Tag Archive: Eric Clapton


Honorable Mentions: 1970s

I’ve now covered the best albums of the ‘70s, but there are plenty of artists and bands that deserve some mention at least. Here are those that didn’t make the cut.

Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band (named after brothers Gregg and Duane), during the time that Duane was alive and shortly after, commanded the best and deepest understanding of what made the blues – and music in general – so great in the ‘70s. Cameron Crowe based a lot of the dynamic of the fictional band Stillwater from his bitter love letter to the music industry Almost Famous on ABB, and it’s easy to see the bickering brotherly relationship of Jeff and Russell in the actual brothers of Gregg and Duane.

Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, but not before recording the seminal rock/blues album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with Eric Clapton and the rest of Derek & the Dominos. After he died, the rest of the ABB carried on and recorded Brothers and Sisters. While not being a tribute album in the strictest sense, I can feel Duane’s spirit as being present throughout the entire thing. Dickey Betts, one of the ABB’s two remaining guitarists after Duane, played twice as well when he was thrust into the spotlight, and took a much more prominent songwriting role as well. Betts penned what is probably the best-known ABB song, “Ramblin’ Man,” first single from Brothers and Sisters. And I would wager that it’s not because Duane finally got out of the way so Dickey could take the lead, but rather because Dickey said, “I gotta step up my game to honor Duane’s memory.”

It’s very much like Dave Matthews Band. After phoning in the dismal Stand Up and almost completely losing their mojo, saxophonist Leroi Moore suddenly and tragically died. The rest of them then released the fantastic Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King with a new-found energy and drive. Why? They were playing not just for the memory of a fallen bandmate, but also because that tragedy had made them realize the gloriousness of what they do for a living. Both DMB and ABB commuted their mourning into great music, which is precisely what music is meant to do.

Queen

Queen

Alright, confession time… I don’t really like Queen.

Woah, calm down people! Put the pitchforks away! I think at this point I’ve proved my classic rock cred, so let’s be fair here. I fully recognize that Queen is a major influence to lots of artists of the last 30 years, some of whom I greatly respect. And I also respect Queen, and happily defer the title of Mightiest Vocalist Who Ever Lived to the late great Freddie Mercury.

That being said, their over-the-top, operatic style makes me cringe. To even call it a “style” seems wrong to me – it’s a musical ethos, a philosophy, and one that I very much disagree with. Queen’s main aim was to make everything bigger, more epic and more of a show than it actually was. But to me, that effort only made what they did seem cheesy, cheap, and robbed of any sense of authenticity. Many other people might label (and have labeled) songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and the groan-inducing “Princes of the Universe” as awesome, but they only make me shake my head.

Then there’s “We Are the Champions,” the worst offender of all. Every time I hear it, I simultaneously want to laugh derisively, cry hysterically, and hit an innocent bystander with a brick. But then I calm my humanity down, and remember something; here it is.

Jesus said “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it.” In “We Are the Champions,” I find a gigantic object lesson about this saying. You could almost change it to, “Whoever tries to be a champion will be a loser.” If you go around saying you’re the champion and you don’t have time for losers, not only will you eventually be the biggest loser of all, but you’re kinda being a douchebag on the way down. That’s what pisses me off the most about “We are the Champions”: the narrator is just such a jerk. If this guy says he doesn’t have time for losers, then I will happily be a loser. All the other losers he doesn’t have time for will get together and have a Loser Party, and Jesus will be hanging with us; I guarantee it.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd

I was raised in Massachusetts, and still live there, so it’s safe to say I don’t really understand people from the South. I see a Confederate Flag on the back of a pickup truck and I think, “Hmm, what’s it like to be a racist?” According to the Civil War mythology up here, the South are all a bunch of racists who were whining about us not letting them have slaves. Of course, down there, it’s not about slaves at all – it’s all about the North being on a power trip and trying to tell the South what to do. So of course, I look at bands with a heavy southern bent a little cockeyed. All of them piss me off a little with their attitude.

All except Lynyrd Skynyrd (and the aforementioned Allman Brothers Band). It doesn’t really make sense that I like them – they have heavy southern accents, don’t truck with the “less is more” ethos, and are pretty loud about their Confederate loyalty despite that the Civil War has been over for about 150 years.

But on a much more important level, it makes perfect sense. They make great music – that’s it, really. And as someone with fangirl tendencies when it comes to the electric guitar, I freely admit that when I listen to “Free Bird,” I feel a little like putting a Confederate flag bumper sticker on my Hyundai.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

So what do you do when you’ve been in five – count ‘em, FIVE – very successful bands (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos)? I dunno… go on to an even more successful solo career, maybe?

