Wednesday, March 16, 2005

 

The OTHER 50 Tracks: Day Two

Wondering what all this is about? The List so Far: Round 1 Hockey: Jane Siberry Helpless: Neil Young I Go Blind: 54-40 Nothing at All: Maestro Fresh Wes Tired of Waking Up Tired: The Diodes Today: Maestro Fresh Wes v. House of Pain Wavering Crescent Moons v. Mixed Up Meds Carl and Carol v. The Tragically Hip Islam v. Chick Rock . . . or something Mike: I am completely unfamiliar with the Maestro Fresh Wes song "Higher Level" but after looking up the lyrics, I have to say it may have displaced House of Pain's "Jump Around" for my favourite oddly religious rap-rhyme. I'll leave it up to the rest of you to choose your favourite... Jump Around: "I kick the flava like Steven King writes Horror/If I was a Jew I'd light a menorah" Higher Level: "Cause my rhymes are cock strong, like the fruit of Islam" And as we all know, the fruit of Islam is nothing if not cock strong... The Maestro pick also gave me pause to double check my sense of history, or at least my memories of the late 80s and early 90s. I distinctly associate Maestro Fresh Wes (do you think he still gets called Maestro or is it just Wes now?) with Grade 11, which happened in 1986-'87 for me. Yet a quick google search reveals that Maestro Fresh Wes didn't record his first singles "You Can't Stop Us Now" and "I'm Showin'" (despite the great title, it's not a haunting rap-ballad about the disappearance of his waist in the second trimester) until 1988. Further skewering my sense of time-lines, the Maestro really didn't make it big (in the Canadian sense) until the early 1990s, cleaning up at the Junos and Much Music Video Awards in 1991. I know I wasn't the best student, but I did manage to get out of high school in 4.5 years, not 7 (and if my shop teacher wasn't such a liar, I would have gotten a diploma too). As another aside, at the high school I went to in Scarborough there was a contingent of hardcore hip-hop fans who all swore up and down that Michie Mee was going to be the big-star to come out of Canada and that she would leave Maestro rappin' to a boombox in Kennedy station. Given their amazing ability to assess talent, I think all of these folks went on to be employed as scouts for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

FC:

I, for one, would like to put my vote in for Maestro and the dudes from your high school to not only be appointed scouts for the Leafs, but also co-GMs and first line forwards (Sundin would look much better in black, white and red and, if memory serves, one of Maestro's last videos -Clap your Hands?- had him rockin' the Blue and White . . . it's a natural!). As for the fruit of Islam . . . it's comforting to know Donald Rumsfeld has joined the list of PWI RSS subscribers. On another issue, has anyone else seen the "adult" drama that Wes stars in on Omni? (It's like an Upper Canadian version of Bleu Nuit (semi-porn dialogue, semi-porn production values, resolutely Protestant sex scenes).

Not fresh, not fresh at all.

Carl:

The Fruit of Islam by the bye, are the muscle guys in the Nation of Islam, if I recall right - so "cock strong" is probably not as inapt as you might think.

Mike:

And let's not forget that House of Pain really does kick out the flava...

Pete:

Once I was doing laundry at my parents' house and listening to House of Pain really, really loud (nobody was home). My dad walks in just as Jump is trailing out. He waits for the music to end and then says to me, "I didn't know you were into country music, Pete."

My dad, the hipster.

Carl:

So as to avoid holding proceedings here indefinitely, I'll refer back to my earlier post and nominate Joni's "A Case of You." (Listen to A Case of You)

