To the uninitiated, the body of music that bridged the gap between the first wave of rock & roll and heavy metal proper — popularized during the 1970s and later canonized as “hard rock” — can often seem as generic as its description. Surely any genre whose sole distinction is its “hardness” must be a one-note affair, totally uniform in terms of aesthetics and devoid of the stylistic experimentation that elevates most genres beyond their ostensible limits (i.e. Gershwin introducing jazz and pop to classical music, Miles Davis fusing jazz with rock, Ray Charles approaching country from an R&B angle, etc). And while hard rock did start out as an aggressive update of the blues — British Invasion bands like the Who and the Yardbirds following their musical roots into more dangerous waters — critics and average listeners alike tend to dismiss the artists that followed as no more than an arena-friendly repackaging of those same roots.
But a closer examination of the genre’s canon will prove this a cursory appraisal at best: in fact, many of the hardest rocking bands in history — or at least those who reconciled artistic integrity with commercial success — have succeeded in putting a signature stamp on the larger body of music for which they collectively stand. With A Night at the Opera (1975), Queen made piano-pop and opera sound brutal; Rush infused 2112 (1976) with the sci-fi imagery and mathematical precision of prog; AC/DC brought boogie-woogie back to life on Powerage (1978). And while all these albums may feature long-haired dudes belting it in their upper registers and busting out flashy guitar solos every other verse, the aforementioned bands are anything but homogenous when it comes to style. Anyone who’s listened to classic-rock radio in the last 20 years should be able to appreciate the sizable difference between, say, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Riff Raff.”
Continue reading “DEEP CUTS: ’70s Hard Rock”
Earlier this month, 4AD released The Day of the Dead, a 59-song tribute to the Grateful Dead curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National. In keeping with the label’s roster and Dessner brothers’ musical pedigree, the album credits read like a who’s who of indie rock, with everyone from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo to Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan to the National themselves putting their signature spins on the Dead’s seemingly bottomless oeuvre. Along for the ride is Bob Weir, singer/guitarist and co-founder of the Grateful Dead, whom the Dessners enlisted-– along with Scott and Bryan Devendorf, the other fraternal duo at the heart of the National-– as a part of their “house band” for the project. The result is a mixed bag, to be sure, but one that triumphs in the aggregate. “Already containing universes, the Dead’s songbook is what makes the set enjoyable as a whole, transcending the performers and their translations,” writes Laura Snapes of Pitchfork, further noting that the Dessners & co. “treat the songs as new standards (which they are), pairing them with vocalists.” Continue reading “DAY OF THE DEAD”
Despite the seeming ubiquity of celebrity beefs in and among the Twitterverse, I don’t know if I can recall a more noteworthy instance of great artists shitting on other great artists (and, in this particular case, genres) in the last decade than this:
“What rap did that was impressive was to show there are so many tone-deaf people out there. All they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they’re happy. There’s an enormous market for people who can’t tell one note from another… Millions are in love with Metallica and Black Sabbath. I just thought they were great jokes.”
– Keith Richards
Keith Richards -– a man for whom tact, as proven by his entertaining-yet-occasionally-repulsive autobiography, comes as a secondary consideration at best –– has in a single breath dismissed two whole genres and at least three generations of culturally relevant music. He also managed to sneak in a few digs at his ostensible heyday-rivals, the Beatles, and longtime colleague, Mick Jagger. Say what you will about old Keef, but the man smack-talks with a real economy of words.
In reading the excerpts from his interview, I couldn’t help but see this moment as one of those rare double-binds that truly challenge one’s allegiances of taste. What you choose to listen to on a day-to-day basis -– which varies according to factors of mood, setting, present company, etc. -– matters little compared to what you would choose at the direct and permanent cost of something else: it’s like the “Desert Island Five” game with a “Save or Kill” twist added as a sadist measure.
Continue reading “On the Merits of Rap and Metal”