Talk From The Rock Room: December 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Put The Boot In: 'Essential Led'-Led Zeppelin Essen Germany 3-22-73

     Today in the 'rock room' I am grooving to a resplendent soundboard recording of Led Zeppelin in the midst of their powerful Spring 1973 European tour. This is a partial soundboard recording that captures numerous highlights of two of their extended and improvised numbers. Listeners are able to complete this concert using an audience source in addition to the circulating soundboard if they wish. At this point in their careers Zeppelin's live show had developed into a three plus hour extravaganza of  definitive and diverse rock explorations. 'Dazed and Confused' in addition to 'Whole Lotta Love' have both turned into expansive jamming vehicles extending in length and girth. By the time the band returned to the US for Summer performances these tracks could reach a half hour in length. The recording I am enjoying is titled 'Essential Led', and its genesis I'm sure comes from the boatload of 1973 soundboards that found their way into collectors hands through their unfortunate theft from Jimmy Page's home in the late 1980's by a former employee. There are two more complete audience sources of decent quality available of this concert, but this soundboard fragment is a joy to listen to. Its intricacies and clarity offering a special insight into the alchemy of the band. Any performance by Led Zeppelin coming from this Spring 1973 European jaunt are worth searching out in their varying quality. The group was playing and improvising at a furious rate and approaching their creative zenith as performers and writers. According to Zeppelin author Dave Lewis this tour is considered by aficionados to be one of the finest the band ever played.

The tape picks up with a 'Dazed and Confused' in progress, the verses have been disposed of and Page is shredding full speed. Plant throws out some funky quotes of James Brown, singing 'Cold Sweat'. The band is kinetic with Bonham the director, charting the course with a hammer and anvil through the Dazed themes. The band slips into a fully realized and cosmic 'San Francisco' interlude, then creep quietly into the Page bow centerpiece. Light and shade, madness and sanity, dualalities of our existence reverberate through Page's dusty strings. Plant's distant moans communicate with Page's cave dwellers, who during the conjuring, hide from the light, bang on the rocks and scurry through moss lined stony entrances in the earth.

     Bonham signals the musical escape with hi hat strikes, to which Page responds with screeching, clawing, and spastic exclamations from his Les Paul. With JPJ, and Bonham welded in a firm bedrock embrace to the undulating groove, Page enters a trance state after eight and a half minutes. Lick after virtuous riff are peeled from his guitar with a unique clairvoyance. A breathtaking display with speed, dexterity and melodic construction all on display At half past nine minutes Page hits on a delicious melody that the band jumps into with both feet, the resulting splash a flamboyant clinic of rhythmic interplay and dynamic soloing. At half past eleven Zep takes the recognizable 'Hendrix' breakdown of this era's 'Dazed' and twists it into a unique improvisational passage where Bonham is an inspirational machine, keeping time, while attempting and landing daring fills and accents. Thick and funky Zep of the 'Crunge' lay it down dirty here in an notable display.

     The jam churns momentarily before blasting into a Page/Bonham start and stop rock and roll breakdown. The band accelerates back into the speedy 'Dazed' theme, reaching several lofty summits, Page touching on and incorporating his entire arsenal, Jones and Bonham making it all possible through their grandiose backing. Just when you think the next change is coming the band takes another aggressive round leaving towering flames and ashes in their wake.

     The syncopated outro jam contains another surprise as Plant seductively groans in time, Bonham plays like a group of twenty tribal drummers, laying down a flawless groove in which Page dances with a multitude of tones. A passage worth inspection as it is brimming with nuance and excitement. The twenty two minutes of 'Dazed and Confused' featured on this boot are well worth your time and contain some of Zeppelin's most exciting and dramatic playing captured on tape. Two days later in Munich the band would build on these 'Dazed' themes and perform perhaps the finest version of 'Dazed and Confused' of the year as a musical goodbye to Germany.

     The other track featured on this fine recording also picks up already in progress. 'Whole Lotta Love' cuts in during the tail end of Plant and Page's Theremin/Vocal battle which is disorientating right off the bat, but easy to enter into. The band leaves this space cruising at a high altitude and then proceeds to thrash through a blistering rock and roll jam session. This introductory jam morphs into a hybrid of "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love/Turn On Your Lovelight' that smokes like a fresh sticky joint. Bonham then signals the return to the body of 'Whole Lotta Love' with his military snare hit, which appears briefly before becoming a high speed stomp through 'Let That Boy Boogie' and 'Baby I Don't Care'. Greatest rock and roll band in the world? On nights like this no one else has a chance to compete. Plant is shaking his ass and crooning in his best Presley throat, and Page is picking and grinning, this is good stuff.

