Hey, folks. I just wanted to let my steady readers know that Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, which was the first of my Counting Down books and was released on hardcover back in 2013, is going to be available in paperback starting December 6. It’s the first of my books to go that route, so I’m really excited. What that means is that, hopefully, you’ll be able to pick it up in a bookstore near you. Barring that, you can order it online at a much reduced price from the hard cover. The Kindle price also came way down as well if you have a reader.
In honor of the paperback, I’ll be doing a few Dylan-related posts in the upcoming days, so look for that. Then I’ll get back to the Paul McCartney Retro Review series.
The link to the paperback is below. Thanks, and have a good one, everybody.
I thought I’d throw this out to my blog readers, who have been wonderful since the very beginning about supporting my writing. I’ve recently begun gathering a few clients who have employed me for editing and ghostwriting services. While my own writing will always be a main part of my own work life, I’d like to expand these services moving forward. So if you, or someone you know, might be in need of editing, ghostwriting, or some other service related to the written word, please keep me in mind. And this can relate to anything from a novel to a college essay to a dating profile to important work e-mails. Please contact me at my personal e-mail address, which is email@example.com. Thanks so much, and keep reading.
It’s sad, yet somehow apropos, that the death of Leonard Cohen will be buried somewhat in the news cycle by the post-election tumult. After all, his music was largely unknown to the casual music fan. Some might have heard Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” (or even John Cale’s take of the song on Shrek), but most of the hauntingly eloquent work Cohen produced from the past half-century remains mostly obscure to the wider world.
Which matters not a whit, because the impact his music had on those who knew and loved it is incalculable. It usually only takes hearing a few songs of Cohen’s before one can understand that he was operating largely on a different level. And it’s not just the literary background, although there’s that too. (Listen to the mercurial, mesmerizing flow of the words of “Alexandra Leaving” for a good example of how he brought those talents to bear in his music.) It’s the way he could make connections between love and sex and spirituality and politics and psychology and mortality that then seemed self-evident to us once he illuminated them in his lyrics.
But it’s more than that still. In David Remnick’s recent profile of Cohen in the New Yorker, the famously media-shy Bob Dylan came forth to praise the melodies of Leonard’s songs. I think even Cohen himself gave them short shrift for a while after his brilliant 1967 debut album Songs Of Leonard Cohen, making the next few releases seem impressive but somewhat cold. That’s why I think his collaboration with Phil Spector on 1977’s Death Of A Ladies Man, often derided by critics as bombastic, actually marked a positive turning point in his career, because thenceforth soulful, heartfelt hooks always grounded his brilliant insights.
And then there is that final trilogy of albums, forced on Cohen because of financial straits that were no fault of his own, yet now essential listening for a complete appreciation of his legacy. His low notes now well below Hell’s cellar, he sounds on these albums like an oracle roused from his cave, with a twinkle in his eye and wounds in his heart so long unhealed they’ve become his closest companions. On “Going Home,” a typically witty, moving entry from this era, he speaks of wanting to write “a love song/An anthem of forgiving/A manual for living/With defeat.” False modesty this, because you could fill four or five playlists with Cohen songs that fill those qualifications without having to repeat a track.
Speaking of false modesty, Cohen wrote in “Tower Of Song” about residing a hundred floors below Hank Williams in that exalted edifice. After this annus horribilis for music fans, that tower seems to be getting more and more crowded with legends gone too soon. But Leonard warned us way back on his very first release that loves and lives are fleeting, so it’s best to take it in stride:
“You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me
It’s just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea
But let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie
Your eyes are soft with sorrow
Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye”
Good advice. But for those of us who knew Leonard Cohen’s music well, composing ourselves may take a while.
Paul McCartney wasn’t really planning to reignite his solo career when he made a bunch of idiosyncratic, electronic-tinged recordings without any help from his Wingmates. But a confluence of events made McCartney II, released in 1980, the album to do just that. And it turned out to be unassuming way to shed the trappings of his former band, with a bunch of demo-like, editing-be-damned recordings that were light on import and heavy on quirk. The album wasn’t any kind of grand statement of purpose, which is a big part of its crazed charm. Even though it’s far from a classic, it at least anticipated the musical shift to synths and style that the MTV era was about to engender. Here is a song-by-song review:
11. “Frozen Jap”- I get that this album was recorded in less politically-correct times, but I’m sure McCartney would love a do-over for that title. And the plodding instrumental on which it’s hung isn’t worth the trouble.
10. “Nobody Knows”- This relatively unmemorable romper never quite conjures as much fun as was its intent.
9. “Front Parlour”- It’s not meant to be much more than a palette-cleanser, but it still sounds like a Casio demonstration caught on tape.
8. “Bogey Music”- Partially inspired by a kids’ book, it sort of tiptoes the line between eccentric and annoying a bit unsteadily for my liking. Too bad, because it wastes a pretty good boogie-rock drumbeat in the process.
7. “Dark Room”- McCartney II‘s biggest flaw is that a too-heavy percentage of the “songs” are barely fleshed-out grooves or ideas adorned with all kinds of studio ephemera. “Dark Room” possesses some exotic allure, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
6. “One Of These Days”- It has all the trappings of a classic McCartney acoustic ballad. The melody is tenderness exemplified and Paul sings with affecting earnestness. But the lyrics never really develop into anything profound, thus keeping it from reaching those levels.
5. “Temporary Secretary”- Maybe polarizing, but I think McCartney manages to turn this songwriting exercise into a fun oddball. In its way, it echoes stuff like Devo or Gary Numan from around that time, and, looking further down the road, would have fit in nicely on a They Might Be Giants album. And I consider all those things to be positive.
4. “Summer’s Day Song”- Very few rock composers can pull off a classically-tinged melody without it sounding more derivative than original. McCartney can; he shows off that ability quite nicely on this Mellotron-filled lullaby. Quite pretty.
3. “On The Way”- Let’s give some credit to McCartney’s ability to make homemade recordings like this one sound anything but homemade; it really sounds like some tight little blues band got together to dig into this sultry track. Paul’s reverb-heavy vocal is a good touch against the gritty music. Relatively unheralded but deserving of a listen for sure.
2. “Waterfalls”- As dreamy as the music might seem, there are some urgent sentiments being expressed here. McCartney needs love and love needs caution. His vocal, sweetly vulnerable, makes it abundantly clear that waterfalls, polar bears, and motor cars might seem like a good idea at the time, but really nothing good can come from them. Solid metaphorical writing, lovely, evocative music, and, hey, TLC must have been listening.
1. “Coming Up”- Put aside the recording’s odder elements, like Macca’s megaphone-like vocals and the kazoo-like horns, and you have an airtight pop gem that throws back to early Beatles’ hits penned by Paul like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “All My Loving.” He conjures an effortless groove out of the minimalist music, and that chorus ascends just like the lyrics promise. Nobody did joyful like The Beatles, and this Beatle proves here that the knack for such things never leaves you.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, the first link below will let you preorder my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due in March of 2017. The second link below is to my Amazon page, where you can find all my Counting Down books and e-books.)