For my mother

I think it is safe to say that my mother is directly responsible for my life-long obsession with music. Unlike my father, who I came to find musical common ground with in my late teens, my mother and I were on the same page from Day One. My earliest memory of my mom is 2-year-old me getting the brilliant idea to sit on my feet while she is trying to put on my shoes on and thinking how funny this game is until she gets annoyed and pulls my feet out from under my butt (who knew she’d look for them there?). My second earliest memory of her (and years of memories after) is driving around town in the back of her car and listening to her sing along with the radio. When I was little Mom was the stay-at-home type, which made her the first line of defense against a child with ideas. Five-year-old me tended to associate her with unwanted complications to my little life like nap times, the giving and taking of TV privileges, eating vegetables, and not drawing with markers on the couch (the only time I was ever officially grounded). By default (i.e. because he wasn’t home for eight hours a day), I was a devoted daddy’s girl when I was small. Now I look back on this with the eyes of an adult and feel that this was horribly unfair to the woman who made my mac’n’cheese, took me to swim lessons, and walked home everyday from kindergarten with me. But what can you expect from a 5-year-old who knew the power of a good pout?

However, everything would quickly change when she strapped me into the back seat to trundle down the road on one errand or another and unruly child would morph into listening child and later into singing child. On these excursions the radio dial was always tuned to the Oldies Station. As a result my primal musical influences growing up were my mother’s–namely Motown, the British Invasion, Psychedelia, and Surf Rock. To this day I can’t hear the Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie or Neil Diamond’s Cherry Cherry without remembering our vehicular singalongs. You could always tell if my mother liked a song by the volume of the radio and of her voice. My mother is a born blaster, to be sure. And hopefully when she sees what I’ve dug up for her, she’ll attempt to burn out the speakers on Dad’s laptop.

But the best thing about my mother and music is that she always encouraged me to seek out the songs that sounded good to me. As I got older and began to develop my own tastes, she was always willing to give something new a listen, be it Save Ferris, NIN, or Duran Duran. She never once tried to censor or disparage my inclinations. And she was my first willing audience when I began my transformation into the music edition of Trivial Pursuit. For this, I am eternally grateful.

So now in honor of Mother’s Day and her birthday (which fell on the same day this year), here are a few of the songs that I associate with my mother and elevated volumes. Crank it up to 11, Mom! I love you!

Green Tambourine by the Lemon Pipers

To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees

Wild Thing by the Troggs – An undeniable favorite that could easily have led to scratchy speakers in more than one mini-van.

No Stairway? Denied?!

Well, not anymore! Led Zeppelin fans rejoice for there is hope shining like a candle at the end of a very, very long tunnel. Now you ask how this could be? John Bonham and John Paul Jones have been residing in the hallowed halls of Rock ‘n’ Roll Valhalla for decades now. And Jimmy Page and Robert Plant dashed the hopes of fans everywhere when they abandoned their last collaboration in 2009 and since have been focusing on solo projects that often stray far from their rocking roots. So how can a devoted Led Zep fan aspire for something more? Has hell frozen over? Have the laws of time and space been irrevocably altered? (Cue Peter Venkman!) Hardly! But Led Zep fans from back in the day may not believe their ears when they hear this little track.

What song could possibly have gotten my classic rock-obsessed mind into such a tizzy? Well my friends, I am referring to the surprisingly epic song entitled Little Black Submarines. What’s that you say, you can’t place it? Well, I can assure you that you will not find it on any Led Zeppelin bootleg recording and it has not been languishing on a shelf somewhere deep within the BBC vaults for the past 30 years. No, this song is from a little American rhythm and blues revivalist duo known as The Black Keys. Now you might be confused as to how anyone could manage to get these two bands mixed-up. Sure they do share some of the same blues and folk influences and they both employ masterful instrumentality, finely honed lyrics, and a production standard that screams quality. Yet there is some distance between the two of them, from their subject matter to their style, as well as their stage presence . But if an old devotee happened to push play on this track unwittingly, they’d swear it was everybody’s favorite blues rock Brits circa 1971. Don’t believe me? Well, first let’s start with a refresher for those of you lacking in your music education.

Now I don’t know if Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney consciously set out to make their Stairway to Heaven, but this is essentially what they have accomplished with Little Black Submarines. The words of the tragic singer who asks to be reconnected with his (lost?) lover border on the fantastical and the complicated circular style in which the lyrics are delivered belies their simplicity. Sure, they may lack the Tolkien-esque mysticism of Led Zep’s best known track, but they do come pretty darn close. And the stark contrast created between Auerbach’s soft-voiced intro–accompanied only by acoustic guitar–and the grandeur of the full-force percussion and roaring riffs of the climax easily matches the majestic transformation that takes Stairway from a whisper to a howl over the course of its 8 minute length. The only thing missing is Plant’s unmistakable wail at the finale, although this is somewhat alleviated by the addition of three female back-up singers. But unlike Stairway, Submarines benefits from the missing weight of Led Zep’s formidable pedigree and at the much more manageable length of just over 4 minutes, the song has the ability to become more accessible to a general audience. And the best part is that The Black Keys pay such beautiful tribute to these gods of rock without losing their own identity in the process. At no time does the song feel forced or overblown.

In the end Little Black Submarines stands as a beautiful song, a fitting tribute, and something that fans of Led Zeppelin can fearlessly play in guitar stores everywhere.