     The jam comes to a brief respite, only to slam into a rocks and gravel run through 'Let's Have A Party'. This is what its all about right here. The band is on. Heavy duty. 'I Can't Quit You Baby' comes next and Page asserts himself with translucent lines, icy sharp, sliding across the fret board furiously. His solo spot is crafted with the same care, a series of biting licks, becoming double time by the solos midpoint. The song builds, drops and rises again, then slides into a brief but slowly squeezed 'Lemon Song'. Jones and Bonham again, one mind, perfect. Any description of a rhythm section being 'locked in' is an extreme understatement for these guys. Plant invests his normal soul into the entire series of rock gold while also leading the band back and out of a 'Whole Lotta Love' reprise. Bonham puts his usual stamp on the conclusion of the song with a bombastic finishing touch.

     While this fragmentary soundboard is only a taste of the treats to be found on the recordings of Led Zeppelin's 1973 European Tour, it is a filling serving. Two of the bands most expansive songs featured on a line recording from one of their most impressive tours. What more could a Zeppelin fan ask for? If you a fan of the 'Song Remains The Same' soundtrack, do yourself a favor and search out this and similar performances for a different look at the group. The power and attitude of this recording cannot be denied, and if experienced for the first time will be a welcome addition to the listeners archive.

Dazed and Confused 3-22-1973

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Now Playing: 'Cranberry Sauce'- The Beatles-'Strawberry Fields Forever'

     For this edition of 'Now Playing' we will take a look at the work that was done this week in history on the revolutionary Beatles track 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. The song, one half of the double 'A' side 7 inch containing 'Penny Lane', was released on February 13th/17th 1967 in the US and UK respectively. On today's date in 1966 the Beatles were locked in Abbey Road studios working on the early stages of their eventually titled LP 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', as well as developing a new single for worldwide release. I have the original Capitol single spinning on my turntable, which I will follow by playing the unique snapshot of session tapes leaked from the Abbey Road vault at some point in the 1980's
     By December 15th the Beatles (especially Lennon) were toying with the development of  'Strawberry Fields' as well as discussing the direction and shape that the song would eventually take. What started as a Lennon demo performed as a gentle folk number on acoustic guitar, at this point was now receiving string and cello overdubs as well as Harrison guitar lines. The last week of November 1966 and into the first week of December were spent developing a suitable backing track, which I will call Version 1. By the time December 15th rolled around Lennon had decided to remake the recording started on November 24th, increasing the intensity and psychedelic madness lacking from the Version 1, into a more intense Version 2. December 8th was the evening that Lennon decided to begin a new series of takes eventually supplemented by outside musicians to more clearly let his vision for the song to come into focus. The takes of Version 1 are fantastic in their own right with stringy Harrison guitar lines, and the cozy warmth of the trademark Mellotron, but Lennon felt something was missing from these early attempts. The December 8th session saw a new direction and after the vocal string and horn overdubs were applied to this version 2 on the 15th, a few more days of work and contemplation would cause Lennon to eventually ask Beatles producer George Martin to jam the two different versions together into one coherent piece! In spite of their different keys and mismatched tempos, Lennon, Martin, and Beatles studio wizard Geoff Emerick took the original working version of 'Strawberry Fields' developed in late November, and puzzle pieced it in with the December 8th remake complete with overdubs from the 15th! Basically, the released version is these two different takes and ideas welded together. The eventual final version does contain an edit that is discernible to the concentrated listener, but I'm not gonna say where, why ruin a good thing!?