I hesitated there, because "River" itself is perhaps the more quintessentially Canadian of the songs on Blue, but really "A Case of You" is the better song of the two, because "River" collapses a bit into seventies blather in its second half. ("He loved me so naughty he made me weak in the knees" - yuck.) And at an interpretive stretch, you could take it not only as a song that expresses the expatriate culture-maker's nostalgia for Canada but in fact a profound love-hate relationship with the home country itself. It contains not only the image of the lost love's face sketched over a map of Canada "on the back of a cartoon coaster," but the opening lines, "Just before our love got lost you said 'I am as constant as the northern star,' and I said, 'Constantly in the darkness? Where's that at? If you want me I'll be in the bar.' " So it's almost as if the devilish betrayer here is as much the notion of home as it is a human lover. Musically, it has an indelibly distinct guitar timbre, over which the wistful vocal wavers like a crescent moon, and that quotation of the national anthem that risks ridiculousness but wins. But why a song from Blue at all? Because it's maybe the most influential single album any Canadian's ever made, the platter that launched a thousand confessional love lyrics, the lodestone of first-person female singer-songwriting, leading directly down to everybody who's ever played Lillith Fair. It's also an extraordinary one - I'd like to say her jazz-heavy albums are better, but I'd be lying. This is the album you lie down in the dark and listen to over and over again. And if a good nine-tenths of what it's spawned is pretty awful, reaching a nadir right back here in Canada with the egocentric whining of Alanis Morrisette (I can get away with this because you can't veto my comments, just my choice, right?), well, fair enough. Tastelessness is an unavoidable part of the Canadian musical legacy. As I think our list is going to prove in spades. Oh Joni, so much to answer for.

Mike:

This is not a veto, because I guess Joni's got to be on the list, but I do have to say I absolutely hate that song. Keith and I chatted about this last night and he asked why I hate this song so much and I was speechless (well not totally, I just couldn't get beyond random adjectives and profanity). I honestly couldn't explain why I think this song chews. I thought I better give "A Case of You" another listen to see if I can explain why it causes such sonic trauma. But first a caveat - Carl (and the rest of you) apologies in advance if this offends anyone. That's not my intent. I'm honestly going to do my best to give it one more shot and do a little second by second commentary. It's cued it up on my iPod, got my little ear buds in and it's currently playing... 0 to 19 seconds - I'm ok with the guitar riff, my foot is tapping 21 seconds - Ms. Mitchell comes in and the song's going along, we reach the - "If you want me I'll be in the bar" and I'm quickly losing interest... 44 seconds - I'm feeling the urgent need to press skip. And I mean urgent, like teeth floating in the back of my mouth indescribable bladder pain urgent. Like grabbing a hot pan and immediately feeling the blisters form urgent...like, well you get the idea. I think it's the song's structure - to me her vocals are just all over the map they just don't seem to line up with what the musicians are doing. I guess one person's "wavering like a crescent moon" is another person's "she's mixed her meds again." I also don't have a clue what she's prattling on about - is it good to drink a case of something and still be on your feet? One time in grade 12 I tried to drink an entire case of beer and fell off the roof of a friends van trying to "surf" as he drove it home. I think I also ate vanilla girlguide cookies with cheezwhiz on them that night. Maybe it's never good to drink a case of something. Alright, here we go, 44 seconds in...made it to 59 seconds and I get the feeling Joni's just making up the words as she goes along, like she's just talking smack. She took the "risk" with the Oh, Canada line and it didn't work for me...also the guitar hits a decidedly out of tune note at the 56 second mark - or maybe that's just jazz. 1:56 - She's a lonely painter that lives in a box of paint. Uh, ok. 2:08 - I dare anyone to try to whistle or hum this one. It can't be done. 2:43 - Whitney/Christina/et al aint got nothin' on Joni and that trill...her vocal fill seriously reminds me of the all-time great soul duo Three Times One Minus One, I'm just waiting for Bob Odenkirk to say, "Damn." 3:56 - She's pretty much stopped singing, except for this extended humming gig, but the song is dramatically improving, nice guitar work...and it's over. Unchained by Van Halen just came up. Gotta love Diamond Dave and the serendipity of the shuffle...

Hey man - that suit is you!

Pete:

Hey, if you hate the song, why's it on your iPod? I think you secretly love the song.

Mike:

My wife LOVES the song. It's always a race to the iPod to see if she can shield it before I hit the skip button to see if she can shield it before I hit the skip button...the amount of chick-rock on my iPod is staggering - if a woman sings it, my wife pretty much digs it.

