Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's All Part Of My Rock & Roll Fantasy

There were many comments on last week's Clapton post that got me thinking further about the subject of artists no longer living up to the expectations of the fans.

Here are some of them.

"Simply because these people are not living up to your standards doesn't mean they should head to the old folks home."

"I used to be a big Clapton fan, but he seems to be on a certain level of auto-pilot and now just feels the need to keep going back to the well. His inspiration (other than the already mentioned Robert Johnson album) seems long gone and he just keeps putting out variations on the same mediocre album."

"After a couple of decades on the job, do we still come to work with the wild eyed enthusiasm of the "new kid"?"

"One of the upcoming albums I'm looking forward to hearing is the Elton John/Leon Russell disk. I think more of those old-timers should probably do things like that more often. Maybe a Clapton/Beck album would kick a bit more ass on both sides?"

"I don't think any of these people (except Neil, who has a perverse streak) puts out a record as a fuck you to fans or record companies; but I do think their ear, their ability to find the magic, to be in sync with the times, is almost impossible to sustain."

Taking the last comment first, I don't think fans are necessarily looking for their favorite artists to duplicate the magic of yesteryear. The fans don't always need magic. They just don't want to feel abandoned. When an artist releases a soul crushing series of music over the course of 20 years, vaguely reminiscent of the music that built his fan base in the first place, who is he really playing for? If it's only about himself, then why should we care?

Robert Plant, Johnny Cash, Mavis Staples, Solomon Burke and Bettye Lavette, for starters, hooked up with the right producer, someone who also offered advice on material, and the results were as close to magic as it could get. All of these records, even if you don't love them as much as I do, were at least fresh and somewhat inspiring to other artists who have gone on to do the same, though admittedly, not all with the same magical results.

It seems as if Eric Clapton has been releasing the same records for too many years. And it is NOT as if they have been critically acclaimed, or fan favorites. Maybe he has been coming to the same job for too long.

As long as I'm shooting my mouth off about what Clapton should be doing, I thought I'd share this list.

In no particular order, here's a list of some fantasy projects I'd love to see. They must all be possible, if not probable, so dead people can't be involved.

1. Bill Withers with Joe Henry or Rick Rubin producing, an acoustic soul record with no gimmicks. (Though, some may think having Rick Rubin on board is a gimmick.

2. David Bowie dumps Tony Visconti as a producer, and strips everything down for a new record. Visconti and Bowie have been long time collaborators, and I happen to really like the last few Bowie records, especially "Heathen" and "Reality." But, I often wonder how much better those records would be if every inch of tape hadn't been utitlized. Visconti's production is so bombastic, it's hard to discern what's being played by which instrument.

3. The Jules Shear/Marshall Crenshaw record. In the early 90's these two wrote together and played a few rare live dates together. This really was magic. Their voices had an Everlys quality that worked perfectly over their pop tunes.

4. Speaking of duets, how about the Daryl Hall/Todd Rundgren record? Todd's appearance on Daryl's internet program, Live From Daryl's House was the perfect preview of the magic these two can make when in the same room.

5. A Paul McCartney acoustic/ballads record. When looking at the track lists of his last 10 records, it was all the rockers that sucked and all the piano or acoustic based mid-tempo songs that moved me.

6. Speaking of Macca, how about that McCartney/McManus record? Paul and Elvis already have a dozen demos in the can. And they are really good, so...

7. As a new Facebook friend from New Orleans just said, "When I die, don't let Don Was touch any of my records." Huzzah! How about Mick & Keith and Charlie and Darryl, if Bill won't do it, and maybe Mick T. along with Ronnie, just make a country/rock record with no outside producer and no special guests or female vocalists.

8. Roy Wood backed by Cheap Trick. They've covered Roy enough, and Roy's voice can still make you weep. But he needs to ditch the all-girl horn section, and really get the comeback on track.

9. Dwight Twilley backed by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. RIGHT? It's time for all involved to make this record.

10. Sadly, after all this, I can't find placement for Eric Clapton. Maybe that's it. Maybe he can't either. Maybe he's as bored as we are. I mean, collaborations with Babyface, Sheryl Crow, and Timbaland could suck the life out of anyone. This picture alone is making me yawn.


The Phantom Creep said...

A Bill Withers record is a very good idea. Why there hasn't been one since forever is beyond me.

Sal Nunziato said...

