Tag Archives: Miles Davis

Rocks In The Attic #607: The George Baker Selection – ‘Love In The World’ (1971)

RITA#607K-BILLY’s “super sounds of the seventies” weekend just keeps on coming with this little ditty. They reached up to twenty one in May of 1970. The George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag.

How Quentin Tarantino found this song and picked it out of obscurity to be one of the coolest, era-defining songs of the 1990s is beyond me. Listening to the rest of this record – the second release by the George Baker Selection – there isn’t a great deal else to point to such a gem of a song.

If anything, the Dutch band seems to be a curiosity, lost between decades and difficult to classify. They’re half-late’60s pop rock (late-era Byrds, late-‘60s Kinks) and half-early ‘70s singer-songwriter rock, all jumbled up with a touch of pysch and a sprinkling of jazz. They make for an interesting listen, that’s for sure.

Little Green Bag was the first track of their 1970 debut (also titled Little Green Bag), and given that Wikipedia doesn’t even have pages for their albums beyond this, it looks like they peaked commercially right at the start of their career.

Even Little Green Bag is difficult to classify. After an extremely cool intro, the song devolves into a crooning cabaret song. The change in tone is startling – like a smoking Miles Davis groove taken over by a bravado Tom Jones vocal.

Hit: Little Green Bag

Hidden Gem: Suicide Daisy

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Rocks In The Attic #438: Amy Winehouse – ‘Frank’ (2003)

RITA#438I finally watched the Amy documentary last night. Well, we watched everything but the last twenty minutes as we were both so tired. I’m holding out hope that when we watch the last twenty minutes tonight, that she’s going to be okay but I know full well how the story ends. Who in the world doesn’t?

When the documentary first came out, there seemed to be a lot of misplaced guilt around people feeling sorry that they joked and laughed about Winehouse when she was still alive and going through her various troubles with drugs and alcohol. That’s just human nature, isn’t it? We like to laugh at drunks. If Keith Richards died of a drug overdose tomorrow, would there be a similar response, collectively asking ourselves why we didn’t step in over those so many years? I blame Jagger; he’s clearly an enabler.

I first read about Winehouse in a magazine interview she gave to promote Frank. She was responding to criticism she had received around comments she made to the effect that she didn’t listen to Miles Davis because he was too intense. Shock horror! How could a musician in the public eye – a jazz singer of all things – have the audacity to say that she doesn’t like Miles Davis?

I like Frank more and more each time I hear it. It definitely isn’t Back To Black, it’s too meandering for a start, but there’s still something there – a hint of what would be possible with a better bunch of songs and a switched-on producer in Mark Ronson.

Hit: Stronger Than Me

Hidden Gem: You Sent Me Flying

Rocks In The Attic #406: The Dave Brubeck Quartet – ‘Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits’ (1966)

RITA#406I know jazz purists don’t approve of compilations, but hey, who cares about those squares, I’m choosing the records!

If there’s one thing I don’t like about the vinyl-buying community, it’s the ‘holier than thou’ types who force their interests and priorities on you. The very first time I posted this record in the Facebook group I’m a member of (On The Turntable Right Now), it attracted a comment from a self-righteous jazz fan who posted a photo of Brubeck’s Time Out album and a remark about my ‘lesser’ choice of record.

Take Five and Unsquare Dance are two of favourite jazz tracks, and it doesn’t really matter whether I have them on a compilation or on a studio album. What matters is that I have them.

It always seems to be jazz fans too – although that could just be a coincidence and a vast over-generalisation – but the last time I posted a photo of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and asked, rhetorically, whether there was any better record to play on a Sunday morning, somebody posted a comment along the lines of ‘well, yes, a UK original pressing on Columbia actually.’ Ugh – who cares? It’s like Christians judging each other on how early their bibles were printed. Wait – that’s not a thing… is it?

Hit: Take Five

Hidden Gem: In Your Own Sweet Way

Rocks In The Attic #352: Van Morrison – ‘Astral Weeks’ (1968)

RITA#352I was driving around once, looked in my rear view mirror and saw Van Morrison sat on my back seat. I then remembered that mirrors reverse everything, and it was just a Morrisons Van following me.

