Sunday, August 3, 2008

what makes a good song?

i'd never really listened to quiet riot's 'metal health' before... (unofficially also titled 'bang your head').

i think it's a pretty blatant rip off of def leppard's high and dry. go listen.

the intro guitars are different, but once the verses come on, the build up and melody is _very_ similar. fyi, def leppard was first.

then i wondered - why do i like the def leppard version so much more? they communicate much the same idea. some thoughts:

. def leppard's is faster
. the build up is more gradual, and has is more techincally impressive.
. the def leppard song has more parts (eventually)
. the drumming on the def leppard song is more involved/energetic.

sometimes, i think if you took two nearly identical songs, where one was somehow 'better' than the other, you could learn a lot about what makes a good song.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A quick, bloggy note

I just caught Bookshop Casanova by The Clientele on New York Noise.

I have never before heard something I would describe as a "George Harrison rip off"... Impressive, I'd say.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Reading Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews, I found out about the band Spirit.

They were mentioned as having written the song that Led Zeppelin ripped off to come up with the intro for Stairway to Heaven. The Spirit song was Taurus, and the guitar part is played about 40 seconds into the song.

Other direct influences from Spirit: Aerosmith's Somebody has a guitar/vocal solo very similar to the one on Spirit's Uncle Jack.

Listening to Spirit's album The Twelve Dreams of Doctor Sardonicus, I came across the song When I Touch You, and was pretty impressed with it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

'interesting' pop

One goal in music that I appreciate is the creation of interesting, layered, complex, challenging pop.

One of the important things to remember about this sort of stuff is that you need to have something immediately fairly catchy and understandable, but you need to layer things in that reward repeated listens, and don't end up being boring..

Off the top of my head, Shiina Ringo, Bumblefoot (on his latest CD), and Jethro Tull are among the most successful at this sort of thing.

Bumblefoot - Real
Bumblefoot - Normal
Shiina Ringo - Identity
Shiina Ringo - Shuukyo
Tokyo Jihen (Shiina Ringo) - OSCA
Jethro Tull - Velvet Green
Jethro Tull - Quizz Kidd/Crazed Institution
Judas Priest - Deliverin' The Goods

searching for clips, I found this cool video of Bumblefoot covering Judas Priest's Running Wild

songs that sound similar

Deep Purple's Stormbringer (1975) and Judas Priest's Revolution.
(wait until the verses)

The Definitive Edition

Let's go a little in a different direction and talk about remasters, remixes, alternate takes, and definitive editions.

When there's a crappy old release, and there's a desire to clean it up, there are a lot of ways you can do it:

A purist would insist on simply improving the transfer between the 'master tape' (traditionally some high-quality reel-to-reel tape) and the final product. Companies like MFSL will do this at half speed, for instance, to reduce hiss (if you do it at half speed, the hiss sounds the same, and then when you play it at full speed, the hiss is much higher, and much of it is out of the range of human hearing).

If you want to get less pure, you can apply all sorts of equalization and similar things. One can argue that no matter what you do, your transfer will never be 'pure', and that you need to compensate in these ways.

You can go further, and apply noise reduction (something I personally dislike, as I can often hear its effects on the sounds themselves more than on the noise), gating, things like that.

You can go even further, and take as your source material the original multitrack tapes, rather than the master. This means you can apply any one of the above steps to the original, cleanly recorded instruments. The big problem is that you have to actually duplicate the parameters of the original mix as closely as possible. The end result is likely to be less 'definitive' in that it sounds less like the original, but who's to say if it's less 'definitive' in the sense of closer to the original intent?

You can go a little further, even, and intentionally diverge from the original mix - a true remix. Again, this is a highly subjective matter.

Some interesting examples:

The Who - Who's Next. The original master tape was apparently ceremoniously destroyed after completion, so the remastered CD release was actually remixed. Some people complained of this. The original CD release was from some master other than the original, so is truer in some ways to the original recording.

