Monday, April 28, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part Two

The story of my earlier life continues. Soon after Mr. President's eurodance came the biggest 90s phenomenon, the boy bands and girl bands. The biggest thing were of course the Spice Girls.

Spice Girls could still be considered one of the biggest phenomena of my entire life. When they started releasing music in 1996 it was everywhere and they became almost every little girl's biggest idols and role models. Looking at the Spice Girls now it is no wonder they became so big. They sang very nicely (harmonies too), their music was absolutely catchy and melodic dance pop, their dancing was fun to mimic, they looked good and gave away lots of positive kick-ass energy, also known as girl power. In true bubblegum fashion there was also a massive amount of different merchandise around. Girls (and maybe a few boys) listened to them, collected photos, posters and stickers of them and dressed up as them. All in all, the Spice Girls gave me the ultimate bubblegum pop experience.

The Spice Girls did seem to represent positive values such as encouraging different people to accept themselves and other people as they are. They participated in the writing of their own music and their videos are still amazing to watch (check out Who Do You Think You Are, Too Much, Spice up Your Life, 2 Become 1, Viva Forever and others). For me, the music was always the biggest part of the experience despite everything else that was going on. Spice Girls' pop melodies are timeless and the music expresses true emotions even though the computerized production may not appeal to everyone – not even me, but it is a fairly small thing.

However, it can be argued that the Spice Girls may not have played a very significant role in inspiring girls to develop musical skills of their own. In fact, the different dance choreographies, clothing styles and looks in general got so much attention that practically the only thing the Spice Girls inspired in my life was collecting their pictures and dressing up like them. Or maybe me and my friends were just too young for other musical activities.

The Spice Girls were a fairly short-lived phenomenon but they surely were a fantastic one. The concept was very appealing both visually and musically. The Spice Girls phenomenon also had a strong social character: me and all of my friends were interested in the same music which is something that have I never experienced since.

I listened to the two first Spice Girls albums (Spice, 1996 and Spiceworld, 1997) very carefully but me and most of my friends seemed to lose interest after Geri Halliwell left and the group went on as a quartet: I guess it wasn't the same anymore. Maybe things like the Spice Girls mania aren't supposed to last very long.

I don't actively listen to the Spice Girls anymore but every time I do it is great fun. A while ago there was a documentary on TV about Viva Forever, the Spice Girls musical. It was great to see my old idols again, and a musical play surely is a very suitable medium to keep the music alive. All in all, it is good to see that there is still some pretty strong activity around the Spice Girls.

Also very much worth mentioning are the Backstreet Boys who were never the biggest thing until the Spice Girls had pretty much broken up. I did indeed listen to the Backstreet Boys quite a lot even when the Spice Girls were on top of their fame. The Backstreet Boys are still around and I was even hoping to finally go see them live in Helsinki a while ago but I still couldn't make it – I never seem to be able to! I don't listen to Backstreet Boys either anymore but when it comes to music they were once a relatively important part of my life.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

(Sweet?) Childhood Memories, Part One

Nowadays I find myself listening to music from the Beach Boys, the Hollies, Scott Walker, Electric Light Orchestra, the Sun Sawed in 1/2, and many others. However, this has not always been the case. I have thought about writing something about the origins of my music (and melody) obsession for quite some time. There is really no point in making a deep analysis out of this, so I will just point out some of the most important things concerning how yours truly started her music-listening career. This four-part story is silly, tragic, nostalgic, fun, empowering, strange, or a combination of these, make your pick.

When my parents were kids/teenagers, they heard music from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Sweet. I myself was a child in the 1990s, so my music listening career happened to start from this.

Me and my parents obviously grew up in the same North European country but popular music changed quite a bit in 30 years time. This song by German group Mr. President was a huge hit in Finland back in 1996 and it is in fact one of my earliest music memories. I never saw this video back in the day but it probably goes without saying that your typical 90s eurodance video was low-budget and often featured singers in some kind of sunny holiday setting. Coco Jamboo was taken from Mr. President's second album We See the Same Sun, an album I spent a whole lot of time listening to, as well as the group's first and third album. I always enjoyed Lady Danii's strong lead vocals, and I didn't even mind Lazy Dee's rapping.

Eurodance music was sung (and rapped) by young, good-looking people and it was mostly written by producers. After all, eurodance is a form of electronic pop music. Generally speaking eurodance was melodic and almost everyone liked it even though you might say it was cheaply produced and all artists sounded like each other.

When you think about this music from today's perspective, I find it a little unsettling that as a child in the 90s I listened to eurodance almost all the time. Children surely tend to listen to whatever they happen to hear around them, and I have to admit eurodance music is catchy even though it may also be somewhat dated. I don't enjoy pounding synthetic beats much anymore and will probably get anxious rather than happy hearing music like that but I guess I will always like Mr. President anyway.

