This here blog is a blog about liner notes and has no festive connotations despite the time of year (Christmas), it has no topical relevance such as politics or world affairs, and is continuing down the same route as the previous two blog entries; misinformed, cynical, narrow minded, lazy, and a sarcastic take on the mutating trends created by a music buying public acting only with selfish consumerism negating thoughts of sympathy to the industry they thrive off of whilst carrying an air of authority that holds it’s own opinion in higher esteem than any others. Overly long opening sentences too. I’m sure you’ll find this read here riveting. The liner notes to the record collecting enthusiast are what the Dewey Decimal Classification is to the keen librarian.
My listening repertoire expanded drastically when I started reading liner notes. The little golden nuggets of information. Here you will find personnel, in no order of importance: the Band line up and players, sometimes with the useful details such as which instrument they play or which is their mug (face, not tea cup) in the band shot included. You’d also find who was the real writer/composer. Sometimes, out of modesty maybe, the composer may remain anonymous or credit the whole band but either way, royalties are probably shared, possibly unfairly. Am I being cynical? Fuck off. It’s important to credit the Producer. Now the role of producer changed over the years but I’ll come to that shortly.
Sometimes you’d also then get some important roles that shouldn’t be left out but often are, like any of the technical support, runners, contributing composers, band managers and some more. Once you’ve finished nourishing your brain with that sort of stuff, you can then go onto the “Thanks to” lists. I’ve seen some genuine lists of people included in an artists “Thanks to”. Parents or family members get mentions, friends or figures of treasured importance. Religious Deities including God or Satan get a little tip of the cap. Sometimes sarcastic mentions get included, sometimes the Record Label gets targeted or previously estranged band members. One of my friends (and this is definitely one of those stories where it isn’t me) had an album by Yngwie Malmsteen with, some might say, some pretentious mentions. He thanked Ritchie Blackmore, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach. There are probably worse dedications out there but this one I thought was worth mentioning. Although Ritchie could have given you the personal appreciation of saying “You’re welcome”, I doubt you’d have had the same courtesy extended by Beethoven or Bach. They’re not alive. And I’d rather tell a story about my sexual failings of following through in public that owning anything by Malmsteen. One of my favourite musicians, who I would certainly include in a ‘Genius’ list, is Chick Corea. On most of the Return to Forever Albums he compiled there was normally a dedication to L. Ron Hubbard. Maybe Chick likes Old Pop Art science fiction. Wishful thinking? I don’t know. I think Chick donates a lot, not sure really.
Know these people. Learn their names and what they do. Not necessarily L. Ron Hubbard but the people that are being mentioned on the card or slip that came with whatever record you bought. If no one is being mentioned then something isn’t right. I started reading liner notes and I enjoyed learning at the same time just because I could feel my brain increasing in capacity.
I started listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” a few years later than it was originally released. I was only 11 when it came out but my older brother bought it and I acquired my own CD several years later. Two things stuck in my head from reading the liner notes back then. Rick Ruben was the producer and Flea was the bass player. Now, I know almost everything I need to know about the Chilis anyway but at the time I got engrossed in the details. I had to find out more about both. Ruben was supposed to be able to give bands that “Touch of God” an album needed to reach the top of the charts. He was able to fuse the rap and rock world seamlessly, as evidenced by his work with acts such as Public Enemy. Flea stood out from other bass players. His playing ability was outstanding and it was the first time I’d paid attention to a bass player and to the “pop and slap” technique – developed by bass guitarists some twenty or thirty years prior to the Blood Sugar. Firstly, it inspired me to learn to play the bass the way he did. But then it inspired me to learn about why Flea was playing that way. It kickstarted started my research into other bass players and had unleashed a world of new music that resonated with me. Fun and fast, funky as fuck and groovy and soulful and innovative and interesting and and and. Flea was influenced by Bootsy Collins. I investigated his music with Funkadelic and Parliament and loved it, so I went a bit further and bought myself some Sly and the Family Stone, and learnt about Larry Graham (from the liner notes). He was the guy who developed bass playing into a percussive form and inspired many other bass playing heroes. I went over to listening to Stanley Clarke who blew my mind and suddenly I was exposed to Jazz. By reading the liner notes on Clarke’s album ‘School Days’, I found myself unlocking yet more musical doors.
I have an extensive knowledge of players who have featured on albums and I have learnt these names not because of any musical celebrity shennanigans but because I wanted to know who they are and how they got to be the way they are. If, put into a situation where I am talking to someone ten or fifteen years my senior and we get onto the topic of Level 42, then there’s a likely chance the condescending prick might try to say to me something like “…they were a bit before your time” and they’re right in the sense that Level 42 was said Condescending Prick’s era and not mine. But what they don’t know is that I never bought a fucking band poster and stuck it on my wall because I wasn’t old enough to know. Eliminating me from Level 42’s celebrity success. However I would have found out which bass guitar Mark King was using in Lessons in Love. Next I would have been asked whether I was exposed to this sort of music by my Dad. In the case of Red Hot Chili Peppers, I heard my brother listening to it first but with Level 42, I sought out the music myself because I liked reading liner notes. Nowadays when the average music buyer downloads a track onto their handheld device, they won’t be receiving anything other than the track itself. Sad times people, sad times.
