Friday, March 25, 2016

RE/AGAIN: Here I Go Again

Yeah, me again. But unsure why I'm no longer Retropath, this being a cunning ploy by our friends on Google Plus to change my name or to out me. Unintentional. Unsuccessful. Not a ploy to spoof you all (!) into thinking another new scribe. And if you think it's time for a new scribe, read the top right hand corner and get writing!!

RE/AGAIN : Back in the High Life Again

Hey ho, at least I have the theme right this time, but what's an 'n' between friends? Martial/martian, I mean aren't they the same? (Editor now declares martian law on my future posts.) I confess this one too took me on the hop for a second, and I nearly filed a post of the chimp loving one time governor of California/President of the USA, sending me scuttling for the Woodstock soundtrack, but I digress.

Stev(i)e Winwood has always been one of my heroes. Old enough to remember the Spencer Davis Group on Top of the Pops, he was the impossibly young singer and, usually, hammond player who has notched up an incredible 54 years of musicianship since he joined that group. Still at school initially, aged 14, it took 3 years for his distinctive vocals to be number 1 on the UK singles chart with 'Keep on Running'. Playing guitar on that song, the success allowed him to buy his first Hammond B3 organ. Staying with the band a further 2 years, he co-wrote a number of their further hits, 'I'm a Man' and 'Gimme Some Lovin.' During this time, in 1966, he made his first collaborative contact with another musician to feature frequently in his musical life. This was a one-off project called the Powerhouse, who had 3 tracks on an Elektra compilation album about the emergent white boy electric blues scene. With 3 tracks featured, here is one of them, the collaborator being Eric Clapton.

Traffic were the band perhaps most widely associated with Winwood, coming together in 1967 following a chance jam in a Birmingham (UK) pub. Setting the archetype for 'getting together in the country', the original line-up shared a cottage in the sticks, coming up with the psychedelic whimsy of 'Hole in my Shoe', written, like most of their earlier hits, by Dave Mason. Personally, at least on these shores, this seemed somewhat of a shibboleth, detracting from their serious credibility, and Winwood's desire to pursue a more folk-blues direction, possibly contributing to the first fracture of the group. This had been accelerated by the return of Eric Clapton, who, following the break up of his own band, Cream, teamed up with Winwood in short-lived supergroup Blind Faith. Cream had not been to my then taste, so I didn't then take much to this, only later appreciating the simple beauty of the sole record released.

Blind Faith's (mis)fortune was ultimately the making of Traffic, who promptly re-formed, minus Mason, as the core line up of Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi and Winwood. The time was right for their folk-blues amalgam, their version of traditional folk song 'John Barleycorn Must Die' making this teenage folkie delight. Over several albums they expanded their line up and widened their repertoire, always innovative and always interesting, Winwood's expertise on guitar now getting as much acclaim as his keyboards. Sadly, with physical health issues playing havoc with his stamina, Winwood walked off-stage in 1974, the band then calling it a day.

A solo career was always going to beckon, but it was a few years before he produced his 1st solo album, 'Arc of a Diver', with this and its follow-up each featuring Winwood on all vocals and all-instrumentation. My favourite period of his career, the songs 'While You See a Chance' and  'Valerie', remaining firm favourites. It is thus strange that the song that this piece name-checks is only now one I enjoy, with Winwood having been roped into producing a top-notch session-men New York record. I recall being distinctly upset by this polished and commercial product, the follow-up single, 'Higher Love', with Winwood gamefully mugging his way through an awkward video, seeming bereft without the prop of an instrument other than his voice. It was certainly the High Life of his career though, the videos still a staple on oldies music channels.

After this peak he has continued to produce intermittent albums, even reviving the Traffic name once more for the now duo of himself and Capaldi, but keeping a generally lower profile. I was lucky enough to see him play live, maybe a decade ago, in Birmingham, on home turf. Playing mainly hammond and occasional guitar, a tight band modelled on the Traffic template of himself on keyboard, percussion heavy backing plus reeds, he played songs from all stages of his career. He did not play 'Hole in my Shoe', perhaps a blessing, but all the others were there. And he still looked impossibly young.

