Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Most Over-Rated Band of All Time>?

Yes, I'm talking about the Doors. Jim Morrison had a terrific voice and an intermittent gift for lyrics on the first album or two, then he sunk into a lot of self-indulgent bullcrap and alcohol-soaked gibberish. "The End" is widely considered his masterpiece - and it is, if you consider it a comic parody of "serious" late-60s poetry. "Father? Yes son? I want to kill you. Mother..." etc. Armchair Freudian shit, any high-schooler could come up with its equivalent. To the extent that the Doors were successful, it was usually when Morrison stifled his pretensions and just sang his dark but relatively accessible lyrics. Listen again to "Light My Fire;" that's a great BAND cooking behind him, and the words don't get in the way as they did later on. The Doors were, as a matter of fact, a "singles" band - a Top 40 act with a series of hits and a whole lot of album filler. A twisted version of Three Dog Night or similar professional entertainers. Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore had as much to do with the band's best records as their drunken, self-obsessed front man.

Yeah, this is heresy, I know. I just don't buy into the Dead Jim cult, and I never did. You don't become an Important Artist by living recklessly and dying young. You do it by creating memorable, meaningful art regardless of your personal lifestyle or fate. Ask Neil Young. Ask Bob Dylan. Ask Frank Sinatra or Louis Armstrong. Or Billie Holiday or Hank Williams or Kurt Cobain or Nick Drake or Ronnie Van Zandt, who all died young but whose achievements have lasted in a way that, ultimately, Jim Morrison's don't. In my humble opinion. For what it's worth. As Neil Young might say: rust never sleeps, but it sure does corrode some people faster than others. Better to burn out than to fade away? Neil is living proof that you don't have to do EITHER.

By the way: second most over-rated band? The Eagles. None of them died tragically, but again, they produced only a few good singles and one OK-for-its-time album. Their fame and fortune have far outstripped the quality and significance of their music. Plus, they gave rise to the whole modern Nashville sound: by watering down both country and rock, they blended the worst of both, and for that alone they should burn in hell. Well, except for Joe Walsh, who is just a hired gunslinger but clearly the most talented of the bunch. And Don Henley's voice, which can work wonders when applied to the right material (but is a smug pain in the ass the rest of the time).

Third in line? Frank Zappa, with his endless sophomoric sex/excrement/drug jokes. I'm talking about Zappa the solo artist, not the early Mothers of Invention line-up with their brilliant social satire. Zappa had the real stuff as a guitarist and bandleader but he wasted far too much time and effort on shitty, smutty material.

That's all for now, but contact me anytime if you want to see more Sacred Icons of Rock (SIR's) tossed unceremoniously off their pedestals.



freespeak@gmail.com said...

I AM GLAD YOU ARE SOUNDING OFF on this, Tom and I don't entirely disagree with you. I have to remember it from the context of the times and stupid, foolish, spoiled and drunken or not - Freudian Clown or not, The Doors cranked out some grear stuff. They would have died in the road and been eaten by maggots had it not been for Ray Manzarek though, who later kicked out some better than decent jazz/rock.

We are not gathered here to find a purpose - the purpose has found us and gathered us together here. So draw your guns and take your shots and I'll just bet you are going to see a LONG thread of commentary, now that you have opened Pandora's Box.

Here's my shot - Anything after "Southern Man" by Neil Young is (and yes, I haven't listen to him in years) is a whiney, boring, inane laundry list of uninspired complaints masquerading as Socal Commentary.

I agree with you on the Eagles - Tabloid Rock. "Hotel California" left me feeling that I had jus climbed out of a lukewarm shower and had my leg peed on by a dog while I was toweling off.

I won't rag forever about this but the CONTEXT OF THE TIMES and the poetic exercises in meaninglesness that preceded a lot of this music it seems should be backdropped for contrast. I am talking about the REAL music. The 1910 Fruitgum Company. The Cycle. The Archies and lets not forget - The Monkees.

Where does talent go to hide when it's in danger of being discoverd?



Fran Bennett said...

Since so much great "classic rock" has been researched out of existence by suits who can't tap their foot to a beat nor whistle a melody in tune, I sometimes wonder if the remnants we dislike are indeed worthy of our distaste or we've just grown sick of them having them shoved down our throat every day for thirty years.

Sure, Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner" has been useless pap since it's inception but is 'Hotel California" really a bad song or are we just sick to death of it?
Or Freebird, or Stairway or any of a zillion others.

freespeak@gmail.com said...

WHAM, Fran - and hit me again.

