Wish you were here

Both the single and album of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ became one of my favorite songs and albums over a period of years, and  almost against my will, in the decades following its 1975 release. Through the good graces of high school friends, I attended many great rock concerts from 1974 to 1977. Led Zeppelin, Robin Trower, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, The Who, and the Guess Who.

Prior to many of these concerts, and I remember it most clearly in the old Met Center, the Front of Hall guys would play this meditative album over the sound system until the act came on stage. I recall not liking it at the time, and when you are eagerly awaiting the explosion of of Whole Lotta Love, ambient music rankles.

It seemed the album was omnipresent during my high school years of 1975 to 1977. A couple of classmates and cross country teammates were obsessed with it and quoted lyrics in the school hallways and made much of the admittedly brilliant ‘burning man’ cover art, and the deeper philosophical implications thereof.

In the fullness of time, I learned the album was inspired by Syd Barrett, an original Pink Floyd band member, who was stricken with schizophrenia and was unable to continue as a musician. It was a song of loss, longing, melancholy. Ironically, while the band was mixing down the album, Syd visited the studio but was so disruptive they escorted him out–begging the question of just how badly did they wish he was there. Floyd’s prior effort, ‘Dark side of the Moon’ also took inspiration from Syd’s illness, the moon being associated with lunacy in former times.

And a few years ago, it became linked to my dearly departed friend, Steve Gursky. More on this remarkable man in other posts, but I will simply note that his brother, Loren, played the song on acoustic guitar and sang it at Steve’s funeral gathering. He said it was the hardest song he ever had to play, but that he just had to do it for his older brother.

And I now present you with another priceless treasure from youtube, a cover of the song from an extremely talented young woman–even more melancholy than the Pink Floyd version, if such a thing can be humanly possible. She has put multiple versions of it on youtube. She started with the sheet music, and now appears to have memorised it. Looks like its getting under her skin too.

This is for you, Steve. I truly do wish you were here.

Karen Carpenter, a generational voice

In high school, I was somewhat in the closet regarding my soft spot for the music of the carpenters. My main musical tastes and those of my friends allowed no respect for the sort of musicians who delivered syrupy schmaltz, didn’t perform with a wall of 100 watt marshall stacks, and never destroyed a hotel room while on tour. But at heart I was a romantic–if a carefully disguised one.

Perhaps initiated by Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’ approach to music production of the late 1960s, the soft pop of the 1970s abandoned the production simplicity of the 60s in favor of full and lush arrangements–sometimes to excess, called over-production. These feel-good tracks, full of orchestration and free of controversial lyrics, were considered soulless by self-important ‘edgy’ music critics who gave the genre the accursed appellations “product” or “MOR” (middle of the road).

Fortunately, due to the magic of youtube we get an unusual glimpse behind the production. I believe this recording of Karen Carpenter is the center track of a three channel tape recording, containing the vocals, bass and drums. I suspect the flawless bass delivery was done by the peerless Carole Kaye, but I am not 100% sure.

If you are interested, there are other center-track playbacks of Karen available on youtube.

This center track contains a sound that almost nobody who grew up after the 1970s has ever heard on pop radio, or even knows exists: A woman alone with a Neumann microphone in a sound booth, laying down pure gold, in perfect tune, without special effects, and very little reverb. I refer to Karen Carpenter as a generational singer because a singer of her talent can be said to come along once in a generation–and I present this video as proof. Aside from the technical aspects, listen for what really counts: the emotion she conveys with powerful simplicity. I believe the lush production of the 1970s weakened this performance–but was required, by the mooks* of the time, to get it airplay.

PS. Whom who has seen the movie Tommy Boy can forget the scene where this song comes on car radio and each suggests the other can change the station, reluctantly leave it on, and ending up singing along with tears streaming down their faces.

* Mook is industry slang for a person in the music industry who has lots of power or money, who can make things happen, but who has absolutely no artistic judgement or taste. A typical mook primary criteria for green-lighting a song is that it sounds just like other current hit songs.

The 60s, a time of simple drum kits, and some tasty morsels from Cyrcle

For me, the pop/folk/rock of the 1960s was joyful in a way that has never been replicated. In my mind, conveyance of joy in popular music is a historical concept replaced with today’s obsession with darker emotions and debasement of the flesh.

I haven’t linked to any youtube yet in this blog, but I will give it a try here. Youtube has become not just a treasure chest of 60s music, but rather a city full of treasure the likes of which one can never fully explore. For your enjoyment I present this sugary snack from Cyrcle, Turn Down Day, a sound alike to their greatest achievement, the wonderful Red Rubber Ball.

A couple of notes here. It may be the limitations of my ears or mind, but I really prefer simple music in terms of number of instruments and singers. This simplicity was due to technological limitations of the era, when a premier studio counted itself lucky to have a three track tape recorder.

The item I really enjoyed in this video (the lack of microphones indicating lip-sync to their studio recording), is the small and typical early to mid-60s drum kit. a snare and hi hat, one mounted tom, one floor tom, and a single ride cymbal. And look how the drummer has managed to dramatize his 16ths on the ride by swinging his arm while swatting out quarters on the snare.

http://youtu.be/ZqrsGXjRLds

Since I mentioned Red Rubber Ball, I found another tasty morsel, a live performance of this song. Again, the drummer is of interest as I have always felt the drum shuffle was a key element of this song’s success. In a live setting, their soaring harmonies are rougher but also less sterile than the studio effort. I will also mention my lust of the gibson 335 one of the guys is playing. This video is said to be a 1966 performance, and the longer hair and less formal clothing indicates this to be about the last moment of mountain stream purity in pop music before the psychedelic influence that transforms pop music in 1967.

PS. Well, holy socks, Batman! The videos show up with an image preview–that’s as good as it gets.