Thursday, August 04, 2005

XM in depth, Channel 6

I had to go out of order because they had special programming on the '50s channel. I was thinking that might be a stay of execution of sorts. Music from the '50s really hasn't aged well, and I hadn't been looking forward to an hour of it.

But the '60s channel was stuck in the early part of the decade, in part because they also had some sort of oddball program -- some sort of "on this date, roughly, in 1963 or so."

Probably not a fair test of this channel, which advertises itself as the station of the Beatles, the Who and all the bands that kicked rock and roll from its repetitive rockabilly roots to the mind-blowing experience that it could be and was for much of the next 30 years.

But I made it through an hour, and it wasn't all unpleasant. Here goes ...

Peter, Paul & Mary, Blowin' in the Wind: Peter, Paul & Mary always sound like they're about to lecture me on the evils of nuclear power or electric guitars. I'll stick with Dylan, thanks.

Elvis Presley, (You're The) Devil in Disguise: Some entertaining tempo changes and a lively guitar solo make this song more adventurous and more fun than some in its genre, but they're really just window dressing on a forgettable song. I know some consider this heresy, but I don't think Elvis' music holds up all that well. Distinctive voice, yes. Important place in history, sure, but I think the Beatles could've figured it out without him.

The Surfaris, Wipeout: A classic. Fun to play for any type of band, from a high school garage band to a marching band. Fight off carpal tunnel syndrome by playing along with those drums.

James Brown, Night Train (Closing): Basically a list of a cities set to a 12-bar guitar-and-horn riff. It's from a Live at the Apollo release, so I'm guessing this served some purpose in the show and undoubtedly served it well.

Annette, Beach Party: Roughly 30 seconds of music for some movie. I forgot it pretty much as soon as they were done.

Stevie Wonder, Fingertips: The guy was 13 years old when he did this. Good practice for when he did his truly brilliant stuff 10 years later, but the harmonica in this one drives me nuts. Same reason I never got into Blues Traveler.

The Beatles, Words of Love: You know they're digging into the vault when they play a Beatles song I don't know. This one isn't bad, though not as classic as some of their other early work or as groundbreaking as their later efforts.

Peter & Gordon, True Love Ways: Strings. Syrupy harmony. Cliched rhymes for lyrics. Can I grab the remote and fast-forward to 1967 yet? (My wife points out that the original Buddy Holly version, which lists as a 1953 release, is less "orchestral." I probably wouldn't mind that.)

Archie Bell and the Drells, Tighten Up: "Nobody told me there'd be boasting!" Some good drum work and a funky guitar riff, but where's the song?

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, This Guy's in Love With You: I'm looking at the XM display panel and seeing that the 70s station is playing Edgar Winter's Frankenstein. Day 2, and I'm already starting to wonder if I can stick with this experiment of devoting an hour to each channel without switching. I'm also wondering why a band with the word "brass" is so full of syrupy strings. Maybe Alpert was already counting all the money he was going to make when he founded A&M. (To be fair, he did much better work and managed comebacks in the 70s and 80s when anyone else would've been content to hang it up.)

Steppenwolf, Magic Carpet Ride: Finally, we get out of the 50s hangover. I make fun of Steppenwolf for the instrumental break in this song, in which everyone just keeps slamming the same notes over and over as if they can't think of a solo, but I can't argue with this one. A good riff sucks you in, and then they break it down to the vocal and an organ that builds up in the background to bring everyone back in. Rock had hit its stride by the time this stuff popped up.

Beach Boys, I Get Around: Having no interest in surfing, fixing up behemoth cars or leering at women, I tire of Beach Boys music in a hurry. But it's tough to beat the hooks in this one.

Betty Everett & Jerry Butler, Let It Be Me: I've just invented a new description for these slow, string-laden, harmony-driven ballads that bore me to tears -- "sleepy drummer" music. It's as if the drummer has to set an alarm clock to wake up for the next indifferent slap at the snare.

Mary Wells, My Guy: Where would the '60s have been without Motown? Smokey Robinson proved he could write for a female vocalist here -- a good hook is a good hook. I'll close on an up note here.

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