With downloading becoming much more prevalent in our era of music purchasing, the knock on effect is obvious: It’s going to be harder to offer musical credit. It’s also going to be harder to research what I like to know: all the silly facts and stories found on the liner notes. What about the session players or producers? They’re happy enough that they’ve done a good job for it, been paid and had the credit. They don’t have to appear in the pop videos, on the front covers with the bands, in the interviews. They don’t do it for the ego. But some do. Actually that helps me swerve away from that kind of music… or more likely the music itself is not my sort of thing. Cos it’s shit.
Arthur Hamilton wrote Cry Me A River for Ella Fitzgerald. This is not shit. Brilliant title too. Justin Timberlake released a song toward the beginning of this century that makes no reference to Hamilton’s work. Timberlake was able to maintain an incredibly strong solo career following a tough time dragging a failing boyband behind him and a dead end relationship with some tart “ball and chain” he was able to get rid of, break free from, and soar high in the sky. I used to work behind a bar at the time of that release where the music channel (when music television channels played music) had that song on an hourly rotation. So “Cry Me, Cry Me…. Cry Me, Cry Me ee_ee_ee_ee_ e_e_e_eee” got stuck in my head pretty quickly. Also, there’s a little middle section in the video where an expensive car roles up and some fella in the car roles his window down a raps some monotonous line about “the damage is done” and repeats himself about fifteen times. To me it sounds like a sample of something not worth repeating due to be completely pointless and tedious. To the video director, this guy needed to be brought in. It’s Timbaland. He produced the song for Justin Timberlake, so he probably suggested “Hey, while you’re harping on about your lame celebrity break up in this song and doing your weepy shit over my mic, how about I get in the vocal booth and lay down some fine rhymes?”. Suddenly I was introduced to producers who were more at ease in the public eye because that’s how they wanted to gain reputation. I turned my attention to the sickly-pop-spouting music television channel a bit more and realised that this fella, Timbaland, wanted to be in all his artists’ videos. Each video there was a time he’d accentuate a lyric or a drumbeat, or an instrumental lick, with his own stupid face. I couldn’t tell if he was supposed to be the comic relief of the video, “Am I supposed to take you seriously?” to which I’d answer myself with a firm “NO!” Each video would garner an image of him looking more and more like a puppeteer. He would stand behind the artist with talent and gesticulate as if he were a conductor in front of an orchestra. This is a producer that, according to Wikipedia “began making hip hop backing tracks on a Casio keyboard” but it does not mention when he moved on to less rudimentary songwriting facilities. Never, says this keen-eared bloggerino. He is a producer who has managed to traverse the line alongside the talent he produces and, in the process, managed to reduce popular music down to below the mark of bland beyond the point of no return. I don’t like him, his stupid face and his stupid music. Pharrell Williams is worse though. He can play, and chooses not to. At least he has a choice. What a pelican.
I was so excited to buy an old Red Hot Chili Peppers album produced by George Clinton. Ha, fancy that! Nile Rodgers wrote and produced Let’s Dance by David Bowie – good liner notes info there. Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John McLoughlin and Tony Williams all recorded on Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way album. Wayne Shorter also features heavily, as does Dave Holland. I discovered that from the liner notes of the album which led to an intense listen to the album all the way through several times to get what was happening. It was only after opening up the album and seeing the legendary personnel which encouraged the purchase. To me that was worth getting excited over. This album was the origin of several Super Groups – Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report, Lifetime, Headhunters. I knew of everyone individually but having poured over the details explored in the liner notes, I decided I would have loved to have been at those recording sessions. I’d have loved to have brought Timbaland and his Casio keyboard and sat him down in between Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Or to try laying down some sort of rhythm pattern unwittingly in front of Williams before thinking he could talk about harmony with Wayne or Miles. At some point he may feel like the turd in the swimming pool and shrug at Dave Holland and say “The damage is done so I guess I’ll be leaving”. Teo Macero will then have to redirect Timbaland from out of the storage closet and through the proper exit. He’ll be back for the music video though, probably lurching behind McLoughlin as the Yorkshireman’s fingers fly over the fretboard, unaware of the oaf-like producer’s existence.
I’m simultaneously aware that not only have I managed to fantasize two timelines, intermingle two unrelatable genres, come across like a “Hater” on a vastly successful producer and music video cameo actor, but I’ve also lost my way on the liner notes theme. Would it be easier if you sent me a postcard if you don’t get it, so then I can reply to everyone in person and apologise?