Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Payin' the cost to be the boss

09:24am 02 Oct 2015


Every Thursday, as long time readers and/or followers of the Facebook page for Blog on the Tracks will know, I post up a question, I ask for a suggestion for Friday's blog. And sometimes one sneaks through and I use it. It's been a while since I've taken one of the weekly suggestions but today is one of those occasions.

So, my thanks to Jumpin' Jimmy Jazz who asked "What song would you pay cash-money never to hear again? If someone could guarantee it, what would you stump up the big bucks for?" Jumpin' Jimmy went on to suggest two of the overplayed staples, Hotel California and Stairway To Heaven. But there are others...and this is where you come in. Also - some people are happy, still, with Stairway. And possibly with Hotel California. Though I'm not interested in meeting such a person, nor the added requirements such a meeting would hold, such as shaving their back, corking the end of their fork, or hosting any kind ofMaybe... necessary "awakening".

It's just a bit of Friday-fun, a silly hypothetical - which doesn't mean you can't be deadly serious in your rage, in your hatred for Bohemian Rhapsody or whatever else.

First pick for me, off the top of my head, would be Under My Skin by Gin Wigmore - but then, I just read a review of Maroon 5 playing in Christchurch and I straightaway figured that never having to hear any Maroon 5 song ever again would assist in a life of bliss.

Yes, yes, you can change the channel, you can choose to not buy - or buy into - the hype or the hits but this, being a silly hypothetical, goes a bit bigger than that. We're talking ubiquity here, songs you can't avoid. And I'm sure we've talked about this before. But I liked that framing of it, the idea that for an undisclosed sum, you could shut down a song forever, kill all chances of ever having to bump into it.

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Keith Richards vs. David Gilmour

03:45pm 01 Oct 2015


I mentioned in passing the other day that I quite like the new album by Keith Richards, well, I was surprised by it as much as anything. I'm not going to go telling you it's a must-have, there'll be plenty of people not receptive to it at all - if you never liked Keith's non-singer voice you're probably not about to start now (I think he's getting closer and closer to Bob Dylan in some ways - that voice/non-voice becoming even more of an instrument the more gnarled it gets). But I just didn't think there'd be anything much going on with a new album by Keith Richards, his first in over two decades. It's now been over a decade since the last album by The Rolling Stones - what could he/they possibly have to say; there's certainly no need to have to say it too. They're doing just fine living off past glories, accumulated funds and can strike up a reason to start up a tour whenever they feel like it.Crosseyed Heart

But what works about Keith's album is that he gets to play to his strengths, including those ballads, especially those ballads. The last 30 years has seen a Keith-cooed closer on most of the Stones' albums - even those so-called howlers (like Dirty Work)  have a song by Keith Richards (in that case, Sleep Tonight) which really works. So, on Crosseyed Heart, Keith gets to play four or five of those rather than his usual allotted one or two.

Around the same time as Keith's new album - the ghastly new solo record from David Gilmour arrived. I couldn't help but draw parallels, connections between the two. It's been a single decade between Gilmour solo records but last year's final Pink Floyd album, The Endless River (basically just 'leftovers') was the first from the band in twenty years.

There'll be no more Floyd. We know that now - there were hints across the two-decade silence, and Endless River didn't really need to happen. Sure, it sold a heap, people wanted to hear it - I was sucked in too, I was enough of a Floyd fan to hope for the best - but it didn't need to happen. Proof there that even hoping for the best isn't always enough. I'm pretty sure The Endless River is the best Pink Floyd album we could have hoped for in 2014 (even if most of it was made in 1994).

But Gilmour's new solo album, Rattle That Lock, makes The Endless River sound like the second coming of your favourite Floyd - whatever that may be for you.

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02:25pm 30 Sep 2015


Recently I've been listening to this Frank Sinatra album, Watertown. It's the second old Frank Sinatra album that's become a new favourite for me this year. Listening to the great podcast, You Must Remember This I got hooked on Trilogy. Trilogy is kinda-bonkers, kinda-fun. Watertown, however, is a masterpiece. A lost classic - underrated in its time, forgotten, crushed by dismal sales, made by a man falling out of time and sitting out of place.Watertown

I grew up digging a bit of Frank Sinatra, my mother's influence. She loves Frank - and we used to play some old records and later CDs. We used to enjoy those big, brassy, bold arrangements - the big-band stuff. There was a DVD I had a decade or so ago, it had a performance of Frank with Buddy Rich - my mum had taught me about Buddy before she'd ever mentioned Frank. Buddy was my hero and he clearly dug Frank; they'd not only worked together, Frank was a massive influence on Buddy Rich - there are a couple of albums where Buddy Rich puts down the sticks and steps up to the microphone. His singing voice comes from Sinatra. He's not as good - obviously. But he's one of the best singing drummers you perhaps never knew about. And for someone that good at the drums - a virtuoso, a child prodigy - it's remarkable to hear that he could have had a shot as a singer.