Since then intermittent output, but, inevitably, yes, a further and possibly final collaboration with Eric Clapton, recorded for posterity with a sort of joint greatest hits. It has to be a Traffic song I include.

So, apart from the title, what's this got to do with 'again'? Probably only this, one of the several covers of the song out there, this being Warren Zevon, slowing the song and maximising any irony available, his 'High Life" being the terminal cancer he was facing. And duly succumbed to. I think that trumps any irony Steve Winwood may have felt about the song as he sang it.

Retail! Winwood or Zevon

Re/Again: The Twist

purchase [The Twist]
or maybe [Hank Ballard's version]

Last post I referenced my age. There's a lot good in age: I more or less remember the birth of mainstream rock: we used to watch American Bandstand and its ilk -the precursors to American Idol? Is the "intro" the pre-cursor to Rap?

Classic/elemental in my mind to the definition of rock music is Chubby Checker's "The Twist". You would probably agree. While there is no "Re/Again" in the title, the timeless lyrics most certainly include " ... let's twist again... like we did last summer".

Actually, I must admit that I came across this song as a Re/Again selection via a website that shares/discusses song facts - including re-issues ( And there, the point is made that Chubby Checker's "classic" is actually a re-issue of a Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' 1959 song - which caught on in the Baltimore area, but had to wait for Chubby Checker's release to hit the bigtime. It gets stranger yet: Lawson Smith (aka Abdul Bin-Asad) lays down a bunch of claims about the origins of the song and that Hank Ballard usurped some of the credits. Whatever. Yet, what does seem clear to me is that a bunch of (white) businessmen took advantage of some rather naïve African-American musicians to produce/commercialize rock music as we know it.

Usurped or not, the song we all know as "The Twist" was re-worked several times, certainly between the time Chubby Checker made it a hit and apparently even before the time the Midnighters released their version a few years before.

What is indisputable is that they all helped shape what we call rock and roll: the 4/4 beat and the I-IV-V progression.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Re/Again: Never Going Back

Purchase: Never Going Back  

Never Going Back Again is a Fleetwood Mac song, technically. But, really, it’s a Lindsey Buckingham song—and in my opinion has always stood as prime evidence of his masterful, poetically great skills as a guitarist. To proclaim Buckingham’s greatness as a guitarist is stating the well known to a room full of those who know it well. But, this song—Buckingham alone, laying down just two tracks—is such an exquisite piece of work, it always deserves another mention, and asks for another listen.  

Never Going Back Again comes from the mega popular Rumors, the 1977 album that launched Fleetwood Mac into the stratosphere and has achieved legendary status—not just in terms of sales, but in ubiquity, as an omnipresent staple of classic rock radio. It deserves it’s status: the sheer number of songs on this album that are on so many “personal playlists” (a concept I’ve used before to talk about those songs, be they well known, or obscure, that are ones that you love, and return to over and over, without shame that the songs probably appear on everyone else’s fave’s list, too…) is kind of mind boggling, and Rumors is truly a historical artifact, a primary document of what a rock band, at their absolute apex, is capable of doing. Rumors is a greatest hits collection long before the band was at the point in their career where they would need to package a Greatest Hits Collection.

Rumors doesn’t need me to celebrate it in writing—it’s been celebrated for years, and will continue to be. There is a certain joy in going back to an album with so many great songs, and being able to listen, not critically, but just as a fan of good songs. And for me, the peak point of Rumors is Never Going Back Again.