Even though it started a little before his final “band” experience, Eric Clapton is a more powerful force when he’s the star. Arguably, he was always the star. The only musician he played with outside of Cream that could keep up with him was Duane Allman from D&D. He’s very simply a guitar god; that fan who spray-painted CLAPTON IS GOD on a metal fence wasn’t wrong. And in addition to keeping the blues alive with his incredible albums From the Cradle and Me & Mr. Johnson, we also have him to thank for the much-covered pop classics “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears In Heaven.” And even though he hasn’t made an album on this list in his solo career, Eric is one of the musicians I most esteem and respect.

Rush

Rush

I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with Rush. My first experience with them is hearing “Tom Sawyer” when I was about 7. It was an electrifying experience, but every other Rush song has failed to live up. Besides that, there’s the unintentional silliness of their music. That statement probably greatly offends Rush worshippers (and there are a lot of them), but I can’t help it. Some of their music is just plain embarrassing – for the songs themselves, but even more so that this is some of the best-thought-of music rock and roll has to offer. “ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION. WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.” Seriously?

Balancing that is the album Moving Pictures. While I don’t see anything that’s world-endingly awesome (other than “Tom Sawyer”), I can’t really find a single flaw either.

There’s also an incident in their discography that caused me a lot of frustration when I heard about it. They recorded a two-part song called “Cygnus X-1.” Now, I’m all about multi-section compositions, and for that, Rush gets a thumbs-up. But they destroyed the good standing that earned them by putting the two sections on different albums, separated by almost 14 months. “Book I” is the last track on A Farewell to Kings in 1977, and “Book II” is the first track on Hemispheres in 1978. That’s kind of like an author writing “He stood up and saw that the murderer was-“ and ending the book there, then waiting 14 months before releasing another book, and starting it with the end of that sentence. Sure, it’s something Charles Dickens did all the time – that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The Clash

The Clash

In The Clash, we have punk music turned to a purpose other than just pooping all over everything. In The Clash, punk is a force for social and political change rather than merely an expression of the rage a disenfranchised generation felt. While The Sex Pistols and The Ramones were spitting on their audiences and crushing beer cans on their foreheads, The Clash were trying to improve the world.

That being said… meh. I’ve tried to drum up some excitement about their music, but in the end, I just shrug. It actually scares me a little, because I know that some people treat the members of the Clash almost as religious figures, and believe in their music the way suicide bombers believe Americans are infidels.

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac’s epic tale of love, sex, betrayal and sticking it out for the love of music is one of the things that drew me in to study music as more than just something to listen to. I remember watching VH1’s Behind the Music series when it first went on the air. Fleetwood Mac was one of the first ones. No band’s story in the whole of rock and roll has more human drama and literary conflict than that of Fleetwood Mac.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads

Talking Heads appeals to me because I have a slight appreciation for things that come out of left field. True, the fact that it’s weird isn’t enough for me – it also needs to be good. But Talking Heads, on the whole, satisfy both of those requirements. They lose their touch with their last few albums, but the pinnacle came in 1980 with Remain In Light. A daring uprooting of the band to Jamaica and an innovative musical approach are gambles that paid off and then some with this album. All the songs are based around a single chord and a 2- or 4-measure riff. On all eight songs, they don’t deviate from that chord. The idea sounds weird, and it is, but you can’t argue with success.

Next: I found my thrill on Solsbury Hill…

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs – Polydor Records – 11/21/1970

In a nutshell, most of Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs is about Pattie Boyd. While the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Eric Clapton over his unrequited love for Pattie is the centerpiece, that’s not the only thing going on. After all, Clapton wasn’t the only songwriter in Derek & the Dominos; Bobby Whitlock lends a bit of order to Eric’s barely controlled chaos.

“Tell the Truth” is an excellent rocker with country elements to it, loud and aggressive while still retaining a consistent groove. Whitlock wrote most of the lyrics, with Clapton only contributing the last verse. Whitlock’s voice, which takes more of a front seat here than on most other songs, is deep and sonorous. It lacks the desperate tone of Clapton’s, but it serves him well because he uses it in appropriate arenas.

Another song with hard-driving force yet beautiful grace, “Keep On Growing” has victory and joy in its melody. Clapton and Whitlock combine their songwriting forces here to make the most awesome song of their collaboration. It could also be noted that this song, as great as it is, was one of the few recorded before Duane Allman joined the band, so he doesn’t appear on it.

In a little switch for the cap (though it logically follows the long instrumental section of “Layla”), “Thorn Tree In the Garden,” is sweet and gentle. Whitlock’s voice switches modes to a sad and mournful tone. The band all sat in a circle on the floor with a single mic in the center for this one, a more chill method than usual.

Bobby Whitlock

Now, Whitlock has explained that “Thorn Tree” is about when he was forced by his landlord to get rid of his dog and cat. He brought the cat to Delaney Bramlett’s mom, but when he got back, he found his landlord had given the dog away without his permission. According to Whitlock himself, the song is about that event (his landlord being the “thorn tree”), but I have a different interpretation. Keep in mind that it’s not true; if it was, though, it be so much cooler that it being about a dog.

