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231: 10cc, ‘I’m Not in Love’

Posted by jeff on Jan 29, 2016 in Rock, Song Of the week
10CC_-_TopPop_1974_2

10cc

Since ‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc of Manchester UK was released in 1975, all 6:04 of it has been played on American radio over three million times. That adds up to 40 consecutive years of airplay. I’m guessing you’re familiar with the song.

Factoids:

10cc refers to the average quantity of sperm ejaculated by a male Homo sapiens, housing some 20 billion spermatozoa. Maybe someday there’ll be a tribute band, 20 Billion Fishies.

Founding members Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart had bounced around various minor Mancunian bands from the British Invasion era before adding studio musicians Kevin Godley, and Lol Crème. The former pair were pop-oriented hit makers, the latter experimenters in Art Rock and video.

Extenderand1mlofSperm638x850_zpsd0c8d3d1

10cc

Gouldman had early success as a songwriter. “There was one strange moment when the Yardbirds [the band that launched Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck] appeared on [Top of the Pops] doing ‘For Your Love’, which was a song that I’d written. Everyone clamoured around them – and there I was just part of an anonymous group [The Mockingbirds]. I felt strange that night, hearing them play my song.”

He not only co-wrote The Hollies’ (with Graham Nash) fine ‘Look Through Any Window’, but also a pair of indelibly beautiful baroque rock classics, ‘Bus Stop’ (The Hollies) and ‘No Milk Today’ with his dad Hyme (the Rhyme) helping out on lyrics.

You want more? From my modest trolling, it seems you’re not missing any life-changers. But if you must: “For Your Love“, “Heart Full of Soul” and “Evil Hearted You” for the Yardbirds, “Listen People“,  and “East West” for Herman’s Hermits, “Pamela, Pamela” for Wayne Fontana, “Behind the Door” for St. Louis Union (covered by Cher), “Tallyman” for Jeff Beck and “Going Home“, which was a 1967 Australian hit for Normie Rowe.

He's not in love

He’s not in love

Gouldman then moved to the US to write for the bubblegum factory of Kasenetz-Katz before returning to Manchester to join up with old pal Eric Stewart, who’d been playing with Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders (of ‘The Game of Love’). Wayne went off to bend his own mind, Eric began fronting the band, singing lead on ‘Groovy Kind of Love’ (co-written by Carole Bayer Sager, who co-wrote ‘Arthur’s Theme’ and ‘That’s What Friends are For’ with ex-husband Burt Bacharach), later covered by Phil Collins. Are you following?

She's not in love

She’s not in love

10cc was formed in 1972, and in the UK had a bunch ‘Art Rock’ hits including ‘Rubber Bullets’, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, and ‘The Things We Do For Love’, the only one (other than our SoTW) to make an impression in the US.  They’ve broken up and disbanded innumerable times, never reclaiming their original success.

I’ve been diligently doing my homework, listening to notables such as ‘Donna’, ‘Johnny Don’t Do It’ (doo-wop parodies, sounding so much like outtakes from Frank Zappa’s “Reuben and the Jets”-era noodlings). They’re brilliant and clever and embarrassing. ‘Neanderthal Man’ must be the stupidest song since Nilsson’s lamentable ‘Coconut’.

You know how for Americans, sometimes “England” connotes Bentleys and Shakespeare and Emma Thompson? And sometimes it connotes Benny Hill and fried fish and fried potatoes wrapped in a scandal sheet headlining Profumo’s orgies?

obama-checks-out-girl

They're not in love

They’re not in love

But then for their third album, Gouldman and Stewart penned ‘I’m Not in Love’. They tried it as a bossa nova, but no one liked the result. But everyone kept humming the song, so they decided to give it another try.

They decided to make the background a net of a cappella. Three of them recorded the 12 notes in a chromatic scale one at a time—breathy, long ‘ah’s. Then they looped them till they had the equivalent of 256 voices singing each note—just a long ‘ah’.  The multitracking produced a hissy, breathy sound that gave the sound of a live hall, let’s say a cathedral, with people breathing and vaulted ceilings and all. No Benny Hill there.

090603-women-flirt-02

They’re not in love

They assigned each of the notes to a channel in their 16-track mixing board, thus occupying 12 channels, leaving four for the rest of the recording. They would manually jack up the sound on three or four faders in one fell swoop, creating a chord from the tapestry of voices that gives the track its unique thrilling, enthralling sound. Then another chord, and another. Then pasting them all together to form the backing track.