Peter:

Man, that truly is a sad tale of the suffragette cause run rampant. Surely a man's iPod is, uhh, his castle.

Carl:

That was so funny, I can't hardly argue. But I will. Sure you can hum it. I hum it pretty often, although naturally she gets out of my range here and there (she's got octaves on most people). But this is the interweb so you'll just have to take my word for that. > 1:56 - She's a lonely painter that lives in a box of paint. Uh, ok. I'll grant you that one. A sucky line. You're totally unfair to the chorus, tho. "You're in my blood, you're like holy wine" is an image that returns in other forms in later verses ("part of you pours out of me... be prepared to bleed") and it implies she can "drink a case of you" because the addressee is already a part of her, commingled with her own bloodtype (which if you accept my guy = Canada theory makes extra sense). But I don't think she's necessarily claiming that the drink is so healthy. It's bitter as well as sweet. The voice sweeps up too high and falls down too low, from the north star to the far southwest. She might be on her feet, but what if those feet are standing on top of a van weaving across the back dirt roads? Maybe you and Joni aren't so different after all, Michael. I like the booziness of the metaphor anyway - adds Canadian points, even if it's wine instead of beer.

Pete:

I've never had tremendously strong feelings about Joni Mitchell (I know, I know, that makes me a bad Canadian). I do like her stuff, some more than the rest. Personally, I'd go with Raised on Robbery, but so long as she's on the list I'm not particular about which song gets picked.

Carl:

That's okay, Peter, I've never had tremendously strong feelings about 54-40, myself, except that I liked "I Go Blind" better when REM wrote it. That's not a particular slam on 54-40, actually. Substitute any of a hundred Canadian bands' songs of the mid-to-late eighties for 54-40 and "I Go Blind" in that sentence and it works the same. The five-four-four-oh were more suave with it than most. (I think this makes me a *good* Canadian. It's when I extend it to the Tragically Hip, as I would, that I become a bad Canuck, I suspect.) I flirted briefly with the idea of a veto but didn't want to squander ammunition this early in the campaign.

Pete:

I'm sure the Hip debate will come very soon. I knew there'd be a debate over which song of the Hip's to choose (Keith and I drunkenly debated it the other night) but it didn't occur to me they could be vetoed outright. It should be an interesting debate. Perhaps the song I choose will sway you over. . .

Carl:

Oh, I wouldn't veto the Hip. I recognize my total coldness to them is unpatriotic. It does however make me a citizen of the world.

Peter:

Okay, I'm moving the Hip up on my list and making them my next pick. I'll pick a track so not-bar-bandish and so poignantly Canadian that you'll have no choice but to weep tears of patriotism.

Carl:

As long as it's not about hockey. We've got that subject covered. Do they have any songs about stubbies?

FC:

Or Royal Commissions?

I agree with Pete on Joni, I think she needs to be on the list as she's, without doubt or debate, one of the best songwriters this country has ever produced . . . it's just that, as I don't listen to her much, I'd have felt like I was faking it to pick her myself. I'm glad you put her on the list, Carl. (Besides, it gives me more opportunity to pick the REST of Mike's wife's record collection . . .)

Carol:

Three things:

I hate the Tragically Pap. Overrated Kingston bar rock. Downie's voice bugs the living fuck outta me. Joni belongs on the list, I just haven't come to grips with which song. I've only lately come to appreciate her. Age, I guess. CanCan regulated saturation of the airwaves during my impressionable years left me rather numb. Ahem..."chick rock"? I suppose that's the XX chromosome version of "cock rock" but without the balls. Define. Do you mean angsty-girls armed with acoustics and a well-thumbed copy of Sylvia Plath?

Mike:

Did I call it chick rock? The best way I can explain the cultural/chromosomal divide is to say that we actually own Relish by Joan Osbourne.

Anyway, my next pick is Big Yellow Taxi.

Just kidding.

