The Stage was Set, the Sun was Sinkin’ Low Down

For almost two years, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

This week didn’t have a theme, per se, but my suggestion did prompt a little extra discussion about songs to represent humanity. But first, here’s what my friends suggested:

Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes (1972)

Continuing off of last week‘s David Bowie theme, Spencer shared a group Bowie sort of took under his wing. Aside from producing the album and playing sax, he also stopped the band from breaking up (this time) and gave them the title track.

AND! Spencer didn’t mention this, but their drummer died on Sunday, January 17. Plenty of rock stars have died early from drugs or airplane accidents or murderous fans, but with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in the ’50s and ’60s, those 20-year-olds who started playing then are now all pretty old. We’ve lost quite a few, and I think it’ll only increase.

I have never heard of these guys, but I feel like I should have. And I had no idea of what to expect. Even now, I’m not sure how I’d describe their style.

Right off the bat, I know one thing they could have done to make this album better: more cowbell. Joking aside, I liked Sweet Jane. It wasn’t flashy, but it was pleasant. Also, is it about marijuana? I honestly can’t tell. I liked Momma’s Little Jewel. It was a little harder and had some interesting chord progressions.

After listening to Bowie all of last week, the title track definitely feels like a Bowie cover. I especially like the gospel/hard rock verses. It also wouldn’t surprise me if these guys were an influence on The Killers.

Sucker was really interesting. The verses were meh, but the pre-choruses were good, and I loved the choruses. The pieces of the whole don’t quite fit together.

One of the Boys and Jerkin’ Crocus feel like Rolling Stones rip offs homages. But I liked the jam at the end of One of the Boys more than I remember liking some of the Stones’ stuff. Actually it’s pretty easy to hear the Stones’ influence on Mott the Hoople in a lot of their stuff, but I won’t hold that against them. 😉

Sea Diver was okay. In the middle I thought it was going to end bigger than it did. I mean, it ended okay, but there was a little lull between the middle excitement and the bit at the end. I just wish it would have kept the energy up. 4/5

Eagles – Desperado (1973)

Tim picked this album before Glenn Frey died because of something my suggestion started, but that event makes this pick more timely.

I love the Eagles’ harmonies. Saturday Night also has the benefit of a little mandolin work, which I wanted more of, but I understand they kept it simple because of the ballad/waltz nature of the song. Bitter Creek was a surprise for me. If I didn’t know I was listening to an Eagles record, I would have sworn this was CSNY covering an old-time bluegrass/folk song. I really liked it. Twenty-One was super bluegrassy, but it still sounded like the Eagles. I was surprised that it was only two minutes long. It felt longer. Certain King of Fool didn’t quite sound like the Eagles either, and I liked it. I think it has some strong verses, while the chorus was weaker.

I really like the driving nature of Out of Control. It also doesn’t sound or feel like the Eagles I know. It can’t decide if it wasn’t to be hard rock, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, or country. Which isn’t a bad thing. Just not “par”. And that guitar solo, simple as it might be, has a great sound. It is very different from the title track, which is also very good and has very emotionally charged lyrics/melody.

More in the middle is Tequila Sunrise, which I think is the best song on the album. Although Outlaw Man is also great, and is more on the Out of Control side, has the best guitar solo on the album and fits more with the theme of the album than Tequila Sunrise does.

I really liked Doolin’ Dalton. Both the full-length vocal version and the bluegrass interlude. But I loved the medley/reprise at the end of the album. It literally gave me chills. I really liked Mott the Hoople, but I liked this album more. 4/5

“The title track is one I’ve long considered a greatest ever track. Its a beauty, perfect blend of melody, strings and piano with drums.

Some Kind of Fool, reminds me a lot of another track that I can’t quite remember. Or maybe I’ve heard this before or a cover and just don’t remember exactly. The melody sparks a memory. Its seems like the music should be a bit bigger to match that melody. Its cool, but seems like it could be better.

Outlaw man was pretty awesome. And I’ve never appreciated Tequila Sunrise until hearing it in the context of this album. This is a great album. I’m glad you shared it. There’s a lot of talent in the Eagles, so it shouldn’t be surprising that its so much more than just a couple singles with filler.” 4.9/5 – Spencer

Chuck Berry – Is on Top (1959)

In the few weeks of this year we’ve had so far, three different things have reminded me of the golden record sent out on the Voyager spacecraft. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should go read up about it. It’s a message in a bottle … in space!

Anyway, there’s some blues stuff on there, but it’s mostly classical music and traditional world music. The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun was supposed to be on there, but the label nixed that idea. So the only rock and roll tune on the album is Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. It’s interesting to know that in 1977, it was one of two rock’n’roll songs deemed worthy of representing all of Earth to any interstellar neighbors. There’s a joke you may have heard, that in 40,000 years we’ll get a message back containing four words: “Send more Chuck Berry.”

This album came out in at a time when most pop/rock music was released as singles and later collected on albums, so it’s pretty much a greatest hits, including Johnny B. Goode and Roll Over Beethoven (which I prefer to Johnny B. Goode). It’s good, straight forward early rock and roll. Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller is like the love child between Johnny B. Goode and Rock and Roll Music (which I think is his best song and, unfortunately, was not included on this album), but I think that just says that in the late ’50s, Chuck Berry had a specific sound and style. John Fogerty was the same way, and was even sued by his label over it. Around and Around is different, and pretty good.