Judas Priest - the remasters. Actually, these are again remixes, and some people have found some flaws, compared with the originals. Still, the sound quality is arguably better.
Judas Priest - Hero Hero. This deserves its own post (maybe, maybe later). Apparently no one was satisfied with the results of Judas Priest's first album's mastering (Rocka Rolla, 1974), so to capitalize on their success, their original record company (Gull Records), asked Rodger Bain (producer of Rocka Rolla, as well as early Budgie and Black Sabbath), to truly remix the album, as Hero Hero, in 1981. The results are interesting, where most of the songs are just 'interestingly different' (in my opinion), while a few sound actually better for the remixing. Certainly, you can hear Rob Halfords climactic "I can't go on" more in the front of the mix, though with a lot of echo, on "Run of the mill".
(for more info, check out the excellent Judas Priest INFO PAGES)

Various MFSL releases - Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, all sorts. These are true remasters.

Apparently, the King Crimson remasters were really remixes, that angered some people..

For the rerelease of Koenhihyakkei's first album, drummer Tatsuya Yoshida not only remixed it, but rerecorded the drums.

Jethro Tull's Stand Up has had many releases on CD. The "Orginals" rerelease, by Chrysalis, was a processed remaster, with all sorts of noise reduction, compression, eq, and other processing, while the MFSL gold disc version had none of those features. The results are subjective, and also will sound different on different systems.

Given all these changes, it's sometimes difficult to even define what a 'definitive' edition really is.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bon Scott

I've been starting to appreciate AC/DC's originally singer more and more these days.

Back in my teen years, I always preferred the Scott AC/DC material to the Johnson material - I thought it was because it was more raw, and that may be true.

I came across Scott's band before AC/DC (at least, one of them) - Fraternity. I had some trouble believing it was him, on this song, Seasons of Change (now removed from youtube!), and also Jupiter's Landscapes.
Clearly, this is a guy who can sing, and who can do quite a bit with his voice..

Which is why it's so interesting that he eventually chose such a raw sound, as shown here in T.N.T. What's so interesting about him is that he knew when _not_ to sing, something that a lot of 'skilled' singers never really figured out.
Also, check out his range on Touch Too Much. (Another cool thing about Touch Too Much is how there's no bass until the chorus - a very nice effect)

just for kicks, check out some really early Bon: The Valentines : Build Me Up Buttercup.

also just for kicks, check out Spongebob's version of T.N.T.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mari Hamada

About 10 years ago, I purchased a vinyl by Japanese artist Mari Hamada, knowing nothing about what it was, save that it had vaguely interesting artwork, and had guitars on it.

Finally, I gave it a listen. I would have liked it more back then, but as far as 80s comfort metal goes, it's pretty good - and she's got a good voice. Decent guitar work as well... Nothing amazingly original here, but good use of the genre without being too cliched in a bad way.

It seems her first three albums - Lunatic Doll, Romantic Night (haven't found it at all yet), and the one I found originally, Misty Lady, are the ones to listen to. They're hard to find, especially on CD, but digital copies are floating around on the net.

Check out this live version of Noah.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Judas Priest - the early days

A lot of people are familiar with Priest from the 1980s onwards -- 1980 was the year they came out with Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight (with such lyrics as -- really! -- "my body's coming all night long"), and 1982 released You've Got Another Thing Coming.

Before Priest had solidified their metal image, in terms of both lyrics and clothing, they flirted with progressive metal, with theatrical metal (think Queen), and many other things.

Their first album, Rocka Rolla (which they are NOT proud of at all - largely because of the production) yielded the 7+minute long epic about reaching life's end, Run Of The Mill, which comes with an incredible build-up, and some of Halford's most impressive vocals ever.

Sad Wings of Destiny yields the proto-thrash metal song Tyrant - check out the lead harmony solo in the middle, which was a hint of what's to come.

