RIP: Pete Quaife

Pete Quaife, original bassist for The Kinks, died on June 23rd in Denmark of kidney failure. Featured on such classic tracks as "You Really Got Me", "All Day and All of the Night", "Tired of Waiting for You", "Sunny Afternoon" and "Waterloo Sunset", Quaife was in the band from their 1963 formation to his departure in 1969.

After becoming a respected graphic artist following his tenure in The Kinks, Quaife once joined them onstage for a 1981 concert in Canada and was present for the band's 1990 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He was 66 years old.


A Baker's Dozen: Mr. Jones' Fave Singles of the '00s

Yeah, we listed our fave singles of the decade in our '00s recap,
but decided to man up and choose the top dogs. (Also, a bit of free time helped bring this list to fruition.) So, 6 months later, here they are:

13. Outkast - “Hey Ya!” (2003)

Flaming Lips channeling Prince? Whatever. "Shake it like a Polaroid picture", indeed.

12. Pearl Jam - “The Fixer” (2009)
A late-period anthemic single by a veteran band seemingly having fun for the first time. Yes, it rocks.

11. U2 - "Beautiful Day" (2000)
A breath of fresh air at the tail end of the boy band/nü metal onslaught of the late '90s. Whew!

10. Audioslave - "Cochise" (2002)
The first—and biggest—rock supergroup of the first decade of the 21st century didn't always gel, but when they did...

9. Freelance Hellraiser - "A Stroke of Genius" (2001)
The pun in this mash-up's title arrogantly but aptly nails it. Hats off to anyone who can make us like a song featuring two artists we do not care for. Brilliant.

8. Queens of the Stone Age - "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" (2000)
Before QOTSA's ZZ Top influence lost its subtlety, the band could effortlessly blend menace with melody. Wish they'd revisit that.

7. Zwan - "Honestly" (2003)
A delight for those of us who missed the classic Smashing Pumpkins sound. And like #4, it gets extra points for featuring the lovely Paz Lenchantin on bass.

6. The Raconteurs - “Steady, As She Goes” (2006)
"Find yourself a girl and settle down / live a simple life in a quiet town..." Never before did straightforward advice sound so good.

5. JLS - "Maco Jones" (2003)
Everything metal is supposed to be: a riff-heavy, hard-stomping slab of in-your-face rudeness and controversy.

4. A Perfect Circle - “Judith” (2000)
As stated before, we don't share the sentiment of the lyrics one bit, but find the song and the David Fincher-directed clip, equally intoxicating.

3. Norah Jones - "Don't Know Why" (2002)
Yeah, the not-really-jazz album which contains it has since surpassed Kind of Blue as the biggest selling jazz record of all time, but this song is indeed a most beautiful thing.

2. Weezer - “Keep Fishin” (2002)
Simply put, three minutes and five seconds of pure ear-candy bliss, with a fantastic nostalgia-ride of a video clip to match.

1. Death Cab for Cutie - "The Sound of Settling" (2003)
Short, sweet and imbued with a joyous vibe not frequently heard in their catalog.


A Wizard, A True Star

The Ballad of Todd Rundgren [Bearsville-1971]
Something/Anything? [Bearsville-1972]
A Wizard, A True Star [Bearsville-1973]
Todd [Bearsville-1974]
Initiation [Bearsville-1975]
Faithful [Bearsville-1976]
Hermit of Mink Hollow [Bearsville-1978]
Back to the Bars [Bearsville-1978]
Healing [Bearsville-1981]
The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect [Bearsville-1983]
A Cappella [Warner Bros-1985]
Nearly Human [Warner Bros-1985]
2nd Wind [Warner Bros-1991]
No World Order [Rhino/Forward-1993]
The Individualist [Digital Entertainment-1995]
Up Against It [Pony Canyon-1997]
With a Twist [Guardian-1997]
One Long Year [Artemis-2000]
Liars [Sanctuary-2004]
Arena [Hi-Fi-2008]

Since he formally began his music career with [The] Nazz in 1966, Todd Rundgren has been one of the hardest-working artists in rock and roll. Considered a genius and visionary by those permanently impressed by the monumental talent of this songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer--his many clients include Badfinger, Cheap Trick, Grand Funk, Hall & Oates, Meat Loaf, The New York Dolls, The Psychedelic Furs, Patti Smith, The Tubes, XTC--Rundgren has, however, been a bit erratic through the years: records of brilliant, prodigious genius occupy space in his catalog alongside incomprehensible, baffling, and in some cases, downright mediocre ones. Of his dozens of albums as an artist we have chosen to focus on those which bear his name and left his work with Utopia and the aforementioned Nazz, respectively, for another time.

