Considering the great number of popular songs that have been written, there are surprisingly few about music or musicians. I’ve compiled a list below, omitting those in which the song is really about something else or music is not the main point of the song (an example would be Led Zeppellin’s “Rock and Roll”). Undoubtedly, I’ve left something off, so I’ll update the list periodically. Continue reading →
Isolated examples of concept albums appear from the 1950s on, including efforts by Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, but the idea really took off with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
by The Beatles in 1967 — not surprising given how it was a time of great cultural and creative experimentation. Paralleling the rise of the singer-songwriter in the 1960s, the term “concept album” became imbued with the notion of artistic purpose.
Today, that notion of artistic purpose has become so pervasive that, whether consciously or unconsciously, artists routinely infuse concepts into their albums, or feel compelled to come up with a snappy response when a reviewer asks “so what is the CD about?” I want to share four examples of especially interesting, artistically successful concept albums that stand out from the crowd. Continue reading →
Before recording the Joni Mitchell songs that comprise 10 of the 12 tracks* on “River – The Joni Letters,” Herbie Hancock first gathered his fellow musicians — Wayne Shorter on sax, Dave Holland on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Lionel Loueke on guitar — and discussed the meaning of the lyrics, the environment of the lyrics in relation to the music. The music they crafted together is a hauntingly beautiful tribute to Joni’s artistry. Herbie’s harmonic sensibilities are bold and imaginative. Jazz artists have never shied away from dissonance, but the way in which Herbie moves fluidly from moments of lucid tonality to restless, dissonant harmony shows his artistic greatness. Continue reading →
Just about everyone knows how the major labels have screwed musicians over the decades. A gold record, selling 500,000 copies and grossing $7.5 million, nets the artist only $40,000 — which would be $10,000 each for a four-member band. Jazzy Jef, who co-wrote hits with Will Smith, recounts how, after winning a Grammy for a hit record, he went out to his car and cried because he only had $500 to his name.
But even with the opportunities afforded by the Internet and inexpensive home production, musicians are still getting screwed. Continue reading →