Immigrant Song – Various Artists

I’ve put together my own vertical sampling of Immigrant Song. I’ve done this with other tunes unknowingly in the past, but now I’m getting organized  so be ready for occasional follow-ups. It’s great fun to mix styles and vintages for musica magnifico. I’m betting that the aficionados will find this vertical concept revolting, which is understandable. That’s fine.

This particular foray was prompted by the opening song for the US version of TGWTDT by Trent Reznor and Karen O. As I said, it’s a great tune and perfect for the film. Karen O fills Robert Plant’s vocals well. It certainly makes you notice how awesome Plant’s voice was.

Before you purist-types start tuning me out, know that I’ve had the Led Zeppelin version for a while. I’m not a huge fan of Led Zeppelin so Immigrant Song doesn’t get much air time in my world. I own it via their Remasters album, which I listen to maybe once every two or three years. Their version is clearly the best of the bunch and this little vertical foray has resulted in me listening to a lot more Led Zeppelin lately. If you need a listen, here’s a cool live version of the Led Zeppelin classic from Rhino’s official YouTube site (their label).

So let’s run through this. By default, I consider the original the best ever, so I don’t rank it. Of the others, here’s how they fall out, ordered by my own preference.

  • Trent Reznor and Karen O mentioned above.
  • Gotthard is a Swiss heavy metal band with 80s hair metal sound and style. They’ve topped Swiss charts at least 11 times. This live version has vocals that, to me, sound much like Scorpions’ lead singer Klaus Meine.
  • Adagio is French art-metal group. This is an instrumental version running about five minutes with a lot of big guitar interpretation along with some funky keyboards and stringed instruments.
  • Ann Wilson is the woman from Heart. She does a very mellow, slow-moving version which is pretty cool.
  • Stryper is a Christian rock group. They stay very true to the original in terms of time and instrumentation. However, they do some weird digital things with the lead singer’s voice. It’s still good stuff.
  • Dread Zeppelin (Dejah-Voodoo version) is a Led Zeppelin cover band. They do Immigrant Song a lot I imagine. This version uses electronica and a dance mix type of vibe, with some harsh vocals tossed in. Odd, but it works.
  • Great White is the 80s hair metal band famous for Once Bitten, Twice Shy. This is a passable live version.
  • Dread Zeppelin (Un-Led-Ed) also did a version in what I’ll call Elvis Mode. They evidently have an Elvis impersonator in the band and he does the vocals. It’s really strange, paced like Ann Wilson’s version but with a reggae feel and Elvis voice. I can’t get behind this.

I’m not sure if I’ll buy any albums of the above groups. Gotthard and Adagio probably have the most potential. I’ll get around to listening to more samples for each this year. We’ll see.

All of these have been in the rotation for weeks now. It probably won’t be long before I’ve had my fill of the song. Be sure, this little exercise has introduced me to a bunch of new music and re-introduced me to some old stuff.


Rise of the Masters – Various Artists

I’ve been keeping my eye on these Amazon Black Friday deals and I found a bunch of classical music on Cyber Monday. I just got 500 works of classical music for $19.95. Sure, I may have been able to find some of this stuff free on the internet because a lot of it may not be under copyright, but downloading and incorporating 500 songs into my library would take hours. This took seconds.

Here’s how I use this stuff. If I’m working and I need background music, I do this:

  1. Fire up a browser
  2. Get into the Amazon Cloud Player
  3. Click on my “Classical” playlist
  4. Hit shuffle
  5. Hit play.

Five steps, but it only takes seconds. It’s with me everywhere I have an internet connection and backed up for the rest of my life. I never, ever have to scurry around to find beautiful background sounds to tune out interruptions and make me relatively productive. Heck, I can even download it to my iTunes library if I want.

In short, > sliced bread.

Gosh I feel young and cool when I do things like that.

So I got 100 works each from the following artists performed by a bunch of different symphony outfits.

