Left of the Dial: “How Blue Can You Get?”
Written by Chris on February 19, 2018
Our title today is only rhetorical as you want it to be, as this weeks rendition of Left of the Dial jumps through various colour swatches until we discover which proper shading we want. Join your host Chris-R on a journey to a place where no stone is left unturned, in the breath-taking adventure of finding musical delicassantes to feast your ears upon. Our revolving door of cohosts has brought us “Dizzy” who provides a colorful commentary to enjoy. So kick back and relax, and enjoy yourself a kaleidoscopic session of Left of the Dial.
Available on Podcast form, Soundcloud, and a Spotify playlist where you can find past LotD playlists.
O, My Soul -Big Star
Power-Pop extraordinaires Big Star, who would eventually prove to be massively influential and well revered, had an insurmountable struggle to get to the pedestal they occupy today. Despite their grand grasps at fame with their (now unfortunately titled) albums Radio City and #1 Record, the band dissolved and remained penniless until further reassessment came years down the line. These hardships only prove to be further fuel to their fire, as they boast in “O, My Soul” an impassioned vocal delivery of “I can’t get no license to drive my car, but I don’t really need it if I’m a big star”, a workingman’s daydream personified. Twee guitars, and snappy elevator-esque keyboards give a candy-coated window dressing to the band that immediately produces an earworm of a tune, but provides an extra buried treasure for those who stick around to realize the further genius behind the songwriting.
Travelling Riverside Blues -Led Zeppelin
Studio albums allow the big “greats” in music to make a case for themselves; as they are fine-tuned to their pleasing and released in the format of their choosing for greatest possible effect, but the wheat is separated from the chaff when bands are forced to perform in situations beyond their control. Led Zeppelin were fortunate enough to understand that the live performance is a form of art unto itself which actualizes the true essence of the group. “Travelling Riverside Blues” in particular has a light hearted nature that is seldom seen from their back catalog, as the band is quite clearly having a field day in performing this vintage Blues track for a BBC live session. The group chose to forego their usual extravagant instrumentals in favor of light strummy guitar slide lines, and a loose vocal delivery that works wonderfully over the 12 bar blues pattern. It is clear they are having a laugh with this one, as the band isn’t afraid to quote past songs in this performance; Plant reprises his eyebrow raising affinity for “lemon juice” a la The Lemon Song (or Killing Floor for any Howling Wolf listeners) or if you listen closely, Page quite clearly rips his Heartbreaker solo trills near the outro. Just a fine time all around, feel free to break out the hammock for this number.
Vitamin C -Can
For this slot in our set, it’s time to open a 46 year old can of Krautrock. Fully aware of how darn odd their material is, Can takes their unique sound and runs home and beyond with it, eventually reaching an American audience. In the Krautian trend of strange humans playing in stranger robot grooves, a motorik rhythm supports the track all around which works to an almost feverish effect and provides an inherent danceability to the song. This is not even taking into account that Ege Bamyasi was self-touted as an intentional attempt to write in a more commercial manner, which worked to a surprising degree as Ege Bamyasi reaches an astounding level of acclaim from both critics and fellow musicians alike, being named as a stark influence in future sounds pursued by artists such as Sonic Youth, David Bowie, Radiohead, and Kanye West who went far enough to sample the group for his multi-platinum stadium sing-along Graduation.
Down By The Water -PJ Harvey
Dirt and grime can be found underneath this murky water, that had been built from the ground up by PJ Harvey. A gravelly low end fills the track to it’s brim as other sounds playfully introduce themselves to the mix, ranging from pizzicato strings and a coy call-and-response line. PJ ends with a terrifying whisper which may be more harsh and boisterous than any loudness could have done with her, she is in complete control on this one.
Black Coffee -Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa
The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup, but Folgers can only go so far. What is really needed, is a scalding cup of coffee to the face which is precisely what is delivered from an unexpectedly effective collaboration between belter Beth Hart and American Blues guitarist virtuoso Joe Bonamassa. There is no time for small talk here, as Black Coffee jumps straight for the jugular, and urgency is within this songs DNA. In between Beth’s frantic vocal melismas and the fact the beat runs only three measures to a bar, there is no time for rest on this one. Despite usual pitfalls of attempting Blues or Soul in a modern age, hindsight is on their side as they weave in and out of genre norms and let both of their individual personalities shine through in a wonderfully natural manner. Sporting a 2018 release date, this very well may be my favorite find of the year so far and I hope you find reasons to appreciate it as much as I do.
Nutbush City Limits –Ike & Tina Turner
Working with Phil Spector and his legendary Wall of Sound would be a career highlight for any artist imaginable, which is perfectly understandable, but what happens in the days that come after? Although it is now seen as their signature song, Ike and Tina Turner’s seminal “River Deep – Mountain High” only skirted the Billboard charts which was a shock to everybody involved, given the obvious quality of the song which could be rubbing elbows with any of Phil Spector’s finest. “Nutbush City Limits” however, does not seem too concerned with chart positionings (despite it giving the duo their last significant blip on the charts), and “Nutbush City Limits” almost works as a sister study to “River Deep – Mountain High” in pure sonic scope and performance by all involved. This tracks sound almost obsesses over itself and the sound in its’ contemporaries music in a manner that almost predicts the music later replicated by musicians several years later, who would resurrect this Funky style of sound into something new. Traditional song structure is eschewed for almost more of a free jam atmosphere, with new instruments joining the fray as the song scoots along. Elements that may have been novelties when first recorded such as plunky fuzz bass, quirky wah guitars, which all soon became industry standards for G-Funks reassessment of this era of sound, most astonishingly the whistle pitched synth near the end of the track which just maaaaaayyyybe caught the ear of a young Dr. Dre. Who woulda thunk it.