However, I also remember something different from this period. A couple of years after Mr. President's fame I discovered a cassette of 1950s rock'n roll including music from Bill Haley & His Comets, Gene Vincent and others. This didn't grow into much anything bigger at the time but it really seems like I enjoyed old times music already as a child.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Suddenly It's the Tremeloes

Even though I seem to be listening to hundreds of Hollies songs at the moment, I have also dedicated a good amount of time to another UK group, the Tremeloes. Considering how good they are I didn't hear much about them until I had already become aware of pretty much every other significant UK band of the 60s. I listened to a compilation by the Tremeloes a few times until my brain realized that there is indeed something really magical here.

The Tremeloes have performed several famous songs, such as Yellow River, Suddenly You Love Me, and, quite surprisingly the syrupy 1983 europop Words. Even though their most famous song is probably Silence Is Golden, they have performed plenty of easy-going songs some of which almost sound like they were recorded during a party at the studio (Here Comes My Baby, Even the Bad Times Are Good). In some of the most memorable songs the band does incorporate a mixture of fun and a certain melancholy. Check out Negotiations in Soho Square or Happy Song: the latter sounds not just happy but the opposite too. In any case, something about the Tremeloes' unique energy reminds me a little of the Beatles (the Tremeloes performed Good Day Sunshine) but even more of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mich & Tich.

In addition to Silence Is Golden, I swoon over the Tremeloes harmonizing on songs like I Shall Be Released and Now's the Time. These guys could really sing and perform incredibly catchy songs. I am also most definitely fascinated by the variation: in the 60s section we have everything from the impressive melancholy of Be Mine, Come on Home and As You Are to considerably different songs (and arrangements) such as Helule HeluleMy Little Lady and Girl from Nowhere. As the 70s approached, the Tremeloes seemed to incorporate even a little bit of psychedelic feel. Prime examples of this include Me and My Life, By the Way, and the fantastic (Call Me) Number One.

The Tremeloes didn't score hits after the early 70s but the singles were still melodic and catchy. And just like so many other fantastic 60s bands, it seems, also the Tremeloes are still around.

Friday, April 18, 2014

New Nordic Americana

For some reason I don't seem to be able (or willing?) to follow current music anymore but I certainly wouldn't miss the release of Ochre Room's second album Box, Bar & Diamond. I saw the band live for the first time last September (Small Houses was also performing) and was immediately very impressed. Ochre Room represents americana, and folk rock, and there is also a clear presence of northern melancholy. The band hails from Tampere, Finland, my very home town, which of course adds to the band's significance.

There is actually even more to Tampere folk rock than Ochre Room. Another group Hi-Lo & In Between, that has been mentioned in this blog before, has already released three full albums. Named after an album by Townes Van Zandt, they follow a path fairly similar to Ochre Room. Their latest album came out in 2011.

Even while I don't consider myself a major consumer of americana music at this point, I highly appreciate the efforts of these bands. I enjoy seeing them live and overall hearing the music.

Check out a wonderful song called Other Side of the Town from Ochre Room's new album, and why not other stuff too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Story of a Memphis Band

It was shown on TV and it also became available via the Internet, so I finally got round to watching a documentary about the makers of some of the best music ever. This full-length documentary was called Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

The documentary was technically well constructed and there were lots of very good pictures and even some video from the recording sessions. Still, I wonder if the availability of visual material affected the way the documentary was balanced. To me, It seemed like the focus was very strongly on a more general view of the circumstances around Big Star such as the Memphis music scene and record companies in the early 1970s. A fan like me would have liked to hear more stories about the music itself, making of it and the personalities behind it. At times it felt like Big Star played a supporting role in the film.

Many important people appear in the film, and the material as a whole is impressive. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Alex Chilton's career after Big Star. Also some thoughts and feelings behind the creation of Chilton and Chris Bell's music were depicted nicely. However, I occasionally found the narrative and rhythm of the documentary diffuse making it difficult to determine the cause and effect of things.

There is always the question of what kinds of issues a music documentary should cover and which audience it is aimed at. Perhaps this particular documentary was mostly intended for those without much prior experience of Big Star. In that case a more general view of the background and surroundings of the main topic may be quite justifiable. In any case, different people are interested in different things and it is difficult to serve everybody.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Look at the Hollies

I seem to be getting more and more excited about the Hollies. Therefore I decided to watch a DVD called Look Through Any Window 1963–1975. I got this DVD years ago but noticed that I never actually watched it from beginning to end with all the interviews and stuff. This is part of the British Invasion series, although this one wasn't shown on TV at least in Finland.

