Friday, May 30, 2014

Best Stones Songs You've Never Heard, Part I

Brian Jones, circa 1964
On the night of July 3, 1969, the Rolling Stones sat in Olympic Studios in London, working out a new track with freshly minted guitarist Mick Taylor. At about 2:00 a.m., the word reached them that founding member and original guitarist Brian Jones had been found dead in the pool at his Sussex home. Jones, who had been fired from the band and replaced by Taylor less than a month earlier, thus became a founding member of The 27 Club. The news literally dropped the Stones to the floor. Charlie Watts wept. Two days later, the Stones would play Hyde Park before a quarter million to memorialize their fallen mate.

On that fateful June night, the song the Stones were working up was an overhaul of Stevie Wonder's 1968 non-hit "I Don't Know Why." The song lyrics are rooted in confusion and pain, voiced by Rock's ever-present pleading lover. It must have served as an appropriate tableau for these young artists, their invincibility shattered. The result of their work does "I Don't Know's" R&B origins proud. The underwater vibrato opening sequence segues with immediate power into a Muscle Shoalsesque (the studio had opened earlier that year; the Stones would record there in December), brass and ivory accented theme that dominates the rest of the song. Taylor's presence is immediately felt, with a searing slide overlay that crackles the song's back half. Watts uses his snare like a conductor, setting off each of the song's mini-crescendos. Pain and exhaustion resonate in Jagger's voice as he pleads his way through the lines of a narrator resolved to defeat ("I ain't gonna stop, your cheating ways ..."). The put-on vocal tic in the third line is charming in its quirkiness. "I Don't Know Why" this little three minute heater never turned more ears.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sunshine Daydream

The heat rises, and with it, the spirits of a hemisphere. Shade becomes a precious commodity as the air thickens; umbrellas open. The strips of sand on the outer boundaries of the continents bustle. Morning comes with a fast-rising temper, foretelling a day that rides the cries of cicadas to a stubborn end. Entering our cars, we grab the vents in a short-breathed, desperate search for the first hint of cold air. Students scatter into the heat to search for amusement in the absence of academic pressure. We know it intuitively, but the arrival of Memorial Day serves as an exclamation point. Summer's here.

No season begs for a soundtrack like Summer. A steamy blast of July air through an open car window gives any song resonance. The beads of sweat on the listener's forehead relate him to the hard creative work of the artist; the act of listening becomes work. It's all part of the natural order of things. Confined to their studios by the cold of winter, artists record. Then, as the lifeguards take their whistles, the world goes outside to hear the musical bounty that results. New albums drop. Amphitheaters hum with energy in the night. Open fields become small cities built on Music, teeming with the barefooted and shirtless. Humans don't stand outside in groups of 100,000 in 90+ degree heat to watch movies.

Stop for a moment. Place yourself on a tall chair at the Surf Restaurant on Amelia Island on a 94 degree July afternoon. It's 6:47 pm. Happy hour. The open grid of the plastic cushions waffles the back of your thighs; the PVC frame of the chair creaks with each frequent shift. The sun starts to hide itself behind the faded white boards of the deck, making the evening sauna tolerable. Still, a short plastic pitcher of Miller Lite stands no more than a 10 minute chance at drinkability without a bag of ice sitting in it. You were in the ocean 20 minutes ago, but the middle of your back still sweats. There's a soft breeze coming off the ocean, but the heat rising off of A1A microwaves it and robs it of the ocean's moisture before it can cool your face. Still, all is well. (Sweat purifies the soul.) Over the sultry din of the conversation, what do you hear? (Close your eyes) ........... "Come Monday" by Jimmy Buffett? I thought so. Music is part of the Fabric of Life; the weave is strongest in Summer.

Over the next few months, dust off some Music you love from Summers past. Think back to some sacred Early Evening spent staring out over the ocean. Reflect on a long day of bobbing lazily on a crystal clear lake. Reminisce fondly over a long-ago, unforgettable night of live music under the stars.  There was Music in the background. Rediscover it.

"Sunshine daydream ... blooming like a red rose, breathing more freely."