lineup (history has kindly forgotten the two albums the surviving members made without Jim Morrison in the early ’70s). Like the Queen documentary, this too was made to mark a fortieth anniversary”that of the aforementioned album, L.A. Woman. Stories of notorious rock & roll enfant terrible Morrison’s antics are legend, but while this documentary doesn’t shy away from the singer’s talent for troublemaking, it only incorporates that aspect of the story as it pertains to the topic at hand”the music itself. Following 1969’s Soft Parade album, which was considered by many to be overreaching and overproduced, L.A. Woman brought the group back to basics”playing together in a room, with the blues as a musical foundation and Morrison’s evocative lyrics taking things further out. Today “Riders on the Storm” and the title track are ingrained in the collective consciousness as classic-rock radio staples, but in 1971, these dark, dreamy pieces combined the urban and the ethereal in an unprecedented way. For those who are intimately familiar with the album, it’s especially intriguing to hear, for instance, keyboardist Ray Manzarek reveal that his solo on “Hyacinth House” quotes a classical piece, and explain how “Riders” evolved from jamming on classic cowboy song “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” But for anyone with even a passing interest in the band, Mr. Mojo Risin’ helps illuminate exactly what made them special.
Of course, The Doors weren’t the only Southern Californians pushing the musical envelope in the early ’70s. From Straight to Bizarre stands apart from the Queen and Doors docs in that it shines a light on a little-heralded corner of rock history, but the story nevertheless involves some legendary figures, including Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper and Captain Beefheart. At the end of the ’60s, Zappa was bedeviled by label conflicts to the degree that he decided to start his own imprints, Straight and Bizarre. The latter would mainly release Zappa’s own work, while Straight would feature recordings by other artists. Bizarre boasted some of Zappa’s finest albums with and without The Mothers, including Hot Rats, Chunga’s Revenge and Just Another Band From L.A., but the focus of this film is in fact the dazzling array of artists and albums on Straight. Zappa’s intention was to provide an outlet for left-field music that might otherwise have gone unheard, and the Straight discography ultimately included such eccentric masterpieces as Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby and Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon and highly experimental Starsailor, as well as the first two”arguably freakiest”albums by Alice Cooper. You simply can’t half-ass a documentary about this kind of thing, and Straight to Bizarre goes all the way in, interviewing many of the principals and taking a comprehensive look at everything Zappa’s labels accomplished in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s the sort of thing that gives music geekery a good name.
So whether you want to delve deeper into one of rock’s most revered albums, chart the development of an iconic band or peer into into an intriguing, esoteric corner of the musical universe, there’s a new DVD”or Blu-Ray if you’re so inclined”that will do the job for you. And by the time you read this, it’s likely that at least twice as many more new music flicks will be floating around out there for your edification, so we may have to reconvene for another roundup somewhere down the line.
There are many great and enjoyable music biopics, from Amadeus to Ray. But it’s a tricky genre. Lots of musicians have interesting things about their lives, most notably their great success, but not enough to really drive a two hour film. So filmmakers have to stretch and dramatize, drilling down on the important aspects without just making shit up. Some films succeed wildly, some leave a bit to be desired. And then there are these:
6. The Doors (1991)
Oliver Stone’s trademark off-kilter direction is both the worst and best thing about what is ultimately a terrible caricature of Doors frontman Jim Morrison as a buffoonish alcohol and drug addict. I mean, he probably was that, but he wasn’t JUST that, right? Right? The movie also spends almost no time on the other members of the band, except in the context of Morrison’s bullshit. Anyway, Val Kilmer’s singing is pretty good.
5. Great Balls of Fire (1989)
I have it firsthand from a key member of this film’s production that it was fuelled almost entirely by cocaine. This might explain Dennis Quaid’s manic, one-dimensional, cartoonish performance as the great Jerry Lee Lewis. The man who legitimately earned himself the nickname The Killer appears here as nothing more than a backwoods hick who was in the right place at the right time. His gifted musicianship and epic performances are footnotes.
I will watch this movie anytime it’s on TV.
Bands are hard to keep together. People fight, quit, rejoin, remember, quit again, die and so forth. Sometimes that band member is so integral to the music that it’s pointless to go on”some bands realize this and pack it in. But often, the remaining members don’t want to give it up. Here is the good, the bad and the ‘meh’ of some big, post-departure acts.
The Rolling Stones
Thank you, Jeebus, that The Stones kept it going after the 1969 departure and subsequent death of band founder Brian Jones (but couldn’t they have stopped after 1981’s Tattoo You, oh mighty Jeebus?). Jones’ contributions to the band are not to be discounted, but by the time he left, he had been marginalized”for better or worse”by the Jagger-Richards power team (and by most accounts, by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, not to mention by booze and drugs). The Stones went on to produce some of their greatest work.
While some people swear by Syd Barrett-era Floyd, the mental unraveling and eventual canning of the former frontman heralded one of rock’s greatest and most unlikely metamorphoses. With Roger Waters taking the pole position (and with able assistance from Barrett’s replacement, David Gilmour), the band slowly shed their psych-pop identity in favor of spaced-out stadium rock.