Posts Tagged ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’

Masterpiece: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

8 October 2010

[Today: They're red hot...]

During the second half of the 1980s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were one of the hottest underground bands going – a favorite of skate punks and college kids alike. But a number of factors conspired to keep them from breaking through to a mass audience, including the 1988 overdose death of guitarist Hillel Slovak (which was as much an emotional as a musical setback), and salty frat boy humor that inspired them to write songs with titles like ‘Party On Your Pussy’ and ‘Skinny Sweaty Man’. By 1989, the Peppers seemed destined to become a cult band fondly remembered by a small handful of die-hard fans, but amounting to little more than a footnote in rock history.

But as the 80s fell and the 90s broke, the Peppers had more going for them than even their biggest fans could have guessed. Most noticeably, they were one of the first bands to effectively ignore the divisions between funk, hip-hop and hard rock. Beastie Boys were a punk band that evolved into a hip-hop group and sprinkled their sets with hardcore tunes, but RHCPs laid punk and funk and hip-hop on top of each other – lead singer Anthony Kiedis could go from funk growler to quasi-rapper within a single line, while Michael “Flea” Balzary was simply the funkiest bassist in the industry.

The Peppers’ cock-in-a-sock attitude marked them as truly alternative, well before that adjective became a marketing ploy. But Slovak’s death was sobering for Kiedis and Balzary, and they were quietly becoming more serious about their music. When producer Rick Rubin signed on for their upcoming album, the final piece of the puzzle was in place for the Peppers to become superstars. Rubin installed the band in his Hollywood mansion and forced them to live together, work together, and jam together on their new album.

“I can’t tell if I’m a kingpin or a pauper,” Kiedis sings on ‘Give It Away’. On Blood Sugar Sex Magik he was, relatively speaking, a pauper perched on the threshold of kingpin-dom. The first notes of side one sound pumped through a tinny radio before the music bursts into full bloom – Flea’s tightly wound, super-funky bass and Kiedis’ soulful rasp immediately signaled that they had reached a new level. Slovak’s replacement, John Frusciante, proved to be a perfect fit with the group, and he continually weaves tasty licks and various guitar noise into the tapestry of Flea’s bass. Chad Smith’s drums sound like pistol shots throughout, but this album contains more subtleties and layers than previous Peppers efforts (note Frusciante’s Spanish guitar flourishes near the end of ‘Breaking The Girl’ or the marimba that pops up midway through ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’).

It’s perhaps fitting that the song that finally broke this band to a world-wide audience detailed Kiedis’ low-point with heroin. What’s surprising is that a pure ballad – ‘Under The Bridge’ – would be the song to do the trick. Then again, about half this album is introspective, nearly-wistful songs about relationships and growing up, while the other half is nasty, funked up party music with a bottom big enough to satisfy Sir Mix-A-Lot. Songs that would have lapsed into novelty on past albums (‘Naked In The Rain’ and ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’) instead became sweaty, aggressive funk workouts. If the Peppers’ previous albums were like Saturday morning cartoons, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was an animated feature.

The Peppers’ legacy has been smudged by the wanky rap/metal bands that came in their wake, but the truth is that for many white kids, this band (and this album) was a gateway to the Mothership. In the 80s, being a hybrid group meant that you were un-marketable, but in the 90s it made you a crossover star. This is one of the albums that made that happen…

Listen: Give It Away

Listen: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Listen: Suck My Kiss

Masterpiece: King Of The Delta Blues Singers

9 April 2010

[Today: The King...]

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Robert Johnson’s influence on the sound of modern music. His ghostly wail and precise finger picking style, along with tales of hellhounds and cheating women, set the bar for what a bluesman should sound like. And because modern rock was born out of the Blues, it’s easy to connect the dots between the scratchy, scarifying music he recorded in 1936/37 and the songs on the radio today.

Johnson’s personal background is one of the most interesting and hotly debated stories in the history of music. An oft-told tale has him meeting the Devil at the crossroads one moonless night and trading his soul for the musical skills that would make him a legend. But the circumstances of his sudden, blazing talent aren’t the only myth surrounding him – his death in August of 1938 was allegedly due to poisoned whiskey fed to him by a jealous husband. In many ways – a quick rise fueled by some dark myths, transcendent music that grows in stature through the decades, an accidental death at age 27 – he was the template of the modern rock star.