Then adding the embellishments. Such as playing a section back at half speed, creating the same chord sequence an octave lower, and adding it underneath the source. Then playing along with the backing track, adding a Fender Rhodes, electric guitar, and Moog-made bass. No drums. Then bringing in Kathy, the studio secretary, to whisper “Be quiet – big boys don’t cry”, and fiddling all sorts of effects onto that. Then adding the toy music box with lots of psychedelic effects under that.

He's not in love

He’s not in love

The result? Forty years of air play. They musta did something right. The sound. The melody. The vocal (Eric). And there’s also a song there.

‘I’m Not in Love’ tells a singular story. It’s not profound or innovative – unless you’re experiencing it, which apparently a few trillion people have done. The lyric employs irony, as we used to say in lit class. The guy says one thing but means another. But it’s so thinly disguised and clearly vulnerable that we empathize – and identify – with our lovelorn narrator.

I’m not in love, so don’t forget it, it’s just a silly phase I’m going through.
And just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve got it made.
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…

I like to see you, but then again that doesn’t mean you mean that much to me.
So if I call you, don’t make a fuss, don’t tell your friends about the two of us.
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…

I keep your picture up on the wall, it hides a nasty stain that’s lying there.
So don’t you ask me to give it back, I know you know it doesn’t mean that much to me.
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…

Ooh, you’ll wait a long time for me

She's not in love

She’s not in love

Yes, he has strong feelings. But because of whatever convention, he needs to hide them. In days of yore, that might have been manly Marlboro machismo — he’s just too rugged to expose his vulnerability. In 1975, he’s admitting his weakness, with that good old British irony and understatement that we Amirkins love so much. It was 10cc’s only Stateside hit.

There’ve been a number of significant or noteworthy covers. Our old buddy Richie Havens, the toothless, soulful guy who opened Woodstock despite the rain, did a very convincing, muscular version. Dee Dee Sharp (of ‘Mashed Potato Time’ fame) gave us a 1975 woman’s perspective on it, more disco than deliberation. Will to Power had a 1990 hit with a vapid attempt to clone the original, emphasizing the exceptional staying power of the song itself.

They ARE in love

They ARE in love

But by the time Chrissie Hynde sang it with The Pretenders in 1993 for the soundtrack of “Indecent Proposal”, the song took on a different perspective: the new, empowered woman, the sexual predator, role-flipping things over on their stomach. It’s a whole new world, Virginia.

Tori Amos, that very talented, very annoying, very predatory lady, worked her weirdness on it in 2001 – Neanderthal woman on the prowl. And Ice Princess Diana Krall recently bleached it of any real feeling other than self-absorption.

Me, I’m a guy, raised on the Dick Van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore role model of mores and attitudes and self-image. But I’m modern enough to identify with male vulnerability in all walks of life. To be touched by 10cc’s portrayal of that self-effacing, insecure feeling of helplessness when faced with an emotional situation of daunting height. And to appreciate and enjoy the artistry of four talented musicians at play in the studio.

It’s a pop masterpiece, a singular, precious moment on AM radio, a soundtrack for certain magic moments in millions of people’s lives. Forty years worth. ‘I’m Not in Love’? Oh, but he is.

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230: The Beach Boys, ‘Here Today’ (“Pet Sounds” Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 14)

Posted by jeff on Jan 22, 2016 in Rock, Song Of the week

The Beach Boys — ‘Here Today’

CVpqcGYWsAAOe5GI’ve been perfecting my procrastination skills since I was bar mitzvahed. Well, even before—how well I remember avoiding practicing reading the torah portion before I pedaled off to meet the rabbi.

I’ve been listening to “Pet Sounds” regularly for 45 years now, and I’ve successfully put off writing about it. Because it’s too damned daunting. Because my respect for the album is so great that I know I don’t have a snowball’s chance in heck of doing it justice.

Brian+Wilson+Pet+Sounds+Era+BrianBut if Mom shouted long enough and loud enough and persistently enough, I would finally pick up at least a couple of layers of dirty underwear from my floor. And so, I guess, the day of reckoning has arrived.