Up until the mid-80s, I listened to interesting, albeit mostly poppy stuff. I was just old enough to start going to concerts and over the course of that year I saw Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Belouis Somme at Massey Hall, the Alarm at the Masonic Temple and plenty of other forgotten bands (the Lone Ryders anyone?). I was a big fan of the Smiths, was just discovering Billy Bragg, and even owned a Big Country tour shirt (likely the first tour shirt I ever bought). Every week, I looked forward to Thursday nights where I'd lie on the floor in my parent's dining room wearing huge headphones with a long coiled wire, listening to Live from London with Lee Carter on CFNY. Each week, after the opening strains of London Calling, I'd get a great report on the latest and greatest from the UK, making a list of imports to try to buy at Sams or Cheapies. None of the music I listened to was Canadian and most of it was of the jangly pop variety. At some point, either late late at night watching City Limits (was it still on the air in 85/86?) or more likely on MuchMusic, I caught a black and white video for Have not been the Same, by a band called Slow. (Listen to a clip of Have Not Been the Same)

There are only two things I can recall about that video: One, the lead singer didn't wear shoes or socks Two, he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time playing with a necklace (or in more macho terms, his chain). But the song, oh man that song. I can instantly conjure up the almost drunken opening sounds of the band singing "ooh, hoo hoo hoo" over that snaking distorted guitar lead. And who isn't a sucker for any song that has a good round of "woo woos" in it? If you're writing a book for men, or so the joke goes, the secret to great sales is throw a colour in the title and paste a swastika on the cover. I think there's a similar formula for pop songs - get me those woo woo, hoo hoo sing-along choruses any time. Sympathy for the Devil, fantastic - who hasn't done the old “fruit loops” routine. World Party had a surprise hit with "Way Down Now" and I'd credit that to the woo woos at the end of the track. I sing along with Golden Smog's "looking forward to seeing you-ooo-ooo, you-oo-ooooo" everytime. When Keith turned 30 and we were all forced to Karaoke, I picked Don't Go Breaking My Heart because I knew the room would eat-up the "woo-woo nobody knows it/ nobody knows it" line and they did. I'll close my opening argument with this - how do Wayne and Garth close the opening theme to Wayne's World? Yup - woos. Many of them. So we've got these great chunky resonating distorted guitars, a guy in bare feet, a whooping intro chorus of woos woos and a totally transfixed 14 year old. Who knew Canadians didn't have to sound like Murray McLaughlin and Luba? And the song just built up steam. It may have started out mid-tempo, but towards the back end it geared up, the rythym section pounding out a riff that's mirrored in the conclusion of another 1986 classic, the Replacements Bastards of Young and I'd go as far as to suggest maybe even Gargeland by the Clash. In short, it was the perfect thing for a teenager gearing up for those angry young man years. There was no patriotism, no lakes, maple trees, hockey or any sign of a hippo in the bathtub and that was the whole point. Just this great, angry, music that could stand next to anything I was hearing out of the UK or the US and that was a stunning moment for me. I didn't have to go buy those imports anymore...

Peter:

Michael, I can't believe you said that. I was watching the west-coast thing on MM about three years ago late one night and they played that song by Slow. I'd never heard it, or them, before, so I assumed it was new. I've searched and searched for that song by every legal and illegal means necessary, and I've never found a trace of it or ever even heard it again. Do you have it? I'd love to hear it again. If it's as good as I remember, I'd want it on my list.

FC:

In case anyone cares, Have Not Been the Same is also the title of the definitive (only?) book on the rise of Canadian Indie Rock. It's not a half bad resource for finding out, say, who replaced the original drummer in Change of Heart. From it I've been able to gather, for example, that Have Not Been The Same was the first song ever broadcast by UBC's CITR FM once they got a transmitter strong enough to get off campus. (1989) Good tune (particularly the guitars). Wish I had a full copy of it.

Carol:

Amen! LOVED Slow. Saw them in 86 (?) at Oliver's at Carleton. I think I may till have some pictures... And UIC. Some the guys from those bands are in The Chickens, btw.

A copy of that 2 inch thick, 751 page long tome sits next to my computer at home. I pulled it out especially for this discussion. Definitely pick it up. According to the stick, I paid a mere $26.99 at Soundscapes.