But the songs are the real story, and King Of The Delta Blues Singers contains some of the finest examples of the Blues to be found on record. ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man’, ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’, ‘Stop Breakin’ Down Blues’, ‘They’re Red Hot’ and ‘Love In Vain Blues’ – along with nearly everything else he recorded in his short life – would go on to become standards, and have been covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and White Stripes. Johnson’s influence was particularly rampant during the mid-to-late 1960’s when many young rockers (including Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton) turned to him for inspiration and material. And while Johnson had a deep influence on the British Blues, his hold over music continues into the 21st century. For as long as music is being made, the songs of this great, controversial bluesman will continue to resonate…

Listen: Love In Vain Blues

Listen: Hellhound On My Trail

Listen: Terraplane Blues

Listen: Traveling Riverside Blues

Weekend Playlist

25 January 2010

“Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” ~ Steve Earle


Steve Earle | Townes


Bob Dylan | Together Through Life


Air | Pocket Symphony


Guns N’ Roses | Chinese Democracy


AC/DC | Black Ice


Jimi Hendrix | Live At Woodstock


Cat Stevens | Catch Bull At Four


U2 | Achtung Baby


M. Ward | Hold Time


Dave Alvin And The Guilty Women | Dave Alvin And The Guilty Women


The Allman Brothers Band | The Road Goes On Forever


Aerosmith | Rocks


Yo La Tengo | I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One


Led Zeppelin | Led Zeppelin II


The Hold Steady | Boys And Girls In America


INXS | The Swing


New Order | Substance


The Staple Singers | Be Altitude: Respect Yourself


Velvet Underground | White Light/White Heat


Red Hot Chili Peppers | Blood Sugar Sex Magik


The Mighty Imperials | Thunder Chicken

A Dozen Great Band Logos

12 February 2008

A great band logo makes everybody happy. It gives music fans a ready symbol by which they can express their undying love, while providing bands with a logo they can plaster onto mountains of merchandise. The best logos become synonyms for the bands they represent, and often provide a visual representation of the sound of the band in question. Here are 12 that stand out from the crowd:

Stones - logo
The Rolling Stones - The Stones’ logo is the Nike Swoosh of Rock – it’s instantly identified with the group the world over. The fact that it resembles a certain lead singer doesn’t detract from its considerable charm.

Dead - logo
The Grateful Dead - The ‘steal your face’ design is just one of many signifiers the group has used throughout their long, strange trip. Dancing bears, skulls and roses, various turtles, and a cornucopia of other colorful images have covered their merchandise, but it’s the skull with the lightning bolt that instantly reads Dead.

Black Flag - logo
Black Flag – Using just four simple bars, Black Flag’s logo completely conveys the hardass, take-no-prisoners edge that runs through all their music. Artist Raymond Pettibon is the brother of group founder Greg Ginn.

Ramones - logo
Ramones - Da Brudders’ logo features a suspiciously Presidential-looking seal that features an eagle holding a baseball bat and a ribbon bearing the inscription ‘Hey Ho Let’s Go’. Perfect for the first family of punk…

KISS - logo
KISS - Disclaimer: my brother and I both marched in the KISS Army, so I’ve been under the sway of these four letters for decades. The band took this logo to the bank – literally, with one of the most aggressive and successful merchandising efforts in the history of music.

Public Enemy logo
Public Enemy – PE makes serious hip-hop about serious issues, so this logo works like a charm. Every element of the group – from their dancers’ fake Uzis to the Bomb Squad’s production to this emblem – screams revolution. If you’re not part of the solution, you better duck.

AC/DC logo
AC/DC - The lightning bolt and pronged type brilliantly and simply pay off the electrical theme of the band’s name. But the typeface is also imbued with a middle-ages, Latin gravitas that fits the band’s heavy sound.

DK - logo
Dead Kennedys - This logo owes more than a passing debt of inspiration to the scratched ‘A’ that stands as the symbol for anarchy. Which is just about right for any band fronted by funnyman and anarchist-wannabe Jello Biafra.

