Spotify Playlist: The Open Road

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There’s still plenty of summer left, which means you still got time to get in your car and take that road trip you’ve been meaning to take since you read ‘On The Road’. Or you can go visit your grandma who lives an hour away. Or you can go to the store and pick up some toilet paper. No matter where you’re going, you’ll need some good tunes for the road.

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Playlist: The 70s – Dazed And Confused

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Just like I made a playlist for the 60s, the good old 1970s gets its own spotify playlist.

I’ve tried to cover as much ground as I could – from disco (Bee Gees, ABBA), Heavy Metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin), R&B, funk, and soul (Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye), lo-fi and punk (Buzzcocks, The Clash, New York Dolls), soft rock (Fleetwood Mac, Elton John), singer-songwriter (Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor), to good old rock & roll (Bowie, Springsteen, Aerosmith). I also tried to throw in some deep tracks, including songs from Ann Peebles, Candi Staton, The Damned, David Essex, Dr. John, Fela Kuti, Freda Payne, Jorge Ben Jor, The Osmonds, Richard Hell, Rodriquez, The Slits, and more.

And yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dazed and Confused soundtracks are on here too.

Enjoy!

 

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Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt [In 3 Words]

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I just turned 21 three weeks ago and I’m one year younger than Ten, so it’s genuinely strange for me to think that people used to be afraid of Pearl Jam.

Ok maybe not afraid, but there was once a time when guitar-driven rock music made parents nervous, and Peal Jam was one of the more visible leaders of the grunge bands that briefly ruled the world in the early 1990s with their big guitars and bigger hair. Eddie Vedder and the rest of his Seattle crew called out Ticketmaster for being evil and wrote songs about student suicides and bugs while selling a trillion records (there’s also this). But twenty years later Pearl Jam is soundtracking the World Series and Vedder is releasing ukulele albums. What happened? Maturity? Boredom?

None of this is said in spite but rather to show the evolution and current state of a band that nobody expected to last for over twenty years. They became the most popular (i.e. the most selling) band of grunge, a movement that was never made to last commercially, and with the suicide of Kurt Cobain Pearl Jam reluctantly carried more of the weight and pride of their beloved genre. But when the world moved on from grunge to Radiohead and alternative rock, Pearl Jam soldiered on without the world’s attention.

But when you consider how un-grunge Ten actually sounds, it really isn’t shocking to see why Pearl Jam was content to continued on with being Pearl Jam. They were never about being associated with any particular movement (their notorious rejection of their fame clearly shows that) but they were always about their music and fans. It’s those kinds of bands that last for over twenty years for better or worse, though only seriously jaded haters would consider it to be a bad thing that in 2013 some people still really care about Pearl Jam. To the band’s benefit, it helps being one of the greatest live bands of all time and consistently releasing good albums to a crazy-devoted fan base.

So the story of Pearl Jam in the time between No Code and Lightning Bolt is a story of a famous band carrying on through the indifference of the majority and the devotion of the minority. This is also where my story with Pearl Jam begins.

My first real exposure to Pearl Jam was Yield, one of those few albums that my dad always kept in the car when I was young. We would listen to it whenever we were together, and I remember being attracted to Yield simply because there was nothing on the album that sounded like “Even Flow” or “Alive”. Instead there were songs like “Brain Of J”, “Given To Fly”, “Wishlist”, and “Do The Evolution”. All these songs mastered the soft-to-loud-then-soft-then-maybe-loud-again formula of the middle years of Led Zeppelin, and, as a young kid who was only listening to Led Zeppelin at the time, I fell in love with this album and with Pearl Jam. From Yield I worked backwards and forwards, finding personal favorites in every album but gravitating more towards No Code and their self-titled avocado album.

So my love of Pearl Jam is born right when they began their journey into adulthood, and it is with this bias that I write my review for Lightning Bolt, which can be seen as the band finally establishing their maturity for anyone who was still wondering. However, with this maturity comes the question of relevance — do we need to talk about Pearl Jam retiring anytime soon? Lightning Bolt is good enough to suggest that Vedder and the gang still have a few tricks up their sleeves, but once again we’re hearing Pearl Jam getting stuck sounding like Pearl Jam. But for most of Lightning Bolt, that’s not a bad thing.