There are two kinds of people in the world – those who get “Pet Sounds” and those who don’t. If you’re one of those who say: “Oh, right, The Beach Boys. “Fun, Fun, Fun”. The stupid acned, hackneyed lyrics. The strident nasal vocals. Those painful striped shirts.”– I can only say, yeah, you’re right. (Except have you ever taken half a dozen fine singers and tried to sing “Fun, Fun, Fun”? Good luck.)

But if you’re one of those, you’re missing the transcendental melodies, the stunning internal harmonies, the genius of the orchestration, the utter beauty of the composition. You’re depriving yourself of what I think is – in strictly musical terms – the pinnacle of post-WWII popular music.

Brian-Wilson+Paul-McCartneyI call the first witness, Sir Paul McCartney: “I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album.” (Paul’s extensive commentary on “Pet Sounds”)

I call the second witness, Sir George Martin: “Without ‘Pet Sounds,’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ never would have happened. ‘Pepper’ was an attempt to equal ‘Pet Sounds.'” (I highly recommend this clip of George and Brian listening together to the master recording of ‘God Only Knows’.)

I call the third witness, Brian Wilson himself: “After the Beatles heard Pet Sounds, they wanted to make a greater album, so they did Shargen Peppersh Lowly Harsh Cluband. And it was a very, very, very great album. Right up there with Pet Sounds, And it was, like, really good.”

brianinstudioIn case you just moved to earth from Planet 9: 1964 – in the plane setting out on yet another Beach Boys tour, 22-year old band leader Brian Wilson has a panic attack. He sends his brothers Carl and Dennis, cousin Mike, buddy Al, and replacement Bruce out on the road without him. “I’m going to stay in the studio and work, and when you guys get back, I’ll have lots of new material.” But unbeknownst to them, he called in The Wrecking Crew, LA’s premiere studio musicians to record the tracks (whom he’d met when observing Phil Spector sessions). The boys added the vocals upon their return.

1crew0916

The Wrecking Crew recording Pet Sounds, Carol Kaye seated foreground.

Rid of his abusive father and transported into other spheres by LSD, Brian felt liberated enough from the pressures of The Hit Machine to make his album. It was The Beach Boys’ first commercial failure.

I’ve watched films about The Wrecking Crew and The Making of Pet Sounds and The Art of Pet Sounds, listened to podcasts and read books and endless on-line accounts and analyses. I don’t remember a tenth of it, so I’m not going to try to write the definitive summary of all that is “Pet Sounds”. If you’re not already, I fervently hope you’ll be affected and infected enough to pursue it on your own.

20582.007If I have anything to contribute to the corpus of adulation, it’s from my subjective experiences from the literally thousands of times I’ve listened to the album. ‘My’ “Pet Sounds” consists of 10 of the 13 songs. I’ve always felt that ‘Sloop John B’ is an unfortunate implant, and that the instrumentals ‘Let’s Go Away for a While’ and ‘Pet Sounds’ don’t carry their weight. ‘Good Vibrations’, the original work for which was done during the “Pet Sounds” recordings, was wisely reserved for the next project (“Smile”).

(UK OUT) LOS ANGELES - 1966: Music producer Phil Spector with "Beach Boys" Brian Wilson (on left), Mike Love (in hat), and "Righteous Brother" Bobby Hatfield (right) in 1965 at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ray Avery/Getty Images)

Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Righteous Brother Bobby

Every one of these ten cuts is a world of beauty unto itself, to be relished and cherished and touched by. They are collectively as beautiful as music can be.

The heartwrenching slow pieces: ‘You Still Believe In Me’, ‘Don’t Talk’, ‘Caroline, No’.

The mid-tempo cuts, masterpieces each: ‘God Only Knows’, ‘I Know There’s An Answer’, ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’.

The upbeat works: ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘That’s Not Me’, ‘I’m Waiting For The Day’, and our SoTW, ‘Here Today’.

brian-wilsonA few basic facts before we start – “Pet Sounds” was originally released in mono. In 1997 it was remixed for stereo under Brian’s supervision. Since then, there have been several rerereremasters and rerererereleases. Purists will go for the original, muddy mono. I go for the newer stereo remastered version – it lets me crawl inside the music, hear as many as possible of the bass harmonicas, ukuleles, bicycle horns, vibraphones, timpani, finger cymbals, Coke cans, accordions, modified twelve-string mandolins, and water jugs.

