Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

The Papers Want To Know Who’s Shirt You Wear

I meant to write about this on Friday, then over the weekend, but I just got so bogged down in my own head, which I am wont to do, that it didn’t happen. Writing is almost like physical exercise to me & I know that comes off as perhaps hyperbolic, but it’s true. It’s a huge exercise for my brain which I try not to use in real life & for my first 33 1/2 years it’s been pretty evident. Anyway, on January 8th, David Bowie celebrated his 63rd Birthday & Elvis Presley would’ve celebrated his 75th.

At first glance the thought is that Elvis is perhaps the greatest Rock N’ Roll star in history, but again we come to that old argument is Elvis a talented musician or a terrific entertainer? David Bowie is an innovator best known for his alter-ego turn in the ’70′s as Ziggy Stardust & his glam-rock androgyny. Though, much like Elvis this may be just a way for the masses to label something they don’t understand.

We’ll first tackle the Elvis questions. Elvis was a supremely talented vocalist & entertainer. He was the first Rock N’ Roll musician that was marketable to the world. Good looking, affable, a great dancer & a white man with a black voice. Elvis had it all. He took what Frank Sinatra had to the next level & became a veritable Rock N’ Roll crooner. Elvis, though, never wrote his own songs, rarely played an instrument & let’s not even talk about the Fat Elvis days. He was by all accounts the Michael Jackson of his day (Michael Jackson wrote his own songs though), which is not to say that he was not talented or a star, just as far as musicianship he was a pop star, a Justin Timberlake. A guy that could sing, dance & act (King Creole is a remarkably good movie, as is Jailhouse Rock). He was an icon like MJ that became a bit of a freakshow in his later years, much like MJ.

David Bowie created or at least popularized Glam Rock, but if you look at his body of work it’s just as impressive in the annals of music history as Elvis Presley’s. I dare you to listen to Hunky Dory & not walk away thinking it is one of the greatest albums ever. It’s brilliant & may not even be his best album as Ziggy Stardust is perfect. From 1968-1972 David Bowie put out some of the best music the world has ever heard. Then he decided to reinvent himself. Much like Elvis, he could have stayed the same, still been great & no one would’ve thought twice. He didn’t, he ventured out & saw what else he could do. He made some records with an R&B flavor, a cover album & some disco stuff & it wasn’t all great, but he took chances.

The point is not that these artists are diametrically opposite, because they are quite similar in many ways. What it comes down to, for me, is that David Bowie took more chances than Elvis did. He took his music places that were years ahead of his time. Later in life when Elvis turned into a fat caricature of himself David Bowie was duetting with Trent Reznor on Soundtracks & still reinventing himself to a newer, younger audience.  Many will say Elvis had no choice, he was pigeonholed by an adoring public. Bullshit. The Beatles & Bob Dylan could’ve cared less what people thought when they decided to change their respective sounds & they didn’t take a 2 year break to serve inthe Army.

Musicians  progress, mature, evolve. Entertainers stick with what their fans want, with what makes them money & with what keeps them marketable. Elvis Presley was a corporation unto himself, a marketing machine that transcended music. David Bowie is a musician, that entertains, but his musical evolutions are not predicated on whether or not you like him. You are merely happenstance, an afterthought to what he feels is his greater goal…satisfying himself musically. That’s why, musically, David Bowie is far superior to Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley - That’s All Right

David Bowie (Live at the BBC) - Space Oddity

Elvis Presley - Blue Moon

David Bowie (Live at the BBC) - Queen Bitch

Elvis Presley - Mystery Train

David Bowie - Life on Mars

Rode In On a Sea Of Disaster, Rode Out On A Main Line Rail

I get in musical ruts on occasion. I get preoccupied with an artist or artists & during these ruts nothing else sounds good. It’s part of my symptomatic musical OCD. Lately it’s been Bob Dylan & Joan Baez. I’ve gone on & on about Dylan ad nauseum on this blog. It’s no secret that I idolize the man’s music, it’s some of the most significant music of the last 50 years. Joan Baez can attest to this as she is often referred to as the “female Bob Dylan”. It is this point that I have chosen to take issue with. I like Joan Baez, I think she’s extremely talented with a great voice.

