Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It took me some time to appreciate the genius of Marvin Gaye. Of course, like most people growing up in the 80’s, I had been inundated with various Marvin Gaye duets and songs on the oldies stations my parents would play. It was only after listening to a cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine by The Slits in my late teens that I decided to seek out the originals. And what a treat that was. What’s Going On marked the dawn of the 70’s for Marvin Gaye. In fact, the song was deemed too political and was almost not released. Fortunately, Marvin stuck to his guns and refused to record or release anything else unless this song was released as a single. January 20, 1971 saw the official release of the song – it had been recorded 6 months earlier. The song is directly inspired by – and addresses – police brutality as witnessed by Obie Benson of the Four Tops. Vocally, it is one of the best performances of Gaye’s career. His voice pulls off the trick of sounding relaxed, emotional, and pained – sometimes within the same sentence. Musically, this is classic soul – infectious beats and a strong, strong melody. Lyrically, it is timeless – and modern. Unfortunately so. “Don’t punish me with brutality / Talk to me / So you can see / What’s going on”. On the full album, the song segues into What’s Happening Brother – the songs tied together lyrically with the beat acting as a segue between the tunes. Embedded below is a live performance of both masterful songs.

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There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star by Rich Tupica

The legend of Big Star – and the solo careers of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton – came to me sometime in the mid 90’s while I was deep in my pseudo intellectual elitist underground band phase. The idea that this deeply emotional – spiritual, even – music failed to make an impact when released intrigued me. Big Star’s #1 Record is the only Big Star album to feature Chris Bell, one of the band’s founders who would go onto lead an interesting life in the 70’s and unfortunately became a member of the “27 Club” after a car wreck in 1978. His solo recordings were released posthumously on the 1992 compilation I Am the Cosmos. Alex Chilton gained notoriety for his prickly personality, his association with the punk scene, his drug fueled sessions for Big Star’s Third / Sister Lovers, and basically being dismissive of Big Star for most of his life. I like Alex Chilton – respect him, like most of his music, and am appreciative of his contributions to the Big Star legacy. I LOVE Chris Bell with all my heart. The 1st time I heard his solo music, it was an eye-opening experience. Pain, spirituality, longing, and romance all seemed to coexist within these songs. They spoke to me on a visceral level in a way that I’ve experienced with only a few other artists. This book takes various interviews conducted over the last 45+ years and tells the narrative of the Big Star story with a focus on Chris Bell. It features countless photos that haven’t been seen before and a unique perspective that makes the reader feel a part of the story. Chris Bell is still gaining fans in the modern era which is an incredible feat for someone who sold so few records in his lifetime. The book outlines what was happening with Big Star after Chris left the band and explores what Chris was doing in those years. Not just a music based biography – this is an interesting overview of his entire life.  There have been a few other Big Star books that I enjoyed – this one is the best of the lot. People close to Chris have done well preserving, building up, and promoting his legacy and genius. The book is available here and the 1st printing is a limited run of 500. I highly recommend it.

Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

I’ve long been a David Lynch fan – dating back to my early teens in the early 90’s. His films entranced me – exploring the seedy side of life, love, sex, & violence. I was also drawn to the sometimes subtle humor in his films – quirky with small town vibes. Room to Dream operates as an autobiography AND biography. Kristine McKenna writes a chapter – and was given almost unlimited access to people from Lynch’s life – while David Lynch follows up with his perspectives on that chapter. It is an engaging read that gives light to many of Lynch’s inspirations. Of particular note to me was that the 2 years that David Lynch spent in Philadelphia in the late 60’s has influenced each and every work. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I never realized that before. The diner from Twin Peaks makes a whole lot of sense now – it is a throwback to those glorious diners of Philadelphia (I’ve spent quite a bit of time growing up in those diners). There are stories of how he decided to go into film instead of painting (an afternoon breeze caused movement on his work, causing an “aha!” moment). There are behind the scenes looks at each of his films. A little light on 1990’s Wild at Heart but tons of Twin Peaks, The Elephant Man, Dune, and Mulholland Drive stories. Above all, David Lynch is dedicated to the art life. A sobering chapter near the end explores the 2017 series Twin Peaks: The Return. It is revealed that after the series wrapped, Lynch moved into his guest house – the grueling schedule put a rift in his relationship (though he is still married as of mid 2018). There’s a part of me that admires that and a part of me that can’t quite comprehend it. There is a lot to love in this book and I can’t say enough positive things about it. I’d recommend getting the physical hardback version since there are multiple images and references that won’t come across right on a tablet. Not quite a biography and not quite an autobiography though it comes across as both sometimes, this book explores his childhood, personal life, films, artistic aesthetic, and personal stories. It answers some questions and creates others – not unlike a David Lynch film. Highly recommended.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow is the 2nd novel by Amor Towles and was published in late 2016. An unexpected delight, I stumbled into this novel accidentally and I’ve walked away with that feeling of enrichment that only great literature can provide. The main protagonist is Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov – sentenced to house arrest in 1922 for writing a poem. My kind of rebel. Rostov is sentenced to live out his days in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol and is labeled a “Former Person”. What was interesting to me was that while Russia’s political landscape changed outside of the Hotel Metropol (Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, and Khrushchev all figure in this novel), the human interactions within the hotel are blissfully unencumbered by turmoil. How does an aristocrat go from traveling the world to living out his days under house arrest? “If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them” our main character tells us. Along the way we learn about Russian history, meet Rostov’s friends, lovers, and even his daughter. The family history and flashbacks were winning sequences. The frantic adventures and hipster intellectual dialogue reminded me quite a bit of a Wes Anderson film. I could see with my mind’s eye vivid colors, a soundtrack, and felt emotions rising within me as the novel raced towards its climax. The conclusion offers a bit of a twist ending that isn’t resolved in a deux ex machina way. The years pass quickly in the 400+ page novel and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg

In the late 90’s I found myself outside of Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern desperately trying to listen to a sold out Super Furry Animals show. The Welsh band were about to release another masterpiece in the form of Guerilla and were playing a mix of hit songs and yet to be released songs. Sadly, the sound was almost imperceptible from the street and I went on my way walking around the city. It was a sign of things to come, unfortunately – each time Super Furry Animals or Gruff Rhys solo came to town I’d either have a show lined up already (Black Sabbath being the most notable) or simply couldn’t make it. That’ll change this October when I finally take in a Gruff Rhys solo show in an intimate venue. He’ll be supporting his latest solo album, Babelsberg one of the finest records he’s been involved with, solo or otherwise.

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Kanye West – ye

I used to love Kanye West – it’s true. Through his 1st four albums he never failed to entertain me, make laugh, and with 808 & Heartbreak, make me feel real emotions. I wrote him off before most people (how’s THAT for know it all hipster statement) and was bewildered as he increasingly became more outlandish. I was also baffled at the accolades he received for each album that was released – I’d give them cursory spins and write them off, never to listen to them again. I was wrong. In recent months, Kanye West has come out as a Donald Trump supporter (or did he?), questioned the role of slavery in US history, and pretty much turned off a large majority of the audience who loved him. I’m not sure if it is all an act or if these are legitimate feelings. But I couldn’t shake the notion that people turning their back on Kanye West now were overlooking the bizarre antics and statements he made during his peak popularity. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. But from the moment I played ye I was entranced. This is the sound of a man hurting inside. Confusion. Poetry. Maybe because it coincided with losing a friend to suicide, I’m not sure – but ye hits me in a way that no Kanye album has for years. Continue reading

Allan Feather 3/27/70 – 6/26/18 – a memory through music

Last Wednesday, June 27th, I found out that someone I grew up with had unexpectedly passed away. Suffice to say, my posts on “The Social Network” have been a bit emotional and delved into what happened, my sadness at his passing, and what he meant to me as a friend and mentor. Allan Feather was many things to many people, but to me he was a true friend. He was responsible for introducing me to “alternative music” in the early 90’s and took me to my very first show – an unknown Gin Blossoms opening for Toad the Wet Sprocket at the Trocodero in Philadelphia. I wanted to create a short post for my site that I can revisit as the years go by. I wanted to explore some of the songs and artists that Allan and I bonded over. One thing that Allan taught me was that it was OK to love underground bands and still love sports. Does that sound silly to you? In the 90’s, it was a real thing. A struggle. A battle. He made me laugh, he made me believe in myself, he made me experience nostalgia (something fake punks fight with all their might). And last week, he made me cry. This week too, in fact. And I think that’s OK. This post is for you Allan Feather.

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