“MEDIAC REFRACTIONS ” Copyright Wayne Perras 2014:
1st Episode: TV Commercials & Rock
First of all, there are some great trends in advertising involving masterful use of rock classics, both old and new, right now. Tonight as I peeked in on my daughter, freshly turned 17, watching one of the few great TV farces– Modern Family— the commercials tended toward vodka or rum commercials and high fashion, not beer and trucks like you’d catch during a football game. But here comes a Bacardi commercial with this grinding bass line that turns out to be the Arctic Monkeys, minus the words, while apple flavor is being sliced into the rum. That song happens to be one of my late charging favorites for the year– Do I Wanna KNOW– an ominous or perhaps momentous title for a song.
Just a few minutes later I hear Robert Plant & Jimmy Page as if reborn to the digital age, doing the main riff from Whole Lotta Love as a beautiful woman in a stellar vehicle roars silently down a California vista highway… but it’s not a car commercial… it’s for… CHRISTIAN DIOR!
Think about that– for people my age and older, Led Zeppelin as a group were the poster gods for Rock’n’Roll excess. Very late Sixties, all through the Seventies– these four guys lived a litany of stadium rock tours and left behind a legacy of excessive consumption of anything they wanted, trashed hotel rooms, cars driven into pools and nonstop lusty acts performed with groupies and sharks and whatnot. Flash forward 40+ years and the esteemed rockers (that is, the three still alive, absent John Bonham, the particularly zany and combustible drummer…who did not make it through the 80’s) were appearing in FORMAL OPERA GARB at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in D.C. amid a full house of dignitaries including the President and his wife. The sister duo Heart play and sing a helluva stunning version of Stairway To Heaven with an orchestra and full chorus emerging behind them, the crowd goes nuts and Plant and Page and John Paul Jones look like they are going to burst into tears at having survived to see this. Now their best known song– still a chestnut on WPYX 106 Classic Rock locally — is featured in a sleek and slick new advert for high end perfume and feminine care skin products, one of the more prestigious and classy European Brands in the known world. Once considered too bawdy for Top 40 radio, their signature tune is an elaborate and graphic vocal/guitar/bass/drum depiction of the sex act, as their ole black blues masters had defined way back in the 30’s thru the 50’s, before them, but at a few billion decibles louder.
This is a testimonial to the benefits seen if you not only produce great work, but last a long time afterwards; the reward for not flaming out too quick.
Not only is Robert Plant a manly example of surviving extreme youthful excess, he is still producing relevant and striking music, and his voice is still… his voice.
I am not voting his singles Rainbow or Turn It Up as the best of the year, but both are tunes you identify as being him right away, especially the former. The vocal range, the keening tone, and the ascending vowel howls… he has not lost a thing, and is still Evolving as a thoughtful performer and artist, not just playing the part of pop star of the past. It evokes the Japanese style of progress in artistry– which projects gradual and constant improvement into one’s 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, as opposed to our pop culture ideal of early success and rapid decline. In a year when we’ve lost Jack Bruce (71), Johnny Winter (70) Robin Williams (62), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (46), and just recently ,Ian McLagen (69), & Joe Cocker (70)… I am personally pleased to see the 66 year old Plant churning out new music, still powerful, potent, and relevant.
So, to continue my theme of musical fickleness, I was crazy about Pobert Plant’s solo work on “Rainbow” back in October or so… but a lot has changed and preceded, and followed that infatuation– including the Lucinda Williams number I referred to in my last blog, “Protection.” That was last week… I may have changed my order of preference twice since then… This week I am trending and tending toward a tune by a guy I’d never heard from before– Israel Nash– which is called “Rain Plains.”
Here’s a partial and unofficial list of my other obsessions of the past year, with some notes:
–“Do I Want To Know,” Arctic Monkeys, as related above…grim, ominous & beautiful sounds
—“Budapest” by purportedly 21 yr. old George Ezra, younger than my sons at this point, but quite skilled and catchy…
–“Happy Idiot” TV on the Radio, the first precursor to their most recent album, wicked upbeat bass line gets me every time…I plan to invest and indulge in their recent full-length CD “Seeds” as soon as possible… Love this Brooklyn band…
–“Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future,” by Mike Doughty, one of the best surrealist one-word rap sequences I’ve ever heard a middle-aged white man utter…
—“Let Me Down Easy” by Paolo Nutini… heard this 3 times on the radio before I really registered who was behind it, but knew I liked it.
—“Gooey” by Glass Animals– a lilting, strangely soothing melody, to counter all the YANG music I like… played only on WEQX locally, as far as I could tell.