FC:

OK, since Carl hasn't spent the time making fun of Mike's "Oooooh" obsession, and since Aaron is probably out watching great bands and drinking free beer (FC's Note: Aaron's in Austin at SXSW), I'm going to try and slip my pick in real quick like. I hate the rhetorical question as a lead, but how's this:

What if Leonard Cohen had never been introduced to the Casio? I'm not going to insist that he learn to sing; some of the best songwriters of all time (Dylan, Waits, hell even John Darnielle) can't sing. I just mean, what if he moved to that monastery he joined a little earlier; say 1974 or so, right after New Skin for Old Ceremony came out? What if Master Roshi strategically ensured that he had never heard of the Rolland JD-800 and that, in addition to chanting, chopping wood and trying to catch a fly between two chopsticks, Len was left to work on his arrangements with nothing more than strings, acoustic guitar and those background singers who always sound like they should have wings, halos and gauzy white dresses? Wouldn't Hallelujah be among the greatest songs of all time? As it stands, Hallelujah's already poetry – even though I hate to use that word as it seems to damn the art of song writing with faint praise and raise poetry to a pedestal that it doesn't necessarily deserve. In just over four minutes Len's able to wrap love, longing, lust, religion, redemption, frustration - both sexual and otherwise – victory, defeat and half of judeo-Christian mythology into one sexy, SEXY package. He moves from the unbridled power of music ("I heard there was a secret chord/That David played to please the Lord") to the warm remembrance of one of the greatest nights of lovemaking anyone has ever expressed in song ("And every breath we drew was hallelujah") without mislaying a syllable. Yet, lyrics this great, words this powerful, are held back by a synth track that wouldn't seem out of place at The Dresden Room. So, where does that leave us? Frankly, I'm tempted to nominate one of the myriad Hallelujah covers (Jeff Buckley's is probably most famous, but John Cale, Rufus Wainwright and Allison Crowe have all given it a whirl) but they're neither "Canadian" enough nor "Leonard Cohen" enough (read not delivered with that Bard of the Bed Sit/Voice of the Apocalypse thing that only he can do). Cohen's voice is the reason that world- weariness sounds so good, even if that voice is hidden behind a cheesy, rec-room Hammond. So, why don't we cut the Casios by nominating the live version of Hallelujah from 1994's Cohen Live: Leonard Cohen in Concert? Listen to Hallelujah - Live

None of Slow's records are currently in print, but you can bug the good folks at Zulu to reissue them. Joni's Blue is either one of the greatest records of all time or equal to burning your hand with a hot pan. Hallelujah was originally recorded for Various Positions. You can buy the live version here.

Go have a look at DAY THREE.


Comments:
Unfourtunately all Slow ever released was a 6 song EP "Against the Glass" and a single called "I broke the Circle" - suppossedly (and this is just a rumour) there is a demo tape out there with about 8 more original songs.

Currently the only thing in print in the last 10 years with the song "Have not been the Same" is Last Call: Vancouver Independent Music, 1977-1988 from Zulu Records (a very good complilation by the way).

Tom Anselmi (vox) is now in a band called (c) aka copyright.
 
Ok, you heard it there, folks. Bug Zulu about bringing "Last Call" back in print (and the EP too . .. for that matter!)

And while you're at it, visit Nicole and her pals at Punkhistorycanada.ca Cool site!
 
Mike,

I too had a Big Country t-shirt (saw them for free in '84 at Daytona Beach on a bill with Wire Train; at the same spot a day later I saw R.E.M. for the first time).

Also, saw the Long Ryders/Billy Bragg show at the Concert Hall - where I also saw Dream Syndicate play what to this day is the loudest set I've ever heard (opening for R.E.M.)
 
"Have Not Been the Same" is a pretty good song, and I agree that some pressure should be put on Zulu to release some more stuff by Slow. However, since we're talking about smaller bands from out west. I think you guys are forgetting about The Smalls. They didn't make that big of an impact out east but out here they were huge. Well maybe not huge but they had a decently sized following.
 
You mean "A Case of You" isn't about oral sex?
 
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