Their third album, Sin After Sin has the impressive Simon Phillips on drums, and ends with the amazing thrash metal song Dissident Aggressor. This song may be Priest-metal incarnate (at least for me) - great vocals from Halford, impressively subtle and forceful drumming from Phillips (more on him in a later entry), a KK Downing noisy guitar solo... (OK, it lacks something that signifies other guitarist Glenn Tipton).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Early techno

I sometimes think that the first techno/dance song was Hot Butter - Popcorn..

You can read about it at the wikipedia article:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shiina Ringo cover songs

Shiina Ringo, a Japanese pop star who manages to be one of my favorite artists, impresses me in a few ways.
She released a double-CD of cover songs, most of which I'd never heard before. After some research, I was impressed with what was done with two example songs:

A Japanese bubbly pop song from the 1970s, Momen no Handkerchief, performed by Hiromi Ohta, managed to get transformed into a compeletly-authentic sounding indie song, back in the early part of the 2000s. See Shiina's version here.

Apparently, a traditional tune, Uña Ramos's "Aquellos ojos grises", performed here by some Japanese folk musician types, became Ringo's Haiiro no Hitomi.

For further information on Shiina Ringo, check out this great wiki: Shiina on theppn

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ian Anderson's influences

A lot of people know the music of Jethro Tull - composed (and sometimes arranged) almost exclusively by Ian Anderson, who sings, plays flute, acoustic guitar, and even saxophone when he's figured out where they're hiding it from him.
Anderson has dropped hints about two of his major influences - through interviews and/or cover songs.

First: Rahsaan Roland Kirk - the jazz man who allegedly could play over 100 instruments, sometimes playing 3 at the same time. He could circular breathe a note indefinitely on the sax, sometimes holding a note for several hours.. In fact, his playing style on the sax was such that he would _always_ circular breathe - even while playing three at once.
He's definitely worth checking out for many many reasons (his stage banter is among the best), but in the context of Ian Anderson, it's certainly his flute playing that's the initial attraction. Anderson's humming along breathiness, as well as staccato stylings, seems very derived from the way Kirk would sometimes play.
(For as long as it's up there: Roland Kirk's Seasons)

Second: Roy Harper - Roy has a song by Led Zepplin dedicated to him (hats off to harper), and has collaborated with Bill Bruford, David Gilmour, and Jimmy Page on his own albums. Roy from 1971 in many ways does not sound different from Roy in 2006 - which is a good thing.
What does Ian take from Harper? His acoustic guitar styling is very obviously influenced by Harper - the quick scales, the picking style, the vocal style over it. His lyrics are also clearly influenced by Harper's beat stylings - Harper was the strongest influence on Anderson in the early 1970s Jethro Tull material.
(Me And My Woman -- check out the falsetto break in the chorus, then think of A Passion Play or Scenario from the Chateau tapes)

( Jethro Tull - My God)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Double bass in death metal

Michael Kaplan asked me a few years ago who had first introduced double-bass speed drumming into death metal.

Here's what I would guess is a reasonable lineage:
Jazz drummers were almost certainly the first to use double-bass set-ups at all. Some late 1960s rock drummers also used it, mainly in drum solos.
On Deep Purple's 1971 album Fireball, on the title track, there is a reasonably fast double-bass beat used throughout the song. This isn't near death metal speed, but is a slower version of the same concept. (Fireball )
On West Bruce and Laing's self titled album from 1973 , the track Love Is Worth The Blues features some double bass towards the end of the guitar solo - quite a bit faster than Ian Paice's beat on Fireball.
Judas Priest's Sin After Sin (1977), particularly the track Let Us Prey, may feature the first double bass beat in 'pure' heavy metal song. (Let Us Prey )
The earliest (and very influential) 'real' death metal style drumming I can come up with is the work of Dave Lombardo of Slayer. 1984's Haunting The Chapel may be a good example of this. (Haunting The Chapel )

As always, I could have missed something!