I imagine that “Thorn Tree In the Garden” is about the whole Eric/Pattie/George fiasco, 9 years in the future after Pattie has left George and Eric’s dreams of having Pattie for his own are fulfilled. But it’s from George’s perspective. The sadness and passive melancholy make sense in the context of a woman’s former lover, the woman having gone off to greener pastures. While George doesn’t understand why she left, he does understand that Pattie will be happier once she’s in the arms of another man. But that doesn’t stop George from missing her terribly. The “thorn tree” would of course be the man who stole his lover away; Eric, in this case. But the focus of the song is the garden (the girl), not the thorn tree.

Jimi Hendrix

Then there’s a piece that stands out from the rest of the album, a Jimi Hendrix cover called “Little Wing.” Hendrix was another one of Eric’s close friends. They had bonded back in Eric’s days with Cream, and Eric was one of the first musicians to make prominent use of the wah-wah pedal, an item he had been tipped off to by Jimi. “Little Wing,” at the time of the Dominos recording, was only 3 and a half years old, being the centerpiece of Axis: Bold As Love by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It’s a spacey and mystical slow-blues song, showing off Jimi’s distinctive guitar style. The Dominos’ take on it is significantly different, being loud and epic while losing none of the original’s beauty or cosmic wonder.

In a ridiculously eerie twist, “Little Wing” was recorded by the Dominos as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix about a week before he died. About two months before this record was released, Jimi died from choking on his own vomit after ODing on sleeping pills. Musicians and fans world over were shocked and saddened, not the least of which was Eric Clapton. “Little Wing” was one of the last songs recorded for Layla, and the bizarreness of the prophetic tribute could not have been lost on Clapton and the others.

On Monday: my own personal Layla.

Eric & Duane

August 26th, 1970. Producer Tom Dowd was in Criteria Studios in Miami, doing a record for Eric Clapton’s new band, something Eric formed out of the ashes of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. He had gotten together with D&B keyboardist Bobby Whitlock for some easy jamming over brews and joints, and they had been quickly joined by Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, D&B’s rhythm section. Dubbed Derek & the Dominos, Tom was recruited to man the boards for them after his success recording Idlewild South for the Allman Brothers Band.

That prodigious August afternoon, Tom received a call from Duane Allman, the Skydog himself, letting him know that the Allman Brothers Band would be in Miami playing a benefit concert that night. When Eric found out, he wanted to go.

“You mean that guy who plays on the back of ‘Hey Jude’?” (Wilson Pickett’s, not the Beatles’) “…I want to see him play… let’s go.”

The bunch of them went to the Allmans show that night, and managed to score seats in front of the front row barricade. When the Dominos came in, Skydog was playing a solo, eyes closed and lost in the glory of the blues. When Duane opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was Eric “Slowhand” Clapton, a famous name and godlike presence in the guitar world. And he was staring right at him. Duane froze. Luckily, the Allmans’ other lead guitarist Dickey Betts was right there to pick it up, but when Dickey followed Duane’s gaze to see what he was gaping at, he had to turn away to keep from freezing himself.

Clapton and Allman were two guitar Supermen, transcendent beings Nietzsche would have been proud of. If they had been different people with bigger egos, I think all of Miami would have sunk into the sea with the weight of their posturing, not to mention their talent. But that wasn’t how it went down. Instead, they each had an admiration and giddy excitement at seeing the other one play. Instead of arching their backs and showing their fangs, they both said “oh man, it’s Eric Clapton!” or “I can’t believe this… it’s Duane Allman!”

Slowhand and Skydog met after the show, talked some shop, and Duane said he’d love to come by the studio to check out what they were doing. Eric excitedly said, “Bring your guitar! You gotta play!” And like that, a musical brotherhood was born. Duane became an official member of Derek & the Dominos, and the two were inseparable for the entire recording of Layla. They talked shop, swapped guitars, and showed each other techniques. But the best thing was that they traded licks, calling and answering with their guitars in a fantastic partnership; and it’s all caught on tape for the generations to enjoy and learn from. Pay attention, you blooming guitarists; this is how it’s done.

“Key to the Highway,” the last track on the first half of this double album, contains the glory, beauty and excellent freedom of blues music in its Platonic form. Blues is all about having a basic progression that’s repeated, and improvising over it to creating a unique sound and musical experience not just with each song, but with each repeat of the form of a song. “Key to the Highway” is only 8 measures played over and over again. Yet no set of eight measures is the same because of the splendid element of the guitarists having no idea where they’re going, what comes next, or where it will end. They only know that when the 8 measures are up, the song will start over again, and so can they.

The recording of it came by happy accident. 60s camp artist Sam the Sham was recording “Key to the Highway” in the studio room next door for his album Hard and Heavy. The band recognized it (it’s an old blues standard first recorded by Charles Seger in 1940), and they just started playing it improv-style. After they got going, Tom Dowd started recording. The jam apparently goes on for about 15 minutes before what’s on the album actually starts.