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The songs off Pearl Jam’s previous album Backspacer were quicker and more accessible (i.e. “The Fixer”) and there was plenty of 70s class rock inspiration to finally confirm Pearl Jam’s place into their golden years. But accessibility was never what Pearl Jam was about, which makes Backspacer a lesser album in the eyes of devoted fans. Lightning Bolt follows the same style of songwriting as Backspacer, which is both good and bad, but is noticeably improvement. The fast songs are faster and more fun and (fortunately) more memorable. The production is again super clean, and Vedder’s voice hasn’t sound so good both in sound and in lyrics.

Gems

Pearl Jam has remained relevant not because their albums are amazing but because none of their albums are bad. Each album has a few Greatest-Hits-worthy tracks, so fans still care about a new Pearl Jam album because they know there will be at least two new classic songs that they’ll play right before “Black” during another sold out show.

And yes, there are two new Pearl Jam classics on Lightning Bolt: “Mind Your Manners” and “Sirens”. With “Mind Your Manners” being the first single, and being one of Pearl Jam’s fastest songs ever, I was hopeful for Lightning Bolt to be an older and wiser avocado album. Unfortunately, the album enjoys its 70s classic rock influences too much to bother with the 80s punk influences that makes “Mind Your Manners” such a great song. “Sirens”, with its acoustic strumming, is a worthy Zeppelin power ballad for this Zeppelin power ballad sucker. The song, like the album, is the sound of Pearl Jam sounding content with being a veteran band rather than trying to recapture the angst of their younger years.

Fizzle

I cannot stress how great the first half of Lighting Bolt is. “Getaway” is one of the better Pearl Jam album openers, and “My Father’s Son” has the same muscle as “Mind Your Manners”. The title track and “Infallible” are both middle-paced songs that have strong enough melodies to keep your attention. It’s side two that gets a little more experimental and shakier. “Pendulum” can be seen as a No Code inspired experiment to create as much atmosphere as possible with as little effort as possible, but the song goes on for a while without really going anywhere. “Swallowed Whole”, “Sleeping By Myself” and “Yellow Moon” all sound like really great Backspacer B-sides, and “Let The Records Play” ‘s swampy blues thinks that it’s cooler than it actually is.

But you gotta give Pearl Jam credit for trying something new and longtime fans will appreciate the effort after twenty years, but there’s a lot to dismiss on side two. Fortunately the album closer “Future Days” is a more effective acoustic ballad than “Just Breathe”, and it’s a good way to close Lightning Bolt.

Overall: The ever-devoted Pearl Jam camp will call this one another winner, but Lightning Bolt has enough great songs to keep everyone else satisfied, even if those great songs are hidden in a relatively tame album.

Rating: 3/5

Essential Tracks: “Getaway”, “Mind Your Manners”, “Sirens”

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The (Winners’) History of Rock and Roll: Led Zeppelin

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Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden) is one of my favorite music writers, and he just started a new series on Grantland about the history of rock and roll – from a different perspective.

In his new series, Hyden goes into great detail about a handful of some of the most successful rock bands of all time (Led Zeppelin being a good starting point), and how they each defined their era of music and their other contributions (both good and bad) to the music industry.

Hyden has a lot of great things to say, and he really does a great job explaining the realities of rock and roll’s not so indie-friendly beginnings (His talks about The Clash and The Replacements broke my heart, but it’s spot on). He also does well relating history to the present, using Arcade Fire winning their album of the year Grammy as his main example.

It’s a long read, but it’s well worth it.

Check out the article here.

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Led Zeppelin vs Black Sabbath: Which Is More Heavy?

Any metal fan can tell you that their beloved genre stems from two bands, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.  Both bands are credited with creating heavy metal, but here’s the thing – is one more heavier than the other?

Black Sabbath might seem like the obvious victor in this battle, but we must look closer.  While Black Sabbath embodies the attitude and darkness that is associated with what the general public considers heavy metal to be, Led Zeppelin has the weight in their sound that puts the “heavy” in heavy metal.  It’s incredible how much sound Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham were able to create, noticeably more that Ozzy and his band.

The only way to settle this is to let the bands speak for themselves.  Listen to each band do their thing and make up your mind on who is heavier.

