Sunday, May 22, 2011

In Search of the Lost Prince of Rock and Roll

Several years ago, I posted a piece ( about Michael Brown, co-founder of the Left Banke, and composer of "Pretty Ballerina" and "Walk Away Renee" when he was 16, founder of the Stories, a Beatle-esque pop band that recorded concurrently with the Raspberries and Big Star, without ever achieveing any of their commercial success or notoriety, and finally, weirdly (since he was from NYC) the musical leader of the Beckies, an obscure mid-70's St Louis, MO rock band who put out one great (in my opinion and apparently no one else's) album on Sire which was remaindered a week after its release.
That was in 1977. At that point, Michael Brown, one of the undoubted pop music genuises of his time, disappeared, dropped out, retired.
He has released no recordings since The Beckies album.
All in all, he released one record with the Left Bank, 1.5 records with the Stories ( he left before the second album was finished and before they had their one hit, a remake of Hot Chocolate's "Brother Louie") and one record with the Beckies. (Between the Left Banke and the Stories, he also released an album under the name Montage, with only the vaguest credit, although several of the songs are reconizably Michale Brown songs).
To me, Michael Brown is one of the great mysteries and perhaps one of the great tragedies of the modern rock  era. Few composers, arrangers, producers have come along with so much obvious musical talent and such a clear creative vision. And yet, 45 years since the release of "Walk Away Renee," there is so little to show for all that talent.
It is apparently true that, to put it mildly, Brown had problems working with others. He left every band he was in soon after the bands formed. There are also rumors he might have experimented too heavily with hallucinagenics and he may have suffered from stage fright.
While listening to the Beckies album recently, I started wondering what Brown's music would be like today, if he was still writing and recording. I decided to create a mix that tracks Michel Brown's music, beginning with several of his own compositions, through t examples of work that seems to me to be either strongly influenced by Brown or very similar in style to what he was doing, and finally ending with a few songs by current bands that in my opinion, could have been created by Brown.

Along with the Zombies, Brown was credited with inventing "Baroque Pop," a horrible name for pop music that employed strings and, sometimes, instruments like harps, harpsichords and French horns, which would more commonly be found in an orchestra. But he was also a genius when it came to arranging strings, horns and harmonies, and his style of piano playing owe more to his early classical training then to Jerry Lee Lewis or Leon Russell.
We may never know what happened to Michael Brown. And we can only imagine what music he would have created if he had not disappeared.

Michael Brown Mix

The Playlist:

1. Pretty Ballerina - Left Banke
2. Barterers and Their Wives - Left Banke
3. Desiree - Montage
4. Please, Please - Stories
5. Fran -The  Beckies 
7. Can't Stop My Love - Andy Pratt 
8. New York Tendaberry - Laura Nyro
9. Meagan's Gypsy Eyes - Blood Sweat and Tears 
10. A Rose For Emily - The Zombies 
11. Kites Are Fun - Free Design
12. Crayon Angels - Judee Sill 
13. Day Is Done - Nick Drake 
14. These Days - Nico 
15. Taking Tiger Mountain - Eno 
16. Paris 1919 - John Cale 
17. Wedding Day - Alejandro Escovedo 
18. Settler - Balmorhea 
19. North - Phoenix 
20. Afraid Of Anyone - The National 
21. The Gulag Orkestar - Beirut 
22. All Delighted People - Sufjan Stevens
23. Pedalo - The Heart Strings
24. River Bayou - The Beckies
25. Love Is in Motion - Stories
26. Walk Away, Renee - Left Banke

Heads up! The file is large, so it will take 10-20 minutes to download.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Betwixt and Between Mix