I can imagine “Key to the Highway” going on forever; no beginning, no end. The musicians never tire, never sweat, never get bored or let their minds wander. It’s a picture of heaven for me. I’ve heard lots of things from lots of people about heaven, but my  mom’s description is the one that sticks with me. She says heaven will be all God’s children singing endless praise to him, ceaselessly giving him the glory due his name in a progression that never stops. To complete that picture, I use “Key to the Highway.” When we get to heaven, we will never get tired of playing those 8 measures.

Love Story

From the first time a caveman scratched a burnt stick on a wall, art has been made about a few basic subjects. The struggle for survival (man vs. nature) is a popular theme, as is the creation of the universe. It may have taken a little time to develop, but a motif that’s even stronger and more prevalent, I think, is the classic quest of a lover to win their love. That’s a story that’s been told literally millions of times, and that’s for two reasons. The first is that it’s applicable to nearly everyone. No one doesn’t know the pain, yearning and joy of striving for something of highest value. The second is that it can be told an infinite number of ways. The star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet), the love triangle (Nikolai, Sonya and Marya in War and Peace), the unrequited obsession (Eponine in Les Miserables), the rescue (Superman), the stalker (Erik in Phantom of the Opera), or the woman worth going to war over (The Iliad).

Stories are always more compelling if they really happened. Movies bandy about the term “based on true events” even if the movie shares only the most extremely tangential relation to the facts. It’s because there’s something that automatically ups the drama if there’s a hint of it being reality.

George Harrison & Pattie Boyd, 1969

Cut to 1970 Britain. George Harrison is in wedded bliss with his beautiful bride of 3 years, Pattie Boyd. The “bliss,” however, is a fiction; as George’s interest in Eastern religion is growing, so is the rift between him and his wife. George is quickly becoming distant and strange, morphing into someone Pattie never would have married. But she remains committed to him, and despite the rift, there is still much love between the two. There some rather beautiful moments, not the least of which is the recording of “For You Blue,” a no-brainer blues number that George wrote quickly that illustrates nothing more complicated or less marvelous than a man’s adoring love for his wife.

Parallel to that is the story of Eric Clapton. During the mid to late 60s, he had scaled the heights of stardom almost as high as George and the other Beatles, first gaining notoriety with the Yardbirds, and really showing the world what he could do as one third of Cream. Being already on the mountaintop, George naturally befriended Eric when he reached that high. Eric played lead guitar on the Beatles track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 1968, they worked together to pen the Cream track “Badge” in 1969, and Eric and George became the best of friends.

Eric Clapton, 1970

What makes this story 50x more compelling than that is Pattie. To use a somewhat antiquated phrase, Pattie was a knockout. Her profession, other than Beatlewife, was as a model. Eric met George and became attached to him, but not nearly as much as to Pattie. For certain people, forbidden fruit is much more appetizing, increased by the severity of the forbidding. Call it cliché, but there’s little more forbidden than another man’s wife. The cliché holds true for Eric and Pattie. He was crazy about her.

Eric was feeling the tension between desire that drives you bonkers and loyalty that doesn’t budge. His reaction to the war inside his head and heart was one of the worst things you can do in this situation, or any. Heroin fixes things temporarily, but only makes them worse when the high wears off. Eric tried to distract himself from one woman who had control of his life by giving control to another. Which is worse? The pain of addiction, or the ache of a heart that breaks every day? Drugs or unrequited love?

It all sounds like something out of a drug store romance paperback, doesn’t it?

Eric was serving third mistress, as well; music. Unlike the other two, this one cradles you when you hurt, whispers in your ear when you’re trapped in silence, and always stands beside you when all your other mistresses are gone. Just as Eric used heroin to dull his pain, he channeled it into music. And the blues is a singularly awesome thing to channel that particular type of pain in to. Thus, in 1970, he delivered to the world Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs.

Duane Allman

After the bitter disintegration of Cream, Eric tried to capture lightning in a bottle with the supergroup Blind Faith. That band toppled over with the weight of its own stardom after one album, but Eric wasn’t ready to give up. He tried again by recruiting two old buddies who played for Delany & Bonnie and taking advantage of a chance crossing with Duane Allman, a rising star who played American yin to Clapton’s British yang. Duane had equal chops to Eric, and their different approaches to the six-string combined in a cosmic brilliance to create something that was so much more than the sum of its parts.

The final piece of the puzzle was the name of the group. They were originally called Eric and the Dynamos, but the announcer at their first public gig screwed it up by saying “Derek and the Dominos.” It turned out to be a happy accident, since Clapton had some misgivings about pasting his famous name to his new band. People might think it was another supergroup, and the problem with Blind Faith was that it withered under the hot sun of media focus. What better solution that the red herring of Derek? Done.

Their one contribution was Layla, and Clapton poured every ounce of pain, yearning, and hopeless angst into that one album. And let me tell you… it’s really something to behold.