By the way, Chuck Berry is still somewhat active. Although he turns 90 in October and doesn’t do so well traveling anymore, reportedly you can go to St. Louis and see him play almost every Wednesday night. And he hasn’t been in the studio since the ’70s.

Feel free to leave your thoughts about any of these albums in the comments below. Here’s what my friends thought:

“Berry is a pioneer, but now I know why I’ve only ever heard Johnny and Run Run Rudolph. Most of his songs employ the same riffs and licks. So several on this album sound like one of those two tunes. The exceptions though I really enjoyed. Jo Jo Gunne was cool, had a driving rhythm. Roll Over Beethoven got covered by the Beatles and I actually prefer their rendition, mostly due to fidelity of the recording. Around and Around had a nice breaktime thing going, but sonically it was a bit weird in the verse, like they didn’t all play the same chords. Pedro was a bit boring. Blues for Hawaiians was another good view into Chuck’s broader abilities. Of course, Johnny B. is the unshakeable classic deserving a 5.

So overall, he was defining rock and roll, which is awesome and I’m glad to have listened to more of his songs, but I like where rock went after this much more than these early manifestations.” 3.7/5 – Spencer


Also, I’d be interested to know what single song you would vote to send out to some extra-terrestrials as a representation of mankind. Assuming language isn’t a barrier. Or maybe if aliens happen to land and you’re one of the first to meet them and introduce them to our culture. The movie Star Trek: First Contact did this (poorly, in my opinion) at the very end. I like Roy Orbison alright, and the guy who started the music in the film is a little drunk, but somebody there must have had better taste in music. I haven’t heard every song out there, and I know I haven’t even considered a ton of stuff, but after one work week of thinking about if I could only vote for one song to send, I think it might be Derek and the Dominos’ Layla. It’s not my favorite rock song of all time, and I think the jam at the end of the first part of the song gets a little repetitive, but the whole song is pretty sweet. Plus, I think the lyrics are something a lot of humans could relate to.

Here’s what my friends had to say about that:

“I’ve been asked what is the greatest song ever written and I usually answer with confidence, though I don’t really believe it. I give a different answer every time. Songs I have said before include Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Queen + Bowie’s Under Pressure, The Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother, Kansas’ Carry On Our Wayward Son. One of these would probably do well. But there are a lot of other works to consider too. I’d probably just ask E.T.s to hang out for a while and listen to a few hours of music. If I had to pick what went on the record going to space, it would be much harder.” – Spencer

“I would at least narrow the list down to The Eagles’ Desperado, John Lennon’s Imagine, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (although that might send the wrong message…but it just sounds so damn good), Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.” – Tim

If you’re curious, here’s how I feel about the tunes they suggested:

Bohemian Rhapsody I talked about a little a few months ago. I love the complex song structure and the guitar work. 4/5

Carry on Wayward Son is a fantastic song. It’s musically complex and lyrically solid. I think it’s the best of this already great selection. I’m torn between voting for this or Layla. 5/5

Point of interest, Kansas said they were inspired in the opening jam by Journey’s I’m Gonna Leave You. It’s pretty similar, but Journey never sued. But one of the management guys tried (unsuccessfully). Other than that, the songs are pretty different, and Kansas’ is better. Still, it’s interesting to see where two not dis-similar bands will take a similar idea.

Desperado I talked about a little above. 4/5

Of all the songs that were put forth as being included on “our” golden record, He ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother just doesn’t seem to fit. It’s just kind of meh to me. I guess if the aliens understood the words, it would paint a more optimistic picture of humanity for them than, say, Bohemian Rhapsody. I do like the harmonica, simple as it may be. The song just feels like it belongs in the credits of some ’70s man-date movie. The Eagles record made me think of something like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 3/5

Imagine is better lyrically than it is musically. I don’t always care for overtly political messages in songs, but this is more optimistic (I think John was going for “empowering”) than most politically charged songs. Musically, the verses are boring, but the chorus is where it’s at. 4/5

Rhapsody in Blue isn’t exactly what I was looking for (I was thinking just about rock and roll). But it’s still great. It rides a weird line between jazz and classical. It makes me surprised that it or the Benny Goodman version of Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing) didn’t make it on the original golden record. My only real complaint is that the version I have is about 12 minutes long and I don’t always have that kind of attention span. 4/5

Stairway to Heaven is really good, but the first few minutes of the song are just alright to me. It isn’t until the last two minutes or so (starting in the middle of that guitar solo) that the song really does anything for me. I think the song is good, but also over-hyped. 4/5

I feel like most people focus on the bass riff on Under Pressure, but there’s so much more to that song than what Vanilla Ice stole. The chord progression on it is great. It’s hard to compare this and Bohemian Rhapsody. They’re just so different. But there’s less in Bohemian Rhapsody I think could be improved upon. I prefer David Bowie’s vocal sections on this to Freddie’s. And I think the “gospel” section in the middle could do without the snaps and cymbals at the beginning. But it’s still a great tune. 4/5


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