However, she is not the “female Bob Dylan”. What she may very well be is a Bob Dylan cover artist, but her own work does not stand up as significant in any sense of the word. That’s not to say she wasn’t a good songwriter. “In the Quiet Morning” about Janis Joplin is the best song she ever wrote & it’s her at her best. So this is not an Anti-Joan Baez piece. My point is merely to say that Joan Baez would not have made the in-rows she did make without covering half of Bob Dylan’s catalog & in doing this she not only gained a wider audience, but also pigeonholed herself into near cover artist status.

Many artists covered Dylan in the ’60′s: Hendrix, The Byrds, Richie Havens. The thing is they also had their own hits before going that route. Joan Baez covered Dylan so much & so often that Dylan himself commented on his relationship with Baez in Blonde on Blonde’s, “4th Time Around” when he sang “I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine.”. Commenting on how when he was first starting out he did not ask for her help when she was an established folk star & he was emerging as the voice of a generation. Piggy backing onto someone else’s vision is rarely admirable, but always opportunistic.

Perhaps, it was meant as an homage to a once in a lifetime writer, but at what point does one’s own vision come forth & the homage end? I guess that’s the eternal question. Elvis & Sinatra never wrote their own music either, but again they never claimed to be anything other than that what they were, entertainers. Joan Baez entertains, but is not an entertainer. She is an activist, she seeks change with her art, but this belies another problem. How can one be an activist if their whole persona is built upon someone else’s work? It can’t, can it? I mean isn’t the whole point of being an activist to bring about change? Can change be achieved if you’re recycling old ideas? If the goal is to make the world a better place, then bastardizing someone else’s vision & making it your own is not a good start.

This is not a treatise on my dislike of cover songs. As I’ve said I’m a fan of cover songs & for the most part I enjoy Baez’ covers of Dylan’s music. I just feel it has an air of disingenuousness to it. I’ve railed against the use of the “sell-out” label, but if there ever was a case for someone selling out, it is Joan Baez. To go out on stage & claim to be anything but a performance artist is duping those that pay to see you for the sake of staying relevant. Joan Baez is a talented vocalist, but in terms of relevancy to the legacy of folk music she is little more than an afterthought.

UPDATE: As some readers have called me out on it was not Joan Baez that wrote “In the Quiet Morning” it was her sister Mimi Farina. Thanks for the heads up & I apologize for my lack of research.

North Country Blues – Joan Baez

In The Quiet Morning – Joan Baez

You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Joan Baez

4th Time Around – Bob Dylan

Oh Mother Dear We’re Not the Fortunate Ones

I have a love/hate relationship with cover songs. There are some that are as good if not better than the originals, i.e. “All Along the Watchtower” by Hendrix (Originally by Bob Dylan), but then again there are those that fall flat, i.e. “Downtown Train” by Rod Stewart (Originally by Tom Waits). So it’s kind of a crap shoot on what you’re gonna get. There are a million covers that everyone has heard so I decided to compile a list of songs that, while well known, are not always covered.

It is quite something for an artist to do someone else’s work & create his own interpretation of it. There are times when an artist has one hit & that hit happens to be someone else’s song, see The Lemonheads cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” which was Evan Dando’s Mea Culpa though it wasn’t his song. In this case it’s because The Lemonheads are bad at music. Here are some covers that I think you may enjoy, because I did & I’m a music genius, when talking about other people’s music. I pretty much can only play “Suicide is Painless” (The Mash Theme) on guitar.