Mother Mary

My own novelization of Let It Be might center on Paul, John and Yoko and the triangle of love/hate there, but that certainly wasn’t the only thing going on. Over the course of Beatles history, what commonly happened was John and Paul getting all the attention, both because of their individual brilliance and their feud. Because of that, George and Ringo get pushed to the side. Ringo seemed fine with that, but it had to be a disappointing thing for George.

He did actually have contributions to make, and he made them. Sgt. Pepper would have been very different (and not even close to as great) had “Within You Without You” not been there; it’s the peaceful eye that the storm of the album revolves around. Likewise, Let It Be would be incomplete without a word (or two) from George.

The first is “I Me Mine.” The popular theory is that George wrote it about Paul’s increasing control over the Beatles, and his troubling obsession with himself. The second is “For You Blue,” a bluesy ditty that’s both simple and beautiful. The whole thing follows the I-IV-V pattern, commonly called a twelve bar blues. George wrote it for his wife Patty Boyd.

Patty Boyd w/ George

If you wanna talk about love triangles, there’s one that’s even better than the Paul/John/Yoko one, and that’s George/Patty/Eric.  George Harrison and Eric Clapton were best friends; Eric played lead guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in ’68, and George played rhythm guitar on Cream’s “Badge” in ’69, co-writing the song with Eric. Patty, in the course of time, was married to both of them. At the time that “For You Blue” was released, George and Patty had been married for 4 years, and Eric was desperately, pathetically and devastatingly in love with Patty. This produced the album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs from Derek & the Dominos later in the year. I’ll talk more about the Patty Chronicle when I cover Layla.

Right smack in the middle of the album, there what I think would have been a very fitting closing song to both the album and the Beatles’ career in general. The song “Let It Be” is gentle and melancholy. The lyrics speak of letting things go and moving on with a smile, and learning what you can from experiences. On Let It Be… Naked, Paul resequenced the album, and put the title song last.

My mom hates “Let It Be.” The mention of “Mother Mary” and the fact that she “comes” to the listener (as if in a dream), is something she finds laughable and ridiculous. Personally, I tend to agree with her about Mary. I don’t want to speak ill of Catholic traditions, since Catholicism is something I respect deeply, but I’ve never understood the deification and worship of Mary. The Bible warns up down and sideways against idol worship – it didn’t work out too well for the Israelites in Exodus, for instance. As far as I understand it (and any Catholic can feel free to correct me), the logic is that since Jesus is sinless, his mother must also be sinless, thus Mary is of equal standing to Jesus, and is worshipped. The problem I see with that is that Mary’s mother must also be sinless, and her mother, and HER mother, and so on. How many sinless people can there BE, for crying out loud??

Anyway, if “Mother Mary” actually referred to the mother of Jesus, I would agree with my mom; but it doesn’t.  Paul wrote “Mother Mary” to mean his mother, whose name was actually Mary. He must have thought the double meaning was pretty cool, but John didn’t. He thought the Christian overtones and the obviousness of them to be beneath the Beatles. He did two things about it. First, he recorded a snippet of him saying in a mocking voice “and now we’d like to do ‘Hark, the Angles Come!’” just before the recording of “Let It Be,” and made sure it got on the album. Second, he also made sure “Maggie Mae” got on the album, too, and immediately followed “Let It Be.” “Maggie Mae” is a traditional piece, the unofficial anthem of the Beatles’ hometown, Liverpool. The central character in the song is a prostitute who steals from her johns.

For the Beatles, the end really came earlier, and was signaled by the song “The End,” the penultimate track on Abbey Road. It may have come out 7 months before what was arguably their “last” album,” but the material on Abbey Road was recorded after all the stuff on Let It Be. So in reality, Abbey Road is their “last” album; Let It Be is merely a look back. However, that look back is quite the look.

Farewell, Beatles; you served us well.

Honorable Mentions: 1960s

Now that I’ve covered the 60s, I should take a moment to acknowledge important artists from the era whose albums didn’t make the cut.

The Who

The Who, while a great band, have made relatively few songs that really reach out and grab me. They’re somewhat less accessible than fellow 60s heavies despite their super-famous status. Alas, that status probably comes less from their actual musical merits and more from their sheer volume, instrument-smashing antics and wild, crazy behavior, especially of drummer Keith Moon. For his part, Moon was one of the most brilliant and innovative rock drummers to ever to bless this earth, but it seemed his flame just burned too brightly; it quickly burned out.

