Monday, April 10, 2017

The LP as Muse

For many a rock musician, the muse is the LP. For The Beatles, it was Liverpool itself that shaped Paul, John and George’s musical inspiration. The British music industry was rigidly controlled by the BBC and London's Denmark Street Music groomed a stable of homegrown singers in the mold of Elvis Presley (kind of like Pepsi Light) and Buddy Holly. This clean-cut, nonthreatening lot included Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard. But In Liverpool, young lads like the future Beatles would clamber around the local record shops, probably on Penny Lane, and await the latest from America: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Louis and even older blues like Leadbelly and Robert Johnson. In addition to the skiffle artists that had emerged, an early alternative genre, The Beatles latched onto these LPs and 45s – and so would bands like The Stones and The Kinks  but The Beatles, as Liverpudlians, got there first. Prior to skiffle, the only significant blip on the British pop-culture time line had been a brief flurry of juvenile delinquency occasioned by the arrival of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" (the record and the film) in 1955. For John Lennon, the three most influential American recording artists of the 50s were Elvis, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.

Keith Richards, guitarist/songwriter of The Rolling Stones would concur. The Stones, from London, would have less in the way of variety, the Liverpool collection of imports having diminished by the time it got to the city. For Richards, the two most influential LPs were A Date With Elvis (his favorite song, "Baby, Let’s Play House," and The Best of Muddy Waters, in particular, "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (which The Stones would cover later in their career, performing the song on Hollywood Palace as hosted by an unimpressed Dean Martin). Obviously steeped in the Blues, Keith's favorites also included King of the Delta Blues by Robert Johnson, which he'd been exposed to by Brian Jones, and more obscurely, Slim Harpo's swamp-styled Blues on the LP Rainin in My Heart. "A lot of people don't know about this stuff and it is some of the darkest blues. The Stones were very early exponents of Slim when we did 'I'm A King Bee.' This album was cut down in Louisiana and you can almost smell the swamp and the Everglades coming off of this thing. Incredibly wry lyrics and I love the delivery. It's almost sleazy." Others in Richards' collection of favorites include an LP he grew up with, one belonging to his mother, Billie Holiday's Lady Day, a compilation from 1954, The Flying Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin from 1968, which he claims introduced him to country music, and Little Walter's Hate to See You Go.

But it was chance that had Keef meet up with Mick Jagger. Although they'd known each other since they were in grammar school, they wouldn't meet again until Keith was 17 and Jagger a year older. It was October 17, 1961 on Platform 2 of the Darthford Train Station. As fate would have it, Jagger was holding a Chuck Berry LP and their fate was cemented from that date.

Tom Waits is equally specific about LPs as muse. Waits favorite is one of music's true works of art, Frank Sinatra's In the Wee Small Hours. "Actually, the very first 'concept' album. The idea being you put this record on after dinner and by the last song you are exactly where you want to be. Sinatra said that he's certain most baby boomers were conceived with this as the soundtrack." Of Thelonius Monk's LP, Waits said, On Solo Monk, he appears to be composing as he plays, extending intervals, voicing chords with impossible clusters of notes. 'I Should Care' kills me, a communion wine with a twist. Stride, church, jump rope, Bartok, melodies scratched into the plaster with a knife. A bold iconoclast. Solo Monk lets you not only see these melodies without clothes, but without skin. This is astronaut music from Bedlam. Other influences are the far less accessible Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart (this one seems obvious), and The Stones Exile on Main Street. More obscurely, Waits dotes on the Lounge Lizards from 1980, Rum Sodomy and the Lash by The Pogues and Leonard Cohen's later work from 1988, I'm Your Man.

Elvis Costello simplified things by publishing in Vanity Fair, "Costello's 500." He makes no real commentary, but states that you won't find The Doors, Led Zeppelin or Sting – they "just don’t do it for me." (Of course you'll find collaborator, Burt Bacharach.) It is indeed but a list and includes: Abba’s Gold, Cannonball Adderly, Mose Allison, Nirvana, The Band, R.E.M. and The New York Dolls. Its an eclectic collection that you may want to add to the 1001 LPs to hear before you die (so, like, don't die for a long time).

For Bryan Ferry, it's simple to comprehend his influences through the songs he's covered over a forty year career, some of which exceed the originals. Ferry has had a long-extended dalliance with Bob Dylan throughout his career. The album  which Ferry recorded with Roxy Music and released a couple of years after Roxy Music's For Your Pleasure – starts off with Dylan's "A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall," Ferry’s best Dylan cover bar none. He turns Dylan's scorched vocals into a theatrical, gospel-tinged, barrelhouse rocker. Others include "These Foolish Things" originally by Leslie Hutchison (from 1936) and The Velvet Underground's "What Goes On." For 2013's The Great Gatsby film from Baz Luhrman, Ferry provided a 1920s jazz orchestra, to no one's surprise.

The LP and 45 have a monumental influence over us all, from the obvious – Andrew McMahon’s reverence for The Beatles (like Tears for Fears or Electric Light Orchestra before him) – to the not so: Billy Corgan’s obsession with The Beatles and The Beach Boys (I don’t hear it). For this writer nothing, not art or literature (and as a writer, that’s saying something) has been as influential as music; from Bobby Vinton’s "There I’ve Said it Again" to "McArthur Park" to Joni Mitchell's "California," nothing has a more dramatic impact.