The Who - logo
The Who - The group’s sound is based in the mid-60′s mod movement, and so is this classic logo. The arrow pushing upward out of the ‘O’ gives this logo a feeling of motion and freedom (or at least that’s what I’d say if I were an art director).

Ween - logo
Ween - It’s hard to tell whether Ween’s logo (named ‘Boognish’) has been sniffing glue or is just rocking out. Either way, it’s an excellent expression of the fun that’s to be had from this band of would-be brothers.

Sex Pistols - logo
Sex Pistols - Artist Jamie Reid’s design work for the Sex Pistols provided the band with a graphically interesting look that would be become visually synonymous with an entire genre of music. The ransom-note style lettering conveys both the DIY philosophy of punk and the menace to be found within the music.

RHCP - logo
Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Chili Peppers’ asterik is a simple but strong design element that the group has employed in a variety of ways. Created on a whim by lead singer Anthony Keidis (who’d been asked for a logo by the group’s promotions team) it is often referred to as the “angel’s asshole”.

*****

Further reading:
IntuitiveDesigns.net runs down the Top 10 Rock Band Logos.
This blog is totally dedicated to band logos.

*****

There are a lot of great band logos out there. Which did I overlook??

1987: The Year In Music

11 July 2007

1987 was a big year for me personally. It was the year I graduated from high school, lost my virginity, enrolled in college, and did some other awesomely unmentionable stuff. 1987 was also huge for music, as a half dozen of the very best albums of the entire decade were released during this year. Additionally, a handful of bands created music that foreshadowed the sounds of the 90′s.

Here are the 20 best albums from a truly unforgettable year:

Prince - album
Sign O’ The Times * Prince

#1 Prince had already garnered critical and popular acclaim for 1999 and Purple Rain, so he didn’t have much to lose by the time he started to work on Sign O’ The Times. Those drawn to the album by the hit single (and its weakest track) ‘U Got The Look’ were surprised to discover a musician pushing the outer boundaries of his art form. Like a Funk and Soul version of the White Album, Sign O’ The Times is a glorious hodge-podge of sounds that run the gamut from jubilation (‘Play In The Sunshine’ and ‘Housequake’) to sexual innuendo (‘It’ and ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’) to dour fatalism (the title track and ‘The Cross’).

Nearly every facet of Prince’s eclectically exciting and frustrating career can be found on this double album set. And while it didn’t sell in blockbuster numbers, it did manage three Top 10 hits. In hindsight it’s easy to see that this is Prince’s masterwork – an achievement that he hasn’t approached during the last 20 turbulent and uneven years. Fortunately, Sign O’ The Times is an album that can still take you places, nearly two decades on.

GnR - album
Guns N Roses * Appetite For Destruction

#2 Guns N Roses’ debut put nasty back in Rock music for the first time in nearly a decade. It’s an album filled with jug wine, cheap thrills, and unapologetic debauchery. Not surprisingly, it took a while to catch on, but once it did, it changed the face of hard rock, and set the stage for the grunge and alternative rock that ruled the 90’s. ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ are epic slices of the everyday lives of people who have fallen through the cracks, but more importantly, they’re first rate, ripping tunes of an ilk that hadn’t been in play since the early Stones and Faces. With all the melodrama and shenanigans that followed, it’s easy to forget what a powerful influence Appetite For Destruction had on those who heard it in the late 80’s. Fortunately, one listen quickly brings back every bit of its swagger and bile.

U2 - album
U2 * The Joshua Tree

#3 By trading hard line politics for a softer, more searching, philosophical side, U2 made the quantum leap from recording artists to superstars. A great deal of The Joshua Tree (including its name and cover art) owes a debt of influence to America and its sights and sounds. It’s an album about promise and potential, comfort and confusion, and if the overall sound is more hook-laden and laid back than previous efforts, the songs themselves retain an unsettled undercurrent. From the hits to lesser lights like ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ and ‘Trip Through Your Wires’, there isn’t a bum note here, and it’s an album as expansive, conflicted, and lovely as the country that inspired it.

Paid In Full - album
Eric B & Rakim * Paid In Full

#4 Perhaps the finest hip-hop album of all-time, Eric B & Rakim’s debut sounds as funky fresh today as the minute it dropped. Rakim’s style on the microphone became the standard by which all subsequent MCs were judged, and Eric B’s mixing and sampling were also hugely influential – ‘I Know You Got Soul’ is one of the first Hip-Hop tracks to sample James Brown. Paid In Full is so good, so revolutionary, and so unexpected that it is the natural dividing line between the Old and New School.