–“Blue Moon” and in fact everything else from the CD MORNING PHASE by Beck, which was my most-played single album of 2014, for its soothing and rich sonic palette… also loved “Heart is a Drum” which he played in concert at MassMoCa, and the lesser known “Wave”… which is more like a secular aria than a rock song.
—“Left Hand Free” by alt-J, another British group I continue to be impressed by…jangly, quirky, percussively innovative in almost every song I hear.
—“West Coast” by Lana del Rey, a seductive bit of breathless techno from the Lake Placid ice princess, and nice to see her recover from her critical bath after her SNL
debacle, a couple of years ago…
—“Family Tree” from the ill-fated Kings of Leon, who have stood us up twice in recent years at SPAC, and whom I was prepared to disregard from this point on, but my son Miles made me listen closely to the stupendous bass line in this one a few times and I got hooked… I now blare it in the car to get going when I’m draggin’ a bit.
–“Violent Shiver” by another really young youngblood– Benjamin Booker. A sprint,
a two-minute burst, a snappy trapdrum crescendo avec staccato vocals whipped in a blender on high….
—“Don’t Swallow The Cap” by The National, a powerful Brooklyn band I first fell for upon hearing “Blood Buzz, Ohio” on the radio a few years back…
—“Riptide” by Vance Joy of Australia, which I wrote about back in late spring or early summer– got hooked on the solo ukelele version where he’s serenading a tram-full of riders on the Melbourne subway… rocking with one-man swing.
—“Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnette– one of my regrets of the past year is not seeing her at Upstate Concert Hall this past October… not only a great song but some sizzling discordance on guitar as emphasis that would’ve made Ornette Coleman smile…
–“You Go Down Smooth” by Lake Street Dive… that chick has a great rock voice, and the band is propulsive… will keep track of them.
—“Do You?” by Spoon– probably the best group of all those whose work I don’t own in any form yet… which I should change soon.
–“Burning Bridges…” another superb and haunting tune by Lucinda Williams, whom I also regret missing in concert this year, down at The Egg in Albany. Those midweek Northway road-trips are tougher to pull off with the work schedule these days…
—“Summer Sun” by Boy and Bear– a tune that got me through the snowy month of March…way back when, but has worn off a bit since then…
And I could go on and on. It was a good year for new music, and I haven’t really scratched the surface here. If you think I have left off anyone significant, it would probably be this year’s wunderkind of “mature pop” radio– Hozier. I admit to getting slightly hooked at one point on Take Me To Church, but ultimately found him a bit grating and histrionic. I liked From Eden even more than his first hit, and agree that he is headed for stardom, given that both my favorite stations have embraced him as maybe not just the Best New Artist of the past year, but singer/songwriter of the best tune of the entirety of 2014. I do admit to envying his line:
she tells me “worship in the bedroom,”
the only heaven I’ll be sent to…
–Hozier (aka Andrew Byrne)
But the point is, since starting this piece a few days ago… I’ve changed my mind yet again on the “most favorite music of the MOMENT”– After their appearance on David Dye’s syndicated daily-bit-of-DJ-genius called WORLD CAFE on NPR (broadcast locally by WEXT, 97.7FM for those that haven’t caught on with that yet, 10-Noon six days a week), I am now officially a fan of The War on Drugs. Check out their extended video version of “Under The Pressure” and you will be under the spell of one Adam Ganduceil as well. WEQX (102.7FM) out of Manchester, Vermont has been championing this band as well, but it was seeing the video that really got me hooked.
I feel a bit sheepish when I learn that a group I really like is on their third or fourth album, but better late than never. While I’ve heard references to their similarity to certain electronica bands of the 80’s… the long guitar coda on the video reminded me of Pink Floyd back in the really old days of psychedelia… nice way to take it out, 2014.
Anyway, that’s my highly selective recap. I don’t like everything I hear, even on my two favorite and much-hyped radio stations. On the Vermont station, I couldn’t always handle groups with names like Plague Vendor or Band of Skulls (though I grew to like each, once I could them in the right mood) but stuck around to hope to hear Arctic Monkeys, while on ‘EXT I would have to get past the banjo antics of Steve Martin or the old school drone of Johnny Cash to be able to hear Bob Schneider’s sublime version of “Running on Empty” — or Sean Rowe’s latest, or Sara Jarosz, Olivia Quilio, or dozens of other great local performers in the “5-1-8” area code.
For the record, I love both radio stations for different but parallel reasons, and switch back and forth between them at will and whim. Also, I have resisted satellite radio in all its forms, even after a new car purchase, and have eschewed all the Internet sources of songs in favor of the more free-form choices of free radio. May both formats survive and thrive in the new year and further eras to come…
Till next year…
Wayne, at WaynesWord2, for saratoga.com, Copyright 2014