Okie From Muskogee (Merle Haggard) – James Taylor

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) – Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie

Thunder Road (Bruce Springsteen) – Matt Nathanson

Jealous Guy (John Lennon) – Donny Hathaway

When the Levee Breaks (Led Zeppelin) – Jeff Buckley

The Weight (The Band) – Gaslight Anthem

I Want it That Way (Backstreet Boys) – Ryan Adams

Bang, Bang (Nancy Sinatra/Sonny Bono) – The Raconteurs

Two of Us (The Beatles) – Aimee Mann & Michael Penn

Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley) – Pete Yorn

You Ain’t Going Nowhere (Bob Dylan & The Band) – Joan Baez

Chim Chim Cher-ee (Dick Van Dyke & Julie Andrews) – John Coltrane

Mixtape #2

My friend Jamie is back from Europe & I haven’t seen her for nearly two years so it’s gonna be great to hang with her again. So I figured I’d do a Mixtape on road trips, leaving, coming back & everything in between. So that is theme of my second Mixtape. Twelve songs about the wide open road. Tell me your favorite road songs in the comment section.

Thunder RoadBruce SpringsteenMTV Unplugged

My favorite song of all-time. This simple song talks about a theme we can all relate to & that’s just escaping a town with someone that makes you happy. The feeling of the wind blowing through your hair in a convertible going to God knows where just to get the hell outta here, wherever here is to you. With that familiar intro of the piano &  just Bruce. He describes the scene so vividly of  growing older. He speaks of the reality in talking about “Show a little faith there’s magic in the night, you ain’t a beauty but you’re alright & that’s alright with me” He doesn’t consider himself some savior in fact he offers little consolation if the girl is looking a “hero”. The only thing he has is a car that can get them out of the town they both seem to hate, but she’s afraid to leave. While Bruce paints this vivd picture it starts off the journey.

Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadElton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road

The ultimate road song parallelling the ultimate road movie, “The Wizard of Oz” & if you don’t think the “Wizard of Oz” is a road movie then you’re nuts. A movie where they’re constantly on the road, the yellow brick road for that matter, trying to get home is in fact a road movie. Perhaps, the first & greatest road movie of all time. The song talks about it as if it were happening to the singer himself. Escaping the travails of being wealthy & escaping to the simply & familiar life of plows & farm life.

Roadworn & WearyThe SupersuckersMust’ve Been High

The feeling one gets after travelling your whole life. The knowledge that it’s gonna be a long time before you see that love of yours. Taken from the perspective of a truck driver. Regardless of the distance, that person is still with you. While you feel that love for that girl you know that the job is the most important thing right now. This song has a simple little guitar solo in the middle & a killer harmonica solo at the end.

Where the Streets Have No NameU2Joshua Tree

Bono’s song about escaping from the perils of the world we seem to live in. Whther that place be Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana or just some place to “take shelter from the poison rain”. More a reality of the dangerous world we live in, similar to the Wizard of Oz analogy made earlier. It’s about going to “a better place”. Where petty conflicts do not exist, where live in simpler & we just bask in the warmth of the sun & feel the wind in our face.

Rainbows & Pots of GoldStereophonicsYou Gotta Go There to Come Back

This is not the typical road song like the others. It’s more of a song about taking a trip to the past. A song based in reality when, according to the Sun UK, Kelly Jones (Lead singer of the Stereophonics):

discovered band photographer Julian Castaldi was dating his ex-fiancee Emma Dunn, four weeks after they ended their 12-year relationship. Jones drove to his home, KICKED the door down, threw a BRICK through a window and SMASHED his two cars with a scaffolding pole.

So, in a sense, it is a road song.. He took a trip to destroy his ex-friend’s stuff because his ex-friend is a huge douche for dating his ex-girlfriend.

SalinaThe Avett BrothersEmotionalism

At first, you listen to this song & you think it’s about a band bidding farewell to the cities it leaves on the road, but then it takes a U-turn and becomes the story of bandits on the run. As it does the tempo changes as well, much like The Beatles, “A Day in the Life” it almost turns into a completely different song then reverts back to it’s slow banjo picked ballad as the narrator yearns for his home in Carolina. Then a slow, mournful piano leads the song out of the last minute & a half. it is quite beautiful.

Two of UsThe BeatlesLet It Be

On it’s face “Two of Us” is the consummate road song about trying to get home. Though, if you dig deeper, it more than adequately describes the relationship Paul McCartney & John Lennon have shared as their Beatles relationship collapses. The song is rife with metaphors about life on the road as members of the Beatles , both good times and bad times. Chasing paper, spending someone else’s hard earned pay are both symbols of money. However, the tell-tale sign is the transition line, “You & I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.” I’ve read someplace where people think it’s about Paul’s girlfriend, future wife Linda, but I just don’t buy it.This is a song about the mournful longing for happier times between old friends.