  • Brahms
  • Debussy
  • Grieg
  • Schubert
  • Tchaikovsky

That’s it. I can’t recognize any of them and I have no appreciation what-so-ever for the writer, creator, or performer. I’m completely ignorant of classical music (although, one time I recognized a Mozart tune that was used as an intro to some TV news program, or maybe it was Beethoven).

I just know that when I put this stuff on, I can relax and focus.


A Decade of Steely Dan – Steely Dan

I found another great greatest hits album on Amazon’s $5 deals. Or rather, it found me, via some targeted Amazon campaign to email me whenever classic rock albums fall below some dollar barrier. If you recall, earlier in the year I snagged The Guess Who’s, which I owned in vinyl. This one, Steely Dan’s, was never in my collection in any form that I recall. I do recognize about 75% of the songs. They were a little before my time but these guys had some solid air time in the 80s.

This album mostly spans the decade of the 70’s. Reelin’ in the Years and Do It Again were from their debut in 1972. It goes through 1980 and includes Hey Nineteen and Babylon Sisters from Gaucho. That’s it. So it leaves out their comeback.

Yeah, in 2000, they made a comeback and rocked the Grammy Awards. I don’t recall a moment of that. I had some dark days in music from about 1995 to 2001 so someday I’ll need to rehash all of the music happenings in that timeframe.

You know what really messed me up? I’ll tell you. Portions of their song Kid Charlemagne were used by Kanye West in his song Champion from the Graduation album. I think I knew this, but it didn’t hit me until my first listen to the Steely Dan song. It’s not a song I was familiar with so that feeling of recognition was quite a rush. I was in the middle of something else while listening to Steely Dan on the Amazon Cloud Player and immediately flipped over here to make some notes. I was fired up. Graduation is my favorite Kanye West album.

Things are starting to come together. I wonder if Kanye West was familiar with their music before they made the comeback. I need to find an interview on this.

This is really soothing music. Donald Fagan’s lead vocals are smooth, clear, and mellow. The melodies are like nothing I listen to and include a lot of horns and electric keyboards and female background singers. I don’t even know where to classify these guys. I call them classic rock, but that’s oversimplifying their music.

I added Two Against Nature, their post-millennium Grammy Award winning album, to my wish list. I may grab it soon.


Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath

Someone told me the other day that “there is no new music.” I’ve heard people say that before. They say it as if every chord and vocal set has been exhausted and that now people are just regurgitating old stuff. What? That’s crazy. It’s clear that these people are thinking of the movie industry, not music. There is plenty of new stuff out there in the land of music.

That being said, I did get to this album via some regurgitation by a new artist. Here’s the route:

  1. Bought Recovery by Eminem.
  2. Noted that Eminem credits Black Sabbath/Ozzy for Going Through Changes.
  3. Grabbed original Changes from YouTube.
  4. Started exploring Black Sabbath and settled on Heaven and Hell.

But paying tribute is different from copying. Just because many hip-hop artists decide to throw chords and vocals into their songs from great artists in the past doesn’t mean they are less creative. It means they respect it, and that’s a good thing. I actually love it. I love it, because I feel like even if all music innovation stopped right now, I still have hundreds of years worth of music that I’ve never even explored. Eminem actually opened me up to a “new” old band. I would have never started rooting through the Black Sabbath catalog if not for Recovery.

I’ve never owned any Black Sabbath. They were a little before the 80s Hair Metal that I love so much. By the time I started buying albums, Ozzy and Dio were doing solo stuff, which I own a lot of. After listening, it’s baffling to me that I never owned any of this stuff because it is classic 80s metal that I love.

Best song? Easily Children of the Sea. Reminds me of Rock ‘n Roll Children, one of my favorite Dio solo tunes. Additionally, Bruce Dickinson says it influenced Children of the Damned on Number of the Beast (he mentioned this on a BBC-6 radio show interview). That’s serious business. Dio and Dickinson are easily my top two male vocalists in history.

The title track, Heaven and Hell, is also great. I like it when Dio’s vocals start out against a spare background of just base and drums. Then the guitars enter and Dio ups his scream. This stuff is paced nice and slow, with a melodic guitar solo. The guitar solo eventually speeds up and Dio joins in with furious lyrics, then it finishes with a slow guitar-only section.

