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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Music in the Wake of John Lennon's Death

We know how John Lennon's death affected our emotions, but did it change the course of music in the early 1980's? I think these bands had a new sadness in their next offerings after December 8, 1980 ...

The Vapors: After already delivering their up-tempo, but melancholy classic "Turning Japanese," they return with a heavy and beautiful album Magnets with yet another great single "Jimmie Jones."  Feel the power and the sadness in the single and the album whole.

XTC: As mind-blowing as The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver, but without imitating those albums, they delivered Black Sea. (Thanks to a new punky energy of the time, especially evident on the vocals). This true heir to The Beatles recoils from the spotlight while still in their prime for 1982's English Settlement with a change of direction and Andy Partridge opting-out of live performance soon after. (Note: They would imitate The Beatles straight-out at a later date, under both the XTC banner and as The Dukes of Stratosphear).

The Kinks: For 1981's Give The People What They Want, the songs "Killer's Eyes" and "Better Things" certainly pack the punch for trying to deal with the mental state of a killer and then, with a heavy heart, give hope for the future.  From the greatest truth-saying songwriter of all-time, alongside of Lennon, Ray Davies.

David Bowie: After bringing his RCA career full-circle with "Ashes to Ashes," Bowie takes a time-out with only the singles "Under Pressure" and "Cat People" until his reinvention with "Let's Dance," "China Girl," and "Modern Love."  Excellent, but very different from the Bowie of old.  Bowie, lest we forget, actually co-wrote "Fame" with Lennon & Carlos Alomar. (He also recorded Lennon's "Across the Universe" on the same album ... Young Americans).

Paul McCartney: The master songwriter and Beatle who helped make the history we reference.  Poor Paul would never make another cutting edge record outside of the surprising Press to Play album of 1986. (A messy time for rock giants and an album left to die after the bad single choice of "Press" and its limp video companion).  Paul, who after the breakup of The Beatles, would be the only one of the four to experiment with invention inside the compact pop format, while John and George simply spoke their minds (to outstanding results, of course). Paul would be a broken man. But forever the performer who brings smiles to faces the world over.

Joe Walsh: Probably thought of as just a classic rocker throwback. Joe knows how to deliver the goods with words that have meaning. A great example is 1981's There Goes the Neighborhood with greats like "A Life of Illusion" and "Rivers (of the Hidden Funk)."

Adrian Belew: Man of many hats; guitarist extraordinaire to the eclectics like Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson ('80's line-up) who, on top of all he does, can write a song as if Lennon was here with us today.....amazing!

----------------Special Mentions----------------------

The Who: After suffering from their own loss of Keith Moon, the next album would be kinda like a Who album, kinda not. But, Pete Townshend would comment on the times from which they came and continue to do so for his solo albums of the '80's.

Robert Plant: After Led Zeppelin folded due to the death of John Bonham, Robert Plant emerges with incredibly soulful, wonderfully musical, and even Zeppelin-echoed masterpieces of serenity.

The personal reflection coming from these tunes also remind ... Elton John's "I'm Still Standing", a bouncy tune with a serious chorus.  ELO's "Hold On Tight" is retro, but serious.  The power of "Magical Mystery Tour" comes alive again when, of all artists, Hall & Oats drive home the final two minutes of "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid." Passion blasts in "The Breakup Song" from Greg Kihn Band with the refrain of "They just don't write 'em like that anymore" and "Time to play B-Sides" from Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' For You". While "Some are still around...Some gone underground" from Steve Miller Band's "Things I Told You" calmly and sadly states a new reality.  I sense an open wound when Eric Clapton sings "Another Ticket" even if it's supposed to be a song released in 1981 like any other. (But note, it's also the album's title and one of the few Clapton albums to not have his image on the cover!  The Ramones Pleasant Dreams, also from '81, breaks away from an image of the band.)

How about songs that bring tears for simply sounding sad, some that are years before the tragedy? "Modern Times" by Code Blue reminds me specifically of "Nobody Told Me" from Milk & Honey.  A great song reminding me of another great song! What a treat for me! And it predates it! Like Chris Bell predating the Lennon masterpiece "Woman" with his masterpiece "I Am The Cosmos."  (For those of you lucky enough to see The Posies live, they play this song.) Does The Beach Boys' "All I Wanna Do" (from 1970) remind you of Lennon's "#9 Dream"? These two songs weren't meant to bring tears, I presume. And, of course, the band who perfected the use and reuse into infinity of the style of Lennon's "Cold Turkey," Cheap Trick! With half of their catalog being something that should probably be buried in the yard, the other half reminds us of Lennon's legacy at one extreme.

There continues to be songs that recap a band's career musically, emotionally, and lyrically with a nod to the weight of The Beatles' Abbey Road and Let It Be, even if a band doesn't end. "Ordinary World" by Duran Duran comes to mind. The Bee Gees' "This Is Where I Came In" certainly creates a powerful, emotional coda for this group's last single.

I was almost 13 years old when Lennon was killed and part of me was destroyed right then. A mighty blow from which I can never fully recover. But, thanks to the music of great artists who made meaningful music that has carried us through, a tip-of-the-hat and my praise to them from now until the end.

Road Music: You Can Do Better!

If you live in Los Angeles, I need you to start playing a soundtrack appropriate for this town and its’ intense history.  It’s been too long since I’ve heard a tune of any worth coming from a vehicle in this city of great movie and music history.

Now, I’m not expecting you to play my favorite songs of course, but at least the hits by these bands that made music worthy of being heard on a regular basis.  You’d be surprised by all the great emotionally or intellectually hard driven tunes that are out there for you to blast. And I’m talking about wacko tunes from artists not known by the average citizen for being wacko. You are missing out by settling for what passes for entertainment nowadays. The great songwriters are gone. Enjoy their most exciting works. Listen to an entire catalog before falling back to adding only a hits collection into your ipod.

The quality of your life is directly related to what you feed your mind. George Carlin made such a reference once how we worry about keeping our bodies in shape only to feed our minds junk. Not everything we produce is worthy of worship. The industry would shrink if what came from it was only of the highest quality.

So it is up to you! Start small, but start.

Since experimental rock history is dead and buried on a commercial level, go back to when the last new radio sounds were released: 1979 to 1984. If you can handle the lack of sonic punch from even an earlier time, go back to the 1960’s.

Don’t be bashful in blasting your favorite tunes. Get out there and crank it up !