Songs I Love: ‘Rag Doll’/’Anne with an E’

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If pressed on what it is about the rock n’ roll/pop boom that makes me so obsessive, it might just be the timeless nature of it all. Consider todays dual track post, two songs separated by almost 50 years, but being perfectly joined in space by song construction, melody, and mood. You could say this is a quaint way of saying one ripped off another, but they also couldn’t be more different from one another. One an exhilarating rush to the head, the other a laconic dream. And if you like both, as I do, you don’t say which is which within these descriptions, because the beauty here is that both are all of these things at once. We needn’t be worried which one came first (and the technology advances in guitar amplification/feedback make it pretty obvious as to which one came later) in questions of thievery, because both these works create echoes to the past and the future*. Continue reading

Songs I Love: ‘Watch Out’

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‘Waterloo’, the singles English version A-side was the track that fully burst ABBA into the mainstream. Based on all the ‘otherness’ of them, most probably believed their career was starting and ending at roughly the same time; their novelty seemed tailored to a specifically one-hit-wonder status. Listening to ABBA these impressions would probably prompt most to think they came and went as some sort of phenomenon unto themselves, as if because they weren’t the typical group, from the typical place pop bands emerge from (i.e. America and Britain), then they must have borrowed the template of so many artists only within a Swedish geographical origin. No doubt the accents and manners of the group attracted fans of the cheap; they saw pretty women and a few catchy, disposable tracks. But when they’re probed a little more, they’re seen more accurately as a highly talented and efficient group with a deep, rich catalog. Their linage isn’t that narrow either, as there was somewhat of a wave of Swedish pop around the time (and really, Eurovision, the song contest that broke ‘Waterloo’ and therefor ABBA, pumped several equally diverse acts into the consciousness), Harpo, for one, was crafting a decent career around this time (his ‘Horoscope’ single is tremendous) as well (plus, when you listen to ‘Waterloo’ and are familiar with the deliriousness that is Wizzard’s ‘See My Baby Jive’ you see where the dots connect). To me, the depth the ABBA is clear straight away, each album an amalgamation of styles and samples that often all come off remarkably well. Just run a quick jaunt through ‘em and you’d be amazed if you have a previous notion of what you’d expect; ‘Tiger’ is a noisy piece of production bombast (Spector meets, I don’t know, CAN?), ‘Ring Ring’ a bit of Beatles-esque pop, ’Sitting in the Palmtree’ has a go at reggae (as does ‘Tropical Loveland’) just as ‘Intermezzo No. 1’ attempts classical stylings. Plus, there is enough variation within pop (in their catalogue take your pick between at least 20 first rate efforts; ’SOS’ is the best, as Pete Townshend later called it the best pop track of the 1970s), folk (‘Hasta Mañana’), disco (‘Lay All Your Love on Me’) and hard rock (‘Hey, Hey Helen’, ‘King Kong Song’, plus a few wonderful others) to easily proclaim them on the shortlist of most well-rounded acts in the history of the pop form.

It’s this last category—blistering hard rock—that would probably be the most surprising vein of ABBA’s aesthetic to the casual observer. It’s not often highlighted in their work, a shame really, as my personal favorite ABBA number, 1974’s ‘Watch Out’, fits squarely in this category. Continue reading

Songs I Love: ‘Life on Mars?’

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‘Life on Mars’, David Bowie’s 1971 Honky Dory track and single is, on face value, a whimsical piece of futuristic baroque pop not alike several other works of his from this era. But, probing deeper one finds a treasure chest of hidden meanings, references and inferences. To me it’s a wonderful entry point to him as an artist for these very facts; here he’s both highly accessible in a hummable Pop way, while also proving himself to be a totally unique musician, stretching the boundaries of his form.  Continue reading

How to Watch a Tarantino

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Let me exploit the existence of Heat (1995) on screen a little further. As written and directed by Michael Mann, it is an absorbing picture, a suspenseful narrative for its full 171 minutes. I watch it a lot, and I can tell myself it is for the craft, the art or the performances (it is one of De Niro’s last good pictures). But I know I am drawn to it by the licensed fantasy of watching cops and robbers strutting their stuff—with guns, but with talk, too. It is a potent males dream. The women in the film are often intriguing, but they are not permitted to rival the male ideology. And Heat is a fire that doesn’t burn me. I can watch its immense street gun battles with excitement; I can be carried away by the notion that De Niro and Pacino are alike in their characters. But my wife once was mugged and I know that their suggestion of parity is insane. A brush with violent crime in lie can be searing and traumatic. Yet on screen it is indulged. Film only works in the dark, and because of safe distance from life.

The intrinsic deal in the movies was to say, Look, for a very modest sum—a nickel, say—we’ll give you an opportunity to see no just the wonders of the world, not just people who are beautiful beyond your dreams, but a set of conditions to which we know you aspire; sexual splendor, thrilling violence, clothes, decor, space, timing, and ultimate happiness; in short, the chance to bathe in the light. It’s the treat of the new age, and here’s the kicker: you can watch the sex and violence without ever being identified, or known. …

-David Thomson, How to Watch a Movie

Opening a piece on Quentin Tarantino’s new snow Western The Hateful Eight with this passage from David Thomson’s new film book seems serendipitously apt, the passage leapt to me as I read it days after receiving the small book for Christmas, the same day The Hateful Eight appeared in limited release. The passage cuts right into much of the random thoughts I’ve had bouncing around in the snow drenched atmospherics of Tarantino’s new film. As such, I’ve decided to write a piece entering Tarantino’s catalogue and specifically this new one in much the same way as I’ve done several Recent Cultural Happenings pieces. Continue reading