Sunday, February 21, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Mary J. Blige doing "I Feel Good"

Basically this is a Ne-Yo song sung by Mary J. Blige. Great idea, if you ask me, since Ne-Yo and his regular production partners Stargate were my favorite musicians to emerge last decade. (I think. Unless the White Stripes count.) Mary J. even seems to imitate Ne-Yo's singing style in this song--her voice is smooth and restrained, but she throws in little vibrato quavers at the end of each line. Maybe this approach is simply endemic to Ne-Yo songs, encoded in the way they're written. Have a listen:

Ne-Yo, in turn, seems to have picked up this style from Michael Jackson's softer side, particularly the song "Human Nature." In fact, I hear much of his/Stargate's catalog as teasing out the implications of "Human Nature"--the music, not the words. The beats may be different, but the singing always comes from MJ.

And then there's the chord progressions! "Human Nature" provides a wealth of unusually beautiful chord progressions to play with. This particular song, "I Feel Good," explores the way "Human Nature" centers around a minor ii chord ("does hedoitthat way..."). Ne-Yo's own "When You're Mad" plays with the keyboard riff's IV/V/flat-III-Maj7/IV progression. "Sexy Love" takes up the IV/V/I6/IV from the verses. Um, I'm pretty sure there are others that I won't analyze today. Not bad for a song written by Steve Porcaro, aka "One of the Guys from Toto"! (Maybe "Human Nature" is just teasing out the implications of "Africa" or something. The thought gives me pause.) Anyway, I won't post all that stuff cause who knows what four Youtube embeds would do to your computer, but go to Youtube! Go on! All these songs are there! Trust me, you'll feel good.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: David Bowie Doing "'Heroes'" (also there will be Neu!)

Never a fan of ironic distance, I nonetheless succumb to adding the infamous "'Heroes'" scare quotes. According to this fascinating and well-researched wiki, Bowie added them "to impart an ironic quality" to this wonderfully romantic song. Now why would he want to do that? No shame in writing a beautiful song, even if you are the Goblin King. Tell me if he's written one better. (This bizarre clip is from the Bing Crosby Christmas special of 1977. Weird sound mix and some "interesting" "pantomime":)

Or, if you prefer, the unembeddable original promo video. And it's also on Bowie's new live album, A Reality Tour, in a stripped-down version that emphasizes the Velvet Underground guitar groove. (I've heard it innumerable times over the past week because of my four-year-old's David Bowie obsession. No complaints.)

"'Heroes'" came during a period of Bowie's life when he was really into dolphins and krautrock. We've all been there. So his 1977 album, and this song, are named at least partly in homage to Neu!, German critics' darlings who will make you break the speed limit if you listen to them in your car. Here's their 1975 "Hero":

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Surfing With Holy Soldier

Come on, man--why don't you look into Holy Soldier?

Unbeknownst to me, before I happily stumbled across the above Dio/Rainbow cover, there were TWO Holy Soldiers, albeit with some continuity in their personnel. Basically, they were High-Voiced Soldier and Low-Voiced Soldier. The High-Voiced Soldier I grew up with featured Steven Patrick on lead vocals. He had a great voice! He sang with a quivering tenor that gave every song an undertone of exquisite pain, sort of like Brad Delp of the band Boston. Patrick always sounded like he just couldn't get enough God. So when you hear a song like "Love Me," my favorite, you really feel that this guy's at his wit's end and NEEDS God in a way that only his voice can express:

Low-Voiced Soldier--remakers of Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon" and Larry Norman's "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus"--were fronted by Eric Wayne. I don't really know anything about him, aside from his hairy machismo. According to Lutheran theologian/CCM critic Mark Allan Powell, the Wayne-led album Promise Man is supposed to be really good. (But then he says they sound like "Crash Test Dummies doing Soundgarden songs," so I don't know WHAT to believe!) Me, I'll rep for the High-Voiced 1990 debut, Holy Soldier, and maybe the High-Voiced followup Last Train, which I listened to on the bus en route to a band contest once. It had a cover of "Gimme Shelter" and may have been beautiful. I can't promise anything beyond that, but it's gonna cost you, what?, a buck, so why not shell out and take a chance?

AS FAR AS THEIR TENUOUS RELATION TO BABYLON: Um, they covered Rainbow for this 1995 movie Raging Angels, an Alan Smithee film that featured Shelly Winters in a very special role as Grandma Ruth. Here's what one IMDB commenter has to say:

"The ending sees a rather over tanned Archangel take on the Devil in a rubbish sword fight, as well as some of the most rip off music.

"Buy this movie."

I think we can all imagine the depths of suck this movie would drag us through*. Nonetheless, it's worth noting that the idea of Babylon-as-hell is alive and well, even in the most dire B-movie universes. Also worth noting that although the song "Gates of Babylon" is narrated by the devil, there's nothing that says a Christian metal band can't cover it. It's sort of like The Screwtape Letters, or Petra's "Killing My Old Man" ("So I'll nail him to the wood..."). I'm admittedly out of the CCM loop, but it seems like Back Then was a more adventurous time. (sigh...) (Please prove me wrong...)

High-Voiced Soldier have one more Babylon reference, on their debut album. In the grimly eschatological "When the Reign Comes Down," Steven Patrick sings with trademark desperation about Babylon burning, the world stopping its turning, the sky raining fire, the flames rising higher, and--whoa baby, check out what's in store for rapists and killers:

"The scavenger of lost souls
It feeds as they expire
Licks the lips of the mouth of Hell
And spews eternal fire"

Tell me again, why was I allowed to listen to these guys but not Slayer?

*The soundtrack featured another (High-Voiced) Soldier tune, "The Pain Inside of Me," along with Stryper's "To Hell With the Devil" (over the end credits) and lead actor Sean Patrick Flanery's--yes--"Come In My Mind." (Now THERE'S an invitation!) Plus Boston, Golden Earring, and Candlebox! Remember Candlebox?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Helloween doing "White Room"

Better riff and more funk than the original, and it's by a GERMAN POWER METAL BAND. Let that sink in for a moment. This cover outdoes Cream's original RHYTHMICALLY. Helloween almost sound like Guns 'n' Roses! Wonders will not cease.

And since it's Friday, here's a twofer! (It was hard to choose.) Helloween's excellent Metal Jukebox album also boasts covers of Abba, Babe Ruth, and this tune by Focus, in all its goofy yodeling glory:

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Best Thing I Heard Today: Husker Du doing "Friend, You've Got to Fall"

Can you hear the treetops in the distance?

This is one of Bob Mould's Cautionary Advice songs, sort of like Janet Jackson's "Black Cat" two years later. Of course, the advice is palatable because it's also a Husker Du song. In fact, here's my advice for stagers of interventions: incorporate black sheets of guitar squall and a fantastic rhythm section into your shtick, and that hollow-eyed friend will have no choice but to listen to you. (Don't Grant and Greg sound GOOD on this one? Loose! They're not always like that.) If you can sing your advice through four distinct key changes, that also helps. Lets 'em know you went to some trouble.

Incidentally, here's the menu from Greg Norton's restaurant in Minnesota, where I now TOTALLY want to eat. He's still got the handlebar mustache!