Tag Archives: Radio

Paul Picks Up The Pieces

And makes them rock.

It’s February! The time of year when temperatures drop to their most unbearable levels and we’re supposed to replace the warmth of our malfunctioning heaters with the warmth emanating from our hearts. What a bunch of delightful bull-crap. No, Valentine’s Day doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy, but I’ll tell you what does – pop songs rearranged and made into beautiful, much less simplistic, pieces of hard rock candy.

To reiterate a point I made a few weeks ago: modern pop music is dying a slow, painful death. The only cure would be a complete change in thought both on the part of the recording industry and musicians all at once. It isn’t going to happen, at least not in such a complete and obvious way. That said, not all pop music is necessarily bad when placed into the right hands. Obviously, this is something that runs on a case by case basis, and therefore I will once again be using examples familiar to me in order to get at the larger picture.

A couple years ago I discovered the guitarist Paul Gilbert during the last stop of the G3 Tour, and ever since he’s been the model I hold a whole host of other musicians up to. His technique, skill, range (with regards to his ability to successfully write and play music from varying genres), and his stage presence are in my mind unequaled. In the late 80’s, after his tenure with the metal band Racer X, he joined Mr. Big, a group who ran the line between pop, hard rock and hair metal. Well, let’s face facts – at the dawning of the 90’s that was popular music.

Their one relatively successful radio hit in the U.S. (they had a much larger following in Japan) was a song called “To Be With You” . It’s upbeat. It’s sweet. It’s a love song through and through. If the verses were shared, rather than dominated by frontman Eric Martin’s smooth (yet somehow raspy) set of pipes, the tune could easily fit into the Backstreet Boys library. A song like “To Be With You” would normally sicken me, but in my quest to explore the “essence of Gilbert”, I stumbled across something interesting.

I’m not entirely certain when the DVD was recorded, but sometime after his break from Mr. Big, Paul participated in a show called “Guitar Wars”, where he performed a very different version of the aforementioned song. The Van Halen inspired rendition is perhaps a bit ironic, as one will notice the opening riff is taken from “Ain’t Talkin About Love”, though the reason it resonates with me so well lies elsewhere. Here, have a listen:

Firstly, he begins the song in a minor key, which I think lends the tune a certain sense of desperation that just isn’t present in the original. That little added sense of danger turns the sickly sweetness of the original on its head. Paul throws in embellishments on the guitar from the very beginning, making the song sound thicker, and during the verses the chords are played in arpeggios rather than just strummed, which I think helps to change what was once a simple tune into something much more technically and artistically worthwhile.

Paul’s style of singing also throws away the fluff of the song’s previous incarnation. His voice is raw, which certainly fits better with hard rock, but it also adds to the atmosphere of the lyrics. Eric Martin’s vocals sound very confident, like the song’s subject female only needs a little pep talk to find her way into the arms of the right man – the way it’s sung sounds almost deceptive. Paul, on the other hand, first sounds as if he’s defending someone rather than giving a motivational speech, then with the chorus makes the longing and desire sound right. I wish I had better words for it, but the rawness of his voice makes the revealing words in the chorus sound more sincere.

To top it off, the accompanying harmony vocals of bassist Mike Szuter, and the fact that Paul manages to sing and solo at the same time make this version really dynamic. Though, if one is a fan of  Mr. Big’s version, Paul does throw in the original guitar break towards the end as a nice tip of the hat.

I suppose after looking at pop music through a rock filter, I’d have to say that in some cases there are songs that have actual potential. The song might need a hard rock makeover, but I cannot ignore the fact that it had its origins in the pop world. Of course, that still means that most of what’s out there is complete and utter garbage, but once in a while I’m surprised by what happens to catch my ear.

-Alex

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How Nirvana Helped Me, Even Though I Don’t Like Their Records

I don’t especially like Nirvana. At some points in my life, I’ve down right hated them. In my experience they have often served as a trump card for someone who didn’t put much thought into their musical tastes. Everyone knows at least a couple of their songs and therefore they become an easy “in” for someone who actually has nothing to add to the conversation. Here’s a good story: One time on my radio (or college PA system) show, I made the comment “Nirvana sucks. Their records were nothing special.” Within in minutes I had a foaming frat boy type yelling at me through the booth window, not only about my opinion but about using the term “record” when everyone had CDs or MP3s. In reaction to this, I cut into the song and explained to him on air that “record” was a general term for any recording and that he must have mistaken it for “vinyl.” This was the only time in 3 years that anyone had aggressively reacted to anything I said, and boy did I make some inflammatory comments during my tenure.

At this point in my life, my opinion of Nirvana is simple. They made solid pop records and had the right people hear them at the right time. The argument oft used by Mtv and VH-1 that Nirvana tapped into some sort of social aggression that occurred at that time is clearly bullcorn (another 5 points for getting that reference) and if you listen to their albums you can clearly hear that they did nothing that hadn’t been done before (or better, for that matter).

