Posts Tagged ‘The Kills’


January 5, 2012

Is rock dead? It is according to the Black Keys and Ke$ha.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney said “Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world”. At the same time pop singer Ke$ha told MTV News.” People say that rock and roll is dead, and it is my mission and my goal to resurrect it in the form of my pop music.”

The raw facts however suggest that rock isn’t dead, or least is breathing easier. According to Nielsen SoundScan, in America Rock was the biggest music genre of 2011. Rock music had a 1.9% sales increase during 2011 and sold almost double total R&B sales.
It comes down semantics of course. The Black Keys and Ke$ha aren’t talking about the same thing when they talk about “rock”. For Nielsen SoundScan it’s a genre rather than a musical spirit. And that’s where The Black Keys and Ke$ha are in unison. “Rock” used to be that music which had an edge, the music that pushed at the boundaries. Rap has been the new “rock”.

I’m not a fan of bands like Nickleback and Maroon 5, but it’s too easy to make them a target fore derision. There have always been bland bands– Electric Light Orchestra, Chicago – acts which radio gravitate towards because they are safe and non-confrontational. They serve a purpose. We remember them, and we’ll remember Nickelback, for their success rather than their contribution. The bands that define “rock” were more often than not NOT successful in sales terms. Their importance is measured by impact and influence. It’s hard to find that kind of artist amongst today’s “rock” fraternity. Rock doesn’t have an Eminem. I can’t think of a contemporary rocker who might inspire the future. Dave Groel and Jack White are contenders, but they’re keeping the flame alive not lighting new fires.

In those terms rock IS dead but look and listen hard enough there’s some exceptional rock music being written and recorded – The National, Cold War Kids, The Kills, Death Cab For Cutie – and while there’s a band around of the calibre of Radiohead you can’t say rock is dead.

What’s dead is rock music that’s “dangerous”.


Dylan and Michael Jackson: PLUNDERING THE LEFTOVERS

August 1, 2010

What do Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan have in common?  Both have recorded much more than we ever heard. Michael Jackson recorded 20-30 songs for every album, and even though he didn’t have an official record contract for the last three years of his life, and was distracted for the four years before that, there is evidence of songwriting and recording by Michael Jackson during these “missing” seven years.

Recording Bob Dylan was once described by one of his producers as like “trying to capture lightning”. Bob famously comes up with a number of versions of every song and the one we happen to hear in the end is often just the one we happen to allowed to hear. His record company vaults are full of unreleased tracks, which used to be a headache for Dylan but isn’t now.

That backlog made it virtually impossible for Dylan for contemplate moving to another record company.  He did briefly in the 70s, recording one studio album (‘Planet Waves’) and a live album, possibly as a show of strength but he quickly hurried back soon after. The problem was that Columbia could have kept raiding the cupboard for years. While contracted to the company Dylan can control  the output.  Dylan’s official “bootleg” series is the obvious compromise finally arrived at. Slowly the shelves are being cleared, at the same time satisfying our thirst for the old Dylan and giving Bob himself the freedom to amuse himself with the present. Which he has.

In October, Sony Legacy will  be releasing The Bootleg Series Vol. 9, and a box set of the first eight Bob Dylan albums in mono. Bob’s Leeds Music and Witmark demos dating back to 1962 are expected to be included.

In November Sony – no coincidence, there aren’t many majors left – is also releasing a “new” Michael Jackson album, the first in a  10-album, seven-year deal the Jackson estate agreed with Sony BMG in March 2010. When he died the previous June MJ was without a contract, hanging by a Beatles thread to the Sony Corporation and in serious financial trouble. Within hours of his death he’d become a money-spinning industry.

The ‘new’ as-yet Jackson untitled album reaches back to that leftover material from the 80s, reconnecting us and Jackson with his heyday. There will also be material he recorded in 2006 around the time of the ‘Thrilller 25th Anniversary’ project with Black Eyed Peas’ Well, you would wouldn’t you, considering the Black Eyed Peas’ commercial appeal?  Just this week ‘I Got A Feeling’ became the first song to reach the 6 million mark in digital downloads.  

