Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rodriguez And More

DQ Music Advisor Chris Hornbostel sent in this note about Rodriguez:
I just love how...different...Cold Fact sounds.  By that I mean that it seems like a hybrid that is so stupidly obvious when you hear it executed, but sounds like there's no way it could work:  combining folk music with the urban sensibilities of Motown.

For instance, take a song like "Inner City Blues".  It opens with this simple acoustic rhythm guitar and a tambourine/snare slap on the two-four, and just Rodriguez singing.  It's all very Dylan.

Then the second verse comes in, and immediately on the "Met a girl from Dearborn" line, a bass comes in, very spare...and then at the end of every line a string section answers him almost like a call-and-response vocal.

And you know, you hear the lyrics to that song, and before I'd seen "Searching For Sugar Man" I thought of them as very specific to Detroit, 1970 and the unrest there at that point in history.  I found myself wondering how a song like that fits into anti-apartheid rebellion.  You get to the line at the end of the second verse, though (and here a horn section pops in with some punctuation, along with a second guitar playing a lead figure) and you hear it clear as day if you're listening for it:  "'Cause papa don't allow no new ideas here."  It was like a bolt of lightning the way it hit me then.  Of course if you were a South African chafing at your political system, that line would resonate.  "And now he sees the news but the picture's not too clear."  Brilliant line, that.  And then there's this bridge thing--maybe a chorus--that comes up with the snare hitting on every beat, 1-2-3-4, and that's so Motown, it's as if they lifted it right out of a Stevie Wonder song.  I have no idea where the idea came from to marry those Motown sounds--the strings and horns and drum rhythms--to standard folk music idioms, but not only does it work, it sounds incredibly out of its own time.  It's as if someone picked up a record from 2012 and plopped it into 1970 as a joke.

What I really enjoy about Chris's writing is that he can be both concise and lush at the same time. Here's one more note from him about a huge day in both world history and music history:
Earlier this month you posted a link to a fascinating story about how there were secretly nukes on the island during the whole Cuban Missile staredown in 1962.  Today is October 24th, and exactly 50 years ago today was probably the scariest and closest we've ever come as a planet to wiping one another out.

I was wondering if you knew what else happened on October 24, 1962, though.  Seems that on the evening that JFK authorized the Pentagon to take us to DEFCON 2 for the only time in history, a struggling soul singer named James Brown performed a sold-out show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Brown was well known among R&B fans already, but was considered to mostly have appeal only to black audiences at that time.  Brown blamed his record company for failing to market him well to a mass audience.  He also felt like the record company--King Records--had tried to stifle the spontaneity and wildness of his performance by having him held to very "safe" and sterile choices in the studio that failed to capture the excitement that Brown was capable of bringing.  Brown desperately wanted to release a live album, and begged King to record his show at the Apollo.  The label was reluctant to do so.  King Records President Syd Nathan told Brown that no one would by an album full of live versions of songs that King had already released as studio singles.  Brown ended up having to pay for the recording of his midnight show on October 24, 1962 out of his own pocket.  With little risk, King went ahead and released the record, expecting it to stiff.

James Brown's "Live At The Apollo" of course went to #2 on the pop charts, launched James Brown to a worldwide audience, stayed in the Hot 100 for 14 months, and is obviously still considered one of those must-have records in any collection (Rolling Stone lists it at #24 in their Top 500 Albums Of All Time list).

I'd like to think the reason the world didn't blow itself up on October 24, 1962 is that people wanted to hear that live recording.  Maybe not, though.

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