More from Machine Head, Pictures of Home

Since I got to thinking about the Machine Head album (named after the gear mechanisms used to tune guitar and bass strings), I listened to perhaps my favorite track and will share it.

The high energy and driving beat of this song can distract one from its virtuosity. I first noticed the drum intro jumping seamlessly to the guitar when I watched a ‘making of” CD about the album–they played it together in the room. I also liked the lyrics with soaring mountain imagery:

I’m alone here
With emptiness, eagles and snow
Unfriendliness chilling my body
And whispering pictures of home

First the album version, and then an unleashed live performance 34 years later.

vkgoeswild takes on Machine Head

Listening to what passes for popular music these days, one could be forgiven for thinking all the talented musicians passed from the earth sometime during the Reagan Administration–really it was the talented music industry executives. The only antidote to such a depressing thought is the abundant treasures on youtube.

The Icelandic keyboard goddess, known as vkgoeswild on youtube, turned her attention to Deep Purple’s penultimate effort, their album Machine Head.

The song Lazy, a call and answer improvisation between Ritchie Blackmore’s Stratocaster and Jon Lord’s Hammond B3 organ, is a foot-stomping vehicle of virtuosity, and VK wowed me after curiosity drove me to see just what the heck a single keyboard could do with that song–and I am astonished.

I also included the original from Machine Head. Listening to it as I write this–wow!

The ultimate Torch Song

Casting subtlety to the wind, Julie London’s powerful ‘Cry Me a River’, from 1955, is in my judgement the finest Torch Song ever. Originally written for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in a 1920 movie, her performance ended up on the cutting room floor and did not appear in the released movie. There has been talk that Julie’s performance was so powerful that Ella cancelled her plans to record and release a performance of it in the mid 1950s.

Who among us hasn’t hoped, at some moment of despair, that an ex of some sort will come crawling back on their hands and knees, and allow us the angry pleasure of conveying the sentiment of this song?

Wicki reveals that this song has been covered more times than a bed at an hourly rate motel, including improbable performances by Aerosmith, Jeff Beck, and some so odd that I am afraid to watch them in youtube. I will leave us with this wonderful 1964, performance with the queen of sultry putting an errant lover in his place.

Anybody who wants to see more of Julie London can watch her playing nurse Dixie McCall in reruns of the forgettable 1970s ambulance/ER drama Emergency (Produced by her ex-husband Jack Webb of Dragnet fame).


Ella delivers a superlative Torch Song

The forces of Love have propelled many musical moments. On the far side of blissful infatuation is the Torch Song. These songs of deliciously poignant moments of longing, loss and regrets comprise many of the treasures in the Great American Songbook.

Written for the 1940 Rogers and Hart musical, Pal Joey, Ella Fitzgerald gave it one of my favorite covers in her 1956 album ‘Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rogers and Hart songbook’ on the Verve label. I found some of the songs content, often edited out, to be surprisingly frank for the 1950s: “I’ve sinned a lot, and I mean…a lot.”

To me the truly talented singers deliver powerful emotional content with subtle nuance and apparent ease. If you like that sort of thing, this performance by Ella is as good as it gets.

I Only Have Eyes for You

To my ears, the late 1950s’, early 1960’s were the golden age of slow dancers/love songs. Written for the movie Dames in 1934, the sultry Peggy Lee covered ‘I only have eyes for you’ in 1950. Surely one of the earliest music videos, it is among the treasures of youtube, Peggy is accompanied by a beautiful Gibson archtop and the sort of stand-up bass that propelled her 1958 hit Fever. Yet considering the miracle she performed with Fever, in my view she didn’t quite plumb the depths that this song has to offer.

For me the 1959 Flamingos cover remains one of the finest slow dance songs of all time. The soaring do-wop harmonies, triplets on piano, strong reverb, clear as a mountain stream, and a descending bass figure hearken to an era of musical craftsmanship long past. I imagine a 1959 high school dance with the guys in suit coats and inch-wide ties; the girls in billowing satin dresses.

But why take my word for it. Here are both covers.

Steve Gursky and the Birth of Disco

Ok, the headline takes some artistic license. I can authoritatively tell you that the real birth of disco was the 1974 Hues Corporation crossover hit, Rock the Boat. But Steve was part of disco history nonetheless.

In his late teens or early 20s, Steve was working Criteria Studio in Florida as a sound engineer in the late 70s. Around 1976-77, the Bee Gees went to “Funky Chateau” studio in France hoping to record their next hit. After three weeks of dinking around in the studio, they came back to America with nothing they really liked except for a bit of drum track. They then went to Criteria to finish up the song.

Well, a few years ago, on a trip to Colombia, I had a 6 hour layover in Miami. Steve picked me up and took me to a studio next to Criteria set up by some former Criteria engineers. Standing in the lobby among the gold records on the wall, I noticed the Stayin Alive gold record. I told Steve that I had read that the Bee Gees used a two bar section of 2″ tape, 20 feet long, joined the ends together and looped it in the tape for the entire song. A junior engineer at the other end of the room held up a broomstick for a tape reel to spin on so it wouldn’t get tangled up as it looped.

In a shocked voice Steve asked “WHO TOLD YOU THAT?” I explained about the article. He relaxed and with a wry grin said “I was the one holding that broomstick.” He didn’t know that the story had been made public.

I asked the questions I always had about gold records. Well, they are not made out of gold, they are records spray painted gold. Had the studio guys ever tried to play one–yes they had put one on a turntable and it did play music. It turns out the gold painted record is not actually the album it represents. When a record company has a hit, each record is a source of revenue, not to waste a sale and hang on the wall. They would find a non-hit record with the same number of tracks, stick a label in the center, and use that for the gold record.

This drum loop was also used on ‘More Than a Woman’, and Streisand’s ‘Woman in Love’.

He took me to lunch in a small modest seafood place just down the road from Criteria, and as I sat there, I imagined that Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, and many others had likely eaten there while on break from recording. That visit to the studio, and the stories he told, were more exciting to me than a trip to disney is for a kid.