I do feel humbled, attempting to add my few sense to this magnum opus. But a person’s got to do what a person’s got to do. So today we’re going to pick one of the masterpiece cuts—‘Here Today’, a favorite among favorites – and walk through the recording process via “The Unsurpassed Masters”, a 21-volume, ~50-CD bootleg compendium of Beach Boys studio tracks in process, 1962-67.

photo_7225_0-3I admit I haven’t listened to all the outtakes from “Beach Boys Party”. But I have listened to most of the “Pet Sounds” recordings, many of them numerous times. So here we go, 23-year old Brian, the finest studio musicians LA has to offer at his disposal, for the first time in his life in complete creative control. The Beach Boys Complete Unsurpassed Masters, Volume 14 (The Alternate “Pet Sounds”, Disc 2.

Takes 1 – 3 – Engineer: “I don’t have a title, Take 1”. Organ pumping on the beat, Carol Kaye’s bass introducing a stunning melodic counterpoint to the (yet unheard) main melody line (inspiring Paul’s lead bass on “Sgt Pepper”), then joined by the low drum ornament and the low brass and then the higher brass providing yet another counterpoint.

Takes 4 – 6 – Brian coaches the harpsichord(?) on the nuance he’s seeking.

Take 7, Takes 8 – 10 – We know what the full track will sound like, so we can hear the ghost interplay between the heard backing track being compiled and polished, and the unheard future vocals.

1965-brianwilsonInsert Takes 1 – 4, 11 – 20 – Fine-tuning and tightening the glorious C-part, the instrumental break after the second chorus. Listen to Brian’s perfectionism, explaining to the musicians so precisely the sounds he’s looking for. I can’t help but think of Hitchcock’s saying that the actual filming was just technical work and rather boring—the creative process had occurred at home at his desk. Bruce Johnston has said “this is the break that Brian told me was influenced by Bach – and if you’ve heard any Bach at all, you’ll know what he’s talking about.”

1st Vocal Overdub (Brian solo), 2nd Vocal Overdub (Brian double-tracked) – Brian singing a guide track for cousin Mike for the lead vocal.

1st Vocal Overdub by the band Mike (“Don’t fuck with the formula”) Love’s initial attempts at singing the lead, mostly solo, backing vocals in the background.

2nd Vocal Overdub by the band Mike double-tracked, with prominent backing vocals, The Beach Boys at their Four Freshman/Hi-Lo’s best. Worth the price of admission.

MTMwNjgzODIwNTg3MzYyOTQ3Brian, 1990: ‘Here Today’ was a work of art in my opinion. It was assertive track with utilization of basses played up higher. The trombones gave it that masculine touch…”
Brian, 1996: “‘Here Today’ was probably one of the mystery songs on the album. I don’t really know what it’s about. I liked it, but yet I didn’t. I don’t really identify with that song like I do with ‘You Still Believe In Me’, or ‘Caroline, No.’ It was just one of those songs in there, one little song.”

I get what Brian’s saying. ‘Here Today’ isn’t the most emotionally affective cut on ‘Pet Sounds’. But it is indeed unsurpassed in terms of technical brilliance. In each of the 10 cuts, Brian creates a complete sonic universe of unique beauty.

William Butler Yeats wrote in ‘Long-Legged Fly’:

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

‘Quiet! Genius at work’ was never more applicable than here. Brian’s life after Pet Sounds was marred and scarred by drugs, emotional fragility and manipulative sycophants. In these tapes we can witness the process of Brian ‘reclining on the scaffolding’ in the Los Angeles studio. But still, it all remains ultimately a mystery. God only knows how genius creates such beauty.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

142: Kat Edmonson, ‘Champagne’ (including her lovely cover of ‘I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times’)

158: Paul Simon, ‘Surfer Girl’

118: Brian Wilson, ‘Surf’s Up’ (“SMiLE”)

004: The Beach Boys, ‘Kiss Me Baby’

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229: The Beatles: ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ (“Rubber Soul” at 50)

Posted by jeff on Jan 8, 2016 in Rock, Song Of the week

720x405-rexfeatures_11258bAs far as I can remember (a dubious premise at best), I had no inkling on December 6, 1965 that “Rubber Soul” was being released in the US. Perhaps I’d heard that it had been released in the UK three days earlier, I don’t really remember. I do remember scouring the racks of the record store frequently, lest I miss such an auspicious event. But by early January it had reached #1, where it stayed for six weeks, prompting me to write a review for my high school newspaper. (You can see the original at the bottom here, if you must.)

