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Music notes (Beatles, Nick Drake, Grateful Dead, the Who, Charles Ives, Miles Davis, JAMC, etc.)

Wednesday 10/18/68

I heard a recording of the Beatles rehearsing "Misery" at the Cavern in January 1963 with the clear intention of giving it away. Lennon sings, "I'm the kind of girl..." Very interesting that they were thinking in these terms pre-Please Please Me. They wrote the song for Helen Shapiro, and my feeling is that when they did so they didn't intend to also record the number themselves. But, she passed--or her management did, anyway--and Kenny Lynch took it on instead, in what was the first cover of a Lennon-McCartney song, and without a version of the song out there by a female artist, I bet the Beatles felt that opened up the song for them as a possibility on their debut LP.

Are the Grateful Dead the foremost Chuck Berry interpreters? The Beatles are also contenders, but I think one more naturally expects it from the Beatles. There wasn't a lot that the Dead couldn't do as musicians when they resolved to do it. For a single Chuck Berry cover, though, I'd take the Beatles' version of "Johnny B. Goode" from the BBC in 1964. The vast majority of their BBC covers came from the prior year, and this was the last of them where one thinks, "Wow, it's so neat that they did that song," the way one did with "Solider of Love," "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby," "I Got to Find My Baby," and others from 1963. Textbook example of the prime Lennon voice on "Johnny B. Goode." His was the ultimate rock and roll vocal tone, by which I mean in the sense of how jazz musicians talk about tone.

Robert Kirby talked about Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison being his three favorite guitarists, but when he first heard Nick Drake he thought Drake was better than all of them. The statement is weakened by the inclusion of Harrison--who is also a favorite of mine--but I would agree. Nick Drake as a guitarist is like Robert Johnson. His playing ability stuns and you often think you're hearing two guitarists instead of one.

No musical artist has ever had a closer relationship between their playing and their singing than Nick Drake did with his guitar and voice.

Drake's "Which Will" is among the most joyous forms of anything that I have ever experienced. Joy is complicated, and my book on the subject is an attempt to show the full range of joy in all of its complexities. The singer of "Which Will" is at a peace that comes only with the deepest understanding that is beyond all limitations of ego and is concerned solely with truth. The singer is completely unthreatened. He doesn't need to be the one who is loved the most by the person he's addressing; he just wants to know who or what that person loves best. Do you see the difference?

Rolling Stone put out a list of the best 250 guitarists, which does not include Nick Drake. There's a better argument to be made that Drake was a better guitarist than everyone on that list than there is that each of those guitarists is better than he was. Tells you what you need to know about the list.

"Box of Rain" is another form of joy. So is "Ripple," which is to the Grateful Dead as "Hey Jude" is to the Beatles.

Got a ticket to the Tallis Scholars at St. Paul church in Cambridge on December 9 in a program of works dedicated to the Virgin Mary. I've listened to so many of their recordings so it will be good to see them in person.

You can include the Who's San Francisco 1971 show on the new Who's Next/Life House box set on a list of the best live albums of all-time. It can take its place with Dylan at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, Jerry Lee Lewis's Live at the Star Club, Otis Redding's Live in Europe, Big Brother and the Holding Company at Monterey, Elvis's sit-down sets from the Comeback Special. As for James Brown, I find his second Apollo album more interesting than his first. Who shows were often immaculate, but some displayed extra energy and competitiveness. They were going for it that night in San Francisco and sound like a band with both something to celebrate and prove.

I saw a photo of Jeff Beck at home circa 1966 or 1967 and he had a couple Yardbirds posters on his wall, which surprised me. (I have one of these posters, which is in storage until I get my house back.) He was curmudgeonly and it was gladdening to see that he was proud of the band.

Vital reading: Charles Ives' Memos, The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, and The Complete Musical Criticism of George Bernard Shaw 1876-1950.

I'm listening to a lot of Ives of late, on records like The Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Vols. 1 and 2 on the Folkways label from 1964. Ives is like other American artists such as Thoreau, Melville, Billie Holiday, Buster Keaton, and Louis Armstrong in that you really must spend time with their work throughout your life.

The guitar riff for Def Leppard's "Armageddon It" is so cool it's like it hardly has to happen. It's barely there and it works. Just this little flutter of notes.

Listened to Miles Davis' Miles in Berlin, recorded September 25, 1964 and which was just the Second Great Quintet's second concert. It didn't take them long to figure out their group dynamic. You get that with the best jazz bands, though--they arrive fully formed. Think about the unit that made Andrew Hill's Point of Departure. It's a nice album for fall--you get "Autumn Leaves" and "Stella by Starlight," which is from 1944's The Uninvited, the finest of all haunted house movies.

Also listened to a Jesus and Mary Chain bootleg that's just titled Live in Heaven 1987, with many of the song titles listed incorrectly--very incorrectly--on the original jacket. I like that about bootlegs and the bootlegs era. Things were just Or plain off. Even with Beatles bootlegs, the title for "She's a Woman" would be "My Love Gives Me Everything" or something. The Mary Chain boot is actually from the U4 Club in Vienna on October 4.

A lot changed for the Grateful Dead in 1968. They went to another level, and it's with the 1968 shows that we're frequently experiencing music at the level of true art. I love the idea of coming on stage and beginning a concert with "Dark Star." An editor of mine once made a comment to me that you can't dance to "Dark Star," whereas I think it's arguably the ultimate dance number. There are all kinds of different forms of dancing; there's higher plane dancing, for instance. At this October 12, 1968 show from San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom, Bob Weir introduces "Dark Star" by saying, "We're gonna do a elementary dance number now. It's a fox trot and it's also a ladies' choice," which I think is close to the spirit of the thing, celestially-speaking.


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