Punchy, complex and sweetly harmonized, the song sinks in and stays there. It’s a summer day made musical in a few glorious bars and a repeating riff; it’s a pure example of a how a song feeds into the pleasure zones in our heads and makes us feel…great. Books have been written about the science of what a great song does to us at a  neurological level. I don’t know how to say much on that. I do know when I listen to Never Going Back, a wonderfully quickening feeling comes over me, one that centers somewhere I imagine the soul resides, and for 2 minutes and 15 seconds, things are great. That’s what good music does.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Re/Again: Won't Get Fooled Again


purchase [Wont Get Fooled Again]
I'm an old fogey, and there are 2 rock bands from my rocking days still more or less rating near the top: the Stones and the Who. (Got another? Then comment.)

The first LP I actually bought after I purchased my own "stereo" - in those days you couldn't download no music - was Who's Next. Must have been about the fall of '71.

I said "still more or less rating". Even as late as SuperBowl XLIV (that's 44, but looks like X-LIVE), Daltry and Townshend appear to have it together enough to come across as competent rockers- they put on a good show -but it does appear to me that it takes SuperBowl money to pull it off. Draw your own conclusions, but they seem to  need a fair amount of backup/support and there are numerous missed/fudged cues that the supporting band covers well. However, Townshend seems to be surviving the years better than Daltry. He's certainly more energetic and seems to miss fewer beats/cues. This is not just true at the SuperBowl, but beyond.


I guess one of the things that has always bound me to Rock 'n Roll is the in-your-face/I'll do it my way (- thanks, Frank) attitude, which the Who (and Stones) embody: smash your guitar or .. whatever... Townshend's iconic round-wheeling "strum" of the guitar is yet another: slash .. bang ... reckless ... here's how we do it. That - to me - is a large part of what is embodied in the ethos of Rock: we don't subscribe to the standards of previous generations and we don't intend to get fooled again.

In the end, I guess the part of "Wont Get Fooled Again" that most voices my perspective on life is (appropriately) the end:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Again and again. Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Re/Again: It's Like Déjà Vu All Over Again


It is unlikely that Yogi Berra actually said "It's like déjà vu all over again," but who really cares.  It's still a great line.

Darius' piece, though, made me want to post this video, of the Monty Python sketch, It's The Mind, which twists itself into an infinite Möbius strip that, not surprisingly, terrifies its protagonist.  

Continuing this theme, I point out that I have previously written about Monty Python, most notably here, and to a lesser degree, here.  So, if you want your own déjà vu experience, go back and read them again.  Or read them for the first time, I guess.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Re/Again: Deja Vu

Crosby Stills Nash & Young: Deja Vu


David Crosby and Graham Nash: Deja Vu


Our instructions for this theme indicate that they are intentionally vague, so I thought I would make them vaguer. Yes, one can post songs with the word “again” in the title, but here are two more approaches. My hope is that this will encourage everyone to post to this theme. And then do it again. And then do it again. I will try to do the same.

Déjà vu fits our theme, because it is the unsettling sense that you are again somewhere, or in some situation, that you have experienced before. Crosby Stills Nash & Young powerfully evoked the unsettling part of that feeling with their use of time signatures in the song Déjà Vu. The song begins in 12/8, and then switches to 4/4. The 4/4 seems oddly familiar because 12/8 is just 4/4 with triplets, but the transition is just as jarring as it should be. The lyrics are simple enough, serving simply to define the term for those who might not know it. The point of the song is the playing and singing, and that works perfectly.

Another way to work with our theme is to explore what happens when an artist or band revisits, and drastically remakes, one of their own songs. I’m not talking about a cover, because this is an artist reexamining their own work. A cover is when one artists explores the work of another, and that seems to me to be too broad for this theme. The album Déjà Vu, from which the first version of the song comes, is rightly regarded as a folk-rock classic. But David Crosby and Graham Nash brought more to the band than the folk rock label covers. The song shows great potential for a jam band treatment, and that is indeed how CSNY approached it live. But Crosby and Nash on their own took it further. The jam band element is certainly their, but so is a keen ear for the fusion jazz that was just emerging in 1976 when this live version was recorded. Their band included many California folk-rock stalwarts, who must either have relished this opportunity to show another side of their playing, or been stretched to the limits of their musical abilities. Either way, this expansion of the original song really works.