Monkees Head

Finally saw the Monkees/Jack Nicholson movie Head last night.

It is bizarre.

Other than the obvious self-referential mocking of the insincerity of the media, it has no plot or point. It does have two Carole King songs, one Harry Nilsson song, two written by Peter Tork, and one by Mike Nesmith.

In one fascinating scene, after Davy Jones sings Daddy’s Song by Harry Nilsson, Davy and Toni Basil do a dance routine all dressed in white, against a black background—and the same routine dressed in black, against a white background. Scenes from each are cut together to make a single dance, sometimes flashing back and forth so fast it’s like a strobe effect. It is very cool, and uses no special effects whatsoever.

Most people won’t ‘get’ Head either because they wanna know what it ‘means’ or because it’s just plain bizarre.

Fine with me; most people don’t ‘get’ me either, and often for the same reasons.

Four Seasons

One of the first pieces of classical music I was exposed to was Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. We didn’t have a lot of classical music at home when I was a child, so my exposure started later than, say, Irish folk music or Roger Miller.

There are eleventy-leven versions of Vivaldi’s most famous work, but the one that works for me is led by the insuperable Lorin Maazel. After experiencing this rendition, any other seems slightly mistimed; rushed, dragging, improperly syncopated, cadenzas which are frantic rather than energetic.

Maazel’s conducting envelopes each movement in the appropriate season’s textures, sensations, aromas, and sounds. I hear bugs flitting past during ‘Summer’; the flutter of leaves in ‘Autumn’; the rush of the wind in ‘Winter’, and the trickle of a nearby stream in ‘Spring.’

Vivaldi’s work, and especially this piece, and more especially this recording of it, invariably reduces my stress levels and reminds me that some things, unlike stress, are timeless.

Energy, Pythagorean or Otherwise

Amazon (like everyone else) now sells MP3s. To give those of us with associate accounts a feel for what the new store is like, they’re giving away FREE! the song ‘Energy’ from the brand new Apples in Stereo album New Magnetic Wonder.

The band’s ‘About’ page says

 In the charmed world of The Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider, music and mathematics are the principal creative outlets.

Schneider has created a non-Pythagorean musical scale, and composed some music using it. It has potential. You can hear the new album in its entirety at the website.

Pop music isn’t supposed to be complex or life-altering. ‘Energy’ is fun, simple, repetitive. It’s got a catchy melody that’s hummable, the lyrics don’t make me think too hard (I have other music for that!) and it’s all performed well. If this had come on my car stereo this morning, I’d have turned it up, not off.

And with album names like ‘New Magnetic Wonder’ and ‘Her Wallpaper Reverie’ it seems like their other six or seven albums are worth looking into. I’d never heard of AiS, but they’re gonna get a thorough investigation, I assure you.

Speedway at Nazareth

Dlancing at the title and lyrics of the first Mark Knopfler solo album I bought, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by a song about a losing race car driver. I’m not much interested in car racing (I’ll take steeplechases any day, and no, it’s not cruel, the horses love it) and at first look, it’s just this guy talking about all the bad luck he’s had, explaining away his losing streak.

When I did finally listen carefully, I was floored by the closing line

 But at the speedway at Nazareth I made no mistake

The big win to end the racing season wasn’t about luck; it wasn’t won by superior driving skills. Just the simple acknowledgment that success is often a matter of ‘making no mistakes.’ It puts a completely different complexion on the entire story; this is not a man making excuses, it’s a man expressing acceptance of his role in the undesirable results, and the simple pleasure of getting it right in the end.

Followed by a very long guitar rant that builds in typical Knopfler fashion to a memorable, hummable, ‘play it again’ track.

Much Too Young

Dll men act younger than they are. Not all deal with obsession in life.

The lyrics of “Much Too Young” from Garth Brooks’ first album are about a rodeo rider, but it’s really not about the rodeo. If you’re going to live a life of obsession and passion, make sure you partner up with someone who understands your passions, or loves you enough to support you without understanding.

Otherwise, like the storyteller in “Much Too Young” you may find yourself getting no answer when you call home for the second week straight.

The song’s reference to the late Chris LeDoux is credited by many for a serious surge in his popularity. I know it’s the first time I heard of him, and I’m glad of it.

Then Your Clothes

Despite the fact that I still don’t own his entire catalog, I’m saddened by Jude Cole’s apparent decision to record others’ music instead of creating more of his own.

This morning as I was taking Russia Saturn to work Jude put a smile on my face with my favorite track off “Start the Car”—”First Your Money (Then Your Clothes)”

A simple tale of misguided affections is accompanied by simple but effective music. One of the first things that struck me when I was learning the song was that the bass (my starting point) isn’t doing anything other than the root note of each chord: bom, bom, bom, bom instead of a rockabilly shuffle or alternating country bass or some complicated rock riff.

The album’s opening with the crunch of the title track strongly reinforces the laid back country feel of the rest of the album. “First Your Money” has the same kind of wryly amusing lyrics you might find in the work of Brad Paisley or even Roger Miller:

 My mom said, "Son, it won't last She'll be gone when you're out of cash." Hey, Mom, I need a ride back home

and later

 We stopped to wish upon a star She stole my breath; she stole my car

And one more:

 Oh, no, love ain't cheap There's a tollbooth up on lover's leap

Just as “Start the Car” is aggressive without being angry, “First Your Money” is more about lessons learned than some tragedy about love gone wrong. For my money it’s a better message.

Time for a Cool Change

Songs about sailing reach me in places I forget about sometimes. My father taught me to sail (lest you get the wrong impression, the ‘sailboat’ was 16′ long and 4′ wide, and you sat on the deck like a glorified surfboard; we were not yacht club people.)

Songs that surprise me fall into another special category—when an artist does something a bit out of their box, and does it well, it has special appeal.

Songs that teach me about myself are the best category, with books, movies, and people who teach me about myself.

“Cool Change”, recorded by the Little River Band in 1978, is one of the very special entries in all three categories. In my head, it connects the peace of sailing with the peace I’ve always wanted in life; it connects the hard work of sailing with the hard work I know life to be.

Later in their career, LRB tried to ‘roughen up’ their image. I think it was a mistake; the glorious harmonies and slick production of all the tunes on their Greatest Hits album are a major part of the appeal (of course, well-written song help.)

 "I was born in the sight of water, and it's there that I feel my best"

Another nice touch is the subsitition of the word ‘cool’ in the phrase ‘sea change’, with overtones and undertones of the life-altering decisions we often fail to make, and sometimes make so poorly.

Oh; one last category: really good saxophone solos. Intense, simple, melodic.

I don’t listen to this song nearly enough.

Accompanied by faves like “Take it Easy on Me”, “The Other Guy”, “Lonesome Loser” (it’s better than you remember), and one of my guilty pleasures, “Reminiscing”, LRB’s Greatest Hits is a no-brainer.