INTERNET MUSIC GEMS
“WALKIN’ THE DOG” BY THE RISING SONS
The holiday season invites hibernation, and one of my greatest pleasures is listening to music. Pandora. com and the lesser-known internet concert archive Wolfgang’s Vault have changed my life. I don’t care what anyone else thinks: Christmas themes circumscribe the joy of listening with cloying sentimentality.
So let’s get started: A recent offering from Wolfgang’s Vault is the Rising Sons at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles in May 1965. That may not mean much to you, but the Rising Sons gave blues artists Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder their starts. The Ash Grove was a legendary folk club. “Walkin’ the Dog” was a popular R&B cover of the mid-1960s written by Memphis icon Rufus Thomas. The document marks a cultural crossroads, for sure, and it’s a pleasure to be there.
“THIS WHEEL’S ON FIRE” BY THE BYRDS
The songwriter of course is Bob Dylan, but lots of late-’60s artists performed great versions, including Cream and the Band. For my money, no one else took it to quite nailed it like the Byrds. Captured live at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in San Francisco on Jan. 4, 1970 and posted at Wolfgangsvault.com, this version shows the band taking the song to furious apocalyptic heights. The guitar interplay between Roger McGuinn and Clarence White vibrates with slashing electricity, and McGuinn’s vocals are nothing short of harrowing.
“I BELIEVE IN ME” BY THE AVENGERS
Recorded at Winterland in San Francisco in January 1978, this recording documents the Sex Pistols’ final concert. The great and vastly underrated Avengers opened the show. Lots of circumstances converge to make this a delicious moment. First, the Avengers countered the Sex Pistols self-destructive nihilism with bracing idealism. Second, singer Penelope Houston had the nerve to tell the self-important headline act off in this song, adlibbing, “I see you all came to see the Sex Pistols. What are they going to tell you that you don’t already know? What are they gonna tell you, figure it out yourself… I believe in me, I make my dreams real, no one else will.” It’s an anthem of self-reliance built on thundering guitar chords and strained-to-the-point of breaking vocals — nothing short of transcendent punk-rock uplift.
“ALONE AGAIN OR” BY LOVE
The music of Love, led by Arthur Lee, has been one of my great epiphanies of the past several years. There’s a Memphis-LA connection in the band’s music, a deep-rooted soulfulness matched by psychedelic pioneering spirit that ran circles around other bands of the mid to late ’60s that limited themselves to blues, folk, hard rock, pop or any other single genre. This particular version comes from 2003 Forever Changes Concert album, a comeback for Lee. Almost all of Love’s songs are awe inspiring; this one happens to encompass a lot of what the band is about, with Lee’s elegant and affected vocal, a soaring trumpet line and a melodic arc that swirls above a foreboding undercurrent.
“FOR YOUR LOVE” BY THE PATTI SMITH GROUP
Recorded live at CBGBs in New York City on Aug. 11, 1979, this concert is late in the game for the Patti Smith Group, but the music is razor-wire sharp and Smith’s spoken-word recitation that incants most of the songs is both deranged and inspired. In fact, she seems to have lost her voice, perhaps because of a rainy outdoor concert earlier in the day. So on this particular track, band mate and inveterate garagerock archivist Lenny Kaye leads the group through this sparkling Yardbirds jewel that proves why rock and roll is so much fun.
“SECURITY” BY THANE RUSSAL & 3
Thane Russal? This is the kind of obscure wonderment that comes from creating an internet radio station around the 13 th Floor Elevators (an obvious starting point for any exploration of mid-’60s garage psychedelia) with the music genome project that is Pandora.com. The raw soul vocal and jagged playing reminds me of the Stones’ cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m Alright.” So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised to learn from an Aussie blog that Brit Thane Russal scored a 1966 hit only in Australia with this Otis Redding cover.
“BALLAD OF HOLLIS BROWN” BY BOB DYLAN & THE BAND
This song emerged as an acoustic ballad on Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ album marking the folky beginning of the bard’s career. It’s a revelation, as played with the Band during their Jan. 31, 1974 show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The music has a vaguely familiar feel because it revisits Dylan and the Band’s 1966 electric outing. Dylan’s vocals seethe with rage and grief. The players pound the song into oblivion and piece ends with this chilling denouement: “There’s seven people dead on a South Dakota farm.”
“OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE” BY THE GRATEFUL DEAD AND THE BEACH BOYS
A guest appearance by the Beach Boys with the Grateful Dead? Yes, it happened at the Fillmore East in New York City in April 1971. It’s hard to tell what’s more fun — the two bands paying homage to the Robins with an anarchic rendition of “Riot In Cell Block #9” or Jerry Garcia lending his birdlike guitar on “Help Me, Rhonda.” Certainly more strange is a cover of Merle Haggard’s rejection of the counterculture with its lyric, “We don’t wear our hair long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco do.” Of course, the Dead were the epitome of what Merle was attacking. And, of course, the fusillade was only half serious.
“SLEEPLESS NIGHTS” BY GRAM PARSONS AND EMMYLOU HARRIS
I first heard this song on the Mekons’ Honky Tonkin’, a mocking homage to country & western by the English agit-prop mavericks. This number was written by the peerless husband-and-wife team Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, so it’s no surprise to learn that country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons and onetime duet partner Emmylou Harris tacked it. Aching and elegant.
“MOTHER” BY JOHN LENNON
Archived at Wolfgang’s Vault, this August 1972 concert at Madison Square Garden with wife Yoko Ono and guests Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sha Na Na is in itself a historic event, but when I narrow it down, it’s this song. All the artist’s sarcasm is stripped away to reveal an elemental statement of hurt. Lennon’s vocals remind that he could be incredibly soulful and his grafted primal scream only confirms that assessment. Kurt Cobain’s blueprint is clearly inscribed.