Withers retired from music. In the recent documentary, "Still Bill," you see him back in the studio, piecing together new music, but it was some Cuban-influenced tune that sounded little like what you'd want from Withers. It's a start.

jay strange said...

i'd be inclined to drop macca into jason falkner's more than capable hands

quite like the idea of neil young with wilco and mike nesmith with camper van beethoven
oh and kevin ayers with sufjan stevens

wool said...

Mick Jagger has a great voice for country. If the Stones did a flat out twanger it would be something worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

Well, the first one is obvious for me. Roger Waters and David Gilmour working together for real, making an album where Gilmour has some musical input, plays guitar and sings, but Waters writes the words, and hopefully attaches a strong concept. It's been 18 years since a Waters CD, and more than 30 years since there was a real collaboration between the two. I don't care who plays drums, but I'd attach Bob Ezrin as producer, or perhaps Nigel Godrich, if I may. I know reunions weren't what you had in mind, but if you can put Mick Taylor back in the Stones...

2 Maybe I'm alone in this next one, but I'd really like to hear Bruce Springsteen do a piano based solo record. Those who know what he's capable of in that mode would have to agree. Look at Real World from Christic Institute show, or his piano version of Atlantic City.

3 I think Neil Young could get a good kick in the ass working with Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. I thought having the MG's back him up was such a nice move in the 90s, maybe another crack band with some twang and heart would bring the great songwriter out of him again. Pearl Jam might also suffice. I didn't think they gave that collaboration much of a chance.

Bulletins From Mars Hill said...

You may not be aware of it, but Eric sometimes plays on the Jools Holland show Later. He sometimes sits in the back just playing his axe and it is beautiful. He was in the group that played behind Smokie Robinson unannounced and played beautifully. He also backed up Jackie Lomax and Jackie didn't even notice him until he started playing.
This is what Eric should be doing, just playing for the sake of it.
BTW I love his new record.:-)

soundsource said...

I was always looking forward to hearing a Mamie Van Doren & Jayne Mansfield duet album of Celine Dion covers produced by Barry Manilow.
Getting back to the topic that started all this, disappointing records by old heroes, here's what I see as the reality of that situation. We all put a lot of our own hopes and wishes into the talents and abilities of our favorite musicians and singers. But actually only a few of our so called musical geniuses are actually capable of a sustained level of real artistic accomplishment. Actually Clapton is the perfect example, he's a great guitar player and a decent singer and early on he produced some really great classsic music but he was never really all that great a songwriter and it's not like he had some towering artistic vision so he just kind of meanders along resting on his laurels and every once in a while putting out some half way decent music but nothing that ever matches the heights he attained early on. Yet we're always disappointed like he's even capable of turning out one Layla after another, ain't gonna happen. Look at most of our favs Elton John, Macca, Van the Man, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Todd, The Stones, the list goes on and on they all continue to let us down. Look every once in while we get lucky and we get a Jeff Beck or a Robert Plant who actually improve musically and artistically as the move along. Sometimes in cases like Solomon Burke or Bettye Lavette they hook up with a producer who gets inside them and brings out that great album that they still have in them but in those cases 9 times out of 10 the follow up to that great comeback disappoints. It seems the only artists who's names continue to shine are the ones who bite the dust before they have time to tarnish their image.
So at the end of the day Is it their fault or the fault of our own unrealistic expectations. I don't know but I still wanna hear Mamie and Jayne duetting on Celine's greatest hits.
We now return you to your Burning Wood............

Anonymous said...

Interesting ideas. I've long wanted to see the Stones do a roots album along the lines of "Good As I Been to You" and "World Gone Wrong." Can't believe there aren't a bunch of old blues they'd love to play that could refire their jets. Rehearse one day, record it the next.

Totally agree on Macca. His rockers are painful at worst, facsimiles at best, but otherwise his recent albums (Memory Almost Full excepted) have lots of worthwhile stuff.

Apologies if somebody already raised this in the earlier discussions on Clapton, but I wonder if the issue with him is that he isn't really a solo artist, never should have been one, has always done his best work in bands.

Bruce Handy

Anonymous said...

Huzzah! Love to see Dwight with Petty-maybe a nice rejoinder to when those 2 artists were together on Shelter Records back in the 70's......and yes as well to Jules and Marshall and especially Roy Wood and Cheap Trick.....i think the point most people, including me, who commented on on your original Clapton post, is that as a fan of anyone, we always have expectations for them, and WANT to like what they continue to do.....it seems the constant fawning by the Rolling Stone Magazine people and the like, that "YES, these artists are STILL as good as ever" is what gives us pause....alright, Clapton ain't the same guy he was in 1968, none of us are, but i guess I hope they still have the fire and energy and desire not to just churn out mellow, easy listening type discs as Eric has done since probably '74...i think we all love when our fave artists come up with something great, but sometimes I think the creative well CAN run dry.....

tinpot said...