The first 3
discs, strongly influenced by legendary songwriter Carole King, are probably the best known by casual listeners and cemented his reputation as a master of pop craft. Runt is a very promising start, in which then 22 year old Rundgren clearly shows he can hang with the big boys. He also managed to reach the Top 20 with "We Gotta Get You A Woman." In their review of the album, Rolling Stone ranked The Ballad of Todd Rundgren as "the best album Paul McCartney never made". And while that description is a tad hyperbolic it's no less thrilling a record and even better than the debut. "Bleeding" and "Chain Letter" are the mark of an accomplished guitarist and rocker, while "Wailing Wall" is a beautiful piano ballad that is among the best ever written by the man.

If you've listened to FM radio sometime in the last 40 years you are surely familiar with the biggest hit off Something/Anything?, the unforgettable rock/soul classic "Hello, It's Me". But the album to which it belongs is itself considered the top artistic and commercial achievement of Mr. Rundgren's career, ranging from power pop ("I Saw The Light") and soul ballads ("Dust in the Wind"), to pseudo show tunes ("Song of the Viking"), hard rock ("Black Maria") and everything in between. Originally released as a double album on vinyl and later re-released on 2 CDs, Rundgren played every note and sang each word over three sides, while Side 4 is a pseudo operetta involving a number of stellar musicians, including brothers Randy and Michael Brecker on trumpet and saxophone, respectively; famed guitarist Rick Derringer, and John Siomos of Frampton Comes Alive! fame, on drums. Something/Anything? is a dazzling tour de force, highly influential, and one of the crowning achievements of '70s popular music.

However, right on the verge of superstardom, Rundgren changed course and released A Wizard, A True Star, a dense, experimental, futuristic, synth-dominated album indeed, but one that still retained his gift for melody, as "International Feel", "Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off ", "Sometimes I Don't Know How To Feel", "Does Anybody Love You?", "I Don't Want to Tie You Down" and "Just One Victory" can attest to. It is notable, moreover, for its influence on artists like The Flaming Lips, Hot Chip, and MGMT.

Some 11 months later, and turning further away from his brand of pop, Rundgren released the baffling double album
Todd, confusing many of his followers and causing a conflict with his label Bearsville, which did not understand the decidedly uncommercial direction in which their golden boy was now heading.

For his sixth album, Rundgren--who by this time was under the strong influence of British prog rockers Yes--decided to ride the prog wave and got members of Utopia to accompany him on the adventure known as Initiation. Swayed by new influences ("Treatise On Fire" consists of 4 parts and lasts a total of 30 minutes) and bearing a strong spiritual motif in its lyrics, the album is the starting point for the music he would make with Utopia for more than a decade.

The first half of Faithful is almost identical reinterpretations of songs by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, and The Yardbirds released around 1966, the year
Rundgren launched his career. While impressive in theory, the execution leaves much to be desired, as there is very little of his own stamp throughout. The second half, however, is comprised of his own songs, including "Love of the Common Man", "Cliché" and "(The Verb) To Love".

In 1978, following the breakup of a long romantic relationship, Rundgren returned to the pop of his first three albums, with The Hermit of Mink Hollow turning out to be one of his very best. This is where the monumental "Can We Still Be Friends?" resides. At the end of the year, with his label clamoring for a best-of package, Rundgren agrees somewhat: Back to the Bars is a double live album that includes many of his great songs recorded over 3 different shows.

The last two albums for Bearsville, Healing and The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, could not be more different: the former is somewhat experimental, but slightly subdued and imbued with a prominent spiritual sensibility; the latter, a grab bag/clearing house of sorts, which is home to arguably the man's second best known song: the insufferable "Bang on the Drum All Day". (The
Healing re-issue includes the non-album single "Time Heals", its video among the first to air on MTV.)

Rejected by Bearsville but released by Warner Brothers, A Capella is exactly what its title describes: Rundgren created an entire album using only his voice. An impressive demonstration of his undeniable talent, no doubt, but not much else there. Recorded live in the studio with a full band, on Nearly Human he returned to the soul music he'd always loved and occasionally explored, yielding a positive response from both fans and critics alike. 2nd Wind, the last of his 3 albums for Warner Brothers, was recorded in the same way as the previous one, but failed to garner the same type of reaction from either camp.