No Sleep Till BrooklynThe Beastie BoysLicensed to Ill

The Beastie Boys describing what it’s like to be a supergroup in the 80s. How many other Jewish Rappers do you know that could be as epic as the Beasties? This song has 2 amazing guitar solos by Kerry King from Slayer, while being a spoof of Motorhead’s album No Sleep Till Hammersmith. It’s also been said to be related to the film The Warriors, in which a gang must fight their way through New York City in order to get back to the safety of Coney Island.

Promised Land - Elvis PresleyPromised Land

Promised LandChuck BerryRock N’ Roll Rarities

Promised LandJohhnie AllanPromised Land

Originally written by Chuck Berry while serving a five year prison term for violating the Mann Act and borrowed an atlas from the prison library to plot the itinerary. In the lyrics, the singer (who refers to himself as “the poor boy”) tells of his journey from Norfolk, Virginia to the “Promised Land”, California, mentioning various cities along the way.  These are 3 different distinct versions of the same song. I love them all, but James Burton makes Elvis’ version ridiculous good. The two solos one in the middle are just good ole time rock n’ roll. Johnnie Allan’s is a swamp country style that really works well & Chuck Berry’s version is his own distinct style heavy on the snare & piano with the guitar playing merely the rhythm until :37 seconds in and he just let’s loose for a good 10 seconds. John Lennon said it best, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”

Welcome BackJohn SebastianThe Best of John Sebastian

The final song is the return home after the “Road Trip”. Returning back to the place where you started. the place where your friends are. The verse that speaks to the heart of the trip that runs full circle is:

And I know what a scene you were learning in
Was there something that made you come back again
And what could ever lead ya
Back here where we need ya
Yeah we tease him a lot cause we got him on the spot
Welcome back

Then a solid guitar harmonica solo by the former leader of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Recorded for the T.V. Show “Welcome Back Kotter” starring now poker star Gabe Kaplan & a young John Travolta. It speaks of dreams being fulfilled by coming back home where you belong. To the place where you can leave but never leaves you.

Happy 74th Birthday to the King

elvispresleypicture

It’s long been rumored that I am the illegitimate son of Elvis. Rumored by me mostly, but still it’s out there. I have always been a huge fan of Elvis’, his music more than his movies, but King Creole and Jailhouse Rock are excellent. While Bill Haley and The Comets and others may have started Rock n’ Roll, Elvis took to places no one ever expected it to go. While he may have not been the best singer in the world he came along at the right time being a white man with a black man’s voice.

Whether he was singing Gospel music, country/western, Rock-a-billy or anything else for that matter, Elvis had so much on stage charisma that to this day no one has ever come close to perfecting that swivel hip that made the girl’s swoon. I found this concert recently that really personifies everything Elvis was about. It’s called, It’s Midnight & while it’s one of his later concerts it’s still great.

At times, during the concert, he plays with the crowd, giving them the show they paid to see. He was the ultimate showman. He is not merely a singer, but a performer in the true sense of the word. Case in point listen to, “Fever”. Happy 74th birthday, King, I’m sure you’re reading this somewhere in hiding. Here’s a hunka hunka great gift to you, Elvis fans.

itsmidnightfront

Mp3 – Elvis PresleySee See Rider

I Got A Woman/Amen

Love Me

If You Love Me (Let Me Know)

It’s Midnight

Big Boss Man

Fever
Love Me Tender

All Shook Up

The Wonder of You

I’m Leavin’

Softly As I Leave You

Spanish Eyes

Hound Dog

You Gave Me a Mountain

Polk Salad Annie

Introductions By Elvis

If You Talk In Your Sleep

Why Me Lord

Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel

How Great Thou Art

Let Me Be There

Elvis Introduces His Father

Early Morning Rain

Hawaiian Wedding Song

Can’t Help Falling in Love