The DVD is a nice cross-section of the Hollies style and TV live performances from the early days of channeling the Everly Brothers to their last major hits such as Long Cool Woman and The Air That I Breathe in the 70s. Some of the most interesting footage includes Clarke, Hicks and Nash doing three-part harmonies in the studio, apparently captured by George Martin's film crew.

Clarke, Hicks, Nash and Elliott give wonderful interviews in which they describe the joy, creativity and innovativeness of the Hollies, and how fantastic songs they wrote and realized in the studio and live. The self-praise is clearly justified. The Hollies wrote songs for instance about memorable events (Stop Stop Stop), women they adored (Carrie Anne), and sometimes beautiful words would just magically appear out of nowhere (Wings). In the arrangement section the Hollies were always trying to come up with something different, otherwise they would have gotten bored. The guys didn't even regard material such as King Midas in Reverse as “pop” which reflects the ambition of pushing the boundaries of their music.

The guys also give a rather positive impression on Nash's sad departure from the band in late 1968 and how the change after all turned out for the best for everybody. Nash found his place among Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Hollies continued their streak of hits (including no less than the overwhelming beauty of He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother, 1969) with Terry Sylvester replacing Nash.

All in all, a very nice DVD, even though many of the songs aren't actually played live. The guys do look like they are having fun (even though the following video is of more serious character).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Staying with the Hollies

My fondness for the Hollies seems to develop in stages. I started by listening to a greatest hits collection many years ago and later moved on to some whole albums. The current situation involves a rather comprehensive view of the Hollies' early years.

It wasn't quite yesterday but when I heard about a new Hollies box set Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years (The Complete Hollies April 1963 - October 1968) I just had to get it. The box contains probably every song recorded during this time period, also conveniently including rarities released throughout the years on different compilations. Despite being very compact the box set includes nearly 160 songs and there are not all that many misses. I have been listening to this set for months and there are still lots of songs that deserve more attention.

The Beatles were the first through the door and they opened up the door for us and every other band to run through” (Graham Nash in an interview for the box set)

There is no big mystery behind the Hollies concept. Like many others, Clarke, Hicks and Nash had done their homework on American rock & roll and soon they were “selling [the music] back to the Americans as the British invasion”. The Hollies wrote many of their hit singles and stood out from the rest with their merrily sounding unique three-part harmony. The presence of the happiest vocal trio of all time often added with Allan Clarke's lead vocals makes for something really special. And as we know, the Hollies were also very skilled musicians in other areas than singing.

There is a very strong r & b presence especially in the earlier material. Little by little the blues seems to subside giving room to other kinds of nuances, including experimentations on different arrangements and orchestrations, and psychedelia. In any case the songwriting trio was amazingly prolific right from the start, even though “there was never any time put aside purely to write songs” as Nash states in the same interview. That is just incredible.

Most often I find myself listening to the first couple of CD's because they are generally the most energetic ones, radiating both primitive energy and good cheer. Moving on to the other CD's, there are always surprises and many interesting things to hear, and music on Stay with the Hollies (1964) is definitely different from the music on Butterfly (1967). This kind of a complete chronological set is great exactly because you can notice the overall high quality of the work: the Hollies weren't just a singles band but put a lot of effort to all of their songs. There must be a reason to why record companies don't release similar complete sets from all bands!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Comeback of Folk Rock

A few years ago I got so fond of the Association that I still get a warm feeling just by thinking about the group's music. Even though I wasn't then swept away by much any other folk rock group, familiarizing myself with another California music entity has recently created a fairly similar experience.

The Grass Roots (also referred to as the Grassroots) were originally a title that songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri used while hoping to score folk rock hits. After a couple of albums Sloan moved on to other projects while Barri stayed. From the early days to the latest performances a few years ago, including the Happy Together tour, the Grass Roots have undergone so many personnel changes that I am not even going to try to make sense of it all. Sufficed to say, the popular early member Rob Grill still performed with the band's latest incarnation but unfortunately died in 2011.

I have mostly been focusing on the earlier material on the 1960s albums, although moving to the 1970s and to a more blue-eyed soul style the Grass Roots surely sounded great as well. Released already in 1968, a real white soul classic Midnight Confessions was the band's biggest hit by far. I think the song is so catchy that I still tend to listen to it at least twice in a row. If I wasn't so lazy I would also definitely practice the horn parts on my alto sax!

So, what is it that makes the Grass Roots so awesome? There are obviously fantastic jangly, sometimes psychedelic folk rock sounds. Also, it probably comes as no surprise that I very much enjoy P.F. Sloan's vocal renditions of I've Got No More to Say, Lollipop Train (You Never Had It so Good), and Only When You're Lonely.