Pete Townshend, on the other hand (and I may get in trouble for this) is severely overrated. Sure, he’s written some great tunes; “Baba O’Reilly” is a great little slice of adolescent recklessness. But point me to even one Who song that displays guitar prowess that couldn’t be precisely duplicated by a 7th-grader

Tommy

The Who’s boldest, most notable statement is Tommy, a two-disc rock opera which would work just as well as a Broadway musical as an album. Obviously I’m not the first to think so, since the musical theater version of it premiered in San Diego in 1992. It’s the story of a young boy who, after witnessing the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, becomes deaf, blind and mute. He suffers abuse from various family members, including his sadistic cousin, moronically religious parents and pedophilic uncle. It’s eventually discovered that he has an affinity for pinball, and this (for some reason…) leads people to think he’s some sort of messiah. Honestly, that’s where the story loses me; that idea is too ridiculous for me to reconcile. The plot after this point becomes messy, undirected, and pretty stupid. Some of the music is pretty awesome, but for the most part, it’s pulled down by Tommy’s harebrained story.

I know the Who is one of the most touted rock bands ever, holds the record for loudest concert, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility; I know all that. But I listen to most of their music and just shrug. Most of it seems too dramatic, too forced, or too operatic.

Cream

Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton

I was 15 when I first started playing guitar, and that was when I was in the throes of Smashing Pumpkins fandom, among other modern rock interests. My dad cringed a little at my musical tastes, but his response was one of the most positive things possible: he pointed me towards “real” guitarists, and hoped that they would shape my guitar style rather than my more modern heroes. In part, it worked. I got a Cream greatest hits CD the same Christmas I got my first electric guitar. On the first spin of that album and the first time I heard “Sunshine of Your Love,” my ears pricked up in interest, which is what my dad thought would happen.

Cream’s biggest personality was Eric Clapton, though saying it was Clapton’s band is doing a grave disservice to the 2 other astounding musicians in that group. Jack Bruce pioneered the idea of bass guitar being used as the main rhythm method (no rhythm guitar). Then there’s Ginger Baker. He and Keith Moon serve as inspiration for Animal from The Muppet Show When I listen to the Wheels of Fire version of “Toad,” I can just see him going crazy on his kit. He must be using his head to crash the cymbals.

But the greatness and godhood of Clapton can’t be denied. He was the first guitar deity I ever prayed to, the first leader to win my allegiance. Though the height of his powers was the magical and heart-wrenching Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & the Dominos, the genesis of his fame lies with Cream.

Even so, Cream had too short a history to make an album that was worth being on this list. If they hadn’t broken up when they did, the rock renaissance of the 70s would have lifted them up to the golden heights, and they may have brought a new definition to what rock music could be, could say, and could stand for. But as it stands, they’re an interesting footnote at best, with sadness at unfulfilled potential as their hallmark.

The Doors

My entrance into college life was achingly stereotypical. I packed up all my stuff in my family’s SUV, and my dad drove with me and my mom the two hours east to Quincy, MA. They moved me in, they dropped me off, they gave me hugs, and they left. But during move-in, I met my first college roommate, named Colin. He had sideburns, a smile that said he was up to something, and wore a Blues Brothers style hat and sunglasses; he looked like John Belushi, only not as fat. We only lived together for about a week before I moved out due to irreconcilable differences, but he remains one of my friends.

Colin was a Doors fan, and before then, I hadn’t really been exposed. He insisted that the Doors were a blues band, pointing to “Roadhouse Blues” as a principle example. Blues they’re not, but what they are is one of the most psychedelic bands ever to walk/talk/tour. When you hear a Doors song, you know it, mostly because of Jim Morrison’s mix of southern drawl and screaming howl, or Ray Manzerek’s distinctive organ-playing.

Jim is one of the major members of the 27 Club, a group of musicians who died at the age of 27. He’s the only member of the club whose death still remains a bit of a mystery. He was found by his longtime girlfriend in the bathtub, and no autopsy was performed. Alcohol or drugs or both are popularly thought to be a contributing factor, Jim’s history being what it was, but no one actually know save his girlfriend and the coroner who handled his body. Some even doubt he’s really dead….

Bob Dylan

I know, I know; Bob Dylan’s a legend. He’s a pioneer, he’s foundational, and about 90% of today’s musicians simply wouldn’t exist were it not for him. I know all that. But with the exception of 2 or 3 songs, I don’t like him. His voice sounds like a geriatric duck squawking while a pickup truck repeatedly runs it over. I fully recognize that he’s written some of the greatest songs that have ever existed. I wish by all that is holy that he would NOT try to sing them. Mr. Zimmerman, I’m not trying to malign you as a person, but for God’s sake take a vow of silence. Thank you.

The Mothers of Invention

Frank Zappa must have been an alien. That’s the only way to explain his totally original thinking, his utter lack of conformity, and his daring, nothing-is-sacred attitude about musical norms and styles. When my friend Mike played me to “Call Any Vegetable,” there are many words to describe my emotions: shocked, confused, irritated, intrigued, dismayed, amused, and weirded out start to cover it. The only thing I can say is that The Mothers of Invention (Frank’s band), are among the most – scratch that – THE most original band of the 60s – scratch that – of the 60s and 70s – scratch that – EVER. (Footnote: “original” doesn’t always equal “good”)

The Beach Boys

According to my parents and sister, I got would regularly get up on the coffee table when I was 3 and dance my heart out to the Beach Boys, sometimes pretending it was a surfboard. I question the veracity of these claims, but that is neither here nor there. The fact remains that the Beach Boys more than an early musical influence to me; they very well may have been the first music I ever heard.

