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Music notes

Wednesday 9/27/23

In my top ten of favorite albums, one would find the Yardbirds' Roger the Engineer, the Who's Live at Leeds, the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night, The Stone Roses, and the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead and American Beauty.

Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds is a very strange album, even as a sort of compilation that was meant to be passed off as a proper album. The first side may be the best side of an album in rock and roll history, and then on the second side you get what were retreads--but not to Americans--from Five Live Yardbirds, with a version of "I'm a Man"--which are so different from each other--on each side.

To be thought of in relation to each other: Nick Drake's final four songs--that is, before anyone knew about "Tow the Line--and Richard Strauss's final four songs.

I'm not sure there's ever been a better guitar solo than the one in "Stairway to Heaven." Jimmy Page establishes dominance with that very first note. It takes him one note to let you know something big is happening here.

The way the electric guitar counterpoints the voice on "Stairway to Heaven" is similar to how Nick Drake used guitar and voice in tandem. So this would be in the verses after the verses with acoustic guitar and before the solo. The acoustic guitar is retained, but Robert Plant's voice and Page's guitar are hitting the same notes and falling on the same beats.

Regarding Live at Leeds: the original six-track album is the album proper and the album that works as a work of art. Listening to the entire show--for which one needs the bootleg, not the doctored official release, which also shaves off music (and the crucial early scream in "My Generation")--is a different experience altogether. One is an album, the other is a show. They are not always different, but here they are very much so. Live at Leeds is almost a concept album in its way. It makes a focused statement and has been carved out of what had been a larger framework to do so. It's pointed.

As a show, the December 1971 San Francisco affair on the new Who's Next/Life House super deluxe edition is not worse than the Leeds show. What makes it stand out in particular is the energy and atmosphere. The Who regularly played immaculately during their live prime, but few gigs were as intense as the San Francisco show.

Is there a greater achievement in jazz singing than Ella Fitzgerald's Song Books? I mean as consolidated document. I don't think so.

I have always loved the original Nuggets compilation and regard it as essential to an understanding of rock and roll history, and that's something I'd say about Elvis's Sun Sides, Chuck Berry's 1950s numbers, Bob Dylan's Highway 1961 Revisited--so some biggies. Or perhaps I should say American rock and roll history. It's notable that English rock and roll artists were so influenced by American ones in the early 1960s, and then by the middle of the decade, all of these young American garage bands were influenced like they were by English bands, especially our friends the Yardbirds.


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