Goddess on the Hiway -Mercury Rev
A melancholic pop song in its’ most pure form, “Goddess on the Hiway” is an excersise in both restraint and release for both Mercury Rev, and brought the group back from the edge of obscurity.The evolution of Mercury Rev closely parallels that of bandleader Jonathan Donahue’s former band The Flaming Lips ,who were simultaneously recording their Indie-Pop breakthrough The Soft Bulletin, bringing them to unforeseen height. A litany of problems arose for the band prior to “Goddess on the Hiway”, and the band teetered on demise and likely would’ve broken up if not for the surprise success of this songs parent album Deserter’s Songs. Mercury Rev were able to access the underlying emotion of a song with ease, often complemented with Golden-era Disney instrumentals that somehow effortlessly blend textures into something unique for the group. It was apparent for the band when simplicity should take reign of a song, best shown in simple phrases and understated chord progressions that help accent the music into something vast and sweeping.
Trouble In Mind -Nina Simone
Miss Nina Simone glides along this Jazz club standard with ease and shines a ray of light on the listener with this chipper cut from Pastel Blues. “Trouble In Mind” prances along at a delightful pace as soon as the delicate piano run starts it all off, and a steadily played rhythm allows all worry to be left behind, just as the lyrical matter suggests. Left at a brisk 2:40 runtime, lean back and leave your blues behind you with a little help from Nina.
Crazy – Live From the Basement -Gnarls Barkley
An unassuming Pop megasmash gets a radical new makeover. Gnarls Barkley is a duo as strange as it comes, comprising of current star of “The Voice” and prior Gospel and Southern Hip-Hop mogul Ceelo Green and forward-thinking production enigma Danger Mouse. Despite chart success, it should be expected that this Gnarls Barkley has a wild side to it. This version in particular was recorded for the live music television series “From the Basement” curated by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, which inspires artists to reinterpret their catalog is a more minimal and stripped-down imagining. Gnarls Barkley’s worldwide megasmash gets a startling rearrangement that strips it down into an exciting new form, coming complete with a new chilled out and mildly uncomfortable styling that allows this rendition to stand on it’s own two feet which I may actually prefer to the original.. Instrumentally sparse, Ceelo has free reign to take center stage on the mic which very well may be an inverse effect of what made the original arrangement so addictive to the radio listening masses.
Lights Out -UFO
The early inklings of the Arena Rock era produced some of the most musically conducive friendly rivalries that the industry had ever seen. It was all a game of “who can shred faster?” or “whose singer can yelp the highest?” and nobody would accept being outdone as an answer. Of course, this is best exemplified in a live setting (it was called ARENA rock, duh.) and UFO were the unsung kings of the stadium and their seminal live record Strangers in the Night was surefire to put any nay-sayers back in their respective places. UFO was also blessed with the absolute guitar monster that is Michael Schenker, who belongs on any self-respecting music fans list of “all time greats”. It is clear to see why so many musician virtuosos say they got their start from staring at the stars above in UFO.
Ventilator Blues –The Rolling Stones
Sometimes as a band, you may need to focus your collective energy into a songwriting process in order to yield results, and other times you just need to put your faith in a dormant energy that exists within the band itself which is a major part of what makes the Rolling Stones such an effective tour de force after all these years. Echoing the surreal approach found on The White Album, the Stones give their interpretation on Exile on Main Street, an album that delivers itself as a scatterbrained, at times bloated, and overall GENIUS record that displays when a band broken down to its’ most essential aspects can actually highlight what makes them so compelling. “Ventilator Blues” in particular is all snarl and grit, rarely executed by the group to this severity. Without any particular structure to be withheld by, the song is left open for the gang to freely jam, most notable the ripping piano solo by session musician Nicky Hopkins. If this song isn’t particularly compelling to you, it is hard to imagine that Jagger and co. care too much about it, this one is just for themselves.
The Stranger -Billy Joel
Don’t let the album covers have you fooled, the Billy Joel that we have all come to know and love is not who we think he is. Alas, he has actually been The Stranger all along! Just an imposter hiding behind a mask that we all recognize as a piano driven performer, in a mask not too dissimilar to each of our own attire, which makes for a wonderfully colorful metaphor for identity crises. The instrumental is exactly as suave as you’d hope from the subject matter, acting slinky and smooth until the time to strike is right. Perhaps the standout instrument of the track being Billy’s distant whistling over the main motif, originally only a placeholder until a woodwind could take its spot, his producer thankfully convinced him otherwise . So while Billy is describing the plasticities you may run into in your daily life, pause for a moment and take a close look at yourself, as you probably think that he’s singing about somebody else…
Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town -Talking Heads
As this broadcast was originally run on Valentine’s Day, it only seemed like common sense to end with song salivatingly sweet as “Uh-Oh, Love Comes To Town”. Unusually enough for an ensemble emerging from Punk club CBGB’s, Talking Heads is nothing but smiles on this song and plays this major key ditty in an astoundingly infectious manner. In other hands, it would almost appear as though these levels of saccharine would be done in a wave of sarcasm, but the band never breaks character and encourages us all to join them in the exploration of this new feeling.
Thank you to everybody who supports Left of the Dial, make sure to catch the next installment on Wednesday at 7:00!