I’m starting to appreciate this album as I get older. It’s the same with things like Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue – when you listen to albums like these as a young man, they don’t resonate as much. Maybe you just have to listen to a certain quantity of music – maybe a certain quantity of inferior or mediocre music – for your brain to reach a valid comparison.

One of my heroes is the late comedian Bill Hicks, and I read once that Astral Weeks was the album he would listen to, over and over again, in the final stages of his battle against pancreatic cancer. It’s an album that’s designed to be played repeatedly – a cycle of songs that makes more and more sense together the more you listen to it.

Aside from his tenure in Them (and their superlative version of Baby Please Don’t Go – with a little help from Jimmy Page), this is my favourite era of Van Morrison. I’m not really a fan of the forced jazz of Moondance, and I think I might tear my own eyeballs out if I ever hear Brown Eyed Girl one more time. Most importantly though, I’m not a fan of what Van Morrison has become.

Whenever I see him these days, such as in the Red, White & Blues episode of Martin Scorsese: The Blues, he’s almost unrecognisable. He’s a big bear of a man, usually dressed in clothes that wouldn’t go amiss on a 1970s black pimp called Big Daddy, with a face so bloated that you can’t actually make out any of his features anymore. He looks like somebody’s driver.

Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart should form a vocal supergroup called ‘WTF Happened?’

But which musicians should join them?

Hit: The Way Young Lovers Do

Hidden Gem: Beside You

Rocks In The Attic #340: Louis Armstrong – ‘Hello Dolly!’ (1964)

RITA#340In the almost-spoken intro to this record, Armstrong says “Hello Dolly! This is Louis, Dolly!” The weird thing is he pronounces ‘Louis’ as it’s spelt – ‘Lew-iss’ – rather than the French pronunciation – ‘Lew-ey’. Have we all been saying his name wrong all this time? (It seems this is an oddity – in the 1920 U.S. census, he registered as ‘Lewie’ and in various live recordings he refers to himself as ‘Lew-ey’, so I think we’re all of the hook. Maybe he was experimenting; it was the sixties after all!).

The album is notable for its title song – which knocked the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love off the U.S. top spot in 1964. They had been at number one for fourteen straight weeks – from February 1st through to May 2nd (with I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You and Can’t Buy Me Love respectively) until Louis came along. The rest of the album – made up of similar arrangements of Broadway songs – was a rush release to capitalise on this, which also went to number one.

As much as I love Miles Davis, I love Louis Armstrong’s trumpet playing just as much. The two different styles seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum: while Davis’ playing seems hell-bent on discovering just what is humanly possible to get out of a trumpet, Louis Armstrong’s playing is just simply joyful, a celebration of life, bookending that distinctive voice of his.

Hit: Moon River

Hidden Gem: Jeepers, Creepers

Rocks In The Attic #279: Steely Dan – ‘Aja’ (1977)

RITA#279This isn’t my favourite Steely Dan album. That has to be the awesome Pretzel Logic. I guess any of them could be my favourite though – they’re all so consistent. But just like your favourite James Bond actor, or your favourite Doctor (Who), it always comes back to the first one you were exposed to, and for me that was Pretzel Logic.

Aja has to be the best sounding Steely Dan record though. The production on it sounds just perfect, like it was recorded on a computer, but without losing all the soul that pro-tools recordings always seem to do. Obviously it couldn’t have been recorded on a computer back in 1977 – it’s just recorded really well; seven tracks of perfection.

When I saw Steely Dan a couple of years ago on the 2011 Shuffle Diplomacy Tour, they opened with the title track from Aja. I don’t know what the drummer did wrong to deserve that – the drum parts on that song are amazing, with an awesome drum solo mid-song over the saxophone parts. I think I’d like a bit of a warm-up before I tackled that in a setlist. Perhaps it was punishment for his habits on the tour bus or something. Anyway, he nailed it – and he was only a young dude as well. He didn’t even flinch; he just took it all in his stride. Give the drummer some, indeed.