     One of the more interesting notes about the December 15th overdub session of the 'remake' of 'Strawberry Fields Forever' is that Lennon did two vocal overdubs at the session in addition to the brass and string sounds. One of these overdubs featured the far out moan of 'Cranberry Sauce' discernible over the tripped out conclusion of the released version. Forever misheard by fans and freaks as 'I Buried Paul', Lennon's 'Cranberry Sauce' can be heard clearly on the session tapes that exist from these sessions. Explained away as 'typical John Lennon', this goofy vocal reply caused Beatle scholars and 'Paul Is Dead' proponents years of sleepless nights in search of the real meaning and aural proof of the actual statement.
     This weeks anniversary in the annals of Beatle history is pivotal as it acts as a signpost to the Beatles progressive and more colorful direction. It signaled a change in their attitudes, a willingness to and love of experimentation, and the ability to let their artistic ideas lead the way to a new musical space. The Beatles decision to stop touring in 1966 also factored into this new found artistic freedom. No longer 'forced' into creating music for public consumption, the Beatles new found time allowed them the ability to stretch out, concentrate on developing new ideas, and to create music for themselves. Lennon's songwriting would never be the same, as 'Strawberry Fields' signaled a maturity and artistic development that would blossom beyond his wildest dreams. The bootleg, It's Not Too Bad, released by Pegboy records in 1997 is the definitive statement on 'Strawberry Fields Forever', tracking its growth and development from Lennon's Almeria, Spain 1966 demos through the aforementioned Abbey Road session tapes. A fascinating and worth while listen.
     One of the most dissected and well know rock songs in history, 'Strawberry Fields Forever' took its shape from humble acoustic beginnings, to electric Beatle interpretation, eventually becoming a towering psychedelic maelstrom of found sound, 'hidden' messages, tweaked vocal effects, huge additional instrumentation, and lyrics dripping with liquid surrealism and imagery. If its been a while since you have visited 'Strawberry Fields', stop by today, I have included links for your journey below.

It's Not Too Bad Complete Strawberry Fields

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Now Playing: The Kinks-Victoria b/w Mr. Churchill Says

     In addition to my normal reviews, including the 'Put the Boot In' feature, to keep things interesting for both my readers and myself, I will also include a 'Now Playing' article that will concentrate on the song of the moment for me personally, or possibly the song that pertains to that day in history, or a myriad of other reasons I cant possibly think of right now. Regardless, I'm gonna do it, I hope you like it, as always comments, discussions, and requests are always welcome. So, the tune (actually 7' single) that gets the special treatment for today is........ 'Victoria' by the Kinks, as it was this week 44 years ago that the single 'Victoria/ 'Mr Churchill Says' was released in the UK.

     'Victoria', the opening track on the Kinks 1969 LP Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) and is a kinetic history lesson full of patriotic expression. Most of the time it seems the song is sung with tongue firmly in cheek by songwriter Ray Davies. Staying true to his thematic songwriting choices, 'Victoria' echoes the Nationalism found running rampant in Ray Davies songwriting in this era, and right through to this day. But as always with Ray, you never can really tell. A striding acoustic guitar hi hat opening is the foundation for Dave Davies smooth and round reciting of the melody line on his guitar.Tastefully double tracked the guitar sound is vivid with color. The song cooks Chuck Berry style thought the verses quickly, before dropping off of the cliff into the dramatic 'land and hope' bridge, that swells with a prideful mischief and irresistible vocal melody. Dave Davie's understated guitar work throughout the song is masterful, from the hide and seek work in the verses, through the George Harrison-esque picking in the chorus, and specifically the minimalist and ice cool guitar solo.

     Similarly to 'Pinball Wizard' of the 'rock opera' Tommy, 'Victoria' is the big song to be pulled from the Kinks thematic opus. The song the center in which the rest of the collection revolves. The live versions available of this tune are especially good, and the various BBC versions are a treat. I have included a wonderful version below for your review.

     The 'B" side to the British version of the 'Victoria' single is also culled from the LP Arthur. The track 'Mr. Churchill Says' starts as a home style, yet funky, loyal and resolute reflection on post war England. Sturdy in its composition, serious in content, but injected with Ray Davies always satirical delivery. Swinging old time anthem for part of the tune, the song then flashes forward to the time of its development, an electrified 'Wake Up Little Suzie' riff appears in conjunction with a rotating air raid siren and takes the track on a new musical direction, complete with rhythmic and tribal bell cymbal dings, and an extended tropical Dave Davies guitar flurry. The song hits a moment of transcendence just as it escapes the hypnotic beat, then breaks into a doubled descending guitar bridge. The crashing gorilla drums thump out a patriotic high school football chant that pulls a whip saw and races toward the songs conclusion. The groovy Ray Davies vocals move throughout, ranging from the bottom of the rock scale and up through falsetto, hitting everything in between. ending in the aforementioned chant. One of my personal favorites on the record, and an ace choice for a UK 'B' side.

     The 'Victoria'/'Mr. Churchill Says' single of December 1969 would usher in a new era for the Kinks, where within the next year their popularity would reach unbelievable levels. The single also places two foundational pillars of the narrative of Arthur out of context, but displaying their perfect construction. Below are the components of this single for your enjoyment.

Mr. Churchill Says

Victoria Live BBC