RIP Dio.


Running from a Gamble – Company of Thieves

These are Chicago folks. They are youngsters with a female lead singer who has a cool voice. They put together some popular rock stuff. I like it. The female lead has a distinctive voice but I can’t quite peg why. She has this accent or something. It’s kind of like this wealthy, North Shore lockjaw thing without the pretentiousness. I know, that’s a strange way to describe someone’s voice and it probably speaks to my lack of ability to critique any sort of music. Her name is Genevieve Schatz and she seems to be gaining some acclaim. She rocks.

It’s mostly relatively mellow rock with strong vocals, but it doesn’t stick to the genre. It’s guitars and drums and keyboards and sometimes get’s loud enough that Schatz has to belt out some serious vocals, probably maxing out her volume. They throw in some horns and other stuff in a few songs. Good variety. Their lyrics reflect some anger and some angst, but are plenty uplifting.

I have both of their studio albums and it’s good stuff.


21 – Adele

This was loaned to me by a friend. I let it set around for months without listening. Then I started cranking through it, day after day. Then I started liking it. Then I started feeling guilty that I hadn’t paid for it yet. I mean heck, I’d never heard of Adele and this friend basically forces it on me one day. I had expected to listen a few times then give it back.

Then it hit the rotation so I had no choice but to make the purchase.

This whole old-school, European golf country, female singer thing just kind of crept up on me. I group Adele with the likes of Duffy and Amy Winehouse (RIP). Do I have that right? I can’t say for sure because I’ve never heard any Amy Winehouse, but I have a Duffy album, and it’s similarly good.

The two hits seem to be Rolling In The Deep and Set Fire To The Rain. And they are cool. Here voice just seems to move around a lot in both songs. You know, hitting some high notes, then some scratchy, throaty low notes. I don’t know, just listen to it. Cool stuff.

Then there’s this song Someone Like You. It’s the last one on the album. Check it out at the VMA’s. Damn, that’s pretty perfect. No lip-syncing happening there. This 21 year-old is not messing around. She’s clearly invested in this song.


Greatest Hits – The Guess Who

I bought this my freshmen year in college at a time when I was branching out from 80’s hair metal and getting into classic rock. I abused it. I put it on a cassette and listened to the heck out of it in my car. I didn’t know the names of any of the guys in the group, but I had heard These Eyes, No Time, and American Woman and figured it was all good stuff. Yeah, it’s still pretty much all good stuff.

Amazon sent another email with a list of 100 albums for $5 and this was on it. They saw me coming.

My knowledge of The Guess Who’s catalog is limited. I only know the songs on this greatest hits album. Here is a link to their Wikipedia site if you want to dig into their history. DO NOT click on their official website because it re-sizes your browser. I hate it when designers do that. Not cool.

The amount of Canadian bands I’ve been consuming this year is odd. I don’t get it. I’ve purchased about eight albums this year and three have been Canadian (RAA and Arcade Fire). I don’t think that’s a trend that can continue.

There are a ton of great songs on this album. This greatest hits has a good mix of folksy rock, hard rock, ballads, and rock’n’roll. I apologize to all of the purists for only owning the greatest hits album. When is it okay just to own a greatest hits album? I don’t have a problem with it. Heck, I strongly suggest grabbing Somewhere Back in Time and From Fear to Eternity if you want a great slice of Iron Maiden. I’m not going to go Maiden-elitist on you.


Lasers – Lupe Fiasco

I purchased this on the heels of the Who’s Next. It was the same $5 album deal on the Amazon Cloud Drive. I purchased them both together. Man, what kind of human being walks out of the record store with The Who and Lupe Fiasco? It’s so much easier to do this stuff in the comforts of your own home so you don’t face the ridicule of friends and snotty record shop owners. I guess we all do things on the internet that we would never do in person.

I hope nobody finds out that I bought a Nicki Minaj single. Oh wait.