It seems ironic that an acclaimed producer could release albums of questionable, demo-sounding fidelity as Rundgren has in recent years. But even sadder still, is the equally lackluster songwriting. Worth taking into account are two exceptions: With a Twist, a collection of many Rundgren favorites ("I Saw The Light", "Hello, It's Me", "Can We Still Be Friends?"), a Marvin Gaye cover ("I Want You") and a better version of "Influenza" (originally on The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect), convincingly recast as lounge tunes ("Hello, It's Me" is reworked to sound closer to the original, inferior Nazz version); and Liars, a solid electronica record whose highlights include "Future" and "Past", among others.


El Maestro

In 1963, producer/musician Johnny Pacheco founded the legendary Fania label in New York City, not only becoming one of the pioneering forces behind the emergence of salsa, but also irrevocably altering the Afro-Cuban musical landscape forever. Regarded by many as the Latino equivalent to Motown, Fania gave us, among many, many others, the likes of Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe, and of course The Fania All-Stars. (The latter's Live at Yankee Stadium was included in the list of recordings preserved in the United States National Recording Registry.) As it took hold of the burgeoning salsa scene, the label's music became an inescapable part of the fabric of Latino New York for decades and established deep roots all over the Spanish-speaking world.

The Dominican-born, New York-reared Pacheco always had a keen eye for discovering and nurturing talent, so when it came time to assemble a solid lineup for his own records, it was practically a given that the level of musicianship would be off the charts. On El Maestro his fluid and enticing arrangements, the incomparable voice of Hector Casanova, and Papo Lucca's tasty piano grooves and licks, are just a few of the elements that make this album a timeless classic. As the kids say, this is the shit. Go buy it. Now.

Highlights: "Las Muchachas", "El Chivo", "Préstame los Guantes", "Yo Quiero Una Mujer", "Yo No Parlevu France".


Time Flies...1994-2009

[Big Brother/Sony]

Say what you will about Oasis, but the Manchester quintet went out on top. Granted, when their demise came about, after 15 years of scandals, sackings and spectacular sibling rivalry--pardon the alliteration--they were not the once heralded Brit pop saviors of the mid-to late '90s; a band whose 1996 appearance at Knebworth was the fastest selling ticket in British concert history. Yet, this group of veterans still retained a numerous, loyal international fan base and their swansong was actually one of the finest albums in their catalog.

Promoted as a celebration of that decade and a half of music making, the 2-CD set Time Flies includes every one of Oasis' UK singles, plus US hit "Champagne Supernova", 27 tracks in all. Great, right? Not quite. We could bitch about the lack of a chronological order but that's a highly subjective matter and we've got bigger fish to fry here. Namely, the absence of important pieces of the musical puzzle that was the band's output.

One of the things that made Oasis great was not how good their best songs were but how many outstanding ones there happened to be. And a sizable portion of those were throwaway b-sides and album tracks. So many in fact, that when The Masterplan collection was released to remedy that situation in 1998, it's appearance as a single disc was deemed a disappointment by those who argued that appreciation of Noel Gallagher's prolific output was shortchanged by not making it a two disc set. That feeling has returned.

Unfortunately, none of those brilliant b-sides and album tracks are to be found here. So if you are looking for a sprawling recap of the Oasis catalog, this is not the place. (The deluxe edition of Time Flies doesn't help in that regard, although it does include an extra CD with a London concert from the summer of 2009, and a DVD with every single one of the band's video clips.) However, as an entry level document for experiencing the magic the Gallagher brothers and assorted co-horts frequently made, Time Flies is a more than apt introduction. But one can't help feel like this is a missed opportunity to properly tell the story of a band that put their Beatles fixations to good use, and along the way helped bring back guitar-based pop music to the top of the British charts. It's not enough, some might say.

Track listing:

Disc 1

1. Supersonic
2. Roll With It
3. Live Forever
4. Wonderwall
5. Stop Crying Your Heart Out
6. Cigarettes & Alcohol
7. Songbird
8. Don't Look Back In Anger
9. The Hindu Times
10. Stand By Me
11. Lord Don't Slow Me Down
12. Shakermaker
13. All Around The World

Disc 2

1. Champagne Supernova
2. Some Might Say
3. The Importance of Being Idle
4. D'You Know What I Mean?
5. Lyla
6. Let There Be Love
7. Go Let It Out
8. Who Feels Love?
9. Little By Little
10. The Shock Of The Lightning
11. She Is Love
12. Whatever
13. I'm Outta Time
14. Falling Down


Happy Birthday

The one and only pint-sized purple monarch and multi-instrumentalist genius, Prince Rogers Nelson (52), today June 7th.