Beyond that there are the hard drives Jackson left behind, filled with unheard music. His manager Frank DiLeo claimed that the singer’s vaults contains more than 100 completed and unreleased songs, including collaborations with contemporary artists Akon and Ne-Yo.  There’s an  album’s worth  of new Michael Jackson songs which “belong” to Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins.  Jerkins is a family friend.  For Jackson’s ‘Invincible’ CD, his last official album Jerkins produced six songs, including the hit “You Rock My World.” He and Jackson subsequently worked on more than 200 tracks and “musical ideas” over three years. Perhaps Jerkins could play spoiler and hold them back from the “new deal”, but Jerkins is a career producer – he’s currently working with Britney Spears – and there’s no way he’d shit in his own nest and damage his future for the sake of a handful of contentious millions.

However,  there are still a few loose threads which might just unravel the best laid plans of the corporate machine. It took many years to clear up Jimi Hendrix’s leftovers and bring them all together under safe “control” under one roof. Despite the instant Jackson industry and Sony’s eager re-embracing of their lapsed hero not everything is in their keeping. 

In 2006 there was an announcement that Jackson had signed a contract with a Bahrain-based label called Two Seas Records. Later Two Seas said that the deal was never finalized. Are there some recordings that date from that period which might be contractually compromised?

And then there’s sister La Toya who IS a proven spoiler – she said Michael was a child molester when she needed the headline – and maybe she WOULD take a financial opportunity if there is one to be taken. In the immediate  aftermath of Michael Jackson’s death, within hours,  it was La Toya of all people who rushed to her brother’s rented home  to “rescue” the hard drives of unreleased songs. Are the all songs contained thereon now amongst the material safely in the family’s keeping?  Jackson’s manager, Frank DiLeo, said he was “pretty sure” they are.

There are even songs ‘intended’ for Michael Jackson. Ne-Yo was sending Jackson three or four drafts a week prior to Jackson’s unexpected death. What’s the fate of the submissions that were never touched by MJ?

There IS a positional minefield inside all of this, waiting for unscrupulous exploitation. History can easily repeat itself. Way back in 1971, when the Jackson 5 shot to fame and success, a record company the brothers had momentarily recorded for released a Jacksons-style single by Ripples And Waves, even adding a “with Michael” to the label credit. We were supposed to think it was the Jacksons and THAT Michael. It wasn’t. It wasn’t the Jacksons  and there was no-one called Michael in the group. That single, “Let Me Carry Your School Books”,  wasn’t a success but if you look at some Jackson 5 histories they’ll tell you Michael and his brothers DID once record as Ripple And Waves.

 What I’m listening to: Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (Dark Night Of The Soul),  Snow Patrol (A Hundred Million Suns),  The Kills (Midnight Boom)


January 16, 2010

Coldplay are paying the price of settling out of court with Joe Satriani over the similarity between their 2008 single ‘Viva La Vida’ and segments of Satriani’s ‘If I Could Fly’. Coldplay are now facing more plagiarism accusations, from a man who alleges he wrote three of the band’s hit songs – ‘Yellow’, ‘Clocks’ and ‘Trouble’.

What was unusual about the Satriani case was that it was as established artist making the claim . Usually, as is the case in the latest situation, it’s someone we’ve never heard of crying foul, and without prejudicing the latest accusation, it’s often a “fishing” exercise designed to exploit someone else’s success, or it’s simply crazy delusion. There probably isn’t one high profile artists who hasn’t at one time or another faced one of these allegations. We also live in an increasingly litigious world. The stakes can be high. Most of the time you find yourself wondering why the accused – usually very famous and very successful – would bother.

We’ve yet to be told how Coldplay might have come into contact with Sammie Lee Smith’s “originals”. It may be the only context in which you’ll ever hear that name.

One of the more interesting copyright claims in recent times was the ongoing and finally successful bid by Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher for part of the songwriting spoils to ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, not over his part on the songwriting process but because of his playing of the song’s iconic opening. The irony of course is that the Hammond organ line in question is in itself based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Sleepers, Wake!’ and ‘Air on a G String’. The legal tug-of-war over ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ potentially opens up an avalanche of similar claims. Not only will we have those song-stealing claims filling the court we might have every musician who’s ever contributed a significant solo to an important (successful) song considering their options.

If these had been the pre-occupations in music in the thirties, forties and fifties we might never have been given jazz or rock’n’roll. There can be a fine line between copying and inspiration.

What I’m Listening to: Vampire Weekend (Contra); The Pixies (Trompe Le Monde); The Kills (Midnight Boom)