Untitled-3

Proto-Rock Journalist

I had forgotten that I was writing record reviews even before college, but an old friend sent me a hard copy of Bulldog Barks with my byline, so I guess it’s undeniable.

It’s a bit spooky to peek into the mind of one’s self at the age of 17 (if one can be said to have a mind at that age). But despite the occasional lapse into teenie-prose, I’m quite proud of the review. The observations are spot-on, really quite perspicacious (I’ve been waiting since a 10th grade vocabulary quiz to use that word!), especially considering the vacuum that was ‘rock journalism’ in 1965. The first edition of Rolling Stone magazine wouldn’t appear for a full two years.

So it’s me, a 17-year old music geek in Cincinnati, trying to figure out all alone just what was going on. But I did understand even back then – without the benefits of hindsight of seeing the seminal impact “Rubber Soul” would have on popular music, without any external resources other than what I could read on the record label and what I could deduce from thousands of listenings to the disc – that this album was something wholly other:

  • Artistically ambitious (an innovation for a pop album)
    If you need a hint of just how unique that was on the market of the time, the best-selling LPs of 1965 were (in order) ‘Mary Poppins’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, and ‘Goldfinger’.
  • No hit records to drive sales
  • All original compositions
  • Instrumental experimentation (sitar, Hammond, fuzz bass, harmonium, lead piano)
  • Slower tempi (five down-beat songs, versus two on the previous album, “Help”).

People could (and probably have) written doctoral dissertations on each of those seismic events whose portent I am quite proud to have spotted.

rubber-soul21I even spoke of the ‘folksy kind of sound’ of ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’. That was the one element I failed to plumb fully. Today I’d note that John plays an acoustic rhythm guitar on most of the cuts, with an immeasurable impact on the sound of “Rubber Soul” and on the music which would be profoundly influenced by it (i.e., everything).

‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ was recorded in June 1965, released on the UK “Help” (August 1965), but yanked from the US version of the album. It was contemporaneous with The Byrds’ ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (June 1965), ‘The Eve of Destruction’ (September 1965) and ‘The Sounds of Silence’ (January 1966). If we had to pick a “first” folk-rock song, perhaps it would be ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’ (February 1965). If ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ wasn’t the Grand Opening of folk-rock, it was at very least the harbinger of acoustic rock.

Packaging Rubber Soul

Packaging Rubber Soul

That ‘folksy’ sound is also umbilically tied to country music, which was in 1965 as far from mainstream rock as Mason was from Dixon. But George Harrison and his buddies listened to Carl Perkins almost as much as they listened to Chuck Berry. It just took a couple of years for those influences to insinuate themselves into the Beatles’ music. It started with ‘Act Naturally’ (June, 1965), which was perceived at the time (okay, by me) as a novelty one-off’er. But then came their original treatment of the same fingerpicking sound in ‘What Goes On’. And then came the giant step, that quantum shift we call ‘creative genius’, with ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’.

rubber-soul-sessionsIt’s got hillbilly all over it, from Ringo’s ra-ta-ta-tum brushes and John’s acoustic core, more pronounced in the Nashville harmony (Paul on top of Paul) of the refrain (“Falling, yes I am falling…”), complete with George’s Nashville Cat-informed acoustic lead guitar.

One intriguing conundrum of which I was unaware at the time was the variant UK and US versions of “Rubber Soul”, on which mountains of verbiage have been written. I’d like to toss my 2₵ on the pile of the ‘Which is Better?’ compost.

No question – the US version is much more organic stylistically than its British cousin. British LPs usually had 14 cuts, American ones only 12 (perhaps out of fear of fidelity loss due to “groove-cramming”. It wouldn’t be until “Sgt Pepper” that The Beatles would have enough artistic control over the packaging of their music to ensure that the same version of the album would be released on both sides of the pond. Here are the two versions – only UK in red, only US in green.