Even though they are not the band they are frequently made out to be, Nirvana did do something very important. For years after their rise to the top, record labels searched for the “next Nirvana.” This means that tons great of bands got more promotion and better record deals than they would have in any other era. Some became huge (i.e. Pearl Jam, who I personally believe would be the bigger reference point had Cobain not decided to kill himself) and some simply got to play in front of larger crowds. In this point I take solace; Nirvana probably did more good than bad for popular music. Without Nirvana I doubt I ever would have heard Veruca Salt or Green Day (who may end up warranting an entry of their own) or even Alanis Morissette on the radio, and I can’t imagine how different my taste in music would be today.

This leads to my point and hopefully a new layer to the argument we have here. Though this may shock some of you, some people do listen to the radio to find new music. Unfortunately, record labels and the large media companies tend to stick with what “works”, meaning for the foreseeable future we will continue to get the half assed show tunes of Fall Out Boy, the unbearable yelling of Beyonce and the wannabe tough guy rock of Nickelback. However, Nirvana proved that if one intriguing artist with (and this is important) a different sound can sneak in, it can have a positive impact for years to come. I had actually hoped this would happen with Against Me!, but even they were castrated by their producers on their “Major Label Debut.” That said, I doubt any of us can predict the next truly break through artist. If MP3s don’t end up having an impact that completely changes the landscape, it is only a matter of time before we get our “next Nirvana”. Until that day, our musical journeys will continue without the help of large corporations.

Before I conclude, let me make a note. The Beatles also changed the landscape on their arrival and I was not ignoring them during this. The problem is that The Beatles have had such an expansive impact that it isn’t fair to expect that to ever happen again. As I said before, without complete restructuring of the music industry their WILL be a “next Nirvana”, but there probably will never be another band like The Beatles. God bless the internet, and long live rock and roll.

-Vinny

Vinny’s Pick Of The Week:

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If It’s Not On The Radio

It’s Probably Good

Last week Vinny and I began discussing the topic of popular music. For a blog centered on the discussion and criticism of pop culture, it seemed like a natural fit to start with. The questions we have about music’s path into the future are deceptively simple. Where is it going? What is it doing? Is it a good direction? A bad one? Surely the answers to these are a matter of opinion, but then, the Chaos Collage is devoted to our opinions, and being the elitists we sometimes (or always) are, those opinions usually feel somewhat more like fact. Still, the questions remain complex.

In my last post, The Mass Market Music Blues, I briefly discussed the idea that even with artists spread across so many genres, media hyped music is focused more on image than on actual musical talent. It’s a shame, but it’s there. However, now that I’ve solidified that point, I’ll move on to the other end of the spectrum – modern music that deserves, at the least, more attention and appreciation, but just isn’t getting it.

Firstly, let’s qualify popularity. Many artists that fly under the mainstream radar are actually rather well known within their own musical niche. Joe Satriani, for example, fills large venues, has endorsement deals and gets coverage in guitar magazines, but his name is hardly ever heard on the radio or seen on television. The media pays him no serious mind because he doesn’t appeal to enough people, or the right kind of people. Hell, the man has been nominated for the “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” Grammy Award fourteen times and never won. Some might feel the nomination is enough recognition – but fourteen times? Give the guy some credit,  he at least deserves some critical validation. I say critical validation because the truth is, he will never appeal to a massive audience, and I think I’d like to keep it that way.

From a personal standpoint, a world full of people who absolutely love virtuoso guitarists like Satriani would be a nightmare. Shows would sell out too quickly, tickets would be prohibitively expensive, and there would be so much chatter from the media and fans that I might lose interest based solely on saturation. Excellent musicians deserve their chance at popularity, but, like a recent commenter suggested; keeping them a little hungry may also keep them honest. The more they care about the music, the more original it’ll be, and they’ll hold on to their diehard fans while remaining obscure to the mass market. In that respect, I suppose I’d vote to keep the status quo.

Of course, the opposite could happen. Their original stuff could end up being just what the spoon-fed masses needed, and they could either start releasing consecutive albums of little consequence (hence the phrase “I liked their earlier stuff better.”), or they could defy all the scenarios I’ve set up and be wildly popular and consistently genuine with their art.

That said, and since I’m sticking up for the little guy today, I’d like to issue a question to our readers. I’ve posted a video below of a song entitled “New Beginning” by the band Gravity. Back in 2007, they beat out two-hundred other groups in a battle-of-the-bands type competition, not to mention that all but one of them was still in high school. Considering the current musical landscape, I think that’s quite an accomplishment, especially for an instrumental-only progressive rock group.

I have my own ideas about why they took home the grand prize, and while I know anyone watching this probably wasn’t privy to the competition they faced, I think it’d be interesting to hear some other opinions about why they did, or perhaps didn’t deserve to win. Comment away!

-Alex

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