Actually, I had pretty much no idea who P.F. Sloan was until I heard a great song called P.F. Sloan performed by the Association a few years ago. By now I have certainly become aware of Sloan being responsible for a multitude of 1960s classic songs performed by my favorites such as Herman's Hermits, The Searchers and The Mamas & the Papas.

When I first heard Let's Live for Today I thought it was the greatest song I had heard in quite some time. Then I found out that it had already been performed before by another band with different lyrics. The main chorus melody was even originally plagiarized from the Drifters! With all this said, the Grass Roots version is still fantastic, and really dramatic. At first it sounds like a very classy carpe diem song, but towards the end there is kind of a fascinating manic twist.

The Grass Roots represent so many of the greatest aspects of 1960s pop. Just listen to Wake up, Wake up and notice the awesome acoustic guitar, jumping harpsichord, melancholic yet hopeful mood, encouraging lyrics, soul-soothing vocal harmonies and a punchy chorus. Much the same can be said about Here's Where You Belong. Another huge favorite is Melody for You, which was written by Sloan (the other two by Sloan & Barri).

For a while ago there was a time when I couldn't stop listening to the Grass Roots. But that is what happens with this kind of music.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tampere Beatles Happening 2014

I must be getting old because I considered for a second not going to Tampere Beatles Happening 2014. However, the second the first band of the Beatlemania show began to play I was so moved by hearing wonderfully melodic 60s music that I knew I had come to the right place. It was time to listen to some of the coolest Beatles and 60s tribute bands.

The first group were the Brothers from Germany. They performed Beatles numbers with both original and new arrangements with absolute skill and dedication. Their strength was in a balanced sound and the most beautiful vocal harmonies and a cappella. The Brothers also apparently have released original music. I think I may check it out.

Jay Goeppner was the most energetic performer of the evening. He was accompanied by the domestic Urban Crow who you might call the host band of the festival. Goeppner attracted most of the attention for being such a happy, brightly American who moves around a lot and shares good spirit to everyone. Focusing on John Lennon songs, Goeppner performed anything from early Beatles numbers to Lennon's most intensive solo material.

The most innovative performance was given by (perhaps the slightly unfortunately named) Russian Puttin' on the Beatles Style who played a really fast-paced set of three-accordion instrumental versions of Beatles songs accompanied by traditional rock band instruments. The virtuosity was amazing. It was easy to recognize the melodies, yet there was plenty of room for improvisation as well.

Then, there was a performance by the Overtures who were once again great but they played the exact same set as a few years ago. A long-standing Beatles and 60s tribute band, their performance is always really professional and they don't follow the original arrangements too strictly, but next time I would appreciate hearing different songs, and, generally speaking, maybe some more interesting choices than Light My Fire, You Really Got Me, and I'm a Believer.

The concluding act was Jiri Nikkinen The Beatles Tribute Band. Jiri Nikkinen is Finland's official Beatles fan and his set included some really interesting rarities. Jiri is such a classy guy.

The Beatles don't seem to attract young people like they used to, but there were indeed some people (like me) whose parents had barely been born when there was a band called the Beatles. The Beatles Happening is a real high-energy event, the most joyful and melodic festival in the whole country. You can't go wrong with that concept.

After five and a half happy (yet physically a bit painful...) hours of partying, it was time to pick up a free copy of a Beatles magazine and go home.

Still Alive

The thoughts on melody are back after a long break.

As for the reason for this silence, I wasn't in an optimal position in my personal life for a while. I had also been developing certain writing standards that were getting too high in my mind. I am not a native English speaker and the language will therefore always be what it is but this is not a scientific language blog. I hope it might be closer to a microsociological music blog: a blog about how music influences a person's everyday life.

Music means communication between the artist and the listener as well as between music fans. There might also be some interesting factors in the process of making music, group dynamics etc. However, I don't plan to write comprehensively but perhaps focus on some things I find interesting.

For enthusiasts like me music is not just something you casually listen to. Instead, music affects our perception of the world and some of our choices. People usually act with free will and music is a factor that people use to actively construct reality for themselves. Music is of course used in many ways and for many purposes but I intend to focus mainly on the personal experience, as I have done before.

There is one problem, still. During the past year or so I have hit a wall many times trying to discover new favorites. I used to have a new favorite almost every week or month in the past but now it seems that discovering new music is becoming a bit more like an unpleasant chore. So, usually it is most profitable to follow the path of your old favorites.

Most importantly, now I feel like writing about music again. Writing often inspires deeper reflections than a conversation, and therefore you might capture something you otherwise wouldn't.

One last thing. Whenever I ask people, what new music they would recommend, they don't seem to have any idea, even though they definitely have strong opinions about music and many favorites. Perhaps someone here on the Internet might have an idea.