CCR for my father

When I was a little girl, I idolized my dad. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to be  6 feet tall just like him. I wanted to be an astronomer just like him. I wanted to get my PhD and be called Dr, (you guessed it) just like him. And in my six-year-old mind all of this was more than possible, it was inevitable. Obviously, things didn’t quite work out the way I’d imagined. For starters I’m only 5’2″ and at age 30, it’s pretty unlikely I’m hiding one last growth spurt. For another thing, I tried that whole science thing and the closest I ever got to being an astronomer was assisting an astronomy professor teach a gen ed course during my undergrad days. As for that PhD… well, that might still happen one day, but it won’t be for science. And it certainly won’t be on my dime. But I digress.

Where was I? Oh yeah. I was a fan of my dad from the word go. The fact that he wasn’t around to make me take a nap every afternoon (something I hated as a child) may have had something to do with my favoritism. It wasn’t fair, but well, little kids are biased. Go figure. As I got older though and started to figure out who I was and what I liked, the list of things I had in common with my dad seemed to get shorter. Don’t get me wrong, we had (and still have) a great relationship, with only a few of the usual issues faced by a father and his teenage daughter–in our case it was math homework and driving lessons. Poor Dad. Dealing with a teary-eyed daughter was sometimes hard, especially when trying to explain algebra or teach how to parallel park a car…

But music was not something we bonded on until my late teens. My father mainly listens to NPR or classical music. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, but for a Beatles-loving, rock-obsessed teenager, music was an area where it was sometimes hard for us to find common ground. I wasn’t a fan of his music and (predictably) he thought I listened to my music too loudly.

Side story: Blasting music was  something I picked up from my mother… or so I thought. Every year around Christmas, she digs out her Mannheim Steamroller albums and sets out to see if she can make all the windows in the house rattle. My dad grumbles and usually goes outside to put up lights, while my mother chuckles wickedly and proceeds to have a grand old-time inside. They do this routine every year, but when I was old enough to start borrowing the car I do seem to recall a time or two when I feared I might burst an eardrum to Beethoven simply by turning on his car.

It was probably around my junior or senior year that Dad and I finally found some musical common ground. As I’ve mentioned before, I went through a very big classic rock stage . It lasted for several years and for a while there I completely lost track of contemporary music. It was also around this time that my mother discovered the used CD racks at the local used book/music/movie/everything store and began bringing home bands that she and my dad listened to B.K. (“Before Kids”). Well, you must imagine my surprise when one birthday she gave him a copy of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s greatest hits. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey! I listen to them! What could Dad possibly want with them?”

Sometimes I have to laugh at how silly I was then, even as an all-knowing teenager. Maybe especially as a teenager. Despite my tendency to roam through my parents’ vinyl collection as a young kid, I’d basically always assumed they belonged to my mom. It had never occurred to me that my father had ever listened to anything besides Bach and Mozart. Like every self-absorbed teenager, the idea of my father having a full and varied life before I came along never occurred to me. Yet here was evidence of rock music he liked. It was a novel experience, let me tell you.  Suddenly, I could talk about to my father about music. It wasn’t exactly a watershed moment. But it stands out in my memory.

So in honor of my dad’s birthday this week, here is your daily dose of CCR!

CCR always amuses me to no end because they cultivated this down home, good old boy, Southern swamp rock image, but they were really from Northern California! Most of their albums were recorded in a place called Cosmo’s Factory in Berkeley, CA. And lead singer John Fogerty sometimes pronounced words with something akin to a New Jersey accent. Just goes to show what an image (and the focus on an image) can sometimes do. This is not to say that CCR’s music wasn’t amazing. It was tightly crafted, raucous, and addictive. They’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a good reason, folks.

This first video is the iconic Proud Mary, a.k.a. Rollin on a River. If you think you’ve never heard CCR, I can assure you that you have heard this one. Here they are performing on the Johnny Cash Show, probably in 1969. Warning, Fogerty apparently could not lip-synch for the life of him. I looked at lots of videos, there isn’t a good one on YouTube right now. I checked!

The second video is a psychedelic little master piece. I don’t know who made it, maybe it was a student piece? Maybe it was just the 1970s? It does look like the band might actually have been involved though. 1970 was a pretty swinging time, so you never know. Either way, the song is beautiful and certainly worth a listen.

Happy Birthday, Dad!!!

The award for creative music video, Part 1

There are a ton of music videos floating out there in the media. And most of them follow pretty basic lines. Band plays, someone sings or raps, pretty girls dance, and so on and so forth. There are entire genres and experimentation is not dead by any means. But sometimes it seems like if you’ve seen one video, you’ve seen them all.

This is not the case with a band like the Black Keys. Really liking these guys lately. Great voice, high production values, and bending genres while playing on the nostalgia of the 1960s and rhythm and blues. Also, they have really amusing videos! Their video for Howlin’ For You is one of the most creative videos I’ve seen in a while. The entire video is presented as a movie trailer, with famous actors popping up left and right–Shaun White, Tricia Helfer, Corbin Bernsen, Sean Patrick Flanery, among others. The whole presentation smacks of Quentin Tarantino and the Kill Bill movies, although he isn’t actually involved. There’s sex, violence, explosions, and a healthy dose of cheese. The song is mainly background for dialogue and fight scenes and is constantly being interrupted. The band doesn’t even show up until near the end and never plays a note. It wins my award for most creative video.

If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s your chance!