I've heard "Stairway" so many times on the local HAL 9000 that I just turn it off for a few days at a time. And really "In A Gadda-Da-Vida" - probably because I don't hear it much - is a GREAT song with symphonic structure and one HELLUVA drum solo! Anybody who says what's-his-name was too drunk to sing "In A Garden Of Eden" has NO imagination and is suffering from a lack of dreams.

Hotel California? Yeah, well MAYBE after three readings of Gone With The Wind.... Thing is, the whole story was told a few years before by Bob Seger in "Hollywood Nights" AND it rocked.

Understand I don't mean to put down Neil Young - I remember a religious experience with "Mr. Soul" coming off a visit from Mescalito. But whining just doesn't appeal to me and that's how I hear what Neil is using to express his "pain".

It's really a matter of personal taste and sometimes honest prejudice. Older I get, the meaner I hear.

The only cure for all this, is new music from new minds with new things to say about places I ain't been yet.

In my Party DJ career (which pays waaay better than radio) I used to get the inevitable slightly tipsy drunk who would wobble up and say "Playshum Roknrowl". I finally learned to ask "What year did you graduate in?". Almost anything with a beat from that year, worked.

It's a matter of tastelessness. You can chew and chew but if it's not good enough to swallow and make it part of yourself, ya gotta spit it out.


Tom Wright said...

I'll be "going dark" for the next week or so, traveling to an exotic foreign land where the natives have bizarre rituals that may or may not put me in grave personal danger. Some call it "Utah" but others dare not speak its name, referring vaguely to "that place east of Nevada."

Anyhow, I'm glad to have stirred up some controversy/commentary on the relative merits of familiar artists, and I encourage others to continue the process until my return. Yes, context matters, and it's perfectly OK to love a song or an album with all your heart and soul even if your head knows it's a piece of crap. Just as it's OK to acknowledge a brilliant work of art that leaves you cold. And, as Walt Whitman understood, it's OK to contradict yourself.

For example, I consider myself a connoiseur of literate singer/songwriter types - Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne, Bruce Cockburn, David Wiffen, Fred Neil, Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, and lesser-known artists like Scott Miller and Arizona's own Andy Hersey. But I also have a completely unreasonable, inexplicable, and indefensible love of early Deep Purple, with Ritchie Blackmore's guitar roaring out of the amps in an orgy of tasteless heavy-metal bombast. And Jon Lord's organ matches him, excess for excess. I should hate this kind of stuff (and I do when it's done by Uriah Heap or other pretenders to the throne) but there's something inspiring about an artist going for broke, good taste and subtlety be damned. Do it well and you've got an honored place in rock & roll history. Do it badly and you're Grand Funk Railroad.

I will defend Neil Young to the death and pity the fool who can't see the beauty in "Like a Hurricane" or "Ambulance Blues" or "Star of Bethlehem" or some of his later masterpieces like "Fucking Up" or "Sleeps With Angels" (his tribute to Kurt Cobain). But his voice is definitely an acquired taste and he has churned out more than his share of crap over the years. Some artists are remarkably consistent over the course of decades (L. Cohen, R. Thompson, B. Cockburn, etc.) while others veer all over the map quality-wise (Mr. Young, Mr. Dylan, even folks like John Fogerty and Bob Seger who followed great bursts of creativity with years of mediocrity).

To keep the discussion going, here are some questions for you to ponder while I'm incommunicado.

(1) Why do Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley both owe a huge debt to Charlie Rich?

(2) Who is the most under-rated British blues guitarist of the late 1960s?

(3) Eric Clapton's vocal style was stolen - tone, phrasing, timing, everything - from whom?

(4) Who is Mickey Newbury and why was Bill Compton such a huge fan of his? (Hint: Elvis was a fan too.)

(5) What great rock album of 1969 is consistently overlooked by both critical and popular "best-of" lists?

(6) Name the "folk" singer who rose to prominence in the late 60s, who has actually gotten better and stronger with age, who is still recording and touring, and who has never sold out commercially or politically.

(7) What current Texas singer/songwriter has little connection to the Austin scene but can blow most of them away without even trying?

Have fun, and I'll see you all on-line in a week or two.


freespeak@gmail.com said...

Tom ------ THERE ARE UFO's in Utah!!!!


Anonymous said...

(4) Who is Mickey Newbury and why was Bill Compton such a huge fan of his? (Hint: Elvis was a fan too.) :

That would be his "American Trilogy" that Elvis used in his act. Played it numerous times on the Raydeo myself, as did Little Willie Sunshine...Still sounds good.