“I Can’t Quit You Baby (Live)”

 

“War Pigs (Live 1970 France)”

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Top Lists: My Favorite Guitar Solos

What makes a great guitar solo?  Is it how fast or flashy it is, or how slow and soulful it is?  Does it sound like a voice that you could sing to, telling its own story?  Does it start small but then crescendos into a colossal showcase of talent and emotion?  Solos are great for different reasons, but the one thing all great solos have is soul.  The following solos are my favorites, and they’re each here for different reasons.  These aren’t necessarily the best solos I’ve ever heard, but each solo here has soul and shows what can happen when an talented guitarist is in harmony with his instrument.

The Beatles – “Something” (Guitar Player: George Harrison)

 

Jimi Hendrix & The Band Of Gypsys – “Machine Gun” (Guitar Player: Jimi Hendrix)

 

Wilco – “Impossible Germany” (Guitar Player: Niles Cline)

 

John Mayer – “Covered In Rain” (Guitar Player: John Mayer)

 

Led Zeppelin – “Heartbreaker” (Guitar Player: Jimmy Page)

 

Prince – “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” (Guitar Player: Prince)

 

Steely Dan – “Kid Charlemagne” (Guitar Player: Larry Carlton)

 

Sublime – “Santeria” (Guitar Player: Brad Nowell)

 

The White Stripes – “Ball And Biscuit” (Guitar Player: Jack White)

 

Pink Floyd – “Money” (Guitar Player: David Gilmour)

 

Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Midnight in Harlem” (Guitar Player: Derek Trucks)

 

Dire Straits – “Sultans of Swing” (Guitar Player: Mark Knopfler)

 

Were there any that I miss? Comment below or hit me up on twitter @HeadfoneNation

And before you say anything, Yes, “Stairway to Heaven” was denied from this list.  Sorry Wayne.

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Playlist: Great Songs Over Seven Minutes

As technology advances at the rapid rate that it does, It seems that our attention spans are getting severely short.  The invention and popularity of the iPod was truly revolutionary, but music took a huge hit.  Listening to albums used to be an event, you would devote time to listen to a whole album in one setting.  Now we have trouble just listening to one song without skipping forward to the next song, and when was the last time you listed to an album from start to finish without stopping?  This is tragic – artist do not create music so that their work can be skipped after the first five seconds if the music does not entice you fast enough.  The following songs make you wait – the best part isn’t in the first ten seconds, twenty seconds, or even the first minute.  They are song that challenge you but soon reward you.

I hope you have some time on your hands, because all these songs are over seven minutes long!  It should be pointed out that I’m not including live tracks.

LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”

 

Bob Dylan – “Hurricane”

 

Led Zeppelin – “Stairway To Heaven”

 

Ryan Adams – “Nobody Girl”

 

Neil Young – “Down By The River”

 

Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Free Bird”

 

Green Day – “Jesus Of Suburbia” (Sorry but you’ll have to follow the link.)

 

Kanye West – “Runaway”

 

Eric Clapton – “The Core”

 

Prince – “Purple Rain”

 

The Who – “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

 

Don McLean – “American Pie”

 

Dave Matthews Band – “Crush”

 

The Beatles – “Hey Jude”

 

The Rolling Stones – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

 

Oasis – “Champagne Supernova” (Sorry but you’ll have to follow the link.)

 

Derek and the Dominos – “Layla”

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Break ‘Em Out: Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

Led Zeppelin’s most essential album.

If you like classic rock, you like Led Zeppelin.  If you like Led Zeppelin, your favorite album – or at least the one you’ve heard the most – is Led Zeppelin IV.  However, true fans that are more familiar with the band’s catalog might agree with me when I say that IV, while very good, isn’t their best album.  That title would go to Physical Graffiti, the only Led Zeppelin album that showcases the incredible talents of all four band members.

This album has everything, from 11 minute delta-blues (“In My Time Of Dying”), to relaxing ballads (“Bron-Yr-Aur”), to epic classics that only Led Zeppelin could create (“Kashmir” and “Trampled Under Foot”).  For guitar players, this album is incredible for it has some of Jimmy Page’s most sophisticated guitar playing – “The Wanton Song” could be the greatest guitar song he has ever recorded (yes, even better than “Stairway to Heaven”).  Robert Plant’s vocals shine, John Paul Jones’s bass playing is incredible and groovy as always, and John Bonham plays some of the finest drums ever heard.

This the band’s best album, but it was also their last great album.  Following this album would be three so-so albums and the eventual death of John Bonham that would break up the band.  But let us just be thankful that the band released this album, for no other album captures the band’s talent and musical scope as Physical Graffiti.

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