Somewhere on Youtube there's a live vid of Gladys Knight doing blues with BB King. It's great.
BB may be past it now, but I'd love to hear GK doing a blues album with a young, smoking band. Or maybe guest on that country album by the Stones that Wool suggested!

Anonymous said...

I would love to love a new Prince record. It's been a long time since I have.

Sal, after "Just Go Away" and "Grow Up", what would you advise Prince to do.

Just pretend you care for a minute...after all, you did cover his songs 25 years ago :-)


Sal Nunziato said...

Well Bill,

I think Prince needs to start singing dirty again, plain and simple. No one was able to pull off singing about ass the way he did.

Also, maybe see an exorcist. Get Larry "The Devil" Graham out of his body for good.

misospecial said...

what a great discussion! so many interesting ideas, from clapton not doing his best work as a solo artist to thoughts re expectations (ours and theirs) and the half-life of pop brilliance.

soundsource said a lot of interesting stuff, but i take exception to one item on his list of burnouts: the todd/healing tour just proved that the old guy still has it, in spades. i hope the next tour is anywhere near as good (though i'm afraid to have such wacky expectations) and that soundsource lands a really good seat.

Troy said...

I'd like to see a NRBQ reunion - - Terry, Tom, Joey, & Big Al. Bring in Staley, Gadler, the Whole Wheat Horns, John Sebastian, and Johnny Spampinato as special guests.

Bill from Atlanta said...

Oooo, I like your ideas... esp Bill Withers with Joe Henry producing... the Bowie idea (c'mon, nobody really liked Tin Machine or much after it; c'mon)... Jules Shear/Marshall Crenshaw (I'm seeing Marshall in Atlanta Saturday) and most of all:
Daryl Hall/Todd Rundgren record.

Paul McCartney kind of already did a recent acoustic/ballads record in "Chaos And Creation" -- but it wasn't that strong of a record overall. Maybe he was still caught up too much in Heather...

soundsource said...

just a quick response re: misospecial's comment, I'm not really talking about an artists ability to go out and recreate past artistic peaks with the power and strength of old I'm really more focused on creating new works and maintaing that creative peak and our expectations.
And it's not that those guys where burnouts just unable to maintain a level of artistic excellence and as I said what are expectations of them are. If we just want them to go back and recreate past glories well that's cool but lets cop to the fact that they are basically glorified oldies bands (nothing wrong with that, I'd love to see Todd kick ass all over Runt or Ballad of).

Fielding said...

I always thought that George Michael should be the new Queen singer. He has the voice for it, and would probably be a good fit and inject them with the right energy - not only because of the gay factor, but it actually would help in this case, as Queen did have a sense of camp and flamboyance to them at their best.

word of the day: onstramp

James A. Gardner said...

Oh man, if only they weren't mere dreams!
My rock and roll (and soul) fantasies include:
Sly Stone and The Roots: What Sly needs is someone to do with and for him what Darian and the Wondermints did/do for Brian Wilson. I think The Roots are up to it.
Mott the Hoople reunion album: Buffin might not be up to it, but the reunion shows demonstrated that they still got it and we still want it. Maybe a Mott/Bowie collaboration?
Marshall Crenshaw/Dave Edmunds: This is the Everlys match I always pictured, nothing against Shear. These two have just enough difference in their sensibilities, the results could be amazing.
Roy Wood and Cheap Trick: The would trump all my fantasy projects. If only. I also dream about Cheap Trick working with the survivors of Spirit.
Twilley and Petty & The Heartbreakers: Twilley's recent incarnation as a cover artist is discouraging; maybe a collab. with TP and band is just what he needs. It would be wonderful to see him create some more vital music before retiring. (Like me, I imagine you first saw and heard Tom in Dwight's band on TV?)
What to do about Clapton: Saw him live for the first time a few years ago when he was doing his "I'll play what I wanna" tour, and he's still got it, he just squanders it. He needs to find someone who writes songs like George Harrison (at his peak) or Delaney Bramlett and just play solos on those.

Anonymous said...

Joni Mitchell, co-starring/produced by Jimmy Page.

Acoustic guitars and mandolins, a/la Led Zeppelin 3. No keyboards allowed.

Armies of reverby guitars with mysterious tunings.

Do it, please!