Fiasco is a Chicagoan and his musical style in this album is kind of pop-like hip-hop. There’s not much spoken word and in my limited experience with the genre, this album doesn’t feel like rap music. I do, however, enjoy the sound.

But before we dig into the music, I have this theory that he may have had an influence on Rashard Mendenhall and his recent bout of tweets. It’s just a theory, but bear with me. Fiasco’s song Words I Never Said has many of the same sentiments that Mendenhall expressed. They are both local and famous, Mendenhall from near north suburbs and Fiasco from the city, so I may be on to something. Here’s a sample from the track:

I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bull$&^%
Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets
How much money does it take to really make a full clip
9/11 building 7 did they really pull it
Uhh, And a bunch of other cover ups
Your child’s future was the first to go with budget cuts
If you think that hurts then, wait here comes the uppercut
The school was garbage in the first place, that’s on the up and up
Keep you at the bottom but tease you with the uppercrust
You get it then they move you so you never keeping up enough
If you turn on TV all you see’s a bunch of “what the &*^#$”
Dude is dating so and so blabbering bout such and such
And that ain’t Jersey Shore, homie that’s the news
And these the same people that supposed to be telling us the truth

It wouldn’t be unheard for them to have met. Local stars in music and sports tend to run in the same circles. Mendenhall has taken his tweets down, but they both mention that building 7 stuff. I don’t know, I’m just thinking.

I wonder what advice Pete Townshend would give to Mendenhall. He would probably tell him to listen to Won’t Get Fooled Again and study the words. Pete would tell Mendenhall that wherever your information comes from, whether from the government or the activists, it’s probably not true. So just “smile and grin” and “pick up [your football] and play.” Take care of what you can control, your family and your job, and make efforts to guard against being fooled by the “old boss or the new boss.”

The music industry and Hollywood make comments like this constantly. Obviously, Mendenhall plays on a sports team that happens to appeal to a much broader audience than hip-hop, so that raises the stakes a lot. Hollywood and the music industry just get a pass on all of this stuff because it’s art, I guess.

Okay, back to the music. I would actually group this with the B.o.B and Bruno Mars types. I don’t own any B.o.B. or Bruno Mars albums, but they played on NBA All-Star Sunday. I’m not an authority by any stretch, but the voice and instrumentation trends towards more popular stuff, although the lyrics are a little edgier. I’m clearly a hip-hop newbie, in case you can’t tell.

I’ve gone through the album a few times. It’s good. I don’t know where it’s going to stand in my music listening life. I’m a little jaded trying to figure this music stuff out. I’ve spent about $50 on music this year and it’s been a mix of hip-hop, rap, rock, pop, alt-rock, heavy metal, and classic rock. I’ll listen to pretty much anything. I like pretty much anything.



Who’s Next – The Who

I think I’ve purchased this album three times in my life, so screw you music industry. But you know what, when I hit play and the distinctive electric piano thing at the beginning of Baba O’Riley starts, I don’t care. It’s worth it now, it was worth it before. I actually think I’ve owned this three times. I had it on cassette in the 80s. I had it on CD in the 90s. Now I have it digitally, in the cloud, so I never, ever have to worry about repurchasing it. Amazon is going to keep it backed up forever. And it was on sale for $5. That’s crazy. Just crazy.

Kids these days will recognize two of the tracks because Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again are the theme songs for two of the three CSI shows (New York, Miami). But for my money, Going Mobile is the best song on the album. I’ve always had a bias for Pete Townshend in the role of  lead vocalist. I love his voice and am especially partial to his solo stuff. It’s also a great running song (or driving, if you’re into that). But if someone were to argue and say Won’t Get Fooled Again is the best, I couldn’t disagree too much.

Heck, who am I kidding? Every single song on this album is great. It’s just a joy to listen to. Period. It’s one of the great listening experiences in life. Clear Top 5 of all time for me. This is especially true when you throw in the bonus tracks tossed in for the 1995 reissue.

