Sunday, August 10, 2008

This Post Was Written in the...
Heat Of The Moment...

Note: I've been told that I should write more music posts. Like this, perhaps?

Remember the old Glen Campbell song, "By The Time I Get To Phoenix"? That is one of the saddest songs ever written; the words echo with pain, disappointment and the disillusionment of a relationship that didn't work out. Glen Campbell's version was close to 3 minutes long. Now, can you imagine an 18-minute version of that song, complete with dramatic narrative, relating the story of a young man who'd tried to leave his sweetheart time and time again, but he just couldn't bring himself to go...but finally, he left...heading eastward from California, going thru Phoenix, Alberquerque, and at last count, he was heading thru Oklahoma to somewhere else...

Isaac Hayes died today at age 65. And he's the guy who did that l-o-n-g version of "Phoenix". The story itself consumes close to 3/4's of the song, as it begins with a hushed little 'tick' on the cymbal, then a keyboard holding one low-registered note floats in, and over that backdrop Hayes weaves his spell, taking that song through emotional undulations that Glen Campbell's version, great as it was, could only hint at. And by the time You make Oklahoma, you feel like your whole world has collapsed in a heap somewhere far behind you. I can't begin to convey the sense of controlled despair that permeates Mr. Hayes' version of that song. It's simply amazing. He did that on other tunes...a 12-minute version of Dionne Warwick's big hit, "Walk On By", and he takes another 10 minutes to essay a burning love he's had for a certain lady for a long time as he finally collapses in a heap at her feet, confessing all; the song is the old soul classic, "I Stand Accused"...some may say Hayes' approach was overwrought and over-dramatic, well, maybe. But give this music half a chance and it'll grab ya, as it did me so long ago.

This is the "Hot Buttered Soul" album, released 1970, which contains Isaac Hayes' version of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". A one-of-a-kind statement from a master. Like so many others, I hadn't even heard of Isaac Hayes until his "Theme From Shaft" came out in 1971, and I was hooked on that ultra-syncopated backbeat with wah-wah guitar...mmm, a tasty musical recipe anytime. So when, later on, I had seen Earlier Isaac Hayes Albums with Long Songs on them (always a fascination of mine), I bought 'em unheard, and just loved 'em. Still do. Back in the '60s, Hayes, along with David Porter, wrote "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'", both which were big hits for Sam and Dave. So Hayes had a whole 'nother career before he began releasing records under his own name. I'm sad that Hayes is gone; he was a relatively young 65. He'll be up there in Rock and Roll Heaven...or perhaps if there's a Heavenly "Soul Train", he'll be the conductor.

This next artist passed away back in 1964, but he certainly left his mark, and even though he was known primarily as a singer, and had a ton of hits with mellow middle-of-the-road material, waaaay back when, he was an ultra-hot pianist with his own little combo, and could he ever play and sing the blues. I remember hearing Nat "King" Cole records on the radio when I was a kid; things like "Ramblin' Rose" and "Lazy-Crazy-Hazy Days Of Summer"...and I thot he had a good voice...later on, while still in my formative years, I'd gone to a junk store and found a 78 by the "King Cole Trio" and I wondered if that was the same...sure sounded like him, and indeed, it was. I guess the record companies, in the '50s and '60s, were going for more mellow, middle-of-the-road, mainstream material (don't you hate it when record companies do that?), and so in the later stages of his career, well, ol' Nat didn't play all that much piano anymore. But in the late 1950's, his public was clamoring for some of that Nat King Cole Trio music, you know, the jazzy/bluesy stuff that was so much fun to hear, and that's when this album was've got to realize he recorded it after his sugary songs "Too Young", "Mona Lisa" and "Unforgettable" had hit the charts. So, this album is a step backwards...and yet a step forwards...

This album is best known for Bobby Troup's song, "Route '66", which Nat had a hit with. And if you find yourself tapping your foot to that tune, the rest of this album is like that. It's easy to imagine yourself sitting at a corner-table in a dark, smoky bar, 'After Midnight', listening to Nat tickle the ivories. And, as YouTube videos of his old performances show, he was One Great Piano Player, a fact that Capitol Records successfully hid from me until I began digging thru the past. This record comes highly recommended. It's really great. Because He was so great. In searching for the cover art online, I found that a CD is now available of the "Complete 'After Midnight' Sessions." Hoo-boy; looks like I'm gonna have to get the CD version now. It's got songs my record doesn't have! (Which is how the CD-reissue industry makes a lot of its money.)