The title-track from Aja is probably the best example of the band being classified as jazz-rock. There are huge portions of the song based around a simple two-note motif, reminiscent of Miles Davis’ So What opener from Kind Of Blue. Like most of Steely Dan’s music though, I have no idea what any of the lyrics mean – but it doesn’t really matter. The music is just so rich, that they could be singing in ancient Hebrew and I’d still dig it.

Thanks to De La Soul heavily sampling Peg (for their song Eye Know), I felt I already knew that song before I heard anything else by Steely Dan at all. It’s a great pop song – probably their most commercial and mainstream-sounding single, but the prominent Michael McDonald backing vocals on the song are the only sour point on the whole album for me.

The master tapes for two of the albums songs – Black Cow and Aja – have gone missing over the years, preventing the record company from being able to bring out a SACD or 5.1 version of the album:

“When we recently sent for the multi-track masters of Aja so as to make new surround-sound mixes of same, we discovered that the two-inch multi-tracks of the songs Aja and Black Cow were nowhere to be found. They had somehow become separated from the other boxes, which the producer had abandoned here and there (studios, storage lockers, etc.) almost twenty years before. Anyone having information about the whereabouts of these missing two inch tapes should contact HK Management at (415) 485-1444. There will be a $600.00 reward for anyone who successfully leads us to the tapes. This is not a joke. Happy hunting.” – Donald Fagen & Walter Becker, 1999.

Really? “$600.00”? That misplaced decimal point sure sounds like a joke to me.

Hit: Peg

Hidden Gem: Aja

Rocks In The Attic #249: John Coltrane – ‘Soultrane’ (1958)

RITA#249I like jazz. I like the word ‘jazz’. I like the instrumentation and musicianship. I like the fact that on a landmark jazz album, all of the players can play. I mean, really play. I like the fact that each musician gets to solo. I like the fact that the music played is mostly – if not always – impossibly cool. It’s the only true American art form, and the sound of it always brings to mind that other art form, that although not invented in America, was made an American institution – cinema.

The word ‘jazz’ means a lot to me. I probably first heard it as the name of an Autobot Porsche in Transformers (surely it isn’t a coincidence that one of the coolest Transformers was called Jazz?), and then no doubt it came onto my radar as the name of a musical genre, generally played by black musicians, that old people like to listen to.

More recently, seeing a jazz band play in a bar in Manchester – led by an extremely gifted guitarist – prompted me to stop playing guitar for a while (there was just no point when other people were that skilled). That minor infatuation with jazz in the mid-2000s then led to my most amusing association with the word jazz – watching a drunken Moo stagger around a late-night Amsterdam bar asking the clientele, in hushed tones, if they knew anywhere that he could get some hot jazz.

What I don’t like about jazz is the freneticism in playing that sometimes spoils the genre. Good Bait, the opening track off Soultrane, starts off really nicely. It swings like a motherfucker. But then Coltrane’s later passages, in which he tries to play every note under the sun as speedily as possible, really spoil the mood. I know he can play, but does he have to sound like he’s trying to blow an unwanted insect out of his saxophone? Whilst having a seizure?

And it isn’t just Coltrane. Miles Davis is the key suspect in this style of playing. I remember once reading an interview with a pre-fame Amy Winehouse (promoting her first album, Frank), where she claimed she had a hard time listening to Miles Davis because his music was so intense. I know exactly what she meant – but that didn’t stop a raft of complaints coming through to the letters page of the same publication the following month: How dare this young wannabe sully the name of the great Miles Davis? As if, once an artist is considered great, it becomes outrageous to claim anything to the contrary. Recently, a post on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book prompted a reader to tell me that I wasn’t a Stevie Wonder fan – presumably because I mentioned in the post how I prefer Stevie’s upbeat, funky output to his dull-as-dishwater ballads. A pretty extensive Stevie Wonder collection in my record collection would point otherwise, but maybe I’m just holding onto these for a real Stevie Wonder fan, somebody without the nerve to have a preference or an opinion?

There’s an old joke I love, the subject of which you can interchange with any jazz bandleader, but I probably heard first about Ray Charles: That Ray Charles mustn’t pay his band very well, I caught two of his musicians in the toilet and they were so hard-up, they were sharing a cigarette!

Hit: Good Bait

Hidden Gem: I Want To Talk About You