INXS - kick
INXS * Kick

#5 The zenith of these Australian rockers’ career, Kick was the last in a string of great albums (including Shabooh Shoobah, The Swing, and Listen Like Thieves) before they faded into irrelevance. Overflowing with great songs known (‘Need You Tonight’, ‘Devil Inside’) and less so (‘Mediate’, ‘Wild Life’), this is clearly one of the finest albums of the 80’s. A decade later, lead singer Michael Hutchence would accidentally hang himself, and INXS would belatedly be recognized as one of the best groups of their time (before finally becoming the punch line to a reality television program).

Cure - album
The Cure * Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me

#6 The Cure’s finest hour (and eleven minutes) on tape, this sprawling double album gem brings guitars to the forefront and horns into the mix. It’s at once delicate and immense, and contains two of the group’s most enduring songs – ‘Just Like Heaven’ and ‘Why Can’t I Be You?’ Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me will leave you exhilarated, exhausted, and possibly frustrated, but it never bores.

Yello - album
Yello * One Second

#7 A glimpse into the electronica-filled future, One Second is a kaleidoscopic whirligig of styles, voices and sounds. Album opener ‘La Habanera’ paints a vivid picture of a spy double-crossed in Cuba, while the beats slip into a dark rhumba. It’s the kind of moment that Yello pulls off effortlessly, time and again, employing a montage of guests that includes diva Shirley Bassey. It’s an album that wasn’t hyped much in its day, but One Second has withstood the test of time.

PE - album
Public Enemy * Yo Bum Rush The Show

#8 Public Enemy’s debut put America on full alert that the revolutionary spirit of the Black Panthers was now a force within rap music. Chuck D barked his rhymes and left no doubt about his veracity or sincerity, and Flavor Flav provided much needed comic relief. Much more raw than the Bomb Squad production that would eventually make Fear Of A Black Planet and …Nation Of Millions… so sonically compelling, Yo Bum Rush The Show nonetheless has its share of great tracks, including ‘Public Enemy No 1’ ‘Raise The Roof’ and ‘You’re Gonna Get Yours’. An overlooked rap classic.

Faith - album
George Michael * Faith

#9 Faith parallels Thriller as the 80’s album you love to hate and hate to love. Like Michael Jackson’s epic, it contained a bounty of Top 10 hits, and signaled the multi-platinum highpoint of an artist who would produce increasingly minimal returns while staying within the public eye for exceedingly dubious reasons. But Faith is a pop masterpiece and uses every 80’s production cliché to best effect. It’s a reward for those brave (or dumb) enough to go out on a limb and have a good time.

Robbie Robertson - album
Robbie Robertson * Robbie Robertson

#10 More than 10 years after he broke up The Band to go solo, Robbie Robertson finally delivered an album to rival those of his former group. Laid out in big, vivid strokes, it’s infused with a dreamlike splendor that stretches the farthest corners of each song. Robertson wistfully pines for times past, lying in the back of an abandoned 59 Chevy with a girl, listening to Little Willie John, while the sounds of night settle in. Good times.

Tom Waits - album
Tom Waits * Franks Wild Years

#11 Franks Wild Years was a pivotal album for Tom Waits and the direction his music would take. Where he’d dabbled in madness on previous albums, here he jumped headlong into the void, reveling in pure insanity like a fat kid in a chocolate factory. The title track (which actually appears on 1983’s Swordfishtrombones, but sets the tone and provides the backstory for this album) is a spoken word monologue that is creepy not least for the sheer glee that shines through in Waits’ voice as he describes driving a nail through his wife’s forehead. This latent schizophrenia would never be far from his music again.

Pixies - album
Pixies * Come On Pilgrim

Jane's Addiction - album
Jane’s Addiction * Jane’s Addiction

#12 & #13 Pixies and Jane’s Addiction blasted two completely different and utterly original tunnels to alternative rock greatness. It’s not much of a stretch to say that (for better or worse) the music that dominated much of the 90’s has root in these two albums.