Imagine a music group that features all of your musical might think of The Traveling Wilburys, which featured George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne (leader of ELO) and Tom Petty...having those 5 names together in one group was enough to send heads spinning...and wow, their music is great. Well, I have another supergroup for ya; the names aren't quite as big, but if you were a fan of such "progressive" bands as Yes, Emerson-Lake-&-Palmer and King Crimson, imagine those three bands merging together with a sound that is "arty" yet mainstream, without being annoying as some pop music can be. Such a group was ASIA...the group brought together Steve Howe, guitarist extraordinaire of YES; Carl Palmer, manic drummer for Emerson, Lake and Palmer; John Wetton, who sang and played bass for a later lineup of King Crimson before joining the British prog-rock group "U.K.", and Geoff Downes, who was known for playing keyboards for a later version of "Yes", and who'd long been involved in the British Music Scene.

"Asia"'s music initially hit big in 1982, with "Heat Of The Moment" and "Only Time Will Tell", and their first album, indeed, all their albums were just jam-packed with quality music; tuneful, dignified, melodic, and most of all, rocking. I just loved that sound. I've always loved bands with Keyboards/Synthesizers; it adds such a rich flavor to their music. The original lineup of Asia recorded three albums back in the '80s; "Asia", "Alpha" and "Astra", before one or another of the group parted ways for various reasons; still, the band kept going with new members, releasing CD's thru the late '80s and early '90s, and that music is good as well; I've heard some of it. Remember when the group "Yes" would change members from time to time, and yet the "Sound" of 'Yes' remained intact; much the same was also true for "Asia". So anyway, time moves forward and marches on, I hadn't heard anything about "Asia" for a while; indeed, I'd forgotten all about them, until I was in a Wal-Mart (yeah, "I Stand Accused") and upon my wandering back to the music section, I saw this CD on display, front-and-center...

Asia. "Phoenix". Oh Yeahhhhh? YEAH. Cool! With a little red sticker saying "first recording by the ORIGINAL 'Asia' in two decades". How about that. You bet I bought it. After all, I was such a fan of the stellar musicianship of Wetton, Howe, Palmer and Downes and all of the bands they were involved in, before or after "Asia". I played this new "Asia" album twice the other night, and once again, Not A Bad Track On It. "Phoenix" contains some insightful music from these old guys, and boy, is it ever tasty. One song, "Never Again" advocates peaceful coexistence, which this world needs so badly; the final song, "An Extraordinary Life", is especially poignant, seeing as how John Wetton, the singer/bassist, has had heart problems, culminating in open-heart surgery, and my best goes out to him. Meanwhile, guitarist Steve Howe, who has probably Never Played An Easy Song In His Entire Life, has also been appearing and recording with his original group, "Yes", and it would appear he has concurrent membership in "Yes" and "Asia". I could never hope to play like these guys, but wow, are they ever great to listen to.

So what exactly is "progressive rock"? I tend to think of it as ornate, with classical touches and complex arrangements, the kind of music that consists of a Whole Lot More than three chords, and it's also idealistically intelligent. Some prog-rock goes right over my head (which often happens with "Yes"), but even if it does, it just SOUNDS good. Other prog-rock bands would be Genesis, Kansas, The Moody Blues (to a point), U.K., Electric Light Orchestra (on their early albums), Ambrosia (here and there), Deep Purple (during their early 'Tetragrammaton' period), and oh yes, another of my favorites, Manfred Mann's Earth Band.


Blogger raymond pert said...

I read about Isaac Hayes' death in the paper this morning. The first thing I thought of was, of course, "The Theme from Shaft". But my memory immediately moved to "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". I dug that long soulful version, too. I think it took a lot of guts for Hayes to make those songs into the long narratives and sung songs he did. This is a great post. I have to go or I'd share some of my high regard for Asia, NK Cole, etc., too. Maybe I'll be back.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

What a great post. Some of the info I knew, most I did not. As always, enlightening and enjoyable.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Idaho Escapee said...

Hallo, Raypert...I admire Really Unique Performers, and Isaac Hayes truly was. He had a talent for deep, extended, thoughtful soul workouts...The definition of "cool" has just got to include Isaac Hayes.

Ms. Dogwalker...what with the Internet and all, any info I know is out there for anyone to find it out. I began acquiring what little I know long before Al Gore invented the 'net. I've always enjoyed sharing music; turning people on to new, or different, stuff. Glad you enjoyed it, although I doubt if my writings are very 'enlightening'...

10:29 PM  

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