However, they don’t make the cut. Their early output is just beach-oriented airwave filler, and I’m frustrated that, like early Beatles and Stones records, it takes them awhile to get the concept of a unified album. But more than those things, they simple aren’t people I look back on through the annuls of history and say, “I love those guys.” That, and I can’t stand “Kokomo;” every time I hear it I want to bludgeon someone to death.

Canned Heat

Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, Bob “The Bear” Hite

A lot of people know the “Goin’ Up the Country” song, but have no idea who sang it. I’ll set the record straight; it was Canned Heat, a simple and no-frills blues and boogie outfit that saw its best days in the late 60s. It’s kind of a shame that “Goin’ Up the Country” is their most famous tune, since it’s most certainly not their best. It also doesn’t feature Bob “The Bear” Hite on vocals, their main singer, a dynamic and charismatic frontman. The lead is instead sung by Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, the lead guitarist and sometime singer.

Where the Bear was rotund and a husky tenor, Blind Owl was pale and pretty, with a reedy alto voice. What could have made Canned Heat great was if they used the interplay between the two singers. I think it could have been very interesting had the Bear and Blind Owl taken duets or back and forth, but as it was, they just traded off songs; sad.

Alan Wilson is yet another member of the 27 Club, though far less well known. He died of a drug overdose in 1970. The reason he doesn’t get the play other Club members get is that he was an unobtrusive member of a semi-famous band; also sad.

Once again, Canned Heat could have been awesome had circumstance allowed them to continue unhindered, but God obviously had other plans for Blind Owl. For the Bear, as well; he died in 1981.

On Monday: A visit from the red guy with horns; he’s bringing his pitchfork.

The White Album is an exercise in “kitchen sink” mentality, being that during its production, the Beatles threw everything they could think of at it, including the kitchen sink. After “Revolution 1” comes the second cheesiest song on the entire album, “Honey Pie.” It’s a tribute to British music hall of the 19th and early 20th century. It even features crackles from a 78 RPM record in the intro. This song doesn’t appeal to me. Not only am I too far removed from the music hall era for the homage to work nostalgia in my ears, but it’s so heavy-handed that it just comes off as cheap.

George makes his final appearance as vocalist and songwriter on “Savoy Truffle.” It was written about George’s dear friend Eric Clapton, who both guest starred on guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and was simultaneously pining hopelessly away for George’s wife, Patty Boyd. But “Savoy Truffle isn’t about any of that; it’s about Eric’s love of sweets. About 50%of the lyrics are directly derived from a box of Mackintosh’s Good News chocolates. Clapton is a passionate man, and his passions translated directly into addictions: for chocolate, for sex, for drugs, and for romance. He was a man that was truly at the complete mercy of his vices. “Savoy Truffle” is just about one of those vices, but can be viewed as a character study of Eric Clapton in miniature.

Interpretations of “Cry Baby Cry” are few, and most are met with the furrowed brow of skepticism. My own is somewhat lame, but here it is. The King, Queen, Duke and Duchess, all being adults, do things that the children think are ridiculous, and the behavior of the children makes the adults “sigh.” It puts the dissension between the generations that was so prevalent in the late 60s (see Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel) in fantasy and allegorical words.

the “cry baby” from TV’s Firefly

Interesting geek side note. In Joss Whedon’s stupendous but short-lived sci-fi TV series Firefly, there is a device the crew of smuggling ship Serenity uses to distract government ships from their presence by sending out a fake distress signal from the opposite direction. It’s called a Cry Baby. To order its use, Captain Reynolds radios the pilot and says, “Cry baby cry,” to which Wash the pilot responds, “Make your mother sigh!” It probably flies by a lot of people, but I always notice it.

After “Cry Baby Cry” comes the secret song that’s appended to it, called by most fans “Can You Take Me Back.” Then comes “Revolution 9” and its 8 and a half minutes of strangeness. Finally, The White Album comes to a close with “Good Night.” It’s right in front of “Honey Pie” as the cheesiest song on here, purposefully made so by John. It features Ringo’s second turn as lead vocalist, which fits the maudlin feel. John wrote “Good Night” as a lullaby for Julian, though it’s mostly the work of producer George Martin. He made the orchestration full-bodied and incredibly over the top, like a Golden Age of Hollywood musical number. And with that, the White Album is over.