After a while that big-band jazz and the "start spreadin' the news" shtick seemed tired and silly. And besides, I was absorbing the Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy worlds. Sonny Rollins and McCoy Tyner and George Benson and Roy Haynes were the names that meant things to me and Sinatra was just an old crooner.

But then I returned to Sinatra when I found out about Forlorn Frank. The world-weary Sinatra of those 50s records - some of the world's first concept albums, Sinatra singing about pain and loss, about long, dark nights of the soul, up all night drinking, thinking, remembering the love he once had...
Those are the records that still get me - every time - when I think about Sinatra. When I listen to Sinatra.

And then earlier this year I listened to Trilogy, after checking out Karina Longworth's episode, Frank Sinatra in Space, from the aforementioned (must-listen) podcast. And I was suddenly hooked on all things Sinatra. Again. Yes, the Forlorn Frank is best, but the big-band guy can be fun too. That Rat Pack stuff, the movies, the insecurities...part of the appeal of Frank Sinatra is the myth around him - the all-powerful guy with alleged mob-connections, ringing up radio DJs and having them fired for passing comment on his work. This same guy was reduced to nothing when the women in his life would leave.

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The Grace Jones book is here!

02:16pm 29 Sep 2015


I'm about to start reading Grace Jones' memoir ("I'll Never Write My Memoirs"). I can't imagine this not being terrific. She's been helped by Paul Morley who is a great writer. But also it's Grace Jones. I remember being mesmerised by her when I was a young kid - the Island Life LP is my go-to now, my reminder of those great tunes from the 1980s. It seemed like - all at once - Grace Jones was on the radio and on the TV and in films, she was a model, a fashion icon, an action hero and a pop star. Her albums pulsed - thrill-rides with the best players helping her to realise strange new worlds by reinventing old standards, transmogrifying jazz balladry, twisting disco and reggae so that you almost didn't know (and certainly didn't care) where one ended and the other started.I'll Never Write My Memoirs

In recent years Pull Up To The Bumper has been one of my favourite songs to DJ; one of my favourite songs - period. There's the nostalgia-nod, remembering my aunty's tape collection, the parties the parents were having - us kids hiding in the other room, pepped up on juice and chippies and listening in to get a hint of the conversation, sneaking out for a late-night dance.

But there's also just the thrill of the song, the lick and curl of that bassline. The snap of the rhythm as it coils itself back into place after that tantalising way it unfurls.

We didn't know - back then - that it was a flat out filthy song. It was just a damn good pop song. Now it's both - filthy, funny - and (still) shockingly good.

Those eighties albums were (and are) magnificent. Trevor Horn, Sly & Robbie, great players and producers involved. Interesting covers - the songs that Grace Jones created herself, or co-created, or reinvented. Oscar, my three year old, recently decided that Island Life was his new favourite CD and he focussed in on Walking In The Rain - which immediately sold the song to me as my new favourite Grace Jones track.

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11:00am 28 Sep 2015


I missed my own birthday. Or, my blog's birthday rather - this blog, Blog On The Tracks. Last week Blog On The Tracks turned eight. Eight years is, well, nuts. It's one more than seven - but in turning up each week day to write a blog years eight is a bit like 500 or 6000 or something bigger even...8

It's stupid anyway. I know that much. Last week I went from the joys of loving Luna to having a whinge about how I shouldn't really ever be having a whinge (or something?) in a day. And I forgot to mark this blog's eighth birthday. I've ticked off all of the birthdays here - since I took those first, super-tentative, completely underwhelming steps back in September of 2007.

Eight years ago we had just been on holiday in Fiji and I had hurriedly scribbled down about 15 blog-post ideas; I filtered them through in those first few months - the blog debuting when we returned from the trip. I worked in a bookstore at the time and would run down to an internet café in my lunch break to check when it had been posted, to reply to some comments...eight years later we were on holiday in Vanuatu where there was no internet and I missed a day of blogging. I received a dozen Facebook messages asking if I was "okay". In between those two holidays I have sometimes felt okay, sometimes not but I have always felt owned - every day - by this blog. I signed up, as all freelance writers do, for homework. Extra for experts. Or something stupid like that...

I like feeling owned. I guess. Or at least I'm used to it.Osc

I've changed jobs a couple of times - scratching this out in the wee small hours and then turning up to punch the clock elsewhere, braindead but passably human.

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