The Betwixt and Between Season Mix is named after an essay my father wrote when he was the editor of the Warrensburg Lake George News, which was antholigized in Carl Carmer's The Tavern Lights Are Burning. It described what my father called "the fifth season" in the Adirondacks, prior to the arrival of full winter, but after the pleasant foliage-filled days of early autumn. It's a time when the cold and wind and bleak gray skies encourage you to stay inside, when there is nothing to look forward to except another long hard Adirondack winter.
"This isn't October, it is well into November. The hope of an Indian sumer. which beguiles football fans and gay drivers of convertibles a couple of hundred miles to the south, isn't for us. That hope vanished from these parts with the last golden leaf of the aspen in our meadow. here, at this season, we count it a blessing if the day which was fine at noon hasn't turned wintry by dusk."
It's the time when loans get turned down, marriages fall apart, liquor tastes a little too good. (My father didn't say this, I did.)
Tha Playlist:
1. Turn Around  -  Whiskeytown
2. Cuttooth - Radiohead
3. Strange and Futureless - Mister Loveless
4. Floating in the Forth - Frightened Rabbit
5. The End of the World Is Bigger Than...  - Jens Lekman
6. Devil Town - Tony Lucca
7. If You Want It  - TV Girl
8. Something Happenin' Here - Jack Tennis
9. Fikisha (to help someone to arrive) - Roy Ayers
10. Keep On Searching - Kraak & Smaak
11. Skal vi Prove Naa - Lindstrom and Prins Thomas
12. Let Them - jj
13. Drift Away - Junkie XL
14. Up and Down - Chad Valley
15. Endless Rain - How to Dress Well
16. Song To The Siren - BRYAN FERRY
17. Fragile - Cassandra Wilson
18. Futile Devices - Sufjan Stevens
19. Milk Thistle - Conor Oberst

The Mix:
Betwixt and Between Mix

 (The Tavern Lights Are Burning is available from Google Books.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

Rather than create a best of 2010 mix, I thought I would post three mixes I put together over the course of 2010 but which I never posted:
Serendipity Mix 

This is a mix that grew out of a very fertile period of listening to my Ipod on shuffle on the way to and from work each day. It's an edited, truncated added-to version of what I heard over the course of a few days last summer.
The Playlist:
1. Prelude  - Mayer Hawthorne
2. I Must Be In A Good Place Now- Bobby Charles
3. Train Song - Feist and Ben Gibbard
4. I'm On My Way - Yo La Tengo
5. We Are Blind and Riding the Merry Go Round - Alaska In Winter
6. Master Moon - On Fillmore
7. True Love Travels On A Gravel Road - Elvis Presley
8. Landvetter - Moonlit Sailor
9. Boiling Springs - Like Bells
10.Letters Home - CFCF
11. Full Moon (Appleblim & Komonazm Remix ) - The Black Ghosts
12. A Strange Arrangement - Mayer Hawthorne
13. Pacific State - 808 State
14. Summer Rain - Etro Anime
15. Didn't Want To Have To Do It - Roger Nichols & The Small Circle Of...
16. I Must Be In a Good Place Now - Vetiver

Serendipity Mix

Sara Song Mix 

This is a mix of songs that my wife and I found ourselves listening to while we cooked dinner.
The playlist:
1. Be Here Now - Ray LaMontagne
2. Oh, The Divorces!-Tracey Thorn
3. Slow Show - The National
4. Meridian - Shearwater
5. Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe - Okkervil River
6. Chicago - Sufjan Stevens
7. All The Best - My Morning Jacket
8. Zebra - Beach House
9. Mouthful of Diamonds - Phantogram
10. My Girls - Animal Collective
11. Freeway - Aimee Mann
12. You Better Mind - Sam Amidon
13. Pretty White Clouds - Christian Kiefer
14. Wide Eyes - Local Natives
15. The Wild Hunt - The Tallest Man On Earth
16. Is There Any Way Out of This Dream? - Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle
17. Living  Life -  Eels

Sara Song Mix

McKennas Move to Maui Mix

This is a mix I created to celebrate Steve and Kate McKenna's move to Hawaii.
1. Back To The Island - Leon Russell
2. Hawaiian Island - The Sorcerer
3. Floating - Nobody & Mystic Chords Of Memory
4. Ene Alantchi Alnorem - Girma Hadgu
6. Harbor Lights - Boz Scaggs
7. The Boat - Yana Saraswa
8. Edge Of The Ocean - Ivy
9. Papa e - Te Vaka
10. Boats To Build - Guy Clark
11. To Live Is To Fly - Townes Van Zandt
12. Come From The Heart - Guy Clark
13. Never Ending Song of Love - Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
14. Waltz for a Little Bird - Rainstick Orchestra
16. Going Home [Theme of the Local H...  - Mark Knopfler etc
17. Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Wha...  - srael Kamakawiwo'ole

The McKennas Move to Maui Mix