As you can see, John and Paul are taking a wide scatter-shot approach with this record. In a way, it’s very disjointed, jumping from one style to the next and to the next in a wild, unpredictable fashion. It may seem like disjointedness at times, but the real genius of The White Album comes when you take a few steps back and look at the entire picture. This is the first album (and there have only been a few since) that has a “kitchen sink” mentality, truly counting nothing as an impossibility. The vast majority of musicians limit themselves to what they can do well and what is comfortable for them. This is not a bad thing; I don’t say to Lady Gaga or the Kings of Leon, “you didn’t make the White Album, so why’d you even bother?” But the fact that the logical standard for an album is fairly limited makes albums like The White Album even more remarkable. The Beatles dared to stretch themselves beyond their apparent capacity and found that they hadn’t even hit the ceiling yet. Just by itself, that’s inspiring.

Tomorrow: Charlie Manson’s crazy-talk

Facebook has a feature that notifies you when today is the birthday of one of your friends. In the morning, if there’s anyone who’s celebrating the anniversary of their entering into the world, I post on their wall a link to a YouTube video that I have bookmarked. It’s a silly, ridiculous Flash music video to the Beatles song “Birthday.” I’ve become rather dissatisfied with just posting the words “happy birthday” on someone’s wall and leaving it at that; my reasoning is “everybody does that, and I wanna be different.” Here’s a place where my desire to be different merely for the sake of it has good results, because it will almost assuredly bring a smile to someone else’s face.

Right after the exuberant burst that is “Birthday,” the second half of The White Album goes into the second true blues John offering, aptly called “Yer Blues.” John wails that he’s lonely and that he wants to die like any blues singer should. It doesn’t end there, though. The song also has an extra beat during one measure of the chorus, setting it just slightly off-balance.

The Dirty Mac

It’s worth mentioning the Dirty Mac here. That’s a supergroup that formed for one night only to perform “Yer Blues” and a jam called “Whole Lotta Yoko.” It consisted of John Lennon on vocals and guitar, Eric Clapton on lead, Keith Richards on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums. John put them together for the celebrity-studded Rolling Stones TV special Rock and Roll Circus. The Dirty Mac is an example of a philosophy I try to live my life by: be aware of moments, enjoy them, and let them pass. Some moments are like wild birds that can’t be caged – they’re feather are just too bright. (shout-out to my boy Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption)

“Mother Nature’s Son” is about a lecture the Maharishi gave while the Beatles were in India. The whole song boils down to “Paul likes nature;” it is pretty, though.

Then comes “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” This wins the award for the Beatles song with the longest title. I was recently at a New Year’s Eve party thrown by my wife’s parents. Franz, one of their friends, told me a story of a professor he had in college who was obsessed with the Beatles, and defied his students to ask a Beatles-related question that would stump him. If they succeeded, he would give them some reward, like changing their lowest quiz score to a 100% or something. Anyway, Franz did it with the longest Beatles song title. He was very impressed that I guessed right with “Monkey.” If I was that professor’s student, it would be really cool if he taught something I’m horrible at so I could coast through on my Beatles knowledge alone.

The Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

In “Sexy Sadie,” originally titled “Maharishi,” John unleashes all his vitriol from the India experience, namely his disillusionment with the Maharishi himself. Sometimes I think their trip to Rishikesh was less of a spiritual awakening and more of a soap opera.  The main beef was that John believed (at the time) that Yogi had made sexual advances to more than one woman at the retreat. John even confronted the Maharashi about it, to which he responded simply, “I am only human.” Not exactly damning evidence, but not a denial either. “Maharishi” was written right when John got back to England. He demoed it for the other Beatles, apparently with different and much angrier lyrics. George insisted that if it was included on the album, it have a different title, to which John agreed.

The next song, “Helter Skelter,” is another pinnacle for the Beatles, being their hardest and most metal-like song. It stands out very starkly not only on The White Album, but in Paul’s songwriting altogether. Just think about other Paul songs on the White Album: “Martha My Dear,” “Honey Pie,” “I Will,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Rocky Raccoon.” They’re all cutesy and upbeat. Then, factor in some of Paul’s other work: “Hold Me Tight,” “All My Loving,” “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Hello, Goodbye,” “P.S. I Love You,” “The Long and Winding Road.” Seeing a pattern? Paul wanted to prove (not sure to whom, but probably to himself, chiefly) that he could write a song outside the scope of a ballad, a song that was the utter opposite of a “silly love song.”

Helter skelter” means in British slang “confused” or “confusedly,” and is also a falling from a high place to a low. The fall of the Roman Empire is a good example. It’s also a popular British spiraling slide amusement park ride. I think Paul did a pretty good job; “Helter Skelter” adds a new dimension to an otherwise pretty tame band volume-wise.

We’re on the third side, so a George song is nearly perfunctory. Also perfunctory is the actual third George song, called “Long, Long, Long.” Too quiet in the beginning, too inconsistent throughout, and tuneless on the whole, it’s a wholly forgettable moment.

I imagine you’re spitting out your drinks that I haven’t mentioned Charles Manson yet. Don’t worry, I will.

Get it? I will? “I Will?” …Anybody? Is this thing on?