UK US
1.            Drive My Car

2.            Norwegian

3.            You Won’t See Me

4.            Nowhere Man

5.            Think for Yourself

6.            The Word

7.            Michelle

1.            I’ve Just Seen a Face 

2.            Norwegian Wood

3.            You Won’t See Me

4.            Think for Yourself

5.            The Word

6.            Michelle

 

1.            What Goes On

2.            Girl

3.            I’m Looking Through You

4.            In My Life

5.            Wait

6.            If I Needed Someone

7.            Run for Your Life

1.            It’s Only Love

2.            Girl

3.            I’m Looking Through You

4.            In My Life

5.            Wait

6.            Run for Your Life

 

It seems to me that the Capitol Suits bested EMI Suits no less than they did in 1776 and 1812. ‘Drive My Car’ is a fine, quirky, biting rocker. But releasing it as a single (in the US) was a much wiser, aesthetically satisfying decision than using it to open The Beatles’ first album conceived as a coherent whole (George Martin: “Up till then we had been making albums rather like a collection of singles. Now we were really beginning to think about albums as a bit of art on their own, as entities of their own. And “Rubber Soul” was the first to emerge that way.”)

“Rubber Soul” was strongly influenced by Dylan, both by the weed he had introduced the boys to as well as the seriousness with which he related to his music. (Here’s a piece I wrote about the Dylan/Beatles symbiosis.) Seriousness means introspection. Introspection means acoustic. “Rubber Soul” is an acoustic album. ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ is a fitting (and wonderful) clarion call. ‘Dri

Originial undistorted album cover photo

Originial undistorted album cover photo

ve My Car’ is misplaced. Quod erat demonstrandum.

But if we’re already here, let’s beat the horse a bit. ‘Nowhere Man’ has always been a non-favorite of mine, even a bit of an embarrassment. ‘What Goes On’ is interesting only as part of the process, but is a clearly inferior cut. ‘If I Needed Someone’ is the only reject I regret. But we got in its stead ‘It’s Only Love’. John inexplicably said of it “That’s the one song I really hate of mine. Terrible lyric.” I’ve always been very fond of it.

I wonder how many times I’ve listened to “Rubber Soul”. Five hundred? A thousand? Five thousand? Impossible for me to quantify that. I can certainly quality-fy it, though. There’s not a piece of music in this universe that’s dearer to me. ‘Norwegian Wood’ was a formative moment for my entire generation. As was its companion piece, ‘Girl’. Is there any song more fun than ‘You Won’t See Me’? How indelibly ingrained in my brain is the false start of ‘I’m Looking Through You’, as it appeared in the initial US pressings? Where would we be without the compass of ‘In My Life’? How different would our world have been without “Rubber Soul”?

We are who we are, to a significant degree, due to that record.

helpJust picture it – half a million children of the Woodstock generation on half a million little desert islands, each one clutching to his/her breast his own personal, worn, beloved copy of “Rubber Soul”.  In a sense, I think that does accurately describe the world we live in.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’

112: James Taylor, ‘Yesterday’

207: The Beatles, ‘Rocky Raccoon’; and Bob Dylan, ‘Frankie Lee and Judas Priest’/’Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’

214: The Beatles, ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl’

128: The Isley Brothers, ‘Twist and Shout’

RS-Jeff

 

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3

228: Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini (Noa)/Gil Dor, Vocalocity — ‘Zeh Po, Zeh Mugan’

Posted by jeff on Dec 31, 2015 in A Cappella, Israeli, Song Of the week

a-r-g-1‘Zeh Po, Ze Mugan’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Oh, How I Miss You’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Tumma’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Mishaela’ (‘בעיניה’) – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Zeh Po, Ze Mugan’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)–Extended Version

The Dream

A guy can dream can’t he? A person should dream. You never know…

For many years I’ve been living inside the music I listen to. Like any other devotee suffering from arrested development, I’ve played with my little tin soldier fantasy Dream Teams, even in my dotage. What if Bill Evans and Gil Evans had collaborated?  What if Laura Nyro had followed David Geffen to Asylum Records? What if John and Paul had realized their dream of playing with Buddy Holly? I recently had the very good fortune to play Dream Team for real.

a-r-4The Scene

I’ve been an avid activist in the burgeoning ‘modern a cappella’ scene, especially in its European flavor, for the past ten years. The Real Group, The Swingle Singers, Rajaton, Vocal Line, even Pentatonix. I do live in and for this music, so it is with great love that I say that its form and technical sophistication has far outrun the content. There’s tons of great technique and very little creative, new, substantial music. It so often comes down to very clever, very charming, very sophisticated covers.

The Masterpiece

a-r-1And then came “VOCAbuLarieS” under Bobby McFerrin’s name, but actually composed and scored and masterminded by Roger Treece. He coaxed motifs from Bobby’s improvisational experiments and architectured them into seven coherent compositions. Roger: “I was trying to harness the way Bobby takes ideas, sounds from all over the world and alchemizes them into a new language.”

