Writing (by Scott Freiman)
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The Next Beatles. It’s a phrase that has gotten tossed around a lot since the breakup of the world’s most famous band. For those bestowed with this accolade, it was a considerable compliment. Sometimes, it was also a curse. After all, who could possibly match the songwriting and musicianship of The Beatles, let alone their humor, camaraderie, and cultural influence? There never will be another Beatles, but there are bands that are “Beatlesque.” What makes a band “Beatlesque?” Almost every rock group (not to mention modern jazz and classical musicians) has been influenced by The Beatles, so we need to narrow the criteria. First of all, let’s eliminate other British Invasion bands that were coming up around the same time as The Beatles. That leaves out The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, and numerous others. Second of all, they’ve got to be a band — not just a singer/songwriter with a backing band. We’re looking for multiple songwriters and multiple vocalists. Three guitars and drums are ideal, although we’ll accept the occasional keyboard
There’s been a huge response to our post on 31 Concept Albums You May Have Missed. Many of you wrote in to suggest concept albums that we may have missed. So, if you haven’t had your fill of concept albums yet, here are the top readers’ choices based on the comments we received.
In February of 1967, The Beatles released a groundbreaking double A-side single. On one side was a Lennon song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” that had been transformed in the studio thanks to the contributions of the other Beatles along with producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. On the other side, was McCartney’s imaginary stroll down one of Liverpool’s main thoroughfares, “Penny Lane.”
Forty years ago, Stevie Wonder released a sonic masterpiece, Songs In The Key Of Life. Songs was one of the most ambitious albums ever with a gestation period of two years. The double album and bonus EP are a collection of thought-provoking lyrics, perfect performances, intricate arrangements, unforgettable melodies, and hooky choruses. Its existence is even more amazing when you consider that most of the instruments and vocals on the album were performed by the 26-year-old Wonder himself, working days without food or sleep
As long as there have been records, there have been concept albums. As early as Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours, with its songs about lost love, Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass’ themed albums (Going Places, Whipped Cream and Other Delights), and Ella Fitzgerald’s Songbook albums, each dedicated to a specific songwriter or songwriting team, music lovers have always been drawn to an album with a unifying concept.
During the recording of Beatles for Sale, Paul McCartney was making polite conversation with his driver. “How’s it going?” asked Paul. “I’ve been working eight days a week,” responded the driver.
Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Frank Zappa was one of the most interesting and complex musicians to grace our planet. Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer, enemy of the Parents Music Resource Center, monster guitarist, respected composer, stern bandleader, avant-garde filmmaker — Frank Zappa was all of this and more. In the recently released documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words, director Thorsten Schütte attempts to give some insight into this multi-faceted man.
On the cover of Paul Simon’s new album, Stranger to Stranger, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter stares mysteriously through a veil of colored glass painted by photorealist Chuck Close. The painting seems to filter Simon’s image through a prism, a perfect metaphor for the unique timbres on his latest album. On Stranger to Stranger, Simon’s 11th solo album since the breakup of Simon & Garfunkel, it’s Simon’s music that is filtered — through electronics, rare instruments, and multiple layers of percussion.
Break out your miniskirts and bell-bottoms. The Monkees are back! Their new release, Good Times!, is filled with their special brand of pop. It may feel a bit like the Sixties; but this isn’t simply an exercise in nostalgia.
In the annals of forgotten albums, no album deserves to be forgotten more than the debut album from the Zambronis, Greet the Zambronis. Sounding like a cross between the semi-classical musings of Gentle Giant, the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, and Tuvan throat singing, the Zambronis were a staple of AM radio for one day: April 1, 1974. For some reason, Rhino Records decided the album warranted another look. So they just released Greet the Zambronis: Extra Gassy Edition, remastering the original album and adding a second CD of bonus tracks. I’ll get to the extras in a moment. But first, let’s examine this epic recording.
It’s one of the most famous album covers ever produced — The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On the cover of this 1967 masterpiece, the Beatles stand in front of a Sgt. Pepper bass drum dressed in colorful costumes. They are holding brass and woodwind instruments and are surrounded by images of other celebrities, flower formations, and other assorted objects, including wax figures of their earlier selves. New information has recently surfaced that may reveal the inspiration for this memorable album cover.
Calling Snarky Puppy a jazz band is like calling Leonardo da Vinci a painter. Snarky’s music is equal parts jazz, soul, rock, fusion, and even classical sprinkled with a healthy dose of ethnic instrumentation. The band is a collective made up of nearly 40 musicians led by Grammy Award-winning bassist, composer and producer Michael League. Their albums and concerts consistently receive rave reviews and awards, including a Grammy Award in 2014 for Best R&B Performance and another this year for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
Steely Dan is known for jazz-influenced arrangements, quirky lyrics, and pristine production. Even non-fans recognize the brilliance of their 1977 album, Aja. For many music lovers, it’s their first choice for a late night listen accompanied by iced Manhattans. Audiophiles use it to audition high end stereo speakers. Jazz purists discuss its intricacies with classic rock veterans.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have always been known for giving some of history’s greatest rock and roll concerts. No fancy video extravaganzas. No choreographed dancers or special effects. No orchestras, choirs, or banks of synthesizers. Just seven guys performing pure, unadulterated rock and roll.
It’s been a busy time for Beatles news. For the first time, music lovers can now legally stream Beatles music from Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services. This comes right on the heels of the release of the Beatles’ remastered music videos — most of which have never been officially released. Before that, it was the Ringo Starr auction, Paul McCartney’s collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye, and star-studded tribute concerts for George Harrison and John Lennon.
Growing up in Baltimore in the 70s, I would tune in to WKTK or 98 Rock to hear my favorite performers. Bowie. Queen. Elton. Zeppelin. And Crack the Sky. When I left Maryland, I found my college buddies loved all the same music with one glaring exception — no one had heard of Crack The Sky. The story of Crack the Sky is one of potential success frustrated by missed opportunities.
In 1987, Paul McCartney acted on a suggestion by his then manager and invited Elvis Costello to be his songwriting partner. Their work together would produce a number of finely crafted songs, including Elvis’ biggest single in the U.S. and McCartney’s last top 40 hit.