In hindsight, the Pixies’ loud-soft-loud song structure seems like Manifest Destiny of Rock. To be fair, they hardly invented the formula, but it was out of step with the prevailing music of the day. Their influence on Nirvana has been exaggerated out of convenience, but there’s no doubt that Pixies have had a massive influence on the sound of popular music.

Jane’s Addiction’s live debut is a remarkable blueprint of the sound that would make them Alternative darlings. Many of the songs that would show up on 1989’s landmark Nothing’s Shocking premiered here, along with excellent covers of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock & Roll’ and the Stones’ ‘Sympathy For The Devil’.

BAD - album
LL Cool J * Bigger And Deffer

#14 In 1984, LL Cool J’s single ‘I Need A Beat’ became the first release on Def Jam records. He was 16 years old. By 1987 he’d earned a gold album and was a veteran rapper. Bigger and Deffer finds Cool J exploring (with admittedly mixed results) the boundaries of his genre. ‘I Need Love’ was pure ballad, ‘Go Cut Creator’ rocks, and ‘The Do Wop’ is pretty self-explanatory. BAD sold triple platinum, but is a good-not-great example of 80’s hip-hop.

Depeche Mode - album
Depeche Mode * Music For The Masses

#15 An album of dour synth pop that channels the spirit of Ian Curtis, Music For The Masses was a major step in Depeche Mode’s conquest of America. The songs are enveloped in gothic darkness, but a few (most notably ‘Behind The Wheel’) pick up the pace and shake up the mood enough that it doesn’t descend into a spiral of self-pity. Still, this music was for teenage girls what heavy metal was to teenage boys – black celebrations of the tenuous nature of life.

Replacements - album
The Replacements * Pleased To Meet Me

#16 “Children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton when he comes ‘round” sang Paul Westerberg, and on Pleased To Meet Me, he and his bandmates made a calculated effort to jump into the mainstream. The horns are a nice touch, but the ‘Mats were a group that thrived on chaos, and this tight, highly produced group of songs spelled the beginning of the end. Within three years, Westerberg would go solo (anyone care?) and they’d be history.

Peppers - album
Red Hot Chili Peppers * The Uplift Mofo Party Plan

#17 The Peppers’ third album was where they moved beyond novelty band status and realized the sound that would make them superstars. ‘Fight Like A Brave’ is a punk-funk anthem, ‘Behind The Sun’ is a shimmering ballad, and ‘Skinny Sweaty Man’ is manic fun. Lead guitarist Hillel Slovak would be dead within a year from a heroin overdose but the Peppers soldiered on, and by the early 90’s would find themselves selling out arenas all over the world.

BDP - album
Boogie Down Productions * Criminal Minded

#18 BDP’s debut album was an early hardcore rap classic that split the difference between political manifesto and tales of the street. Either way, this was one serious rap group on a self-appointed mission to bring learning to the game. DJ Scott LaRock would be murdered within the year while trying to break up a fight, but KRS-One carried on with the group’s agenda, and has become one of the most well-known ambassadors of education within the genre.

Poetic Champions - album
Van Morrison * Poetic Champions Compose

#19 After a dreadful run of early 80’s albums, this was the first glimmer that Van The Man had some juice left in his creative orange. Like many of his best albums, Poetic Champions Compose borders on Jazz, and contains many traditional Irish flourishes. This might not be his best-known record, but it’s certainly his best of the 80’s.

Hysteria - album
Def Leppard * Hysteria

#20 Can you smell the hair spray? Hysteria vividly evokes an age gone by: one of metal ballads, smoke machines, and leather pants. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ ‘Armageddon It’ and ‘Animal’ aren’t artful, but they still rock. Three years in the making, it has been purchased more than 22 million times. From a decade that brought you plenty of guilty pleasures, this is one of the best.

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10 More That Are Worth A Spin…

Pink Floyd * A Momentary Lapse Of Reason
Ice T * Rhyme Pays
The Smiths * Strangeways Here We Come
Slayer * Reign In Blood
Branford Marsalis * Random Abstract
Los Lobos * By The Light Of The Moon
Lee Perry * Time Boom X De Devil Dead
Terence Trent D’Arby * Introducing The Hardline, According To…
Front 242 * Official Version
Sting * Nothing Like The Sun


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