Bobby: “I’ve never worked so closely with another writer who could create around what I do. As an improviser, everything exists only in the moment, and then you let go of it. But in this context, Roger would hear something I did once, write it down and build the material into a fully scored theme and variations form, and then say, “Here, sing this.” It was old and new, mine and not mine. It was a challenge for me.”

The Process

r-g-2I listened to “VOCAbuLarieS” a couple of million times, and it became quite clear to me that this was the first important creation to come out of the music I love so dearly. So I jumped at the chance to have a sit-down with Roger at the AAVF a cappella festival in Aarhus, Denmark in 2013.

We talked Bible and belief, vocalisms and musical vocabularies. I told Roger that it seemed to me that VOCAbuLarieS was (among many other things) exploring the very roots of the voice and music (to which he readily agreed); but suggested that the palette could be expanded beyond the African and classical sources of his masterpiece. I raised the idea that he should come to Israel – the crossroads of three continents, the intersection of African and and North African and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern and Near Eastern cultures, a country of immigrants in which young people are conversant in 70 different musical languages. Roger is very Bible-oriented, so the idea of visiting God’s home court was greatly appealing, and he readily agreed, in principle.

I went back home to the wholly holey Holy Land and had the great fortune to form (together with my partner Ron Gang) Vocalocity, a 40-voice modern a cappella group under the musical direction of Kevin Fox (UK, The Swingle Singers), conducted by Erez Tal.

a-1So now I have the ear of this likeminded mad genius composer/arranger and a vocal orchestra at my disposal. And I’m thinking “Israeli Vocabularies”. How to take the Treece/McF achievement a step further? What could be done to Israeli-ize the source materials? I started thinking of potential collaborators. And the name of one artist appeared as though it had been waiting inside the magic lantern to be conjured up—

Achinoam Nini, or as she’s known world-wide, Noa. Born in Israel to a Yemenite family, raised till her teens in New York, she’s a virtuoso singer defying categorization. She’s had a remarkably varied and sparkling career both in Israel and internationally for 25 years. Her music draws from the pools of American singer-songwriters to her Yemenite roots to jazz, opera, traditional Italian, and classical Israeli. Together with her long-time musical partner and collaborator Gil Dor, she’s displayed an exceptional mastery of a wide range of styles and genres in collaborations from Andrea Bocelli to Sting to Pat Metheney. She’s a warm and unpretentious person, an outspoken peace activist who provokes no little controversy in her home country for her relentless pursuit of her political agenda. A woman of the world, Made in Israel, a true musical polyglot.

picasso04The formula wrote itself:
Roger + Achinoam/Gil + Vocalocity = Something New
Not just new. Achinoam’s melodic and percussive inclinations, Gil’s harmonic and structural predilections, and Roger’s unique abilities to grasp the ephemeral, to ‘architect’ the fleeting moment of the magic that can only emanate from the (almost always, but not here!) ungraspably improvised. Together they could permanentize the moment. I think of Picasso’s ‘light paintings’.

Now all that was necessary was to move this meeting of luminaries from my imagination to reality.

Roger and Vocalocity met at the Aarhus festival in May, 2015. We talked about the actuality of The Project – later to be named by Achinoam “NotesAre”, a homonym withנוצר  (‘Created’) – based on bringing him to Israel for a series of workshops, presentations and rehearsals. Roger was game from the git-go. I spoke to Achinoam (the luxury of living in a small country). She heard “VOCAbuLarieS”, said “It’s a masterpiece”, and graciously agreed to make time between her extensive touring and personal commitments for her and Gil to participate in a series of three workshops with Vocalocity and Roger.

a-r-3A lot of people have asked me why Achinoam and Gil agreed to participate in such an experiment (gratis—because we could never have afforded their fees). After all, they are stars with a very demanding schedule and lots of obligations.

Truth be told–they’re musicians. Dangle a juicy artistic challenge before them, they can’t resist. In these first three years of managing the virtually unfunded Vocalocity, I’ve too often said to professional musicians “I can offer you an exceptional musical opportunity, a unique instrument to play on, but unfortunately no (or very little) money.” They always listen. They’re musicians. I hope the day will come soon when we can pay people their just rewards.