Prince has given us a motherlode of great songs over the years, but the first track of his we ever heard is still our favorite: "I Wanna Be Your Lover" from his 1979 self-titled second album.


Happy 40th Anniversary: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"

On June 3rd, 1970, Motown Records--under the Tamla label--released one of Stevie Wonder's most beloved and enduring songs: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)", the first he ever produced himself and the first to earn him a Grammy nomination. More recently, it was the unofficial theme song to then Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign in 2008.

If this tune doesn't bring you joy, you are probably dead.


On Pitchfork and The Beatles

We're not gonna front: over the years we’ve had a like/hate relationship with the often holier-than-thou online music monolith that is Pitchfork. Beloved by hipsters and those who worship at the altar of empty calorie cool, it's seemingly arbitrary critical designations can be, at times, excruciatingly annoying for those who scoff at certain revered, but ultimately, fleeting objects of devotion. (And if you read this blog with any regularity, you know exactly what artists we are referring to.) But, we must begrudgingly admit, when P-fork get it right it can be a breathtaking read.

As the calendar turned to June 1st, the anniversary of what many consider the greatest album in the annals of popular music and of the 20th century as well, came to mind. And while we're not one of the fervent torchbearers for the continued deification of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [Parlophone-1967], it would be ludicrous to not acknowledge, as the guys on Pitchfork did in their 2009 appraisal of The Beatles' remastered catalogue, that its influence is “so pervasive and so instructional regarding the way music is crafted and sold to the public that [the album format] is still the predominant means of organizing, distributing, and promoting new music four decades later, well after the decline of physical media.”

Um, yeah.

But their analysis of Abbey Road [Apple-1969] is where they truly nail it. We’ve read up plenty on our favorite album of all-time and have enjoyed quite a few moments of insight and pleasure among the numerous essays describing and deconstructing an album beloved and known to millions, but one, due to its chronological appearance, to be pregnant with significance, unwanted or not. And P-fork does not disappoint.

The music is tempered with uncertainly and longing, suggestive of adventure, reflecting a sort of vague wisdom; it's wistful, earnest music that also feels deep, even though it really isn't. But above all it just feels happy and joyous, an explosion of warm feeling rendered in sound...It was an ideal curtain call from a band that just a few years earlier had been a bunch of punk kids from a nowheresville called Liverpool with more confidence than skill. This is how you finish a career.”

Whenever the topic of The Beatles comes up in conversation—particularly in the wee hours after plenty of “spirits” have been consumed—we can be counted on to bring up one of the most fascinating aspects, in our humble opinion, of the band’s career.

After they stopped touring in August of 1966, they initiated a 3-year span (from 1967 until they went their separate ways in 1970) in which they recorded the aforementioned Sgt. Pepper’s, Magical Mystery Tour [Parlophone-1967], The Beatles (aka The White Album) [Apple-1968], Abbey Road, and the posthumously released Let it Be [Apple-1970]. And we're not even taking into account random singles or Yellow Submarine [Apple-1969].

Three years?! Modern acts take that amount of time in between albums and no one bats an eye. Sure, The Beatles were holed up in the studio and not dealing with the rigors and time consuming nature of being on the road during this time, but how many acts can stay home for three years and come up with several album's worth of some of the most groundbreaking popular music of any era? It is in this realization where we and P-fork converge and tip our proverbial cap.

The Beatles' run in the 1960s is good fodder for thought experiments. For example, Abbey Road came out in late September 1969. Though Let It Be was then still unreleased, the Beatles wouldn't record another album together. But they were still young men: George was 26 years old, Paul was 27, John was 28, and Ringo was 29. The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, had come out almost exactly six and a half years earlier. So if Abbey Road had been released today [Sept. 2009], Please Please Me would date to March 2003. So think about that for a sec: Twelve studio albums and a couple of dozen singles, with a sound that went from earnest interpreters of Everly Brothers and Motown hits to mind-bending sonic explorers and with so many detours along the way—all of it happened in that brief stretch of time. That's a weight to carry.”