It has some slow stuff, some bluesy stuff, and some hard rock. It has plenty of guitars and drums, but Townshend throws in a fair amount of keyboards, including electric ones (synthesizer is a keyboard, right?). Daltrey mixes in pure, clear vocals with throaty, rough sounding ones. Townshend pitches in on the vocals for a bunch of songs besides Going Mobile. There are so many great things about this album.

Behind Blue Eyes captures a lot of this different stuff. It starts slow with Daltrey’s crisp vocals, mostly acoustic guitar, and some choir-like background voices. And then with a minute and a half left, Daltrey’s voice changes and the guitars and drums fire up. Everything gets more aggressive for about a minute. The finish backs off. It is a beautiful song.

The original album finishes with eight plus minutes of Won’t Get Fooled Again. It’s strong. The long guitar riff and electric keyboard start things out, the guitars and drums enter, and Daltrey begins with what feels like political commentary. The chorus is this:

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
No, no!

And the song finishes with:

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

It seems a relevant commentary. The political wheel keeps spinning with different parties and different promises, but nothing really changes. What can you do? You smile, get on with your life, and hope that eventually the collective can see through the lies. It’s tough because they’re all telling lies – the leaders, the followers, the detractors, the strong, the weak, the rich, the disenfranchised, the majority, the minority, the activists, the conformers. You can’t sort through it all.  Just take care of your family. Hey, that’s what it sounds like to me.

There are two instrumental, solo-like sections during the eight and a half minutes. The first is mostly guitars and the second with all instruments but highlighting the keyboards. Daltrey’s patent scream doesn’t come until the end of the second one, at about the 7:45 mark.

We should all own this album and listen to it at least a few times a year.


Recovery – Eminem

Anger, in spades. If you want to get some of that anger out of your system, grab this. You’ve certainly heard Love the Way You Lie, his duet with Rihanna. There’s a lot of anger in that one. They did it at the Grammy’s this year and it was up for Record of the Year. The album also won Rap Album of the Year. This album is my first purchase using the Amazon Cloud Player. I had to try the Cloud Player and I’ve been batting around buying this album for awhile, so it was an opportune time to pull the trigger.

Give me twelve seconds for a quick digression. The Cloud Player is really cool. I may not purchase music on iTunes anymore. More in another post on this topic.

I don’t know where I stand on this album. For my taste, Eminem takes the explicitness to the extreme. I think he is much more explicit than Kanye West, as a point of comparison. If you just listen to the popular tunes like Not Afraid, Love the Way You Lie, and No Love, you might think Eminem has crafted an explicit album, but one with an acceptable level of profanity. But when you listen to the whole beast in unaltered form, every song is pretty gritty.

Hey, that’s cool. I’m an adult, I can handle it. I can appreciate some profanity when it adds to the anger. This album is about comebacks and second chances – about recovery. Those things take drastic measures at times.

You know what I think is cool about hip-hop? I love it when they incorporate music from completely different genres into their songs. Hip-hop artists do this frequently. More so than other genres I think.

There are a few awesome examples in this album. In the song Going Through Changes, Eminem includes a snippet from Changes by Black Sabbath. He gives writing credits to Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward. Both are songs about relationships. Clever, because the Black Sabbath version is about loss but it Eminem has used it in a song about recovery. Cool stuff. Find it Black Sabbath’s version here on You Tube. Listen to them both together. Great stuff.

Another example is No Love, which pays homage to What is Love by Haddaway. Go figure, but it’s a great tune and is probably the only song I own with lead vocals by Lil Wayne. In truth, I pronounce the double t when I say Lil Wayne, but that’s just me. I do think about the Roxbury Guys when I hear this song, but Eminem’s version is NSFW, so don’t pull it out at work.

Hip-hop is like a tour through pop culture.

It took me about a month to get to a long listening session with this album. After the long session, I appreciate it a lot. I can see throwing a few of the tracks into a play list related to recovery and rebirth. It won’t really hit a party mix for the Steffens and will probably be mostly confined to headphone listening. And after a bad experience last year trying to introduce my buddies to some new music, I won’t even try to suggest this to anyone I know. It’s good though. Worth the money, definitely.