So with the backing of Mil”a (the Israeli choral organization which Ron Gang heads) and the US embassy in Israel, we set a series of three workshops together in mid-November, two at the beautiful Elma hotel/music center, the third in front of an audience on the lovely stage of the YMCA, almost unadvertised for contractual reasons. But that was okay—we called it a ‘happening’, an open workshop, as opposed to a concert. It was all about the process. Real musical engagement, not a show.

NotesAre

a-r-v-1Roger sent us all a batch of ‘palettes’ to warm up our ears and voices – extended phrases in gibberish, choral chord progressions with intricate interlocking rhythms between the voices – such as Bring Us Home and Du Mac Dum. Vocalocity went over them with Roger via Skype. We sent them to Achinoam and Gil, but they were off with the Pope and Andrea Bocelli, so we figured they wouldn’t have a chance to go over the palettes before the workshops.

At our first tripartite meeting, Achinoam walked into the room carrying her palpable charisma, her warmth and a pile of papers. Greetings and hugs. What are those papers? “Well, Gil and I were listening to some of Roger’s gibberish lyrics, and some words started to coalesce. Like in “Bring Us Home”, ‘zinko zemuga’ became “Zeh po, zeh mugan (זה פה, זה מוגן)”, which in Hebrew means “It’s here, it’s protected”.

a-v-1You have to remember—Israel’s a volatile place, tsuris by the barrelful, and Achinoam is a passionate, indefatigable peace activist. Words as simple as “It’s here, it’s protected” carry a tremendous valence. ‘Here’ is no generic center, it’s here in this wacky, wonderful country of Israel. ‘Protected’ is safe, secure—not from bogeymen, but from real threats. From Ayatollas with nuclear reactors, ISIS, and teenage girls carrying knives. Achinoam said that the song expressed her nostalgia for a different, a better Israel. I personally felt the words saying ‘Here, now, we have the ability to protect ourselves against adversaries’. It’s art, open to different interpretations. That I choose a different one from Achinoam is absolutely legit. In any case, we’re talking about the same subject.

השיר הזה מוגן מפני הפחד\השיר הזה מוגן מפני כאב\השיר הזה נולד הרגע\השיר הזה בוקע מן הלב.\השיר הזה ישן וגם מפתיע\השיר הזה רחב כמו הים\השיר הזה מביט בנו, תומך וגם מריע\השיר הזה שלי ושל כולם.

This song is protected from fear/This song is protected from pain/ This song is born at this moment/This song arises from the heart./This song is old and surprising/This song is as wide as the sea/This song looks at us, supports us and cheers/This song is mine and everyone’s.

The Music

v-1So we started singing. “Zeh Po” is nine minutes long, during the course of which my dream comes true. Roger assigns a bass riff. Then adds the baritones, then each of the other voices, in interlocking phrases whose interaction bouncing off each other provide the internal combustion driving the music forward. Gil Dor is coloring it in, providing a secure harmonic underpinning. Achinoam begins to improvise, providing a linear, melodic focus to the mix. This is our first time singing “Zeh Po”. You can watch the magic, the moment of creation, right here.

Here’s the same ‘piece’ several nights later. It’s been polished just a tad, (“choreographed” is Roger’s term). At about 5’50” and again around 9’00” you can hear that wonderful, mad clockwork complex of rhythms interacting.

JARG-2Achinoam coaxed one other distinct piece from a Roger palette. She cast a Yemenite spell on “Du Mac Dum 2”, giving us “Away You’ve Gone”. Achinoam and Gil and Roger and Vocalocity making the music I’d imagined three years earlier. I’m in heaven.

I wrote to Roger: “Well, the Achinoam/Roger/Gil amalgam worked. You can imagine how thrilling it was/is for me, especially when I learned that you’ve never really gone nose to nose with a solo voice in your weight class. I feel like I’ve helped facilitate a new kind of music being born in real time of the musical intercourse of two fine artists, each complementing the other, creating a whole neither could create alone.”

He responded more soberly: “Those two pieces are definitely working, but they’re two lines of a story that has yet to be written.”

I think we all feel that we’ve tapped a seam of gold. We put together a great virtuoso singer, the mad genius of modern choral music and a wonderful vocal orchestra. And we created Something New, something of beauty and substance, something that has never been done before, a new musical direction, one I passionately hope will continue to evolve in the future.

Sometimes dreams come true.

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